‘Saint Laurent’ is too scattered and random to fit its stylish subject (Our grade: C)

Gaspard Ulliel as Yves Saint Laurent in the film “Saint Laurent.”
Gaspard Ulliel as Yves Saint Laurent in the film “Saint Laurent.”

By Roger Moore – Tribune News Service

French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent earns a “Gandhi” length, disjointed and arty film biography in “Saint Laurent,” a patience-testing period piece that skips through the designer’s glory years, catches up with him near the addled end and fails to deliver details of his greatest trauma.

» Read full review at MyStatesman.com | Find showtimes for “Saint Laurent”

‘Slow West’ is the Old West we remember but don’t quite recognize (Our grade: B)

Michael Fassbender and Kodi Smit-McPhee star in “Slow West.”
Michael Fassbender and Kodi Smit-McPhee star in “Slow West.”

By Roger Moore – Tribune News Service

There’s an alien feel to “Slow West,” an unconventionally conventional Western about a romantic tenderfoot provided safe passage to the frontier by a grizzled, unsentimental gunman.

Credit the New Zealand locations — fresh and convincingly Western with nary a hobbit to be found. Credit the German-Irish Michael Fassbender, who heads a cast that gives this immigrant era a distinctly international feel.

» Read full review on MyStatesman.com | Find showtimes for “Slow West”

‘Tomorrowland’: We very much wanted to love you, tomorrow. Oh, well. (Our grade: B- )

George Clooney and Britt Robertson star in the sci-fi Disney film “Tomorrowland.”
George Clooney and Britt Robertson star in the sci-fi Disney film “Tomorrowland.”

Unfortunately, “Tomorrowland,” directed by Pixar savant Brad Bird, is paced like a Disney ride and suffers from plotting so muddled that the ending will confuse most of the adults and kids who go to this PG film hoping — as I was — for a zippy mix of old-school sci-fi adventurism and pro-STEM propaganda.

» Read full review on MyStatesman.com | Find showtimes for “Tomorrowland”

 

CANNES DAY 9: ‘The Assassin,’ ‘Dheepan’ and ‘Love’

Cannes is a lot like a series of emotions, ranging from meh, to yeah, to nope.

First, the “meh.”

Hou Hisao-Hsien is one of China’s most artful directors. His framing of scenes is flawless, and he embraces the singular Chinese aesthetic of stillness.

CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 21:  Zhou Yun, Chang Chen, director Hou Hsiao Hsien and Shu Qi attend a photocall for "Nie Yinniang" ("The Assassin") during the 68th annual Cannes Film Festival on May 21, 2015 in Cannes, France.  (Photo by Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty Images)
CANNES, FRANCE – MAY 21: Zhou Yun, Chang Chen, director Hou Hsiao Hsien and Shu Qi attend a photocall for “Nie Yinniang” (“The Assassin”) during the 68th annual Cannes Film Festival on May 21, 2015 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty Images)

That’s a wonderful thing, up to a point. And it’s especially wonderful in some of the scenes in “The Assassin,” a martial arts tale that takes place in 9th-century China. Some of the unspoiled landscapes are beautiful to behold. But Hou holds them and holds them and holds them.

After the screening, two North American critics said that it was like watching paint dry. Yet they acknowledged that there were moments of beauty.

But since this is a martial arts movie, shouldn’t there be some good action? Yes, there should. But no, there wasn’t.

The story centers on Nie Yinniang (Shu Qi), who was abducted as a child by a nun and raised to be a vengeful assassin who will eliminate corrupt local officials at the behest of Dame Tian (Zhou Yun). But when Tian tells her assassin to kill a local official from her hometown, the assassin begins to have second thoughts. That becomes even more clear when the man she’s assigned to kill turns out to be the same man to whom she was “promised” as a child.

There are a few slice-and-dice scenes early on that catch your interest, but the choreography of the later fight scenes is rather fake-looking, with lots of swooshing sound effects replacing viable swordplay.

