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"Tár" 4K Review

Despite sounding like a sequel to the homicidal-tire-on-a-rampage cult horror flick Rubber, Tár is the latest example of what I call an Emperor's New Movie; a film which garners overwhelming critical acclaim and multiple Oscar nominations despite being generally terrible. There's a reason so many normal people say they don't listen to critics and movies like Tár are why. 

It's also why my annual Oscars Death March - where I try to catch as many of the top nominees so as to better judge the collective malpractice of the Academy Awards - is less and less enjoyable as the Academy races further away from representing actual excellence, much less popular tastes. It doesn't matter that token nominations get handed out to box office monsters like Top Gun: Maverick or Avatar: The Way of Water when the Academy fully intends to fete dreck like Tár.

 Cate Blanchett stars as the titular Lydia Tár, an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) winner, protege of Leonard Bernstein, first female chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, plus a zillion more accomplishments we are bombarded with during a Basil Exposition infodump in the guise of a staged New Yorker interview. She's married to her concertmaster, Sharon (Nina Hoss), and self-described father of Petra (Mila Bogojevic), who they adopted. She is for sure an Ur-Girlboss.

For two excruciatingly tedious hours we see her prattle on endlessly about stuff and whatnot while those around her wince at her soft thoughtlessness. Blink-or-miss-it hints of a story involving a young woman Tár mentored who committed suicide appear as often as her being awakened by mysterious sounds in the night which go away when she opens the refrigerator. (I'm not making this up.) 

Finally, a semblance of a plot erupts as a baldly decontextualized video of comments she made during a Julliard masterclass appears and she is sued for prompting the woman's suicide, her personal life and professional career implodes and she ends up in a humiliating gig. The end. Wait, what?

 Imagine going to a symphony performance expecting a program of several pieces. The orchestra spends the first half-hour tuning up, just droning on that A note while little snatches of something that sounds like the program flit by. Then the conductor proceeds to rush the orchestra through a medley of the entire program in about 10 minutes, never completing a movement or giving a chance for the audience to grasp what's happening. Then the orchestra stands and bows while the critics who didn't have to pay for their tickets leap to their feet, howling their approval while dropping their pants and jerking off in appreciation. That's what Tár is like.

I haven't seen writer-director Todd Field's other Academy Award-nominated films, In The Bedroom and Little Children, both of which garnered Best Picture and acting nominations, but he's got the number of the awards and critical establishments who were drooling for 16 years for this movie. Terrance Malick is like Takashi Miike (who has made as many as five feature films in one year) in comparison. But the wild overpraise is like hearing a starving man say that the Taco Bell you gave him was the finest meal ever cooked. 

Just as with Infinity Pool the night before, I was questioning whether I was utterly incapable of grasping the meaning of the film or whether there was nothing to grasp and everyone else was just pretending to "get it" like with The Emperor's New Clothes or the belief in 2001 that The Strokes were going to save rock & roll, another thing that didn't exist. 

As I perused the rambling proclamations of the critics, all I could see were the drugs talking or the need to cram their personal ideologies or the collective wokeism into their verdicts. Some said it was about power; others that it was a commentary on sexism and the patriarchy which is weird because Lydia rejects those premises.

 I can't recall what the last movie I saw that took so long to tell so little story and to botch the telling of it. After finishing slogging through it - I took a couple of lengthy breaks to work on my computer - I went to see what the herd animal critics had to say and they must hand out some pretty awesome hallucinogens to the critics to spawn such collective shared delusions of depth and grandeur to such an sterile and devoid plot. "If this would have had a male protagonist, it would've been a cliche, but because it's a woman..." is not the insight they think it is; it's confirmation of its vacuity. 

With the exception of one scene, Tár is a 2h 37m exhibition of how to not tell a compelling story, how not to convey emotions, how not to make a point. There's a difference between being subtle and being obtuse and Fields gets it wrong every time. He sets up Lydia as this amazeballs person - an icon in her field - and then proceeds to demolish her life without ever showing the moments where she's laid low. Why did the cancel her? Don't know. 

