By Brian D. Johnson - Wednesday, May 15, 2013 - 0 Comments
For Steven Spielberg, president of the Cannes jury, “it’s such a relief” to be judging movies for once, rather than being judged. But his co-juror Ang Lee seemed stricken by the prospect, confessing he is “afraid to judge people’s work in public.” Those two eminent directors were fielding questions with the rest of the nine-member jury that will award the Palme d’Or to one of 20 features in competition here. It was only three months ago that Spielberg and Lee emerged from a marathon Oscar campaign with a surprise ending. Both were nominated for Best Director, but Lee won for Life of Pi over Spielberg, who was favoured to win for Lincoln. So at the jury press conference, I asked them both how it felt to now be sitting on a jury together, and how they would compare the Palme d’Or with the Oscar.
“After you,” demurred Spielberg. Lee agonized over the question. “Cannes is a prestigious film festival,” he said. “It’s full of opinions. It’s artistically driven, more highbrow. Oscar is a competition of a group with 6,000 Academy members. It has an element of popularity. It’s work. You don’t know how the wind blows. Of course, any competition is prejudiced. It’s someone’s opinion.” Clearly not one to relish conflict, Lee added, “I hope there’s something that wows us, something we cannot even verbalize, and we all look at each other like, ‘Oh my God, that’s the Palme d’Or!’ I pray that happens . . . Hopefully we won’t have to argue that fiercely.” Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Tuesday, May 14, 2013 at 11:31 AM - 0 Comments
In an age when Hollywood has turned the movie biz into moneyball—an escalating numbers racket of sequels, franchises, reboots and spin—those of us who watch films for a living feel we’re caught in an endless loop, a Groundhog Day of déjà vu. As marketing and movie-making become indistinguishable, opening weekend is just another iteration of something we’ve seen before.
That’s why Cannes is a thrill. It’s a place of cinematic privilege where the usual rules don’t apply. Every year we make the pilgrimage to the French Riviera not knowing what to expect. Well, with one glaring exception. The festival’s May 15 opening night gala, The Great Gatsby, is by now old news. Weird. I’ve been coming to Cannes for 14 years, and it’s unheard of for the festival not to open with a world premiere. But almost a week after Gatsby’s North American debut, Warner Bros. will use Cannes for its European launch. One can only assume the festival was desperate to have the stars on its red carpet but didn’t have the clout to the force the studio to hold back its North American release. That’s an indication of how regimented global distribution has become. But it also doesn’t bode well for the regal status of the world’s most prestigious film festival.
On the other hand, opening night has always been largely ceremonial. More often than not, Cannes opens with Versailles-scale confections that turn out to be duds; and The Great Gatsby—which few critics have deemed good, never mind great— should at least serve as fodder for a lavish party. Besides, we don’t really come here to see Hollywood movies, but to get away from them. This, after all, is the Olympics of world cinema, and for those who like that sort of thing, nothing rivals the anticipation of watching the Cannes competition unfold from one day to the next. There tends to be refreshingly little advance hype about the films, so each time the lights go down it’s a journey into the dark on every level.
There are 20 features vying for the Palme D’Or this year. As we watch them, we’ll be second-guessing a heavyweight jury chaired by Steven Spielberg, whose eight cohorts includes Oscar-winning director Ang Lee (Life of Pi), and Oscar-winning actors Nicole Kidman and Christoph Waltz. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, April 4, 2013 at 8:27 PM - 0 Comments
It came as such a sad shock. Only yesterday, coining an original phrase with his last words, Roger Ebert tweeted that he was about to take “a leave of presence.” The tweet linked to a piece he had published just the day before in the Chicago Sun Times, the newspaper where he worked as a film critic for 46 years. With his customary eloquence and modest grace, Roger explained that, because his cancer had returned, he would be scaling down his activities. He usually knocks off about 200 reviews a year. But last year, despite his health issues, he said he wrote 306 reviews, more than during any year of his career, along with various blogs and articles. He then went on to map out the myriad projects he was looking forward to in the coming months of his new, scaled-down career—including the Apr. 9 launch of Ebert Digital, an interactive website that will be, among other things, a home to his archive of more than 10,000 reviews.
“What is a leave of presence?” he wrote. “It means I am not going away.”
Roger was such a prolific, essential and indefatigable critic, I couldn’t imagine him going away. It would be out of character. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, March 22, 2013 at 1:56 PM - 0 Comments
Cannes is casting a come-hither look at Hollywood this year. First it was announced that Steven Spielberg would head the jury of the Cannes Film Festival (May 15- 26). Then came news that Cannes will open with a Hollywood premiere, The Great Gatsby. Now the official poster has been unveiled, bearing a vintage photograph of actor/director Paul Newman and actress Joanne Woodward—the model Hollywood couple whose marriage lasted five decades, until Newman’s death in 2008. The picture was taken during the shoot of A New Kind of Love (1963). For the poster, it was enhanced with a Vertigo-like pop art swirl.
