Cannes 2009: The Tomato Report ? Critics Cool on Ang Lee?s Taking Woodstock
General negatives greet director?s latest flick.
As Ang Lee's latest, Taking Woodstock, received its premiere last night at the Cannes Film Festival, critics were intrigued to point out a number of similarities between it and Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous. They both involve young men on the cusp of adulthood finding themselves through seminal rock music while trying to piece together a relationship with their difficult parents. No surprise that Almost Famous has become the film used as a yardstick to Ang Lee's latest, as critics struggle to wonder what it is Lee brings to the table.
Taking Woodstock is the tale of Elliot Tiber (Demetri Martin), president of the Bethel Chamber of Commerce, who held the only permit for a music festival in the area (he planned to put on a chamber music show) and invited Woodstock's organisers to the town when they were denied a permit in the nearby town of Wallkill. Based on his autobiography, we join him as a young man struggling to maintain his parent's motel business and coming to terms with his sexuality.
Curiously enough, of the 9 reviews collected thus far on the Tomatometer, the five Rotten reviews come from American outlets and the four Fresh ones come from Brits, bringing in a score of 44%. But the opinions tend to be pretty cool across the board. "It's the most fun film in competition at Cannes so far," writes Kaleem Aftab for The Independent, "Alas, the fun does not last. Once the concert starts the film drops the comedy for a needless coming-of-age denouement."
Demetri Martin gets familiar with a dragged-up Liev Schrieber.
Kirk Honeycutt, for The Hollywood Reporter, was unimpressed. "It's a low-wattage film about a high-wattage event. Though you do get a thoughtful, playful, often amusing film about what happened backstage at one of the 60s great happenings." In the other trade, Variety, Todd McCarthy called it "A sort of let's-put-on-a-show summer-camp lark for director Ang Lee after the dramatic rigors of Brokeback Mountain and Lust, Caution."
The only dissenter was Damon Wise of Empire, who wrote, "Lee has done it again; he really has to be one of the most intelligent, subtle and all-round perfect directors working in the English language." Again making reference to Almost Famous, he adds, "What he has done here beats Cameron Crowe at his own game."
Whether the film will pick up slightly more stellar notices when it rolls out properly will remain to be seen -- the limited number of reviews logged is bound to skew the score a little -- but certainly it doesn't bode well for the Oscar-winning helmer.
One film that has been wowing critics, though, is Jacques Audiard's A Prophet, already standing out as one of the most praised films of the festival thus far. While there are only two full reviews on the Tomatometer, critics haven't stopped talking to us on the ground about the success of the film, and most are saying they think it's their favourite to date.
Jacques Audiard's A Prophet.
The tale of 19-year-old Malik, who's spent all his childhood in reform schools and is given six years in adult prison as the film starts, it's a powerful social realism with a compelling plot. When another prisoner arrives who has cut a deal with the authorities to testify against a Corsican organized crime gang -- who are running the prison -- Malik, who shares French/Arabic roots with the new prisoner, becomes embroiled in their plot to kill him.
Wendy Ide of The Times and Charles Gant of Heat both told RT that they loved the film, with Ide reporting that she was buzzing from the experience of seeing it. Jonathan Romney in Screen International wrote that it, "works both as hard-edged, painstaking detailed social realism and as a compelling genre entertainment."
He expands: "Immensely detailed both in its accounts of prison life and of the politics of organized crime, A Prophet comes across as both a realistic film and a deeply cynical one: it is extremely matter-of-fact in depicting a dog-eat-dog world."
Elsewhere, as part of the Un Certain Regard sidebar, Lee Daniels' Precious, with a cast including Mo'Nique, Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz and Paula Patton, has been drawing stellar notices, both in Cannes and earlier at its Sundance screening. It's the tale of a poor black teenager in Harlem, suffering terrible abuse at the hands of her parents and struggling to break out of the welfare cycle through education. Kicked out of her old high school for becoming pregnant (due to the abuse of her father) she joins a special learning programme and meets role models who help her keep her head above water.
Newcomer Gabourey Sidibe is outstanding in Precious.
RT saw the film ahead of lunch with the cast and crew earlier in the week (find out more here) and found it a harrowing, but ultimately uplifting experience, a viewpoint shared by critics. It's "a must-see portrait of life's underprivileged which is utterly compelling," according to Mike Goodridge for Screen International. "Comedienne Mo'Nique is sensational as the mother and her work in the confrontation scene at the film's finale is awards-worthy."
Awards talk continued in The Hollywood Reporter with Duane Byrge saying the film "may have no bounds in the awards categories." As well as Mo'Nique, much of the praise has gone to newcomer Gabourey Sidibe. Muses Goodridge, "[hers] is one of the most electrifying debuts in years."
Join us again tomorrow as Johnnie To's Vengeance injects some much-needed gunplay into the festival, and Alejandro Amenabar presents his ancient epic Agora. Keep an eye on our Cannes hub for everything related to the festival!