The Pianist (2002) IMDB Top 250 Guest Review

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Today’s IMDB Top 250 Guest Review comes from Natalie of Writer Loves Movies. Thanks for the review, Natalie! 🙂 Now let’s see what she has to say about The Pianist, IMDB rank 49 out of 250…

There are still some movies up for grabs if anyone wants to do a guest IMDB Top 250 review. You can find the list of remaining films HERE. See the full list & links to all the reviews that have already been done HERE. Also, if you’d like to add a link to your IMDB review(s) on your own blogs, feel free to use any of the logos I’ve used at the top of any of these guest reviews.

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Arriving in cinemas just nine years after Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, Roman Polanski’s Holocaust drama The Pianist had a lot to live up to.

Spielberg’s film is a sweeping historical epic but Polanski takes a different approach, narrowing his focus on Polish Jewish musician Wladyslaw Szpilman (Adrien Brody). The Pianist is based on Szpilman’s real life experiences during the German occupation of Poland and takes in the first days of the Warsaw ghetto, the ghetto uprising and the subsequent Warsaw uprising made by the wider Polish resistance against the Nazis in 1944. It’s powerful subject matter handled effectively by screenwriter Ronald Harwood (Australia, The Diving Bell & The Butterfly), who took home an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Where the plight of the Jewish people can be observed in the background of Spielberg’s Schindler’s List which is centred primarily on German industrialist Oskar Schindler and concentration camp commander Amon Goeth, Polanski’s The Pianist is told directly from a Jewish perspective. It’s a huge risk, but one that pays off, enabling Polanski to take us into the very centre of the Jewish ghetto.

Polanski excels in attention to detail. Szpilman’s family and friends are the film’s main emphasis but every aspect of The Pianist’s mise-en-scene delivers the ghetto’s difficult politics and its impact on the masses forced to live there. Emaciated people scrabble for crumbs of food and corpses lie in the street virtually unnoticed: death is a familiar sight. Remarkably, these abhorrent visual details echo those described by first-hand witnesses in Claude Lanzmann’s landmark holocaust documentary, Shoah.

The dividing ghetto wall is, itself, a recurring point of focus. Polanski’s stark camera lingers on it, giving us space to reflect on its significance. Within the wall’s confines the scenes are claustrophobic. Polanski makes frequent use of the ghetto crossing (the Warsaw ghetto was divided by a main German thoroughfare), as another strong visual indicator of the segregation. Waiting in line to cross from one half of the ghetto into the other, Jewish humiliation is compounded by Nazi goading and belittlement. Much of The Pianist is centred on these simple means of degradation, observed and endured by Szpilman whose entire family share a single caramel while awaiting deportation: a symbol of their rapidly encroaching hunger and malnutrition.

Clearance of the Warsaw ghetto (deportations to the Treblinka concentration camp of which the audience but not the film’s characters are well aware) marks a division in The Pianist. From here, the pace slows and the film’s focus shifts away from Jewish persecution to the impact of war on wider Poland. The ghetto uprising is viewed from the windows of a nearby apartment, shortly followed by the Warsaw uprising. This second half of Polanski’s film hones in on Wladyslaw Szpilman’s struggle to stay alive in the increasingly devastated country. Adrien Brody manages this portion of the film almost single-handedly, observing the crippling war while searching for food and shelter. Unsurprisingly, Brody took home an Oscar for his performance here, beating Jack Nicholson (About Schmidt) and Daniel Day-Lewis (Gangs Of New York).

Why you should see it: Polanski’s The Pianist unites a muscular character study and compassionate portrayal of the human spirit with an intricate study of the politics of the Warsaw ghetto and the city’s wider uprising. While it lacks the historical scope of Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, The Pianist offers audiences a more intimate viewing experience that should not be overlooked.

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Chinatown (1974) IMDB Top 250 Guest Review

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Today’s IMDB Top 250 Guest Review comes from Damien of Flashback/Backslide. He also reviewed Sin City here & Memento here. Thanks for the reviews, Damien! 🙂 Now let’s see what he has to say about Chinatown, IMDB rank 78 out of 250…

There are still some movies up for grabs if anyone wants to do a guest IMDB Top 250 review. You can find the list of remaining films HERE. See the full list & links to all the reviews that have already been done HERE.

Also, if you’d like to add a link to your IMDB review(s) on your own blogs, feel free to use any of the logos I’ve used at the top of any of these guest reviews.

