I like talking about classic movies that, despite their greatness, have kind of crappy, forgettable second halves. Sure, people get annoyed when some d-bag from the Internet finds fault with treasured films, but I think we all agree that what I lack in objective, divine proof for my opinions I make up for with intensely unlikeable rhetoric.
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Polls show that people are surprisingly comfortable with this subsitution.
I've dug a little deep for this list (avoiding some of the less controversial picks you might see in another article) so some entries are controversial, and I'm sure the odds of some readers suggesting I be sodomized by goat people are high. But don't get too upset. Society has already decided and placed these films forever in a special part of our collective consciousness. I can't change that. Hell, I don't even want to change that. But I do want to point out that these five classic films won the public's hearts on the strength of their openings, and we've kind of chosen to politely forget all the mediocrity in the second reel. (Also, stop wishing goat-people sodomy on your enemies. It's not nice.)
New Line Cinema
In the past, Cracked has been of two minds concerning this 1998 movie, noting that its director distanced himself from the work despite its inclusion on best-film lists, as well as pointing out that this anti-racism film is kinda racist considering a skinhead is seemingly cured by meeting a funny black man in prison. I would argue that difference of opinion is explained, in part, by the two halves of the film: The first part is startlingly brutal and effective, and the second half is kind of half-assedly goofy. But ultimately American History X is remembered as the powerful movie that jump-started Edward Norton's career and got him a best actor Oscar nomination. It was the promise of a great career -- before everyone started avoiding him for claiming he wrote the screenplays of his projects.
New Line Cinema
"The Negro and the Jew are the bane of the white man. I just made that line up, right now!"
And, sure, the start of the film is powerful. I still get shivers from the horrific curb-stomping scene, and to this day, despite her character's devotion to the destruction of Jews like me, I still stand at attention to Ms. Fairuza Balk. But somehow the movie fails to sustain its limited appeal of brutal racist violence and confusing sexuality.
New Line Cinema
Don't be aroused, don't be aroused, don't be- DAMMIT!
Because in Act 3, the movie tries to answer the question "Hey, where do racists come from?" And it does so with all the subtlety of a Scooby-Doo mystery. Y'see, toward the end, Edward Norton seems to remember that his blue-collar dad had some not-so-PC things to say about minorities when it came to Affirmative Action in the workplace. That makes sense, right? That's why every racist construction worker in Staten Island gives birth to a murderous skinhead with a ravenous appetite for racial hatred. And that's why his racist upbringing had to be reclaimed like some lost memory when he apparently had already been in a steady trajectory of hate. It makes no sense.
I love Christopher Nolan. Memento, Interstellar, and The Dark Knight are three of my favorite movies, and even films of his like The Prestige that I don't find as flawless overall still reduce me to tears with moments of perfection. Indeed, Nolan would be my dream pick to direct films based on my own novels, so the last thing I want to do is start lobbing cheap shots like Donald Trump in response to a question about how irritating Senator Rand Paul must be in bed. Furthermore, in the last few years, countless fanboys have already hurled largely unfounded criticisms at the film, all of which were nicely countered and proven wrong by this article I came across. So what we're left with is a movie with a solid 87 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes that closes out arguably the best superhero movie franchise ever. (Hey, I said "arguably," dude in an Avengers T-shirt and Joss Whedon autographed undies.) Plus it features a terrifying villain whose victims' last words are always invariably, "What did you just say?"
"Please, Bane, don't kill me. Wait, did you say you were going to kill me or thrill me? Hard to hear."
So, like most moviegoers, I'm a big Dark Knight Rises fan overall, and my criticisms are really all reserved for one plot point that is just so hard to swallow that I couldn't enjoy the end of the movie -- and that is the belief that the world's darkest hellhole prisons also include the world's finest techniques in correcting debilitating spinal injuries. Even a casual comic book fan knows that Bane is most notable for the 1993 Knightfall series, in which he breaks Batman's back over his knee, leaving him a paraplegic. Nolan keeps the incident in the film but lessens its effect or asks us to believe that prison medicine is the best cure for it.
Scientifically accurate portrayal of spinal injury.
It seems a series of pulleys and determination make a man who should have been almost literally broken in half walk again, climb again, and fight again. There is such a thing as too much suspension of disbelief -- even in a film like Batman, which (although of course highly fictional) creates a somewhat realistic context for superhero adventures. We as an audience have already accepted that a knee brace could take a crippled Bruce Wayne to a fighting machine in the first half, but being a hellhole prison marionette for a couple of weeks shouldn't regrow cartilage and nerves. Also, as long as I'm being critical, did Batman really have to bounce a nuclear bomb on the street when he was flying it away?
Up, Batman. Fly UP when carrying a nuke.
Way too much electronic ink has been spilled about how awful the Star Wars prequels are, but anyone paying attention to Return Of The Jedi shouldn't have been surprised. Although Jedi starts strong, it soon devolves into a saccharine fairy tale. It is the Disneyfication of the Star Wars trilogy -- and I don't mean the literal "Hey, let's get J.J. Abrams to do an awesome reboot" Disney. I'm talking about the figurative "Hey, wouldn't Star Wars be better if it had live-action teddy bears and happy-ending smiling ghosts" Disney.
