The Cannes Film Festival may be home to international arthouse auteurs with names like Godard, Dardenne, Assayas, Leigh, Loach and Wenders, but it also makes room for good old American showmanship from moguls named Katzenberg and Weinstein.
And on Friday, those two men – DreamWorks Animation’s Jeffrey Katzenberg and TWC’s Harvey Weinstein – were front and center on the Croisette as Katzenberg celebrated the 20th anniversary of his company with the world premiere of “How To Train Your Dragon 2” half an hour and a block away from the hotel where Weinstein staged his annual presentation of what’s in the works at his company.
The Katzenberg event was the bigger and glitzier of the two. A black-tie premiere at the Grand Theatre Lumiere, after all, is serious business, even if a giant dragon walks the red carpet and the tuxedoes and gowns are accessorized for the night with 3D glasses.
Festival director Thierry Fremaux broke with protocol and introduced Katzenberg, director Dean DuBlois and actors Cate Blanchett, Jay Baruchel and America Ferrera from the stage.
And while “Dragon 2” isn’t going to make Cannes’ most ardent cinephiles forget about Mike Leigh or Nuri Bilge Ceylan, it turned out to be an exuberant thrill ride with a heart – a state-of-the-art piece of animation that like its predecessor never feels tied to a single moment in time and pop culture the way some DWA movies have been.
DeBlois and producer Bonnie Arnold have upped the ante in terms of spectacular visuals and the sheer number of dragons – they must have spent the four years in between movies just designing more of the critters. Occasionally it all gets a bit too frantic, as is often the case with films like these.
But it is also genuinely touching – and crucially, the final action scene is a case of the filmmakers figuring out the best way to resolve things, not the biggest way.
The first “Dragon” came out at the wrong time of year to be part of Katzenberg’s annual excursion to Cannes, so DeBlois and Arnold were beaming at the post-premiere party as they accepted congratulations on a night that had ended with an extended standing ovation.
“For us to have our world premiere here is the ultimate,” DeBlois told TheWrap, while Arnold admitted that there’s been talk of a “Dragons 3” – “but we just finished this one two weeks ago, so I’m not ready to talk about that yet.”
Up the street at the Majestic a few hours earlier, Harvey Weinstein had engaged in an annual ritual of his own: gathering press and international buyers to give them a look at what his company has in the works, bringing with him stars Ryan Reynolds, Naomi Watts and Eva Green, along with director Ned Benson.
In the past, the Weinstein Cannes reel has occasionally seemed like a rehearsal for awards season, but that wasn’t exactly the case this year. The lengthiest clip was probably from “Paddington,” which seems to up the slapstick ante considerably as it adapts the British children’s books.
In conjunction with its new partner Worldview Entertainment, TWC also showcased the upcoming”Begin Again” along with “The Giver,” “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For,” “Under Dogs,” “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby,” “St. Vincent,” “The Imitation Game,” “Big Eyes,” “Suite Francaise,” “Macbeth,” “Southpaw” and “Woman in Gold” in a 24-minute presentation that mostly stuck to the film’s trailers rather than granting extended looks of anything.
Notably missing from the presentation was TWC’s widely-panned “Grace of Monaco,” and Weinstein was cagey when asked by reporters afterwards when he planned to release the film.
He did, however, slam a British newspaper in his opening remarks for implying that he had deliberately missed the film’s Cannes gala, when in fact he said he and his wife were on a trip to Jordan that had been planned long before “Grace of Monaco” was chosen to open the festival.
The glimpses of “Macbeth,” with Michael Fassbender as Shakespeare’s tragic hero and Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth, were the most intriguing and promising of the presentation, though the Bard is hardly a sure bet with American audiences.
Other potential highlights included “Big Eyes,” Tim Burton’s take on ’60s kitsch artist Walter Keane and his wife Margaret, which seemed to have the potential to bring out the best in the idiosyncratic director; “St. Vincent,” a grumpy-old-man-befriends-the-boy-next-door story that might be too heartwarming if the man weren’t played by the distinctly and deliciously un-heartwarming Bill Murray; “The Imitation Game,” which looks exciting as it tells the story of the Brits (led by Benedict Cumberbatch) who cracked Nazi Germany’s Enigma code in World War II; and “Begin Again” and “Eleanor Rigby,” both of which are known quantities after their smashing debuts at last year’s Toronto Film Festival.
The presentation was long on films that didn’t bear a distinctive Weinstein stamp (“The Giver,” “Under Dogs,” “Paddington” … ) and short on sure-fire awards plays, though the audience perked up with Watts and Reynolds took the stage to plug their appearances in “St. Vincent” and “Woman in Gold,” respectively. The latter tells the story of a Jewish Holocaust survivor suing the Austrian government for the return of a magnificent Klimt painting taken from her family by the Nazis. (“Sin City” star Eva Green was on hand but she had to leave before the presentation reel concluded.)
Standing next to Weinstein, Reynolds said of his role in “Woman in Gold,” “I believe I was born to play a Jewish restitution lawyer, and I’m very happy to be in business with this man.”