‘The Hummingbird Project’ Film Review: Jesse Eisenberg Launches an Overly Ambitious Scheme, and Ultimately, So’s the Movie

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One millisecond is a nearly infinitesimal fraction of time. Heck, it just took you about a thousand milliseconds to read the words: “one millisecond.” So telling a story about a high-stakes race to convey information one measly millisecond faster than anybody else sounds like an exercise in making a heck of a lot of ado over, quite literally, almost nothing.

Thankfully, Kim Nguyen’s “The Hummingbird Project” is in on the joke. It’s a dryly humorous caper about a pair of cousins, Vincent (Jesse Eisenberg) and Anton (Alexander Skarsgård), who scheme to build a fiberoptic pipeline from Kansas City to New Jersey under the nose of their wealthy ex-employer, Eva Torres (Salma Hayek). Once built, their connection to the stock exchange will be one millisecond faster than anyone else’s, and that’s all the time they need to make a fortune.

Yes, that’s it; that’s their whole plan. They may be somewhat unethical, but they’re hardly Lex Luthor and Eric Northman. Vincent and Anton pitch their idea to legitimate investors and then try to charm and (when necessary) drink the allegorical milkshakes of the various landowners who stand in the way of them digging a modest-width, albeit incredibly long, hole in the ground.

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Nguyen, director of the Oscar-nominated “War Witch,” plays most of “The Hummingbird Project” like an old-school heist movie, complete with fast-talking cons and schematics every which way. The cognitive disconnect between how serious Vincent and Anton take their mission and the mundanity of actually digging holes is inherently funny, and Nguyen milks that contrast for delicious irony and, eventually, some only partly-earned pathos.

“The Hummingbird Project” is the kind of film where Salma Hayek says, as she reaches out to a colleague, “You don’t have to hide behind this gimmicky neutrino-messaging bullsh*t,” as if she doesn’t sound like she’s reading stereo instructions. The playful score by Yves Gourmeur (“Méprises”) and sharp, serious cinematography by Nicolas Bolduc (“Enemy”) are also whimsically at odds with one another. It’s a film that owns its contrasts, that’s for certain.

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But although the story of “The Hummingbird Project” begins with a slick, Soderbergh-ian heist mentality, it gradually evolves into a rather sad tale about what a waste of time it is to try to steal a millisecond. As one of our protagonists wrestles with his mortality, and his decision to build the pipeline even if it literally kills him, the other expands his consciousness to acknowledge that all their effort to make a few insanely rich investors just a little bit richer does absolutely nothing to help the people working at the companies in which they’re actually investing.

That’s a thoughtful approach to a film like this but sadly, “The Hummingbird Project” doesn’t earn its enlightened conclusion. Most of the characters are eccentric, sometimes to the point of caricature; that, or they merely serve a function to the plot. Eisenberg seems to be playing a significantly less successful version of his Mark Zuckerberg character in “The Social Network,” with all the detachment and scheming but almost none of the skills to back up his bravado. Eisenberg is great at that, but it doesn’t do much to earn our empathy.

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Meanwhile, Skarsgård plays a genius whose behavior would seem to indicate that he’s on the spectrum, although that’s never directly addressed. The actor appears to relish playing a brainy character: It looks like he dove headfirst into the electric razor that gave him a huge receding hairline. And it’s exceedingly amusing, for those who relish hackneyed moments of inspiration in movies, to see him amble from one seemingly random moment to another, in search of the big “eureka” that will solve all his problems and finally buy them that extra millisecond. Will he find a way to skip junctions after he tries skipping stones? No. Will he realize that fiberoptic cables are affected by water after he picks up the frog? No. You’ll see what it is, and if you’re into meta-narratives, you’ll probably be happy with its banality.

But all this whimsy does little to address the film’s frustratingly simple conclusions about life, the universe and everything. One of the characters basically comes right out and says, like he’s the biggest genius of them all, that the real treasure was the friends they made along the way. At that point “The Hummingbird Project” goes from ironic to trite in — it seems — less than a millisecond.

“The Hummingbird Project” is most of a great movie. Amiable performances and a deft pace combine with high-contrast storytelling, and the results are generally engaging. Sometimes funny, sometimes smart, always watchable, but perhaps the film’s dedication to turning a clever tale into something profound was a miscalculation. Perhaps there were simply better ways to spend the time.



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Salma Hayek and Alec Baldwin Comedy ‘Drunk Parents’ Heads to Vertical, DirecTV

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Salma Hayek and Alec Baldwin’s “Drunk Parents” has sold U.S. distribution rights to Vertical Entertainment and DirecTV.

