We here at The Bonus View were pretty pleased with the response to last week’s Weekend Roundtable question about most hated movies. So, let’s try it again, shall we? This week’s topic: Biggest movie pet peeves.
To clarify, we’re talking about pet peeves we have with movies themselves, not with the theatergoing or movie-watching experience. Sticky theater floors or people talking on cell phones don’t qualify. Annoying clichés do. Does that make sense? Good, let’s go.
- Rain, dirt or blood on the camera – You’ll see it in movies, television and even in videogames, but unless we’re supposed to know a camera’s there – like in documentaries or films like ‘Cloverfield‘ – the effect just takes me out of the movie. When the effect is presented in a first person perspective, it’s even worse. It’s a bit insulting, really, to show us a completely unrealistic visual and expect us to swallow it.
- Unplugged musical instruments – An unplugged electric guitar does not make the same sound as an electric guitar that’s plugged in. An unplugged keyboard probably won’t make any noise. It’s even worse when there’s clearly no power going to the instrument. I’ll forgive actors that don’t know how to play the instrument they’re holding, but how hard is it to run a cord to a guitar? If the cord’s a problem, pop in a wireless transmitter so I can at least feel like you tried.
- Dead cell phones – There’s a hilarious video montage of horror movies in which cell phones die unexpectedly at crucial, dire, life-or-death moments. If you haven’t picked up on this horrible, new millennium cliché, then after watching this montage you won’t be able to NOT spot/hate it. Yes, the lack of signal works occasionally from a narrative standpoint. It’s easy to forgive in, say, the underrated remake of ‘The Crazies,’ because whatever nefarious governmental agency that has no qualms about quarantining an entire small town would probably have the chutzpah to futz around with people’s phone reception. But most of the time, it’s a cheap narrative shortcut that not only takes you out of the movie, but dates it prematurely. This is why Frank Darabont dispensed with all cell phone-related business quite early in ‘The Mist‘ in an effort to maintain the “timeless” feeling he was going for, or why Richard Kelly set ‘The Box‘ in the 1970s, long before we could text message illicit warnings like, “Don’t push the button, you goober!” Maybe a dead or signal-less cell phone is the new “teen going into the spooky cabin” – something that raises our awareness and gives the audience a chance to scream, “You stupid bitch!” at the screen. Really, I’m pretty sure it’s just lazy.
- Post-coital prudishness – This could be the beginning of an incredibly long-winded diatribe about the gender inequity in Hollywood when it comes to nudity, but I’ll save that for another rant. Instead, I’ll focus on the post-coital prudishness that seems to severely grab any young starlet in most movies. You know what I’m talking about. Even if the sex scene that preceded it showed some skin (probably glistening with just the right amount of sweat, shot through heavy filters and/or atmospheric smoke), a whole different sense of propriety takes hold the morning after. The woman is usually seen grabbing the sheets to her chest to cover any offending bits, then dashing up out of bed, sometimes taking the sheets with her, to change with the utmost modesty. [Ed: This trope is known as the “Modesty bedsheet.”] Of course, during this time, the guy is probably reclining in bed, his abs still glistening from the night before. Even Hollywood movies with a modicum of real world authenticity give in to this tired cliché, which makes a movie like the recent ‘Mother & Child’ so refreshing: after Naomi Watts has a tryst with her boss (Samuel L. Jackson), she walks out onto her balcony with her robe wide open, nothing underneath. She flashes her next door neighbor (and us, the audience), all the while reminding us that in the real world, sometimes people don’t cover up.
- Cop-out sequel titles – We all know Hollywood has about as much imagination as the cardboard characters that populate most of its films. When it comes to sequels, the dearth of creativity often expands to a bottomless abyss. Don’t get me started on the lame plots and tired retreads that comprise what’s become an extremely lucrative Tinseltown sub-industry. And I guess if writers can’t come up with a decent storyline for their sequels, it’s probably impossible for them to slap a snappy title on their script. But you’d think someone on the circuitous studio food chain could put their noggin to use and think of something more creative than ‘Sex and the City 2,’ ‘Toy Story 3,’ ‘Iron Man 2,’ and ‘Cheaper by the Dozen 2,’ to name but a pitiful few. I fully realize the movie-going public isn’t the brightest bulb in – to quote Jean Hagen’s delightfully ditzy Lina Lamont in ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ – “the cinema firmament.” But most of us are savvy enough not to need a huge numeral to distinguish one film from another in a particular franchise. It should be a requirement that a subtitle should follow every numbered sequel. It at least adds a little bit of personality to what is usually a bland offering.
- Shaky Cam – When I walk down the street or across the room, the world doesn’t jiggle and shake, unless I have a serious disease (which, thankfully, I don’t) or have had a few too many drinks (which only happens occasionally…really!). Since movies, for the most part, try to depict reality and put the audience into the shoes of various characters, they shouldn’t jiggle and shake either. But the jittery camera has become an increasingly irritating trend in film and TV. Often, it serves no purpose whatsoever. Newsflash to cutting edge directors – the bouncy camera is not artistic; it’s ANNOYING. Unless you are specifically trying to create an uneasy mood or are shooting from a subjective viewpoint, stop using it! Not only do we get the picture without all that unnecessary wiggle, we LIKE the picture without all that unnecessary wiggle. Good directors don’t need gimmicks to tell stories. A shaky camera just distracts us from what’s really happening on screen.
- Movies titled after the main character’s name – The recent release of ‘Cyrus‘ brings this to mind. It really bugs me when movies are simply titled after the main character’s name. I have no problem with it if the movie is a biopic of a real historical figure like ‘Patton‘, ‘Nixon‘, or ‘Michael Collins’. I’m fine with that. But in a purely fictional film, what does a bland title like ‘Cyrus’, ‘Ed’, ‘Eddie’, or even ‘Michael Clayton‘ tell us about the movie? It tells us that the screenwriter was lazy and couldn’t come up with a better title. Perhaps the example of this that bothers me most is ‘Dave’, the Kevin Kline comedy about an average schlub who happens to look like the President, and is recruited to step in when the real President is incapacitated. You’ve got a juicy concept like that (and it’s a pretty decent movie too), and the best title you can come up with is ‘Dave’? No wonder it bombed. Nobody knew what it was about. Here, let me help you out, screenwriter. How about you call it ‘President Dave’? OMG, I just made your movie a thousand times better with one word! Pwned!!1!!!
- Sound in outer space – Here’s something that anyone who passed the 8th Grade should know: Sound doesn’t travel in the vacuum of outer space. So why doesn’t anyone in Hollywood understand this? Seriously, it’s kind of shameful that ‘2001: A Space Odyssey‘ was the last major sci-fi film to attempt to depict physics accurately. (‘Serenity‘ got the sound thing right about 75% of the time, but gave up on that at the end; it also indulged in a lot of physics-defying silliness such as artificial gravity and faster-than-light travel.) I can forgive movies like ‘Serenity’, or ‘Star Wars’, or ‘Star Trek‘ for this sort of thing. They’re fantasy, I get it. I don’t expect them to be realistic. However, when a supposed docu-drama like ‘Apollo 13‘ shows us a space capsule making WHOOSH!! and ZOOM!!! ZOOM!!! noises in the vacuum of space as it flies past the camera, I find that just unforgivable. It reminds me of a child playing with his toy model spaceships, holding them over his head and muttering cartoon noises under his breath. The subject matter of that movie deserved a lot more intelligence, maturity, and respect than it was given.
That’s it for us. Now it’s your turn. What are your movie pet peeves?