Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Heath Holland On...Pet Peeves
Some of these are movie clichés, some are screenwriting crutches and some are just trends that I see and am not on board with, but they all bug me like crazy. Nothing would make me happier than to see a moratorium put on the following offenses. For the record, I’ve seen an example of each one of these pet peeves in the last 30 days (and several in the last few).
Overuse of Mundane Dialog - The masters of filmmaking can make dialog about ANYTHING feel fresh and pop off the screen. Quentin Tarantino is a master of the mundane: think of the opening conversation in Reservoir Dogs about Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” and the chats that Vincent and Jules have in Pulp Fiction, which range from feet to cheeseburgers. The entire date between Vincent and Mia Wallace could be viewed as mundane dialog. But Tarantino is using his dialog to inform his characters. He’s telling us what kind of people they are and what motivates them. Writers and directors like Tarantino have elevated the mundane to an art form.
Look, I get it. It’s an easy trap to fall into. I’ve got a drawer full of scripts and stories that I’ve written over the last 15 years that made the same mistake. Few people can pull it off without it being hacky; a movie needs dialog by nature, but I’m sick and tired of long scenes at diners about artificial sweetener in soda and why pasta sauce always tastes best when made with whole tomatoes. SNORE.
Unnecessary Flashbacks - Yes, the rule of filmmaking is “never tell what you can show.” But if you’re dialog is simply “One time my sister and I were picking flowers by the beach on a sunny day and I’ll always remember that morning,” then I don’t need to see you flash back to you and your sister picking flowers on sunny beach, ESPECIALLY not in slow motion. You just told me about it and seeing it won’t make me care any more than I already did. And if this scene of you and your sister picking flowers has nothing to do with the guy in the trunk that you just accidentally killed, then why is it in the movie? I recently watched a movie where a kid saw the murder of his parents as a child. The movie’s plot made it clear that this happened, but I still had to see it in a slow motion flashback, like I didn’t already know what happened, making it redundant and tedious. These types of flashbacks are amateurish and superfluous.
Unnecessary Voice-Over - This is a big one that’s still happening way more than it should. There’s an argument to be made that some movies can benefit from a voice-over. I think it works for Goodfellas, but I can’t think of many other movies that are made better from one. It feels like most voice-overs exist to hold the hand of the stupid viewer who needs things explained to him. The worst examples of unnecessary voice-over are those that merely describe what’s happening on the screen. This is a crutch of the lazy screenwriter who doesn’t have any faith in his audience to figure out what he’s telling them, which means that he either thinks those viewers are morons or his screenplay isn’t clear enough to work without hammering home the subtleties. Either way that’s bad screenwriting, and I see this ALL THE TIME. How are younger audiences ever going to grow and mature if they’re being spoon-fed every little nuance? I believe in Darwinism. If they don’t get it then it’s not up to you to explain it.
Horror Clichés - There could be a whole column just on horror clichés that are still being used, as if audiences haven’t seen a horror movie in the last thirty years. The two biggest offenders, however, are the mirror gag and the backseat gag. And both of them make ME gag. Yes, horror writers and directors are STILL doing that bit where a character looks into the bathroom mirror, opens the medicine cabinet, and then close it to find someone standing behind them. And similarly, I’m still seeing movies where someone gets into a car only to have someone sit up in the backseat. Sure, we’re all afraid of these things, I GUESS, but a smart writer or director (like Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard) can subvert the cliché and make the whole thing feel fresh. Horror is nearly limitless in its possibilities. Don’t walk the same path that’s been so well trod by those before. Reach higher and do something new.
entire column on it, but I’ve gotten even more frustrated with this since then. Sometimes a three hour movie is an incredible journey full of growth and narrative; it would be a crime to shorten The Godfather or Django Unchained. More often, though, it’s filmmakers being so in love with themselves that they can’t cut the fat out of their movie. Again, chances are you aren’t Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, or Tarantino. Keep it tight, buddy.
The Bruce Willis Smug Method of Acting - This one has become so common that it has a spokesperson. Dear Bruce Willis, you were INCREDIBLE in Die Hard and I even liked the same shtick in Die Hard 2. But if it was wearing thin by 1995 (it was) then it’s intolerable in 2014. You can make good movies where you look like you want to be there and where you actually ACT. I’ve seen it and I really appreciate it.
I could go on, but I’d rather you tell me some of your own movie pet peeves. What really bothers you? Let it out in the comments and we’ll commiserate together. It’s only when we let it out that the healing can begin.