Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Movie Review: Lean on Pete

Lean on Pete **** / *****
Directed by: Andrew Haigh.
Written by: Andrew Haigh based on the novel by Willy Vlautin.
Starring: Charlie Plummer (Charley Thompson), Travis Fimmel (Ray), Chloë Sevigny (Bonnie), Steve Buscemi (Del), Steve Zahn (Silver), Amy Seimetz (Lynn), Justin Rain (Mike), Lewis Pullman (Dallas), Frank Gallegos (Santiago), Julia Prud'homme (Ruby), Alison Elliott (Margy), Rachael Perrell Fosket (Martha), Jason Rouse (Mitch), Francisco Diego Garcia (Bob), Bob Olin (Mr. Kendall), Teyah Hartley (Laurie),
I’m not quite sure why it seems like European filmmakers seem more interested in America’s wide open spaces than American directors are – but often when I think of those long stretching roads, and vast emptiness, it’s films like Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas or Andrea Arnold’s American Honey that come to mind. American films seems mainly interested in either big cities, the suburbs or small towns – but not everything in between. You can add Andrew Haigh’s Lean on Pete to those other European films that contemplates that American vastness. It is, on the surface, a story of a boy and a horse – but the film has such a lived in feel that even the smallest characters feel full – that they are leading lives outside the frame, and we are just stopping in.
The film’s star is Charlie Plummer – you may remember him from All the Money in the World last year, although he’s much better here. He plays Charley, a 16 year old kid who has moved around the country with his father, Ray (Travis Fimmel), who moves from one dead end job to the next, one girlfriend to the next. He has no other real family – there’s an Aunt Margy, but she and her father got into a fight a few years ago, and haven’t spoken since. They’re now in Portland, living in a mobile home park, and Charley is left to his own devices a lot. He runs every morning – he wants to play football, like he did at his old school, but he basically knows no one in this new place. He meets Del (Steve Buscemi), a down-on-his-luck, crotchety horse trainer. Charley also meets all of Del’s horses – and grows particularly fond of Lean on Pete – a five-year-old quarter horse, approaching the end of his time as a race horse. Things don’t end well for race horses.
I won’t give away the sad sequence of events that transpire during the first half of Lean on Pete – but will note that the film turns into a road movie of sorts in its second half. Writer/director Andrew Haigh has a gift of making all the characters in this film feel real – like fully formed people the audience is just spending some time with, before they go back to their lives. This makes the episodic nature of Lean on Pete work better than it usually does in this type of film. Whether it’s Travis Fimmel as Charley’s father – who loves his son, but doesn’t really know how to raise him, or Steve Buscemi as Del, a kind of gruff, surrogate father figure who Charley idolizes than grows disillusioned with, Chloe Sevigny as a jockey – who cares for Charley, but is also a realist, the first half of the film allows each of them some time and space for the audience to get to know them. This is more difficult with characters with less screen time – but Haigh and his actors still manage to do it. There is something about the way Amy Seimetz makes breakfast for and interacts with Charley and his father that tells you everything about this woman. Or the couple of Iraq veterans who invite Charley into their house at a certain point – and later, the older man who arrives to hang out with them, with his overweight granddaughter, who he treats cruelly. Or Steve Zahn, who seems so nice as a homeless person at first. All of them are real people, which makes these little interludes along the way ring true.
They all also help Plummer and his performance. Unless Plummer is alone with Lean on Pete, the horse, he remains a fairly quiet presence – respectful and nice, deferring to those around him. As he talks to Pete the horse – and later, a figure from his past – we get to know more about Charley that made him the way he is. His dreams are not big dreams – he has just grown use to grown up either abandoning him or letting him down. There is something almost unspeakably sad about it when he describes to Pete the greatest thing he’s ever seen – and it’s simply a family sitting down to a meal together. The small moments the rest of us take for granted, are all he really wants. When he seems on the verge of getting it, near the end, he distrusts it. He’s been thrust into a crueler world than he should have to face at 16.