The Bron Studios production, which also stars Jim Gaffigan, Joe Manganiello and Ben Platt, will see theatrical release from Vertical with a pre-release VOD window on DirecTV.

Directed by Fred Wolf, who co-wrote the screenplay with Peter Gaulke, the film centers on the attempt of  “two parents to hide their ever-increasing financial difficulties from their daughter and social circle through elaborate neighborhood schemes which take their lives on a hilarious downward spiral,” a synopsis said.

The film is slated to hit in the first quarter of 2019.

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The deal involved Rich Goldberg and Peter Jarowey at Vertical with Anjay Nagpal of Bron Studios, and was settled at the Toronto Film Festival.

Bron co-produced with Fortitude International, in association with Creative Wealth Media. Rob Barnum and Aaron L. Gilbert produced, with Jason Cloth, David Friendly and Fortitude’s Nadine de Barros serving as executive producers.

Wolf is represented by UTA, Fourth Wall and Morris Yorn Barnes.

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Salma Hayek-Produced Mexican Series ‘Monarca’ Picked Up by Netflix

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Netflix has picked up Mexican drama “Monarca” from Salma Hayek’s Ventanarosa, as the streamer continues to build out its international output.

The new series starring, Irene Azuela and Juan Manuel Bernal, will follow the world of wealthy Mexican elites riddled by corruption, scandal and violence. The series will be produced by Hayek’s company, Ventanarosa, along with Lemon Studios and Stearns Castle.

Per Netflix, “Monarca” is a high stakes, multi-generational family saga about a tequila-born Mexican business empire, and the battle that ensues when a member of the family decides to fight the dirty system her family helped create.

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“I’m extremely excited to partner with Netflix, and to be working with amazing Mexican talent in front of and behind the camera. We are proud to show Mexico as a vibrant, sophisticated and culturally rich nation, fighting to control its own destiny,” said Hayek.

The series will begin production this fall and launch globally in 2019.

“Mexico is a top priority for us in which to continue to develop series,” said Erik Barmack, vice president, international originals. “We look forward to bringing the best originals to the world through partnerships with key players such as Ventanarosa and Lemon Studios.”

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Netflix Orders Salma Hayek-Produced Mexican Drama Series ‘Monarca’, Starring Irene Azuela & Juan Manuel Bernal

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Cannes Report, Day 6: Harvey’s Ghost, Fainting Over Lars Von Trier

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It’s been almost a week dodging raindrops and “No Selfies on the Red Carpet” warnings at the Cannes Film Festival, where all cylinders seem to be firing for filmmakers, sales agents and newsmaking stars in town.

The banished-ish Lars Von Trier (“Melancholia,” “Antichrist”) returns to the festival after a seven year absence over a press conference blunder where the director said he had some sympathy for Adolf Hitler.

His latest, “The House That Jack Built,” has a first look trailer — and, as social media tells it, has festival organizers preparing for extreme reactions from the crowd.

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Elsewhere, the conversation about former Cannes stalwart Harvey Weinstein continues as embedded festival media reflect on his absence. In diametric opposition, the gender parity conversation moves from the red carpet to the big screen as films reflect a world fighting the patriarchy.

Here’s what’s shaking in the South of France today:

Lars and His New “House” 

Much has been made of Von Trier’s return after being declared persona non grata by the festival in 2011, but little has been shared about what he’s bringing to the table in “The House That Jack Built.”

Ahead of his Monday night premiere, IFC Films dropped a teaser trailer for the Matt Dillon film and it’s a doozy. The ’80s heartthrob appears to be a haphazard serial killer in throws of an existential crisis.  Uma Thurman and Riley Keough make Hitchcockian blonde cameos as Von Trier seems to be commenting on his own body of work through Dillon’s character.

“Some people think that the atrocities we commit in our fiction are those inner desires we cannot commit in our controlled civilization,” Dillon’s character muses in between bashing Thurman in the face with a car jack, imprisoning Keough in a hotel room and dragging a body from the back of a van as blood spills out onto the highway. Cute!

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In the official Cannes program, a warning appears next to the film’s schedule times: “Certain scenes are likely to offend the sensitivity of the spectators.”

There’s even speculation on Twitter that the festival is putting medics on standby should moviegoers faint during the screening.

Here’s the trailer:



 The Fallen “King of Cannes”

On the heels of Salma Hayek’s comments that Harvey Weinstein openly discredited her abuse claims because she’s a woman of color, one critic reflected on the disgraced mogul’s absence.

“The late Harvey Weinstein (well, it feels that way) was famous for bossing the Croisette with his uniquely charming blend of proximal aggression and creative vulgarity,” writes The Irish Times film critic Donald Clarke.

