By Peter Knegt | Indiewire May 15, 2009 at 10:41AM
"Considering the iconic event at its center, the most surprising aspect of “Taking Woodstock” lies with the decision to make it into a rather flat comedy," indieWIRE's Eric Kohn wrote of Ang Lee's Cannes competition entry today. "Even with the ever-versatile Ang Lee behind the camera, this messy historical fiction plays like a two hour “Saturday Night Live” sketch, and not a very good one, either."
Kohn's thoughts on "Woodstock" - which has its official screening tomorrow and thus doesn't have many reviews posted as of yet - were generally seconded by Hollywood Elsewhere's Jeff Wells, who had slightly nicer things to say. Wells says the film "works in spots and spurts," but "too often feels ragged and unsure of itself, and doesn't coalesce in a way that feels truly solid or self-knowing." The AV Club's Mike D'Angelo, meanwhile, calls the film "harmless enough," but expected "a lot more from Lee and Schamus, even after Hulk."
A kinder review comes care of this awkward and quickly put together video from The Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt (you can still hear the cameraman say "go" before). Honeycutt doesn't offer much, but says the film cheered him up and that it "will do quite well." Check back with indieWIRE tomorrow for reaction when the film makes its official debut.
“This is not a bio pic," Campion said at "Star"'s press conference, as reported by indieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez, "it’s a story inspired by their own story, told from Fanny’s point of view and it’s a love story using the material and the letters. I find the bio-pic frustrating because it doesn’t give you room to have the space and the details really, so I don’t think this is a bio-pic.”
As Hernandez notes, Campion has only made a few feature films since winning the Palme d’Or for “The Piano” at Cannes, sixteen years ago. Her “Bright Star,” a look at a young Fanny Brawne and her tortured romance with acclaimed poet John Keats, was mostly welcomed as a return to form. The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw went so far as to say that Campion "puts herself in line for her second Palme d'Or with this heartfelt and beautifully photographed story of the doomed love affair between John Keats and Fanny Brawne" in his review. And The Telegraph's David Gritten pretty much does the same: "It is not premature to predict that Bright Star it will match any film entered for the Palme d'Or this year for sheer beauty. It looks a strong bet for honours in a week's time."
Continued, though not quite as overwhelming acclaim, comes from Variety's Todd McCarthy, who says Campion "breaks through any period piece mustiness with piercing insight into the emotions and behavior of her characters," though does note that film is missing a "compelling sense of Keats' singular attributes." While Screen's Allan Hunter said: "Campion has created a film that revels in the beauty of the English countryside... The central love affair is expressed through modest caresses, clasped hands and lingering glances rather than anything more explicit. It is a dreamy film to make the viewer swoon."
One of the few truly mixed reviews was from indieWIRE's own Eric Kohn, who notes: "This might sound horribly simplistic, but Jane Campion’s “Bright Star” desperately needs a sex scene. The movie puts such prominent focus on the romantic attraction shared by two characters."
Today's other competition film - Chan-wook Park's "Thirst" - was met with much less overall approval. Variety's Derek Elley called the New Age vampire flick "an overlong stygian comedy that badly needs a transfusion of genuine inspiration," while The AV Club's Mike D'Angelo says the film "has no sense of rhythm or flow whatsoever." The Boston Globe's Wesley Morris doesn't quite dislike the film, but does note: "The South Korean's lawlessness hits a wall in "Thirst," a movie about a priest (the peerlessly great Song Kang-ho) who becomes a vampire. The movie sidesteps the moral problems of the three "Vengeance" films but glibly skates the surface as Park did in the first two."
Screen's Darcy Paquet, however, significantly disagreed, saying "this complex and supremely inventive work sees the filmmaker back on top form," continuing: "The first 90 minutes of Thirst is a robust display of these talents, but it is anchored in a melancholic lyricism that is new to Park’s oeuvre. Although the focus of its narrative movement is not always clear, in its best moments, Thirst offers something of the poetic force of cinema’s timeless masterpieces."
indieWIRE's Brian Brooks reported from the press conference of "Thirst", noting how the film "involves a priest (of the Catholic variety), blood sucking, and even lust," and asking: "Can the Vatican be that far away?"
“In the film you see a cup filled with wine as if it’s blood. This could allude to vampirism or religion, but for me it’s just a joke,” said Park in Cannes Friday. “If the Vatican is as interested in Tom Hanks’ film ['Angels & Demons'] as mine, I’d be thrilled.”
Whether it ends up being high on the Vatican's hit list or not, "Thirst" is currently pretty low on Neil Young's Palme d'Or odds over at Jigsaw Lounge, which received a third update today. While "Thirst"'s odds of winning sit at 50-1, Michael Haneke's "The White Ribbon" stands as the predicted winner at 7-4. Aforementioned "Bright Star" is in third place with 9-1 odds, while "Taking Woodstock" sits at 33-1. "Ribbon" doesn't officially screen until next Thursday (and the awards are not handed out until a few days later), so we'll have to wait until then to see if Young's suggestion holds.
Be sure to check back here at indieWIRE for ongoing coverage of the Cannes Film Festival. You can also track any of the competition titles on indieWIRE's freshly launched Cannes film pages, which have now been updated in respect to the films that screened today.