It’s hard to guess how the jury will react to this one. But I was squirming in my seat, debating whether to get up and leave. I stayed, mainly because I needed to meet several fellow critics after the screening for dinner. And then I was bombarded by Chinese TV crews asking my opinion as I left the theater. I declined to speak.

Don’t expect this film to have much of an impact in the States.

The successful “yeah” movie is French director Jacques Audiard’s “Dheepan.”

The main character, Dheepan (Jesuthasan Antonygthasan), is a former Tamil freedom fighter in Sri Lanka who has moved to Paris in an attempt to leave his violent past behind. He takes a woman and a little girl with him, and they try to begin a new life as a family. After a series of setbacks, he finally gets a job as a caretaker of a housing block in the suburbs. But his past begins to haunt him, in violent ways.

If you’ve seen David Cronenberg’s “A History of Violence,” then you’ll notice the similarities. But “Dheepan” has more social relevance, especially in France, where the troubles of immigrants have loomed large in recent years.

U.S. moviegoers can expect to see this one show up in arthouses, and it could well win one of the major prizes that will be handed out on Sunday.

CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 20:  (L-R) Aomi Muyock, director Gaspar Noe, Klara Kristin and Karl Glusman attend the "Love" Premiere  during the 68th annual Cannes Film Festival on May 20, 2015 in Cannes, France.  (Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images)
CANNES, FRANCE – MAY 20: (L-R) Aomi Muyock, director Gaspar Noe, Klara Kristin and Karl Glusman attend the “Love” Premiere during the 68th annual Cannes Film Festival on May 20, 2015 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images)

The big “nope” movie is Gaspar Noe’s “Love.” Few movies have arrived on the Croisette with as much buzz. The midnight screening, which I did not attend because of dinner plans, was reportedly packed, and more than 500 people were turned away from the Lumiere theater, which holds about 2,000, one L.A.-based critic said Thursday morning.

So the only press screening on Thursday was jammed.

Karl Glusman stars as Murphy, an American who’s attending film school in Paris. He talks and talks about his goals as a filmmaker, saying that he wants to portray loving sex on the screen and doesn’t understand why there isn’t more of such things in cinema.

He meets a young artist, Electra (Aomi Muyock), and they proceed to have a passionate affair, with lots of explicit sex. It’s rare to see so much male genitalia in a movie, but there’s a lot of it. And since this is a 3-D film, you can probably imagine, if you wish, some of the 3D special effects.

At any rate, Murphy and Electra are quite the couple, experiencing everything from sex clubs to three-ways to encounters with transgendered prostitutes.

Most of these scenes are told in flashbacks, since Murphy got another woman pregnant and their affair broke off. Murphy is remembering Electra because he got a call from Electra’s mother, saying she was missing.

I’m not sure what the director is trying to do with “Love,” unless it’s what the aspiring director in the movie says: to portray loving sex on screen. But scene after scene of lovemaking gets old, especially when the plot focuses on nothing but getting to the next sexual encounter.

There has been much speculation among the media as to whether the movie will even be shown in the States. It probably will, but it’ll probably be released without a rating. All I can say is, don’t waste your time. The dialogue is lame. The sex scenes aren’t that hot. And this kind of “Love” is a rather big bore.

Cannes Day 8: Sorrentino’s ‘Youth’ looks at old age

Italian director Paolo Sorrentino is only in his mid-40s, but since “The Great Beauty,” he has been reflecting on old age. His latest, “Youth,” stars Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel as two men nearing their 80s and looking back on love and life.

"Youth"
“Youth”

As Fred, Caine has settled into retirement, and keeps pestering his old friend Mick (Keitel) about whether he slept with a woman whom Fred loved. Both of them are spending the summer at a resort in the Alps, where Mick is working on a screenplay for his new movie. (He’s a prominent American director, although his last few movies haven’t been great successes.)