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CHINATOWN

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Any tour through the film noir landscape will likely stop for a visit with Roman Polansky’s Chinatown. Released in 1974, the film is held up as the quintessential neo-noir, that new batch of films debuting from the 1960’s and onwards which lifted traits from film noir’s Golden Age but branded the genre with elements not seen in the post-war period. Touring through The Maltese Falcon (1941) and The Big Sleep (1946) reveals the habits of those first noirs, filled with tough-guy detectives and Humphrey Bogart’s cold stares and wry smiles. Chinatown uses the mold of these early films then breaks it, adding in elements not fitted for screens twenty years earlier.

Jack Nicholson stars as Jake Gittes, a private investigator in 1937 Los Angeles. Like Spade and Marlowe, Gittes isn’t picky with clients he takes but the weight of the job and the secrets he’s uncovered appear to be more a burden for him than they did for Bogart. The film’s complicated story begins with what appears to be a simple mystery. After dismissing one client, a tired Gittes reenters his office to find a stoic woman sitting across the room. She calls on his services because she believes her husband is seeing another woman. Gittes hears the complaint, sighs then sarcastically responds “No…Really?” By this point he must have seen dozens of these cases and is not eager to jump into another. Gittes quickly disregards her worries: “Mrs. Mulwray do your love your husband? Then go home and forget everything. I’m sure that he loves you too. Do you know the expresion ‘let sleeping dogs lie’? You’re…better off not knowing” But soon he finds the adulterer in question is Hollis Mulwray, an influential Los Angeles city planner. Realizing the money to be made, Gittes signs on and is plunged into a complicated mystery involving nearly a dozen instigators.

Chinatown establishes its film noir chops early and often. Stereotyped film noir elements are found throughout; smoking with exceptionaly long cigarette stems, venetian blinds (Gittes mentions Venetian blinds in the first spoken line), characteristic fashion (namely overly-fancy hats), stereotyped camera angles and the use mirrors and reflections including an interesting reflection off a camera lens showing us Gittes and his point of view simultaneously. Jack Nicholson plays a sadder, more defeated version of Sam Spade. Faye Dunaway, gives an incredible performance as his femme fatale, bringing to life the desperate Evelyn Mulwray. John Huston, legendary director of noir classics like The Maltese Falcon and Key Largo is cast as one of the central characters and gives one of the film’s most memorable performances.

The mystery at the center of Chinatown turns out to be far more complicated than that in The Maltese Falcon or The Third Man and with more sinister dealings at the core. Debuting in 1974 likely factors into the plot. By then audience members would expect a more mysterious mystery and would tolerate more sex and violence along the way. From the very beginning sex is front and center as the opening frames show close-ups of photographs taken of a sex scene. Gittes famously has his nose cut during the film, leaving Jack Nicholson’s bandaged face on most stills. Between those opening frames, a sliced nose, rape and incest, much of the content here wouldn’t have passed censors twenty years earlier.

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Rating:10/10

Classic Film Scale Rating: 8/10

Bottomline: A worthy flag-bearer for the neo-noir genre, Chinatown takes all the best elements of the Golden Age noirs and even improves on the classics.

Thanks for reading!

Flashback/Backslide

Rosemary’s Baby (1968) IMDB Top 250 Guest Review

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Today we have the wonderful Anna of Film Grimoire reviewing a horror favorite of mine. Anna got really excited about this brilliant film & posted a little about it along with some amazing images from the movie HERE. Anna is passionate about film and writes excellent reviews on a wide variety of genres. Anna – it may not seem like it as I’ve not been commenting on anything on WordPress lately due to a busy schedule but I love your reviews & you’ll wake up one day to suddenly find a million comments from me where I’ve made time to thoroughly raid your blog! I must really annoy people when I do that… 😉

There are still some movies up for grabs if anyone wants to do a guest IMDB Top 250 review. You can find the list HERE.

Now let’s turn things over to Anna to get her full review of Rosemary’s Baby, IMDB rank 229 out of 250…

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The second film in Roman Polanski’s famed Apartment Trilogy, Rosemary’s Baby (1968) is a film synonymous with the horror genre. After moving in to a beautiful yet spooky apartment building, Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse become close with their annoying neighbours Roman and Minnie, whether they like it or not. Rosemary becomes pregnant under mysterious circumstances, and with her mothering instincts kicking in, she must fight to protect her unborn child against supernatural forces.

