TAR (2022)

October 21, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. I seriously doubt that I’ll ever skip a Cate Blanchett movie. She’s won two Oscars and has been nominated six times. She’s consistently the best part of her movies, and often the best in a full year of movies. Here she stars in the first film in 16 years from the remarkable writer-director Todd Field. His two previous films, LITTLE CHILDREN (2006) and IN THE BEDROOM (2001) combined for eight Oscar nominations, and more importantly, established Mr. Field as a rare and unique filmmaker of great depth. Having Field reappear and cast Blanchett generated a heap of excitement from this film nerd.

Ms. Blanchett stars as Lydia Tar, a piano virtuoso, the conductor of the famed Berlin Orchestra, and a true musical genius. She’s a rare EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) from the classical field. Her music (and her life) is a quest to uncover/discover what the composer meant with each piece. Lydia is sometimes rough on her wife Sharon (Nina Hoss), but frequently dotes on their young daughter … while otherwise living a relative selfish and self-centered life. We also see this true persona in how she treats her young assistant Francesca (Noemie Merlant), who quietly aspires to become a conductor, while efficiently keeping Lydia on track each day.

The film begins with “New Yorker” writer Adam Gopnik interviewing Lydia as a stage presentation in front of a live audience. It’s his introduction of the Maestra where we learn her background and the proficiency that has garnered her such respect (as well as jealousy and animosity). Throughout the film, many real musicians (past and present) are referenced, and that detailed research is alone enough to earn respect for what Mr. Field has accomplished here. The stress and laser-focus on Lydia as she prepares for the final symphony in her Mahler portfolio (his 5th). We witness the meticulous detail that goes into managing the music and musicians, and this leads to handling the dismissal of veteran who is slipping, and the addition of a brilliant young cellist named Olga (Sophie Kauer). We are never quite sure if Lydia’s attraction to Olga is limited to her skills with the bow.

Of course, any perfectionist at the top of their industry is subject to backlash and criticism. Is Lydia abusive? Is she exploitive? It seems the answers may be affirmative, and likely what drives her art. It’s quite discomforting to watch as she covers her tracks after the suicide of a former pupil, but I’ll admit to a certain feeling of satisfaction as she verbally spars with another student over gender semantics … actions that of course come back to bite her.

Ms. Blanchett is fascinating and mesmerizing to watch. She is at the top of her game playing a perfectionist who is at the top of her game. However, it’s clear this film isn’t likely to strike the right notes with mainstream audiences. It’s an arthouse film about art, and thus is filled with dialogue and much less actual music than you might expect for a film about a world class Orchestra conductor.

Opens in theaters on October 21, 2022

WATCH THE TRAILER


THE BATTERED BASTARDS OF BASEBALL (2014, doc)

July 28, 2014

battered Greetings again from the darkness. What an excellent documentary on yet another in the seemingly endless string of baseball stories that are both fascinating and true. Don’t make the error of assuming one must be a baseball fan to enjoy this … it works just as well as a story of the little guy sticking it to the man (the man in this case is the court-protected giant known as Professional Baseball).

An original production of Netflix, it’s directed by Chapman and Maclain Way, brothers and grandsons of Bing Russell. You may or may not be familiar with Bing. He is the father of actor Kurt Russell, a well known character actor (a recurring role as Deputy Clem in “Bonanza“), and the driving force behind the Portland Mavericks. The Mavericks were an Independent Professional Baseball team from 1973 to 1977, and this is their story.

As a kid, Bing hung around St Petersberg, where the New York Yankees held spring training. He ended up friends with Lefty Gomez, and hung around many Yankee greats. Bing had a true passion for baseball. He loved the game, the players, and the way of life. He even used to test young Kurt on the intricacies of the game, and later created some very in-depth teaching videos.

Bing’s real impact on the great game came from his stint as creative force and owner of the Mavericks. The film does a terrific job with interviews, archival footage and other recollections of Bing and the rag-tag group of players that disrupted the industry that does not like to be messed with.

Not only was the team successful on the field, but they also set attendance records and inspired true fan loyalty. They were the last independent league allowed to play in the minor leagues, and their legacy continued even after the team was shut down: two of the pitchers invented Big League Chew, one pitcher was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, the team hired the first female GM in professional ball, and they even had a left-handed catcher. Their bat boy (Todd Field) went on to become an actor and Oscar nominated director and writer (In The Bedroom). “Ball Four” author Jim Bouton made his comeback with the Mavericks, which led to his making it back to the big leagues, and even Kurt Russell spent some time playing during the Mavericks’ first year.

It’s a shame this film didn’t make the festival rounds, as it would no doubt have been well received. I expect every baseball lover will get a kick out of this, and I certainly hope others give it chance. Bing Russell’s vision and passion are to be admired and respected, regardless of the industry. He was a “can do” guy who followed his bliss and made a difference.  The film is also a reminder that sports were once played for love of the game, rather than love of the dollar.

watch the trailer: