Roger Ebert's Lexicon: Fruit Carts, Idiot Plots, and Wunza Movies
Legendary film critic Roger Ebert died yesterday after a protracted battle with cancer. He leaves behind a prodigious record of film commentary, but one of his most delightful efforts is his "Glossary of Movie Terms" for Roger Ebert's Video Companion (later expanded into Ebert's Little Movie Glossary). With help from readers, Ebert compiled a lexicon of the silliest movie clichés. Here's a sampling.
Back Seat Inviso-Syndrome
Film characters are invariably unable to see a person crouched in the back seat of a car (even a convertible) when, in the real world, it is an impossible place for a person to hide.
Barroom Bum Slide
Most bar fights in the movies end with the loser being pushed so hard he slides halfway down the bar. In real life, this is impossible.
Cars in high-speed chases can shift through more gears than they have. Cf. Bullitt, where Steve McQueen's car upshifts more than 16 times.
CLIDVIC (Climb from Despair to Victory)
Formula for Rocky and all the Rocky rip-offs. Breaks plot into three parts:
- Defeat and despair;
- Rigorous training, usually shown in the form of would-be MTV videos;
- Victory, preferably ending in freeze-frame of triumphant hero.
Engine Equalization Law
Movie phenomenon which allows a 100hp Escort to outrun a 300hp Corvette, or vice versa, and allows large, lumbering Cadillac stretch limousines filled with bad guys to keep up with heroes in exotic sports cars.
Fallacy of the Predictable Tree
The logical error committed every time the good guy is able to predict exactly what the bad guy is going to do. For example, in First Blood, law enforcement officials are searching the woods for John Rambo. A cop pauses under a tree. Rambo drops on him. Question: Out of all the trees in the forest, how did Rambo know which one the guy would pause under?
In every scene where actors carry luggage, the luggage is obviously empty. They attempt, with pained expressions on their faces, to pretend the bags are heavy, and yet they can flick them around like feathers.
An expletive used by knowledgeable film buffs during any chase scene involving a foreign or ethnic locale, reflecting their certainty that a fruit cart will be overturned during the chase, and an angry peddler will run into the middle of the street to shake his fist at the hero's departing vehicle. (Of all the definitions in the glossary, this has become the most popular. It has been gratifying to be part of an audience where people unknown to me have cried out "Fruit cart!" at appropriate moments. The movie Ski Patrol even contained a "Siskel and Ebert Fruit Cart.")
Rural version of "Fruit cart!" (q.v.). At the beginning of chase scenes through colorful ethnic locales, knowledgeable film buffs anticipate the inevitable scene in which the speeding sports car will get stuck on a narrow country lane behind a wagon overloaded with hay.
Hollywood Grocery Bags
Whenever a scared, cynical woman who never wants to fall in love again is pursued by an ardent suitor who wants to tear her wall of loneliness, she will go grocery shopping. The bags will always break to (1) symbolize the mess her life is in, or (2) so that the suitor can help her pick up the pieces of her life and her oranges.
Any plot containing problems which would be solved instantly if all of the characters were not idiots.
In any movie where the heroine catches her boyfriend dancing in public with another woman, and makes a big scene, the other woman invariably turns out to be the boyfriend's sister. Cf. Mystic Pizza, etc.
Invisible Protective Shield
Protects characters during fight scenes. They get hit by fists, chairs, bottles, etc. and thrown through walls, doors, glass, but wear only a small bandage in next scene, and later have no marks, although they should be black and blue for the rest of the movie.
Name for a large sheet of cardboard or plywood with holes in it, which is moved back and forth in front of a light to illuminate a character's face with moving light patterns. Popular in the 1930s; back in style again with the movies of Steven Spielberg, who uses a kookalouris with underlighting to show faces that seem to be illuminated by reflections from pots of gold, buckets of diamonds, pools of fire, pirate maps, and radioactive kidneys.
Law of Canine/Feline Superperception
Household pets can unerringly detect and react to the presence of ghosts, aliens or other nonhuman entities. Their warnings are invariably ignored.
Named for the gentle giant in Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, this rule dictates that if a film character is of less than normal intelligence or ability, he or she will inadvertently get into serious trouble during the film.
Any character whose wife and/or kids are introduced more than an hour into the movie and who hugs and kisses any or all of them will be dead within the next 20 minutes. e.g., "Goose" in Top Gun.
Little girls who wear glasses in the movies always tell the truth. Little boys who wear glasses in the movies always lie.
Character sees someone but can't believe his eyes, so shakes his head and says "Nah." Inevitably it is the person it couldn't be.
Near Miss Kiss
The hero and heroine are about to kiss. Their lips are a quarter of an inch apart—but then they're interrupted.
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. (See any Schwarzenegger movie.)
No female character in an action film can flee more than 50 feet before falling flat on her face. Someone then has to go back and help her up, while the monster/villain/enemy gains ground.
Rock Candy Postulate
No hero is ever cut by glass while leaping through windows.
Function performed by most men in Hollywood feature films. Involves a series of shots in which
- the man sees something,
- he points it out to the woman,
- she then sees it too, often nodding in agreement, gratitude, amusement, or relief.
Applies to prison, war or police movies, where the hero only has a few more days until he is free, his tour is over, or he can retire with full pension. Whenever such a character makes the mistake of mentioning his remaining time ("Three days and I'm outta here!") he will die before the end of that time.
Affliction that compels filmmakers and special effects people to depict the malfunction of computers as being accompanied by smoke, flames, showers of pyrotechnic sparks, frenzied flashing lights, and wildly spinning tape drives spewing tape into the air.
Once a character is knocked down, they just lie there as if unable to get up. Cf. Sigourney Weaver in Alien.
In every movie with Italian-American characters, one must be named Vinny.
Any film using a plot which can be summarized by saying "One's a..." For example, "One's a cop. One's an actor." Or "One's a saint. One's a sinner."
In many thrillers, the hero crashes his car or truck through the window or wall of a building at the precise time and place to allow him to rescue a victim or kill the bad guys. How can he see through the walls to know exactly where his car will emerge? Why doesn't he ever drive into a load-bearing beam?
Pronounced "zed" in British movies, something most American audiences do not know.