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.
There’s a comet hurtling towards earth and a bunch of movie stars at trying to not look up at it. To discuss Cate Blanchett’s second movie this holiday season -Adam McKay’s climate change satire Don’t Look Up– Murtada welcomes critic Boyd van Hoeij from The Film Verdict to the podcast.
Don’t Look Up is being sold as a cross between Dr Strangelove and Network. Are the similies spot on?
The targets of the satire – incompetent governments, media, tech billionaires, populace believing in politics not science – are obvious. There’s a shorthand that makes each character’s real world avatar easy to get hence the laughs but does that undermine the film’s intelligence?
Huge cast – Leonardo DiCaprio, Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, Rob Morgan, Tyler Perry, Jonah Hill, Ariana Grande, Mark Rylance, Timothée Chalamet… and more? Who’s funny? Who’s annoying? Who’s unmemorable? Who brought the heart and pathos? Who stands out?
Leo’s big Peter Finch-like monologue. Does it work?
In the first of multiple episodes about Carol (2015), the topic is the love story. How Therese and Carol fell in love, how Todd Haynes visualizes falling in love and the scorching chemistry between Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. For this conversation, Murtada welcomes filmmaker Luke Willis, to discuss all the above as well as rank the best line reading uttered by Blanchett.
Cate Blanchett is back in cinemas this holiday season. And the podcast is back for a final season of episodes. We kick things off with the first of the two Cate movies coming out this month, Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley. For this conversation Murtada welcomes film critic Leila Latif, to discuss the film, how it differs from 1947 version, and the performances of Cate as a femme fatale, Rooney Mara, Bradley Cooper and Toni Colette.
Early on in Being the Ricardos the cast and crew of I Love Lucy are assembled for a table read of an episode of the show. It’s sometime in 1952. Something is off, they can’t land the jokes. Is it the writing? The actors? The film takes a jump into Lucille Ball’s head. She starts to imagine the show alive. And with that she’s able to pinpoint what’s off and of course fix it. This must be a film about Ball’s creative process? Alas that was a brief interlude, though it’s repeated a couple more times, how Ball (Nicole Kidman) creates or how her show is conceived are not top of mind for writer/director Aaron Sorkin. Instead he’s concerned with Ball being accused of communism, of how the show deals with her second pregnancy and if her husband and creative partner Desi Arnaz Jr (Javier Bardem) is faithful in their marriage.
The film takes place during one production week of I Love Lucy, or as the logline puts it “from Monday table read through Friday audience taping.” Somewhat entertaining, Being the Ricardos plays well as a behind the scenes look at I Love Lucy. Then it starts cramming a few too many plots into its “one week with Lucy” premise. The aforementioned fractured marriage even comes replete with flashbacks about how they met and fell in love. The second pregnancy subplot comes with stock characters representing the network and advertisers. We will deal with Lucy’s involvement with HUAC – The House Committee on Un-American Activities – later in this review. All seemingly interesting subplots. However each is peripherally introduced, quickly dealt with and neatly resolved. There’s no nuance, no complexity to any of it. Nothing grips the audience or resonates.
Most unforgivable from a seasoned screenwriter is an awkward framing device. Three writers from the show are shown in a present day setting introducing and commenting on the main action. This is a dramatic cop out for Sorkin. He can’t coherently bring together the different strands of his screenplay so he utilizes this lazy concept to make it make sense.
Kidman is known for her inconsistent accents. She always sounds Australian with a Los Angeles affectation, no matter where her character is supposed to be from. Whether Russian (the recent Hulu show Nine Perfect Strangers) or American (Big Little Lies and many others throughout her career). Here the accent is good for once and she dropped her voice an octave or two to mimic Ball’s. However beyond the voice work, her performance is subdued and remains at an emotional remove. Maybe it’s because Ball is mostly shown at work; a place where emotions are checked. However when playing one of the most animated people in the history of entertainment, a little passion is called for.
Bardem brings charm and effervescence to the film. With his performance you understand why Arnaz was a popular entertainer. Unlike Kidman. However both performances are only skin deep and do not grapple with why Lucy and Desi’s fracturced marriage endured as long as it did. We get neither the attraction nor the competitive nature of their relationship that the script is harping about.
Kidman fares better with the sweet mentoring relationship Ball has with a writer played by Alia Shawkat. Acknowledging that even though they are from different generations and have different takes on how to use their voices as women in the workplace, they got each other’s back. Maybe more of that Sorkin.
