Spencer or Twirling with No Substance

Kristen Stewart as Diana Spencer

Halfway through Spencer I began to question whether I have ever liked Pablo Larrain as a filmmaker. Earlier this year his adaptation of Stephen King’s Lisey’s Story was unwatchable. I did not care for The Club (2015). But I had to remind myself that I liked No (2012), Jackie (2016) and Neruda (2016). Maybe this new one will end up in the like column as well. Alas it did not.

Spencer is supposedly the story of the weekend country sojourn in which Princess Diana of Wales, née Spencer (Kristen Stewart), decided to divorce Prince Charles (Jack Farthing). It’s told like a ghost story; a woman in peril in a big house, surrounded by dubious people, some might be in her corner, others want to sabotage her. It’s Diana as Rebecca (1940). And it’s as alienating as much of Larrain’s work. Though done with top notch craft and an aesthetic recognizable to most cinephiles.

Larrain and screenwriter Steven Knight have a good premise. They are trying to tell a story of finding the fortitude to break away from a life that’s suffocating while being completely isolated. However they run out of narrative threads quickly and spend the rest of the movie repeating themselves. Diana, isolated with no one to trust. The servants in the big house (Timothy Spall, Sean Harris and Sally Hawkins among them) might be spying on her for the royal family. Or are they her allies? Repeat over and over again. Then so many scenes of Diana running. Along hallways, in the meadows. And so much twirling. So much twirling. So much of it that it bears repeating. The movie’s true title should’ve been “Twirling With No Substance.” Who knew it would be Larrain who would inherit the mantle from Terence Malick in this most dubious of categories.

There is nothing about what Knight wrote or what Stewart plays that is specifically about Diana. The details are vague. This could be about any anonymous rich white lady trapped in a cult. One who has access to fancy clothes, castles, maids and personal cooks. Stewart plays her like a haunted woman trapped and she’s effective. However she neither looks nor sounds like Diana. Inhabitation is not necessary with biopics, sometimes just a nod to the real person is enough. See Renee Zellweger as Judy Garland. But there’s not even a nod here. If this wasn’t called ‘Spencer” we wouldn’t be talking about awards. Nor would a swath of the potential audience be interested. So maybe it’s a calculated move. Let’s make a movie about a haunted woman trying to escape from a cult. Any woman, no need to be specific nor add any recognizable details. But still call it Spencer. Boo! Awards. Buzz. Magazine covers. Box office though might not materialize if enough people catch on to what it really is. 

Impersonation aside, Stewart is no more than fine. She plays this woman as very frightened, as if she’s in a gothic horror film. Whispery breathy voice, quizzical look. It fits the framework Larrain put her in. However the critical response to this performance is baffling. Even within Stewart’s limited oeuvre it doesn’t stand out. She’s been much more affecting with Olivier Assayas in Clouds of Sils Maria (2015) and Personal Shopper (2017).


All of this would have been forgotten if Spencer actually had a story to tell. This is a bunch of scenes shot well, with actors repeating the same notes over and over in different but limited locations. There is nothing to see here.

NYFF Review: C’mon C’mon

About the hundredth time characters in Mike Mills’ C’mon C’mon expressed themselves clearly and verbosely and said exactly how they were feeling at that moment, I almost lost it. Who has this clarity? Who can articulate their feelings so eloquently at every waking moment of their lives? Who are these people? They must be aliens from an alternate universe of never ending therapy sessions. These people have done the work and figured themselves out. Even the 10 year old kid. Movies are not real, I understand that. Yet this is one that wants to be taken as reality, while not realizing what a fantastical world it has built. And a false one at that.

The film stars Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny, a radio talk show host who’s making a documentary about what children think of the future. He’s going around the country interviewing young people when his sister Viv (Gaby Hoffman), asks him to take care of her child, Jesse (Woody Norman). She has to leave town to deal with the child’s father (Scoot McNairy), who’s in the grips of a manic episode. Obviously uncle and nephew will make a deep connection. Though tentatively at first, perhaps running into some misunderstandings. Yelling, tears and laughter will be involved. And if you guessed Jesse will be interviewed for his uncle’s program and make a profound statement, then you’ve hit the jackpot.

Yet none of the events that happen on screen feel real. Interspersed through the main narrative are the interviews Johnny conducts with kids in LA, New York and New Orleans. I guessed we were supposed to feel the anxiety of the next generation and their hopes. I said I guessed because what was on screen was merely false platitudes that rang hollow. The exception is one young person speaking about losing faith in the adults who are supposed to help but can’t.

