Cate Blanchett in ‘Hanna’

The costumes are green, the hair is red and Cate Blanchett is the Wicked Witch in Hanna (2011). Ostensibly a thriller about a teenage assassin, it reveals itself to be a fairytale with a modern twist. For this disscussion, Murtada welcomes back Gavin Mevius, co-host of The Mixed Reviews Podcast .

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What is the film about?

From imdb: “A sixteen-year-old girl who was raised by her father to be the perfect assassin is dispatched on a mission across Europe, tracked by a ruthless intelligence agent and her operatives.”

What year did it come out?

April 2011.

Who does Cate play?

Marissa Wiegler; a CIA operative obsessed with find and killing Hanna. A modern version of The Wicked Witch of the West as evidenced by the almost all green wardrobe.

How is Cate introduced? 

13 minutes in. Waking up, teeth first.

Box Office: Domestic = $40,259,119  Int’l = $23,522,959

Critical Response:           Metacritic : 65.              RT: 71.

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Cate Blanchett as the Wicked Wtch coming out of the wolf’s mouth

Topics discussed:

  • It’s a fairytale! Many allusions to that including at the beginning Hanna reading The Grimms Tales, calling Marissa “the witch,” different allusions in the dialogue e.g. “going to grandma’s house,”, a character named Mr. Grimm, the finale with Marissa literally coming out from the mouth of the big bad wolf.
  • Joe Wright – general discussion of his career. He made Pride and Prejudice, Atonement, and The Soloist before Hanna. Anna Karenina, Pan and Darkest Hour after. We discuss Anna Karenina (2012) at length and it’s available on Netflix.
  • Where does this belong in the pantheon of her villain roles which includes Indianna Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull  (2008), Cinderella (2015), Thor: Ragnarok (2017)?
  • Whatever happened to Eric Bana?
  • Saoirse Ronan – is she a Kate Winslet or a Cate Blanchett? She’s been compared to both.
  • Other castmembers: Jessica Barden is delicious. Did you notice Vicky Krieps (Phantom Thread) and Lady Mary from Downton Abbey?
  • Tom Hollander’s enforcer with his short shorts and skinhead sidekicks. Queer, problematic or both? 
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Cate Blanchett as Marissa Wiegler and Saoirse Ronan as Hanna

Costumes:

They certainly hone on green as a color motif. Sleek corporate suits. Designed by Giorgio Armani, apparently.

“Joe’s vision of Marissa as the Wicked Witch of the story meant that her colors would be red [for her hair] and green [in her attire],” says head costume designer Lucie Bates.

Scenes we liked:

Subway station fight with Bana and the goons.

Hanna’s escape is exciting.

Two weird scenes: Hanna afraid of appliances and the introduction of Tom Hollander at his club in Berlin. 

Film within context of Cate’s career

Filmed within the time she was running the Sydney Theater Company and wasn’t working much in movies. Between 2008 (Benjamin Button) and 2013 (Blue Jasmine) the time she ran STC she only made this film, Robin Hood (2010) and The Hobbit (2012).

What reviews said of film / Cate:

“Blanchett is a riot as a Nordstrom-attired, Southern-drawled Brunhilde with scarlet helmet hair and aggressively white teeth, what ultimately makes her so harrowing—and so worthy of punishment—is her childlessness. “I made certain choices,” Marissa says, desperately justifying her careerism, before she buries a bullet in a womb-sanctified old matriarch. Hanna is the one that got away and a genetically enhanced reminder of the miserable fate that awaits the ambitious, the infertile, the dentally preoccupied.”Eric Hynes, The Village Voice.

“Ronan enters with a face nearly as blank as paper and devoid of obvious emotion, her eerie, translucent blue eyes here transformed into opaque pool. You assume or really just hope that those eyes will reveal exciting new depths or a secret of character. That they don’t reveal much is part of the big surprise as well as a liability in a movie that is by turns startling and generic, subtle and blunt, and consistently keeps you in its grip if not its heart.” Manohla Dargis, NY Times.

Press coverage other than reviews:

NY Times Magazine interview: “People are always saying they loved me in ‘Titanic.”

Promotional appearances:

Blanchett at the Oscars in 2011; a most funny moment
That  famous lilac Givenchy gown she wore to the Oscars was to promote Hanna, which led to the iconic moment captured above.

