Death Stars

George Lucas and his digital galactic posse arrived in Cannes today (Sunday, 5.15), and attracted, to no one’s surprise, more attention than any other film or team of filmmakers who’ve dropped by thus far.
Which is symmetrically appropriate, I suppose, since we all realize that Stars Wars: Episode 3 — Revenge of the Sith will most likely attract more ticket buyers than probably all the other films showing here (including the market offerings) combined.

Star Wars: Episode 3 – Revenge of the Sith director-writer George Lucas and costar Natalie Portman during Sunday afternoon’s Cannes Film Festival press conference, which I would have attended if I didn’t have better things to do — 5.15.05, 1:10 pm.

There’s no percentage in being a sorehead and teeing off on George and his unstoppably mediocre film all over again, so let’s just zip it.
The Sith press conference, which just ended about 20 minutes ago (i.e., at 2 pm), was a two-toned affair — the occasional (make that very occasional) journalist asking a somewhat pointed question and Lucas not really answering them, and the other journos asking puffball questions.
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Big surprise, right? The world wants to love this film, publishers and editors who employ Cannes-covering journalists know this and just want the standard oooh-ahhh coverage, and who gives a hoot anyway?
Movie City News and Film Stew contributor Sperling Reich asked Lucas why he had made it more difficult for websites and bloggers in recent years to cover Star Wars-related news by not affording them the same access given to print publications. Lucas ignored the question and spoke about his love for the free exchange of information that the internet provides, etc. And Reich didn’t follow up.

I was standing by a big window overlooking the path that Team Lucas (Hayden Christensen, Rick McCallum, Portman, Samuel L. Jackson, etc.) were about to walk by, and I was going to snap a photo when one of the Wi-Fi Cafe volunteers (i.e., French girls in their early 20s dressed in white T-shirts and white ass-hugging pants) said no pictures, per order of some festival bigwig.
I put my camera away but donnez-moi un fucking break.
I was under the mistaken impression earlier this afternoon that the Sith after-party would be held late tonight aboard the Queen Mary II. I was wrong — it’s being held at a place called La Baoli. Lucas is being given an award aboard the Queen Mary sometime later this afternoon or early this evening.
I can see the Queen Mary right now from my vantage point at the American Pavilion, moored out in the baie de Cannes about a quarter-mile from the beach. I’m told it’s the world’s largest ocean liner.
The 20th Century Fox publicity people have graciously given me tickets to the party, which is classy of them given my general animus, etc.

Saturday Afternoon

Bob Berney, head of the newly formed Picturehouse, the newly-formed HB0 and New Line-backed indie distribution company, and wife Jeanne Berney (who’s on a temporary hiatus from publicity chores) at beachside party celebrating the company’s launch — Saturday, 5.14, 5:35 pm

Chicago Tribune reporter Jackie Fitzgerald (far left), film critic Michael Wilmington and Where the Truth Lies director Atom Egoyan (right) at Picturehouse launch party — Saturday, 5.14.05, 6:20 pm.

Last Days star Michael Pitt (l.), Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore at Picturehouse party — Saturday, 5.14.05, 6:47pm.


During Variety-sponsored panel discussion among American directors: (l. to r.) Brent Hamer (Factotum), Kyle Henry (Room), David Jacobson (Down in the Valley), host Roger Ebert, Miranda July (Me and You and Everyone We Know), Lodge Kerrigan (Keane) and Stuart Sammuels (Midnight Movies: From the Margin to the Mainstream).

Room director Kyle Henry (sideburns, facial blemish, second from left); panel host Roger Ebert slightly behind and to the right — Saturday, 5.14.05, 4:05 pm.

No Worries

I saw about an hour’s worth of Joyeux Noel at the Salle Bazin earlier today. That’s right — it wasn’t good enough to see through to the end.
It’s a French-produced period drama about the World War I Christmas truce of 1914, written and directed by Christian Clarion. It suffers from a too-modest budget, simplistic writing, the worst dubbing of an actor and actress pretending to be opera singers I’ve ever seen in my life, and a generally sentimental and ham-fisted tone that will almost certainly not play with audiences in the States, if any US distributor is reckless enough to pick it up.
As regular readers know, I ran a piece a few months ago about two other films being planned about this exact same subject.
Vadim Perlman (House of Sand and Fog) is (or was) planning a film called Truce, working from a script by Stuart Beattie. Paul Weitz and his brother Chris have been talking about making a film called Silent Night…exact same deal.
What I’m saying, obviously, is that Perlman and Weitz have only each other to fear…if their respective projects are still on the rails and moving ahead, I mean (which I’m not sure about at this stage).


