Sunday, February 14, 2016

Top 10 Movies That Are Hard to Watch In Hindsight

Note: Only 1 of these movies is about sports, although James Bond did some skiing and boat racing, Dirty Harry did have a scene filmed inside San Francisco's Kezar Stadium, Revenge of the Nerds featured a college football coach and his players, and Ferris Bueller's Day Off had one filmed inside Chicago's Wrigley Field.

I'm not talking about movies that were hard to watch at the time. A Clockwork Orange (1971 but taking place in an indeterminate but probably near future), Taxi Driver (1976), Schindler's List (1993 but taking place in the early 1940s), Irreversible (2002), or any number of war or murder movies. We knew those movies were hard immediately. They were planned that way.

I'm talking about movies that we might see long after the fact, and realize, "Hey, that scene I loved back then? That was bad. In fact, I'm not even sure I like this guy anymore." Movies where the people we were supposed to root for may not have deserved it.

These films are listed in chronological order, and their entries, of course, contain spoilers.

1. The Wizard of Oz, 1939. Refresh my memory: Which witch is good, and which witch is wicked? You can't blame Dorothy for killing the Wicked Witch of the East: She didn't cause her house to drop on her, and didn't even realize that witch was dead until the Good Witch of the North showed her. Indeed, Dorothy is as much a victim in all this.

But the Good Witch? She manipulates Dorothy into doing her bidding. And the Wicked Witch of the West? All she wants is the ruby slippers worn by her newly-dead sister, to which, as (as far as we know) her only living relative, she is absolutely entitled. (Granted, we don't know the specifics of Ozian law, but any rational society would say she should get the slippers.) She's got a legitimate gripe.

And yet, she forfeits any claim to moral superiority and our sympathy by trying to have Dorothy and the others (including her little dog, too) killed. Included in this is getting them stoned. "Poppies!" That's right: The Wizard of Oz had a drug reference 3 years after Reefer Madness and 5 years after the Hays Code got serious. They might as well have had the Scarecrow going Justin-to-Janet on Dorothy's dress.

What's more, she's stupid. All she had to do was tell Dorothy, "I'll make ya a deal: Give me the slippers, and I'll send you and your dog home. I'll even give you a magic spell to make that awful Elvira Gulch let you keep the dog." (Elvira and the Wicked Witch were both played by future Maxwell House coffee pitchwoman Margaret Hamilton.)

Dorothy could have turned to the Wicked Witch and said, "Deal!" and to the "Good" Witch and said, "Tough luck, bitch, I got mine!" Of course, that would have made it a 20-minute movie, and 20-minute movies went out with the silents.

2. It's a Wonderful Life, 1946, taking place from 1911 to 1945. Is George Bailey a wonderful guy before Clarence the Angel shows him what life would be like if he'd never been born? Sure, he helped people buy and keep their homes during the Great Depression. But...

But he's verbally abusive to his wife, his children, one of his children's teachers, and his uncle. He's willing to let Uncle Billy take the fall for misplacing $8,000 (about $105,000 in today's money), even though George is the one who, legally, goes to prison if charges are filed and successfully prosecuted. He also drives drunk and wrecks a car and a tree. Even in the he-was-never-born fantasy sequence, he punches out a cop. Who also happens to be a real-life friend.

Is this a guy who deserves a happy ending? If the writers of Seinfeld had written it, he would have ended up in prison just like Jerry, George, Kramer and Elaine did in the finale.

And here's what gets me: George Bailey knows that Sam Wainwright is his best friend, knows Sam is rich, and knows where Sam can be found. The first thing George should've done is pick up the phone (or send a telegram -- you could do that in those days) to Sam, and explain the problem. Then, that night, he could have shown the return telegram from Sam to the bank examiner, who, knowing Sam's reputation, would accept it, and give George until after the holiday to cash the money order and pay off the $8,000. So not only is George not very nice, he's not very bright.

3. Several James Bond movies, 1962 to 2002. Granted, most of the women Agent 007 has sex with are phenomenal. But sometimes he does it without thinking of how it might jeopardize his mission. Indeed, the KGB plot in From Russia With Love (1963) is dependent on Bond getting honey-trapped.

