Tag Archives: Cate Blanchett

Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers

The middle chapter in any trilogy has the unfortunate luck of being an oasis interlude that by definition can’t have an opening or a conclusion, because a hunk of story came before it and, naturally, there’s more to come after. However in the case of Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers, it adapts and adjusts that malady by finding it’s own groove with a surging forward momentum that is removed from the episodic nature of both Fellowship and Return Of The King. It’s not my personal favourite of the three (Fellowship holds that trophy on sheer potent nostalgia alone) but to me it’s the most unique in the sense that *because* it has no bookend on either side of its narrative, it ironically feels like the most independent chapter.

There’s a restless surge of movement from every side of the action here; Frodo and Sam are uneasily led by Gollum through a haunted, labyrinthine marsh ever closer to the acrid peaks of Mordor. Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli furiously race to save the entire population of Rohan from devastation at the hands of Saruman, the good wizard who went about as bad as you can go, and his manipulative lackey Wormtongue. Merry and Pippin are whisked away on the shoulders of Ent elder Treebeard on an endless hike through Fangorn Forest, and eventually Isengard itself. Even Gandalf doesn’t get a sit-down or a smoke break, propelled on a dizzying battle with the Balrog and thrown right back into the struggle for Middle Earth with Tim for nought but a wardrobe update and hair dye. It’s that movement, the ever forward rhythm that sets this one apart and emphasizes what a truly massive journey this whole story is. Fellowship had dreamy interludes in Rivendell, whimsical leisure time spent in The Shire and near constant time to reflect and sit down for these characters, and Return had… six different endings that broke the pace. Two Towers begins with fiery chaos in Moria, holds that note throughout and finishes literal moments after the thunderclap battle of Helms Deep, which is still just an incredible piece of large scale filmmaking.

This one also introduced two of my absolute favourite characters in the whole trilogy, Theoden king of Rohan and his warrior niece Eowyn. Played by Bernard Hill and Miranda Otto, these two performances just sing through the whole film, drawing sympathies not just for Rohan but the entire human race, it’s struggle and earning every cheer out loud moment. The whole conflict with Rohan, despite again not being the inciting event in the war for Middle Earth or even the final battle, feels very immediate and important thanks to Hill, Otto, everyone involved and the monumental special effects involved in bringing the terrifying Uruk Hai army to life. There’s a tactile use of CGI that’s almost subtle enough to blend in with the real world elements, and despite being made like almost two decades ago, they still hold up and eclipse other similar efforts in more recent years, especially with the battle, Treebeard and poor Gollum who still looks fantastic. The stuff with Frodo is less compelling, or at least to me, I’ve always found in the latter two films that his trajectory gets increasingly dark, horrific and suffocating and find myself counting down the seconds until we rejoin the others. I suppose that’s the point as he is carrying that terrible Ring, but nevertheless, always tough to make palatable.

The climactic battle that goes on for nearly fifteen minutes, the incredibly cathartic siege of the trees on Isengard, the hair raising Warg attack, Gandalf’s final boss battle with the Balrog, Eomer (Karl Urban, a study in badassery) and his company massacring the Uruk war party, all are standout moments and fantastic pieces of cinema. But there are a few moments that are always present and important in my mind when watching this film: As a small village in Rohan is plundered by marauding orcs, a desperate mother sends her two (Robyn Malcolm) sends her two children ahead of her on horseback, and nothing is more heartbreaking or immediate than this parting. Later on, Theoden stands by the grace of his son and weeps against a twilit sky while Gandalf looks on in sorrow and utters words of comfort. Elsewhere, Frodo, despite being under the malicious influence of the Ring, takes pity on Gollum and treats him with compassion even though the creature has a track record of nasty behaviour. It’s the little moments like these that ground the story in emotion, create a stirring palette for the characters to interact in and make the battle scenes count for something.

