2019 Cannes Film Festival Lineup

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One of the highlights of the movie year for me happens in a town of 73.000 people on the French Riviera. Sadly I’ve never been to the Cannes Film Festival but I’ve always enjoyed the announcement of films showing there along with some of the first reactions to them. It serves as a nice barometer for movies from all around the globe.

The bulk of the 2019 lineup has been announced with a few more movies certain to be added before the festival begins on May 14th. Some big names will be showing their work including Terrence Malick, Pedro Almodovar, and Nicolas Winding Refn among other. While I’m excited for a new (and hopefully return to form) Malick, the names that thrill me most are the Dardenne brothers and Jarmusch. Being able to see their new movies alone would be enough for me.

Again, the Cannes Film Festival begins May 14th and below you can check out this year’s lineup (so far). What do you think? Which films and/or directors excite you the most? Let me know in the comments below.

Opening Night Film

“The Dead Don’t Die” Jim Jarmusch (also in Competition)

In Competition

  • “A Hidden Life” (Terrence Malick)
  • “Pain and Glory” (Pedro Almodovar)
  • “The Traitor” (Marco Bellocchio)
  • “The Wild Goose Lake” (Diao Yinan)
  • “Parasite” (Bong Joon-ho)
  • “Young Ahmed” (Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne)
  • “The Dead Don’t Die” (Jim Jarmusch)
  • “Oh Mercy!” (Arnaud Desplechin)
  • “Atlantique” (Mati Diop)
  • “Matthias and Maxime” (Xavier Dolan)
  • “Little Joe” (Jessica Hausner)
  • “Sorry We Missed You” (Ken Loach)
  • “Les Miserables” (Ladj Ly)
  • “Bacurau” (Kleber Mendonça Filho & Juliano Dornelle)
  • “The Whistlers” (Corneliu Porumboiu)
  • “Frankie” (Ira Sachs)
  • “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” (Céline Sciamma)
  • “It Must Be Heaven” (Elia Suleiman)
  • “Sibyl” (Justine Triet)

Un Certain Regard

  • “Invisible Life” (Karim Aïnouz)
  • “Beanpole” (Kantemir Balagov)
  • “The Swallows of Kabul” (Zabou Breitman & Eléa Gobé Mévellec)
  • “A Brother’s Life” (Monia Chokri)
  • “The Climb” (Michael Covino)
  • “Joan of Arc” (Bruno Dumont)
  • “A Sun That Never Sets” (Olivier Laxe)
  • “Room 212” (Christophe Honoré)
  • “Port Authority” (Danielle Lessovitz)
  • “Papicha” (Mounia Meddour)
  • “Adam” (Maryam Touzani)
  • “Zhuo Ren Mi Mi,” Midi Z
  • “Liberte” (Albert Serra)
  • “Bull” (Annie Silverstein)
  • “Summer of Changsha” (Zu Feng)
  • “Evge” (Nariman Aliev)

Out of Competition

  • “The Best Years of Life” (Claude Lelouch)
  • “Rocketman” (Dexter Fletcher)
  • “Too Old to Die Young” (Nicolas Winding Refn)
  • “Diego Maradona” (Asif Kapadi“Belle Epoque,” Nicolas Bedos)

Special Screenings

  • “Share” (Pippa Bianco)
  • “For Sama” (Waad Al Kateab & Edward Watts)
  • “Family Romance, LLC” (Werner Herzog)
  • “Tommaso” (Abel Ferrar)
  • “To Be Alive and Know It” (Alain Cavalier)
  • “Que Sea Ley” (Juan Solanas)

Midnight Screening

“The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil” (Lee Won-Tae)

RETRO REVIEW: “Mississippi Burning” (1988)

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It was interesting to finally revisit 1988’s “Mississippi Burning” after so many years especially in light of the recent wave of fresh new filmmakers offering their own points of view on racism and the historical stain it has left on America’s social fabric. It was a movie that faced more than its share of criticisms, some thoughtful and others unfair.

The film is based on a true story about three young civil rights workers who went missing in 1964 Mississippi. The title comes from “MIBURN”, the code name given to the missing persons investigation by the FBI after the workers’ burnt-out car was discovered. It would become one of the signature cases in the long and painful road towards racial justice.

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Many of the criticisms were unfortunate especially considering the type of movie “Mississippi Burning” is. There were complaints, even boycotts aimed at the film’s inaccuracies, its choice of story perspective, and its lack of a central black character. And then there was the unwarranted white savior accusation, as if the situation in that small Mississippi town had been dramatically changed for the better by the end of the film. This was never meant to be a documentary. It’s clearly a fictionalization intended as a suspenseful police drama but with the guts to hold up a mirror to the segregated south.