And in Live and Let Die (1973), while, to his credit, he shows he has no problem with an interracial relationship (as he already showed in Japan in You Only Live Twice in 1967), he threatens to kill Rosie Carver if she doesn't tell him what he wants. (Or, should I say, what else he wants.)

Rosie: "But you wouldn't... not after what we just did!"

James: "Well, I certainly wouldn't have killed you before."

By the way, in case anybody who prefers Sean Connery to Roger Moore, thinking Connery is more of a "badass": This Moore line was more badass than anything Connery has ever said, in any movie.

But the biggest problem with the Bond movies isn't the wanton destruction, or the innocent people who are surely accidentally killed or maimed in Bond's chase scenes and shootouts, or the time and effort MI6 (sometimes also the CIA, the KGB, and any other countries' intelligence services) has to put into covering up his Double-O-Antics.

It's the women. What happens to them after the final scene? Every time, the movie suggests to us that Bond and this film's Bond Girl may have found true happiness. The only times previous Bond girls are even referenced -- aside from the brief mentions while Bond is shown packing in On Her Majesty's Secret Service in 1969 -- are when Tracy, whom he marries and then loses to murder at the end of that movie, is brought up.

Seriously: There must have come a day when all of Bond's ex-girlfriends got together -- either on their own, or brought together by some villain -- to gang up on him, a la what happened to Hugh Grant during the 2nd wedding's reception in Four Weddings and a Funeral. We never saw that movie, but I would gladly pay to see it.

4. 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968. Let's get the obvious out of the way first: All Stanley Kubrick films are hard to watch, including Dr. Strangelove, his version of Stephen King's The Shining, and the aforementioned film he made of Anthony Burgess' novel A Clockwork Orange.

2001, based on the science fiction novel by Arthur C. Clarke, is hard to watch because it's long (2 hours and 41 minutes initially, and the studio forced it to be cut down to 2:22), and Kubrick's montages made it far longer than it should have been. It's hard to watch because there's instances of several minutes with no dialogue at all. (For crying out loud, at least foreign movies where we have to read subtitles usually have people talking.) And it's hard to watch because of the what-the-hell ending.

But the hardest thing about it is comparing what the film said in 1968 that life in 2001 would be like with how it actually was. There were no Pan Am flights from the Earth to orbiting space stations and then on to the Moon. Hell, there was no Pan Am: It ceased operations in 1991. There was no civilian space travel of any kind. Our space program had been stupidly stalled after Apollo 17 (Skylab turned out to be a white elephant), and tragically set back after the Challenger disaster.

What's more, and this is one thing Kubrick never foresaw -- he died in 1999 -- is that 2001 would feature not airliners going to the Moon, but airliners being hijacked and purposely crashed into skyscrapers. For so many of us, hearing the date "2001" will forever remind us of September 11 and the weeks that followed, when it seemed like the furthest thing from anyone's mind was how humanity was about to evolve into a higher form.

5. Dirty Harry, 1971. Long before San Francisco cop Harry Callahan takes too much of a risk with that school bus at the end, look at the beginning: He essentially lets a robbery happen, and then causes a lot of destruction in stopping it. This isn't some rookie patrolman: His rank is Inspector. That's above Officer, Detective, Sergeant, Lieutenant, even Captain. He's an important guy. And this is how he does his job? Harry really is dirty.

And then, at the end, after he's killed the Scorpio Killer, he throws his badge into the reservoir, indicating that he's quitting the force. Except there were 4 more Dirty Harry movies, all the way up to 1988, with The Dead Pool. (Not to be confused with Deadpool, which is disturbing in its own right.)

By which point, Callahan has to be close to the age of mandatory retirement. Clint Eastwood was 40 while filming the 1st one in 1970, and Callahan was an Inspector already. (For comparison's sake: In the final episode of Barney Miller, the title character, a Captain throughout the show's 8 seasons and mentioned as being born in 1930, as was Eastwood, is promoted to Deputy Inspector at age 52.) If Callahan is the same age as Eastwood, and had actually made Inspector by age 40, then in the last film, he was 58, and still being an action hero. (They mocked Roger Moore for being Bond at 58 in A View to a Kill -- or even 52 in Moonraker.)