-Nate Hill

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Dreamworks’s How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

The How To Train Your Dragon series has been quite a ride, filled with quality storytelling, humour and heart, breathtaking animation and gorgeous music. It caps off the trilogy with The Hidden World, a rollicking third chapter and conclusion to this legend that sees Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his beloved companion Toothless searching for a new home to migrate to, a kingdom beyond the end of the world where dragons originally came from and a place he heard in tales from his father (Gerard Butler in brief flashbacks). Out to stop them is dragon hunting guru Grimmel, played by a sassy F. Murray Abraham who has just about as much fun with his voiceover role as he could without actually physically being there. Grimmel wants to eradicate all Night Furys from the world, and it’s a race against time, the elements and the reliable stupidity of Hiccup’s endearing childhood buddies to seek out this new home. Hiccup is a fantastic hero because he started out as anything but that, a sensitive, bullied youngster who grew into the strong leader he is today but is still full of self doubt and has never lost his softer side, people like him always make the best leaders. Cate Blanchett is around again as his mom, but sort of takes a spectator’s seat to her son and his rapscallions, including wife to be Astrid (America Ferrera). The real magic here is the relationship between Toothless and a newfound love, a beautiful white female Night Fury who flirts, plays heard to get and frolics with him all across the oceans and skies in a display of animation that’s hard to believe, especially when they reach the fabled Hidden World that looks like something out of Avatar. These films share a wonderful message of love towards the animal kingdom, teaching that if you show trust, admiration and kindness to these creatures, the lives of both species can be enriched. I love the symbiosis between humans and dragons in this series, the variety and personality of each different breed and the pure imagination employed in bringing such designs to life. Highly recommended.

-Nate Hill

Ocean’s Eight

I had a lot of fun with Ocean’s 8. I mean it’s no Ocean’s 11 but that’s a hard plateau to breach. If anything though, the heist this time around is a little more fun, a bit more showy and humorous too, and every one of the girls headlining the all star blow out of a cast has a ball and does great. Some viewers bitch that it uses the same peppy split screen techniques and apes the laid back score and charm of Soderbergh, but hello people, this is in the same franchise and it stands to reason that it would feel like the others. Sandra Bullock plays Debbie Ocean, brother to George Clooney’s now deceased Danny, which is a shame because I would have loved to see a partner up flick. She’s no less the troublemaker, and the film follows the same beats of her being paroled and immediately planning an elaborate heist with many moving parts, all carried out by a crew of carefully picked, charismatic scoundrels, starting with Cate Blanchett’s Lou, a streetwise small time crook with sass and style. Instead of three giant Vegas casinos, the plan this time is to lift a priceless diamond necklace (actually it clocks in somewhere around the 150 million range) from the hilariously faux prestigious Met Gala. The piece will be worn on the neck of persnickety, ditzy mega star Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway), which requires a pickpocket (Awkwafina), a hacker (Rihanna), a fence (Sarah Paulsen), a fashionista (Helena Bonham Carter), a forger (Mindy Kaling), a few well placed cameos and plenty of hair-brained schemes within schemes along the way. Director Gary Ross keeps the mood light, fast paced but never too silly, letting each actress have their priceless moments. Hathaway was my favourite as the clueless diva who is exasperated by anyone in her orbit, and Bonham Carter nails an adorable Irish accent and scene steals the whole way through. I’ve heard complaints about originality and that it’s just a retread with chicks, and the may be so but it’s such a winning, fun formula! Who wouldn’t want more? They could do one with a bunch of dogs taking on a heist next and if the charm was there I’d be on-board because as it is, this is the perfect recipe for intelligent escapism and I enjoyed this one a lot.

-Nate Hill

Barry Levinson’s Bandits

Every once in a while a quirky indie style film slips through the studio system disguised as a star powered blockbuster, and usually isn’t met with the best reception. Such is the case with Barry Levinson’s Bandits, a buddy crime flick by way of an oddball love triangle marketed as Elmore Leonard/Tarantino type fare but emerging as something way more stream of consciousness and weird. Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton play two slippery, bickering bank robbers who bust out of prison using a cement truck (that’s a new one) and continue their nationwide spree of larceny and mayhem, but none of that is even close to as violent or intense as it sounds. There’s a schoolboy charm to these two and every hostage they take, every bank they knock over is a breeze, feeling like a pleasant, quaint experience. Eventually a bored housewife (Cate Blanchett) tags along and they both fall for her, causing friction in a few ways. The three actors are perfect for each other; Willis is the cocky ladies man who has tunnel vision and doesn’t think too hard or too far ahead, Thornton ditches his usual alpha male snake shtick for a jittery, sweet natured hypochondriac fellow and their camaraderie is irresistible. Blanchett is never not in top form and it’s easy to see how a girl like her could stray into their lives, eventually becoming very important to both. Now, anyone looking for taut action scenes, an intricate plot or specifically verbose, showboaty dialogue will be disappointed. As penned by Twin Peaks writer Harley Peyton, most of the character interaction has a spontaneous, free flowing aesthetic and feels improvised half the time, which I loved. As for plot, the bank robber framework simply serves to see these guys meander around beautiful Oregon hanging out and talking with each other, with only a few succinct, clear cut set pieces. This is a film about what happens in between the action scenes or the robberies, about quiet situational humour, quirky romance and organic conversation. It’s tough to adjust to and nothing about the DVD artwork suggests how odd and airy the film will be, but if that’s your bag then you’ll love it. It drags a tad in the third act but pulls together nicely for a cheeky resolution to their story, and is overall an enchanting piece of comedic crime by way of impromptu theatrics. Loved it.