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‘Mrs. America 6-7’ Podcast Recap and interview with Bria Samoné Henderson

We continue recaping and reviewing Hulu’s Mrs. America starring Cate Blanchett. This week we will tackle episodes 6 and 7 of the series about Jill Ruckelshaus played by Elizabeth Banks and Bella Abzug played by Margo Martindale. Also in this episode an interview with Bria Samoné Henderson who plays activist Margaret Sloan on the show. Hosted by Murtada Elfadl with guest Andy Stewart.

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Follow along Mrs. America is available on Hulu

What is the show about?

Official Synopsis: “Mrs. America tells the story of the movement to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), and the unexpected backlash led by a conservative woman named Phyllis Schlafly, aka “the sweetheart of the silent majority.” Through the eyes of the women of the era – both Schlafly and second wave feminists Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Shirley Chisholm, Bella Abzug and Jill Ruckelshaus – the series explores how one of the toughest battlegrounds in the culture wars of the 70s helped give rise to the Moral Majority and forever shifted the political landscape.”

Who does Cate play? Phyllis Schlafly.

Critical Response: Metacritic : 87  RT: 95

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Ep 6 “Jill”

Official Synopsis:With a pro-ERA Republican in the White House, Phyllis protests her own party, which puts her in conflict with Republican Feminist leader, Jill Ruckelshaus. Written by Sharon Hoffman; Directed by Laure de Clermont Tonnere (The Mustang).

Ep 7 “Bella”

Official Synopsis: “Bella is put in charge of the first ever government-funded National Women’s Conference. Phyllis and her women clash over how to best disrupt the conference.” Written by Micah Schraft; Directed by Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson, Captain Marvel).

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Topics Discussed:

  • These two episodes show Phyllis going to the extreme right – the evangelicals, pro-life extremists – to expand base and get into the inner echelons of power.
  • At the end of episode 6 Jill is out and Phyllis is in, the new extreme wing of the republican party wins. Again the show makes the parallels to our political situation today which is one of its main themes.
  • The parallels between Bella and Phyllis as they are both trying to hold onto power, but go in different directions. Bella wants to be seen again as radical and Phyllis is willing to do anything to win even working with the Ku Klux Klan.
  • Cate’s performance – the many reactions / faces she makes. 
  • The performances of Margo Martindale and Elizabeth Banks as well as Melanie Lynskey.
  • The queer characters and themes and how they are integrated into the series’ main themes.
  • The series’ Emmy chances and who might be singled out from the supporting cast.

Interview with Bria Samoné Henderson who plays activist and former Ms. Magazine editor Margaret Sloan. The interview starts at 39:45 if you’d like to jump ahead.

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Previously on the podcast:

Mrs. America 1-3

Mrs. America 4 & 5

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Cate Blanchett in “Mrs. America’ Recaps 1-5

The podcast will be back next Sunday with reviews of episodes 6 and 7 of Mrs. America. In the meantime here are our reviews of episodes 1 through 5.

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Episodes 1-3 with Tayler Montague

We are going back to the early 1970s to recap the first three episodes of Cate Blanchett’s first major TV role in the FX on Hulu show, Mrs America as polarizing right wing figure Phyllis Schalfly. We discuss her performance, the all star cast, the costumes and review the show. Murtada’s guest is  writer and filmmaker Tayler Montague.

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Cate Blanchett as Schlafly with Ben Rosenfield as her gay son John Schlafly

Episodes 4 & 5 with Casey Mink

In our review of episodes 4 and 5 we talk about Betty Freidan (Tracey Ullman) and Brenda Feigen Fasteau (Ari Graynor) debating Phyllis Schlafly (Blanchett). We also discuss talk Blanchett’s self slap, the fractions in the Feminist Movement, the “Tokenism” scene and many other topics. Murtada’s guest is staff writer at BackstageCasey Mink.

If you are enjoying the podcast buy Murtada a cup of coffee, or rate and review.

Follow along the show is available to stream on Hulu.

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The faces that Blanchett makes on this show!

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Blue Jasmine: 3 Podcasts 1 Amazing Performance

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Have you listened yet to the three part miniseries about Cate Balnchett’s Oscar winning performance in Blue Jasmine? You can listen right here!

Follow along, the film is streaming at Amazon.

#1 Actor as Auteur with Matthew Eng

In part one we discuss Cate Blanchett as the real auteur of Blue Jasmine, and the many ways her performance makes her the author of the film.

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#2 The “Streetcar” Allusions with Candice Fredrick

In part two, we talk about the similarities to Tenesse Williams’ A Streetcar named Desire, the character of Blanche Dubois clearly is the blueprint for Jasmine… the many actresses who played Blanche or were inspired by her from the women in Pedro Almodovar’s movies to Gena Rowlands in Woman under the influence to most recently Carey Mulligan in Wildlife.

