Tim Grierson on Will Smith, the Last Movie Star

Will Smith in Men in Black 3

Posted by on

In film, there are very few sure things. But for a good long time, Will Smith was one of them. Over the span of 12 years, Smith had 12 movies that made over $100 million, and several of them — “Independence Day,” “Men in Black,” “I Am Legend,” and “Hancock” — grossed more than $200 million. In fact, other than 1999’s “Wild Wild West,” it would be hard to say that any of his hits were commercial underperformers. His home runs didn’t barely clearly the fence; when he set his mind to it, his shots would leave the stadium, landing somewhere in the parking lot.

He wasn’t just a consistent box office success, though. I’d argue that from 1996 to 2008, no star of his magnitude was as dependably exciting an onscreen presence. It’s not that he never made a bad film — “Hitch” and the “Bad Boy” movies aren’t exactly world-class cinema — but even his weakest offerings were boosted by his endless charisma and unflagging belief that being a movie star is both a genuine thrill and a responsibility worth taking seriously. Whether it was his cocksure strut in “Independence Day,” his effortless comic riffing in “Men in Black,” or his focused intensity in “I Am Legend,” Smith never seemed to be phoning it in. Quite the contrary, he was alive and energized by the challenge of each new project. And let’s not ignore his more serious roles, in films like “Ali” and “The Pursuit of Happyness,” where he proved up to the task of delivering layered, full-bodied performances without much difficulty. (As opposed to his pal Tom Cruise, Smith could go from blockbuster to artful drama without making too much of how strenuous it was for him. Where Cruise wants to be sure you see every ounce of his exertion, Smith simply glides.)

Smith’s run was remarkable, not unlike watching Michael Jordan in his prime winning championship after championship. And like with Jordan, I would try to savor it as much as I could, knowing that, someday, it had to end.

Amazingly, that run has been over for four years now. If 2008 contained one of his great commercial triumphs, “Hancock,” it also concluded with one of his rare box office misfires, the drama “Seven Pounds.” In retrospect, the film’s $70 million gross was hardly disastrous — it’s not like they were making “I, Robot 2” — but its self-serious tone and what’s-the-big-twist-going-to-be? storyline inspired a deadly backlash from critics who found “Seven Pounds” unforgivably manipulative and phony.

That was the last time we’ve seen Smith on screen, and I have to say we’ve all been poorer for his absence. It’s not that movie stars have disappeared — Robert Downey Jr. is a fine Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes — but none of his peers have that particular sparkle that Smith brought to his roles. Watching one of his movies, you enjoyed seeing him, and there was an almost visceral electricity that came off him. Even back when he was part of DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince in the late 1980s, he was something of a charm machine. His songs were hokey, but you couldn’t help it: You just liked the guy. Same with his TV show. Though clearly ambitious, Smith never seemed like just an opportunistic hustler; there was this casual I’m-your-buddy air about him that made you root for Will Smith. And from his likable, underrated performance in 1993’s “Six Degrees of Separation” onward, I’ve been rooting for the guy.

After years away promoting his kids Jaden and Willow like they were human spin-off series, Smith returns this weekend with “Men in Black 3.” The decision to do a sequel for a franchise that hasn’t produced a film in 10 years might seem like a safe choice, but in some ways it also reflects a reality: We’ve entered an era in which stars (though still important) aren’t nearly as crucial as the brand name. At least for now, gone are the days when just about any movie Tom Cruise or Tom Hanks starred in would be a huge hit. As big a name as Johnny Depp is, he won’t guarantee you millions of dollars unless he’s doing a “Pirates of the Caribbean.” (I’d even argue that, while Depp was certainly a factor in its success, “Alice in Wonderland” got a bigger boost from people’s familiarity with the story.) More often than not, it seems these days that we go to movies because it’s a sequel or prequel to something we know, not because it stars so-and-so.

That was never the case with a Will Smith film. Although he made films based on existing properties — “I, Robot,” “I Am Legend,” “Men in Black” — he was their selling point and their stamp of approval. In a way, it’s almost like he transcended the films he was in; he himself was the franchise. Starring in “Men in Black 3” signals that perhaps he realizes that he’s like so many of his fellow A-listers who need to make sure they align with a property people know. For folks like me who were drawn to movies because of the characters and the stars who played them, this is a depressing, dehumanizing turn of events.

Smith will be 44 in the fall, and he’s no longer the young buck anymore. If his 12-year run was Jordanesque, then my fear is that his return will be akin to Jordan’s after he canceled his retirement and took another stab at basketball. It’ll still be good to have him around, but that ineffable magic will be gone. I hope I’m wrong. I’m sure Smith does, too.


New Arrivals

This Week on IFC: Benders and Gigi Does It Are Here!

Benders and Gigi Does It invade IFC Thursday, October 1st starting at 10P.

Posted by on

This Thursday, October 1st, get to know two great new shows on IFC. At 10P, get on the ice and join the team on Benders. On the premiere episode, Paul’s (Andrew Schulz) grandpa makes him an offer he can’t refuse, even if it interferes with his busy schedule of hockey playing and beer drinking.

video player loading . . .

The stay tuned at 10:30P for Gigi Does It, the new show starring David Krumholtz as a grandma who gets her groove back. This week, Gigi Rotblum inherits her late husband’s secret fortune, hires an assistant (Ricky Mabe), and takes unexpected measures to protect herself. James Urbaniak (Difficult People) guest stars.

video player loading . . .

Can’t wait until Thursday? We’ve got you covered. Click below to watch FREE episodes of Benders and Gigi Does It.

