Le Pacte via Everett Collection
It's the beginning of the summer, which means it's time for Hollywood's biggest and brightest stars to make their way to the French Riviera for the Cannes Film Festival, while the rest of us look on with jealousy. But just because you didn't snag a ticket to the most glamorous film event of the year, that doesn't mean you can't keep up with all of the big films premiering over the next two weeks. To help you stay on top of things, we're running down the films that premiered in competition every day, along with what the critics are saying about them. It's all the fun of being at Cannes, without the hassle of having to fly there.
Mr. Turner Mike Leigh's latest collaboration with Timothy Spall, Mr. Turner takes place during the last 25 years in the life and career of the famous British painter JMW Turner. The eccentric Turner was equally as famous for his lack of manners as he was for his talent, and he was both loved and hated by the general public and the aristocracy. In addition to the ups and downs of his career, Leigh's film also touches on the devastation that the death of Turner's father caused, his tumultuous relationship with his housekeeper (Dorothy Atkinson) and his unique and sometimes dangerous methods of painting.
"For a director who's specialized in finding poetry in the everyday, it's fitting that while the backdrops are Turner-esque, the people who fill them are more Hogarthian. No one looks like a movie star in a Mike Leigh film, and he's assembled a dream team of previous collaborators here... But it's Spall's film, and he's remarkable in it, all snorts and snarls and grunts, hands often tensed into a kind of claw ... There's as much animal in him as man, which only makes the beauty that comes from him the more impressive." - Oliver Lyttelton, The Playlist
"Returning to the large-canvas period filmmaking of his 1999 Gilbert & Sullivan bio 'Topsy-Turvy,' Leigh has made another highly personal study of art, commerce and the glacial progress of establishment tastes, built around a lead performance from longtime Leigh collaborator Timothy Spall that’s as majestic as one of Turner’s own swirling sunsets." - Scott Foundas, Variety
"The director obviously empathizes with his protagonist cussedness, and his monomaniacal devotion to his art, but what’s more resonant here is Leigh’s ability to draw out Turner’s soft, capacious underbelly, visible in his easy rapport with Sophia, or the way he listens keenly to Mr. Booth’s remembrances of working on slave ships, intelligence that would feed into one his greatest paintings, 'Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, Typhoon Coming On.'" - Leslie Felperin, The Hollywood Reporter
Timbuktu Centered on the unrest caused by Islamist extremists in Mali, Timbuktu tells several different stories about people who are brought together by the crimes and choas that is ravaging their country. Director Abderrahmane Sissako, who grew up in Mali, hired a cast of experience actors - like Abel Jafri and Hichem Yacoubi - and newcomers to illustrate the way that culture and conflict has torn the country apart.
"Abderrahmane Sissako's passionate and visually beautiful film Timbuktuis a cry from the heart...In many ways, Sissako's portrait of Mali is...built up with enormous emotion, teetering between hope and despair." - Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian
"Timbuktu is an impressively well-made film, eschewing what might be the obvious choice of presenting the events in a docu-realist style, in favor of constructing a loose mosaic of stories...For all its value in bearing witness to the kind of atrocious acts that get but little attention on the world stage, this is not mere testimony, this is cleverly crafted and remarkably affecting storytelling." - Jessica Kiang, The Playlist
"While previous films have showcased [Sissako's] skill at bringing magnetic dignity to his characters, “Timbuktu” confirms his status as one of the true humanists of recent cinema... Performances are mesmeric, even the smaller roles, and Sissako’s unfailing sense of color, contrasting with the pale desert landscape, holds the eye without distracting from the story." - Jay Weissberg, Variety
Widening the thematic scope without sacrificing too much of the claustrophobia that made the original 1979 Alien universally spooky Prometheus takes the trophy for this summer's most adult-oriented blockbuster entertainment. The movie will leave your mouth agape for its entire runtime first with its majestic exploration of an alien planet and conjectures on the origins of the human race second with its gross-out body horror that leaves no spilled gut to the imagination. Thin characters feel more like pawns in Scott's sci-fi prequel but stunning visuals shocking turns and grand questions more than make up for the shallow ensemble. "Epic" comes in many forms. Prometheus sports all of them.
Based on their discovery of a series of cave drawings all sharing a similar painted design Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) are recruited by Weyland to head a mission to another planet one they believe holds the answers to the creation of life on Earth. Along for the journey are Vickers (Charlize Theron) the ruthless Weyland proxy Janek (Idris Elba) a blue collar captain a slew of faceless scientists and David (Michael Fassbender) HAL 9000-esque resident android who awakens the crew of spaceship Prometheus when they arrive to their destination. Immediately upon descent there's a discovery: a giant mound that's anything but natural. The crew immediately prepares to scope out the scene zipping up high-tech spacesuits jumping in futuristic humvees and heading out to the site. What they discover are the awe-inspiring creations of another race. What they bring back to the ship is what they realize may kill their own.
The first half of Prometheus could be easily mistaken for Steven Spielberg's Alien a sense of wonder glowing from every frame not too unlike Close Encounters. Scott takes full advantage of his fictional settings and imbues them with a reality that makes them even more tantalizing. He shoots the vistas of space and the alien planet like National Geographic porn and savors the interior moments on board the Prometheus full of hologram maps sleeping pods and do-it-yourself surgery modules with the same attention. Prometheus is beautiful shot in immersive 3D that never dampers Dariusz Wolski's sharp photography. Scott's direction seems less interested in the run-or-die scenario set up in the latter half of the film but the film maintains tension and mood from beginning to end. It all just gets a bit…bloodier.
Jon Spaihts' and Damon Lindelof's script doesn't do the performers any favors shuffling them to and fro between the ship and the alien construction without much room for development. Reveals are shoehorned in without much setup (one involving Theron's Vickers that's shockingly mishandled) but for the most part the ensemble is ready to chomp into the script's bigger picture conceits. Rapace is a physical performer capable of pulling off a grisly scene involving an alien some sharp objects and a painful procedure (sure to be the scene of the blockbuster season. Among the rest of the crew Fassbender's David stands out as the film's revelatory performance delivering a digestible ambiguity to his mechanical man that playfully toys with expectations from his first entrance. The creature effects in Prometheus will wow you but even Fassbender's smallest gesture can send the mind spinning. The power of his smile packs more of a punch than any facehugger.
Much like Lindelof's Lost Prometheus aims to explore the idea of asking questions and seeking answers and on Scott's scale it's a tremendous unexpected ride. A few ideas introduced to spur action fall to the way side in the logic department but with a clear mission and end point Prometheus works as a sweeping sci-fi that doesn't require choppy editing or endless explosions to keep us on the edge of our seats. Prometheus isn't too far off from the Alien xenomorphs: born from existing DNA of another creature the movie breaks out as its own beast. And it's wilder than ever.