Pick 3, Vol. 11: The Hottest Takes

In the worst feature we’ll ever write, FOTS writers target classic films to be dashed against the rocks of cold-blooded criticism. Each of us apologizes for the poor taste of the others.



E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

I’m well aware what a crime it is to disavow Steven Spielberg’s classic story about friendship, but I stand strong in my opinion. Everyone talks about the film’s “magic,” but what are you left with when that magic doesn’t work for you? E.T. is one of cinema’s most annoying characters. So annoying, in fact, that I’m always forced to assume that his shipmates left him behind on purpose because they were tired of his antics. He’s Spielberg’s version of a mute, fleshy C-3PO. No one wants to admit that the film is overly schmaltzy, but about the time that Elliott is weeping because E.T. has dried up like a chalky white dog turd, I find myself reaching for the remote.

The Sound of Music (1965)

Musicals have never been my preferred cup of tea, but that didn’t stop my sister from playing The Sound of Music twice a month for my entire childhood. The film that confused millions of Americans into believing that Edelweiss is the Austrian National Anthem is also an insulting musical romp that ignores the horrors of Austria’s annexation by the Nazis in favor of over-idealized love and a song about goat herds. With musical numbers about musical scales and warding off thunderstorms with happy thoughts this film is clearly for young children (note my sister’s aforementioned affection), so how it’s won the hearts of people everywhere is beyond me.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

I don’t buy into John Hughes’s over-simplified (not to mention overly white) films at large, but Ferris has always irked me the most. Hughes’s films always try to tell his audience that “teenagers have real problems too,” but they’re the problems of Reagan’s America, and they can always be solved with positive thinking or an 80’s song. The fourth wall breaking is trite, the plot is ridiculous, and it’s too self-assured of its own cool to ever be funny. Worst of all, it ends on a lie. Sorry to burst your positivity bubble, but when Cameron’s dad got home and saw what happened to his beloved sports car, Cameron definitely got his ass beat.

If you’ve read these three blurbs the you know the truth. It seems that I just hate fun.



Casino Royale (2006)

Daniel Craig brings forth a raw, modern Bond and Judi Dench/M is finally used effectively in a 007 story, but the movie just never hit the full height or spectacle it kept teasing. Aside from the foot chase after the theme song, none of the set pieces stand out. And while Eva Green is captivating, her romance with Bond unfortunately is burdened with 50 years of 007 womanizing, making Bond’s interest in leaving MI-6 for her a hard sell. Which would be fine, if not for the entire last act of the movie pivoting away from the Le Chiffre and relying on Eva’s “betrayal” (which made fleeting sense at the time) to be the emotional stakes, with the throughline to Mr. White never connecting. A drowning building seemed the ultimate metaphor for the movie collapsing under its own weight.

X-Men: First Class (2011)

Is there a more damning own than “Rebecca Romijn was better at a role than Jennifer Lawrence?” Egads, Lawrence sleepwalked through the entire film, covered in blue makeup that was significantly less believable than previous incarnations. McAvoy and Fassbender were otherwise great, but the movie was incoherent visually (featuring way too many shots of maps) and I can’t think of a more underwhelming training montage for the life of me. A lot of this could have been ignored perhaps if it didn’t pull its punch in the final act; the movie would have landed harder if it ended on the beach and the loss of Xavier’s legs, saving the establishment of Xavier’s school for a postcredits scene (the current stinger, the rescue of Emma Frost, never amounted to anything in the film universe).

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

Okay, to be fair, I don’t actually HATE this movie. But, we need to talk about Han Solo: nearly everything about him in this movie is bad (except for honestly his initial moments on screen and his death). Harrison Ford did finally give a shit for the first time in a long while, but the writing tossed his way was heavy handed, nodding and winking at the audience at every turn “HEY HAN SOLO IS BACK!” Such things could be forgiven, but the entire second act with the Reptars (I don’t care what they are actually called, Rugrats forever) almost brought the narrative to a screeching halt. The plot gets messier as different gangs try to get after Solo, all just to sell us on the point of “Oh Han, you old rogue.” I don’t even have enough space for how the entire final space battle with Poe was basically filler without any real tension. Luckily, Boyega and Ridley prevented the writing from torpedoing the entire enterprise.

From the movie "Marvel's Captain America: The Winter Soldier"..Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans)..Ph: Zade Rosenthal..? 2014 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.


The Captain America Trilogy (2011, 2014, 2016)

Do you remember the specific personality of any villain Captain America defeats in any of the three movies (other than Cap being the villain in the abominable Civil War, which, ugh)? Could you hum the theme to any Captain America movie? Could of describe the personal mission statement or ethos of Captain America in any of his movies and how that affects his character, other than a fan-fic’d devotion to some dudebro he knew back in the day? Speaking of, could you describe anything about Bucky Barnes other than “robotic hand”? Do you need a primer before each Cap movie describing the state of the plot at this moment? Does anybody of substance die… EVER… in any Captain America movie? Do any of the Captain America movies have any sort of visual style, or even unique way of shooting action sequences? Do the Captain America movies do ANYTHING interesting at all with superhero movies?

That’s because every Captain America movie is a terrible superhero movie.

