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April 13, 2011

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Chris O.

Personally, I'd go with Jack Black. I like him, but the "Margot at the Wedding"-style performances are overshadowed by over-the-top googly-eyed "Gulliver's Travels" turns. I mean, "over-the-top" is his "thing," I realize, but it is taxing, and I know he has it in him to pull off a quieter riot a little more often.

Account Deleted

Crystal Skull is Ford's only watchable performance since Air Force One IMO.

Strangely, I find myself agreeing with most of Emerson's piece on Christopher Nolan. His screenplays (particularly Dark Knight) consist of people making statements to one another, and his visual style is pretty drab when compared to people like Fincher and Mann. I love Memento, and enjoyed Insomnia, The Prestige and Inception, but have no burning desire to see any of those flicks again. The comparisons to Kubrick some commentators have made are ludicrous.

bill

Ford might well be my pick, too. God, did I worship him when I was a kid. Now when I see him I just think "What an asshole."

Even so, though, is it okay that, much to my dismay, I actually kinda liked HOLLYWOOD HOMICIDE? I thought Ford was pretty funny in that one.

lipranzer

Agree about HOLLYWOOD HOMICIDE, Bill. As an action movie, it's standard issue, but I found it very funny as a comedy. And not just Ford; if Josh Hartnett took more roles like this where he was making fun of himself, I think he'd have more of a career. The scene where both of them are being interrogated is really funny.

Kim Morgan's piece about Nancy Myers was spot-on.

bill

Agreed, which ties into a rather shameful secret I've been harboring for some time: I have absolutely nothing whatsoever against Josh Hartnett, and don't mind it when he's in movies.

christian

The sad thing was that HOLLYWOOD HOMICIDE should have been a comedy from day one. Weary cop trying to get his real estate license, boom. Ford is really good in it as is Hartnett, and the scenes with Martin Landau, Ford setting up deals with rappers, come on. But then the boring murder plot kicks in and the utterly lame action scenes.

Owain Wilson

Harrison Ford is undoubtedly my generation's movie star. He was knocking great movies and great star turns out the park since I was but a baby, and continued to do so for two whole decades. Thus, it's been extremely painful to see him not bother at all in some very anonymous films for the last 13 years or so.

For me, the rot well and truly set in with Random Hearts with which I did the unthinkable: I didn't bother to go and see it in the cinema. I hope, hope, hope he turns it around. Not to knock the mighty Jeff Bridges in any way whatsoever, but if Ford's career never cooled the role of Rooster Cogburn in True Grit should have been his.

Shame.

Oliver_C

"The comparisons [of Nolan] to Kubrick some commentators have made are ludicrous."

The less Kubrick you've seen, the easier it becomes to make that comparison. How many Nolan fanboys do you think have watched the likes of 'Lolita' or 'Barry Lyndon'?

otherbill

I've often wondered if Ford's 21st century woes have anything to do with his oft-made assertion that he doesn't consider movies to be art, or at least very rarely approach that designation. I'm not saying that other iconic stars have all been world class cineastes, but it seems that those who remain vital past a certain age have an awareness of their personal iconography and where it fits in the movie universe that allows them to play with it or cut against its grain in interesting ways. I've not seen MORNING GLORY, but I hope his performance there constitutes a move in that direction. And I really hope he keeps the fedora and bullwhip in cold storage- CRYSTAL SKULL hurt my soul.

Sal C

Wow, Jim Emerson articulates perfectly everything I feel about Nolan's films. What a terrific piece.

jbryant

Is it possible that Ford's most engaging performance of the last 10 years or so was in "I'm F*cking Ben Affleck"?

JC

He's been articulating it over and over again for the past three years. I kind of wonder what Nolan would say if Emerson's name were ever brought up in an interview. Of course, it's possible he's never heard of him, and is perfectly content with the widespread critical and commercial acclaim he's encountered elsewhere.

Either way, don't doubt for a second that Emerson won't be right there on opening weekend for The Dark Knight Rises, likely recycling the same material as before. Of course, he could just sit that one out, to avoid, you know, torturing himself any further. As most of us do when we encounter a writer/director who doesn't cater to our sensibility.

Tom Block

And then the next time he bad-mouths Nolan, someone will say, "How would YOU know? You didn't even go see 'Dark Knight Boogie'!"

Sometimes you just can't win...

Hollis Lime

Since when is making a mediocre film "not catering to a sensibility" as opposed to actually being a mediocre film? I'm sorry, but I think that's soft criticism. Once you start accepting things like that, movies stop being art, and become mere "content". Emerson will probably go back because he hopes that Nolan will a film he likes.

