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Archive for the ‘Cate Blanchett’ Category

The Missing

24 Feb

The Missing – Directed by Ron Howard. Western. 137 minutes Color 2003.

★★★★★

The Story: An Apache brujo, or male witch, and his gang steal young women to be sold in Mexico, but the mother and grandfather and tiny sister of one of them track them through the New Mexico winter wilderness to recover her.

~

Of course, it’s a marvelous story beautifully set in that strange land. Cate Blanchette, who seems to fit into every part she is given, here leads the way as the mother. She is accompanied by her father, a fake Indian Chirhucawa, played by Tommy Lee Jones.

But the performance to behold is that of Eric Schweig as the witch – master of snakes and spells. With a strand of Cate’s hair, he can summon spirits to travel miles to kill our Cate, and he almost succeeds. His face, his bearing, his eyes – you will never forget them. At least I won’t. It’s a beautiful piece of work by a fine artist.

The chase takes place on horseback. The three year old, Dot, Cate her mother, and grandfather Jones spend most of their time on horseback riding through the land of enchantment. What a strange world!

The underlying problem in this pursuit is that Cate detests Jones, who has much to atone for that seems unatonable. So that matter clatters in every hoof beat.

The final standoff is not properly staged. The use of fire-arrows does not work. The whole session is not scary enough. Still we regard with respect the narrowing of Blanchett’s remarkable, wide-spaced eyes as she fires her rifle into the brains of the marauders.

The Missing is a big Western, like Shane and High Noon and Stagecoach. It encloses a lot of territory in its allegory. The sets and costumes are first class. Elizabeth Moss, Evan Rachel Wood, Aaron Eckhart, and Val Kilmer fill out the cast. If you like the genre you will be happy to watch it unfold, and besides there’s Eric Schweig forever to haunt your dreams.

 

Carol

31 Dec

Carol – directed by Todd Haynes. Drama. 118 minutes Color 2015.

★★★★

The Story: A Park Avenue woman takes up with a shopgirl and she with her in a relationship whose seriousness jeopardizes their lives.

~

The idea that this picture is about a lesbian relationship seems besides the point when actually watching it. For the environment of its story is also the story, and to define the movie in genital or sexually deviant terms seems vulgar and beside the point.

The relationship progresses in slow stages, but these stages are rendered through the lens of the setting of such love itself, not directly, but indirectly. The surroundings, that’s what we see and want to see, because the film makes us recognize surroundings as the kind permission and very condition of love – we who have ever known such a passion as is before us here. Unacknowledged setting is the sine qua non and soil of passion.

That is to say, the film is rendered through and as two simultaneous and converging stories, the more important and potent of which is that such love generates itself into being in half-tones, is experienced through doors partly closed, looking out car windows none of the landscape of which has any registration but has carrying power in that it provides the mundane context of Cupid’s wings gently fluttering out of sight behind His back all along. It doesn’t matter what it is.

The banal is the secret doily of love’s Valentine. The ordinary. The every-day. How cigarettes are needed, run out of. How a sales supervisor in a department store can create the very prison of disapproval on which such love will be forced into flower. How a child’s nurse must be reprimanded with a forbidding tone of voice.

The motels, the diners, the friends of the family – things of no importance actually provide the screen and fortress behind which and before which passion plants itself and thrives.

I stopped reading the novels of Janet Highsmith years ago, so I have not read this one. But I suspect the one fault of the film is in the screen writers being too respectful of one of the two women described in the book. Cate Blanchette plays the older one, the Park Avenue lady, and is superb. Rooney Mara plays the shopgirl, and she is good too. The trouble is that she is written as a little grey mouse, and it won’t do. It probably did well enough in the book. But the film needs a different contrast of types, one in whom we can take some interest. For our interest should be the same as Cate Blanchett’s – we’ve got to see what the heck she sees in her! It needed to be either written differently or cast with an actress with a strong personal quality – think of a young Julie Harris in the role – or both.

