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Episode 7 – Little Fish

Perhaps Cate Blanchett’s least seen film, at least in the United States, Litte Fish (2005) is gritty and scrappy and unlike anything in her filmography.

HostMurtada Elfadl, some of Murtada’s film writing can be found here.

Guest : Valerie Complex some of Valerie’s writing can be found here.

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  • What is the film about?

From imdb: Set in the Little Saigon district outside of Sydney, a woman (Blanchett) trying to escape her past becomes embroiled in a drug deal.

  • What year did it come out?

2005.

  • Who does Cate play?

 Tracy Louise Heart, a former heroin addict who is desperately trying to escape her past and achieve her goals and dreams. 

  • How is Cate introduced?

 A minute in; fully dressed under water in a pool- striking image.

 Box Office: Domestic = $8,148   Int’l = $ 3,240, 358.

Metacritic: 77. Tomato Meter: 90.

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Topics discussed:

  •  A gritty Cate movie, unlike anything else she’s done. Why hasn’t she done more like this? 
  • One of the very few Australian movie she’s made- others include Thank God He Met Lizzie and Oscar and Lucinda (both released in 1997 before her international breakout Elizabeth). Shot Truth in Australia with a largely Australian cast and crew though the story and production were American.
  • Blanchett in 2005 post her Oscar win.
  • Sexy romantic Blanchett – who does she have chemistry with and why? She has it in spades with Dustin Nguyen in this film.
  • Queer Sam Neil and Hugo Weaving and the queer undertones of the story.

Scenes we liked:          

  • The ending is dreamy and optimistic despite tragedy.
  • Everytime Tracy/Cate deals with authority (at the bank, at Jonny’s place of work).
  • “Flame Trees” children’s choir after Tracy buys drugs for the first time in many years.

What seemed off:

  •  The thriller elements are not entirely satisfying but the actors are superb.

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Film within context of Cate’s career:

  • The first film released post her first Oscar win for The Aviator. 
  • Though it didn’t register and seems a blip in her career now.

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

  • Hardly released in the US, for only week in limited release.

What reviews said of Cate/the film:

To sink or to swim: that is the question. In “Little Fish,” Cate Blanchett does both. The great Australian actress sinks into the role Tracy Heart, a 32-year-old recovering drug addict who manages a video store in Cabramatta, a Sydney suburb nicknamed Little Saigon for its large Vietnamese population and known as the heroin capital of Australia. As in all her screen performances, Ms. Blanchett immerses herself completely in her character, a damaged, high-strung woman determined to live the straight life while surrounded by temptation.” – Stephen Holden, The New York Times. 

 “The actors are terrific, especially Weaving, who plays bottoming out as a tragedy spiked with gallows humor, and Blanchett, who digs deep into the booby-trapped nature of recovery. The revelation, however, is Rowan Woods, a major filmmaker in the making.” – Owen Gleiberman, EW.

“The title, one supposes, refers both to the small packages of drugs the characters deal in and to the people themselves. They’re victims and survivors in a larger predatory world. Two related images run through the film – swimming and the seaside. Tracy is liberated by her daily sessions in a swimming pool (where her old love for Johnny is rekindled), and the family is drawn together at last during a purifying visit to the beach at dawn.” – Philip French, The Guardian.

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Episode 6 – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

This week we discuss one of the most popular films Cate Blanchett has ever been in, yet oddly unrecognized as one of her signature parts. It’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), directed by David Fincher and co-starring Brad Pitt.

HostMurtada Elfadl, some of Murtada’s film writing can be found here.

Guest : Andrew Kendall, some of Andrew’s film writing can be found here.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

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  • What is the film about?

From imdb: Tells the story of Benjamin Button, a man who starts aging backwards with bizarre consequences.

  • What year did it come out?

Christmas 2008.

  • Who does Cate play?

 Daisy; Benjamin’s lifelong friend, they lose each other then find each other in the middle

  • How is Cate introduced?

The film opens with old Daisy in her deathbed. Then at 0:59 briefly Ballerina Daisy ie older Daisy appears for the first time her face scrubbed of wrinkles. Her story starts at 1:27.

Box Office: North America = $127,509,326 Int’l = $206,422,757.

Metacritic : 70. RT: 71.

