Short Cuts: Roman Polanski, not-so-sweet ‘Grass’ and an unsettling ‘Orgy’“Short Cuts” are expedient, pretension-free movie reviews. This installment tackles Roman Polanski’s “The Ghost Writer,” the star-studded B-movie “Leaves of Grass” and “All American Orgy,” the dark indie comedy featuring Sarah Silverman’s sister Laura that used to be called “Cummings Farm.”
“The Ghost Writer”
WHAT IT IS: Legendary (and legendarily polarizing) director Roman Polanski again teams with British novelist and former journalist Robert Harris. (If you’ll remember, the two originally paired for an adaptation of Harris’ 2003 novel “Pompeii,” but that project ultimately fell apart.) Harris’ political thriller “The Ghost,” about a ghost writer assigned to record the life story of an outgoing prime minister, is impeccably brought to life by Pierce Brosnan, Ewan McGregor, Olivia Williams and, surprisingly, Kim Cattrall of “Sex and the City.”
WHAT ONE JERK THINKS ABOUT IT: Color me impressed. Not since Hitchcock’s heyday has a classic silver screen tale come together so cohesively. And I say “classic” because it doesn’t fall victim to any of today’s standard movie downfalls: an urge to make things hipper or funnier than they ought to be, an overabundance of computer-generated graphics and/or a general “dumbing-down” of dialogue, plot, etc. Say what you want about Polanski’s personal life, but you can’t deny his timeless storytelling prowess.
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO ABOUT IT: Buy it, if you buy movies. Rent it, if you rent movies. Stream it, if you stream movies. In other words, make sure you see this one.
… BUT YOU DON’T HAVE TO TAKE MY WORD FOR IT: Visit www.theghostwriter-movie.com or check out the film’s trailer below to see what all the hype is about:
“Leaves of Grass”
WHAT IT IS: A down-South tale of “drugs, murder and brotherly love” (the movie’s subtitle, as it turns out) with a surprisingly stellar cast: Not only does Edward Norton pull double-duty as identical twins Bill and Brady Kincaid (one an established classics professor, the other a disreputable marijuana grower), but he’s joined by the always-stunning Keri Russell as Bill’s back-home love interest and the underrated Tim Blake Nelson as Brady’s partner in crime — and appearances by Richard Dreyfuss and Susan Sarandon just serve to sweeten the deal.
WHAT ONE JERK THINKS ABOUT IT: Not too shabby. To clarify: This movie shouldn’t work that well (for instance, the plot is so over-the-top it hurts), but, should the stars align just so, you’re in for a satisfying night of movie viewing. In other words, “Leaves of Grass” is one of those workmanlike bargain-bin titles that strives on lowered expectations. This isn’t something you’d seek out. You’d never actively add it to your queue on Netflix or anything. Instead, to illustrate my point, let’s take a journey back to the glory days of video stores: It’s an hour before closing on a Saturday night. You just rolled in with your sweetie after a decent meal — and, what do you know, all the good new releases have already been snatched up. You desperately search for something to watch that doesn’t look like too much of a waste of time. You spy “Leaves of Grass.” You’ve never heard of it. And the clerk is no help. He’s never seen it either, and he really hasn’t heard anything about it. But … something keeps it in your hand. You recognize most of the major players, and the plot about a well-to-do brother getting dragged under by his down-on-his-luck twin back home sounds interesting (enough) — sure, you’ll try it. You watch it. You’re not really disappointed, as you had such low expectations of it going in. And so, this is how “Leaves of Grass” will be viewed — and most likely forgotten by the following weekend.
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO ABOUT IT: Rent it, but only if you drove a long way to the local video store (and/or Redbox, if you’d like a relatable modern example) and don’t want to walk away empty-handed. Or, say you’re on an airplane, this just-interesting-enough experience could potentially get your mind off that screaming child three rows down from you. … I said potentially.
… BUT YOU DON’T HAVE TO TAKE MY WORD FOR IT: Visit www.leavesofgrassmovie.com or check out the film’s trailer below:
“All American Orgy”
WHAT IT IS: “All American Orgy” (formerly known as “Cummings Farm”) is a dark indie “comedy” — a term I use loosely here — about three couples that come together at said “farm” — again, perhaps not the best word, as it is actually a lakeside cabin with no discernible farm-y qualities — for a weekend of sex, drugs and alcohol. … What could possibly go wrong?
WHAT ONE JERK THINKS ABOUT IT: Everything, it turns out. And I’m not just talking about what happens to the characters. “All American Orgy” fails to launch on just about every level. But instead of picking apart its flaws (logistics, general feeling of uneasiness it spits up on its viewers, etc.) or providing a “compliment sandwich” by talking up its unfortunately misused cast (in particular Laura Silverman, real-life and TV sister of Comedy Central star Sarah Silverman), I’d rather discuss this film’s unfortunate re-branding: As mentioned earlier, “All American Orgy” began its life as quirky indie flick “Cummings Farm.” It even had a movie poster that looked like it had been ripped straight from the files of Wes Anderson. But something funny happened on the way to the video store. The film was renamed, the utterly misleading “All American Orgy,” and with that came equally misleading cover art inexplicably featuring a scantily clad woman (who, for the record, has nothing to do with the movie whatsoever). In other words, it looks like a generic “American Pie” sequel. It’s not; it’s a wholly forgettable indie “quirkfest” that not even the most easygoing of film-festival junkies would find enjoyable.
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO ABOUT IT: Go back in time and catch a screening of “Cummings Farm” on the film-festival circuits. The whole experience probably would’ve made a whole lot more sense in that setting.
… BUT YOU DON’T HAVE TO TAKE MY WORD FOR IT: Visit www.cummingsfarm.com to check out the film’s revealing, for-adults-only trailer.
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