The MacGuffin Men March Movie Moments Manfiesto

Published on March 20th, 2012

Alex and James look at some of the most notable moments they’ve witnessed in film over the years.

In case you’re blind to all things awesome, the newest trailer for The Avengers was recently released. Between Joss Whedon at the helm, a multi-film/franchise buildup and the fact it contains some of the most popular comic book characters of all time, The Avengers film will undoubtedly hit theatres as one the most highly anticipated films of the year. And with anticipation comes pressure. With summer blockbusters being bigger and more explosive than ever, The Avengers has a lot to live up to. One of the producers of the film, Kevin Feige, compares the film to positively to Transformers: Dark of the Moon saying, “It set a standard for that level of ZOMG-awesomeness and scale. We’re working to try to outdo that.” Transformers 3 was a pretty wild ride, and while I had never phrased it in such a way in my mind, I do agree with Mr Feige when he sets that movie set the standard for ZOMG-awesomeness and scale. Some sequences were so surreal and grandiose and managed to be immediate and powerful at the same time. While I agree with most of the negative criticisms I’ve heard of that movie and have forgotten the name of almost every non-robot, non-Witwicky in that movie, I don’t know when I’ll ever forget the energy in the audience for some of that movie. People actually gasped, cheered, and applauded during certain action scenes, which I previously thought were things that only happened in sitcoms.

But we’re not here to talk about Transthr33mers. We’re here to talk about movies that set a standard for you, that everything similar eventually gets compared to, or moments that stick with you for a long time. Sometimes these can be good or bad but either way they elicit a powerful, visceral reaction from you at the time, or change the way you see movies in the future.

Most Outrageous Thing I’ve Seen in a Movie

Outrageous is a sketchy word when used a movie description. Usually the term makes me think of any movie that shows 8 bare breasts (and none for ‘artistic reasons’), has a trailer with a voiceover by someone who sounds like they should be doing wacky morning traffic on the radio, and has a title starting with ‘American Pie Presents…’ or ends with ‘The Rise of Taj.’ However, I also think it is the perfect word to describe Sacha Baron Cohen’s penis yelling his titular character’s name in Bruno. That shit is outrageous in the “I can’t believe anyone would put that in a movie/I can’t believe anyone would laugh at that/I can’t believe I’m laughing this hard” sense of the word. Bruno is seen as the inferior Borat, but it deserves better than that. While Borat was about someone who finds themselves in a culture they don’t understand, Bruno is more about someone who knows exactly how different he is and he’s rubbing your face in it. I was familiar with the Bruno character before seeing the movie and I had received many warnings of close-ups of penises so I thought I was prepared for the movie. However, I don’t think there was a way to prepare for something like that. That’s why the scene shocked me, got me to laugh uncontrollably, and then realize it might be the hardest I’ve laughed at a movie in theatres. It’s probably also why it shocked the father and teenaged son in front of me and made them leave immediately. I’m not typically a big fan of shock humour and the school of ‘this will piss someone off therefore it is funny’ school of comedy (half of Tom Green’s career, all of Howard Stern’s, etc.) but Bruno helped me understand how effective it can be when done properly. What I still don’t understand – and probably never will – is how to explain to those people in front of me how an hour of gay blowjob and anal sex jokes can be fine, and even watching someone ‘helicopter’ their penis for 30 seconds in slow-motion is fine, but the second it talks it’s suddenly an unacceptable travesty.

The most outrageous thing I saw in a movie wasn’t actually part of a movie, but more the pre-release discussion of something that occurred in an otherwise forgettable movie. Remember Halle Berry’s boobs in Swordfish? Of course, this was the thing producer Joel Silver and company incessantly promoted through the Hollywood press, and any number of rumours swirled, from Berry being paid an extra $250 000 per breast to go topless, to the idea that John Travolta promised to get his hair done like that. But the most outrageous aspect of the movie had to be the explanation for why Berry agreed to take her shirt off: because her boobs served the story. Since Swordfish was a movie ostensibly about hacking and fu man chus, I can’t imagine how Berry sunbathing topless did anything but give fourteen year olds another reason to watch a shitty Hollywood movie. (Note: In 2009, Berry said she agreed to go topless because of how gratuitous the scene was, but this was not how the scene was talked about before the film was released.)

