Do you ever go to the movies and find yourself immersed in a story, when all of a sudden a dumb scene happens and drags you out of your cocoon of fiction by your pant leg? Either because the scene so unbelievable or because you've seen it a hundred times before? Happens all the time, right? There are just certain scenes in movies that you never want to see again. A lot of them, actually, which is why I invited a platoon of writer friends along to share their picks.
This week's panel includes Drew Magary of Deadspin, Justin Halpern of I Suck At Girls and his writing partner Patrick Schumacker, Julieanne Smolinski aka BoobsRadley (now a fancy TV writer), pro basketball player turned writer Paul Shirley, Bobby Bigwheel, Frotcast regulars Alison Stevenson, Brendan, and Matt Lieb, and Uproxx's Danger Guerrero, Ashley Burns, Dustin Rowles, and RoboPanda. Enjoy!
MATT LIEB: The 9/11 Foreshadowing Shot
ATTN Filmmakers: You may not be aware of this but just because your movie takes place before 2001, doesn't mean that it has to end with a “subtle” allusion to 9/11. I mean, if you're making a movie about the creation of Al-Queda or about the inventor of the box cutter, then sure, 9/11 is probably relevant enough event to mention in your film. But let's say you are making a documentary about gun violence in America (let's call it “Rolling of Rolumbine”) and you want to point out how American foreign policy could be a factor in our over 30,000 gun deaths per year: maybe showing footage of the 9/11 attack in New York, an attack where literally no guns were used, is a little bit irrelevant. Or let's say you are making a movie about the old timey gang of new york (let's call it “Rangs of Rew Rork”), a movie set at a time where neither airplanes (1903) nor box cutters (1930) have been invented: maybe ending your oddly-titled film with a shot of the World Trade Center with Bono crooning over it might seem extraneous, or really really f*cking stupid.
This is not so much a cliché movie scene that I am tired of, but rather a shot or a visual cue that makes me want hijack a 747 and fly it into Tony Kushner and Steven Spielberg's secret Hollywood f*ck dungeon. I mention those two because 1) they probs banged at some point, and 2) they are the culprits of one of the most egregiously irrelevant 9/11 foreshadowing shots in the history of post-9/11 films.
So there I am watching the movie Munich, enjoying the shit out of a film that simultaneously flips the role of Jews from victim to hero, from the non-violent oppressed to the ultra-violent oppressor. I am having a wonderful time watching the masterful way Kushner and Spielberg navigate the minefield of a subject that is Israeli military aggression, where a wrong step in either direction can transform a good movie into a propaganda film. And they've almost made it through all 164 minutes without doing so. And then, with the very last shot of the very last scene, Kushner and Spielberg decide to suicide bomb the whole goddamn movie with an incredibly on-the-nose shot of Avner standing in shadow of the World Trade Center. What does 9/11 have to do with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict? Nothing! No, shut up, I don't care how many 9/11 truth videos you have seen on YouTube where a teenager in a Guy Fawkes mask is telling you “what really happened that day,” 9/11 and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict are apples and oranges. At best, this shot basically just serves as blatant emotional manipulation of an American audience that really cannot relate to actually living under the persistent threat of terrorist attack. At worst, this shot is Kushner and Spielberg's way of saying the Jews did 9/11, which would actually be hilarious and I fully support them coming out publicly as truthers but only if they do it via YouTube video where they dramatically remove their Fawkes masks and exclaim “we did 9/11, together. We planned it in our Hollywood f*ck dungeon. Ron Paul 2016.” But until such an admission is made, the last shot of Munich pretty much ruined the whole movie for me.
FROTCAST BRENDAN: The Cathartic Shower Scene
Let's all vote to abolish the Cathartic Shower scene. It's been beaten to death. To illustrate my point, I've compiled an Oral History of the Cathartic Shower scene:
Todd Frenulum (Director, Tears of My Father's Pain): See, what I wanted to convey, was, it's not just a shower; it works on several levels. Not only is he bathing, which is something every human does, he's also shampooing. And conditioning his hair. Killing those hookers really dried it out. And he got pretty sweaty; strangulation really takes the electrolytes out of you. So, shower.