When you hear a movie is about a boy and his horse, you are probably thinking of something perhaps a little cheesy, but inspirational. Lean on Pete really isn’t that film – it’s more akin to something like Kelly Reichardt’s best film Wendy & Lucy, in which Michelle Williams plays a woman with no money, stranded with her dog who has to find a way to move on to the next town, for another job. It’s a portrait of poverty that is heartbreaking, because so little money could mean so much to the characters. Lean on Pete gets, I think both darker and more violent than Wendy & Lucy – this is not going to end the way you think it will. It confirms Haigh – whose last film was the brilliant 45 Years, about a woman who realizes late in life that she doesn’t understand anything about her life, or her marriage, as one of the most keenly observant filmmakers around. He sets his sights this time on America – and what he finds is tragic and sad, but offers some hope of uplift.

Movie Review: Rampage

Rampage *** / *****
Directed by: Brad Peyton.
Written by: Ryan Engle and Carlton Cuse & Ryan J. Condal and Adam Sztykiel and Ryan Engle.
Starring: Dwayne Johnson (Davis Okoye), Naomie Harris (Dr. Kate Caldwell), Malin Åkerman (Claire Wyden), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Agent Russell), Jake Lacy (Brett Wyden), Joe Manganiello (Burke), Marley Shelton (Dr. Kerry Atkins), P. J. Byrne (Nelson), Demetrius Grosse (Colonel Blake), Jack Quaid (Connor), Breanne Hill (Amy).
It takes a special set of skills to make a movie as gloriously dumb as Rampage undeniably is, but still make it fun. Not everyone can do it right- as the recent Pacific Rim: Uprising proved, which was just as big and dumb as this film is, but isn’t half as much fun. Rampage is a film based on an arcade game which (apparently, I never played it) was nothing except a giant gorilla, a giant wolf and a giant alligator destroying buildings – and the film knows precisely what it is that people who pay to see a movie with that concept want to see – mainly a giant gorilla, giant wolf and a giant alligator destroying buildings. The movie doesn’t really try that hard to have the emotional underpinnings of Peter Jackson’s version of King Kong (it pays it some lip service, but basically doesn’t care), and doesn’t have the larger implications of Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla (a film I still love, screw you, you’re wrong about that one). It’s essentially a hundred minutes of smashy-smashy, with enough material with an entirely game cast so you can say that yes, there is in fact a plot here.
And what a gloriously dumb plot is it! Malin Akerman is Claire Wyden, who runs a huge company based in Chicago, who as we see in the opening scene, is conducting genetic editing tests on rats in space, until one of those rats becomes a giant killer rat, and kills almost everyone on board. One lucky scientist manages to get to the escape capsule in time, only to die as she crashes to earth, with three of the samples flying free and hurtling to earth – landing next to (you guessed it) a gorilla, a wolf and an alligator, turning them into monsters. The only one of the three giant animals we care about is George – the Gorilla – who lives at the San Diego Wildlife Centre, under the watch of Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson), a former specialist forces army man, who is also a former head of the UN anti-poaching team, and is now head primatologist. He and George are friends – they speak in sign language, and joke around – so when George starts getting bigger – and angrier – all of a sudden, he is concerned. Eventually, he’ll meet Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), who used to work for Wyden and knows about their research, and Agent Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) – who works for Other Government Agency – to try and figure out what’s going on. For reasons having to do with perhaps the dumbest villain plot ever conceived, all three animals make their way to Chicago – where eventually, they will lay waste to half the city.
Now, not everyone can act in a film like Rampage – and make it work. I’m thinking of someone like Charlize Theron – probably a better actor than anyone in Rampage, but who really seemed out of place in the last Fast & Furious movie, probably because she took it too seriously. That’s not a mistake anyone in Rampage makes. Dwayne Johnson is one of the best actors around for these type of movie star roles, that require nothing more than for him to be charming and funny, and occasionally kick ass – and he does that wonderfully well. Everyone else kind of follows his lead – the more talented than needed Naomie Harris is fine, but you do get the feel that she’s just there to have another woman in the cast. Malin Akerman is having glorious amounts of fun being an evil woman. No one is better than Jeffrey Dean Morgan though, who says every line almost as if he’s about to break out laughing because of how stupid it all is. It’s a skill he perfected on The Walking Dead, where Negan speaks in catch phrases and declarations that are asinine, but at least in this, the film knows that.
