Tag Archives: Cate Blanchett

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Benjamin Button was born a little boy who looked like an old man; baby Benjamin suffered from old age ailments. He had a disease that made him age backwards. His mom dies in childbirth and his dad abandons him post haste, so little Benny Button is left on the stoop of a nursing home to be raised by the good-hearted Queenie. Benjamin first meets the love of his life, Daisy, when they are 7 years old. She’s a little ballerina, but he’s a wizened old man in a wheel chair. They’ll meet on and off again throughout all the years of his life, and make a little family when they overlap in middle age, but it doesn’t last long. So when Daisy’s on her death bed she tells this story in its entirety to her daughter Caroline, who learns for the first time who her father was.

MV5BMTI1MjY5MzY4Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTU1OTUxMg@@._V1_The film was among the first to film in New Orleans after Katrina, enticed by tax savings that made up a good chunk of their budget. Director David Fincher praised the city’s rehab efforts and filmed in both rural and urban settings. The film pays tribute to Katrina by having the flood threaten just as Daisy lays dying.

Someone’s been wanting to make some version of this film since before I was born. In the mid-80s, Frank Oz was sough to direct, with Martin Short as its possible star. Later, Spielberg was keen to direct, and Tom Cruise slated to star. Then Ron Howard thought he might have a go, with John Travolta in the lead. Can you picture any of those?

Brad Pitt could spend upwards of 5 hours a day in the makeup chair. Even so, they had to resort to hiring child actors to portray the younger-looking versions of Benjamin – not because the makeup and effects teams couldn’t handle it, but simply because the budget was totally depleted. Cate Blanchett plays Daisy and had some young actors to cover her character as a child as well – including a very young Elle Fanning. Julia Ormand plays their daughter Caroline, but her younger self is covered by none other than 2 year old Shiloh Jolie-Pitt.

Since Sean and I are in New Orleans at the moment, we may swing by the Nolan house at 2707 Coliseum St., where lots of the filming took place, in virtually every room of the house. With 6 bedrooms, it was home to 3 generations of Nolans, one of whom played a doctor in the film. Fincher knew he wanted this particular house, benjamin-button-house.jpgwhich would serve to ground the fantasy, but it wasn’t an easy get. The owner had evacuated for Katrina, and had refused every previous request by movie crews. She turned down Fincher too – twice. Fincher combed over 300 other locations and ruled out every one. Finally the owner relented, and she moved into a condo so her home could be made to fit the period. She never did move back in: she evacuated again when hurricane Gustav threatened, and while away she passed, without ever seeing the movie filmed in her home of over 60 years.

 

 

 

If you want to keep up with our New Orleans exploration, visit us on Twitter @assholemovies

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Thor: Ragnarok

post_master-thor-960x540The Marvel Cinematic Universe is so bloated by this point that it’s a full-time job to keep up with what’s going on.  Thankfully, Thor: Ragnarok doesn’t get bogged down in what’s come before.  Instead, the third installment in the Thor franchise tells a self-contained story and shifts Thor’s segment of the universe from dreary fantasy mode to action-comedy mode.  From a cameo by Matt Damon that I totally missed, to a Taika-Waititi-voiced blue rock monster, to Hulk and Thor arguing over everything and anything, Ragnarok is the funniest apocalypse movie you will likely ever see (sorry, Zombieland!).

My only complaint, really, is that the plot got in the way of the fun.  Every time the scene shifted to the problems Cate Blanchett’s Hela was creating in Asgard, all I wanted was to get back to the wacky trash world where Thor and Hulk had crash-landed.  I guess this movie had to justify its existence by advancing the plot and having big stakes but I would have gladly spent the whole run time hanging out with my new favourite Avengers (who I am happy to report have now started their own spin-off team).

Anyone who has enjoyed Taika Waititi’s past work will not be disappointed by Thor: Ragnarok.  If you haven’t enjoyed Waititi’s work, you’re probably on the wrong site, and if you haven’t seen his other stuff, then do!!!  Start with Thor: Ragnarok and go from there.

