Characters in movies and TV shows do a lot of things that don’t make much sense. And you see them over and over again in different movies by different actors directed by different directors. I’ve watched decades of horror movies and I still can’t understand why characters split up with a monster on the loose, walk backwards around corners while looking for danger from behind, and don’t just leave the haunted house and go home.
Roger Ebert has been noticing these things, too. And he’s noticed a lot of them, organized them into a list, and even explained a few of them. Ebert has gathered recurring movie clichés from his fans (two thirds of the entries in the book are credited to others) and listed them along with his own gems. And he gives each of them a cute name. Some will seem quite familiar; others may prompt you to watch your favorite movies with a new eye.
Here are ten that stood out to me:
- “As Long as You’re Up, Get Me a 2 × 4.” When a fight in a bar breaks out, nearly everyone in the place begins fighting, spontaneously and without cause— even with people they have been sitting next to for some time.
- Bathroom Rule. No one ever goes into a movie toilet to perform a natural function. Instead characters use the bathroom to take illegal drugs, commit suicide, have sex, smoke, get killed, exchange money, or sneak out through the bathroom window.
- Climbing Villain. Villains being chased at the end of a movie inevitably disregard all common sense and begin climbing up something— a staircase, a church tower, a mountain— thereby trapping themselves at the top.
- Female Voice of Destruction. If the auto-destruction feature is activated at a secret base or spaceship, the countdown is always announced by a female voice.
- Grave Talk. Handy screenwriter’s tool where a character can reveal his personality and motivation by explaining everything to a tombstone.
- Law of Poignant Remnants. Whenever the wreckage of a plane crash is shown, there is always a teddy bear or doll in the midst of the wreckage.
- Magic Shave. When a shaving actor is interrupted after just a few strokes, he wipes the lather off with a towel to reveal a close-shaved face.
- One-at-a-Time Attack Rule. In any situation where the hero is alone, surrounded by dozens of bad guys, they will always obligingly attack one at a time.
- Phantom Photographer. A family’s vacation snapshots always include every family member, even if they were twenty miles from the nearest neighbor.
- Sci-Fi Currency Conversion. In any science-fiction movie, anywhere in the galaxy, currency is referred to as “credits.”
So if you are creating a drinking game for your favorite movie or just want to be reassured that others see these things, too—this book is for you. It is both amusing and thought-provoking, good for reading in the bathroom or other rooms. I recommend buying it instead of checking it out of the library. Mostly because of the bathroom reading thing.
on March 3, 2004
It's not a glossary so much as a joke book ... a compilation of both Mr. Ebert's own list of cinematic cliches and those submitted by his readership. It's a great browser's book, something you can just open up to any page and start reading. I've taken to leaving my copy by the couch, so I can flip through it during commercials and see how many points the film's racked up since the last commercial.
The only real problem with the book is the inherent flaw in having a book that features submissions ... quality is uneven, and a few cliches appear multiple times submitted by different people. This is balanced out by some very clever observations, patterns that I hadn't noticed before and which informed by later movie watching.
It's not quite as good as "I Hated, Hated, Hated, HATED This Movie," but it's still a seriously funny book for anyone who's fed up with seeing the same movie made over and over again with different titles.
on August 27, 2003
Ebert's "bigger little book" of movie cliches, stereotypes, obligatory scenes, etc. exposes the vast majority of movie directors/producers/studios as what they truly are: Dumb. But hey, learning just HOW dumb they can be has never been so much fun. You'll find yourself reading the book from cover to cover, nodding your head, saying, "I just saw that in a movie last week! Man, that was stupid." Ebert also gives credit to fans who have written in with their own entries. Loads of fun!
on September 21, 2010
I picked this book up on a whim and regret it--'not because it's bad, but because how you realize how stayed most movies are. Even the good ones. I found myself laughing at how repetitious movies can be, 'even on a seemingly subconscious level.