The Films of Marc Forster
Everything Put Together
Stay (October 18/05)
Despite the surfeit of mainstream figures both in front of and behind the camera - including director Marc Forster (Finding Neverland), screenwriter David Benioff (Troy), and actors Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts, and Ryan Gosling - Stay is bound to test the patience of audiences expecting something easily digestible and self-explanatory. With its thoroughly baffling storyline and visuals that often border on experimental, the film seems as though it'd be more at home in an arthouse than a contemporary multiplex. But that's exactly why Stay works; though it's not always successful, the movie is an all-too-rare puzzle that asks the viewer to constantly re-evaluate what they've just seen. Though it features a plot that is, on the surface, fairly standard - a young psychiatrist (McGregor), still reeling from his girlfriend's (Watts) attempted suicide, tries to convince a tortured artist (Gosling) not to kill himself - there's nothing conventional about how Stay ultimately plays out. Forster toys around with the movie's look on a scene-by-scene basis, infusing the proceedings with an off-kilter sensibility that effectively complements Benioff's mystifying screenplay. There's plenty of weird stuff going on here - ie background characters wear the same clothes as each other and people say cryptic things like, "we've been alone in this house for a thousand years" - but because the viewer is encouraged to try and decipher just what all this means, the movie is rarely boring. Having said that, there does come a point at which the bizarre vibe begins to detract from one's enjoyment of the film. The storyline becomes increasingly difficult to follow as Benioff takes the emphasis off the characters, choosing instead to layer his screenplay with a surplus of enigmatic elements. Yet the superb performances go a long way towards keeping things interesting throughout, as McGregor and Gosling effectively imbue their respective characters with a dose of reality (no small feat given their almost esoteric environment). I'm still not sure I fully understand what Stay is about - I'm not even sure if Benioff himself is completely clued in - but there's absolutely no denying that the film is a striking piece of work, one that stays with the viewer long after the end credits have rolled.
Stranger than Fiction
With its admittedly out-there premise, Stranger than Fiction can't help but periodically feel like a Charlie Kaufman movie - albeit a Charlie Kaufman movie with actual characters and a storyline worth following. Will Ferrell stars as Harold Crick, a dull IRS auditor who suddenly discovers that his life is being narrated by British author Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson). After enlisting the help of a noted English scholar (Dustin Hoffman), Harold decides to simply proceed with his life and subsequently finds himself falling for a scrappy baker (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Stranger than Fiction generally possesses the feel of a slow-paced, introspective drama, and there's little doubt that the film's distinctly uneven vibe is exacerbated by an overlong running time. That being said, the film is certainly never boring; Ferrell does a superb job of transforming Crick into more than just a gimmick, ensuring that the viewer actually cares how his story ends (the romantic subplot goes a long way towards cementing this feeling). The low-key visuals (courtesy of director Marc Forster) effectively mirror Zach Helm's quirky yet strangely believable screenplay, with the end result a movie that's consistently engaging (though ultimately far from memorable).
The Kite Runner
Based on the acclaimed novel by Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner tells the story of Amir - a newly-published author who remains haunted by a childhood mistake that severely affected the life of his closest friend Hassan. Years later, Amir is offered the chance to atone for his error in judgment when Hassan's son finds himself in a sticky situation. Director Marc Forster - working from David Benioff's screenplay - has infused the early part of The Kite Runner with a light-hearted sensibility that admittedly grows a little tedious, as the filmmaker places the emphasis on Amir and Hassan's rambunctious misadventures within their homeland of Afghanistan. There's little doubt, however, that the inclusion of increasingly heartwrenching elements - ie the aforementioned childhood mistake - ensures that the film slowly-but-surely starts to pack a palpable emotional punch, and there's certainly no denying the effectiveness of the father-son relationship between Amir and his pop that dominates The Kite Runner's midsection. In the end, it's Khalid Abdalla's masterful performance as Amir - as well as the surprisingly thrilling finale - that cements the movie's status as an affecting, downright riveting piece of work.
Quantum of Solace
Click here for review.
Machine Gun Preacher
World War Z (August 10/13)
Based on the novel by Max Brooks, World War Z details the chaos that ensues on a global scale in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse - with the movie following Brad Pitt's Gerry Lane as he attempts to find a cure for the deadly plague. Filmmaker Marc Forster, working from Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, and Damon Lindelof's screenplay, opens the proceedings with an impressively tense sequence involving Gerry's first contact with the undead, with the effectiveness of this stretch priming the viewer for an uncommonly engrossing Hollywood blockbuster. That feeling proves to be all-too-short-lived, however, as World War Z slows down considerably after that point - as Forster places a continuing emphasis on Gerry's rather dull investigation into the origins of the zombie infestation. The procedural-like vibe that ensues - ie CSI: Zombies - is just about as anticlimactic and uninteresting as it sounds, and Forster exacerbates the increasingly uninvolving atmosphere by offering up a series of dull, incoherent action set pieces. (Forster's reliance on shaky camerawork is nothing short of disastrous, with the pervasive darkness of many of the film's high-octane moments certainly not helping matters.) World War Z does, however, briefly bounce back with a suirprisingly engrossing stretch set within Jerusalem, as this segment possesses a vitality and originality that's otherwise completely absent from the proceedings (ie the zombies move and attack in a manner that's nothing short of breathtaking). The inevitable return to Gerry's progressively tedious investigation paves the way for a hopelessly anticlimactic third act, with one's inability to muster up an ounce of interest in the character's exploits, which is compounded by Pitt's bland, one-dimensional performance, ensuring that the movie's final half hour progresses at a snail's crawl. The end result is a sporadically passable yet terminally misguided blockbuster that squanders its promising setup, and there's little doubt that the film stands as definitive proof that Forster should stick with small, low-key dramas.
All I See Is You
Click here for review.
Christopher Robin (August 23/18)
Set decades after the title character's exploits in the 100 Acre Wood, Christopher Robin follows Ewan McGregor's grown-up protagonist as he spends his days working for an oblivious employer and taking his family for granted - with the character eventually learning a series of valuable life lessons from old friends like Winnie the Pooh, Eeyore, and Tigger. Filmmaker Marc Forster does a superb job of initially drawing the viewer into the deliberately-paced proceedings, as Christopher Robin kicks off with a striking and thoroughly compelling stretch that condenses the central figure's adolescence and young adulthood into an opening-credits montage (which is presented through the prism of book chapters). It's an exceedingly clever device that effectively and instantly establishes the picture's unapologetically old-fashioned sensibilities, and yet there's little doubt that the exceedingly familiar storyline does tend, within the film's meandering midsection, to prevent one from wholeheartedly embracing the material - which, in turn, ensures that Christopher Robin suffers from a hit-and-miss atmosphere that's alleviated by a smattering of above-average sequences. (McGregor's character's continuing encounters with his old animal friends remains a highlight, to be sure.) Forster's sedate approach to Alex Ross Perry, Tom McCarthy, and Allison Schroeder's screenplay certainly exacerbates the movie's scarcely-enthralling feel, with the brisk, exciting third act, as entertaining as it is, standing as an incongruous wrap-up that almost feels as though it's been dropped in from another film (ie there's a sharp contrast between it and the subdued first two thirds). The end result is a decent family-friendly drama that could (and should) have been much better, with Forster's climactic attempts at tugging at the viewer's heartstrings consequently (and ultimately) falling a little flat.