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Indie Focus: It's on with Fall Movie Sneaks

Hello! I’m Mark Olsen. Welcome to another edition of your regular field guide to a world of Only Good Movies.

This week both the Telluride Film Festival and the Venice Film Festival got underway, with the Toronto International Film Festival starting next week. Which is to say, it’s on. Fall movie season and, yes, awards season are now both very much underway.

Josh Rottenberg wrote a preview of the Telluride festival, where seven films in the last 10 years went on to win the Oscar for best picture. This year’s lineup include James Mangold’s “Ford v Ferrari,” Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story,” Edward Norton’s “Motherless Brooklyn,” Trey Edward Shults’ “Waves,” Josh and Benny Safdie’s “Uncut Gems” and Kelly Reichardt’s “First Cow,” all movies we should be hearing more about in the months ahead.

“The thinking is, if people are spending a lot of money to come to Telluride, we’d better show them some stuff they haven’t seen before, some stuff that’s outrageously good,” executive director Julie Huntsinger said. “We’re just devoted to saying, ‘Look at this. You need to look at this.’”

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Glenn Whipp took a look at the impressive slate of movies that Netflix will be releasing this awards season, including Martin Scorsese’s much-anticipated gangster tale “The Irishman.”

I wrote about James Gray’s “Ad Astra,” a ruminative space adventure epic starring Brad Pitt, which had its world premiere this week at the Venice Film Festival on its way to opening on Sept. 20.

“He is an unbelievably subtle actor in a way that I didn’t even anticipate,” Gray said of working with Pitt. “And he’s extremely intelligent, very shrewd, understands human behavior very well. In some sense, I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but Pitt is kind of an underrated actor. On a technical level, underrated. And it’s a pleasure to work with someone like that.”

On Tuesday, Sept. 3, we will have a screening of Justin Chon’s “Ms. Purple,” followed by a Q&A with producers Alan Pao and Alex Chi and actors Tiffany Chu and Teddy Lee. For more info and to RSVP, click here, and for updates on future events, go to events.latimes.com.

Lili Reinhart, Jennifer Lopez, Keke Palmer and Constance Wu star in “Hustlers.”

Lili Reinhart, Jennifer Lopez, Keke Palmer and Constance Wu star in "Hustlers."

(Barbara Nitke / STXfilms)

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Fall Movie Sneaks

This is always such an exciting time of the movie year, as hypothetical movies we have been hearing about suddenly become real. The LAT published our Fall Movie Sneaks preview this week, spotlighting many of the top films coming to theaters over the next few months.

Josh Rottenberg spoke to Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix about their new “Joker,” which stars Phoenix as the notorious comic book villain and transforms him into the subject of an intense character study.

“That’s the fun thing about these characters,” said Phillips. “In a way, comic books are our Shakespeare, and just like there are many versions of Hamlet and Macbeth, they’ve done four or five versions of the Joker in the last 25 or 30 years. So why not do another one that’s wildly different?”

Jen Yamato spoke to Constance Wu about her role in “Hustlers,” and the intense scrutiny she has been under since entering the public eye. “I am grateful for my entire career,” she said. “But the fact that my career has been historic shouldn’t necessarily be a call [to say to] me, ‘You should be so lucky’ — it should be a call to pay attention to the fact that this kind of thing shouldn’t have been historic. Me getting to play a fully human experience as an Asian American, that shouldn’t be historic. But it is. Let’s talk about the system, not whether or not I deserve to be in it and how I need to feel about it.”

Amy Kaufman interviewed Renée Zellweger and Rupert Goold about “Judy,” in which Zellweger plays Judy Garland in the final months of her life. While Zellweger was nervous about singing Garland’s songs live during the filming, she came to realize Garland was nervous before going onstage, too.

“So having that in the back of my mind was very liberating. I could just be,” Zellweger said. “It also probably brought a little bit of truth to the experience, because from my understanding, she was afraid that she would not perform at the level to which people had expected from her and she experienced stage fright. So the mix made it very real and true.”

Glenn Whipp spoke to Taika Waititi about his film “Jojo Rabbit,” a dark satire in which the filmmaker plays the role of Adolf Hitler. Scarlett Johansson also stars in it.

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“To me, this movie feels like a cautionary tale,” Waititi said. “It’s not about something that happened all these years ago. It’s right on our doorstep now and we’re minutes away from this same [garbage] happening all over again.”