Newman and Woodward were honoured by Cannes in 1958, the year of their marriage, with the Competition selection of Martin Ritt’s The Long Hot Summer, the first film in which they co-starred. As a director, Newman later cast Woodward in two movies that played in competition, The Effect of the Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds (1973) and The Glass Menagerie (1987).
With hyperbole that may have read better in French, the Cannes press release states: “The poster evokes a luminous and tender image of the modern couple, intertwined in perfect balance at the heart of the dizzying whirlwind that is love. The vision of these two lovers caught in a vertiginous embrace, oblivious of the world around them, invites us to experience cinema with all the passion of an everlasting desire.”
The festival has also created a video teaser of the graphic (which you can watch below) setting it to a dance-beat version of “Aquarium” from Carnival of the Animals, the classic Camille Saint-Saëns theme that plays over the red-carpet animation servers as the traditional prelude for every film programmed at the festival.
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, February 28, 2013 at 2:38 PM - 0 Comments
For those of us who make the annual spring pilgrimage to the Riviera, today’s news that Steven Spielberg will head the jury at the 66th annual Cannes festival comes as a bit of a shock. In recent years, Hollywood has become increasingly estranged from Cannes. American studios still use the festival to premiere timely blockbusters, but after being burned by Cannes juries too many times, they tend to keep their films out of competition. And while Hollywood stars still flock to Cannes each May, they’re often promoting non-mainstream movies—such as Tree of Life (2011) and Killing Me Softly (2012), which both drew Brad Pitt to the Riviera. As the gulf widens between the American studios and the kind of auteur cinema celebrated at Cannes, for many critics no one epitomizes Hollywood’s Evil Empire more fundamentally than Spielberg, except perhaps George Lucas.
But to be fair, Spielberg is an auteur in his own right. Perhaps his biggest influence is Kurosawa. And he has developed a signature style that has been hugely influential, as sentimental as it may be. He’s also sentiment about cinema. He is one of the last major American directors still stubbornly shooting on 35 mm film. Lincoln was one of 2012′s most literate American films. And even though he pioneered the sci-fi blockbuster, even he must feel a bit left behind by the juvenile onslaught of comic book sequels, prequels and reboots.
By Brian D. Johnson - Tuesday, September 25, 2012 at 7:32 PM - 0 Comments
As the TIFF circus folds up its tent, here are my 10 personal favorites from the festival. It’s a subjective list. I watched more than 50 features programmed at the festival, some in Cannes last May. But with so much to see and so little time, there are still bound to be some great movies that I missed. Note that four films on the list are documentaries:
1. The Act of Killing
Joshua Oppenheimer’s shattering documentary about Indonesia’s 1965 genocide is without precedent—a portrait of mass murder by the perpetrators, proud gangsters who re-enact their crimes for the camera.
2. Stories We Tell
Boldly putting her entire family on camera, Sarah Polley unwraps the riddle of her parentage with exquisite craft. Deconstructing as she goes, she turns the home movie, real and faux, into new genre of investigative memoir.
3. The Master
Acting doesn’t get any better as Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix, cast as a L. Ron Hubbard-like cult leader and his unstable acolyte, play truth or dare. Paul Thomas Anderson’s gorgeous 70-mm period epic decants extra-virgin snake oil of the highest order.
In a far more subtle fashion, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva give an octogenarian master class in acting. Michael Haneke, best known for visions of human cruelty, gears down with a dire, delicate chamber piece about an aged couple facing their mortality in a Paris apartment. It won the Palme d’Or in Cannes and will likely lead the Oscar race for Best Foreign Language Film.
5. The Hunt and Beyond the Hills
I’m calling a two-way tie between these European dramas about intolerance, which (like Amour) I haven’t seen since Cannes. Directed by Denmark’s Thomas Vinterberg (The Celebration), Mads Mikkelsen gives an intense, finely calibrated performance in The Hunt, as a divorced man whose life is ruined after a young girl falsely accuses him of sexual abuse. And in Beyond the Hills, Romania’s Cristian Mungiu tells a horrific but true story of an exorcism performed on a young woman who tries to liberate a nun from a monastery.
6. Silver Linings Playbook
Football, mental illness, dance and romance mix with Altman-esque chaos in an off-kilter crowd pleaser from David O. Russell. Bradley Cooper is pitch-perfect as an ex-mental patient who goes off his meds and moves back home to an OCD dad played by De Niro. Jennifer Lawrence steals the movie so deftly we don’t even realize we’re watching a romantic comedy until we’re hooked by the plot’s Hail Mary pass.
7. Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tom Ungerer Story
A documentary portrait of the artist as an old man tracks him from his origins as a Nazi-scarred child in Alsace through his various American lives as magazine illustrator, best-selling children’s author, anti-war propagandist and S&M freak. Computer graphics bring his subversive art magically to life.
The documentary camera goes where it’s never gone before in this action painting that takes us into a churning, real-time whorl of fish, men, birds and water from the deck-level POV of a fishing boat at sea. This documentary views industrial slaughter with ferocious intimacy. It also batters the optic nerve with dizzying syncopations of light and dark. So it’s hard to watch, but equally hard to forget.
9. Anna Karenina
Reunited with director Joe Wright (Atonement), and his adoring gaze, a radiant Keira Knightley brings more depth to Tolstoy’s heroine than you would ever expect. An ingenious adaptation, scripted by Tom Stoppard, frames lush visuals with a trompe l’oeil theatrical setting that, has trains thundering across a proscenium stage.
Quebec writer-director Kim Nguyen spent a decade bringing this harrowing drama of African child soldiers to the screen. Shot in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it’s the tale of a pregnant 14-year-old girl (Rachel Mwanza) who is forced to kill her parents and become a child soldier. Nguyen’s camera shies away from depicting atrocities, finding moments of tenderness and humour in a story of authentic horror. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, June 1, 2012 at 11:37 AM - 0 Comments
The Canadian actress, cast in three Cronenberg films in a row, hates cutesy roles
It was Sarah Gadon’s Cinderella moment in Cannes. She was dressed as a boy, doing a playful photo shoot with David Cronenberg’s daughter, Caitlin, when she realized she’d left her phone in her room. It was loaded with frantic messages: legendary fashion photographer Peter Lindbergh was waiting to shoot her for the New York Times. “It’s like, ‘Where are you?’ and I don’t even have a dress!” she recalls. “We raced down to the beach. Hair and makeup did me very fast, and I’m in this Stella McCartney white pencil skirt and amazing shirt and my hair is all flying and Peter Lindbergh is shooting me. It was so wild.”
Canada’s hottest rising star, who is about to shoot a movie with Jake Gyllenhaal, is not what you’d expect from her work. David Cronenberg, who ignited Gadon’s career, cast her as an icy blond estranged from her husband in two successive films—as Carl Jung’s betrayed wife in A Dangerous Method, then the frigid bride of a Manhattan billionaire (Twilight’s Robert Pattinson) in Cosmopolis, which had its premiere in Cannes. In both cases, she’s a model of composure. And as an airbrushed celebrity icon in Antiviral—the Cannes debut by David Cronenberg’s son, Brandon—she’s beyond composed: her character lies comatose for most of the film.
But in person, the 25-year-old Toronto actress shows not a trace of reserve. Sitting on a Cannes balcony in yoga pants, still giddy from the red-carpet rush, she could pass for a student—which she is, studying part-time to complete an honours B.A. at the University of Toronto. “It’s been a real trip,” she says. “You’re talking to the editor of Finch’s Quarterly and Adrien Brody is beside you and you meet Terry Gilliam and there’s Roman Polanski, and they’re giving away watches! It’s like, where am I? How did I get here? I just finished my exam three weeks ago!”
By Brian D. Johnson - Sunday, May 27, 2012 at 4:22 PM - 0 Comments
Nanni Moretti’s Cannes jury loves l’Amour, a movie about love and death. It awarded the festival’s top prize, the Palme d’Or, to Austrian director Michael Haneke for his tender, palliative chamber piece about an elderly French couple living out their final days in a Paris apartment, as the husband (Jean-Louis Trintignant) copes with a debilitating stroke suffered by his wife (Emmanuelle Riva). It’s Haneke’s second Palme, after The White Ribbon (2009). His movie is not a marvel of direction so much as acting. Speaking to the press after the ceremony, jury president Nanni Moretti pointed out that Amour‘s elderly thespians also deserve credit, but the jury is not permitted to give other prizes to the Palme winner.
The best actor prize went to Mads Mikkelsen for his intense, finely calibrated performance in The Hunt, as a divorced man whose life is ruined after a young girl falsely accuses him of sexual abuse. Upsetting speculation that the best actress award would go to Marion Cotillard for her role as a legless amputee in Rust and Bone, it instead was shared by the actress duo in Cristian Mungiu’s Beyond the Hills (Cristina Flutur and Cosmina Stratan)–for their roles in the harrowing true story of an exorcism performed on a young woman who tries to liberate a nun from a monastery. Mungiu, a former Palme winner for 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days, also won the screenplay prize. Pointing out that his film was non-fiction, he said, “People have really suffered. I don’t think we can fix the past with our films but hopefully we can make the future a little better.”
