Tag Archives: Cate Blanchett

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

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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. 

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – A Review by Nate Hill 

Some people give me funny looks when I say I enjoyed the Hobbit films. There’s this giant festering stigma around the entire trilogy that’s hard to wade through if you are one who geniunly did enjoy a lot of what Peter Jackson brought us with his second barrage of Middle Earth sagas. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of things he muffed up, the chief aspect being editing and length. We did not ask for, need or want an entire LOTR lenghth trilogy based on a book that could have fit into one volume of that series. Jackson has a tendancy to overreach, film too much and throw it all into his final cut. It started with the extended cuts of LOTR, which were somewhat unneeded, continued with King Kong, which could have been at least 45 minutes shorter, and has now climaxed with The Hobbit films. They’re so long and stretched out that at times we realize we’re not even watching stuff from Tolkien’s annexes or archives, but simply shit old Petey made up to pad the waistline of content that’s begging to be slimmed down. I’m still waiting for a fan edit that condenses everything down into what is necessary to tell the story, and pitch everything else into the purgatorial halls of DVD deleted scene land. And therein lies my argument: There’s gold to be found here, but a lot of folks are so turned off by all the unnecessary razzle dazzle that they have become blind to what actually worked. An Unexpected Journey kicks off the trilogy and definitely fares the best, feeling the most akin to the book. Martin Freeman is lovely as a young Bilbo, baffled to find thirteen rowdy dwarves dumped on his doorstep, the work of Gandalf The Grey (Ian McKellen, like he never left the role), who wishes to prod him in the direction of a most dangerous and thrilling adventure. Bilbo is a mild creature and deeply in love with the comforts of home, but is whisked along all the same, after a chaotic dinner party and plate throwing contest from this knobbly group of mountain dwelling pygmies. Orcs, Wargs, Goblins, colossal mountain giants and an appearance by the ever fascinating Gollum await them. There’s an interlude into Elrond’s heavenly glade where Gandalf, Saruman (Christopher Lee) and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) have a little CSI: Rivendell episode with an ancient dagger that hints towards the return of Sauron. One thing Jackson added that is a highlight is additional wizard Radagast The Brown (Sylvester McCoy) an eccwntric hippie who rides a chariot led by massive rabbits in breakneck bouts of Need For Speed: Middle Earth with Orcs atop Wargs. A distinct feature about these films compared to LOTR is the ramping up of CGI; many Orcs are no longer stuntmen in gloriously goopy makeup, but giant computer rendered behemoths, taking some of the texture and authenticity away. Jackson also chose to shoot in many more frames per second than the human eye is used to, giving everything a strange, wax museum sheen that is pretty distracting. Close your bag of tricks and make us a goddamn straightforward flick Pete. Fuck sake. For all the issues, it’s terrific to be back in Middle Earth, however different it looks and feels. The production design is still an elaborate wonder of creative design and decoration, Howard Shore’s now timeless score makes a triumphant return and there’s a beautiful new song courtesy of the dwarves. Say what you want, bitch and moan til the Wargs come home, I love this first outing dearly and rank it nearly as high as LOTR. I can’t say the same for the next two, especially the exhausting Battle Of Five Armies which diminished my patience for Jackson and his tricks a whole lot. But, like I said, there’s always gold to be mined from the needless padding that’s been tossed in. One day someone will edit that perfect cut for us, and we’ll have that definitive Hobbit film. Until then, cherry pick the best parts and try to put the rest from your mind. 

How To Train Your Dragon 2: A Review by Nate Hill 

 How To Train Your Dragon 2 takes what made the first adventure so special and blasts it even further into the stratosphere of animated thrills and creature comforts, all set to one of the finest scores I’ve heard in recent years, in a cartoon or otherwise. Sometimes sequels forget the ‘less is more’ adage and pile on way too much in order to outdo their predecessor, but this one gets the formula, adding in all the right places while keeping the core of the story alive. There’s also impressive and eye boggling new dragons, which let’s face it, are the reason we show up to these movies anyway. We rejoin again with Hiccup (wiry Jay Baruchel) after he has tamed the gorgeous night fury dragon Toothless, earned the respect of his grouchy father Stoick (Gerard Butler) and proved to his entire viking settlement that dragons are useful friends when treated kindly and understood on their own terms. Life is good, but not for long, as the pair of them discover a mysterious ice cave far on the border of their lands, home to thousands of new breeds of dragons, and watched over by the Dragon Rider (Cate Blanchett), who has a connection to Hiccup’s past. They are all of them under threat by tyrannical warlord Drago (a fearsome Djimon Hounsou) who commands an army and operates out of fear, putting everything the Vikings hold dear in danger. Hiccup must rally all his friends, family and every dragon in their land to fight this menace, all captured in devastatingly beautiful CGI animation that really is a marvel in the medium. Craig Ferguson returns as crusty Gobber the stable master, as do Jonah Hill, America Ferrara, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kristen Wiig, T.J. Miller and newcomer Kit Harington. The best part for me was seeing Toothless again. She’s a stunning, adorable little viper of a rascal who won me over fully in the first film, and it was a joy to see her return. There’s all manner of elaboratly rendered dragons on display, and they’re fantastic no doubt, but she just has that winning charm and unique appearance, not to mention flawless efforts by animators in bringing her to life. This sequel, dare I say, tops the first in many ways, without ever overshadowing it or resorting to show-boating. It’s the perfect companion piece. 