Sonaiya Kelley spoke to recent Oscar winner Ruth E. Carter about her work designing the costumes for “Dolemite Is My Name,” which stars Eddie Murphy as actor and comedian Rudy Ray Moore.

Josh also wrote about Ang Lee’s “Gemini Man,” starring Will Smith, and its ambitious special effects.

Emily Zemler took a look at “Downton Abbey” and bringing the popular television series to the big screen.

Ryan Faughnder wrote about upcoming sequels such as “It Chapter 2,” “Terminator: Dark Fate,” “Zombieland: Double Tap” and “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.”

Hannah Pearl Utt, Judith Light and Jen Tullock in a scene from “Before You Know It.”

Hannah Pearl Utt, left, Judith Light and Jen Tullock in a scene from "Before You Know It."

(W.Thomson / 1091 Media)

“Before You Know It”

A tale of families and relationships falling apart and coming together, “Before You Know It” is a wonderful showcase both for fresh talents and some familiar faces. It’s written by Hannah Pearl Utt and Jen Tullock and directed by Utt; the pair star as sisters struggling to keep open the small New York City theater run by their playwright father (Mandy Patinkin). Circumstances lead them to realize that their mother (Judith Light), who they long thought dead, is actually alive and well and starring in a soap opera.

Reviewing it for The Times, Katie Walsh wrote, “Utt and Tullock’s writing brushes the depths of humanity, including parental neglect, abandonment, domestic abuse and even the complications of estate planning (or lack thereof). But while it gestures at darker moments that crop up in the surreal period of immediate grief, ‘Before You Know It’ always zigs away, choosing levity, irony and rom-com beats over melodrama. It’s a charming and quirky New York tale, if a bit disorganized, finding its voice when it quiets down to just listen to the three women at the center of the story.”

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For the New York Times, Glenn Kenny wrote, “For all the domestic dysfunction it chronicles, there’s something reassuringly cozy about ‘Before You Know It.’ Especially if you’re a longtime New Yorker. … Seekers of Manhattan stories that don’t occur in skyscrapers and corridors of power could do worse.”

For NPR, Ella Taylor wrote, “‘Before You Know It’ dances playfully, and in sober earnest, around the friction between the commitments of motherhood and a woman’s fight for a life of her own. Irreverently feminist but generous in the mercy they bestow on all their flawed characters as they flounder through life, Utt and Tullock hold the ambiguity all the way through to a boldly weird scene late in the movie.”

Lauren “Lolo” Spencer, Steve Wolski and Chris Galust in “Give Me Liberty.”

Lauren "Lolo" Spencer, Steve Wolski and Chris Galust in "Give Me Liberty."

(Music Box Films)

“Give Me Liberty”

Directed and co-written by Kirill Mikhanovsky, “Give Me Liberty” gives a whole new meaning to the word rollicking. The film follows Vic (Chris Galust), a young Russian American in Milwaukee who drives a transport van for people with disabilities, over the course of one very eventful day. As he tries to get his elderly grandfather and his friends to a funeral, he struggles to keep up with his regular pickups, including Tracy (Lauren “Lolo” Spencer), a young woman in a wheelchair with ALS. Soon enough, this van full of people thrown together starts to resemble a microcosm of something more.

In a review for The Times, Justin Chang wrote, “With its rough-hewn realism and its unglamorous, careworn faces, Mikhanovsky’s film is what you might call, in the tired parlance of the entertainment industry, ‘a small movie’ — a catch-all term for low-budget independent cinema that, in this instance, is nearly as condescending as it is inaccurate. If you are inclined to measure size by something other than a movie’s budget or box office — like, say, richness of character, vividness of texture or generosity of spirit — then this remarkably sustained juggling act may be one of the bigger movies you’ll see this year.”

For the New York Times, Manohla Dargis wrote, “‘Give Me Liberty’ is a jolt of a movie, at once kinetic and controlled. It’s an anarchic deadpan comedy that evolves into a romance just around the time the story explodes. It has moments of unembellished realism as well as a fictional story line that runs through the bedlam. With its contrasting modes and moods, it pushes and pulls you, rocking you back and forth like one of the van’s swaying passengers, creating an agreeable uncertainty. … It’s moving and sincere, suffused with tenderness and marked by a quiet that suggests that each has found a safe harbor in the other. That may sound corny; it’s not — it’s irresistible.”

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

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