Tag Archives: cate blanchett

Thor: Ragnarok – Review

10 Nov

In between Marvel movies, the MCU relies on its number of shows to keep the world alive. The Defenders was an excellent entry that united all of the Netflix heroes, but Iron Fist and Inhumans has been a slog through primordial mud. Because of this, I haven’t been having the best time with the MCU recently, so I needed a major pick me up. I was relying heavily on Thor: Ragnarok to really bring it, but was worried because this series has been one of the weakest in the MCU. I held onto the fact that the film was being helmed by Taika Waititi and went in not knowing what to expect. Well, Ragnarok succeeded at jolting new life into the MCU and has now placed itself at the top of the Thor movies as the best entry into the series yet.

After leaving the Avengers during the events of Age of Ultron, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has been spending his time searching for the rest of the Infinity Stones. Upon his return to Asgard he finds that Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has been disguised as Odin (Anthony Hopkins) since he last saw him in The Dark World and has been running Asgard in his own devious ways. The two bickering brothers do end up finding Odin, only to be warned that his oldest child that neither Thor nor Loki knew about, Hela (Cate Blanchett) is soon to break free from the prison that Odin locked her in. She quickly does escape and throws Thor and Loki from the Bifrost and the two end up on Sakaar, a planet run by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) who forces his slaves, including the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) to fight in gladitorial matches. With Thor and Hulk/Bruce Banner finally reunited, they meet up with another Asgardian, Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), who vows to have revenge on Hela. Now a team of their own, the group must find their way back to Asgard before Hela completely resumes control and spreads her evil all over the known worlds.

There is a lot jam packed into this movie that just runs a little bit over two hours, but that never really gets in the way. More on the pacing later. For now I want to start with why this movie works so well. It is the perfect blend of action and comedy, which is something the Thor movies have seriously been lacking all these years. The movie begins with a joke, which kind of had me worried. Was this going to be an all out comedy with the action taking a back seat? Not even a little bit. The comedy never overwhelms the stellar action sequences, but they provide a lot of great fun in between these set pieces. When the action does pick up, it really blows the roof off. The final battle on Asgard is hands down one of the greatest sequences in the MCU and features a striking image that totally sums up everything the action in Thor’s movies should be.

Everyone really looks like their having the times of their lives in Ragnarok, which really gives this film even more life. Chris Hemsworth gives his best performance in the franchise yet and works great with both Tom Hiddleston and Mark Ruffalo, who also bring a lot to their performances. Cate Blanchett is excellent as Hela and continues to show that the MCU has had a very good year with their villains. Jeff Goldblum is almost too funny here, and speaking of too funny, Waititi himself has a pretty hilarious part in the movie if you can spot him. While this movie is a great time all by itself, it’s also a solid connection to the rest of the cinematic universe. It links together multiple films and a handful of different characters to add more depth to the universe Marvel and Disney have been building all these years.

If I had anything to complain about, it would have to be some of the pacing. Like I said before, there’s a lot in this movie. So much so that you’d think it would slow the movie down. Quite the opposite actually. The beginning of the movie sets up all this important stuff so fast that I was begging for it to slow down just a little bit and let me feel the weight of it all. By the time Hela escapes and Thor and Loki find themselves on Sakaar, things find a very steady pacing. By the final part of the final battle, however, things speed up once again without ever letting me feel the weight of what I was seeing. I wouldn’t have minded if the movie was a little bit longer if it meant these two sequences were fleshed out a little bit more.

Thor: Ragnarok is exactly what this series needed. It’s a blast of action and comedy that never lets up in either department. It’s full of great performances, a lot of heart, and serves well as a connection among movies in the MCU. Some pacing issues are there, but it’s never enough to completely bring the movie down. This is one of my new favorites in the entire franchise, and I’d love to see Taika Waititi back to take on more Marvel adventures.