As he always does, Waititi will introduce you to madcap supporting characters whose main purpose is to make you laugh, and even better, he will show us that Thor and Hulk have actual personalities.  Purists may take issue as those two characters are notoriously dull, but I thought it was a fantastic improvement that should be carried forward into the next 40 or 50 Marvel movies that apparently are still to come.  Comic book movies should be bright, colourful and fun, and Thor: Ragnarok is all of those things from start to finish.  Go see it!

 

Song To Song

Full disclosure: I haven’t actually seen this movie. It was the opening night gala film at SXSW and despite a near 2-hour wait in line, the theatre reached capacity only half a dozen people too early for me to get in. However, I did spend the rest of the festival hearing about the movie from people who were there – 100% of whom regretted it.

songtosong2To be fair, Terrence Malick is practically a hometown boy, and a huge local crowd turned out to see his latest film, which happens to be set in that very same town – Austin, Texas. The film is set against a backdrop of Austin’s vibrant music scene and SXSW is at the forefront of that music scene. Those factors attracted many people who’d never otherwise flock to a Malick film. Sean and I don’t consistently like them either (who does?) but at least we had a better idea of what we were getting into (we saw a Terrence Malick documentary narrated by Brad Pitt at TIFF this year).

What were some of the issues with the movie?

  1. Although Song To Song is a love letter to Austin, it’s mostly a love letter to Austin’s 1%. The McMansions that feature strongly in the film are not exactly the norm for the city. The whole thing has a much more slick and jet-set feel than laid-back Austin does in reality.
  2. SXSW in particular and Austin in general has an impressive music scene and is a real champion of indie acts. Abounding with local talent and featuring really cool guests from all over, Malick instead went with much more main-stream acts, including Patti Smith, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Iggy Pop, and while no one has qualms with these guys, they don’t exactly scream Austin.
  3. Females as objects: that’s kind of a biggie. Natalie Portman and Rooney Mara co-star in this flick about not one but two love triangles, but basically the women exist only to serve the men in the film, one way or another.
  4. It’s insanely white. I didn’t really think of Texas as particularly diverse, but having visited Austin, it is. It’s young and it’s alive but Terrence Malick’s Austin is very monochromatic.

 

TIFF: Voyage of Time

Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience is the 45 minute version of Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey, written and directed by Terrence Fucking Malick; a 30 year labour of love.

We watched the shorter version in the IMAX theatre where Sean watched Spiderman 2 with a girl named Tall, Stupid Rebecca. Did you guys know Sean dated other women before me? How rude. But he did, apparently, when he used to live in the fine city of Toronto (and voyage-of-time-copertinaby the way, I also lived here at the time, and yet: Rebecca BitchFace. I’m sure she’s a lovely girl.) Where was  I? Oh yes.

It takes a special brand of masochism to attempt a Terrence Malick flick as your fourth film of the day, and yet there we were, sitting in the same seats where Sean once fumbled an “accidental” boob graze of another woman’s tit. I KNOW YOUR MOVES, SEAN. Ahem. I digress.

Voyage of Time is billed as an examination of “the origins of the universe, the birth of stars and galaxies, the beginning of life on Earth and the evolution of diverse species” but that’s COMPLETE HORSESHIT. Calling it a documentary at all feels like a stretch. Or, you know, a flat out lie. But it is the movie Terrence Malick was born to make. His feature films tend to be languorous, dreamy imagery interspersed with the vaguest tendrils of plot. Voyage of Time is all the imagery and none of the plot. It’s loaded up with his signature “sun flares through a leafy tree” but these alternate between CGI renderings of what Terrence Malick thinks the beginnings of life might have looked like. Terrence Malick is many things, but: astrophysicist? Nope. He’s definitely got some scientific advisers on tumblr_o9l8rnmwj61r5ixiao2_540board but the result isn’t science at all. It’s conceptual; more contemplative than comprehensive. No science teacher will ever show this in class – but a yoga teacher might. Getting the gist? It’s a thing of beauty, often thoughtful, but far from educational.

