Once again Thad and I have been bested by modern technology. Through no fault of their own Beneath The Screen Of The Ultra-Critics will not be posted this week. In its place though, we have everyone’s favorite internet thing, the listicle.
Have you ever watched a movie and had it take a hard left turn? A perfect example would be the infamous boat ride in the classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. These are scenes in which the filmmakers, in an attempt to be edgy or inventive, come across as bizarre and out of place. Oftentimes they yank us out of the movie.
These scenes come in all shapes and sizes but my favorite is the musical moment in a non-musical. I’m not talking about something like Nashville or The Three Amigos. Those are movies that, while not explicitly musicals as we know them, have established the presence of music and characters breaking out into song. No, in order to be on this list they must be scenes in which, for no reason, characters burst out into song and dance. The other stipulation is simple—it can’t work.
500 Days of Summer, for example, wouldn’t be eligible because it works. It’s a vibrant slick satire of the modern romantic comedy poking fun at the genre’s trappings. In a way it makes sense. The movies on this list don’t make sense. These are moments that not only yank us out of the movie but leave an indelible impression even after the rest of the movie has faded from our subconscious.
Feel free to leave your own submission in the comments below.
1.) Pan (2015) Dir. Joe Wright
Jeremiah: A reimagining of E.M. Forster’s Peter Pan, Wright’s 2015 box office flop is a prime example of the spirit of this list. Few people remember much of the movie outside it starring Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily and Hugh Jackman–who goes for broke in a camp performance as Blackbeard. Pan is a prime example of exactly what we’re talking about. To be fair to both Wright and the screenwriter, Jason Fuchs, it’s clear what they were trying to do.
Neverland exists out of time and place. So in theory, since the people in Neverland come from all over the world, and all across time, it would be a hodgepodge of pop culture references. Except, it is only really implied in one scene. A crowd begins to chant/sing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana, along with Blackbeard’s crew.
At no other time in the movie does something like this occur. People aren’t walking around humming “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” or using catchphrases from Mister Ed. It is a wonderfully bizarre moment so out of step with the rest of the movie we can only sit there stunned and, honestly, kind of giddy. Sadly the rest of the film is breathtakingly boring, leaving the Nirvana sing along to live on in our memory.
Thad: When put in a position to write about a piece of media, I am sometimes possessed by the urge to write a single line and leave it at that. I rarely follow through on this impulse, as I love never shutting up, but it is a fairly consistent occurrence. When reminded of Pan, the specific line that is conjured reads: “Oh, hey! I saw this movie in theaters. … Huh.”
I liked the anachronistic music in Pan because it suggested that the film was going to explore a kind of chronological unteatheredness about its setting. Trouble is, the film didn’t do anything else to fill in this suggestion. Instead, I’m left with a mental image of a script page describing the musical number and an attached sticky note saying “Interesting! Follow up on this” that went largely ignored.
2.) Superman (1978) Dir. Richard Donner
Jeremiah: Donner’s Superman set the template for which almost every comic book movie has borrowed from. It is a movie that has had such an indelible impact on the popular culture that almost forty years later we are still trying to get away from his iconic characterization of the Man of Steel. It’s filled with memorable performances, dialogue, characters, and score. But what is often forgotten is the slam poetry festival reject that is Lois Lane’s (Margot Kidder) interior monologue.
We could easily dismiss the scene with the argument of “It was the 70s,” which is fair. The seventies was a cinematic decade filled with odd and surreal moments. But few rises to the genuine out of left field level of having a protagonist perform a spoken word love ballad apropos of literally nothing. Superman (Christopher Reeve) offers to take Lois flying. As they soar through the skies we are inexplicably given a peek inside Lois Lane’s head. A nominal idea, except we are forced to listen to the ‘song’, “Can You Read My Mind.” The lyrics are by the renowned Leslie Bricusse, music by the infamous John Williams, and performed by Kidder herself. “Can You Read My Mind” is bar none, the worst song ever used in a superhero movie.
