MCN Columnists
Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

Mid-Year Report Card

The first half of any given year is not a good time to reflect on what movies have been released. This is where I give my usual speech about how ridiculous it is that all the “smart” and “prestigious” films are reserved for after the summer is over; I mean, honestly, what kind of studies have been done to show that during the summer months all audiences want is loud and dumb?

Regardless, I have to say that this year has been atrocious so far. In looking at my list of sixty-five new releases I’ve seen so far this year, I would watch maybe four of them again and recommend eight.
When Knight and Day is in my top ten list at the end of June, you know this just isn’t a very good year for movies.

I’m hopeful that Inception will be the white horse that everyone is claiming it to be, but even still, it’s been depressing to walk
out of a movie theater these days. Depressing because I know that what I’ve just seen
was the work of a lot of people and will leave zero impression on me and my fellow
moviegoers. Disposable, mindless entertainment has its place, but there is definitely an
abundance of it these days.

Nevertheless, I’m going to give you my summer report card where I’ll give grades
to various directors and stars because I’m drunk with power! Also, I want to shine a light
on some of the decent work that’s been done.

Pixar: B-plus. As an entity in general, I would give Pixar an easy A, as they are the
most consistent supplier of good movies out there. Every single year, Pixar puts out a
noteworthy film. This year is no different. Toy Story 3 is very good. I don’t think it’s
as great as the first two installments, nor do I think it’s on the level of something like
Wall-E, but it’s definitely a must-see in this year.

Michael Shannon: A-minus for his role in The Runaways. I would give him an A for being the best thing about that film, but I have to deduct points for agreeing to be in perhaps the most boring movie ever made about a rock band (except for The Doors documentary When You’re Strange). I wouldn’t recommend the film, but I would highly recommend that if you have to see the film, just fast forward to the parts with Michael Shannon. The movie comes alive when he’s onscreen.

Paul Greengrass: D for Green Zone. The more I think about this movie, the more it
upsets me. I don’t have a problem with political films that take a side on an issue, but
I don’t like it when movies sermonize. Films should be persuasive with aggrandizing
speeches. Greengrass certainly has a style that is recognizable and it might even make
him an auteur, but that doesn’t make him a filmmaker that I’m terribly interested in. I
think the Bourne films were all good, but the one he didn’t direct was my favorite and I
thought his United 93 was overrated and exploitative.

I just want to see him direct a film that doesn’t rely on either a hot-button issue or shaky handheld camera work with quick edits. For those who will say, “but that’s his style,” well it’s one that doesn’t appeal to Noah Baumbach:

A for Greenberg. I am a huge Baumbach fan and I think he’s on a hell of a run right now. The Squid and the Whale is one of the best films of the last decade and Margot at the Wedding was in my top ten in 2007. Greenberg is the best film I’ve seen so far this year and I’ll write more about it as the year goes on, but I just want to say that Baumbach is such a master of misdirection. His last two films have not been about their titular characters. The hero of Margot at the Wedding is clearly not the Margot, but her son Claude. And the real hero of Greenberg is not Ben Stiller’s character, it’s Greta Gerwig’s. It’s her journey and she’s the one that undergoes changes throughout the film. And she’s so fantastic in the film that she had better snag a nomination in the fall.

Atom Egoyan: F for Chloe. I really don’t understand what has happened to Egoyan. Exoticawas an excellent picture and The Sweet Hereafter might be one of the few perfect films I’ve seen, and is probably in my top ten films of the ’90s. But since then? It’s been fairly underwhelming. Felicia’s Journey was fine, but Where the Truth Lies and Ararat were both disappointing and Adoration was pretty close to being a disaster. But nothing could have prepared me for Chloe. Adapted from the Anne Fontaine’s enjoyable Nathalie … starring the wonderful Fanny Ardant and Emmanuelle Beart, it seemed like Egoyan had at least lined up a decent cast with Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore and Amanda Seyfried. He diverted from the original quite a bit, but mostly it just seemed like he was going for something sleazier than the original.

None of the characters in the new film feel real and the ending is laughably bad. I never
would have predicted that Egoyan would make a “Hollywood” version of a much better story.

