on 27 February 2005
Just read the other reviews and you will get a feel for just how good this film is, but why on earth has the transfer to DVD been done in such a botched manner?
The opening titles illustrate the problem that persists throughout.
The orinigal wide screen presentation has been cropped such that the titles are incomplete.
Within the body of the film one is frequently left watching an empty centre of the original with the speaking characters somewhere off screen.
This brilliant film deserves much better treatment.
Peter Greenaway's "The Cook, The Thief..." is part black comedy and part surreal drama starring the brilliant Michael Gambon and Helen Mirren. As lush and darkly beautiful as some of his other work (Prospero's Books, Drowning By Numbers), "The Cook, The Thief..." has the huge advantage of being a highly watchable film because Greenaway creates a dramatic story that engages you with characters alot more than in some of his other work. The film looks and sounds great throughout, with the keen eye of Sacha Vierny and the surreal touches from Greenaway that bring each scene to life.
Once again, Greenaway has used the music of Michael Nyman to add a whole new dimension to the film. Indeed, Nyman never 'scored' any Greenaway films... the process was infact the other way around, with Greenaway choreographing his scenes to fit with Nyman's music. This film is by far and away the best example of this, and the result is superb. Incorporating some of Nyman's best music, the musical centrepiece of the film is Nyman's 'Memorial', and epic funeral march-like piece, originally composed as a memorial to the victims of the Heysel Stadium disaster in 1985.
As well as some great costumes (by Jean Paul Gaultier), set designs and brilliant acting (esp. by Gambon), this film boasts some great dark humour, as well as it's fair share of geniune nastiness. Gambon plays the abominable Albert Spica, a grotesque and vulgar man who abuses and humiliates his wife (Mirren), who seeks refuge with another man, only for Spica to turn his wretched attentions to him, with terrible consequences (can't say any more without giving the end away!)
As a piece of film-making, it's a masterpiece. As a nice cosy film you can sit down to watch on a rainy weekend over and over again, forget it! But for Greenaway's talent, Gambon's acting, Nyman's music, Gaultier's costumes and Sacha Vierny's cinematographic excellence, how many more reasons do you need to go out and buy this film? Great stuff!!
This 1989 film written and directed by British film-maker Peter Greenaway remains an original (and mostly stunning) piece of work, now re-viewing it (nearly) 25 years on. I must admit, re-watching, I was not quite so blown away as I was on first seeing the film on its release - Michael Gambon's bravura, but obviously unlikeable, turn as the obscene, cruel and violent 'Thief' (and restaurant owner) of the title, Albert Spica, becoming a little too grating over the course of the film's two hours. However, what remains undeniably impressive is the film's design, basically a theatrical set of sprawling, open-plan restaurant, with brief glimpses of a dystopian (roaming stray dogs, etc) exterior world, courtesy of Ben van Os and Jan Roelfs, with some superb cinematography (blacks, reds, whites) by Sacha Vierny. And to cap it all, we have another mesmerising soundtrack from (for me) the UK's finest film composer (certainly of recent decades), Michael Nyman.
Given the film's subject matter, essentially taking the fusion of food and sex (established in the likes of Tony Richardson's 1963 film Tom Jones) to the next level of debauchery and savagery, I was also surprised to see the (normally rather more staid) Universal logo come up at the film's start. Thereafter, Greenaway's tale of Albert's cruel husband (plus his gang of henchmen), his violent treatment of wife Georgina (the voluptuous Helen Mirren) and her romantic liaisons (frantic couplings in the restaurant lavatory and kitchen) with Alan Howard's calm, literary intellectual, Michael, is totally uncompromising and visceral, but interspersed with bouts of dark humour. Greenaway's satirical touch is evident from the brilliant idea of setting up Albert and 'crew' (bedecked in something approaching medieval costume) on a long table, sideways on to camera in a parody of Leonardo's Last Supper (plus Albert's repeated request to Georgina to 'Wash your hands!', having been to the lavatory). Although the 'laddish' exploits (and dialogue) of Albert and cohorts' is (in parts) amusing, if rather superficial, there are one or two more serious themes lurking below the surface of Greenaway's tale, as Georgina reveals her inability to conceive (linked to Albert's 'serious side') and Michael's intellectuality (via literature) is contrasted with Albert's 'basic instincts' of gluttony and lasciviousness.
Acting-wise, Gambon is, of course, brilliant as the maniacal Thief - albeit this is a relatively easy role to pull off. For me, the nearest anyone gets to 'real acting' are Mirren and Howard's turns - paragons of tolerance, with some real compassion thrown in. Elsewhere, Greenaway's film is also notable for the remarkable set of cameos in Albert's entourage - including Ian Dury, Tim Roth, Liz Smith, Mike Leigh-regular Ron Cook, and then Only Fools And Horses' Roger Lloyd Pack (Trigger) and Diane Langton (Junie).
Ultimately, I can't help feeling there is an element of 'style over substance' here, but what style! Greenaway has imbued his film with dark, almost operatic qualities (reinforced by Nyman's music), and calling to my mind the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone, at times (for example as husband and wife face off to one another, at the 'edges' of the cinema frame). And just when I thought the film was meandering into (a degree of) tedium, he conjures up a brilliant twist for the denouement as Georgina wreaks an indigestible revenge on her 'better half'.
on 17 September 2001
This has got to be one of my all time favourite films. I can watch it again and again. Excellent performances, design and music. The film isn't everyones cup of tea as some find it too violent and disturbing. However in my opinion it is all so fantastical and unreal that it is difficult to be upset by the controvertial aspects. The only problem is the picture quality. When will this great film be scrubbed up and put onto DVD?
on 8 January 2013
This film was an astonishing piece of work. Visually stunning. But in the cinema you got a such a strong mental image created from the soundscape and tremendous score. The DVD is not a good transfer and the sound is basic 2.0. If any film deserved a full restoration to bluray, and especially to provide the full 5.1 sound experience, it's this one. Who can make it happen?
