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.
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One that drives me crazy and pulls me right out of a movie is when people refer to each other by their relationships, i.e. "But Jim, I'm your brother!" Yes, Jim knows you're his brother, in fact I imagine Jim has known this vital information for quite some time. There are better ways to convey this. Knock it off, movies.ReplyDelete
The one that sticks out to me is when the dialogue has to point out that a character (usually female, which is another pet peeve) is beautiful. It's a visual medium, we can see what the character looks like. Stop TELLING me how how Kerri Green is.ReplyDelete
I know, right? I'm like, "Patrick, I get it. Kerri Green. Move on."Delete
A few that bother me are:ReplyDelete
1. Characters living lifestyles their jobs would never be able to support.
2. People playing video games (especially shooter games)
3. The trailer for 'Heaven is for Real'
4. Kids movie trailers that have a jokes about butts
5. Slow-motion action sequences
6. Tina Fey thinking she's funny
7. Training sequences
8. Dramatic showers
9. Ray Winstone wanting to fight
10. Creepy cover versions of songs that aren't creepy
11. Secure networks/control rooms/tracksuits in thrillers
12. Found footage as an excuse for terrible acting and storytelling
I am a total sucker for creepy cover versions of songs that aren't creepy.Delete
Characters playing video games in movies is ALWAYS awful. Even movies I like do this badly, such as GI Joe: Retaliation. People are always all thumbs and they move their arms from the shoulders like they're driving a car. It's awful.Delete
I'll up the ante on #4 and say kids movie trailers in general. They're almost always incredibly base, demeaning to adults and full of scatalogical humor. Side rant: commericals that make men look like assholes or that make kids look like adults and adults look like kids. How are we supposed to raise responsible members of society when TV and movies are telling them their authority figures are idiots?
I'm convinced that actors have never actually played a video game.Delete
Speaking of actors and video games...even worse is movies that show a hacker who never uses a mouse or some way to move around a screen. Everything can't be done by typing.Delete
In your comments about Unnecessary Voice-Over you wrote "The worst examples of unnecessary voice-over are those that merely describe what’s happening on the screen."ReplyDelete
I'll extend this to include some of the god-awful director's commentary I have seen. Sometimes I love the commentary if it is giving me insight into the film, it's process, how a scene was shot and so forth. But so many times I have watched commentary where the director is just describing what is taking place. Why the hell do I want to hear you describe to me what you just showed me?! Perfect example of an awful commentary track is on the Criterion release of "Charade" with Stanley Donen and one other, I believe it was Peter Stone who wrote it. It starts off funny because it's two old men arguing about what they think they remembered happening but then it just falls into a lengthy "Now here's where Carey Grant enters the room and finds..." Ugh.
On a side note - great commentary tracks include "The Usual Suspects", "Inside Man", "Donnie Darko" and "Mallrats".
Hey, maybe this is a good topic for a future article Heath?
That part aside, I kind of love the "Charade" commentary, especially listening to Stone and Donen moon over Audrey Hepburn. I have a soft spot for that movie.Delete
There is also the legendary commentary of John Sturges on "Bad Day at Black Rock" which Paul Thomas Anderson said taught him everything about directing.
Mallrats has SUCH a great commentary. Even better than the movie itself, and that's saying something because Mallrats is my favorite Kevin Smith film.Delete
Column on commentaries, huh?
Paul F. Tompkins does a killer routine on the whole "monster in the bathroom mirror" trope. It's on his "Freak Wharf" album.ReplyDelete
My pet peeve? Two characters are having a conversation, where character A says something insightful to character B. Character B begins to walk away. He stops, turns, and says "Character A?" Character A says "yeah?" Character B: "Thanks." A smile from character A and we're out. My God, how many times have I seen this?
