Blu-Ray Review: Cul-De-Sac – Criterion Collection

Director: Roman Polanski
Screenplay: Gérard Brach, Roman Polanski
Starring: Donald Pleasence, Françoise Dorléac, Lionel Stander, Jack MacGowran
Country: UK
Running Time: 103 min
Year: 1966
BBFC Certificate: PG


I, like many film fans I imagine, have a chequered relationship with Roman Polanski. His controversial private life is something I won’t get into here, but it has tarnished his work to many over the years. I’ve never liked how he comes across in interviews either, but I don’t usually let my opinion of a filmmaker’s personality or private affairs get in the way of the quality of their work. Unfortunately though, I’ve found the quality of Polanski’s work a little hit and miss over his lengthy career. Tess for instance, which I reviewed here a while back, bored me to tears, whereas Chinatown has long sat in my list of favourite films of all time. There are plenty of Polanski films I’ve yet to watch though and because I regard one or two of his films so highly, I’m always happy to give new ones a try. Cul-De-Sac was his third full feature film in the director’s chair and it’s being re-released on Blu-Ray as part of the prestigious Criterion Collection in the UK, so an offer for review came my way and I thought I’d give it a shot.

Cul-De-Sac sees two injured gangsters (Richie – Lionel Stander and Albie – Jack MacGowran) stuck on Lindisfarne (a.k.a. Holy Island) in Northumberland when their stolen car breaks down in the middle of a road which is regularly submerged under the sea due to the shifting tides (this is indeed true to the location – I’ve been there myself). They seek refuge in a nearby mansion inhabited by the care-free couple George (Donald Pleasence) and Teresa (Françoise Dorléac). Taking advantage of the remote location and his ‘hosts’ weaknesses, Richie, the muscle of the operation, essentially takes them hostage whilst he waits for his boss to show up and sort out the mess they got themselves into after their botched heist. So begins a blackly comic fight for power as Teresa attempts to force her cowardly husband George into taking control of the situation.

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Occultober – Day 29 – Rosemary’s Baby

Rosemary’s Baby
A film that has stood the test of time better than most, Roman Polanski’s second film focusing on a woman slowly devolving into hysteria (the first being Repulsion), the success of Rosemary’s Baby in 1968 is paramount in the rise of the modern incarnation occult film in the 1970s. This is patient, if not entirely subtle filmmaking that also mark the vibe of the decade to follow.

In the first few moments of the film, there are enough portent signs and signifiers and waiting for the eventual reveal is a painful kind of bliss with only the soothing balm of Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer’s performances, both goofy and slick (respectfully). I find it difficult to find fault with this rather unique approach, and the whole proceedings have a hell of a capstone.

But really, the first 15 minutes of the film is where it is at. That ‘seeking’ pan across the New York City skyline set to an off-kilter lullaby version of Que Sera Sera. Score rather than song is absent the lyrics and inspires dread rather than hope, but the question is nevertheless, “when I was just a little girl, I asked my mother what I would be…” The answer, is apparently the mother of Satan. If Doris Day can belt that song out in Hitchcock’s , surely it can be subverted here as an anthem for the woman who knew too little, too late.

I took a huge amount of pleasure in noir-staple character actor Elisha Cook Jr. fastidiously showing off the grand old apartment (of spook central) to the young married couple. His question – and the first actual line of dialogue in the film – is whether John Cassavetes’ character is a Doctor or an Actor. The film will feature many doctors (and more than a few midwives) who are indeed more actors than doctors. A stray scrap of paper is shown belonging to the former, quite deceased, owner of the apartment whose last act was to block a closet door on the thin shared wall of her creepy and nosy neighbors with a heavy wardrobe. It reads “I can no longer associate myself.” Perhaps a hint of Mia Farrow’s soon-to-be overwhelming paranoia and powerlessness. A magazine cover will later query, “Is God Dead?” Never has a film so front-loaded its purpose only to then draw out and tease the audience for nearly two hours as surely as Farrow’s body (and hairdo) slowly withers away. But then that kicker of a climax is as surprising as it is inevitable. This is Cinema of Masochism made with exquisite craft – and so many great Polanski films would follow.

