Jul 27, 2006
There’s nothing like sitting in a theater, being enraptured by the movie-going experience, when all of the sudden something incredibly stupid happens in the movie: something that yanks you out of the fictional world and makes you think you were a sucker for ever liking the movie you were watching in the first place. Sometimes this even happens during GREAT movies, and maybe, after a few traumatized minutes, you’re able to get back into the flow. But in the future when you think of that film you’ll never be able to completely escape that little twinge reminding you… "Yeah, it was a really great movie, but…"
This is a list about those "but’s", bad moments or sections in films that are otherwise, at the very least, quite good. Many of these movies would be on my all-time favorites list if it didn’t have the niggling "but." Thanks to my brother Brian, my cousin Mark, and my brother-in-law Alec for helping me to compile this list.
1. LONG ARMS in THE STRONGEST MAN IN THE WORLD
I’ll start with my first memory of a bad moment in a good movie. It was in THE STRONGEST MAN IN THE WORLD, the Disney movie starring Kurt Russell. Frankly, I don’t know if it’s a good movie or not, being that I haven’t seen it for thirty years. But I know that when I was six years old I fucking loved it. However, in one scene near the end, there was a weightlifting competition. One of the bad guys tried to lift a huge barbell that was too heavy for him, and his arms stretched out of his sockets so far that his knuckles scraped the floor. Then he walked off the stage, sobbing. Even at six years old, this bothered the hell out of me. Firstly, this was a Loony Tunes moment, completely out of sync with the rest of the film, which was done fairly realistically. If the barbell was TRULY that heavy, his arms would probably just pop out of the sockets, not stretch like that. Secondly, sure, I wanted the guy to get his comeuppance, but I didn’t want him to be crippled for life, walking around with orangutan-like arms. I felt sorry for him. It just wasn’t that funny to me.
2. ROBERT WUHL’S PERFORMANCE in COBB
I love Rob Shelton’s biopic about Ty Cobb. It is perhaps my favorite biopic (though, admittedly, that’s sort of like being my favorite poo-licking experience). The movie is well put-together, emotional, and Tommy Lee Jones turns in the most powerful performance of 1994. However, Robert Wuhl’s performance is like a mustache on the Mona Lisa. It’s so God-awful and cartoonishly bad that I found myself holding up my thumb in the theater every time he was on screen, trying to block him from my view. I mean this motherfucker was too cartoonish for the first Michael Keaton BATMAN movie. In COBB, he really almost ruins it.
3. The POETRY and TIME-TRAVEL in SUPERMAN
I’ve said it before, but the "romantic" scene where Superman and Lois fly around and we’re subjugated to Lois’s poetry just sucks -
Just a friend from another star
Here I am like a kid out of school
Holding hands with a god
I’m a fool"
- Lois Lane, SUPERMAN
Fuck you, Lois Lane. Fuck you so very, very, very hard. But even the bad poetry can’t compare to when, after Lois Lane dies, SUPERMAN goes around the world so fast that the earth revolves backwards which, of course, means that time also goes backwards. Richard Donner must have studied science through repeated viewings of PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE. I’d like to see what would have really happened had Superman, in his mad daze, tried to reverse time by making the earth revolve in the opposite direction, and he ended up killing every man, woman, and child on the planet. That would have been a much better ending. Now, every time I watch the movie on DVD, I just end it when he starts circling the eath. "Fuck, everyones dead," I say. Then I go and eat some tapioca pudding.
4. CREAM PIE and SELTZER WATER GAGS in the original DAWN OF THE DEAD
I would never bite the hand that feeds. I love the original DAWN, and think it’s a great movie. Its sins are less than the remake’s (see #5). However, when the motorcycle gang temporarily transform into Laurel and Hardy and we have to put up with "pie-in-the-face zombie" and "seltzer-bottle zombie", well, let’s just say it’s not horrors finest moment. It’d be like John Cassavetes going "Nyuk nyuk nyuk" and poking Mia Farrow in the eyes after she finds out he’s a Satanist in ROSEMARY’S BABY.