"I can't hack the mainframe! I need more RAM! Computer words!"

Movies get overhyped/most disappointing experience

One answer popped into my head right away but probably because it was the most recent example of cinematic disappointment for me. There is probably something I’m forgetting about from when I was younger because, let’s face it, kids are dumb and have unrealistic expectations. I was probably pissed off for a month when I saw D2: The Mighty Ducks in theatres and found out I wasn’t the star, I didn’t get to triple-deke anybody, and I didn’t even get one of those tie-dyed Trinidad & Tobago jerseys as a souvenir. But I can’t recall it well so I’ll go with the one I can remember clearly: David Fincher’s recent adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. While I was looking forward to this movie, it is not as though my hopes were so high that disappointment was inevitable. The MacGuffin Men had recently podcasted about director Fincher’s career, and that made me realize more than ever that he is talented and usually consistent, but not enough to make me certain the movie would be great. I tried to stay in the dark about details of the plot but I knew there was a murder mystery and a badass main character, things I am typically a fan of. I had these reasons to think I’d enjoy the movie, but I remained apprehensive. Of course I had heard the hype over how good the book series was, but the same was true for Twilight and The Help, one of which I disliked, and the other was too white saviour-y for me to even watch. The trailer for Dragon Tattoo didn’t impress me as much as other people, and the Led Zeppelin cover used in it was so similar to the original that it was pointless. This all lead to warn me that this movie is going to think it’s a lot cooler than it really is. I should have trusted this opinion, as after seeing the movie I felt it was so much more concerned about being badass and dark that it forgot to have a real story, characters or make sense when it mattered.

The title character is so comically over-traumatized and one-dimensional it’s hard to take her seriously for a minute. You know those shirts that say “fuck you, you fucking fuck” that you see people wear and you think, “Wow, that’s a really dumb shirt. I get it, you feel like a badass and you have vague, undefined problems with the world and you feel that makes you deep and intelligent,” and hope you never have to speak to that person? She actually wears that shirt in the movie! Sincerely! The way the murder is solved is so far-fetched and ludicrous that I couldn’t suspend my disbelief any longer and enjoy the movie. Nothing in the movie makes you care about the two main characters as the alleged character development is heavy-handed and clunky, while the ending is both unsatisfying and way too long. The serial murderer/rapist has a crime dungeon with decades worth of evidence in his basement yet has doors to his/her home that don’t close/lock and he has no problem with this. If you feel the way I do about this movie, and I hope at least someone reading this does, I think you’ll enjoy this script called The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo in Under 5 Minutes.

Now I don’t say this to sound like I’m being a douchebag, but I recognize that this will just sort of happen. I don’t get disappointed often because I’m pretty good at knowing what’s coming in any given movie. I would imagine I’m more up on the goings on in the film world than 90% of people that live outside of Los Angeles, and I’ve seen enough trailers now that I’m generally good at seeing where all the pieces will fit. This is why my favourite movies, particularly now, are movies that do something that I couldn’t predict – I forgive a lot of problems in a great, inventive movie, but I guess the tradeoff for that surprise is that not much gets me in an average movie. I know what I’m generally going to get when I walk into Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol – I’m basically going to see where it ranks on a scale of 1 to 10 – and that’s what makes unpredictable movies like 21 Jump Street so enjoyable. An inventive clusterfuck is always more enjoyable than a standard, clinical (but good) Hollywood film.

