<p>Brad Pitt is not to be trifled with.&nbsp; Seriously.</p>

Brad Pitt is not to be trifled with.  Seriously.

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Review: 'Killing Them Softly' uses Brad Pitt as a blunt instrument

HitFix
A-
Readers
C
His second film with Andrew Dominik is dark, cynical, and fairly great

CANNES - Andrew Dominik's last film, "The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford" was, to put it kindly, divisive.  You can count me on the side of the folks who thought it was a gorgeous, poetic look at an American West that may not have ever truly existed, and the legends that stood astride it in its sunset years.  The score alone would qualify it as a fairly major work of film art for me, and when I revisited the film about four days before flying out for this year's festival, I found myself smitten all over again.

With "Killing Me Softly," Dominik appears to have zagged when everyone expected a zig, and this lean, mean, cynical little crime film, adapted from a novel by George V. Higgins, is a stylish delight, but perhaps not what many viewers will expect.  Brad Pitt is obviously the biggest name in the film, and his work as Jackie Cogan is great.  But he doesn't appear in the film nearly as much as some of his lesser-known co-stars like Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn, who both rip it up playing low-level criminal dummies who are enticed into a job by The Squirrel, played by Vince Curatola.  If you're a "Sopranos" fan, you'd know Curatola immediately as Johnny "Sack," and it's interesting seeing him show up in a key role in the same film as James Gandolfini, who contributes a lovely supporting turn as a washed-up hitman who's too busy whoring and drinking to actually pull a trigger.

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<p>Rick Baker, even after all his ups and downs with modern Hollywood, still seems to be in touch with that little kid who first fell in love with monster make-up all those years ago.</p>

Rick Baker, even after all his ups and downs with modern Hollywood, still seems to be in touch with that little kid who first fell in love with monster make-up all those years ago.

Credit: HitFix

Watch: Rick Baker discusses his work on 'Men In Black 3' and much more

We take a little time with one of Hollywood's living legends

Rick Baker is one of my heroes, artistically speaking.

I fell in love with his work when I was young, and for most of my life, I've been watching his creations come to life onscreen and I've felt lucky to be witnessing them.  When I saw "An American Werewolf In London" in 1981, the way he (along with John Landis and David Naughton) made a transformation from man to beast feel like a tactile, physical process involving heat and pain seemed miraculous.  He has made the fantastic seem not only possible but absolutely probable for his whole career, and he has a shelf full of Academy Awards to show for it.

However, he's also seen the industry change around him, and whereas he was once the hot new alternative to the special effects of a bygone era, today computer effects have shifted the landscape around Rick to the point that he is now the one considered quaint and old-fashioned by Hollywood.  It's not true, of course, and I would strongly urge filmmakers to reconsider their push to do everything with ones and zeros instead of creating something tangible.  I've seen things he created thirty years ago that still exist, that you can still touch with your own hands, and that could, with just a little bit of touch-up work, still be put in front of a camera and filmed.

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<p>This, surprisingly, was not Edward Norton's reaction when I brought up 'The Avengers'</p>

This, surprisingly, was not Edward Norton's reaction when I brought up 'The Avengers'

Credit: Universal/Marvel

Edward Norton explains why he still hasn't seen 'The Avengers'

What does a past-tense Hulk think of 'The Other Guy'?

CANNES - "It just isn't very important to me."

While that may look dismissive in print, that's not the way it came across when I asked Edward Norton about "The Avengers" and the new Hulk in town during our time chatting at the "Moonrise Kingdom" press day.

In fact, far from it.  I spent most of our conversation focused on his work with Wes Anderson in the new film, but I knew that I had to ask him if he'd seen Joss Whedon's film yet and, if so, what he thought of it.  After all, we were the ones who broke the story when Norton first learned he might not be returning for a second go-round as Bruce Banner and his big green alter-ego.  I felt like a quick comment from him would be the exact right button to put on things at the end of the entire process.  If you don't remember, you can follow the story as it developed here, here, here, here and here.

Even so, the moment I asked, I felt a pang of remorse.  I realized that I wasn't sure how fresh that wound was, or how Norton felt about the entire situation, and I feel like it's taken a while for him to get comfortable with me in interviews.  He is a fiercely intelligent guy, and justifiably serious about his craft.  He does not seem to love the press, but when treated with respect, he seems more than willing to have a real conversation about what he does and about film in general.  As soon as the question was out of my mouth, it felt like I had crossed a line and pushed him into an uncomfortable conversational corner, but he handled it with grace.

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<p>Joaquin Phoenix in 'The Master' appears to be just one of the things worth being excited about in Paul Thomas Anderson's new film, one of three previewed tonight by The Weinstein Company.</p>

Joaquin Phoenix in 'The Master' appears to be just one of the things worth being excited about in Paul Thomas Anderson's new film, one of three previewed tonight by The Weinstein Company.

