MCN Columnists
Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

Catching Up

With April here, it seems we’re not too far away from better movies – or at the very least, better produced and slicker products – so I thought I would look back on a few films from the first couple months of 2009.

Because I work in the film business, my expectations (good or bad) of a given film can sometimes color my initial take — perhaps even more so if it’s a film I was very much anticipating. While there’s merit to that immediate reaction, I’ve found that my opinion of a film often seasons or even changes over time; thus, even if I’ve only seen a movie once, I like to look back on a film a few weeks or even months after seeing it and compare my reaction from a more objective distance to the more visceral reaction I had walking out of the theater after a first viewing. Sometimes, I find that reaction has held up well over time, and I feel as strongly about a film months later as I did while the credits rolled; sometimes looking back on a film or revisiting it later will allow me to focus more on subtler aspects I missed on the first take.

I’m going to talk about two or three “older” movies that you’ve probably read hundreds of reviews and blog posts about, but I think there is merit in taking another retrospective look at these movies. And also, we’ll talk about some of the reader replies to my Mount Rushmore of Forgettable Actors column from last week.

Clive Owen = The New Cary Grant?

It’s a funny thing I have with Tony Gilroy; after his first film Michael Clayton, I was convinced that George Clooney was the new Cary Grant. Now, after Gilroy’s new film Duplicity, I’m absolutely certain that Clive Owen is actually the new Cary Grant.

What made Cary Grant such a wonderful actor wasn’t his range, but the ease with which he would be Cary Grant in each of his films. He was equally adept at drama, action and comedic roles, but really he didn’t change very much from genre to genre, instead the genre adapted to him and his personality. Even in the darkest of his roles, he brought a lightness to the proceedings as well as a firm masculinity. Let’s face it, Cary Grant was a real dude, the kind of guy that men wanted to be and women wanted to be with, classy and tough.

Clive Owen is the same way. In each of his films, he’s playing Clive Owen more than he’s really playing a character, but in his case it’s not a knock on his abilities because the character of “Clive Owen” is both refreshingly old school and endearing. From Croupier toChildren of Men, he has played characters from the past, ones from the future, ones that are saving mankind, ones that are just dealing cards, and ones that are trying to pull a long con; but always, always, always, he is Clive Owen first and foremost.

In his two latest films The International and Duplicity, we get both the dark and light Clive Owen, as well as mixtures of confidence and vulnerability. But even when he’s vulnerable in these films, it’s the confidence side that wins out; with his dashing good looks and sly grin, we can’t believe for too long that he’s lacking in self-esteem. For some actors, this might undermine the intentions of the film, but Owen is too self-aware to allow that to happen, underplaying moments when necessary and knowing his own limitations. In other words, he’s not taking on any roles that are out of his range.

I remember reading in one of William Goldman’s books that when he writes a main character he annotates the character type with something like “he’s Gary Cooper” or “he’s Humphrey Bogart” to explain in a few words what the character should feel like. And I can’t imagine writers doing this with, say, an actor like Sean Penn, because Penn is so different in each role, but I can imagine a writer using “he’s George Clooney” or “he’s Clive Owen” to define a certain type of masculinity he intends a character to evoke. Like Gary Cooper, Humphrey Bogart and Cary Grant, Owen tends to overlay each character he plays with a distinct sense of himself in a way that many actors can’t, or don’t.

The International was a bit of a disappointment as a film because I expect more from Tom Tykwer, whose last film Perfume was one of the most visually arresting I’ve ever seen. This film was actually pretty flat and somewhat boring, but at the center of it was a wonderfully Cary Grant-esque performance from Clive Owen. Owen actually ruins the movie with how entertaining he is because Naomi Watts and her underwritten character seems trivial in comparison. Every second that Owen isn’t onscreen or any scene where his character takes a backseat winds up inducing yawns; the action isn’t particularly exciting and the characters and plot aren’t particularly original, but the moments where Owen is able to inject a little bit of levity into the proceedings makes the film tolerable as a whole.

Duplicity, on the other hand, gives Owen a showcase for his ability to turn a phrase with authority. Whereas Gilroy’s first film was deadly serious, there is a lot more frivolity in his new film and this is where Owen truly excels, especially opposite Julia Roberts, who has never looked or acted more like a real “movie star.” Roberts winds up as the perfect Grace Kelly to Owen’s Cary Grant and this film is their To Catch a Thief. I love their work together in Mike Nichols’ Closer and their familiarity with one another – and our familiarity with them together, as an audience – makes it a joy to watch them interact.

To describe the plot of Duplicity would be pointless because the rug is constantly pulled out from underneath the audience, with twist after twist and flashback after flashback, but basically it’s about two former secret agents who try to con two pharmaceutical companies. The twisted nature of the script is made easier to digest because of the two leads and the ease with which they interact and throw great lines back and forth like two great athletes going head to head. But instead of two heavyweight actors, these are heavyweight movie stars.

It may seem ridiculous to compare Clive Owen to an all-time great like Cary Grant, but I actually think that Clive Owen’s range is far greater. I mean I can picture Clive Owen running away from a crop-dusting plane, but I can’t imagine Cary Grant screaming about sex and calling a woman a “fucked-up slag.”

Either way, I hope Owen never changes, I just want to keep watching him be Clive Owen and entertaining the hell out of me.