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# 3 Jasmine and Her Sisters with Jose Solis

And in the final part we discuss Jasmine and her sisters within the Woody Allen Oeuvre. Annie Hall, Helen St Clair in Bullets Over Broadway, Maria Elena in Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Cecilia in The Purple Rose of Cairo, among others.

If you are enjoying the podcast buy Murtada a cup of coffee, or rate and review the show.

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Cate Blanchett in ‘Mrs. America 4-5’ Podcast Recap

We continue recaping and reviewing Hulu’s Mrs. America starring Cate Blanchett. This week we tackle episodes 4 and 5 dealing with Betty Freidan (Tracey Ullman) and Brenda Feigen Fasteau (Ari Graynor) debating Phyllis Schlafly (Blanchett). Hosted by Murtada Elfadl with guest staff writer at Backstage, Casey Mink.

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What is the show about?

Official Synopsis: “Mrs. America tells the story of the movement to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), and the unexpected backlash led by a conservative woman named Phyllis Schlafly, aka “the sweetheart of the silent majority.” Through the eyes of the women of the era – both Schlafly and second wave feminists Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Shirley Chisholm, Bella Abzug and Jill Ruckelshaus – the series explores how one of the toughest battlegrounds in the culture wars of the 70s helped give rise to the Moral Majority and forever shifted the political landscape.

Who does Cate play?

Phyllis Schlafly.

Critical Response: Metacritic : 87  RT: 95

Topics discussed:

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Tracey Ullman as Betty Friedan

Ep 4 – Betty

Official Synopsis: “As Stop ERA grows and gains media attention, Betty Friedan, the mother of the Feminist movement, makes it her mission to take down Phyllis.” Written by Boo Killebrew; Directed by Amma Asante (Belle, A United Kingdom).

  • The parallels between the personal lives of Betty and Phyllis showing them both with their daughters. Great scene with Betty’s daughter and her ex-husband’s new wife.
  • The ending – Gloria thanking Betty for her leadership – brought me to tears. This show has great episode endings.
  • The race question comes up again – John Birch Society “I think you should just keep that to yourself.” 
  • ‘Tokenism ” scene with Bria Samoné Henderson as Maragaret Sloan.
  • Episode brings into forefront the fractions in the women’s movement both between Betty and Bella/Gloria and within the black women’s movement as evidened by the Sundays at Flo’s scene.
  • Phyllis’ prep scene with her husband.

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Ari Grayor as Brenda Feigan Fasteau with Rose Byrne as Gloria Steinem

Ep 5 – Phyllis & Fred & Brenda & Marc

Official Synopsis: “Phyllis and Fred Schlafly debate superstar Feminist couple Brenda and Marc Feigan-Fasteau on television.” Written by Micah Schraft & April Shih; Directed by Laure de Clermont Tonnere (The Mustang). 

  • The title is homage to the film Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice which closed also with “What the World Needs Now.”
  • The debate scene led to a big fraction in the Schlafly’s marriage. Phyllis does exactly what she wants even after being called submissive on national TV.
  • Phyllis actually wins by the end since Illinois doesn’t ratify the ERA yet the show subtly handles that. Couple that with Fred saying many people don’t want the ERA to pass, showing us Phyllis as what Brenda called her, a puppet for special interests.
  • The show weaves in different depictions of marriage – Phyllis and Fred, Brenda and Marc and Gloria and Franklin – to comment on the institution.
  • The scene with Phyllis and her son “you have to be careful”.

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John Slattery and Cate Blanchett as Fred and Phyllis Schlafly

General:

  • These two episodes can be subtitled “The Lavendar Menace” as there are many queer themes and characters. John Schlafly, Margaret Sloan, Brenda Feigan Fasteau, Jules the photographer.
  • Cate’s performance – the faces she makes after Fred calls her submissive on TV. Gestural acting bonanza; finger through teeth, slapping herself. 
  • Tracey Ullman and Ari Graynor performances.
  • The show doesn’t tell all the stories, we have to wikipedia some info e.g.“Where’s Kate Millet now?”
  • The show has yet to comment on Gloria having a Black boyfriend; they are presented as a couple with nary a comment from another character or them talking about it. Is it progress or avoidance?
  • Casey would like to see Cate on stage with Katrina Lenk, we briefly discuss Lenk’s sublime recent rendition of Stephen Sondheim “Johanna.”

