a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Memorable Scenes in Forgettable Movies

Back in the day, when I lived in Manhattan and was a movie theater manager, I used to see pretty much every movie that was released. It was easy; most of them were free.

One year I saw 152 movies in theaters, including 30 in one month. You have to dig pretty deep to see 30 movies in one month.

Now, I'm lucky if I see 30 movies a year in theaters, and I pretty much only go out to see the movies I want to see. Ebert & Roeper recently did a show on the Worst Movies of the Year, and I hadn't seen any of them. There was a time when I would have seen them all.

Looking back at the lists of movies I saw back then (yeah, I kept a list), I realize that there are entire movies that I have no real memory of. "Bordello of Blood"? Something about vampires, right?

I know "My Fellow Americans" is a Jack Lemmon movie, but I'm surprised that I actually saw it... but there it is on the list. "City of Industry"? "Metro"? "Night Orchid"? No memory.

Other movies I've seen in the past will sometimes have only a single sequence that sticks with me. And there's something fascinating about that. These are the things that I think we want to capture as writers/filmmakers; the moments that people will always remember. And the fact that you can remember them, even when the movie was otherwise pretty forgettable, is something too.

Here's a random memorable scene in an otherwise forgettable movie for me. In "Pump of the Volume" (which wasn't nearly as edgy or funny as it really needed to be), Christian Slater is an underground DJ, and Samantha Mathis is the girl he likes, and... I don't know. There was a plot there somewhere.

But what I remember is a great moment in the early second half of the film, when Christian and Samantha are arriving at school after... I can't recall. Doing something the night before.

But they meet up, in a crowd of people. The camera spins around them, and moves in tighter, and tighter, and tighter, until it's just their faces filling the frame, as their lips slowly, tentatively move closer. And then they have a great, little, perfect kiss.

A piece of visual ballet in an otherwise flawed film.

What moments are there for you, banging around in your memory? Resonant, perfect little pieces of films that are the only reason you hesitate when you come upon them on late night cable, hoping that fate will drop the scene in, right there, just at that moment?

Dredge them up. Let us know.


At 11:39 AM, Blogger Thomas Crymes said...

Great topic.

I remember a scene in Brainstorm where Walken's character records memories for his estranged wife and plays it back to her with all of the emotions in tact.

The subway scene in Spiderman 2 where the subway riders stick up for Spiderman will stick with me far longer than any other scene in that movie.

Out of movies, the TV show Miami Vice. Mysterious Lt. Castillo faces down some KGB agents. He has a katana. They have guns. Castillo, facing certain, death has a cold and steady stare. The KGB agent says: "When you go. You go all the way." Just a wonderful moment.

One last one. When I was little, I saw the Jungle Book. I was just old enough to go to the bathroom by myself and my parents let me go. Well I did my business and decided to return. One problem: I couldn't read yet, and I didn't know which theater to go back into. I pick a door and go through it. On the screen I see a little girl in a rain coat (I think) stab an older woman in the leg through the spindles on a flight of stairs. I'll never forget it, but I have no idea what the movie was. Anyone know?

At 12:12 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

I remember the first movie that scared me as a kid. It was the original "House on Haunted Hill", which I'm sure is probably really cheesy and not all that scary, but to a little kid watching it on late-night Tv (not sure why) it was terrifying.

The only scene I now remember, though, is one in which a woman is menaced by a rope coming in a window, alive, like a snake. Not sure why that stayed with me.

I also remember the ending (but only the ending) of the otherwise forgettable Bonnie and Clyde knockoff "Dirty Larry Crazy Mary", in which the titular lovers get away at the end, and they are both very happy -- and then their car is hit by a train, and blows up.

At 12:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, COME ON, Scott.

The moment in Pump Up The Volume that you remember is when Samantha Mathis showed her tits.

Be honest, dude. :-)

Okay, other MSIFM ...

There's a GREAT scene involving scorpions in a hotel room in THE ARRIVAL. The audience sees the bad guy release a buncha scorpions, and the chick goes back to her hotel room and gets ready for bed, completely unaware. It's a sensational sequence that makes me squirm every time I see it.

