This week’s question comes from reader Charlie Patrick:
I turn off Mulholland Drive after they open the box, and Skyfall after they capture Silva. For my money, that’s where those movies end. Are there any entertainments you artificially truncate to make them more satisfying?
You know what movie has a terrific ending? Take Shelter. I can’t disclose how writer-director Jeff Nichols opts to conclude his intense 2011 drama about a frazzled family man (Michael Shannon) who begins having frightening visions of impending doom, because doing so would constitute an enormous spoiler. But suffice to say, Nichols comes up with a moving, deeply satisfying answer to the question of whether or not the apocalypse is real or all in the mind of his protagonist. Of course, it is a little strange that the movie keeps going for a few minutes after it’s clearly over; if I didn’t know better, I might think that those final two scenes were actually, officially part of the movie, and not some discarded alternate ending Nichols arbitrarily decided to stick right before the credits. I mean, imagine how silly he’d have to be to undermine his hard-earned ending with some ruinous twist in the final five minutes! Thankfully, Take Shelter ends in the perfect way, with me abruptly turning off my TV at the 1:50 mark.
DC Comics’ All-Star Squadron debuted in 1981, just as I was discovering how much fun the annual JLA-JSA team-ups were, and thanks to the writing of Roy Thomas, I became a huge fan of DC’s World War II-era heroes. As such, I was giddy a few years later when the DC powers that be decided to create a new super-team featuring the children and wards of the JSA. I will happily hold up the first 12 issues of Infinity, Inc. as some of the most enjoyable comic-book reading of the ’80s, and when I find myself revisiting them every few years or so, they’re still just as good now as they were then. Unfortunately, there aren’t all that many issues beyond those initial dozen that inspire that same reaction. I can attribute part of that to the departure of artist Jerry Ordway, whose work was absolutely perfect for the characters and their Golden Age designs, but Crisis On Infinite Earths also seriously shook up the status quo of the Earth-Two history that had driven the series. If Infinity, Inc. had been a miniseries, I’d rank it among the greatest comic miniseries of all time. Unfortunately, it ran 53 issues, and while there are certainly some gems in the remainder of its run, it never hit a stride like those first dozen issues ever again.
I tend to be a completist when it comes to most forms of pop culture. At the very least, I cannot imagine repeatedly ending a film or television show before its intended finale, and the albums I actually listen to (as opposed to playlists, which are what’s usually on heavy rotation for me) have made it into my library for the sole reason that I enjoy listening to them in their entirety. That said, I will not finish a Salted Nut Roll. For me the Pearson’s Candy that promises to deliver a “crunchy, chewy, sweet, and salty taste” ends after the first two components. That’s right, I only eat the peanuts. Screw that shit in the center. I don’t even know what that is, but I know the one time I tasted it I was appalled. “Why not just eat salted peanuts then?” you ask. Convenience, mostly. Defiance, maybe.
There’s a lot of (understandable) grumbling about the final season of Gilmore Girls. Despite managing to stick a pretty decent landing, the year as a whole is defined largely by the absence of show creators Amy Sherman-Palladino and her husband, Dan, who were not only showrunners for the first six seasons, but they wrote large chunks of every season, before being unceremoniously let go by the network. And while I share fan outrage over the removal of the series’ heart and soul, every time I rewatch the series (stopped counting after I hit double digits), Gilmore Girls ends at the conclusion of season five. Let’s face it: Season six was a mess, both narratively and thematically, with Lorelai and Rory behaving in bizarre ways that make almost no sense (they would never avoid each other for that long over such a silly reason). Plus, it’s just not much fun, and since irrepressible joy is central to the series, I choose to cut it short, before the moping and the surprise daughters appear.
I’ll go to bat for the Kanye West/GOOD Music compilation Cruel Summer any day, but I’ll admit some of the album is very skippable. I could live without the song where Kid Cudi forgot to write lyrics; the song where John Legend, Teyana Taylor, and Hudson Mohawke attempt to make it onto the Drive soundtrack; and the overcrowded posse cuts that make up about half the record. It’s not that these songs are that bad; it’s just that the rest of the compilation is as strong as any rap release gets! I mean, this is an album with “Mercy” and the “I Don’t Like” remix, both modern rap classics. Then there’s “Clique,” “New God Flow,” and “Cold,” all with memorable verses and inspired artist combinations (Kanye + DJ Khaled = a good Kanye song with brief DJ Khaled shouting). Throw in the big Kanye-R. Kelly opener, “To The World,” and you’re left with the unbeatable collection of collabs that Kanye set out to make in the first place. My Cruel Summer EP is nice and short, just like a real Chicago summer. With that logic, Kanye can make Cruel Winter as long as he sees fit.