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Topics Discussed:

  • Chemistry with Brad.
  • Cate in love stories.. Why does no man seem worthy of her on screen?
  • Outside of LOTR is one of Cate’s biggest hits; a result of wide distribution and availability. Does it reflect her screen persona ie if this was someone’s intro to her or what they know her from?
  • The technology … the makeup.
  • It spins tall tales, not just Benjamin’s but also Mr Gateau. Does the filmmaking fit the style of tall tales?
  • Where does it stand in Fincher’s filmography. Why are his fans and the critical establishment unkind to it?
  • It’s Cate Blanchett pod but let’s talk Taraji too! A very warm performance as evidenced by the laugh after she says “some joy too.” But is this character a modern version of the Mammy archetype?
  • Stacked cast: Mahershala Ali, Tilda Swinton, young Elle Fanning, Julia Ormond, Jared Harris.
  • Which part of the story sags a bit? Perhaps the Tilda part? Not just her story but also the tugboat.
  • Awards wise the film was beloved yet oddly not Cate’s performance, why? Because she’s “the girl?” Because she was absent for long stretches of screen time? The old age makeup despite the expert “old” voice? Was the category just crowded?

Famous quotes:

  • “We are meeting in the middle.” 
  • ‘He gives me the willies, that is not for me” said by one of the sex workers.

Costumes we loved:

  • The red dress on the first date with Benjamin; memorable. 
  • Her ensemble in the post show party when she ditches Benjamin for a fellow dancer.

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Scenes we liked:

  • The short film about Daisy’s accident. 
  • Older Daisy when Benjamin returns as a teenager.

What seemed off :

  • Is the storytelling too stately and classic for this odd little story? Does the tall tale crumble under the long Dr Zhivago- like epic treatment?
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Julia Ormond, Blanchett and Henson at the LA premiere in December 2008

Film within context of Cate’s career:

  •  Got her hollywood star of fame during the press for this film ie. bought for her by Paramount who released..introduced at the ceremony by Fincher and Kathleen Kennedy.
  • Came at the end of a very busy few years from 2004 to 2008 where Cate was very active in movies. It was the last film she made before taking a sabbatical for 6 years to run the Sydney Theater Company. In those years she didn’t completely abandon movies  (Hanna, Robin Hood) but she wasn’t as active. 

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

Awards: Nominated for 13 Oscars though not for Cate. 

It was a commercial hit yet has strangely disappeared from cultural discourse except for being the one side eyed within Fincher’s filmography.

What reviews said of film / Cate:

The movie, directed by David Fincher, will probably be a hit anyway, because the gimmick (adapted by Eric Roth from an F. Scott Fitzgerald story) is fun to play around with in your head, and because it’s liberating to watch makeup gradually come off an actor instead of getting thicker (and phonier). Fitzgerald spent the later years of his life haunted by the profligacy of his early ones; to reverse time and recover his youthful body and stamina but retain his aged wisdom must have been a blessed pipe dream. Fincher is no humanist (his most vivid film is the clammy, clinical Se7en), and he refrains from milking the material for sentiment—which means the movie isn’t mawkish, but it isn’t especially vivid either. The light is yellowish and diffuse, the backdrops—the clock, a factory wall, the side of a ship—oversize. It’s a gentle expressionism, redolent of death without rattling bones

Fitzgerald’s alter-ego finds his Zelda—called, aptly enough, Daisy—when she visits the convalescent home where his horrified father abandoned him. She grows up to be Cate Blanchett, whose face is uncannily ivory-smooth. When Daisy and Benjamin meet in the middle, both at the peak of their physical perfection, they’re like two Greek statues basking in each other’s radiance, albeit with dialogue that knocks them down a few pegs: “I was thinkin’ that nothing lasts, and what a shame that is.” As they move toward death, one in the direction of infancy and dirty diapers and the other toward old age and osteoporosis, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button attains a level of quiet grace. It’s too bad that I can barely remember the movie after only a week. Nothing lasts, indeed.’ – David Edelstein, NYMag.

Their time as lovers is the film’s most ecstatic passage, to which Blanchett (who played Pitt’s wife, under more trying circumstances, in Babel) lends all her intelligent warmth Richard Corliss, Time.

But the movie’s emotional center of gravity — the character who struggles and changes and feels — is Daisy, played by Ms. Blanchett from impetuous ingénue to near ghost with an almost otherworldly mixture of hauteur and heat.”- AO Scott NYTimes.

“A curious case indeed: an extravagantly ambitious movie that’s easy to admire but a challenge to love.” – Lisa Schwarzbaum EW.

Cate in relation to these co-stars, director, costume designer:

  •  Her only collaboration with Fincher who said about her, “I always say everyone was lucky enough to be in a Cate Blanchett movie.”
  • I want her and Pitt to work again together. Also made Babel together.

Press coverage other than reviews:

Promotional appearances:

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Episode 5 – The Aviator

What happens when an icon of cinema takes on another icon? Well an Oscar for starters. This week we discuss Cate Blanchett’s performance as Katharine Hepburn in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator (2004).

Host: Murtada Elfadl, some of Murtada’s film writing can be found here.