Reviews of Episodes 1 through 3 are also available.

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Ari Graynor and Adam Brody as Brenda Feigan Fasteau and Mark Feigan Fasteau

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Cate Blanchett in ‘Mrs. America 1-3’ Podcast Recap

We are going back to the early 1970s to talk about the first three episodes of Cate Blanchett’s first major TV role in Mrs America. She’s playing polarizing right wing figure Phyllis Schalfly. We discuss her performance, the all star cast, the costumes and review the show. Hosted by Murtada Elfadl with guest writer and filmmaker Tayler Montague.

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What is the show about? available on Hulu

Official Synopsis: “Mrs. America tells the story of the movement to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), and the unexpected backlash led by a conservative woman named Phyllis Schlafly, aka “the sweetheart of the silent majority.” Through the eyes of the women of the era – both Schlafly and second wave feminists Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Shirley Chisholm, Bella Abzug and Jill Ruckelshaus – the series explores how one of the toughest battlegrounds in the culture wars of the 70s helped give rise to the Moral Majority and forever shifted the political landscape.”

Who does Cate play?

Phyllis Schlafly.

How is Cate introduced?

A couple of minutes after two minor characters talk about her, in a 2 piece swimsuit “modeling’ at a Republican political fundraiser.

Critical Response: Metacritic : 87  RT: 95

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Cate Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly modeling in the opening scene of Mrs. America

Topics discussed:

Ep 1 – Phyllis

  • The first episode seems to be saying even Phyllis suffered as a woman from misogyny. “Have you ever thought of starting a baking business?” the look in her face then.
  • The key scene – the meeting at the capitol when Phyllis sees an opportunity to gain influence by going against the ERA. She starts by saying “I’ve never been discriminated against” yet immediately she is. Shows her as short sighted and not as smart as she thinks she is.
  • The speech at the Mothers and Daughters luncheon, hits all the stuff they’ve been building up to.
  • The end scene with the women’s movement celebrating, so poignant because we know how that went.

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Rose Byrne as Gloria Steinem and Tracey Ullman as Betty Friedan

Ep 2 – Gloria

  • The portrayal of Steinmen as the glamour girl of the movement, showing her political acumen in how she plays the game with McGovern vs Betty Freidan who alienates everyone.
  • The abortion subplot. 
  • There’s misogyny even at Ms. magazine, “great legs.” 
  • Gloria and her boyfriend and the performances of Rose Byrne and Jay Ellis.

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Uzo Aduba as Shirley Chisholm in a scene from Mrs. America

Ep 3 – Shirley 

  • Shirley’s resolve not to “roll over when the man presses” and her definition of power.
  • The dramtization on the vote on abortion on the convention floor.
  • How white feminists stiffed Chisholm.
  • Phyllis’ embrace of the racist women at STOP ERA – is the series smart so far about handling race?

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General

  • Cate’s performance – brilliant in its smaller moments. The smaller gestures like how she stops before diving in when manipulating a situation. We dive into a coule of scenes.
  • The costumes. Recreation and more. The wigs. “Dusty rose.”
  • The parallels it’s drawing to our current living nightmare with the Trump election are sometimes too on the nose. Though that doesn’t make them wrong.  (Phyllis at Donahue is Trump on TV every night).
  • The direction; does it rise above a typical TV show? The first two episodes were directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson, Captain Marvel) and the 3rd by Amma Asante (Belle, A United Kingdom). 
  • Did the show transport the audience to the early 70s successfully? The creator Dahvi Waller is well known for another period show, Mad Men.

Reviews of Episodes 4 and 5 are now available.

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Cate Blanchett in ‘Paradise Road’

After last week, we stay with Cate Blanchett during WW2. This time as an Australian nurse in a Japanese internment camp who becomes part of a voice choir with her fellow prisoners of war in Paradise Road (1997). Hosted by Murtada Elfadl with guest Nathaniel Rogers of The Film Experience.

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What is the film about?

From IMDB: A group of women who are imprisoned on the island of Sumatra by the Japanese during World War II use music to relieve their misery.

Who does Cate play?

Susan McCarthy, an Australian nurse who finds her strength in the internment camp. 

How is Cate introduced?

Immediately, the first of the cast to appear. Dancing with a soldier at the ball in Singapore that opens the movie. They are dancing to “Mad about the Boy” as the shelling starts around them. 

When did it come out?

April 1997.

