Lina Lamont

"What do you think I am, dumb or something?"

Archive for the tag “Cate Blanchett”

Carol

Carol is a beautiful film in spirit and aesthetic which features typically flawless storytelling at the hands of director Todd Haynes, and Cate Blanchett’s latest pitch for a Best Actress Oscar. She plays a disenchanted housewife who falls in love with a young department store clerk (a career-making turn by Dragon Tattoo’s Rooney Mara, also up for an Oscar but scandalously pigeon-holed as “supporting” despite matching the excellent Blanchett at every turn and sharing as much screen-time). Naturally, the film being set in 1950s America, lesbian relationships are neither encouraged nor openly acknowledged, and the women’s clandestine affair inevitably causes conflict and heartbreak.

Adapted from a Patricia Highsmith novel (as so many of the best “old-fashioned” films seem to be, The Talented Mr Ripley being a personal favourite), although we may feel we’ve seen similar domestic dilemmas before, the essential story of two people falling in love is timeless. Mara is superb, her young Therese Belivet captivating as she herself is caught in the beam of Blanchett’s luminosity. The burgeoning attraction is nicely observed, subtle and enchanting without being anything spectacular.

Haynes is a master of many cinematic trades: like Carol, in Far From Heaven and Safe he directed a strong leading lady (both times Julianne Moore) for whom malaise – nay, depression – was the crippling character trait; his art direction always effortlessly evokes the olden days from wallpaper and teacups to fabulous costuming and period-piece hairstyles.

But mainly it is Haynes’ empathy – for those disenfranchised from society by their unorthodox leanings – which sings most pure, and the impeccable casting (our heroines are supported by Zero Dark Thirty’s Kyle Chandler and wonderful indie actress Sarah Paulson) makes Carol yet another diamond in Haynes’ already weighty crown.

 

Cinderella

This update won’t be heralded for subverting old-fashioned notions of feminism or breaking the narrative mould, but it’s a charming enough fairytale brought richly to the screen – and its target market (most likely small girls aged 5-10) will absolutely love it.

Playing Cinders is the lovely Lily James, probably better known to the accompanying adult viewer as Lady Rose from Downton Abbey. When her widowed father remarries, Ella, as she is initially known, gains an exotically stunning witch of a stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and two perfectly frightful stepsisters – the yellow one played by pasty Daisy from below stairs in Downton, getting her own back in a never-before-heard posh accent and some exquisite costumes.

The plot then plays out exactly as you expect, with Ella meeting a nice young chap she fails to identify as the prince (Game of Thrones’ Richard Madden – who, despite straight white teeth and sparkly blue eyes, is no Theo James). The Prince falls in love, invites all the maidens in the land to a ball, Ella has some troubles with her outfit – cue Helena Bonham-Carter as the delightful fairy godmother. You know the drill.

In the director’s chair sits Kenneth Branagh – paragon of British theatre and serious film productions of Hamlet, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and, um, Thor. Proving himself to be a dab-hand at any genre (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit was a more than passable stab at the action movie), why not give him a fairytale to refurbish? Plus he gets to cast some of his old pals, calling in a favour from Sir Derek Jacobi.

But Blanchett is the scene-stealer, with her gambling problem and her dirty laugh hidden beneath layers of gorgeous silk skirts and perennially arched eyebrows. She’s so vile that at one point, Miss 9 leaned over and whispered “I’d tell her to go live somewhere else!” proving it may be an old story, but our newest generation of princesses doesn’t expect a Prince Charming to sort out their problems for them.

The Monuments Men

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 9th March 2014

Oh my.

George Clooney is a terrific actor who has successfully branched out into directing and producing a raft of terrific movies, often casting his pals while still managing to direct challenging performances out of them.

But with The Monuments Men he either set the bar too high or simply didn’t think he needed to jump. Drenched as it is with a supreme cast (albeit mostly male but for Cate Blanchett’s token French resistance fighter), this true life tale of the American military wading into a subset of World War II in order to save prized European artworks had megahit stamped all over it. Astonishingly, despite its promising credentials, it manages to bore and disappoint.

One viewer’s “rushed” is another’s “economical” as we’re plunged into the story before the opening credits are over. Clooney’s Lieutenant pleads with President Roosevelt to let him take a crack team of ex-military art lovers to Nazi-infested Europe, where the enemy is methodically stealing and destroying the cornerstone of the world’s culture. Amidst lots of expository dialogue (Clooney himself spends much screen-time telling his men things that are purely for the audience’s benefit), Damon, John Goodman and Bill Murray (even Bill Murray is in it!) are joined by Frenchman Jean Dujardin (The Artist) and Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville as Clooney’s Seven tiki-tour across Europe on their mission. There they encounter a sour-faced Blanchett who acts like she wants to swap her Oscars for a cameo in ‘Allo ‘Allo, as the tone switches between limply unfunny (overcooked gags about Damon’s poorly spoken French) and actually-people-died-you-know moments of “pathos”.

