A Misbehaving Blackbird

Gugu Mbatha-Raw in Misbehavior

September, even in this pandemic year, represents an interesting dichotomy in the film year. As news and breathless soundbites about new and exciting movies come from film festivals in Venice, Toronto and New York – the new movies becoming available are mostly mediocre. These are films stuffed with good intentions, socially relevant stories and celebrated actors. Yet something went amiss during the conception and/or production. So with little expectation I hit play on Misbehavior and Blackbird.

As usual my entry into these movies were the actresses. Susan Sarandon, Kate Winslet and Mia Wasikowska are in Blackbird. I knew it was a family drama about euthanasia so I thought at the very least I’d get these three actresses dealling with dramatic material and maybe there will be fireworks. There weren’t any but the film delivered on the rest.

Sarandon and Winslet in Blackbird

The story takes place over the last weekend in the life of a matriarch (Sarandon) suffering from a terminal illness. Along with her doctor husband (Sam Neil), she has decided to end her life so she gathered her daughters (Winslet and Wasikowska, their spouses (Rainn Wilson and Bex Taylor- Klaus respectively) her grandson (Anson Boon) and best friend (Lindsay Duncan). Confrontations ensue, secrets are revealed and the deep ties that bind family are supposed to get us to an emotional end.

Alas, because the script never goes anywhere unexpected and director Roger Michell shoots with minimal flair it was left to the actors to provide both the pathos and entertainment. Sarandon is commanding and understated playing this woman with a permanent look of resignation and wisdom. Winslet goes into the other direction deciding to give us a CHARACTER. Her imperious and never relaxed older sibling is a mixture of tics and rigid movements. The performance works in fits and starts and she fares better in the many showdowns between the sisters. That’s because Wasikowska is given a sketch of a character. All the cliches of the younger sister; she’s rebellious, lost, deals with substance abuse but all that doesn’t cohere into a recognizable human being stranding Wasikowska in the process. 

Winslet and Wasikowska in Blackbird

For a film dealing with such a weighty subject Blackbird is too slight to leave a mark. The script – credited to Christian Torpe – never tries to make any bold statements relying on a quiet slice of life familial narrative. That might be commendable though it also leads to a rather forgettable film.

Misbehavior is grander and more ambitious in its storytelling and thus more affecting. Set at the !970 Miss World competition in London, the film presents its story through the eyes of four real life characters. 

Knightley and Buckley at the center

First we have two contrasting views from white women fighting for women’s liberation. Sally Alexander (Keira Knightley)  who wants to make change by joining places of male power like academia. Then Jo Robinson (Jessie Buckley) who’s more radical and looking to dismantle all institutions. The contrast is built rather simply as these two women meet and join forces within the same activist group despite opposing tactics. Rebecca Frayn and Gaby Chiappe’s screenplay does not invent the wheel and the scenes where we get to know these two are familiar but also rather engaging. 

The third and perhaps most interesting point of view is introduced later in the film. Gugu Mbatha Raw plays Miss Grenada Jennifer Hosten who becomes the first Black winner of Miss World. The tension comes from Alexander and Robinson leading a disruption during the ceremony to protest how it objectifies women. Hosten and the first ever Black contestant from South Africa Pearl Janssen (Loreece Harrison) are trying to use the competition as a springboard to more opportunities and to inspire young Black girls everywhere. The best scenes are when the women talk to each other; Janssen and Hosten, Robinson and Alexander and finally Hosten and Alexander. It’s all earnest and heartfelt but the actresses bring a sensitivity and understanding that make these scenes touching. The film tries to balance their views and critique both the exploitation of beauty pageants and the sometimes bird view of white feminism. 

Knightley and Mbatha-Raw in Misbehavior

Under prosthetics Gregg Kinnear plays the host Bob Hope presenting the fourth and last point of view. While the filmmakers might have been trying to present the waning world of male entitlement and misogyny with this portrayal it doesn’t add anything insightful to the story. All it does is strand Lesley Manvile in a thankless as his nagging wife, Dolores Hope. I guess they needed to insert a real life famous figure. A more interesting perspective is that of Julia Morley (Keeley Hawes) the wife of the competition’s organizer who recognizes that they must change with the time or become obsolete. I wish the filmmakers beefed up that part instead.

Similar to other small slices of a well known life British movies like last year’s Judy – also with Buckley – Misbehavior is watchable thanks to the charming performances by its leading ladies. Like Blackbird it will be forgotten by next week.

Blackbird is available now in VOD and in select theaters. Misbehavior will be released on September 25.

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Steve McQueen’s Lovers Rock

A new Steve McQueen film is always reason for celebration and especially this one, his sexy and intoxicating swerve into joie de vivre. Lovers Rock which debuted as the opening night film of the New York Film Festival, is part of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology. The series comprises five original films set among London’s West Indian community in the 1970s and 1980s and inspired by stories remembered by McQueen and his family.

Distinctly a McQueen film with its long intense takes and shots that dissolve into one another. Though somewhat of a swerve for him into joie de vivre as these extended dance sequences show the euphoria and camaraderie of life, of people coming together.