Guest : Manuel Betancourt, check out  his website for some of his writing.

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  • What is the film about?

From imdb: A biopic depicting the early years of legendary director and aviator Howard Hughes’ career from the late 1920s to the mid 1940s.

  • What year did it come out?

2004- released in the US in December, the rest of the world in 2005.

  • Who does Cate play?

Katherine Hepburn. From Sylvia Scarlett to Woman of the Year; 1935 -1940.

  • How is Cate introduced?
  • 27 mins in – long wait – Hughes lands on the set of Sylvia Scarlett, first close up with her hand shielding the sun – iconic. Then the golf scene. Gets the movie star treatment of course.

Box Office: Domestic = $102,610,330 Int’l =  $111,131,129.

Metacritic: 77. Tomato Meter: 86.

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Topics discussed:

  •  Impersonation vs performance – did she get the emotions right? Was it just surface, all perfect accent work, perfect posing in the frame?
  • Who’s Cate’s classic mirror actress? Is it Hepburn? Bette Davis, I think of Blue Jasmine as a Davis film and Cate would’ve killed it in Jezebel or Of Human Bondage.. There are shades of Marlene Dietrich particularly in her androgyny and high glamour. 
  • It’s a series of big scenes / set pieces for Cate/Kate. Every single one a showcase for Cate, no wonder she won the Oscar.
  • Is this Cate’s riskiest performance? Daring to take on an icon in the same medium for which she was known and celebrated. 

“Representing Kate in the same medium, film, in which she existed was very daunting. But because she was so private and few people really knew her, we basically know Hepburn through her films. So of course you have to give a nod to her screen persona when playing her.”- Cate to the NY Times.

  • What constitutes risk in screen acting? Subject matter? Artistic merit / independence? Collaborators?
  • Hepburn’s legacy and screen persona.
  • How does this film fit into Scorsese oeuvre. 

Famous quotes by the character:

Do your worst Mr. Hughes.”

I’m Not Acting.”

Howard, there’s a rather alarming mountain coming our way

I sweat and you’re deaf

And from Leo “You are a movie star. Nothing more

Costumes we loved:

  • The green gown at the movie premiere is to die for.
  • At the club with Hughes and Errol Flynn.
  • The golf outfit.

Scenes we liked:

See above basically all of Cate scenes. Sylvia Scarlett set, Golf, the night club, plane, bathroom, Hepburn family, breakup and later on outside Hughes’ door.

What seemed off:

Basically everything after Howard and Kate break up.The energy left the movie with Cate/Kate. Or is it just me?

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Film within context of Cate’s career:

  • Her first Academy award.
  • Came at the tail end of a few years of films – with the exception of LOTR – that didn’t connect with audiences or critics.
  • Was the start of a few years in which she collaborated with top tier international directors: Soderbergh, Inarritu, Fincher.

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

Awards: Won 5 Oscars (Cate, Sandy Powell, Thelma Schoonmaker, Cinematography and Art Direction). Nominated for Best picture, director, sound mixing, screenplay, Leo and Alan Alda. Cate also won BAFTA, SAG and came in 2nd at National Society of Film Critics. Leo won GG.

What reviews said of Cate:

Cate Blanchett has the task of playing Katharine Hepburn, who was herself so close to caricature that to play her accurately involves some risk. Blanchett succeeds in a performance that is delightful and yet touching; mannered and tomboyish, delighting in saying exactly what she means, she shrewdly sizes up Hughes and is quick to be concerned about his eccentricities.”-  Roger Ebert.

a cheerfully stylized performance.”-  Stephanie Zacharek, Salon.

A merely imitative Cate Blanchett, horsy and cursing, “Hot Dawg!” – Ella Taylor, LA Weekly.

Before he stopped cutting his toenails and hair and spiraled into oblivion, Hughes earned a reputation as a serial romancer. Hepburn was only one of many conquests, but she plays a central role in “The Aviator” because she gets Mr. Scorsese closer to the black box at the center of the story. Ms. Blanchett doesn’t look a thing like Hepburn, a discrepancy she tries to overcome by adopting a purposeful gait and delivering an overblown approximation of the actress’s legendary lock-jaw. For the most part Ms. Blanchett sounds as if she’s channeling one of Hepburn’s own overblown performances. But she gives the story a shot of adrenaline and, more importantly, does her job by making Hughes seem palpably human. So much so that when she runs off with Spencer Tracy you feel her absence immediately.” – Manohla Dargis, The New Times.

This cockeyed romance, which lasts considerably longer in the film than it did in real life, proves as charming as it is unlikely, thanks in large measure to Blanchett’s dead-on rendering of the star’s hauteur and vocal peculiarities.Todd McCarthy – Variety.

