Connect with us

Reviews

TÁR Review | Cate Blanchett’s Performance Hits All the Right Notes

NYFF: Cate Blanchett steals the show in bloated musical drama that occasionally loses the beauty of its melody.

Published

on

For starters, the second time truly is the charm as my second screening of TÁR was (fortunately) not interrupted and called off due to issues with the projector. Imagine how confused I — and all of the Philly critics — were when the sound came on sans picture. In fairness, because TÁR is a film about a musical artist, I thought that the blank screen serving as the backdrop for a beautiful song was an artistic choice. I must not have been the only one, however, because it took about five minutes before it became clear that this was not the case.

Unfortunately, TÁR feels like a film that I should love because it’s one of these artistic “Oscar-worthy” films rather than a film that I fell in love with on my own merit. I can see it being a lot like last year’s The Power of the Dog, which I quite like to be clear. The film will resonate with many, and I’m truly happy for that, but it just did very little for me outside of its technical aspects and Cate Blanchett, who dazzles in her performance. Blanchett plays the fictional Lydia Tár and we examine the rise and fall of this world-renowned composer. But one performance can’t save a film that drowns itself out — much like the audacious musical performances in the film — by its crescendo. 

Cate Blanchett stars as Lydia Tár in director Todd Field’s TÁR, a Focus Features release. Credit: Courtesy of Focus Features

Blanchett is stellar as Lydia Tár and I think that we’ve finally found a common ground that everyone can agree on I’m sure that we’ve all played the role of a conductor in our heads as children — using pencils or our fingers instead of a baton — but Blanchett lives it in this performance. The sheer intensity that she displays whenever she is shown conducting in this film just pops off of the screen and it’s in these moments that I would find myself forgetting that Blanchett is playing a role and not actually a conductor. And it’s incredible that Blanchett can easily go from a more calm demeanor to completely unhinged while singing a song about her neighbor’s apartment going up for sale with an accordion (this is by far the highlight of the film). 

Florian Hoffmeister’s cinematography, when allowed to have some fun, really stands out. I’ve spoken with Hoffmeister, and that gave me a greater appreciation for the restraint that he shows in his cinematography. One of the instances of this is when Lydia stumbles out of a massage spa and the camera goes from being still to a jarring handheld camera style once she exits the building and the camera follows her. Hoffmeister also does an electric job whenever Lydia takes the stage. It only happens once or twice, but it’s the equivalent of following an NFL quarterback run out of the tunnel for musical artists. The film also ends with a wonderful tracking shot in a theater full of cosplayers.

Clocking in at nearly 2 hours and 40 minutes, TÁR tells the full story of its titular character. Not to be the guy who complains about the runtimes of films, but the film seems to be going for the Drive My Car effect of long-lasting scenes mostly made up of dialogue and only succeeds in the first half of the film. And it’s an admirable effort, sure. Writer-director Todd Field finds a nice balance in the beginning with plenty of scenes that likely last around 10 minutes, but they’re so intrinsically interesting — whether this is due to the performances or the writing is up to you — that the film flies by early on. Once the second half of the film begins, the film finds a much more methodical pace to settle on that teeters between intriguing and dull.

I had heard TÁR described as a “MeToo” story on a podcast or somewhere online, but while there’s no issue with a film handling that — The Assistant and Bombshell are both fine examples of this — TÁR film feels slightly out of touch. In short, Lydia gets wrapped up in a web of trouble that results in a very modern take of canceling. Videos taken from a class are snipped together and conveniently make it seem as if Lydia was vulgarly speaking about masturbation and touching one of her students inappropriately during the class (she was stopping his anxious foot-tapping). This type of editing would get you hired by Wes Anderson, that’s all I’ll say. And I know that this is a small nitpick in the grand scheme of things, but it took me out of the film. The video, paired with the suicide of a woman who reached out to Lydia on a number of occasions, gets her stuck in a web of legal trouble.

Perhaps TÁR is a warning about how you should treat others, or seeing how karma can indeed be a bitch much like Lydia is occasionally shown to be. Whatever the case, TÁR doesn’t exactly hit a home run with its point. For starters, it’s all just thrown in during the final half-hour or so of the film. Yes, the breadcrumbs are laid including a situation involving her assistant (and aspiring conductor) Francesca (Noémie Merlant), but it’s almost as if Field had heard a large number of stories where someone was canceled and chose to infuse all of them into the story. 