Bob Richardson: A for Shutter Island’s photography. I had a lot of issues with Shutter Island, but ultimately I would recommend it. The biggest reason I think the film is worth seeing is that it’s the most beautiful looking film I’ve seen so far this year. Bob Richardson’s work here is phenomenal, especially in the dream sequences and flashbacks, where the colors pop so brightly. Each shot is composed perfectly.

Michael Bay: D-Minus for A Nightmare on Elm Street. I don’t know who else to blame for this horrible remake, but I have to blame someone and Michael Bay is an easy target. He’s also probably most to blame since it was his production company that has decided to make terrible remakes of horror films from the ’70s and ’80s that still hold up. There are a couple ideas in the remake that are intriguing, but there’s one problem: it’s not scary. The original was intense and surprising and went in unexpected directions. The remake is completely useless and predictable.

Sofia Coppola: A for the Somewhere preview. I think The Virgin Suicides and Lost
in Translation are two of the most brilliant films of the last fifteen years. I thought Marie Antoinette was probably the single most disappointing film for me, personally, in that same time span. So nothing could make me happier than to see Coppola return to subject matter that she excels at. I’m skeptical that Stephen Dorff is capable of being Hollywood’s latest reclamation project, but I’m interested to find out after seeing the preview. Truth be told, I was sold the second I heard the first few bars of one of my favorite Strokes song.

Benicio Del Toro: C-minus for The Wolf Man. I was really stoked to see this movie when Mark Romanek was attached. When he left the project, I think Del Toro would have been better off leaving too. But The Wolf Man was Del Toro’s baby and he wanted to see it all the way through to the birthing process. I would have loved to have seen what Romanek would have done with this material, but with Joe Johnston, it is uninvolving and uninspired. I don’t begrudge Del Toro for being attracted to the material, but he had to have known that he wouldn’t ever really pass for being Anthony Hopkins’ son. And that’s not even the worst of the film’s problems. I’m sure Del Toro will bounce back and he’ll be incredible in something again soon, but I was surprised by how flat his performance was in The Wolf Man. Romanek’sNever Let Me Go, incidentally, looks like a must-see film.

Liam Neeson: D for The A-Team, Clash of the Titans, Chloe, After.Life. What’s
amazing about Neeson is that he’s not bad in any of these movies. My problem is just
that he chose to star in four terrible movies all in a row. He’s such a solid actor and
always seems to give it his best shot, but he’s giving it his best shot in movies that are
beneath an actor of his talents. But really, I blame Steven Spielberg. If he would just
make his damn Abraham Lincoln movie already, then Neeson would have a great role to
sink his teeth into. Come on Spielberg, help your buddy Liam out.

Sarah Polley: B-plus for her work in Splice. I love Sarah Polley. Loved her since I
saw her in The Sweet Hereafter and have loved all the work she’s done since then, both
in front of and behind the camera (Away From Her is a special film). I think she’s just a
compelling figure. She does excellent work in Vincenzo Natali’s Splice, which is a good
picture for most of its running time before falling apart in the last reel.

But Polley is the biggest reason why the film works as well as it does, making us believe in the reality of her character. She undergoes some pretty radical shifts through the course of the film and it’s her responsibility to make us believe them. And mostly we do. Polley hasn’t really done a whole lot of acting work in the last few years, which is a shame. She’s a talented filmmaker, but I just hope she remembers to get in front of the camera once in a while.

Tony Grisoni: A-minus for writing Red Riding. Grisoni had a hell of a task trying to
condense a long and complicated story into one coherent narrative that runs about five
hours. What’s most fascinating to me is how Grisoni was able to handle the change in
tones. The three different directors clearly bring something different to all the chapters,
but it starts with the script Grisoni wrote. It’s twisty and dense, but Grisoni makes it
compelling for us while keeping us in the dark for long stretches. It’s hard to tell a story
that makes the audience ask more and more questions as the narrative moves forward and
keep the viewer engaged, but Grisoni pulls it off. He simplifies the things that need to be
simplified and he helps us keep track of all the characters (and there are lots). For me,
Tony Grisoni is the screenwriter of the year.

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