But what you really want to see is those three animals destroy things – and once they get started, boy do they ever destroy things. The director is Brad Peyton, who teamed up with Johnson for San Andreas a few years ago, so you already know he’s great at destroying cities (also, he seems oddly fascinated with helicopters). Yes, you could certainly argue that this is another blockbuster that destroys cities, evokes 9/11 with its imagery, but doesn’t seriously consider the human lives lost in the film (they say that half of downtown has been evacuated when they animals start smashing – that still leaves I have no idea how many tens of thousands of people dead). But the film is so goofy, you’re not really thinking about that, are you?
No one could seriously argue that Rampage is a great film – or even a good one. If you watch it and say it’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever seen, well, I’m not sure I could mount much of a defense to that. But the film is glorious amounts of fun.

Movie Review: Marrowbone

Marrowbone ** / *****
Directed by: Sergio G. Sánchez.
Written by: Sergio G. Sánchez.
Starring: George MacKay (Jack), Anya Taylor-Joy (Allie), Charlie Heaton (Billy), Mia Goth (Jane), Matthew Stagg (Sam), Nicola Harrison (Mother), Kyle Soller (Porter), Tom Fisher (Father), Myra Kathryn Pearse (Molly), Paul Jesson (Doctor), Robert Nairne (Monster), Laura Brook (Thelma), Adam Quintero (Mr. Gouldman).
Marrowbone is the directorial debut of Sergio G. Sanchez – the screenwriter probably best known for the 2007 horror film The Orphanage. For some, that film is one of the best horror films of the 21st Century – to me, it was a well-made bore. Part of that is probably because ghost stories don’t much work for me (another of the more highly acclaimed 21st Century horror films The Others doesn’t work for me either) – but mainly I think it’s because it’s one of those movies that withholds information for the sake of surprising you at the end. It’s a kind of storytelling technique I don’t usually like – the film all but tells you it’s not telling you everything, and then pulls to rug out and expects you to be surprised. I find that annoying more than anything – and sadly, Marrowbone is more of the same, with less of the things that made The Orphanage work as well as it did (I would never question either the filmmaking or acting in that film).
It’s the 1960s, and an Irish family – a mother (Nicola Harrison) and her four children, teenagers Jack (George MacKay), Billy (Charlie Heaton), Jane (Mia Goth) and the much younger Sam (Matthew Stagg) have just moved back to America – where the mother grew up. They agree not to talk about the past or “him” – who they don’t name right away, but has to be their father (right?). The family takes on their mother’s maiden name – Marrowbone – and move into the isolated, dilapidated mansion her family has let stand, empty, for three decades. Their mother is very sick, but before she dies, she makes the oldest Jack swear he’ll keep the family together – to do that, they must not let anyone know of her death until he turns 21, and can legally take guardianship of them. Essentially, they are forced to hide away from the world – with Jack occasionally venturing out to the city to do the work that needs to be done, but the rest staying out of sight. In addition to those problems though, something doesn’t seem quite right at the house itself. There are strange noises throughout the house – and all the mirrors are covered. Is the place haunted? Is there a less supernatural, but no less sinister, explanation to be had?
There are perhaps elements to Marrowbone that may have made it work as a routine haunted house film – chief among them is the house itself, which really does have the atmosphere needed for a great haunted house movie, as even in the daytime it is foreboding. But not much else about the film works. It spends way too much time dealing with Porter (Kyle Soller), a young lawyer who is handling some legal work on behalf of the mother – not knowing she is dead – who also happens to know the families secrets, but talks about them almost in riddle until the movie decides to reveal them, AND also is in love with Allie (Anya-Taylor Joy), the closest neighbor to the Marrowbone children, who is in love with Jack. The movie tries to shoehorn those various plot threads in, as well as deal with the haunted house, and sibling resentment, and the siblings having to retrieve the same box of supposedly cursed money more than once.
