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Jones ‘Homesman’ draws warm applause Stallone’s arthritic heroes roll tanks through Cannes

CANNES, France, May 18, (Agencies): Tommy Lee Jones on Sunday premiered his Cannes contender “The Homesman”, a women-driven Western starring fellow Oscar winners Hilary Swank and Meryl Streep that turns the genre on its head. The film, which drew warm applause and largely positive reviews after a press preview, marked Jones’s second directorial outing at the world’s top film festival, following 2005’s “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada”. Like that film, “The Homesman” takes a critical look at the defining narratives of US history including Manifest Destiny, the notion that Americans had a divine right and obligation to settle the continent. Swank plays a pious unmarried woman who keeps a farm on her own in the Nebraska Territory in the 1850s. Already 31, she is considered too old and “plain” to be wife material. In a humiliating put-down, a local yokel rejects her proposal of marriage, calling her “too bossy”. When the local pastor (John Lithgow) tells her about three women driven mad by the harsh life on the plains, she agrees to take them back East to a minister’s wife (Streep, who did not attend the post-screening press conference) who will return them to their families.

Before she leaves, she comes upon an old boozer (Jones) perched on a horse who has been strung up with a noose for squatting another man’s house. She agrees to cut him free if he’ll accompany her on the dangerous journey to Iowa. Loaded into the wagon are the three women who had gone West with their new husbands with the promise of prosperity and adventure but once settled, had their sanity stolen by tragedy, deprivation and violence. Jones said the myths of American life were a driving issue behind the film, which he also co-wrote, including the white supremacy that fuelled the massacre of the native population. “I won’t try to hide the fact that a consideration of American imperialism on the west side of the Mississippi... was the underlying theme,” he said. He said women had paid a high price as part of that history, which he described as “the origin of the female condition today”.

“I don’t think there’s a woman in this room who’s never felt objectified or trivialised because of her gender. There’s a reason for that, there’s a history of that, and I think that’s an interesting thing,” he said. “The journey in this movie is the inverse of what you usually see in a movie that has wagons and horses in it. The subject matter is women, insane women, and so-called heroic men.” Reprising his irascible screen character, Jones often bristled at reporters’ questions, snapping at one point “I don’t know what ‘genre’ means” when asked about his unconventional take on the Western. Swank, who picked up Academy Awards for her roles in “Boys Don’t Cry” and “Million Dollar Baby”, said she was eager to play another “intense, strong” woman. This is a film about “ultimately, how much a person can take,” she said.

Meanwhile, tanks rolled down the beachfront in Cannes on Sunday, as Sylvester Stallone led an invasion of action stars “with arthritis” to publicise “The Expendables 3”. Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mel Gibson waved at fans from three tanks that drove slowly down the main boulevard in the French Riviera town where the international film festival is in its fifth day. The film, which is not in competition, also features Harrison Ford, Antonio Banderas, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren and Wesley Snipes and the cast was asked by reporters to describe just what makes a good action star. “You have to be incredibly intelligent, handsome, sexy, good teeth, high IQ, a lot of hair...” Stallone joked. “What makes the audience like a person, it’s not a matter of muscles,” he told a press conference. “There’s something that’s almost intangible and I don’t know what it is, but I know it’s very rare because there have only been about 15 action heroes, real serious ones, in history.”

Stallone, one of the film’s writers, said it took three movies to get the “Expendables” formula just right, judging the first as being too violent and the second too soft. “I believe we finally got it right in the third one — kind of like marriage.” Stallone acknowledged that he and the rest of the cast belonged to a “different generation”, but still had the energy and drive to make an exciting, contemporary film. “We’re all like very adult children,” Stallone said. “We are children with arthritis. We are young forever.” The third instalment of the franchise sees Barney Ross (Stallone) bringing in new blood to his team of mercenaries to take on Conrad Stonebanks (Gibson), a former comrade now seeking to eradicate the group.

One of the newbies is played by Kelsey Grammar, best known for his role as the pompous psychiatrist on the television sitcom, “Frasier,” which ran for over a decade on NBC before ending in 2004. “Although I feel like I’m new to action films, my star is just rising,” Grammar joked. “Expendables 3” wasn’t the only big-budget franchise trying to grab attention at the festival. The cast of the latest “Hunger Games” movie, “Mockingjay Part 1”, walked a red carpet for photographers on Saturday night, advertising the film due for release in November. When Jennifer Lawrence, who plays protagonist Katniss Everdeen, was asked why there should be so much fuss about a film not even showing at the festival, the actress was quick with a response: “Because so much money went in to it.” “I’m kidding!” she added. “Because they’re great movies and we have an amazing audience and a great following and ... Whoops!”

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