Where does one start with a film that is so iconic, and so ubiquitous? Where do you start writing a review of a film that is so universally loved, and after you finish watching it, you have to sit in silence for a moment to pay it the respect it deserves? It may come as no surprise to say that I love this film. It’s been in my top 10 films of all time list ever since I started thinking about a top 10.

Firstly, the music and sound design are two of my favourite elements of this film. From the very beginning, when the camera is panning over the metropolis of New York City, we hear a simple lullaby that is at once comforting and threatening. This immediately sets the tone of the film, and when the camera rests on the creepy building that Rosemary and Guy seek to make their home, the audience instinctively knows there’s something wrong with it. The repetition of this lullaby during key moments increases that feeling of being threatened. In addition to the music, the sound design is perfect in general. During scenes inside the building, we can hear city sounds, creaking floorboards, kids screaming from outside, taps dripping, traffic noises – all of these sounds combine to create an environment that seems both protected from the outside, but also vulnerable to it. The sound design is as much a storyteller as the characters are.

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In terms of the acting, Mia Farrow is charming as Rosemary from the very beginning. She plays her character with such innocence, but also a rawness that’s difficult to pinpoint exactly. At times she’s childlike, at times lustful. As her body changes during pregnancy and she becomes confused by her condition and physical decline, she portrays the conflict between wanting to be healthy and wanting to keep her baby in such a heartbreaking way. Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer portray Minnie and Roman, the suspicious neighbours, perfectly. Particularly Ruth Gordon, who scored a Best Supporting Actress for her role, and whose intrusion into and influence upon Rosemary’s daily life and pregnancy is played with such well-meaning menace. John Cassavetes’ performance as Guy is fraught with his own secret conflict and can be frustrating to watch for this reason, but is also very good.

There are a number of moments in Rosemary’s Baby where I just throw my hands up and say, “That’s it, this is a perfect film.” One particular moment, where Rosemary and Minnie are washing dishes in the kitchen after a dinner party, and Guy and Roman are smoking together in the living room. Rosemary looks back from the kitchen toward the living room to see where Guy is, and we can’t see or hear them, but all we see in that shot is smoke curling across the air from where they’re sitting. Something so simple can be so threatening, and Polanski’s direction nails it every time.

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Speaking of which, the direction and cinematography in Rosemary’s Baby are top notch. The camera work adds to the overall feelings of tension as it looks through the apartment slowly and creepily. Any scene where the camera is following Rosemary and another character through the apartment seems strange because it feels like there’s an extra person hanging around watching them. Later in the film, there is some interesting handheld camera work, which adds to the frenzy of certain scenes. The film’s dream sequences are also directed impeccably, in such a way that they do seem like real dreams, rather than ‘movie dreams’ that can be a bit too linear to be realistic.

Meanwhile, the cinematography is amazing. The way the film is constructed visually is just as impressive as the camerawork. Early on in the film, Rosemary and Guy paint the apartment white to make it feel lighter – later in the film, as Rosemary’s pregnancy progresses, the use of shadows and angles makes the apartment look just as dark as before, even though the colour scheme is light. This is but one example of the amazing coexistence between the film’s cinematography and story.

Rosemary’s Baby also has a lot of good rewatch value. Small looks, clever elements of cinematography, and symbolic props add another layer to the film that you might not catch upon first viewing. One example of this is where Rosemary and Guy are looking at baby clothes – revulsion quickly flits across Guy’s face when Rosemary holds up a small jumper. Having already seen the film, something so simple as a facial expression can have a strong impact on the viewer. These smaller moments are so rewarding when you watch the film for a second, or even a third, time.

Finally, the ending of the film is one of the more perfect film endings. The final scene of the film (no spoilers here) is one of the best. Even though some elements of it can be cheesy, purely due to the supernatural elements at play in the film, the “big reveal” is so sinister that I tend to forget about them. Rosemary’s character arc is complete, and as a viewer it can be difficult to reconcile her actions throughout the film with the actual ending of the film. But the film raises an interesting question about what it means to be a mother, and the kind of protective instincts that might arise in a mother upon giving birth to a child.

You might be able to tell that I am a big fan of this film. I honestly could write a lot more about it but I should probably stop before I write a whole book. Rosemary’s Baby is a film that will stay in my top 10 for a very long time. It is a slow burner, but it develops at a steady pace and certainly gathers a lot of momentum. Please watch it, if you haven’t already. It is absolutely worthy of its place in IMDb’s Top 250, and is probably one of the best horror films ever made.

5/5
Watch the trailer here.