The Kingkiller Chronicle falls squarely in the fantasy genre, a genre I’ve tried several times to get into and just can’t. Except for this. Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name Of The Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear are tragic, adult stories masquerading as a childish hero’s fantasy. Well, except for one part: The chapters in The Wise Man’s Fear when series protagonist Kvothe spends time learning the ways of sex and pleasure from an Aphrodite-like faire who speaks in all lowercase. It’s not the annoying text that makes me skip these chapters every time I re-read the series, which is about once a year. It’s that Kvothe, a vulnerable, flawed hero who fucks up more than he fucks, spends a year in fae time learning how to pleasure his faire consort for no reason whatsoever. And don’t tell me the bit about The Cthaeh was the reason he learns “kissing of the woman’s flower” and “thousand hands” (ugh). He could’ve stumbled into the Fae Realm, gotten his prophecy, had a quick sex session or whatever, and returned to the band of merry bandit hunters. It’s the one part of an otherwise remarkable series that’s just as juvenile, indulgent, and male-centric as the worst fantasy crap available. It’s like a 12-year-old boy wrote it. And it’s produced all sorts of gross fan art. Skipping the fairie fucking is skipping the lowest part of a great series.
As a longtime student of the work of Edward D. Wood Jr., I have taken it upon myself to watch every movie Wood wrote, directed, or was involved with, be they good, bad, or indifferent. One of the most prominent films in the Wood canon is 1965’s Orgy Of The Dead, which he scripted for Bulgarian expatriate and skin flick kingpin Stephen C. Apostolof in 1965. Apostolof’s films tend to be longer than the ones Wood directed for himself, and Orgy is no exception. At 92 minutes, it seems to last a small eternity, especially since there is very little plot. The movie is essentially a Halloween-themed burlesque show with some Los Angeles strippers dancing topless in a graveyard. The dance sequences become very tedious, but there are numerous, great Wood-scripted speeches here, many of them recited by fraudulent TV psychic Criswell. (A sample: “Torture! Torture! It pleasures me!”) Portraying The Emperor, who presides over the souls of the damned, Criswell delivers his lines with such great conviction that he elevates the film to a work of pop art. So I always hit the “>>” button during Orgy until I get to the actual “good parts” of the movie, basically any scene with clothed people talking to one another.
Like most fans of Dave Sim’s comic series Cerebus, the question when I dip back into the books isn’t whether I’ll manage to finish all 300 issues of his sprawling, often brilliant send-up of religion, politics, and the inherent self-destructive vanity of man (and man-like aardvarks), but where I’ll crap out this time. As the series’ 27-year run progressed, Sim’s instincts as a satirist were steadily crowded out by a variety of personal issues and bizarre religious philosophizing, even as his gorgeous artwork—and the beautifully intricate backgrounds drawn by his collaborator, Canadian cartoonist Gerhard—were more and more buried under dense walls of text. These days, I usually stop just before the halfway point, at Melmoth, a self-indulgent portrayal of the death of one of Sim’s heroes, Oscar Wilde, which is almost entirely given over to prose. That still leaves me with the Marx Brothers-infused comedy of High Society, the epic sprawl of Church & State I and II, and the Harvey-nominated tragedy of Jaka’s Story. That’s enough for me, especially since it means I’m out of the series before Sim’s growing and toxic misogyny begins to rear its ugly head.
Although Roseanne is one of my favorite sitcoms of all time, I never seek out (and, in fact, tend to turn off) any reruns involving the show’s final season. Without giving too much away, not only did that season train-wreck the show’s entire mythology and sand down the grit that made the show so charming, but it also turned to the worst out-of-ideas TV trope (implausible, unrealistic situations) for plot ideas. Even though Roseanne’s penultimate season ended somewhat ambiguously, it was at least true to the series’ characters and personalities. Had things been different, perhaps the series could’ve ended instead with a two-hour special to tie up any loose ends.
In my former life as video clerk/drone, I lost a lot of goodwill recommending Wim Wenders’ Until The End Of The World to the unwary. This was back in the VHS days (the original 158-minute cut, which was all that was available). Even patient customers willing to be led down some eccentric cinematic back alleys balked at the film’s picaresque (some might say disjointed), world-hopping techno-thriller/love story/apocalyptic road movie, but I maintained that the sprawling, gabby tale was a ragged masterpiece. At least until sort-of lovers Sam (William Hurt) and Claire (Solveig Dommartin) finally reach their goal—the dust-blown Outback hideout of Hurt’s scientist father (Max Von Sydow)—and… just sort of get bummed out for a half hour. Sure, they’re there to test out Von Sydow’s invention that lets people see their dreams, but they—and Wenders—get awfully bogged down doing that. Especially since the film’s obsession with then-revolutionary video technology takes over the screen with a lot (like, a lot) of grainy, distorted, ambiguous dream imagery and the story itself just sort of dribbles to a close. Once we get to Australia, I generally tune out—which strangely doesn’t mean I’m not looking forward to eventually seeing Wenders’ “director’s cut,” a purported five-plus-hour version that’s supposedly coming out from Criterion at some point.