In flashback we see Johnny and Viv taking care of their late ailing mother. Again we are supposed to understand the enormous grief and the years of pent up frustration between the siblings. But because they keep telling us in the present how they were feeling at the time, it doesn’t make the impact Mills hopes for. The last straw for me was using the oldest trick in the book; the precocious child who asks the “difficult” questions. Boy did I roll my eyes. Cheap and teetering on insufferable.

The black and white cinematography gives the audience something nice to look at while watching what’s inherently not a cinematic story. It’s mostly people on the phone talking about their feelings. The cast acquits themselves well, especially when you consider they are tasked with being in constant open wound mode. This a more relaxed Phoenix, reminiscent of his work in Her (2013) and miles away from Joker (2019). Hoffman has to play 90% of her scenes talking into an iphone, maybe Mills is trying to make a point about how we communicate today or something. Wish he could’ve varied the technology so we could see Hoffman in more than just the one mode. Though all the actors try their hardest to bring empathy to their characters; something was missing. Like what Annette Bening was able to do in Mills’ previous film 20th Century Women (2016); add a dose of no nonsense to the saccharine proceedings.

C’mon C’mon played the Spotlight section at the 59th NewYork Film Festival and will be released on November 19th.

Cate Blanchett in ‘An Ideal Husband’

Cate Blanchett and Julianne Moore, two actresses linked in our minds as the muses of Todd Haynes, have only shared scenes on screen in 1999’s An Ideal Husband. For this episode Murtada welcomes back Chris Feil, host of This Had Oscar Buzz podcast, to discuss the film, whether it retains the wit of its author Oscar Wilde and the performances of Cate, Julianne, Minnie Driver, Rupert Everett and Jeremy Northam.

Click to Listen:

Subscribe:  Apple Podcasts   /   Stitcher   /  Spotify  /   iHeart

What is the film about?

From imdb: London 1895: Cabinet minister, Sir Chiltern, and bachelor, Lord Goring, are victims of scheming women. LOL imdb.

Based on the play by Oscar Wilde, adpted and directed by Oliver Parker. Starring Cate Blanchett, Julianne Moore, Minnie Driver, Rupert Everett and Jeremy Northam.

When did it come out?

June 1999.

Who does Cate play?

Lady Chiltren, an uncompromising woman married and in love with the ideal husband (or one of them).

Reception:

Box Office: Domestic = $18,542,974 Int’l = unavailable 

Metacritic: 67 RT: 85

Blanchett and Moore in An Ideal Husband

Topics discussed:

  • Does the film succeed in preserving Oscar Wilde’s wit from the stage play?
  • Mostly a fun watch because of the actors. 
  • Writer and director Parker re-worked Oscar Wilde’s play by cutting Mrs Chevely’s (Moore) part and beefing up Mabel (Driver).
  • Cate is an uncompromising good person while Julianne plays the mischievous meddler. They are in direct opposition to each other. Their scene together is a highligh and makes great use of pronouncing the word “detest”.
Rupert Everett with Blanchett in An Ideal Husband
  • Similar to The Talented Mr. Ripley, this film cast 5 actors showing lots of promise or just after their big break. Looking back it’s interesting to see what happened to their careers since. First lead for Everett post My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997), Driver post Oscar nom for Good Will Hunting (1997), Moore post Boogie Nights (1997), Jeremy Northam post Emma (1996) and Cate post Elizabeth (1998). Which begs the question; where is Jeremy Northam now?
  • Cate plays someone who is completely and utterly in love with Northam that she made me re-examine my feelings about him. Why was he the only one of the 5 not to make the poster?
  • Lindsay Duncan’s brief but delicious turn as Lady Markby, Mrs. Chevely’s hype machine.
  • Could it have been on this set that someone said to Cate, “I’m the star of this film, not you,” an anecdote she shared last year? We speculate with no evidence.
  • This is a podcast that celebrates actresses so this time we celebrate Julianne Moore; Chris’ favourite actor.
Northam and Blanchett in An Ideal Husband

Wilde Witticisms:

  • “To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance”
  • “When one pays a visit, it is for the purpose of wasting other people’s time and not one’s own”
  • “It is not the perfect, but rather the imperfect who have need of love”

Film within context of Cate’s career:

  •  The first film released post Cate’s first Oscar nomination for Elizabeth (1998).
Julianne Moore and Cate Blanchett at the Cannes Film Festival in May 1999

Film within the context of year it’s been released:

Festivals: Closing film of the 1999 Cannes Film Festival. 

Awards: Golden Globe nominee best actor (Rupert Everett) and best actress (Julianne Moore). Bafta nominee for Adapted Screenplay, Costumes and Makeup.

