Tag Archives: Cate Blanchett

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: I’M NOT THERE (2007)

“Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
“(I am large, I contain multitudes.)”–Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”

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DIRECTED BY: Todd Haynes

FEATURING: Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, , , , Kris Kristofferson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Julianne Moore,

PLOT: The intermingled stories of an itinerant child blues guitarist, a folk singer-turned-preacher, a philandering movie actor, an indulgent rock star, an aging outlaw, and a poet under interrogation, all of whom represent facets of the life of Bob Dylan.

Still from I'm Not There (2007)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: The biographical film is a genre ridden with cliché, perhaps an inevitable result of trying to condense decades of life into a limited running time, as well as the absurdity inherent in calling upon famous people to embody other famous people. I’m Not There sidesteps this issue by shattering its subject’s life into fragments, echoes of Dylan who are never quite Dylan, but united in the spirit of an artist with the soul of a poet and an aversion to being analyzed. You won’t leave the film having learned a single fact about the man, but you will feel like you know him far better than any encyclopedic review of his life could impart.

COMMENTS: Facing down his interrogators, a poet lays before them the seven simple rules for life in hiding. Our protagonists, despite some of their very public lives, seem pretty adept at the first six, having created chameleon-like personalities that defy categorization or understanding. But it is the seventh–“Never create anything”–that trips them up. As much as they want to avoid capture, no matter their revulsion toward fame or notoriety, as much as they want to leave past choices behind them, the urge to create is inescapable.

Todd Haynes is in love with metaphor. His films luxuriate in the power of a thing standing in for another thing. Some examples are more blatant than others (this reviewer has previously chronicled one particularly unsubtle instance), but he always comes back to the idea that coming at an idea directly is rarely as interesting as something more tangential. That makes him a good match for Bob Dylan, an artist who is noteworthy for his refusal to ever say anything right out. In Dylan, Haynes has found a muse who indulges his vision of the world through fun house mirrors. If Dylan is never just one thing, Haynes surmises, then he must be many things. And that’s what he sets out to dramatize.

The result is something of an anthology, with stories that sometimes intersect or echo each other, but are always their own narrative. This procedure permits Haynes to indulge in ambitious flights of fancy. To depict Dylan’s early interest in folk music, for example, the singer is embodied by a young black boy with Woody Guthrie’s guitar, the spirit of an early-20th century bluesman, and a hobo’s life on the rails. None of these things are literally Dylan (and the racial dimension just barely avoids issues of cultural appropriation), but they get at the heart of his curiosity and determination to slip the chains of his past identity to explore a new one.

Sometimes these depictions are very literal, such as Bale’s Greenwich Village troubadour. Other times, the symbolism is extremely heavy-handed, like naming Whishaw after Arthur Rimbaud, a poet who inspired Dylan’s lyrical obfuscations, or Gere assuming the character of Billy the Kid, whose own biography Dylan famously scored. Interestingly, the most Dylan-like character is Blanchett’s Jude Quinn, who takes on the precise look of the star’s “Judas” heyday, and yet occupies a esque fantasy landscape of parties in white rooms and giddy romps with coy models and fawning pop stars. Most of them revolve around music (but not all), many of them incorporate a faint whiff of impersonation of Dylan’s notorious nasal drawl (but not all). The one thing that unites all six version of Dylan is a stubborn refusal to be seen, to be captured and measured and sized up. Haynes wisely turns that inability to present the man into his boldest technique.

The biopic has matured over the decades, as filmmakers have largely abandoned regurgitated womb-to-tomb accounts in favor of more telescopic views of key moments from the life. In so doing, they’ve been willing to play with the form, demolishing linear time (like Chadwick Boseman’s electric embodiment of James Brown in Get on Up) or providing on-screen commentary (as in the to-screen objections of characters in 24 Hour Party People). Haynes does them all better by presenting a biography that doesn’t even feature its subject, Because while my review keeps saying Dylan Dylan Dylan, you’ll never hear that name in I’m Not There. Not once.

I’m Not There is definitely a weird watch because it has completely rethought the language of its genre. The life of the subject here is not character, it’s not plot, it’s not dialogue. It’s theme. And as such, it leaves interpretation to the viewer, even as its subject resists interpretation at every turn. So make of it whatever you will, knowing that you’re on your own. How does it feel?

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The movie looks and sounds so purely pleasurable in isolated moments that I thought, more than once, that Haynes would’ve better served Dylan by putting together a DVD of music videos. In a way, that’s what he’s done anyway, and perhaps the whole weird, scattershot thing might play better when you can skip-search to your favorite bits.”–Rob Gonsalves, Rob’s Movie Vault (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Brad. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: KNIGHT OF CUPS (2015)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , , Brian Dennehy, Wes Bentley

PLOT: A successful, hedonistic screenwriter lost in the indulgences and vacuity of Hollywood searches for love and meaning.

Still from Knight of Cups (2015)

WHY IT WONT MAKE THE LIST: While Malick’s approach to cinema remains characteristically unconventional, despite the philosophical narration and existential questions, the film still charts as a fairly standard dramatic narrative.

