Kristen Stewart has gotten a bum rap in the United States because of her role in the “Twilight” series, which wasn’t exactly Oscar material. In French director Olivier Assayas’ “Personal Shopper,” she shows some of her overlooked acting talents.
It’ll be interesting to see how the movie plays in the United States. Its initial reception after the press screening on Monday night was not good. In fact, there were plenty of boos — something critics in Cannes are prone to do.
Part of that response was probably due to the ambiguity of the ending, which won’t be revealed here. But it’s safe to say that most audiences expect clear answers when watching a supposed genre horror film.
Still, Stewart gives a fine performance as a personal shopper for a wealthy woman in Paris. There’s much more going on, however, than just buying fancy clothes and jewels. Rather, Stewart’s character is a medium who is trying to make contact with her dead twin brother, Lewis.
She’s also addicted to her iPhone. And that’s the source of much of the movie’s mastery. She gets a message from an unknown number, and the messages begin to escalate, indicating that whoever is behind those messages is tracking all of her movements.
Most of the buzz in Cannes was somewhat insipid, focusing on Stewart’s topless scene, where she tries on one of the fetishistic breastplate harnesses that she has bought for her client. (The harness is to be worn underneath a sheer black dress.)
And there are a few less-than-artful uses of CGI to indicate the presence of a ghost.
To tell you the truth, I’m still not sure what to make of the movie. My initial response was negative, but I was sleepy and not fully engaged. “Personal Shopper” probably deserves another viewing. And I suspect it might be a good candidate for Austin’s Fantastic Fest.
One day in our little newsroom, my colleagues and I started talking about the movie “Top Gun.” I can’t remember how the conversation began, but the discussion grew more passionate after my co-worker and I confessed that after nearly a quarter century on Earth each, we had never taken the highway to the “Danger Zone.” I had never even seen a Tom Cruise film, a fact that emerged after a scroll through his IMDb page. Let me stress that I was surprised by how controversial this little factoid turned out to be on social media.
Conveniently enough, a few days after our lively discussion, our fantastic movie critic Joe Gross received a copy of the 30th anniversary “Top Gun” DVD package, dropped it on my colleague Amanda O’Donnell’s desk and set us with the task of watching it together. After a couple weeks of scheduling conflicts (and lots of “You have never seen Top Gun?” remarks), we set aside a night to watch the film along some of her roommates, our fellow web desk staffers and my boyfriend. About half of the group had seen the movie before.
I think it’s important that everyone knows that my knowledge of this film comes almost 100 percent from the “I Love the ’80s” series on VH1 (RIP). This boiled down to:
Tom Cruise is a pilot named Maverick
“Danger Zone” was the soundtrack theme
Val Kilmer for some reason chomps his teeth at Tom Cruise
“Take My Breath Away” was a big hit
The characters play volleyball and everyone is sweaty and flexing
One of the pilots was named “Goose” (Anthony Edwards)
The volleyball scene … Volleyball is my absolute favorite sport to play, so I can’t blame anyone for getting sweaty. But there’s a lot of sweat, and it lasts the entirety of the movie. This scene also has a lot of not-so-subtle muscle flexing. And jeans?
We just watched the volleyball scene… Why is Cruise wearing jeans? That's so much lost flexibility.
As for the women of Top Gun, Kelly McGillis’ character, Charlie, is a strong, seemingly independent woman just trying to make it in a man’s world. She is too good for Maverick, and I was so over their love scene because “Take My Breath Away” had played probably 17 times leading up to it. Meg Ryan and her seriously bad hair, on the other hand, loves attention, basically shouting to everyone that Maverick has a thing for his instructor and that Goose needed to take her to bed ASAP.
I love Berlin, but I'm ready for Take My Breath Away to end
Spoiler alert: Goose dies after ejecting his seat because of some risky flying, but everyone chalks it up as an accident and goes about their business while Cruise seems to brood over the loss of his buddy.
Everyone finishes Top Gun training, with Iceman taking home the trophy. From there, the pilots are put on an airship and go into battle. Maverick obviously saves the day and despite him and Iceman almost never getting along while at Top Gun, they smile and hug each other and it’s kind of beautiful in an almost-romantic-but-not-really way.
I want someone to goofy smile and hug me like Iceman and Maverick do after battle
British director David Mackenzie knows how to deliver a rip-roaring crime thriller, and he’s has an ear for West Texas idioms, too.
