MCN Columnists
Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

On Vacation

I’m lucky enough to be spending a couple of weeks in Maui, so my movie-watching schedule has been somewhat disrupted so that I can snorkel and tan and all of that. And yes, I’m saying this to make you jealous. But I’m also saying this to let you know that I haven’t gotten a chance to get to theaters in a while. What I have been able to do, though, is spend time, lying on the beach, thinking about some filmmakers and actors who probably need to come back from their vacations and start making serious work again.

The interesting thing about Hollywood, for me, is that I find myself rooting for certain actors to succeed, hoping that when they finally become bankable stars that they will then get difficult films greenlit. It is to my perpetual dismay that when good actors become stars, they choose instead to attach themselves to films that don’t need them.

In other words, instead of using their newfound clout to star in passion projects, they cash in and pick the biggest blockbuster available to them. Oh sure, there are stars like Clooney, Pitt, and Damon who choose to attach themselves to either smart blockbusters or character-based work that allows them to grow. But unfortunately, this is not the career path that most choose and it’s disheartening.

Anyway, here are four powerful guys who I think need to come back from their “vacations” and get back to doing real work again.

Steven Spielberg
On Vacation Since: Munich, 2005

One of the very first columns I wrote for MCN was a passionate defense of Spielberg’s recent output, which was after Munich came out, but before the atrocity known as Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I happened to be a big fan of his A.I. and I thought Catch Me if You Can was some of the best work he’d done, and I think Munich grows deeper every time I watch it. But in the five years since then, he’s only released one film and it’s a flat-out terrible one. Although, that’s not the reason I think he needs to come back from vacation.

The films that Spielberg has flirted with doing since Crystal Skull are not what I want from the man. I don’t think there is anybody in the world that is clamoring to see one of the world’s greatest technical filmmakers take on a remake of Harvey. Yet, that was the film that Spielberg was mounting. I also don’t want to see Spielberg join the hordes of 3-D nerds, teaming up with Peter Jackson for the Tin-Tin films that’s he’s been working on for a while. These flirtations, along with his remake of War of the Worlds, have me thinking that perhaps Spielberg is a much more cynical filmmaker than a passionate one. Perhaps the man isn’t necessarily out to entertain you, but would rather take known titles and give it that Spielberg touch and hope that people will turn out.

When Spielberg made Munich, I was impressed by the fact that he was willing to go to dark places and to tread difficult political ground. I thought it was the turning of a new leaf for Spielberg, that he had reached a point of success where he could just say, “you know what, I’ve made so much money, I’m just going to make the movies that matter to me.” And there’s no way that you can convince me that his latest Indiana Jones movie was as important to him as Munich or Schindler’s List. Considering the amount of time it takes for him to rally himself to direct a film, I want him to pick one that actually means something to him.

I think the movie that Spielberg absolutely must make is his Abraham Lincoln biopic that he’s been flirting with for a decade. Liam Neeson would be the perfect Lincoln, Spielberg is the perfect man for the job. Let’s get this done.

Tom Hanks
On Vacation Since: The Ladykillers, 2004

One could make the argument that Hanks was trying when he made Charlie Wilson’s War, but as much as I enjoyed that picture, very little of it had to do with Hanks and Julia Roberts, two stars who seemed to be coasting on their stardom rather than truly acting. The thing about Hanks is that he is a very gifted actor, charismatic to be sure, but he’s also had an ability to show a wide range. He’s at his best when he’s awkwardly charming, but he can be soft-spoken like he is in Saving Private Ryan or low-key and frazzled like he is in Catch Me if You Can or just flat-out magnetic and human like in Cast Away.

But with the choices Hanks is making lately, it’s hard to remember why we loved him so much to begin with. We loved him because we could relate to him. When he played a flawed character, we accepted him anyway because he was able to imbue every character with humanity and dignity. I used to watch the movie Bachelor Party all the time when I was a kid and it’s really kind of amazing the tightrope he walks in that film; he’s playing an absolute asshole. He’s crass and rude and uncouth, but he’s so damn charming that we understand why Tawny Kitaen would be smitten with him. Despite the script giving him very little evidence of it, Hanks makes sure the character has a heart. Hell, when I think of the movie Joe Versus the Volcano, I think of the tour-de-force performance Hanks gives in that movie, able to believably go from someone who is beaten down by life to someone who is invigorated, all while he travels to throw himself into a pit of lava.

So what happened? It seems like Hanks thinks that his charm will just poke through in whatever role he chooses. When he decided to tackle the role of Robert Langdon in The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, it seemed like an interesting fit. Having never read the books, I can’t tell you if he’s playing the character accurately, but I can tell you how it comes across on screen: BORING.

