Saturday, March 06, 2010

Miscellaneous: Your Weekend Recommendations

Now that Noir City has wrapped, it’s high time for me to get my head back in the twenty-first century. Here are some more contemporary picks.

Wake Up Dead, by Roger Smith (2010). Roxy Palmer used to be an American model. Now she’s living in Cape Town, South Africa, trophy wife to an arms trafficker. When two street punks jack their car, Roxy takes advantage of the situation. Thus setting into motion a tortured Elmore-Leonard-meets-Robert-Altman chain of events embroiling Roxy, the carjackers, a mercenary known as Billy Afrika, a psychotic gang boss hell-bent on a reunion with his prison “wife,” and an honest bastard of a cop named Maggott forced to investigate with his son in tow.

The bleakness of this book is, at times, suffocating; each character’s history is so grim that the miasma of misery threatens to become blackly comic. But there’s no denying that every one of Smith’s players pops off the page, and his pacing is relentless. It’s a prison shank of a novel: brutal and hard, driving in deep and leaving a hell of a mess.

The Ghost Writer (2010). A review described Roman Polanski’s adaptation of Robert Harris’ novel as a “town car thriller.” That how it seems for much of its running time, a well-appointed and smooth ride.

Ewan McGregor is the title character, hired to punch up the memoirs of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan). As Lang is brought up on charges in The Hague for his role in abetting America’s rendition program, the ghost begins to wonder about the mysterious suicide of his predecessor.

There are terrific performances throughout, including one from 94-year-old Eli Wallach. The movie’s final revelation is a doozy, delivered in an extended, largely wordless set piece that is a joy to behold. Sly, meticulously constructed, with a perfect visual capper. Days later, I’m still cackling at it.