Fred, meanwhile, just wants to be left alone to contemplate life and savor the quiet moments. He was once a world-renowned composer and conductor, and his reverie at the spa is being continuously interrupted by an emissary from the queen, who wants him to conduct one of his greatest pieces one last time, as a special favor. He refuses. The emissary returns. They argue over and over, and finally, he admits that he wrote the piece for his currently institutionalized wife, and that she’s the only one who has ever sung it, so he doesn’t want anyone else to have the role.

Various subplots emerge as the two old friends remember their past glories. There’s Lena (Rachel Weisz), Fred’s daughter, who has just been dumped by her husband. There’s Jimmy Tree (Paul Dano), an American actor who wants to achieve glory but is known only for playing a robot beneath 200 pounds of steel. And there’s Jane Fonda as Brenda Morel, the plain-speaking actress slated to star in Mick’s new movie.

As with “The Great Beauty,” Sorrentino is not only making a movie that is distinctly his own, but also paying homage to Italian directors of the 1960s and 1970s. The atmospherics of “Youth” are downright Fellini-esque, with levitating monks and fanciful apparitions. Also like “Great Beauty,” music plays a huge role, especially at the end.

The reception in Cannes was favorable, although a few boos could be heard among the cheers, which is not unusual. But in this case, those who booed need to take another look at this highly imaginative, beautifully photographed film.

Coming up late tonight: “The Assassin,” from director Hou Hsiao-Hsien.

Cannes Day 7: ‘Sicario’ takes on the drug wars

The race for the Palme d’Or heated up Tuesday with the première of Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s “Sicario,” a violent drama about the efforts to take out the leader of a Mexican drug cartel.

images“Sicario” joins “Son of Saul” and “Carol” as one of the critical hits so far among the competition films. (“Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Inside Out,” both of which are critical favorites screened out of competition.)

The movie, starring Emily Blunt as an FBI agent, focuses on the moral ambiguities of the drug war, a conflict that has taken a huge toll on life along the U.S.-Mexico border.

It opens with an FBI team discovering a house in Chandler, Arizona, where dozens of bodies have been sealed up behind drywall. It’s a grisly scene, and Blunt’s Kate Macer is one of the leaders of the mission.

The mass carnage disturbs Kate so much that she agrees to join a task force formed to track down the cartel leader responsible for the crime.

Alejandro (Benicio del Toro) and Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) are the task force’s two main men. Alejandro looks like he’s hiding something; Kate is immediately suspicious. Matt jokes and acts like he can do whatever he wants in the pursuit of the cartel leader. Kate suspects he’s really CIA, but doesn’t know for sure. Despite these misgivings, she agrees to participate in the job.

The first mission is to get to the local cartel leader in Arizona, and through a series of attacks on his drug trade, make him return to Mexico to discuss the matter with his leader — the ultimate prize of the task force.

Along the way, Villeneuve stages intense scenes of the task force being stopped in traffic along border highway, with cartel gunmen on either side of them. He and cinematographer Roger Deakins also use infrared cameras, reminiscent of the climactic scene in “Silence of the Lambs,” when filming a scene of the task force headed through a cartel tunnel under the border.

But the heart of the movie lies in the tension between Blunt’s Kate and del Toro’s Alejandro. Kate doesn’t understand Alejandro’s motivation, but she begins to understand that he’s a sicario — a Mexican term for a hitman.

And as an FBI agent, she has to play by the rules — having to account for every bullet she fires. In contrast, Alejandro and Matt are willing to spray bullets all over the place.

Villeneuve is raising interesting questions about the war on drugs — and through Kate’s character, he’s questioning American tactics. After seeing the carnage in the early part of the film, many viewers will take the side of Alejandro and Matt. But Villeneuve doesn’t make such a position easy to maintain.

It’ll be interesting to see how audiences respond. “Sicdario” probably won’t be a box-office hit, but it should make significant inroads in the arthouse market — and on the awards circuit.

 

 

Cannes Day 6: The strange tale of ‘Marguerite & Julien’

You have to hand it to the French. Nothing is out of bounds when it comes to love and passion.