Box Office: Domestic = $2MM      Int’l = Not available

Critical Response: Metacritic : 48                RT: 48

With Frances McDormand as prisoners of war in Paradise Road.
They have four Oscars between them: Cate Blanchett with Frances McDormand as prisoners of war

Topics discussed:

  • Sort of a forgotten film. After watching, do we know why?
  • One of Cate’s early roles. Does the star quality appear?
  • The Chicago Film Critics gave her their most promising actress citation so at least one group noticed the potential.
  • All star cast; we discuss the performances of Cate along with Glenn Close, Frances McDormand, Pauline Collins, Jennifer Ehle and Julianna Margulies.
  • Bruce Beresford – interesting director or not? Driving Miss Daisy (1989), Double Jeopardy (1999), Crimes of the Heart (1985), Tender Mercies (1983) are his most well known American movies, broke out in Australia with Breaker Morant (1980).
  • Though the film is about a group of women, the film divides them in a few silos of two thus undercutting the dramatic tension.
  • Critics really came for McDormand and her accent, only a month after her Oscar win.
  • The movie is about a voice choir but that’s not revealed until more than 40 mins into it. 
  • Is it humorous? I wasn’t expecting a dick joke. There’s even a retrograde naked cat fight. Yet the main story is somber and serious.  The tone is all over the place.
  • Some reviews mentioned that this coming after Schindler’s List (1993) made it redundant.
  • The one non white character in the internment camp is killed off first and early. 

Scenes we liked:

  • Swimming after the shipwreck, looks gorgeous. 
  • Cate’s scenes with Frances McDormand as her mentor. 

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Blanchett with Margulies in 1999 and with Close in 2014

Film within context of Cate’s career:

1997 was the first year for Cate in cinema with this film, Thank God He Met Lizzie and Oscar and Lucinda released. Next year she’ll become an international star with Elizabeth.

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Cate Blanchett as Australian nurse Sarah McCarthy being tortured in a Japenese internment camp during WW2

What reviews said of film / Cate:

Blanchett’s performance was not critiqued in the few reviews I found online.

“In trying to keep track of everybody while providing enough melodrama to sustain an atmosphere of controlled terror, “Paradise Road” stumbles all over itself and never really finds its center. If “Paradise Road” had an extra half-hour to develop its characters, it might have amounted to something more substantial than a series of disconnected little dramas. But despite the strong ensemble acting (Ms. McDormand’s caricatured doctor is a surprising exception), the characters never become full enough for us to care a great deal about who survives and who doesn’t.”Stephen Holden, NY Times. 

“Told this story, and that it was true, you would think it would be enough for a screenplay. But would you be correct? I didn’t want “Paradise Road” to be a melodrama–a “Great Escape,” say, or “Stalag 17” in which the sound of the music distracts from the digging of tunnels. There is not even the possibility of escape, because they are on an island in the middle of a sea controlled by Japan. We realize early on that prison life, within boundaries, will remain much the same until the film’s end. But what the movie lacks is a story arc to pull us through.” – Roger Ebert.

“Every character can be written off with a shorthand description, since none strays beyond a sketch.” – Lisa Schwarzbaum, EW.

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Cate Blanchett in ‘The Good German’

For this episode we visit with Cate Blanchett among the ruins of 1945 Berlin in Steven Soderbergh’s re-creation of a 1940s melodrama, The Good German. A film and performance we consider to be Blanchett’s most underrated. Hosted by Murtada Elfadl with guest Megan McGurk, host of Sass Mouth Dames podcast.

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Follow along, The Good German is available on Vudu.

What is the film about?

While in post-war Berlin to cover the Potsdam Conference, an American military journalist is drawn into a murder investigation which involves his former mistress and his driver. They knew each other before the war, and now she is his driver’s mistress. What a coincidence or is it? There’s a murder investigation, deep secrets about what happened during the war that the characters carry with a great deal of shame.

Who does Cate play?

Lena Brandt, a German “stringer” caught in the chaos of post WW2 Berlin, holding a deep mystery about what she went through during the war.

How is Cate introduced?

6 minutes in, out of the shadows and into the light center screen. Great intro reminiscent of how 40s stars were introduced. Though just before that she’s shown body, no face in bed with Maguire.

What year did it come out?

2006.

