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Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

Are We Ready For More Bush?

I’m an Oliver Stone apologist. I can find something to admire in all of his films and I love at least four of them (Salvador, Born on the Fourth of July, JFK, Natural Born Killers). I admire his unique point of view, even if it is a bit out-there at times, because he’s truly an artist when he gets behind the camera; if you look at a film like JFK, love it or hate it, you can’t deny that some kind of genius is at work in Stone’s brain to be able to see the whole picture in his head and spitting it out onto the screen in a way that makes sense as a narrative. To be able to juggle hundreds of speaking parts, tons of intrigue and double-crosses and things that may or may not have occurred and induce that kind of paranoia in the audience is nothing short of a Herculean task and he pulls it off with aplomb. Whether you view that film as a petty piece of propaganda or an indelible masterwork, it’s clear that Oliver Stone has a vision.

More than that, Stone has a gift of marrying the right performer to the part, especially when those parts are historical characters. Witness Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison in The Doors or Anthony Hopkins as the titular character in Nixon or Tom Cruise as Ron Kovic in Born on the Fourth of July; clearly Mr. Stone has a way of coaxing some career best performances from his actors, which is difficult to do when you’re portraying somebody that not only existed, but was in the public eye like a rock star or a president. It’s easy in those instances to create something of a caricature, but Stone was able to find the humanity in Richard Nixon by having him spew profanities; Stone understands that finding the heart of a person has nothing to do with making them likable and that it’s more important for an audience to empathize with a person.

With all that said, I’m looking at the cover of Entertainment Weekly with Josh Brolin asGeorge W. Bush for Stone’s upcoming biopic W., and all I can think is: bad idea.

Let’s take politics out of the equation for the time being and just look at this fact: before the end of his presidency, there will be a movie made about the man’s life. Doesn’t that strike you as a bit premature? Regardless of how you feel about the man, there is no way you can possibly get a handle on his effect on the world or even his journey as a person before the man has finished his term. Even then, it would probably be best to wait a few years.

Time changes things and by the time Stone’s Nixon came along, it had been about twenty years since the titular character was impeached and subsequently resigned. There had been time to process the man’s legacy, distance from the wounds that were too fresh at the time. Even a film like All the President’s Men is a bit dated because we now know who Deep Throat was and we could have delved further into the story of Mark Felt; it almost feels like a missed opportunity when watching the film now (which is still a masterpiece, don’t get me wrong).

It’s impossible to be objective right now.

I feel this is one of the reasons why we haven’t gotten a great film about the current war in Iraq; there are too many emotions at play right now, too much pain and hurt to really see whether or not there is something fundamentally different about this war compared to other wars. Right now, these films about the current Iraq War all resemble Vietnam flicks: Stop-Loss and Home of the Brave are Coming Home, Redacted is Casualties of War, In the Valley of Elahtakes elements from every Vietnam film and adds a murder mystery. This new crop of Iraq War films feel like retreads whereas a film like Three Kings was boldly original, giving the war a unique look and feel.

The point of this is that, without having read the script, I don’t know how much can be said about our current president that would be original or interesting. With media being the way it is, we have such an insight already into this man’s life, why bother rehashing things we’ve just finished experiencing?

I’m also a little disappointed that the film is taking an array of talented actors, including Josh Brolin and Elizabeth Banks, and all they get to do is another impression of the most mimicked characters today. These are thankless roles for wonderful actors and it chafes me a little bit that they’ll be spending a part of their calendar doing a film which has a ceiling on it. The best that we can hope for with this film and with these performances is a good approximation of reality, which is essentially pointless because we can read a newspaper or throw on the TV and watch these real-life people exist without the contrivances of a script (most of the time) dictating what their next move is. Of course, I’m sure the script is faithful more or less to history, but I’m sure there are scenes and lines of dialogue that are plucked from thin air. And once you start diverging from reality, it loses a large portion of an audience that has already spent eight years dealing with this man.

I’m not box office analyst, but I can’t imagine that there will be droves of people lining up to see this film. Stone might picture the story as a Capra-esque tale of a man who becomes president against all odds, but it will be hard to get the seventy percent of people in this country who dislike the man to spend two hours in the theater with him. It will also be difficult to convince the thirty percent that do admire him to see a film where he will probably not be painted in the most flattering light; this is Oliver Stone after all.

Ultimately, this is a film that sounds like a losing proposition from the start from all angles. When Oliver Stone made his left film, the moving World Trade Center, it wasn’t for shock value; he was merely telling the story of two brave men, a story that not a lot of people were familiar with and now they know. The problem is that everyone in this country – at least most people – are familiar with the story of George W. Bush. I don’t know what I could possibly learn from this film that I didn’t already know or what kind of sympathy might surface, but I doubt it will be much. Again, these are just doubts and I’m not condemning the film before I see it; there’s just a lot of cards stacked against it from the get-go and I’d rather see all of the talent involved in this picture tell me a story that I don’t know backwards and forwards.

I am more than happy to be proven wrong about this and I will definitely not judge this film before I see it; when I sit down in the theater, I will be thinking what I always think: I hope this is good. No one will sing this film’s praises louder if it turns out to be a masterpiece. But, taken at face value, all I can do is shake my head and think “bad idea.”
E-Mail of the Week

An interesting response to my column from last week, about my aversion to movie theaters these days:

I have been watching films for 40 years. In recent times it’s become so damned unpleasant to join in an audience experience, that my husband and I have invested in a large screen HD TV, good sound system and even put in ceiling blinds over the skylights so we could watch films during the day occasionally. Our next purchase is a Blu- Ray player. I’ve already started buying some favorite older films in Blu ray to have at the ready [Blade Runner for one, and next week, Master and Commander]. Why have we gone to this expense? Because we love films and are disheartened by today’s theatrical situation. I won’t even get into the quality of films issue. That’s another topic.

I have found that when watching “mature” films, the worst audience offenders are older people who talk during the film. I am ashamed to admit, I’ve become a shusher.. and if that doesn’t quiet them down, I have on rare occasions asked them politely to please stop talking. These people honestly don’t seem to realize that they’re not at home in their living rooms or that the rest of us don’t want to listen to them converse continuously during a film. Some will quiet down for a few minutes, then start up again.

You mentioned cell phones.. at my local theater complex, they make numerous announcements about turning them off which seems to help, but some still think text messaging is ok, and click away, with the bright little screen distracting all seated around them. Maybe if they sat at the back, it wouldn’t matter, tho many don’t.

I’ve noticed the projection problems too many times. Of all things the theater management is responsible for, if not the behavior of audiences … at least show the films properly! Because I live in Florida, air conditioning is often a problem. They turn the temp down so low we need a sweater or jacket to avoid frost bite. Why? is it so hard to set a thermostat? Theaters take our money so they ought at least do what is possible and reasonable to fulfill their basic obligation to customers, ie. show a film properly in a comfortable atmosphere and provide fresh popcorn. At $4.50 a bag, I won’t buy it anymore unless I see that good old fashioned popper spilling the warm kernals out as I watch.

Curmudgeonly yours, Marilee

If anyone has stories about their worst experience in a movie theater, e-mail me and I’ll post the best responses next week.

– Noah Forrest
May 14, 2008

Noah Forrest is a 25 year old aspiring writer/filmmaker in New York City.

The opinions expressed in these columns are the writer’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Movie City News or any of its editors or other contributors.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon