Thursday, January 24, 2013

Doug Asks Patrick Questions About Movies

Patrick knows a lot about movies. Doug has seen Red Tails dozens of times. In an effort to expand Doug's cinematic horizons, he'll be asking Patrick questions about movies in a column we're calling "Doug Asks Patrick Questions About Movies."

Just how bad is this January shaping up, movie-wise? Aside from a few exceptions (last year's The Grey), why is winter a dumping ground for turkeys?

The company line is because attendance is typically down -- people don't want to go to the movies when it's cold -- and that the movie studios have already spent all their money on the big holiday movies or are focusing on pushing their Oscar prospects (fuck you, Les Mis), so they dump anything they're willing to take a loss on in January. The same thing happens in late August/early September as the summer season dies down. But over the last few years, I've noticed a shifting trend in what comes out in January. As more and more of the movie calendar gets eaten up by big, bloated blockbusters (the summer season has basically crept all the way up into March), more mid-budget, interesting movies are getting pushed to the edges. There's not really room on the release schedule for movies like Haywire or The Mechanic or Man on a Ledge or The Last Stand or this weekend's Parker, because they're genre movies but they're all too small to compete in the blockbuster marketplace. Don't get me wrong -- there is still a LOT of garbage released in January, but there's also crazy stuff like Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (which is probably going to be the worst, and which I am totally going to see). The stakes are so low in January that almost anything good counts as a pleasant surprise. Very few months of the year offer the same promise.

Everyone loves nudity (boi-oi-oi-oing!), but has there ever been a situation in which an actor or actress (hopefully actress) shedding their clothes was essential to a movie? I'd like to think yes, but...

I have a hard time arguing NECESSARY nudity, even though I NEEDED to see Carla Gugino in Sin City and Katie Holmes in The Gift. I think there have been instances of "effective" nudity, even when it's not essential. Julianne Moore's bottomless monologue in Short Cuts is a case where the nudity works as subtext and text. There are plenty of movies in which actresses play strippers (sorry...DANCERS) where I guess it's necessary that they be naked, but to accept that argument is to accept the fact that it's "necessary" that the character in question be a stripper. And I guess any time a filmmaker shows a sex scene, it makes sense that the participants are naked. But that begs the question of whether or not it's ever necessary to show sex? But then I remember that, yes, that is a human experience (not the way I do it) and is just as deserving of being reflected on film as love and sadness and jealousy and the Need for Speed. Like violence -- which, one could argue, is also never "essential" -- nudity is a tool (hee hee). It can be used to enhance a scene or a movie, or it can be gratuitous. I am ok with either.

What are some of the worst moments from your favorite films?

That's hard (TWSS), because I have an annoying (lovable?) tendency to rationalize what might be seen as "bad" scenes in the movies I love. Those looooong scenes of the girls bullshitting in Death Proof? They're both necessary to the story and true to the movie's exploitation origins! But here goes anyway:

While I can now watch it without flinching (it's just part of the movie for me now, and I don't know what I would do without it), the endless psychologist wrap-up at the end of Psycho is pretty famous for being a bad scene -- and with good reason. YIKES. I really love Danny Boyle's Sunshine, which, for most of its running time, is one of the best science fiction movies of the last 20 years. Unfortunately, the last half hour turns into a dumb horror movie and ruins (a little) what would have otherwise been a masterpiece. Michael Clayton is a great movie, minus the secret tape recorder. Very few movies can make the secret tape recorder work. I like The Dark Knight a lot, but could do without the "ferry" scene, even if (or maybe because) it's the scene that makes the movie's themes the most explicit. The ending of Unbreakable is pretty lousy, because it turns the movie into an episode of COPS. I'm sure there are many, many more (I would need to rewatch Good Will Hunting to see if I still like it, but Ben Affleck's "Yah suspect!" scene always stuck out to me as being tone deaf and terrible), because these are all pretty recent. But this is a hard question, and I'm mad at you for putting me in this position.