Box Office: Domestic = $1.3MM     Int’l = $4.6MM

Critical Response: Metacritic : 49    RT: 33 

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Blanchett and Clooney in Berlin, built on a soundstage in LA

Topics discussed:

  • Blanchett’s performance as the center holding the film. The baton is passed from Tobey Maguire who opens the film to Clooney and finally to Blanchett revealing the story as hers.
  • Soderbegh set out to make a film that looked and sounded like an old studio picture, but without the old studio prohibitions so sex and profanity. Using period camera lenses and sets, attempting to mimic the classic studio style, through deliberate editing patterns and fairly restrained camerawork.
  • The film is notorious for how it completely failed; both with critics and audiences. We examine why. Was it because it was in black and white? The high stylization and deliberate pace? The not-so-happy ending?
  • Cate leans into exaggerated gestures and fluid theatrical body movements. 
  • Cate’s look, dark hair, red lipstick against the period black and white cinematography might be the best she’s ever looked on screen.
  • Obvious homage to Casablanca (1942), particularly the ending set similarly at an airport. Even the poster was a direct recreation.
  • Because of the obvious allusions to Casablanca (1942) this performance was compared to Ingrid Bergman’s, other critics mentioned Marlene Dietrich, citing Billy Wilder’s A Foreign Affair (1948). We also talk about Dietrich in Dishonored (1931) and Bergman in Arch of Triumph (1948). Cate acknowledged screening many 40s movies.
  • Her chemistry with George Clooney. Playing illicit doomed lovers, the screen must smolder if the bond is to be believed. 
  • George Clooney – he loves Cate but their luck in movies is bad. See also The Monuments Men (2013), another WW2 story. His performance is anti-leading man since he’s being constantly beaten up.
  • Our excitement about Cate in Nightmare Alley and how well suited she’s to the part of Lilith Ritter.

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Clooney, Blanchett and that blue dress

Scenes we liked:

  • “I survived,” gives Cate the chance to play a range of emotions. 
  • “You can never really get out of Berlin,” romance and longing.  

Film within context of Cate’s career:

Two years from her first Oscar win for The Aviator (2004), Cate was busier  than ever in 2006. She also had Babel and Notes on a Scandal released within weeks of this film. In an interview with NPR she apologized for “being very present at the moment.” 

What reviews said of film / Cate:

“a vamping Cate Blanchett, recalls Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s postwar heroine Veronika Voss by way of Carol Burnett.”- Manohla Dargis, NYTimes.

“With dead dark eyes, a dramatic slash of a mouth and a sullenness that encases whatever is left of her heart and soul, Lena is a vivid, if not exactly unique, creation, and Blanchett soon all but disappears into the forlorn, desperate character. She summons shades of Dietrich, to be sure, but brings Lena fully to life, at least to the extent she has life left in her.” – Todd McCarthy, Variety.

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Clooney, Blanchett, Maguire and Soderbergh at the LA premiere December 2006

Promotional work:

Blanchett told Reuters, “I had to use my own resources and invent my own version, because what was the point of imitating Marlene Dietrich, she does it perfectly herself.

In an interview with The Guardian, she said of the film: “It’s quite Brechtian, and the emotions are handled in that Forties way. There’s no introspection in Forties films unless it’s expressed externally, and that was really challenging. It’s not melodramatic, it’s what people do. Often, George [Clooney] and I would say, ‘Whoa, that felt eggy’ – it felt like you’ve got egg on your face – and Steven said, ‘If it doesn’t feel eggy, you’re not there.’ We just had to go for it.

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Cate Blanchett in ‘Truth’

In Truth, Cate Blanchett plays journalist and TV news producer Mary Mapes in the story of the fallout from the CBS investigation into George Bush’s military service, that led to the resignation of Dan Rather. The performance was warmly recieved even if the film wasn’t widely seen, we examine why in the latest episode. Hosted by Murtada Elfadl  with guest Kevin Jacobsen host of And The Runner-Up Is podcast.

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What is the film about?

From IMDB: Newsroom drama detailing the 2004 CBS 60 Minutes report investigating then-President George W. Bush’s military service, and the subsequent firestorm of criticism that cost anchor Dan Rather and producer Mary Mapes their careers.

What year did it come out?

October 2015

Who does Cate play?

Mary Mapes; TV news producer, and author. She is known for the story of the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse scandal, which won a Peabody Award.

How is Cate introduced?

Immediately as Mapes is hiring a lawyer who will represent her during an internal investigation that CBS is conducting, the set up for the flashback to the main story.

