The Ghost Writer (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★
Adapted from Robert Harris’ novel, Ewan McGregor played a ghostwriter who was hired to help complete an ex-British prime minister’s (Pierce Brosnan) memoir. Suspecting that something wasn’t quite right in the former British prime minister’s stories compared to what was said by the media and those around him, The Ghost did an investigation of his own which led him to endanger his life. Directed by the controversial Roman Polanski, what I liked most about the film was the director’s ability to take material that we’ve seen before concerning the dangers of politics and inject just the right mood and pacing to create something quietly sinister. I must admit that I did not immediately understand what was going on because it felt as though the protagonist was thrusted onto an island where he had barely any idea what he was doing or why he was really there. He tried to convince himself that he was there for an assignment (with great pay) but his instincts made him question until he couldn’t bear his curiosity any longer. The characters such as the former prime minister’s lead assistant (Kim Cattrall, whom I would love to see more in serious roles), wife (Olivia Williams), and even the housekeeper made me feel uneasy so I could not help but suspect them of hiding something key that might lead to the big revelation. Another interesting layer was the question of whether The Ghost was really on an assignment involving politics, or personal revenge, or possibly both. The questions were difficult to answer and the answers were vague. But I liked the fact that the movie chose to challenge its audience by allowing us to read between the lines. Since the real answers were elusive, we couldn’t help but question whether our protagonist was truly on the right track in terms of solving the mystery or whether he was merely putting together random information and forcing himself to make sense of them. “The Ghost Writer” thrived on subtlety and often reminded me of the underrated “Breach” directed by Billy Ray. Like that film, what kept the film together was not the extended action scenes but the strong acting and constantly evolving atmosphere. Perhaps I am giving the movie too much credit but I did notice some references to noir pictures in the 1940s, the most obvious one being Stanley Kubrick’s “The Killing.” My only minor complaint was I hoped Polanski used Tom Wilkinson a lot more. Wilkinson managed to do so much with how little he was given and it would have been interesting to see how much more he could have turned the main character’s life upside down if he had been given more material.
Ice Princess (2005)
★★★ / ★★★★
Michelle Trachtenberg stars as Casey Carlyle, a very intelligent high school senior who was on her way to attending Harvard University. Having a supportive but sometimes overbearing feminist mother (Joan Cusack), she decided to determine if there was an exact mathematical formula involving some of the moves in ice skating for a Physics scholarship. I’ve been wanting to see this movie ever since it came out but only recently did I finally decide to watch it when a friend mentioned it out of the blue. Even though the picture was a little wobbly with its acting (as most Disney movies designed for tweens and teens), I quite enjoyed it because it was nice to see a smart and multitalented girl going after her dreams. The characters also surprised me because at first I thought Hayden Panettiere was going to be a bully but it turned out that she had better things to do than to try to rule the school. It was so much more realistic than movies like “I Love You, Beth Cooper” (which I saw prior to this) in terms of story and character. I loved the scenes between Cusack and Kim Cattrall as Panettiere’s mother/skating coach. When they were in the same frame, there was a real sense of tension and a history in their respective characters. However, I didn’t care much for the blossoming relationship between the main character and the boy who drove a Zamboni machine (Trevor Blumas). It was cute but it felt forced because the film was really more about Casey’s struggle between what she wanted and what her mother wanted for her. Instead of spending time with the romance, I think those minutes could have been used to further explore the mother-daughter relationship and also Casey’s rocky relationship with her coach who happened to be a former ice skater herself. It had good comedic moments especially when the main character would converse with people she just met. She made me feel awkward because she couldn’t help talking about Physics (she really loves the subject). Granted, I understood some of the things she tried to say but it was really funny to me because I know some people like her. And I admit that there were times when I found bits of myself in her. I saw a lot of potential in this movie and it delivered most of the time. It was fun watching the ice skating competitions (with a cameo from Michelle Kwan) and I thought it was nice that it made fun of certain kinds of competitive personalities. If you’re in the mood for a harmless, feel-good movie with a good heart then this is a great choice to watch.
Sex and the City 2 (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★
It’s been two years since the first highly successful “Sex and the City” movie and the same amount of time had passed since Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Big’s (Chris Noth) wedding. Written and directed by Michael Patrick King, the four best friends–Carrie, Samantha (Kim Cattrall), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) and Charlotte (Kristin Davis)–decided to go to Abu Dhabi for an all-expenses-paid trip because they figured they could use a break from their respective battles regarding career, marriage, having kids, and menopause in New York City. As usual, hilarity and drama ensued when the girls visited bars, talked about sex and faced their problems before heading home. Although not as glamorous as the first (though it certainly did try), I enjoyed this installment because it took us somewhere new, featured a culture other than New York City’s, and there were moments of real sensitivity such as when Miranda and Charlotte talked about their frustrations about work and raising kids. I liked that it didn’t try too hard to top the first movie except for the very cheeky, self-aware, over-the-top gay wedding (with Liza Minnelli singing and dancing to “Single Ladies”) in the first twenty minutes. However, there were some elements that I felt were unnecessary like the appearance of a former lover (John Corbett) that was solely and conveniently designed to make Carrie realize how much she really loved Big and how petty she was for worrying about becoming a “boring couple.” Most of the lessons were pretty obvious (at least to me) but the main reason why I’m a fan is because of the fashion and the glamour. I guess most people don’t realize that the whole thing is supposed to be a farce. I mean, who in their right minds would wear designer clothing in the middle of the desert? It irks me when I read reviews from both critics and audiences concerning the movie’s characters being shallow and the plot being unrealistic. But I guess the joke is on them if they come into the movie expecting the events to reflect real life. For me, “Sex and the City 2” delivered the goods because I got exactly what I signed up for: about two and a half hours to escape my problems and realize how good my life is in comparison. At first glance, these women might be bathing in jewelry, expensive clothes and ridiculously well-designed apartments but they have so much unhappiness in their lives. Sometimes, they even create their own problems in order to make their lives more interesting. As for those who claimed that the movie was politically incorrect, I say it’s nothing new. In fact, the television show flourished because it was exactly that–politically incorrect. “Sex and the City 2” is a good movie to watch with your best gal friends because it’s not just about romantic relationships but also friendship. I just wished that the guys (David Eigenberg, Evan Handler, Jason Lewis) were in it more so we could see things from men’s perspectives from time to time.