So Dirty Harry starts out as a bad cop -- maybe not evil, certainly not corrupt, but not exactly the most competent of badgemen -- and ends as a guy who, to borrow the phrase of Los Angeles Detective Roger Murtaugh in the Lethal Weapon movies, is "too old for this shit."

6. Animal House, 1978 but taking place in 1962. Yes, the Omegas and Dean Wormer got what was coming to them. But the Deltas were horrendous drunks, were rotten people even when sober, got expelled on merit (bad grades), caused some serious property damage both before and during the Homecoming parade, and one, Pinto, knocks up a 13-year-old girl.

Thirteen years old! He had no problem having sex with her, because he thought she was 16. Newsflash: It was not "okay in the Sixties." It wasn't even okay in 1977, as Roman Polanski later found out.

7. Revenge of the Nerds, 1984. Another misfits vs. establishment frat movie. The Tri-Lambs only got going after Booger remembered he had pot. Putting the video cameras in the Pi house was an invasion of privacy. And Lewis has sex with Betty while he's wearing a mask, letting her think he's Stan. Even though she literally asked for it, she thought she was asking someone else, so she did not give the man she was with consent. Legally, that's rape. The fact that she chose not to press charges, and even claimed afterward to be in love with him, doesn't change the fact that he could have been charged, and maybe even should have been charged.

8. Ferris Bueller's Day Off, 1986. This remains one of my Top 5 favorite movies of all time because it's so much fun. But... Oy vey, where to begin?

Ferris is only a few weeks from the end of the schoolyear, yet decides to burn a 9th sick day of the semester. He lies to his parents about being sick. He ignores his best friend's apparently real illness (which is conveniently forgotten about in the rest of the film). And he lets the girl he loves think that her grandmother has died. (Look at her face: She's not in on it... yet. It's not until she sees him in the disguise in front of the Ferrari that she realizes it's a ruse and that Grandma is alive.) And they both forgive him. All that happens before they even get out of Shermer, let alone onto Lake Shore Drive and into Chicago proper.

Granted, Ed Rooney wasn't exactly heroic in his pursuit of Ferris, but he was doing his job. Ferris' maneuvers include cheating a man out of a restaurant reservation, hijacking a parade (and instead of arresting him, the cops dance along to his songs), wrecking a priceless rare antique car (okay, it was Cameron who did that, but Ferris put him in that position), and leading to his sister getting arrested.

And, for all we know, that "little chat" that Cameron said he was going to have with his father over the wrecked Ferrari (not to mention the shattered window in the garage) may have gotten Cameron beaten by his father, or even kicked out of the house.

At least he didn't wreck the parade, like the '62 Deltas did.

9. Field of Dreams, 1989. We want to believe in the magic of this film. This allows us a tremendous amount of suspension of disbelief, from the ghosts to the time-traveling, from Mark doing a complete 180 on letting Ray keep the ballfield to people in the 1980s willingly driving to Middle of Nowhere, Iowa and paying $20 ($38 in today's money) to watch a baseball game that doesn't count in any standings. I'm not going to criticize any of that on this occasion. But...

First, Ray Kinsella jokes about kidnapping famous but reclusive author Terence Mann. Then, he (sort of) actually does it. Kidnapping is a federal crime. When they're in Minnesota, it actually makes the papers that Mann is missing, because he hadn't told anybody where he was going. Furthermore, all those people paying to see ghost baseball? Ray could be prosecuted for fraud.

Speaking of "Ease his pain... " Released just 6 weeks after Field of Dreams was...

10. Dead Poets Society, 1989 but taking place in 1959. Immediately, the film was hard to watch because the school was not held accountable for Neil's suicide and the way it treated Neil's classmates and Mr. Keating.

What makes the film hard to watch now is knowing that Mr. Keating's portrayer, Robin Williams, later committed suicide himself, because even one of the most successful careers in entertainment history, which Neil never got the chance to try for, couldn't ease his pain.

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