MCN Columnists
Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

Summer Odds and Ends

To be quite honest, I had been so under whelmed by a large chunk of the summer movies so far that I stopped going to the theater and caught up on a few older films. But then, as always, my desire to devour anything and everything in the multiplex took over and I went on quite an impressive run. Sometimes seeing movies for me is like going on a bender, where I’ll see eight to ten movies in a two day span and wake up struggling to remember what happened. But these are the films I saw on my latest jag:

Mamma Mia!

To be fair, I’m not the biggest fan of musicals. I like music and all and I don’t mind some singing and dancing and everyone once in a while I’ll even go to the theater and enjoy a musical, but I find that the way most musicals are shot and staged on film somewhat stale. The recent musicals that I have enjoyed have been subversions of the genre like Dancer in the Dark or Moulin Rouge, while films like Hairspray or Dreamgirls have left me a bit cold. But though I didn’t fall in love with the latter films, I could at least appreciate the good tunes and the kitschy performances.

With Mamma Mia! I’m really struggling to come up with a lot of positives. It’s not just that I don’t enjoy Abba’s music, but that the way it is sung and the way it is shot is really off-putting. I went into the film expecting to walk away having had two enjoyable hours of summer fun on a beach in Greece with Meryl Streep and the beautiful Amanda Seyfried singing disposable Swedish pop music. The elements are there, but the joy is completely taken out of it by the contrived nature of the story and the lackluster singing voices, not to mention the poor choices of songs.

I’ve never seen the stage show, so I’m not aware of how similar the storylines are, but the film follows the twenty-year old Sophie (Seyfried) as she prepares to marry the love of her life Sky (Dominic Cooper). Her mother Donna (Streep) runs a dingy hotel on a Grecian island, where the wedding will be held; the only problem is that Sophie has, unbeknownst to her mother and fiance, invited the three men that she believes might be her father (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard). Hijinks ensue.

On the positive side of things, Amanda Seyfried is the delight that I thought she would be. I’ve been a fan of hers since she played the doomed Lily Kane on Veronica Mars and have gone on to appreciate her further as the confused and endearing eldest daughter on Big Love. Here, she is given a breakout role where she can sing, dance and enchant young men everywhere with her sweetness and beauty. And Streep, as her mother, is equally beautiful and wonderful. I wish the movie was focused on the two of them for the entire running time, dealing with their own issues (I also wish the Abba songs were replaced by Bob Dylan songs, but alas…). Unfortunately, the three men are all boring. What’s worse, none of them are adept at singing, especially Mr. Brosnan. One would think that a nice singing voice would be a requirement for a role that involves, you know, singing.

But the problem with the film is much larger than that and it is this: the songs are not particularly good. I’ll admit that Abba has about three or four songs that I can’t stop humming when I hear them (“Waterloo,” “Take a Chance on Me,” “Dancing Queen”) but the way those good songs are sung and staged in the film, it’s almost like they are throwaways. A good portion of the best songs are sung by secondary characters like Christine Baranski andJulie Walters, who play Donna’s best friends. Instead, we are forced to hear Meryl Streeptry her best with a cumbersome and silly song like “The Winner Takes it All” and, because she’s Meryl Streep, she almost makes it work. But that still doesn’t excuse the fact that you should be giving your best material to your best performers; there’s a reason Jennifer Hudson brings the down the house with “And I’m Telling You, I’m Not Going,” it’s because she’s a dynamite performer given a dynamite song to belt out.

It’s possible that if you used all the same elements (Abba songs, Greek island, Streep and Seyfried, musical) that it could have been a lot of fun, if only they had fashioned a better and more entertaining story around those elements. I think the most disappointing thing about the film (spoilers ahead!) is that the one thing we are invested in, story-wise, is which of the men is Sophie’s father. And the movie chumps out by not telling us the one thing that we actually cared about in the story! (spoilers end)

It’s a movie that is not designed to satisfy, but rather one that is meant to merely pass the time. Phyllida Lloyd, the director, is a veteran of the stage but she seems to be lost in trying to figure out how to tell this story on the big screen. The big numbers don’t feel big enough and the small ones seem too small. She simply doesn’t seem to understand make use of each inch of the screen.

If you love Abba, maybe you’ll find more enjoyment than I did, but if the idea of Abba or a musical makes you wary, then steer clear.

The Wackness

I was born and raised twenty-five minutes from New York City and, since I was five, I remember going to the city to see the Knicks. I remember that little bit little, as I got older, it felt safer and safer outside of Madison Square Garden; there were less panhandlers, things started to look cleaner, the city was undergoing a massive identity change. At the time, it didn’t mean anything to me other than a sense of security walking down the street with my family. Looking back on it now, I realize that the year 1994 marked a massive shift in the social and political landscape of the city I now call my home. It is because of the machinations of City Hall that started in 1994 that makes my apartment cost so much, but also the reason why I can walk safely down my street. There is a great story to be told about the changeover from old New York to new New York.

Unfortunately, The Wackness is not that movie. In fact, if it weren’t for a few references to Giuliani, OJ Simpson, Kurt Cobain and Notorious B.I.G. and a lack of cell phones, there wouldn’t be anything about the movie that would make you say, “wow, this is New York City in 1994!” The point being: there really is no point to setting this movie in any specific time period as there didn’t seem to be much of a thought process that necessitated this tale being told in at this time, in this era.

We follow Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck), recently graduated from a private school in Manhattan, as he sells weed to his school chums and a variety of oddballs including Dr. Jeff Squire (Ben Kingsley) who happens to be a psychologist and the stepfather of the girl Luke has been crushing on (Olivia Thirlby). Over the course of a long, hot summer, the virginal Luke aims to have sex, fall in love and make enough money to pay for college.