Thad: I have never known what to do with this scene. When I was a kid, that not knowing could be written off as the usual adolescent “Eww, mushy stuff!” reflex. But I am ancient as the dust between the stars now and time has never made any sense of it. Why is Lois Lane composing a poem in her head while on a moonlight flight with Superman? Just… be in the moment, Lois! I love these actors as these characters—more perfect casting in a superhero movie I have yet to see, excepting J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson—but this is absolutely bizarre and I demand satisfaction. Just cut out the lyrics. Please! Ditch them entirely. Let us enjoy these two people sharing a comfortable intimate silence in the sky!
3. The Punisher (2004) Dir. Jonathan Hensleigh
Jeremiah: 2004 was a point in history wherein comic book movies were not the box office juggernauts we know of them now. Yes, Spider-Man, X-Men, and Blade were box office hits but there’s no MCU. Jonathan Hensleigh’s The Punisher is a gritty noirish story about redemption, violence, and vengeance. It also has a Johnny Cash-inspired serenade by an assassin named Harry Heck (Mark Collie).
The Punisher isn’t even a bad movie. Both it and the sequel have a healthy fanbase. But somehow what doesn’t get talked about is Heck’s serenade. The scene feels more at home in Robert Rodiguez’s El Mariachi trilogy than Hensleigh’s The Punisher.
Thad: I have an odd affection for this movie. Like, if it weren’t supposed to be about The Punisher, I’d have no complaints about it. It’d just be a weird revenge thriller with an odd sense of humor. This scene in particular, while kind of a surreal eruption, is a good example as to why. It has a quality I’d almost compare to the Richard Donner Superman movies, that way of taking the comic in comic book literally and allowing a particular kind of silliness to happen. Unfortunately, The Punisher is the exact wrong character to do this with and the scene is just this knock-off Johnny Cash assassin trying to car-murder Frank Castle only for Frank to stab him to death at a distance with a secret knife gun.
4. Vice (2018) Dir. Adam McKay
Thad: I didn’t see Vice. The folks involved are good at what they do, but I have no interest in seeing representations of real-life, still-living, unpunished war criminals in a movie categorized as a comedy. Feels a bit too raw. Maybe I’ll turn around on that eventually, but for the present… nah.
But WOW if this number had been in the movie I might have been convinced to see it. It’s so good (and weird) that I fought for its inclusion in this list despite it not even making the cut in a movie I actively avoided seeing.
Jeremiah: We’re going to cheat a little because this entry is a deleted scene. Deleted or not, it still has ADR, choreography, post-production and clearly, more than a day’s work put into it. Like Thad, I haven’t seen Vice, but the existence of this scene is yet another reminder of the long and fascinating road a film travels on its way to the final edit.
The WTF aspect is clear as most people don’t consider including a gospel number in a biopic about Dick Cheney. While you could argue that technically Vice didn’t—it still came pretty damn close than most.
5. North (1994) Dir. Rob Reiner
Jeremiah: “I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it.” – Roger Ebert
Rob Reiner has given us such classics such as The Princess Bride, This is Spinal Tap, When Harry Met Sally, and Misery. Unfortunately, he also gave us North. It takes real talent to make movies on both ends of the Hollywood spectrum of quality.
Of all the mind-bogglingly awfulness North lobs at us, the scene in which North (Elijah Wood) meets Reba McEntire and Dan Aykroyd as Ma and Pa Tex takes the cake. We could call it memorable because once seen it’s impossible to forget. Ma and Pa’s previous boy, Buck, was trampled by a herd of longhorn. As tasteless and grating as the number may be I assure you it is only a fraction compared to the movie as a whole.
Thad: What? What IS this? Jeremiah. Jeremiah, what is this? WHY is this? I don’t even– what is happening? This isn’t– What? Why!? Seriously: WHY though!?!