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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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