Subscribe:  Apple Podcasts   /   Stitcher   /  Spotify  /   iHeart

Like? Rate and Review. Have a question? Leave us a comment.

Cate Blanchett in ‘Thank God He Met Lizzie’

We go way back for this episode, to Cate Blanchett’s early screen performance in the Australian film Thank God He Met Lizzie. We discuss the film, the performance and its link to Katharine Hepburn’s screen persona as well as Blanchett’s long professional partnership with the film’s other star, Richard Roxburgh. Hosted, produced, written and edited by Murtada Elfadl.

Click to Listen:

Subscribe:  Apple Podcasts   /   Stitcher   /  Spotify  /   iHeart

What is the film about?

A man named Guy (Richard Roxburgh) examines his romantic life during his wedding party.

Who does Cate play? Another titular role. She’s Lizzie, Guy’s betrothed.

 How is Cate introduced?  8 mins in, another star entrance. She’s shown first from behind, then turns around in slow motion indicating to the audience this is someone we should pay attention to.

What year did it come out? 1997.

Topics discussed:

  • Where does Thank God he Met Lizzie fit into the wedding movie genre?
  • Cate Blanchett in romantic comedies; how does she fare and should she make more of them? Bandits was previously discussed.
  • Cate and Richard Roxburgh, a long professional partnership in the theater. How do they fare on film?
  • Cate’s performance is reminiscent of Katharine Hepburn’s screen persona as described by critic Molly Haskell in her book From Reverence to Rape. Of course Cate played hepburn in The Aviator.
  • You may also support the show if you liked this episode. Every penny helps us maintain and keep doing these.

Subscribe:  Apple Podcasts   /   Stitcher   /  Spotify  /   iHeart

Like? Rate and Review. Have a question? Leave us a comment.

Cate Blanchett in ‘Coffee and Cigarettes’

This week a double Cate Balnchett. In one of eleven vignettes included in Jim Jarmusch’s anthology film Coffee and Cigarettes (2003), Blanchett plays a version of herself as well as her ne’er do well “cousin,” Shelly. We discuss the film and performance and why it stands out in her filmography. For this conversation podcast host Murtada Elfadl welcomes writer and critic Ela Bittencourt of the film site Lyssaria.

Click to Listen:

Subscribe:  Apple Podcasts   /   Stitcher   /  Spotify  /   iHeart

What is the film about?

From IMDB: A series of vignettes that all have coffee and cigarettes in common.

Who does Cate play? A version of herself as Movie Star Cate blanchett meeting her cousin Shelly (also Blanchett) for coffee at the lobby of a swanky hotel. 

 How is Cate introduced? Her vignette titled Cousins starts 42 mins in.

What year did it come out? 2003

Critical Response: Metacritic : 65 RT: 64%

Topics discussed:

  • What does Blanchett’s as a star actor gain from taking this smaller role besides collaborating with Jarmusch?
  • The trick and gimmick of playing against or with yourself makes Blanchett’s the standout vignette. There’s in the visual and sonic contrast between the two characters blond vs dark haired, business couture vs. casual punk, thick Australian accent vs a more continental one.
  • Interlocking themes include disinterest from one of the two parties, almost all the meetings start with eagerness then end in disappointment.
  • The different acting styles within the film; heightened (Blanchett), natural (Bill Murray), grounded and “real” (Alfred Molina).
  • This performance reminded me of her performances in Documentary Now; she’s playing an exaggerated version of someone famous but in this case herself. Also Manifesto where she plays up the costumes and makeup to create distinct characters.
  • What we enjoy about Jim Jarmusch mentioning some of his other films including Paterson and Only Lovers Left Alive.
  • We reminisce briefly about watching Blanchett on stage as Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire.

What reviews said of film / Cate:

In the two strongest chapters — the one featuring Ms. Blanchett and another in which Steve Coogan and Alfred Molina play a deft game of celebrity one-upmanship — such vague discomforts blossom into one-act dramas of envy and suspicion.[It] has the serendipitous coherence of an old LP. Some of the tracks are stronger than others, but the magic lies in the echoes and unexpected harmonies between the selections. ” – Dana Stevens, NYTimes.

The scorecard at the end is unimpressive: six outright duds, three passable bits, and only two successes. The irony is that the best sketches also happen to be the most conventional. In “Cousins,” Cate Blanchett plays herself and her resentful cousin, Shelly, meeting for coffee in a posh hotel lobby. Blanchett’s Cate is regal, classy and generous—the way we imagine Blanchett herself to be. The punky Shelly, meanwhile, exudes passive-aggressive envy, her self-deprecation doubling as a sly prick on the self-conscious Cate’s conscience.” – Elbert Ventura, Reverse Shot.

