Fans, creators and horror makers mourn the loss of Wes Craven

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Director, writer, producer and horror movie icon Wes Craven died Sunday after a battle with brain cancer. The news sparked an outpouring of condolences and memories from fellow filmmakers, the actors and creators Craven worked with and inspired, and the horror community as a whole.

After compiling the many memorial tweets and online remembrances flooding the Internet, it’s impossible not to see influence Craven had on the film world and the genre community. Truly this fourth-wall breaker and monster-maker (Craven created Freddy Krueger and slasher villain Ghostface) will be remembered in the hearts of fans and creators every time someone asks, “What’s your favorite scary movie?” 


Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times

Wes Craven’s retirement plan? ‘My goal is die in my 90s on the set’

Los Angeles Times reporter Susan King interviewed director Wes Craven as he was about to be the subject of a retrospective — “Merchant of Nightmares: A Tribute to Wes Craven” — at the Aero Theater in 2010.

For close to four decades, Wes Craven has been a true master of screen terror with films such as “The Last House on the Left,” “The Hills Have Eyes,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and the “Scream” trilogy.

Indie Focus: Summer’s almost over

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Hello! I’m Mark Olsen, and welcome to your weekly field guide to a world of Only Good Movies.

Among recent new releases is Craig Zobel’s “Z For Zachariah,” a post-apocalyptic fable about human emotions and society building starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Margot Robbie and Chris Pine. At one of our Indie Focus Screening Series events we showed the film followed by a conversation with Ejiofor.

You can listen here to a podcast from our Q&A with Ejiofor.

Check here for more info on future events:

Summer recap

Before we head on into fall, Rebecca Keegan and I paused for a conversation about the summer movie season. And by and large, I have to say we liked what we saw. The kind of big summer action movies that tend to dominate the conversation were still present but more tucked into a broader landscape.

Movies like “Straight Outta Compton,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “Pitch Perfect 2” and “Trainwreck” seemed to be as much a part of the season as more typical summer fare such as “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation,” “Avengers: Age of Ultron” or “Jurassic World.”

The principal five actors in “Straight Outta Compton.” (Jaimie Trueblood / Associated Press)

As Rebecca put it: “Summer is traditionally the season of the superhero at the box office, but it seems significant that many of the movies that made the biggest impression on me this year emerged from outside the comic-book genre. Event movies — Hollywood’s term for films with a built-in fan base that get a bullish marketing push — are diversifying, and that’s a welcome change.”

‘Queen of Earth’

Among the most original voices to emerge from the American independent film scene in the last few years has been Alex Ross Perry. His latest film, “Queen of Earth,” comes quickly after last year’s “Listen Up Philip” and is both a change-up in style and tone and a continuation of some of Perry’s ongoing preoccupations. “Queen of Earth,” which stars Elisabeth Moss as a woman having a nervous breakdown and Katherine Waterston as a friend either easing or causing her trauma, is already playing in New York and opens in Los Angeles on Sept. 4.

The New Yorker’s Richard Brody recently called the film “a masterwork of tone and mood.” In the New York Times, Manohla Dargis said, “It is Ms. Moss, with her intimate expressivity, who annihilates you from first tear to last crushing laugh.”

Perry and Moss did a Q&A at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, which Perry noted on Twitter could be listened to by anyone watching the film at home via digital delivery.

Our own Steven Zeitchik, in writing a piece timed to the release of “Listen Up Philip,” was actually on set during the production of “Queen of Earth.” And in writing my own story about Perry’s earlier film “The Color Wheel,” I did an email Q&A with Olivier Pere that was later published in full online in France. It is also included as part of the recent DVD release via Factory 25

‘The Quay Brothers in 35′

Christopher Nolan, director of the “Batman” trilogy and “Interstellar,” has a new movie coming to Los Angeles, but it is not a big-budget major studio action blockbuster. Rather, it is a short tribute to the filmmaking duo of Stephen and Timothy Quay. Titled “Quay,” Nolan’s 8.5-minute film is an unprecedented behind-the-scenes look at the brothers in their studio.