Final Grade: A-

Advertisements

Elizabeth (1998) and Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)

19 Jul

Queen Elizabeth I, also known as the Virgin Queen, was England and Ireland’s monarch from the year 1558 to her death in 1603. Since then, she’s become one of England’s most iconic leaders, which certainly doesn’t mean she was loved by all. In fact, she was a very divisive and often controversial queen. That being said, there’s a lot of material to work with if anyone were to create a big budget movie about her reign. Well, lucky for us we have two. Elizabeth was first released in 1998 and it’s sequel, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, was released in 2007. Now, I’ve been wanting to watch these movies for a long time, and I’ve finally gotten around to it. The question remains, still, on wether or not they’ve lived up to the hype that I’ve built for myself.

Let’s start out in 1998 with Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth.

f336b34034b7d83016e935267e3398f4

When Queen Mary I dies in 1558, the next in line of succession is her half sister, Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett), a young woman who is now in way over her head. At her time of coronation, England is in a terrible state. Her army is all but useless, debts plague the entire country, and there’s heated violence between Catholics and Protestants. With Elizabeth being a Protestant, there are many Catholics in her court that want her off the throne. One of these people is the influential Norfolk (Christopher Eccleston), a scheming duke with his ultimate goal of wearing the crown. With everything collapsing, Elizabeth surrounds herself with trusted advisors and defenders like William Cecil (Richard Attenborough) and the cunning Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush). Even with these powerful minds surrounding her, her dedicated and unlawful affair with a member of her court, Robert Dudley (Joseph Fiennes), might prove to be her ultimate downfall.

I have a weird past with this movie because I remember being young when this movie first came out and thinking it looked pretty cool. I don’t know where I saw advertisements for it, but I was always stricken by the colors, the architecture, and the costumes. Now, all these years later I’ve finally seen it and it’s pretty much exactly what I thought it would be. Elizabeth is a damn fine movie that tells an interesting, albeit fictitious, look at the early days of Queen Elizabeth’s reign before the Golden Age really began, and how the naïve girl who is crowned at the beginning of the movie turns into the rock solid monarch she is known for being. It’s a great story that’s full of political intrigue, war, corruption, and romance. That’s really all you can ask for in a movie like this, and it’s done very well. Never did I feel like I was getting cheated out of something watching this movie. It hits all of the marks splendidly.

There are few elements of the movie I have to especially give more notice to. First of all, Cate Blanchett’s performance is fantastic. This was the movie that really started her career in the way that we know it today. She was acting before Elizabeth, but this is the role that got her noticed. Her arc throughout the story is an expressive one and it’s great to watch all of the changes happening to her and her reactions to them. It’s a very expressive performance that’s worthy of all the attention it receives. The costume design and make up rank up with the best of the best in film history. They are absolutely out of this world, along with the set design which honestly must have been a nightmare. Finally the collaboration of Kapur and cinematographer Remi Adefarasin makes this film truly look as beautiful as it does.

After years of wondering about this movie, it’s a relief to finally see it. Elizabeth is a really good movie about an interesting and violent time in England’s past, and also about the monarch that would come to unite the country. It’s a beautiful film to look at, but also has a great story performed by great actors to back it up. It often feels Shakespearean in it’s scale, and you really can’t go wrong with that.

The sequel didn’t come until nearly 10 years later, with Shekhar Kapur returning as director. This is, of course, Elizabeth: The Golden Age.