Cate in relation to these co-stars, director, costume designer:

  • Only collaboration so far with Scorsese and Di Caprio.
  • First collaboration with Sandy Powell, who’ll go on to costume Cate in Carol And Cinderella.

Press coverage:

  • 2nd of ultimate 5 Vogue covers coincided with the release of this film, Dec 2004.

NYTimes profile:

It’s such a brave performance by Cate, with the accent and mannerisms, that naturally there are those who will feel a certain way about it,” said Mr. Scorsese, who had been impressed with the actress’s “precision and boldness” since “Elizabeth” and considers Ms. Blanchett’s role in “The Aviator” one of the most “daunting in the film, even if some younger viewers won’t know who the real Katharine Hepburn was.

  • Great insight in the article on how she found Hepburn’s voice.

Some fashion moments:

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Episode 4 – The Gift

This week we discuss Cate Blanchett’s post-Elizabeth (1998) career and in particular The Gift (2000) directed by Sam Raimi.

HostMurtada Elfadl, some of Murtada’s film writing can be found here.

Guest : Kieran Scarlett, some of Kieran’s writing can be found here. Listen to his podcast, You Started It!

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  • What is the film about?

From imdb: A woman with extrasensory perception is asked to help find a young woman who has disappeared. The big supporting cast includes Keanu Reeves, Hilary Swank, Greg Kinnear, Giovanni Ribisi and Katie Holmes. 

  • What year did it come out?

 Limited release late December 2000, then opening early 2001.

  • Who does Cate play?

 Annie Wilson, the woman with the gift.

  • How is Cate introduced?

Her hands as she put down cards over the credits before her face is shown.

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Topics discussed:

  • Most reviews mentioned that this role seems miles away from her Oscar-nominated Elizabeth (1998) – did Cate mange to subvert expectations and show her range by choosing this film as her leading role follow-up? She also diversified by taking supporting parts in The Talented Mr Ripley, Pushing Tin released in 1999 and The Man Who Cried released in 2001. Also turned down Hannibal around this time.
  • On the flip side this film didn’t work leading to the start of Cate’s lost years between Elizabeth her breakout and The Aviator when something finally jelled. However she made many movies in differnt genres and learned how to be in front of the camera.
  • Cate subverts the trope of the scream queen by underplaying it subtle and all in the eyes and the tremble of the body. Does it work or did we need more drama and hysterics?
  • This was based on Billy Bob Thornton’s mother’s life???
  • Sam Raimi’s strange career – made this after A Simple Plan and For the Love of the Game and right before spending almost a decade making 3 Spider Man movies.
  • Starts with thunder and fog then proceeds to “gift” us with the entrapments – visual and sonic – of gothic mysteries. The bait and switch cliche of presenting the culprit as the sensitive guy who most understands our heroine.
  • Does the film have any cultural capital today beyond being in its cast’s filmography?
  • Domestic violence and child sexual abuse are introduced as plot points – are they handled with sensitivity and nuance or just paid lip service to?
  • Apparently many of the actors signed on for scale because they wanted to work with Cate.

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Famous quotes by the character:

  • “You see something bad?” is THE quote from the movie, delivered by Katie Holmes
  • “What does fuck mean? It’s a bad word for something nice.” Sounds like a Bill Bob quote.

Costumes we loved:

None really though all were appropriate. Annie is costumed very modestly in contract to Jessica (Holmes) and her friend played by Kim Dickens.

What seemed off :

  • Keanu is not good, Kinnear telegraphs a lot. Ribsi twitches.. Are they in the same movie as sublime Cate? 
  • The sript is overwrought but the direction makes it play.

Film within context of Cate’s career:

  • Doesn’t register now.
  • See above about her post Elizabeth work.
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The cast at the film’s LA premiere in December, 2000.

What reviews said of film / Cate:

A O Scott’s review starts with a graf about Cate but it’s mostly about the “but” it contains

“In the last few years, Cate Blanchett has shown a range few screen actresses of her generation can match, playing, among other roles, Elizabeth I, a Long Island housewife in ”Pushing Tin” and a lovelorn preppy in ”The Talented Mister Ripley.” Even when the movies themselves have been lackluster, Ms. Blanchett’s performances have been vivid with submerged feeling. She doesn’t so much embody her characters as haunt them, registering unspoken and unconscious hurt in the hollows of her face and her watchful blue eyes.”

“Even if you’ve figured out where The Gift is headed, the actors keep you watching closely.” – Stephanie Zacharek, Salon.

