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Cornball movie scenes flout finesse of fine films

By DAN JONES / VN FILM CRITIC
On February 21, 2017

“Field of Dreams” has the famous quote: “If you build it, he will come.”

When I first saw it, I thought the ominous cornfield whispers were referring to an apparition, an alien or a nightmare that was on its way. Impending doom for sure.

Or how about a fantastical concept that would change cinema forever? “Children of the Corn” meets “Monster House.”

Unfortunately, the movie becomes a family movie dressed in drama. This would be fine, except the fields are leveled only to produce more corn (as in corny concepts). And if you’re not a baseball fan, I can’t see anyone being impressed by the movie.

But audiences were impressed, and they have been for almost thirty years. Didn’t you notice how I introduced the quote? It’s famous.

How does a movie that corny, dorky, whack, cheesy or, as Michael Bluth would say during a satirical sappy “Arrested Development” scene, “a little cornball” stand the test of time?

More important, why is the corn returning?

I might have an answer, but let’s make it easy and concentrate on some technicals that are responsible for arousing such feelings.

For starters, a serious movie that edits an otherwise natural moment to get a cheap laugh has been corned.

The opening scene of “Hidden Figures” is a good example. They cut from an unflattering shot of Octavia Spencer’s shaking hips to Taraji P. Henson tapping her wrist watch as if it were a slapstick Jimmy John’s commercial or an imitation of a goofy M. Night Shyamalan scene (view YouTube clip “Signs in 5 seconds” to see an exaggerated, yet fairly accurate, cut of Shyamalan’s work).

Also, the musical score of a movie should subtly evoke emotions. And the camera-pull-away/rising-music combo is anything but.

I first noticed the upheaval of overly sentimental movie scenes accompanied by hackneyed scores when Nicholas Sparks’ movies were suddenly being released faster than his annual novels. (“The Best of Me,” “The Longest Ride” and “The Choice” were released within an 18-month period.)

These were quickly followed by dopey trailers such as “Max,” “Miracles from Heaven” and “A Dog’s Purpose.” The latest would be “The Shack,” where heaven looks like it’s directed by a happy Tim Burton – a scary notion.

This isn’t a bash against movies of hope or faith (although the Christian cinema market is partly responsible for the rushed, corny crap movies).

Surely, I would like to believe “Collateral Beauty” could succeed with a fanciful concept as did “The Adjustment Bureau” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I just couldn’t get my skinny butt past the trailer’s swelling score to fit it into a theater seat.

What perplexed me the most, though, were two of this year’s Oscar contenders: “Hacksaw Ridge” and “Fences.”

Both wrecked their final acts with a pull-away camera shot, rising music and gooey emotionalism.

And these are up for Best Picture?

Isn’t corny responsible for “Pearl Harbor” and the final subway scene of “Crocodile Dundee?”

Have we learned nothing about the finesse of filmmaking? And why was I the only one taking notice?

And then it happened. I was willingly pulled into the cornfield.

After the opening scene of “Hidden Figures” ended and I decided not to walk out, I became engrossed in the story. The characters weren’t exactly developed, but important real-life historic figures were persistent.

I was moved. I was intrigued. They got me with the true-story ploy, but it was also believable. There weren’t scenes as silly as the dancing in “Can’t Buy Me Love” or “Mac and Me.”

Nor was “Hidden Figures” as corny as every single scene in Clint Eastwood’s unintentionally hilarious “Gran Torino.”

However, I honestly can’t remember if I was overlooking minor corny bits, because I was enjoying myself.

My answer to this phenomenon, then, is that we must be momentarily trading our cynicism for hope. We want the escape so badly we’re willing to forget that we’re escaping.

No matter how corny.

Our brains sometimes have to shut down and tell us, “Hey, it’s not so bad to let go.”

Honestly, I can’t believe I’ve come to this conclusion and am admitting it in an article. But escape is why we go to the movies.

And, after all, accepting corny is better than watching horrible horror (unless those include some other laughable suspense movies by Shyamalan like “The Happening,” “The Visit” or “Split”).

 

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