Cannes Day 3: Five weird things about ‘Staying Vertical’

The main characters of "Staying Vertical," which is competing for the Palme d'Or in Cannes.
The main characters of “Staying Vertical,” which is competing for the Palme d’Or in Cannes.

The Cannes Film Festival has always been known for its weirdness — and its celebration of offbeat European directors. In 2013, it screened French director Alain Guiraudie’s “Stranger by the Lake” in Un Certain Regard. The film dealt with a romance between a young gay man and a gay serial killer who was stalking people at a lake. The young gay man witnessed the first murder, but he was still attracted to the killer, and a relationship developed, doomed as it was.

This year, the same director is back with “Staying Vertical,” which is in the prestigious competition for the Palme d’Or.

Here are four weird things about the film:

  1. See the image with this post? The guy on the left, Damian Bonnard, plays Leo, a wandering screenwriter who comes upon a shepherdess on a French prairie.  She’s the one in the middle. They immediately start making out as the lambs watch, all the while debating whether wolves are good or bad. They end up in bed, and before you know it, you’re watching a graphic live birth of their baby, with a closeup of the child’s emergence from the womb.
  2. The same Leo keeps making passes at a young man along the road to the home where he’s staying with the mother of his newborn. The young man thinks Leo is a creep, but it’s clear that the young man is gay and is helping out a very old guy who lives in a ramshackle home. The very old guy plays Pink Floyd loudly, all the time. And the old man hurls venom at his helper.
  3. The same Leo appears to think it’s personally reasonable for the grandfather of his newborn to be making sexual advances toward him. That’s the grandfather on the right in the above photo. And, of course, it’s clear that the director is defying gender identifications and sexual assumptions, since the guy on the right isn’t exactly a looker. Leo declines the offer of sex, because he doesn’t think it’s proper to have sex with his child’s grandfather. Um, okay.
  4. The same Leo strikes up a friendship with the Pink Floyd-playing old man. And the old man wants to commit suicide, with Leo’s help. But it’s a weird request, because the old man wants to be having anal intercourse during his death, with Leo’s help. Leo decides that’s fine, and the “assisted suicide” is a success, if you want to call it that.
  5. Shortly thereafter, Leo decides it’s a good idea to make peace with the wolves who are attacking the lambs. So he carries his baby out to the prairie and waits for the wolves. They show up, and as long as he remains vertical, he thinks he’ll safe, since wolves respect anyone standing tall, he has been told. So there you are with a Mexican standoff with the wolves. If you’re a fan of Lars von Trier, you half-expect the wolves to start talking, saying such things as “Chaos reigns!” But alas, these wolves don’t talk. All of this is leading up to a point I think should probably be made. I suspect Austin audiences will be able to view this unusual film at Fantastic Fest, courtesy of co-founder Tim League. We’ll see.


Cannes Day 2: ‘Money Monster’ satisfies, and Clooney, Roberts ham it up

    Julia Roberts and George Clooney look serious Thursday in France, before the start of a press conference after the screening of their new movie, "Money Monster," at the Cannes Film Festival. The two friends were less reserved when answering questions. (Photo by Charles Ealy/Austin American-Statesman)Julia Roberts and George Clooney look serious Thursday in France, before the start of a press conference after the screening of their new movie, “Money Monster,” at the Cannes Film Festival. The two friends were less reserved when answering questions. (Photo by Charles Ealy/Austin American-Statesman)

“Money Monster” premiered Thursday at the Cannes Film Festival to an approving press audience, helping set the stage for a good opening in the United States this month (the movie opens Friday in Austin).

It’s directed by Jodie Foster, and it has echoes of “Network,” where news is melded with entertainment, and whereas “Network” seemed like a satire of the future, Clooney noted Thursday that the future is now the present, and that “Money Monster” can be seen as a commentary on that.

