The Ghost Writer (2010)
The Ghost Writer is a first-rate mystery that makes viewers care about figuring out what makes the characters tick as much as trying to solve the whodunit. There are several layers to the film and it's up to the audience to read between the lines. They are in good hands, though. Controversial auteur Roman Polanski does a mighty fine job of providing clues. A master craftsman, he is in total control here, knowing exactly when and where to reveal specific information and when to leave viewers guessing.
On one level, the movie is good old fashioned solid entertainment, two-plus hours of well-structured intrigue. Based on the book by journalist Robert Harris, The Ghost Writer is (reportedly) influenced by real political figures/events/conspiracy theories, so, on another level, the film also works as an expose on government wrongdoing. One can sense Polanski and Harris having fun as whistleblowers, choosing to leave the name of the titular protagonist (expertly portrayed by Ewan McGregor) unknown. But after the movie is over (and once you have digested the daring ending, which some have stated they hate, but I for one disagree), the implications of what's being alleged here are nothing to laugh about.
When the man penning the biography of the British Prime Minister (a nicely cast Pierce Brosnan) dies under shady circumstances, McGregor is hired to replace him. Somewhat aloof, the young writer is not really interested in politics much less in the assignment, even though it's paying him a quarter of a mil for one's month work. When the major news breaks out that the PM is being charged with war crimes, McGregor really starts hating his life, forced to deal not only with a beleaguered interview subject (and his hot and agitated middle aged wife, Olivia Williams) but with erratic protestors, an insane deadline and nagging questions about his predecessor's death. As he starts digging deeper into the PM's past, it starts becoming apparent something fishy is going on.
Without resorting to the typical dodging bullets and high speed car chases (indeed, the one short auto pursuit hardly goes over 35MPH), the film instead relies on storytelling for its thrills. And that is something thrilling in movieland these days.
Really Good Film But...: Ha, what's going on with the wacky Photoshop in those "old" college photos?
Road Games (1981)
Not really a straight-up slasher flick, Road Games is actually a fun ride for most of its run, thanks in large part to Stacy Keach as Pat Quid, a talkative, kinda goofy guy commandeering a truck full of meat (pause) across the Australian outback. Yes, there is a psycho on the loose pickin' up and murkin' pretty young girls, but the violence is, surprisingly, kept to a minimum. Instead, the film lives up to its aspirations of being a Hitchcockian homage by relying on stylized shots and humor rather than gore.
Often described as " Rear Window on wheels," this B-movie directed by Richard Franklin also boasts an appearance by the quintessential scream queen of the era, Jamie Lee Curtis, as a hitchhiker Quid befriends and who together try to capture the killer. The presence of Curtis is a bonus that adds a familiar quality/coolness factor for diehard fans of the horror genre.
While not necessarily scary, Road Games is an offbeat detour from the norm worth taking.
Is It Really True?: They really got no love for Dingos down under?
The Decline of the American Empire (1986)
Every so often a movie arrives from Netflix and the thought, "How the hell did this end up in the queue, ese?" enters my mind. Such was the case with this film. After watching the first 10 minutes, and it's more than evident that this is an intelligent analysis (read: beaucoup talking) on the nature of human sexual relations that's not just a French but a French Canadian production (no offense hockey lovers... got crazy love for Canucks), the horrible truth lurking in my thoughts threatens to jump out like a bonkers Bengal tiger. The truth is I can be fuckin' pretentious.
Enough about me, though. This movie by Denys Arcand is intended for mature audiences only. Now usually "intended for mature audiences" means wall-to-wall titties and ass, but like stated earlier this is a talkie. Sure, there are sex scenes, but with regular-looking people, some which you may not want to see naked. So don't get tricked (like I was) into thinking you're gonna be seeing sexy sorority sisters boinking. No, you're getting middle-aged intellectual friends employed at an university (plus one hot younger chick who resembles Jennifer Connelly) who spend a day revealing their most personal thoughts and secrets as they relate to humping.
Now usually when people start quoting historic figures and serious studies when yapping about sex it reminds me that I'm no academia motherfucker. But I really liked this movie. These smart asses are talking honestly and nestled in the funny moments is some stone cold reality.
So Why Did They Call It What They Did?: French speaking intellectual cineastes help an ese out.