Robert Benmussa

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Venus In Fur Review


Extraordinary

Expert writing, directing and acting help this offbeat drama discover some powerful new themes in a novella that has been scandalising Western society since it was first published in 1870. The book's author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch even gave us the word "masochism". But this film by Roman Polanski and playwright David Ives digs far beneath the S&M to say some startling things about the male-female divide.

It's set in a theatre on a rainy day in Paris, where the actress Vanda (Emmanuelle Seigner) arrives late in a disheveled state to audition for the play's writer-director Thomas (Mathieu Amalric). But he's had a bad day, and immediately writes Vanda off. Eventually she wears him down, and the moment she starts reading his own words he's transfixed. She not only embodies the character, but she sparks something inside him that makes him question his own work. And as he runs the lines with her, she exerts an odd power over him that shifts in ways Thomas never sees coming.

Even with just two people on a stage, this movie is utterly riveting: funny, sexy, scary, surprising, intelligent and fiercely stylish. Polanski's direction is bold and playful, building a compelling rhythm that charges through 90 minutes of sometimes too-clever dialogue that keeps our minds spinning. And both Seigner and Amalric make the most of the script, packing every moment with insinuation and wit as they play with the ideas raised by the play within the film, which is about a dominatrix and her slave.

Continue reading: Venus In Fur Review

The Ghost [aka The Ghost Writer] Review


Excellent
Tightly wound and told without much fuss, this political thriller is captivating and often quite tense even though it doesn't seem to have much visual panache. But Polanski's fiendishly clever and extremely subtle touch is in every frame.

When a successful British ghost-writer (McGregor) is hired to clean up the memoirs of former Prime Minister Adam Lang (Brosnan), he can't quite believe the large paycheque heading his way. He soon relocates to an isolated island home in America to work with Lang, his wife (Williams) and assistant (Cattrall), but it quickly becomes clear that something fishy's going on here.

And maybe the scandalous news reports, about Lang's approval of torture in the War on Terror, are missing the real story.

Continue reading: The Ghost [aka The Ghost Writer] Review

Oliver Twist (2005) Review


Weak
At the end of a good year, I will have read three books. This has nothing to do with any sort of laziness or lack of literary enjoyment; this is simply my quota. When I do read, however, I tend to try to read what one would consider modern classics. On this reasoning, I've read a scant number of what most people consider "classic" novels. However, of the few I have read, one of them happens to be Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist. So, I am coming into Roman Polanski's Oliver Twist locked and loaded with the book and David Lean's wonderful 1948 version on my mind.

Let's get the story out of the way for those few who haven't heard it. Sweet, young Oliver Twist (Barney Clark) is cast out of his orphanage when he is picked to ask the cook for more porridge and is sent to work for a kind casket maker who is controlled by his wife. He escapes to London where he makes friends with a charming thief nicknamed The Artful Dodger (Harry Eden). As it happens, Dodger is part of a gang of thieving youths who work for the persuasive Fagin (Sir Ben Kingsley), a decrepit old man with too much hair and too few teeth. The storm really swells when Twist tries to go straight with a rich book collector named Mr. Brownlow (Edward Hardwicke) and gets on the bad side of a few of Fagin's friends and partners. The most nefarious of the partners is Billy Sykes (Jamie Foreman), a terribly mean thief who is followed around by an ugly dog named Bullseye. This all leads to a plot between Sykes and Fagin to kill poor little Oliver, but that proves to be pretty difficult.

Continue reading: Oliver Twist (2005) Review

The Pianist Review


Excellent
Roman Polanski is said to have turned down the opportunity to direct Schindler's List because he felt it would be too painful. Himself a survivor of the Holocaust, Polanski's connection to the Krakow ghetto made the story all too personal. But with the release of The Pianist, it seems the director has finally come to terms with his pain.

Set amidst the ruins of another infamous ghetto -- Warsaw's Jewish district -- The Pianist recounts the horrors that Polanski could not face a decade ago. The movie tells the true story of pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman's escape from Nazi persecution and his subsequent struggle to survive. Unlike other mainstream Holocaust movies, though, this one doesn't try to portray heroism and selflessness as much as it does the actual process of surviving. In other words, it is about the constant act of searching -- for food, for water, for a new place to hide, and for a way out.

Continue reading: The Pianist Review

High Tension Review


OK
Though he claims it was inspired by the classic '70s slasher classics of his youth, Alexandre Aja's High Tension is unfortunately as indebted to gimmicky pseudo-horror flicks like The Sixth Sense and Identity than Last House on the Left. A serial killer story undone by a lack of terror and a vicious view of homosexuality, Aja's film borrows liberally from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre - including its narrative about a blond woman attempting to escape from a deadly fiend who, in the final scene, stalks his victim in the woods with a buzz saw - while failing to properly capture the sheer madness (or underlying socio-economic anxiety) that made Tobe Hooper's genre masterpiece pulsate. And without the scares necessary to sustain its bloody cat-and-mouse tale, this derivative, mildly nerve-racking thriller - shot in French but partially dubbed in English for its North American release - finds itself woefully unable to live up to its boastful title.

Marie (Cécile De France), a closet lesbian with short hair and a sculpted physique, reluctantly goes to stay with the family of her college pal Alex (Maïwenn) in their remote country home, a backwoods abode with few ties to civilization and no neighbors in sight. Alex adores her parents' new place, but the friends' first night in rural seclusion is rudely interrupted by the appearance of a hulking brute (Philippe Nahon, from Gasper Noe's I Stand Alone) who hogties and kidnaps Alex after slaughtering her kin (including her young brother, who's unceremoniously gunned down off-screen). Marie, a witness to the throat-cutting of Alex's mother from a bedroom closet, manages to conceal her presence from the intruder, and - after managing to surreptitiously hitch a ride in his blood-stained van - resolves to rescue her abducted pal and exact eye-for-an-eye revenge against the mysterious murderer.

Continue reading: High Tension Review

Oliver Twist Review


Weak
At the end of a good year, I will have read three books. This has nothing to do with any sort of laziness or lack of literary enjoyment; this is simply my quota. When I do read, however, I tend to try to read what one would consider modern classics. On this reasoning, I've read a scant number of what most people consider "classic" novels. However, of the few I have read, one of them happens to be Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist. So, I am coming into Roman Polanski's Oliver Twist locked and loaded with the book and David Lean's wonderful 1948 version on my mind.

Let's get the story out of the way for those few who haven't heard it. Sweet, young Oliver Twist (Barney Clark) is cast out of his orphanage when he is picked to ask the cook for more porridge and is sent to work for a kind casket maker who is controlled by his wife. He escapes to London where he makes friends with a charming thief nicknamed The Artful Dodger (Harry Eden). As it happens, Dodger is part of a gang of thieving youths who work for the persuasive Fagin (Sir Ben Kingsley), a decrepit old man with too much hair and too few teeth. The storm really swells when Twist tries to go straight with a rich book collector named Mr. Brownlow (Edward Hardwicke) and gets on the bad side of a few of Fagin's friends and partners. The most nefarious of the partners is Billy Sykes (Jamie Foreman), a terribly mean thief who is followed around by an ugly dog named Bullseye. This all leads to a plot between Sykes and Fagin to kill poor little Oliver, but that proves to be pretty difficult.

Continue reading: Oliver Twist Review

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Robert Benmussa Movies

Venus in Fur Movie Review

Venus in Fur Movie Review

Expert writing, directing and acting help this offbeat drama discover some powerful new themes in...

The Ghost [aka The Ghost Writer] Movie Review

The Ghost [aka The Ghost Writer] Movie Review

Tightly wound and told without much fuss, this political thriller is captivating and often quite...

Oliver Twist (2005) Movie Review

Oliver Twist (2005) Movie Review

At the end of a good year, I will have read three books. This has...

Advertisement
The Pianist Movie Review

The Pianist Movie Review

Roman Polanski is said to have turned down the opportunity to direct Schindler's List because...

High Tension Movie Review

High Tension Movie Review

Though he claims it was inspired by the classic '70s slasher classics of his youth,...

Oliver Twist Movie Review

Oliver Twist Movie Review

At the end of a good year, I will have read three books. This has...

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