-Nate Hill

Taika Waititi’s Thor Ragnarok

Taika Waititi’s Thor Ragnarok has got to be the most fun I’ve ever had watching a Marvel film. Trust Hollywood to make a sterling decision once in a blue moon, and hiring a deftly comic, renegade underdog subversive improv genius like Waititi to take the wheel is a smart, bold move. Now before I sing it’s praises to Valhalla, they don’t quite let him (he’s the Kiwi wunderkind behind the newly minted classics Hunt For The Wilderpeople and What We Do In The Shadows) go completely bonkers, which he clearly wants to do, and although he’s kind of bogged down by a generic villain and a recycled point of conflict in plot, a lot of the time he’s allowed to stage a zany, uncharacteristically weird (for the MCU, anyways) pseudo space opera that is a blast and a half. Thor finds himself, after a brief encounter with Benedict Cumberbatch’s Dr. Strange, carted off to a giant garbage planet surrounded by space portals (one of which is referred to with a straight face as ‘The Devil’s Anus’, which sent me into a fit) and lorded over by a certifiably loony Jeff Goldblum as the Grand Master, a demented despot who holds intergalactic gladiator matches for his own entertainment. There Thor is forced to fight his old buddy the Hulk, and somehow find a way to escape Goldblum’s nefarious yet hilarious clutches. He’s got just south of reliable allies in his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and an exiled Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) with an attitude problem, as well as rock-armoured warrior Korg, voiced hilariously by Waititi himself as the film’s most engaging character. Meanwhile back in Asgard, trouble brews when the equally dangerous and sexy Hela (Cate Blanchett, with enough authoritative, husky smoulder to make me weak at the knees) tries to steal Odin’s throne for herself, with the help of defector Skurge (Karl Urban, who gets a mic drop of an action set piece later on). Here’s the thing about Hela: Blanchett is in top form, a commanding, dark presence… but the role is as blandly written as a number of other MCU villains, and one wonders how they’ve managed to flunk out at creating engaging antagonists a few times over now. She’s stuck in a subplot that we’ve all seen before, one that’s stale and at odds with the fresh, humorous and wonderful storyline between Thor and Banner. Their side of things is like buddy comedy crossed with screwball fare and works charming wonders, especially when they’re blundering about in Goldblum’s cluttered trash metropolis, it’s just inspired stuff. Throw in a great 80’s inspired electro pop score and a cool VHS retro vibe (I’m all about the old school) and you’ve got one of the best MCU movies to date, and most importantly one that *tries something new*, which the genre needs more of, even if it doesn’t ultimately fully commit, this is still a gem we have on our hands.

-Nate Hill

Terrence Malick’s SONG TO SONG

It is getting more and more difficult to quantify Terrence Malick as a filmmaker, particularly with his abstract and introverted narratives with his last three features.  TO THE WONDER, KNIGHT OF CUPS, and now SONG TO SONG are a trilogy of films that are visual interpretations of fragmented memories that Malick holds within his psyche.  The picture (filmed back to back with his previous film KNIGHT OF CUPS) centers on three major characters woven within the music scene in Austin, Texas.  Rooney Mara is the wannabe musician, working her way up through the ranks of Michael Fassbender’s production company, and Ryan Gosling is a musician who falls deeply in love with Mara.  A tragic and tangled love story ensues, and we watch as these three people zigzag throughout each other’s lives.

Michael Fassbender Song to Song

The film is very much a natural progression of Malick’s previous two films.  It is as if you’re trekking through a reflection of someone’s memories.  We see prominent moments, with a slurry of small, yet important details that bridge together a kaleidoscope of a narrative.  Where KNIGHT OF CUPS was playfully sensual and very erotic, SONG TO SONG is brutally perverse at times, seeing and experiencing a very dark portrayal of sexuality.

