Thursday, February 14, 2008

Rants on I'm Not There and Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Before I get into my ranting, let me get something off my chest: I don't understand why Cate Blanchett has legions of fans who proclaim her to be the new Meryl Streep. What am I missing? Maybe I need to see some of her earlier work, because I haven't really been impressed with anything I've ever seen her in. I won't deny that she has talent and that she is ever-watchable, but Meryl Streep? Come on. Let's be a little more realistic. She gave a fine imitation of Katherine Hepburn and nailed the voice in The Aviator, but did all of that really add up to an Oscar-worthy performance? Blanchett had nothing to do in Babel besides lie there and pee her pants, so I can't really discredit her too much, but what was she doing there anyways? I do love her in Notes on a Scandal (especially the "Here I am!" scene), but she's outshone by Dame Judi Dench. She was fine in Elizabeth but, frankly, it didn't stand above any other Queen Elizabeth's I've seen. If you're a Blanchettphile, please tell me in the comments what I need to see of hers to be shown the way of the Blanchett.

I'm Not There (Todd Haynes, 2007): I'm not going to be a pretentious boob and pretend I understood this movie, because I didn't. I must admit that I still love the concept of the six actors portraying different aspects of Bob Dylan, but I don't know if it actually worked. I was bored with Marcus Carl Franklin, didn't understand Ben Whishaw's section and thought Richard Gere didn't fit at all. Christian Bale was kind of interesting during his limited screentime, but had nothing to really work with.

There were two "aspects of Dylan" that took risks and, to varying extents, worked in Haynes' thesis of a film. The first is, of course, Cate Blanchett in the most exhilarating part of Dylan's life. Blanchett is definitely a breath of fresh air to the proceedings, but I don't think they were particularly helpful to the overall film or our perception of the character. For the most part, I thought that somehow Jeff Bridges in full-on Dude mode had been cast as well, for all the annoying "man" and "dude"'s she put on the end of every sentence. It wasn't until that final moment in the limo when Blanchett drops all the pretense and annoying mannerisms that I finally saw her as a part of the story and an actual character. Plus, that enigmatic smile in the final frames was simply beautiful.

I think Heath Ledger played my favorite aspect of Bob Dylan and I don't believe it's only because of his recent passing; it's genuinely a fine performance. As the actor who played Dylan in a movie biopic ten years previously, Ledger, so I've read, is portraying Dylan's homelife. I don't know if I can really explain precisely why I liked it, I just think the scene at the restaurant and the montage where he buys the motorcycle are so beautifully done that they make the performance. This section is easily my favorite because it also contains my favorite performance in the entire film: Charlotte Gainsbourg as Ledger's ex-wife. It's so subtle next to Blanchett's larger than life, scene-stealing performance that you might not think about it at first, but Gainsbourg is the emotional center of the film, offering the only true "real" person in the entire film. We understand her heartbreak when, at a party, Ledger ignores her and treats her like an unwanted guest or the aforementioned restaurant scene where she battles for her own place in the relationship. It's quite a bewitching performance and one that, given time to simmer, sticks with you in the end.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age (Shekhar Kapur, 2007): I can't really get excited about Elizabethan films because, to me, they all look the same and offer nothing new besides the beautiful costumes and loud art direction. The original Elizabeth was fine and everything, but nothing to really write home about. The sequel, made nine years later, is a lot more entertaining but not really in a good way. The Golden Age is written much like an average episode Desperate Housewives, with all the snarky side-glances and tossed off bitchy one-liners, and I wouldn't have minded if Kapur had intended for this to be a camp film. Instead, his direction is more aimed at historical drama and the two do not mix at all. And poor Cate Blanchett just can not catch a break in this film. She tries her best to save the sinking disaster, but she's like Velma Kelly and can't do it alone. Blanchett has her moments, but you try spouting off lines like "My bitches wear my collar!" and see how you fair. It's not easy. I'm not going to say that her Oscar nomination is completely undeserved since I liked her better than the obvious number 6 Angelina Jolie in A Mighty Heart, but there are at least five other actresses I can think of who would have been worthier candidates.

My Ratings
I'm Not There *** 1/2
Elizabeth: The Golden Age ** 1/2

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