“Marguerite & Julien,” a story of children who grow up loving each other and begin a passionate but brief life together as adults, has all the markings of a 17-century romance: beautiful costumes, castles, gorgeous actors, sweepingly beautiful music, dramatic cinematography.

But as Marguerite and Julien discover, society rejects their love. They’re brother and sister.

Dad, who’s the Lord of Tourlaville, does not approve of the budding romance between the brother and sister. So he sends the brother (Jeremie Elkaim) off to boarding school in various European countries. But when he returns, it’s obvious that the love is still there, and that he’s ready to take it to the next level with his sister (Anais Demoustier).

So Dad intervenes, and forces Marguerite into a marriage with a nasty nobleman who carouses with prostitutes and beats poor Marguerite. In the dark of night, Julien rescues her and the two flee through the woods for a ship to England. But they stop a lot along the way to make love in the leaves.

The nobleman husband is not amused and sends out the hounds. Oh dear.

Director Valerie Donzelli makes strange choices throughout the film. And even if you were inclined to get wrapped up in the romance, which she clearly is trying to portray as timeless, then her aesthetics are way off. We see a 1965 Mustang, a helicopter, and all sorts of modern gadgets throughout the movie. And it takes away very much from atmosphere. It’s clear that she’s trying to make the previously mentioned “timeless” statement, and she wants us to see the story as “beyond morality,” as she says in her director’s statement in the official Cannes program.

But it’s just downright odd and doesn’t work.

I know my last few posts about Cannes have sounded negative, and I’m not sure whether I’m being cranky or whether these movies really are as seriously flawed as I believe. I think it’s the latter. But I’m sure other critics will have differing opinions.

Maybe tomorrow will be better. Canadian director Denis Villeneuve will present the Mexican drug cartel story “Sicario.” I have high hopes.

But to end on a positive note, “Carol” and “Son of Saul” are outstanding.

Cannes Day 6: The horse race for the Palme

photo.JPGIt’s never easy to peer into the minds of the Cannes jury and predict which film will win the Palme d’Or. But at the festival’s midpoint, it’s fun to debate how the votes might play out, based on the proclivities of individual members.

The British movie journal Screen International provides a list of critical response and publishes a daily score sheet, based on a four-star rating system.

So far, Todd Haynes’ “Carol” is in the top spot. It has an overall rating of 3.5, followed by the Holocaust drama “Son of Saul,” with 2.8.

Italian director Nanni Moretti’s “My Mother” comes in third, with 2.6, followed by Hirokau Kore-eda’s “Our LIttle Sister,” and Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Lobster.”

Matteo Garrone’s “Tale of Tales” has a rating of 2, while “Mon Roi” gets a 1.6 and “The Sea of Trees,” starring Matthew McConaughey, sits at the bottom with 0.6.

Two other movies that premiered late Sunday and early Monday — Stepahne Brize’s “The Measure of a Man” nd Joachim Trier’s “Louder Than Bombs” — got so-so responses, but the critics scores aren’t in yet.

So, what will the jury members think?

First up, French-Canadian director Xavier Dolan. He’ll probably appreciate the director’s aesthetic choices in “Son of Saul,” with its framing, its long takes and its intimate feel. But as a gay director, he’ll probably also appreciate the exquisite design of “Carol,” as well as its powerful message of being true to yourself.

Rossy de Palma, the flamboyant Spanish star of Pedro Almodovar’s movies, also will probably have a soft spot for “Carol.”

American actor Jake Gyllenhaal is in an unusual spot. He starred in two recent movies by Canadian director Denis Villenueve, 2013’s “Prisoners” and 2013’s “Enemy.” And Villenueve is here in the Cannes competition with “Sicario,” which stars Emily Blunt in a story about a Mexican drug cartel. It screens Tuesday morning. Will he have special insights into Villenueve’s latest, and will he make a case for his friend? Probably not openly. It’s safe to say that he’ll vote for the movie that he likes the most, and he deserves that respect. But he certainly has the background to appreciate Villenueve’s efforts more fully than some jury members.

