Saturday, January 12, 2013

FILM: 2012's Actors-Turned-Directors/Writers

It's always interesting when actors venture to step behind the camera or put the words on the page. Sometimes they get showered with accolades and leave critics in awe, and other times the world wishes they'd get back to their day jobs. Here's a list of actors-turned-directors and -screenwriters, and whether or not they're one-trick ponies:

Ralph Fiennes | Coriolanus, director
93% Rotten Tomatoes Score
Amount of Theaters: 21 | Total Gross: $1 million
Staging your directorial debut can be a nerve-wracking affair, and choosing to adapt Shakespeare for your first attempt would be considered foolish. But Fiennes' decision to modernize it for the masses is what brought critics to their knees. They heralded the chemistry between him and his co-star Gerard Butler, the casting of Vanessa Redgrave and Jessica Chastain, and the unnerving "portrait of modern warfare, politics and propaganda." Buoyed by this praise, Fiennes has already completed his next directorial project, The Invisible Woman, adapted by Abi Morgan (The Iron Lady and Shame). This time he'll be so bold as to play Charles Dickens, and tell the story of the author's secret mistress, played by Felicity Jones (Like Crazy).
Jay Baruchel | Goon, co-writer
82% Rotten Tomatoes Score
Amount of Theaters: 242 | Total Gross: $6 million
Of all the topics for a scrawny dude like Baruchel to tackle on his first greenlit screenplay, hockey would not have been at the top of anyone's list. But along with Evan Goldberg (The Watch), he managed to adapt this true story, and do the sports comedy genre justice. It didn't perform very well in theaters, because hockey is not exactly an American fan-favorite—not as ignored as soccer, but not as much of a "crowd-pleaser" as golf. Regardless, critics found it to be hilarious and as violent, "harsh, nasty, and vulgar" as you'd expect a real hockey game to be.
Zoe Kazan | Ruby Sparks, writer
79% Rotten Tomatoes Score
Amount of Theaters: 261 | Total Gross: $6 million
Joining the female writers ranks, Kazan cast herself and her real-life boyfriend Paul Dano to speak the words she put to paper, and Dano pulled some strings to get Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the directing duo behind Little Miss Sunshine. Luckily, she was not overshadowed by the famous pair. Most critics were not only impressed with her writing, but her charm on-screen as well. There were a few, however, who cited the fact that the plot has been done before. Variety even likened it to "a Pinocchio story that spends too much time with Geppetto." One critic from Daily Star made the hilarious conclusion that Kazan cast herself as her real-life boyfriend's fantasy woman, as if to suggest some sort of trumped up vanity. But luckily, a vast majority of them understood that Kazan was attempting to question gender roles, misogyny, and the peculiar habit of both parties in a relationship trying to change each other. Pinocchio, this was not.
Seth McFarlane | Ted, director and co-writer
69% Rotten Tomatoes Score
Amount of Theaters: 3,303 | Total Gross: $503 million
Mark Wahlberg talking to a bear for two hours would normally be referred to as career suicide, but when the idea came out of the mind of the man who created "Family Guy," it's considered brilliant. Well, to his fans anyway. A good majority of the critics, even the highbrow ones, gave into the crass antics of the immature duo, while others thought the joke got old quick. At this point, McFarlane's about one notch above Sacha Baron Cohen and Adam Sandler. As long as those two thrive, I don't imagine the haters will dissuade him much.
Rashida Jones | Celeste and Jesse Forever, co-writer
68% Rotten Tomatoes Score
Amount of Theaters: 586 | Total Gross: $3 million
Being a Hollywood kid, the daughter of Quincy Jones, brands you as the benefactor of nepotism. Anything you do in life will be directly associated with how famous you were before you even did anything noteworthy. But ever since she held her own opposite John Krasinski on "The Office," boldly coming between one of television's most treasured will-they-or-won't-they couples, and becoming Amy Poehler's bff on "Parks and Recreation," Jones has developed enough respect to co-write her own script without garnering any audible groans from the peanut gallery. Classified as a "post-romantic comedy," her film was applauded for its "cliche-averse" plot and "superb central performances," one of which was given by the ever-surprising SNL alum Andy Samberg. The naysayers, however, were underwhelmed by the combination of "chick flick staples with bro humor," and found most of the attempts at soul-searching "inconsequential." Ouch. Makes me wonder what it would've been like if she wrote it on her own.
Jennifer Westfeldt | Friends with Kids, writer and director
67% Rotten Tomatoes Score
Amount of Theaters: 640 | Total Gross: $12 million
While this may be Westfeldt's third screenplay, after the well-received Kissing Jessica Stein (2001), which she co-wrote, and her first solo script 2006's Ira & Abby, this film is her directorial debut. With the notoriety she gained from her short-lived ABC series "Notes from the Underbelly," and the new company her life partner Jon Hamm is keeping these days, she managed to pack her cast full with some well-known comedic faces: Adam Scott ("Parks and Recreation"), Maya Rudolph, Chris O'Dowd (Bridesmaids), and Kristen Wiig. While I believe that putting herself in the lead, turning the usually lovable Wiig and Hamm into a hateful pair, and the lackluster declaration of love in the end were the film's downfall, the unimpressed critics blamed it on its reductive portrayal of parenthood. Fortunately for her, a majority of them believed it was quick and smart, and were greatly charmed by its talented ensemble cast. I can't help but notice, though, that her RT score lowers with every film. Perhaps next time she should consider staying behind the camera completely.

