By Lynn Venhaus
It is easy to be dazzled by Cate Blanchett’s virtuoso performance as a brilliant maestro whose rise in the cutthroat world of classical music will be thwarted by a spectacular fall from grace.

But overall, the excruciatingly bloated melodrama “Tar” is a pretentious exercise.

Set in the international world of classical music, the film centers on Lydia Tár, widely considered one of the greatest living composer-conductors and first-ever female music director of a major German orchestra. But just as her professional career is soaring, her personal life is going to crash, and she is in danger of getting burned.

As played by the two-time Oscar winner, the unsympathetic Lydia is at once brilliant and brittle. Haughty and vain, her carefully cultivated image is going to take big hits in the age of social media outrage and swift cancel culture, for –spoiler alert – she’s a sexual predator.

Cavalierly, she wields power over the vulnerable women she grooms while they curry favor with her. But she doesn’t attend to the messiness that will expose her true nature, and this fatal flaw, for being arrogant enough to think she is untouchable, will be her downfall.

Yet, there is no redemption and little accountability. We’re not going there, but where we’re going is a rather muddled and bumpy journey where we’re kept at arm’s length.

However, Blanchett is fierce as the formidable composer and conductor. She conducts with a ferocity, plays piano nimbly, and speaks several languages. She is on screen nearly the whole 2-hour, 38-minute runtime (which feels like 6 hours), and she’s a thoroughly unlikable character.

The acting is uniformly first-class, as are the production elements moving us between her homes, the concert hall, and the streets of Berlin, New York, and Thailand. Florian Hoffmeister’s cinematography captures the moodiness, the bleak gray skies, and growing unease as well as the upper echelon in the arts and the associated lofty lifestyles that production designer Marco Bittner Rosser has conveyed so well.

The main frustration here is that writer-director Todd Field has decided to concentrate on repetitive minutiae with a backdrop of mundane everyday life details, which drags the story.

At home, she lives with her wife Sharon, the Philharmonic’s concertmaster (an outstanding Nina Hoss), and their daughter Petra (Mila Bogojevic), but she also keeps another place.

And not only is the film’s pacing uneven, but Field is stingy with answers while questions keep proliferating. By the time it’s over – sweet relief (and some of the movie seems in real time) — there are baffling loose ends that prevent it from being a satisfying experience.

That seems indulgent, and a lengthy opening lecture with the New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik and a master class at Juilliard are in desperate need of editor Monika Willi (wait – there is an editor listed in the credits?).

Field, a three-time Oscar nominee who hasn’t made a film in 16 years, isn’t clear about his feelings for the protagonist, or how he wants us to feel. Normalizing her would be a mistake, for she’s a monster. Nor is she deserving of a pity party. Her undoing is entirely her own fault.

For those of you playing at home, do we want to watch a prickly personality pontificate for several hours?

Time and time again, life shows us that you can only run so far before fate catches up with you. What should happen – a comeuppance, criminal charges, civil lawsuit, apology?

That is not where Field is headed. Nor is he compelled to flesh out the vague backstory of Krista (Sylvia Flote), a supposedly ‘unstable’ protégé who committed suicide.

As a fan of Field’s acclaimed “In the Bedroom” (2001) and “Little Children” (2006), this was confounding. But others accept it and have lavished widespread praise. I would hope a second viewing isn’t needed for more insight and clarity.

The music, of course, is gorgeous. Composer Hildur Guðnadóttir, whose work on “Joker” won her an Oscar, may earn another nod with this sleek score. Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, as the chosen piece to record, is sumptuous.

Other noteworthy performances include Noemie Merlant as Tar’s assistant Francesca and Sophie Kauer as the hotshot young cellist.

There is a story, of course, in the intriguing take on male-female power dynamics, and out-of-control actions made worse in the era of cellphones and social media. And suspense does build, if only in fits and starts.

Full of nagging holes, “Tár” is imperfect, and that’s not acceptable, no matter how sophisticated, given the people associated with this project.

It again, if anything, raises the issue about separating the art from the artist, but that opens a dialogue best served in another more succinct movie, as who wants another paradox after this disturbing – and cumbersome — portrait?

“Tar” is a 2022 drama written and directed by Todd Field. It stars Cate Blanchett, Nina Hoss, Mila Bogojevic, Noamie Merlant, Sophie Kauer and Mark Strong. It runs 2 hours, 38 minutes, and is rated R for some language and brief nudity. Locally, it opened in theatres Oct. 21. Lynn’s Grade: C.