The film is majestically directed. Haynes’ sense of the ’50s is 100% better now. I lived through that time and I know. Beautiful Packards and Lincolns. Perfectly costumed. Perfect settings. It is shot with noble beauty by Edward Lachman, who also shot Haynes’ Far From Heaven and Mildred Pierce. Exquisite.

Carol is worthwhile watching for everyone with an adult within them.

 

Truth

17 Nov

Truth – written and directed by James Vanderbilt. Docudrama. 125 minutes Color 2105.

★★★★★

The Story: a presidential scandal is discovered by CBS news, aired, and then called into question.

~

Truth – a good title when so many of us now feel that the news media is lying to us, or prevaricating, or decorating the truth. We now have pretty people voicing what? The moment of Truth is perhaps where this public corruption began.

The virtue of a written news report in a newspaper is that it is the work of one bylined journalist, at the scene. The difficulty of TV and radio journalism, on the other hand, is that the work appears to be done by journalist anchorperson, but is not done by the anchorperson, but by folks behind the scene, a group, a staff. This TV system makes in-depth investigation possible, because it includes big research teams; it leads to perhaps better and thorough verification of assertions. But it also leads to groupspeak. And it also makes such groups vulnerable to management for reasons outside the purview of the fourth estate, as takes place here in the case of Dan Rather.

I worked at CBS News in the early ‘60s. We were lodged in cramped offices on Lexington near Grand Central. It was the moment when Charles Collingwood was leaving CBS news and Walter Cronkite was taking over. I was a person of no importance there; I typed up the monitor for them – so badly, I wonder they could read it. I don’t remember a vast staff, a fancy studio. But one thing is sure: personal presentation counted for a lot. Collingwood was a handsome man; Cronkite a reassuring one. The word itself was, of necessity, secondary to these worthy facades.

Robert Redford plays Dan Rather here, the anchorman for CBS’s 60 Minutes. Rather could not have been better cast. Like an anchorman, Redford has always been an actor who presented a general impression. He was not so much an individual as an ideal type, the type of a handsome blond male of unassailable masculinity and no particular flaw. He filled a bill. Never an actor of rash gifts, his direct opposite as a film star would be James Cagney, a flaw incarnate, someone who could never in million years be cast as an anchorman.

Redford does a great job with this role. The Dan Rather we are shown is just, balanced, fair – and amiable to his staff and to those he interviews – a man of considerable character. The scenes Redford is called upon to enact are among the strongest in the film.

Behind him is his head producer, Mary Mapes, and Truth is essentially her story. Cate Blanchette is an actress at the top of her game, just now, so it’s gratifying to see her seize the role between her teeth and shake it this way and that. I say “the role” and not “the character”. There is really no character here; there is the actress playing scenes. Such is the way it is written. She’s very good. She is playing off her personality, which is certainly good enough.

Truth lies parallel to another big film just now, Spotlight, which, like Truth, gives us the Boston Globe gathering of another great scandal, the collusion of The Catholic Church in the molestation by priests of children. Truth gathers the behind the scenes drama of the story of George W. Bush’s Air National Guard AWOL, an indictment which is obviously true, nailed by the big tablecloth speech of Blanchette at the close.

Elizabeth Moss and Dennis Quaid play members of the Rather team. Stacy Keach is wonderful as the suspect source of the story, and Noni Hazlehurst is outstanding as his wife, steamrollered by the network.

Bring yourself to both these films. The tendency to release biopics as Oscar contenders at the end of the year is part of life nowadays. Neither drama for itself alone, comedy for itself alone have remained worthy our contemplation. But still, see Spotlight and see Truth. And ask yourself: what is to be done?

 

 

 

 

 

Pushing Tin

03 Oct

Pushing Tin – directed by Mike Newell. Comedy. 124 minutes Color 1999.

★★★★★

The Story: Complications arise in a group of air traffic controllers when an out-of-town expert arrives.

~

Here is a near masterpiece.

The farther you get into it the more a masterpiece it remains until it nears the end and blows apart with an exaggeration so blatant the plot thereafter sticks out like a compound fracture, and it becomes another picture altogether.

And you can’t have that because the story is not driven by plot but by the nature and interior operations of the two male protagonists.

