THE PRESENT

Adapted from a little-known 1880 Chekhov play by husband and former co-articstic director of The Sydney Theatre Company Andrew UptonThe Present is quite simply, Blanchett’s very own diamond platform.

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Australia’s royalty: Toby Schmitz, Jacqueline McKenzie, Susan Prior, Cate Blanchett, Richard Roxburgh, Anna Bamford and Chris Ryan

When the curtain rose, a general and very subtle gasp resounded. Two-time Academy Award winner Cate Blanchett was pointing a gun to the horizon, her foot on a bench and her expression imperturbable. Barefoot and rocking long blond locks tied up with a hairband, “her throaty laugh suggested a cynical intelect and wanton abandonment that could drive men wild,” as Variety put it. Blanchett plays widow Anna Petrovna, a Russian landowner intent on celebrating her 40th birthday with some close friends. Internally afraid she won’t be able to hang on to her home much longer, a mid-life crisis begins to show when her anticipated party goes off the rails.

Her guests include Mikhail Platonov (Mr. Roxburgh), a schoolteacher of rueful wit and unfulfilled dreams who knew Anna when she was the young trophy wife of a respected general; her stepson, Sergei (Chris Ryan), who was best friends with Nikolai (Toby Schmitz) and Mikhail, who is married to Nikolai’s sister, and lastly Sasha (Susan Prior). Though Mikhail is a bloviator, a womanizer and a mean drunk, Sasha loves is all about her bad-boy husband. So, more problematically, do all the other women in the play, who, in addition to the patrician Anna, include Sergei’s wife, Sophia (Jacqueline McKenzie), a humanitarian physician, and Nikolai’s girlfriend, Maria (Anna Bamford). It’s hard to fathom the attraction, but apparently once you’ve had your first whiff of him, Mikhail is as addictive and dangerous as can be. Maybe it’s because he’s livelier and more subversive than the other guys, who include Anna’s rich older suitors, Alexei (Martin Jacobs) and Yegor (David Downer). But like most of his contemporaries, Mikhail can’t stop talking about how directionless his life is.

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Anna and her friends party in Russian fashion

More than once, Anna would have monologues that began with a sober reflection, invited laughter and ended in tears. And that’s why this production surpassed Broadway shows and made an average $1M in its first weeks – because it’s a Blanchett masterclass you’re attending. Aware my subjectivity often takes over, it’s unbiased to say the other actors looked at her like they were learning, affording the privilege to abandon their characters for a minute to look at Cate and be blown along with us audience members. Her deep voice and stare, combined with the masterful delivery of very smart and up-to-date lines, accompanied minimal gestures to generate an ethereal grace that we already associate with the name of the performer. Hence resulting in the purest and most thridimensional form of acting I for one have seen, layers are fearlessly taken off so that, both throughout and at the end, you as a viewer hopefully will relate to her reactions and wonder if you would have taken the same road.

Richard Roxburgh, who starred with her in Uncle Vanya in 2013, brings a truthfulness and irresistible allure that make him shine in his own right. The rest of the cast boasts worlwide credits and awards, and generously accomodates in a vehicle otherwise steered by the two smashing leads, who truly save it and elevate it to Broadway quality. But having satisfied political correctness, the play is, obviously, Blanchett’s big gig. Debuting in Broadway in nothing short of diamond form, The Present is something you attend knowing it’s going to be a huge deal. Uproarious, unapologetically honest and at times, ruefully funny, it’s not hard to fathom why pundits have unanimously gave it a pass at the very least.

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Sparks fly between Petrovna and Platonov

For all this, I absolutely recommend and cherished this unforgettable experience. Two meters away from my favorite actress (along with Meryl Streep) and now Tony Award-nominee, I can’t wait to see her long overdued theater gold star, in a surely charged ceremony that will be hosted on June 11 by the genius and hopefully next Emmy winner Mr. Kevin Spacey. Get ready for presidential jokes.

Running time: 2h 55.

Location: Ethel Barrymore Theater, Broadway.

Preview: Dec 17, 2016.
Opening: Jan 08, 2017.
Closing: Mar 19, 2017.
Grade: A+

All images are taken from Google.