If there’s one thing I never thought I’d say about a Hanks performance, it would be that it was boring. He’s the guy who we watched on screen for an hour and a half talking to a volleyball, yet when he’s racing around Europe in a high-concept adventure flick, he’s completely flat. There is absolutely nothing to the character and Hanks doesn’t even try to give him a hint of a personality. If I were to ask you about the Robert Langdon character, “What defines him?” you would probably say, “Well, he’s a symbologist.” Then I’d say, “Okay, that’s what he does, but who is he?” I guarantee you’d be at a loss.

That character, combined with profoundly uninteresting Zemeckis experiment The Polar Express, has left me wondering what happened to the Hanks I know and love. His next film is one that he wrote and will direct and star in and it’s called Larry Crowne. It’s clear, based on his involvement in the creative process, that this is a film that means something to Hanks, that it’s a passion of his. I hope it’s a return to form.

Robert Downey, Jr.
On Vacation Since: Zodiac, 2007

This one is more along the lines of: please don’t continue down this path you’re going down. I’m giving Downey a lot of leeway because he’s given us a plethora of wonderful performances. But the problem with Downey now is that he’s locked into playing two characters for the next few years in Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes, now that both of those franchises turned out to be huge successes. He’s fine in both of those roles, but it’s not as difficult as the work that he used to do.

Compare what he does in those films to what he accomplished in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang or Zodiac. The degree of difficulty for those performances is exponentially higher than what he does in Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes, franchises with built-in fanbases. In those films, all he has to do is look cool and say some funny lines while the majority of the audience waits for the next action scene.

There are some who will point to Tropic Thunder as one of the high points of his career. I will humbly disagree. I don’t think it’s a bad film or a bad performance, but it’s a one-note film and a one-note performance. He plays a white actor playing a black man, complete with black-face. It is, without a doubt, a huge risk. Or so it seemed. The way it’s played actually seems to repel controversy rather than court it. It takes a controversial and funny idea and then makes it as safe and as boring as possible. The joke doesn’t go anywhere you didn’t expect it to go. Downey mostly plays the same note repeatedly. And for me, the joke wore thin.

Either way, I look at the slate of films Downey is attached to: Due Date, the Todd Phillips movie with Zach Galifianakis, which I’m sure will be funny; although I wonder whether it’s the best use of Downey’s enormous talents, we’ll see on that. Then he’s got another Iron Man movie, another Sherlock Holmes movie and The Avengers super movie coming out. That’s a lot of time devoted to blockbuster films. For those who love seeing him play those characters, that’s great for them. For those of us who enjoy seeing Downey bring his manic genius to more intimate, character-based films, it’s a disappointment.

Johnny Depp
On Vacation Since: Sometime in 2004 (Secret Window, The Libertine, Finding Neverland)

It breaks my heart to see Depp this way. What hurts the most is the fact that he’s clearly still trying, it’s just that he’s trying with the wrong projects. It’s funny to see him play Michael Jackson in a remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but is it the best use of his time and talents? He’s clearly stretching with Sweeney Todd by singing, but he doesn’t bring the same intensity to that role that he’s brought to others, like he’s handcuffed by the project he picked.

The two things that have hurt Depp the most are: 1) staying loyal to Tim Burton, who clearly has no interest in being the artist he once was, instead spending his time remaking films that didn’t need to be remade and 2) continuing to play Jack Sparrow.

I want to delve into that second part a bit more. When he played Jack Sparrow in the first Pirates of the Caribbean flick, it was a revelation. Everyone was stunned by the wacky performance he gave, except for those of us who’ve been following him since Edward Scissorhands and Cry-Baby. We knew that despite his good looks, he relished playing oddballs like the title character in Ed Wood or Hunter Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

But when Pirates became a blockbuster, people saw what Depp was capable of. So, of course, the studio ordered two more Pirates movies and Depp continued playing a character that was interesting and weird the first time, but not as interesting or weird the more we saw him. Now that he’s attached to playing the character a fourth time, it’s clear that it’s a money-grab.

At this point, I want Depp to stop playing Jack Sparrow and stop working with Tim Burton. I didn’t like his performance in Public Enemies nor did I think the movie was worth a damn, but I thought “at least he’s working with a good filmmaker.” On his slate, I see that he’s working with The Lives of Others director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck on the film The Tourist with Angelina Jolie, so that sounds interesting. Then there’s the Hunter Thompson adaptation Rum Punch directed by Bruce Robinson.

Maybe Depp is finally cashing in and making the films he wants to make, but if it comes at the price of more Pirates movies, I don’t know if I can handle it. I suppose I just miss the guy who played multiple roles in Before Night Falls and I hope he’s done with his vacation in Blockbusterville soon.

Noah Forrest
June 7, 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