The script is uneven and broad. This could be any workplace in the 1950s. None of the dilemmas and interactions are specific enough despite the constant name dropping. Sorkin’s dialogue cadence is also played out at this point. Why do Lucille Ball, Steve Jobs and the fictional denizens of The West Wing all speak in the same back and forth repetitive cadence? It makes all of Sorkin’s work sound the same. As a director he brings no panache and no point of view, we never get a sense of the story in the way he frames the actors. It’s just mid shot to close up to wide shot, rinse and repeat. No rhythm or sense of drama. He’s also saddled with shoddy looking CGI on Kidman and Bardem in the flashbacks as the younger Lucy and Desi.
Most unforgivable is the coda that resolves the “red scare” subplot. You may skip this if you do not want to be spoiled. Before the taping the show, Arnaz calls J Edgar Hoover to prove Ball is not a communist and then the studio audience watching literally applauds Hoover. It is such an odd note that I’m still reeling from it. The film is asking us to admire Hoover for coming to Ball’s rescue. But it raises so many questions. Did she actually need to be rescued? From what exactly? How are we supposed to feel by this resolution that implies that HUAC was actually a good thing that happened to Ball when we know – FROM HISTORY – it ruined many lives and McCarthysim became a shorthand for fear, biased accusations and unhinged governmental power. Sorkin, you got some explaining to do.
Being the Ricardos is in theaters this Friday December 10 and on Prime Video December 21.
Halfway through Spencer I began to question whether I have ever liked Pablo Larrain as a filmmaker. Earlier this year his adaptation of Stephen King’s Lisey’s Story was unwatchable. I did not care for The Club (2015). But I had to remind myself that I liked No (2012), Jackie (2016) and Neruda (2016). Maybe this new one will end up in the like column as well. Alas it did not.
Spencer is supposedly the story of the weekend country sojourn in which Princess Diana of Wales, née Spencer (Kristen Stewart), decided to divorce Prince Charles (Jack Farthing). It’s told like a ghost story; a woman in peril in a big house, surrounded by dubious people, some might be in her corner, others want to sabotage her. It’s Diana as Rebecca(1940). And it’s as alienating as much of Larrain’s work. Though done with top notch craft and an aesthetic recognizable to most cinephiles.
Larrain and screenwriter Steven Knight have a good premise. They are trying to tell a story of finding the fortitude to break away from a life that’s suffocating while being completely isolated. However they run out of narrative threads quickly and spend the rest of the movie repeating themselves. Diana, isolated with no one to trust. The servants in the big house (Timothy Spall, Sean Harris and Sally Hawkins among them) might be spying on her for the royal family. Or are they her allies? Repeat over and over again. Then so many scenes of Diana running. Along hallways, in the meadows. And so much twirling. So much twirling. So much of it that it bears repeating. The movie’s true title should’ve been “Twirling With No Substance.” Who knew it would be Larrain who would inherit the mantle from Terence Malick in this most dubious of categories.
There is nothing about what Knight wrote or what Stewart plays that is specifically about Diana. The details are vague. This could be about any anonymous rich white lady trapped in a cult. One who has access to fancy clothes, castles, maids and personal cooks. Stewart plays her like a haunted woman trapped and she’s effective. However she neither looks nor sounds like Diana. Inhabitation is not necessary with biopics, sometimes just a nod to the real person is enough. See Renee Zellweger as Judy Garland. But there’s not even a nod here. If this wasn’t called ‘Spencer” we wouldn’t be talking about awards. Nor would a swath of the potential audience be interested. So maybe it’s a calculated move. Let’s make a movie about a haunted woman trying to escape from a cult. Any woman, no need to be specific nor add any recognizable details. But still call it Spencer. Boo! Awards. Buzz. Magazine covers. Box office though might not materialize if enough people catch on to what it really is.
Impersonation aside, Stewart is no more than fine. She plays this woman as very frightened, as if she’s in a gothic horror film. Whispery breathy voice, quizzical look. It fits the framework Larrain put her in. However the critical response to this performance is baffling. Even within Stewart’s limited oeuvre it doesn’t stand out. She’s been much more affecting with Olivier Assayas in Clouds of Sils Maria (2015) and Personal Shopper (2017).
All of this would have been forgotten if Spencer actually had a story to tell. This is a bunch of scenes shot well, with actors repeating the same notes over and over in different but limited locations. There is nothing to see here.
About the hundredth time characters in Mike Mills’ C’mon C’mon expressed themselves clearly and verbosely and said exactly how they were feeling at that moment, I almost lost it. Who has this clarity? Who can articulate their feelings so eloquently at every waking moment of their lives? Who are these people? They must be aliens from an alternate universe of never ending therapy sessions. These people have done the work and figured themselves out. Even the 10 year old kid. Movies are not real, I understand that. Yet this is one that wants to be taken as reality, while not realizing what a fantastical world it has built. And a false one at that.