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PASSENGERS

Jennifer Lawrence’s and Chris Pratt’s names alone can gross twice the budget. Thrice, in this case, making a staggering $302M. But with this sci-fi drama, it’s not only the unconventionally pretty faces that sell the ticket, but also the attractive – yet repetitive at this point – concept of being trapped in space, romantic tension floating. 

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“Should I wake her?” Jim wakes up ahead of time and makes a very costly decision

Directed by Morten Tyldum and written by Jon Spaihts, Passengers delves into the love story between mechanic Jim Preston and writer Aurora Lane, which ensues from quite an unfortunate event. Part of a 120 year journey to a planet called Homestead II, the massive starship Avalon passes a meteor storm that triggers a malfunction and prompts Jim to wake up. Feeling the need for human company, the handsome young man 

BLUE JASMINE

The hype around the realese of Blue Jasmine was not hard to fathom. Nor was the almost hysterical reaction of critics, who unanimously deemed it some of the best work by Woody Allen in this decade and a career-best performance by a Cate Blanchett in diamond form.

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Someone pinch her: fresh from 5th Avenue, Jasmine is forced on a “fun” San Francisco outing 

Set in Manhattan and San Francisco, Blue Jasmine finds newly broke socialite Jasmine Francis moving in with her modest and big-hearted sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), who she essentially considers to be a perennial loser mainly based on her choice of men. Taken all her goods away after reporting her husband Hal’s (Alec Baldwin) corrupt businesses to the Police as a result of an Oscar-worthy breakdown where he confesses to being in love with another woman, Jasmine becomes a neurotic alcoholic who downs Sanax like Smints.

Like a fish out of the water, Jasmine struggles to get used to this lesser life but is dead set on making something of herself and begins working as a dentist’s secretary to pay for the computer science course that will enable her to get an online designer license. Dating appears complicated until she meets Dwight Westlake, a handsome diplomat who seems the key to her future, pitch-perfect life. So, afraid of a too costly rejection, she lies her way into an unexpected engagement. But as they say, karma is a b*tch and Ginger’s ex husband Augie, who lost his short-lived economic bonanza after having his jackpot-won $200,000 “invested” by Hal, conviniently runs into the newly fiancées and manages to uncover every lie Jasmine’s future marriage is built on.

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Match made in heaven? Dwight and Jasmine’s future is soon and almost sadly doomed

 

Woody Allen’s writing is as razor-sharp as it is ruefully funny. Few other times has the Queens native’s script trascended so deeply. As Variety put it, “Allen’s sense of class stratification here isn’t exactly nuanced, but his sympathies are more evenly distributed than usual, and he happily reveals more than one side to every personality, a strategy that helps bring out the best in a very fine cast.” A superb cast, I’d say.

Starring the best actress of her generation and arguably the second greatest after Queen Meryl, Cate Blanchett masterfully slips into the shoes of one of the most exquisitely complex characters ever awarded by the Academy and created by Allen. Fearlessly taking off layers without ever lacking plausibility, never had a performance had such an effect on me: I left the theater bugged by how much I could relate to Jasmine, partly fearing my future would even remotely resemble hers. Her eloquence, condescendence, dishonesty and class make for a despicable an unintentionally funny character that you, however, naturally root for from beginning to end. An equal pro on the stage (she is going to win a Tony on June 9), she received all industry accolades including Oscar, Golden Globe, SAG, Bafta and Spirit Award while beating Streep, Bullock, Thompson, Adams and Dench in the process.

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Bitter ans absent-minded, Jasmine’s breakdowns are an acting joy to watch

Co-starring are the classy and always fabulous Alec Baldwin, whose years as the driven and narcissistic executive Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock have made his recent supporting turns on screen almost a signature profile. Breakout star Sally Hawkins, who was nominated for every major award and unfortunately defeated in every single one by Lupita Nyong’o (Twelve Years a Slave). Bobby Canavale and Andrew Dice Clay are very convincing as Ginger’s ex husband and fiancé. Louis C.K., the new and better boyfriend Ginger cheats briefly with as a result of Jasmine’s influence is fantastic and predictably humorous.

All in all, I highly recommend this (finally!) brilliant dramedy – terrifically acted, written and directed, stands the test of time and is unanimously deemed some of Allen’s and Cate’s best and most watchable work.

Running time: 1h 39 minutes.