Box Office: Domestic = $2.5MM                Int’l = $5.3MM

Critical Response:     Metacritic : 66                 RT: 63

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Cate Blanchett as Mary Mapes in ‘Truth’

Topics Discussed:

  • Blanchett’s performance as the center holding the film. 
  • The movie is based on Mapes’ book Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power – does that make it inherently one-sided? Did we need to hear “the other side?” 
  • Awards wise – if this wasn’t the year of Carol could she have contended? Media seemed to think so in early fall post TIFF but the movie actually made no business. Is the performance worthy of awards?
  • The filmmaking- James Vanderbilt has an interesting career. Wrote David Fincher’s Zodiac (2003), The Amazing Spiderman movies (2012-14) and Adam Sandler’s Murder Mystery (2019). Also produced many movies including another collaboration with Cate; The House with a Clock in Its Walls (2018).  
  • Robert Redford as Dan Rather and the other actors – Elisabeth Moss, Dennis Quaid and Topher Grace.
  • The movie was filmed in Australia to accommodate Cate, giving the opportunity to many Australian actors and crew, including a dynamite Noni Hazlehurst as Nicki Burkett. Hazelhurst previously played Blanchett’s mother in Little Fish (2005).  
  • Journalistic procedural similar to Zodiac and other classics of the genre like All the President’s Men and Spotlight – that was the ambition. How was the reality?

Memorable quotes:

“Our story was about whether Bush fulfilled his service. Nobody wants to talk about that. They wanna talk about fonts and forgeries and conspiracy theories, because that’s what people do these days if they don’t like a story. They point and scream. They question your politics, your objectivity, hell, your basic humanity. And they hope to God the truth gets lost in the scrum. And when it is finally over and they have kicked and shouted so loud, we can’t even remember what the point was.”

 Scenes we liked:

  • Above monologue – shows Cate at her best.
  • The tense tv interview with Col. Bill Burkett (Stacy Keach) – shows the different allegiances, priorities and the corporate machinations.

What seemed off:

  • The morality tale is intriguing but perhaps the story itself is minor and does not warrant a film treatment?
  • The exposition between Quaid and Moss where they explain Rather is Mapes’ “father figure.” The film hammers that connection, does it feel real? Much better is the scene in the hotel when they share a drink and he tells her he’ll apologize on camera.

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Redford, Blanchett and Bruce Greenwood in a scene from ‘Truth’

What reviews said of film / Cate:

“Suffering only from a measure of familiarity when set beside the actress’s other work, Blanchett’s performance is forceful yet delicately shaded, and she renders Mapes with admirable complexity: We see a hard-working wife and mother who struggles to find time with [family], but also a tough-as-nails producer whose excitement outstripped her attention to detail at one crucial moment.”Justin Chang, Variety.

Blanchett makes us feel the creeping horror of professional disgrace, the fear and stigma, however unfair Mapes argues her treatment may have been. We watch a polished professional come apart at the seams, caught up in self-incrimination and spiralling neurosis. She’s in the form of her life at the moment.”Tim Robey, The Telegraph.

“The weirdness of “Truth”—and, I fear, its involuntary comic value—arises from a disparity between the sparse and finicky minutiae of the narrative and the somewhat bouffant style of the presentation. As the program airs, those who have toiled on it are seen smiling in proud slow motion, while ordinary folk, all across the nation, in bars and in living rooms, stare up at their TV screens as if witnessing the descent of the Messiah. Later, when the report unravels, along with Mapes’s sang-froid, the film offers up as tear-streaked tragedy which is, in fact, a cautionary tale about photocopying, the moral being that you should check your information at the source. Vanderbilt has marshalled his material with scrupulous care, as he did when he wrote the script for David Fincher’s “Zodiac,” so how come that movie was twenty times more riveting? Partly because of Fincher’s scary visual command, and because deaths rather than deadlines were at stake, but also, I suspect, because the new film clings to the nagging thought that if the National Guard story had held firm the Presidential election—and thus recent history—might have followed a different path.”Anthony Lane, The New Yorker.

Giorgio Armani hosts 'Truth' film screening at the Cinema Society, New York, America - 07 Oct 2015
Mapes, Blanchett, Redford and Rather at the film’s New York premiere October 2015

Promotional work: Cate on Mapes for NY Magazine:

“I went online, as one does, and I saw this series of interviews Mary gave after the story had come out. I saw this quiet, defensive lockdown in her, and when I met Mary, I found it very difficult to reconcile this vivacious, hilarious, searingly intelligent and instinctual human being with that. I thought, somewhere between those two things, those two energies, lies the performance.”