The movie stars Chris Pine as Toby, a divorced father of two boys, who has taken care of his mother before she died. He’s a good guy, but the ranch and home had to be mortgaged to cover her care, and the “kindly” bank has set a deadline to pay off the debt. But here’s the catch: Oil companies have discovered oil on the ranch, and Toby wants to make sure he can pass the land along to his kids in a trust so that they’ll escape the family’s cycle of poverty.
Enter brother Tanner (Ben Foster), who has just gotten out of prison and is ready to help. They decide to rob various branches of the bank that holds the mortgage, then give the money back to the bank by paying off the debt.
It’s sort of like Bonnie and Clyde, but it’s a brother act. And wow, is Tanner the brother. He’s a wild man, and he’s way too eager to use a gun. Toby, meanwhile, tries to keep him in check, with little success.
Naturally, the Law has to make an entrance, as the bank robberies multiply. And that’s where Texas Ranger Marcus (Jeff Bridges) comes in. He’s old and wily and near retirement, and the spree of robberies gives him a chance to have a last bit of fun.
All three actors are fantastic, but Foster and Bridges have the showiest roles. Even then, they don’t own the movie. It’s pretty much stolen by a sassy waitress at a steakhouse, who asks the visiting Rangers what “they don’t want.” Turns out you’re gonna get a T-bone medium rare, and you need to decide whether you don’t want the corn or the beans. It’s hilarious. And I don’t have the name of the actress available, but she’s quite something.
The movie is scheduled to open in late summer in Austin, probably in August. It’s worth your time.
Jim Jarmusch, who has been to Cannes many times, just might have reached the apex of his career with the simple but moving “Paterson.”
It’s a poem with seven stanzas, taking us through the days of the week of a gentle bus driver named Paterson (Adam Driver) and his eccentric wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), who live in Paterson, N.J.
Each day at 6:30 a.m., Paterson wakes up, kisses his wife and prepares for the walk to the bus terminal. He carries his lunch, which often includes one of his wife’s cupcakes, which are decorated in black and white frosting. In fact, all of the home is decorated in geometric black and white patterns.
When he’s not driving his passengers around town, he’s jotting in his notebook various poems, reflecting on such mundane matters as his preference for Ohio Blue Tip matches over those made by Diamond.
He’s also an avid fan of Paterson, N.J., poet William Carlos Williams, although most people in town much prefer to honor actor/comedian and Paterson native Lou Costello.
MORE FROM CANNES: Jeff Nichols puts heart at center of historic civil rights case. Our take
He walks his ornery dog every night, with a stop into a bar, where various love troubles play out among the customers. And he talks with the bartender, who’s having a few troubles at home as well. In fact, everyone he meets seems to have some sort of complaint. But Paterson just plods on, trying to find poetry in the small details of life.
The movie is full of repetition and internal rhymes, and it plays like a gentle, melancholy poem, filled with wry observations about daily routines. There’s not much action, unless you count a bus breaking down as a big moment. But that’s not what “Paterson” is about. It’s about the nobility of trying to create art, the importance of kindness and the savoring of everyday events.
With all the action and violence and screaming in many of this year’s movies at Cannes, “Paterson” is meditative and sweet. The dog, however, is another story.
MORE FROM CANNES: Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe are ‘The Nice Guys.’ Why it’s fun.
Austin director Jeff Nichols takes a thankfully quiet approach to what was once a controversial topic in “Loving,” which details the battle to legalize interracial marriage in the United States.
Instead of presenting people arguing about ideas and politics, he instead starts to film slowly, showing a romance between Richard and Mildred Loving, who hold hands, kiss and live quietly in a racially diverse Virginia community. Richard (Joel Edgerton) works in construction and hangs out with African-Americans on the drag race circuit. He’s good. And his car usually wins.
One day, Richard decides to ask Mildred to marry him, and they drive to D.C. to do the deed. Then they go back to their rural Virginia home and try to start a family. No politics. No ideology. No debates. Just love.
It’s a crucial strategy, because what eventually happens to them seems so far out of the norm of what’s right. They’re arrested and eventually told that they can’t live together as man and wife in the state of Virginia. So they move to D.C. and live there for a few years. But Mildred worries about her children not having any green space to play, and she pleads with Richard to move back home. She also writes a letter about her plight to then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who forwards the note to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Neither Richard nor Mildred is a firebrand. Each wants to live quietly and raise a family. But when push comes to shove, Mildred is more of a mover and shaker than Richard, thinking that their case might actually help other people in similar situations. The ACLU agrees, and the case goes to the Supreme Court, which issued a historic 1967 ruling that marriage was an inherent right.