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Trailer: Venus In Fur

VenusInFurStill

Though I really enjoyed Roman Polanski’s Carnage some thought the movie to be a bit soft around the edges; not quite biting and funny enough to really make it work. As if in response, Polanski’s new movie takes a similar play-to-screen story, this time with only two characters, and really appears to have sharpened the edges to laser fine precision.

Based on David Ives’ play (and previously Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s novel), Venus in Fur stars Emmanuelle Seigner (likely best known as the caring nurse from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) as an actress trying to convince the director of an upcoming production that she is the best performer for the role. She is re-teamed here with Diving Bell co-star Mathieu Amalric though this time, they seem more at odds with each other than caring.

The trailer looks rather promising; I love one room dramas with bite and this one looks like it will deliver nicely.

Venus In Fur opens, according to the distributor, in April though I can’t find an exact date of release.

Cinecast Episode 326 – Functionally Retarded, Yet Infectious

As it turns out, we discover as a very welcome surprise that this is Kurt and Andrew’s 300th episode together. So there’s reason enough to celebrate here. Kinda. But if you’re more into movies rather than nostalgia and landmarks, there’s plenty to get into with this episode. We have five, count ’em five, theatrical reviews to get to as well as our respective festival titles and experiences to mention. All of this spirals into a very important homework assignment for the week. Matt Gamble comes aboard to talk about Ridley Scott’s meandering. We get into all manner of awesome, including Robert Redford’s double takes, Polanski spelling it out, Elijah Wood is perpetually twelve years old and Judd Apatow’s version of a Richard Linklater film. All of this and a helluva lot more in another mega-episode that spans nearly four hours.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!


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Blu-Ray Review: Tess

Director: Roman Polanski
Screenplay: Gérard Brach, Roman Polanski, John Brownjohn
Based on a Novel by: Thomas Hardy
Starring: Nastassja Kinski, Peter Firth, Leigh Lawson
Producer: Claude Berri
Country: UK/France
Running Time: 172 min
Year: 1979
BBFC Certificate: 12


With all the controversy over Roman Polanski’s personal life and complicated legal issues that remain, his life and work are well discussed and debated. I’ve never got too much involved though when arguments rage on comments boards about boycotting his work and the like. I’m rarely interested in the private lives of actors or directors. Obviously what Roman Polanski did to 13 year old Samantha Geimer was reprehensible, but, without wanting to sound unconcerned by such actions, I tend to be of the mind that it’s up to the legal system to deal with that and if his films are produced and available then I’ll still watch them if they interest me. I’m not the world’s biggest Polanski fan though it must be said. Although I consider Chinatown to be amongst my favourite 10 or 15 films of all time I’ve not seen a huge amount of his work and a couple of those I have seen have been less than stellar. I really didn’t see the appeal of The Fearless Vampire Killers for instance and thought the more recent Ghost Writer/The Ghost was hugely overrated.

The memory of Chinatown and Knife in the Water (as well as what I can remember of Rosemary’s Baby) still remain though and despite Tess not being one of Polanski’s more popular films, I thought I’d give it a go.

The film is a fairly straight adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s classic novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles (from what I gather – I haven’t read the book). Tess (Nastassja Kinski) is a the daughter of John Durbeyfield (John Collin), a farmer who is told by a local parson that he is descended from the illustrious d’Urberville family. In a bid to cash in on this fact, John sends Tess out to the known d’Urberville’s who live near by. She meets her ‘cousin’, Alec d’Urberville (Leigh Lawson), who is besotted by her. Although she is initially reluctant, he manages to seduce Tess as she spends time with his family, forcefully ‘winning’ her over for a short while. Tess breaks free from him though and heads back for home but not before she is impregnated with his child. The baby dies after only a few weeks and, disgraced and distressed, Tess leaves home to work on a dairy farm further afield. Here she meets Angel (Peter Firth), a reverend’s son who falls madly in love with her. She quite quickly reciprocates, but the shadow of her past weighs heavy on her soul and she worries about whether Angel will accept her as she is.