I used to admire the films of Luc Besson. Perhaps it was because I was such a fan of The Professional and The Big Blue as a kid, but I thought he had the type of earnest sensibility that would make him a director worth following. With movies like La Femme Nikita and The Fifth Element, he created worlds that felt alive and visceral even if they felt removed from reality. He had a sense of humor about himself and his work, but also a sincerity that was endearing; it was almost like he was the lovechild of Frank Capra and Michael Bay. He seemed to be adept at combing gunplay and melodrama, cut with playfulness. But when he made his Joan of Arc film The Messenger, it seemed like he had started to believe that he was an “important” filmmaker, when in all actuality he was just a fun one.

Besson has only stepped behind the camera a few times since then, for mediocre efforts likeAngel-A, but he has been extremely prolific as a writer and producer of adrenaline-filled action films. He’s also served as a mentor to a new generation of French action filmmakers likeLouis Leterrier – who cut his teeth on Besson-scripted films like Transporter 2 before taking on the reboot of The Incredible Hulk – and now Pierre Morel.

Morel started out working as cinematographer on Besson-scripted films like The Transporterand Danny the Dog (directed by Leterrier) and after making his directorial debut with Besson’s script for District B13, he proved himself to be an accomplished and slick filmmaker.District B13 on the surface is just another one of Besson’s ridiculous and simple scripts involving lots of kung-fu fighting, gunplay and running up walls. But what Morel also brought to that film was an interesting look as well as editing that was hurried, but clear in its intentions. As a former cinematographer, you would expect Morel’s films to look good, but I was surprised by how well it was cut together; a lot of information is given to you very quickly without the headache that one would get from a Paul Greengrass film.

And that brings us to Taken, which is really a remake of Commando that has been elevated by the guy behind the camera and a real actor in front of it. Oh, and you should probably know that I absolutely love Commando, grew up watching that movie all the time and I could probably recite the whole terrible script to you if you asked. But anyway, this film more than any other is the epitome of a movie that you might feel one way about while you’re watching it and another a few months later.

Liam Neeson is such a talented actor that while you’re sitting in the theater, you completely buy what is transpiring on screen; Neeson is just able to sell that this is a serious film. When his daughter gets kidnapped in France and he tells her kidnapper that he’s going to find him and kill him, I felt something akin to what I used to feel during those 80s action films that fell out of vogue once Jason Bourne showed up onscreen. I always hated the expression, “leave your brain at the door” because I always felt like that’s an impossibility – literally and figuratively – but when watching a film like this your brain kind of shuts off a little bit, just like those great Stallone and Schwarzenegger films from two decades ago.

Taken isn’t fine art by any means, but it instantly became one of those films that I know will suck me in every time I catch it on cable; and quite frankly, that’s saying something, as that’s an accomplishment that most films can’t hope to achieve.

Mount Rushmore of Forgettable Actors Feedback

Last week I wrote of my desire to complete a Mount Rushmore of Forgettable Actors, having etched out a place already for Richard Gere and Michael Douglas. And they truly must be forgettable because I didn’t get a single e-mail from a “fan” of either one of those actors who was outraged by my calling them forgettable, which I was kind of expecting.

Anyway, I implored the readers to help me out with filling out the other two spots. This was one of the most intriguing e-mails I got:

“What about Billy Bob Thornton?

My friend and I racked our brains and came up with Sling Blade, Bad News Bears, Monster’s Ball, Mr. Woodcock (shamefully) and Bad Santa. After perusing his filmography, we realized he was in Eagle Eye, Armageddon, Friday Night Lights and a few others but he would not be the first name to come to mind when mentioning any of these movies. He qualifies as a leading man with at least one good movie (Sling Blade or maybe The Man Who Wasn’t There depending on tastes) and is completely replaceable in most of the other movies he’s been in. I’d certainly put him in the same category as Michael Douglas and Richard Gere.

One other thing I noticed when thinking about this topic was that all of these forgettable actors have seemingly been in a movie with Kim Basinger. She makes very forgettable movies with Gere, Douglas, Thornton and even your honorable mention of Alec Baldwin. Just a thought.

I love this Mount Rushmore idea by the way.

Dimi Venkov”

I gave this one a lot of thought, but I think ultimately Billy Bob doesn’t qualify. He might have been in a lot of forgettable movies, but he’s also the first actor It hink about in a lot of those movies. Like, maybe I wouldn’t think of Mr. Woodcock, but if I did, I would definitely remember that Billy Bob was in it. And his performances in Sling Blade, Bad Santa, and A Simple Plan are damn near iconic. So, I would say this is close but no cigar.

On the other hand, I got quite a few e-mails about Dennis Quaid and I’m very close to putting him on this Mount Rushmore, in spite of my love for Innerspace. Other reader suggestions:Kim Basinger, Helen Hunt, Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, Jason Patric, Patrick Wilson, and Halle Berry. I’m not sure about any of these other than Quaid, but I’m happy to hear some more suggestions if you’ve got any!

– Noah Forrest
April 6, 2009

Noah Forrest is a 26-year-old aspiring writer/filmmaker in New York City.

The opinions expressed in these columns are the writers and do not neccessarily reflect the opinions of Movie City News or any of its editors or other contributors.

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Frenzy On Column

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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