“The movie is ingenious in its plotting, colorful in its characters, taut in its direction and fortunate in possessing Cate Blanchett. If this were not a crime picture (if it were sopped in social uplift instead of thrills), it would be easier to see the quality of her work. By the end, as all hell is breaking loose, it’s easy to forget how much everything depended on the sympathy and gravity she provided in the first two acts.” Roger Ebert.

Cate in relation to these co-stars, director, costume designer:

  • Sam Raimi teased Cate about most of her films – including this one – being flops in a tribute video when honoring her with a career award at the Australian Oscars in 2016.
  • In 2 years she’ll work with Ribisi again in Heaven, one of her most unheralded but great performances.
  • Cate and Hillary Swank would win Oscars 4 years later on the same night for The Aviator and Million Dollar Baby respectively.

SF Chronicle interview with Cate:

“There were plenty of offers to drive a film after ‘Elizabeth.’ But there is no point in driving a film if you don’t have a story to tell,” 

Raimi to Newsweek:

Raimi was working with a budget reportedly under $10 million. But he had no trouble getting people like Keanu Reeves to work cheap when they’d read the rich, layered script–and heard who’d be telling their fortunes. “Once they knew Cate Blanchett was starring in the piece,” he says, “they knew they were going to be across from one of the best, if not the best, leading ladies in the world.” 

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Episode 3 – I’m Not There

This week we jump ahead to one of Cate Blanchett’s most fascinating transformations; as a version of Bob Dylan in Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There (2007).

Host: Murtada Elfadl, some of Murtada’s film writing can be found here.

Guest : Chris Feil, some of Chris’ film writing can be found here. Listen to his Oscar podcast, This Had Oscar Buzz.

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  • What is the film about?

From imdb: Ruminations on the life of Bob Dylan, where six characters embody a different aspect of the musician’s life and work.

  • When did it come out?

November 2007.

  • Who does Cate play?

Jude Quinn; a riff on electric guitar 60s counter revolutionary Dylan.

  • How is Cate introduced?

A dead corpse in the opening of the film, then at min 46 as Jude Quinn with a long VO intro, comes out guitar in hand, then shoots the audience with machine guns.

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Topics discussed:

  • Is this performance mimicry, a trick or much more? Did she find the soul behind the mannerisms?
  • Why was Cate singled out as the standout performance? Beyond genderbending what’s special about the performance?
  • Could we make the case for this being her best performance ever?
  • Which of the 6 Dylan personas work and which don’t? Why? Discussion the other performances.
  • Michelle Williams as Edgie Sedgwick and Julianne Moore as Joan Baez.
  • It’s an inventive way of making a biopic by having a take on its many different styles. Does it work?
  • D. A. Pennebaker’s 1967 documentary, “Don’t Look Back,” some of which Haynes remakes shot for shot.
  • Has the recent corporatization of music biopics – Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman, Yesterday – changed our perception of I’m Not There?

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Famous quotes by the character:

Saying ’cause of peace’, it’s like saying, ‘hunk of butter’, you know, I don’t want you to listen to anybody who wants you to believe is dedicated to the hunk and not the butter

Scenes we liked:

  • Some images are breathtaking, especially the framing of Cate walking through a corridor.
  • Press conference, meeting Ginsberg, Cate’s final shot looking straight at the camera.

What seemed off:

  • What AO Scott called “occasional exasperation at Mr. Haynes sprawling, hectic virtuosity.”

Film within context of Cate’s career:

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

Festivals: Venice, where Cate won the Volpi Cup as best actress.

Awards: Oscar nominee, Golden Globe winner (the year it was not televised), Indie Spirit winner, NSFC winner.

Reviews of film / Cate:

The star of the show is undoubtedly Blanchett, who has great fun playing Dylan as a showboat who quite knowingly goes about creating his reputation for rebellious independence.” – The Hollywood Reporter.

Stylistically audacious in the way it employs six different actors and assorted visual styles to depict various aspects of the troubadour’s life and career, the film nevertheless lacks a narrative and a center, much like the “ghost” at its core.” – Todd McCarthy, Variety.

“If the new film does cohere, for a while, that is thanks to Cate Blanchett, who, armed with curly wig and shades, delivers Jude Quinn, the most gripping of the Dylans on display. She looks like Elizabeth I after a long night out with Walter Raleigh and his packet of virgin smokes. Blanchett seems to yield herself to the project with more gusto and curiosity than the others, as if there were truths about Dylan that need to be unearthed, not merely toyed with, and she is unafraid to remind us of what a pain the man could be, especially when stoned, but even she has to wrestle with the camp knowingness of the script (“I’m the only one with any balls”) and, more alarming, with the flimsiness of the context.” – Anthony Lane, The New Yorker.

