Arts + Scene » Filmland

Top-Shelf Polanski

Plus: Anachronistic grumbling about Hot Tub Time Machine


Hot Tub Time Machine
  • Hot Tub Time Machine


The Last Song is a coming-of-age story based on yet another Nicholas Sparks novel. Miley Cyrus stars as a teen alienated from her father (Greg Kinnear). Rated PG. 107m. Opens Wednesday, March 31 at the Broadway and Mill Creek.

Opening Friday: From director Atom Egoyan, Chloe is a thriller about marital mistrust. Catherine (Julianne Moore) hires escort Chloe (Amanda Seyfried) to seduce her husband David (Liam Neeson). Things get complicated. Rated R for strong sexual content including graphic dialog, nudity and language. 96m. At the Minor.

The 3D fantasy film Clash of the Titans involves the attempt by Perseus (Sam Worthington) to defeat Hades (Ralph Fiennes) before he can seize power from Zeus (Liam Neeson). Rated PG-13. 118m. At the Broadway (3D & 2D), Mill Creek, Fortuna and the Minor.

Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married Too is a sequel to the 2007 film. A four-couple reunion in the Bahamas turns sour when an ex-husband shows up. Rated PG-13. 120m. At the Broadway.

In case you missed either of the two White Russian-soaked showings of The Big Lebowski (1998) at the Arcata Theater Lounge in March, they're bringing it back again on Friday, April 2 at 7 p.m. Also, celebrate Christ's resurrection on Easter Sunday, April 4 at 6 p.m. with a showing of Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975). Bloody Mary specials!

The April film series at the Eureka Library features director John Huston. It begins Tuesday. April 6 at 6:30 p.m. with host Charlie Myers introducing The African Queen (1951), featuring Bogart and Hepburn.


THE GHOST WRITER: Somehow, The Ghost Writer, the latest release from Roman Polanski, crept unnoticed into town and opened at the Broadway on March 19. Had I known, I would have reviewed the film for the March 25 issue of the Journal as I saw it during my recent stay in Portland. I gather the ghost opening was due to some distributor decision. But if the lack of publicity causes reduced attendance, it will be a shame because this is easily the best release of 2010 that I've seen.

I have admired Polanski's films since his 1962 Polish film Knife in the Water. Not every film since has been a masterpiece -- some have been just bad -- but most have been good or better. The Ghost Writer deserves a place at or near the top of the Polanski list, right up there with Chinatown (1974).

It's not so much that the narrative, a political thriller, is particularly unusual. Rather, it is the exquisite manner in which Polanski tells the story visually that makes it a possible masterpiece. Having now seen it for a second time, Polanski's craftsmanship is even more illuminating.

An excellent example of the economy and perfection of his editing and composition comes in the film's opening sequence. Without any context, we see a ferry docking on an island off the coast of New England, the gate come down and all the cars save one drive off. The camera focuses briefly on the lone car left on the ferry, then we see it towed off. Finally, there is a cut to a body floating in the water near a beach. No dialog has interrupted these images, yet the viewer already has an uneasy feeling, due both to the images themselves and to the lack of context.

From here, the scene shifts to London and we see "The Ghost" (a note-perfect Ewan McGregor) being interviewed as a potential replacement ghostwriter for the former British Prime Minister, here called Adam Lang (a fine Pierce Brosnan), but clearly a thinly veiled reference to Tony Blair. After all, the first major news we hear about Lang is that he is being accused by a former British foreign secretary (played by Robert Pugh) of collusion in turning over British citizens to the CIA for torture.

As Lang is currently ensconced on the aforementioned island in this country, most of the action takes place there. Again, with incredibly effective economy, Polanski builds the story carefully and with increasing suspense as the Ghost begins to ferret out hidden details.

The cast is uniformly excellent, including Olivia Williams (recently in TV's Dollhouse) as Lang's wife, Kim Cattrall as his aide and Tom Wilkinson as Harvard professor Paul Emmett. The film is an adaptation of thriller writer Thomas Harris' (Fatherland; Enigma) novel The Ghost, with a screenplay by Polanski and Harris.