While the fast pace presumes to disguise the lack of substance, you still have to keep your ears pricked for plot developments, if you can hear over the unnecessarily pompous “America at War” soundtrack (a disappointed thumbs-down from this reviewer to composer Alexandre Desplat).

Granted, some scenes look like the original Indiana Jones and fun may be had initially from watching the cast pal about (Gosford Park’s underappreciated Bob Balaban is a standout), but for most of its running time The Monuments Men is a massive misfire.

The Turning

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 3rd November 2013

Forget about springtime for a moment – as far as “event cinema” goes, this Australian adaptation of 17 exquisite short stories is one of the best reasons imaginable to cosset yourself away in a dark room for three highly rewarding hours.

Apparently author Tim Winton has quite a following, so fans of his short stories in particular will be breathless with excitement to know that The Turning delivers all the joy, beauty and devastation of 17 individual but gently intertwined tales around life’s core themes – love, family, faith and fishing.

Each vignette is expertly crafted and they employ a variety of cinematic styles: first we are treated to a wordless love story, where the combination of Music! Sound! Picture! reminds you what film is supposed to be about. Then there is a quieter, but no less gripping, mystery. Another segment presents a masterclass in how to render a whole story in limited time through the use of split screen.

Winton’s narratives traverse almost the entirety of human experience, with most of the films showcasing superb acting and natural dialogue in their depiction of ordinary people’s realistic and often shattered lives. There are scenes with well-known faces (Cate Blanchett drinks wine somewhat awkwardly with her mother-in-law; Hugo Weaving meets his estranged son in sad circumstances; Rose Byrne excels as a make-up-smudged trailer-park wife in a role unlike any you’ve seen her in before) but as impressive as the Oscar winners are the children whose actions may not be as innocent as they seem. Other Australian actors such as Mia Wasikowska and Top of the Lake’s David Wenham make their directorial debuts behind the camera.

Maintaining a steady pace and managing an impressive build-up of tension while characters recur in different phases of their lives, The Turning can be heavy-going at moments but is absolutely worth the commitment. Gird your loins for a cinematic outing of the most compelling kind.

Hanna

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 28th August 2011

Once upon a time, a tiny Natalie Portman burst onto our screens as the apprentice to Jean Reno’s serial assassin. Recently, Kick Ass saw a psychotic Nicolas Cage teaching his ballsy daughter the tricks of a similar, if flashier, trade. Somehow these morally dubious pairings never fail to thrill, and Hanna makes a worthy addition to what must now almost constitute its own genre.

Joe Wright (the bright young thing of British cinema, thanks to the multi-Oscar-nominated Atonement, and his vibrant adaptation of Pride and Prejudice) turns his directorial hand to art-house violence in this distinctly un-American and unashamedly exciting thriller. For reasons that become clear in the same measured way that our heroine takes in her surrounds, Hanna (Saoirse Ronan, a deceptively fierce snow-nymph) lives in harsh isolation with her father (Eric Bana), training each day in martial arts and weapon combat. When suddenly thrown into captivity, Hanna’s quest is to find an evil Cate Blanchett (all auburn wig and Texan accent) and mete out revenge.

Befriended by an eccentric and jarringly modern English family (led by the wonderful Olivia Williams), Hanna traverses Europe via Spain and Morocco, chased by baddies against whom she can, in Jason Bourne-style, hold her own.

Set to an industrial Chemical Brothers soundtrack, this cleverly compelling tale ekes out the answers, spiked with Hanna’s own epiphanies as to what music feels like and how to behave as a normal teenager. As her new best friend would say: “Whatever.”

A week of it

Now, where were we? A couple of French films, I think… And in the last week or so there have been more like that, plus a couple of blockbusters. Herewith:

Robin Hood

Oh Russell. Or rather, oh Ridley.  I thoroughly enjoyed Gladiator, thought it was a terrific film – so I’m not dissing the collaboration here, or even the style (the similarities abound).  And Cate Blanchett is a far superior “Maid” Marion than that dreadful Sienna Miller would’ve been.  But really – this retelling of the story (“retelling” – really? or just “concocting a new story that really has nothing to do with the Robin Hood legend”?) simply doesn’t offer anything new or exciting in cinematic or narrative terms. The battle scenes (“Battle scenes??” I hear you cry.  Yes – this is no feisty band of brothers – there are whole armies) are just like Lord of the Rings‘ and any number of contemporary epics over the last decade.  The story is all a bit Kingdom of Heaven.  And Russell, fine actor that he usually is, just faxes in his Gladiator performance with a few bits tippexed out, and doesn’t even nail a consistent accent.  Come on, Jeffrey Wigand!