Ted Meatus (Director, Sisqo in Crimson): I felt like the second act really needed something to propel the viewer into the third, so I told our heroine to take her shirt off. It looked like a VHS porno; seriously, I was waiting for Ron Jeremy to enter frame right and yell something like "WHERE'S YOUR RUBBER DUCKY?" The production values were a little low since we didn't raise quite as much as we wanted with our Kickstarter. So I put it in slow motion. CINEMA!
Michael Bay (Director, Face/Off 2: The Butt-Swap): Nic Cage says to me, 'I think a shower will wash these spiders off', so I say, 'OK, action.' The rest is cinematic history.
Also, off-topic, but I could go without seeing a guy spit in a woman's gaping butthole ever again.
DUSTIN ROWLES: The Ironic Bro Walk
The Bro-Walk is one of those tropes that has been around for years. It probably started with Shaft or something, and then at some point in Cinematic history, every cool kid in a high school was walking down the halls in super slo-mo with a John Wayne swagger like he owned the goddamn place. But after that trope was mined to death, they subverted it and suddenly, it was the geeky kids, or the nerds, or f**king Jonah Hill looking all bad ass and slo-mo while the ladies at their lockers swooned and the dudes looked on with respect. Then, they subverted the subversion, and now the ironic bro-walk ends with a record scratch moment, where the bad ass group of suburban Dads trips over a curb or something. Good God. It's tired. Just stop it with the bro walk: Conventional, Ironic, or Ironic with a twist. It's not funny, and there's nowhere left to go with it.
ROBOPANDA: "NEW YORK CITY?!?"
Here's the scene: someone from a city is in a rural area. Suddenly, a rural person is out to get them. Why? I don't know. He Who Walks Behind The Rows demanded it? A city person bankrupted the plaid shirt factory? Madness caused by too much fresh air and affordable rents? There was a sale on creepy masks and butcher knives?
I grew up with a cornfield in my backyard, and I'm still wondering when the urge to kill randos from the coasts is going to kick in. Starting to think He Who Walks Behind The Rows may just be a fat guy named Roger who's still making payments on his combine.
Do you really want to know what us "flyover state" folks think about people from the coasts? Nothing. Which is why there's no term as popular or as spiteful as "flyover states" that rural people are slanging about city people. We'd have to care about them enough to come up with slurs. If we think about city people at all, it's to wonder, "Why do they hate us so much they say sh--ty things like 'flyover states' and produce TV and movies which depict us as savagely violent towards them?" This media isn't made by people living in the sticks. The Pace salsa ads in which cowboys want to lynch people associated with New York City were written by marketing wonks in New York City at the ad agency Young & Rubicam. What kind of conversely self-loathing and self-aggrandizing f*ckery is this?
People on the coasts -- particularly those who produce TV and movies -- please believe me. We don't want to don rubber masks from the dollar store and chase you through a corn field. To do that would require passionately giving a sh-t about you. And we don't.
[picture via MovieFanCentral]
ALISON STEVENSON: Jerking Upright from a Bad Dream
So many movies have this scene where someone has a horrible dream and wakes up from it immediately sitting upright in their bed with eyes wide open. Sometimes they scream. This movie cliché is bullshit, and pisses me off more than anything else in the entire world.
When I wake up from bad dreams, it's usually me barely being able to open my eyes. I think to myself "What the Hell?" and then fall back asleep seconds later. How is it a natural reaction to sit up straight after having been in deep sleep? I'm no scientist, but I'm pretty sure it takes six hours for a person to fully wake up and get out of bed in the morning. I dedicate the first two hours of waking up to finding a will to live. Only after that happens do I remove my body from my bed in any way.
PATRICK SCHUMACKER: Getting Captured Was All Part of the Plan
I could do without ever again watching the scene in which the bad guy reveals his capture was all part of the plan. For starters, nobody likes a showoff. You don’t get style points for making the good guys look stupid. You just look like a smug f*ck.
I understand why filmmakers do it. You get to put the hero and villain face to face before the climax, and you make your bad guy seem even more formidable. You start out thinking we can’t stop him; we can only contain him. But then you do contain him, and he just winds up making you look like a real asshole.