The result really doesn’t work all that well. The film has too many characters, and to be honest not much is done with any of them aside from Jack. This is particularly frustrating in regards to Taylor-Joy and Goth, who are two actresses I have admired in several films before this, and (to be honest) are the reasons I watched Marrowbone. Both are essentially wasted – especially Goth, who essentially is given nothing to do but hang out in the background so she can be used as a plot reveal later on in the film.
The film tries to have the kind of twist ending that makes audience gasp when it is revealed, but it really isn’t all that shocking. Sanchez doesn’t hint it at necessarily, but the way he’s structured the plot makes no sense at all, unless he needs certain things to be true so he can yank the rug out from under us.
Yes, the atmosphere of Marrowbone is quite good, but other than that, the film is basically a bore – not just because it isn’t scary, but because I think for long stretches of the movie, Sanchez isn’t even trying to be scary – he’s telling too many stories, and none of them are all that interesting.

Movie Review: Walking Out

Walking Out *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Alex Smith & Andrew J. Smith.
Written by: Alex Smith & Andrew J. Smith based on the short story by David Quammen.
Starring: Matt Bomer (Cal), Josh Wiggins (David), Bill Pullman (Clyde), Alex Neustaedter (Young Cal), Lily Gladstone (Lila).
Walking Out is a survival tale about a father and son who go hunting – and then things go wrong. You could compare the film to something like the Oscar winning The Revenant, but in a much more low-key way than that film. That doesn’t make the film any less harrowing – in fact, in some ways, that helps the film hit even harder, because it’s not as obsessed with its own importance. It is the type of film I think of when I hear that Hollywood never makes films for middle-American (the “real” America so many conservative pundits call it), because it is a film about that area - it is set in Montana – and is about the legacy of fathers and sons. It is perhaps a sly critique on gun culture – but not an overt one, and it certainly doesn’t look down on hunting culture at all. It is about respect for the wilderness, and the animals you are hunting – not about the glory of killing (the people in this movie would hate trophy hunting for example). It is in many way a quiet, subtle film – and remains so even after things go wrong.
The film stars young Josh Wiggins as David – a 14 year old kid, who lives with his mother in Texas, who once a year travels to see his father, Cal (Matt Bomer) is Montana to go on a hunt. David loves his father, and wants to connect with him, but isn’t much of a hunter. He’s okay hanging around his father’s remote cabin, and shooting at birds – but doesn’t much like the idea of heading out in the Smoky mountains for days on end to hunt moose – a certain moose in particular that Cal has been tracking for weeks. Still, Cal was 14 when he shot his first moose – which we see in a series of flashbacks, featuring a young Cal (Alex Neustaedter) and his own father, Clyde (Bill Pullman) – that will inform much of what we see throughout the film. They stalk the moose – but things go wrong, and they end up looking for a different animal that takes them off their previous route, and brings them in contact with a mother bear and her cubs. The second half of the film features David having to carry his father out of the wilderness.
The film is beautiful to look at – and remains so even after the horrific incidents of the halfway point. Director brothers Alex and Andrew J. Smith and their cinematographer Todd McMullen have a sort of reverence for the mountains, and their snow covered beauty. These are harsh, unrelenting conditions, and the film knows that well – but it never loses site of the beauty of it all.
The film is ultimately a tale of fathers and sons – and that hunting trip in which both of them become men. But in both cases – with Cal and his father, and then David with Cal – they do so in a way that their fathers never planned on. These are hunting trips the sons will remember for ever – just not in the romantic way the fathers probably thought they would.
In its way, the film is a subtle critique of gun culture – a culture in which guns are ubiquitous and have power that must be respected, but are placed in the hands of children who do not quite understand that power yet (they will). It’s not an anti-gun screed in any way – certainly not an anti-hunting one – but a subtle call for them to be treated with respect – and that goes beyond showing them where the safety is.
The movie is harrowing, yes, but it never becomes overly bleak or dark or depressing. It is in its way a quietly inspiring film, even as sad as the film gets. It’s not a film looking to blow you away with its camera work or its grimness or its violence – it works its way in in a quieter, more profound way. By the end, you may just be surprised by how much the film ultimately moves you.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Movie Review: Backcountry

Backcountry (2015) *** / *****
Directed by: Adam MacDonald.
Written by: Adam MacDonald.
