Off Topic: Alice the Ghost Writer

I purchased the March 8th issue of The New Yorker specifically for David Denby’s article on Clint Eastwood.  I brought it with me to read earlier today while waiting to get seated for brunch at the Norcross Flying Biscuit.  Since I hadn’t opened the magazine until this morning, I didn’t realize that Denby had also written a piece on Roman Polanski’s new film, The Ghost Writer (2010).  I prefer reading film critiques after I’ve seen the subject, so after midday errands were completed, I went to see the film.  I wanted to watch it opening weekend but opted to wait a week.  Morally wonky transgressions aside, Roman Polanki’s cinema is one that I enjoy and admire.


Ewan McGregor plays the title character, a ghost writer who is hired to edit and finish a memoirs manuscript on former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan).  Not long after he’s on the job, the Ghost finds himself caught in something more sinister than he could imagine.

Denby begins his review by remarking that “a few blogging goons have kneecapped” The Ghost Writer “for not providing enough thrills” (82).  This here blogger is in accord with Denby.  In fact, reading his article is reminiscent of taking in Amy Taubin’s Film Quarterly view of The Hurt Locker and Larry Gross’s Film Quarterly impression of Antichrist.  I felt both informed and enlightened.  David Denby’s thoughts on The Ghost Writer not only encapsulate my reactions on an intellectual level, but they’ve managed to mirror my experience of watching the film.  He has a remarkable way with words.  Observe:

“The publisher’s mansion…a giant modernist shoebox, with generous interior spaces and floor-to-floor ceiling windows that look out on dunes and a dark ocean….The skies are ashen, the rain never stops, and the writer, when he goes out on a bicycle for some air, gets blinded by the wet” (82).

And my favorite lines:

Polanski wants an atmosphere of daunting indefiniteness, a subdued but enveloping field of lies and secrecy, impenetrable to the Ghost, who is lost among the power players far too clever for him.  I don’t know when I’ve seen menace rendered with such delicate but persistent force” (82).

Pierce Brosnan left Denby with a much stronger impression than with me.  I thought he did well for the little screentime he has, but I was more moved by Olivia Williams as Adam’s wife.  She also stayed with Denby, who perfectly summarizes her performative abilities.  “Williams’s gaze could sear the fat off a lamb shank, and her line delivery is withering…she’s one of the rare actresses who seem more intelligent and beautiful as they get angrier” (83).   While Denby notes that Ewan McGregor hasn’t done anything great since participating in the Star Wars prequels and that The Ghost Writer is his redemption, I thought he did fine in Black Hawk Down, Young Adam, Big Fish, and Cassandra’s Dream.

Observations & Miscellania:

1.  Product Placement and Branding: BMW SUV, Smirnoff Ice, Chevy SUV, Orange Vitamin Water, Evian, Samsung desktop computer and notebook, Heineken, Chanel powder compact.

2.  Audience demographics: 4pm showing at the Tara.  Theatre 75% filled.  Male-to-female ratio about the same.  I was one of five ethnic minority viewers.  Average age of audience member: 55.

3.  Kim Cattrall plays Adam Lang’s personal assistant and probably has more pages of lines and camera time than many of the supporting cast.  Though her English accent is rather aurally unpleasant, I wasn’t bothered by it all.  After an initial fifteen seconds of adjustment, I paid more attention to what she was saying instead of how she was saying it.

4.  Major spoilage ahead.  Highlight relevant words at your own discretion:  The film’s final sequence as well as scene are absolutely brilliant.  The note-passing, which Denby’s article points out, is so a stunner.  The ending…Ewan McGregor walks towards the bottom of screen-right and out of the frame.  A car speeds down towards that same corner.  A loud thump can be heard and pages of the manuscript stream back into frame from that corner.

5.  Polanski’s film is undoubtedly Hitchockian in rhythm and cinematography, but there’s also something HP Lovecraftian about the relationship between the Ghost and his foreboding surroundings.

6.  Olivia Williams’s character made me think of her character in the film The Man from Elysian Fields.


Now, for Alice in Wonderland, which I saw Friday night.  I’ve never seen the Disney cartoon in its entirety.  I’ve never read the source material.  I’ve watched this TV version many times (it’s a favorite); the one with Kate Beckinsale wasn’t memorable; the Jan Svankmajer interpretation is fantastic.  Tim Burton’s spin on things relies heavily on the performances of the actors.  Visually, it’s top notch.  But, Johnny Depp can’t be everywhere at the same time.  His presence and performance alone can carry the Pirates of the Caribbean, but in a Tim Burton picture, the other human elements have to be on par too.  The White Queen and the Cheshire Cat are my favorite characters in the film.  I found the cat to be creepier than cute.



Mia Wasikowska grew into the role of Alice by the time Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter appeared on screen.  She was really good in That Evening Sun, but her Alice reminded me too much of her In Treatment character in the beginning of the film.

Audience demographics: 4:45 showing at North Point Regal consisted of a 65% filled theatre.  Male-female-ratio about the same.  Majority of audience members were not ethnic minorities.  Average age of viewer: 30.

See more Ghost Writer pictures here.  Get more Alice imagery here.

15 thoughts on “Off Topic: Alice the Ghost Writer

          1. Kennedy Wong

            Alright..I finally saw it and the verdict is that it was cool, however, the ppl that accompanied me did NOT like it all…but I like Tim Burton so it was ok!

  1. kevmoore

    Interesting to hear your comments on Kim Catrall’s accent. She is after all, Liverpool-born. I haven’t seen the film, but wondered, as she left England and emigrated to Canada at a young age, she channeled a Beatle-esque accent for the movie?

  2. illumeateight

    The Ghost Writer sounds like an awesome movie. So many movies to see, so little time.

    I worry that Alice in Wonderland might disappoint me, as I’ve read the two Lewis Carroll books multiple times. The Disney cartoon definitely fails, though, and the idea of a “sequel” of sorts is most tempting.

  3. Pingback: Cinema as Dream Machine « Sitting Pugs: Sports Movies

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