Brad Pitt narrates, often in such a way that you can hear the italics in his voice. It’s like he’s reciting poetry with his eyes closed (Cate Blanchett narrates the longer version, for some reason). I tried very hard not to snort because the director of photography was sitting directly behind me, and that’s a lot of pressure. I felt sometimes that I should sigh appreciatively just so that he didn’t get a complex. Or lean back for a high five every time there was a sun-dappled field or rays of sunshine peaking from between limbs of a majestic tree.

It’s obvious even from Malick’s narrative films that he has a thing for nature and philosophy and theology, for lack of a better word. The pace of the movie is soulful, at the rate of about 1 fact per 1-2 minutes of silent reflection.

Did I enjoy it? Well, fuck. It is an experience. Plus, making it to the end of any Malick movie is an accomplishment, almost equal with having climbed Everest. It’s definitely CV-able. And he did raise a question I’ll be chewing over for days to come. Most documentaries in the vicinity address life – what, where, when, why. But Terrence asked about death – when did death first appear? And you know what? Not only do I not know the answer, I didn’t even know to ask the question. We think of life and death as inseparable, but who’s to say?  Life’s first ambition is to go on living, and maybe that’s exactly what it did. Until. Until what? I don’t know. Neither does Malick, but at least he’s asking, and you know he’s asking in the most magical way he knows.

 

Knight of Cups

Yes, Terrence Malick fans. Knight of Cups is finally here.

For those unfamiliar with the legendary though anything  but prolific filmmaker, his work isn’t easy to describe. When talking about his style, it’s just as easy to sound uncultured when trying not to sound pretentious as it is to sound pompous when trying not to sound uncivilized. So for now I’ll just say that his fans can recognize his presence behind the camera from his distinctive style as easily as they can identify Morgan Freeman by his voice or John Travolta by his chin. I can only name a couple (Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson) of American directors that working today with such a distinctive voice.

As strange as the comparison between Tarantino and Malick may seem, True Romance (Quentin’s first screenplay) was clearly and deliberately influenced by Badlands (Terrence’s first feature). Malick, who also wrote an uncredited draft of Dirty Harry, changed his approach to storytelling significantly after his directorial debut, a (relatively) straightforward story of young lovers on a crime spree. The director has only made six films since including Knight of Cups but all of them are notoriously light on dialogue, heavy on introspective voiceover, and generous with beautiful yet sometimes abstract imagery.

Because he has directed only six films in 43 years, you may have guessed that they knight of cups 2take forever to make. Both The New World (2005) and The Tree of Life (2011) were based on scripts that he started back in the 70s. They also take forever to edit. He reportedly shot over a million feet of film for The New World, which of course had to be edited down to a concise 135 minutes. Knight of Cups, shot during the summer of 2012, spent nearly four years in post-production. Both Christian Bale and Natalie Portman have said that they spent more time recording their voiceovers than they did in front of the camera.

Here’s where I really risk sounding like an asshole. Malick’s films have very little in the way of conventional plot and a whole lot in the way of atmosphere and feeling. They exist to be experienced, not understood. They’re not for everyone. I’m not even sure that they’re for me. To compare Knight of Cups to any of the director’s post-Badlands works, you’d have to be a much more devoted fan than I am.

"Knight of Cups"

I will say that Cups offers even less dialogue than The Tree of Life and yet its “plot”, about a screenwriter (Bale) who experiences some existential angst after seeming to have forgotten his sense of purpose, is somehow easier to follow. The director brings his unique vision to dreamlike, sometimes nightmarish, vision of modern Los Angeles and Las Vegas. It’s a significant change of scenery for a filmmaker who usually makes period pieces. The cast is filled with recognizable faces, including Bale, Portman, and Cate Blanchett but to judge the performances would be to miss the point. Even Fabio can act in a Terrence Malick movie. That’s not a joke. He actually has a small part in this.

Knight of Cups probably won’t convert those who found Malick’s other films dull or inaccessible but, if you’ve never seen one, it’s worth a watch even if only for an experience that no one else in Hollywood can give you.

