In what has apparently become something of a tradition on the Croisette, this evening saw a select group of journalists forgo tempting Official Selection screenings to attend instead the starry, champagne-fuelled preview of The Weinstein Company’s forthcoming slate. Perhaps not quite as salivating a prospect as last year’s auteur-heavy, brand-new lineup, which included early glimpses of “Django Unchained,” “The Master,” and “Silver Linings Playbook,” it’s still a mark of TWC’s high standing on the awards circuit that what is essentially an invite-only marketing event got so many clamoring to attend. Well, that and the canapes (foie gras toastinis, breaded shrimp and mini eclairs, if you must know). Oh, and the presence of the legendary Harvey Weinstein.
The evening kicked off with a few words from the more public “W” in TWC, with Weinstein taking to the stage to cue up the evening’s previews, but quickly, as the big ace up his sleeve was the introduction of Nicole Kidman, star of “Grace of Monaco” which got perhaps the most substantial push on the reel. Kidman is a juror here of course, and Weinstein had to curtail his opening remarks in order to facilitate her appearance… which then didn’t happen until a couple of minutes later. Still, it’s telling that he used these few extra minutes of pre-Kidman attention to mention “Salinger,” a relatively late addition to their preview lineup, and to talk about how he discovered he was roughly number “9000” on the list to adapt “The Catcher in the Rye” (according to the Salinger estate) with first place going to Elia Kazan, and Mike Nichols also high up in the running. It’s clear TWC have high hopes for the documentary, especially given the glossy, feature film-style cut of the trailer, on which more below. A few gentle jokes and a reference to last year being “as good a year [for TWC] as Miramax ever had” and it was on with the main event.
Out of the lineup of films, the only two that registered big on our richter scale were two that we’ll be reviewing in the coming days: James Gray’s “The Immigrant” and Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Only God Forgives” -- the latter of which got the only spontaneous applause of the evening. We’ll take you through those two separately, but for now, here's what sizzled and what fizzled fromt he rest of the lineup.
Out of the gates we got the existing trailer for “The Butler,” the Forest Whitaker-starring biopic of long-time White House butler Cecil Gaines. Boasting the first of two immensely impressive ensembles (see “August: Osage County” for the other) in Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, James Marsden, Melissa Leo, John Cusack, Alex Pettyfer, David Oyelewo, Cuba Gooding Jr, Robin Williams, Jane Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave and Lenny Kravitz the trailer played like that trailer has done to date: flatly, despite the determinedly inspirational music pounding out. It seems Lee Daniels may have retreated into the safest of safe territories, to the point of triteness, following the critical opprobrium heaped on his last film "The Paperboy." Of course it was at Cannes that that film got its initial panning, so we can't help but speculate that this one got its first-up slot to get it out of the way early. Still, interesting that two biopics of inspirational historical black figures bookended this showreel.
David Lowery’s film is of course already completed, and showed to a rapturous reception, ours included, at Sundance, as well as screening here as part of Critic’s Week. As a result we got a more substantial taster of it, with the extended scene of the shootout that causes Casey Affleck’s character to be sent down playing out, and showcasing immediately the genuine chemistry between the leads, with, from this glimpse, Affleck looking to be on similar riveting form to that he delivered in “The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford” and Rooney Mara seeming rawer and more mature than we’ve seen her to date. The beauty of the finished film is also hinted at, and while we hate to launch into a tired Malick comparison, this small sliver certainly delivered on any “Badlands”-esque expectations we may have had.
The first totally new (to us) footage we saw was for the J.D Salinger documentary that Harvey Weinstein had talked up in his intro. And it certainly looks riveting, with the trailer cut together more like a thriller than a biographical documentary, and plenty of emphasis on the mysteries and enigmas that surround Salinger’s life and legacy. It seems to boast well-heeled recreations, as well as talking head footage, and what heads: Gore Vidal, Tom Wolfe, EL Doctorow, Danny De Vito all show up along with representatives of the Salinger estate. A probing search in to the reasons for his reclusive nature is promised (“He wanted nothing to come between him and his characters -- they were real to him” claims one relative), and a whole segment at the end of the trailer is given over to the lurid connections between “Catcher in the Rye” and the murders it supposedly “inspired.” Playwright John Guare sums up that aspect succinctly: “if I had written a book that one person used as justification for killing somebody I’d think, ‘that’s crazy.’ ...If three people had done that, I’d be very troubled.” Given the access and research that seems to be on display here, in addition to our pre-existing fascination with the subject matter, we’re definitely anticipating this one now.