MCN Columnists
Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

Burning Questions

We’re in the middle of the summer movie season and so far everything has been exactly what we would have expected it to be. No movie has been any better or worse than I would have assumed before summer started and I’ve yet to see something that has truly wowed me. There are still about seven weeks left of the season, though and there are projects on the horizon that might prove worthwhile. We’ll find out what’s good and what’s not in the coming weeks, but until then these are the questions I’m curious to find the answers to before the summer is over:

1) Is Inception as good as the early reviewers claim?
What does it mean for the legacy of Christopher Nolan? I’m in agreement with my boss, David Poland, when he says that it makes him nervous when lots of early reviewers anoint something as the next great thing. I find that for me, if something is called the greatest or worst thing since the last greatest or worst thing, I usually find those films neither as great nor as bad as all the hype would suggest.

I wonder if there is something about seeing a film before anyone else – something I rarely have the opportunity to do – that creates a false sense of excitement in the person reviewing it. Maybe it all goes back to the early days of AICN when we first started reading test screening reviews from “spies” who, in order to stand out, would speak entirely in hyperbole; Batman and Robin is the worst movie ever, Titanic is the best movie I’ve ever seen, etc.

I’m not saying the people who see and rave early about films aren’t being sincere, I think they truly are. I’m just saying that I like to see a movie after it has already been hyped by the early reviewers because I feel it gives me a better perspective. It’s hard to be the first guy out of the gate and you don’t want to be the only one who didn’t declare a masterpiece a masterpiece. At the same time, I think it’s better to let things marinate for a little while in your brain before rushing to the computer to file a review just so you can be “First!”. It seems that when writers rush reviews, they tend a lot to fall into the trap of invoking the names of great films and filmmakers rather than reviewing that particular film for what it is — which does nothing but unfairly compare one filmmaker to another.

In the case of Inception, for example, people have compared Christopher Nolan to Stanley Kubrick just because they are emotionally “cold.” I’m sorry, but they are just not comparable filmmakers at all and that’s a really lame way to find a way to shoehorn the greatest filmmaker ever into the conversation.

Okay, with all of that out of the way, Inception is still my most anticipated movie of the summer because the people who are gushing over it happen to be people whose opinions I respect. I didn’t love The Dark Knight as much as I wanted to; I respected a lot of what it tried to do, but I also couldn’t get past some of the major flaws that the defenders of the film seemed to overlook. That said, I do think Nolan is definitely a cut above your standard issue blockbuster filmmaker; in fact, I think he’s several cuts above. I admire his desire to subvert expectations and the fact that he’s a smart and intuitive filmmaker who always seems to be a few steps ahead of his audience. At least, I feel that’s the kind of filmmaker he is when he’s making his films.

But say what you will about his Batman films, I don’t believe for a second that they are as close to his heart as Memento or The Prestige, two films which I find endlessly fascinating.

Inception will prove to be Nolan’s biggest challenge yet because it’s the first time I can remember that a studio is entrusting such a gigantic budget (purported to be north of $150 million) to a film that promises to be cerebral and twisty. All indications are that this is an “event” film with the soul of an indie. And these are the kind of films that we must pay to see because we want more intelligent blockbusters. Nolan, presumably, is being rewarded with this budget for this kind of film because he directed the second highest grossing film of all-time; there is a lot of pressure for him to deliver. This would be huge for Nolan’s legacy because if he hits it big with this film, then he’ll be able to make more original films with big budgets and he won’t have to spend years of his life doing “one for them” if the ones he does for himself are successful.

Hopefully Inception delivers for his sake and for ours.

2) Will Salt be the Bourne film of 2010?
A few people I’ve spoken to who have gotten a gander at this flick have been really positive about it. I hear it really moves, it’s a lot of fun but it’s smarter than the average thriller. Apparently it’s no Wanted, which is good news for us all. I think Angelina Jolie is the ideal woman to star in a modern spy film like this, much in the way that Matt Damon was the perfect star for the Bourne films and The Good Shepherd; they both have the unique ability to say a lot without saying anything. Jolie’s eyes are so expressive and she’s able to convey a lot without yelling or screaming, which is important if you’re playing a spy.

Phillip Noyce is one of the more interesting action filmmakers because he seems more interested than directed action scenes for the sake of having excitement in his films. Even in a mediocre film like The Saint, every chase scene makes sense in terms of pushing the narrative forward. I’m not expecting Salt to be an award winner, but smart thrilling films are rare indeed and if it’s even in the same ballpark as the Bourne films, then we’ll definitely have something to be pleased about.

3) How good or bad will Scott Pilgrim be? Will the geek community get caught up in hyperbole just because they adore the source material and are thus inclined to love the end result regardless? Or on the flip side, will they judge the adaptation too harshly if it doesn’t meet their every expecation? And the most burning question of all … will Michael Cera ever play a part in which he doesn’t seem to be mostly playing “Michael Cera,” Self-Effacting, Awkward Nice Guy?

