Cate Blanchett in ‘Babel’

This week we tackle one of Cate Blanchett’s weirdest roles, that of an injured American tourist traveling in Morocco in Babel (2006). To discuss Alejandro González Iñárritu’s film and Blanchett’s penchant to sometimes take on small supporting parts, Murtada welcomes to the podcast Zita Short, critic for InSession Film and Jumpcut Online and host of The 300 Passions Podcast.

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What is the film about?

From IMDB:  Tragedy strikes a married couple on vacation in the Moroccan desert, touching off an interlocking story involving four different families.

Who does Cate play?

Susan Jones, an American tourist who gets injured during a trip to Morocco. 

What year did it come out?

2006

Box Office: US= $34MM Outside US = $101MM

Critical Response: Metacritic : 69    RT: 69 

Cate Blanchett with Brad Pitt on the set of Babel

Topics Discussed:

  • The films of Alejandro González Iñárritu which include Amores Perros, Biutiful, 21 Grams, Birdman and The Revenant.
  • Cate and Brad Pitt – made two films together in quick succession. See also The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008). What do we think of them as a screen couple? 
  • The theme of globalization – how people are treated in  “foreign lands,” the Americans in Morocco vs. the Mexicans in the US.
  • Linking the separate stories together by the end is something Iñárritu  loves to do. See also Amores Perros. It feels slightly overengineered.
  • Weird role for Cate; she spends almost the entire movie on the floor of a hut in Morocco.
  • Babel was an Oscar success with nominations for best film and best director (the year The Departed and Martin Scorses won). Also nominated were the performances from Adriana Barraza and Rinko Kikuchi.
  • Are Cate and Brad playing “ugly Americans” abroad? The film does not shy away from presenting them as entitled despite the circumstances that they are in.
  • Lots of familiar faces in the cast. Harriett Walter, young Elle Fanning, Clifton Collins Jr and Michael Pena. Kōji Yakusho from Koreda’s The Third Murder.
  • Babel vs. Crash –  many reviews made the comparison perhaps because of the multiple story lines. Babel is weirder, less sentimental.
Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt in a scene from Babel

Film within context of Cate’s career:

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‘Carol’ Part Four: The Influences and Inspirations

We conclude our Carol miniseries with a discussion about the influences and inspirations behind the 2015 film masterpiece. From those acknowledged by the director Todd Haynes – David Lean’s Brief Encounter – to others we gleaned from watching the film many times – the films of George Cukor, Deborah Kerr in The End of the Affair and Haynes’ own Far From Heaven. For this conversation Murtada welcomes back Izzy from Be Kind Rewind to discuss these topics and how forming a relationship with a film changes the way you view over time.

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The film is available on vudu.

Topics Discussed:

  • Why does Carol resonate and has such cultural capital six years into its life. True or are we just living in a Carol bubble?
  • Todd Haynes’ women; their internal lives brought to splendid vivid life. This time we get two. Compare Carol and Therese to Cathy Whitaker in Far From Heaven and the other Carol in Safe.
  • Haynes insists that Carol and Far From Heaven are not similar despite taking place in the same time period. He maintains Carol is more realistic, a love story and not a melodrama though he also says “naturalism is artificial. It’s all artificial.” 
  • Haynes mentions David Lean and Brief Encounter as a direct inspiration for the epilogue and coda of Carol. Other Lean romances include Summertime and Doctor Zhivago
  • Because of the period setting this performance was compared to those from the golden age of hollywood. We talk about Deborah Kerr in The End of the Affair and Greta Garbo’s Romance.
  • Cate’s look, blond hair, red lipstick against the period exquisite cinematography. She has a similar look in Nightmare Alley currently on release. 
  • How with repeated viewing the film becomes funny without losing its emotional impact.

Previous Episodes in the Carol MiniSeries:

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Bonus Podcast: Oscar Nominations Reaction

In this bonus episode we are discussing the 2022 Oscar Nominations. Our take on the acting categories and best picture. The discussion touches on the performances of Kristen Stewart, Nicole Kidman, Olivia Colman, Andrew Garfield and Denzel Washington. We lament the exclusion of Ruth Negga and raise a glass to Lady Gaga’s fun and fascinating press tour for House of Gucci. For this conversation Murtada welcomes back Izzy from Be Kind Rewind

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Other movies discussed include West Side Story, The Power of the Dog and Parallel Mothers and of course the two Cate Blanchett movies that were nominated for best picture Don’t Look Up, and Nightmare Alley.

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Bonus Podcast: The Buzz on Sundance Movies

In this bonus episode we are discussing the many films we screened at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. For this conversation Murtada welcomes Li Lai, founder and editor in chief of Mediaversity Reviews to discuss a few films including Bill Nighy in Living, Emma Thompson in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande and two films for both Dakota Johnson (AmI OK? and Cha Cha Real Smooth) and Regina Hall (Master and Honk for Jesus Save Your Soul).

