Category Archives: The Reel Deal Goes to Cannes

Mud & Killing Them Softly: The Lost Reviews of Cannes

The line for “Killing Them Softly.” But was it worth the wait?

While at Cannes, I watched “Killing Them Softly” and “Mud.” However, I never got to publish reviews of them. Here they are now.


Killing Them Softly

 When Brad Pitt is in your movie, you are bound to get plenty of attention from the French.

“Killing Them Softly” surfaced with some bad early buzz but received favorable reviews when it actually opened. I compare it to “Lawless” simply for the reason that they are both gangster films. “Lawless” has the makings of a minor American classic. It goes for something a little more old fashioned, yet very refreshing. “Killing Them Softly” goes for brutal and meditative, and gets halfway there.

Here is a film that has a standout script, but doesn’t bring its characters anywhere. The dialogue is detailed and familiar-sounding enough that it mimics real conversation. The banter between Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (Ben Mendelsohn) gives “Killing Them Softly” a nice, humorous heart. While Brad Pitt is the selling point, McNairy and Mendelsohn are the film’s true stars.

That is not to insult Mr. Pitt’s role at all. Many people were unimpressed by his performance, but he did everything right as a very professional hitman. “Killing Them Softly” felt like a knockoff “No Country for Old Men” morality tale, with Pitt’s Jackie Cogan substituting for Anton Chigurh. Like Chigurh, he has an calculated and mysterious air to him. Unlike Chigurh, his moral compass is less fascinating and less defined. Without giving too much away, the title refers to Cogan’s standard of killing his victim from far enough away so as not to become emotionally attached. Strangely though, Cogan kills many people up close, and that doesn’t seem to change him in any way, shape, or form.

I’m Brad Pitt, and you’re not.

The story of “Killing Them Softly” is quite simple: it is about a hit being pulled off. And if you follow that brief premise, it delivers on that exactly. “Killing Them Softly” was directed by Andrew Dominik of “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” fame. “Killing Them Softly” replaces the open spaces of the west for the confined, gritty backdrop of New Orleans. What “Jesse James” has in silence, “Killing Them Softly” has in dialogue.

“Jesse James” ran over two and a half hours long. It is said that an original cut of “Killing Them Softly” is about the same length. I would very much like to see this version, as what was shown at Cannes felt like a summed up version of a much better movie. I’d like to see how much more depth, and what new directions, Dominik had intended for the characters. I’d like more scenes with Frankie and Russell, and more with the Bukowski-type Mickey (James Gandolfini), who has some of the film’s most entertaining scenes.

I admire “Killing Them Softly” for its ambition. The film takes place during the 2008 presidential election, and uses this event as a means of criticizing the greed of American capitalism. It seems to exist in a world of many Gordon Gekkos. I am not sure if Dominik’s point totally came through, but I believe a second viewing, and a longer running time, might clear some things up. I will say this though: the final line of “Killing Them Softly” will end up on an AFI Top 100 list one day.

After the Jump: Mud


Mud


When at Cannes, the distinction between American movies and movies from foreign countries becomes more and more apparent. Even the best of American cinema can succumb to trying to wrap dark little stories up in a pretty, Disney-colored bow. That is the Achilles heal of “Mud.”

First, let me be clear: I did not hate “Mud.” In fact, I liked it very much, and I recommend you see it when it comes out. Had I first viewed “Mud” during its actual theatrical release, I probably would have liked it much more. It makes most American movies look bad. But when paired up against the fare at Cannes, it looks a little trite. This is why no matter how hard you try, being a film critic can never be an objective job. If someone tells you otherwise, answer by saying, “shut up, Peter Travers!”

“Mud! Mud come back!” -Someone who misquotes movies a lot.

But I digress. “Mud” is yet another major American release at Cannes that took place in the South (“Moonrise Kingdom” might have been the only one that wasn’t). And it is the third release of 2012 in which Matthew McConaughey turns on his southern swag*. McConaughey plays the titular Mud, a runaway and a hopeless romantic living deep in the Arkansas woods. Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) is the object of his affection. The young Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) are taken under his quiet, charismatic spell.