Then there are the two chairs of the jury, Joel and Ethan Coen. So far, none of the movies in competition has the signature dark humor that the Coens are known for. But I’d bet they will appreciate “Son of Saul.” And then there’s “The Lobster,” which has some dark humor that takes place in a dystopian world. But its narrative arc seems too slow and one-note for the Coens, who have a flair for rapidity and complexity. Or, will they appreciate “My Mother,” which stars John Turturro, who has been in numerous Coen brothers’ movies?

Several high-profile movies have yet to screen. Most notable is Paolo Sorrentino’s “Youth,” starring Michael Caine and Rachel Weisz. Oscar watchers will note that Sorrentino’s “The Great Beauty” took home the top foreign-language award in Hollywood a couple of years ago, and Sorrentino is widely respected as one of Italy’s greatest auteurs.

Then there’s Jacques Audiard, the Frenchman who’ll be screening “Dheepan,” which focuses on an immigrant’s efforts to survive in the slums of Paris. Audiard is most famous for his brilliant “The Prophet.”

And there’s been quite a bit of buzz about “Macbeth,” from Justin Kurzel. Rumor has it that the performances from Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard are outstanding.

Several other movies are on the competition schedule, and any one of them could break through, as did “Son of Saul.”

It should be an interesting race to the finish.

Cannes Day 6: ‘Inside Out’ provides much-needed laughs (and a few tears)

inside_out_movie-wide

At a festival known for its serious arthouse fare, it’s great to see something that makes you laugh out loud. And that’s probably why Disney/Pixar’s “Inside Out” got such a rapturous response Monday after its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.

The movie has an imaginative premise: that five emotions reside in our brain and respond to various situations. We get to see the five emotions at work in the mind of a young girl, Riley, as she copes with her family’s sudden move from Minnesota to San Francisco.

Joy (Amy Poehler) tries to keep Riley happy by mastering the controls in the brain. But she has to contend with other emotions, mainly Sadness (Phyliss Smith), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Anger (Lewis Black) and Fear (Bill Hader.)

As we begin to see, Anger raises his somewhat nasty head when he senses that fairness has been jeopardized. And Sadness just keeps intruding into places where she’s not wanted. When she touches some of the golden memory balls in the control center, they immediately turn blue and cause Riley to be sad. So Joy has to try to keep the various emotions in check.

There’s a vault for long-term memory. And there’s an Abstract room, as well as an Imagination room. There’s also a funny character called Bing Bong, who tries to help Joy and Sadness get on the Train of Thought back to the Brain Control Center once they get lost and separated from Fear, Anger and Disgust.

But that’s getting a bit ahead of the story.

Much of he humor comes from the unexpected trips into the Brain Control Centers of the mother and father, as well as in other characters.

Like the best Pixar movies, “Inside Out” speaks to adults and their memories of growing up. This one, in particular, takes us through the rather sad process of leaving the familiar behind and facing new challenges, as Riley must do in San Francisco.

It’s a very moving tale, and at the end of Monday’s screening, it’s safe to say that nearly everyone was trying to suppress tears. It didn’t work.

Thankfully, the movie ends on a happy note, and the outtakes following the ending are hilarious, especially when director Pete Docter takes us into the Brain Control Centers of a dog and cat. Any animal lover will get a good laugh.

Replay our live chat about the ‘Mad Men’ finale

From the opening credits of AMC's "Mad Men." CREDIT: AMC
From the opening credits of AMC’s “Mad Men.” CREDIT: AMC

Sunday night, the final episode of “Mad Men” aired on AMC. We have opinions about it, you have opinions about it.

Culture writer Joe Gross and Statesman staffers talked all things Draper during a live chat noon Monday. Read the transcript below, where they discuss the final episode, “Mad Men,” high-end TV and what it all means.