2007-elizabeth_the_golden_age-1

While the first film began with the early days of Elizabeth’s reign in 1558, this film starts much later on in 1585. By this point, Elizabeth has established herself as a very firm and respectable leader who isn’t easy to persuade or frighten. She is surrounded by loyal subjects like the ever present Lord Walsingham and her favorite lady-in-waiting Bess Throckmorton (Abbie Cornish). When not being attended to by the people of the court, she s regaled with stories by the explorer Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen), who has plans of starting a colony in the New World. While this loyalty makes her stand tall, enemies are still lurking on all sides, with the Spanish led by King Philip II (Jordi Molla) and his Inquisition being the most relevant threat. His plan violence and schemes soon find their way into Britain with his support going to the imprisoned Mary, Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton) and an assassination attempt that may be enough to spark a war.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age is definitely an impressive sequel, which is a good thing to say since it had the challenge of following up its beloved predecessor while also recreating history using a fair amount of both fact and fiction. There’s a lot of things going for this movie including the return of director Shekhar Kapur and the lead actors Cate Blanchett and Geoffrey Rush. There’s also some excellent additions like Clive Owen, Abbie Cornish, and Samantha Morton. The inclusion of foreign powers like the Spanish and the English spies that supported them also makes for really good intrigue and action to push the movie along, while there’s also the romance that you would come to expect with this kind of movie. The ingredients are all there, but it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the original Elizabeth.

One thing that is missing from The Golden Age is the beautiful set design that the first film had. I understand that Elizabeth is now a completely different monarch than she was in the first film and the set is meant to reflect the personality she puts on as she leads her people, but I really miss the colors and the vastness of some of the room in the palace. There’s also nothing really new added to this movie and it feels like something of a retread in certain ways. By that I mean that I mean all of the same themes of the first film are explored, but in some different ways. I think I just wanted more from this one in the ways that the first film succeeded.

Still and all, Blanchett returns with another powerful performance and the costume design are all on par with the original. It’s important to look at sequels as movies in and of themselves and not just follow ups, so in that way Elizabeth: The Golden Age is a very good movie, but compared to Elizabeth it’s a weaker entry. That being said, I still had a good time watching this movie and for fans of the first film, it’s still worth a look.

Watching movies like this are really great at pulling you into a time period and recreating history in the most lavish of ways. Anyone who hasn’t had the chance to watch the Elizabeth movies should really get right on that. They have quite a bit to offer and something in there for everyone.

The Good German – Review

10 Mar

Steven Soderbergh is one of my absolute favorite directors of all time. I’ve already talked about a few of his movies on here, with the most recent being for his debut film sex, lies, and videotape. Of course, not all of Soderbergh’s movies get much attention, and some of them seem to just fade away into the deepest recesses of his filmography. That’s exactly what happened to his 2006 box office flop, The Good German. After having watched it, I can definitely appreciate it for what it is. Much like the Coen Brothers’ The Man Who Wasn’t ThereThe Good German is a faithful recreation of how movies were made during the Golden Age of Hollywood. Unfortunately, that’s where the success of this movie pretty much ends.

220px-Good_german

The year is 1945 and World War II has been ended on the European Front. American war correspondant Jacob Geismar (George Clooney) is sent to Berlin to cover the peace talks at the Potsdam negotiations. Geismar is assigned a young American soldier named Tully (Tobey Maguire) to be his driver, but there are a lot of things about Tully that Jacob has no idea about. For one thing, he’s highly involved in black marketeering and has a strange relationship with Jacob’s ex-lover, a German named Lena Brandt (Cate Blanchett). After a brutal murder and robbery happens in Potsdam, supposedly right outside where the peace talks are meant to take place, Jacob begins investigating what actually got this person killed, even if it means going against his American superiors and also creating more tension than there already is with the Soviets occupying Berlin.

So right off the bat, The Good German not only looks convincing in terms of how movies were made in the 1940s, it also just looks beautiful in general. I love the look of noir films with the pitch black shadows and the high contrast light. It really just makes for great dramatic scenes, and this movie had that kind of look to it. It’s clear that Soderbergh was way more concerned with making this movie feel like a classic film in almost obsessive ways. This entire movie was shot on back lots in Los Angeles, only lenses of the time were used on the cameras, and the lighting was all incandescent. There wasn’t even any ADR during the sound editing. Soderbergh really succeeded at making this feel very authentic, and for film lovers that reason alone is enough to check this movie out, but there’s still more I have to say.