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Cinecast Episode 296 – Praying at the Juno Temple

Without much going on in theaters currently, Andrew and Kurt take to the internet and discuss the current VOD release of The Brass Teapot starring Juno Temple and Michael Angarano. A quiet little 80s style suburban fable with a a dash of Dante, a sprinkle of The Great Recession and a dollop of light bondage. Andrew sorts out his security issues with the Google-machine and the video edition returns. All the better to see you with (my dear) as we delve further into the Orson Scott Card boycott – which is a do-over of the Polanski debates had on previous Cinecast shows. Andrew finds pleasure in needling our frequent co-host, Matt Gamble, when he can’t defend himself. The Watch List is also Polanski heavy as well TV-talk with disparate subjects ranging from “Game of Thrones” season 2, and the long running medical dramedy with Zach Braff in “Scrubs.” We delve into the 1% defense examined in Richard Gere’s Arbitrage and sad-sack Stallone in James Mangold’s Copland.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!


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Favorite Older Films I Saw in 2012

Always an awkward post title, but I can never seem to manage to figure out a good way to sum up the kind of list I’m presenting here. My list of Top 2012 Films is included in the Row Three group post back here, but now I want to focus on the films I enjoyed the most this year which were released prior to 2012. I should stress that this is hardly an objective list, were such a thing even possible – it’s just what I liked the best and felt most desirous to share out of my first-time watches this year, excluding 2012 releases.

What older films did you love the best in 2012?

GIRL SHY (1924)
FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE (1926)
WHY WORRY (1923)

GirlShy

I’d seen Harold Lloyd’s best-known film Safety Last before, but I really consider 2012 my crash course in his comedy, with a trio of films I saw in close succession and really convinced me for sure that he belongs in the silent comedian pantheon. Girl Shy is, in fact, my favorite new-to-me film I’ve seen all year, and thanks to its sweet romance and breathtaking final chase scene, I actually liked it more than I do Safety Last. For Heaven’s Sake, with Lloyd as a millionaire bringing in street thugs and miscreants to fill up an inner-city mission’s pews to impress the preacher’s lovely daughter, is a ton of fun, too, full of insane gags and stunts. I liked Why Worry, with Lloyd as a hypochondriac who gets mixed up in the Mexican Civil War, the least of the three, but it’s still a solid film and a whole lot of fun. With these three under my belt, chalk me up a definite Lloyd fan.

THE VIRGIN SPRING (1960)

virginspring

Sometimes Ingmar Bergman films are a bit tough for me to get into – I can appreciate their austere humanism, but they often feel remote and uninvolving to me. The Virgin Spring grabbed me immediately and didn’t let me go until I collapsed at the end breathless, like the grieving father in the story. A young girl is violated by a group of men who later unknowingly seek shelter in her father’s home, whereupon he finds out what happened and exacts retribution. But nothing is so simple in Bergman’s world, and this is a deeply thoughtful and starkly beautiful film, questioning a God who allows tragedy to happen and yet also accepting that personal vengeance may not be the best way either.

THE DRIVER (1978)

The-Driver

Clearly a prototype for 2011’s Drive (a recent favorite of mine), The Driver stars Ryan O’Neal as a laconic getaway driver who’s being hunted by an arrogant cop (Bruce Dern) who wants to collar him simply because he’s never been caught. In between them are a gambling woman who may be playing both sides and a bunch of thugs who are no match for the Driver. It’s a mystery to me why this film isn’t always mentioned in the same breath with great car chase movies like Bullitt and The French Connection, because the chases here are every bit as good. Mix in the Le Samourai-esque lead character, and this film was made for me.

SOLARIS (1972)

Solaris

First of all, it took me several days to get through this meditative sci-fi film musing on love and loss. I’m not proud of that, but it can certainly be blamed on my pregnancy-related tiredness at the time rather than the film itself, although the film itself is definitely on the slow side. I actually liked the pacing and thought it worked well for the kind of heady, evocative sci-fi this is. That said, because of the viewing conditions, I had difficulty holding it all in my head at once or feeling like I had a solid grasp of it by the end. I’m already looking forward to a rewatch, upon which time I think I will appreciate it even more.

THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC (1928)

passion-of-joan-of-arc

I know Mike Rot (and probably others) are going to tell me that even Top Five placement is not high enough for this film, and that’s probably right. The movie is an intriguing combination of austerity (sparse set design) and raw emotion (Marie Falconetti’s extraordinary face, usually seen in close-ups). I’ve seen a couple of other Dreyer films, and I generally find them a bit difficult to relate to stylistically, and I have to say I felt kind of the same tension here. I do think some rewatches will move it much higher on my list, though – it feels like the kind of film I will grow into. Also, the print on HuluPlus does not have a music track with it, and I don’t think that helped my experience.