Cate Blanchett, under Wayfarers and frizzy hair, does a spectacular, soul-on-the-sleeve enactment of Dylan in his Don’t Look Back media-put-on phase. Blanchett makes Dylan a cussed dude who uses his wit to wound, and Haynes’ slyest joke is that the actress, from her lurching marionette posture to her boyish cheekbones to her slurry misanthropic mumble, is the film’s most exquisitely spot-on Bob.” – Owen Gleiberman, EW.

“Mr. Haynes’s film hurls a Molotov cocktail through the facade of the Hollywood biopic factory, exploding the literal-minded, anti-intellectual assumptions that guide even the most admiring cinematic explorations of artists’ lives. Rather than turn out yet another dutiful, linear chronicle of childhood trauma and grown-up substance abuse, Mr. Haynes has produced a dizzying palimpsest of images and styles, in which his subject appears in the form of six different people.”AO Scott, NY Times.

Haynes is not what one would call a natural filmmaker. His ideas are too evident, his schemata overly present. He is, however, a sort of natural Brechtian: His actors are always “quoting.” I’m Not There gets surprisingly naturalistic performances from Ledger and especially Bale. But it’s the blatant alienation effect provided by Marcus Carl Franklin and Cate Blanchett’s fastidiously copied mannerisms that truly dramatize the self-invented, sheer sui generis–ness of the Dylan trip.”-J Hoberman, The Village Voice.

Cate in relation to these co-stars, director, costume designer:

  • Her first collaboration with Haynes. Later Carol.We all owe a great debt of thanks To Todd Haynes’ body of work which has always been independent“ she said accepting the Indie Spirit award.

Press coverage other than reviews:

  • Todd Haynes to Rolling Stone on why he chose an actress for Jude:

“It was written and conceived as an actress to play the part of Jude from the beginning, before I knew it would be Cate. It was really just that moment in Dylan’s life. What was insane about the way Dylan looked in 1966 was that emaciated body, gigantic hair, the flying hands and the sort of weird marionette figure who was obviously exploring drugs and living on the edge. After the motorcycle crash, there was no flying hands, no big hair, no tiny, skinny body. That Dylan was gone forever. That’s such a famous image of Dylan. I wanted to try to reinfuse it with the cultural shock value of seeing that for the first time in 1965, ’66. So I thought an actress could be interesting, because there was an androgyny there. It wasn’t a Bowie androgyny, it was more a Patti Smith androgyny he was channeling.”

“She realised, she says, that Haynes wanted her to “inhabit the silhouette” of 1966 Dylan. “That’s why he’s cast a woman, because it’s the most iconic silhouette of his musical career. It was a really ironic gesture and also very clever. If a man played the role, people would have assessed it in a different way, whereas they’ve been able to get into the strangeness of what Dylan must have been like in that period by the very fact that I’m a woman. I don’t think it’s anything I’ve necessarily done.”

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Blanchett with Haynes at the 2016 Oscars (this is also Chris’ favorite Cate red carpet moment)
  • Haynes on Cate and “the frame,” in an interview with The Film Stage:

“I have to say, the really extraordinary actors I’ve worked with really do care about the frame, when I was working with Cate Blanchett on I’m Not There, she was playing a man in this role of Jude. She would look at playback. She didn’t look out of a sense of vanity; she just wanted to see how her hips were being filmed and how to place her body in the frame to minimize the broadest curves of her female hips. Sometimes it’s very technical reasons why actors want to see what the frame is. It’s all relevant. It all plays into what is the language and the style, and how is that style informing the interpretation of the storytelling and character. I find some of these extraordinary people I’ve been lucky to work with ask questions about the frame, and it’s always for reasons of how they’re going to interpret their performance accordingly.”

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Episode 2 – The Talented Mr Ripley

This week we continue examining Cate Blanchett’s early career by reviewing The Talented Mr Ripley (1999), directed by Anthony Minghella.

Host: Murtada Elfadl, some of Murtada’s film writing can be found here.

Guest: Jose Solis, some of Jose’s writing can be found here. Listen to his theater podcast, Token Theater Friends.

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  • What is the film about?

Based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith.

IMDB: In late 1950s New York, Tom Ripley, a young underachiever, is sent to Italy to retrieve Dickie Greenleaf, a rich and spoiled millionaire playboy. But when the errand fails, Ripley takes extreme measures. The cast includes Matt Damon, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Jack Davenport.

  • When did it come out?

1999, Christmas day in the US. Throughout 2000 in the rest of the world.

  • Who does Cate play?

Meredith Logue, a wealthy heiress travelling in Italy. A character created for the film.

She’s 4th billed, first after the title. Damon, Paltrow and Law are above the title.

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How is Cate introduced?