The_Good_German_screenshot

The setting of this movie also really grabbed my attention. It was cool seeing all of these different countries who really don’t trust each other in one city under the weak promise that the war is officially over. Just because the war is technically over didn’t mean that there still wasn’t a lot of shady stuff going down, and this movie plays on that perfectly. It adds a layer of paranoia to the proceedings. So we have a cool setting, but the way things happen is super not cool. The entire time I was watching this movie I felt like I was just moving from one scene to the next because we have to in order for the story to be told and the movie to be over. This is actually a pretty common flaw in some movies, and this one is a prime example. It’s no fun watching a narrative move with such little motivation.

Let’s talk about the acting in this movie because it’s all very surprising. It’s almost like George Clooney and Cate Blanchett only did this as a favor to Steven Soderbergh. It was weird watching these actors just read the lines that were given to them without any sort of emotion backing them up. I get that they’re supposed to be touch talking noir characters, but it really didn’t work. The only thing Blanchett did was an accent, so obviously she’s German but what else. The only person who really put forth any kind of effort was Tobey Maguire. He was great and really seemed to be enjoying himself in the slimy role that was given to him.

The Good German is certainly a minor entry in Soderbergh’s body of work and for good reason. This is film is an exercise of style over substance that would really only appeal to people who are fans of classic cinema and can appreciate everything Soderbergh did to create an authentic feeling movie. The story has potential but ultimately falls flat due to a lack of strong motivation and performances that are very unmemorable. All in all, The Good German works as an experiment but not so much as a strong piece of storytelling.

The Aviator – Review

5 Jan

Making a movie about the life of Howard Hughes, one of the most eccentric and brilliant figures in American history, wouldn’t be an easy task because of how much he actually did. Leave it to Martin Scorsese to, not only attempt, but succeed and bringing this larger than life figure to silver screen with The Aviator. Combining a story about film and aviation history and mental disease, this is an epic and hugely impressive biopic that captures the essence of film almost perfectly.

aviator

 

As the sole heir to the Hughes Tool Company, Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) has a lot of extra cash to throw around, and ends up using it to create on of the first truly epic films, Hell’s Angels, after years of production. While living a life in Hollywood and beginning a relationship with the likes of Katharine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett), Hughes isn’t one to forget his true passion: aviation. Soon, Hughes becomes involved with government plans to build many different types of aircraft that will become essential in World War II. Meanwhile, Hughes has his own plan to create the Hercules (aka the Spruce Goose), the largest plane ever created, but only after he can control his deepening paranoia and OCD.

The Aviator begins with what can only be described as a film buff’s dream come true. The first part of the movie shows Howard Hughes almost killing himself and going bankrupt in order to complete Hell’s Angels. Along the way, though, we get to see him interact with some major stars of the time. We get to see Jude Law as Errol Flynn, Gwen Stefani as Jean Harlow, and later on Kate Beckinsale as Ava Gardner. This isn’t my favorite part of the movie, but it’s easy to see how much fun Martin Scorsese is having with the material, the likes of which he would prove his loyalty to in Hugo some years later. It was a wild time in Hollywood and it’s done so well in this movie. Cate Blanchett especially is note perfect as Katharine Hepburn.

02Aviator

 

After the story moves past Hughes’ work in Hollywood, it moves onto his career in engineering airplanes for the military. While this is still a very interesting part, it begins to get a little confusing. One of the big problems is that there’s a point in the movie where it doesn’t say what year it is. This is all happening during the days of World War II, so depending on what year it is is important to what Howard the government are doing. Since I didn’t know what year it was, it got a little tricky to follow along at some points. Still, I had an understanding of what he was doing and it was still awesome to see the genius at work, building up an empire, even while his world seemed to be crumbling all around him.