David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis was shut out of the awards. But if it’s any consolation, with 22 features in the main competition, all of the seven North American entries were snubbed by the jury. With the strong North American presence this year, the festival seemed keen to lure stars like Brad Pitt, Robert Pattinson and Nicole Kidman to the red carpet, but honouring their work seems a bigger stretch. American director Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, a powerful drama about flood victims in the Louisiana bayou, won the Camera d’Or for best first feature. However, it played outside the competition, in the Un Certain Regard sidebar. Zeitlin said his movie was “the first film of almost everyone who worked on it. It’s an award for courage and faith as much as skill.” Effusively grateful about being recognized at the high altar of world cinema, he added: “Cannes is the temple. This is a wild movie, and you never know if you’re going to be allowed to dance in the temple.” (It was announced earlier that Suzanne Clément won the Un Certain Regard best actress award for Quebec director Xavier Dolan’s Laurence, Anyways—the only prize going to a Canadian in Cannes. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, May 25, 2012 at 1:15 PM - 0 Comments
David Cronenberg never fails to surprise us. This morning in Cannes, we saw Cosmopolis, his keenly awaited adaptation of Don DeLillo’s 2003 novel—a 24-hour odyssey starring Twilight‘s Robert Pattinson as a Eric Packer, billionaire playboy who cruises Manhattan in a limo, looking for a haircut as riots erupt in the streets and his wealth evaporates in the twinkling of a bad gamble on Asian currency.
But we knew that before going in. Here’s what we weren’t expecting.
This is a road movie that barely moves. Most of it takes place inside an opulent white stretch limo, which crawls through the clogged streets like an urban space capsule. It’s a vehicle of stopped time. Outside rioters rock the car, paint it with graffiti and bounce off the windshield, but inside it’s so eerily silent that the commotion barely registers. The car has been “Prousted,” insulated with cork—a DeLillo detail that Cronenberg has taken to heart. Although the dialogue rarely lets up, this is one of the quietest films I’ve ever seen. It’s like a submarine movie. In fact at the press conference following the morning screening, Cronenberg referenced the German U-boat classic Das Boot.
He also recalled with perverse glee that his sound editors worried the movie was too quiet, and kept asking if he didn’t want more noise bleeding into the limo from the street. But no, he wanted to keep it Proustian. Which is disorienting, because we’re not used to watching movies without being manipulated by prominent sound design. Even The Artist, with its brash, driving score, seemed louder than Cosmopolis. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, May 24, 2012 at 7:17 PM - 0 Comments
The Cannes clock is winding down. The final entry of the 22 features in competition, Jeff Nichols’ Mud, premieres Saturday. But it’s unlikely to have the high-octane impact of David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, which seems strategically placed to climax the festival Friday. I’ll see the movie early that morning at a press screening. But before trying to log a few hours sleep, some observations on where the race for Palme d’Or now stands:
In a freakish twist of synchronicity, two of the most buzzed contenders for the Palme are both odysseys about a day in the life of a man on an obsessive mission cruising a major city in a white stretch limo. One of the films is Holy Motors, by French writer-director Leos Carax, which premiered Wednesday. The other is Cosmopolis, based on Don DeLillo’s 2003 novel and set in Manhattan. Until we see it Friday, it remains an unknown quantity.
The level of coincidence between these two movies is uncanny. Though I haven’t seen Cronenberg’s film yet, from reading the novel I know that the narrative culminates in a vast limo garage. So does Holy Motors, as the photo opposite shows. (It makes you wonder if Carax borrowed from DeLillo’s novel.) Cronenberg’s film is the bigger production, with serious stars (Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche) and it’s a straight-ahead narrative turbo-charged with elements of genre.
Despite Cronenberg’s reputation, it’s hard to imagine that his movie is more avant garde, or innovative, than the Carax film. Holy Motors is hard to describe. It’s a riddle of narrative that follows a mysterious character as he travels around the city by limo, being dispatched on hit-and-run assignments of Mission Impossible performance, art that involve costume, make-up, martial arts, murder, abduction, and so on. He assumes a repertoire of disguises, from ghoulish monster to motion capture acrobat. He’s like a cross between a mystery hit man and a one-man Cirque de Soleil, and seems to be making a movie with no cameras—aside from those employed by the movie we’re watching. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, May 24, 2012 at 11:02 AM - 0 Comments
You never know what you’re going to wake up to in Cannes. This morning, before coffee, it was The Paperboy. We woke up to a nasty John Cusack as an alligator hunter on death row for gutting a cop; a blonde-wigged Nicole Kidman as an oversexed Southern Barbie who gives Cusack a Basic Instinct peep show in the prison’s visiting room; Zac Efron positively steaming with desire in white briefs as Kidman’s doting suitor; singer Macy Gray doing a hip variation on The Help as the black housekeeper who raised him; and Matthew McConaughey as a brash homosexual journalist with a dangerous taste for kink.