This really is the worst movie I’ve ever seen

I try to find something to like in everything – this is how I can justify seeing things like In Time – so I think my percentage of movies I really hated is shockingly low, given that I see pretty much everything. I saw somewhere around 80 movies in theatres last year, and I hated maybe five of them. However, the type of movie that always makes me angry is a movie like Tyrannosaur, a movie that I saw in January. It’s the type of movie that something progressively more depressing happens in each scene (and this is movie that opens with our alcoholic protagonist kicking his dog to death), until the movie ends. It The movie, and its director Paddy Considine think the only way to make you feel something is to make it so you can’t feel anything anymore… Except rage. The other recent example of this style of filmmaking is Biutiful, which was better than Tyrannosaur in that at least Biutiful had interesting bookend scenes. But yeah, this type of movie almost always sucks, and makes me feel angry at its filmmakers. I’ve seen too many bad movies to really pick a worst, and I genuinely like so many awful movies that my opinions may be invalid, but I know that this is the worst kind of film.

I don’t walk out of movies. It’s just who I am. I stay in my seat for everything, even though I know exactly how bad pieces of shit like Speed 2: Cruise Control are when I’m watching them. I have never walked out of a movie, and I like to think I never will. Some movies really do get a lot better near the end, and if I really dislike a movie, I’m going to want to argue about it with people, and I feel more qualified to argue, and feel like I gave it a fair shot, if I’ve seen the whole thing. But shitfests like The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers really made me test all of these elements of moviegoing I pride myself on.

Tolkien and I have a history. In Grade 5, I was placed in an advanced English class and we had to read The Hobbit. After the reading the first 100 pages and finding out that all that space was devoted to describing a single buckle on an elf’s shoe, I realized Tolkien wasn’t for me. But I’m not one to hold a grudge so when the first Lord of the Rings movie came out I saw it…and didn’t like it. When two friends of mine said we should all go see the sequel I was strongly opposed to the idea. However, my presence was being requested as a wingman/third wheel/buffer friend for these two people because they were interested in each other but weren’t ready to go on a real date, so as a good friend I went along with the idea. This is when I learned why I shouldn’t be a good friend.

I like having a perfect record of not walking out of movies but I’m 80% sure that I would have left that movie if it weren’t for 2 things:

  1. One of those two shy lovebirds was my ride home, so I’d have to wait for the end of the movie anyway. I figured I’d wait it out in theatre where I had a comfy seat than stand in the lobby. (This was before this theatre got Dance Dance Revolution.)
  2. I legitimately thought the movie was about to end for about the last half of the running time. I knew it was three hours long, but when it felt like four had gone by, I thought I was close to home free. Then our heroes met up with a bearded tree cleverly named Treebeard who said he would assist with the next part of their journey and I couldn’t believe what was happening. I looked at the friends sitting next to me and was stunned that they felt this was acceptable way to make a movie. I looked at the rest of the audience to see if I was going crazy but they didn’t seem bothered either. Some of them even looked happy! I was certain I was being Punk’d. I would offer more specific criticisms of the movie if I hadn’t blocked as much of that awful memory as I could, and I cannot bring myself to rewatch any of those movies.

"Hey, JRR! What are you gonna name the tree that has a beard?"

An ending can save/ruin a movie

Humans put a lot of stock into how things end, not just movies. This isn’t just me talking, it’s science. I recently read a study about an attempt to make men more likely to get prostate exams, in which the goal was to find ways to perform the procedure that would make it less painful for the patient. This was done by having patients rate the pain and discomfort they experienced on a scale from one to ten during the procedure, knowing the less painful they made it, the more likely others would be to get themselves checked. They found one of the most successful strategies was one that sounds very counter-intuitive. Something done near the end of the prostate exam is often of the most painful parts so the doctors involved in this study split the group of patients in two and performed the exam slightly differently. On the first group, they performed that painful part mentioned above and then ended the exam. For the second group, the painful part was performed and then the doctor extended the exam by 5 extra minutes with something that only causes minor discomfort. After looking at the pain ratings from the patients, they discovered the second group rated their exam as less painful, despite going though everything the first group did and more. What was realized is that human qualitative memory is highly dependent on how things end.