“Mud” is directed by Jeff Nichols. Nichols previously directed “Take Shelter,” which I have yet to see, but I hear that it is excellent. Nichols has a very restrained style of directing that lets the story, and not the style, shine. As Mud, McConaughey plays a character who seems to be a legend unfolding in every frame. Watching him, I was somewhat reminded of Paul Newman in “Cool Hand Luke.” Not to say that McConaughey is on Newman’s level, but they both had that same, relatable rebellious spirit.

Where “Mud” went wrong for me was in its ending. Maybe I’m just being a tin man, but I didn’t feel myself getting overwhelmed with emotion by the finale. The movie spent a lot of time trying to turn Mud into this mythical character and in the end, he feels nothing like that. What at first feels very satisfying in the end feels like nothing more than comfort food. Also, “Mud” suffers from the very easy to catch Multiple Ending Syndrome.

I would like to reiterate once more that “Mud” is a very likable movie. It feels a bit like a “Tom Sawyer” or “Huck Finn” type adventure, but a lot more family friendly (and by that I mean, a lot less racial slurs).

*Remind me never to use this word in any sentence ever again.

The Reel Deal Goes to Cannes Update #12: And Cut (Reflections)

                                                      Photo Credit: Robbie Ezratty

Side Note: Putting parenthesis in a title makes it seem like an 80s pop song. 


Time is a funny thing, in that it goes by both quickly and slowly simultaneously. Two and a half weeks felt sometimes like a month, and sometimes like a day.

My time at the Cannes Film Festival was probably the best time of my entire life. It is an experience that I hope I can do again, but I don’t know if it can ever be replicated in quite the same way. There was so much to learn and so much to see that I can barely process it all. I decided the only way to do so would be how I process almost anything in life: through writing.

As someone who makes lists a lot, both of things I like and things to do, I decided that I could somehow summarize my experiences into a list that might teach you a little something about the nature of film festivals. Here is what I learned while at the Cannes Film Festival:

Sleep is overrated: When at a film festival, sleep as little as possible. Sleep when you can, of course. But just remember, you can sleep when you’re dead. Opportunities like this come and go.

The British are the greatest: When in doubt, become friends with someone from Great Britain, especially if they have an English accent. They are some of the politest people I met in Cannes. And just as I suspected, they have a wonderfully dry sense of humor.

Canadians are great, too: They use the phrase washroom instead of bathroom and restroom. It actually makes much more sense. I believe America should start doing this, too.

If you can’t speak good French, don’t try to speak the language at all: The French have an amazing culture and a beautiful country, but they really don’t seem to enjoy a butchering of the word ‘Merci.’

Give foreign films a chance: Yes, sometimes the characters speak in funny languages. Yes, they make you have to read. But there are some amazing films made outside of Hollywood. Filmmakers in other countries seem less constrained to make something that is commercially appealing and therefore don’t mind being a little artistic. Some American filmmakers have adopted this mentality, but I believe more should follow suit.

At a film festival, walking out is acceptable: Usually, I would never walk out of a film in theaters. And I believe that most people agree. However, there is just so much to see at a film festival that it seems okay to not feel compelled to waste your time watching something that isn’t good. Speaking of which…

…bad films can happen at good festivals: You may have heard about “Mud,” “Lawless,” and “Amour.” What you probably haven’t heard of is “Ameriqua,” a small film I walked into blindly during the festival. It includes Alec Baldwin telling his young son, who is lost in Europe without his passport, that he won’t help him because it will help him “build character.” Whoever made this film should immediately lose custody of their children.

Has anyone heard of “Housefull 2″ or “Lesbian Vampire Warriors”?: If you have and happen to have a copy of either, please, bring them to me immediately.

Never say no*: At Cannes, you never know when one handshake could lead to a yacht party or a meeting with your favorite celebrity. Just for the brief time you are there, leave all of your inhibitions behind and let whatever may happen, happen.

That is all for now, folks. Before I sign off on Cannes, there are some people I have to thank. First off, I’d like to thank my parents. Without them, I would not be able to go to Cannes, and I would not be writing this post right now. I’d also like to thank all of the new friends I met while at Cannes who come from near and far. Some of you I will see at school, others of you I will see during other points in the future. I can’t wait to work with all of you again.