Head over to Cup of Soul Show to read my full review…

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Introducing Murtada’s Corner

Let me introduce Murtada’s Corner which will be the new section where you can read about other topics. The podcast will remain all about Cate Blanchett but here I will branch into other writing – old and new – about other topics. Mostly cinema related.

Muligan in Never Let Me Go

I’m starting with another actress I admire, Carey Mulligan and a collection of articles I’ve written about her through the years. Happy Reading!

Carey Mulligan is an actress of immense range. Since her breakout at the 2009 edition of Sundance with An Education, she’s given us many tremendous performances. All of them heartbreaking and deeply felt in different ways, whether she’s a replicant trying to make human connections (Never Let Me Go), F Scott Fitzgerald’s famous Daisy (The Great Gatsby), a broken sister singing her heart out as a last cry for help (Shame) or a wife and mother facing the dissolution of her marriage and the paucity of choices after (Wildlife). And once again she gives an exceptional performance in Promising Young Woman

On her performance in Wildlife:

This is her shining moment. It’s her Blanche Dubois moment. Her Jeanette, a Montana housewife dealing with the repercussions of a crumbling marriage, is untethered yet Mulligan is in complete control. She holds the performance in her voice, as it trembles with emotion – hurt, confusion, anger, uncertainty  – all is clear to the audience through the timber of her voice.”

Click to read more…

and stream on Netflix

Mulligan’s performance is an emotional marvel and delivered with technical mastery. Her working class English accent is impeccable, her weariness and defeat is visible in her hunched back and heavy walk, her defiance rises to crescendo and is delivered with skillful control of her voice. This is why there are awards for acting.

Click to read more on Suffragette, also available to stream on Netflix.

And at this year’s Sundance Mulligan impressed me once more in Promising Young Woman.

Mulligan is engaging and ferocious throughout and the reason to immediately buy a ticket.

Click to read more….

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Fashion Moments We Hope to See at Venice

Cate Blanchett will start her jury president duties at the Venice International Film Festival this Wednesday September 2. The festival will be the first major international film event since the Covid-19 pandemic cancelled all events around the world. Fashion lovers  are cautiously excited since there will be some sort of red carpet.

Blanchett has indicated in an interview with WWD magazine that she plans to exclusively re-wear looks from her closet throughout the festival. Yes, no new couture for Cate this year. It fits a socially distant event to be more responsible and promote sustainability. So we applaud the decision and suggest six looks we hope to see on Cate in the next 10 days.

Arriving at this list was arbitrary. Balnchett has wowed so many times that it’s futile to try to come with any rhyme or reason for my choices. It’s just a few that I love. There is one I did not choose whilst being my favorite because I’d like it to remain exclusive to that moment, the Carol premiere at Cannes. 

Where / When : The Oscars, February 2011

Designer: Givenchy 

Divisive at the time but now universally acknowledged as one of Cate’s most audacious red carpet moments. Everything about it is unusual. The pale lavender color spiked with yellow, the intricate embroidery, the pleats and the architectural breast piece. So avant garde, so Cate!

Where / When: SK-II event in Shanghai, September 2010

Designer: Christian Lacroix 

This is more obscure yet remains one of my faves ever. A glowing burgundy gown embellished with shimmering gold sequins. We have previously waxed poetic about it on the pod.

Where / When: The Oscars, February 2007

Designer: Armani

She wore this column Armani couture silver sheath the year she was nominated for Notes on Scandal. That was also the year she witnessed a moment we love from the telecast. You can see her front row clapping and whooping when The Aviator director, Martin Scorsese won his first Oscar after many nominations and decades of a wonderful career. 

Where / When: Cannes Opening Night and premiere of Robin Hood, May 2011

Designer: Alexander McQueen 

What a way to pay tribute to the recently deceased McQueen at the time. Cate wore this gorgeous black and white gown with the striking eagle print just 3 months after McQueen had passed.

Where / When: The Good German, LA premiere, December 2006

Designer: Versace 

This cream and gold peekaboo dress is singular but rarely mentioned in any fashion retrospectives about Cate. Bring it back, let the people enjoy.

Where / When : The Oscars, February 2005

Designer : Valentino 

Go big and re-wear something from one of your biggest career moments. That would be the bespoke Valentino that was specially designed for her to collect her first Academy Award. Cate and Valentino wanted to create a unique fashion moment, so he dressed no one else that year at the Oscars. This Yellow taffeta with the mauve sash was certainly a big wow and my favorite Oscar fashion from Cate. 

I haven’t chosen anything from last year’s Venice or from her stint as jury president in Cannes 2018 because I wanted to go further back in time. However let us know in the comments what you want to see repeated from those festivals?

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2019 Redux

While the podcast is on hiatus for the next few weeks, revisit some of our more popular episodes from last year.

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Ocean’s 8 and the peak of Cate Blanchett’s celebrity post Carol (2015).

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Her spot on interpretation of Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator.

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An early career highlight in The Talented Mr. Ripley.

