The Ghost Writer (2010) -vs- Shutter Island (2010)

March 31, 2010 Sherry Coben

In the eyes of many Brits and other Europeans, Tony Blair played W’s lapdog for years, and this film presents a plausible (if a little harebrained and oversimplified) conspiracy theory in explanation. Pierce Brosnan plays the retired Prime Minister with his intellect on dimmer switch and gorgeosity and charisma on overload; it’s an effective and devastating performance and indictment. Echoes of a few other American actor/gladhanding puppethead-turned-politician types were surely no accident either. Olivia Williams plays his compelling Lady MacBeth, and Ewan MacGregor the ghost writer hired to finish the PM’s memoirs; he’s instantly and unwittingly entangled in political intrigue way over his level head. Eli Wallach delivers another terrific cameo; this guy just keeps on working and getting better with advancing age. Every time that now-ancient face appears onscreen, we’re sure it’s the last time we’ll see it, and yet he keeps coming back for more.
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Cold Souls (2009) -vs- Synecdoche, New York (2008)

February 25, 2010 Sherry Coben

Nothing tickles this aging English major more than a good challenge, a film I can’t predict, a movie that leaves me with food for significant thought. These gems are rare indeed for reasons so obvious they needn’t be mentioned, but I’ll mention them anyway. Never underestimate the low esteem with which Hollywood regards the American film-going, ticket-buying audience. Teenage boys simply don’t flock to the latest dialogue-driven dramedy of ideas. But I do. “Cold Souls” is a beautifully made extended short story; its scale stays personal even when it goes international. “Synecdoche, New York” is an undertaking so massive that you need reference books to fully appreciate its depths. Neither film got a wide release, and I’ll bet you missed them both, but luckily for you, they’re both available on DVD. Grab your dictionary and come with me. I promise I’ll hold your hand.
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