Plus the bad guy is relying on a lot of outside factors to see his plan succeed. How did Loki know Bruce Banner would Hulk out and bust up S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Helicarrier? (I’ve seen The Avenger’s four times and I still can’t tell if Loki’s wicked scepter is making Banner angry, or if it’s just there to send a homing beacon so Bourne Legacy can track down the Avengers. Maybe it’s both.) And in Skyfall, how did Javier Bardem know that MI6 would connect his laptop to their system so it could automatically hack into their system? Even the nerds at the Apple Store sweep for viruses before plugging into your MacBook. (I have to single out Skyfall as because Javier Bardem’s exchange with James Bond while imprisoned at MI6 HQ was also an example of the other type of scene I wish would go away: the one where the villain basically tells the good guy, "You and me are a lot alike!")
I actually think the villain-planned-to-get-captured scene is indicative of a larger problem: bad guys be convolutin’. You gotta simplify. Your plots should be less sharks-with-laser-beams and more bullet-to-the-head. I blame this recent epidemic on The Dark Knight, which was an example of the trope working, and which naturally inspired imitators. The scene worked because we believed the Joker so embraced chaos. Just like chimney sweep Michael Caine said, “Some people just want to watch the world burn.” That gives you license to pretty much do anything.
I’d love to see movies get more creative with their good guy/bad guy tete a tetes. Or at least try ripping off the greats: like the rooftop scene in Die Hard when Hans Gruber impersonates Bill Clay to escape McClane. And if you MUST have your villain get captured in the middle of the movie, I’d like to see him spend at least a scene or two shitting himself before figuring out how to escape. That’s all I ask.
That, and a sequel to Magic Mike that focuses on McConaughey. (Incidentally, that’s also my pitch for the next Film Drunk Writer’s Room topic.)
DANGER GUERRERO: The Gay Panic Joke
This topic is hard for me, because a lot of the scenes and clichés in action movies that people are probably sick of are the same ones that fill me with unending glee. A Maalox-chugging, mustachioed police chief taking a loose cannon detective off a big case -- even though the detective is the best cop he's even seen, dammit -- because the mayor is breathing down his neck? Love it. A villain catching a film's hero, strapping him to an easily escapable Death Machine, and explaining every detail of his master plan in a long monologue that begins with some variation of "You know, you and I are not so different..."? Can't get enough. A protagonist with a name like Rex Doubleshark firing a single bullet at a jet-black SUV during a high-speed chase that results in an explosion that can be seen from space? Put it in my veins with an unsterilized needle. Not only am I not sick of these scenes, I think I might actually shrivel up and die without them.
So I suppose I'll have to stick to comedies. There's a lot of really bad stuff out there right now, but since I'm currently seeing the commercial for Grown Ups 2 every 10 minutes, I'll go with scenes where something "gay" happens and everyone gets super grossed out. HAHA ANDY SAMBERG RUBBED HIS BUTT ON THE CAR AND KEVIN JAMES MADE A FACE. GET IT? NO NO, REALLY. GET IT? IT'S FUNNY BECAUSE GAY STUFF IS WEIRD.
Sh*t is played out, y'all. It's 2013. Time to get hip. And until you get hip, at least consider, like, not featuring it prominently in the marketing campaign for your big summer movie.
[Editor's Note: It should be also noted that the Grown Ups 2 trailer begins with a deer pissing in Adam Sandler's face after he compares it to his mother in law.]
Bobby Bigwheel: The You Work Too Much Scene
JFK is a great movie but all the scenes with Sissy Spacek suck. She doesn't add anything to the plot; she just exists as a reminder that the protagonist Jim Garrison has a home life. And it's certainly a nice way to remind the audience of that he's human except for one fact.
IT'S A MOVIE ABOUT UNCOVERING A CONSPIRACY BY THE CIA TO ASSASSINATE THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, IT DOESN'T NEED ANY MORE DRAMA.
And really, you can say that about any movie where you have a wife who has her hands on her hips complaining about how much her husband is working. Oh really? You want to marry a guy who's home at 5 every night? Your high school boyfriend is an insurance salesman, now he can probably beat the traffic on Fridays.
Granted you need to humanize the people involved in these movies somewhat. But the complaining wife (it's never a husband because yay patriarchy) seems to lack perspective. "I don't care if you're preparing for one of the biggest trials in American history, I GOT ALL DRESSED UP FOR EASTER FOR NOTHING!" Like, he'll make it up to you on Memorial Day. Deal with it.
