MCN Columnists
Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

The Mid-Year Report

We’ve officially reached the halfway point of 2008 and at this point, it’s difficult to know what kind of film year this will wind up being. As usual, most of the offerings have been lacking but I am hopeful for many of the films that are on the horizon. But there are some lessons worth learning and there were some films worth watching. Now seems like an opportune time to look back at some of the highlights and lowlights of 2008.

The Good

Hands down the best film I’ve seen so far this year has been Paranoid Park and the unfortunate thing is that nothing else has really come close. It’s a film I’ve watched a few times now and it’s grown deeper and stronger with each viewing, much like Gus Van Sant’s previous “death” films Elephant, Gerry andLast Days. Each of these films is like the canvas of an abstract art piece and we’re able to project our own feelings and emotions onto the blank spots.

Of course, because there are spots that aren’t colored in, there are lots of folks who can’t stand this type of film, that want a film to be fully-formed before it reaches them. But make no mistake, Paranoid Park is a complete film, it’s just that you have to bring a little something to the table, you have to take your crayon and connect those last few dots to make the picture whole.

I’m not somebody who has ever been a skater, nor have I known very many skaters in my life, but this film uses that skate-punk attitude as a jumping off point for teenage alienation. And there are very few filmmakers working today who capture the ennui of being a teen better than Van Sant, whether he’s making Elephant or Finding Forrester. So, in spite of the fact that every time I hop on a skateboard I wind up almost breaking my back, I still was able to relate to these kids. I was able to look at the way that all of them felt a certain camaraderie yet were completely isolated from one another and think to myself, ‘wow, this is what being a teenager feels like.’

The scene where all the skate punks get called from their classes into the principal’s office and one by one they flood into the hallway until they look like a gang is especially well done; none of these kids ever speaks to each other, they are associated merely by what they look like. They are a gang of individuals, really, lumped together by the fact that they all ride skateboards. It is a far more effective way of pointing out the caste system of high school than the typical lunchroom, “this is where the cool kids sit, this is where the losers sit,” scene.

It is clear to me, after this film, that Gus Van Sant is one of the finest filmmakers we have working today and it’s such a treat to watch him grow while never losing sight of what his main themes are. My Own Private Idaho, Drugstore Cowboy, Gerry and Last Days don’t have much in common at first glance, but they are all uniquely Van Sant: pretty young boys with a ton of angst, wandering aimlessly through the desert of life, trying to find something to make them feel less numb. Some might find that unappealing, but I love the niche he has carved out for himself and I can’t wait to see what he does later this year with Milk.

After that, my next favorite film of the year would have to be Martin McDonagh’s In Brugeswhich I didn’t catch until quite recently and was stunned by how much I enjoyed it. It had gotten good reviews, sure, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it would be similar to Intermission or some other mediocre Colin Farrell British crime picture. Instead, it’s a film that sits right on the edge of being flat-out hilarious and absolutely heartbreaking.

The film is about two hitmen (Farrell and the fantastic Brendan Gleeson) who are sent to, well, Bruges after a hit goes bad. Their boss (played by a squirrelly Ralph Fiennes) wants them to lay low in the medieval Belgian city, but it takes a while to figure out what the true purpose of the visit is. While they are in Bruges, Farrell and Gleeson encounter a film crew, dwarves, fat American tourists, annoying Canadians and a gorgeous young drug dealer. By the end, there is more than a little blood spilled.

What makes the film so good is the rapport between Farrell and Gleeson. And it’s the second film this year (after Cassandra’s Dream, another film I enjoyed quite a bit) where Farrell has excelled playing somebody depressed. Farrell’s character wants to blow of some steam by doing drugs, having sex, all that great stuff, while Gleeson’s character is intent on checking out the sights. It seems like a relatively simple dynamic, but the two actors are able to make this relationship something deeper, so that by the end we’ve laughed so much with these two that we’re attached. It is important for the film to have us laugh with them because the ending pulls no punches. It takes an express train right into a dark place and the final scene may not satisfy all viewers and it’s a testament to first time director McDonagh that even though we’ve been grinning for two hours, we don’t mind walking out of the theater a little bit dazed.

The other films I’ve dug this year have included the aforementioned Cassandra’s Dream, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and the great documentary Surfwise which told an excellent story I did not know and told it in an audacious and riveting way.

Surfwise was the best documentary I’ve seen so far this year – a good year for docs so far – and it’s a credit to director Doug Pray for finding the Paskowitz family and getting them to open up the doors into their strange and fascinating world. It’s one of those films that makes you question your place in life and whether or not you’re on the right path. Perhaps I don’t want to live my life like the Paskowtiz family, but sometimes it’s important to make a mental list of what really matters.