Starring: Jeff Roop (Alex), Missy Peregrym (Jenn), Eric Balfour (Brad), Nicholas Campbell (Ranger).
I cannot help but wonder if writer/director Adam MacDonald intended for the audience of Backcountry to not know what waiting out in the woods for his central couple (if you don’t know, just go watch the movie – and don’t look at the poster before you do). I wonder this because it takes a long time (more than two-thirds of the 90 minute runtime) before the star that the advertising has promised actually shows up and does anything. Up until then, he has skillfully built the tension, and shown us multiple threats to the couple’s safety that turn out to be red herrings. The film is building to something – and when it hits, it hits. (Okay fair warning to this four year movie – if you don’t know what the film is about yet, and want to see it, just stop reading and go watch the film – I’m going to stop being coy about it in a minute or two).
Alex (Jeff Roop) and Jenn (Missy Peregrym) are city dwellers, who are heading to a Northern Ontario provincial park for a few days of hiking and camping. She has never gone camping before – doesn’t particularly care about it – but he’s gung ho. He’s got a plan for the weekend that involves taking her to his favorite place as a child – the Blackfoot Trail. He’s so confident that he knows where to go, that he even rejects the offer of the park ranger (Nicholas Campbell) of a map. The scene with Campbell, a well-known character actor to Canadian audiences, probably not so much outside here, provides several different red herring – the first being that Campbell is, himself, deliberately more than little creepy, and the second talk about too many crazies on the Blackfoot Trail – which is why it’s closed for the season. So along with the no map thing, we now have three potential threats to the couple. We’ll add another threat at the end of the first act, as the couple come across Brad (Eric Balfour) – a hunky Irishman – out in the forest – or more accurately, Brad comes across Jenn as Alex is gathering firewood. They share a tense dinner together – where everyone is polite, up to a point, but it’s clear the two men are sizing each other up – and Alex starts to feel insecure – and Brad pushes harder and harder. It’s also in this scene where we learn more about the dynamic between Jenn and Alex – that she is a lawyer, and he’s working for a friend with a landscaping business. This whole trip, with Alex overcompensating for everything, is perhaps a way to feel manlier – and show that off to Jenn. It’s also what leads him to keep making stupid mistakes.
All of these are red herrings of course. Yes, their relationship is strained, but strained in a way that really does feel real. She is willing to go along on the hike, and defends him to Brad, etc. – but when he makes a mistake (and then another) – the true feelings come out, and the gloves come off. But even that isn’t the real threat – at least the one that will kill them. That, of course, is a bear – a giant hulking black bear, who makes a brief appearance at the hour mark – pushing his snout against their tent as they sleep – and will eventually come back for more. When the attack finally does hit – it’s a bloody doozy, horrific and horrifying in the way you expect – and then the film becomes a survival thriller for the one who isn’t killed.
All of this works remarkably well. The film slowly builds the tension throughout its runtime – you’re never quite sure where the horror is going to come from. At the end, you may feel a little bit cheated – because of all the red herrings and themes brought up and discarded, etc. But while the film is playing, it works remarkably well.

Movie Review: Blockers

Blockers *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Kay Cannon.
Written by: Brian Kehoe & Jim Kehoe.
Starring: Leslie Mann (Lisa), Ike Barinholtz (Hunter), John Cena (Mitchell), Kathryn Newton (Julie), Gideon Adlon (Sam), Geraldine Viswanathan (Kayla), Graham Phillips (Austin), Miles Robbins (Connor), Jimmy Bellinger (Chad), June Diane Raphael (Brenda), Hannibal Buress (Frank), Sarayu Blue (Marcie), Gary Cole (Austin’s Dad), Gina Gershon (Austin’s Dad), Colton Dunn (Rudy), Ramona Young (Angelica), Jake Picking (Kyler), T.C. Carter (Jayden), Andrew Lopez (Jake Donahue).
The comedy Blockers tries to do too much in its 100 minute runtime – being a teenage comedy, a film about parents letting go, a positive affirmation of sex, and a gross out film all at the same time. It doesn’t always work – it doesn’t always fit together – but for the most part, it’s held together by a game cast, who pretty much go for broke. As far as these types of mainstreams comedies go – it’s not quite what Game Night was last month (which was the best one I’d seen in a few years), but it’s about as good as it can be. It’s the type of movie you could end up watching again and again when it shows up on cable, and your channel surfing.