Lauren Miller | For a Good Time Call…, co-writer
56% Rotten Tomatoes Score
Amount of Theaters: 107 | Total Gross: $1 million
The pressure was on for future Mrs. Seth Rogen. Many wondered if she would be as funny as her fiancee or if the studio was just throwing her a bone to get into his good graces. Alas, the critics who enjoyed the film agreed that it was indeed a good time, chocked full of laughs and raunchy humor. But what they enjoyed most was the strong female friendship, and the performances of both Miller and her partner-in-smut Ari Graynor. The critics who dissed the film, however, found it to be the equivalent of a crappy sitcom that didn't live up to its title and was poorly contrived. Looks like Miller might have more of a future in acting than writing. Who knows? Maybe Rogen and Miller will be the next generation's Apatow and Mann. And if a little of his skill rubs off on her, she could get a second shot at it.

RZA | The Man with the Iron Fists, director and co-writer
50% Rotten Tomatoes Score
Amount of Theaters: 1,872 | Total Gross: $19 million
Rapper-turned-actor is a title that is not usually associated with success. Rapper-turned-director, even less so. But RZA, a member of the infamous Wu-Tang Clan rap crew, which included Method Man, Ghostface Killah, and Ol' Dirty Bastard, has harbored a deep-seated appreciation for Asian culture, from their religions to their martial arts, for many decades. And he threw all of that passion into this film, tapping Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu to add credibility. Unfortunately, the haters thought it was a poor imitation with horrible acting, done mostly by him. And even the fans were shelling out backhanded compliments, saying it was the "best bad movie" they'd ever seen. The low box office returns—causing it to break even given its $15 million budget—and mixed reviews hasn't seemed to phase RZA. Having worked on this martial arts epic with Eli Roth (Hostel) for the last seven years, you'd think he'd pace himself once again. Not the case. He's already in pre-production to solely direct two 2014-set films, the crime drama No Man's Land, and the historical biopic Genghis Khan, penned by John Milius (Red Dawn and Apocalypse Now).
Matt Damon & John Krasinski | Promised Land…, co-writers
50% Rotten Tomatoes Score
Amount of Theaters: 1,676 | Total Gross: $8 million
While this isn't either actor's first rodeo, given that Damon has already won an Oscar for writing Goodwill Hunting with his best buddy Ben Affleck, and Krasinski wrote and directed his first film, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, in 2009, it is their first venture together. In conjunction with David Eggers (Away We Go), they wrote a script that Damon's buddy Gus Van Sant (Milk) directed. Despite all of the star power, most critics were unimpressed, citing a lackluster and unoriginal script for an already snooze-worthy topic.

Lena Dunham | Nobody Walks, co-writer
37% Rotten Tomatoes Score
Amount of Theaters: 7 | Total Gross: $25,342
The creator, writer, and star of HBO's "Girls" has had quite the seminal year, what with a hit series, Judd Apatow as her mentor, and a book deal. One would imagine that anything she touched would turn to gold. Clearly no one noticed she touched this movie. Her first film, Tiny Furniture, which she wrote and directed on her own, had a cult-following and twice the critic appreciation than this one. In spite of its star-studded cast (John Krasinski, the indie vets Olivia Thirlby and Rosemarie DeWitt, newbie Jane Levy, the handsome Dylan McDermott, and the "Weeds" alum Justin Kirk), it hardly made a blip on anyone's radar. With critiques like's deduction that it was "...a self-important nightmare....shallow script and boring situations...Offensively boring.", one must wonder if they're grading her too harshly now that she raised the curve. And given the New York Times' rave review, one must also wonder if some are giving her an automatic A just for attendance. It'll be a cross she'll have to bear until her honeymoon phase with audiences is officially over.

Zoe Lister Jones | Lola Versus, co-writer
34% Rotten Tomatoes Score
Amount of Theaters: 52 | Total Gross: $252,603
This is not her first writing effort. She also co-wrote Breaking Upwards in 2009 with her boyfriend slash writing partner and director Daryl Wein. The most obvious difference between the two movies is that this time they cast fairly well-known indie actors instead of themselves in the lead role, making their film slightly more mainstream. Unfortunately, critics were not as kind to their sophomore effort. Their first film focused on a couple that were trying to orchestrate an amicable divorce. Critics were impressed with its realistic portrayal of modern love and New York City. This film, on the other hand, was a one-sided account of a breakup, where a jilted bride-to-be has to figure out who she is without her boyfriend, seeking comfort and advice in all the wrong places. But instead of being a high-minded introverted exploration, it was considered "a mopey, naval-gazing affair" of "wearisome quirk and smut," and the lead character was too "pathetic" to pity. Most critics, however, agreed that Greta Gerwig, the leading lady, was its only salvation. I didn't though. I don't get her appeal, and would've preferred Jones actually starring in the film, since she proved how captivating she can be in Stuck Between Stations. The duo's biggest mistake was not only giving all the good jokes to Jones' character, but making her a minor one.

*Grosses are rounded.

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