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 biggest films that premiered in competition at the festival, including Michel Hazanavicius' gritty follow up to The Artist, a strange, metaphorical film from Jean-Luc Godard, and a possible Palme D'Or winner.
Two Days, One Night The latest film from Cannes fixtures Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Two Days, One Night stars Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard as a woman who has one weekend to convince her co-workers to give up their annual bonuses so that she can keep her job. Assisted by her husband, played by Fabrizio Rongione, she must find someone to help her convince her boss to reconsider, and to give her another chance despite the time she had to take off for depression. The film premiered to positive reviews, and it's considered one of the frontrunners for the Palme D'Or.
"Cotillard's best work since La Vie En Rose unquestionably ranks as her most credible turn, as the actress demonstrates a fragility that never veers into the realm of overstatement. Despite its basic trajectory, her actions are littered with surprising moments, and each new co-worker she encounters adds another layer of texture to this delicate portrait of personal and professional priorities clashing with awkward results." - Eric Kohn, Variety
"The Dardennes have made a brilliant social-realist drama with a real narrative tension which is something of a novelty in their work. [...] As for this solar-panel company, it appears to have a union in that a vote has been forced which the management will abide by, but it is a union which manages and regulates the decisions of those above them, and they are certainly not united enough to reject out of hand the insidious Bonus/Sandra choice. Yet movingly, solidarity is what the film is about; solidarity is what Sandra is trying to achieve as her emotional state comes to pieces, through a majority vote in a democratic election." - Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian
The SearchAfter winning a Best Picture Oscar for The Artist, director Michel Hazanavicius went in a different direction for his follow-up, The Search. Set during the Second Chechnyan War, an NGO worker (played by Berenice Bejo) cares for an orphan boy, Hadji, who refuses to speak or open up to her in any way. Hazanavicius describes his film, which is based on the 1948 movie with Montgomery Clift, as a "picture of dignity" and "a true canvas of the suffering of humanity.”
"It’s ambitious of Hazanavicius to cram so many of war’s horrors into one film, but it makes that film a slow-moving, bloated one. And once you’ve got used to the way he cuts between three different strands, it becomes apparent that not much is actually happening in any of them. There are shockingly credible depictions of firefights and bombings, and there are more shots of corpses than you’d see in a typical zombie movie. [...] For a war movie, The Search is curiously short of conflict." - Nicholas Barber, BBC Culture
"Coincidentally quite timely in the wake of recent Russian moves on its neighbors, the writer-director’s first full-on drama attempts to present a mosaic portrait of the suffering in a region little-known or understood by the world, hence the perceived lack of concern. The result is vivid when focusing on those directly involved in the war but laborious when devoted to the fretful hand-wringing of do-gooder outsider characters, which is a lot of the time." - Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter
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Jimmy's Hall Irish director Ken Loach's latest film tells the story of activist Jimmy Gralton, who was deported from the country during the Red Scare of the 1930s. Gralton was the founder of the Pearse-Connolly community hall, where people from the town gathered to learn about art, music, and literature. However, his actions upset the Catholic priests and town leaders, who opposed to his teachings and practices.
"Ken Loach has taken a despicable episode of modern Irish history — the 1933 deportation without trial of one of its own citizens, James Gralton — and made a surprisingly lovely, heartfelt film from it with Jimmy’s Hall. A thematic sequel of sorts to his Cannes-winning The Wind That Shakes the Barley, Loach’s 24th fiction feature finds the activist-minded director trafficking in familiar themes of individual liberties, institutional oppression and the power of collective organizing, here infused with a gentle romanticism that buoys the film without cheapening the gravity of its subject." - Scott Foundas, Variety
"Loach has made a sumptuous period piece, beautifully photographed by Robbie Ryan, using many local people in the crowd scenes, wearing wonderful tweeds, slipovers and wrap dresses, riding on antique bikes and in donkey-drawn carts through the green hills and boggy valleys, dancing merrily. It all looks great, a dream of Ireland before the blissful bungalows. The characterful faces are a treat too, above all that of Jimmy’s aged mum (Aileen Henry, new to acting)." - David Sexton, London Evening Standard
Goodbye To Language 3D Legendary director Jean-Luc Godard's newest project takes a relatively straightforward story - a couple reflect on their relationship, life and the world around them - and through the use of voice-over, imagery and non-linear storylines, turns it into a confusing, entrancing "film essay." Starring Heloise Godet and Kamel Abdeli, the film has been described as everything from "hilarious" to "frustrating."