Country: United States.

Release date: July 26, 2013.

Distributed by: Sony Pictures Classics

Budget: $18M

Box office: $97.6M

Grade: A

All images are taken from Google.

SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE

Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson falling in love under Nancy Meyers’ direction. Can it get much better than? The woman behind hits like It’s Complicated (2009) and The Holiday (2006) adds yet another glittering jewel to her heavy crown with this classy and intelectually satisfying romcom about finding love at different ages.

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“Family” dinner: Frances McDormand, Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson and Amanda Peet

The Hamptons. Early 2000s. Heartthrob and rap label owner Harry Sanborn (Nicholson) arrives at the marvelous home the mother of his young girlfriend Marin (Peet) owns on the coast. With a “promising” weekend ahead, everything gets tricky when he has a heart attack and her job auctioning at Christie’s forces her mother, acclaimed playwright Erica Barry (Keaton), to reluctantly take care of him. Harry and Erica couln’t be any more different: following quite the Hakuna Matata mantra, he only dates younger women between scotches and expensive cigars, whereas she wears turtlenecks in summer and can’t wrap her head around anything outside her comfort zone.

But familiarity makes the heart grow fonder, and his continuous questioning of all she does, sees Erica starting to find Harry amusing, and suddenly interesting. Interest she’ll somehow feel hesitant about when Julian Mercer, Harry’s middle-aged doctor and huge fan of hers, openly declares his admiration. However, as confused as we might expect the longtime divorcée to be upon finding two men at once, the proximity in age draws her to Harry. But Harry is a self-described “old dog” who has never operated further than the end of the night, and when they realize it’s getting serious, he backs off and unintentionally triggers a double heartbreak. Sending her in the big-hearted and dazzled Julian’s direction, Erica seemingly embodies Nora Ephron and writes a Broadway hit (A Woman to Love) based upon her affair with Harry – butt stuntmen for the hospital scene included – that will be the first step to eventually bring them back together.

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Erica and Harry arrange a “pajama party” via chat

Gifting us along the way with razor-sharp, Nany Meyers signature lines like “Erica, you are a woman to love,” “Try not to rate my answer,” “Words have been invented to describe women like you, [such as] flinty [and] impervious,” or “I don’t know if it ends in a ‘ya’ if it’s a true ‘I love you’,” the writing is absolutely irresistible, inventive, spot-on and illustrative of what a good romantic comedy can and should be. The idiolects are marvelously captured in a way that makes the characters relatable, thridimensional and in a perfect world, our best friends. Plus and much like in Streep and Baldwin-starred It’s Complicated, this movie is unafraid to delve into both the magical and bleak aspects of romance without ever settling on either.

The cast is practically unsurpassed, with Diane Keaton receiving a Golden Globe and both SAG and Oscar nominations. Jack Nicholson shines, arguably playing a version of himself that confers a disarming intelligence and likability to the character. For their part, Keanu Reeves, Amanda Peet and Frances McDormand as Erica’s love interest, daugher and sister, prove great supporting characters that generously accomodate to reinforce the plausibility of the whole production.

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Sanborn and Barry enjoy a wine and cherries picnic by the ocean

And finally, the house. Oh my God the house. When Googling “Something’s Gotta Give,” the first suggested search is “house.” And not surprisingly, because any fan of Nancy’s recognizes her signature, off-the-chart fabulous scenarios: spacious kitchens, living rooms full of books, enviable studios and all around perfect homes by the coast. All in beiges, whites, very pale browns and greys. The essence of her movies can only be done justice using the world “classy” – the words, the music, the color range, the setting… to the point where, as a whole, they’ve become an instant part of the films’ identity. Entertainment Weekly called Nancy’s features “a cream-toned, cashmere-swaddled universe unto itself.”

In short, I cannot recommend highly enough this exquisite and lovely movie. It’s a neck massage with vanilla candles for grown ups with good taste. Whip-smart, well-crafted, terrifically acted and… The. House.

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Erica’s studio, full of beiges, greys and creams

Running time: 2h 8 minutes.

Country: United States.

Release date: December 13, 2003.

Distributed by: Columbia Pictures, Warner Bros Pictures

Budget: $80M

Box office: $266M

Grade: A++

All images are taken from Google.