The other good docs I saw this year include Michael Skolnik’s Without the King, Julie Checkoway’s Waiting for Hockney and Marina Zenovich’s Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired.

Rounding out the films that I thought were worth watching: Leatherheads, Funny Games U.S., Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, and The Other Boleyn Girl. Did someone sayIndiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? I don’t know what you’re talking about…a fourth Indiana Jones movie? No, that never happened. Okay? It never happened, so let’s just move on.

The Bad

Unfortunately, most of the films I’ve seen so far this year have not been ones that I’d like to revisit. In fact, I’ve seen some pretty atrocious films so far this year. But, for now I just want to talk about films that weren’t atrocious, just disappointing. In any given year, I’ll wind up seeing about two hundred or so movies and usually about a hundred and fifteen of them will be films I consider to be unsatisfactory on some level. The truly awful films are almost enjoyable on some level, so the ones that are in the middle somewhere are usually some of the toughest to sit through.

You Don’t Mess with the Zohan or Cloverfield are, I think, extremely disappointing because the premise of both of those films seems kind of novel. I mean, a comedy about Palestinians and Israelis is extremely audacious so in a way, I really admire the film. But the truth of the matter is that instead of really taking that kind of comedy to its logical extreme, it winds up being nothing but a bunch of hummus jokes. I really wanted to love a film that dared to bridge such a wide gap using John Turturro as an Arab, but instead I found myself wishing that it was a bit more daring. Maybe I shouldn’t expect so much from an Adam Sandler vehicle, but similar to what he did with I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, Sandler and his team take a very serious issue and simplify it until it is no longer recognizable. If he wanted to, Sandler is a talented enough comedian to make a wonderful satire one day that could have a ton of pubic hair and fart jokes in it, but this isn’t the one. Too much pubic hair, too little satire.

Cloverfield is a film that still aggravates me because I think the premise is so novel. To have a monster movie shot through the lens of someone’s camcorder is, whether you want to admit it or not, a very good idea for a movie and one that I’d like to see done well one day. We live in an era where people shoot everything on their cell phones or cameras, it seems like every single moment is being recorded, so why wouldn’t someone record an event like a giant monster attacking New York City?

The problem is that having a camcorder trained at the action means that there must be a certain level of verisimilitude. We need to believe that what we’re seeing is happening and that starts with the characters, who are not believable for a second. Their mission to get the guy’s girlfriend is silly for multiple reasons, but the biggest is that he’s the only one that needs to go. Other than that, there is the issue that New York City is not mapped out well at all in this film and it seems to take them mere minutes to get from downtown to Central Park.

Having a camcorder and tell the story through the eyes of a “real” person only works if we’re going to keep this film grounded in the realm of reality. Sure, having a fricking monster in your movie doesn’t help, but if we’re to believe that this monster is a threat, we have to believe that he’s attacking people and places that we know to be true. Otherwise, there is no point in shooting this film verite-style other than to make the production a lot cheaper.

Other mediocre films this year have included Be Kind Rewind, The Life Before Her Eyes(which is really almost the exact same movie as Stay, yet another uncredited adaptation ofAmbrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge), 27 Dresses (really, Katherine Heigl is a movie star? I thought Malin Akerman who plays her sister should be the one headlining movies), Baby Mama, Made of Honor, Mad Money, Jumper (Jamie Bell’s character should have been the main guy instead of Hayden Christensen’s simpering, boring lead), and countless other films that aren’t worth talking about.

The Ugly

Okay, so there have been plenty of flat-out terrible movies this year, including Prom Night, 10,000 B.C., and What Happens in Vegas. But, for me, nothing this year could possibly be as bad as The Happening. I’m almost tempted to say that Shyamalan was trying to make an awful film, but I feel like that would be giving him a bit too much credit.

I really like Mark Wahlberg, but it feels like he’s playing Dirk Diggler acting in one of his porno films, trying to remember his lines. Considering Wahlberg has been great in other films (Boogie Nights, The Departed), it must be the director’s fault that he couldn’t coax a decent performance out of the man. But that’s not even the biggest problem in the film and the truth is that I don’t know where to start. From the conversations about the merits of hot dogs to the scene of a lion biting off somebody’s arm to the batshit insane scene with Betty Buckley at the end, there is an embarrassment of riches in this film. And by “riches,” I mean hilariously awful lines and scenes.

So in lieu of bashing this film mercilessly, I’m going to merely end on the quote that I think this film will be remembered for, we’ll call it the new “I drink your milkshake!”

“Why are you eyeing my lemon drink?”

– Noah Forrest
July 2, 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