As Nichols said after the screening, he wanted to tell the story, “to get to the heart of this,” by just focusing on the people, Richard and Mildred. He added that many political debates today seem to revolve around ideas rather than people — and that people are at the center of these stories.
“I wanted to make a movie about two people in love, not a courtroom drama,” he said. “This is the quiet film of the year, and I hope it makes people think.”
As Mildred, Negga is brilliant. She has an easy smile, an humble bearing, but also has resolve. As Richard, Edgerton tries to contain his emotions, do his work and be cautious about making any kind of statement other than he loves his wife.
Nichols pointed out that the Supreme Court can do only so much, and that such cases take a while to play out in the rest of the nation, in part because of fears.
He said he hopes “Loving” will at least remind folks that real people are at the center of all these debates, and that if we can understand them, then maybe we can accept our differences.
That seems like a simple message. Maybe “Loving” will figure into the awards season and continue the discussion later this year.
Screen International, the British trade magazine, assembles a team of critics to rank movies with stars after the initial screenings.
This morning’s edition featured ratings for the first six, and German director Maren Ade’s “Toni Erdmann” was at the top of the heap, with an average score of 3.8. (Critics can give an X for a bomb, then up to four stars, with a golden palm being the highest ranking).
The loser so far, the odd French comedy “Slack Bay,” from director Bruno Dumont. You may notice that I haven’t written about this one. The main reason: Why bother? It probably won’t be released in the Austin market, and it has a 2.1 rating, as does the very weird “Staying Vertical,” which I wrote about earlier.
Coming in second place is “Sieranevada,” the very talky Romanian film about a strange wake where everyone argues about 9/11, the communist past and marital infidelity. It gets a score of 3.
Coming in third place is British director Ken Loach’s working-class drama, “I, Daniel Blake,” which shows an older man and a young mother and their exhausting fight with Britain’s messed-up welfare system. It gets 2.4 stars, but it also gets an X (or an F) from the writers of France’s Liberation.
“The Handmaiden” from South Korea’s Park Chan-wook gets a 2.2 rating, for fourth place, although two critics out of the 12 polled have yet to weigh in. It’s a gorgeous film, and is probably going to do better at the U.S. box office than either “Sieranevada” or “I, Daniel Blake.”
Ratings are still too come for “American Honey,” which has sharply divided critics, and “From the Land of the Moon,” from France’s Nicole Garcia. Screening tonight: Jim Jarmusch’s “Paterson,” starring Adam Driver.
And Jeff Nichols’ “Loving” is the first screening on Monday morning. So stay tuned to see how the Austin director does. (Word is good).
When it comes to buddy/action comedies, director and screenwriter Shane Black knows what he’s doing. The screenwriter of “Lethal Weapon” and director of “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” teams up with Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling for his latest wild romp, “The Nice Guys,” and it’s a goofball riff on 1970s Los Angeles culture, the porn industry — and the rise of catalytic converters.
Catalytic converters, you ask? Well, yes, this is the 1970s, Detroit isn’t too keen on the new auto emission rules. But that detail comes much later.
Crowe plays Jackson Healy, a thug who will happily go to someone’s house and beat him up if you have the money to pay off. Break an arm? No problem.
And that’s just what he does when a mysterious young woman named Amelia (Margaret Qualley) asks him to persuade a private investigator named Holland March (Gosling) to back off her trail.
As both men soon discover, however, they’ve become unwittingly involved in a case where the bodies are piling up and the only solution is for Healy and the newly injured March to join forces, even if March is very wary.
We quickly learn that both Healy and March are down on their luck, and March is a big mess, having lost his home in a fire and trying to keep his headstrong daughter Holly (Angourie Rice) out of trouble.
One of the key mysteries is the connection between Amelia and a porn star named Misty Mountains, who is seen in the opening of the novice crashing her car through a bungalow and lying bare-breasted in a back yard after being thrown from the vehicle. She’s dead, but she has something to do with a movie involving Amelia.
Both Crowe and Gosling have a great chemistry, with Crowe’s Healy being the more practical muscle of the two. Gosling’s March, meanwhile, drinks way too much, falls out of multiple windows and generally has the far flashier role, filled with physical comedy.
The setting of 1970s Los Angeles serves the film’s noir elements well, with a suggestion that paradise is a bit faded as smog hovers over the town and residents are forced to stay indoors. And the sleaze of the porn industry only furthers the notion that L.A. is far from its heyday.