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The Podcast is on hiatus

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The second season of the podcast has wrapped. My thanks to all my guests on this 2nd season of Sundays with Cate. Hope you enjoy all 14 episodes that we recorded. I will taking a short break and will return later in the summer. Notes on a Scandal, Carol we have a few movies we havent discussed as well as other surprises in store for Season 3 of the show.

In the meantime all episodes and show notes are available here – just scroll down or click on the right side bar for you favorite podcast app.

If you are enjoying the podcast, please consider a small donation to help us with maintenance costs. The cost of a cup of coffee,  $3.00.

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Sarah Paulson’s Queer Confesssion about Cate Blanchett in Mrs. America

In a snippet from the podcast about the finale of Mrs. America Murtada and Tayler Montague discuss the possibility that Alice McCray (Sarah paulson) might have feelings fo her best friend, Phyllis Schalfly (Cate Blanchett). 

 

Follow along Mrs. America is streaming on Hulu. Then listen to our recaps of all 9 episodes.

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Cate Blanchett in “Mrs. America’ Recaps

The podcast will be back later in the summer. In the meantime here are our reviews of Mrs. America.

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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.

MRS. AMERICA -- Pictured: Bria Henderson as Margaret Sloan. CR: Pari Dukovic/FX

Episodes 6 & 7 with Andy Stewart plus an interview with cast member Bria Samoné Henderson

This time we 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. Murtada’s guest is Andy Stewart.

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Episodes 8 & 9 with Tayler Montague

To review the last two episodes of Mrs. America  Murtada Elfadl welcomes back guest writer and filmmaker Tayler Montague. The TV miniseries about the fight to ratify the equal rights amendment in the 1970s is created by Dahvi Waller and stars Cate Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly, the right wing polarizing organizer. 

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

Follow along the show is streaming on Hulu.

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The faces that Blanchett makes on this show!

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‘Elizabeth’ and the 1998 Oscar for Best Actress

For the 2nd season finale of the podcast, we return to 1998. Elizabeth was Cate Blanchett’s international breakout and the first time many people saw her on screen. Hence it deserves a revisit. To discuss the film again, along with Blanchett’s first Academy Award nomination and the 1998 best actress Oscar race, Murtada Elfadl welcomes Izzy from Be Kind Rewind Click to listen: Logo - Lizzy copy Subscribe:  Apple Podcasts   /   Stitcher   /  Spotify  /   iHeart 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. What year did it come out? 1998. Who does Cate 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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Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth I
Topics Discussed:
  • Why was this performance so well received? It was considered such an arrival of a major star. How much is the role? How much is Cate? She charts a whole journey and character arc from young woman to monarch to stateswoman to almost deity, getting the chance to play innocent, cunning, in love, betrayed; the whole gamut of emotions.
  • So many actresses played this part: Bette Davis, Glenda Jackson, Anne-Marie Duff, Helen Mirren and Margot Robbie. Why is it so attractive to storytellers?
  • What is the Cate moment that sealed her stardom and Oscar nomination? Basically what’s this film “I have a hurricane in me” from Elizabeth: The Golden Age?
    • Ominously surrounded by men as Elizabeth is interrogated in the tower early on the film. Vacillating between fear and trying to hold it together while answering a barrage of questions.
    • Her scene with Kathy Burke as Mary “I see you are a consummate actress.” 
    • Preparing and delivering her speech to the bishops.
    • Lamenting the defeat of her troops in Scotland by Mary of Guise.
    • The finale “I’ve become a virgin.
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Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth and Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love. Both won Golden Globes, Paltrow won the Oscar
Other 1998 Oscar Best Actress Nominees: Gwyneth Paltrow, Shakespeare in Love – the winner. She and Cate both won at Golden Globes. Meryl Streep, One True Thing – Nomination #11 out of 21. Only nomination for film. Great monologue, “I’m tired of being shushed.” Fernanda Montenegro, Central Station– won best actress at the Berlinale, LAFCA and NBR. She and Cate were runners up to Ally Sheedy (High Art) at NSFC. Runner up to Cameron Diaz (There’s Something About Mary) at NYFCC. This tweet is funny! Emily Watson, Hillary and Jackie – forgotten film, more of an afterglow nomination 2 years after Breaking the Waves. Interesting career trajectory with Blanchett as she was considered for Elizabeth.
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The other 1998 Oscar nominees were Fernanda Montenegro in Central Station, Meryl Streep in One True Thing and Emily Watson in Hilary and Jackie
Did Paltrow win because she played a romantic lead, something academy members are prone to award —Roman Holiday, Moonstruck—while Blanchett was playing a more traditionally male role as a monarch? More from Murtada and Izzy: Elizabeth was previously discussed on the podcast. Don’t miss Be Kind Rewind on how Shakespeare in Love won its Oscars. Note on the headline: This Oscar year is sometimes referred to as “the 1999 Oscars” since the ceremony took place in March of 1999. However I prefer using the year of the film’s release, 1998. Subscribe:  Apple Podcasts   /   Stitcher   /  Spotify  /   iHeart Like? Rate and Review. Have a question? Leave us a comment.