  • 8 Minutes in, flummoxed amid a hazy blur of luggage as Ripley arrives in Italy. “What’s your secret?” her first words to Tom.

Topics Discussed:

  • Queer themes… explicit/ not explicit.  
  • Identity “I’d rather be a fake somebody than a real nobody.”
  • Class Jealousy.
  •  The American Dream.
  • Meredith Logue is a character created by Minghella for the movie and is not in the book. 
  • Favorite moments for the other actors; Damon, Law, Hoffman and Paltrow.

The cast of "The Talented Mr. Ripley" pose at the

Costumes we loved:

Blue coat when shopping with Tom.                         At the opera. 

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Awards:

Oscars: Nominationss for Law, Adapted Screenplay, Costumes, Score, Art Direction.

Golden Globes: Drama Film, Director, Damon, Law, Score.

BAFTA: Law for Supporting Actor and Gabriel Yared for Score won. Cate was nominated. Also nominated for Picture, Director, Screenplay and Cinematography.

Film within context of Cate’s career:

Her follow up to big breakout of Elizabeth (1998). 

Gained more resonance when Cate played another Highsmith creation in Carol (2015)

Cate has a knack for taking on smaller parts see also Babel (2006), The Shipping News (2001).

Legacy:

Well reviewed but not ecstatically at the time, it has been elevated in estimation throughout the years, in large part because of the subsequent huge careers of the young actors who starred. Matt Damon, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Cate. Aesthetics have also stood the test of time. The clothes, the attitudes, sun soaked Italy.

What reviews said of film / Cate:

Meredith is a needy post-debutante played irresistibly by Cate Blanchett.” – Janet Maslin, NYTimes.

Damon, who does an uncanny imitation of Chet Baker’s androgynous rendition of “My Funny Valentine,” but Minghella keeps him on a short leash, and he’s in over his head anyway. Law queens his way through the supposedly straight role, and Gwyneth Paltrow is more tiresome than usual indulging her specialty of scrunch-faced, tearless crying. On the other hand, Philip Seymour Hoffman is exactly on the mark as a supercilious preppie, as is Cate Blanchett as a floundering heiress. It’s a sign of how watered-down the movie is that only the supporting actors have any bite.” – Amy Taubin-The Village Voice.

Cate Blanchett fills her small role with note-perfect detail.” – Lisa Schwarzbaum- EW.

The women are very underwritten. Paltrow is peaky and pallid; Blanchett does her very considerable best with Meredith, though yet again I wonder if anyone is ever going to give her a role to equal Elizabeth.” – Peter Bradshaw – The Guardian

Trivia discussed:

Cate and Julianna Margulies with Hoffman at the premiere (video).

Some of the fashion discussed in this episode:

Cate at the Oscars in 2000, in Lacroix at an event in 2010, in Balenciaga at the Blue Jasmine premiere in 2013.

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Episode 1: Elizabeth

Fot our first episode of the podcast, we review Elizabeth (1998), directed by Shekar Kapur. This film is considered to be Cate Blanchett’s international breakout and the first time many people have ever seen her on screen.

Host: Murtada Elfadl, some of Murtada’s film writing can be found here.

Guest : Teo Bugbee, some of Teo’s film writing can be found here.

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  • What is the film about?

From imdb: The early years of the reign of Elizabeth I of England and her difficult task of learning what is necessary to be a monarch.

Directed by Shekar Kapur; also starring Richard Attenborough, Geoffrey Rush, Joseph Fiennes, Emily Mortimer, Kelly McDonald and Daniel Craig.

  • What year did it come out?

1998 – first played at Venice in September. US limited release in November 1998, wide in February post Oscar nominations.

  • Who does Cate Blanchett play?

Duh – top billed. 

  • How is Cate introduced?

7 minutes in, dancing in a field among her ladies in waiting.

Box Office: Domestic = $30,082,699 (36.6%), Int’l = $52,067,943 (63.4%).

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Topics discussed:

