Saturday, May 26, 2012

Cannes '12 Review(s): "The Paperboy," "The Angel's Share," and "Post Tenebras Lux"

The Paperboy dir. Lee Daniels [Competition]
I remain convinced that The Paperboy isn't a good movie, but that doesn't mean that you should avoid it. Quite the contrary. It should be near the top of your list of films to see this year, because I can guarantee that it will give you plenty to talk about. Honestly, bad movies sometimes seem less bad if they are at least interesting.

Adapted from Pete Dexter's novel of the same name, The Paperboy tells the story of Jack James (Zac Efron), a small-town paperboy in Florida who helps his journalist brother Ward (Matthew McConaughey) and parter Yardley (David Oyelowo) investigate whether a local man (John Cusack) was wrongfully imprisoned. In the process, Jack also starts to fall for Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman), a woman with a thing for convicts who is engaged to the incarcerated, despite having never met him in person. What follows is a mystery drama that alternates between being dull and being wildly entertaining in an exceedingly trashy, campy fashion. At one point Charlotte bitches out some local beach dwellers for the right to urinate on Jack's jellyfish sting and then yells, "If anyone's gonna piss on him, it's gonna be me!" If that's not entertainment, I don't know what is. Unfortunately, not enough of the movie is of the trash/camp variety. Mostly it's a series of dull scenes that somehow feel only remotely attached to the plot. The characters interact, yet the plot seems to progress entirely outside of the movie. 

Thankfully, some of the scenes are entertaining enough to make up for it, and the performances are all engaging. Kidman and Cusack are standouts, the former creating a sexbomb with a vulnerable side, the latter exuding surprising amounts of menace that make you doubt whether he should be allowed back into society, even if he's innocent. Efron is probably the weak link, though it really just comes down to one scene near the end. You have to admire the cast for keeping it together through Daniels' pulpy treatment of the source material. That had to be a challenge.

Grade: C-

The Angel's Share dir. Ken Loach [Competition]
An amiable comedy that isn't much of a comedy, Ken Loach's return to Cannes (his 11th time) is the sort of pleasant diversion that you can take or leave. It's certainly not must-see viewing, but there are worse things you could see. Compared to some of the films in competition, however, it comes off as hopelessly lightweight, despite skimming the surface of its protagonist's emotional turmoil.

Set primarily in Glasgow, Share centers on a group of young men and women doing community service. The group begins to bond with their supervisor, and one day he takes them to a whisky tasting. It's there that they discover that Robbie (Paul Brannigan) has a good nose for different types of whisky. Simultaneously, they devise a plan to steal an incredibly rare cask of the liquor to sell to a high end connoisseur. 

Nothing about the plot is remotely surprising, and the same goes for the character arcs. Loach, known for bracing social dramas, is taking it somewhat easy here, though one wishes he and screenwriter Paul Laverty had put a little more effort into building up the stakes and the humor. Performances are solid all around, with Brannigan making an appealing anchor for the story, but like the movie, there's no standouts. If anything, the film has too much in the way of serious elements, while simultaneously being devoid of strong comedic material. So by the time it rolls around to the conclusion, you know where it's going, and there's nothing to surprise you. It's not quite lazy, but rather a little too unambitious for its own good.

Grade: C

Post Tenebras Lux dir. Carlos Reygadas [Competition]
An excruciatingly dull piece of "art," Lux is a vague, distant attempt at...well, it's an attempt at something. Yet nothing, save for the image of a glowing red devil creeping through a house, clicks or comes together for an interminable two hours, resulting in a film that's both bad and boring. It doesn't get much worse.

After a protracted opening of a little girl running around some farmland yelling at the cows ("Vacas!...Vacas!...Vac-" SHUT UP), we're introduced to a family in Mexico. That's all I'll say because, despite an odd venture to a sex sauna, I find it tiresome to write much more. Critics can trash talk The Paperboy all they want, but nothing approaches the awfulness of this pretentious piece of drivel. Reygadas has some ideas in mind, yet the approach and nature of the narrative lacks any spark. It's that rare disaster that's mystifyingly un-engaging right from its opening scene. Avoid at all costs.

Grade: D


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