Conversely, what are some inspired moments from movies you dislike?

The first one that comes to mind should make you happy, because I know you love this scene: the travel montage from The Rules of Attraction. That movie is mostly garbage, but that's a good scene. I'm also not a fan of Superman Returns, Bryan Singer's attempt to revive the iconic character while at the same time slavishly worshipping at the altar of Richard Donner, but there's a scene in which Supes rescues a bunch of people on board a plane that's crashing that's pretty spectacular -- if that had been Superman's introduction into the movie, it might have actually turned things around. While I don't hate The Phantom Menace as much as a lot of people (I think it's still my favorite of the prequels, a statement that's likely to get my tires/face slashed), it's obviously not good. But it does have that kickass three-way lightsaber battle between Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor and Ray Park. For a few minutes, everything that was fun and exciting about Star Wars made its way into a prequel (possibly for the first and last time). The attack on Pearl Harbor in Pearl Harbor is some good filmmaking if you can divorce yourself from the fact that Michael Bay turned a national tragedy into a thrilling action movie. The opening sequence of 28 Weeks Later is crazy good; the rest of the movie, not so much. No one anywhere is talking about Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, because why would they? But there's a scene in which Ameila Earhart, played by Amy Adams, gets to fly for a few seconds, and Amy Adams is so good in the scene that it can practically make me cry. Her pants in that movie also deserve some recognition.

Do you have a favorite movie poster?


  1. Amy Adams single-handedly got me through Trouble With The Curve (which I saw in a theater!). She's so cute it's tough to look at sometimes.

  2. I would argue that Harvey Keitel (of all people!) giving 'the full spano' in Abel Ferrara's "Bad Lieutenant" is necessary nudity for that movie to work. It shocks the audience but also visualizes the depths of despair and jaded life that Keitel's corrupt cop has sunk to as the movie's journey begins. It's the 'ying' to the character's quest for absolution (and memorable final scene) 'yang,' and an effective one at that.

    The nude shots in "Bad Timing" (nudity in a Nicolas Roeg movie? Shocking! :-P) are also pretty important to establishing the twisted mind games and awkward back-and-forth between Art Garfunkel and Theresa Russell. Speaking of Russell, talk about a brave woman who showed it all for her craft whether working for her ex-hubby (Roeg's "Eureka") or same-named twisted fellow with a vision (Ken Russell's "Whore").

    BTW, is there a real answer to the 'Favorite Movie Poster' thing? Because if this site has taught me anything is not to judge the quality of the content by the poster on the cover ("Ramona and Beezus" anyone?).

  3. So much nudity in movies these days - I just sit there shaking my fist!

    While there are certainly exceptions, I feel like in general nudity in movies is pretty gratuitous - I also find it usually JERKS me out of the movie experience because I start thinking of the actors and the whole process - like, did she give him permission to grab her ass there or suck her nipple or whatever - and like, bullshit they can just totally divorce themselves from the experience and it's just a job. I'm a man, I know how we are, and if I was going to town on Naomi Watts' tits for a movie I could say "It's just a job" until the cows come home but really, I'd still just be a dude going to town on Naomi Watts' tits. And, um...actually, excuse me for a minute...

    Okay...(drag on cigarette)...I'm back...what was I sayinzzzzzzzzzzzzz

  4. On "Necessary" Nudity:

    I'm fascinated by this question and the only concrete answer I can make is Emilio Estevez in Loaded Weapon 1. If he really is (National) lampooning the Mel Gibson "unmotivated butt in the moonbeam walk" from Lethal Weapon, it's pretty essential that he actually BE naked for that joke, right? It's joke precisely about the very sort of unnecessary nudity that got this discussion started in the first place.

    I'd also make a case for Ted Levine in Silence of the Lambs. Since they absolutely do not show it on TV, I'm counting it as nudity and I'd argue that actually seeing him execute the tuck maneuver is essential to understanding the mania that drives Buffalo Bill.

