Festival standout finds home with top foreign-language distributor
In the mid-Cannes checkup piece I posted yesterday, I wrote that the festival sidebars (Un Certain Regard, Directors' Fortnight and Critics' Week, plus a handful of stray special selections) haven't produced much in the way of a word-of-mouth sensation. The clear exception I noted was Chilean director Pablo Larrain's "No" -- my own favourite film of the festival thus far -- which I saw on the third day of the festival and was far from alone in admiring. (When even self-confessed sidebar sceptic Jeff Wells has checked it out and is singing its praises, you know word has officially got round.)
So I'm thrilled to hear that the positive buzz for "No" has paid off handsomely in the distribution racket, as the US rights to the film have been picked up by arthouse major Sony Pictures Classics, whose record of shepherding foreign-language fare Stateside currently stands second to none. (For starters, they've been behind five of the last six winners of the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.) That's a major profile boost for Larrain, whose last two films, "Tony Manero" and "Post Mortem" (with which "No" forms a thematically-linked trilogy), were distributed in the US by the far lower-profile outfit Kino Lorber. ("Post Mortem" hit theaters only last month on a highly limited release.)
Andrew Dominik's latest brings latter-day capitalist concerns to 1970s homage
- Critic's Rating B-
- Readers' Rating B+
CANNES - "I like to kill them softly," Brad Pitt rumbles midway through Andrew Dominik's efficiently blood-dampened thriller, his thumb and forefinger taking a rare vacation from the trigger to indulge in some hitman-Zen chin-stroking. "From a distance, too far away for feelings." It's the most immediately quotable line in a screenplay knotted with knowingly flavorful dialogue, and not just because it inadvertently supplies the film with its title, changed late in the game from "Cogan's Trade" -- the well-regarded 1974 pulp novel by George V. Higgins at its source.
Rather, it's the line that most neatly encapsulates the poised pop poetry and, thanks especially to its eventual eponymic status, the on-the-nose emphases of "Killing Them Softly" as a whole, its musical connotations handily underlining the film's scuffed-suede 1970s textures into the bargain. (Make no mistake: Dominik may have ostensibly updated Higgins's story to the present -- or rather, the not-yet-unpacked period of 2008 -- but his melancholic-chic tone here, modulated to just the desired degree of rawness, is all Roberta Flack and no Lauryn Hill.) What it doesn't evoke, however, is the filmmaking itself. Nothing in this coldly enjoyable and relentlessly classy genre trip is killed softly at all: not the broken-bone crunch of the sound design, not the uproariously ripe work of its dream supporting ensemble and certainly not Dominik's bewilderingly literal makeover of Higgins's genre runaround into a portentous essay on capitalist failings in cusp-of-Obama America.
13 out of 22 Competition films have already been unveiled
It's generally a sign of a lukewarm film festival when the principal point of conversation across the Croisette is not which A-list auteur just set the Competition afire, which out-of-competition sleeper is one to watch for future months, or even the surreal sight of ill-fated US "X Factor" judge Cheryl Cole walking the red carpet for, of all things, the new Michael Haneke movie, but the rather more mundane topic of the weather.
Admittedly, it's quite some weather: where festivalgoers can usually count on catching a bit of a tan as they queue up in balmy Mediterranean conditions for the day's hot ticket, this year we'll merely settle for staying dry. It is, according to those in the know, the wettest Cannes on record -- which makes the prospect of sitting in a dark room watching even the most gruelling festival fare a more appealing prospect than usual. If you can get into the room in the first place, that is. Whether it's down to increased accreditation numbers or this year's Hollywood-heavy lineup, the festival feels more crowded this year than in either of the previous years I've attended -- a reality that hit yesterday as I was turned away from three consecutive screenings, as the white- and pink-badged elite filled the theaters before the lowlier classes could get a look-in.
"I had to work with a bunch of scouts and kids. No money can make that right, can it?"
A few days removed from seeing Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom" and the Cannes brouhaha that came with its opening night premiere last week, I have to say, I'm looking forward to seeing it again. It's just so charming in all the ways Anderson's previous films are meant to be, but, for me, aren't quite.
"The Royal Tenenbaums" is so far his most successful film financially and critically, but after giving it another look recently, I found I liked it even less than I did back in 2001 (which already wasn't much). I'd put "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" on that lower tier as well. Both films are just overwhelmingly affected and don't strike the balance his better works do.
I'm mostly okay with "Fantastic Mr. Fox" and "The Darjeeling Limited." The former is a fun romp and the latter has a lot of soul. But "Rushmore" and "Bottle Rocket" have always been tops for me, because the emotion just feels much more authentic. "Moonrise Kingdom" can count itself in that territory, I feel.
Doubling down with multiple acquisitions and a screening of footage from upcoming titles
It's fair to say The Weinstein Company is pretty high on the value of Cannes this year. And tonight will be all about their upcoming films as they pull the old "let's show some footage, stir the interest pot and steal a little bit of thunder" trick.