The most interesting part of The Aviator to me was the depiction of mental illness. Mental illnesses and genius together is a huge interest of mine, seeing how one affects the other, so it was really interesting seeing a depiction of Hughes’ paranoia and obsessive compulsive disorder take a toll on his life. This is OCD in a way that I’ve never seen depicted before, a dangerous, life altering OCD. It’s almost hard to watch scenes when Hughes forces himself to say certain sentences over and over again or even struggle to get out of a bathroom in the most germ free way he can. It puts that entire disorder in perspective and how damaging it can really be.

It’s not surprising that The Aviator turned out as great as it did. With Scorsese and his cast of actors along with an amazing human being as the subject, it has all of the ingredients for an interesting and entertaining movie, even clocking in at 3 hours. There’s a lot of history in this movie, and it may not be told in the most coherent of ways at times, but most of this ride is really something memorable. It celebrates history, achievement, and Howard Hughes himself.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – Review

30 Dec

Well, this is it, ladies and gentlemen. Since 2001, I’ve enjoyed taking my theatrical trips to Middle Earth and seeing some of the most amazing fantasy adventures ever brought to life onscreen. That may seem cheesy, but it’s true. Now we have the last film of the entire saga of Middle Earth, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. This is the big one. This is what everything in the last two movies has been leading up to, and this is also the bridge that takes us into the Lord of the Rings trilogy, so this movie has some pretty big boots to fill, Hobbit feet sizes to be exact.

The-Hobbit-Battle-of-the-Five-Armies-poster-9-691x1024

Picking up right where The Desolation of Smaug left off, the movie begins with the evil dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) attacking Lake-town, but upon his defeat the kingdom under the mountain, Erebor, and all of its riches are up for grabs. Thorin (Richard Armitage) claims it, and commands the dwarves and Bilbo (Martin Freeman) to obsessively search for the Arkenstone that he and Smaug so coveted. Meanwhile, Bard (Luke Evans) and the elf king Thranduil (Lee Pace) begins moving on Erebor to get their share of the treasure, while Azog (Manu Bennet) and his army of goblins, orcs, and trolls get ever closer to attacking the mountain, themselves, and ending Thorin’s bloodline once and for all.

What’s great about the title of this movie is that it really is one of the more accurate titles to a movie I’ve ever seen. It’s called The Battle of the Five Armies, and that’s pretty much exactly what the movie is: one enormous battle. You can kind of see similarities with The Return of the King, that movie also pretty much being one huge battle, but that one did it far better. There are a lot of small problems that find their way into The Battle of the Five Armies that don’t quite ruin the experience, but they really stand out when I think about the movie. Still, this is a superb fantasy film that was a satisfying last trip into Middle Earth.

The-Hobbit-The-Battle-of-The-Five-Armies

 

Here’s the thing. This movie is almost non stop and at times, that began to wear on me. At a point it is just a battle with scene after scene after scene of fighting. Now, don’t get me wrong, this movie is epic and the battle scenes are great, but there seems to be so much going on that the special effects go completely haywire. There’s one character in particular who looks like Jackson grabbed him from The Polar Express, put dwarf armor on him and just threw him into the movie. It was distracting as all hell and pulled me out of the movie on more than one occasion. Another issue is that this movie feels like a log flume with no splash. The entire movie, hell the entire trilogy, is building up to that big splash at the end, and it just isn’t as impactful as it should have been. Now, I’m sick of being negative here. Let’s look at the positives.