Subscribe:  Apple Podcasts   /   Stitcher   /  Spotify  /   iHeart

Like? Rate and Review. Have a question? Leave us a comment.

When Carey Mulligan was compared to Audrey Hepburn

In a snippet from the podcast host Murtada Elfadl and guest Jordan Crucchiola discuss how and why the media compared carey Mulligan to Audrey Hepburn at the time of the release of An Education (2009) and whether that comparison still stands today.

Listen to the full podcast here. You may also support the show if you liked this bit. Every penny helps us maintain and keep doing these.

Subscribe:  Apple Podcasts   /   Stitcher   /  Spotify  /   iHeart

Like? Rate and Review. Have a question? Leave us a comment.

Was Jennifer Lawrence in ‘American Hustle’ inspired by Cate Blanchett in ‘Bandits’?

In a snippet from the podcast host Murtada Elfadl and guest Kevin Jacobsen discuss a pivotal scene in the film Bandits. In the scene Cate Blanchett is shown lipsyncing to Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart; we dissect the comedic and dramatic elements and talk about how that performance might have been the blueprint for Jennifer Lawrence’s performance in American Hustle.

Listen to the full podcast here. You may also support the show if you liked this bit. Every penny helps us maintain and keep doing these.

Subscribe:  Apple Podcasts   /   Stitcher   /  Spotify  /   iHeart

Like? Rate and Review. Have a question? Leave us a comment.

Special Episode: Carey Mulligan

To celebrate this year’s Oscar nominations which were announced this week we have a special episode about one of the nominees for best actress; Carey Mulligan. We discuss her filmography, her screen persona and dig deeper into three films; Shame (2011), Wildlife (2018) and her latest Promising Young Woman for which she recieved her second Oscar nomination. For this conversation podcast host Murtada Elfadl welcomes producer and writer, Jordan Crucchiola host of Disaster Girls and Aughtsterio‪n podcasts.

Click to Listen:

Subscribe:  Apple Podcasts   /   Stitcher   /  Spotify  /   iHeart

Topics Discussed:

  • The first time we saw Mulligan on screen and why we love watching her.
  • Broke out with An Education (2010) with comparisons to Audrey Hepburn, though that misses the thorniness of the character and the performance.
  • Often associated with British period films from her first role in Pride and Prejudice (2205) to Far From the Madding Crowd (2013) to Suffragette (2015) to The Dig (2021).
  • Promisng Young Woman and why this film and performance are taking Mulligan to the next level with the industry and audiences.
  • We go into detail about two of her performances; Sissy in Shame (2011) and Jeanette in Wildlife (2018).

Shame (2011):

  • At the time this was seen as a new direction for Mulligan to break from prim and proper British period pieces with a modern provocative character.
  • Her rendition of “New York, New York”… melancholy, defeated with piercing hurt.
  • Builds a complex prickly sibling relationship that’s rooted in physicality with Michael Fassbender.
  • The way she modulates her voice, sounds different as Sissy than her other characters.
  • We are not bad people, we just come from a bad place.” – a line delivery that unlocks the character and movie.

Wildlife (2018):

  • Carey’s performance. Exacting, mercurial… the character is messy but the actor is in control.
  • Follows a long tradition of ‘women unraveling” on screen that beget fantastic performances. Gena Rowlands (A Woman Under the Influence), Vivien Leigh (A Streetcar Named Desire), Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine). This is my fave genre of films. On screen when women unravel they show their vulnerabilities, while men just become violent.
  • Why didn’t this film – impeccably made – find a bigger audience? Mulligan has talked about the negative reaction audiences had for her character.
  • A key line that unlocked the film for me “if you got a better plan for me, tell me I’ll try it.”
  • This is a performance whose brilliance lies in tiny moments despite a few loud notes.
  • The centerpiece scene; Jeanette’s clumsy seduction of Mr. Miller (Bill Camp) in the presence of her 14- year old son (Ed Oxenbould). 

Further Reading:

Subscribe:  Apple Podcasts   /   Stitcher   /  Spotify  /   iHeart

Like? Rate and Review. Have a question? Leave us a comment.

2021 Oscars Best Actress

In a snippet from the podcast host Murtada Elfadl and guest Kevin Jacobsen discuss this year’s best actress race at the Oscars. And they choose their favorites; Frances McDormand in Nomadland and Andra Day in The United States vs. Billie Holiday. Listen to the podcast this Sunday March 21st when we will have a special episode about the career of another nominee for best actress; Carey Mulligan in Promising Young Woman.

