Movie Project #38: Rosemary’s Baby [1968]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

Rosemary's Baby [1968]

Rosemary’s Baby [1968]
Director: Roman Polanski
Writers: Ira Levin (novel), Roman Polanski (screenplay)
Country: USA
Genre: Drama/Horror/Mystery
Starring: Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon, Sidney Blackmer, Ralph Bellamy
Running Time: 136 minutes

I will never look at chocolate mousse the same way again.

Rosemary’s Baby (based on the best-selling 1967 novel of the same name) tells the bizarrely horrific story of young and naive housewife, Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow). After she moves into a luxurious new NYC apartment with her husband, a TV/radio actor named Guy (John Cassavetes), the newlyweds are introduced to an elderly couple next door. These neighbors, Minnie (Ruth Gordon) and Roman Castevet (Sidney Blackmer), are eccentric but also very friendly, and they immediately take an interest to the Woodhouses.

While the Castevets initially appear to be harmless, there is definitely something peculiar about them. For one, shortly after meeting them, Rosemary and Guy seem to run into an unexpected string of good luck. Guy, after failing to get a part in a major production, gets a phone call the next morning saying that the original actor was badly injured, and the part is now his. And Rosemary, eagerly wanting to start a family, becomes pregnant with relative ease.

Nevermind that on the night of conception, Rosemary has a terrifying dream that she was raped by the Devil himself. Nevermind that on that same night, she had blacked out after eating some seemingly tainted chocolate mousse from Minnie.

Rosemary's Baby [1968]

Poor, poor Rosemary. Now pregnant, she is forced to listen to advice from everyone around her. Minnie and Roman push a new doctor, Dr. Abraham Sapirstein (Ralph Bellamy), a good friend of theirs, onto her, and he provides medical advice that is anything but conventional. His recommendation is to avoid pills in favor of drinking a strange herb cocktail that Minnie brings over every day. And so it goes, with the Castevets, Dr. Sapirstein and even Guy pushing a bizarre regimen onto Rosemary, who takes it all in like the submissive housewife that she is. She has her suspicions, but she is so blind in her trust to her new friends that she listens to them for far too long.

Rosemary’s Baby is effective because it excels in building the suspense while making us question just what is real and what isn’t. While there’s clearly something wrong, nothing in the film is entirely black-and-white. Perhaps Rosemary is just struggling to cope mentally with her newfound pregnancy? Hell, she’s not even sure what to believe, even as a close friend leaves behind a telling book about the occult.

Rosemary's Baby [1968]

Mia Farrow is also the perfect fit for Rosemary, as she has a childlike sensibility that makes her come across as so innocent and vulnerable. While Rosemary is clearly intelligent, she is too submissive for her own good. Her naivity is perhaps a sign of the times, but it’s a little hard to digest in today’s age. There were so many times where I just wanted to yell at her to stand up for herself — but alas, the others continued to prey on her, controlling her body and pregnancy to fit their needs.

As such, Rosemary’s Baby is a harrowing watch, and it has a masterful way of getting under your skin. It’s also darkly comic at times, especially when the Castevets are on screen. Ruth Gordon won an Oscar for her performance as Minnie, and her overbearing personality is both amusing and alarming. This film is a shining example of how to effectively craft psychological horror, even with the ineptitude of our frail young protagonist.

8.5/10

Movie Project #45: The Pianist [2002]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

The Pianist [2002]

The Pianist [2002]
Director: Roman Polanski
Genre: Biography/Drama/War
Starring: Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann and Frank Finlay
Running Time: 150 minutes

It’s always difficult to watch films about the Holocaust, and it’s especially challenging to write about them afterward. What can be said about one of the most horrifying events in all of mankind? Because of this, it has taken me ten long years to finally see The Pianist, Roman Polanski’s film based on the World War II memoir by Polish-Jewish musician Wladyslaw Szpilman.

Adrien Brody stars as Szpilman, and the film begins with a German bombing during one of his popular radio station performances. It doesn’t take long for Germany to defeat Poland, and they quickly begin pushing the Jews into ghettos with extremely poor living conditions. This only gets worse as the Germans linger in the country, with Jews being executed randomly, and many of them being sent to concentration camps.

The Pianist [2002]

Eventually Szpilman becomes separated from his family, and he is forced to live in hiding from the Nazis. He must rely on the hospitality of others, but this becomes increasingly difficult as the war goes on. Jews begin turning on each other, and the Nazis start wiping out entire areas for no reason. Soon many ghettos are looking like post-apocalyptic war zones.

This destruction makes for an exceedingly arduous viewing. The punishment is relentless, and quite frankly we do not need to see most of it. The devastation and tragedies just keep getting piled onto Szpilman with no end in sight. There is no humanity or compassion at all, except for a brief glimpse at the end. It’s harrowing to watch, a painful look at an absolutely darkest time.

The Pianist [2002]

The attention to detail in The Pianist is astounding, and this is to be expected given Polanski’s own Holocaust survival tale. This is an extremely well-crafted film, one brought together by Adrien Brody’s well-deserved Oscar-winning performance. Szpilman’s physical and mental deterioration over the years is hard to watch, but Brody’s dedication to the role is admirable.

While watching The Pianist, I wondered what separated Szpilman’s story from thousands of others during the Holocaust. Was it the fact that he was a well-known musician? Or perhaps that he received a rare moment of compassion as the Nazis left Warsaw? Ultimately, this question does not matter. At the end, this could have been the story of any number of survivors, and The Pianist is an exemplary portrait of this.

8/10

Movie Review: Carnage [2011]

Carnage [2011]

Carnage [2011]
Director: Roman Polanski
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Starring: Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly
Runtime: 80 Minutes

Two eleven year old boys are arguing in the park. We don’t know what about, but does it matter? That’s what kids do. One of the children, Zachary, strikes the other, Ethan, across the face with a large stick. Now we have a messy situation on our hands, complete with a missing tooth and some serious dentalwork needing to be done. This incident brings the parents of the two children together to discuss treatment and punishment options.

And so begins Carnage.

Zachary’s parents, Alan and Nancy Cowan (Waltz & Winslet), visit the home of Ethan’s parents, Michael and Penelope Longstreet (Reilly & Foster), with the intention of quickly dealing with the problem. Somehow this quick visit turns into an elongated stay, and the entire movie takes place in this stationary apartment.

Carnage [2011]

With this decision, much of the film’s weight is placed on the shoulders of its stars. Thankfully, this is an absolutely all-star veteran cast. Foster, Reilly, Winslet and Waltz are all terrific, and they do their part to make sure this dialogue-heavy film is not hampered by the one-shot location.

Each character has their own quirks, and they all have a certain sense of pride. When little remarks here and there are interpreted as sly insults, the discussion grows heated, and it doesn’t take long for everyone to start ragging on each other. In this regard, “Carnage” is an apt title for the film, as there are some heavy blows dealt to the egos of all involved.

Carnage is a fun, brief film that really picks up once the bottle of scotch comes out. There are moments I could have done without, such as Alan’s frequent phone calls and Nancy’s moments where she gets sick, but for the most part this is an entertaining ride with a tight script.

7.5/10