Now it’s time for Reel Dealin’ as usual. In the immortal words of “Memento,” “now, where was I?”


*However, you should probably say no to airport food, used needles, and whatever else they taught you to say no to during D.A.R.E.

The Reel Deal Goes to Cannes Update #11: The Best Posters

The funniest part is how serious the poster is. I can’t wait for the sequel “No One Wannna Talk To You.”
Estimated Box Office Gross: $8,073,590.
France gives us “Rust & Bone.” We give them “Ice Age 4.” Fair trade.

“Hi I’m Mark Wahlberg. Let’s go talk to some French people.”

It says on the poster, “the best Norwegian comedy of the year!” I wonder what the competition was.

No further explanation necessary.

Is this the poster for Tracy Jordan’s next movie?

I’m surprised this one hasn’t been made yet.
“The missing ‘O’ is a symbolic metaphor for Bollywood’s fall and decline!” -Aspiring filmmaker who will never get a movie made.

The Reel Deal Goes to Cannes Update #10: Two More Reviews

I may have left Cannes today, but the discussion about the Festival hasn’t ended just yet. 


My last day at Cannes marked what might have been the most depressing double feature known to man.

After a cheery morning of “Angel’s Share,” I moved right along to Michael Haneke’s “Amour.” Austria’s Michael Haneke, one of the most provocative directors alive today, has once again subverted all audience expectations. “Amour” tells one of the simplest of stories in a complicated two hours that feels closer to four. It is slow and rewarding. While I believe that “Rust & Bone” or “The Hunt” deserved the Palme D’Or, “Amour” is a fitting winner.

“Amour” is the story of an old woman (Emmanuelle Riva) who is slowly, slowly dying as her husband (Jean-Lois Trintignant) struggles to take care of her. That’s about it. However, the unique part is how long this story is drawn out for. Haneke spares no details, which is what makes this portrayal so vivid and realistic. Every scene and every shot is stretched out longer than it ever should go in order to arouse discomfort. The events occurring in the world of the film feel so immediate because there is no escaping them and they have the choice to stay as long as they feel. As a film, “Amour” enters territory where it begins to transcend script and rise into the realm of pseudo-reality.

I see it now that Riva will hear her name called come Oscar nomination time for her heart-wrenching work. “Amour” is the kind of film I encourage everyone to sit through once, and no more. It is like a bad series of events that can’t be looked away from, and don’t need to be viewed again, as they are engrained so well into memory. “Amour” is at times unbearably slow, but if you know the premise, then you know what will happen in the end. So, why rush death?

Next: Thomas Vinterberg’s “The Hunt”


“The Hunt” is equally as upsetting, but in a very different way. I mean it when I say that it may be the best film of the festival, and I do not exaggerate when I say that it was one of the most intense film-going experiences of my life. Even the best of films can lose you at certain points. “The Hunt” grabbed me from the beginning and wouldn’t let me go until the end credits rolled.

“The Hunt” stars Mads Mikkelsen (better known for his villainous turn in “Casino Royale”) as Lucas, a good parent and upstanding citizen who’s life is turned upside down following a child’s accusation that she was molested by him. Everyone in town immediately believes the young girl, and Lucas is immediately turned into a social outcast. From there, his whole life eventually spirals out of control.

While watching “The Hunt,” I recalled this year’s Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film “A Separation,” in the way it unflinchingly questions what truth we are supposed to believe, as well as the overwhelming power of a lie. Another film it reminded me of (and believe me, I don’t use this comparison lightly) is “A Clockwork Orange.” Throughout “The Hunt,” there is still that sliver of doubt towards Lucas’s innocence. Whether or not he is innocent, it is impossible not to feel bad for the mistreatment Lucas faces because he is helpless. When someone can’t defend themselves, hitting them while they’re down is just cruel. Or, as the film’s overarching metaphor puts it, it is like hunting a deer when you have a gun and they have nothing. “The Hunt” is about Lucas turning from hunter to hunted.