Whistler, Day One

We’re in beautiful Whistler, British Columbia for the opening gala of whistler-xmas-wallpaperthe 15th Whistler Film Festival. The Whistler Film Festival (WFF) styles itself ‘Canada’s coolest film festival’ which I suppose is a clever play on the fact that it’s up in the mountains at a gorgeous ski resort town, the very best in skiing that North America has to offer, in fact.

The whole of Whistler is really constructed around this magical skiing. The hotels are “ski-out” – there are ski valets so you can ski right to the lobby door, check your skis, and walk right to your room in  your stocking feet if you so wish. The village is packed with all the vacation delights you might hope to paWhistler%20Winter%20Specials%20Whistler%20The%20Legends%20Legends%20Pool%20Winterrtake in when not skiing – there’s shops and galleries and most of all, ultra-deluxe restaurants for your taste buds’ every desire, and they’re all snuggled up cozily in a pedestrian-only enclave. If you’re tired of skiing, you can try snowshoes, or zip-lining, or dog sledding. Or, you know, fuck that shit: there’s imagesaward-winning spas and hot springs, and I’m telling you right now there’s nothing more romantic than sitting in a hot tub with a glass of champagne while the snow falls quietly around you.

Of course, being assholes, we’ve come to one of Canada’s most naturally stunning outdoor spaces, nestled between two majestic mountains, in order to spend time in a cramped, windowless room, watching movies.

Welcome to the Whistler Film Festival!

Last night, after a celebratory dinner to toast Sean’s birthday (warning: food porn on Twitter @assholemovies ), we hit up the opening gala where the feature presentation was Carol.

Carol is a ToddCAROL Haynes-directed drama starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. Carol (Blanchett) is struck by the kindness of a stranger named Therese (Mara) just as her life is falling apart. Picture New York, 1950s: her marriage is ending, messily, and custody of her daughter is uncertain. She pursues a friendship with the much younger woman but they struggle when their feelings turn romantic. The world isn’t quite ready for such an affair.

Doesn’t the trailer look divine? Obviously I think Cate Blanchett is the bee’s knees and it strikes me now that I’ve never really heard a catesingle word said against her. She’s easy to adore because she’s consistently great. I think Oscar will remember her come nomination day, and it might be knocking on Mara’s door as well. Blanchett is an absolute dream here, so present in every scene, so poised. Her anguish is apparent in a look, the lowered lashes, the head turned just so. She’ll remind you of an actress from another era, which is perhaps appropriate since this is a period piece (Matt pointed out that Haynes seems to favour “the 1950s in the closet”, and felt that Carol not only stood up to Far From Heaven, but exceeded it).

Haynes sets a mournful tone early on. His direction is artful, considered. The story is slow, and simple, like a rose in his hand shyly opening its petals. We rely so much on the silent interplay between our two leads, so much is said just by their smouldering eye contact that we need excellent, ready camera work, and get it. Mara and Blanchett enhance each other on-screen, there’s a crackling electricity that makes it almost titillating for us to be eaves dropping on their early encounters.

But this is the 1950s. Things aren’t going to go smoothly for these two. This is not just a character study. It’s a story of suppression, repression, forbidden love. The programming director of the Whistler Film Festival introduced it say “This film moved me to tears, and I hope it does you too.” I thought it a little strange that he wanted me to cry, hoped that I would cry, but he was right. I was moved.

Carol is as rich as the chocolate tart we had for dessert last night. Every bite is nuanced and full of flavour. Both sinful and sweet, every crumb devoured without regret because it is good. And when it’s done, you can leave the table feeling satisfied.