This is true of films as well and one of the reasons I don’t like to walk out on movie is because an ending can really make or break the entire movie. I believe the lasting impression of the ending is largely responsible for my positive feelings about Atonement. I remember thinking the movie was really good when it ended. Only after a while did I realize that while the movie was playing, I was pretty ambivalent towards it. On the positive side it has a pretty good/interesting score, and the beach scene at Dunkirk is impressive. On the negative side, it has some dull stretches and the kind of acting we expect from Keira Knightley. This movie is probably mediocre other than an enjoyable ending that improved everything else, and I’m reluctant to watch it again because I assume the ending won’t be as powerful on the second viewing.

The most notable recent ending abortion was Source Code, which was a tremendous film for about 80 minutes, and then a tragedy for the last 10. That movie even had a good, obvious place to end, but chose to continue for another couple overly expository scenes instead, which might be the worst thing a film can do. Instead of letting the viewer try to figure things out for themselves, or hypothesize on what the characters chose to do once the movie cut to black, a movie might give you a little bit too much information. The best recent example for an ending saving a movie is Young Adult, which often feels like a terrible movie while you’re watching it (it’s one of those inventive clusterfucks I discussed earlier), but comes together at the end in a way that completely changes how one has to think about the movie. (There’s a reason I keep asking people about their thoughts on it, and a reason I keep writing and talking about it online.)

Movie that made you realize you’re a smart adult, not a dumbass kid

If I saw The Dark Knight as a kid, I would have left the theatre jealous and told my parents they should have been richer and then murdered when I was seven so I could be Batman. (And I like my parents.) Instead, I saw it at age twenty and had a much different (and probably healthier) reaction. While I enjoyed the action, the Joker, and everything else most people love about the movie, I was also looking into some of the political ideas that it explored. Days after seeing the movie, I came across some film critics who picked up on the same things that I had: that the movie can function as commentary on Bush era politics. Gotham (America) is in danger from the Joker (Iraq/al Qaeda), a man who cannot be reasoned with, is pure evil and only wants to watch the world burn and it’s up to Batman (Bush/Cheney/military) to stop him by any means necessary, even if that means listening to its citizens without them knowing (Patriot Act, wiretapping, censorship), ignoring international law and taking witnesses from other countries (rendition) or a painful physical interrogation (waterboarding, Abu Ghraib). The one hitch about this metaphor isn’t that I don’t think Christopher Nolan sees it that way. I doubt that’s what he had in mind when he made this movie and if I had to gamble, I’d guess he was against the Patriot Act, waterboarding and the war in Iraq but that doesn’t really matter. I believe that once the movie’s done, the viewer can interpret it anyway they want. What made me feel smart wasn’t that I figured out Nolan’s politics by seeing his movie, but that I saw something in his movie that maybe he didn’t see, or I at least saw a different way to look at it. I knew there wasn’t just one way to read a movie, which can be applied to anything from the most personal feelings to the geopolitical climate. Or, I can find think George W. Bush is thata rich dude in a batsuit punching people. Whether I like it or not, this is how I will consume all media for the rest of my life.

This happened for me in the winter of 2007, probably. I saw Gone Baby Gone in October and thoroughly enjoyed it, but didn’t get much out of it other than, “Damn that was a pretty great movie.” A month later, I saw No Country for Old Men, and felt pretty much the same way. In January 2008, I saw No Country again, and realized a number of thematic elements that I loved about it, things I still love today. And when I caught twenty minutes of Gone Baby Gone on television about a month ago, I realized what an incredible movie it is, filled with a wide variety of interesting themes that I never caught onto back in October 2007. I don’t know what happened between October and January, but I suspect it can only be referred to as ‘growing up.’


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