Kevyn Knox

Harrison Ford is especially difficult (and heartbreaking). When I was a kid, he was my idol. I was 9 when he was Han Solo for the first time (and yes, I was Han in any type of game my friends and I played!) and I was 12 when Indy came on the scene, so to say I grew up with Ford is a quite apt statement.

If someone else does stupid movies - say De Niro or Pacino these days (and God knows they qualify) - it is not quite as harsh a feeling for me. I loved both De Niro and Pacino in their earlier roles, but I did not come upon those particular roles until about a decade later when I was in High School. Ford had me as a kid, so it is extra heartbreak I feel when I am forced to agree with your choice.

Perhaps I will post my own choice over at The Most Beautiful Fraud in the World (as a non-companion companion piece) but I would have to choose someone other than Ford of course. We will see.

lazarus

Ford was never a great actor, and he's the Gary Cooper of his generation, which I don't mean as a compliment.

Two iconic roles (Solo & Jones), but that's it. There are a good number of actors who could have done Blade Runner just as well if not better.

Anyone who still stuck with this guy after he backed out of Soderbergh's Traffic needs their head examined.

James Keepnews

Well, now, Laz, I'm far from a big fan of Harry but even I'd allow him his coltish turn in AMERICAN GRAFFITI, miscast but fully committed to his obsessions in THE MOSQUITO COAST and (easily my favorite) the halting, disconcerted soldier in APOCALYPSE NOW who verbalizes the order to "terminate the Colonel's command" -- it wasn't until years after I first saw it that I realized it was Ford. Try imagining Gary Cooper in any of those roles...yeah, me neither.

That once-upon-a-time "palpable" commitment Glenn notes has indeed been replaced in the last decade or more by a palpable contempt for his material. Why should audiences feel otherwise?

lazarus

Well I certainly think Ford is more versatile than Cooper (who I absolutely loathe, without a doubt the worst of the major classic stars), but I just think the guy is a stiff. You have a couple exceptions (like The Mosquito Coast), but his batting average is pretty damned low compared to his contemporaries. For every worthwhile performance one can name several where he's going through the motions. And it's not just the past decade. His work in the 90's doesn't impress either. The Jack Ryan films, Presumed Innocent, The Fugitive, Air Force One. Just bland work on his part.

JC

"Since when is making a mediocre film "not catering to a sensibility" as opposed to actually being a mediocre film? I'm sorry, but I think that's soft criticism."

Not being a full-time critic anymore, Mr. Emerson has the luxury of going to see whatever he wants, and by that same token avoiding what he would consider to be the "pedestrian" fare out there. It just seems that that particular director, by and large, makes films in a style/format that doesn't do anything for him, and thus, indulging Nolan any further would only result in Emerson repeating the same points he's already made over and over again the past few years. Which is to say, if a particular filmmaker writes/directs movies in a style ("Too literal-minded!"/"No attention paid to spatial relations or mise-en-scene!") that you consider to be "mediocre" (this goes beyond one film in this particular case), and they don't seem all that inclined to deviate from said form in future films, it seems a rather fruitless pursuit to keep indulging them in the hope that they'll suddenly switch it up drastically to suit your interests.

He's said that he finds the films "more interesting to write about than watch", but at this point, given his (I'd say) 75-80% negative impression of the director, I honestly don't see why it would be of any interest to him to continue down the same well-travelled road. If he's looking for insight as to why some folks respond so strongly to Nolan's work, well, he's only getting it from a few sources at this point (a young man named Andrew springs instantly to mind), as most of the director's supporters stopped bothering to comment on Emerson's blog long ago. So what you mostly get is an anti-Nolan pile-on, which has become beyond redundant at this point.

And I say all this as an admirer of (most of) Emerson's writing: he's one of them most articulate film writers online, IMO.

The Siren

JC, the suggestion that a critic, any critic--full time, part time, paid, unpaid, cinecrophiliac or hip as all hell--simply stop writing about a director because that director has been a past disappointment is a complete nonstarter.

One of my favorite things ever said by a critic was said by James Wolcott, swatting away suggestions that Oliver Stone should pack up his jacks and go home: "Every movie is another chance." Emerson is more than articulate, he's intelligent and broadminded enough to realize that Nolan may yet surprise him.

In fact, I'm going to link to that piece; Oliver Stone could easily have made this "taxing" list. But, in common with some of those who did make the list, one blazing return to form could take him right off it. I'm an optimist.

http://www.vanityfair.com/online/wolcott/2005/07/oliver-stone-an.html

jbryant

Gary Cooper was a natural screen presence and a beautiful-looking man. I suspect the near-impossibility of seeing his films projected on the big screen is a significant contributing factor to diminishing his star quality in the eyes of many contemporary viewers. The other thing, of course, is his low key, almost inexpressive acting style, but I'd say with the right director he shines. Capra, Hawks, Lubitsch, Wyler, Borzage...

