It is uncertain if the story takes place in a theatre, in a crypt or in a metaphor as an arrogant writer/director gets his comeuppance from an unexpected auditioning actress in director Roman Polanski’s French language movie Venus in Fur (B+). A superb Mathieu Amalric is pretty clearly channeling the controversial auteur himself; and Polanski’s real-life wife Emmanuelle Seigner is sensational as the titular seductress. The threadbare tinderbox of a plot could likely be described as a battle of the sexes as it dishes out delicious dialogue to each of its participants. A master of controlling tight quarters and portraying power play brinksmanship, the director challenges himself with a talky narrative nearly all set in one room; but he takes his characters on a visceral, intellectual and sometimes sexy journey that transports them completely. Clever lighting, pacing and wordplay render the proceedings more cagey than stagey, as if the characters from the Before Sunrise movies were having a mythological fever dream. It’s a late-career gem from one of film’s enduring provocateurs.
After about 45 minutes of Baz Luhrmann’s excessive whirling dervishness settles down and a captivating Leonardo DiCaprio finally arrives as the titular playboy man of mystery, The Great Gatsby (B-) becomes a pretty engrossing potboiler about forbidden love and tragic obsession. Nearly cloaked in all the razzmatazz, glamorous sets and anachronistic hip hop music is the morality tale of self-made nouveau riche versus entrenched American wealth. Tobey Maguire is his typical boring self as wingman writer, Carey Mulligan is only moderately enchanting as Daisy (really only captivating in her scenes with Leo) and Joel Edgerton is fairly menacing as Tom. Leave it to this spastic Aussie auteur to take a Great American Novel and turn it into the same Harlequin Romance he’s made five other times. A notch better than Australia though. Glad he didn’t add an exclamation point to the title to go along with the 3D.