Tag Archives: Cate Blanchett

Blue Jasmine – “Streetcar Not Named Desire”

Woody Allen_edited-1

Blue Jasmine 

Directed By: Woody Allen, 2013 

JOHN: I didn’t like Blue Jasmine, and I realize everyone else has. The acting is fine. Direction, excellent, even the flash back structure that contrasts past and present seems to work. 

Except there is a difference between a play and a movie—I am reacting to frequent comparisons of this to Streetcar Named Desire. With a play there are some out of town previews, revisions, attention to live audience response. A movie or novel is not known to the audience. That is until afterwards when the author or director finds out the work strikes a chord with them.

The emphasis on Streetcar may be Blanche, but it is her affect on Stanley and Stella that is the heart of the play. Jasmine focuses on the Cate Blanchett (Blanche like) character but that’s about it, and she is someone who just makes me feel uncomfortable. Continue reading


WORST OF THE DECADE— Benjamin Button

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, David (Fight Club) Fincher, director, 2008

 HOOK: Would Brad Pitt grow younger without Angelina?

 LINE:  “’Do you know anything about buttons?”

 SINKER: Is this the “Forrest Gump Meaning of Life” award winner? (Also,  how can a movie review begin with four questions?)

SPANKY: Great look to this film. The gimmick of Brad Pitt (before he turned into Osama Ben Laden) growing younger, grows old fast. And it’s never clear why this reverse aging is supposed to matter to the audience (though the tacked on epigrams sure try to reach for something, …anything). What makes a ”turkey” ? More than just a bad film, it is big expectations. Brad Pitt in a meaningless role, a gimmick that has no significance, “Lifetime” music that would make an elevator wince—these are pretty much more than you need to qualify for a Big Bird. And, by the way, let’s once and for all agree not to have any more movie narratives that begin with someone dying in a hospital telling (or listening to) a story that brings us back to the opening scene for a teary climax. This format sank with the movie Titanic.

 BARK (1 BARKs out of four)

 JOHN: You may age a bit yourself watching this movie that makes 3 hours seem like 3 years. This might have made a good 15 second pitch for a film, but the execution is excruciating. If I had to use a metaphor, it would be it’s like giving birth to an eighty year old man. Oh wait a minute, that’s what this film is about. But it’s we in the audience who suffer the labor pains. The only part I liked is when Brad Pitt goes off with a few of his Jewish friends to kill Nazis whereas the scene in which a teen-aged Benjamin makes out with his now aged lover, is just plain creepy. If time could go backward a good destination might be someone’s decision whether or not to make a film that is as enjoyable as sitting on a toilet when you’re constipated (F. Scott Fitzgerald turning over in his grave; Jenifer Aniston in the other room laughing her head off).  

0 (No GOs out of four)

"Anyone seen a baby Nazi?"



The Talented Mr. Ripley, Anthony Minghella, director, 1999 

HOOK: What if Strangers on the Train derailed? 

LINE:  “Wherever I look for Dickie I find you” 

SINKER: “She (Highsmith) was a mean, hard, cruel, unlovable, unloving person,” said acquaintance Otto Penzler. “I could never penetrate how any human being could be that relentlessly ugly.”

JOHN: This is one of those films that half way though you realize is a masterpiece, and then when it ends you are not so sure. The good stuff includes  a gorgeous, glowing quality to the Italian settings, an imaginative musical score, plus Matt Damon, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow,  Cate Blanchett, James Rebhorn and a sly Philip Seymour Hoffman in career defining roles.  

But those of us familiar with Patricia Highsmith’s books might balk that this adaptation is too close to the source. One of her appeals to an audience is how she entraps us through a few seemingly unimportant choices to defending what we have become by going even further outside the rules of society. Like Dostoyevsky and Franz Kafka she gets us contemplating a morality we don’t often think about, not as an intellectual exercise but as someone caught outside its clutches trying to figure out what to do next.

GO GO GO (3 GOs out of four)

SPANKY: Let me say what I think you are heading for. It’s almost like the director said to Matt Damon, “OK what is your character’s real motivation here?” And he reaches for the homosexual card instead of the feelings any of us might have about wanting to change places with someone (like the too handsome Law) who is more sophisticated, wealthy and even has the eye of a Gwyneth Paltrow. Though Highsmith was herself a lesbian, it seems kind of a cop out for Ripley and the audience. Don’t we watch films to pretend we are someone else, often beyond the limitations of our own lives? The storyline goes to the heart of this process and to sidestep it for a simpler scapegoat we can shake a finger at is missing an opportunity to do much more. Damon is perfect as Ripley without a deeper hidden secret, just as the smirking, conceited Hoffman is the annoying obstacle we all know and Rebhorn is the over controlling parent. Sometimes less is better, Tom Ripley.

BARK, BARK, (2 BARKs out of four)

DID YOU KNOW: Highsmith graduated from Barnard College, where she had studied English composition, playwriting and the short story. Living in New York City and Mexico between 1942 and 1948, she wrote for comic book publishers. Answering an ad for “reporter/rewrite,” she arrived at the office of comic book publisher Ned Pines and landed a job working in a bullpen with four artists and three other writers, initially scripting two comic book stories a day for $55-a-week. 

The young Highsmith had an intense, complicated relationship with her mother. According to Highsmith, her mother once told her that she had tried to abort her by drinking turpentine. Highsmith never resolved this love-hate relationship, which haunted her for the rest of her life, and which she fictionalized in her short story “The Terrapin,” about a young boy who stabs his mother to death. 

THE GOOD GERMAN – What Went Wrong?

Play it again, Sam.

Play it again, Soderbergh.

The Good German, Steven Soderbergh, Director, 2008

Hook: Soderbergh/Clooney try to recapture the aura of Casablanca in a Third Man setting. Except Clooney is no Bogart, Blanchett (though good) no Bergman, and this movie is no classic.

LINE: “You can never really get out of Berlin.”

SINKER: The moral (existential) ambiguity of post war films has dissipated. This film is reaching for something in audiences that is no longer there. 

JOHN: I love the old cars, floodlit settings, film swipes and other period film techniques. And some actors— Tobey Maguire and Cate Blanchett—were made for black and white. But the Holocaust card has been played once too often and there is no chemistry between Clooney (looking a little here like Jay Leno) and any of the other actors. They beat him up, and you’ll feel like beating him up too. We’re even down in the sewers of Berlin (not Vienna) but where is Harry Lime when you need him? The trouble with an homage to great movies is we realize just how insipid this wannabe is by comparison. Did they really think they could get away with the Casablanca ending? The intermixing of actual news footage is flawless, but the use of voice over to reveal key plot points is really lame. 

GO GO (2 GOS out of four) 

SPANKY: You could drive a fighter plane off of Blanchette’s high cheek bones, and when she says, “I’m frightened,” Marlene Dietrich lives. The Wernher von Braun sub-plot is intellectually interesting, but we made the decision to give this war criminal employment and he landed us on the moon. I’m not sure most of the audience wants to reconsider that. And this is the problem, I feel, Sonderbergh can recreate the look of a period film but (for better or worse) audiences have moved on, and the emotion we might have felt in the forties about what the world had gone through is gone. It takes a great film to bring all that back, and fortunately we have Casablanca, The Third Man, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Thank God they’re now on DVD. We don’t need this one. 

TWO PAWS DOWN (1 BARK out of four)