"Goodbye to Language" is in 3D, and a very challenging 3D at that. The film is structured in numbered sections that repeat themselves with different or overlapping content, and there are brain-scrambling superimpositions, texts, clips from old films, solarized images, and footage shot with low-res cameras. There’s even a costume-drama sequence depicting Mary Shelley and Lord Byron. The sense of experimentation is extravagant, and the 3D effect achieves such notable depth of field that this little movie puts mainstream mega-bucks productions like "The Great Gatsby" to shame." - Barbara Scharres, Roger Ebert.com
"To some degree, the overwhelming montage taps into the over-saturation of today's media climate, a point that Godard makes explicit several times: the recurring shot of a flat-screen television broadcasting static speaks for itself, as does a more comical bit in which two strangers continually tap away on their iPhones and exchange them, repeating the action. [...] It doesn't take a lot of analysis to determine Godard's intentions: He portrays the information age as the dying breath of consciousness before intellectual thought becomes homogenized by digital advancements." - Eric Kohn, IndieWire
For the bulk of every Rocky and Bullwinkle episode, moose and squirrel would engage in high concept escapades that satirized geopolitics, contemporary cinema, and the very fabrics of the human condition. With all of that to work with, there's no excuse for why the pair and their Soviet nemeses haven't gotten a decent movie adaptation. But the ingenious Mr. Peabody and his faithful boy Sherman are another story, intercut between Rocky and Bullwinkle segments to teach kids brief history lessons and toss in a nearly lethal dose of puns. Their stories and relationship were much simpler, which means that bringing their shtick to the big screen would entail a lot more invention — always risky when you're dealing with precious material.
For the most part, Mr. Peabody & Sherman handles the regeneration of its heroes aptly, allowing for emotionally substance in their unique father-son relationship and all the difficulties inherent therein. The story is no subtle metaphor for the difficulties surrounding gay adoption, with society decreeing that a dog, no matter how hyper-intelligent, cannot be a suitable father. The central plot has Peabody hosting a party for a disapproving child services agent and the parents of a young girl with whom 7-year-old Sherman had a schoolyard spat, all in order to prove himself a suitable dad. Of course, the WABAC comes into play when the tots take it for a spin, forcing Peabody to rush to their rescue.
Getting down to personals, we also see the left brain-heavy Peabody struggle with being father Sherman deserves. The bulk of the emotional marks are hit as we learn just how much Peabody cares for Sherman, and just how hard it has been to accept that his only family is growing up and changing.
But more successful than the new is the film's handling of the old — the material that Peabody and Sherman purists will adore. They travel back in time via the WABAC Machine to Ancient Egypt, the Renaissance, and the Trojan War, and 18th Century France, explaining the cultural backdrop and historical significance of the settings and characters they happen upon, all with that irreverent (but no longer racist) flare that the old cartoons enjoyed. And oh... the puns.
Mr. Peabody & Sherman is a f**king treasure trove of some of the most amazingly bad puns in recent cinema. This effort alone will leave you in awe.
The film does unravel in its final act, bringing the science-fiction of time travel a little too close to the forefront and dropping the ball on a good deal of its emotional groundwork. What seemed to be substantial building blocks do not pay off in the way we might, as scholars of animated family cinema, have anticipated, leaving the movie with an unfinished feeling.