The movie focuses on a crazy TV host of a financial show, Lee Gates, who dances and sashays as he kicks off his tips about where to invest your money. He has been very supportive of investing in Ibis Clear Capital, run by Walt Camby (Dominic West). But Ibis loses $800 million in one day, wiping out the savings of a working-class guy, Kyle (Jack O’Connell), who decides to seek revenge.

Posing as a delivery guy, he manages to infiltrate the TV show and storms on stage with a weapon, demanding answers about what really happened to Ibis stock. He takes Clooney’s Gates hostage, makes him put on an explosive vest, and is holding the trigger, threatening to blow up the show if he doesn’t get what he wants.

That’s a big problem, because Camby of Ibis is out of the country and can’t be contacted, or at least the company says. And it’s left to Gates’ TV producer, Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) to figure out how to prevent a tragedy as the world watches the events play out on live TV.

At a press conference after the screening, it was noted that this is the 40-year anniversary of the screening of “Taxi Driver” in Cannes, the movie that Foster said really launched her career. Although the reception was mixed when it first played in Cannes, primarily because of the level of violence, it went on to win the festival’s highest honor, the Palme d’Or. And Foster said she had lots of love for Cannes, which she considers to be the festival for auteurs.

While Foster answered questions seriously, Clooney and Roberts, who are real-life close friends, joked around and seemed to be having a fabulous time. Clooney is a regular in Cannes, but Roberts said this was her first time at the festival and that she was thrilled to be here.

Throughout the session, various questioners tried to bring politics into the session, and it wasn’t such a stretch, since the presidential campaign has some elements of a reality TV show. Clooney acknowledged as much, and was pointedly asked about Donald Trump. That’s been a constant question, especially among foreign critics when they meet anyone from America. Clooney said he was confident that Trump would not be elected, because he didn’t think the country would respond favorably “to fear. That’s not who we are,” he said.

And then some critics wanted to know whether O’Connell’s character was a stand-in for Bernie Sanders voters. Foster handled that question, saying that she saw O’Connell’s character as being more representative of the economically disenfranchised and frustrated Trump voter.

Whatever the case, the movie is quite funny and shouldn’t be taken completely seriously. It has lots of funny lines, and lots of points of laughter, primarily because Clooney excels at playing characters think they’re smart but are actually the dumbest guy in the room. Clooney says he has practice doing such roles, mainly because of his long association with the Coen brothers.

The screening on Thursday capped a controversial first few days of Cannes, which has installed heightened security all around the Palais, with long lines for both press and general audiences. Many roads around the area have been completely blocked off, presumably to guard against car bombings, and the Croisette is completely jammed with people.

On Wednesday night, at the premiere of “Cafe Society,” even more controversy erupted when an emcee made a joke about why director Woody Allen and rape. Allen reportedly addressed the controversy at a luncheon Thursday, saying that he never would try to censor any comedian from making a joke, even if it was at his own expense. He said he was more annoyed that the ceremony leading up to the screening lasted so long.

George Clooney and Jake O'Connell in "Money Monster,"
George Clooney and Jake O’Connell in “Money Monster,”


Cannes Day 1: The swag and the bag

The swag of Cannes, day one.
The swag of Cannes, day one.

The official Cannes Film Festival bag is filled with all sorts of info, and it’s usually bright and shiny and zippable. Not this year. It looks like a small blue laundry bag, seen at the left of the photo above.

There’s been much talk about security at this year’s festival, and earlier this month, the Cannes folks even staged a mock terrorist attack on the red carpet, to see if they were prepared for such an event. They say they are. But I wonder if the open bag might have something to do with security concerns. I’m sure I’ll spill a lot of stuff on the floor with this kind of bag. Oh well.

The bag has all sorts of program notes and other info about navigating the festival.

The official program, which is big and orange and yellow, includes descriptions of all the films in the official selection. And early word has it that at least two U.S. movies are getting good buzz: Jeff Nichols’ “Loving” and Jim Jarmusch’s “Paterson.”