Set in 1969, and based on the novel by Deadwood’s Pete Dexter, this Southern Gothic potboiler comes from writer-director Lee Daniels, the man who made the Oscar-winning sensation Precious. Cannes has taken heat this year for not finding room for a single female director among the 22 features in competition—while casting screen goddesses as its poster mascots three years running (Juliette Binoche, Faye Dunaway, Marilyn Monroe). But in honouring Daniels—whose overripe melodrama revels in racial and sexual taboo—the festival can tick off two minorities: black and gay. And from the intellectual remove of France, which is prone to fetishizing American genre, The Paperboy’s deep-fried cheese takes on a chèvre-chaud pedigree. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Wednesday, May 23, 2012 at 9:44 AM - 0 Comments
Much of the international press corps in Cannes was mystified this morning when a grinning Viggo Mortensen unveiled a large Montreal Canadiens banner, something he tends to do at every photo opportunity—the star who wants to be a fan. It was one of the few cavalier moments at an ultra serious press conference, where Brazilian director Walter Salles held court with a phalanx of seven actors and three producers from On the Road, his adaptation of the Jack Kerouac classic, which premieres here tonight. Studiously researched for eight years, and faithfully rendered onscreen, this loving ode to On the Road must be one of the most mature, responsible films ever made about drugs, drink and debauchery. The press conference was infused by a similar reverence as moderator Henri Behar dutifully asked everyone on the dais how their research into Kerouac’s real-life characters had affected their work.
Many of the journalists just wanted to hear Kristen Stewart talk about braving her first nude scene, and sharing the Cannes spotlight with her Twilight co-star Robert Pattinson (Cosmopolis). But by the time everyone had reported on their homework, and both Salles and Mortensen had given long, earnest discourses on the fidelity of the film, there was time for just a few quick questions from the media horde. Fortunately, someone did ask Stewart how it felt to to bare her body for the camera as a sexually liberated woman after being restrained by the abstinence of Twilight—although the moderator cut off the questioner as he dared to mention Pattinson. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Saturday, May 19, 2012 at 7:35 PM - 0 Comments
I once asked David Cronenberg what, if anything, makes him squeamish as a movie-goer. Without hesitation, he replied: “Needles.” That’s right. The man who has made heads explode and parasites erupt from the body, is scared of needles. And I couldn’t stop thinking about that as I watched this afternoon’s Cannes press screening of Antiviral, the feature debut by David’s 32-year-old son, Brandon Cronenberg. Antiviral is a sci-fi drama set in a fame-obsessed dystopia where pathogens that have infected celebrities are purchased and injected by their fans. It gives a whole new meaning to that red-carpet phrase “Who are you wearing?” The film never asks that question, but if it did, its answer would be something like: [celebrity name here] Herpes Simpex 2. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, May 18, 2012 at 6:57 AM - 0 Comments
Movies are taken super-seriously in Cannes. But there’s more to Cannes than movies. Sure, its red staircase is world cinema’s high altar, where auteurs are treated like stars and stars are treated like gods. But Cannes is also Hollywood’s royal court on the Riviera, a circus of deals and drinks and absurdly fancy dinners–a gilded bubble where the film industry’s delusions of grandeur actually seem to hold up. In Los Angeles, Hollywood doesn’t really exist. It’s just a myth, and a tawdry tourist district in L.A. America’s acme of Hollywood glamour is the Oscars, which is basically a TV show. But Cannes is a movie, a location epic in a fairy-tale setting with a cast of thousands—from the crazy French film fans who jam the Croisette to the festival’s horde of 4,000 journalists. That’s why the stars love to come here. Cannes is the Magic Kingdom where the Hollywood dream is briefly made flesh.
The movie industry’s usual hierarchy is inverted. While high-pedigree art takes pride of place in the festival’s competition, the big studios serve up the sideshow—with movies premiering safely out of competition (Madagascar 3) and publicity stunts for blockbusters. On opening day, a mob of photographers paid homage to The Dictator‘s General Aladeen (aka Sacha Baron Cohen) as he fell off the back of a camel at the entrance of the Carlton Hotel, flanked by two machine-gun-toting babes. Meanwhile, just a block away Alec Baldwin, Chris Pine and Isla Fisher tub-thumped for the animated blockbuster Rise of the Guardians, along with director Peter Ramsey and DreamWorks boss Jeffrey Katzenberg. The movie doesn’t open until Nov. 22, but it’s never too early to jump-start the hype. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Wednesday, May 16, 2012 at 4:11 PM - 0 Comments
Far too often, the movie chosen to open the Cannes Film Festival is an opulent, overstuffed confection, a cinematic French pastry. Last year marked a refreshing departure, when Woody’s Allen’s Midnight in Paris kicked things off. It was a confection to be sure, a dreamy mille feuilles fantasy, but at least it was about art, and artists. Today Cannes upped the ante. It launched its 65th anniversary edition with Wes Anderson’s Moonlight Kingdom. Like Midnight in Paris, it’s another charming, quirky slice of American whimsy, festooned with Hollywood stars. Yet this one is not just about art. You could go so far as to call it an art film. Which is exactly what Bill Murray did, with a measure of deadpan pride, at a media conference following the movie’s morning press screening.
