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.
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.
We are going back to the early 1970s to recap the first three episodes of Cate Blanchett’s first major TV role in the FX on Hulu show, Mrs America as polarizing right wing figure Phyllis Schalfly. We discuss her performance, the all star cast, the costumes and review the show. Murtada’s guest is writer and filmmaker Tayler Montague.
Episodes 4 & 5 with Casey Mink
In our review of episodes 4 and 5 we talk about Betty Freidan (Tracey Ullman) and Brenda Feigen Fasteau (Ari Graynor) debating Phyllis Schlafly (Blanchett). We also discuss talk Blanchett’s self slap, the fractions in the Feminist Movement, the “Tokenism” scene and many other topics. Murtada’s guest is staff writer at Backstage, Casey Mink.
Episodes 6 & 7 with Andy Stewart plus an interview with cast member Bria Samoné Henderson
This time we tackle episodes 6 and 7 of the series about Jill Ruckelshaus played by Elizabeth Banks and Bella Abzug played by Margo Martindale. Also in this episode an interview with Bria Samoné Henderson who plays activist Margaret Sloan on the show. Murtada’s guest is Andy Stewart.
Episodes 8 & 9 with Tayler Montague
To review the last two episodes of Mrs. AmericaMurtada Elfadl welcomes back guest writer and filmmaker Tayler Montague. The TV miniseries about the fight to ratify the equal rights amendment in the 1970s is created by Dahvi Waller and stars Cate Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly, the right wing polarizing organizer.
For the 2nd season finale of the podcast, we return to 1998. Elizabeth was Cate Blanchett’s international breakout and the first time many people saw her on screen. Hence it deserves a revisit. To discuss the film again, along with Blanchett’s first Academy Award nomination and the 1998 best actress Oscar race, Murtada Elfadl welcomes Izzy from Be Kind Rewind. Click to listen:Subscribe: Apple Podcasts / Stitcher / Spotify/ iHeartWhat is the film about?From imdb: The early years of the reign of Elizabeth I of England and her difficult task of learning what is necessary to be a monarch. Directed by Shekar Kapur; also starring Richard Attenborough, Geoffrey Rush, Joseph Fiennes, Emily Mortimer, Kelly McDonald.What year did it come out? 1998.Who does Cate play? Duh – top billed. How is Cate introduced? 7 Minutes in, dancing in a field among her ladies in waiting.Box Office: Domestic = $30,082,699 (36.6%), Int’l = $52,067,943(63.4%).Topics Discussed:
Why was this performance so well received? It was considered such an arrival of a major star. How much is the role? How much is Cate? She charts a whole journey and character arc from young woman to monarch to stateswoman to almost deity, getting the chance to play innocent, cunning, in love, betrayed; the whole gamut of emotions.
So many actresses played this part: Bette Davis, Glenda Jackson, Anne-Marie Duff, Helen Mirren and Margot Robbie. Why is it so attractive to storytellers?
What is the Cate moment that sealed her stardom and Oscar nomination? Basically what’s this film “I have a hurricane in me” from Elizabeth: The Golden Age?
Ominously surrounded by men as Elizabeth is interrogated in the tower early on the film. Vacillating between fear and trying to hold it together while answering a barrage of questions.
Her scene with Kathy Burke as Mary “I see you are a consummate actress.”
Preparing and delivering her speech to the bishops.
Lamenting the defeat of her troops in Scotland by Mary of Guise.
The finale “I’ve become a virgin.“
Other 1998 Oscar Best Actress Nominees:Gwyneth Paltrow, Shakespeare in Love – the winner. She and Cate both won at Golden Globes.Meryl Streep, One True Thing– Nomination #11 out of 21. Only nomination for film. Great monologue, “I’m tired of being shushed.”Fernanda Montenegro, Central Station– won best actress at the Berlinale, LAFCA and NBR. She and Cate were runners up to Ally Sheedy (High Art) at NSFC. Runner up to Cameron Diaz (There’s Something About Mary) at NYFCC. This tweet is funny!Emily Watson,Hillary and Jackie – forgotten film, more of an afterglow nomination 2 years after Breaking the Waves. Interesting career trajectory with Blanchett as she was considered for Elizabeth.Did Paltrow win because she played a romantic lead, something academy members are prone to award —Roman Holiday, Moonstruck—while Blanchett was playing a more traditionally male role as a monarch?More from Murtada and Izzy: Elizabeth was previously discussed on the podcast. Don’t miss Be Kind Rewind on how Shakespeare in Love won its Oscars.
Note on the headline: This Oscar year is sometimes referred to as “the 1999 Oscars” since the ceremony took place in March of 1999. However I prefer using the year of the film’s release, 1998.