Another indication of quality comes from Sony Pictures Classics, which picked up U.S. distribution rights today for Paul Verhoeven’s “Elle,” starring Isabelle Huppert. The official program has this description of the film: “Michele seems indestructible. Head of a leading video game company, she brings the same ruthless attitude to her love life as to business. Being attacked in her home by an unknown assailant changes Michele’s life forever. When she resolutely tracks the man down, they are both drawn into a curious and thrilling game — a game that may, at any moment, spiral out of control.”

“Elle” won’t screen for the press until late in the festival, but Sony Pictures Classics, co-founded by University of Texas graduate Michael Barker, got an early look, and they’re giving it a thumbs up, for sure.

Only one other movie plays in the big theaters tonight: “Sieranevada,” by Romania’s Cristi Puig. It’s quite  timely, given the security concerns at this year’s fest. Here’s the description: “Three days after the terrorist attack on the offices of Parisian weekly Charlie Hebdo and forty days after the death of his father, Lary, a doctor in his forties is about to spend the Saturday at a family gathering to commemorate the deceased. But the occasion does not go according to expectations. Forced to confront his fears and his past, to rethink the place he holds within the family, Lary finds himself constraint (sic) to tell his version of the truth.”

This, of course, sounds nothing like what I was expecting. Sierra Nevada? The mountain range in the West? Don’t think so.

Cannes Day 1: ‘Cafe Society’ is okay, but not great


Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg in one of the L.A. scenes of "Cafe Society."
Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg in one of the L.A. scenes of “Cafe Society.”

Woody Allen’s “Cafe Society” opened the Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday, but it wasn’t as good as hoped, just like last year’s “Irrational Man.”

The film takes place in the 1930s, in both New York and Los Angeles, harking back to the days of big studio domination of Hollywood.

Jesse Eisenberg stars as the Woody Allen stand-in, Bobby, who is tired of working in his father’s jewelry store and longs to make it big in Hollywood. So he sets off, with the hopes of getting a job for his super-agent uncle, Phil (Steve Carell), who at first doesn’t seem too eager to do much for him.

Phil is always on the phone, and he keeps Bobby waiting for “an audience” with him for weeks, despite the hounding of Bobby’s mother via phone from New York. She’s the Jewish mother, of course, and has all sorts of funny lines: “Live every day like it’s your last, and some day you’ll be right”; and then when talking about her wayward older son, she says, “First a murderer, then a Christian. What have I done to deserve this?”

But that’s typical Allen shtick. The heart of the story lies in romance. This time, it begins when Bobby finally lands a menial job at his uncle’s agency and is shown around town by his uncle’s secretary, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart). Bobby is immediately smitten, but Vonnie says she has a boyfriend, and that she’s flattered by the attention, but the relationship can’t go anywhere.

As you might expect in an Allen movie, the 20-something Vonnie is involved with a much older married man. But Bobby holds out hope, while Vonnie holds out hope that the older lover will divorce his wife.

Bobby eventually finds out the identity of the older man, and it’s a big problem for reasons that would be spoilers to explain. So he heads back to New York to work at his gangster brother’s night club. And there he meets another woman, also named Veronica or Vonnie (Blake Lively), and gets married and starts a family.

But the flame for the first Vonnie lives on.

The cinematography in Los Angeles is gorgeous, capturing the heyday of Hollywood. And it was shot digitally by the legendary Vittorio Storaro.

But there’s something lacking in “Cafe Society.” The romance between Eisenberg and Stewart is believable, but the romance between Stewart and her older lover isn’t. And there’s all sorts of Allen-esque commentary on the shallowness of L.A. — something he’s rather famous for.

Parker Posey, who’s becoming an Allen regular, has an amusing supporting role as a woman who moves in both New York and Los Angeles societies. And Corey Stoll has another good supporting role as Bobby’s gangster brother, Ben.

At a press conference afterward, Allen acknowledged that “years ago, I would have played the part that Jesse is playing. But I would have played it narrower, because I’m a comedian. He’s an actor.”