“These are what we call art films,” said Murray, who has appeared in all of Anderson’s pictures since Rushmore (1998). “They are films where you work very, very long hours for no money. This is all we get—this trip to Cannes. Fortunately we’ve saved from other jobs we’ve worked on. It’s nice to serve. I don’t get any other work except though Wes. I just sit by the phone.” Looking wonderfully disheveled in a loud checked jacket, the actor went on to say, “Sometimes when you work with a director you hope you never see them again. And that goes for the director as well. They drive you to the airport. Wes has never driven me to the airport.”
By Brian D. Johnson - Tuesday, May 15, 2012 at 3:16 PM - 0 Comments
CANNES — It’s quiet today in this town on the French Riviera. But on Wednesday, in a country where cinema is a virtual religion, thousands of fans will line barricades along the Croisette for the gala opening of the 65th annual Cannes Film Festival. The event kicks off with Moonrise Kingdom, the latest picture from the idiosyncratic Wes Anderson (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums). It stars Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Ed Norton and Tilda Swinton, but the movie’s romantic leads are a couple of kids, playing 12-year-olds in 1965 New England who fall in love and run off together into the wilderness.
Cannes, world cinema’s high altar for auteurs, worships age almost as much as beauty. And this year’s program honours old masters ranging from Bernardo Bertolucci, 72, to Alain Resnais, who turns 90 next month. But many of the most buzzed about films awaiting festival-goers feature considerably younger talent. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Hollywood’s de facto royal couple, will grace the red carpet, but so will twentysomething sweethearts Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson.
The Twilight kids are both coming of age in Cannes, starring in movies that look more risqué than the vampire romance that made them famous. Stewart plays a nude scene in Walter Salles’ On the Road, adapted from the Jack Kerouac novel, and Pattinson takes a sex-and-death limo odyssey through Manhattan in David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, adapted from the Don DeLillo novel. Meanwhile Cronenberg’s 32-year-old son, Brandon, makes his feature directing debut in the festival’s sidebar program Un Certain Regard with Antiviral, a sci-fi story about a clinic that sells live pathogens from sick celebrities to obsessed fans. (Clearly the worm-riddled apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.)
Also screening in Un Certain Regard, is 23-year-old Quebec wunderkind Xavier Dolan’s third feature, Laurence Anyways. The nearly three hour opus is about a romance that is complicated when a man reveals to his fiancée that he wants to become a woman. Dolan has expressed disappointment that, on his third Cannes outing, he hasn’t made it into the main competition. But he’s still very young; there’s lots of time to play with the big boys. This, by the way, is an unusually strong year in Cannes for Canadian directors; there are six of them with films spread across every official program—the Competition, Un Certain Regard, the Palme D’or shorts competition, the Critics’ Week, and the Directors’ Fortnight.
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, May 10, 2012 at 5:21 PM - 0 Comments
Last week I posted a blog titled ‘Celebrity à la carte’ that broke news about an unprecedented “opportunity” for Canadian journalists visiting Cannes—a price list for interviews with stars such as Brad Pitt and Kristen Stewart. That menu was relayed to us by Alliance Films, the Canadian distributor of the two films in question, On the Road and Killing Them Softly. Since then, there’s been a fair bit of consternation about this bizarre new protocol, including a thoughtful piece by Liam Lacey in today’s Globe and Mail. Now I’ve received an email from Carmite Cohen, vice-president of publicity and promotions for Alliance, claiming that my blog is “inaccurate and distorts the truth.” I see absolutely no evidence of that; in fact, I took pains to quote Cohen as she distanced Alliance from the sale of interviews to journalists in Cannes. But for the sake of full clarity, here is what Cohen wishes to add to the record:
“Junkets for the press are typically organized by a film’s producers. Distributors (like Alliance) are charged for access to those junkets. The journalists and their employers never see these charges as the distributors absorb them. In this case, Alliance decided not to contribute to the costs of the Cannes junket, which we found to be exorbitant. We decided, instead, to participate in the upcoming North American junket, which will happen later this year. It will be more cost effective and more relevant to Alliance given that it will happen in proximity to the film’s release date in Canada. That being said, we didn’t want to prevent Canadian journalists from having access to the Cannes junkets for these films if they wanted to participate and gain earlier access. It was on this basis that you were provided with the price list. There is absolutely no economic benefit derived by Alliance from this opportunity.”