5. NICOLE SAVES THE DOG in the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake
I don’t care HOW MUCH you love your fucking dog, you’re not going to run through ten-thousand flesh-eating zombies (who dont even eat dogs, by the way) to get him. In addition, if you are stupid enough to do this, you aren’t going to fucking live. My brother-in-law Alec says that Ripley getting the cat in ALIEN is a similar situation, but I have to disagree: Ripley takes a calculated risk for an animal she loves that’s certain to die if she doesn’t. Nicole is basically sacrificing her life for an animal that isn’t even in danger.
6. INDIANA JONES DOESN’T REALLY SAVE THE DAY in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK
Stephen Spielberg is one of my favorite directors of all time, but he often relies on DEUS EX MACHINAS. In high school sophomore creative writing classes you learn that the audience likes their good guys to figure out how to beat the bad guys through ingenuity, wits, perseverance, or even brute strength. You don’t want the cavalry coming in to save the day without your protagonist doing jack shit. And this is exactly what Spielberg does in RAIDERS, JURASSIC PARK, and WAR OF THE WORLDS. In WAR, a virus kills the aliens (making these light-years advanced aliens almost as dumb as the aliens in SIGNS), and Tom Cruise and the world just sit around watching as they get lucky. In JURASSIC PARK, Alan Grant and the kids are saved when the T-Rex kills the Raptors for them. And in RAIDERS, the Ark of the Covenant kills the bad guys. It’s their own foolishness and greed that kills them, and Indiana just happens to be there (and would be dead if they weren’t so evil). RAIDERS is a much better movie than JURASSIC PARK or WAR OF THE WORLDS, and the end is at least much more dynamic (and Indiana is at least smart enough to shut his eyes). But, in the end, it’s still a cop-out, and it was anticlimactic to me as a kid before I knew what a DEUS EX MACHINA was.
7. "I WANNA DANCE!" in DAZED AND CONFUSED
Adam Goldberg’s character is in the back seat of the car with Tony Rapp and Beck’s wife. He’s going on about how he doesn’t want to be a public attorney, because he went to the DMV and decided he doesn’t really like the people he wanted to help (i.e. he doesn’t like poor people). So far, so good. Honest and funny, nice little story. Then Beck’s wife asks him what he wants to do, and he holds up his hands, looks up at the sky, and exclaims, "I wanna dance!"
WHAT IN THE LIVING FUCK?! Is this a dumb joke in the movie, or is Adam Goldberg’s character making a dumb joke? That I don’t know is one of the problems. Whatever the case, it’s a broad and unbelievable moment in an otherwise reality-based film. I just got the Criterion edition of the movie (which is great, by the way), but I wish Linklater had done a new director’s cut that was exactly the same as this old cut, with only that one moment missing. Ugh. Why did God mislead Linklater in the editing room on this movie? Why are you so awful, God? First, AIDS, and now this. Actually, this is worse than AIDS. I mean, I dont have AIDS, but I do have this dumb moment in my head forever.
8. EASTWOOD AND WALLACH TAKE A BREAK TO FIGHT THE CIVIL WAR in THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY
This is the main reason Sergio Leone’s ONCE UPON IN THE WEST is far superior to his THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY. THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY is essentially a tight movie about a three-way enmity a hate triangle, if you will – between Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach, and Lee Van Cleef. If it had stuck to this story it would have been one of the greatest westerns of all time. However, in the middle of the movie, Eastwood and Wallach take a break to fight the Civil War for extremely stilted reasons. It’s as if Leone got bored with the movie he was telling and decided to tell another one for twenty minutes. It’s the sort of laid-back, Italian style of filmmaking that could almost be forgiven if that twenty minute mini-movie wasn’t as boring as Gallagher 2.