Credit: The Weinstein Company

The Weinsteins unveil early peeks at 'Django,' 'The Master,' and 'Silver Linings' at Cannes

The rest of the year should be nothing but roses for The Weinstein Company

CANNES - The invitation arrived yesterday afternoon, and it immediately got my attention since the giant banner on the front of the Majestic Hotel has been driving me crazy all week long.  It's very simple, just the Saul Bass-style chain design and the title "Django Unchained," but that's enough at this point.  I'm always excited by a new Quentin Tarantino film, but this one in particular tackles subject matter that I find intriguing, and I'm dying to see how it actually plays onscreen.

It was an easy decision to make.  Instead of seeing a new film tonight, I put on a suit and headed over to the Majestic, where The Weinstein Company threw a cocktail reception designed to showcase footage from three of the films they are releasing later this year.  Each of them is from an exciting filmmaker, and two of them are among the most highly-anticipated properties in production at the moment.  Earlier this afternoon, the first clip from Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" arrived online, and I posted a short reaction to that.  I was curious to see if they would show us anything different, and after about a half-hour of drinks and finger food, they ushered us into an adjoining room, where they had set up chairs and a large screen.

Harvey Weinstein walked to the front of the room and, without any preamble, just began speaking.  "Hi, everyone.  When I was 13 years old, I had a bar mitzvah, and a film was shot, but only two minutes were shown.  Marty Scorsese found it, and I got you here under false pretenses. We're going to watch the one-hour version which was lovingly restored by all the directors I've ever argued with over the years. There are no scenes of me in any of it."

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<p>Joaquin Phoenix comes out swinging in the first look at Paul Thomas Anderson's new film 'The Master'</p>

Joaquin Phoenix comes out swinging in the first look at Paul Thomas Anderson's new film 'The Master'

Credit: The Weinstein Company

First look at Paul Thomas Anderson's 'The Master' arrives online

Fascinating first clip promises a nice rebound for Joaquin Phoenix

CANNES - In a few moments, I'll be leaving my apartment to go to a special cocktail party that the Weinstein Company is throwing to debut footage from several of their new films.  However, I don't even have to put my pants on to get my first look at Paul Thomas Anderson's highly-anticipated "The Master," since the film's first teaser trailer just appeared online.

I spotted it when Megan Ellison, one of the film's producers, tweeted a link to the film's official site, and all that they have there right now is the trailer.  I've watched it twice, and the first thing I take away from it is that I'm thrilled Joaquin Phoenix is back on his game.  I wasn't crazy about his Tony Clifton phase, and I think he is a very interesting actor.  He's totally different than his brother River was, but they do share an ability to lay themselves emotionally bare if they get hold of the right material.  It's exciting to see Phoenix in a film that looks like it may be something very special.

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<p>Rutger Hauer expresses his displeasure with his agent over being cast in 'Dracula 3D'</p>

Rutger Hauer expresses his displeasure with his agent over being cast in 'Dracula 3D'

Credit: Film Export Group

Review: Silly and stupid 'Dracula 3D' is career nadir for Dario Argento

HitFix
F
Readers
n/a
One of the most oft-filmed stories in film falls flat in latest incarnation

CANNES - Dario Argento made his directorial debut the same year I was born. He has literally been making horror films as long as I've been alive, and his first nine horror features are arguably one of the best runs any filmmaker in the genre has ever had.  I consider "Suspiria" to be one of the towering accomplishments in all of horror, a true nightmare that makes almost no literal sense but that manages to wrap the viewer in a perverse and pervasive sense of dream.  His influence can be felt in hundreds, if not thousands of films at this point, and it would be impossible to overstate how good he can be when he is at his best.

"Dracula 3D" is pretty much the direct opposite of his best.

My first and perhaps most fundamental issue with the film is that Bram Stoker's novel has been adapted so many times and in so many ways that any new adaptation really should find something to add to the conversation.  Why else would you want to make a Dracula film?  The character has been portrayed in any number of settings, and there have been adaptations both faithful and almost completely reinvented.  The bare bones of the Stoker novel have been so thoroughly stripped of meat at this point that it seems almost pointless to return to it as source material.  Still, the right filmmaker and the right cast could make it seem fresh, and the right take on things could convince me that I'm wrong about the property.  It's certainly happened before.

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<p>Daniel Craig arrives at a Shanghai casino in Sam Mendes' &quot;Skyfall.&quot;</p>

Daniel Craig arrives at a Shanghai casino in Sam Mendes' "Skyfall."

Credit: Sony Pictures

Analysis: First 'Skyfall' trailer is gorgeous and brutal

HitFix
A
Readers
C+
007 looks like he's going to be an unstoppable force this time around

Yes, even though I'm at a film festival, I still feel compelled to weigh in on the first trailer for "Skyfall," the new James Bond film.

As a lifelong fan of the series, one of the things I find most interesting is watching the way the aesthetics of Bond have shifted over the years to reflect wherever mainstream film has gone.  You can look at a Bond film and get a sense of what was going on culturally at the time it was made.  They are reflections of their moments, time capsules with a body count.