Like “Amour,” “The Hunt” constantly plays with viewer expectations. Just when it seems to have that kind of ending where everything wraps up too nicely, the illusion is shattered. The main difference between America and European cinema is that while the former tends to give you everything you expected (there are many exceptions, of course), the latter hopes you leave getting the experience that you didn’t think you’d get.

If “The Hunt” ever plays in a theater near you, you would be doing yourself a favor by going to see it.

The Reel Deal Goes to Cannes Update #9: Getting Your Film into Cannes in Five Easy Steps

I can’t believe that today is the last day of the festival. I might need a little break from intense film marathons, but I wouldn’t complain if I was stuck in the south of France for the rest of my life. It’s very nice here.

The last day is reserved for repeats of all of the films in competition. I plan of an intense double feature of “Amour” and “The Hunt” later today, but I started the day off strong with Ken Loach’s “Angel’s Share.” Most films that screen during Cannes are not happy affairs. So it was refreshing to see a comedy in competition. This British film is light-hearted yet very smart. It’s shot like a drama, yet written like a comedy. It’s a caper about a group of bumbling criminals who try to steal a cask of rare whiskey. Hilarity ensues.

“Angel’s Share” is certainly different than what you will usually see at Cannes, as there is, in a way, a certain “Cannes film.” After watching enough of them, I can say that I’ve found a sort of criteria. Despite the prestige of Cannes, getting a film in the festival isn’t as hard as you might think.* Based on my observations, here is my criteria of how to make a Cannes Film Festival entry in five easy steps:

1. At least one, overly long, and awkward sex scene.
See: The Paperboy, On the Road, Excision, Rust & Bone

2. At least two hours in length (exception: .

3. If it’s an American film, set in the South.
See: Lawless, Killing Them Softly, The Paperboy, On the Road (certain parts)

4. Cast an actor looking to be “taken more seriously.”
See: Robert Pattinson (Cosmopolis), Shia LaBeouf (Lawless), Kristen Stewart (On the Road), Zac Efron (The Paperboy)

5. Cast Brad Pitt or Matthew McConaughey
See: Killing Them Softly, The Paperboy, Mud

*Note: Getting a film into Cannes is not actually this easy.

The Reel Deal Goes to Cannes Update #8: Don’t Go Back in the Water

Film festivals are a great place to catch films both new and old. Even if you’ve seen a film a million times before, a new setting can make a world of difference.

Last night, in perhaps one of the most perfectly planned events I have ever been to, “Jaws” was screened on the beach. If “Jaws” wasn’t scary enough already, the beach element really helped. It made the horror of the man-eating shark much more intimate, and way too plausible for comfort. Spielberg’s film has not aged a day since its release, and in fact gets better with each passing year. Despite its status as a classic,  a film like “Jaws” would have trouble getting made today. Unlike today’s usual horror films, it is filled with long stretches of no action. Yet, the long stretches create more buildup and more suspense, which is why “Jaws” is still one of the scariest films ever made.

The audience also partly made this experience so special. Multiple moments garnered thunderous applause, including the moment when (SPOILER!) Quint (Robert Shaw) is eaten by the shark. Is that because everyone wanted him to go, or because it is such a memorable moment? I think it is much more of the latter. The reason a good theatrical experience can triumph any other way to watch a film is because audience participation means so much. It guides your expectations, and the laughter, cries, or applause act almost as a second soundtrack.

A memorable moment from the “Jaws” screening was meeting Benh Zeitlan, the very young director of the much buzzed about “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” Clearly, he is not fully adjusted to fame and being recognized yet, as he was kind and even a little reserved. He told us that “Jaws” is his muse, and this screening was beyond  a special experience for him. Here lies the beauty of a great film festival: it is the intersection of films old, new, and future. It is a film convention, showroom, and marketplace. And Cannes is its king.

After the Jump: Jacques Audiard’s “Rust & Bone,” and Marion Cotillard’s possible next chance of winning an Oscar.

“Rust & Bone,” the latest film from French director Jacques Audiard, is yet another film about nefarious undersea creatures. But this is not a horror film. It is a drama containing a collision of different stories both devastating and uplifting. There is so much I don’t want to give away, but what I will say is that it is about a man named Ali, who forms an unlikely friendship with Stephanie (Marion Cotillard), a whale trainer at a Sea World-type place who’s world is turned upside down after a horrible accident. No, this is not the plot for a Lifetime movie.

