Cannes 2014: Weinstein Co. pumps slate filled with notables, questions

Director Tim Burton
Tim Burton, seen at his LACMA exhibition in 2011, directed “Big Eyes,” a Weinstein Co. fall release based on painters Walter and Margaret Keane and starring Amy Adams.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

It’s become an annual rite of the Cannes Film Festival -- Harvey Weinstein presents his upcoming movies to journalists and international distributors at an upfront presentation of sorts on the festival’s first Friday.

And it’s become an equally favored rite that the media then huddles at parties and screenings in the hours that follow to throw light and shade on them.

There was plenty of both Friday night on the Croisette after Weinstein showed off new trailers from a  number of upcoming films. The presentation can be a valuable barometer in several ways, as it was (positively) for “Django Unchained” and “Silver Linings Playbook” two years ago and (less positively) for “August: Osage County” last year. It’s an early indicator, but an indicator still.

On Friday, after bringing up Naomi Watts, costar of the summer comedy “St. Vincent,” and Ryan Reynolds, topliner of Nazi art film “Woman in Gold,” Weinstein ran through teasers of these and other movies. How did they look?  Here are some quick takeaways.


“St. Vincent.” Bill Murray looks like he’s back to his crazy ol’ coon form from the “What About Bob?” days, which is enough to compensate for the “About a Boy” premise — older guy who just doesn’t care anymore teaches the neighbor kid a few things while learning some lessons of his own -- that has been jammed down our television throat these last few months.

“The Giver.” Everyone else is getting into the young-adult genre game, so why not Weinstein/Dimension too? Lois Lowry’s book about a supposedly perfect world and the boy who comes to learn about its past, and then disrupt its present, has some built-in appeal, but most of these YA adaptations fail, and Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep look more than a little out of place in dystopia-ville.

“Southpaw.” Jake Gyllenhaal flexing, Jake Gyllenhaal sparring, Jake Gyllenhaal lifting — it was the movie-trailer-as-training-video when Weinstein unveiled the first footage of what will likely be a 2015 release. It didn’t tell you much other than Gyllenhaal is setting himself up for a McConaughey-esque awards narrative, but this Eminem-inspired, Antoine Fuqua-directed tale of a bootstrapping boxer will be interesting regardless.

“Paddington.” A surprisingly adorable scene of a CG bear as it makes mayhem in the bathroom. It’s not clear if this film can hold its own with the Christmas biggies, especially since Paddington is more Brit than Yank, but the trailer was more endearing than many of us expected.


“Suite Francaise.” Michelle Williams hasn’t had great luck doing the World War II thing in the “Cabaret” revival but she seemed convincing here, in this story of a transnational romance during the German occupation of France during WWII.

“The Underdogs.” You’ve been waiting for an animated movie that doesn’t come from Pixar or DreamWorks but does star foosball players. It is finally here.

“The Imitation Game.” Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing in the scientist’s code-breaking phase looks on paper like one of the highlights of Weinstein’s year. But alas, there wasn’t enough shown here to offer much meaningful speculation.

“Macbeth.” Michael Fassbender goes full Crowe in a Macbeth that looks a lot like “Gladiator.” Yep, really.

“Big Eyes.” The most anticipated title on Weinstein’s fall calendar — and as of now its big awards hope — the fact-based movie about Walter and Margaret Keane stars Amy Adams and focuses on some unusual painting. The teaser played lighter and more antic than one might expect given director Tim Burton’s usual macabre tone. But still promising.

Basically, Weinstein has some interesting fall titles but no big awards swing. And not mentioned was Olivier Dahan’s “Grace of Monaco,” the embattled Grace Kelly film that saw its French cut — which Weinstein heavily disliked — screen to disastrous response on the Croisette Wednesday.

What’s happening with the film now? I hear that Weinstein will be taking the version he cut before the festival, which brings a lighter touch to the proceedings, welcome some (nominal) input from Dahan and release it in the U.S. It’s a version that’s very different from the melodramatic French cut. In a way it’s all played out brilliantly: Weinstein gets to release the movie he wants -- he has closed the deal for the right to release a different version in the U.S. And he gets to do it with a nice second-chance narrative to go along with it -- “Come see the movie that’s totally different than the one you heard about in Cannes,” will be the subtext. Or just the text.

Friday’s presentation — which saw Weinstein tout a partnership in China that will see AFI and New York Film Festival vet Rose Kuo run a new festival there -- also featured some unusual digressions, including Weinstein explaining that all the reports that he had skipped “Monaco” opening night because of the fight over the cut were wrong. Instead, it was a long-planned trip to Jordan to visit with Syria refugees behind his absence. He then offered some detail on the trip, saying he met with a number of children who all loved “Lord of the Rings” and Angelina Jolie.


“After you get back from Jordan and talk to 10 kids about movies they love, it makes you proud to be part of this industry,” he said.

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