Scott PIlgrim vs. The World (2010)

An ending changed to service Hollywood tropes. A awfully miscast Michael Cera (although Pilgrim is hardly playable at all, given his inherent unlikeableness). Edgar Wright indulges all his spitfire tendencies here to unreasonable degrees, and at points jokes are ham-fistedly thrown in as attempts to match O’Malley’s sardonic wit (the Seinfeld scene is a poor example). Ramona Flowers’ and Scott’s relationship is never given proper breathing room to succeed, since the movie has a contractual requirement to show seven distinct, sometimes overlong fight scenes. Brian Lee O’Malley’s seven-volume Canadian coming-of-age graphic novel is unfilmable, even for a master like Wright.

Inception (2010)

One thing first — there’s no reason for Ellen Page in Inception, except to make DiCaprio’s character (and, by extension, Christopher Nolan’s writing) look deep and meaningful. But that really defines all of Inception, doesn’t it? An overly masturbatory bout of cinematic fluff, the so-complex-you-didn’t-realize-it’s-incredibly-simple heist movie is as close to Nolan making a director’s reel for himself with hundreds of millions of dollars as you’re going to get. Visuals stacked on top of visuals for no purpose other than flair. Script logic that, on the rare moments it makes sense, only serves to ask pointless questions and drive toward another gooey set-piece in a far-off location. Combined with overrated DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy performances, Inception is Nolan’s worst movie outside of Insomnia, and it’s not much better than that.



The Big Lebowski (1998)

You guys have crapped on a half dozen of my favorite films, so what can I target? I just, like, don’t get The Big Lebowski, man. I’m a pretty big Coens fan, even of some of their broader comedies (O Brother, I will argue, is perfection), but no matter how many times I give Lebowski another shot, I’m annoyed by its aimless, shaggy-dog plot and indulgent cringe comedy. Does it have a message? A point? I couldn’t tell you; it has no insight into anything but the drug-addled minds of its loser characters. Bridges and Goodman drive around in search of a coherent narrative, as scene after scene plays like it was picked off the cutting room floor of better, smarter Coen films. I’d toss it in the bin with Scarface and the other dorm room posters.

Gone With The Wind (1939)

Widely regarded as one the greatest films of all time, Gone With the Wind is nigh unwatchable outside of a few impressive shots. It’s incredibly dull, for one, and its portrayal of the “glory days” of the antebellum South borders on parody; the character of “Prissy,” ignominiously played by Butterfly McQueen, is particularly appalling. Scarlet O’Hara’s slaves are supposed to be sad when the South loses the war? Every Northern character is a scumbag? We’re supposed to root for Scarlett, a monumentally spoiled, selfish, and manipulative woman? It’s only Clark Gable’s Rhett that gets to point out how absurd it all is with his famous final line, but one good kiss-off doesn’t redeem four excruciating hours.

Lost in Translation (2003)

Tedious nonsense. Sofia Coppola trades on her family name in this “white people problems” vanity piece, that believes itself to be clever and charming and insightful and romantic, but is really none of those things. Largely credited with Bill Murray’s career resurgence, but his performance is so downshifted he seems to have realized he wouldn’t even need to be fully awake for any future paychecks. Also brought Scarlett Johansson into the mainstream, but her character is a fraud, emotionally cheating on her boyfriend with this older man just out of twentysomething ennui. And I don’t even have time to discuss its fruitless fetishization of Japanese culture.


Fight Club (1999)

I don’t think Fight Club is an objectively bad film on its own. David Fincher is one of our better big name directors, and its a fun enough film, if one slightly dumber than its reputation. It’s Cult of Fight Club that I can’t stand. A bunch of knuckle-dragging, red-pill alpha-male Brett Easton Ellis-types who think Edward Norton is our greatest living actor because he made grumpy faces real well in this, and who think every satire pales in comparison to what is in all honesty some pretty thin anti-advertising spiel stuck in the middle of an already dense screenplay. People who think this is a better movie than Se7en or The Social Network or even The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, all much better encapsulations of Fincher’s Gothic style than this. It’s Boondock Saints for people who think they have taste.

Return of the Jedi (1983)

I will never judge someone who liked Jedi. I love Jedi. I will judge if it’s your favorite Star Wars movie, though. It’s…how do I say this? It’s not very good. More importantly, it’s boring, in ways a space opera should never be. Shot composition, lighting, staging, cinematography, even the writing and acting are for the most part just there. Ian McDiarmid is his usual excellent self, but most of the magic from Empire is gone. Sometimes literally. Yoda dies in his only scene! Where Empire lights a scene with dynamic reds and purples, Jedi simply puts up a stage light and has its actors stand in it, flatly, and without purpose. Would I go so far as to say the primary purpose of its creation is to sell toys of Ewoks, but I will hint at it mysteriously before ending abruptly.

JAMES CAMERON (Like, as a whole)

James Cameron is kitschy trash. By accident he managed to make the first two Terminator films, which are essentially perfect, but since then he’s made the thoroughly decent Titanic and the thoroughly dull Avatar. Aliens is fine, as is True Lies, but it’s really Titanic that cemented his reputation as some visionary auteur. He’s not. He’s a competent action director who’s written some solid scripts and sort of fallen ass-backwards into Spielberg-level fame. Throw in the fact that he’s documented as one of the least pleasant people to work for in the entire industry, and you’ve the perfect recipe for an incredibly trash person all around.

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