Keith Simanton's 2014 Cannes Diary

by IMDb-Editors | created - 18 May 2014 | updated - 24 May 2014 | Public

Keith Simanton shares his thoughts on the movies he has seen at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival

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1. Foxcatcher (2014)

R | 134 min | Biography, Drama, Sport

81 Metascore

U.S. Olympic wrestling champions and brothers Mark Schultz and Dave Schultz join "Team Foxcatcher", led by eccentric multi-millionaire John du Pont, as they train for the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea, but John's self-destructive behavior threatens to consume them all.

Director: Bennett Miller | Stars: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave

Votes: 127,480 | Gross: $12.10M

Director Bennett Miller hits a solid triple with this film of madness, power, pride, shame, and wrestling, punctuated by a dead-eyed, notable performance by Steve Carell, as the pusillanimous, insane John du Pont, heir to the du Pont chemical fortune.

But Miller's also been blessed with the performances of Channing Tatum as hulking, simple wrestler Mark Schultz and Mark Ruffalo as Mark's older, smarter brother, David, who is also a wrestler.

The siblings are recruited by John du Pont to help him establish his Foxcatcher wrestling facility in Pennsylvania in the mid '80s with the goal of getting one of their athletes on the U.S. wrestling team in the 1988 Olympics.

What the brothers quickly realize is that du Pont is an utterly broken individual, one desperately trying to buy some respect or at least trying to impress his mother (played with icy, shriveled fierceness by Vanessa Redgrave), though she sees him for what he truly is, half a man.

To make up for his shortcomings du Pont coerces Mark Schultz into addressing him as "Eagle" or "Golden Eagle" and, embarrassingly, tries to inject himself into the facility's regimen as a coach. He tries to show chagrined wrestlers moves that worked for him though he clearly has no athletic ability at all.

What evolves is a simmering drama about a war of wills between the needy, loathsome du Pont and the resentful Mark, ending in Dave becoming terrible collateral damage.

Miller's somber, but never slow film, makes several trenchant points about the gulf between those who are athletes and those who admire them and, conversely, those are extremely wealthy and those who covet that wealth or at least the access it provides. 8.4/10

2. The Search (III) (2014)

135 min | Drama, War

37 Metascore

A French woman who works for a non-governmental organization forms a special relationship with a lost young boy in war-torn Chechnya in 1999.

Director: Michel Hazanavicius | Stars: Bérénice Bejo, Annette Bening, Maksim Emelyanov, Abdul Khalim Mamutsiev

Votes: 2,296

The most boos I heard in a theater at Cannes were for Michel Hazavanicius' The Search. That may have come solely from the Russians in attendance because they do not come off well at all in this timely film. It may, to be fair, have been more widespread than that or at least more about artistic than political merit.

For The Search is a stubbornly preachy, starchy film based upon director Fred Zinneman's 1948 film of the same name, starring Montgomery Clift. Clift's role is taken over by Berenice Bejo and the actress continues to mature and get lovelier with each passing year.

She plays Carole, an NGO work desperately trying to get the United Nations to take a stand against the Russian Second Chechen War, an "anti-terrorist" incursion into Chechnya in 1999.

She ends up taking in a mute little boy named Hadji (the Dondi-like Abdul Khalim Mamutsiev), whose parents were shot before his eyes. Carole doesn't have time for him as she is burdened with the difficult task of getting someone to listen to her reports on the human rights violations there but they form a tenuous bond.

Meanwhile, Hazavanicius' camera also follows Kolia (Maxim Emelianov), a Russian youth who is compelled to join the military when he's caught with some dope on the streets. How he is dehumanized by his superiors in the military, turning him from an erstwhile artist into a sadistic killer is the director's attempt to give perspective to all sides of the story. It's an extremely unpleasant storyline, however, with Kolia getting verbally and physically abused until he snaps out of his mind and into line.

It was the third time that Bejo's character shouted that no one was listening and no one cared that I myself began to not listen and to not care. M. Hazavanicius is an excellent director and I look forward to his next film. I hope he leaves the hammer at home. 6.2/10

3. Mr. Turner (2014)

R | 150 min | Biography, Drama, History

94 Metascore

An exploration of the last quarter century of the great, if eccentric, British painter J.M.W. Turner's life.