A limited actor, for sure. But he has his moments.

Jaime

Orson Welles watched Cooper on-set and didn't even think he could do a single take, that he just wasn't "there," but saw the same take onscreen and understood completely.

That's what a star was - that's what's hard for some to comprehend these days, when movies often seem to be destined to be viewed on your cell phone.

warren oates

Yeah, but Oliver Stone made three brilliant films (JFK, NIXON, NBK) that for better or worse and whether you like his work or not have influenced everybody, including, arguably, Errol Morris. Other great movies like PLATOON and zeitgeist definers like WALL STREET. Along with the recently much underrated "fool triumphant" comedy biopic W. So expecting more from him in the future is not really that big a stretch.

It's a legitimate question for JC to ask when and how "getting it" matters to criticism. Some work you just can't or don't connect with for a long time or ever. And the essence of that work, the very places where you don't connect, might appear from your disconnected vantage point as grossly exaggerated faults in the work itself. Pauline Kael never wrote about Fassbinder or Tarkovsky, for instance, for similar reasons.

A perfect example vis-a-vis Nolan is how the haters complain that INCEPTION is all exposition. Yes, David Bordwell says, but it's exposition foregrounded in a way that's quite daring and new:

http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/2010/08/12/revisiting-inception/

And for the record, I agree that Emerson's writing about Nolan is in the end stage of diminishing returns. Part of why he might not get it: Nolan makes thrillers with good stories. Emerson seems to prefer visually adept non- or pseudo-thrillers with slim to no story: THE AMERICAN and THE LIMITS OF CONTROL.

John M

So, if you keep not liking Christopher Nolan, then you shouldn't write about him ever.

Seems perfectly reasonable.

Or paranoid and narrow. That's what I meant--paranoid and narrow. Not reasonable.

Fassbinder, Tarkovsky, Nolan. We're one short for Mount Rushmore.

Oh, and "getting" directors. Especially "getting" directors who only make "thrillers with good stories." No flaws in this argument at all.

And "haters"! It gets better!

warren oates

@John, anyone can and should feel free to write about anything. Nobody needs anyone's permission. But isn't the value of any piece of criticism the degree to which it engages the work and illuminates. All I'm saying is that, with respect to Emerson's newest Nolan piece, I'm not reading anything new or different in terms of illumination or engagement. Unlike the many blog entries by Bordwell, who doesn't necessarily seem to like Nolan all that much more, but does seem to "get" the work in a way that's interesting.

I also think it's legitimate to ask whether a critic has a special connection or lack thereof to any given director, genre, etc. If a writer's personal taste is a preference for the exact opposite of what he's writing about, it doesn't mean he shouldn't write about it, but it does provide a certain handicap. Someone who doesn't like slasher films, for instance, would not be the the ideal ideal critic for a new one -- whether that movie is ultimately good or bad.

I don't think I'm misstating Emerson's preference for formal, visual elements of a film or his lack of interest in anything like a film's story (at least as something separate and distinct from the visuals). For him, the film is each shot and the relations between them. For some of us, sometimes, the film is also very much about the story.

James Keepnews

warren, in fairness, Kael did give Andrei a single, back-handed non-compliment in a review of a non-AT film I can't seem to track down online. But I was able to track down the pullquote in re: Tarkovsky, "for whom," Andrei-hit-and-run-Pauline wrote "the entire universe was depressive." Not enough kiss or bang for the freewheelin' Ms. Kael, one imagines, so she returned the (dis)favor.

Asher

Whoa whoa. NIXON a brilliant film?

Cooper is no, say, John Wayne, but I think he's just right in MOROCCO, MAN OF THE WEST, and especially THE FOUNTAINHEAD, where his comic-book woodenness and hardness reach pathological proportions. I slogged through a couple of Rand novels when I was 12, and there's this kind of pornographically macho quality about her male heroes that only Cooper could do.

Glenn Kenny

I myself am fine with Gary Cooper, and those who aren't ought to track down Andre DeToth's paean to the man in "Projections 4 1/2." Their heads may explode on exposure to it.

Randy Byers

For Cooper I'd also recommend Lubitsch's DESIGN FOR LIVING and Hathaway's completely bonkers PETER IBBETSON (which our host discussed on this blog some time ago).

jim emerson

The way I look at it, I'm always trying to get better at understanding and articulating exactly why (for example) Nolan's movies (particularly the "Batman" ones and "Inception") seem so flat and flaccid to me. Theoretically, this MSN feature was aimed at an audience that's never read my blog. And no doubt most of 'em never will -- especially if they're Nolan fans! Que sera, sera...

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