Before I launch into this second report from Cannes, I feel I should apologize for the rushed nature of the first one that led to it being formatted sloppily, as well as including some typos, and a lack of overall quality control. As with everyone covering this or any fest I am trying to cram as much stuff in as I can and then churn out the reports so the info and reviews get out there and no film is left behind, so to speak. But this one was a poor showing (which we cleaned up and fixed a little since) and I regret that.
Okay, self-flagellation over.
I got off to a late start due to writing said report and finally made my way out of the apartment before noon as I was led by the siren call of a free lunch next to the Palais. While there, I saw Melissa Silverstein of Women and Hollywood and the Athena Film Festival which gave me the opportunity to chat her up about my wife, Justina Walford’s brand new Women Texas Film festival, set to debut in August as well as congratulate her on Women and Hollywood striking out on its own, apart from Indiewire. Soon after lunch, I made the judgment call to pass on a screening of MA LOUTE, which I had a ticket for, in favor of SIERRA NEVADA, which my friend, Rose Kuo, wanted to see. This marked my second screening I skipped even though I had a ticket, which I believe will ensure I will never receive another ticket from Cannes ever, ever, ever again. Of course, last year I only received one, and neither of this year’s tickets were during the actual gala screenings so…
I went to see Cristi Puiu’s SIERANEVADA. Apparently, there has been speculation on early reviews that this one could be in awards consideration here at Cannes, therefore Rose convinced me it was the better option versus MA LOUTE. However, it is one of more than a few films that are long – like, close to 3 hours long. And as it turns out, that was one hour too long for me to stay awake the entire time. To be fair, I nodded off fairly early, but missed enough of the film (I’m guessing 15-20 minutes or so) to spoil any chance to effectively assess the entire thing. I mean, I wouldn’t want a reviewer to do that to a film I directed – so, no review. Maybe, I’ll try to catch it later in the festival. (This actually happened to me last year with THE LOBSTER. That film took me four tries to review it – 2 screenings I was turned away from, a third that I fell asleep in, and then finally a fourth to finish the damn thing so I could review it. Because with me sometimes: dog with a bone…)
Afterwards, there were a couple of parties to make appearances at: The Toronto Film Festival hosted the first and I got in thanks to the fact that I was Rose Kuo adjacent. And the second was hosted by IFP, and my former PR teammate at Lincoln Center included me as his “plus one.” While there, David and I caught up about the great work he has been doing PR-wise for Kickstarter – and he seriously has made a difference for them with a major upgrade on coordinating the press and social media campaigns with their filmmakers. I’m just incredibly happy for him – a really fine publicist. We also chatted Filmmaker Magazine’s Scott Macaulay and Brandon Harris about Scott’s film projects and Brandon’s myriad of sites he works for. Brandon and I also discussed getting him to Dallas in June to cover the Oak Cliff Film Festival, which will be my next stop on the film fest timeline. After that, I introduced David to the ubiquitous Sydney Levine (who he had wanted to meet) and then followed by introducing her partner, producer and film fest bon vivant Peter Belsito to Chinese film financier Arthur Gao at ILP Entertainment, who we had just met because I suddenly decided to be Cannes’ Dolly Levi apparently. Good works done, it was time for another movie.
CONSPIRACY ON JEKYLL ISLAND (or JEKYLL ISLAND)
Aram Rappaport’s CONSPIRACY ON JEKYLL ISLAND is set two years in the future where the U.S. finds itself on the brink of yet another financial meltdown – this time due to a planned terrorist cyber-attack on the stock market. Time is ticking as the government reaches out to Guy Clifton (Frank Grillo), a brilliant, if ethically compromised financial whiz/genius who is set to go to jail for hacking into the system to do a little inside trading, to save us all from going to economic hell in a hand basket. However, as the country – and the world’s economy teeters on absolute failure, he and his brilliant team find they have forces conspiring against their success coming from the inside as well.
CONSPIRACY ON JEKYLL ISLAND is almost a film packaging wet dream for the market. Let’s have a taut, action-packed thriller about fighting terrorists on a global scale with teletype updates (“15 hours until the attack”), mix in cautionary tale/paranoia elements about the Federal Reserve (a sample typical quote: “You and I both know the Fed is behind everything”), overload it with a lot of faces and names with high Q-ratings (Frank Grillo, Minnie Driver, John Leguizamo, Maggie Q, Catherine McCormick, Annasophia Robb, Diana Agron, even Christopher McDonald for chrissakes), and then give it a generic title so no one – and I mean NO ONE – can possibly be confused as to what the movie is about (“CONSPIRACY “– I mean, do we need to underline or “bold” that for you?). Now, stir it all up and then put that sucker on VOD and cable and Wal-Mart shelves and Red Boxes, and let it stream and play FOREVER. Seriously, if you don’t know what you’re getting by simply reading the title, or looking at the cast list, or the poster for the film, or watching the first thirty seconds, then you are likely still recovering from a concussion, or have been taking a lot of medication, or don’t realize you are actually a house plant. To its credit, the film professionally delivers exactly what it’s trying to deliver – so if anyone choosing to see the film is even remotely disappointed, then they need to do some soul searching because it certainly isn’t Frank Grillo’s or Aram Rappaport’s fault. They did their jobs, so just hit the remote, turn off your head, and sink back into your sofa already.
After dinner, I got word from David Ninh that he scored an extra ticket for the midnight movie, and via text, Rose said she was up for it as well, so I raced over to the Lumière and negotiated my way around the absurd number of partitions and roadblocks and security and police and people and lions and tigers and bears, oh my! in order to get in line in time in time to be allowed onto the red carpet and then see the film. Mission accomplished, and we are all ready to see…
TRAIN TO BUSAN
Sang-ho Yeon’s TRAIN TO BUSAN focuses on divorced businessman Seok-woo and his daughter Su-an, who convinces him to accompany her on a train ride to Busan to see her mom after he botches her birthday gift. Unfortunately for them, another passenger on the same train has just recently been exposed to a virus that quickly turns her – and then several of the other passengers on the train – into flesh-eating zombies. Now, they, and a handful of people that have managed not to get bitten and infected, have to figure out how to survive as well as make it the rest of the way to Busan – since the infection has already spread throughout much of the country.
What could be described as a mashup between SNOWPIERCER and WORLD WAR Z, with the humor of THE HOST thrown in for good measure, TRAIN TO BUSAN is quite literally a thrill ride. As with WORLD WAR Z, the changeover the victims go through to become the infected is quick and disturbing and the infected zombies run and fling themselves indiscriminately at their victims and even swarm and pile on like rabid ants. There are some innovative touches thrown in – like a phone call with a loved one going through the change so we just hear it through the receiver, as well as zombie fight set pieces with the survivors thinking on their feet to get themselves out of tight jams that give the film some freshness given its well-worn genre. The character archetypes are also delivered with some charismatic performances making it easy to give a damn about who lives or dies and/or makes it to the end. Finally, the humor is pervasive and knowing, which balances the tragedy and lightens everything up just enough even as the survivors’ numbers are steadily whittled down through each battle and crisis they go through en route to their final destination. Yes, it is a film for fans of zombie movies, but it also would likely be enjoyable for those that don’t have quite as an enthusiastic taste for this this genre.