Director: Mike Leigh | Stars: Timothy Spall, Paul Jesson, Dorothy Atkinson, Marion Bailey

Votes: 23,015 | Gross: $3.96M

I love Mike Leigh, from Life Is Sweet to Naked to Another Year . I have found each film unlike his previous one and often pleased at his new perspective or approach. So I was excited to see Mr. Turner, a film about a painter I love from a filmmaker I love. But, save a begrudging nod to the dyspeptic Timothy Spall, playing the title role, I found it an ungainly, broodish, bloated work.

J.M.W. Turner, famous for his seascapes, historical tableaus, and landscapes, is a lusty rake whose communications, with a few exceptions, are relegated to grunts. But while the film is evocative of some relationships, such as that between Turner and his live-in father, William Turner (Paul Jesson), it's maddeningly opaque in others. He's inspired such love from his lower-class maid Hannah (Dorothy Atkinson), who can't have him, that she's developed some skin condition (rosacea?) that starts on the nape of her neck and, over the years, takes over her entire face. Yet we never grasp the source of the devotion. And Turner's cruel, neglectful treatment of his two daughters from his first marriage to a fishwife is never adequately understood though frequently presented.

Though several scenes of the great artists of the time competing with each other in a gallery are lively and intriguing, long stretches, such as an evening's entertainment in a parlor, where two flighty young girls perform for an assembled group, slow everything down.

Just understanding the thick British brogues is a problem, as well. In the first twenty minutes of the film I relied on reading the French subtitles (and my French is poor) in desperation to get some sense out of the dialogue.

The film is lush as cinematographer Dick Pope and Leigh create the kind of achingly beautiful vistas and backdrops that Turner created himself.

But of the critics I've surveyed who expressed great admiration for the film a subset, an intriguingly large subset, admitted to not having seen a particular bit of the film I quarrel with--the aforementioned parlor scene--because they were asleep.

Perhaps if I had been I would have enjoyed Mr. Turner the way they did. 6.4/10

4. Whiplash (2014)

R | 106 min | Drama, Music

88 Metascore

A promising young drummer enrolls at a cut-throat music conservatory where his dreams of greatness are mentored by an instructor who will stop at nothing to realize a student's potential.

Director: Damien Chazelle | Stars: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist, Paul Reiser

Votes: 637,001 | Gross: $13.09M

In all my years at Cannes I have never experienced a screening as electrifying as that of Whiplash. Cannes placed the film in Un Certain Regard probably to avoid having it run the table here as it did at Sundance, where it won both the Jury and Audience prize.

J.K. Simmons had better get his tux ready for awards season next year as his role, that of the demanding, megalomaniacal jazz professor, Terrence Fletcher, will doubtless be one of the most talked about from 2013.

Under his brutal tutelage is another actor who is going to skyrocket even further, the committed, smart actor, Miles Teller, who plays aspiring jazz drummer, Andrew Neyman. Neyman is plucked from his underclassmen music class by Fletcher, which swells him with pride but is then driven to the point of exhaustion and near death by Fletcher's relentless demands for excellence.

Writer/director Damien Chazelle creates an unexpected tale of a teacher/pupil relationship that is as unstoppable a force as Fletcher with a twenty minute final performance that is as exciting as any chase, as tense as any ticking clock and as emotional as any lovers' reunion.

The Cannes crowd went mad as the credits rolled, with everyone on their feet and journalists and bloggers clamoring to get a photo of Chazelle and Simmons at the center of the maelstrom. Shouts and cheers of '"Bravo" rang until the credits were done, some 10-12 minutes later. The ushers then had to force people, clamoring to shake the actor and director's hand, out of the theater into the Cannes night, still vibrating and realizing that perfection can be worth striving for. 9.6/10

5. Maps to the Stars (2014)

R | 111 min | Comedy, Drama

67 Metascore

A tour into the heart of a Hollywood family chasing celebrity, one another and the relentless ghosts of their pasts.

Director: David Cronenberg | Stars: Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, Robert Pattinson, John Cusack

Votes: 35,582 | Gross: $0.35M

Robert Pattinson plays an actor/writer/limo driver in David Cronenberg's Maps to the Stars, his second role for the director, the other being, the largely dimissed, didactic and odd Cosmopolis.

While I predict that Maps will receive a much kinder critical reception it may only make just a bit more money, in spite of its glamorous theme.

Cronenberg and screenwriter Bruce Wagner give Hollywood a good rodgering in a tale of incest, fame, schizophrenia, drugs, menage a trois, and money.