Earlier models included an Ewok with a monocle and English accent.
But still, Return Of The Jedi is remembered as the finale of the original trilogy and, therefore, a classic movie. It simply didn't become fashionable to talk shit about Star Wars until the prequels. And, sure, Jedi has greatness in it -- but it's all in the beginning. Jabba The Hutt rules, Princess Leia in her slave-girl bikini rules, and no one can say one bad thing about Lando Calrissian getting a chance to be a real hero and not just a smooth-talking sell-out to the Empire. All that's great, but there is nothing about the Star Wars trilogy that required battling teddy bears to meet its conclusion.
The trilogy was never about little-guy rustics beating tech-powered bad guys. Instead, it was about reclaiming the Order Of The Jedi. The Ewoks ruin Luke Skywalker's story arc from naive farm boy to nascent Jedi soldier to Jedi master. Sure, he gets to shine rescuing Han in the beginning, but for the rest of the movie, until the final fight scene, he's mostly looking like a Hot Topic goth reject in his robe while the Ewoks play out some Little Engine That Could story.
This toy shows slightly more emotion than Mark Hamill in the movie.
In the finale, the Emperor -- the most powerful man in the universe -- gets bested by a one-armed dying cyborg and every dead guy you loved comes back as a happy ghost, which is a good indicator that maybe you've jumped the happy-ending shark. Even Harry Potter doesn't end with Snape, Black, and Dumbledore doing a happy dance around a campfire. No, wait, make that Snape, Black, Dumbledore, and a reformed Voldemort doing a happy dance around a campfire.
20th Century Fox
OK, I know this is the most controversial entry on the list, and that's why I hid it at #2. (Also, I didn't want to have two Edward Norton movies in a row in case you thought he stole my girlfriend or something.) I know some of you are going to be mad, but I want you to harness that hatred and do something productive with it. Why not donate $10 to a worthy charity each time you want to punch me in the face? Through the years, I've met tiny handfuls of people who actually agree with the following sentiments, but they've kept their views secret, fearful they would be devoured by an army of Chuck Palahniuk's devout. So, before donating thousands to the Red Cross, hear me out.
20th Century Fox
"First rule of Fight Club. Don't talk shit about Fight Club ... which doesn't exist and we don't talk about."
What is remembered about Fight Club? What is quoted? It's mostly scenes from the first half, right? "First rule of Fight Club" and, of course, all that Fight-Clubbing. Personally, I was riveted by that part of a movie that set out to explore the male psyche and answer what it is about fighting and abuse that bonds men. It's a fascinating topic, and anyone who's even seen a few episodes of the old Jackass show or hung around with guys knows, eventually we start hitting each other. It's not uncommon for lifelong friendships to form between you and the kid you gave a black eye in fifth grade. Why is that?
But what about the second half? After the formation of the Fight Club, the exploration of the male psyche ends, and suddenly the movie is about some modern-day band of Merry Pranksters punking corporate America. Here's a sentence that no one has ever said: "Oh man, I love Fight Club. That part where they make soap is very enjoyable and clearly an understandably necessary part of the story arc!" We don't learn anything more about the nature of violence and men, and the high-scale pranks that take the place of that inquiry don't sufficiently entertain or answer the promise of the first half. Sure, there is the rewarding reveal at the end of the movie that I won't spoil, but the 45 minutes that precede it could be removed with no damage to the plot of the film. That's how you know it doesn't matter. Also, as long as you're super pissed at me, you should probably give another 10 bucks to charity, because I banged your mom.
Kevin Smith started his career and changed the way we thought about filmmaking with his breakout hit, Clerks. Before YouTube was omnipresent, this small-time filmmaker showed the world you could make a movie knowing virtually nothing about blocking, lighting, or other elements typically attributed to directors. You could make a movie people wanted to see, even it was about nobodies portrayed by no-name actors, as long as it was snappy and funny. And Clerks is funny, but, um, mostly in the first half.
Picture a solid blowjob joke here.
The bits about snowballing, how many guys Dante's ex has blown, the miserable treatment of customers, and, of course, just the mere presence of the now-iconic Jay and Silent Bob. But if I were to ask you what actually happens in Clerks or what it's about, you'd go, "Um, some ... clerks?" The movie is short on plot, conflict, and rising action, which is why the most notable thing that happens in the entire second half of the film is a woman accidentally having sex with a dead guy with a rigor mortis penis in the darkened convenience store bathroom. This is the kind of plot line that would have been generated and then rejected in an all-night coke-fueled Three's Company writing session. It's not that it's too dirty -- remember, I started this article with a reference to goat people sodomy -- it's just too stupid. And yes, again, I started this column referencing goat sodomy.
The one nice thing about watching Clerks run out of steam is then seeing Smith's subsequent films, where he seems increasingly concerned with plot and structure, until he got it right with his best film, Dogma, before inexplicably forgetting it all again.
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