Listen to the full podcast here. You may also support the show if you liked this bit. Every penny helps us maintain and keep doing these.

Subscribe:  Apple Podcasts   /   Stitcher   /  Spotify  /   iHeart

Like? Rate and Review. Have a question? Leave us a comment.

Cate Blanchett in “Bandits’

A retread of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? A homage to the pop music of 1980s Welsh singing sensation Bonnie Tyler? The rare American studio film that celebrates polyamory? It’s all of these things; Barry Levinson’s Bandits (2001). It also has Cate Blanchett lip-synching, dancing and kissing both Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton. We also discuss our favorites in this year’s Oscar race for best actress as the nominations are announced. For this conversation Murtada Elfadl welcomes back Kevin Jacobsen host of And The Runner-Up Is podcast, who previously guested on our episode about Truth.

Click to listen:

Subscribe:  Apple Podcasts   /   Stitcher   /  Spotify  /   iHeart

Follow along, Bandits is available on HBO Max.

What is the film about?

From IMDB: Two bank robbers fall in love with the girl they’ve kidnapped.

When did it come out?

October 12, 2001.

Who does Cate play?

Kate Wheeler, a bored depressed housewife looking for adventure.

How is Cate introduced?

Kate Wheeler is talked about all through the first scene but then we have to wait 35 minutes for the iconic Bonnie Tyler lip sync dance Holding Out for a Hero / Total Eclipse of the Heart.

Box Office: Domestic = $41.5MM Int’l = $26MM

Critical Response: Metacritic : 60 RT: 64

Topics discussed:

  • Obviously A Butch cassidy and the Sundance Kid retread.
  • The initial car drive with Billy Bob – the best scene in the movie, certainly Cate’s funniest.
  • Bruce Willis’ wig needs to be seen to be believed.
  • Neil Young jokes? The humor in general seems not funny. The film drags, its comedic rhythm off.
  • Appreciated that the movie ultimately is on the side of polyamory. Can’t think of another American studio film that does that.
  • The framing device – a take on TV’s America’s Most Wanted – does it work? Or does it bog down the film and puncture its rhythm?
  • Billy Bob Thornton is too much. Too many quirks. Lots of telling us how quirky the character and not enough showing us.
  • Was this performance by Blanchett the blueprint for Jennifer Lawrence’s in American Hustle (2013)?
  • Barry Levinson, this came post his heyday in the late 80s (Rain Man, Good Morning Vietnam, Bugsy, Wag the Dog) and was perhaps his last big star driven film. Currently in the news gathering quite the cast (Oscar Isaac, Jake Gyllenhaal, Elisabeth Moss and Elle Fanning) for his movie about the making of The Godfather (1971), Francis and the Godfather.
  • Which of Cate’s upcoming movies are we looking forward to? James Gray’s Armageddon Time, Guillermo Del Toro’s Nightmare Alley, Borderlands.
  • How come she dropped out of the Lucille Ball movie? Let’s speculate.
Thornton, Blanchett and Willis in Bandits

Memorable quotes:

“Don’t argue I’m having a really bad day.”

“Kate’s an iceberg, waiting for the Titanic.”

”It’s the ultimate haiku to the complexity of love.” 

Blanchett, Troy Garity and Bruce Willis in Bandits

What reviews said of film / Cate:

A comedy that might have made Butch and Sundance jump off a cliff.” – Lisa Schwarzbaum, EW.

Bandits” is guilty of behaving like a petty thievery corporation; it steals from so many other sources that we’re forced to realize that it has little of its own to offer. But in isolated scenes, despite its photocopy quality, ‘Bandits” has a knockabout glimmer.” – A.O. Scott, NYTimes.

Films with context of Cate’s career:

We have talked about it before on the pod, another film in those post Elizabeth years where she was trying lots of genres to distance herself from her breakout role and prove she can do different thins. Here a rom-com.

Cate Blanchett with Helen Mirren at the NBR in January 2002

Awards:

Golden Globes : Nominations for Cate (Actress in a Comedy) and Thornton (Actor in a Comedy).

Screen Actors Guild: Nomination for Cate (Supporting Actress).

National Board of Review: Thornton (Best Actor also for The Man Who Wasn’t There and Monster’s Ball). When you are hot, you are hot. Thornton was at a career highs (post Sling Blade, Armageddon and A Simple Plan). Cate won NBR’s supporting actress award that year for her other 2001 movies LOTR, The Man Who Cried and The Shipping News. This this is the one movie they did not cite.

Subscribe:  Apple Podcasts   /   Stitcher   /  Spotify  /   iHeart

Like? Rate and Review. Have a question? Leave us a comment.