But all in all, it's a bright, compassionate, reasonably educational, and occasionally funny if not altogether worthy tribute to an old favorite. And since we don't have our own WABAC machine to return to a time of regularly scheduled Peabody and Sherman cartoons, this will do okay for now.
If nothing else, it's worth your time for the puns.
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The genesis of Universal's 47 Ronin is almost as tragic as the actual history that the movie is culling from. As the story goes, Universal saw the sprigs of talent sprouting from fresh faced director Carl Rinsch, whose previous experience was limited to just a couple of commercials and a nifty short film. The studio decided to ease the new director into feature filmmaking by cutting him what amounts to virtually a blank check, and giving him charge over a multi-national samurai fantasy epic. Almost impossibly, the film isn't a complete disaster. It's just a minor one.
47 Ronin follows the classic story of the titular team of warriors, a group of disgraced samurai who band together to seek revenge against a merciless warlord that betrayed and killed their master. But this isn't your grandfather's version of the story. 47 Ronin is an international affair, and it's covered with a veneer of Japanese mysticism and a thick coating of Hollywood lacquer, but east meets west rather uncomfortably, and it's mostly due to Keanu Reeves. Reeves' character is clearly crowbarred into the story that has no room for him, and it's plainly obvious where the seams of the story were stretched in order to patch him into the narrative. Reeves plays Kai, a half Japanese, half English orphan who is adopted by the samurai clan. His character serves no real purpose beyond being white, slicing things until they die, and playing the male lead of the most superfluous love story of the year. Rinsch simply can't make the inclusion of the character feel organic in any way, and "Kai" ends up feeling like a calculated studio move. It's a shame that the film spends so much time on Reeves when the real star is clearly Hiroyuki Sanada, who plays off the stoic samurai most believably among the rest of the cast.
It's also shame that with all the mysticism pumped into the story, there's no magic in the actual center of the film, the ronin themselves. The only personality trait a samurai is allowed to possess seems to be unerring stoicism, and between all 47 ronin, there are probably only three distinct samurai with any discernible character traits beyond an intense need to brood, and you'll probably only remember those three by the time the credits roll, only to promptly forget about them only a few hours later. Thankfully, Rinko Kikuchi's slinky and treacherous witch adds some much needed camp and personality to the mostly forgettable human characters.
And that's the issue with 47 Ronin. It's largely forgettable. When your film takes on a historical legend like the tale of the 47 ronin, a story that has been told and told again ad nauseum over the years, you really need to justify your own version. There are reels and reels of film dedicated to this story, and 47 Ronin doesn't manage to add anything significant to the canon. It promises to weld myth and history together, but does so clumsily, and while some of the action scenes are exciting, especially a particularly inspired set piece that involves the ronin noiselessly breaking into a heavily guarded fortress, the film is a bore when it's not clanking swords together.
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47 Ronin is a film with many stories. As much as it is a tale about the revenge of four dozen masterless samurai, it's also the tale of an inexperienced filmmaker swallowed up by the enormity of blockbuster filmmaking. Most of all though, It's proof that you shouldn't cram Keanu Reeves into a movie that doesn't really need Keanu Reeves. What you're left with is a dull and bloated samurai epic that has its moments, but feels largely unnecessary.
With each outing in his evolving filmmaking career actor-turned-director Ben Affleck has amped up the scope. Gone Baby Gone was a character drama woven into a hard-boiled mystery. The Town saw Affleck dabble in action pulling off bank heists many compared to the expertise of Heat. In Argo the director pulls off his most daring effort melding one part caper comedy and two parts edge-of-your-seat political thriller into an exhilarating theatrical experience.