It’s Friday afternoon — day #3 of the Cannes Film Festival — and I’ve decided to file from the American Pavilion because the wi-fi hardly ever crashes here (unlike the flaky Wi-Fi Cafe inside the Grand Palais).
And I’ve seen three high-profile features since running my semi-rave of Woody Allen’s Match Point on Thursday, which took me hours to get right. I haven’t been to a single party or gone out to dinner or kicked back at all.

Looking west from beach adjacent to American Pavilion — Friday, 5.13.05, 1:45 pm.

And I’m having a much better time sitting in this crowded and clattery beachside cafe and trying to write something intelligent about Gus Van Sant’s Last Days, Atom Egoyan’s Where The Truth Lies and Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang than I did watching these films.
That’s because they suffer from the same problem. All three are very well made with a solid grasp about what kind of movie experience they are and how to deliver their particular stuff, but they’re all about stories and characters you don’t care very much about. Nice chops, but the emotional content is zilch.
Last Days is the most respectable because it’s the least formulaic and the most out-there. Unlike the other two, it feels like it was made in the 21st Century. Ten or fifty years from now people will watch it and say, “Weird movie…what was that? But you know something? It’s got something.”
Where the Truth Lies is another one of those investigation procedurals about a pain-in-the-ass journalist (Allison Lohman, last in Matchstick Men) digging up the ugly facts about a long-buried crime — in this instance, the death of a seemingly innocent young woman.

Kevin Bacon, Rachel Blanchard, Colin Firth in one of the booty scenes in Where the Truth Lies.

The apparent guilty parties, one is led to presume throughout the film, are a couple of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis-styled comics named Lanny Morris (Kevin Bacon) and Vince Collins (Colin Firth), who were hot in the 1950s. That is, before the woman died and their act broke up. Both had airtight alibis and were never charged with anything but Lohman is sure something happened, etc.
We all know how these things go. Tangy dialogue, snappy performances, lots of period flavor, gathering clues, some red herrings…and it all comes out in the wash. In the final moments, I mean. And when it does, it’s a big “eh.”
Actually, it’s kind of a hoot because it uses one of the biggest four-word cliches associated with the whodunit genre. (If anyone wants to know what these words are, ask and I’ll answer back.)
Bacon and Firth are quite good in the `50s portions, partly because they’ve taken the time to work out a convincing — i.e., fairly funny — stage act. They’ve really got that Martin-and-Lewis patter and energy down cold. It would have been more engaging if Egoyan, whose script is based on a novel of the same name by Rupert Holmes, had just made something about the wild and woolly adventures (booze, broads, relationships with gangsters, etc.) of these two during their peak years.

Robert Downey and Val Kilmer in Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

I didn’t buy Lohman as a journalist/novelist. She talks the talk but she never seems like anything other than a pint-sized actress (she’s about five feet tall…I know because I stood next to her at a screening last year) playing a role. She convinced me like Patricia Arquette convinced me she was a doctor in Beyond Rangoon.
On top of which Lohman’s character has a night of hot sex with Morris and is manipulated into having lesbian sex by Collins after she pops a couple of Quaalude-like pills. Pulitzer-level stuff.
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is Shane Black doing the same-old same-old, only this time he’s directing on top of writing. It’s fast and funny and cynically entertaining in a what-else-is-new? vein. I didn’t hate it, I half-liked it, but I wasn’t floored. Everyone’s been saying the same thing since this morning’s screening — “It’s all right,” “pretty good,” etc.
It has lots of clever dialogue and smart-assed attitude and several hairpin turns, and a pair of high-energy performances from Robert Downey and Val Kilmer (playing, respectively, a not-very-bright thief pretending to be an actor and a wily gay private detective), and what felt to me like a breakout performance from Michelle Monaghan (next in Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Syriana ).