It’s not awful. There are solid performances from Douglas Hodge, Oscar Isaac (who could have been so much more irritating, but luckily kept it together) and Mark Strong. Eileen Atkins’ brief moments were typically spot-on. Matthew Macfadyen’s got a bit fat, but he does a reasonable line in “sinister”. Cate does her best with a thin script and little character depth.  It’s just not that interesting, memorable or innovative. Frankly I expected more from filmmakers and talent of this calibre.

Iron Man 2

I saw Iron Man in Paris in 2008, by myself, laughing raucously (by myself) at bits the French audience didn’t seem to find funny.  Loved it.  But having heard mixed reviews about the sequel I went in with low expectations – and it paid off.  I always enjoy Robert Downey Jr, and am a loyal fan of Gwyneth Paltrow (her Pepper Potts doesn’t have much going on, but for some reason I find her hairstyles captivating).  Mickey Rourke does a very good avenging Russian, no doubt aided by his now unnaturally worked-over facial features.  Sam Rockwell looks a bit too Austin Powers but I’d marry him in a heartbeat, so all is forgiven.  Scarlett Johansson delivers the only bum note, unnecessarily bland and a 2-dimensional composite of far superior female action heroines – but, no matter.

On the whole the film is just one big, silly, fun night out.  It’s all about spectacle, and to be fair there were plenty of major laugh-out-loud moments in the script too. (About a weapon shaped like a pen: “If it were any smarter, it’d write a book. A book that would make ‘Ulysses’ look like it was written in crayon …”)  Ah well, I guess it just caught me at the right time.

Brothers

The original Danish film is claustrophobic and gritty, superbly acted, and potentially a hard act to follow (highly recommended – rent it).  It’s a tribute to the three excellent lead performances in the US remake that Brothers still had the emotional impact for me, despite my knowing what happens.  Tobey Maguire (where’s he been since Spider Man??) plays a soldier who is kidnapped in Afghanistan, leaving two daughters and a grieving “widow” who all understand him to be dead.  Jake Gyllenhaal re-enters the family’s life, fresh from a stint in prison, and develops an attachment to the children and his brother’s wife, played with quiet intensity by Natalie Portman.  I found her performance in particular to be deeply affecting, inducing my own tears in simple moments where the camera lingered on her face and we read her emotions conveyed in the subtlest way imaginable.   Gyllenhaal is typically engaging, though his ex-con is possibly not as damaged by his life’s experiences as would be realistic.  Maguire is excellent – a warm, engaged father before his deployment, and a shell of a man pushed rapidly to breaking point after his brutal incarceration.

There are elements of the story that aren’t explored as deeply as they perhaps should/could be, and parts when you find yourself shouting at the characters “just say it!”.  But on the whole this is a terrific movie – powerful and, in a bigger picture sense of the repercussions of war, devastating – highly recommended.

The Secret in their Eyes

This Argentine film won the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 2010, and despite beating The Prophet and The White Ribbon, it’s a worthy winner, almost (but not quite) up there with The Lives of Others.   Ricardo Darin from Nine Queens (what fun that was!) stars as ex-prosecutor Benjamin Esposito, deeply affected by a rape and murder case 20 years prior, who wants to write a book about the case.  In doing so, unresolved questions in his mind cause him to reinvestigate the case, and brings him back into contact with his old colleague/boss and unrequited love interest, played by the luminous Soledad Villamil.

The director’s training on US crime show Law & Order is evident, but his ability to construct a narrative that is as much about love, loss and revenge as a pure police procedural, is the film’s strength.   He gets believable, engaging performances from all his characters (especially Esposito’s tragi-comic colleague Pablo Sandoval) and manages to inject the film with a sinister undertone that isn’t completely exposed until the final reel.

The Hedgehog (Le herisson)

I’ll admit, I saw the trailer and thought “I’m not seeing that”.  Saccharine!  Implausible!  Narratively predictable!  But by some miracle I was otherwise persuaded, and my open-mindedness was rewarded with a charming, beautifully performed piece that left me very moved.

The three central characters are so different from one another and from our usual protaganists (as a collective, at any rate) and each performance is real and believable – which is no mean feat, considering the story.  11-year old Paloma is a very bright, suicidally depressed voyeur of sorts, who films the lives of those around her, narrating a voiceover of insight and sometimes cutting brilliance.  Mme Michel is the concierge in her apartment building, a dowdy, charmless 50-something widow of simple habits who is blindsided by the attentions of a new tenant.  Mr Kakuro Ozu is a distinguished Japanese gentleman who introduces her to his world of Japanese cooking and with whom she shares a love of Tolstoy and Japanese cinema.  The lives of the three are convincingly entangled and it’s a delight to watch their burgeoning relationships.  Highly recommended.

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