Hello, good readers! Boy, things have sure been cobwebs and tumbleweeds around here lately, haven't they?
Here's my cool story, bro. I'm still seeing lots of movies, still writing lots of reviews--not so much here on the blog, though. I hope that will change soon, as I am slowly (ever so slowly) working on a new layout that should make things much easier for all of us (me especially!). Life and health (especially that second one) have been getting in the way plenty, too. But the dust is beginning to settle, it would seem, and I should be back up on here in full force within the next few weeks.
I know, I know. I'm like the boy who cried wolf on that one--but I really mean it this time, mmkays? I've got things to say, and I want you to hear them. So don't go anywhere! You got that?!
Anyhoosiers, here's what I've been up to in the meantime. I'll be presenting my recent cinematic observations in four parts.
Part 1: An Auteur in Sheep's Clothing
My last review post featured Sex and the City 2 and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, a one-two punch of sandy stupidity. Yuck! No wonder I lost all will to
Just before then, I laid out why I thought Ridley Scott's Robin Hood was under-appreciated by the critical community due to its right-leaning politics. It's interesting to look at this next to far-left pandering films such as Paul Greengrass' Green Zone and Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer, both of which were generally well-regarded--if only because of their political positions.
I thought Green Zone was a self-contradicting, bloated mess (my review @ The Dagger). Here's how the New York Times' A.O. Scott concluded his appraisal:
All of this suggests that the arguments embedded within the movie’s version of 2003 are still going on seven years later, and are still in need of accessible and honest airing. Which is precisely what “Green Zone,” without forsaking its job of entertainment, attempts. When Mr. Greengrass made “United 93,” his 2006 reconstruction of one of the Sept. 11 hijackings, some people fretted that it was too soon. My own response to “Green Zone” is almost exactly the opposite: it’s about time.
It's about time for a flaccid, fictionalized skewering of US policy in Iraq, eh? I'm sorry, Mr. Scott (the A.O. one). I might be on board if it were actually convincing or, I dunno, coherent in the least. Me, I prefer to be challenged--not to have my blood boiled with pure denouncements and political buzzwords (WMD! WMD! WM-mutha-effin-D!). Green Zone fails as entertainment, and it fails at crafting an intelligent political perspective--but points to it anyway because they all tried? Meanwhile, Robin Hood is far more entertaining and smartly staged (i.e. not shaky-cam overload), but its politics--however successfully stacked--fall on the wrong side of the line... so no points for Ridley.
Lots of points for Roman Polanski, though. His Ghost Writer sits at a favorable 77 on Metacritic and a whopping 84% on Rotten Tomatoes. I just got a chance to see it last week. I thought it was an extremely well-directed luxury thriller, with two top-notch performances (Pierce Brosnan, Olivia Williams) and one highly unfortunate one (ahem, Kim Cattrall), that promised far greater depth than it was able to deliver. A thinly-veiled conspiracy that posited Tony Blair in the pocket of an unscrupulous, money-hungry Bush White House was ludicrously laid out and induced a good groan or two if you thought about it too much--but the facets of the story itself kept things humming along nicely. The same goes for Polanski's obvious empathy-grubbing via Brosnan's isolated exile on Martha's Vineyard. I chortled, but I didn't dwell.
My favorite working critic Manohla Dargis of the New York Times also chortled, but she didn't mind so much:
Fingers are pointed, though sometimes it seems not only at [Brosnan's] Lang but also at Mr. Polanski, who is under house arrest in Switzerland awaiting word on whether he will be sent back to Los Angeles to face sentencing for having had sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977. Certainly the shots of Lang’s detractors, with their furiously distorted faces and accusatory placards (“guilty,” “wanted”), gives the film an extra-cinematic tang, though as with so much here, it’s also evident that Mr. Polanski is having his fun.
Unlike Ms. Dargis, I'm much more concerned with my own fun--my own experience--over that of a film's director, no matter how controversial or prestigious a figure he may be. It could be read that Ms. Dargis is giving Polanski a pass because of his unfortunate personal circumstances, which brings me to the far more pressing issue in play here. Like most publicly-aired personal fiascos, Mr. Polanski's fate has become far more a political issue than anything else--with the left likening him to a martyr, and the right thirsty for his blood. And, also like most of these fiascos, the underlying truths get lost in the shuffle.