Michael Pitt during the Last Days press conference, as rendered on a monitor outside the press conference room inside the Grand Palais — Friday, 5.13.05, 12:45 pm

Last Days is a fictional account of the last hours in the life of Kurt Cobain, the Nirvana pop star who took himself out with a shotgun blast in ’94.
That’s right…hours, not days. The use of “days” in a title implies at least three 24-hour cycles, if you ask me, and it didn’t seem to me as if what happens in the film takes place over more than two days. It could be occurring in a single day…not that this matters very much.
It stars Michael Pitt (The Dreamers) as a Cobain-like figure called Blake, and for what it’s worth Pitt is very heavily into his character’s pain. He convinced me he’s really going through the same crap that Cobain was reportedly caught up in just before the end.
Like Van Sant’s Gerry and Elephant, Days is the last part of a trilogy (or so I’ve read) that uses a heavily deconstructed narrative. That’s a high-falutin’ way of saying there’s nothing routinely composed about it. There’s no scripted dialogue or story tension or close-ups or multi-angled editing. You know…none of that phony, tricked-up stuff.
Remember those long unbroken shots of kids walking through school hallways in Elephant? Same deal here, except this time the subjects are spaced-out, inarticulate heroin users hanging out inside an unheated home and doing stoned musician-type stuff…talking about music, cooking up macaroni-and-cheese in the grungy kitchen, having sex, listening to the Velvet Underground in their living room, etc.

It’s mostly about Blake, of course, who plays a tune at one point and is shown taking an overnight hike through the woods early on. Mostly, however, he avoids the phone and runs away whenever someone knocks on a door and spends a lot of time sitting around like a zombie and nodding out.
Cobain had a heroin problem near the end of his life and Blake is obviously using big-time in the film, but Van Sant chooses not to show him hitting up. A journalist friend is telling me there’s a brief view of track marks on Blake’s arm, but I missed this if it’s there. I think it’s dishonest not to show Blake doing the deed. It’s a little like making a film about a man dying of cancer in a hospital but not showing any scenes with doctors or nurses or chemotherapy.
Remember that rumor about Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix getting into heroin when they acted in Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho, and Reeves coping with a lingering usage problem when he was acting in Francis Coppola’s Dracula? I don’t know anything at all, but an agent friend who claimed to be in a position to know told me it wasn’t a rumor. Or at least, not entirely.
The most alive scene in Last Days happens when one of Blake’s bandmates plays the Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs,” from their 1967 banana album. You know…that plodding, screechy, strangely hypnotic cut in which Lou Reed sings “I am tired, I am weary, I could sleep for a thousand years”? And uses the word “severin” over and over? (I never knew what that word meant.)

Looking east from beach adjacent to American Pavilion — Friday, 5.13.05, 1:48 pm.

What I mean is that I was hugely grateful when this cut was played because something, at last, was happening of a focused nature.
If you ask me that banana album, which also has the famous Reed song “Heroin,” is filled with junkie music. Likewise, Last Days really gets the heroin-user mentality. (It’ll probably be a big hit with addicts when it comes out on DVD.) I knew some guys who were into smack when I was in my early 20s, and the way they sat around and talked and basically did very little…that’s this movie, all right.

Random Shots

Saturday, 5.14.05, 10:20 am.

Sunday, 5.14.05, 10:05 am.

It rained for an hour or so on Saturday, sometime between noon and 1 pm. The air felt much cooler right after and a strong breeze was coming off the bay as I described this from my American Pavilion table. I missed the pleasure of watching the downpour due to being at a screening of Brent Hamer’s Factotum, a bittersweet lower-depths comedy-drama based on a Charles Bukowski novel. Following in the footsteps on Ben Gazzara and Mickey Rourke, Matt Dillon gives one of the most confident and centered performances of his career as the famously besotted writer-poet. I snapped this shot of the rear Palais area on 5.14 at 1:20 pm, right after the screening and before plugging in and setting up.

Sunday, 5.15.05, 10:05 am.

Sunday, 5.14.05, 3:20 pm.

TV Antennas

“I’m a Brit and a big fan of your site, and I just thought I’d let you know that despite your doubts about Londoners using some rooftop TV antennas in Woody Allen’s Match Point, modern-day Londoners do indeed still use them. Although satellite and cable TV are big business now, a lot of people still have only five terrestrial channels (because, really, how many crap reality shows do you need?).
“So Woody’s got that right, even if he’s got all the actors speaking like they’ve got sticks up their arses. (I’m guessing from the cast list that he hasn’t quite played up London’s multiculturalism either, has he?)” — Richard Eaton