Watch an episode of Benders

Watch an episode of Gigi Does It

In addition to YouTube and right here on IFC.com, an episode each of Benders and Gigi Does It can be seen on VOD and TV Everywhere platforms through IFC’s cable partners.


Cosplayers Gonna Play

7 Basic Tips for Talking to Cosplayers

Posted by on

Since Todd Margaret was at New York Comic Con, we hit the show floor to ask costumed fans for some tips on how best to interact with cosplayers. Check out what we discovered below.

video player loading . . .

Want more fun from New York Comic Con? Read the letter David Cross wrote to Todd Margaret fans.


Don't Act Your Age

10 Actors Who Went Old

Catch David Krumholtz on Gigi Does It tonight at 10:30P on IFC.

Posted by on

You always hear about older actors clinching to their youth by taking on vastly younger, age-inappropriate roles. (The collective age of the 90210 cast, especially in later seasons, was definitely in the hundreds.) But those thespians who choose to age up — through the use of prosthetics, makeup, or otherwise — often deliver astounding performances.

Take David Krumholtz. On the new IFC series Gigi Does It, the actor plays Gigi, a 76-year-old yenta who’s determined to live life to the fullest after her late husband leaves her with a crap ton of moolah.

In honor of his achievements — and those who’ve paved the way for Gigi — here are some celebrities who have successfully infiltrated the senior citizens club.

1. David Krumholtz, Gigi’s Bucket List



Krumholtz is pulling a Mrs. Doubtfire — who we’ll get to in a moment — with Gigi. Whether bossing around her male nurse or talking about flashing her boob to her grandson, Krumholtz seems to be having a blast as his raunchy alter ego.

2. Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button


You can’t talk about actors portraying the elderly without acknowledging that infamously fictional affliction, Benjamin Button’s Disease. Brad Pitt portrays the title role of a man who ages backwards after being physically born as an old person. It’s everyone’s dream, right — the older you get, the younger you look? A mixture of computer-generated effects and makeup went into this transformation, and it’s still difficult to look away.

3. Tilda Swinton, The Grand Budapest Hotel


Swinton is the true mistress of disguise. She has made a living by completely losing herself in her characters, whether its playing the traditionally male archangel Gabriel in Constantine, the evil witch in The Chronicles of Narnia, or the toothy one-percenter of Snowpiercer. With Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, she once again became unrecognizable as one of the elderly lovers of the hotel’s concierge. She’s got the senile look and feel down pat.

4. Johnny Knoxville, Bad Grandpa


For his latest Jackass movie, Knoxville took his shenanigans to a new level in portraying Irving Zisman, the elderly bad influence in his grandson’s life. In the same vein as his previous stunts, he pranked real-life people with his prosthetically enhanced persona, crashing a wedding by knocking over an entire display, ruining a child pageant, and “making it rain” on a stripper.

5. Robin Williams, Mrs. Doubtfire


Remember that famous story about the late Robin Williams strolling into a sex shop in NYC as Mrs. Doubtfire? That’s how committed he was and how unrecognizable he was as the lovable nanny. Just like David Krumholtz, Williams underwent a hefty makeup and prosthetic process, and it will always go down as one of his most memorable roles.

6. Dustin Hoffman, Little Big Man


Paramount Films

While Krumholtz is 37 going on 76, Dustin Hoffman was 33 going on 121 for this acclaimed role. The 1970 Arthur Penn film Little Big Man told of an oral historian who comes across an elderly man (Hoffman) who has one crazy story to tell. It’s a tale of gunslinging, selling snake oil and the infamous Battle of the Little Bighorn. But most astonishing of all is the sight of Hoffman in character.

7. Meryl Streep, Angels in America


Meryl Streep played several roles in the HBO adaptation of Tony Kushner’s acclaimed play. You might have missed her the first time around because she looks like just one of the rabbis, especially when she sits next to a line of them. Yes, that’s the Oscar winner as Rabbi Isidor Chemelwitz, and if you listen carefully, you can pick out her voice under the heavy white beard.

8. Helena Bonham Carter, Big Fish


Much like Tilda Swinton, Helena Bonham Carter comes alive when you bury her in layers of makeup, prosthetics and elaborate costumes. Before debuting as Bellatrix Lestrange in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the actress portrayed another kind of enchantress in Tim Burton’s Big Fish. She looks just as home with a wrinkled face and glass eye as she does flaunting a bubbly, sparkling ball gown as the Fairy Godmother in the Disney remake of Cinderella.

9. Guy Pearce, Prometheus


20th Century Fox

In Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, Guy Pearce aged himself way up to play the financial backer of an interstellar expedition who hopes to find some means of extending his life. What’s more shocking: the existence of the Engineers or how Guy resides underneath all that old-man makeup?

10. James D’Arcy, Cloud Atlas


Warner Bros.

The Wachowski’s Cloud Atlas may not have been the most well-received film, critically speaking, but it did feature incredible transformations from its actors, most of which portrayed more than one role. James D’Arcy took on four roles, two of which were the young and old versions of Rufus Sixsmith.

That 70s Show Kelso 1920

Kelso's #1 Fan?

How Well Do You Know Kelso? Take Our Quiz!

Catch That '70s Show Mondays and Tuesdays from 6-11P on IFC.

Posted by on

Kelso’s loveable cluelessness is one of the bedrocks of That ’70s Show. But how much do you really know when it comes to him? Take our quiz below, and be sure to catch That ’70s Show on IFC.


Powered by ZergNet