ASHLEY BURNS: The Flamboyant Hacker
This is more of a combination of scene and character that I’d like to see swallowed up by a hellish void, because they suck in harmony and provide nothing but groans and eye rolls when they show up in action films. I’m speaking, of course, of the righteous hacker bro who puts on a spectacle of procedure before and during his super awesome hack, as if he’s a professional football player with a touchdown dance.
An example is the world’s greatest hacker, Tyler, in the recent surefire Best Picture nominee White House Down (our review), as he arrives in the White House’s security room to tap into the intricate system and take on the system’s firewalls (seriously, he should have just been a black guy named Theo) and declares to no one but himself just how huge of a procedure this is, before cranking the classical music and pulling out his good luck lollipop. He can’t work without his sugar, y’all!
But the best example of this is Hugh Jackman’s techno Trojan horse virus scene from Swordfish, because it was just ridiculously stupid and improbable, which says a lot about a movie that should have been titled, Blowjobs and Terrorists with Shitty Hair, to begin with.
PAUL SHIRLEY: Beheadings
Have you ever been at a party, having just told a story, when you notice that there’s that split second of dead air while you wait to find out if your story went over, and that split second of dead air is especially terrifying because at the conclusion of your story you admitted that you (choose from: didn’t lose your virginity until age 22/never got what all the fuss was about when it came to the Strokes/kinda, yeah, understand why terrorists do what they do)?
Well, that’s how I feel about the movie scene I never want to see again. Like, maybe, when I tell you, you’re going to call me a sissy or roll your eyes or, well, leave my party.
But here goes:
I hate gore.
I never, ever, not-in-a-million-Neptune years* want to see anyone beheaded, de-limbed, or otherwise dismembered.
Now before you actually do call me a sissy, let me finish. I don’t want to be spared the literally gory details because I live in a Pollyana movie world where no one gets hurt. No, I never want to see Sir Bleedsalot’s intestines because a moviemaker’s depiction of violence has never been as scary as my imagination’s depiction of violence.
I don’t know what a lopped-off noggin looks like in real life, and that’s OK; I don’t live in the Middle Ages. What I do know is that when I see someone’s head chopped off, or his arm torn from his shoulder, or his stomach slashed by a saber, broad sword, or battle ax, I can’t help but be disappointed in the cartoonish way that the appendage falls, limply, to the ground.
It looks stupid, is what I’m saying, and it takes me out of the world-away cocoon I’ve built for myself inside the theater.
So, moviemakers, please keep in mind the following:
While I know your goal these days seems to be to remove all thought from the movie-watching process, my imagination is better than your special-effects department.
How about you let me use it?
*A Neptune year is 165 Earth years. So, maybe, instead of “sissy,” go with “dork.”
JULIEANNE SMOLINSKI: The Big Speech
I'm in a very satisfying abusive relationship with romantic comedies in which I allow them to enrage me to the point of apoplexy but will never, ever stop seeing them. Never, never. If they hurt me, it's probably because I did something to deserve it. Oh this? "The Five Year Engagement" didn't do this to my face, I opened the freezer door too fast.
THAT SAID: nothing makes me angrier than the rom-com contrivance where there's some kind of public event -- oftentimes, a wedding, engagement party, child's birthday, et cetera -- that's interrupted by the events of the film, and no one present reacts in a natural manner.
If somebody decided to say, stand up in the middle of an eighth-grade graduation speech to air their marriage grievances, people would basically be like, "What the f*ck?" and either shame you into shutting up or ask you to make your treacly declarations in the hallway. Basically, f*ck you, "Crazy, Stupid Love" and every time somebody in a film gives a drunken/poignant/embarrassing wedding toast that is ACTUALLY ABOUT THEIR OWN RELATIONSHIP. No human being alive does that. Have you EVER been to a party in which somebody makes a confrontational speech!? IT JUST DOES NOT HAPPEN. PEOPLE ARE TOO POLITE TO RUIN EVENTS IN SUCH A WAY BY SHOUTING DECLARATIONS AT ONE ANOTHER. And if they do, they are terrible selfish monster people who deserve to drown.