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, May 3, 2012 at 5:24 PM - 0 Comments
Here’s something I’ve never seen in two decades of covering the Cannes Film Festival—an à la carte menu of celebrity interviews, with steep prices. This week a publicist at Alliance Films notified a number of Canadian journalists coming to Cannes that their outlets could purchase interview slots for two movies that will premiere in Cannes, On the Road and Killing Them Softly, which Alliance will distribute in Canada. Last year we heard complaints from Canadian distributors about the cost of finding space for Canadians in Cannes press junkets. But this is first time we’ve been handed a price list. The “participation fees” range from from €750 ($975) for an On the Road roundtable interview that would include Kristen Stewart to €3,000 ($3,900) for a TV interview with Brad Pitt.
But Carmite Cohen, vice-president of publicity and promotions at Alliance Films Inc, insists “we are not selling interview slots.” In a phone interview today, she explained that Alliance decided not to contribute to the high cost of Cannes publicity for On the Road and Killing Them Softly, preferring to support a domestic opportunity closer to release. (Typically, many high-profile films that premiere in Cannes later come to TIFF). “I’ve never seen such high costs,” Cohen told Maclean’s. “Wow— €3,000 for an interview is high. I want to be able to take care of our journalists here instead of spending $20,000 in Cannes.” (Since this blog was posted, Cohen has charged that it is “inaccurate and distorted.” Click here for her full explanation of Alliance’s position on this matter.)
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, September 8, 2011 at 9:30 AM - 1 Comment
As TIFF ignites the fall season of serious movies, no one is creating more heat than Gosling
It must have been the glasses. As Ryan Gosling sat down for an interview at a beachfront bar in Cannes one afternoon last May, it took a moment to connect the man with the movie star. Behind a pair of thick horn-rims, his cautious gaze had none of the laser intensity that makes his blue eyes so electrifying onscreen. It was like talking to the Clark Kent version of the Hollywood heartthrob. And despite the fake American twang that he adopted as a young actor—because he “thought guys should sound like Marlon Brando”—in the way he parried questions with polite, self-deprecating charm, you could still see the Canadian in him.
Gosling wanted to be an American action hero ever since he was a kid, a scrawny working-class child born in London, Ont., and raised in Cornwall by Mormon parents. Rambo was an early role model. “When I was in first grade I watched First Blood and I filled my Fisher-Price Houdini kit with steak knives and brought them to school and started throwing them at kids at recess,” he recalls. “I got suspended and my parents nixed R-rated movies. The writing was on the wall when I saw Rocky for the first time. I went and picked a fight right afterwards and got my ass kicked. The movies took me into their dream.”
Now he’s living it. This week, as the juggernaut of the Toronto International Film Festival (Sept. 8-18) launches the fall season of Oscar-pedigree movies, Gosling’s career is on fire. With sensational lead roles in two films at the festival—as a smouldering action hero in Drive and a ruthless election strategist in The Ides of March—he has emerged as TIFF’s It Boy. His talent has never been in question. At 26, as a drug-addicted teacher in Half Nelson, he became the first Canadian in six decades to be nominated for Best Actor. And ever since he romanced Canadian sweetheart Rachel McAdams in The Notebook (2004), he has been an unlikely and enduring heartthrob. This is a ladies’ man with range, able to carry on a credible love affair with a blow-up doll in Lars and the Real Girl (2007), and coax an Oscar-nominated performance from Michelle Williams as her alcoholic husband in Blue Valentine (2010).
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, June 3, 2011 at 9:50 AM - 0 Comments
The ‘Tree of Life’ star talks about being a dad, and playing one for the mysterious Malick
In a recent tweet, Steve Martin announced that he was “starting a massive new media campaign to promote the idea that I am ‘famously shy.’ ” Was Martin making a Terrence Malick joke? Hard to say. But that oxymoronic phrase “famously shy” has been attached to Malick’s name a lot lately, ever since the legendary American director shunned the red carpet in Cannes, snuck into his own premiere unnoticed, and didn’t show up to accept the Palme d’Or for The Tree of Life. The movie’s famously famous star, Brad Pitt, along with almost-famous co-star Jessica Chastain, were left to defend and explain their Oz-like wizard to the press, protecting the 67-year-old director as if he were an ultra-sensitive, strangely gifted child. “He’s one of the most humble men you’ll ever come across,” said Pitt, holding court for a group of journalists in a penthouse suite of the Carlton Hotel in Cannes. “He’s a very special man, very sweet—until you get a ball or bat in his hand, and then he’s very competitive.”
Although he’s made just four other movies in four decades (Badlands, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line, The New World), Malick has carved out a singular mystique as the epic poet of American cinema. His films have always doted on nature, with an eye for transcendental wonder. But The Tree of Life goes further. Set mostly in a ’50s Texas suburb, it’s a nostalgic reverie about three boys being raised by a strict father (Pitt) and an angelic mother (Chastain). But its narrative is submerged by wave upon wave of rapturous images. With just traces of dialogue, it unfolds almost entirely as montage.