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Cate Blanchett as Hela in ‘Thor: Ragnarok’

In this episode we discuss another Cate Blanchett foray into playing a villian in a big blockbuster; as Hela the goddess of death in Thor: Ragnarok (2017). Other topics discussed include the Marvel cinematic universe, who’s the best Chris and Taika Waititi’s singular comedic vision. Hosted by Murtada Elfadl  with guest writer and critic Joi Childs, host of The Color Grade podcast.

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What is the film about?

From IMDB:  Imprisoned on the planet Sakaar, Thor must race against time to return to Asgard and stop Ragnarök, the destruction of his world, at the hands of the powerful and ruthless villain Hela.

When did it come out?

November 3, 2017.

Who does Cate play?

Hela, The Asgardian goddess of death. Hela also happens to be the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first major female villain.

How is Cate introduced?

About 20 minutes into the film, freed from prison after Odin dies. She immediately destroys Thor’s hammer Mjolnir.

Box Office: Domestic = $315,058,289   Int’l = $538,918,837

Metacritic :74                   RT: 93

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Cate’s movement and walk prove how great a physical performer she is

Topics discussed:

  • General impression on Marvel films. Where does Thor: Ragnarok rank?
  • Marvel villains. Have they solved their problem with Hela, Thanos and Killmonger? Or perhaps they never had a villain problem?
  • Cate is usually great when going full camp. Does she go far enough here? Could the script have given here more? What does she bring to the film?
  • Why does Cate play villains in big blockbusters? In addition to Thor she was the heavy in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), Cinderella (2015).

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Blanchett with Waititi on set

  • Irreverent tongue in cheek tone and quirky characters that obviously comes from Taika Waititi. Is this the funniest superhero movie?
  • Who’s our favorite Chris? Candidates are Hemsworth, Pine, Evans and Messina. Never Pratt.
  • Is Hemsworth funny?  He cerainly keeps trying to be.
  • Hela’s look; skin tight jumpsuit with bare shoulders, smoky eye makeup, antlers.
  • Cate’s body movements are to die for; the walk, the hand movements.
  • Thor and Hulk as comedy buddies – does it work?

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Crush that hammer, Cate!

Scenes we liked:

What seemed off:

  • Cate isolated with Karl Urban for most of the film, away from the main action. 

What reviews said of film / Cate:

“Like most of the better Marvel efforts, Thor: Ragnarok feels like the work of a unique sensibility instead of a huddle of brand managers. While the studio’s films demonstrated plenty of comic flair right from the start of its shared-universe experiment, with 2008’s Iron Man, recent efforts have veered too far into bland, jokey listlessness; frivolity has trumped lightheartedness, pandering has replaced irreverence. But in Ragnarok, directed by the Kiwi filmmaker and actor Taika Waititi, the gags are weird enough, and land frequently enough, that it all seems to be coming from someplace — and someone — real.”Bilge Ebiri, The Village Voice

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Cate Blanchett as Hela isolated in Asgaard with Karl Urban

“There are bright spots and imaginative touches here and there, including a high-functioning alcoholic mercenary named Valkyrie (the excellent Tessa Thompson) who winds up entangled in the inevitable war for Asgard’s survival. But whether Waititi is cross-cutting distractedly between planets, letting Blanchett channel her inner Jean Marsh or trying to give Idris Elba and his orange contact lenses something to do, he never finds a proper groove or holds your attention for more than minutes at a time. Maybe that’s not a bug, but a feature. The director has set himself the unenviable task of making a movie that never stops trying to wow you, all while seeming too cool and insouciant to care if you’re wowed or not.” Justin Chang, LATimes

Hela appears, a lithe vision in a black and beetle-green unitard. Her makeup looks like what happens to a smoky eye after you’ve slept in it, and she sports a marvelous set of black antlers, as if she’d raided a glam hunting lodge. She’s surely a very busy Norse goddess, because she disappears for long stretches of the movie. Thor: Ragnarok is boyishly eager to reveal Thor’s goofy likability to us, as if it were something we hadn’t yet cottoned to. Directed by the enormously talented New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi, it’s well intentioned but ultimately numbing, an instance of fun overkill whose ultimate goal seems to be to put us into a special-effects coma. Not even the occasional inspired touch — like Cate Blanchett as the silky villainess Hela — can save it. It’s at least three movies rolled into one, with maybe half a decent one in there. But like Thor himself, it sure is big. And if you value quantity over quality, it’s a lot of movie for the money.” – Stephanie Zacharek, Time

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