“Rust & Bone” inadvertently proves the limits of American movies in its frank portrayals of sex and violent brutality. I can picture an angry studio executive now, bickering about the impossibility of marketing a movie about a disability and blah blah blah distribution rights. But I digress. “Rust & Bone” hits you so intensely in the end with such emotional fervor because it happens so suddenly, and follows two hours of ups and downs both sad and uplifting.

Ultimately, “Rust & Bone” is about two damaged people giving each other a renewed purpose for living, and life it is full of. Marion Cotillard is already my choice for Best Actress at the Oscars. Her reaction after first discovering her new ailment is so devastating and perfectly in line. Yet, she never does seem to give up on her self. She wants to do everything, yet needs the boost. Ali is her physical boost, and Stephanie his emotional one. “Rust & Bone,” from Stephanie’s angle, is all about coping with the world trying to give up on you.

 http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Archive/Search/2012/5/17/1337251427481/Rust-and-Bone-008.jpg

“Rust & Bone” consists of multiple story lines, with Stephanie’s being the film’s lifeblood, until Ali’s story really kicks off towards the middle and third act. Audiard also directed “A Prophet,” which I am told is a masterpiece. I can’t compare the two, but it is obvious that Audiard has a commanding voice in the director’s chair, and the substance would be empty without his style. For example, the use of Katy Perry’s “Firework” would usually come off as trite and pandering. Here, it is shockingly awe inspiring.

Few films I’ve seen in theaters have had such a large emotional impact that stays after I leave the theater. The strangest part is, it was a feeling that I couldn’t pinpoint. Was it happiness, sadness, or something else in between? All I can say is that I will be seeing “Rust & Bone” again when it comes to America, and you should, too.

Yes, I will be reviewing this again in the future.

The Reel Deal Goes to Cannes Update #7: Film Hopping

There is no middle ground in Cannes. If a film is bad, it is an insulting piece of trash. If it’s good, it’s a masterpiece that redefines cinema. At least that is how the critics feel.

The Cannes Film Festival is infamous for the “boos!” that greet a bad film. This only occurs during press screenings, as journalists at Cannes do not hold anything back. Also, and this goes without saying, it is rude to boo at a film in which the cast and crew is at attendence. I experience booing for the first time ever this morning at a screening of “The Paperboy,” the new film from “Precious” director Lee Daniels. While I certainly wouldn’t go as far as to boo with them, this didn’t seem to occur without justification.

Next: My thoughts on “The Paperboy” and “On the Road.”
When your big break is a film like “Precious,” expectations are obviously going to be unrealistically high. If you can’t deliver perfecty, then at least deliver something. “The Paperboy” had potential, and it even had some very good parts to it. Ultimately, it is the most misguided film at the Festival. It has too many ideas, but no clear idea of how to execute them.

“The Paperboy” is following a trend of southern-based American films premiereing at Cannes this year, after “Lawless” and “Killing Them Softly.” It is set in the late 1960s, and chronicles the investigation of the murder of a racist sheriff in Florida. Not Miami or Palm Beach County, but an area I assume to be on the Panhandle. Journalists investigate the conviction of the accused killer, and many twisted violent and sexual crimes pursue.

It is surprising to see such poor performances, especially because Daniels directed the actors of “Precious” to such heartbreaking performances. Zac Efron tries hard to break away from his past life as the star of “High School Musical.” However, his character should have been played by somebody of a much more awkward demeanor. He looks too clean cut to be an average southern kid from Florida. His most serious moments produce unintentional laughter, especially in what should be a suspenseful chase through the woods. Meanwhile, John Cusack was not meant to play a villain. He should stick to playing deadpan, chronically depressed characters in comedies.

Matthew McConaughey does his best in a role that isn’t so great. I am convinced though that he only does good work when he can speak in a Southern accent. The recent film “Bernie,” in which he had a somewhat similar role, is much more worth your time. Nicole Kidman steals every scene she is in. She is the only one who really dissappears inito her role. She feels like a trashy grindhouse character with a little bit of soul.

