MCN Columnists
Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

Now Playing

As a film essayist, the question I get asked most often is, “so, what’s the last good movie you saw?” When I say something like, “well, I just saw Ophuls’ La Ronde and thought it was spectacular,” I’m inevitably met with blank stares. When most people ask about the last good film you’ve seen, they want it to be an answer that they are familiar with; they want the answer you give to be something that is playing in theaters.

It seems that the majority of people prefer to hear about and see the latest films, whether good or bad, because they are the ones that are the most relevant right this second, despite the fact that they will be irrelevant in a week or two. When a movie is first released and there is a marketing push behind it, people become more aware of that film that any other. So, while seeing a Tarkovsky film for the first time is exciting to me, it doesn’t matter to most people. They want to hear about Hot Tub Time Machine.

Unfortunately, I have yet to see Hot Tub Time Machine, although I’m planning on a double-feature of that film and Greenberg later today.  But, I have seen a lot of other films that are playing in theaters right now.  And rather than answer the question of “what’s the last good movie you saw?” I’m going to just give you some thoughts about what your options are right now.  I don’t know if I could say that any movie I’ve seen lately is great, but I can tell you which films are more deserving of your money and time.

She’s Out of My League

This movie surprised me a little bit.  It’s certainly not good.  But it’s really not that bad.  You’ve seen every scene in this film a million times before and there isn’t a single original idea in 100 minutes.  But, it’s an easy film to take because it understands the key to any romantic comedy is to cast two appealing leads that have an easy chemistry with one another.  Neither Jay Baruchel or Alice Eve are likely to be Oscar nominees any time soon, but they’re likable and charismatic in different ways.  In other words, it’s easy to root for them to wind up together against all odds.

The film is about a sad-sack TSA agent who happens to be a swell guy and a gorgeous event planner somehow dating.  The whole film feels a bit like a riff on There’s Something About Mary and Alice Eve is a good enough facsimile of Cameron Diaz in that film, the gorgeous girl who can hang with the boys and loves hockey and doesn’t wear underwear, etc.  But where There’s Something About Mary was oddly subversive in the way it turned conventions on its head – even Mary’s disabled friend turns out to be a stalker – this is a film that wants to employ every convention known to man, but use Apatowian vulgarity to make it seem hip.

There are a few funny scenes involving Baruchel’s awkwardness mixed with Eve’s grace, including a chuckle-inducing scene where he’s surprised to meet her parents after a particularly aggressive dry-humping from her.  But every scene that involves Baruchel’s friends is a groan.  Baruchel’s best friend is named Stainer and every scene with him is absolutely painful and I don’t think it’s the fault of the actor, T.J. Miller, but the fact that his job in the film is to be the boorish best friend and there’s really nothing new that can be brought to that type of character.  Although the actor’s delivery is a bit like Dane Cook on acid, which isn’t pleasant.  Eve’s best friend in the film is played by Krysten Ritter, who I found a bit forgettable in her appearances on Veronica Mars and Gilmore Girls, but seems to have found her rhythm playing the best friend role that might have gone to Zooey Deschanel seven or eight years ago.

Ultimately, this is a film that if you want to kill some time one afternoon, this is a nice enough romantic comedy that provides a mild diversion.  It won’t cause you too much pain.  Speaking of pain…

The Bounty Hunter

Sometimes I see a film that is just absolutely flabbergasting in its awfulness and it’s actually a good thing.  You see, I believe that I must see even the worst of films in order to appreciate the very good ones.  If I just watch good movies all day and night, then I stop appreciating their greatness.  And thank goodness for films like The Bounty Hunter because they make films like She’s Out of My League seem like works of art.

No disrespect to everyone involved in this atrocity, but how in the world did this happen?  There isn’t a single scene that has any of the following: momentum, comedy, romance, fun, adventure, conflict, life, stakes, or realism.  It’s a film that defies the very nature of entertainment because it lacks soul in every possible way.  Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler have both been winning in other roles – although not many, let’s be honest – but here they just seem lifeless.  The whole film is like the plot of a 22 minute sitcom episode that has been stretched to feature-length simply by adding more diversions.

The film is about an ex-cop bounty hunter (Butler) who is hired to bring his journalist ex-wife (Aniston) to jail.  Meanwhile, they’re being chased by bad guys involved in a story that she wrote.  It’s Midnight Run meets War of the Roses minus anything good or redeeming.

Andy Tennant is not exactly David Fincher, but he’s done serviceable films before.  He even did a pretty good film with a Friends cast member (Fools Rush In starring Matthew Perry), so I know he’s capable of making a film that is watchable.  But I just don’t know how films like this happen.  It seems like it would make sense that somewhere along the way, someone would intervene and say, “hey, this script needs work before I agree to do this” or “hey, this take doesn’t work, let’s do another.”  Pinpointing the problems in this movie is a futile act because there are just too damn many.  More interesting – and easier – would be finding the things the film did right.

Please don’t see this.

Repo Men

Just a few weeks ago, I wrote a story about how much I miss Jude Law as a leading man.  Well, be careful what you wish for, I guess.

The film Repo Men most resembled, to me, was Equilibrium.  That film also had a really good actor in a film about the future that was really just an excuse for lots of gunplay and violence.  Repo Men has an interesting conceit – albeit one that doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense – of a future where organs are repossessed if the receiver of that organ can not keep up with the payments.  And then, in a classic turn of the tables, one of the repo men is now on the run.  And he’s like, the most bad-ass repo man of all time, dude.