The film centers on a wildly dysfunctional family, lead by a self-help guru, played by John Cusack and his wife, a stage mother played by Olivia Williams. They have two extremely messed-up children, one a Bieber/Caulkin child superstar named Benje, played by Evan Bird, and his schizophrenic older sister, Agatha, played by Mia Wasikowska.

Agatha once tried to kill the entire family by burning the house down for which she was sent to an asylum. Having been released she returns home and becomes the "chore whore" of a famed, but fading actress, Havanna Legrande, played by Julianne Moore.

Havannah is desperate to play a role that could turn her career around, that of her own mother, also a famous actress who died in the '70s. Pattinson plays the lover of Agatha and Havanna.

It's a world of need, perversion, lust and desperation and Cronenberg layers on levels of vile acts as the film goes until there appears to be almost nothing these people won't do to get what they want.

It's a bleak vision and Cronenberg ladles it on thick. But it's much more a welcome return to form for the director, in the realm of Dead Ringers.

6. The Rover (2014)

R | 103 min | Crime, Drama

64 Metascore

10 years after a global economic collapse, a hardened loner pursues the men who stole his only possession, his car. Along the way, he captures one of the thieves' brother, and the duo form an uneasy bond during the dangerous journey.

Director: David Michôd | Stars: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson, Scoot McNairy, David Field

Votes: 41,419 | Gross: $1.11M

My favorite film at Cannes so far is The Rover from writer/director David Michod. He sprang onto the screen world in 2010 from Australia with Animal Kingdom, the excellent feature that got Jacki Weaver her first Oscar nomination.

His follow-up, co-written by Joel Edgerton, proves to be a violent, unsparing, blood-spattered and brilliant piece of filmmaking, utterly unlike Animal Kingdom in scope but just as adept at creating characters whose interpersonal dilemmas become our dilemmas.

It's ten years after the collapse of society and, in the outback of Australia, Eric, played with barely-contained rage and intensity by Guy Pearce, is a man on a mission to regain his car, recently stolen by some thieves fleeing a botched job. They're incompetent, cowardly criminals and they're in such a hurry they leave behind a member of their crew, the simple-minded, badly wounded, Rey, played by Robert Pattinson in a career redefining role. Rey is also the younger brother of the leader of the gang, Henry, played by Scoot McNairy.

After a chance meeting Eric discovers Rey's relationship and, with a gun to the younger man's head, forces him to show him where the gang is heading.

What follows is a bloody, vicious road movie across a blasted, burning landscape. Pattinson, as the trembling, loyal, slow Rey, is the heart of the film and the bond he forms with Eric is why the film is as powerful as it is. Pearce, as usual, delivers a terrific performance. His Eric is given a chance to regain some sense of his own humanity in a world that has none and Pearce owns it. 9.4/10

7. The Captive (I) (2014)

R | 112 min | Crime, Drama, Mystery

36 Metascore

Eight years after the disappearance of Cassandra, some disturbing incidents seem to indicate that she's still alive. Police, parents and Cassandra herself, will try to unravel the mystery of her disappearance.

Director: Atom Egoyan | Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Scott Speedman, Rosario Dawson, Mireille Enos

Votes: 27,673

Writer/director Atom Egoyan's continues his fascination and focus on underage children and pedophiles, from Exotica to the incestuous relationship in The Sweet Hereafter to Devil's Knot to this film. It's a creepy theme for a career and, after this dud, he'd be wise to abandon it.

Or perhaps he got all excited watching fellow Canadian Denis Villeneuve's Prisoners and thought, "Hey, I can't do better than that!" and so he went about making a far inferior version to prove himself right.

Ryan Reynolds, as Matthew, has Hugh Jackman's role as the tormented father of an abducted girl. Mireille Enos, as Tina, has the Maria Bello part of the decimated mother. Egoyan needed two actors to play the Jake Gyllenhaal, dedicated cop role, so he pulled in Scott Speedman and Rosario Dawson. No one has the other parents role of Viola Davis or Terrence Howard role, there's only one girl in this film.

There is also one doozy of super-psycho in the form of poor Kevin Durand, a good actor in most films but who is utterly at sea here. He's given a Tintin haircut, a penchant for opera (always the tell of a wacko in movies) and a predilection for little girls.