Lasse Hollstrom’s The Shipping News: A Review by Nate Hill 

Lasse Hollstrom’s The Shipping News is two thirds of a great movie, but unfortunately has a first act which introduces it’s main character in the most heavy handed of ways, and sort of shoots itself in the foot. It helps that the rest of the film is lovely, but it takes some time to get the sour taste out of your mouth. Kevin Spacey is Quoyle, a meek milquetoast dude who has spent his entire life moping and whining, constantly being walked all over and never standing up for himself, starting right from his childhood relationship with his father (Jim ‘sippy poo’ Lahey, the glorious bastard). He’s so pathetic and such a loser that one wonders where can you go from here, and why did Spacey choose to start his arc at such a sad extreme, instead of livening it up a bit? By chance (and I mean chance) he marries Petal ( half mad Cate Blanchett), a wayward woman-child with barely an ounce of sanity or sensibility in her, and has a daughter with her. She runs off to a tragic self inflicted end, and he is left to raise the girl. Suddenly he receives news that a relative has passed in a small coastal fishing village his ancestral home of Newfoundland, so he packs it in and the two of them head on out there to begin anew. From there it’s an awakening for him, and bit by bit his character becomes believable and tolerable, two traits that were simply not there up until this point. He meets a long lost relative (a salty Judi Dench), befriends a local gal (Julianne Moore), starts working for the gruff local newspaper magnate (Scott Glenn, wonderful) and essentially finds a self within him that he never had before, a life to fill the pointless void he’s lived in for his whole existence so far. The town is charming, the atmosphere authentic and the acting terrific, including Rhys Ifans and the late great Pete Postlethwaite. I just wish the first act could have measured up to the rest and not stuck out like such a misplaced and noticeable sore thumb. Hallstrom has an ear for intimate, rural set family drama (check out An Unfinished Life with Robert Redford fpr his best work), and for the most part, this one delivers the goods. 

Notes On A Scandal: A Review by Nate Hill 

Notes On A Scandal shines an unblinking and often bitterly tainted spotlight into what makes people tick, how they interact with one another and what a slap in the face it can be when you see what they really think and feel, independent of how they may carry themselves in public. Judi Dench is acid personified as an older woman and veteran teacher at a local high school, who’s ranks have recently been joined by a younger art instructor (Cate Blanchett). Dench is jaded, her only friend being her cat Portia, and has an insidious habit of keep a diary in which she writes down prickly little barbs about everyone and everything around her, often cruel and judgmental in nature. She takes a shine to Blanchett, who is married to a much older and renowned man (the excellent Bill Nighy) and has every vibrant thing in life that Dench is bereft of, left with the vacuum of her own empty existence. She envies, aspires to and resents Blanchett’s existence, and pours a malicious cocktail of verbal attacks into her journal, safe in the knowledge that it’s just as personal and private as her own thoughts, and that she’ll never be found out. Or will she? I’ve lived long enough to know that secrets you try to hide have a way of working their way to the surface, becoming known and hurting those you love or try to connect to. Speaking of secrets, things get incredibly complicated when Blanchett gets caught up in a torrid affair with a teenage boy she teaches, lured in by lust’s song and deaf to consequence, which is something that befalls us all more than we’d care to admit. Dench thinks she can use her knowledge of the affair as leverage to get what she wants, which she may not even be sure of at all, beyond it obsessively involving Blanchett. The two of them are dynamite as two sides of the many faced coin of ambiguity. The human behavior in this film somewhat defies the usual story structure and parameters of character we are used to in film. Decisions are arbitrary, ugliness is exposed, people are contradictory and confused in a way that leaves them stranded without beats to fall back on with their work. High praise is deserved to a piece this honest and willing to explore these places.