The story is pretty simple – the teenage girls, friends since kindergarten, are excited for their prom night. Julie (Kathryn Newton) decides that tonight is the night she is going to lose her virginity to Austin, her boyfriend – the two of them are sickeningly cute together. Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan – who steals almost every scene she’s in), decides, what the hell, she’s in too – and will lose her virginity to her date Connor, so Sam (Gideon Adlon) decides she will as well to Chad – even though she’s pretty sure she’s a lesbian, and would rather be with Angelica (Ramona Young). Through a complicated series of events, their parents find out about #Sexpact 2018 and are determined to stop them from making what they assume will be a mistake. At least that’s what Lisa (Leslie Mann), Julie’s mother thinks – she’s a single mother, who had Julie young, and worries about her making similar mistakes as well as the fact she may go off to UCLA, an unthinkable long way from Chicago. Mitchell (John Cena) is also determined to stop Kayla – he cannot stop thinking about Connor’s stupid man bun and supposed smirk. Mitchell, of course, looks like John Cena, but is really a big old softie (basically the human version of Ferdinand that Cena just voiced). Hunter (Ike Barinholtz), Sam’s dad doesn’t actually want to stop his daughter – he wants to stop his fellow parents from ruining the kids night.
The film knows full well that Lisa and Mitchell are wrong – that their way of thinking is backwards and sexist, applying different standards to boys and girls the way we still do. Mitchell’s wife calls them out for it early in the film, and the way sex is presented in the film is pretty much the idealized, perfect version of teenage sex. There isn’t the slightest hint of the boys pressuring the girls (they all say, more than once “We don’t have to”, or something along those lines). All of that is refreshing to see in this type of comedy, even if at times it gets laid on a little thick – it’s still preferable to the types of high school comedies from a while ago which would laugh at some pretty heinous things (Molly Ringwald’s re-evaluation of the John Hughes films she was in published in The New Yorker is a must read in this regard).
But if Blockers was only about that kind of portrait of teenage sex, it would be a well-intentioned bore. Thankfully it is. The movie is hilarious, giving us two different groups of three of people who are well matched, and who directed Kay Cannon lets go wild. Mann is more often than not underused in films – supporting characters, who get a good monologue or moment or two, and that’s about it. Here, she carries the emotional weight of the movie – because even if we know she’s wrong, the feelings underpinning her actions are real. She doesn’t overplay that – but it makes some of the over-the-top moments feel more earned. Cena is good at playing the big old softie – and while he probably doesn’t really show us anything new here, it’s an actor that still works. Barinholtz is good at playing the guy who is outwardly cocky, but inside is an insecure mess. As a trio, they work so well together that you fear that the newcomers will be blown off the screen – but the trio of young women more than hold their own. They work well together – even as they are asked to go back and forth from scenes where they’re vomiting all over a car, to more emotional scenes.
I do think that Blockers would have been a better overall film had it found a way to settle on a tone. This is a film that has moments that go over-the-top with comedy – naked Marco Polo games, chugging a beer through your butt, etc.  – and other moments when parents and their children are having rather heartfelt talks with each other. The later works better than the former, even if all of it works somewhat. Blockers doesn’t quite reach that upper echelon of the modern studio comedy – once again, I’ll point out Game Night, because I loved Game Night – but for what it is, it works well. Cannon – who has already proven herself to be a fine writer, proves now she can direct as well. Blockers isn’t great, but you may well have a great time watching it.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

My Reaction the Cannes Festival Lineup

If it’s April, that means we’re close to May – and May means Cannes. While most of the film that show there, won’t be available to us in the general audience for months – sometimes a year or more – they do help set the conversation for the year in auteur driven film (I am still waiting to see some of last year’s competition films – especially Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here – which I will FINALLY see later this month if all goes according to plan). They announced 17 titles for the official competition – lower than normal, but they do sometimes add titles late (last year’s Palme D’or winner The Square for example was a late entrant). This may have to do with some complications with films they want, and the whole Netflix squabble that turned hot this week, when Netflix refused to bend to Cannes demands to sell their films to a French distributor for theatrical release, and pulled out altogether. For the record, I think both sides here are being idiots – sorry, the French law that requires a 36 month window between when a film is played theatrically, and when it can hit streaming services is idiotic, and Cannes shouldn’t have give into the pressure of French exhibitors to try and enforce it. Still, Netflix could have done more to accommodate – and it is VERY true that Netflix has shown a disregard for some of their own movies – the big ones get a small push, the smaller ones get lost almost immediately (you should check out 6 Balloons and First Match for instance – but you have probably heard of neither). Both are making big proclamations of being on the side of cinema, but both are acting like children.