And all of this is a means to an end which in this case, is the fall of Lydia. By the end of the film, Lydia has gone from conducting some of the most acclaimed orchestras in the world to traveling in other countries and playing in some sort of event with Donnie Darko cosplayers in the crowd. It’s a tragic ending for a character who was on top of the world in the beginning, and I think it’s quite fitting. The final line spoken is a beautiful note to end on, “Sisters and brothers of the Fifth Fleet, it’s time I keep my farewell brief. Never was much with words, once you board this ship, there’s no turning back. The next ground your feet touch will be that of the new world. If any of you have lost your nerve, then step away now and let no one judge.” I just think how we get there is a different story. 

Cate Blanchett stars as Lydia Tár in director Todd Field’s TÁR, a Focus Features release. Credit: Courtesy of Focus Features

The film’s just plodding; there, I said it. You can be an exciting film that moves at a snail’s pace (again, look no further than Drive My Car). TÁR does indeed move at a snail’s pace — especially in the second half — but lacks any urgency until the scenes with the orchestra playing kick in (which will wake you up if you’re at a 10:00 am screening). The first hour and a half are quite good — I had to take a bathroom break and clocked the time and was shocked by how much ground we had covered — and I was in for the ride during this time of the film. What happens between this and when the whole “cancel” subplot kicks in? I could probably struggle to put together a few ideas. And this comes just a couple of hours after the film ended! 

Perhaps due to the fact that TÁR is a film centered around a composer, there’s very little of Hildur Guðnadóttir’s score. Even early on in the dialogue-heavy scenes, very little, if any, music fills the background. This wouldn’t even be a complaint if not for it coming at the expense of Guðnadóttir, but the Oscar winner deserves better and perhaps the concept album that is set to release next year will change my opinion on things. I’d imagine that her talents were in turn used to arrange the actual music that Lydia conducts, I just wish she had even more of a presence.

TÁR is a case of a well-made film that’s perfectly on track to be a big Oscar player. Blanchett really elevates the film past its flaws for the most part, but the elongated runtime really hampers the film. If not for Blanchett, I think that the flaws would be far more glaring; I guess that’s just the benefit of having a generational talent at the forefront. And the attempt at working in a “MeToo” subplot feels too contrived and merely a passage to get the film on a crash course to its final crescendo. 


TÁR held its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on September 1 and will be released in limited theaters on October 7 before expanding on October 28. 

FILM RATING

Andrew is an entertainment journalist and film "critic" who has written for the likes of Above the Line, Below the Line, Collider, Film Focus Online, /Film and The Hollywood Handle among others. Leader of the Kaitlyn Dever Fanclub.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Click to comment
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Reviews

The Fabelmans Review | For the Love of Movies

Leave it to Steven Spielberg to make the best entry in the “kid who loves movies” subgenre.

Published

on

It’s funny, it feels as though the “kid who loves movie biopic” trope has become a subgenre of sorts in recent years. I think in my mind, the likes of Belfast — a film that isn’t about a love for cinema — and Hugo — a film about a love for cinema — and Empire of LIght — which seems to be a film about a love for cinema — have overlapped. Sure, I know they are different, but it feels like every filmmaker aspires to make a film loosely based on their life and that really laments the fact they do indeed love cinema. Steven Spielberg’s addition to the genre, The Fabelmans, very well could be the best of them all but is not without its flaws. Do I understand the complete critical acclaim and most calling it a Best Picture shoo-in? I understand it, yes. The Fabelmans is the perfect critical darling about one of cinema’s most influential filmmakers yet it’s like Rolling Stone reviewing a Paul McCartney album. Will they give a negative review to one of the world’s greatest musicians? Hell no. The Fablemans isn’t as bad as McCartney’s worst album, but I also struggle to completely get on board with the notation that this is the best film of the year. 

“Movies are a dream, doll — you’ll never forget them,” promises Mitzi (Michelle Williams) in an effort to calm her anxious young son who’s about to enter a movie theater for the first time. As they say, your mother is always right, and after Sammy Fabelman (played by Mateo Zoryon Francis-DeFord in his younger years and Gabrielle LaBelle in his teenage years) is taken to the cinema for the first time by his parents Mitzi and Burt (Paul Dano), his fascination with the art of filmmaking intensifies. Like a young child before they can speak, he just has a hard time expressing that. He watches The Greatest Show on Earth and the sequence where a train crashes into a car lingers in his mind well after the reel stops playing. This leads to an obsession until he receives some toy trains for Hannekah and it’s not until he films it that he finds some catharsis. 

