Cate Blanchett in ‘The Good German’

For this episode we visit with Cate Blanchett among the ruins of 1945 Berlin in Steven Soderbergh’s re-creation of a 1940s melodrama, The Good German. A film and performance we consider to be Blanchett’s most underrated. Hosted by Murtada Elfadl with guest Megan McGurk, host of Sass Mouth Dames podcast.

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Follow along, The Good German is available on Vudu.

What is the film about?

While in post-war Berlin to cover the Potsdam Conference, an American military journalist is drawn into a murder investigation which involves his former mistress and his driver. They knew each other before the war, and now she is his driver’s mistress. What a coincidence or is it? There’s a murder investigation, deep secrets about what happened during the war that the characters carry with a great deal of shame.

Who does Cate play?

Lena Brandt, a German “stringer” caught in the chaos of post WW2 Berlin, holding a deep mystery about what she went through during the war.

How is Cate introduced?

6 minutes in, out of the shadows and into the light center screen. Great intro reminiscent of how 40s stars were introduced. Though just before that she’s shown body, no face in bed with Maguire.

What year did it come out?

2006.

Box Office: Domestic = $1.3MM     Int’l = $4.6MM

Critical Response: Metacritic : 49    RT: 33 

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Blanchett and Clooney in Berlin, built on a soundstage in LA

Topics discussed:

  • Blanchett’s performance as the center holding the film. The baton is passed from Tobey Maguire who opens the film to Clooney and finally to Blanchett revealing the story as hers.
  • Soderbegh set out to make a film that looked and sounded like an old studio picture, but without the old studio prohibitions so sex and profanity. Using period camera lenses and sets, attempting to mimic the classic studio style, through deliberate editing patterns and fairly restrained camerawork.
  • The film is notorious for how it completely failed; both with critics and audiences. We examine why. Was it because it was in black and white? The high stylization and deliberate pace? The not-so-happy ending?
  • Cate leans into exaggerated gestures and fluid theatrical body movements. 
  • Cate’s look, dark hair, red lipstick against the period black and white cinematography might be the best she’s ever looked on screen.
  • Obvious homage to Casablanca (1942), particularly the ending set similarly at an airport. Even the poster was a direct recreation.
  • Because of the obvious allusions to Casablanca (1942) this performance was compared to Ingrid Bergman’s, other critics mentioned Marlene Dietrich, citing Billy Wilder’s A Foreign Affair (1948). We also talk about Dietrich in Dishonored (1931) and Bergman in Arch of Triumph (1948). Cate acknowledged screening many 40s movies.
  • Her chemistry with George Clooney. Playing illicit doomed lovers, the screen must smolder if the bond is to be believed. 
  • George Clooney – he loves Cate but their luck in movies is bad. See also The Monuments Men (2013), another WW2 story. His performance is anti-leading man since he’s being constantly beaten up.
  • Our excitement about Cate in Nightmare Alley and how well suited she’s to the part of Lilith Ritter.
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Clooney, Blanchett and that blue dress

Scenes we liked:

  • “I survived,” gives Cate the chance to play a range of emotions. 
  • “You can never really get out of Berlin,” romance and longing.  

Film within context of Cate’s career:

Two years from her first Oscar win for The Aviator (2004), Cate was busier  than ever in 2006. She also had Babel and Notes on a Scandal released within weeks of this film. In an interview with NPR she apologized for “being very present at the moment.” 

What reviews said of film / Cate:

“a vamping Cate Blanchett, recalls Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s postwar heroine Veronika Voss by way of Carol Burnett.”- Manohla Dargis, NYTimes.

“With dead dark eyes, a dramatic slash of a mouth and a sullenness that encases whatever is left of her heart and soul, Lena is a vivid, if not exactly unique, creation, and Blanchett soon all but disappears into the forlorn, desperate character. She summons shades of Dietrich, to be sure, but brings Lena fully to life, at least to the extent she has life left in her.” – Todd McCarthy, Variety.

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Clooney, Blanchett, Maguire and Soderbergh at the LA premiere December 2006

Promotional work:

Blanchett told Reuters, “I had to use my own resources and invent my own version, because what was the point of imitating Marlene Dietrich, she does it perfectly herself.

In an interview with The Guardian, she said of the film: “It’s quite Brechtian, and the emotions are handled in that Forties way. There’s no introspection in Forties films unless it’s expressed externally, and that was really challenging. It’s not melodramatic, it’s what people do. Often, George [Clooney] and I would say, ‘Whoa, that felt eggy’ – it felt like you’ve got egg on your face – and Steven said, ‘If it doesn’t feel eggy, you’re not there.’ We just had to go for it.

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Ocean’s 8′ and the Peak of Cate Blanchett’s Celebrity

This week Murtada welcomes Kate Halliwell, who writes for The Ringer and hosts Tea Time podcast to discuss Ocean’s 8 and the period post Carol (2015) which they both consider to be Blanchett’s peak celebrity and pop culture power.

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What is the film about?

From imdb: Debbie Ocean gathers an all-female crew to attempt an impossible heist at New York City’s yearly Met Gala.

What year did it come out?

2018

Who does Cate play?

 Lou Miller, second in command to Debbie Miller. The Pitt to Bullock’s Clooney. Butch femme, loves motorcycles and wears a mean jumpsuit and leather pants.

How is Cate introduced? 

6 minutes in tampering with the vodka while Judge Judy plays in the background. 

 Box Office: Domestic = $140,218,711 Int’l = $ 157,500,000

Metacritic : 61 RT: 69

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Topics discussed:

1- Ocean’s 8

  • BDE – was that created just to describe Cate’s energy in this film?
  • The paparazzi photos during shooting – Cate and Rihanna in Central Park, that cute dog dancing – were better than the movie!
  • Hustlers is the movie we hoped Ocean’s 8 would be
  • Who’s the mvp : Anne Hathaway or Cate’s wardrobe? 
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Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett in Ocean’s 8
  • Cate’s wardrobe; props to the costume designer Sarah Edwards for getting it right and perhaps reflecting an edgier more downtown side of Cate’s IRL aesthetic.
  • The chemistry between Cate and Sandra. 
  • What scenes did we like? What seemed off? 
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Blanchett, Awkwafina, Paulson, Hathaway, Bullock, Kaling, Bonham Carter and Rihanna at the film’s New York premiere June 2018

2- Cate’s post Carol’s celebrity power

  • The memes, the devotion, the hive, the conspiracy theories… it’s a movement.
  • Harold they’re lesbians!
  • Cate as a fashion icon, how she understands the red carpet is performance why she gets many abuzz when she glides down a carpet or releases a magazine photo shoot.
  • What is the peak pop culture moment for Cate post 2015?
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Kristen Stewart eyeballing Cate Blanchett at the Jury photo call at the Cannes Film Festival May 2018

1) the Carol press tour late 2015 into 2016

2) Presiding over the Jury at Cannes May 2018

3) The Ocean’s 8 press tour (that Today Show interview with Sarah Paulson, the many suits she wore to all the press events) May-June 2018

4) Lip-synching at a drag show in NYC February 2017 to Dusty Springfield’s You Don’t Own Me

5) Even fellow celebrities are stans; from Gillian Anderson to Val Kilmer

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

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:

Cover of Vanity Fair February 2009. 

Promotional appearances:

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