He also said that he’s a romantic at heart, and that “Cafe Society” was essentially a romance, unlike some of his darker movies, such as “Match Point.” But since this is Woody Allen, the romance and comedy are tinged with inevitable sadness because he says his comic perspective takes into account an “existence that is fraught with cruelty” and other disappointments.

That’s also true of Allen’s movies. This one, regrettably, is a disappointment. It’ll do okay box-office business among the Allen faithful, but not much more.

Another day, another silly Internet falsehood

Oh dear, another day, another trending Internet falsehood. Here’s the latest, and it has to do with a movie called “100 Years — The Movie You Will Never See,” which is a joint project of John Malkovich and Robert Rodriguez.

Back in November, a cognac company that ages its spirits for 100 years said that the two movie celebrities had made a film that was being put in a vault and would not be seen for 100 years. That original story had all sorts of reasons for raising an eyebrow. For instance, just exactly what kind of technology do they think will be available in 100 years?

And today, folks started saying that the Cannes Film Festival would be “showcasing” or “displaying” the movie. Um, no.

If you care to look, you’ll find that it’s not screening in any way, with any connection with the official festival. The competition and official selection can be found here.

The screenings for Critics Week can be found here. The screenings for Directors’ Fortnight can be found here.

The reason for skepticism: Do you see in any of these reports who’s actually making the statement?

As anyone who has ever been to the Cannes Film Festival knows, there’s a concurrent Market, where anything can screen, and where all sorts of promotional events happen, usually with a corporate sponsor. That’s probably what this is. But in no way is the Cannes Film Festival screening or showcasing this movie. A company is probably screening some footage as part of a marketing event. Sigh.

Suzanne Cordeiro / For American-Statesman Texas Film Awards Honoree Robert Rodriguez walks the red carpet held at Austin Studios on March 12, 2015 in Austin, Texas.
Suzanne Cordeiro / For American-Statesman
Texas Film Awards Honoree Robert Rodriguez walks the red carpet held at Austin Studios on March 12, 2015 in Austin, Texas.


Four things you might not know about Cannes 2016

We’ll have a preview of what’s happening at the Cannes Film Festival in our Sunday editions. But here’s some extra stuff to whet your appetite.

Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart in Woody Allen's "Cafe Society." (Amazon Studios)
Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart in Woody Allen’s “Cafe Society.” (Amazon Studios)

1. Kristen Stewart is far more highly regarded as an actress in Europe than she is in the United States. Part of the U.S. reaction to her abilities probably has something to do with her being the star of the “Twlight” movies, which aren’t exactly art-house fare. But since she rose to fame in the “Twilight” films, she has been making interesting – and smart – choices with her career. She’s carefully picking her roles and making sure that she’s working with a well-regarded director. This year in Cannes she’ll be starring in two movies that are part of the official selection: Woody Allen’s opening-night film, “Café Society,” and French director Olivier Assayas’ “Personal Shopper,” the latter of which is in competition for the Palme d’Or. Interestingly, Stewart starred in Assayas’ last movie, “Clouds of Sils Maria,” which played in the Cannes competition, and Stewart went on to win the French Cesar Award for best supporting actress for her role as Juliette Binoche’s personal assistant. She was also in Walter Salles’ “On the Road,” which screened in the 2012 Cannes competition. And she’s set to star in Ang Lee’s “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” which is based on the novel by Dallas author Ben Fountain and is scheduled to be released this winter. “Walk” is already getting raves from early screenings for its technological achievements, fyi, and is expected to be a player during this year’s awards season.