In several scenes, Gosling seems to be channeling Lou Costello, with one particularly crazy scene showing him cowering atop a commode in a men’s bathroom, his pants down, as Crowe hovers outside.
There are also several marvelous set pieces, especially one at an elaborate party featuring the porn stars of L.A., and another at car show.
In the midst of all this action, gunfire and mayhem is March’s daughter, Holly, who keeps hiding in her dad’s trunk and tagging along at the worst moments. But she actually turns out to be a better private eye than her dad.
There’s also another character lurking in the background, a killer named John Boy (Matt Bomer), who is getting to every potential source and killing them just before Healy and March arrive on the scene.
A confrontation at March’s home with John Boy plays like something out of “Lethal Weapon,” and that’s a good thing. The director knows how these movies work, has a knack for set pieces and delivers what movie audiences want — lots of laughs, wisecracks and action.
You’ll probably notice that Crowe’s girth has grown over the past few years, but Crowe seemed comfortable with his larger persona at a press conference in Cannes, where the movie premiered. Asked what kind of superhero he would like to be, Crowe joked that he would be “Fatman” and Gosling would be “Ribbon.”
Whatever the case, they make a good team.
As a side note, Austin audiences might be interested to know that Black is a regular at the Austin Film Festival, where he first staged a script reading before starting production. It has been 11 years since his last movie, but it was worth the wait.
“Toni Erdmann,” a German comedy from newcomer Maren Ade, has to be one of the early favorites in the annual race for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
It screened Friday night, and even at 2 hours and 42 minutes, it constantly kept engaging the audience. Part of the reason: It’s a woman’s film, directed by a woman, with all sorts of nuances about the corporate life of a seemingly money-grubbing capitalist, Ines, played with much depth by Sandra Huller.
She exudes the corporate mentality, staying on the phone constantly, ignoring other people even at family gatherings, obsessing over how to get ahead, putting work above all else. She wears the same old black pantsuit, and does everything she can to fit in with her corporation team. But she’s trying a bit too hard, and the casual sexism that she faces is demoralizing.
But Ines’ biggest problem isn’t sexism in the workplace. It’s her dad, Toni (Peter Simonischek), who’s a practical joker of the highest order. And when he sees what’s happening to his daughter, he thinks she needs to lighten up, to make more time for her private life, and to laugh a little. So he shows up unexpectedly at her Bucharest office, where she’s trying to negotiate a corporate downsizing.
Any attempt to describe the father’s antics will sound cliched, like the bucktooth mouthpiece he keeps in his front pocket. Yet there’s genuine pathos in his attempts to reach his daughter. And she’s amazed that he keeps showing up in disguises wherever she goes.
Two scenes in particular are laugh-out-loud: When he father forces her to sing a cheesy pop song before a crowd, and when she melts down and decides to through a birthday party where she and all the guests must be naked. It’s absolutely nuts.
Many more competition films have yet to screen, and there are always surprises. Jim Jarmusch’s “Paterson” sounds promising. So does “Loving” from Austin director Jeff Nichols. And then there’s the enfant terrible Nicolas Winding Refn, who’ll be screening “Neon Demon,” and French-Canadian whiz kid Xavier Dolan, who’ll be showing “It’s Only the End of the World.”
In the Un Certain Regard sidebar, where films are eligible for the Palme d’Or, there’s still another early standout. It’s “The Student” from Russia’s Krill Serebrennikov. Once again, he’s a newcomer to Cannes, but his movie packs a wallop.
It deals with a teenage Russian boy who abruptly decides to obsess over the Bible and memorize various passages. He begins quoting these passages to his befuddled teachers, and he warns that the young women in swim class should be wearing one-piece swimsuits rather than sexually proactive bikinis, which he finds sinful. He continues to battle his science teacher over evolution and sex education, and he starts a protracted battle with her that borders on dangerous.
She’s just as adamant that the student will not sidetrack her progressive teaching methods, and it’s pretty much all-out war.
As the student, Peter Skvortsov is full of rage, spouting off verses that he has memorized. But there’s a big difference between memorizing the Bible and comprehending its meaning, and he’s falling far short in the latter category.
As the teacher, Victoria Isakova delivers another fine performance, showing a stubbornness that matches her student’s. And you end up with a preachy Bible student and a strident science teacher amid a movie that’s remarkably not didactic.
But make no mistake. There’s a clear undercurrent about the dangers of fanaticism, and that’s a timely message for a festival that’s facing heightened security because of perceived threats from Islamic fundamentalists in France.