Anyway, onto the official lineup. I give my thoughts on the 17 films in competition, and then give you my predictions on what is going to win the big prizes sight unseen (I think I missed doing this last year, but mainly I do okay picking what films will win prizes, but horrible at picking which ones they’ll win). The Jury President this year is Cate Blanchatt – which will be interesting. She’s an inspired choice, but I really don’t know what she and her jury will pick.
  • Ash Is Purest White (Jia Zhang-Ke) - I am a big fan of Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhang-ke (A Touch of Sin, Mountains May Depart) in part, because you never really know what he’s going to do next, except look at modern China, and anger his government. Despite being a Cannes competition regular (this is his fifth time in the official lineup) – he doesn’t normally win prizes (A Touch of Sin won screenplay, and that’s about it). This one is apparently a “violent love” story spanning 2001-2017 – and of course will star the great Tao Zhao. I’m excited.
  • At War (Stéphane Brizé) – The director of The Measure of a Man – which won Vincent Lindon the Best Actor prize at Cannes in 2015, returns the Cannes lineup – this time with a story about a group of factory workers, who agreed to take a pay cut to keep their factory open – and then it closed anyway, forcing them to fight back. Lindon is back again, in a film that at least sounds consistent with their last collaboration.
  • BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee) – Spike Lee returns to the Competition lineup for the third time – the first since 1991’s Jungle Fever. BlacKkKlansman is clearly the directors most buzzed about movie in year – it is about an African American police officer who infiltrates the KKK. The film will surely be controversial, and here’s hoping a return to form for Lee.
  • Burning (Lee Chang-dong) – I will always remember the TIFF screening of Lee’s 2007 masterpiece Secret Sunshine, where I walked in knowing nothing, and ended up loving it. That film won its star – Do-yeon Jeon – the Best Actress prize at Cannes that year – and he returned to Cannes in 2010 with Poetry – a film that won him Best Screenplay. But it’s been 8 long years since won of my favorite Korean directors made a film – which makes Burning my most anticipated film in this lineup – even if the plot synopsis – about cat sitting, and a trip to Africa, doesn’t give me much to go one. Still, I cannot be happier than Lee is back.
  • Capernaum (Nadine Labaki) – One of only three films in competition directed by a woman (seriously Cannes, do better) – Capernaum is Lebanese director Labaki’s first feature since 2011’s Where Do We Go Now? There is nothing else about the film to know now – but it does represent a promotion of sorts for Labaki – whose first two films played in different sections of Cannes, but now she’s in the big time.
  • Cold War (Pawel Pawlikowski) – It’s been five years since Polish director Pawlikowski won the Best Foreign Language film Oscar for his stunning, black-and-white film Ida. He’s back with this story set in the 1950s – a love story set in Poland, Berlin, Yugoslavia and Paris during the 1950s. Expect this one to get a lot of buzz because of how loved Ida was.
  • Dogman (Matteo Garrone) – Italian filmmaker Garrone, returns to the lineup for the fourth time – after winning the Grand Jury Prize for both Gomorra (2008) and Reality (2012), he didn’t win anything for the disappointing Tale of Tales (2015). I don’t see any plot synopsis out there for this one, so who the hell knows what it’s about – but I do hope it’s a return to form for him.