Director Alan Parker starts his film with an impeccably shot opening sequence. At dusk three young men are driving down a country road in Jessup County, Mississippi. Within seconds three vehicles are barreling down on them. The foreboding beats of Trevor Jones’ score and Peter Biziou’s tension-soaked cinematography lets us know that something bad is about to happen.

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The boys go missing and the FBI sends Agent Rupert Anderson (Gene Hackman), a brash but seasoned g-man with southern connections of his own and Agent Alan Ward (Willem Defoe), a by-the-numbers bureau guy fresh out of the Justice Department. Their approaches to the investigation are drastically different. Anderson wants to melt into the community, getting information by mixing with the locals at the barbershop or the Main Street cafe. Ward wants to use every government resource at his disposal. That includes over 100 FBI agents who converge on the small Mississippi town much to the chagrin of Sheriff Stuckey (Gailard Sartain). He and his slimeball Deputy Pell (Brad Dourif) put up every wall of jurisdiction they can and work hard to convince the townsfolk that the feds don’t belong there.

Anderson and Ward find themselves in a boiling hotbed of deeply ingrained racism. With the KKK running free and a seemingly complicit local law enforcement, finding clues to the missing boys’ whereabouts proves difficult. This touches on one of most heart-shattering elements to the story which involves the black community and their unwillingness to share information with the feds.

This reveals a terrible circle of injustice. Anderson and Ward can’t tighten the screws on racist local suspects unless the black folks will talk to them. The black folks won’t talk to them for fear of violent retaliation from the racist locals. Anyone in the black community who speaks out ends up hurt or killed. Their families are terrorized and their homes burnt to the ground. As Anderson tells a discouraged Ward, “They have to live here long after we’re gone.” It’s a revealing truth that the film handles well.

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As a crime thriller “Mississippi Burning” maintains a simmering level of suspense. Interestingly the suspense lies more in how things play out rather than what the outcome will be. The longer the movie goes the worse things get. Hope dwindles and patience begins to wear thin. Several key players factor in most notably Deputy Pell’s wife (played by an excellent Frances McDormand who received her first Oscar nomination). We also get a young Michael Rucker playing a hate-fueled yokel with a disgustingly long leash.

But it all comes back to the two leads. DaFoe works at the perfect temperature for his character, a principled man with a sharp blend of smarts and naïveté. But it’s Hackman who steals the show reminding us of just how good of an actor he is. Effortlessly natural at every turn, convincingly fiery when needed, and with loads subtle flourishes that make his performance stand out.

VERDICT 4.5 STARS

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REVIEW: “Support the Girls”

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The trailer for Andrew Bujalski’s “Support the Girls” left me expecting an amusing but lightweight little indie comedy. Turns out I was selling it short. In addition to serving up some genuinely funny laughs, the film surprised me by revealing a ton of heart and an attention to its characters that I wasn’t expecting.

Writer-director Bujalski doesn’t worry too much with plot. Instead this is entirely character-based and follows an overloaded yet resourceful manager of a locally-owned Hooters-styled Texas sports bar. Her name is Lisa and she’s played by a delightful Regina Hall. Essentially she’s the glue that keeps Double Whammies together, whether she’s looking out for her staff of underpaid waitresses or trying to keep the overbearing oaf of an owner (James LeGros) satisfied.

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What makes Bujalski’s film work so well is the focus he puts on the bond of sisterhood. Hall gives one of last year’s truest and most lived in performances, strikingly authentic at every turn. Just as important are some of the wonderful supporting work specifically from Haley Lu Richardson (so brilliant in 2017’s “Columbus”). She plays the kind-hearted and always cheery Maci whose sudden bursts of air-headed energy make for some of the movie’s brightest moments.

Even with its layers of warmth and wit there is also a subtle undercurrent of heartache. Bujalski provides plenty of playful moments and certain characters have inherently entertaining personalities. But each have personal real-world problems to deal with – a fractured marriage, an abusive boyfriend, a single mother struggling with child care. And then there is shadow of uncertainty when it comes to their jobs, their futures, and so on.

The opening credits lets you know that the film is operating on a shoestring budget, but within five minutes I was already invested in this slice-of-life working class comedy. The characters aren’t punchlines nor do they feed into common stereotypes. This makes them interesting and worth our time even when they’re doing nothing more than their daily work routines. So I found it easy to believe in what “Support the Girls” was showing me. And while it may seem a bit light, I enjoyed my time with Lisa and her girls.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

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5 Phenomenal Opening Scenes

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Sometimes a great opening sequence can set the tone for the entire movie. In today’s Phenomenal 5 we are going to look at some of the very best of them. Narrowing it down to just five is brutal but those are my self-inflicted rules. While I wouldn’t call this the definitive list, there is no denying that these five opening scenes are nothing short of phenomenal.