One other movie deserves a shout-out. It’s Park Chan-Wook’s “Mademoiselle,” or “The Handmaiden.”
The Korean film takes us back to the 1930s, during the period of Japanese occupation, and it deals with a Japanese heiress, Hideko (Kim Min-Hee), who has recently employed the services of a handmaiden, Sookee (Kim Tae-Ri).
Sookee plays all dumb, and Hideko plays like she’s sexually innocent. But neither woman is what she seems. And in the middle of the action is a fake count (Ha Jung-Woo), who is wooing Hideko and seeking some way to get all of her money.
The movie unfolds in three acts, and the cinematography is drop-dead gorgeous, as is the set design. There’s a bit of overlap in the storytelling, as we see the events from different perspectives, and there are far more twists and turns than expected.
I suspect this has the potential to be a cult arthouse favorite. But the sexuality and nudity are strong elements, and its distribution will probably be limited. If it opens in the States later this year, it’s well worth your time.
Park’s most famous movie is another cult favorite, “Oldboy,” which played in Cannes in 2003.
Steven Spielberg, who premiered the classic “E.T.” in Cannes, is back again with “The BFG,” a charming but not quite great film based on the Roald Dahl story about a little girl who is kidnapped by a friendly giant from a London orphanage.
The movie has all the trappings of great story, filled with spectacular visual effects and nice messages for families and children. The little but plucky orphan Sophie (is there any other kind in the movies?) dares to stay up past the witching hour, when ghosts and dreamy creatures roam the streets. Played by newcomer Ruby Barnhill, Sophie accidentally sees a giant roaming the streets, and he knows that he can’t let her stay in London, because she might tell people of his existence. So he plucks her from the bed where she’s hiding and takes her to Giant Country.
As the giant, Oscar winner Mark Rylance has to perform through motion-capture technology, but he does a fine job, making the creature endearingly dim and lovable. He’s also like Sophie in some ways. In Giant Country, he’s an outcast because he’s not as big as the other giants. And he’s a vegetarian. The other giants like to eat people.
So the Big Friendly Giant has to hide Sophie from the rest of the gang, but they have big noses and can smell her presence.
At first, Sophie keeps trying to escape but realizes rather quickly that she’s found a kindred spirit. In fact, the giant takes Sophie on adventures in dreamland, where the BFG captures various types of dreams and keeps them stored in bottles back at his home.
But things go awry when the other giants decide they must find Sophie and be rid of her. So Sophie and the BFG have to hatch a plan: They’ll go visit the queen of England (“Downton Abbey’s” Penelope Wilton) and warn her that the giants might be responsible for the snatching multiple children across the land. It helps that they can release a dream into Buckingham Palace that supports the dire warning.
After an initial hesitancy, Sophie gets the BFG to reveal himself outside the queen’s bedroom window, and before long, everyone is having breakfast in a grand ballroom. And it’s this scene that will probably leave children laughing out loud. It turns out that the BFG has brought along his favorite fizzy drink, where the bubbles go down rather than up. And this causes much flatulence. Yes, the queen takes a sip, and there’s a bit of an unseemly incident.
The aim is to get the queen to launch a raid into giant land and save England. You can probably guess that they’re successful, especially since this is one of the most beloved children’s tales of modern times.
The optimism, a Spielberg trademark, comes through loud and clear. But there’s something missing emotionally between the giant and the girl. It’s not up to the same level of that in “E.T.” Then again, most movies can’t match “E.T.” in that regard.
At a press conference after the screening in Cannes on Saturday, Spielberg said that the making of “The BFG” brought back feelings he had as a young filmmaker, and he noted that he had read the book to his children when they were growing up. “This is probably the closest I’ve come to telling a love story,” he added.
He continued to stress that he hoped people responded to the overall message of “The BFG,” and that audiences realize that such movies “give us hope to fight on for another day.”
“Titticut Follies” — Still one of the most controversial documentaries ever made, Frederick Wiseman’s 1967 debut looks at the inhuman conditions at the Bridgewater State Hospital for the criminally insane. Indeed, the images were so spectacularly damning that government of Massachusetts tried ban its release. Able to shown only to medical and legal professionals, “Titticut Follies” was out of regular distribution for more than 20 years, but was finally shown on PBS in 1992. It is now available to the public. This print, a 35mm restoration of one of the most important American documentaries ever made, will be shown Friday and Sunday at the Austin Film Society.
“Keanu” — Come on, you know you want to. Here is Omar Gallaga interviewing filmmakers Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, with director Peter Atencio about the film during SXSW Film.