He recounted a Weinstein anecdote about meeting Prince Albert of Monaco, who was allegedly introduced to the monarch by Roger Ebert as “the King of Cannes.”

A king no longer.

“The most horrible manifestations of his power lunacy have, following revelations last October, led to his virtual banishment from Cannes,” the critic said.

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Equity On Film 

TheWrap touched this week on the blazing dominance of women in Cannes this year, from jurors Cate Blanchett and Ava DuVernay protesting on the Croisette to Monday’s pledge from festival organizers to level a massive programming gender gap .

The unifying sentiment is perhaps a direct response to the toxic Hollywood culture exposed in the Weinstein scandal — and now it’s showing up on screen.

“Girls of the Sun” takes a hardened look at a female Kurdish unit fighting ISIS, and is being interpreted as a prism for the real-world events unfolding around the festival.

“If this year is one of reckoning for women, then ‘Girls of the Sun,’ screening in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, is the film for this era,” our own Sharon Waxman, founder and editor of TheWrap. wrote of the film.

“Any number of scenes swing between pathos and horror, but the film cannot possibly exaggerate the horrors that women in this part of the world have actually lived,” Waxman said.

Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times singled out “Girls” and  Jafar Panahi’s “3 Faces” as titles that “battle the patriarchy.”

As political and empowering as it is to see parity steal Cannes’ thunder, it’s nice to see these social anxieties and battle cries for change show up in the movies. It’s a film festival, after all.

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Cannes Report, Day 5: Salma Hayek Sounds Off, Gaspar Noé Redeemed

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It’s raining in France as we reach the halfway point of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, where a gender parity conversation has taken center stage and filmmakers continue to serve up their wares.

Speaking at the annual Kering Women in Motion panel, Salma Hayek touched on the scorched-earth op-ed she wrote last year about working with disgraced mogul Harvey Weinstein.

Polarizing provocateur Gaspar Noe returns after his 3D sexcapade “Love” from 2015 — and managed to win over critics with a dance-infused horror film (we’ll still never forgive him for this poster).

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Salma Speaks

When the “Beatriz at Dinner” star is wired with a mic. you can pretty much guarantee you’re in for some straight talk.

Hayek sat for a keynote conversation at the annual Kering panel about women in entertainment, where she first discussed the historic gesture made on Saturday by 82 women who stormed the Croisette in silence to protest the lack of equity in Hollywood.

“As a woman who has been a part of this community and had to go through the struggle all women have had to go through … it’s an important step to see this happen,” Hayek said.

Discussion turned to her harrowing account of working with Weinstein on a biopic of Frida Kahlo, where she said she relentlessly refused the disgraced producer’s advances and suffered emotional torture. It was one of the few accounts Weinstein responded to, notably to deny all accusations and express shock and disbelief.

“We are the easiest to get discredited,” Hayek said specifically of women of color, alluding to a similar account from Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o. “It is a well-known fact. So he went back, attacking the two women of color, in hopes that if he could discredit us.”

Gaspar Noé Finds Life After Love

Cannes has its share of black sheeps and prodigal sons — like the returning tornado of Lars Von Trier and the prolific and occasionally petulant Xavier Dolan. Gaspar Noe is no different — he of the notably explicit and controversial “Love,” a graphic 3D love triangle tale that fully depicted a variety of sex acts on top of his narrative.

Now he brings “Climax,” which despite what the title suggests is a not a sequel to “Love.”

It’s a trippy dance movie that evolves into a horror film, and it’s majorly won over critics. One described the film as a cross between Darren Aronofsky’s “mother!” and the “Step Up” franchise.

24 hours ago I would not have predicted that CLIMAX would be my easy favorite of fest, and yet here we are #Cannes2018 https://t.co/JBlXidOJDP

— Emily Yoshida (@emilyyoshida) May 13, 2018

Woke up to Cannes Twitter telling me Gaspar Noé’s latest is basically his version of a STEP UP movie and god just pour it into my eyeballs right now please

— Alison Willmore (@alisonwillmore) May 13, 2018

My review of Climax (dir. Gaspar Noé) is up here: https://t.co/thF7zLLg7H #Cannes2018 #Cannes71 #Cannes

— Peter Bradshaw (@PeterBradshaw1) May 13, 2018

Here’s the brand-new trailer for Gaspar Noe’s CLIMAX, which just premiered at Cannes and I love it so much pic.twitter.com/GayY6A0iMC

— Kyle Buchanan (@kylebuchanan) May 13, 2018

Need to catch up on Cannes? Read TheWrap’s daily coverage:

Day 4

Day 3

Day 2

Day 1

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