By Lynn Venhaus
A cheeky live-action prequel that delves into the down-and-out origins of one of Disney’s iconic villains, “Cruella” is a dark tale of dueling divas hell-bent on revenge.

That’s an unexpected underdog twist – and this glossy reimagining bursts with a bold, brassy attitude.

Estella de Vil (Emma Stone) wasn’t born to be bad, but she was a nonconformist at an early age.

Born with the unmistakable two-tone hair, Estella’s a creative but mischievous child (a spunky Tipper Seifert-Cleveland) who is a handful for her mother (Emily Beecham).

When she strikes out on her own on the streets, that begins her relationship with Jasper and Horace, who are rakishly played by character actors Joel Fry of “Yesterday” and Paul Walter Hauser of “Richard Jewell” as adults — good-hearted blokes. They survive as grifters.

But the future fashionista has a dream and is singled out by superstar designer The Baroness (Emma Thompson), who likes her style – and appropriates it for her collections. Haughty and vain, the Baroness has destroyed everyone in her way – but has she met her match in Cruella? The rebellious alter ego of Estella, Cruella’s punk rock outfits are redefining fashion in 1970s London, and it is game on!

The story, long in the works, was first drafted by screenwriters Aline Brosh McKenna, Kelly Marcel and Steve Zissis. McKenna wrote “The Devil Wears Prada” and you see those fingerprints all over this latest chapter in the “101 Dalmatians” oeuvre by co-screenwriters Dana Fox and Tony McNamara.

This is where Emma Thompson takes over, commanding every frame she is in, with personality and pizzazz, as she forges Estella/Cruella’s identity.

A chance encounter with The Baroness von Hellman, the prima donna of haute couture, puts Estella on the path to realize a career as a designer. As played by Thompson, the wickedly evil Baroness is a despicable human and corrupt fashionista. As Cruella learns more, she stakes her claim as  “The Future” of fashion. She takes swinging London by storm.

This is when the movie explodes with fresh and fun outfits in a swirl of black, white and red — the notorious colors associated with all things Cruella. Jenny Beavan’s costume designs are marvelous, a big loud rebel yell of punk-inspired outfits and gorgeous evening garments perfect for dramatic entrances. Beavan’s won Oscars for “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “A Room with a View,” and her use of different fabrics and textures is stunning.

These costumes are worn with flair by two of our best actresses, Oscar winners Stone and Thompson, who have a ball with the campier aspects of their roles — but also vividly create their characters’ dead-serious nature.

As for the Dalmatians that first created the Disney franchise all the way back to 1961, three mean ones appear as the pets of the Baroness. Hence, Cruella’s aversion to the spotted creatures. Estella’s own pet dog is a beloved mutt named Buddy.

Stay past the credits to find more on Anita and Roger, a nod to Pongo and Perdita’s future family.

The source material for all of the successive movies, including the live-action “101 Dalmatians” in 1996 and the 2000 “102 Dalmatians” starring Glenn Close as the imperious villain, has been Dodie Smith’s 1956 novel.

She turned a character’s last name from Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” Count de Ville, into this greedy villainess, driving a Rolls Royce and barking orders to her henchman, to fill her insatiable need for animal fur.

Where the franchise is headed after “Cruella” is anyone’s guess – because how would Stone’s character turn into the menacing de Vil that steals the dogs for their fur?

Well, that discussion is for another day, but it’s a logical question – where does it go from here after Cruella takes over Hell(man) Hall?

As for a stand-alone movie, “Cruella” is a vibrant creation with a banging period soundtrack and a game cast.

Just as he did with “I, Tonya,” director Craig Gillespie zigs when you expect him to zag.

The Baroness’ actions are too frightening for young children, so parents be aware. There is nothing remotely cute about this movie.

But as it is Disney, expect lots of merchandise, tie-ins and another one in the works. That’s about the only predictable element to this film.

“Cruella” is a 2020 comedy-drama directed by Craig Gillespie. Starring Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, Emily Beecham, Kirby Howell-Baptiste and Mark Strong. Rated PG-13 for some violence and thematic elements and the run time is 2 hours, 14 minutes. It is available in theaters and on Disney Plus for a one-time premium access fee on May 28. Lynn’s Grade: B+

In theaters and on Disney Plus with Premier Access one-time additional fee May 28