Monday, February 22, 2010

Polanski's 'Ghost'

It's unusual to go to a public movie theatre and only see Bernie Madoff types in the seats. Landmark Theatre is just such a place, and until recently, I didn't know how they could maintain such a clientele.

Last night, I saw The Ghost Writer at the Landmark, which, other than the Laemmle, is one of the few theatres in the city that show first-run independently distributed arthouse-type movies.

On the way up the escalator from the parking lot, my wife asked why I wanted to see the movie. I said it was because of a review from Kenneth Turan in the Times. She then asked what the movie was about, but I didn't know because I stopped reading the review after the first couple of sentences when he called it "Polanski's best work in quite a while."

After the movie, my wife wondered how the director could get away with filming at all the locations, since it's set in both the East Coast and the UK.

It's a great point, because to put those kinds of limitations on an artist -- i.e., shoot your film only where you can't get arrested -- is amazing. It reminds me of how my dad made me take photos as a young photography student using a manual-everything Nikon F without a zoom lens. I know it's a stretch, but you try shooting cheerleaders at a football game with a standard lens. It just can't be done!

The plot grabs you from the beginning of the movie, with Ewan McGregor as the Ghost as well as the perfect Everyman. Pierce Brosnan was excellent as the Tony Blair-like former Prime Minister Adam Lang, but the most interesting casting choice had to be Kim Cattrall in a British accent as Lang's executive assistant. I am sure her performance will be debated, but in terms of story shorthand, I have to applaud the choice. There's subtext to her role that would be difficult to understand without her actor backstory.

Mr. McGregor's assignment is to ghost write an autobiography for Adam Lang, or rather, to take an autobiography already written by the previous ghost writer and rewrite it. Thus begins both an adventure and a mystery, in which the protagonist unwillingly needs to figure out what happened to the previous ghost and why it happened.

I love how filmmakers these days -- Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds and Woody Allen's Match Point -- build tension and keep it tight until the very end, and Ghost is no different.

As for the Landmark Theatre and getting a seat, well, that's another mystery I'd like to reveal. You just have to know how to operate the system: purchase tickets in advance. How much in advance? Try at least one day in advance, as all the seats are reserved, and no one buys a seat in advance if it's for a seat in the first row.

But here's the thing. Bernie Madoff types get to be that way not because they spend money, but because they save it. So buy your passes in advance at a discount, then physically go to the theatre and use the passes to get the best seats in the house -- one week in advance! It works great when you watch a film and then buy your reserved seats for the following week. In the comfort of their stadium-style leather seats, it's just like having your own private screening room.