The film stars Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny, a radio talk show host who’s making a documentary about what children think of the future. He’s going around the country interviewing young people when his sister Viv (Gaby Hoffman), asks him to take care of her child, Jesse (Woody Norman). She has to leave town to deal with the child’s father (Scoot McNairy), who’s in the grips of a manic episode. Obviously uncle and nephew will make a deep connection. Though tentatively at first, perhaps running into some misunderstandings. Yelling, tears and laughter will be involved. And if you guessed Jesse will be interviewed for his uncle’s program and make a profound statement, then you’ve hit the jackpot.
Yet none of the events that happen on screen feel real. Interspersed through the main narrative are the interviews Johnny conducts with kids in LA, New York and New Orleans. I guessed we were supposed to feel the anxiety of the next generation and their hopes. I said I guessed because what was on screen was merely false platitudes that rang hollow. The exception is one young person speaking about losing faith in the adults who are supposed to help but can’t.
In flashback we see Johnny and Viv taking care of their late ailing mother. Again we are supposed to understand the enormous grief and the years of pent up frustration between the siblings. But because they keep telling us in the present how they were feeling at the time, it doesn’t make the impact Mills hopes for. The last straw for me was using the oldest trick in the book; the precocious child who asks the “difficult” questions. Boy did I roll my eyes. Cheap and teetering on insufferable.
The black and white cinematography gives the audience something nice to look at while watching what’s inherently not a cinematic story. It’s mostly people on the phone talking about their feelings. The cast acquits themselves well, especially when you consider they are tasked with being in constant open wound mode. This a more relaxed Phoenix, reminiscent of his work in Her (2013) and miles away from Joker (2019). Hoffman has to play 90% of her scenes talking into an iphone, maybe Mills is trying to make a point about how we communicate today or something. Wish he could’ve varied the technology so we could see Hoffman in more than just the one mode. Though all the actors try their hardest to bring empathy to their characters; something was missing. Like what Annette Bening was able to do in Mills’ previous film 20th Century Women (2016); add a dose of no nonsense to the saccharine proceedings.
C’mon C’mon played the Spotlight section at the 59th NewYork Film Festival and will be released on November 19th.
Cate Blanchett and Julianne Moore, two actresses linked in our minds as the muses of Todd Haynes, have only shared scenes on screen in 1999’s An Ideal Husband. For this episode Murtada welcomes back Chris Feil, host of This Had Oscar Buzz podcast, to discuss the film, whether it retains the wit of its author Oscar Wilde and the performances of Cate, Julianne, Minnie Driver, Rupert Everett and Jeremy Northam.
Does the film succeed in preserving Oscar Wilde’s wit from the stage play?
Mostly a fun watch because of the actors.
Writer and director Parker re-worked Oscar Wilde’s play by cutting Mrs Chevely’s (Moore) part and beefing up Mabel (Driver).
Cate is an uncompromising good person while Julianne plays the mischievous meddler. They are in direct opposition to each other. Their scene together is a highligh and makes great use of pronouncing the word “detest”.
Similar to The Talented Mr. Ripley, this film cast 5 actors showing lots of promise or just after their big break. Looking back it’s interesting to see what happened to their careers since. First lead for Everett post My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997), Driver post Oscar nom for Good Will Hunting (1997), Moore post Boogie Nights (1997), Jeremy Northam post Emma (1996) and Cate post Elizabeth (1998). Which begs the question; where is Jeremy Northam now?
Cate plays someone who is completely and utterly in love with Northam that she made me re-examine my feelings about him. Why was he the only one of the 5 not to make the poster?
Lindsay Duncan’s brief but delicious turn as Lady Markby, Mrs. Chevely’s hype machine.
Could it have been on this set that someone said to Cate, “I’m the star of this film, not you,” an anecdote she shared last year? We speculate with no evidence.
This is a podcast that celebrates actresses so this time we celebrate Julianne Moore; Chris’ favourite actor.
“To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance”
“When one pays a visit, it is for the purpose of wasting other people’s time and not one’s own”
“It is not the perfect, but rather the imperfect who have need of love”
Film within context of Cate’s career:
The first film released post Cate’s first Oscar nomination for Elizabeth(1998).
Film within the context of year it’s been released:
Festivals: Closing film of the 1999 Cannes Film Festival.
Awards: Golden Globe nominee best actor (Rupert Everett) and best actress (Julianne Moore). Bafta nominee for Adapted Screenplay, Costumes and Makeup.
We go way back for this episode, to Cate Blanchett’s early screen performance in the Australian film Thank God He Met Lizzie. We discuss the film, the performance and its link to Katharine Hepburn’s screen persona as well as Blanchett’s long professional partnership with the film’s other star, Richard Roxburgh. Hosted, produced, written and edited by Murtada Elfadl.