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.
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.
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.
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.
A few minutes into Passing, Ruth Negga appears. She’s Clare Kendry, who is in New York accompanying her husband (Alexander Skaarsgaard) on a business trip when she spots an old friend Irene Redfield (Tessa Thompson) in the lobby of the Drayton Hotel. Resplendent in 1920s garments, blond hair and a mischievous smile on her face, Negga’s the cat that ate the canary personified on screen. Over the next few minutes she flirts with, cajoles and charms Irene into visiting her suite, staying and having drinks despite Irene being very uncomfortable. Irene can’t resist Clare and we in the audience cannot take our eyes off Negga for a second for fear of missing a gesture or a look. This is a performance so electrifying it demands attention from the very first second the character appears.
Passing, adapted from Nella Larsen’s novel and directed by Rebecca Hall, is the story of these two light skinned Black women living during the 1920s Harlem Renaissance. Irene occasionally passes for white for convenience. To take refuge in a cool hotel lobby during a heatwave. Clare passes for white all the time, she’s married to white man who doesn’t know she’s Black. When Clare moves to New York she decides to revive her friendship with Irene despite the latter’s discomfort with her lies and way of living. But close they become, as Clare longs to spend more time among Black people.
Larsen’s novel is rich with themes about identity and race. About the masks people put on and take off to survive. The relationship between Irene and Clare is complex. Do they like each other? Are they jealous of each other? Does Irene want Clare’s daring and carefree attitude? Clare seems to covet Irene’s sense of purpose and satisfaction with her lot in life. Hall threads the very fine line of including as much as she can from the source while not overwhelming the film. More often than not, she holds back rather than spell out anything. Her script is so subtle demanding the audience pay attention. Not to the words the characters are saying but rather to the performances the actors are giving.
And in Thompson, and particularly Negga, Hall hits pay dirt. Thompson holds the film together with grounded feeling as she’s in every scene. Irene is a woman who doesn’t say much, who holds her cards close to her chest. Thompson manages to convey her inner turmoil with understated panache. Negga comes in with reckless abandon and steals the film. This is a showstopping performance. She conveys the utter chaos of the character while maintaining the actor’s exacting control. Negga drops her voice when needed to amplify a point. She looks straight into the camera to throw off the audience from the conclusions we thought we made about the narrative and her character.
Everytime Negga looked at Thompson I thought to myself, “does she want to fuck her or kill her?” That sexual subtext was in the book but it’s more overt in the movie because of the performances. These women are clearly drawn to each other. They might want to trade places. The way they look at each and sometimes touch, they definitely feel a sexual charge. What I wish the movie had more of is the feel for Harlem in the 1920s. This is more a chamber piece set in a few rooms and hallways, concentrating on a few characters.
I am also conflicted about the use of black and white. On one hand making a film about colorism and draining it of color seems strange. Yet the film looks gorgeous and the actresses would not have “passed” to modern eyes if not for the black and white cinematography. Aesthetically it’s definitely the right choice as it fits with the other austere and deliberate choices Hall makes. From her sparse script to the intimate atmosphere that’s all inside Irene’s mind.
Passing is a confident, sometimes bold, directorial debut for Hall. It is also Ruth Negga’s most magnetic moment on screen. And for that it’s well worth cherishing.
Glamour! Big Acting ! An Accent! A few hallmarks of Cate Blanchett’s performances that we love are present in Sally Potter’s The Man Who Cried (2001). It’s a commanding star turn that shows Blanchett at her best, and for that the movie is a must-see for every Blanchett fan. We discuss the film and performance. Plus revisit Mrs. America and the show’s chances at the winter TV awards (Golden Globes and SAG).
From Wikipedia: A Russian Jewish girl (Christina Ricci) is separated from her father in 1927 and escapes to England, where she’s rechristened Suzie. She grows up to be a singer in a Parisian theater populated by a glamorous Russian dancer (Cate Blanchett), an egotistical Italian tenor (John Turturro) and a handsome horseman (Johnny Depp). When the Nazis invade France, however, Suzie’s life is suddenly in danger, and she attempts to flee to the United States, where her father moved years earlier.
Who does Cate play?
Lola, a glamorous Russian dancer.
How is Cate introduced?
20 minutes in as the star attraction amidst a chorus of dancers. after she finishes the dance, she winks directly at the camera and the audience.
What year did it come out?
Premiered at Venice September 2000. US release May 2001.
This movie hardly made a ripple in 2001. It is one of the very few Cate performances that I have never watched until now. Very hard to find…. youtube is your friend (wink).
Sally Potter as a distinctly visual filmmaker.
One of Cate’s early roles. Does the star quality appear? Of course, in fact this is a must-see for any Cate Blanchett fan because it shows her total command and allure as a screen star.
NBR awarded Cate best supporting actress for 2001 body of work including this, LOTRand The Shipping News.
Again a very physical full bodied performance – a theme we’ve talked about on this podcast. There’s a nervous energy to it though. Lola is always moving, gawky, not graceful like some of her other characterizations.
Memorable look; albaster skin, red cherry lipstick, very blond hair – so very noticeable
Cate the droll comedian, we dig deep into one scene; when telling the rules of seducing men… “without my looks I wouldn’t have gotten out of Russia.”
Lola is a tragic figure . We talk about how Cate makes her so with emphasis on a couple of other scenes.
One of a few movies that Christina Ricci headlined – what do we think of her?
What’s with all the brooding Johnny Depp on horseback scenes – for a while both he and Ricci are silent in their scenes together.
Film within context of Cate’s career:
2000 – 2001 was the time when the choices she made post her breakout with Elizabeth began appearing for audiences. She chose a few supporting roles; all of them very far from that monarch and one lead role in The Gift (2000); previously discussed.
What reviews said of film / Cate:
“Blanchett’s role is the dazzler: Rolling her eyes, shrugging her shoulders and flinging her long limbs about insouciantly, she’s the soul of studiously artificial glamour, whether shimmying in a trashy revue or bewitching an unwary suitor.” – Maitland McDonagh, TV Guide.
“The movie is like a series of climactic moments from a World War II mini-series strung together without the undercurrents that might build character: it’s all big moments, the world’s longest and most sincere trailer. In fact, the title character doesn’t even appear until the end of the picture. (Before that the film should be called ”The Woman Who Cries,” since Ms. Ricci’s trembling chin gets quite a workout.)
With accents heavier than the melodrama going on around them, Ms. Blanchett and Mr. Turturro add comic weight and warmth as two predators sizing each other up before they realize they’re the same species.” – A O Scott, NYTimes.
“Ironically, in the midst of all this high caloric camp, the one performer who escapes with her dignity, Cate Blanchett, does so not by underacting but by getting in full shameless touch with her miscast inner ham. As Lola, a transplanted Moscow gold-digger with a borscht thick accent and lips as glossy red as the inside of a chocolate covered cherry, Blanchett is like Mata Hari played by Gwen Stefani impersonating Veronica Lake. It’s hard to take your eyes off of acting this knowingly overripe.” – Owen Gleiberman, EW