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Saying good-bye to Hollywoodland ... for a bit

Ben Affleck proves that taking a break in Hollywood can be a good thing
/ Source: contributor

Didn’t it feel like we had a nice little break from Ben Affleck there for a while?

It did to me. And I was glad. I got no beef with the man, really, but he was making me tired. And just when I was the most weary of the Macy’s parade of bad movies he grand marshalled — “Daredevil,” “Gigli,” “Paycheck,” “Surviving Christmas” (the motion sickness-making laser sideshow featuring his bloated, bronzed love affair with Jennifer Lopez didn’t help one bit either) — he co-dissolved his romantic life, dropped out of sight, and went off to knock someone up. I forget who.

I think US Weekly still follows him around, but I tuned out. In fact, he stepped aside from the glare just long enough so that when he returned to visit for a 10-second scene in “Clerks 2” this summer, I was like, “Oh yeah, that’s Ben Affleck. I don’t hate him too much anymore.” Good thing, because I have to go see his latest, “Hollywoodland,” tonight. You want to feel fresh when any kind of reunion comes along.

And while I understand that acting is a horribly unstable business and thespians need to work while the work is there, seeing the same people in movie after movie, especially in bad movie after bad movie is like going to the concession stand and finding out all they have is stale Twizzlers and those gross Harry Potter vomit-flavored jellybeans. It generates ill will with me. And there are some of Affleck’s well-paid colleagues who could stand to learn from his brief departure.

Who needs to follow Ben’s wise lead

Nicolas Cage

Actor Nicholas Cage attends a party on Fifth Avenue during Fashion Week, Feb. 7, 2006, in New York. Cage has donated $2 million to help former child soldiers worldwide, Wednesday, June 28, 2006. The donation by the Oscar-winning actor will help provide shelters and medical and psychological rehabilitation services.Dima Gavrysh / AP

Since 1982 has appeared in 46 films. Two in theaters right now — “World Trade Center” and “Wicker Man” — and eight more planned for the next two years alone. That’s right. Eight. This is not the “small doses” arrangement I had hoped for. He makes me by turns jittery, annoyed by his endless affectations and fascinated by the sometimes weird developments going on up on top of Mount Combover. He does, however, get a pass for “World Trade Center,” his least twitchy performance in over two dozen films. Still, though.

Vacation suggestion: Volunteer docent at Graceland. Can take days off when Lisa Marie comes around to host the next batch of “American Idol” contestants. And didn’t he just buy like a castle in Europe or somewhere? He can go fix that up too.

Edward Norton

Seventeen films since “Primal Fear” in 1996. One in theaters now, “The Illusionist,” and one more, “The Painted Veil,” coming later this fall. Two more due to arrive before the end of 2007. I believe in more comedies for him, or maybe more homoerotic fantasias like “Fight Club.” Those might lessen the serious burden I feel while watching the man laboriously eliminate himself. Otherwise I’m crushed under the oomph of his Important Acting. Gets a pass for “Everyone Says I Love You” because you can’t sing and be method-y at the same time.

Vacation suggestion: Some place like EuroDisney to lighten him up. They probably have a nice hotel there with room service milkshakes. Wifi for the laptop. “Busty Cops” on the pay-per-view. And besides, the Haunted Mansion? It’s not just a sometimes thing. It’s for everyday.

Julianne Moore

Thirty-eight movies since 1988. The barf-inducing “Trust the Man” soiling theaters now. “Children of Men” coming soon. Six more on the docket through the end of 2007. And unlike Cage and Norton, who I can take or leave, this is hard for me because I like her. “Safe” is my favorite movie of the 1990s. But I once read where she said something like, “I make one for them and one for me,” meaning one mainstream movie and one not, more or less. But lately it seems like it’s all for them. Check out the scenery-chewing loony bin drama “Freedomland” from earlier this year if you don’t believe me. Gets a pass for “The Prize-Winner of Defiance, Ohio,” a sweet, irony-free movie no one saw and that most dumb critics didn’t like.