I keep being told how awesome this movie is going to be since apparently every film geek in the world is Facebook friends with Edgar Wright and he’s a cool dude. I’m sure Wright is an awesome guy to hang out with and all, but he’s yet to make a film that I think completely works. Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz are decent and entertaining films, but they’re not smarter just because they speak with British accents and they’re not funnier just because they lovingly skewer genres that geeks love.

“But every geek I know has not stopped telling me how excited they are to see this movie because the source material is incredible. Well, those trailers aren’t getting me revved up and I’m sick of seeing Michael Cera play every part the same way. I imagine that this kind of film isn’t designed for someone like me – and that’s not me being pretentious, I’m just being honest that these types of films typically don’t appeal to me, it’s not a judgment on people who do enjoy them. It’s not as if I’m sitting at home watching nothing but Merchant-Ivory films. I think when geek films get it right – like Sin City or X-Men 2 – they really get it right. I just think sometimes the audience that is being sought tends to be happy just to be getting their favorite meal, no matter if it’s over-salted or under-seasoned. And I think the geeks deserve better.

Look, I’m sure there are some out there who question my geek credentials and wonder why I would even discuss a film like this if it’s not in my “preferred” genre. Well the answer is that I love film in general and I don’t hate something just because it’s in a genre that I don’t normally gravitate to. I’ve seen almost every “geek” film out there, so I have a base of knowledge for what I see, but I hope to give an alternative perspective. I think that by writing about “geek” films the same way I would write about a more “serious” film, I’m giving the genre a lot of credit. I’m not just brushing them off as something “less than,” I’m giving them a seat at the table and as such, I will point out the issues I have with those films.

But the sad truth of the matter is that I feel like even if this film is as bad as The Last Airbender, every geek will give it a pass. In fact, I would go so far as to guarantee you will not see a negative review on any of the typical geek sites. I just think it’s a shame that there’s a section of the audience that is now so easy to please because when AICN and CHUD first started, they were so displeased with the product that was being put out by Hollywood since there was nothing that appealed to them. Now Hollywood makes films specifically for that audience and they accept the scraps they are given. It’s how it always is, I suppose; there’s a new guard that overthrows the old regime and then they become the new establishment.

All of that aside, I love that Kieran Culkin is finally returning to the movies and I’m excited to see the film just to see him and other personal favorites like Aubrey Plaza, Anna Kendrick, and Mark Webber. I hope the material is as good as the actors assembled.

4) Will The Other Guys or Dinner for Schmucks give us something to laugh about this summer?
Can you believe it’s only been six years since Anchorman changed the face of comedy in cinema? It seems like a lot has happened to the stars and filmmakers since the release of that film and it’s been a mixed bag. Anchorman is up there with The 40-Year Old Virgin as one of the funniest films of this decade, for me, and three of the actors are now comedy stars in their own right.

What made Anchorman so great was that there was no limit to what they could do. The film was made cheaply enough and with enough star cameos that they let Will Ferrell and his gang get away with material that was not just edgy for the sake of being edgy, but weird and hilarious. My favorite jokes aren’t usually the ones that make me laugh hysterically right away, but the ones that make me say, “What?” and then I think about it the next day with tears in my eyes.

Well, Anchorman is full of moments like that because the guys making it had nothing to lose. Now, Will Ferrell, Steve Carell and Paul Rudd all have something to lose. They’re not just semi-known jokesters making low-budget comedies that dared to be weird. No, they are brands now and they’re starring in big-budget summer comedies that have to appeal to the mainstream. And when you try to appeal to the mainstream, usually you’re not making something that’s very funny. Comedies are hilarious when they push the envelope. I’m not just talking about using the word “fuck,” I’m talking about allowing the actors to improvise without being handcuffed by words they can’t say or things they can’t do.

Dinner for Schmucks has been rated PG-13 and The Other Guys will probably be rated the same. This doesn’t mean that those films won’t be funny. After all, Anchorman was rated PG-13. But it always makes me upset when stars become stars and then don’t use that clout. In my experience, R-rated comedies are generally funnier because they have the freedom to go to strange places, but Ferrell, Carell and Rudd are funny guys and I hope they deliver regardless of the rating.

Of the three, I think Rudd’s been delivering better than the other two since Anchorman (with the underrated Role Models and I Love You, Man) while Carell hasn’t starred in a film since The 40 Year Old Virgin that was as exciting. Ferrell had the excellent Step Brothers but he’s been a little too willing to star in films like Land of the Lost. I hope both of these comedies make the most out of the talented cast. But I really hope Universal lets them get to work in Anchorman 2 ASAP.

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