Christopher Nolan attends the premiere of “Interstellar.” (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images)

The film will first play at the Cinefamily on Sept. 4, with Nolan and the Quays scheduled to attend, to open a series “The Quay Brothers in 35 mm.” The series, curated by Nolan, spotlights the detail and otherworldly mystery of the Quays’ work, and includes the films “In Absentia,” “The Comb” and “The Street of Crocodiles.” The series runs through Sept. 13.

I interviewed the Quay brothers for the release of their earlier film “The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes.” We spoke on the phone and they politely but firmly declined to individually identify themselves.

“You won’t be able to tell the difference between us. We finish each other’s sentences,” they said. “You better just say it’s the Quays talking. Otherwise it won’t be worth the effort.”

‘Aloha’ again

A movie that opened in May seems like a long time ago by this point in the summer. Cameron Crowe’s “Aloha” just came out via digital services and on a Blu-ray disc that is packed with extras. There’s a full-length commentary, an hour-long making-of documentary, an alternate ending and even a 19-minute alternate opening sequence. (Crowe seems to remain committed to physical media, and also recently oversaw a Blu-ray release of his 2001 film “Vanilla Sky.”)

The film is largely set around an American Air Force base in Hawaii, and in a commentary track for the film recorded before its theatrical release, Crowe says, “Hawaii is so much more complex than the stereotype of the guy with the cocktail with an umbrella in it and a floral shirt. That stereotype of Hawaii is very different from the truth.”

Emma Stone, Bradley Cooper and Rachel McAdams in “Aloha.” (Neal Preston / Columbia Pictures)

As readers may recall, “Aloha” sparked controversy when it was released due to its portrayal of Hawaii and a quarter-Chinese, quarter-Hawaiian character played by actress Emma Stone. Jen Yamato wrote powerfully about the issues surrounding the film at the Daily Beast.

Despite its flaws, the film shouldn’t be entirely dismissed. As A.O. Scott put it in his New York Times review, “While I can’t make any excuses for ‘Aloha’ – to the extent it can even figure out what movie it wants to be, it’s not a very good one – I can leaven my disappointment with mercy.” Or as I put it in my own review, “Best to see ‘Aloha’ as a messy, imperfect movie about messy, imperfect people.”

Among the most thoughtful and impassioned defenses of “Aloha” came via the website the Talkhouse, in which artists discuss the work of other artists. Alex Ross Perry declared, “‘Aloha’ is uneven at best and lesser Crowe at worst, but that’s still a pretty good thing.”

Email me if you have questions, comments or suggestions, and follow me on Twitter @IndieFocus.


Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times

Cinecon 51 refocuses on film, with Stooges, Arbuckle, Laurel and Hardy rarities

A seldom-seen Three Stooges comedy, one of the few surviving Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle feature comedies and a new print of an Oscar-winning Laurel and Hardy short are among the hot tickets at this year’s Cinecon Classic Film Festival.

The 51st edition of the vintage movie celebration kicks off Sept. 3 at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood and continues through Labor Day. Although the program also includes a movie memorabilia show for serious collectors at the Loews Hollywood Hotel, noticeably missing this year is the Cinecon banquet honoring the personalities of yesterday.

“This year is kind of an experiment,” said film historian and Cinecon President Robert Birchard, adding that the banquet is challenging to stage. “We deliberately decided to concentrate on the films to see what kind of reaction we get to that kind of programming.”

Move over, superheroes: Lots of other summer films impressed us too

They call summer the season of “popcorn movies” for a reason — they may not be the most nutritious fare, but they’re great to munch on. Certainly summer 2015 gave us a large order of popcorn movies such as “Jurassic World” and “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation,” but there was surprising variety in there too — some of it actually good for you. It was a season of surprises – for example, smart, tough and funny female characters flourished on screen, while at least one comic book movie crashed and burned. And a powerful film about a seminal hip-hop group became a late summer crossover hit. Movie writers and critics Rebecca Keegan and Mark Olsen spent a lot of their summer at the movies; here, they share their experiences.

Rebecca Keegan: It felt like most of the juiciest talk about movies this summer had to do with groups that have been stuck on margins in previous years.

‘Unsullied’ a thoughtful woman-in-distress thriller

When her car breaks down on the way to a track meet, sprinter Reagan Farrow (Murray Gray) gets a lift from two strangers who turn out to be cannibalistic serial killers.

