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Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

J. Lo, You Coulda Been a Contenda

Watching the ads for Jennifer Lopez’s latest film, I can’t help but feel a bit wistful. I think about the potential that was clearly there, but more often I think about how stupid she made me seem.

For years I defended Lopez and her abilities based on the talent displayed in the remarkable Out of Sight.  She would make terrible film after terrible, forgettable film and I’d say to anyone who would listen, “no, no, she’s really talented, she was so excellent in Out of Sight and that couldn’t have been just a fluke.”  Besides, she was also pretty good in Bob Rafelson’s Blood and Wine and she was great as the femme fatale in Oliver Stone’s underrated U-Turn. But she has spent the last twelve years proving me wrong over and over again.

Since Out of Sight, she has made thirteen films (including her newest, The Back-up Plan) and she has not given a good performance in one of them. The closest thing to a good film was Tarsem’s beautiful looking The Cell, but she was wooden and dull while looking spooky and cool in her extravagant makeup and costumes. Seven of the films she has chosen have been romantic comedies and none of them are memorable to me, despite the fact that I’ve seen all of them (no, I don’t know why). I wonder who was guiding her to those roles because romantic comedy is clearly not her strong suit. She doesn’t have the ebullient personality that would work best for these characters.  But it seemed like she was trying to project an image to a certain kind of (wider) audience.  There isn’t a film that she’s chosen in the past decade that has half the ambition of even something like The Cell.

It’s not even just that she’s chosen romantic comedies; it’s that she’s chosen ones that aren’t particularly good.  Even if Lopez was up to the task or right for her roles, these still would not be good films.  She hasn’t had chemistry with any of her leading men since George Clooney. One of the worst screen pairings I’ve ever seen is Jennifer Lopez and Ralph Fiennes in Maid in Manhattan.  They looked gorgeous together, but there was nothing between them that compelled us to root for them as a couple.  I was completely indifferent to whether or not they made it to their inevitable happy ending.  And the same could be said of Matthew McConaughey in The Wedding Planner or Ben Affleck in either Gigli or Jersey Girl.

But I keep going back to Out of Sight, a film that truly jolted me awake when I saw it in theaters.  It’s just a perfect crime film slash romance that is believable and funny and haunting and fun.  I hadn’t been anticipating it too highly because I didn’t think much of Clooney at the time and I thought it would be another one of those Tarantino rip-off flicks, coming hot on the heels of Tarantino’s own Elmore Leonard adaptation.  But Soderbergh is a true visionary and he aimed to make a film that was unique unto itself and it had the brilliant idea of a timeline that weaves back and forth.

However, the real treat of the film, the secret weapon if you will, is Jennifer Lopez as the badass Karen Sisco. In fact, Lopez made such indelible impression and crafted such a compelling character that there was a short-lived TV show based on the character.  It’s a wonderful character, to be sure; the tough, beautiful chick who happens to be a US Marshal.  But, there’s nothing on the page that would make her intrinsically more fascinating than George Clooney’s Jack Foley, a man who has robbed more banks than anyone on record. And as fantastic as Clooney’s Foley is – and he is truly great and was robbed of a nomination – it’s Lopez that really makes the screen pop.  She’s electric.  And it convinced me so completely of her abilities as an actress that, like I said, I spent the next decade defending her to everyone.

What surprises me more than anything is that Lopez has only played one more law enforcement official since and it was in the dreadful Angel Eyes. But in the nine years since that film, she hasn’t returned to the kind of role that made us all love her. I would love to see her play a tough police officer or detective trying to solve a case and interrogating bad guys. This is the kind of role she would own so completely, but instead she’s been spending her time in cloying romantic comedies or sparring with Jane Fonda in the inane Monster-in-Law. It’s bad that Fonda chose that film as her big comeback, but she also has two Oscars and a lot of great films on her resume. She also took more risks at Lopez’s age, starring in the strange Godard film Tout va Bien with Yves Montand.  The film was terrible, but at least it was a risk worth taking, with a great filmmaker.  If only Lopez would take such risks.

Ideally, Lopez should have taken the jump to the small-screen and played Karen Sisco in the television show. But I suppose that would have been seen as a step back.  But she could have played Sisco in a series of movies, as well. Either way, I don’t know why Lopez has abandoned what seems to have been a perfect fit for her talents. I understand that she wanted to be a pop star, but that shouldn’t have precluded her from picking riskier projects. In fact, it should have emboldened her to take more risks because she had another career.  After all, she took the “risk” of playing a lesbian in Gigli.  But she does wind up with Ben Affleck in the end, so I suppose that’s not much of a risk.

(Side-note: I remember watching Gigli for the first time when it came out on DVD.  I bought it so that I could watch it with a girl I was dating, figuring it would be a hilariously bad film that we could enjoy laughing at.  But it was worse than that.  It had gone so beyond bad that it was funny. There was nothing enjoyable about that film whatsoever and it has zero redeeming value. It’s just unwatchable and it’s a chore to sit through and I couldn’t believe that it was as bad as everyone had been saying for months. Martin Brest, what happened man?  I’m speaking as one of the guys who loved, yes loved, Meet Joe Black.  Brest really needs to make another film because that bad taste has been lingering in my mouth for seven years now. End of digression.)

Lopez hasn’t made a film in four years and I would think that during that hiatus, she’d be reflecting and trying to return to a place where she could love acting once again.  I can’t imagine that The Back-up Plan is the film that’s going to wow us.  And I stopped defending her sometime around An Unfinished Life.  And not to be cheesy, but I feel that way about Lopez’s career, that it’s unfinished.  I’ll hold out hope that she’ll choose a good project and that electricity will return, but I think ultimately her acting will be a footnote to her music career.  And that’s a real shame.

Noah Forrest
April 5, 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.

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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