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To review the last two episodes of Mrs. AmericaMurtada Elfadl welcomes back guest writer and filmmaker Tayler Montague. The TV miniseries about the fight to ratify the equal rights amendment in the 1970s is created by Dahvi Waller and stars Cate Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly, the right wing polarizing organizer. Subscribe: Apple Podcasts / Stitcher / Spotify/ iHeartFollow along Mrs. America is streaming on Hulu.What is the show about?Official Synopsis: “Mrs. America tells the story of the movement to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), and the unexpected backlash led by a conservative woman named Phyllis Schlafly, aka “the sweetheart of the silent majority.” Ep 8 “Houston”Official Synopsis: “Alice, Rosemary and Pamela cross into enemy territory at the National Women’s Conference in Houston, where they come face-to-face with Feminist leaders.” Written by Dahvi Waller; Directed by Janicza Bravo (Zola).Ep 9 “Reagan”Official Synopsis: “Gloria, Bella and Jill put pressure on the White House to act on their proposals from the National Women’s Conference. Phyllis prepares to leverage her political victories as the 1980 presidential election draws near.” Written by Dahvi Waller & Joshua Allen Griffith; Directed by Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck. Who does Cate play?Phyllis Schlafly.Critical Response:Metacritic : 87 RT:95Topics discussed:Ep 8 “Houston”
This is a stand-alone ep different in POV and style, with obvious allusions to Alice Through the Looking Glass.
“We shall overcome” scene – very moving. Loved seeing all the women we spent time with during the series come together.
Sarah Pauson’s performance and Alice’s journey – too tidy? Just right? Mix of fantasy and reality? Certainly the writers, by making her a composite character, allowed themselves the freedom to go where they couldn’t with the historical characters.
There’s a queer undertone to the way Alice talks about Phyllis.
Ep 9 “Reagan”
Two little Feminists skit; Melanie Lynskey is so hilarious as Rosemary.
Men are awful – is what i was thinking as I watched how Carter treated the Women’s Movement in 1979.
“I used to feel scared,” a fantastic ending to the Alice story.
In the elevator as Phyllis knows she has “arrived,” Cate gives us that half satisfied smile. The inverse of the end of Carol.
Who won in the end in the battle of Phyllis vs, 2nd wave feminists and what did they win. Does the show make it clear? The show ends with both sides losing.
The final shot.
Check in with what we put the show “on notice” about:
On race; they showed Phyllis reaching out to the Klan. In this ep there’s a call back to her dependence on her maid, Willie (Novie Edwards).
Did we get enough of the main players; Steinem, Abzug and Chisolm and their contributions?
What about the secondary characters e.g. Flo Kennedy and Margaret Sloan-Hunter?
The costumes are green, the hair is red and Cate Blanchett is the Wicked Witch in Hanna (2011). Ostensibly a thriller about a teenage assassin, it reveals itself to be a fairytale with a modern twist. For this disscussion, Murtada welcomes back Gavin Mevius, co-host of The Mixed Reviews Podcast .
Click to Listen:Subscribe: Apple Podcasts / Stitcher / Spotify / iHeart
Follow along Hanna is streaming on HBO / HBO Max.What is the film about?
From imdb: “A sixteen-year-old girl who was raised by her father to be the perfect assassin is dispatched on a mission across Europe, tracked by a ruthless intelligence agent and her operatives.”What year did it come out?
Who does Cate play?
Marissa Wiegler; a CIA operative obsessed with find and killing Hanna. A modern version of The Wicked Witch of the West as evidenced by the almost all green wardrobe.
How is Cate introduced?
13 minutes in. Waking up, teeth first.
Box Office: Domestic = $40,259,119 Int’l = $23,522,959
Critical Response: Metacritic : 65. RT: 71.Topics discussed:
It’s a fairytale! Many allusions to that including at the beginning Hanna reading The Grimms Tales, calling Marissa “the witch,” different allusions in the dialogue e.g. “going to grandma’s house,”, a character named Mr. Grimm, the finale with Marissa literally coming out from the mouth of the big bad wolf.
Joe Wright – general discussion of his career. He made Pride and Prejudice, Atonement, and The Soloist before Hanna. Anna Karenina, Pan and Darkest Hour after. We discuss Anna Karenina (2012) at length which is streaming on Netflix.
Saoirse Ronan – is she a Kate Winslet or a Cate Blanchett? She’s been compared to both.
Other castmembers: Jessica Barden is delicious. Did you notice Vicky Krieps (Phantom Thread) and Lady Mary from Downton Abbey?
Tom Hollander’s enforcer with his short shorts and skinhead sidekicks. Queer, problematic or both?