[pic via GettyImages]
JUSTIN HALPERN: Russian Heavy Has Too Many Hookers
Just once, I would like to not meet a fat Russian bad guy in a f*cking club with pounding techno music where he's sitting next to five hookers. First of all, if you have five hookers at a club, AT BEST you can sit next to three of them (either side, one on your lap), which means there are two hookers you're just paying to bullshit with each other. Maybe you do that ONCE, but afterwards you're like "I probably could have done without two of those hookers. I feel like that was just me going a little nuts."
Also, if you HAVE decided to make the bad guy of your film Russian, maybe you take more than eight seconds to think about his character beyond "Likes drugs and clubs." Like, is he less tough and menacing if you introduce his character in a Soup Plantation? I say no. I would be like "Whoa, I don't want to f*ck with a Russian gangster who gives so little a f*ck he eats at Soup Plantation." Lastly, no mas musica de techno. It's enough. Every movie can't be a sequel to Blade.
DREW MAGARY: Ghost Kid
1. Woman thinks she hears something unusual in her house.
2. Woman looks around.
3. Woman doesn't seem to find anything.
4. Woman turns around only to be scared shitless by a kid.
5. And it's not just any kid. IT'S A GHOST KID.
F*ck ghost kids. Find another vessel for haunted spirits.
VINCE MANCINI: The Artsy Suicide
As the curator of this list, I didn't know if it was polite or pretentious to put myself last, but either way, you made it this far, and for that I thank you.
While I don't share his irrational, some might say pathological, love for Space Jam or the Fast and Furious franchise, I agree with Sir Danger of the House Guerrero that for a lot of films, especially the dumb action ones, clichés can be a blessing. My particular bag being vulgar, wisecracking anti-heroes of the Shane Black variety. No one's that clever or adorably cynical in real life, but damn if I don't still firm up a little every time I see Bruce Willis give himself a mirror pep talk that includes the mantra "nobody likes you, everybody hates you," or watch Mel Gibson tell a female colleague "step into my orifice" as he leads her into the john. It's the same damn character every time, but for reasons I try not to explore, I never tire of watching a smartass alcoholic save the world and prove he has a heart of gold.
Clichés are much worse in art films, whose whole goal is supposedly to inspire a new way of thinking. Yet if you watch enough of their films, people who fancy themselves artists will make Hollywood execs look like revolutionaries.
Having spent four years as a film major (which was housed in the visual arts department at my university), and another few at grad school in New York where I dated a theater student, I feel like I've become well versed in the mental tics of the psuedo intellectual, and by far my least favorite of them is the suicide narrative. I've seen a million student films about suicide and have even had to collaborate on a few ("hmm, I think I'll take sound editor for this one"). See, affluent white kids from the suburbs have been force-fed the myth of the tortured artist for so long that they'll go to any lengths to prove that their own lives are anything but comfortable. But I'm so broody and complex!
"I constantly ponder suicide!" is basically this big show you make with the right hand to distract people from noticing that the left is holding "My dad's a cardiologist from Orange County."
And the way art students depict it, suicide is never dark and pathetic or a drunken mistake. It's always tragic and beautiful and cinematic, complete with classical music and closeups on crying relatives and big swaths of red (yeah, I'm looking at you, Shame). You almost never get any insight about suicide, just an overwrought visual depiction of it. Oh God, the red color scheme. It's like every amateur artiste thinks the color red is magic, so inherently evocative and pregnant with import that it can substitute for having a point of view. Not sure what you're trying to say? Just throw some red in there, people will call it subtle!
The scenes in We Need to Talk About Kevin that didn't involve Ezra Miller or John C. Reilly could basically be filed under "GRIEF" or "RED" (often both). I think the artsy suicide scene is actually symptom of the disease where art filmmakers think grief is the only interesting emotion. That could be why I liked Hesher so much, because it took the idea of grief and actually did something interesting with it. Spencer Susser found the silver lining in wondering if life has no meaning. See? That's a point of view. Because usually, they just wallow in sadness. And let's face it, grief is the most boring shit ever. Depressed people are terrible. What, I'm supposed to sit here and mope with you because you're too embarrassed to cop to your actual first-world problems? Fuuuuuuuuuuck off.