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Other movies discussed include Rebecca Hall in Resurection, Fire of Love, Palm Trees and Power Lines, Nanny, After Yang, Call Jane, Free Chol Soo Lee, and Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power. We also discuss whether the selection reflected a diversity of voices.

For more context check out Murtada’s letterboxed list.

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‘Carol’ Part Three: The Perfect Actress for the Role

Cate Blanchett’s the top is so many ways. The top star, the top actress. And in Carol she plays the top. In the third of our multiple episodes about Carol (2015), the topic is the perfect merge of actor and role with Blanchett as Carol Aird. For this conversation, Murtada welcomes Maggie Larkin to discuss how Blanchett’s screen persona makes her the ideal actor to play this role.

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The film is available on vudu.

Topics Discussed:

  •  How many times have we seen Carol – why does it resonate?
  • Why is Cate Blanchett so well suited to play Carol? What makes her such a compelling screen presence is what makes her perfect for Carol. The confidence, the glamour, being a consummate actor playing someone who’s always putting on a facade, forced to hide themselves from the world. She plays the text and the subtext, yet never shows all her cards.
  •  Cate always fares better when she shares the screen with other women – think Judi Dench, Sandra Bullock etc.- She is far too intelligent and dominant when paired with men.
  • Deep dive into a few particular scenes that prove Blanchett is the perfect Carol.
  • The chemistry between Cate and Rooney Mara.  
  • Favorite press tour moments 1) Santa barbara Award presentation 2) At Cannes.
  • Blanchett recieved a SAG nomination for Nightmare Alley. Will she be Oscar nominated?

Previous Episodes in the Carol MiniSeries:

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Sundance 2022: Good Luck to You, Leo Grande

For my coverage I’m writing shorter reviews of first impressions. Thoughts about the films I watched and plan to delve into more when they are releasd. Here’s the first dispatch on Emma Thompson in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande.

In Good Luck to You, Leo Grande Emma Thompson reminds us why we need movie stars. Why do we build that relationship over time and cherish it. Thompson is a great actress and here she’s playing a fictional character not herself. Yet so much of how I reacted to this performance was based on the history I have with Thompason. My idea of her screen persona and why I’ve always loved watching her.

Thompson is Nancy Stokes, a 50-ish widow who’s never had an orgasm in her life. She hires a sex worker (Daryl McCormack) and the film follows the two as they try fulfilling Nancy’s desires and fantasies over three encounters.The screenplay by Katy Brand and the direction by Sophie Hyde are both breezy, unfussy and McCormack is a clear comforting presence. A good foil for Thompson. 

But this is all Thompson. And again our history with her. When she sits down to tell a sex memory, just lying in bed. No fuss in language, or camera movements. Just Thompson. We believe her but more than that we feel for her. We do that because we are also thinking of Margaret Schlagel and Elinor Dashwood and Lauren from Love Actually. Our feelings about her and her new wonderful performance crash into each other and the spillover is pure joy.

Cate Blanchett in ‘Veronica Guerin’

This week we go back to Cate Blanchett’s early career and another one of her “titular” roles, playing Irish journalist Veronica Guerin (2003). To discuss Joel Schumacher’s film, Murtada welcomes illustrator and designer Dash Silva to the podcast. This wide ranging conversation also covers Blue Jasmine, The Aviator, the accent work of Meryl Streep and a few of this year’s best actress awards contenders including Lady Gaga, Jessica Chastain and Kristen Stewart.

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What is the film about?

From Wikipedia: The film’s about Irish journalist Veronica Guerin, whose investigation into the drug trade in Dublin led to her murder in 1996, at the age of 37.

Who does Cate play? Veronica Guerin – another one of her “titular” roles.

How is Cate introduced? 2 mins in court defending herself as a reckless driver. It’s an exciting prelude before the film goes back 2 years to tell the story.

What year did it come out? 2003

Box Office: US $1.5MM, rest of the world $ 7.8MM Critical Response: Metacritic: 55 RT: 53

Ciaran Hinds and Cate Blanchett in Veronica Guerin

Topics Discussed:

  • Guerin is a major figure in Ireland, the film came just a few years after her murder and tries to capture the legend.
  • A clear good vs. evil narrative. Does it get at the complexity of the story?
  • The portrayal of Guerin as dogged, focused, intimidating and intimidated, brave and frightened. Many notes for Cate to play.
  • An odd choice for Joel Schumacher or is it? He seems to make many different genres of film. Best known for Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, he also directed a musical (The Phantom of the Opera), thrillers (8MM and Falling Down), melodramas (Dying Young and Flawless) and even a rom-com (Cousins). This is his Erin Brockovich.
  • Since Cate does an Irish accent here let’s pit her against the Accent Queen; Meryl Streep. Irish (Dancing at Lughnasa), Italian (The Bridges of Madison County vs. Cate actual Italian in Heaven ), English (Plenty vs. Notes on a Scandal).
  • Brief interlude about Cate’s performances in The Man Who Cried, The Aviator and Blue Jasmine.
  • Oscar winner Brenda Fricker (My Left Foot) and current Oscar hopeful Ciaran Hinds (Befast) are in the cast. Plus a Colin Farrell cameo ( a meta joke since they talk about Eric Cantana who’s in Elizabeth). 
  • Brief mentions of Cate’s two films out now in release; Nightmare Alley and Don’t Look Up.
  • This year’s best actress hopefuls; Lady Gaga in House of Gucci, Kristen Stewart in Spencer and Jessica Chastain in The Eyes of Tammy Faye.