(And by the way, SCORPIONS IN A HOTEL ROOM is going to be next summer's hit movie. You read it here first).

Ummm, what else? In K-19, there's a horrifying scene where the reactor core in the nuclear submarine has sprung a leak, and the sailors have to go in, two at a time for ten minutes at a time, to fix it. Peter Sarsgaard is chosen to go in on the third team ... and he sees the guys from Team #1 come out, and they're horribly burned and incredibly sick from being exposed to radiation ... and he knows HE has to go in there ... and he completely freaks out. The scene is almost unwatchable, it's so horrifying. Great stuff.

Oh, and the scene in THE FLY II where Martinfly pukes fly vomit all over that security guard and turns his head into hamburger. AWESOME.

- danny boy

At 12:45 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

No, honestly, the kiss stayed with me much longer than the nude scene. I vaguely remember a naked Samantha Mathis diving behind a couch; that's all I can dredge up.

I will admit that there are movies in which the only things I can really remember are the nude scenes (I'm a man, it's hardwired). The climax of "Just One of the Guys". Betsy Russell on horseback in "Private School". Uma in "Dangerous Liaisons".

At 12:52 PM, Blogger Emily Blake said...

JOHNNY PNEUMONIC is a pretty bad film, but there's a scene toward the end where Keanu Reeves as the title character goes absolutely ballistic. He screams about how tired he is of traveling around in the crappy parts of the city and he wants room service, dammit.

I love that scene. It's the one part of the movie everybody can relate to. That scene could have been in any modern film and still worked.

At 1:06 PM, Blogger Thomas Crymes said...

How bout totally forgetting a movie really fast.

I saw the last Star Trek Movie (can't even remember the subtitle) on a Friday. The following Monday someone asked me what I did for the weekend. I didn't even remember seeing the movie. Something about space.

Not to take this off topic, but while trying to think about moments in forgettable movies, I can't help but think of unique and personal moments in movies that I'll never forget, like...

The Natural - when Roy throws a pitch on a bet by one of his teammates who think he is just a slugger and he sticks the ball in the net and they just stand their, slack jawed looking at him in amazement. You get the sense of how great he could have been. I get chills just thinking about it.

At 4:18 PM, Blogger Formerly, The Dude Spoke said...

Emily's right, that is a BRILLIANT scene in a horrible movie.

At 4:39 PM, Blogger Bill Cunningham said...

Except it was in Johnny Mnemonic not Pneumonic...

At 6:29 PM, Blogger Steve Peterson said...

In Timecop when liquid nitrogen sprays on the guy's arm and Van Damme kicks it, shattering the thing at the base to reveal nicely crystallized red meat and bone.

At 7:06 PM, Anonymous Joe Valdez said...

Christopher Walken vs. Dennis Hopper in "True Romance". I'm as big a Tarantino fan as anyone but being kind, that's an imperfect movie. Watching Christian Slater today is no piece of cake; they should have gone ahead and cast Val Kilmer in the lead.

But when the Walker/Hopper showdown comes around, I can't think of ever seeing or hearing anything like that in a movie before. The action just stopped and it was these two screen legends delivering the most brilliant pulp dialogue ever, back and forth.

At 7:19 PM, Blogger Scribe LA said...

How about in "Pump Up the Volume" (which I totaly dig, but definitely could have been better/awesome,is when Slater dedicates a song to someone unusual who makes him feel unusual. Nice subtlety.
Terrific topic - I'll have to give it more thought...

At 7:36 PM, Anonymous chris Soth said...

They don't fly to the top of my head, but there are many. And I have a list of directors/filmmakers/writers that I always go see their stuff almost certain there will be flashes of genius in an ultimately flawed film --

-- Cohen Bros. (sometimes film isn't flawed...often it is)

-- Spike Lee

Speilberg...used to make great stuff, now reduced to flashes of brilliance.

Scorsese -- always brilliant, ALWAYS flawed...

And reminders: Metro - Eddie Murphy trying to bring back Bev. Hills Cop as cop in SF. My Fellow Americans, two former presidents on the run, James Garner was the other one...