A still from The Fabelmans. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures.

And Sammy has talent, wouldn’t you know! From his early days of filming his toy trains, he also exhibits a Roger Deakins-like ability to capture images on film. This continues into his formative teenage years, bringing joy and pride to his entire family as they watch the evolution of his craftsmanship at every boy scout meeting. 

But like real life, there is a world outside of movies. Sammy’s parents, after initially settling in Phoenix, move to northern California where the Fabelmans are outcasts in the land of giants. Sammy is picked on by a group of jocks and it’s a miserable experience. Add to the fact Sammy holds onto a secret involving his mother and his “uncle” Bennie — who is not really part of the family and is only at family gatherings because he “works for” Burt, according to his mother.

All that critics have talked about are the performances of Williams and LaBelle. They’re both great — especially the former — but why are we overlooking Dano and Francis-DeFord? Considering that most of Dano’s roles consist of him breathing funny and whimpering in his speech, it’s weird to see him in such a humane role. It’s like seeing Tim Roth in films like Reservoir Dogs and The Hateful Eight and then watching him play a screenwriter in Bergman Island. It’s truly remarkable. Francis-DeFord is just adorable as a younger Sammy and I wish we had gotten even more of him before advancing a few years. See the still below to catch a glimpse of the anxiety on his face while watching his mother watch one of his films. If you are close to your mother, you’ve likely had a similar moment at some point.

A still from The Fabelmans. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Williams is the emotional anchor of the film and is great on her own and in her scenes with LaBelle. As her life continues to derail along with her mental stability, Williams adds empathy to the character despite some shitty actions her character commits. Maybe it’s the “mama’s boy” in me but my heart just melted seeing her reactions to Sammy’s films, the pride and joy her son’s hobby — sorry, passion — brought her. 

I know that we all love Rogen, but he’s surprisingly good in the film. Don’t fret, his signature laugh makes its way into the film on a handful of occasions, but despite shitty actions much like Mitzi, you can’t completely despise Bennie. Something about Rogen’s aura and connection with the Fabelman kids feels in line with that family friend whom you call your uncle. Bennie’s also the “cool uncle” who overshadows Burt at every point. Whether intentional or not, we all know how it feels to constantly be pushed down by your good friend yet you still can’t give them up.

It’s also great to see Once Upon a Time in Hollywood scene-stealer Julia Butters in another role. She plays Reggie Fabelman, one of Sammy’s sisters, and it’s a great way of getting back on track after starring in The Gray Man (which is essentially shooting yourself in the foot). She has quite a turbulent relationship with Sammy and is always there to stick up for her mother when Sammy is being harsh.

A still from The Fabelmans. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Ironically, towards the end of what feels like the end of the film, Burt says to Sammy, “We’ve gone too far into our story to say ‘the end.’” The Fabelmans feels like it has finally reached its natural catharsis and while it always kept my attention up to this point, I felt we had emotionally peaked. Unfortunately for me, the film then proceeds to go on for another 15 minutes to utilize an admittedly great cameo from David Lynch that is equal parts brilliant and unnecessary. This epilogue wasn’t enough to completely sour my thoughts on the film but it did leave a bad taste in my mouth.

My biggest complaint, however, is with one particular bit in the film. Most of the humor in The Fabelmans was fine, but I want to preface this by saying that I think there are some tasteful ways of taking digs at Christians — just look at Honk for Jesus or The Eyes of Tammy Faye — but there’s a bit in The Fabelmans revolving around Sammy’s first girlfriend, Monica (Chloe East) that just didn’t land for me. I’m not posing as a “Holier than thou” Christian — I’m far from a practicing Christian — but there’s a recurring bit revolving around the term “praying” being used as an innuendo for kissing. Sounds harmless enough, right? The issue comes in the actual portrayal of Monica, which is reduced down to a caricature of a “Jesus freak” more than anything else. So yeah, Monica prays, she wishes for the Lord to “come inside her,” but it’s not until Sammy asks the Lord to “come inside him” that they can kiss. Again, I’m not saying Christians should be immune to jokes as they have been for years, but this bit felt weirdly out of place considering the fact that Monica acts relatively normal in any other scene. To her credit, East goes for it all.