Was it the fabricated smear video (more on this in a moment) or the suicide of the mentee? Both? Neither? It's never made clear. Why does her marriage collapse in the end when she's never shown doing anything to violate what seemed distant and chilly already? /shrug emoji Is Lydia a deliberate monster or merely aloof and callous in her interpersonal relationships? Pomegranate. And if that answer makes no sense to you, it's just me keeping in line with the way Fields expects us to fill in all the blanks he felt unnecessary to fill in himself as if he was crunched for time after wasting the majority of the runtime doing nothing.

For example, we're told Lydia has all the big awards, but none of them are every shown. She has a cabinet filled with pencils for her scoring, but no shelf or mantle for her Oscar? Her main apartment is an icy concrete bunker which would be mistaken for a parking structure if not for all the expensive furniture and the nine-foot grand piano. Relationships all feel distant, but we're never shown why. A late sequence where she returns to her childhood home and encounters a relative (brother?) gives a taste at how much she reinvented herself, but all it does is make one wish Fields had cared enough to actually tell the story of who Lydia Tar (screw the accent) really is.

There is one fascinating scene about a half-hour in which felt like it could've really mattered except Fields had a million other absolutely nothings he wanted to focus on instead. Lydia is teaching a masterclass at Julliard and gets into a discussion with a student conductor in front of the class about connecting with music and asks the student about his views on Bach. His reply that as a BIPOC pansexual something or other that he feels a white cisgendered male who fathered 20 children wasn't worthy of considering rightfully infuriates Lydia. She tries to reason with the snowflake and poses the question how would he like his music to be judged solely on his pigmentation or humping partner preferences (I'm paraphrasing) and he simply picks up his coat and bag and stalks off, pronouncing her "a [eff]ing bitch."

Shot in a single 10-1/2 minute-long Steadicam shot, it's one of those One Good Scenes that pop up in otherwise terrible movies. There is a sizable herd of fans for No Country For Old Men, but that was also Oscar-winning trash except for the coin toss scene at the gas station which comes down to one great line about how the quarter has been traveling for many years to arrive at this point for its role in determining a man's life or death. Great stuff, but you don't give a freaking Oscar to a bad movie because of a clever line, dammit! 

And you don't kid yourself into believing Tár is good because one scene wasn't completely empty, especially when it doesn't really matter in the end. Also, we can see the whole auditorium in the scene and no one was filming this conflict, so when the video arrives 90 minutes later, it's truly from out of nowhere.

Cate Blanchett's performance is supposedly highly favored to earn her a third Oscar and if there's any factor in the bamboozling of the critics that's not the drugs it's that she manages to spew the endless monologues Fields shoves into her mouth in a manner which almost hints this is a real person. But to say Blanchett is good is as redundant as saying LeBron James is a whiny little bitch who can't speak out against Communist China's human rights abuses, including the use of child slave labor to make his $200 kicks, because there's too much money to be made in being complicit. She's very good, but it means nothing. (Give the Oscar to Michelle Yeoh. She's worthy and needs the boost more.)

What's ultimately most frustrating about Tár is not the overwhelming undeserved hype it has received, but the fact that in the rushed last half-hour, there are plenty of seeds of what could've been a fascinating character study about the tragedy of hubris and the corrosive effects that wokeism and the need to burn witches for hurting the po' widdle feewings of emotional hemophiliacs like Mx. Bipoc teh Pansexual. 

But Fields had no stomach to tackle such a powder keg topic. So we're left with the lengthy cinematic equivalent of one of those big expensive coffee table art books that has to be dusted, but no one ever wants to pick up and look through.

Score: 3/10. Skip it.

When you watch this trailer, note how it's nothing but impressionistic mood moments and critical hosannas and that you have no idea what it's actually about. That's because there's not much story to put into a trailer, is there?


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