Saturday, May 14, 2016

Cannes Review: Steven Spielberg's The BFG

It's a moment etched in Cannes history. Steven Spielberg's E.T. premiering in 1982 as the closing night film, the famous bike ride to the moon sequence occurring and the entire audience lighting up their lighters in the dark. Goosebumps. Any Cinephile wishes they could have been there for that goosebumps worthy moment. That was then, this is now.

Spielberg's The BFG  got its world premiere here at Cannes just a couple of hours ago. The lineups outside to get into the 11:45 am screening at the famous Grand Theatre Lumiere were the biggest the fest has seen so far, but not all got in. Those that did got a chance to catch a film that will only come out on July 1st. Adapting Roal Dahl's famous children's book, Spielberg seems to be at home in the first few scenes, presenting us Ruby Barnhill as orphan Sophie, who gets snatched away by a Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance). The set-up is all money encompassing the camera techniques and use of music that the famous director is so well-known for.

Things get a bit rocky once Sophie catches a glimpse of the BFG and, worried she might tattle-tale his existence, forces her to come with him to his homeland. The ensuing scenes are rocky,  as they try to forcefully explain the do's and donts of the BFG's homeland and his passion for dream-making. That part of the film could have easily been trimmed down in half, but Spielberg is just too in love with the visually colorful world he's created and doesn't let go. Things do get a bit better in the mid-way mark as the action picks up with Sophie and the BFG facing mean, hungry giants and then having to go visit -no joke- the Queen of England.

It's all good-natured fun and if The BFG didn't have Spielberg at the helm it might have garnered far more enthusiastic words from this critic. It is an adamantly well-done action adventure yarn that boasts top-notch special effects and real heart, but it's Spielberg and it's Cannes and expectations are too high. The film is no classic, but it's also no Hook, Spielberg has matured and leaned out his errors since the time of his misbegotten 1991 film.

Cannes Competition (UPDATED DAILY)

Staying Vertical (Alain Guiraudie) B

The follow-up to the French filmmaker's 2013 sleeper Stranger by the Lake might not be as masterfully restrained and mysteriously frightening, but by comparing them you'd be missing the point entirely. Guiraudie seems to be meshing many genres into his new film, at some point even incorporating an element of screwball comedy.

Don't mind the plot, it's just an excuse for Guiraudie to indulge himself in his wildest, most passionate themes. Just like in his previous film, the 51 year-old filmmaker obsesses over the erotic and subconscious unknown. His film is an ambiguous rollercoaster of a dream that contains some of the most well-conceived moments of the film year. Wait until you witness the "assisted suicide" that Leo gets himself into, accompanied by his much-older gay lover, or did I mention the final scene which re-examines everything that came before it. Staying Vertical is an amalgalm of cinematic love, it brims with the notion that anything and everything is possible in cinema. Its plot may be too wayward for some, but those that are just fine with entering a movie that goes by its own wild convictions will be rewarded with a special treat.

I, Daniel Blake (Ken Loach) B

Although there might be better, more deserving directors to take the honor, Cannes' love for 79 year-old British writer-director Ken Loach's films is entirely endearing. In a career full of art-house hits and misses, Loach has always remained true to his blue-collar spirit and the fest has loved every minute of it, choosing more than a dozen of his films for their festival. Whereas some of his British contemporaries, such as Mike Leigh, have occasionally decided to tackle new territory in some films, Loach has always remained true to his roots.

The titular character (as played by Dave Johns) hops from one government agent to the next with not many answers to his questions. He's just had a heart attack and his doctors are telling him he can't work due to his delicately, risky health condition. The people over at the benefit office for the unemployed want to hear none of that, in fact they don't want to explain anything to Blake, instead they want him to go online and figure everything out. Problem is our hero is computer illiterate, he's never used one in his life, to make matters worse he's a stubborn, hot-blooded, old-fashioned kind of guy.

A chance encounter at the benefit office introduces him to Katie (Hayley Squires) a single mother of two with her own monetary struggles. They build a friendship that will last until the movie's very final scene. Problem is the story is a little too familiar to be saved by its impeccable direction and harrowingly effective acting. What we get instead is a competent, watchable, but, at times, harrowing take on socialism.

Slack Bay D+

A few notes of French director Bruno Dumont's Slack Bay, a competition title slapstick comedy, murder-mystery that is very much influenced by Laurel and Hardy, but also silent pictures from the 1910's! You can't fault it for being original, but after an hour or so it grows tiresome, its thin story irrelevant and the acting gets on your nerves.

Toni Erdmann  B+

There is only one movie everyone seems to be talking about and it's Maren Ade's Toni Erdmann. If you're not familiar with Ade's work then please do yourself a favor and catch her excellent, but underseen 2009 film Everyone Else. 

Erdmann, which press screened to enthusiastic applause centers on  Winfried (an awards ready Peter Simonischek) who doesn't seem to click like he used to with his now older, career woman daughter Ines (an excellent Sandra Huller). She wants none of dad, especially after his dog dies and he decides to surprise her with a visit.  The problem is Ines is working on an important project in Romania and is so dead-set on completing it that she shuns her dad off. That's when the nasty fun begins and Winfried decides to annoy his daughter with strangest, most surreal prank, but to him it doesn't really count because he goes undercover as "Toni Erdmann": A ridiculously unsmooth-talking, wig wearing, fake-teeth clinging master of mayhem. A self-proclaimed "life coach", with a business card to prove it.

No need to divulge any surprises of this 162 minute German comedy especially in its second half. Yes, 162 minutes, but they fly by, even when Ade purposely changes the tempo of her film every so often to let the scenes linger on instead of cutting it short and on to the next one. That's fine, the flawed, scrambling, ambitious narrative structure of the film does it no disservice. Instead it's a pure delight and the current top contender for the Palme D'or.