The Weinsteins came to the fest with two heavily anticipated films already in tow (John Hillcoat's "Lawless" and Andrew Dominik's "Killing Them Softly"). But they've maintained a muscular presence in the market as well, acquiring light touches in Christian Vincent's "Haute Cuisine" and Wayne Blair's "The Sapphires," as well as political angles on Muammar Gaddafi ("The Oath of Tobruk") and the hunt for Osama Bin Laden ("Code Name Geronimo").
They grabbed market title "Quartet" in advance of the fest, which could pop up as an Oscar play from first-time director Dustin Hoffman, while there is speculation that James Gray's "Low Life" starring Joaquin Phoenix could come off the table and into their pocket soon enough, too. And speaking of Phoenix, he's front and center in the new trailer for Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master," one of three films the company will be teasing at tonight's shindig.
Do the Weinsteins have another crossover hit on their hands?
You have to feel for any film appearing under The Weintein Company's banner at this year's Cannes Film Festival. After last year, when The House That Harvey Built picked up "The Artist" -- and, in doing so, made the wisest long-term purchase of the festival -- everything else they touch is going to be scrutinized for similar potential to Michel Hazanavicius's improbable Oscar sensation.
Saturday, then, was a big day for the company, as they presented two of their Cannes babies to the world. But while their widely publicized, star-studded Competition entry "Lawless" made a respectable debut, reaping much critical goodwill if few outright raves, it was a far lower-profile, more recent acquisition, premiering safely out of competition, that set the Croisette whispering. That film would be "The Sapphires": a modest, good-natured musical comedy from Down Under, spinning the semi-true tale of an all-Aboriginal, Supremes-style girl group and their adventures entertaining US troops in Vietnam.
What will 'Skyfall' and 'The Dark Knight Rises' say about the contemporary hero?
Earlier today I was pursuing the Interwebz for something to jump out and scream “write about me” when I was struck by the image of the new “Skyfall” poster beside a still from “The Dark Knight Rises.” The first teaser trailer for the new Bond film is set to go online early Monday morning and there have already been several “previews” of said trailer released via the journalists who were treated to a glimpse at this year’s CinemaCon.
There is a slight trailer spoiler ahead so if you’d prefer to avoid that please click through and skip to the paragraph following the one below.
According to Cinema Blend’s description, 007 is in the midst of a revelatory word association game throughout the teaser. When presented with the word “Agent,” he responds with “Provocateur” (which indeed provokes a number of theories about his meaning). The most revealing and fascinating bit of word play, though, happens when the prompt “Murder” is met with the terse “Employment.”
Canadian director Xavier Dolan brings his third film to Cannes aged just 23
- Critic's Rating C+
- Readers' Rating B-
CANNES - Three feature films into his career, I rather imagine that high-haired Québécois wunderkind Xavier Dolan is getting a little tired of hearing the word "precocious" directed at his work -- though one rather has to accept this occupational hazard when you not only make your debut feature at the age of 19, but get to premiere it at Cannes Directors' Fortnight rather than in your mom's living room.
Having now reached the ripe old age of 23, Dolan is a known quantity these days, his signature confident and identifiable, his reach expanding within reason. A notably young auteur as opposed to a mere upstart, he can probably shed the label any time he chooses to stop making films that are so very, very precocious -- though "Laurence Anyways," his sporadically rapturous and less sporadically maddening new effort, suggests precocity is a quality than can actually increase with age.
The first American film in Competition is a subtext-laden genre treat
- Critic's Rating B
- Readers' Rating n/a
CANNES - It might sound the most backhanded of compliments to begin a film review with praise for its hairdressing, but here goes: John Hillcoat's brisk, bloody and sharply appointed Prohibition thriller "Lawless" is the most immaculately barbered film in recent memory. From the pragmatically shaved planes of Tom Hardy's short-back-and-sides to Shia LaBeouf's dandily pomaded undercut to Guy Pearce's unforgivingly skunky centre-right parting, no tonsorial decision in this robust period piece has been idly or accidentally made, every style revealing something of the wearer's designs, demographic and disposition.
One of many well-tended details in a handsomely burnished production, this would be little more than an incidental virtue in most films, not least ones shooting straight for the multiplex crowd. In "Lawless," however, it's indicative of a second, subversive, perhaps even subliminal agenda, one that trumps its proficient, slightly over-simplified qualities as genre storytelling. I'm writing of its cool preoccupation with masculine presentation, how it can inform and sometimes disguise brackets of class and age -- evident as much in the ratty shit-colored cardigans worn by Hardy's stolidly rural moonshine merchant as in the newly acquired tailoring of LaBeouf as Hardy's younger, more aspirational brother.
The film takes aim at theaters this weekend
Oh yeah, Peter Berg's big ticket board game production (shoot me) hit theaters this weekend, too. I totally forgot (honest). Guy saw the film when it opened in the UK last month and was none too high on it in his Variety assessment. Anyway, if you have something to say about "Battleship," again, hit the comments section below.