CANNES, FRANCE — Nobody can sell a movie like Harvey Weinstein.
As the co-chairman (with brother Bob) of The Weinstein Company, and before that Miramax films, he’s the movie impresario who turned art house films into mainstream attractions and Academy Awards campaigning into a blood sport.
He’s amassed enough golden hardware to make any mantelpiece shudder, among them Best Picture wins for The English Patient, Shakespeare in Love, Chicago, The King’s Speech and The Artist.
He’s a combination of carnival barker and rainmaker, commonly referred to as Harvey because, hey, who else would we be talking about?
So when Harvey Weinstein summons the press hordes to attend his annual dog-and-pony show at the Cannes Film Festival, essentially hijacking us from our movie-watching duties, people pay heed and show up. Even if it means blowing off a competition screening for a Palme d’Or-contending film.
Which is what happened Thursday night. Instead of catching the 4:45 p.m. showing of Son of Saul, the Holocaust drama that is the feature debut of promising Hungarian director Laszlo Nemes, hundreds of Harvey watchers crammed into a sweltering ballroom at the Hotel Majestic Barrière on the Croisette, for a chance to nibble on free snacks, drink from a free bar and to watch a “sizzle reel” of short clips from upcoming TWC offerings.
Among them was Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, the eighth movie by the director of Pulp Fiction, which won the Palme d’Or in 1994.
It’s also the eighth film that Harvey has made with Tarantino, a fact happily made note of when our host suddenly appeared on stage to greet us, dressed in an untucked white dress shirt and black slacks, that made him look like a guru of some kind.
“It’s the best marriage I’ve had — don’t tell Georgina!” Harvey joked, referring to his second wife, Georgina Chapman.
It was the possibility that Tarantino might also be at the event that likely encouraged many people to show up. He’s always good for a quote or three about the state of movies, as when he made an unscheduled appearance at Cannes last year to decry digital projection as the death of film.
But at the very least, we’d be seeing footage of a new Tarantino movie — The Hateful Eight is due later this year — and that’s always an event.
Tarantino didn’t show, although Harvey did manage to snag two members of the Palme d’Or jury, Jake Gyllenhaal and Sienna Miller, who may also have been playing hooky from their official Cannes duties. They were there to help promote TWC, in particular two films they’ll be appearing in: Gyllenhaal in the Antoine Fuqua’s boxing drama Southpaw and Miller in John Wells’ comedy Adam Jones, which stars Bradley Cooper as a take-no-prisoners celebrity chef.
Also on hand to spread the TWC gospel was Alicia Vikander, the Swedish actress who is currently the hottest thing going, thanks to her mesmerizing turn as an extremely lifelike robot in Alex Garland’s sci-fi drama Ex Machina.
Clearly Harvey’s new “It Girl,” she has a small role in Adam Jones and a leading one in Justin Chadwick’s Tulip Fever, a period romance set in the art world of the Amsterdam of the 17th century.
It was all very jolly as the sizzle reel proceeded, showing advance clips that included three films premiering this week at the festival: Todd Haynes’ Carol and Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth, both in contention for the Palme; and Mark Osborne’s animated children’s film The Little Prince, which will screen out of competition.
But a funny thing happened on the way to The Hateful Eight, which Harvey had cannily saved until the very last of the approximately 35-minute reel. The sizzle was turning into fizzle.
The movies all started to blur into each other — what, there’s going to be two boxing pics from TWC? (The other is Hands of Stone, the Roberto Duran biopic directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz, starring Edgar Ramirez and Robert De Niro).
Then came The Hateful Eight, finally, but what brief footage we saw of it makes it seem as if Tarantino just brought together some of his favourite actors — including Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth and Michael Madsen — into one room to glower at and talk tough to each other.
I didn’t hear a single memorable line, unlike three years ago when a Harvey event at Cannes unveiled Tarantino’s Django Unchained, Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master and David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook.
Now that was a sizzle reel. Maybe Harvey was trying to sell too much to too many people this year. Maybe I didn’t drink enough of the free rosé.
Or maybe I should stop doubting and start believing that when the time comes to fully unleash these pics to the world, Harvey will make them all seem like the second coming of electricity.
After the Harvey event, I got in line for the 10 p.m. screening of Son of Saul. On the way, I got a “Royale with Cheese” at the McDonald’s across from the Palais, fondly remembering John Travolta’s riff from Pulp Fiction.
Now that was a burger.