9. STUPID-ASS GAY JOKE in BREAKING AWAY
My cousin Mark Gunn sent this one to me: Daniel Stern just got beat up by the frat boys. Dennis Quaid is looking for them to get revenge and pick a fight. He marches into the student union, thinks he sees the main frat boy wearing a pink shirt in the bowling alley. Quaid storms into the bowling alley, gets up behind the guy – but the guy turns and we see it’s the wrong guy. It’s a dude with a mustache holding a bowling ball. He looks at Quaid and says, with a high-pitched voice and a lisp, ‘Would you like to play with my balls?’ Or something like that. A super broad gay panic joke in the middle of this naturalistic, salt of the earth, underdog movie." I mean, seriously. I have nothing against bigotry and hate. But when it’s not funny, what’s the use?
10. MARIBEL VERDU’S TITS in Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN
Y TU MAMA was my favorite film of 2001. It’s a sublime and moving account of two young men making their way out of adolescent and into adulthood. It would be flawless if it werent for the lead actress’s fake fucking titties. Damn those swingy silicone sacks to Hell! Now, it’s not because I dont like fake breasts. It’s because it’s utterly unbelievable that Luisa, the character Verdu plays, would have fake breasts. In a sex scene that is otherwise intimate and strangely beautiful, we see Luisa disrobe completely for the first time and the poorly-done fake tits scream out "actress!" Everything built up in her marvelous performance until that point is destroyed in one fell swoop. Did you ever see A THOUSAND CLOWNS where Jason Robards gives that kid the female statue with the blinking boobs? That’s what Verdu’s tits are like, blinking red lights of artifice in an otherwise profoundly real film. And, because the tit job is so poor (you can see the outline of the silicone bags), I can’t even whack off to this beautiful, moving scene in the Unrated Director’s Cut. Damn. NOW what am I gonna do when Jenna’s out of town?
These are either moments that aren’t quite irritating enough to truly damage the movie (i.e. THE FLY, GODFATHER II), or they are incredibly irritating moments in movies that have too many things keeping them out of being great movies already (i.e. RETURN OF THE JEDI).
- Lois Lane looks 23 in SUPERMAN RETURNS, which is incredibly irritating, considering she has a five year old kid, has been working at the Daily Planet for at least six years, and is about to win the Pulitzer. But, hey, I liked the movie.
- The bodyless head in RE-ANIMATOR can talk, even though his vocal cords and throat have obviously been severed (this applies to all talking, bodyless heads in all movies, with the exception of ALIEN, which, because it’s a robot, doesn’t necessarily have throat).
- The plastic creatures at the end of THE FLY looks like, well, a plastic creature.
- In RETURN OF THE JEDI, the Ewoks in general, and the smiling, waving Darth Vader at the end of the movie.
- In GODFATHER II, this dumb fucking line: "It was an abortion, Michael! An abortion! Just like our marriage is an abortion!" For just a moment, we fall into PEYTON PLACE. (I’ve never seen PEYTON PLACE, but in the PEYTON PLACE of my imagination, this would fit in perfectly.)
- The "shock ending" of UNBREAKABLE. You knew because you were so friggin’ breakable there must be a guy who was unbreakable? Huh? Wha? How does that work? You’re kidding, right? No, you’re not? Thats a serious explanation? Fuck. I just wasted two Goddamn hours. I predict, in the future, you will make a movie called LADY IN THE WATER that will really, really, really suck.
- 27 endings in RETURN OF THE KING.
- Peter Parker cures his super-impotence and loss of spider-powers by "believing in himself" in SPIDER-MAN II.
- Cutting between the terrorist killings and the sex scene in MUNICH. The whole second half of this movie is pretty uneven, but this particular scene is Uwe Boll bad (however, at least the T-Rex didnt save Eric Bana at the end of the movie… wait a minute, what am I saying? In this movie, that would be AWESOME!)
And here are just a handful of great movies that DON’T have any distracting moments (at least not for me – please feel free to disagree in your comments below) -
BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE
THE WILD BUNCH
ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST
DOG DAY AFTERNOON
THE THING (REMAKE)
And here is the answer to the email you are about to send me, even though I just wrote a blog on it a week ago:
SLiTHER is being released on DVD October 24 in the U.S.
Now give me kudos, motherfuckers.
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