COMMENTS: “To be a philistine or not to be a philistine?” That is the question that troubles reviewers when approaching the films of Terrence Malick. When a film maker is consciously addressing questions such as the meaning of life –a question in which every person on this planet has a stake—if the reviewer’s response isn’t positive, they can find themselves asking the questions: did the film not speak to me because it was poorlyexecuted, or because the message was over my head? Is it a load of pretentious rubbish, or did I simply not get it?

All questions of framing, scripting and pacing aside, the answer––particularly when it comes to films that address existential concerns like those of Malick, or —is always subjective. The film either meant something to you, or it didn’t. (I am thinking of this site’s controversial review for Possession, a film I personally loved but which the reviewer hated). Where I saw a visceral film with an impassioned performance from and unsettling, demonic imagery depicting a relationship imploding, the reviewer saw a pretentious, vapid stream of hollow images. Technique aside—which thankfully isn’t so subjective and can be argued—the film either spoke to you, or didn’t.

Did Knight of Cups speak to me? To perfectly honest, no. Does this mean I simply didn’t “get it”? Possibly, but again, considering how subjective a film experience is, not to mention how subjective and open-ended Malick’s images are, does it matter? Every filmgoer brings their own meanings to a film based on their own experiences, very often bringing associations that are far removed from the filmmaker’s original intent, if they’re even prepared to talk about that (and we all know how Malick has addressed this question: radio silence). Is Cups a load of pretentious rubbish? Again, the question of meaning-making is entirely dependent on the viewer. I was able to find meanings and recurring messages in the film, even if I didn’t particularly respond to the actual film experience.

So what is Cups about? On the surface, this is a straightforward tale of a successful screenwriter Rick (who doesn’t do a lick of actual writing in the film, mind you), who experiences inertia and nihilism among various mansion parties and trappings of Hollywood. He has relationships with six women, including his ex-wife (Cate Continue reading CAPSULE: KNIGHT OF CUPS (2015)

CAPSULE: LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU (2004)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Wes Anderson

FEATURING: , , , , ,

PLOT: An aging underwater nature documentarian assembles a team to hunt down the jaguar shark that ate his partner, including a pregnant journalist he has a crush on and a pilot who may or may not be his illegitimate son.

Still from Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Oh, Wes Anderson, you come so close to making weird movies, but you just can’t take that final step over the brink of madness, can you? Set in a skewed, child’s-eye reality where aquatic documentarians are major celebrities and decorated with toy-like animated glow-in-the-dark sea creatures, Life Aquatic is probably the closest thing to a weird movie Anderson has made. Looking at the direction of his latest projects like Grand Budapest Hotel, which are moving towards the mainstream, if ever so marginally, it seems unlikely that he’ll ever go full-out surreal. But his singularity makes him a director we will have to continue to monitor for signs of weirdness.

COMMENTS: Aside from their acknowledged “quirkiness,” Wes Anderson’s comedies are distinguished by their deadpan style: the characters are detached and weary, expressing profound feelings of love or betrayal while fighting off an overwhelming urge to nap. The other thing that makes an Anderson movie is the heightened, obsessive sense of design; each individual scene is costumed and decorated like a diorama exhibit. This mixture results in a highly artificial oeuvre, and Life Aquatic may be his most formalistic movie. Aside from the hard-to-believe plot, a mashup of “Moby Dick” and “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau” which involves the laconic Zissou searching for a possibly mythical “Jaguar Shark” while dealing with family squabbles and fending off pirates and rival oceanographers, Aquatic features a deliberately fake (but extremely colorful) marine fauna—peppermint-striped crabs, rhinestone-studded stingrays—almost the types of fish designs you’d expect to see at an “Under the Sea”-themed prom. (These creatures are often stop-animated by none less than ). The running soundtrack supplied by a Team Zissou sailor (Seu Jorge) with a guitar and a David Bowie obsession, who performs amazing acoustic renditions of “Space Oddity,” “Life on Mars,” and “Changes” in Portuguese, adds to the movie’s one-of-a-kind feel. Poker-faced Bill Murray is a natural match for Anderson’s dry style. Murray’s Steve Zissou is an impressive portrait of the artist in a midlife crisis: he’s still competent, but showing cracks. Maybe he’s gone mad: is the jaguar shark he seeks revenge upon real, invented as a publicity stunt to stir up interest in his faltering career, or a hallucination brought about by nitrogen narcosis? Murray makes Zissou complicated, flawed, and sympathetic. The cast of supporting characters is sprawling and the adventure epic. There’s a topless script girl, a three-legged dog, and a seahorse in a champagne glass for additional color. All around, it’s hard to be bored, and I’d say Life Aquatic is Anderson’s most interesting and strangest movie.

Anderson’s style can be frustrating—why does he insist on inserting so many layers of “look at me!” between the audience and the material?—but his meticulous craftsmanship is undeniable. I’m not a part of the Anderson cult, but I find it impossible not to appreciate his vision.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“[The script’s] bittersweet weirdness leaves a residue even as the narrative disintegrates.”–Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by “Cindy Hoskey.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)