2. When someone writes or tells you that a movie played in Cannes, you need to know that such a phrase means little or nothing. It’s all about WHERE it played in Cannes. If it’s part of the official selection, that’s a big deal. If it’s in the competition for the Palme d’Or, that’s the biggest deal possible. If it’s in one of the official sidebars, like Directors’ Fortnight or Critics Week, that’s also a big deal. But it means very little if a movie is playing in the Market – the simultaneous event that takes place in the caverns of the Palais. Anybody can screen anything there, as long as they’re willing to pay. And if someone has a movie showing in the Short Film Corner, it simply means that they’re spending their own money to network and show a short in the basement of the Palais, where various booths are set up for folks to network. Such screenings are NOT curated, and being in the Short Film Corner isn’t a sign of artistic achievement, in any stretch of the imagination, unless you think that the trend of “everybody gets a trophy” is actually worthwhile.

3. Americans are going to be getting far more attention in Cannes this year than they have in some previous years, at least if you’re looking at the official selection. The movies are: Woody Allen’s “Café Society,” Jeff Nichols’ “Loving,” Sean Penn’s “The Last Face,” Jim Jarmusch’s “Paterson,” Michael O’Shea’s “The Transfiguration,” Matt Ross’ “Captain Fantastic,” Shane Black’s “The Nice Guys,” Jodie Foster’s “Money Monster,” Steven Spielberg’s “The BFG,” Jonathan Littell’s “Wrong Elements,” Jarmusch’s “Gimme Danger,” with a special tribute to Robert De Niro with a screening of “Hands of Stone,” directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz, a longtime friend of Austin’s Robert Rodriguez and Elizabeth Avellan and a former student at the Radio Television Film Department at the University of Texas.

4. Cannes always has some wild movies in the competition. This year, the wildest promises to be Nicoloas Winding Refn’s “The Neon Demon,” which the Danish director filmed in L.A. It’s about cannibalism and supermodels. Refn is hit-or-miss at Cannes. His movie “Drive,” starring Ryan Gosling, was a hit when it played at Cannes in 2011. But in 2013, “Only God Forgives” fell flat with most critics.


Austin Film Society to open AFS Cinema in 2017 at Marchesea Hall location

The Austin Film Society announced Wednesday that it has  signed an agreement to operate the theater and event venue formerly known as the Marchesa Hall and Theater at 6226 Middle Fiskville Road)

The venue will be temporarily renamed the AFS Cinema until—after undergoing renovations to incorporate a second screen—it will relaunchAFS_Logo with new branding and expanded programming in early 2017.

The property is owned by Renaissance Limited, and AFS has signed a long-term lease, the terms of which were not disclosed.

AFS director Holly Herrick said that the nonprofit film organization was meeting with architects and planners to see what was possible in the space.

“We want to run a full-time arthouse by early 2017 and continue to rent out the event hall until the renovation is complete,” Herrick said. The Marchesa is also home to such events as Staple! The Indie Media Expo, MondoCon and Inspire Pro Wrestling.

The plan is for the two screen cinema to give a full-theatrical run to the sorts of independent films and contemporary foreign films that might not make it to indie-oriented cinemas such as the Violent Crown, the Alamo Drafthouses or the Arbor.

“The idea is to be able to offer these films something more than a single screening, something like a real opening in town,” Herrick said. “This means we don’t just do two or three screenings a month of these sorts of movies, it means we can do it all the time.”

The AFS has been using the Marchesa since 2013. The plan now is to keep the current, 278-seat theater and turn one of the other rooms back into a second theater. AFS co-founder and artistic director Richard Linklater announced lead gifts and AFS’s plans to open an arthouse theater on stage at the Texas Film Awards in March.

David Monahan, an Austin native who has held management positions with Nordstrom’s, UT’s Texas Performing Arts and the Alamo Drafthouse, has been hired as general manager.

Leaving the space is Marchesa owner/booker Deborah Gill, who has been synonymous with the space since 2009.

“It was a very hard decision, but the lease was up and AFS was really ready  to take that next step,” Gill said Thursday. “My career has always been about building a strong community around the arts, and that’s not going to change. I stand behind what they want to do and I am proud to have been a part of it.”

Gill is also a longtime rock promoter whose family also owns and operates the Parlor.