Cate Blanchett in “Bandits’

A retread of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? A homage to the pop music of 1980s Welsh singing sensation Bonnie Tyler? The rare American studio film that celebrates polyamory? It’s all of these things; Barry Levinson’s Bandits (2001). It also has Cate Blanchett lip-synching, dancing and kissing both Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton. We also discuss our favorites in this year’s Oscar race for best actress as the nominations are announced. For this conversation Murtada Elfadl welcomes back Kevin Jacobsen host of And The Runner-Up Is podcast, who previously guested on our episode about Truth.

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Follow along, Bandits is available on HBO Max.

What is the film about?

From IMDB: Two bank robbers fall in love with the girl they’ve kidnapped.

When did it come out?

October 12, 2001.

Who does Cate play?

Kate Wheeler, a bored depressed housewife looking for adventure.

How is Cate introduced?

Kate Wheeler is talked about all through the first scene but then we have to wait 35 minutes for the iconic Bonnie Tyler lip sync dance Holding Out for a Hero / Total Eclipse of the Heart.

Box Office: Domestic = $41.5MM Int’l = $26MM

Critical Response: Metacritic : 60 RT: 64

Topics discussed:

  • Obviously A Butch cassidy and the Sundance Kid retread.
  • The initial car drive with Billy Bob – the best scene in the movie, certainly Cate’s funniest.
  • Bruce Willis’ wig needs to be seen to be believed.
  • Neil Young jokes? The humor in general seems not funny. The film drags, its comedic rhythm off.
  • Appreciated that the movie ultimately is on the side of polyamory. Can’t think of another American studio film that does that.
  • The framing device – a take on TV’s America’s Most Wanted – does it work? Or does it bog down the film and puncture its rhythm?
  • Billy Bob Thornton is too much. Too many quirks. Lots of telling us how quirky the character and not enough showing us.
  • Was this performance by Blanchett the blueprint for Jennifer Lawrence’s in American Hustle (2013)?
  • Barry Levinson, this came post his heyday in the late 80s (Rain Man, Good Morning Vietnam, Bugsy, Wag the Dog) and was perhaps his last big star driven film. Currently in the news gathering quite the cast (Oscar Isaac, Jake Gyllenhaal, Elisabeth Moss and Elle Fanning) for his movie about the making of The Godfather (1971), Francis and the Godfather.
  • Which of Cate’s upcoming movies are we looking forward to? James Gray’s Armageddon Time, Guillermo Del Toro’s Nightmare Alley, Borderlands.
  • How come she dropped out of the Lucille Ball movie? Let’s speculate.
Thornton, Blanchett and Willis in Bandits

Memorable quotes:

“Don’t argue I’m having a really bad day.”

“Kate’s an iceberg, waiting for the Titanic.”

”It’s the ultimate haiku to the complexity of love.” 

Blanchett, Troy Garity and Bruce Willis in Bandits

What reviews said of film / Cate:

A comedy that might have made Butch and Sundance jump off a cliff.” – Lisa Schwarzbaum, EW.

Bandits” is guilty of behaving like a petty thievery corporation; it steals from so many other sources that we’re forced to realize that it has little of its own to offer. But in isolated scenes, despite its photocopy quality, ‘Bandits” has a knockabout glimmer.” – A.O. Scott, NYTimes.

Films with context of Cate’s career:

We have talked about it before on the pod, another film in those post Elizabeth years where she was trying lots of genres to distance herself from her breakout role and prove she can do different thins. Here a rom-com.

Cate Blanchett with Helen Mirren at the NBR in January 2002

Awards:

Golden Globes : Nominations for Cate (Actress in a Comedy) and Thornton (Actor in a Comedy).

Screen Actors Guild: Nomination for Cate (Supporting Actress).

National Board of Review: Thornton (Best Actor also for The Man Who Wasn’t There and Monster’s Ball). When you are hot, you are hot. Thornton was at a career highs (post Sling Blade, Armageddon and A Simple Plan). Cate won NBR’s supporting actress award that year for her other 2001 movies LOTR, The Man Who Cried and The Shipping News. This this is the one movie they did not cite.

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Cate Blanchett in ‘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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Follow along, the film is available on Netflix.

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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