The film is like a marathon trailer for itself—a symphony of images set to inspirational music and prayerlike voice-over. Midway through, Malick pauses to enact the creation of the universe with a spectacle that plays like a beatific antidote to the cosmic chill of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Malick is the anti-Kubrick. Instead of playing God, he fishes for divinity in glimmers of sunlight, wind and emotion, building a grand canvas from tiny, random moments.
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, June 2, 2011 at 11:21 PM - 2 Comments
Something for everyone this weekend: a Woody Allen comedy, a comic book blockbuster, and a semi-precious gem of Montreal noir. But exercise caution. Actors may be smaller than they appear. Take the photograph above, which is misleading. It would suggest that Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams, the adorable stars of Wedding Crashers, are reunited in another romantic comedy. Well, Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris is a romantic comedy, with Wilson and McAdams starring as an engaged American couple vacationing in the City of Light. But they’re clearly mismatched from the start, and McAdams’ role—as a shallow, shrewish conservative—is much smaller and less sympathetic than Wilson’s. Canada’s sweetheart works hard to bring nuance and detail to what is, in the end, a thankless part. It’s yet another instance of her talent being better than her material. Which points to a broader trend: actors being vastly overqualified for the movies they end up in. Look at this weekend’s blockbuster sequel: X-Men First Class. The best thing about the movie is the first-class cast, which includes Michael Fassbender (Hunger), James McEvoy (The Last King of Scotland) and Jennifer Lawrence (A Winter’s Bone). They do some really fine work here. But going to an X-Men movie for the character acting is like buying Playboy for the articles. In Hollywood movies these days, it’s pearls before swine everywhere you look. I mean, will Johnny Depp ever desert that damn pirate ship?
Midnight in Paris and X-Men: First Class are both broadly entertaining, crowd-pleasing confections, though each is less that the sum of its performances. Good Neighbours, a Canadian indie film, is a a modest chamber piece, but it’s tautly directed by Jacob Tierney (The Trotsky), with trio of compelling performances by Canadian actors Jacob Baruchel, Scott Speedman and Emily Hampshire. It succeeds admirably on its own terms. Details on all three movies . . . Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Wednesday, May 25, 2011 at 9:55 AM - 1 Comment
Judging from this year’s Cannes screenings, cinema is obsessed with seductive angels of mercy
In Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, which kicked off Cannes, Owen Wilson stars as a Hollywood screenwriter vacationing in France with his fiancée, a shrewish Malibu princess played by Rachel McAdams. He’s a frustrated novelist who dreams of being a writer in the café society of the 1920s. This being a Woody Allen movie, magical thinking produces magic, and our artiste manqué time-travels to the salons of the Golden Age, mixing with the likes of Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Picasso—and falls in love with an artist’s muse portrayed by Marion Cotillard. She, in turn, considers her own era a bore, and longs to be transported back to the belle époque of the 1890s. The absinthe is always greener on the other side.
Living elsewhere, of course, is why we go to movies. And the unabashed nostalgia of Midnight in Paris served as a fitting amuse-bouche for the 64th annual Cannes International Film festival, an event where the past could not have been more present. Cannes is the shrine of auteur cinema, “the pinnacle,” as Johnny Depp acknowledged when he dropped anchor to promote Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides—part of the Hollywood sideshow that keeps the media flocking to Cannes. But as blockbuster culture erodes the fragile ecology of the art film, the art-house fortress of Cannes has never seemed more intent on honouring the past. This week it staged a tribute to Jean-Paul Belmondo, whose role in Breathless in 1960 helped launch the French New Wave. And among the 20 features in competition, one film after another conjured nostalgic visions of paradise lost, from a miraculously good black and white silent movie called The Artist, to Terrence Malick’s eye-popping vision of a ’50s childhood (and all of Creation) in The Tree of Life.
That smoky siren played by Cotillard in Midnight in Paris could be a poster girl for this festival—if the ofﬁcial poster was not already adorned by the ghostly image of another icon, a young Faye Dunaway with mascara eyes wide shut and endless legs folded in supplication. This edition of the festival feted a pantheon of mostly male directors—including Lars von Trier, Pedro Almodóvar and the Dardenne brothers—but Cannes has always held a special place in its heart for the Siren. No, not the one on the Starbucks logo, but the sort of screen goddess who embodies the mystique of cinema. Sophia Loren. Ingrid Bergman. Monica Vitti. Marilyn Monroe. We’re still looking for the latest incarnation, in the fiery brilliance of Penélope Cruz or the erotic majesty of Angelina Jolie, but it’s like hunting for a new Dalai Lama.