Sunday, January 2, 2011

Netflix Pix: All About The Ghost Writer

Welcome to the first installment in a new series called "Netflix Pix"! In this series, I'll feature once-a-week (or at least, I'll try to be once-a-week) a pair of films available on Netflix. As best I can, I'll attempt to make it one instant stream/one regular service, but that might vary.

For this first installment, let's look at one film about the business of theater and another about the business of politics: All About Eve (1950) and The Ghost Writer (2010).

All About Eve
Our instant stream pick of the week is All About Eve, the most Academy Award-nominated film of all time (with 14 nominations, five of those coming from the acting races) that features what is arguably the greatest performance from one of the finest actresses of all time, Bette Davis.

Davis is glorious as Margo Channing, a fading star of the stage who is devastated by her slow disappearance from fame. She is flattered by the fawning of a fan, Eve Harrington (played so brilliantly by Anne Baxter), who has seen every production of her new show and aspires to be like Margo. Wanting to help Eve, Margo allows the young girl to stay with her and act as her assistant, but things quickly turn awry as Eve begins infiltrating and manipulating every inch of Margo's life as well as every person in her life.

It's strange to say, but there are few films with more "acting" than this. It is not a director's movie, and despite a bitchy quip here and there, it is not a writer's movie. It is fully and completely an actor's movie, something that completely contrasts with our second film selection today.

All the acting is top tier, with the performances from Davis and Baxter both the high points of the film. Neither is better than when acting against each other. It's a shame these two performances, as well as Gloria Swanson's iconic Norma Desmond, cancelled each other out come Oscar time, because one of those actresses should have won.

Davis earns rightful plaudits for her performance in the film, easily her best throughout her career. But it is Baxter who is doing the best work, in essence playing two roles: the true Eve Harrington, and the persona of "Eve Harrington" that her snake-in-the-grass character puts on. She sells them both beautifully. As mentioned, her scenes with the other women, particularly Davis, are a wonder.

The film never hits a bad note, a credit to its absolutely phenomenal ensemble. It's a melodramatic tale of show business, but the central concept of an older performer being replaced by someone younger and "fresher" has legs in Hollywood today, with many films echoing the same concepts...

"He always said you were such a frigid little girl..."
All About Eve is a classic that continues to, in many ways, define modern cinema. A

The Ghost Writer
And our snail mail pick of the week is a movie from sixty years later, The Ghost Writer, directed by the infamous Roman Polanski.

Nominated for three Awkwards on this site but winning none, The Ghost Writer is a blast to watch despite its sluggish middle, thanks to great performances from Ewan McGregor as the ghost writer himself, Tom Wilkinson as the man who knows more than he lets on, Kim Catrall as that assistant who keeps everything under control, and Pierce Brosnan as the slimy former Prime Minister, guided by a crackling script and expert direction by Oscar-winning convicted rapist on the lam from American law Roman Polanski.

Darn, why'd I have to go and ruin the review by bringing up Polanski's criminal past! Shouldn't a critic be able to separate the man and his work?

The short answer is yes, a critic should evaluate the work separately of the personal life. And my effusive praise for Amy Adams in The Fighter despite my distaste for her as a person should show I'm usually very good at that. So why do I bring it up this time? Simple: The Ghost Writer would not exist if Polanski had accepted the punishment for his crimes. Therefore, it is impossible to distance the man from the work, because it is a direct product of the man's actions.

But on I go, continuing to discuss the political thriller that is The Ghost Writer, a very good film with incredible elements that never quite succeeds in becoming more than the sum of its parts. For all its amazing aspects (and there are many), the aforementioned sluggishness in the middle is a serious issue (though the end more than makes up for it), and the performance by Olivia Williams as the former Prime Minister's wife is too harsh and felt unbelievable in the context of the story.

Still, the performances are great, there's some great scenes (particularly near the end), and it is a typically good Polanski picture. Even if those shouldn't really exist anymore. B+

Make sure to catch up with Eve and Ghost on Netflix when you can! Like I said, I'd like to make Netflix Pix a regular weekly series, but it might wind up being bi-weekly or even monthly. Regardless, I'll try to make Sunday the regular day. Next week definitely won't have any Netflix Pix, but that's because something else very exciting will be going on. Prepare yourselves, and if you've seen either of this week's movies, take your thoughts to the comments!

No comments: