Film shorts

There are some things that really annoy me when watching a film (or play).

The most annoying are when people act idiotically, not at all the way that normal people would. I described one such annoying plot device case earlier when I pleaded for no more daft women!

Another example is the absurd miscommunication device, where one person misunderstands the actions or motives of another person and because of this, endless complications ensue. This occurs in two versions. In one the person trying to explain some very important thing that would clarify everything has, for some reason, only a limited time to do so and either babbles incoherently or digresses so much or is so unclear that the other person goes off with the wrong impression. In the other, one person is trying to explain but the listener is so impatient or exasperated or in such a snit that she (I have noticed that it is usually a woman who does this) refuses to listen, either walking away or banging down the phone.

In both cases, a few moments of calm speaking and listening would have cleared up everything satisfactorily, but this does not happen because of these people’s irritating mannerisms. My question is: Do real people ever behave like this? Have any of you ever been in such a situation? I cannot conceive of not even listening when someone is trying to explain something to me, especially if it is important. I may not agree with what is said but I cannot imagine slamming the phone down or otherwise closing the door on such communications before that person can even begin to speak.

Another plot device that annoys me is when people jump to idiotic conclusions. Although I like Shakespeare in general, two plays that really bug me are among those that are considered his greatest, Othello and King Lear. Whenever I read Othello, I always think that the title character acted like an idiot. How could he not see that Desdemona was a wonderful and faithful wife and that there must be something wrong in what Iago was implying? Why didn’t he ask her a few simple questions that would have cleared up everything? I understand that Shakespeare was trying to show that jealousy can overcome love and reason and even sanity, but this just wasn’t plausible. Sorry, Will, we need a rewrite.

Lear also strikes me as an idiot, so easily misled by flattery that he makes a series of disastrous decisions that lead to death and misery all round. What is amazing was that the three main people he misunderstood were his own daughters, people whose characters he would have been able to observe over many years. And yet, on the basis of a few statements, he dumps the nicest and most loyal daughter in favor of the two schemers. Was he some kind of absent father that he had no sense of the characters of his own children?

Jurassic Park has to be one of the most absurd films ever made. I don’t mean the central scientific concept of someone finding a way to recreate dinosaurs from their DNA trapped in amber. That part if fine. Writers and filmmakers have to be allowed to be able to stretch the bounds of reality so that they can create a workable premise. And the special effects with dinosaurs were very well done. What really annoyed me about that film was how the characters behaved, completely at odds with any normal person’s behavior.

For example, what does the person who has made an amazing, Nobel-prize winning quality scientific discovery by creating dinosaurs do? Announce in a press conference his spectacular result? No, he decides to build a dinosaur theme park in secret!. And despite hundreds of scientists and technicians and construction workers going in and out of the facility being built, it remains a secret. But that’s not all. The owner then sends his fond niece and nephew on an unprotected train ride through the region where the deadly animals roam and sure enough, they get terrorized by the some vicious specimens. Wait, there’s more! After making their escape and managing to get some rest by sleeping in a treetop, the children wake up to find a dinosaur at their head level looking at them. After their previous night’s experience, you would think they would freak out. Instead, they calmly pat it on the head, somehow knowing that these particular animals are friendly. I cannot begin to list all the other things about Jurassic Park that really annoyed me.

And while I am on the topic of annoying things in films, I hate it when the credits continue well into the films. You get absorbed in the story and then they still break into it with more credits. One of the nice things about very old films is that they open with the credits, get them done in about thirty seconds, and then get on with the story.

Then there are actors who simply annoy me simply by their very presence. I cannot really explain why. Off the top of my head, here are a few: Julia Roberts, Hugh Grant, the later John Wayne when he stopped being an actor and became merely a macho symbol, Nicholas Cage, Renee Zellweger, and Tom Cruise. Seeing such people in the cast is enough to make me try and avoid the film.

There are other actors who I think are over-rated such as Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, and Scarlett Johansson. (I think I am in a distinct minority on this one!)

But there are also actors whom I like, whose names on the credits are enough to make me seriously consider watching a film even if I don’t know much else about it: Burt Lancaster, Alec Guinness, Kate Winslet, Cate Blanchett, Peter Sellers, William Holden, Audrey Hepburn, Susan Sarandon, Cary Grant, John Cusack, Peter O’Toole, Michael Caine, Tom Hanks, Catherine Keener, Gregory Peck, Julie Christie, Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell, Paul Newman, Peter Sellers, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Charlotte Rampling, Kevin Spacey, and Kevin Bacon.

All these lists are off the top of my head and I am sure I can add to them as other names strike me.