I did not see the ending coming the first time I saw the film and I'm guessing most viewers won't either. This is Polanski at the top of his game. Don't miss this film. Rated PG-13 for language, brief nudity/sexuality, some violence and a drug reference. 128m. At the Broadway.

HOT TUB TIME MACHINE: I'll admit up front that a film with a title like this has virtually no chance with me. In a desperate attempt at critical objectivity, I tried to pretend that the film might surprise. I don't know why I bothered. Hot Tub Time Machine is just another guy film with all that genre's tried and true tropes. In regard to how many times I laughed or even smiled (none), it was on a par with The Hangover, that 2009 classic so beloved by any number of my women friends.

Fortunately, there was a helpful chorus of young guys (and maybe a few young women) who laughed at what were presumably all the right places, so at least I knew when the film was supposed to be funny. The fact that every joke was both telegraphed and hackneyed didn't bother that portion of the audience.

At least The Hangover kept to non-stop physical humor. Hot Tub, due to its premise, took time out for sentimental nostalgia about the ’80s, particularly the music. The story concerns three middle-aged guys (Adam, Lou and Nick, played respectively by John Cusack, Rob Corddry, and Craig Robinson), along with Adam's teen nephew Jacob (Clark Duke) who are at a dead end.

When Lou nearly dies from carbon monoxide poison, the four decide to revisit a seminal place from their youth, a ski resort. There, when a beer is spilled on the hot tub's controls, they wake up in 1986. It's party time again and they eventually discover that you can change the future if not this genre. Rated R for strong crude and sexual content, nudity, drug use and pervasive language. 100m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

THE BOUNTY HUNTER: Last week, I chose Repo Men over this film, so I decided to see if I had made a mistake. Turns out that seeing The Bounty Hunter simply compounded the mistake, although it's good to note that films made primarily for a female audience can be just as stupid as guy films.

Indeed, at the screening I attended about 95 percent of the viewers were women. They weren't as helpful as the guys in Hot Tub, though in clueing me into the humor, although some of them were better at non-stop talking out loud or frequently getting up to respond to cell phone calls.

Meanwhile, on-screen, two attractive actors (Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler) were desperately trying to make caviar out of crap. They didn't succeed. The film attempts to marry disaffected-couple romcom with a detective thriller, but when you put two lame plots together you get a pig that can't walk.

I did note with interest that Aniston occasionally showed flashes of actual acting through her standard comic mask, but otherwise I contented myself with counting cell phone calls. Rated PG-13 for sexual content including suggestive comments, language and some violence. 110m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.


ALICE IN WONDERLAND. Johnny Depp and Tim Burton's very public love affair takes a journey down the rabbit hole. Rated PG. 101m. At Garberville and Mill Creek.

AVATAR. Military forces attempt to control and exploit a region and its people, which they know little about. Rated PG-13. 162m. At the Broadway and Fortuna.

DIARY OF A WIMPY KID. A young boy in middle school deals with the horrors of adolescence. Based on the best-selling illustrated novel by Jeff Kinney. Rated PG. 101m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

GREEN ZONE. Matt Damon searches Iraq for weapons of mass destruction. He doesn't find them. Rated R. 115m. At the Broadway.

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON. A Viking teenager has trouble fitting in with his tribe until he gets a dragon. Rated PG. 98m. At Mill Creek, Fortuna and the Minor.

REPO MEN. If you're going to get a mechanical organ transplant, you'd better be able to pay for it. Rated R. 113m. At the Broadway.

SHUTTER ISLAND. Two U.S. marshals investigate the disappearance of a criminally insane murderer on a remote island. Directed by Martin Scorsese. Rated R. 138m. At the Broadway.

SHE'S OUT OF MY LEAGUE. Nerd is a TSA agent at the airport. Babe loses her phone in his line. Nerd helps babe get her phone back. Commence unlikely relationship. Rated R. 105m. At the Broadway.


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