Greenaway's astonishing masterpiece is packed so full of sumptuously profound imagery and metaphor that it can be enjoyed on several levels. Just go with the flow and enjoy this grotesquely compelling tale of sadism, decadence, illicit love, and jaw-droppingly gruesome retribution, or feel free to explore Greenaway's deeper intentions in giving us such cleverly colour-coded debauchery and stunning juxtaposition.
The hideous Spica (Gambon) - an unholy cross between a Falstaffian trencherman and a vicious gangland thug, wields absolute power in the crimson opulence of the dining area. Like some sacrilegious parody of Christ's last supper, Spica sits centre-table surrounded by a host of well-loved British characters. Look! Isn't that Trigger from Only Fools and Horses (Roger Lloyd-Pack) and there's grandma Royle (Liz Park). Even the late great Ian Dury is in there trying to do wicked things with his rhythm stick, and Gary Olsen, sadly lamented by his 2.4 children. But oh boy, is that /really/ (Dame!) Helen Mirren doing all those naughty things virtually under her abusive husband's nose?
Leaving the blood-red velvet of the dining room, we are swept to the pristine white, almost paradisiacal appearance of the lavatories. Here, the earthiest and most explicit sex acts take place between the furtive lovers (Mirren and Alan Howard), reminding us of one of Spica's diatribes, when he comments on the proximity of the organs of defecation and reproduction. A brutal flash of crimson intrudes upon the white, when Spica bursts in. Seeking refuge elsewhere, the lovers enjoy moments of passion in rooms surrounding the astonishing kitchen, making love amongst hanging game birds and pigs' heads, whilst the albino choir-boy's innocently beautiful voice soars above all. When forced to flee, still naked, the lovers take refuge in a truck full of rotting meat and fish, in a scene strangely reminiscent of the work of Hieronymus Bosch. Freud would have a field day!
As the atmosphere of menace builds, the inevitability of the lovers' exposure becomes apparent. Spica's revenge is utterly horrific, in one of the most unsettling torture scenes I have ever witnessed. But in a cautionary tale such as this, how will the villain get his just "desserts"?
Well, no more spoilers. Just watch it and see. We can probably all guess what's going to happen, but the denouement, when it comes, is still satisfyingly hideous. This is a delicacy, and you know where it's been!
The crimson curtain finally drops after almost 2 hours have simply flown past, and you can finally breathe out, mouthing the word "wow!"
Nyman's stunning score (partly reprised from Greenaway's earlier "A Zed and Two Noughts") complements the film perfectly and will be stuck in your head for days afterwards.
Sadly, no extras on the DVD and, with no 5.1 sound, this appears to be a straight port-over from VHS. The sheer magnificence of this movie, though, almost every scene from which could be hung in the Tate, precludes me from giving anything less than five stars. An essential purchase.
on 21 August 2000
This is classic Greenaway - his trademarks of violence, sex, nudity and delicious visuals all burst through here. Micheal Gambon is an amazing villain - he even rivals Blue Velvet's Frank (Dennis Potter) in terms of how little there is to endear his character to the viewer. The scene where he tortures the small singing boy is similar in impact to the aforementioned Blue Velvet's shocking rape scene. Shocks aside, there is Greenaway's gorgeous and intriguing camera work and lighting, Nyman's wonderful minimalist score, and the delightfully vulgar supporting cast (including a youthful Tim Roth). Not as good as Drowning By Numbers, but still very much worth a watch.
on 12 November 2015
This is the first Greenaway movie I have seen since I saw the Falls at the Riverside Studios in 1980.
Made in 1989, it can't be anything other than a satire of 80s Britain, can it? Philistine thugs with money buying up and dictating what's left of our culture. The massive 17th century Dutch painting (Rembrandt's Syndics or something similar) in half the shots highlights and contrasts this.
Critics think you need to know Jacobean drama to get the most out of it. That might explain Gambon's atrocious mockney accent, but he has the same accent in everything else (Dick van Dyke, come back, all is forgiven!), so I doubt it. Critics also think it is bleak. It's not as bleak as it could be: women like that often have husbands like that because they are rich bullies, not in spite of it! And they don't get revenge at the end. Helen Mirren's lover is bizarrely ugly and miscast. La Grande Bouffe is a better, more profound movie.
on 1 August 2000
This film will not appeal to everybody but I loved it. It is without a doubt the best Peter Greenaway film I have seen. I rented it recently solely because Tim Roth stars and was utterly blown away. The scenery is absolutely fantastic, the acting likewise and the music left me with shivers down my spine. Definately not suitable for younger viewers due to the nudity, sex and violence but highly recommended to people who do not want to see just another Hollywood movie. The ending is classic.
on 27 January 2014
I first watched this on a movie channel one night & let me tell you I hadn't laughed so much in a long time! If you're easily offended or don't like dark comedies I recommend that you don't watch & stick to the softer stuff as this film holds nothing back. Michael Gambon is electrifying as the crude restaurant owner who's vileness holds no boundaries....some of the things he says & does - WOOOW lol. This is a weird but brilliant film at the same time which I HAD to order from Amazon & add to my film collection.....A MUST WATCH!