Speaking of grindhouse, “The Paperboy” has the style of a grimy B-grade 70s movie. This I enjoyed. However, this is a bit too serious of a story to be made like that. Well, at least how they told it. If you want to make schlock, go all out.
I remember seeing “Precious” for the first time at Sundance when it was still called “Push.” It was one of the most moving films I had ever seen. “The Paperboy” does not create that same magic. It has is moments, but the uneven and conventional ending offsets all of them. “The Paperboy” could use another trip to the editing room before its official theatrical release.

“On the Road” was a much more rewarding experience. Jack Kerouac’s classic of Beat Literature was seemingly unfilmmable. The film does well in turning a listless narrative into a coherent story driven by characters, not plot. The film is more focused on Sal Paradise’s (Sam Riley) relationship with Dean Moriarty, than his relationship with America. That is an interesting element that is unfortunately lost, but the two lead actors make this interpretation just as good.

“On the Road” is beautiful to look at, with its panaromic views of the parts of America rarely seen. It picks and chooses the characters and side stories to be portrayed well, with many scenes making me beg for more.

“On the Road” is not perfect, but it pulled off a nearly impossible feat. And no, I’m not talking about making Kristen Stewart seem interesting. It made a story with no real plot points interesting. For once, a film is carried by people, not just events.

My review of “Killing Them Softly,” which I saw yesterday, will be up soon.

The Reel Deal Goes To Cannes Update #6: There’s a First Time For Everything

The less glitzy side of The Red Carpet.
“Hitting the wall” is the Cannes related phenomena in which a while’s worth of no sleep comes together in spectactular fashion.

I have not quite hit the wall yet, but I feel that I am on course for collision.

Today was yet another rainy day, yet it was also a day of many lessons. I learned that Macedonia has a film industry, the Czech Republic gives out generous amounts of free wine, and that the end of “Inception” is (SPOILER ALERT) undoubtedly reality. This is a fact that most people probably knew about three years ago. More on that coming up. 

After the Jump: Meeting IMDB’s creator, Col Needham, and walking out of a movie for the first time. 

One of the main highlights of my trip occured today. I met a man wearing a jacket with an IMDB pin on it. I asked him if he worked for the site. His response was something along the lines of “actually, I created it.” 

Col Needham created IMDB for the exact reason you’d expect: he was a film buff who needed a convenient place for all things film. He told me about the experience of seeing “Aliens” in theaters for the first time. And that “Inception” thing. In every scene in which DiCaprio is wearing his ring, it is a dream. When he isn’t, it’s reality. At the end, he is not wearing his ring. While this ruins the fun of the ambiguity, it made me appreciate the film much more, as this displays Nolan’s attention to detail. I still maintain though, that the real point of the ending is that it doesn’t matter whether or not the top fell, all that mattered is that he was exactly where he wanted to be. I now proclaim the “Inception” debate officially over [Editor's Note: I'm being told that it ended two years ago].


Unfortunately, I come with few new screenings to share stories of. “Rust & Bone” is the most talked about film around, but good luck finding a seat for it. After an unsuccessful attempt at seeing that, I decided to be a little impulsive and see a screening with basically no prior knowledge of it. I landed on “White Elephant.” All I heard in advance was “Argentinian movie about drug cartels” and I was sold. I still can’t even decide if it was actually about that. Don’t get me wrong, I like slow-burning films, and Cannes is the perfect place for that. However, there is slow, and then there is too slow, and “White Elephant” falls into the latter category. Nothing happens for a while, and when it does happen, I just felt myself shrug, and want to go back to sleep.

That is another thing about “the wall”: it can hit at anytime, during the events you don’t want it to happen during. It is usually hardest to fight it once the lights go off in the cinema. It can be resisted by seeing “Lawless” and not “White Elephant.”

“White Elephant” marks a sad turning point in my life, as it was the first film I ever walked out off. I don’t plan to indulge in this behavior normally, but walking out of a film early feels nornal at a film festival. Once again, slow and tortorous are two very different things. I will review “White Elephant” no further, as I did not see the second half, and it is entirely possible that I could have missed something worthwhile. Also, a film must be reviewed as a whole. Missing any of it and the intended bigger picture is sullied.

