This week I’ve actually been making use of my DVD collection, which happens a lot less often than you might think, and so have chosen to pull out some titles from the library that I continue to build at a selective rate.
First up was last summer’s Blue Jasmine, which has stayed in the public consciousness pretty continuously since then thanks to the strength of Cate Blanchett’s performance and some other more recent events. I should have written about it here last summer, but guess that when I saw it in August was shortly before I made the “official” decision to include film commentary here on a more regular basis.
Frankly, the film did not hold up as well as I recalled from my cinematic impression. By no means a terrible film, it just felt… flimsier … without the dramatic heft that some individuals/critics might be attaching to it in light of Blanchett’s skill and high probability of capturing the Best Actress prize on Sunday night. There are a few plot points that reek of contrivance, especially in the situation that leads to the end of the story. However, my opinion may be colored by being a Bay Area local, and knowing that it does not take two minutes to get from the Marina District to Oakland, nor is it likely that someone who lives on Great Highway or 48th Avenue would randomly be at the corner of Grant and Bush… but you get the picture. And on the other hand, Allen offers a refreshingly relatively local view of my California homeland Marin County, with no tourist-themed driving over the Golden Gate Bridge shot, and cutting right into a realistic-looking social gathering in Tiburon. Similarly, Sally Hawkins’ character lives in an apartment on the edge of the SOMA and Mission districts, with a quirky mix of modern and classic decor bumping right up against the noisy main street below the residence – and I’m fairly sure that they shot at a real apartment. So maybe it’s a toss up…
But Cate Blanchett’s performance is definitely not a toss-up. Appearing in almost every scene of the film, she expertly carries the pathos and tragicomedy of her character, aided by a slowly unweaving narrative – with a surprise ending that hasn’t really generated that much response, to my surprise – and skilled support from all the actors, most notably Hawkins as her adopted sister. It seems that it may be rare in modern cinema to see an actor who draws you in so completely to their part, making you forget about their outside associations (a point I’ll raise in my second commentary below) and go right along with them in the story they are telling.
On a note of local trivia, Blue Jasmine enjoyed the longest run I have seen at the Michigan and State Theaters, playing continuously at one or the other of the downtown cinemas for three months.
My second choice for a film flashback was 1998’s Out of Sight, a film that captivated me as a 13/14 year old – and for several years after that – with its effortless cool and web of stylish intrigue. As with Jackie Brown last week, it’s very weird to realize how old the film is now in 2014. And it’s probable that seeing Jackie Brown reminded me of this film, as they are set in the same Elmore Leonard universe and share one character.
The film stars George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez before they became the entertainment personalities we know them as today (I’m bolding that because it was a key realization for me while watching the film) with Clooney now effortlessly comfortable and charming as the actor/statesman and Lopez arguably known more for music and her high-profile relationships than her acting capability and credits. I felt that Lopez showed more potential here than in any of her pre-music film roles and would be interested to see a parallel universe representation of a world where she only focused on film acting.
Undoubtedly related to their lack of actor-baggage at the time of the film’s release, and helped by director Steven Soderbergh (also lesser known then vs. now) and his stylistic choices, the two leads draw the viewer right in to the film’s complex storyline, and the success of the narrative arguably hinges on their chemistry, which is very present (sizzling!) through an initial meet-cute scene and later interactions, which are kept to a minimum by the mechanics of the plot – and thus made more appealing.
I would say this is a film that is definitely more interesting in hindsight/many years later, a clear instance of knowledge of actors and filmmakers careers after the film was made (supporting actors Don Cheadle and Catherine Kenner were also not as well known at the time of release, and Viola Davis appears briefly in only her second film credit) playing in to the perception of how the film unspools – and enhancing the experience.
On a local trivia note for this film, it was certainly interesting seeing many images of Detroit circa 1997 – 98, most notably the (then) State and (now) Fillmore Theatre in downtown. I never would have anticipated watching the film in 1998 that I would one day get to know Michigan on a very personal level.