The Handmaiden C+

It was in 2013 the sexually explicit, lesbian drama Blue is the Warmest Color justly won the Palme D'or. That same year Park Chan-Wook released Stoker, a gothic murder drama that evoked Hitchcock.  This year at Cannes Park is back with The Handmaiden, a film that seems to be a mix of both films.

Erotically charged and ready to explode at any minute, the film is sure to confuse fans of the director's bloodier works such as the classic Oldboy. Instead of explicit violence, we get explicit lesbian sex. It's a Victorian romance with backstabbing surprises on all fronts. The story of a good-hearted pickpocket artist who is hired to become the maid of a rich heiress is not far off from the mood the 52 year-old director has been in as of late. If you saw his last film Stoker you will know that Park is trying to go in a very different direction as far as his film career goes. He is now more interested in tense, character-driven slowm but building period pieces that contain just an antsy bit of violent bite. No problem there.

Park will push the limits of the American censors board once The Handmaiden gets released. The erotica on display is no doubt very sexy, but, much to the director's credit in the way he shoots these scenes, no full frontal nudity is shown and yet I wouldn't be surprised if the film picks up an NC-17 rating once its released. Suffice to say, that the film is a handsomely opaque, overtly-familiar, sexually evocative romance that never bores you and yet, throughout I felt like something was missing.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Cannes-bound in a few hours

I should be boarding at 9pm Eastern Standard Time tonight ay Montreal's Trudeau airport for London's Heathrow which, following an abysmal 7 hour layover where I will more than likely feast on fish and chips, will land me in Nice where I will take a shuttle to Cannes for the film festival. I will be missing Day one, which kinda irks me considering I'll be missing the newest Woody Allen Cafe Society and the newest Cristi Puiu Sieranevada, but will hopefully be plenty rested to seize day two. Reports, interviews, coverage, the whole megilah to follow ......

Monday, May 9, 2016

X-Men: Apocalypse is a terrible, empty vehicle of a movie

We've gotten the best and worst of superhero movies thus far this year. On one hand you have the primitively thought-out empty tank that was Batman v. Superman, but on the other there is the very watchable Captain America - Civil War. Which way X-Men Apocalypse would go was uncertain, but I am here to report that the movie just plainly disappoints. It is competently made, but if Civil War tried to be a little different in terms of pacing and action then this new X-Men movie resorts to the worst possible same old same old recipe.The set-up was good, but at mid-point it just felt like it was going through the motions and by the end I just didn't care about the outcome

At this point in time the movie is not due for release until three weeks from now. The fact that Fox screened this film means that they really were banking on word of mouth to drive the box office receipts. Not going to happen. In fact as I expected the reviews have so far been scathing. This might be the last summer movie that will likely screen this much time in advance for the critics. Fox was the sacrficial pig, all the other studios have now been warned: Critics are on the hunt for bad movie franchises this summer. Deservedly so.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Captain America - Civil War's Box Office numbers

'Captain America: Civil War' Opens with $181.8 Million; Global Cume Climbs Over $675M

by Brad Brevet
May 8 - Captain America: Civil War scorched the weekend box office, bringing in the fifth largest opening weekend of all-time. The massive debut contributed to Disney bringing in over $200 million this weekend as the studio became the fastest to cross the $1 billion mark. Meanwhile, Open Road'sMother's Day took advantage of its holiday namesake for a stellar second weekend.

Solid numbers, but not Avengers solid, more like Iron Man 3 solid. Which is still pretty great. I think word of mouth will probably drive this film to make much more money than the third Iron Man. This is really a good, solid entertainment, but it just bugs me that another superhero movie will likely cross the billion dollar mark because that means that more will come. The bubble can only burst if there is a major flop and then another one. It's somewhat happening with the DC movies, but not with Marvel.

Bruce LaBruce - to love him and hate him

You never get "normal" with Bruce LaBruce, even his name seems tailor made for the out of the ordinary.The 52 year-old Canadian writer-director's films blends explicitly pornographic sexual content with cinematic narratives that tackle taboo topics. Take for example his 2010 film "L.A. Zombie". Clocking in at a mere 63 minutes, LaBruce's film was a strange gay porn gorefest that puzzled many, frustrated others and infuriated the rest. The film cast porn star Francois Sagat as a Zombiethat went around Los Angeles looking for dead male bodies to have sex with and literally bring back to life. Yikes. Talk about infuriating the masses. LaBruce didn't care and still doesn't. His films have been categorized as part of the Queercore movement which started in the 1980s. Cinema Zombie Film, but it's much more than that. In his movies you see parallels and metaphors to AIDS, gender identity, race and politics..

His last film was Pierrot Lunaire in 2014, but LaBruce is back, The controversial filmmaker will be taking his newest project, "The Misandrists", to Kickstarter. A lesbian feminist film, the tagling reads  "support the lesbian intifada" The title refers to a secret cell of feminist terrorists that plan to "liberate women, overthrow the patriarchy, and usher in a new female world order". Things get complicated when a runaway young man enters the house and disrupts order in the house. The cast includes Susanne Sachsse, playing the feminist leader, Til Schindler as the runaway and Caprice Crawford.

In a note left on Kickstarter LaBruce states:  "I’m making The Misandrists with limited resources because I feel it’s important to push my work forward as a filmmaker regardless of budgetary constraints or the prior censorship that certain kinds of more conventional financing may entail. Working with modest budgets has always allowed me the freedom to make challenging and provocative films that would otherwise be very difficult or impossible to finance."

LaBruce, currently shooting the film in Berlin, launched the Kickstarter campaign on Wednesday. "The Misandrists" is set to be the director's 10th feature film.

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