  • Then vs now. Seen then as a new transformative dynamic violent and sexy take on history; different spin than usual polite masterpiece theater drama. That take doesn’t hold as much now since we’ve seen many other historical dramas and of that story in particular.
  • Historical veracity :  “I had to make a choice whether I wanted the details of history or the emotions and essence of history to prevail,” said Kapur.
  • Cate made a point in interviews at the time that this was an interpretation of English history made by outsiders from the commonwealth; an Indian and an Australian.
  • Elizabeth growing up into a wily politician; does the performance get us there? Are the behind the scenes political machinations the reason this film was resonant at the time?
  • The tone of the other performances e.g Vincent Cassel.
  • Joseph Fiennes vs Ralph Fiennes.
  • Is it camp? 
  • The Godfather (1972) comparison – many reviews pointed that out, and Kapur himself admitted that he modeled the ending after it. 
  • The gestural quality of Cate’s performance particularly in the quiet scenes where she thinking or wistfully looking at the distance. 
  • The ending is memorable and plays well with the image we know of Elizabeth.
  • Anne Hathaway on Cate – “It changed my life (Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth). There’s a scene where she does this little nose sniff and, I swear to God, I spent the first 6 years of my on-camera career trying to reproduce it. I never succeeded. People kept saying ‘Do you need a tissue?’
  • How the film compares with another film about European royalty, Queen Margot (1994).
  • There’s a lot of conversations about Elizabeth being a woman in a man’s role. What is the film trying to tell us?

Film within context of Cate’s career:

  • International breakout. Probably the first time many people – including me – saw her. 
  • Cemented her reputation as somebody to watch, someone who will have a long career and is a star actor. Don’t think anyone would watch it now for any other reason.

Awards: Nominated for 7 Oscars: Best Picture, Cate, Makeup ( Jenny Shircore won), Cinematography, Costumes, Production Design, Score. 

  • Cate won Golden Globe and Bafta.
  • It was the Oscars of 2 Elizabethan movies (also Skakespeare in Love).
  • Whoopi Goldberg came out dressed as Elizabeth at the Oscars “I am the African queen, some know me as the virgin queen… I don’t know who.”

What reviews said of film / Cate:

Blanchett’s triumph is to create a thoroughly convincing depiction of the journey from canoodling girlhood to the threshold of an imperial monarchy, battling her fears, shedding illusions, absorbing pain, learning judgment, turning anxiety into resolution, acquiring steel and sinew.”- The Guardian.

the captivating Cate Blanchett rules England in “Elizabeth” as if the monarch’s principal responsibilities were being bejeweled, choosing consorts and saying “Leave us!” with a wave of the hand.” – Janet Maslin NY Times.

More from Maslin “Ms. Blanchett, who was marvelous in “Oscar and Lucinda,” brings spirit, beauty and substance to what might otherwise have been turned into a vacuous role. Still, it’s jarring when the Queen dances in the midst of admirers as if this were “Saturday Night Fever” or sounds an awful lot like Tootsie when she declares: “I may be a woman, Sir William. But if I choose, I have the heart of a man!” Ms. Blanchett’s flouncing Elizabeth is bolstered by an impressive supporting cast, though the secondary characters engage in so many schemes that you may wish Bill, that nice new playwright from Avon, would drop into the film and make more sense of the dramaturgy.

But there’s more hot blood running through the veins of this opulent production than its A&E-style subject matter might suggest. This is a sensual, psychologically modern costume drama influenced by both The Godfather and gals’ guides to empowerment; beneath the finery of these schemers beat hearts as up-to-date as any on a TV drama, assuming a TV story line allows for beheadings.” – Lisa Schwarzbaum, EW.

What it gets right is the performance by Cate Blanchett, who was so good as the poker-playing glass manufacturer in “Oscar and Lucinda” (1997) and here uncannily comes to resemble the great monarch. She is saucy and heedless at first, headstrong when she shouldn’t be, but smart, and able to learn. By the end she has outsmarted everyone and become one of the rare early female heads of state to rule successfully without an alliance with a man.” – Roger Ebert

Elizabeth” is superior historical soap opera that shrewdly side steps all the cliches of British costume drama with its bold, often modern approach.”- David Rooney, Variety.

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at the 1999 Oscars

Press coverage other than reviews; NY Times profile:

Mr. Kapur, speaking on the phone from Delhi, said: ”Cate has a combination of strength and vulnerability, which, for me, is what Elizabeth was all about. She attacks a role with a ferocious intellectuality. You can’t pass anything by her, you can’t sweet-talk her into anything. But inside, she is all emotion.”

This vigor also struck Eccleston, who, as the Duke of Norfolk, plays one of Elizabeth I’s chief adversaries. ”There is a directness and gutsiness about Australian women that is great for the film industry, and that was great for Cate playing the monarch,” he said. ”I think that role would have defeated a lot of our middle-class English roses.”

Not many other in the archive… there’s a lot of coverage in 1999 and 2000; post her big breakout when she was appointed as the next big thing because of Elizabeth.

Closing Quote:

Brenda Blethyn at the Golden Globes where Cate won; she was nominated for Little Voice.

I only went to see Elizabeth (1998) because of Cate Blanchett. I thought she was absolutely fabulous and I was delighted she won. I think she’s a fabulous actress. I’m not altogether sure about the film but I did enjoy it, primarily because of her… she’s fantastic.”

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