    1. Yeah, I would say there's more necessary NUDITY and less necessary SEX. Sex is so easily implied and/or alluded to that it's almost never necessary to show it in explicit detail unless it's revealing a real plot-crucial quirk of some sort.

  5. In "Kill Bill: Volume 2", Bill gives a stunning monlogue about the character of "Superman".
    Given what he says is correct, I find it hard to enjoy the scene in "Superman Returns" when he saves the plane.
    He's Superman! He could stop that plane with one hand--with no effort.
    Struggling to create false suspense and having Lois bang around tha plane, without a scratch on her head afterwards, is just one more reason why that movie was terrible.

  6. Sweet Article guys. As for January yeah its definitely the dumping ground of the year. In all honesty I think The Grey might be the best January movie I've ever seen. As for necessary nudity while admittedly not "necessary" the topless hot foreign chick from Not Another Teen Movie gag wouldn't have worked as well without her being topless(and SPOILER ALERT the blue bird that lands on her boobies later in the movie.)

    Glad to see someone defending Sunshine, I love so much of that movie, they have to save the sun or earth dies that is enough stakes for the movie. As for Superman Returns gotta defend it a little bit, while I dont like Lex Luthor in the movie I do like the fact that they try to do something different with Superman having a son. I really hope the next couple Superman movies take a break from Lex Luthor I feel he's been played.

    Oh and by the way that Superman III poster is OFFICIALLY the only good thing about Superman 3.

    1. Thanks, Bartman, and welcome. There are a lot of times where Superman Returns comes close to being something interesting, but it has no interest in addressing any of the questions it raises. The movie frustrates me.

    2. Am I the only one that absolutely hated Brandon Routh as Superman in that movie? His casting is one of the few things about it that gets any praise but that dude never worked for me. Like Dean Cain from the TV show, I just found his looks a little soft - Superman's a good looking dude, but in a manlier, harder-angled way that Christopher Reeve had and I think the new guy has as well. But maybe that's just me.

  7. I realize that the psychiatrist explanation at the end of Psycho is reviled by just about everyone (Roger Ebert has said it's the only bad scene in the movie), but we all need to remember when this film was made. It was 1960, and American audiences simply were not ready or expecting for the tricks and shocks that Hitch pulled on them. This film freaked people the hell out, and Hitch likely felt that he absolutely needed to give audiences a scene where they could decompress and settle down. Simon Oakland makes the most of it - the character is pompous to the max, knowing damn well this is HIS moment in the spotlight and his career as a psychiatrist is now officially made. And to my mind, it's actually Hitch's last trick. By the end of that scene the audience feels "oh, okay. That's what it was. Freaky, but now I understand." Then Hitch gives us that last super-creepy monologue from Norman/Mother that blows the neat explanation out of the water.

    Sometimes movies really do need to let the audience settle down a bit before bringing the lights up. Consider the film adaptation of Cujo: Dee kills the dog! Dee saves the boy! Dee and the boy meet Dad outside! Bam! End credits! WHAAAAAT?

    1. That psychiatrist scene serves a key function though, and that's to deflect the blunt of the impact of what had just taken place by verbalizing the subtext. Without that scene, back in the day, the weird stuff would have stood out even more and the censors would come harder on the movie. If the trade-off to losing the psychiatrist at the end is for the censors to have their way with "Psycho" then forget it, I'd rather watch Oakland chew the scenery for two minutes. Besides, Steve K. is right that it helps to make the final monologue of Norman/Mother doubly creepy than it would have been without it.

      When I showed "Psycho" to my father and stepmom over Thanksgiving for the first time they were blown away by the movie, but they liked and were thankful for the psychiatrist at the end explaining them what had just happened. Not my opinion or deduction, they told me this themselves right afterward. I guess it takes all kinds.

    2. I know why the scene is at the end of Psycho. I just don't think it's a very good scene in a movie that has no other bad ones.