What critics said at the time:

Cate Blanchett plays Guerin in a way that fascinated me for reasons the movie probably did not intend. I have a sneaky suspicion that director Joel Schumacher and his writers (Carol Doyle and Mary Agnes Donoghue) think of this as a story of courage and determination, but what I came away with was a story of bone-headed egocentrism. There are moments when Guerin seems so wrapped up in her growing legend and giddy with the flush of the hunt that she barely notices her patient husband, who seems quite gentle, under the circumstances, in his suggestions that she consider the danger she’s in and think of their child.Roger Ebert.

Film within context of Cate’s career:

  • 2003 was a busy year for Blanchett, see also The Missing, Coffee and Cigarettes and her 3rd time as Galadriel in LOTR:The Return of the King.
  • 2003 was the last year of her wilderness era post Elizabeth (1998) when her movies didn’t seem to connect. The year after she appears in The Aviator and for the next 4 years she’ll have a great run.  

Further Reading:

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Cate Blanchett in ‘The House with a Clock in its Walls’

A witch and a warlock teach an orphan boy how to becme a magician in The House with a Clock in its Walls, one of Cate Blanchett’s more curious film choices. We discuss her performance, what makes co-star Jack Black special on screen and briefly touch on the response to her two films on release. For this conversation Murtada welcomes filmmaker and podcaster Chels, from Untitled Cinema Gals to the podcast.

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Topics Discussed:

  • This is a “nice” movie, in addition to being a kid’s movie.
  • A humorous script (written by Eric Kriple based on the novel by John Bellairs), full of bon mots “do the right thing, lie to the kid,” verbal barbs between Florence and Jonathan (Jack Black).
  • Jack Black – what makes him special on screen. We choose his best film and coolest moment. “Look at Catherine Zet Jones, she’s snoring,”
  • Contemporary actresses who played witches include Cher, Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer(The Witches of Eastwick)Meryl Streep (Into the Woods), Anjelica Huston (The Witches), Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock (Practical Magic), Tilda Swinton (The Chronicles of Narnia). Who’d win in a battle?
  • We celebrate the annoucement of Blanchett’s collaboration with Pedro Almodovar for an adaptation of Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Women.
  • Brief discussions of the two Blanchett movies out on release now; Nightmare Alley and Don’t Look Up.

Film within context of Cate’s career:

She really liked working with Eli Roth, because they are re-teaming this year with Borderlands. This must “the one for my children.”

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‘Carol’ Part Two: The Queer Cultural Impact

In the second of multiple episodes about Carol (2015), the topic is the cultural impact the film had on queer people. From memes to comedy routines, Carol was adored. For this conversation, Murtada welcomes writer and film programmer Shayna Maci Warner of Critically Queer, to review the film and talk about its queer legacy.

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The film is available on vudu.

What is the film about?

From Letterboxd:  In 1950s New York, a department-store clerk who dreams of a better life falls for an older, married woman. Based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith

Who does Cate play? 

Carol, a wealthy NJ woman in 1952 who begins an affair with a young shopgirl that has big ramifications on her life.

How is Cate introduced? 

3 minutes in as Carol and Therese are interrupted at the Plaza..yet it’s that mesmerizing first look in the department that seals the deal we are in for something special.

What year did it come out?

2015

Box Office: Domestic =  $12.7 MM, Int’l =  $27.5MM its cultural impact goes way beyond these numbers.

Critical Response: Metacritic : 94     RT: 94

Topics Discussed:

  • A lesbian film made by queer people: Todd  Haynes, Phyllis Nagy, Christine Vachon, Sarah Paulson. There are some straights too.
  • Desert Hearts (1986) another great lesbian film.
  • The Democratization of access and how it led to Carol‘s cutural impact., see also Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1986).
  • Carol’s seduction of Therese.
  • Cate Blanchett’s heightned portrayal of Carol, playing both the character and the way Therese sees her.
  • The innuendo, the declaring love without saying anything, the drop of the gloves. These  women use everything at their disposal to communicate; except words.
  •  Rooney Mara charts a stingingly real arc for Therese from naivety to maturity.
  • The chemistry between Blanchett and Mara.
  • Blanchett’s ’s chemistry with Sarah Paulson – the only known queer person in the cast.
  • “Mommy’s baby.”
  • The memes; “Harold they are lesbians,” the support group , “gay shaking”  
  • Kathryn Hahn and Rachel Weisz set to the score of Carol.

Other episodes in the Carol series:

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