Hits & Misses

Steve Jobs: This movie is underperforming at the box office right now so my expectations were tempered, but the truth is, I was the-intense-first-trailer-for-aaron-sorkins-steve-jobs-movie-paints-a-picture-of-an-egotistical-and-difficult-manriveted. Yes, riveted, for the entire 2 hours. Aaron Sorkin has crafted a film in 3 acts, all three covering the moments before big product launches and pivotal times in Jobs’ life. 1984: the Macintosh is launched just days after that historic Superbowl ad while Jobs is angry at having lost Time magazine’s Man of the Year to a computer in part because of his vehement denials of paternity to 5-year-old Lisa. 1988: after the failure of the Macintosh, Jobs has left Apple and is launching the NeXTcube with his eye on the bigger picture. 1998: back at Apple, he’s launching the iMac, computer of tomorrow. Jeff DBildschirmfoto-2015-07-03-um-11_47_44aniels plays the Apple CEO and Kate Winslet plays Jobs’ right hand woman; both exactly as brilliantly as you’d expect. Michael Fassbender is of course Jobs himself, and I have no qualms about his portrayal of an extremely complex man. He’s an egomaniacal dick, and yet we still see his humanity. The surprise for 11730-4866-2536097E00000578-0-image-a-27_1422709812751-2-xlme was Seth Rogen who plays Steve Wozniak, who is a very interesting character. He’s very much the affable, humble counterpart to Jobs’ mad genius, but is also the one who actually knows how to design and build computers (Jobs being more of an idea man). Rogen manages to strike a balance between being second banana, and also being the only one who can truly stand up to Jobs. Colour me impressed, Seth Rogen. Danny Boyle has a well-crafted beast on his hands – maybe a little too rigidly structured, but admirably made. I didn’t expect to love this, but I really did.

Truth: An icon playing an icon – Robert Redford portrays Dan Rather as he becomes embroiled in the journalistic snafu that would end his enviable career. In 2000, Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) was about to break the story of George Bush’s spotty military career. You may remember the highlights: that he pulled strings to be admitted to the National Guard in order to avoid service in Vietnam, then went AWOL and never really completed even that much. It was going to be a big deal inrather an election ultimately decided by just 500-odd votes, but that summer Mapes’ mother died and the story never aired. Four years later, though, the story is revived when someone comes forward with documents. Mapes and her team (Elisabeth Moss, Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid) bust it wide open after a lot of teasing and research and legwork, and Dan Rather presents the case on 60 Minutes. But of course Republicans were never going to let this 75story sit, and pretty soon the internet trolls are working feverishly to discredit whatever they can. Truth becomes not just a story about journalism, but about government corruption at the highest level. 60 Minutes is on CBS. CBS was owned by Viacom, a conglomerate that relied on government tax breaks. Can they afford to upset the presidency? Truth, the actual truth, gets lost somewhere in the shuffle. Sean felt it made a better story than a movie, and he may be right. Blanchett is note-perfect, and Redford surprised me – he doesn’t do an impression of Rather, but he does capture his cadence and persona in a way that felt convincing but not mimicky. The film, though, is pretty conventional, and it’s oddly paced. I absolutely believe that a journalist’s job is to ask questions,b ut that doesn’t mean I needed 18 different soliloquies on the topic. I have a headache from being hit over the head with this message. Relax, James Vanderbilt; your premise is solid and the movie is good if not great. No need to be so sanctimonious.

Jem: A complete defilement of my childhood, no 80s baby is going to have anything to do with this travesty. They’ve ruined everything that made the cartoon of our innocence great: the look is wrong (she used to be outrageous!), the sound is wrong, they’ve traded in a talJemMovie00-630x420king, hologramming computer for Youtube. I spent years as a little girl putting on Jem concerts in a neighbour’s garage, so I think I know what I’m talking about. Even the earrings were botched, for crying out loud. And where was the awesome rival band, the Misfits? Jem and the Holograms weren’t just rockstars, they were businesswomen, philanthropists, crime fighters, and foster mothers. While it aired during the mid-80s, it was in the top 3 most watched kids’ cartoons. Why then did the studios spit in the eye of the franchise by making a movie that was sure to fail? And isn’t even good enough to attract a new audience? How would jemaudiences have felt if the same was done to Transformers, a movie that, according to IMDB, had an estimated budget of $150M in 2007. A couple of years later, GI Joe was given $175M and even though the first one didn’t do all that great, they found another $130M to throw at the sequel. Jem, on the other hand, was given an estimated budget of just $5M. So let’s sit with that for a minute and ask ourselves why. Yes, the 80s version was goofy and over the top, but that beats the bland, paint by numbers crap this remake is offering. It’s trying so hard to appeal to millennials it completely denigrates any nostalgic appeal and alienates the people it was first made for. Epic fail.