The actors assembled are remarkable.  There are a few carryovers from KNIGHT OF CUPS, Cate Blanchett and Natalie Portman in particular, but the bulk of the cast is a new Malick ensemble.  Michael Fassbender is nasty as ever as the record producer who is without emotion.  He constantly pushes himself in transgressive ways.  He forces threesomes upon his acquired lovers, he experiments with drugs, and he undercuts anyone whose support he has gained.

Natalie Portman Song to Song

Ryan Gosling is very different than we’ve seen him in a film before.  He’s very sweet, he’s very romantic.  While he maintains his stoic cinematic image, he sheds the mystery and hamminess that we’ve become too used to.  His interactions with Rooney Mara are wonderfully beautiful.  He gives a very touching and soft performance, a clear contrast to the menace and dirtiness of Michael Fassbender.  Natalie Portman gives yet another completely vulnerable turn as a young woman distracted by Fassbender’s charm and monetary value, ultimately suffering from it.  Val Kilmer and Holly Hunter briefly show up.  Kilmer is a singer, who greatly plays off his Jim Morrison persona, and Holly Hunter is the mother of Natalie Portman’s tragic darling.

What separates this from the previous two people twirling features, is that for the first time Malick has used popular music, while still using classical numbers.  Del Shannon’s RUNAWAY was prominently featured in the trailer and in an important scene in the film.  Along with his use of popular music, the film also features cameos from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Johnny Rotten,  a significant scene between Michael Fassbender and Iggy Pop, and a narrative affecting performance from Patti Smith who acts as a mentor to Rooney Mara.

Ryan Gosling Song to Song

The collaboration between Malick and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki is a pairing that is cinematic nirvana.  It’s a match that tends to not be talked about nearly as much as it should be.  The picture looks and feels organic, it doesn’t look like a movie, nor does it feel emulated; it is real life.

If you haven’t been with Malick on his last two pictures, it would be difficult to recommend this film to you.  Yet the film is powerfully filled with beautiful and transgressive emotions.  The film is an experience, it’s as unorthodox as one might think.  The film is challenging, it is an experience that is worthy of anyone’s attention.  If that album cover of Pink Floyd’s WISH YOU WERE HERE were a film, it would be SONG TO SONG.

 

Ron Howard’s The Missing: A Review by Nate Hill 

Ron Howard usually plays it both straight and safe, never taking too many risks, never siding too much with abstraction or grey areas, and over the years this has made me somewhat of a non fan. Not a hater, simply seldom blown away or challenged by his work. With The Missing, however, he strayed from the path and brought us a dark, threatening picture of life on the frontier in all its brutal, treacherous glory. With the success of last year’s brilliant Bone Tomahawk, I couldn’t help but be reminded of this beauty, as there are elements of horror and evil dancing on a thread with origin points in both films. Different altogether, but from the same elemental stew and highly reminiscent of each other. Cate Blanchett is hard bitten single mother Magdalena, trying her best to raise two daughters (Evan Rachel Wood and the excellent Jenna Boyd) with only the help of her sturdy farmhand (Aaron Eckhart). One misty night, someone or something snatches Wood right out of her bed and disappears into the wilderness with her. Magdalena is raw and determined, launching a desperate search across woods and plains to find her kin. Joining her is her half breed injun father Samuel, played by an eerily convincing Tommy Lee Jones. Samuel left her years before and only re-emerges in her life for fear of being punished for forsaking his family in the beyond. Gradually he turns around and a bond is formed through the crisis, an arc which Jones nails like the pro he is. It turns out they are tracking a group of despicable human traffickers who take girls and sell them across the border into sex slavery. They are led by a mysterious witchdoctor (Eric Schweig) whose tactics border on voodoo prowess. It’s scary stuff, never outright horror, but sure aims for that with its hazy nocturnal atmosphere in which any denizen of the night could be poised behind the next thicket or cluster of trees, ready to pounce. Blanchett is tough as nails, a terrific female protagonist blessed with a mother’s love and a winchester to back it up. Jones is gruff and badass, believable as a native american and treated as a well rounded character seeking redemption in his twilight years. There’s also fine work from Steve Reevis, Clint Howard, Elizabeth Moss and a cool cameo from Val Kilmer as a sergeant who helps them out. My favourite Ron Howard film by far. Just a mean, dark genre piece that aims to thrill and chill in equal measures and comes up aces.