The only reason I feel less terrible for walking out is that this seems to be a commonplace action in Cannes. I have never seen this many walkouts per capita in my life over the span of the Festival. While there is usually value to seeing a bad movie, as it makes you realize what it takes for a movie to be good, there is just so much to see at Cannes that any amount of time spent in a bad film feels like time wasted. As the phrase that I never wish was invented goes, “YOCO” (You Only Cannes Once).*


*I strongly reccomend never using this in daily conversation.

The Reel Deal Goes To Cannes Update #5: Screenin’ in the Rain

Some people say that Cannes is like the Florida of France. While I haven’t found a shuffleboard court or an old Catskills comedian yet, i’m starting to think it is because of the unpredictable weather. The bright and sunny morning quickly morphed into, hyperbolically speaking, a mini Monsoon. It has been this way for the past few days, and it seems to be showing no signs of slowing down.

This means that it is perfect weather for a movie.


Unfortunately, the day got off to a bad start, as I was swiftly rejected from a screening of “Safety Not Guarenteed,” despite having a ticket. This movie was a market screening, which is meant for buyers (usually from foreign markets) first, and patrons second. Guess I will have to deal with seeing it in the States when it opens later this summer.


Last night, however, was marked with a fantastic screening of the director’s cut of Sergio Leone’s gangster epic “Once Upon a Time in America.” Unfortunately, I missed the screening in which Robert de Niro and Ennio Morricone introduced the film. But if attending film festivals has taught me anything, it is that life will be full of rejections and expectations not fulfilled, so it is best to relish what lies in front of us. And how beautiful this film looked on the big screen. This version contained a newly restored print, which looked as magnificent as ever.



If anything, time has only made “Once Upon a Time in America” a better film. I was probably too young when I last watched “Once Upon a Time in America” in full (as with most films). I forgot how funny this film was. The scene in which Noodles (De Niro) and the gang switch out the babies at the hospital is like a master class at humor achieved without dialogue. Leone always showed a subtlely funny side in his past films, but it comes out here in full force. 



“Once Upon a Time in America” was Leone’s last film before his untimely death in 1989. It is his “Blade Runner,” as several director’s cuts have been released throughout the years. The original cut fell just under four hours. However, a butchered version was released in the U.S. in 1984 that ran at just 139 minutes. That version flopped and was panned by critics. A release of the original version established the film as a masterpiece. The latest director’s runs just over four hours. 


The newly restored version looks as if it could have been made today. However, the new scenes added in could not be fully restored, and look grainy and aged. However, the real significance in them is that they were found and could be added. 


“Once Upon a Time in America” is just about long enough as is, and some of the new scenes don’t necesarilly need to be there. A few have purpose and provide good background, but others, like the cemetary scene, break from the film’s smooth rhythm. Let me add that this may be the fastest four hours you ever spend at the movies. Some might argue that a lot could have been chopped down and this story could have been told effectively with a shorter running time. Some stories just need to be told with as much depth and detail as possble, and “Once Upon a Time in America” earns every minute of its running time.


Leone has always been one of my favorite directors. I always saw him as a purely visual one, and a man who put in so much close detail into his backdrops above all else. That is not entirely true, he just finds out how to reveal character motivations and emotions without saying a single word. Leone was a maestro, a true artist, and one of the last directors from an era long gone. And while this was his last film, he most certainly ended his career in film with an unforgettable bang. See it, and on the biggest screen possible if you can.

The Reel Deal Goes To Cannes Update #4: Three Screenings

A hotel in Cannes decked out following a “Dictator” publicity stunt.

It’s been a hectic, overwhelming, and exciting week so far at Cannes. I wish I could get a post out everyday, but it’s not as easy as it seems. I have three films to talk about, all in one post, so I’ll keep this introduction brief. The last few days have included another walk down the red carpet, some delicious baguettes, and a lot of movie related business. Today, I present three films. You will definetly get to see one of these films in America. Another one could come our way. And one you probably shouldn’t see even if it does.