Polanski (who has since been released by Swiss authorities) was not awaiting sentencing for "having had sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977." He had already been convicted, in 1978, of having unlawful sex with a minor. He pleaded guilty, in fact, to avoid more serious charges, including rape. If the victim, a 13-year-old Samantha Gailey, is to be believed, however, a rape conviction would have been justified. She described the then-43-year-old Polanski forcing himself on her despite her rejections. They shared champagne and quaaludes, and, while both were impaired, he performed oral, vaginal, and anal intercourse on her. If that does not constitute pure rape and sexual abuse of a child, I don't know what does.
The idea that a drugged-up 13-year-old girl could participate in consensual sex with a 43-year-old man is absurd. Let's even pretend for argument's sake that the sex was consensual. It's still a serious crime, and for a reason! The balance of power and levels of physical and psychological maturity involved in such a pairing are dangerously disproportionate. In this particular instance, the imbalance was even worse: Polanski was aiding Gailey in her modeling career.
Polanski was convicted and sentenced to a psychological evaluation, and would have then faced further sentencing. He fled the country when imprisonment became a possibility. Because he fled, he has yet to be sentenced for the underage sex charge to which he plead guilty, on top of which he faces charges for failing to appear in court (to the nth degree).
The Smoking Gun has the full transcript of Gailey's grand jury testimony. They let their opinions known in the article's title, but the official documents speak for themselves (log-in required).
You could argue that if Polanski were an Average Predatory Joe, the police would have shut the books on his case by now. You could also argue that were he an APJ, more would have been done to see to his proper extradition by both foreign and local authorities. You could argue that he emerged from a tragic past (Charles Manson ordered the brutal murder of his wife Sharon Tate and unborn son) and therefore deserves special consideration. You could argue that he is a virtueless pedophile and deserves to be put away.
Whatever your stance, the facts remain: he committed a serious crime, he plead guilty to and was convicted of a serious crime, and he fled the country before he could face appropriate sentencing, which itself is a serious crime. That's why Polanski's sympathy grab in The Ghost Writer feels much more tasteless than clever.
But as I said, I didn't dwell. (I swear, I didn't!)
Ghost Writer pairs well with Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island (my capsule review), in terms of established film directors dabbling in less auspicious fare. A lot of the criticism Scorsese drew was actually re-evaluated with a positive spin in deference to Polanski--that is, overstating genre conventions, relying heavily on score and shot design over story, and using happenstance over natural narrative flow. Polanski's product may be more seductive and sleek, but Scorsese wields his directorial prowess to more provocative and powerful ends.
For the record (and despite their best attempts), neither film was able to attain the crackling, pulpy goodness of Richard Eyre's Notes on a Scandal from 2006. Is there a finer example of contemporary exploitation-intrigue? If there is, I sure haven't seen it yet. (But if there is, DO TELL!)
So Q1 of 2010 featured four prestigious auteurial figures taking a broader stab at audience accessibility. Though neither Ridley Scott nor Paul Greengrass are strangers to commercial success, each cast a heavy intellectual undercurrent through their mainstream-aimed productions Robin Hood and Green Zone, respectively. I (and the box-office) declare Scott's frothy interpolation the victor, though the critical community preferred Greengrass' misdirected blame-game; they prefer the far-left slant of Green Zone over Robin Hood's light evocation of the right (which is really more libertarian and democratic than conservative).
The critical base also preferred Roman Polanski's glittery brain-puzzle of government corruption over Martin Scorsese's artful embrace of B-movie thrills. (I liked both but preferred the firmer grip of the latter.) Is it a coincidence that The Ghost Writer depicted an incorrigible (and somehow, extremely powerful) US political force, while indications of federal conspiracy in Shutter Island turned out to be delusions? In other words, liberal coddling wins out again, emboldened further politically by Polanski's signature.
Next Up on Catching-Up: Film moves further into the third dimension, with lots of 3D conversions and computer-animated offerings. Let's Get Digital!