At 9:00 PM, Blogger Patrick J. Rodio said...

Spidey 2, forgettable? C'mon.

How about Freddy Got Fingered, when he helps deliver the baby. What a wonderful scene.

And here's one for you - POWDER - not a great movie, but it had a few well-crafted scenes, and I loved the ending.

At 10:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I liked "My Fellow Americans". Don't know why, but I thought it had its moments. It was a good Saturday afternoon when nothing else but golf is on kind of movie.

At 7:01 AM, Blogger Joshua James said...

Ferris Beuller's Day Off, when Ferris hijacks the parade and lip synch's TWIST AND SHOUT - that scene has always stayed with me.

At 7:16 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

The weird scene I always liked in FERRIS is the little musical montage in the museum right before that, that ends with quick cuts between Alan Ruck's face and the little girl in the painting.

At 10:50 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

And another great John Hughes montage moment, in a not-so-great movie --

At the end of She's Having A Baby, there's a great scene in the hospital, in which Kevin Bacon worries that his wife isn't going to make it, and flashes back to happy scenes of their relationship.

This works because they are scenes we haven't seen before, and because John Hughes scores it against Kate Bush singing "This Woman's Work", which will break your heart.

That, and the closing credits, with people coming up for names for the baby.

At 11:10 AM, Blogger Chris (UK Scriptwriter) said...

I agree about the museum scene in FERRIS.

One that always sticks in my mind is in Platoon where they think Willem Dafoe is dead and take off. Then we see him running lack to the LZ getting shot... getting back up and running... getting shot... and getting back up and running.

Then all the choppers turn back and we hear something like "Guns, Guns, we're going back, we've got one on the ground", just as he falls to his knees, hands in the air as if asking in despair "Why did you leave me?".

A real emotional moment that one.

At 1:41 PM, Blogger Prottsman said...

Remember the scene in Hope Floats where they're on the talk show and the daughter learns her dad has been unfaithful? I'll never forget the tears streaming down her little cheeks!

At 4:12 PM, Blogger Brett said...

In John Carpenter's THEY LIVE, there's a scene where Roddy Piper and Keith David square off in what might be my favorite movie fight ever. What's cool about this fight is that unlike most every other movie fight you see, these two guys look like they are taking serious damage. It's maybe two minutes of ass-kickery, but by the end of it they are exhausted, bruised, bloodied, and barely able to stand or function. Then, continuing the odd reality of it all, for the rest of the movie they are visibly achy and slow to move-- they limpo, groan, have trouble making certain movements due to bruised battered bodies.

I can't say that I like the rest of the movie a lot, but that fight... it makes me smile just to think about it.

At 10:07 PM, Blogger jefe said...

I have no idea why this one stayed with me -- probably because she's so unbelievably hot -- but in Streets of Fire when Diane Lane is fighting with that guy from Eddie and the Cruisers in the middle of the street and she yells "what did i do that was so wrong!?!"

I feel certain it was a "trailer moment" and I saw it on HBO 200 times but man she's lovely isn't she?

At 10:56 AM, Blogger Joshua James said...

They Live has another great moment when Roddy Piper steps into a bank, fires a shotgun and says "I'm here to chew bubble gum and Kick Some Ass . . . and I'm all outa bubble gum!"

I liked that.

At 9:15 AM, Blogger Tim Clague said...

I think it was Kubrick who said you need 5 great scenes for a great movie. Scenes like the one's here that people will always remember. That (he says) is more important than plot. People forget the plot.

At 3:24 PM, Anonymous Friarduck said...

Scott, you're right: there are some movies I have a vague sense of liking or disliking, but all I can usually remember is one or two scenes, or the most basic premise of the film. Is that sad or is that funny?

Donnie Brasco doesn't stick out in my mind, I'm trying to remember why I liked it at the time, but when Johnny Depp is trying to explain to Paul Giamatti and the other agent all of the meanings of "Fuggeddaboutit" seems real and it's still very funny. Maybe that's Johnny selling it.

Also, I have a piece of dialogue, but I can't figure out what the movie is--"People have a nasty habit of getting dead around you." Little help?


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