#5 – “Saving Private Ryan”

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Of all the films on this list this is probably the most heralded movie opening of the bunch. Steven Spielberg ratchets locks in on battlefield realism in giving us what many have called the most authentic depiction of combat ever put on screen. From the very first frame we understand Spielberg wants to immerse us in the tension and horror of D-Day. The result is a gripping and visceral cinematic account unlike anything we’ve seen.

#4 – “The Dark Knight”

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There are many things I love about Christopher Nolan’s unforgettable opening to “The Dark Knight”. First and foremost it serves as our first introduction to Heath Ledger’s iconic Joker. It begins with an eerie opening shot of him holding a mask on a street corner. From there Nolan takes us through a bank heist that’s deftly shot and edited, has such sharp pacing, and features some of the best moments from Hans Zimmer’s score. It’s a superb scene.

#3 – “Touch of Evil”

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There are many examples you can point to that shows off Orson Welles’ brilliance as a filmmaker. One is found in the opening scene of his 1958 gem “Touch of Evil”. The movie opens with one of cinema’s great uninterrupted tracking shots. For over three minutes the camera weaves back and forth between two newlyweds walking and a second couple slowly navigating their convertible down a crowded street. Talking about it doesn’t do it justice. It is truly a must-see sequence for any movie fan.

#2 – Inglourious Basterds”

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While I may not have been blown away by every aspect of Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds”, the opening of his alternate-reality World War 2 film may be his very best work. It features Nazi Colonel Hans Landa (Oscar winner Christoph Waltz) questioning a French farmer (Denis Ménochet) about the whereabouts of missing Jewish families. The white-knuckled interrogation ratchets up the intensity unlike anything I’ve seen on screen.

#1 – “Once Upon A Time in the West”

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An absolute masterclass on the use of image and sound to build atmosphere and tension. This Sergio Leone classic is my favorite western for a host a reasons, one being Leone’s unmatched technique. The opening train station scene encapsulates Leone’s breathtaking artistry. From the first look into Jack Elam’s eyes to the echo of Charles Bronson’s revolver. It’s pure cinematic brilliance and the perfect way to open Leone’s masterpiece.

There were several big ones I hated to leave off so I’m counting on the comments section to help me out. C’mon readers, don’t let me down.

REVIEW: “The Hurricane Heist”

 

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Let’s be honest, with some movies you kind of know what you’re going to get just by the title alone. Okay, some more than others, but you get my point, right? Take the action-disaster mash-up “The Hurricane Heist”. Its hysterically literal title assures us of what we are in for – 100 minutes of category five absurdity. The question is how far can you go with it?

Toby Kebbell and his hilariously over-stressed Southern drawl plays Will Rutledge, a government meteorologist in Alabama keeping tabs on the mother of all hurricanes approaching the Gulf Coast. His relationship with his brother Breeze (Ryan Kwanten) has been strained since 1992 when they lost their father to Hurricane Andrew (see the prologue).

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Breeze is a mechanic who has stayed in their hometown of Gulfport to run the family’s towing business. He has a repair contract with a U.S. Treasury facility – the same facility a group of hoodlums are planning to knock off. And boy is their scheme an elaborate one full of carefully planned double-crosses, infiltration, computer hacking, and of course one made-to-order hurricane. What they didn’t factor in was dedicated Treasury agent Casey Corbyn (Maggie Grace) who quickly becomes a thorn in the bad guys’ side.

As the hurricane bears down, Breeze ends up in the treasury facility while Will and Casey are on the outside working together to thwart the heist. But to be honest none of that really matters. By this point the story is so silly and inconsequential, functioning mostly to move from one weather-action scene to the next. Admittedly I did get a kick out of some of the set piece antics. Whether I took them the way intended by the filmmakers, I don’t know. But they are just goofy enough to keep things mildly entertaining.

The film is directed by “Fast and Furious” creator Rob Cohen but don’t expect “The Hurricane Heist” to follow in that franchise’s footsteps. It bombed at the box office, unable to make back its semi-meager $35 million budget. Despite that there is some ridiculous fun to be found if your head is in the right place. This isn’t an offensively bad movie (it’s no “Geostorm”). Then again, that’s not much of a bar.

VERDICT – 2 STARS

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First Glance: “Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker”

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Hype is not something I put a ton of stock in nor is it something I generally get caught up in. But I would be dishonest if I didn’t admit to having my excitement level shoot through the roof following the drop of the “Star Wars: Episode IX” trailer.

The annual Star Wars Celebration in Chicago has given franchise fans a ton to be excited about, nothing bigger than our first look at this year’s huge Star Wars installment. The teaser alone has several cheer-worthy moments – Rey’s tearful embrace with Princess Leia, the return of Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian, and of course the all too familiar laugh we hear right before the title is revealed.

Those tired of Star Wars or with no invested interest in the franchise will understandably shrug it off. Me, I’m pumped. What about you? Check out the trailer below and let me know if you’ll be seeing it or giving it a pass.