Those who like political films should see the excellent Warren Beatty film Bulworth (1998). The main plotline is far-fetched and the best parts of the film are the scenes about the underside of the political process, the powerful role of money, and how politicians pander to their various target audiences. Here’s a nice clip from it.

Another good political film I saw recently was the fascinating documentary Street Fight (2005). Made by first-time filmmaker Marshall Curry, it tells the story of 32-year old Cory Booker’s attempt in 2002 to unseat four-term incumbent Sharpe James as mayor of Newark, New Jersey. It is raw, bare-knuckle, down and dirty, street-level politics, with the 66-year old incumbent using all the power of the city against his young challenger. As a city council member, Booker had tried to tackle the serious issues of city hall corruption, crime, and drugs and in the process angered many powerful people who were benefiting from those things.

While the filmmaker’s sympathies are clearly with Booker, James does not help his cause by deliberately shutting him out and very roughly too. If you see the film on DVD, make sure you watch the extra interview with the director as he discusses what happened in the years following that election.

The influential The Black Commentator website has strongly criticized Booker, arguing that he is completely in the pockets of rich, right-wing, white, power brokers who are pushing school vouchers and seeking to co-opt the next generation of black leadership to serve their needs. Whatever the merits of that charge, watch out for the name Cory Booker in national politics. I think we are going to hear a lot about him in the next 5-10 years.


  1. says

    Peter Sellers, William Holden, Audrey Hepburn, Susan Sarandon, Cary Grant, John Cusack, Peter O’Toole, Michael Caine, Tom Hanks, Catherine Keener, Gregory Peck, Julie Christie, Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell, Paul Newman, Peter Sellers

    I get the impression that you like Peter Sellers a lot! Great list, though. I’m definitely in agreement on severl of them, particularly Peter O’Toole. The Lion in Winter is one of my favorite films, even if everyone in it acts pretty irrationally.

  2. Dan K says

    I agree on those annoying devices you mentioned. It seems like the Spider-Man series relies heavily on these devices for plot development, which drives me nuts!

    As for Jurassic Park, I think the reason Dr. Hammond sent his grandchildren along through the park is because he actually believes the whole thing is really safe, and he wants to prove to the lawyer and other people by sending his own grandchildren through it. Remember there is a lawsuit over the worker who is killed by a raptor at the beginning of the movie that threatens the operation of the entire park.

  3. A Nonny Mouse says

    I would seriously love to live in the same method you do, then.

    In my work experience, cutting off someone else to answer the question you think they are asking is the only way my colleagues function. Refusing to listen to someone who cannot fire you is an absolute given. Stating that you are in panic mode but stopping to tell a 2 hour braggart’s tale about what you did 12 years ago in a somewhat similar situation with breaks for lemmas of why some obscure detail should be interesting is a necessity when answering yes or no questions.

    If even a simple majority of people listened completely, asked for clarification when necessary before acting, and were able to stay calm when things were in critical shape, so many things would run more smoothly that the landscape of life would be entirely different.

    In brief, while I agree that many of these plot devices are overused, I believe you are judging from biased, anecdotal, data when you say people don’t act in such manner.

  4. Brian says

    I’ll second A Nonny Mouse: many people DO have communication issues, whether it’s babbling in place of concise explanation or such thorough moodiness and impatience that they can’t hear someone out. I’m fortunate that I deal with very few of those types, and I’m downright amazed if you can’t think of a single example in your own life.

    On to movies: I hope you’re not putting Ben Stiller and Will Ferrel on the same level as Peter Sellers (or Peter Sellers, for that matter). I can’t think of any roles that would put them even remotely on par with Sellers’ multiple characters in Dr. Strangelove.

    Your annoying actors list is spot-on, though. I wish that irritation could be quantified, but I don’t even know how to begin.

  5. Alyx says

    Have you ever seen the movie Cradle Will Rock (1999)? It’s an excellent movie looking at the cultural and political atmosphere in 1930’s New York, and there are several cast members in it from your list of favorites. If you haven’t seen it you should definitely rent it.

  6. says


    No, Peter Sellers was definitely in a class by himself, a comedy genius. But Stiller and Ferrell also have a kind of disarming goofiness about them that makes their on-screen characters appealing.

  7. says

    Picking holes in Shakespeare plots and characters? Desist, sir, for that way lies madness.

    Lear: these days your teams of script-, screen- and gag-writers would have all this dysfunctional family stuff strung out into a long-running serial, with canned laughter tracks.

    Actors:my favourite film critic’s line about an erratic actor: ‘When he’s good he’s very very good when he’s bad he’s Richard Gere.’

    I doubt you have any idle moments, but if you do and want to hear English language radio at its blistering finest, the critic is Mark Kermode and he can be found here:

    (And I can’t stand critics, usually.)

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