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Cinecast Episode 278 – Evolve or Die

After festival vacations took hold of both your respective hosts, we’re back for a whole lot of catch-up. We mix up the format a bit with a bit of Disney/Lucasfilm discussion before jumping into reviews of Cloud Atlas (SPOILERS!) and Lee Daniel’s even wackier The Paperboy (SPOILERS!), grading the homework assignments, recaps of said festivals and a further Watch List that jumps from goofy to subversive X-rated classics to gentle (yet badass) angels of doom. It all culminates lengthy show, you’ve been warned.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!


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Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out [clip]

Premiering at TIFF later this week is Maria Zenovich’s follow-up film to her 2008 documentary, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, titled Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out.

In the wake of her previous film, the Los Angeles D.A. Office took a lot of flak from the public as Polanski’s case continued to rage on in three continents. The new installment documents Polanski’s successful legal battle to gain his freedom after 30 years, and examines how his and Samantha Geimer’s lives have been irrevocably altered.

Via IndieWire, here’s a new clip of the film which will premier on Friday at TIFF and also later throughout the festival.

Movies We Watched

Sometimes we watch stuff that we want to talk just a little bit about, not a full review worth. These are those films. If any of the films reviewed are available on Netflix Instant Watch (US or Canada) or HuluPlus (US only), we’ll note that by putting a direct link below the capsule.

Trust

2011 USA. Director: David Schwimmer. Starring: Clive Owen, Catherine Keener, Liana Liberato, Jason Clarke, Viola Davis, Noah Emmerich, Chris Henry Coffey.

I had been avoiding David Schwimmer’s film about online sexual predators for a while because it had the potential to be an absolute disaster that mishandled the subject matter. Luckily that wasn’t the case. Although a little on-the-nose, Schwimmer’s latest effort is actually an affecting and powerful little film, one that should be important viewing for those wanting to know about the potential dangers of children surfing the web. Crucially it doesn’t paint the entire idea of using the internet as bad but just alerts to some of the possibilities. And it’s truly amazing Schwimmer went from Run Fatboy Run to this.
-ROSS

Netflix Instant (USA)

Repulsion

1965 UK. Director: Roman Polanski. Starring: Catherine Deneuve.

An early Roman Polanski masterpiece that tracks the mental breakdown of a young Belgian woman, Carole (Catherine Deneuve), as she tries to make a life for herself in the hustle and bustle of London with her sister. Imagine being a literate cineaste in the 1960s just having just seen the previous year’s candy coloured French musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (a coming out party of sorts for Ms. Deneuve as a major new film star) and then selecting Polanski’s film to get more of the same only to receive a black & white cramped apartment mind-fuck! Miss Deneuve tackles the role with relish, gets raped and has a sort of misplaced revenge before a climactic mental and physical collapse. Half is in the mind, half is in reality, but the audience gets the complete package of horrors doled with with an exacting precision that belies its loosey-goosey camera-work and overabundance of supporting characters. Repulsion has been called “Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho turned inside out” and certainly it has its own fair share of surprises and lasting images; not the least of which is reportedly the first on-soundtrack-if-not-onscreen female orgasm to be shown in regular British Cinemas. I’m not sure if there is a conscious subtextual inversion of Alice in Wonderland, but rotting and skinned rabbit is might be a clue. The closing shot may be a revelation of sorts as to why things are happening to poor Carole, (and it is a doozey in retrospect that is prescient of a litany of other Polanski themes) but here it is as much the journey as the destination.
-KURT

Netflix Instant (CANADA)

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I Believe in the God of Carnage

…And his name is Roman Polanski. He wreaks havoc of awesome with every piece of celluloid he touches and now he’s got another A-list set of stars to carry on the tradition in this seemingly dark comedy based on the play by Yasmina Reza.

Two sets of parents meet an apartment to talk over the violent dispute between their 11 year-old sons on the school yard. Slowly, what starts as friendly banter turns into verbal blood-shed. aka Carnage.

Maybe a little bit more over the top yet light-hearted version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe? See the trailer below and make the call. I for one have a new most anticipated film for this year…