I wonder if Scrubs isn’t becoming the great forgotten sitcom of the 2000s. It’s not entirely ignored, but it doesn’t seem to come up nearly as often as NBC’s Must See TV or even one-season cult hits of the decade. That’s probably because it followed the long-running sitcom formula of petering out toward the end. Now, those final seasons gave us Eliza Coupe, and I think Dave Franco was there, so there were some baby performers in that bathwater. But stop at season seven, a sad victim of both the writers’ strike and the writers’ room, and Scrubs would be more routinely recognized for the silly, sentimental single-cam sitcom achievement it is.
The Sound Of Music is a perennial classic, and definitely has its moments, with alive hills and lonely goatherds and whatnot. This doesn’t change the fact that it is the longest movie in the history of the universe (research pending). Even at a recent sing-along I attended at the Music Box—which was a total blast, lots of hissing at Nazis and belting out “My Favorite Things”—people collapsed from exhaustion at intermission. While the Mother Superior scolded Maria with “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” the bathroom lines reached Southport Avenue. There is really no need to watch the whole thing, even if you’re a fan. To get it down to a measly four or five hours (again, the clock is still ticking) in the future, I will always cut this movie off at Maria’s marriage to Von Trapp. It makes for a perfect finale, with “How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?” as an odd processional. That way, you can eliminate the depressing Austrian folk music festival with lamer versions of songs we’ve already heard, as well as the interminable Nazi search party (don’t sneeze, Gretl!). It’s not like you don’t know how this is all going to turn out anyway.
There’s quite literally nothing I like more than Twin Peaks, but I just can’t bring myself to watch the Log Lady introductions. Of course, these aren’t original to the episodes—Lynch added them as a part of Bravo’s 1993 rerun of the entire series. But a lot of people consider them to be canonical additions. The truth is, I’m scared to watch them. What if they’re bad? Even though Lynch is one of my favorite artists of all time, some of his work doesn’t land with me at all, and I hate the idea of cash-grabbing bonus content dragging down my favorite show of all time. I know I’ll have to just strap in and watch them some day, probably before the new season starts. But for now, even on my fifth rewatch, I’m still more comfortable skipping past Catherine Coulson’s cryptic musings and pretending they don’t really exist.
Given that I’m the guy who wrote all about how the actual ending of A.I. is more correct and interesting than the “turn it off early” version so many fans advocate for, and given that I’m happy to sit through the most uneven Brian De Palma movies to get to the 20 or 30 minutes of good stuff, I’m not the best qualified to answer this question. My general feeling is, deal with the movie that was actually made (or in some cases, excerpt a scene or two from something otherwise unremarkable). That said, I’m happy to bend my stuck-up rules for Eddie Murphy Raw. This seminal Eddie Murphy stand-up movie has a lot of famous bits in it, but much of the first half or so is well known for less illustrious reasons: He spends a fair amount of time complaining about women coming after his vast fortune and biting back against complaints that his previous special was homophobic. He also does some Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby impressions, which are impressive and funny, but not exactly revelatory material. But if you skip to about halfway through, Murphy’s specific voice as a comedian emerges more clearly. I’m thinking particularly of the head-spinning stretch where he goes from talking about white people emboldened to pick fights with blacks because of the Rocky movies, to chronicling a drunken phone call with his parents, to his stepfather’s recollections of how much harder he had it growing up—basically the last 20 or 30 minutes of the movie. It’s one of funniest stretches of stand-up I’ve ever seen, complete with skillful transitions, callbacks, and wonderful character work from Murphy. It’s basically one of the best hour-minus-commercials stand-up specials ever, contained within a good 90-minute movie.
I am a huge fan of The Critic, Al Jean and Mike Reiss’ elegant love letter to New York, film criticism, and the wonderfully dyspeptic charms of star Jon Lovitz. The show had a famously tough time finding an audience, even after switching networks and changing the character designs to look cuter and more commercial. It didn’t work, commercially at least, and later The Critic carried on, after a fashion, with “webisodes” I would encourage everyone to skip because, boy, are they subpar and weak. So just pretend that these webisodes don’t exist, and you can hold onto your image of The Critic as consistently hilarious.