Friday, February 26, 2010


The disappearance of TV actor Andrew Koenig has had a sad resolution. As a boy, Koenig (the son of Walter Koenig, aka Mr. Chekhov) was the inspiration for Harlan Ellison’s heartbreaking 1977 short story “Jeffty Is Five,” which may be read here. Ellison wrote that his title character Jeffty “…in no small measure, is Josh [Andrew Koenig's real first name]: the sweetness of Josh, the intelligence of Josh, the questioning nature of Josh.

Two movies opening here in the Valley this weekend:

The Crazies—The original 1973 The Crazies was not the finest hour in the noble career of director George A. Romero. It had only two elements that stick in my mind: First, the soldiers in the ghostly white HAZMAT suits…

…somehow scarier than the title threats, small-town Pennsylvanians turned into homicidal maniacs by a leaked biological weapon. Second was the little hippie chick (Lynn Lowry) with the angelic face who goes sweetly cuckoo.

Ms. Lowry turns up briefly in the current remake, as a nice lady riding by on a bike, singing “All Things Bright and Beautiful.” But the HAZMAT suits aren’t white this time, & while the new movie, reset in Iowa, is well-crafted & has a strong first half-hour, it falls apart after midpoint, collapsing into loose ends & unpleasant & oddly anticlimactic violence.

Still, there’s something resonant in the material—Barry Graham, who joined me for the screening Tuesday night, nailed it in this comment. Director Breck Eisner, early on, is adept at giving the Norman Rockwell milieu a sinister twist, as in the opening, set at a baseball game. There’s a nice black-comedy sequence involving an unbridled power saw and the crotch of the hero (Timothy Olyphant; in The Wife’s opinion any such threat would be tragic). There’s also a stunning, terrifying-yet-beautiful shot of a woman standing in front of a huge, roaring thresher in a darkened barn, silhouetted by the machine’s glaring lights. Moments like this suggest the movie that this could have been.

The Ghost Writer—Roman Polanski’s latest is this smooth, subtly funny thriller. In another sap-in-over-his-head part, Ewan McGregor plays the title character, a hack writer who specializes in ghosting celebrity autobiographies. He’s picked to transfuse some life into the numbing memoir of a Blair-like former Prime Minister, Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), who collaborated with the U.S. on the War on Terror.

Shortly after our hero arrives at the dull fellow’s isolated beach house on Martha’s Vineyard (the film was actually shot in Germany & on a Baltic island due to Polanski’s travel restrictions), Lang is embattled by war crimes charges in a rendition case, and The Ghost is besieged by protesters & other shady types along with the rest of Lang’s chilly circle. Eventually tension—partly sexual—arises between The Ghost & Lang’s smart, brittle wife (a stormy, amusing turn by Olivia Williams).

I found the degree of seriousness with which the rendition charges were taken by the media sadly unconvincing, but otherwise I found this low-key yarn, based on a novel by Robert Harris, thoroughly absorbing. There’s a fine baroque twist in the final minutes, & a good nasty joke in the final seconds. The actors are in good form, not just McGregor, Brosnan & Williams but also Kim Cattrall, Tom Wilkinson (especially excellent), Jim Belushi, Timothy Hutton & others. It was marvelous to see Eli Wallach in a one-scene role—he looks like he was around when the Old Testament was being written, but his timing & presence are still razor-sharp.

It’s possible that the source of the suspense in The Ghost Writer will be different for writers than for other viewers: At the beginning, The Ghost agrees to finish the job in a month. The more he got caught up in investigating the intrigue, the more I kept thinking “Dude, you better get back to the house & get your fingers on the fucking keyboard.”

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