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The Art of Picking and Choosing

Sometimes a film or a TV show does something that I have come to call “Shitting the bed”. You know what I’m talking about, it’s that moment that occurs during something that up until that point you’ve been enjoying but after which can never be enjoyed again. It’s like dating an insanely hot chick only to find out she believes the moon landing was faked. It’s not something you can really get over.

But I totally can!

(That is, in regards to awful moments in film and TV, not someone believing the moon landing was faked. That’s a deal breaker)

And you can too. It all comes down to the art of picking and choosing.

At it’s most simple, you pick what you like and choose to ignore the rest. The easiest way to start off is with movie sequels. Say it with me now, “Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull never happened”. See? Easy. Say that enough times and you’ll believe it.

Now some of you might be saying, “If you don’t like a sequel, don’t watch it, it doesn’t change the first one”. Well, what if it does? Usually, yeah, a sequel doesn’t change the way you watch the first entry in a series. A Good Day to Die Hard is certainly a towering mound of crap, but it doesn’t impact on my viewing pleasure of the first Die Hard (Nothing will ever, EVER, lessen my viewing pleasure of Die Hard). But the Matrix sequels? Or The Dark Knight Rises? Those movies definitely changed the way I watch earlier entries.

The Matrix is an extremely cool and massively influential sci-fi that made inventive use of slow motion and wire fu to show us how much fun it would be if life was a video game and you found all of the cheat codes. The sequels double down on the mythology and the already heavy handed messianic references whilst subtracting most of the fun. And after the insufferably pretentious Architect scene it is difficult to watch the first film without cringing at where it is all heading.

The Dark Knight Rises though, commits far worse crimes. The Dark Knight is the strongest entry in the Nolan Bat trilogy by a country mile. The themes are rich and expertly woven into the plot, the stakes have real weight, the villain is one of the greats, and each and every one of the characters has something interesting to do. At the film’s end the Joker has corrupted Harvey Dent and created Two-Face, who ends up dead after a murderous rampage of revenge. Dent represented change to the city of Gotham, he was a reason to hope. Batman won’t let the Joker take that away from his city so he takes the blame for Dent’s crimes. He rides off into the night hunted and hated by the city he has sworn to protect. He will carry that hate and continue to fight for his city, to protect the people lost in the night. It is a great heroic moment as Batman realises exactly what it means to be a hero. And then The Dark Knight Rises shits all over it. We find out in that movie that what Batman actually did was just give up and hide FOR EIGHT YEARS. This completely ruins the once powerful ending of the previous film for me. It is no longer a heroic moment. He doesn’t carry the weight of that burden and continue to fight. He dumps it and walks away. It doesn’t help that TDKR also has the villain stopped by getting shot to death, telling us that Batman’s stance against guns was wrong and that he probably should have been capping dudes all along.

So I choose to ignore them. Matrix sequels never happened. Stupid Bane voice and the film that butchers the heroic ending of the previous movie, never happened.

Same applies to entire seasons of television. The Simpsons wisely ended after Season Nine. Buffy the Vampire Slayer finished at the close of Season Six, and definitely did not go on for another season where most of the central ensemble acted completely out of character and contradicted most of the development they had gone through over the last six years. The West Wing, X-Files, the American Office, all of these shows ended far sooner than the DVD boxsets would have you believe.

So that’s the choosing covered. And that’s the easy part.

What if the season that shits the bed of the TV show you love doesn’t happen at the end of the run (and so can be ignored by simply no longer watching it) but happens in the middle? What if it isn’t a sequel that sucks but part of the same movie you were otherwise enjoying?

This is where the picking comes in.

The Last Boy Scout is a film I love. The action is so so, the plot is an incomprehensible mess, and large parts of the film feel inconsequential. So why do I love it? Because the dialogue is razor sharp and is being delivered by Bruce Willis at his scuzzy, smirking, hungover best. That’s it. That is all I need to watch and enjoy it.

There are loads of films like this, where one performance is vital but the film around it fades away. Junebug is funny, warm, and alive when Amy Adams is on screen, and is none of those things when she’s not. Almost every film Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is in fits that description. That man is a charisma machine and elevates everything he’s in, Be Cool (arguably his best performance), The Rundown, Faster, Pain and Gain (such a pick and choose movie, some nuggets of gold in an otherwise steaming pile), all of his Fast and Furious movies, etc.

When watching a film it isn’t that difficult to stick with it for a character or performance you like even if the film itself isn’t up to snuff, but when you are talking about entire seasons of television, it gets harder.

The two greatest character arcs in all of television both take place in Angel. When we meet Cordelia Chase she is a prissy, self obsessed air head, but by the time we say goodbye to her she is a selfless hero, and one of the strongest female characters in genre television. Unfortunately, Season Four of Angel is awful and seems intent on undoing all of the work that went into making her such a great character. Wesley Wyndam-Price is introduced as a pratfalling ponce in Season One, but over the course of five years becomes a grizzled, somber, battle tested veteran who makes the hard choices no one else is willing to make. The scenes that most effectively show just how much of an arc Wesley has gone through all take place in Season Four, the aforementioned piece of crap season. Which makes it unskippable. So the entire season becomes an obstacle course of picking and choosing, of savoring the moments that highlight Wesley’s fantastic character progression, and ignoring the many, many moments that undo the work that went into Cordelia (as well as one moment that takes away responsibility for every choice every one of the characters has ever made). To make matters even more confusing, Season Four, the worst season, lays the groundwork for Season Five, which is the hands down best season. So you pick and choose. Take what works, forget what doesn’t.

I’ve done this for as long as I’ve been watching films and TV (or followed any story based media for that matter) and it is something I used to be a little ashamed of. You could make the argument that I’m not fully engaging with a piece of work if I’m only following the bits I like and ignoring the rest. But I’ve come to realise that’s wrong. I’m just engaging with what works. I’m elevating the good to drown out the bad. Because sometimes the pieces are worth more than the whole.

Some people will miss out on some superb performances, or surprising character arcs, or thrilling action scenes because they are hidden in work that will never be considered great, or maybe even good. I don’t want to miss out. So I pick and choose.

I recommend you do the same.

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  1. Dan

    Unbreakable immediately springs to mind. For nearly the entire duration of the film it’s wonderful and hard to fault. And then it has a perfect ending.

    Except it didn’t end – as I was expecting and hoping – when the bedroom door shuts, instead it kept going for another ten minutes of total shit.

    First there’s possibly the most blatant product placement scene ever filmed (trumping among other things, every commercial ever). It’s a scene that only exists to sell breakfast cereal. It takes place at a moment when we should all be exiting the cinema, while waxing lyrical about what a grand time Unbreakable was. Instead we get…. Unbreakable: brought to you by Kellogg’s.

    And then there’s The Twist. Twists are not supposed to be merely surprising, they’re supposed to add another layer to the movie, to deepen the movie. The Unbreakable Twist does not deepen the movie, it makes the whole movie shit. It undercuts everything that was good about the previous 90 minutes, while simultaneously ruining the Sam Jackson character and making me want to chew my own face off.

    That was the last M. Night movie I saw. Apparently he outdoes himself with every movie since. I don’t need to find out.

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