Cinderella

If you’re wondering whether you should bring your 2-year-old to see this movie, the answer is a Cinderella-on-the-royal-ball-cinderella-2015-37989672-1280-1783resounding no.

I happened to sit beside a 2-year-old girl at the screening of this movie a few nights ago, and it did not go well.

Could she make it 3 minutes without yelling something out? No.

Could she stay in her seat? Of course not.

Did she spill all her popcorn before the movie even started and then cry about it at an ear-aching volume? You’ve probably already guessed the answer.

But the thing is, she’s 2. I actually thought she was pretty well-behaved for a two-year old being asked to sit still for over two hours (the movie’s not that long, but the event sure was.) The problem is not the chatter and the squirming, the problem is that in Cinderella, both parents die.

Did you remember that little detail? That’s the catalyst for poor Cinderella being left to the whims of her evil stepmother. First the mother dies, and then the father. And the little girl beside me just didn’t tumblr_ngooyvDdPK1qgwefso1_500get it. Of course she didn’t get it. At two she’s just beginning to understand that people leave and come back but still exist when you’re not seeing them. Two-year-olds love to play hide and seek. They’ll search for hours (but they really suck at hiding). So even though her mother explained to her that Cinderella’s mommy died (but what is died?), the little girl every 4 minutes would ask “Where’s her mommy?” and every time a vaguely female character appeared on-screen “Is that her mommy?”. And then the dad died, off-screen, and the movie just could not be saved. At two, she is confident that parents always come back. She can’t understand that they just don’t exist anymore. But she’s starting to feel a little panicky about it. Cinderella is sad – why don’t they come out from hiding? A two-year old needs stability, needs to believe that her parents will not abandon her. She resisted the idea of the dead parents for the duration of the movie and had no appreciation for anything that came after. Every moment she was obsessed with the return of the missing parents.

There were other little girls (and boys) at the screening, and the older ones (say, 5 and up) seemed vogue-a-cinderella-story-01to tolerate it well. The live-action still has the mice, and the dress, and the glass slipper, and the fairy god mother all of the elements to dazzle a child. But it dazzled me as well. I was quite pleased that Kenneth Branagh did so faithful an adaptation – yes, mixing in just a tiny bit of Grimm stuff to even out the story, but giving us just a blush of nostalgia (the shot of Gus-Gus nibbling a kernel of corn comes to mind) to evoke our own childhood experience of the film while telling the story we all know and love.

Lily James is quite lovely in the role. She certainly does The Dress proud – takes what was probably a 15 pound dress and makes it look light as air. Cate Blanchett steals every scene she’s in, though.CINDERELLA She’s still Cinderella-pretty herself, but she projects coldness like nobody’s business. She shows restraint, never fully abandoning herself into evil, always holding something back, a shred of humanity that leaves us feeling just a tiny bit sad for her. And she may not get to wear The Dress but she is quite well-dressed. Her gowns are sumptuous, the wardrobe department giving her lots of belted ensembles that remind us how much she means business. Even the set came properly dressed; I could practically feel the textures in Cinderella’s home.

Branagh is careful to sprinkle his fairy dust everywhere. The carriage is resplendent in gold. The glass slippers sparkle attractively. Prince Charming’s teeth are perfectly straight. Matt has said that tumblr_nf7tvsc6Up1rf73xqo5_500“If you can do Shakespeare, you can do anything” and I don’t doubt it’s true – I just didn’t expect Branagh to give us something so lovingly and painstakingly rendered. My only complaint is that the camera moves around way too much – so much that at times I felt sick. Cinderella is already plum-full of gilt and brocade and magic; it doesn’t need the added artifice from the camera. Just let it be.

Cinderella is rated PG, which means leave the two-year old at home (with a baby sitter, of course), but bring the rest of the brood to squeal in delight. Your kids will love it, and you might just find yourself right there with them.