A still from The Fabelmans. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures.

There’s an intrinsic magic within the confines of the 150-minute runtime of The Fabelmans and you just know you’re witnessing something special. Spielberg is one of the most influential figures in all of cinema, and while I may not be the world’s biggest Jaws or E.T. fan, this is a filmmaker that brought the Indiana Jones series to life and made my childhood. Perhaps this is why I’m lenient enough to ignore some of the cliches in The Fabelmans. I also found that Spielberg subverts expectations in his own subtle ways. For example, Sammy gets bullied by the jocks — namely Sam Rechner’s character — but Spielberg found a way to subvert expectations in this cliched subplot. It’s not that Spielberg completely flips the expected outcome on its head. Rather, he finds a new route to get the characters to the same endpoint most of these coming-of-age films come to. That final scene between LaBelle and Rechner is admittedly great and this is where I really would have liked the film to commence

While this subgenre of “directors making movies about loving movies” is on the verge of becoming cliche, I think Spielberg’s message of creative expression and doing what you want is valuable. The Fabelmans isn’t perfect, and I fear its reputation will become tainted in the coming months should it be the Oscar front-runner everyone expects. As of now, it’s the perfect Thanksgiving film for you and your family and as vulnerable as a filmmaker of Spielberg’s stature will be.


The Fabelmans is playing in select theaters now.

FILM RATING
Continue Reading

Reviews

The Wonder Review | Florence Pugh Carries a Film That Leaves You Hungry For More

The film hits Netflix this Friday.

Published

on

There haven’t been many films with a viewing experience as frustrating as The Wonder, a new film starring one of the world’s finest actors, Florence Pugh. The Wonder is a film that has practically everything going for it from solid performances, amazing behind-the-camera and a plot that sounds interesting on paper, yet, something’s missing. Perhaps due to pacing or runtime issues, it’s truly a wonder (I’ll see myself out) that I didn’t fall asleep during this film. 

Opening with a spinning shot in what appears to be a rehearsal space for a stage production, The Wonder quickly brings us back in time as Lib Wright (Pugh), a young nurse, is sent to a small village in Ireland to watch over a young girl who hasn’t eaten in months (four, to be exact). 

This girl, Anna (Kíla Lord Cassidy), and her entire family swear on the fact that she has not eaten anything since communion in church four months prior to the events of the film (those thin wafers smack, to be fair). However, one thing leads to another, a journalist gets involved, and above all else, Lib begins having suspicions that this miraculous case is closer to a scam that is well short of a miracle as big as The Second Coming.  

But if only it was that easy! Lib tries her best to plead her case to the committee that placed her on this case to no avail. From there, she’s basically gaslit until taking matters fully into her own hands. 

There’s no better place to start than the below-the-line work on this film. The cinematography beautifully captures this dreary island in Ireland in an oddly similar fashion to The Banshees of Inisherin. The film also appears to be shot on film — or my stream was buffering that much — and features an ethereal score composed by Matthew Herbert. The set and costume design is simply wonderful. All of the behind-the-scenes work is a large part of why any part of the film works. There’s such simplicity in all of it, but there are qualities that make a film about a girl on an infinite fast seem grounded. The craftwork also goes a long way in making the film feel like a part of the time era and pulling you into it. The film supposedly takes place in 1862, and aside from the opening and closing shot (which ties the opening in a neat bow), there’s no doubt that this film takes place in that time period. It’s truly amazing how great the sets and costumes look; and I love the subtlety of visual cues such as the line of the table, perfectly placed in the center of the frame, lining up perfectly with the line on Lib’s dress. It’s such a small detail that Wes Anderson fans would likely appreciate with all of the perfect symmetry found in his films. 

A still from The Wonder. Photo courtesy of Netflix.

And Pugh is expectedly the standout of the film that does a majority of the hard carrying. However, Kíla (her real-life mother, Elaine Cassidy, plays her mother in the film as well) also holds her in. Specifically, there is a scene where Anna really opens up and shares a traumatic experience with her brother with Lib. While the camera does shift between Anna and Lib throughout the scene, Kíla really delivers a heart-wrenching monologue a la Rebecca Hall in Resurrection. There’s little to no score in the background, so the weight of the scene is really on Kíla’s shoulders; who knocks it out of the park.