As always, everyone in this movie is great. Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Richard Armitage (playing an almost Shakespearean character), and Benedict Cumberbatch all knock it out of the park. They’re characters we love, or characters we love to hate so it’s always a blast seeing them all again. I said before that the fighting started to wear on me, sure, but it is an epic battle nonetheless. Seeing dwarves and elves working together against orcs is just breathtaking to see, but add a hobbit with a ring of power and a wizard with amazing abilities, and it all equals exactly what I want to see when the lights in the theater go down and I’m transported to Middle Earth.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies may not be the best in the entire saga, but after some thought, I think it might be my favorite of the Hobbit trilogy, with The Desolation of Smaug giving it a run for its money. Hell, they might even be tied. There are flaws with the special effects, a boring love triangle, and some odd pacing (and I don’t mean Lee Pace and his elk), but that’s not to say that this isn’t a great experience. To see how these movies and the Lord of the Rings movies come together and all of the battles that went on before the real Battle for Middle Earth began is just awesome. These movies, this one included, will never be as recognized or appreciated as Jackson’s previous Middle Earth films, but this is still a really great movie, nonetheless.

Hanna – Review

2 Aug

There is no denying that Joe Wright is a talented director. With films like Pride and Prejudice, Anna Karenina, and The Soloist (a film that I personally really enjoy) under his belt, we can say that he has great attention to visual detail and creating a believable world for these stories to take place in. That being said, none of these movies sound like anything resembling Hanna, a governmental revenge thriller involving spies and corrupt officials. No quite what Wright has done in the past, but he has injected Hanna with a surreal kind of Grimm fairy tale motif that makes this movie unique from your average thriller film.

Hanna_poster

Since she was a small girl and before she can even remember, Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) has been living in a Finnish wilderness with her father, Erik (Eric Bana). She has also been vigorously trained everyday in a manner that would make the most dedicated marine exhausted. All of this leads up to the day when Erik puts a red switch on the table that will alert a woman in the CIA named Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett) of their location. The switch is flicked and Hanna is swiftly taken while Erik makes his escape with plans to meet Hanna in Berlin. The mission: kill Marissa Wiegler. All seems to have been accomplished, but nothing could be further from the truth, starting a chase across many countries and revelations that will change Hanna’s views on everything she is doing.

Hanna has the potential to be a derivative government chase thriller. All of the variables needed for the formula are there. A corrupt government official, a large cover up, and a revenge tale. The little idiosyncrasies of this movie is what makes it special. First of all, it’s so interesting to watch Hanna interact with things that we take for granted. Living in a cabin in Finland’s wilderness will rob Hanna of particular day to day things like electricity and television. One scene in particular has her surrounded with all of this making these everyday objects so overwhelming. It’s an interesting thing to see her reactions to these “new” ideas, products, and ways of life.

hanna-movie-trailer-700x354

 

Another great strength of this movie is the soundtrack by The Chemical Brothers. It is equally tranquil and thumping, much like Hanna, herself. While we are on that topic, Saoirse Ronan proves that she can act just as well as the veterans. In one scene she shows adorable naïvety then in the next she will be taking down 5 full grown men at one time. Eric Bana is also very likable despite having been so hard on Hanna. Cate Blanchett is easy to hate, but her Southern drawl can kind of rubbed me the wrong way at times. She seemed to be enjoying it a little bit too much.

Unfortunately, Hanna falls completely flat in some areas, so much so that it almost ruined the entire movie. For one thing, it has the strangest pacing I’ve ever sat through. At the beginning of the movie, she is training with her father and the mystery behind it all is pretty solid. Cool. I like that part a lot. She gets started with the mission, and right as it gets good she meets the most annoying group of people ever put to the silver screen. Ok, that’s probably a huge over reaction, but still. The family that she is with for a good chunk of the movie is pretty annoying and she is with them way too long! That mixed with the revenge story and government characters and plot line just didn’t sit too well with, and it just slowed the movie down.

hanna-movie-cate-blanchett-1

 

In conclusion, Hanna wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t necessarily a let down. I didn’t know exactly what to expect and I wasn’t sure how much I was going to like it, so I didn’t have any expectations. For the most part, this movie goes above and beyond what is expected from a thriller of this kind. It adds small details and minor characters that make it special. The story and the soundtrack were excellent. The pacing is funky and I don’t really feel too good about the twist at the end, but all in all, this is a pretty awesome movie and definitely a memorable time.