Vacation suggestion: Habitat for Humanity needs people to build houses all across the globe. She just has to go somewhere far away from wherever her director husband (Bart Freundlich, director of “Trust the Man”) is pointing his camera. He’s probably a good baby-daddy, though. Thought I’d give him at least those props.

Who already took some much-needed time off and is welcome to return whenever they like:

Meg Ryan

Actress Meg Ryan is shown at the premiere of \"In The Cut,\" at The Academy Theatre in Beverly Hills, Calif., Oct. 16, 2003. Ryan, known for sweetheart roles in ``Sleepless in Seattle'' and ``You've Got Mail,'' plays a writing professor who becomes involved with a police detective in Jane Campion's new erotic thriller, ``In the Cut.'' (AP Photo/Paul Skipper)Paul Skipper / ARROYO

After appearing in one hideous movie after another, she finally gets her nerve up, does something really interesting and complicated, the critically kick-balled and little-seen Jane Campion movie “In the Cut,” and that’s what sends her packing. In a just world she would have beat it for a while after “Proof of Life” and then come back to us now with “Cut” and people would have felt like they had something more to talk about than her lips and the shock of America’s Sweetheart getting naked on camera. Gets a pass for being hilariously prickly in a Jane magazine interview, demanding to talk about politics and not plastic surgery. That was a good one. So come back soon, Meg, and do something pitch-black with a difficult director like Catherine Breillat or Claire Denis. That’ll show ’em you really meant it when you said yes to Campion.

Phoebe CatesRemember her? She was in “Fast Times At Ridgemont High” and she showed Jennifer Jason Leigh how to fellate a carrot. Last movie she made was in 2001, the indie comedy “The Anniversary Party” (she was awesome in it, too) and it was the first thing she’d done since 1994’s “Princess Caraboo.” This is what happens when you decide that staying home with the babies really means staying home with the babies. For all of Gwyneth Paltrow’s noise about taking time off to mom it up, we sure see a lot of her even if it’s not up on the screen. That’s the other thing. Taking time off from big-screen annoyance needs to go hand in hand with turning down guest-star roles on tabloid  covers and Vogue shoots.  It’s not out of their hands, no matter how much they complain about it. Phoebe Cates can probably walk into the grocery store unnoticed, buy a ham, no sunglasses, ride a bike home. That’s a good life. Except that I personally miss her. Come back Phoebe Cates. Those kids are in high school by now, right?

Who’s dangerously close to needing a slow boat to wherever:

Will Ferrell
He’s riding that big wave. And he’s funny even when he’s not being funny. But not saying yes to everything — “Bewitched,” whatever that kid soccer movie was — would make it seem like he didn’t have something opening every Friday.

Future candidates for early retirement

Dane CookI know he has fans somewhere who think he’s rad. I just haven’t met them. And seven projects on deck for the next 18 months of cinema, including something that co-stars Jessica Simpson called “Employee of the Month.” You’ll be learning his name soon if you’re not already one of his MySpace “friends.”

Jon Heder
Almost managed to achieve the magically impossible task of public saturation on the strength of one movie, the inexplicable “Napoleon Dynamite.” Followed it up with the crapiest Reese Witherspoon film to date, the one about how she’s more or less dead and Mark Ruffalo wants to do her anyway, and then “Benchwarmers,” co-starring Rob Schneider. Dude, check yourself.

Scarlett JohanssonYes, yes, you’re stacked. But stop teasing Woody Allen or he’s going to have a heart attack. Or cast you in another diminishing returns comedy. Both would be bad news.

Jack BlackIn my fantasies about his life — I don’t have many, but this is one — he’s very busy right now on a back-lot somewhere, practicing deep yoga breathing and trying to tone it down.

Dave White is the author of “Exile In Guyville,” the film critic for, and sees more motion pictures for a living than anyone should. Find more of him at .