This traumatic experience also blows the film’s most intriguing theme wide open. This idea of Christian guilt and the morality of Christian worldviews. For the sake of spoilers, I won’t reveal the contents of Anna’s story. What I will say, however, is that what happens would be considered “unethical” in any religion. But because of the fact that Anna is a girl, there are certain expectations placed and she’s seen as a disappointment as a result. Does someone really deserve to die when they are the victim? This moral conflict that mixes misogyny and religion together is by far the most interesting thing presented in the film. If only it delved deeper into it. 

A still from The Wonder. Photo courtesy of Netflix.

As the film progresses, Anna’s condition worsens — especially after Lib catches on to one potential theory that would explain how Anna can live for all of this time. It’s no secret that it’d take a miracle big enough to feed five thousand to be able to live off of no food for a third of a year, and once Lib begins sniffing around, Anna begins to get worse. As a nurse, what do you do? Generally, your mission is to serve and aid your patient. In Lib’s case, her mission was the watch over Anna with little interference. Strange, right? 

The Wonder has an intriguing premise and is well-crafted. Its biggest faults come in the pacing of the film, which makes it a slog to get through it. Pugh and Cassidy are a great pairing and both give good performances, but the film is far from memorable otherwise. Ultimately, the lack of movement in the plot will leave you hungry for more. 


The Wonder is in select theaters now and is streaming on Netflix now.

FILM RATING
Continue Reading

Apple TV+

Spirited Review | An Instant Christmas Classic

A festive must watch packed with a star studded cast, gut busting humor and catchy musical numbers.

Published

on

It’s not very often a brand new Christmas movie becomes an instant classic, but here comes Spirited offering all the festive magic you could wish for and more.

Spirited comes with a wholly fresh and original story despite the infamous material it’s based upon. Stacked with a stellar cast, gut busting jokes and catchy tunes, Spirited is a Christmas movie that deserves a watch every Christmas season.

A musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ beloved A Christmas Carol, Spirited follows the Ghost of Christmas Present (Will Ferrel) who attempts to redeem an unredeemable (Ryan Reynolds).

Courtesy of Apple

It’s safe to say that there is no shortage of A Christmas Carol adaptations, from the classic 1951 A Christmas Carol, to Bill Murray’s Scrooged and even one involving the Muppets (my favorite). Spirited decides to take the familiar Charles Dickens tale and turn it on its head, making the film feel completely fresh and original despite the material it’s based upon, and results in an adaptation that is easily among the best.

Delivering a story that is so refreshing, Spirited excels in its own original plot, making each twist and turn feel earned and truly unpredictable. These twists are brilliantly executed, and are undeniably impactful. Forcing audiences jaws to drop to the floor as well as hitting them right in the feels in some very emotional moments that are sure to make audiences tear up.

The comedy is pitch perfect, each joke is hilarious and are expertly executed by the film’s cast. The musical numbers are just as funny as they are lavish, excelling the films comedy. Spirited all in all comes together to deliver one of the funniest Christmas ever.

Courtesy of Apple

Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrel are unsurprisingly dynamite on screen. Hilariously bouncing back and forth from each other whilst also hitting on all the emotional moments that will be sure to make you shed a tear or two. When you put two brilliant comedic actors, possibly two of the best in the genre on screen together what else could you expect. Similarly, the rest of the supporting cast is brilliant with Octavia Spencer once again showing the world why she is one of the best in the business.

Spirited offers many catchy songs, of which you will find yourself singing or humming along too long after the film has finished. The musical numbers are big, exciting and infectious, that are excelled by the cast, who all deliver surprisingly brilliant singing voices. I know I will be adding each song to my playlist.

All in all, Spirited is a must see Christmas film that is sure to become an instant classic. Offering a new and genius take on Dickens beloved tale, packed with gut busting humor, catchy musical numbers and a stellar cast.

https://youtu.be/tnAJntI3NNs

Spirited release on Apple TV+ this Friday, 18th November.

FILM RATING
Continue Reading
Advertisement

Popular Now

Advertisement
Advertisement

TRENDING NOW

Trending

0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x