Celebrity Encounters:

  • Gael Garcia Bernal- Bumped into the Latin American star today, perhaps best known for “Amores Perros” and “Y Tu Mama Tambien.” He was nice enough to take a quick photo with us, and I was a bit too much in shock to even get a word out.
  • Sean Penn- He walked the red carpet for “Reality.” No paparrazi were hurt in the process. Haha good one, talk show host from 1987.
Read after the jump for the film breakdown:

Excision

“Excision” has received much buzz at Cannes for its bloody and controversial poster. However, it is also misleading. What appeared to be a “Carrie”-type thriller about a misfit teen with supernatural powers turned out to be a misguided shock-and-shlock fest that is only half ironic. It involves a series of gory and sexualized fantasies involving an abortion and another scene later on involving an organ transplant done by someone who isn’t a doctor.
This film has a few moments of genuine humor. The most priceless moment, perhaps, was the burst of laughter after the revelation that John Waters (director of “Pink Flamingos” and the original “Hairspray”) plays a priest. There is also an appearence from Malcolm McDowell, who played the most memorable creepy teenager in cinema. “Excision” has the potential to become a midnight movie classic. While I usually enjoy flawed and even hatable protagonists, “Excision” took it a step too far, and didn’t even make me want to know what Pauline (AnnaLyne McCord) would possibly do next. And oh yeah, there’s a bird dissection. Make of this one what you will.
Reality

I still cannot tell if this Italian feature is an actual film or just a series of pretty images. In the end, I concluded that it was both. 
Being at an international film festival, I decided that I had to see at least one foreign feature. This story of an average father who becomes a contestant on Big Brother, and loses his grip on reality because of it, has many features that seems distinctly American (including a mall). It displays perhaps some of the most breathtaking tracking shots I have ever seen, some which start from the sky and don’t stop until they’ve reached their destination. Many of the surreal scenes will invoke Italian Neorealist maestro Federico Fellini. But, just as with my biggest problem “8 1/2,” some of the most thrilling set pieces don’t totally connect. There is some very beautiful symbolic images, from the ever-watchful eye of the grasshopper on the wall, to the final image of the house which seems to resemble a television set.
I may have to see “Reality” again, as there were some biases in my experience. One problem with the Lumiere theater is taht the subtitles are displayed on a small, seperate screen below the movie, and it is hard to follow both. But seeing the cast and crew sitting in the center, treated like modern royalty, made the experience so interesting, and very worth it.
Lawless

I have set to see “Rust and Bone” (the most praised film of the Festival thus far), but “Lawless” is currently my favorite film at Cannes. I have so much to say about it that I can’t fit here. So a future review (and a second viewing) seem inevitable.
“Lawless” is the story of southern moonshiners during Prohibition. Tom Hardy stars as tough but loving gangster Forrest (Tom Hardy), who is said to be invincible, and Shia Labeouf plays his younger brother Jack who, as the southern colloquialism goes, breaks bad. In an unusual twist, the villain is a detective (Guy Pearce), and the good guys are the violent law breakers just trying to maintain the family business.
This is the second time Australian director John Hillcoat has breathed new life into a very American genre. The first time was with the Outback western “The Proposition.” “Lawless,” in a way, feels like a western. It is interesting for once to see a gangster story that takes place in a very rural setting. The streets of New York and Chicago are replaced with a small town in the backwoods of Virginia.
This Prohibition-set movie manages to be closer to “Miller’s Crossing” than “Public Enemies.” Labeouf has come a long way since “Even Stevens” and Hardy is quickly becoming one of the best actors around with his mumbly way of communicating which always seems to have a strange charm to it. My one complaint is that Gary Oldman does not have enough screentime. 
It is good when a movie meets your expectations, but even better when it totally takes you by surprise. “Lawless” had a sense of humor about itself that I did not expect, and which ultimately makes the movie very unique. It hasn’t even been released in theaters yet, but I already know that “Lawless” is one of the year’s best films.
Next Up: The director’s cut of “Once Upon a Time in America.” Robert De Niro and Ennio Morricone showed up to last night’s screening. Here’s hoping they may just want to sit through their own four hour plus epic once more.