  • Girls of the Sun (Eva Husson) – Husson follows up her breakthrough film – Bang Gang (A Love Story) with this film, that I don’t see a synopsis for – but does star the very talented Golshifteh Farahani from Iran. I liked Bang Gang – didn’t love it, but certainly wanted to see what Husson did next, so I’m looking forward to this one.
  • The Image Book (Jean-Luc Godard) – How many times is Godard going to retire? Did he say Goodbye to Language was going to be his last film (not to mention Film Socialism). Still, if the 87 year old legend wants to keep making films, more power to him. Expect a mixture of rapturous reviews, and complete indifference.
  • Lazzaro Felice (Alice Rohrwacher) – Italian filmmaker Rohrwacher returns to the competition – her last film, The wonders, won the Grand Jury Prize in 2014. Her films haven’t made a ton of noise in North America yet – but she is the type of filmmaker where you can see it happening sooner or later.
  • Leto AKA Summer (Kirill Serebrennikov) – Russian filmmaker follows up the critically acclaimed The Student (I never did see it, but heard good things) with this biopic of Russian singer-songwriter Viktor Tsoi. I’m interested in this because I have heard good things about his films – but also because he’s never been at Cannes before, so jumping straight into competition suggests they really liked this one. Also, he’s under house arrest.
  • Netemo Sametemo AKA Asako I & II (Ryusuke Hamaguchi) – The acclaimed Japanese director of Happy Hour (which ran over five hours) makes his first trip to Cannes with Asako I & II, about a woman who falls in love with a man who disappears, and then falls in love with a man who looks exactly like him, but is complete different two years later. I don’t know if it’s as long as Happy Hour (a film I wanted to see, but as far as I know, it still isn’t available for me to see it) – but the fact that it has two parts in the title, doesn’t make it sound like a short film.
  • Shoplifters (Kore-Eda Hirokazu) – The acclaimed, prolific Japanese filmmaker is back in the official competition for the fifth time. This one sounds right in his wheelhouse – a family of petty crooks takes in a child they find living on the street. His films are usually small and quiet – but often build to something quietly moving.
  • Sorry Angel (Christophe Honoré) – French director Honore returns to the official lineup for the second time – the first being for Love Songs back in 2007. Other than that, I don’t know much about this film – or this filmmaker.
  • Three Faces (Jafar Panahi) – Iranian filmmaker Panahi hasn’t let his arrest and banishment from filmmaking actually stop him from making any films (this is his fourth film since being banned). As with those films, this one seems to be under wraps until it’s unveiled – but it’s always an event in these circles when he does make one.
  • Under the Silver Lake (David Robert Mitchell) – All of us who love It Follows have been looking forward to David Robert Mitchell’s follow-up for some time. This one, a mystery starring Andrew Garfield, Riley Keough and Topher Grace is getting a lot of buzz – and may well be the most anticipated film in competition on this side of the Atlantic. If it weren’t for Burning, it would be mine for sure.
  • Yomeddine (A.B. Shawky) – This is Egyptian filmmaker Shawky’s debut feature – a film about a leper and his apprentice who leave the leper colony, and travel across Egypt looking for their families. The Official Lineup isn’t usually a place for first timer filmmakers – this implies that this may well be something special.
Palme D’Or: Burning – Lee Chang-dong
Grand Prize of the Jury: Yomeddine – A.B. Shawky
Jury Prize: Three Faces – Jafar Panahi
Best Director: Pawel Pawlikowski, Cold War
Best Actor: Andrew Garfield, Under the Silver Lake
Best Actress: Golshifteh Farahani, Girls of the Sun
Best Screenplay: Lazzaro Felice – Alice Rohrwacher
As with my guesses every year, this is pure guesswork. Perhaps my choice of Burning is little more than wishful thinking, and my choice of Yomeddine for essentially second place is pure guesswork (I have to think there is a reason they are including a first time director in the competition). From there, really more guesswork – Garfield is well liked, and the trailer already has people buzzing about him, Farahani is well-known on the international circuit, so why not? Pawlikowski is well liked, and a great director – you have to think they may want to give something to Panahi. As for the screenplay win, it’s just a hunch. Remember what I said at the top – I’m usually not horrible at picking what films will win prizes at Cannes – but I am usually awful at picking what prizes those films will win.