The first of these is John Cusack who is at the top of his very high form here. Everything he does is right, telling, interesting. Everything he does throws you into the character. And when that happens you know that the story must resolve itself through the machinations of what he is and may become.

The second protagonist is played by Billy Bob Thornton.

Now when you are dealing with Billy Bob Thornton, you are dealing with Vesuvius. He is therefore an actor of preternatural calm. This makes him dangerous. It also makes him attentive, which also makes him dangerous. Flat of voice, which also does. Of unmatchable screen presence, which does not detract from his danger. Volatile. Rash. Impatient. Devoid of sentiment. Sardonic. Patient. Rash. Ruthless. All of which make him dangerous and add up to an aura of Mastery. Beware of actors with three names: if you closed your eyes, he is Tommy Lee Jones.

The comedy is set in the flight control conning tower of the Newark Airport, where 7,000 airplanes a day must be herded without barging into one another. These two characters are on a collision course, because Cusack conceives himself as king of the mountain and in competition with Thornton even before Thornton arrives on site.

Each round of the competition escalates to the next, starting with shooting hoops, progressing to the sexual conquest of each other’s wives, and once this level is reached, the forces of morality and morale collide inside Cusack, as the last competition leaves the two men in the emergency of handling the entire air over Newark alone.

But this takes place under a bomb threat which clears the conning tower of all personnel. That is to say, it is run by an external force. It needed instead to run by an internal force. It needed to be set in the mechanical breakdown of all flight control stations but two. It needed to be played with the other controllers rooting for them, betting on them, and distracting them as the two save all the planes coming in.

Up until that point the film is a brilliant comedy of human nature, all of which is played out by our witnessing the inner workings of Cusack who is marvelous at realizing them for us.

He is matched by all the supporting players, who are perfectly cast and a lot of fun. Their presence and behavior establish the film as a comedy. As does the style of presentation, which is Restoration farce. I don’t know if the superb writing of the script derives from the novel on which it is based, but you deserve to enjoy it. Newell’s direction is at top form. The setting alone of the scene where Cusack hesitates outside Thornton’s house before going inside to sleep with his wife is a model of moral defeat we all will recognize.

Cusack’s wife is played by Cate Blanchett who gets the Jersey girl down pat, although perhaps a touch too dense. Thornton’s wife is played by Angelina Jolie aged 23 and a power-beauty already. She astonishes with her reserve, timing, and humor. Her wonderful breasts lie naked before our eyes. So does her capacious nature.

The force field of the ego is the ground of this comedy. Its course is almost realized. But staying the course until then brings delight, truth, laughter. One man has an ego, which is the mind thinking it is God. The other man actually is God. What a battle! What a jest! Catch the next plane to Newark!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted in Angelina Jolie, Billy Bob Thornton, Cate Blanchett, John Cusack, ROMANTIC COMEDY

 

The Monuments Men

09 Feb

The Monuments Men – directed by George Clooney. War Drama. 118 minutes Color 2014.

★★★

The Story: A WW II mission to save works of art destined for destruction should the Nazis loose.

~ ~ ~

If ever a movie sank more solemnly under the freight of its miscasting, I have yet to see it. Art museum directors, curators, scholars, educators, archivists — George Clooney, Matt Damon, and Bill Murray, thou never wert.

If John Goodman was not obviously such a good actor, he might be convincing as a sculptor.  And if Jean Dujardin were not so helplessly charming one might root for his loss from a profession we never grasp. This leaves Bob Balaban, who might pass for an academic in the world of world art, Hugh Bonneville as a former drunk, Dimitri Leonidas as the German-speaking Brooklyn Jew, and Cate Blanchett who is thoroughly convincing as the Jeu de Paume curator who kept a record of the stolen pieces.

All the others, wonderful actors though they are, exercise their noble craft as best they may, imagining that the good will which backs our affection and admiration for each and every one of them will supply the deficiency of their being in the wrong parts entirely.

George Clooney is the main culprit. For he is producer, writer, actor, and director. It is as a writer he is first to be stripped of his medal. For he has given the men the most routine of male chat to move things forward. Silent strength – you know the sort of thing – stalwartness in red, white and blue. I once worked in the high-testosterone History Of Art Department of Yale in the early ‘50s, and the chat was not that.

As director he lets his actors go where they will, as they will, each of them basically falling back on their star masculinity to perform their roles for them. As an actor, Clooney reverts to his casual, laid back, insouciant manner, and lets tacit charm muscle a job which has no place in it. Damon falls back on his Everyman quality, Murray on his piquant personality; both are irrelevant.

As producer, the picture cost 70 million – although how so blandly round a figure is come at one wonders – and it made what is essentially a small movie about a large subject, into a large movie about a subject which is invisible.

For Clooney sermonizes that these works of art must be saved from destruction and returned to their owners because they are the golden fruit of Western civilization. Everything we are fighting for! A great “accomplishment” which must not be lost. What vulgarity! What nonsense!

The only reason these works of art should be saved from theft and destruction, much less returned to their owners, is their priceless and inherent beauty. All these rescuers were chosen for their dedication to beauty. But “beauty” is a word never uttered by Clooney nor by anyone else. It is as though the word “beauty” were unmanly. The entire adventure operates under the cow pad of this omission.

 

 

 

Blue Jasmine

15 Aug

Blue Jasmine – written and directed by Woody Allen. Satirical Tragedy. A wealthy woman falls on hard times, moves in with her sister, and things get harder still. 98 minutes Color 2013.

★★★★

The movie is fun to watch because everyone in it is fun to watch, from Glen Caspillo who plays a cabdriver in one scene to Cate Blanchett who is virtually in every scene.

Are Woody Allen movies ever miscast? We have sub-stars, such as Alex Baldwin who spreads his face with the merciless fixed smile of the opportunist and we have Sally Hawkins touching as Blanchett’s ordinary sister whom she moves in with and Peter Sarsgaard as Dwight, ideal as the millionaire in shining armor. But we also have every single minor character perfectly acted and played. As the maraschino cherry on top: Bobby Canavale playing to perfection the baby-bully of Hawkins’ boyfriend.

And we have Allen’s cunning script, which keeps us moving from the beach house on The Vineyard to the walkup on Van Nuys in San Francisco, set decoration by Kis Boxell and Regina Graves, and Production design by the ever faithful Santo Loquasto. Javier Aquirresarobe excellently shot it. What a team!

I don’t know if Cate Blanchett was Allen’s first choice to play this woman, but she is my first choice to play it right now. She is never without resources. She is always in the situation which she is, which she has created, and which she dearly wishes to escape. Vocally she has a rich, melodious alto, which one never tires of hearing. She wears that last desperate little Chanel jacket with a difference positively valiant. She looks smashing in the clothes and in the milieu of the millionaire she has married. She is riveting. She is imaginative, varied, and true.

And you do not give a rap about her or about anyone or anything else in the story, so no one is applauding. You sympathize with her at times, but the character is a character of satire, not of tragedy. She is one of Truman Capote’s swans. She is a woman with no inner resources whatsoever, and so there is no alternative for her. She pygmalioned herself out of a dull upbringing and changed her name of Jeanette into that of A Trophy: Jasmine – a  fragrance without a past, an invisible surface. This means that there is no inner drama, no other possibility, no might-have-been. The drama is between going mad and living out the madness of the life she still wishes for herself.

Jasmine has been compared inaptly to Blanche Dubois, but Blanche Dubois was a schoolteacher, and she had an inner life. Jasmine was never anything except the interior decoration of a tycoon. When that falls apart, she has nothing inside herself to fall back on. She has no money, no calling, no children. What happens to King Lear when his job falls away? He too goes mad. But with a mounting difference. There was that in him – authority – which invites obedience to it. Being every inch a king is different from being every inch a society bitch. And the difference is that Lear learns something from the denuding and self-denuding of his authority; Jasmine learns nought, for there is nothing learnable in her. She is a just a story about a past told by a verbose half-crazed lush who once had one.

 
 
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