The Wackness winds up being a pastiche of other recent, much better coming of age in New York City films that include – but are not limited to – Igby Goes Down, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, and Boiler Room. The premise of a young man trying to lose his virginity is not exactly a new one and it’s one that has fueled some of the best movies ever made (Louis Malle’s Murmur of the Heart leaps to mind), but this one has too many other things on its mind that it gets distracted. When Ben Kinsley is onscreen, it’s a good distraction as he steals every scene he’s in, but when it’s Mary-Kate Olsen essentially reprising the same part she played on Weeds (and playing it just as atrociously), it becomes tedious.

The center of the film ultimately comes down to Josh Peck and Olivia Thirlby and their relationship. The problem is that Luke, as a character, is not all that likeable. The movie shows many of his problems, including the deterioration of his family, but that doesn’t make us like him any more so much as it makes us sympathize. Peck plays the character in such a downbeat, brooding way that this already depressed character seems even more unappealing (just life your head up already kid!) and it makes it hard to root for him. Thirlby acquits herself nicely, but her part is severely underwritten, so when she changes moods from one scene to the next, it’s not only jarring but confusing.

Another problem with the film is its realization of 1994 jargon. Sure, 1994 and every other year had words and phrases that were unique to the time period and rap was definitely breaking through to the masses, but the way the characters speak would be similar to setting a film in the 70’s and having everybody speak in disco-lingo (“hey kitty-cat, these are some groovy tunes”). The use of phrases like “dope” and “peace out” are fine, but the way every character uses them in every single sentence just makes the movie seem like it’s trying too hard. Although, when one character tells another “peace out forever” as a way of breaking up, it’s hard to stifle a giggle.

Jonathan Levine, the writer and director, is presumably writing from personal experience and I’m sure he would defend himself by saying some of the things really happened and some of these lines were actually spoken. But reality does not always equal verisimilitude and I couldn’t believe much of what was on the screen. It’s a credit to Levine that I was never bored even though I could telegraph the entire film from the first five minutes, but I wish there were more tricks up his sleeve than simply taking an ordinary story and putting it in a different era.


Okay, I know I’m late to the party on this one and I’ll be honest: getting me to see an animated film requires a lot of effort. I get around to seeing them all sooner or later, but when I have the choice of seeing something with real flesh and blood actors, I’ll take that any day over the choice of seeing something animated. I’m not defending myself on this one because I wound up seeing the dud that was Wanted long before I got around to seeing the masterpiece that isWall-E. Yes, masterpiece.

I didn’t realize that Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo) could craft something so remarkably adult and touching using the tool of animation. While I loved past Pixar films like The Incredibles and Ratatouille, I never could get past the idea that I was watching an animated film when I was watching those films. That’s not to say I enjoyed them any less, but that I was constantly reminded that this was, in fact, animated. With Wall-E, that all melted away because not only did I not realize I was watching a cartoon, but I didn’t even realize I was watching a movie. I was utterly transported.

For the few who haven’t seen it, the film follows a trash compacting robot named Wall-E on a futuristic Earth that has been completely abandoned by human beings and all other life forms could no longer sustain themselves on this trash ridden planet. Wall-E has been alone except for a cockroach for hundreds of years and has developed something of a routine for himself; that all changes when EVE, a much more advanced robot, appears out of the sky one day and Wall-E immediately falls in love. And for the first forty-five minutes or so, there is virtually no dialogue whatsoever.

I’m amazed that this film exists because it is made in a medium that is ostensibly for children yet the fact that there is almost no dialogue and a love story at its center is really quite adult. Sure, it’s funny and there are lots of beautiful images and sight gags to catch but it’s amazing that these robotic characters have distinct and identifiable personalities and that we become invested in Wall-E’s quest to follow EVE wherever she goes. It’s truly one of the most romantic films I’ve seen in years.

It’s not often that I can say this, but this is a movie that made me cry on more than one occasion because this story touched me so. It may be a love story about a robot that desperately wants to hold another robot’s hand, but that kind of innocence and dedication and love is so poignant and is relevant no matter how young or old you may be. We often hear about “family films,” well this is the only one I’ve seen in a long time that truly deserved to be called one. Everybody in your family, from oldest to youngest, boys and girls, can enjoy a film like Wall-E.

But more than the romance at the center of the film is the larger implication of what we as human beings are doing to this planet. Rather than focusing on global warming or any other divisive issue, Andrew Stanton focuses on our need to consume and throw away and our reliance on technology. He envisions a future where human beings will be nothing more than fat people on motorized carts, constantly consuming everything in sight with their eyes focused on only their personal computers. It’s actually quite a risky move for a Disney film to take aim at many of the folks – and their motorized carts – that I’ve seen often visiting DisneyWorld.

But while that subplot deepens the story, what really makes it soar is the love that Wall-E has for EVE and the scene when EVE plays back everything that Wall-E did for her while she was on pause just made me weep. It’s that kind of emotion that made Stanton’s Finding Nemo so strong, because it doesn’t play on the things that make life miserable but on the things that make life wonderful: family, love and friendship.

When I see a film like this, it makes me forget about all the other films I saw during my bender like Meet Dave or Journey to the Center of the Earth. It’s films like Wall-E that make this a passion worth having and I’ll gladly take whatever else the summer throws at me because at least I found one gem.

– Noah Forrest
July 22, 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.

Be Sociable, Share!

Comments are closed.

Frenzy On Column

Quote Unquotesee all »

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