Tag Archives: Cate Blanchett

Quick ‘n’ Dirty: February at home

Very belatedly here are my speedy reviews of the films I’ve watched at home in February. They are a mixed bag both as genre and as quality.

The Right Stuffthe chronicles of America’s race to the stars: from the daredevil test pilots to the first astronauts. Based on Tom Wolfe’s book on the history of the U.S. Space program, it starts with the breaking of the sound barrier by Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard) and then moves on to the selection and training of the seven astronauts for the Mercury missions. Thrown in the mix there are the rivalries between the pilots/astronauts, the technical difficulties faced by the rocket engineers and the need to beat the Russians. Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid, Scott Glenn and Fred Ward are convincing in their role but Shepard steal the scene every time as the taciturn, gifted pilot Yeager. This film can be slow at times but it gives the viewer the opportunity to know better the numerous characters and their motives and aspirations. Nostalgic–7.5/10

 

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The Bang Bang Club: four photographers always find themselves where the bullets are flying, during the chaotic struggle for power in South Africa in the early 1990s. This film is based on real-life experiences of Greg Marinovich (Ryan Phillippe), Kevin Carter (Taylor Kitsch), Joao Silva (Neels Van Jaardsveld) and Ken Oosterbroek (Frank Rautenbach), when they were working as freelancers for a local newspaper. The point of view is quite captivating since the audience sees what’s going on in South Africa only through the lenses of these men. The conflicts that take center stage are the internal ones between the good of documenting the violence versus doing something about it. Interestingly, it’s when two of them win the Pulitzer Prize that their moral fibre is called into question. Steven Silver’s sure hand on the helm and the cast’s solid performances, Kitsch in particular, make it worth of your time. Compelling —7/10

 

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Cinderella: This live-action version of the Disney animated feature has lavish costumes and stunning set design but follows to the letter the edulcorated version. The wicked stepmother and stepsisters are… well, wicked in Disney fashion! The fairy godmother is an oddball. The animals are not as endearing as or as scary (I’m looking at you Lucifer) as their animated version. The Prince is just a cardboard character. Cinderella is, of course, charming, kind, loving and with a sunny disposition towards life. She is really convincing because of Lily James, who find her perfect foil in Cate Blanchett’s stepmother (stunningly dressed in 1940s style). So it’s a nice and sweet film if you are in the mood for fairy tales. I’m still waiting for someone to have the guts to do the original story, foot maiming and all. Mellow —5.5/10

 

 

The Raid: If you need a dose of intense martial arts fights with a side of family drama (brother vs brother!), corrupt cops and a evil kingpin, this film is for you. Our hero, Rama, is a young policeman that joins the SWAT team in Jakarta. Their mission of the day is the “removal” of a dangerous crime lord, unfortunately things go from bad to worse very quickly and the cops are the ones fighting for survival. Rama finds himself in a John McClane situation but with his mad fighting skills and some help he’ll make it. I found interesting the setting in a run-down high rise building, it enhanced the claustrophibic mood and the “trapped-like-rats-in-a-maze” feeling. There are some impressive stunts and very well choreographed fights that keep the adrenaline rush going. The plot may be quite simple but the tight pace keeps you engaged.  Raw —6.5/10

 

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No Reservations: this rom-com is harmless fluff with a very predictable plot and nothing particularly new. Catherine Zeta-Jones plays a talented chef, she’s focused, determined and a bit of a control freak. Her life is changed by her sister’s death, leaving her to take care of her young niece. To add more drama, the owner of the restaurant hires a new sous-chef (Eckart) who is chaotic, charismatic and charming. I’ll let you fill in the blanks on what happens next. The film mildly redeeming qualities are thegood on-screen chemistry of the two leads and Abigail Breslin being endearing, however it retreads old ground without adding anything interesting. Nothing to write home about —5/10

 

No-Reservations

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Quick ‘n’ Dirty: February at the pictures

The last month has been mostly about Oscar nominated films… surprise, surprise! So without further ado here’s February selection of speedy reviews:

The Danish Girl: the life of Danish painter Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe, pioneer transgender, and his wife Gerda, also a talented painter. I know that this is considered an Eddie Redmayne’s film, whose performance is both convincing and effective, but the one that truly shines is Alicia Vikander as Gerda. She embodied the role of loyal, supporting wife and her struggle to make sense of her life and her husband’s. I must say that she’s the one who really sold me the story and ended up making it convincing and gut-wrenching. Tom Hooper skillfully handles this dramatic tale and beautifully recreates both Copenhagen and Paris in the 1920s. Affecting —7/10

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Carol: Todd Haynes gives us an artfully shot, intense period drama with two great actresses (Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett) at the top of their game. Therese, shop girl and aspiring photographer, meets and falls in love with the titular Carol, an older woman trapped in an unhappy marriage. Set in the fifties, this love story has all the complications that come with the social mores of the time and strongly reminds of Far From Heaven, however it’s a little more hopeful but less powerful. Cate Blanchett should always dress as a New Yorker in the 1950s, she’s spectacular. Kudos also go to Kyle Chandler for his solid performance as the abandoned husband and Sarah Paulson as Carol’s best friend. Interesting —7/10

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Anomalisa: the quirky genius of Charlie Kaufman takes the viewer along for a ride in a weird world. Using stop-motion animation he tells a story of alienation and loneliness (which are recurrent themes in his films): a customer service guru, Michael Stone (David Thewlis), feels detached from everything but, on a business trip, meets Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), his anomaly, and things suddenly change for the better…at least that’s what it seems. While the plot is rather straightforward, the storytelling is multi-layered as is Kaufman’s wont and the different media is meant to add an additional twist. Unfortunately, the latter completely backfires (at least for me) because I found the facial features of the puppets utterly distracting and not in a good way. Unexpected —6/10

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Hail, Caesar!: Eddie Mannix’s (Josh Brolin) life as fixer for a major Hollywood studio is very complicated and demanding. He has to deal with a difficult director (Ralph Fiennes), a pregnant starlet (Scarlet Johansson), nosy gossip journalists (Tilda Swinton), the kidnapping of a movie star (George Clooney) and his inner demons. The Coens brings back the lights and shadows of Hollywood’s golden era with their usual humour and manage to coax great performances out of Clooney, Brolin, Ehrenreich and the rest of the cast. There’s a cornucopia of references to different film genres and their cliches as well as to the lives of celebrities, mostly what should be kept from the public. I particularly enjoyed the discussion about religion with a rabbi and representatives of the different christian confessions. Lighthearted —7.5/10

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The Monuments Men

Director: George Clooney, Main Cast: George ClooneyMatt DamonCate BlanchettBill MurrayJohn GoodmanJean DujardinHugh BonnevilleBob Balaban;

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George Clooney as a director has an uneven record, it’s kind of one hit and one miss. This film is, unfortunately, a miss, stellar cast notwithstanding. It is a story set during the last true “good” war: between the ever righteous Americans (with some help from those nice English chaps) and the evil Nazis! It is about a group of men who are not soldiers but art experts (being museum curators, art historians, architects or artists) and whose mission is to rescue artistic masterpieces stolen by the Nazis from museums and churches around Europe and return them to their rightful owners. Strong of a mandate from FDR himself, Frank Stokes (Clooney) puts together a band of unlikely heros to rob three casinos in Las Vegas…oops no, sorry, that was another movie! They arrive in France, not long after D-Day and, with barely any training as soldiers, venture to the front and split in groups trying to reach precious artifacts before the Germans have time to smuggle them away. Naturally, they are too late! Nazis are not only evil but real devils when it comes to organisation and logistics. From this point on, it is a giant treasure hunt through Europe and a race against time, since the prime directive from the Fuhrer is to destroy everything if the Reich falls (and the Germans aren’t doing so well by the end of 1944). Instrumental in helping the Monument Men is Claire Simone (Blanchett), curator of the Jeu De Paume museum in Paris, who kept a detailed record of all the works of art that came to the museum and that were later moved to secret locations by the Germans. She is the most interesting character of the film because she is the only one the audience has the chance to know a little better, the others are just one-dimensional cardboard silhouettes, devoid of any character development, which is a great flaw in a movie that is supposed to be about these happy few men who chose to risk their lives for what they believed in. Yes, yes, the message is very uplifting (prevent the destruction of centuries of culture and history and save what really makes us human) but the delivery is rather clumsy. There are a few funny one-liners, some banter and witticism in a “brotherhood of men” kind of way, but it all feels flat and without pathos. It is not enough to cast Bill Murray, John Goodman, Hugh Bonneville and Matt Damon, if the script is uneven, lacking a clear direction and credibility (none of these men of culture is fluent in a foreign language or two, really?!? Damon’s character pitiful attempt at speaking French doesn’t count!). It is a pity because this movie could have been quite something considering the cast. Unsatisfying and ineffective —5/10

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Favorite quote of the moment

Anxiety, nightmares and a nervous breakdown, there’s only so many traumas a person can withstand until they take to the streets and start screaming.

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Blue Jasmine

Director: Woody Allen, Main Cast: Cate Blanchett, Alec BaldwinPeter SarsgaardSally Hawkins

A New York socialite goes west…in more senses than one. After she has lost everything (husband, son, status, money, houses, jewels), Jasmine moves to her sister’s place in San Francisco to start fresh. The two sisters are as different as the moon and the sun but try, clumsily and blindly, to push each other to improve their situation in life, with somehow mixed results. Do we ever change what we are at the core? For the first time Allen choses as his neurotic alter-ego a woman, and about time, Cate Blanchett is quite spectacular in the role. Special kudos to Sally Hawkins as well. —7/10

 

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