At the height of the Iranian Revolution in 1979 anti-Shah militants stormed the U.S. embassy and captured 52 American hostages. Six managed to escape the raid finding refuge in the Canadian ambassador's home. Within hours the militants began a search for the missing Americans sifting through shredded paperwork for even the smallest bit of evidence. Under pressure by the ticking clock the CIA worked quickly to formulate a plan to covertly rescue the six embassy workers. Despite a lengthy list of possibilities only Tony Mendez (Affleck) had a plan just enticing enough to unsuspecting Iranian officials to work: the CIA would fake a Hollywood movie shoot.
There's nothing in Argo or Affleck's portrayal of Mendez that would tell you the technical operations officer has the imagination to conjure his master plan — Affleck perhaps to differentiate himself from the past plays his character with so much restraint he looks dead in the eyes — but when the Hollywood hijinks swing into full motion so does Argo. Mendez hooks up with Planet of the Apes makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) to convince all of Hollywood that their sci-fi blockbuster "Argo " is readying for production. With enough promotional material concept art and press coverage Mendez and his team can convince the Iranian government they're a legit operation. A location scout in Tehran will be their method of extracting the bunkered down escapees.
Without an interesting lead to draw us in Affleck lets his eclectic ensemble do the heavy lifting. For the most part it works. Argo is basically two movies — Goodman and Arkin lead the Ocean's 11-esque half and Affleck takes the reigns when its time to get the six — another who's who of character actors including Tate Donovan Clea Duvall Scoot McNairy and Rory Cochrane — through the terrifying security of the Iranian airport. Arkin steals the show as a fast talking Hollywood type complete with year-winning catchphrase ("ArGo f**k yourself!) while McNairy adds a little more humanity to the spy mission when his character butts heads with Mendez. The split lessens the impact of each section but the tension in the escape is so high so taut that there's never a moment to check out.
Reality is on Affleck's side his camera floating through crowds of protestors and the streets of Tehran — a warscape where anything can happen. Each angle he chooses heightens the terror which starts to close in on the covert escape as they drift further and further from their homebase. Argo is a complete package with the '70s production design knowing when to play goofy (the fake movie's wild sci-fi designs) and when to remind us that problems took eight more steps to fix then they do today. Alexandre Desplat's score finds balance in haunting melodies and energetic pulses.
Part of Argo's charm is just how unreal the entire operation really was. To see the men and women involved go through with a plan they know could result in death. It's a suspenseful adventure and while there's not much in the way of character to cling to the visceral experience tends to be enough.
This period piece takes place amidst the gossip of aristocrats in fascist Italy where the characters search for freedom passion love and self-identity. This is a straightforward tale and much like a good play it has plenty of witty dialogue and a well-paced story. The film opens with a bit of history but we soon enter a world of lust death blackmail and escape. It's an odd love story to be sure but it works. The chemistry between a beautiful English aristocrat (Kristin Scott Thomas) and an American playboy (Sean Penn) lights up the screen.
Scott Thomas and Penn are brilliant together utterly believable as romantic partners. Thomas' elegant demeanor combined with Penn's grittier charms will certainly keep audiences interested. Anne Bancroft's over-the-top princess is full of zest and wit much like her Miss Havisham was in the recent remake of "Great Expectations."
Philip Haas brings together a rich and sensuous blend of settings and characters. He skillfully combines the lushness of a Merchant-Ivory film with bristly more muscular storytelling.
Billy Elliot star Jamie Bell has slammed "absurd" reports he is homosexual.
Bell's sexuality was called into question when he moved into Billy Elliot director Stephen Daldry's home as a teenager and kissed the filmmaker after winning a Best Actor BAFTA award for the 2000 movie.
But the English actor, 19, says, "Me, gay? That's absurd.
"People can think what they want. But I do find all these rumors about whether I'm gay weird. And on a personal level, it's a bit odd to be talking about it.
"He's a friend and mentor. He got me where I am today. I don't think our relationship's weird and I wasn't expecting to get so much attention from it.
"He's a great person to learn from."
Daldry wed dancer Lucy Sexton in October 2001 and they have a two-year-old daughter, Annabel Clare.
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