The twist in this one is that the kiddie-sex ring that grabbed the little girl--her name is Cass--is like the Fidelio club in Eyes Wide Shut and they turn her, as she grows older, into an online friend who lures other young girls into their perverse world.

Egoyan unravels this in an non-sequential fashion. He also unravels it in a nonsensical fashion. Durand's character, Mika, also has an elaborate set of cameras, a la Sliver, placed in various locations to film and broadcast the grief of the parents, catering too, to quote one of the special-ops detectives in the film, "a whole new class of freaks.'

In just one example of the careless film-making here we're introduced to this team of crack policemen, given their particular talents, then, we never see again. Incompetence rules the day in this precinct as the abduction goes on for 8 years. Mika, also for example, places items that were special to Cass in the hotel rooms that her mother, Tina, cleans so he can register her pain and transmit it to the whole new set of freaks. But Tina doesn't report to this to the police, not even when Cass's baby teeth are found under a pillow. One would think it was a pretty good lead but Tina doesn't.

Perhaps there is a new class of freaks and they have video cameras pointed at audiences who are forced to writhe and endure contrived and idiotic films while they watch with glee. They must have been watching me watching THE CAPTIVE. 4/10

8. Mr. Turner (2014)

R | 150 min | Biography, Drama, History

94 Metascore

An exploration of the last quarter century of the great, if eccentric, British painter J.M.W. Turner's life.

Director: Mike Leigh | Stars: Timothy Spall, Paul Jesson, Dorothy Atkinson, Marion Bailey

Votes: 23,015 | Gross: $3.96M

A dyspeptic Timothy Spall anchors Mike Leigh's Mr. Turner, a film that divided critics, pro and con. Mr. Turner is In Competition here, and I'm on the "con" side. It's an overly long, frequently tedious bio-pic of the famed painter of seascapes, historical tableaus, and landscapes. Spall's Turner is a lusty rake whose communications, with a few exceptions, are relegated to grunts. He's a neglectful father and husband though he's a doting, dutiful son to his own ailing father, William Turner (Paul Jesson, who lives with him. He's inspired such love from his lower-class maid Hannah (Dorothy Atkinson, who can't have him, that she's developed some skin condition (rosacea?) that starts on the nape of her neck and, over the years, takes over her entire face.

It's not that Leigh portrays Turner in such an unflattering light (he's particularly cruel to a former wife and his two daughters), it's that the director spends so much time on others, seemingly without cause, when we want to understand the artist of the title just slightly better.

Just understanding the thick British brogues is a problem, however. In the first twenty minutes of the film I relied on reading the French subtitles (and my French is poor) in desperation to get some sense out of the dialogue.

Other Leigh indulgences, such as a protracted drawing room musical interlude, don't add to the film as a whole.

The film is lush as cinematographer Dick Pope and Leigh create the kind of achingly beautiful vistas and backdrops that Turner created himself. I wish I could say as much about what was going on in the foreground. 6.4/10 ”

9. Grace of Monaco (2014)

Not Rated | 103 min | Biography, Drama, Romance

21 Metascore

The story of former Hollywood star Grace Kelly's crisis of marriage and identity, during a political dispute between Monaco's Prince Rainier III and France's Charles De Gaulle, and a looming French invasion of Monaco in the early 1960s.

Director: Olivier Dahan | Stars: Nicole Kidman, Tim Roth, André Penvern, Frank Langella

Votes: 17,033

The snickers started as soon as the disclaimer came up that the film was inspired by real characters. But they died down when the quote from Grace Kelly appeared on the screen: "The idea of my life as a fairy tale is itself a fairy tale." Thus starts a poor-little-rich-girl tale that purports to be about the real-world hardships endured by the Oscar-winning actress who became a Princess. Grace, played well with tea-kettle earnest intent by Nicole Kidman must deal with her unloving husband, Prince Ranier (a solid-as-always job by Tim Roth) and palace intrigue abounding. Director Olivier Dahan made La Vie En Rose and it appears he wants to make a Hitchcockian film with the global, historical import of The King's Speech. But it is a slave to the very pomp and circumstance it claims to eschew, ending with Grace solving a world crisis by hosting a sumptous charity ball. With animus nearing savagery usually reserved for Gwyneth Paltrow the press left the gauzy, muddled film shaking their heads. One wag mentioned, "It's a film that one imagines Graydon Carter masturbating to furiously." 6.1/10

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