Yes! That's right up there with character A needs something from character B that B won't provide. One impassioned speech later, A turns to leave, defeated. B says "wait" and then does the thing that will clearly get them fired/killed/sternly talked to.Delete
Paul F. Tompkins link for the lazy.Delete
I got a new one, I can't stand it when a movie thinks we are so dumb that they have to put the little type underneath to tell us where the hell we are in the movie. You know if I see the Statue of Liberty I'm gonna assume we are in New York I don't need you to tell me movie. There should be a rule you only get to use that once in your movie and thats it. For pete sakes even just having them drive by a sign that says "Welcome to Town" is better than the freaking type at the bottom of the screen.ReplyDelete
I totally agree about the voice-overs. Goodfellas is a masterpiece, don't get me wrong, but if there's one thing I could do without in that movie it's the voice-over at the end when Henry Hill is making dinner in between delivering drugs and he keeps seeing the helicopter. I know the voice-over serves a purpose but everytime I see that scene it always seems like a little too much.ReplyDelete
Another pet peeve I have is when there is an unnecessary comic relief best friend, especially in an action or horror movie. The character usually only serves to deliver snarky comments when there's a lull in the action.
I'm starting to tire of candy glass. The novelty of seeing absolutely anyone crash through all kinds of windows and doorways with zero repercussions has really about worn off.ReplyDelete
Always hated the dial tone after someone gets hung up on. Not only has it never been necessary, it actively detracts from the moment every time.
I weep when movies say that two characters are about the same age, but the male actor is and looks a decade older than the female. See: the otherwise about perfect Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Illusionist.
Finally: San Francisco is one of the world's most photogenic cities, and doesn't get nearly enough play. More SF movies, please. (I know it's hella expensive to shoot there. Not an excuse!)
Adding to your list: slurping from ANY cup of soda, regardless of how full or empty it is. EVERY time someone sips a straw in a movie it sounds like a kid trying to get the last 1/24th of an ounce from their glass of Kool-Aid.Delete
The Coroner. When the movie has the coroner eating during a procedure or when showing someone a dead body. Yes, we get it, he doesnt have a problem being around dead bodies. Yes, we get it, this is something that would make most people feel sick, but this guy can not only hold down food but can actively consume food while doing it. We can assume that he wasnt forced into this occupation, that at some stage in his life he chose to be a coroner, so we can therefore assume that he is able to manage himself while performing the standard duties of his job. We can do without the overt representation.ReplyDelete
But this Pet Peeve is compounded when the movie uses the "He's Eating" aspect as a reason to make the character overweight because...he's eating and only fat people eat? Then because he's fat and eating he is shown to be messy and a slob by dripping the filling of his sandwich on his shirt. Therefore presented as the fatty comic relief which is emphasised by him making jokes about dead people, further hammering home the point that he is ok around dead people. SHUT UP MOVIE! Not everyone has to be Chunk.
Big fat eating-in-front-of-a-corpse YES to all of this.Delete
Some great ones here but I was able to think of one that hasn't been mentioned: "friends", or even just partners of some sort, that do NOTHING but bicker and shit on each other. A certain amount of that can be okay as long as there enough other genuine moments of warmth to establish why they're actually friends, but when it's non-stop antagonism (usually for comedic purposes) I get bored fast.ReplyDelete
I started hating the fantasy genre because of the Chosen One - a lonely, timid, misunderstood kid constantly bullied by everybody (Look how unlikely a hero he is! Look at him, damn you!), who is suddenly transported into a fantasy world where everybody's telling him how special he is. ("But I'm not a hero! I'm just a kid!")ReplyDelete
I hate shake cam. Why does nearly everything these days look like it was filmed during an earthquake or from the inside of a clothes dryer.
Paul Greengrass says you're welcome.Delete
It took me until Captain Phillips to stop being mad at Greengrass for shaky cam and United 93 which should not have been made in my humble opinion. He's an asshole.Delete
So many great ones detailed here, but here is the one I hate the most. A character is at their job and they're a professional in whatever field (medical, government, law enforcement) and then another character states something to them that then has to be clarified. But the truth is it wouldn't have to be clarified if they are a professional. It's only clarified because the goober watching the movie/tv show is too busy snackin' and it needs to be spelled out for them. UGH!!!!!!ReplyDelete
A big one for me: "comic relief" characters who never actually get to say or do anything funny, and are thus only identifiable as comic relief because someone was cast who is usually known for comedy. Two examples of recent vintage: Kat Dennings in the Thor films, and Jay Baruchel in RoboCop. Seriously. I defy anyone to identify an actual joke from Jay Baruchel in that film.ReplyDelete