‘Rosenwald’ documentary looks at Jewish philanthropist who helped black schools

Inspired by the Jewish ideals of tzedakah (charity) and tikkun olam (repairing the world), Julius Rosenwald partnered with African American communities to fund some 5,300 schools for African American children in the Jim Crow-era South.

The Rosenwald Fund also gave fellowships during the Depression to such noted African American artists as Marian Anderson, Ralph Bunche, Ralph Ellison, Gordon Parks and James Baldwin to bolster their careers.

The documentary “Rosenwald,” which opens Friday, chronicles how the longtime president of Sears — who never graduated from high school — became one of the leading philanthropists of his time.

Grown-up humor, sensitive story, costar chemistry fuel ‘Learning to Drive’

A film about lessons big and small, in “Learning to Drive” New York literary critic Wendy Shields (Patricia Clarkson) decides she must finally learn to drive after a divorce. Her instructor, Darwan Singh Tur (Ben Kingsley) is himself undergoing a transition as he prepares for his impending arranged marriage. In their time together both in and out of the car, each becomes less set in his and her ways as Wendy and Darwan come to learn that life lessons are a two-way street.

Based on an essay that appeared in the New Yorker in 2002 by Katha Pollitt based on her own experience, the film took about nine years to come to the screen, shepherded by Clarkson and producer Dana Friedman.

‘Straight Outta Compton’ conquers box office with $56.1-million opening

“Straight Outta Compton” lifted the box office out of its August funk, debuting at No. 1 in the U.S. and Canada with an estimated $56.1 million.

The robust haul was not shocking given the huge fan following for N.W.A, the rap group on which the movie is based, as well as the intense media coverage and strong word of mouth that came with the release. The movie posted the biggest August opening ever for an R-rated film, and it has become the No. 1 musical biopic.

Co-financed by Universal Pictures and Legendary Pictures for $28 million, “Straight Outta Compton” follows N.W.A from its scrappy beginnings in the mid-’80s to its unlikely success and the death of member Eazy-E. N.W.A members Dr. Dre, whose real name is Andre Young, and Ice Cube, a.k.a. O’Shea Jackson, served as co-producers.

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Most of the cast is relatively unknown: Cube’s son O’Shea Jackson Jr. plays his father, Corey Hawkins plays Dre, Jason Mitchell plays Eazy-E, Neil Brown Jr. plays DJ Yella and Aldis Hodge plays MC Ren.

Nicholas Carpou, Universal Pictures’ head of domestic distribution, said few expected the film to open as strongly as it did.

“I think there was great hope that it would resonate,” Carpou said, “and it did that, but it also turned around the box office.”

The summer box office had cooled in August after a slew of films, including superhero reboot “Fantastic Four,” disappointed. But with help from “Straight Outta Compton,” the box office this weekend will be up about 2% versus the same weekend a year ago, when “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” led with $28.5 million, according to research firm Rentrak.  Year-to-date, the box office is up about 6%.

Lola Kirke steps out of sister Jemima’s shadow in Noah Baumbach’s ‘Mistress America’

Lola Kirke wanted to meet for lunch at In-N-Out, but there wasn’t enough time for that. So a gofer went to retrieve the actress an animal-style cheeseburger and fries, tossed aside the greasy paper bag and laid the fast food out on a fancy plate.

“Oh, my God, this rules,” said Kirke, wide-eyed upon entering the hotel pool cabana where her food awaited. She sat and placed a napkin across the skirt of her dress, accidentally revealing her underwear.

She quickly covered herself and then tore into the burger, pink sauce dripping onto her lap. “I’m just going to kind of let this happen. And I just wiped all of my concealer off. Whatever!”

This is Lola Kirke, 24. She has a lot of energy. She is wearing 5-inch red platform heels, even though she is already 5 feet 8. She is the younger sister of Jemima Kirke, who plays the free-spirited Jessa on HBO’s “Girls.” She is often referred to as Jemima’s sibling by the press, particularly because her only film role so far — as a trailer park grifter in last year’s “Gone Girl” — was small but tasty.

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“It’s true. We are sisters. I don’t lose too much sleep over it,” she says. “I mean, of course it would be nice to not have to be qualified as a person. But if that’s why people go and see something I like that I made, then that’s fine.”