Hiring Sam Mendes for this 50th anniversary edition of the series was an interesting choice because of how different James Bond is than anything he's shot before, but just based on this teaser trailer, I'd say it looks like that gamble has paid off handsomely.  This is a gorgeous introduction to the new film, and I love the word association opening.  Daniel Craig's Bond is wound tighter than any previous incarnation, and that's one of the reasons I love him in the role.  HIs Bond takes full advantage of that license to kill, and not just so he can make a pithy joke and move on.  He is a cultured ape, a brute who just happens to look good in a tux, and he is dangerous.

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<p>Emmanuelle Riva gives a harrowing and beautiful performance in Michael Haneke's heartbreaking 'Love,' one of the films in competition at this year's Cannes Film Festival.</p>

Emmanuelle Riva gives a harrowing and beautiful performance in Michael Haneke's heartbreaking 'Love,' one of the films in competition at this year's Cannes Film Festival.

Credit: Sony PIctures Classics

Review: Michael Haneke's 'Love' expertly charts the dissolution of self

HitFix
A
Readers
A
In what may be his most human film, Haneke captures a couple in their twilight

CANNES - For the vast majority of his career, Michael Haneke has had a well-deserved reputation as a master of cinematic cruelty.  His best films have felt like cruel pranks on his audience, underscored by a deep contempt for human weakness.  I have always had an uneasy relationship with his work, admiring him on a technical level but afraid of each new film and the razor's edge contained within.

"Love," his new film, made its debut today in competition at the 65th annual Cannes Film Festival, and while it is unmistakably his, this may be the single most humane picture he's ever made.  Beautiful and sad, the film is essentially a two person piece, with Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva playing a French husband and wife in their twilight years.  The film opens with police breaking down the door of their apartment.  Covering their mouths and noses to protect from a smell, they search the apartment, finding one bedroom door sealed with tape.  When they finally get it open, they find a body on the bed, dead and covered in flowers.  With the next scene, Haneke takes us back in time to the beginning of the process that ended in that room, and it is a crushing experience he has crafted.

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<p>Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur co-star in the largely inert new film 'Beyond The Hills,' one of the most disappointing films of this year's Cannes Film Festival.</p>

Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur co-star in the largely inert new film 'Beyond The Hills,' one of the most disappointing films of this year's Cannes Film Festival.

Credit: Sundance Selects/Wild Bunch

Review: 'Beyond The Hills' wants to incite but only manages to bore

HitFix
C-
Readers
A+
Cristian Mungiu's new film simply can't connect the dots

CANNES - Cristian Mungiu arrives at Cannes this year as a sort of conquering hero, finally bringing a full-length follow-up to his breakthrough hit, "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days," which won the 2007 Palme d'Or.  This is only his third film, and all three have been invited to the festival, which certainly makes it seem like this is a home for him and for what it is he has to say as a filmmaker.  Considering it's taken him five years to make his third film, it's safe to say that expectations were running high when "Beyond The Hills" made its debut two days ago.

It is, then, no fun to report that "Beyond The Hills" feels like a pretty serious misstep, overthought and overwrought, with some big ideas buried beneath a leaden approach and a cast that simply can't enliven material that never manages to lurch to life.  I don't fault him for ambition, and I can certainly see how the film's core idea could be a springboard for great drama.  It just doesn't feel like the execution pays off any of the material's potential.

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<p>Caleb Landry Jones stars in Brandon Cronenberg's decidedly icky 'Antiviral'</p>

Caleb Landry Jones stars in Brandon Cronenberg's decidedly icky 'Antiviral'

Credit: Alliance Films

Review: 'Antiviral' is promising first film from second generation director

HitFix
B-
Readers
n/a
Brandon Cronenberg is most definitely his father's son

CANNES - Well, as the old saying goes, the diseased and throbbing apple does not fall far from the penis-shaped flesh tree.  Or at least, that's a variation on the old saying that seems applicable when you're talking about the debut film from Brandon Cronenberg, son of the king of body horror, David Cronenberg.

"Antiviral" is playing here as part of the Un Certain Regard section of the festival, and I walked into it knowing nothing aside from Cronenberg's parentage. I wasn't even sure if it was in the same general realm as the work that made his father a legend in horror.  After watching a steady stream of people bolt for the exits during the film's screening, I think it's safe to say that he has inherited his father's knack for making people deeply uncomfortable about topics that are personal to the point of feeling invasive.  I don't think he's just imitating his father, either.  While there may be some thematic similarity, Brandon Cronenberg has made a darkly comic, deeply unpleasant first film that deserves to be considered on its own merits.

Caleb Landry Jones, last seen on movie screens as Banshee in "X-Men: First Class," stars here as Syd March, a guy who works for a company that specializes in selling celebrity diseases to people.  Yes, you read that right.  Celebrities make exclusive deals with biotech firms which harvest their various illnesses, distill them, and then inject them into regular people who want to share something in common with their favorite movie star or model.  Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon) is one of the most important of the clients that are signed by the company that Syd works for, and as the film opens, we see him infecting a fan named Edward Porris (Douglas Smith) with Hannah's herpes, right where he would have caught it if she kissed him.

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