I like Jude Law a lot, as I expressed in that column.  But he is not a believable action hero.  Law doesn’t come across as particularly menacing or threatening in his actions scenes and it seems below him to try and pretend to be Jason Statham.  And the film is really a notch below something like Crank, which at least moves quickly enough that you don’t have time to think about how dumb it is.  Repo Men moves too slowly and as a result, we’re too busy thinking about the implausibility of everything to really enjoy the action scenes.

Utterly forgettable.

Green Zone

What a shame.

Green Zone reduces the entire Iraq War to one good guy soldier versus one bad guy politician.  Oh, I didn’t realize it was so simple.

I think one of the biggest problems Green Zone faces is that is being released on the heels of The Hurt Locker, which is not only the best film about the Iraq War, but also one of the best war movies of the last decade.  Green Zone, in comparison, seems downright conventional and trite.  Granted, the movies have very different goals, but Green Zone doesn’t really get moving.

My ultimate problem with Green Zone is an issue of verisimilitude.  Perhaps everything it does is accurate and realistic, but I didn’t believe it for a second.  I didn’t believe that one soldier could go rogue the way Matt Damon does in this film.  I didn’t believe that he could keep Freddy, his Iraqi interpreter, around for much of the running time without anyone asking more questions.

Damon is solid as always and Khalid Abdalla is excellent as Freddy, but Amy Ryan is completely underutilized and Greg Kinnear is forgettable as always.  I think Paul Greengrass might be one of the most overrated filmmakers working today.  Bloody Sunday was great, but his Bourne films aren’t as good as Liman’s first one and United 93 is the single most over-praised exploitation film in the history of cinema.  His shaky handicam shtick has worn thin and I don’t think it’s ever been used correctly.  Here, he’s finally working in the war genre, where having a shaky camera would make most sense for getting us involved in the chaotic nature of war and he still doesn’t use it appropriate.  The camera is shaking in scenes where two men are talking, for no particular reason.

We don’t get a better sense of place or space from the way in which Greengrass operates his camera.  And as a director of actors, he doesn’t coach a lot more than is already there.  Nuance and subtlety are foreign to Greengrass, evidenced most by a line Freddy says near the end of the film that is something along the lines of, “this is our war, not an American war” or something to that effect.  It’s a line that is so blunt and shoe-horned in there to actualize the film’s political bent through dialogue, but it sounds completely absurd.  And then when Damon confronts Kinnear at the end of the film, I couldn’t believe that anyone involved in making that scene though it worked.  Because it doesn’t at all.  The ending of the film is an objective failure.  And the film as a whole is, objectively, a disappointment.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Easily the best thing I’ve seen in theaters in a while.  Don’t buy the hype that it’s the greatest mystery ever, but it’s really very good and engaging.

A lot of the attention from the critics has been focused on the co-lead of the film, Lisbeth Salander (played by Noomi Rapace), because she is a detective unlike any other seen in cinema or literature.  She is a goth hacker with lots of piercings, short cropped black hair, a ton of dark make-up and lots of metal-studded leather clothing.  She also may or may not have Aspberger’s.  She’s a wonderful character and makes the film seem dangerous and exciting, but I found her more typical co-lead to be even more engaging.  Mikael Blomkvist (played by Michael Nyqvist) is an investigative journalist who is headed to jail in a few months for purportedly libeling a powerful business tycoon.  But before he goes to jail, he is hired by an elderly man to solve a forty-year old mystery.

The film feels fresh and relevant because of its themes of anti-corruption and anti-patriarchy, but there are some old standbys as well, including a large subplot about Nazism in Sweden during and after WWII.  The biggest theme in the film is the idea of men taking advantage of women and how, despite all of our advances, we still live in patriarchal society.  It’s very rare to see any film delve into an issue like this, rarer still for it to be a genre film with chase scenes.

There is a really fascinating subplot where Lisbeth is sexually coerced by a despicable man who then later rapes her violently.  When we find out that Lisbeth has some evidence, we expect her to do something with that evidence, but instead she has one of the greatest revenge schemes.  Let’s just say that Lisbeth believes in an eye for an eye, so to speak.  The interesting thing about Lisbeth’s revenge is how we, as an audience, react to it.  Our natural inclination is to cheer for this rapist to get his comeuppance.  But, then, aren’t we cheering on the very same thing that horrified us to begin with?  It’s a slippery slope and something that seems to belong in a Michael Haneke film, rather than a detective flick.

But that’s one of the film’s failings; it loses sight of its main goal a lot of the time, which tends to happen in a film with a running time of 150 minutes.  Our main focus is to find out the answer to two central mysteries, but there are so many diversions along the way that we get antsy.  We’re getting wonderful side-stories that deepen the characters, but Lisbeth and Mikael don’t even hook up until almost halfway through.  And that’s when the real mystery-solving begins.  But then once the dominoes start to fall and we get the answers to the mysteries, they aren’t particularly shocking.  It’s not like it’s been someone we’ve suspected all along or someone who we never would have guessed.  The revelation is downright shrug-worthy, actually.  And then the film drags on for another half an hour.

But for a two and a half hour film with a lot of digressions, it certainly moves swiftly and there’s never a moment where you can be bored since there is a lot of interesting information being thrown at you.  I think Rapace is excellent and I hope to see her more often.  I already loved Nyqvist after his work in Lukas Moodysson’s Together, where he played an abusive husband who is oddly sympathetic.  He brings that same sympathy to a complicated character here, except now his face is more weathered, like an older William Holden.  He’s really a fantastic actor and he holds the film together, keeping it tethered to something familiar.

It’s definitely one of the five best films I’ve seen so far this year, although that is sort of faint praise.  But I do think it’s something you should seek out and see before Hollywood destroys it with the inevitable remake.

Noah Forrest
March 29, 2010

Noah Forrest is a 26-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