Tom Hanks, Scarlett Johansson join A-list invasion at Cannes

CANNES (AFP): A literal bus-load of Hollywood A-listers arrived in Cannes on Tuesday, including Scarlett Johansson and Tom Hanks, for the premiere of Wes Anderson’s strange blend of sci-fi and 1950s Westerns, “Asteroid City”.

The typically quirky movie is set in a remote desert town where a group of child geniuses gather for a science competition that is interrupted by an alien visitor.

It required a full-sized coach to bring the star-packed cast to the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival, including Hanks, Johansson, Steve Carell and Adrien Brody, to name just a few.

Anderson told AFP he wrote “Asteroid City” during the Covid-19 lockdown, saying it was about “reckoning with forces beyond your control”.

As usual with his films, it divided critics between those who love his obsessively stylised oddness and those who find it all too much.

There is “a madness to his method”, wrote Vulture, and that is what makes him “a great artist”.

But Deadline concluded that “general audiences, as opposed to art film aficionados, will be baffled as to what’s going on”.

The Cannes Film Festival has had a relentless stream of glitzy premieres since kicking off last week, including the new Indiana Jones and Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” with Leonardo DiCaprio.

– ‘Sordid male fantasy’ –

There was a shot of scandal with a sneak peek at “The Idol”, the new HBO show starring Lily-Rose Depp and Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye.

Due for release in June, it gives a nod to Britney Spears and the toxic fame that engulfed some ’90s pop stars, but has been plagued by rumours about onset turmoil and graphic sex scenes.

But Depp told reporters Tuesday that the accusations were “not reflective at all of my experience shooting the show”, adding that “the bareness of the character physically mirrors the bareness we get to see emotionally”.

Depp’s father, Johnny Depp, also caused an uproar with his appearance at the festival last week in his so-called “comeback” film, “Jeanne du Barry”, playing French King Louis XV.

In “The Idol”, she plays a pop star struggling to get back on track after a breakdown when she meets a manipulative cult leader played by Tesfaye.

While Depp’s performance was praised as “riveting”, many critics felt the copious sex scenes — including nudity, kinky masturbation and graphic talk — went too far.

Variety slammed its “tawdry cliches” and said the show “plays like a sordid male fantasy”.

“We know we are making a show that is provocative, it’s not lost on us,” director Sam Levinson, who also created “Euphoria”, told journalists.

– Palme race –

Meanwhile, the competition for the main prize at Cannes, the Palme d’Or, is heating up.

Jude Law has awed and disgusted cinemagoers with his portrayal of King Henry VIII in “Firebrand”.

“The Zone of Interest”, a unique and horrifying look at the private life of a Nazi officer working at the Auschwitz concentration camp, has been lavished with praise.

There was also a lot of love for Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore’s “May December”, which looks at the relationship between an older woman and a schoolboy, still married years after their relationship became a tabloid scandal.

A twisty courtroom drama about a woman accused of her husband’s murder, “Anatomy of a Fall”, is also seen as a front-runner.

There are still movies to come, including from past winners Ken Loach and Wim Wenders, ahead of the awards ceremony on Saturday.

Filmmakers grapple with ‘tectonic’ AI shift

At an AI talk on a Cannes beach, a presenter’s voice is cloned and used to say a random phrase in three languages, while another’s face is replaced live on screen as they speak.

Few of the film buffs attending the premiere industry festival are shocked.

Ever since the artificial intelligence chatbot ChatGPT took the world by storm six months ago, spurring an AI race among tech giants, the technology has shaken up the film industry.

The use of AI to write scripts is one of the leading concerns among Hollywood movie and TV writers who are in their third week of a strike that has upended productions.

However the technology is revolutionising everything from voice acting, to analysing scripts and coming up with a budget, to creating mock-ups of scenes before you even pick up a camera.

“New things are created every single day,” says Quinn Halleck, a 25-year-old filmmaker who is about to release a three-part short movie called “./ Sigma_001” which is about a sentient AI being, and uses AI from conception to marketing and distribution.

“It’s not just one tool, it’s sort of sprinkled throughout the workflow process,” he tells AFP on the sidelines of a panel on AI.

This ranges from asking ChatGPT what a character could be like, what her backstory is, and “riffing” off that to create ideas.

Telling an anecdote about a showrunner who hires writers by giving them the same prompt as he gives ChatGPT and seeing if they perform better, he argues the “bar has been raised” to come up with great ideas.

But while some assistant roles may disappear, he believes a human director remains essential.

“You still have to come up with the ideas, you have to create the prompts and curate the answers.”

– Deepfake technology –

The world’s leading film festival, taking place on the French Riviera, got a hefty dose of AI with a lengthy scene de-aging Harrison Ford, 80, in “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny”.

While producers have ruled out using AI to keep the role going, actors like Tom Hanks believe it will allow him to keep acting long after his death.

Hanks is currently being de-aged in his upcoming movie “Here”, with help from deepfake, face-swapping technology from AI firm Metaphysic.

The company’s co-founder Tom Graham says technology has bridged the so-called “uncanny valley” — the visceral human rejection of less-than-realistic androids — and is now creating deepfakes where you “absolutely can’t tell the difference”.

The company is behind Deepfake Tom Cruise, a TikTok account that perfectly imitates the actor, and also created a hyper-real Elvis Presley who morphed into Simon Cowell and his co-judges on an episode of “America’s Got Talent”.

While filmmakers are brimming with excitement over the technology’s potential, questions of its abuse hang over the session.

“This set of technologies represents, you know, a set of tectonic social shifts like the industrial revolution, which will play out over the next 20-50 years and people should be worried about what happens,” Graham tells AFP.

“Unfortunately, I don’t believe that you can stop the advancement of the technology because a lot of it is open source. There’s not really anything to turn off.”

His advice: “You should try to own and control the rights to your biometric data, how you sound, how you look, and really kind of lock that down.”

– Voice cloning –

Magdalena Zielinska of ElevenLabs in Poland which claims to have created the “most expressive” AI voices available, says tools to check if a voice is synthetic will be essential.

Unlike the robotic AI voices of the past, models have learned to replicate the pace and intonation of human voices.

She says the tool allows directors to see how a scene will sound, or advertisers to see what kind of voice resonates most with clients. It can also be used to fix problems in post-production.

Zielinska says the technology could allow an actor to license their voice and do more projects at the same time.

A voice actor who fled the war in Ukraine was struggling to find work in Poland, and is “now making money”, she says, after using the technology to clean up his English accent.

French director Mathias Chelebourg foresees that 90 percent of overall production will eventually be done by AI on movie sets.

“Hire right now an AI specialist in your team, whatever your job is, and hire it now, because in one year you will regret it,” he warns.