They certainly hone on green as a color motif. Sleek corporate suits. Designed by Giorgio Armani, apparently.“Joe’s vision of Marissa as the Wicked Witch of the story meant that her colors would be red [for her hair] and green [in her attire],” says head costume designer Lucie Bates.
Scenes we liked:
Subway station fight with Bana and the goons.
Hanna’s escape is exciting.
Two weird scenes: Hanna afraid of appliances and the introduction of Tom Hollander at his club in Berlin.
Film within context of Cate’s career
Filmed within the time she was running the Sydney Theater Company and wasn’t working much in movies. Between 2008 (Benjamin Button) and 2013 (Blue Jasmine) the time she ran STC she only made this film, Robin Hood (2010) and The Hobbit (2012).
What reviews said of film / Cate:
“Blanchett is a riot as a Nordstrom-attired, Southern-drawled Brunhilde with scarlet helmet hair and aggressively white teeth, what ultimately makes her so harrowing—and so worthy of punishment—is her childlessness. “I made certain choices,” Marissa says, desperately justifying her careerism, before she buries a bullet in a womb-sanctified old matriarch. Hanna is the one that got away and a genetically enhanced reminder of the miserable fate that awaits the ambitious, the infertile, the dentally preoccupied.” – Eric Hynes, The Village Voice.
“Ronan enters with a face nearly as blank as paper and devoid of obvious emotion, her eerie, translucent blue eyes here transformed into opaque pool. You assume or really just hope that those eyes will reveal exciting new depths or a secret of character. That they don’t reveal much is part of the big surprise as well as a liability in a movie that is by turns startling and generic, subtle and blunt, and consistently keeps you in its grip if not its heart.” – Manohla Dargis, NY Times.
We continue recaping and reviewing Hulu’s Mrs. America starring Cate Blanchett. This week we will tackle episodes 6 and 7 of the series about Jill Ruckelshaus played by Elizabeth Banks and Bella Abzug played by Margo Martindale. Also in this episode an interview with Bria Samoné Henderson who plays activist Margaret Sloan on the show. Hosted by Murtada Elfadlwith guest Andy Stewart.
Official Synopsis: “Mrs. America tells the story of the movement to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), and the unexpected backlash led by a conservative woman named Phyllis Schlafly, aka “the sweetheart of the silent majority.” Through the eyes of the women of the era – both Schlafly and second wave feminists Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Shirley Chisholm, Bella Abzug and Jill Ruckelshaus – the series explores how one of the toughest battlegrounds in the culture wars of the 70s helped give rise to the Moral Majority and forever shifted the political landscape.”
Official Synopsis: “With a pro-ERA Republican in the White House, Phyllis protests her own party, which puts her in conflict with Republican Feminist leader, Jill Ruckelshaus.” Written by Sharon Hoffman; Directed by Laure de Clermont Tonnere (The Mustang).
Ep 7 “Bella”
Official Synopsis: “Bella is put in charge of the first ever government-funded National Women’s Conference. Phyllis and her women clash over how to best disrupt the conference.” Written by Micah Schraft; Directed by Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson, Captain Marvel).
These two episodes show Phyllis going to the extreme right – the evangelicals, pro-life extremists – to expand base and get into the inner echelons of power.
At the end of episode 6 Jill is out and Phyllis is in, the new extreme wing of the republican party wins. Again the show makes the parallels to our political situation today which is one of its main themes.
The parallels between Bella and Phyllis as they are both trying to hold onto power, but go in different directions. Bella wants to be seen again as radical and Phyllis is willing to do anything to win even working with the Ku Klux Klan.
Cate’s performance – the many reactions / faces she makes.
The performances of Margo Martindale and Elizabeth Banks as well as Melanie Lynskey.
The queer characters and themes and how they are integrated into the series’ main themes.
The series’ Emmy chances and who might be singled out from the supporting cast.
Interview with Bria Samoné Henderson who plays activist and former Ms. Magazine editor Margaret Sloan. The interview starts at 39:45 if you’d like to jump ahead.
In part one we discuss Cate Blanchett as the real auteur of Blue Jasmine, and the many ways her performance makes her the author of the film.
#2 The “Streetcar” Allusions with Candice Fredrick
In part two, we talk about the similarities to Tenesse Williams’ A Streetcar named Desire, the character of Blanche Dubois clearly is the blueprint for Jasmine… the many actresses who played Blanche or were inspired by her from the women in Pedro Almodovar’s movies to Gena Rowlands in Woman under the influence to most recently Carey Mulligan in Wildlife.
# 3 Jasmine and Her Sisters with Jose Solis
And in the final part we discuss Jasmine and her sisters within the Woody Allen Oeuvre. Annie Hall, Helen St Clair in Bullets Over Broadway, Maria Elena in Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Cecilia in The Purple Rose of Cairo, among others.