Sometimes, a film contains something so utterly bizarre that there’s just no accounting for it. Whether it’s pausing the action for a quick striptease or karaoke session or an attitude to physical science that can only be described as cavalier, here are the moments that made us double-take this year - along with a couple of short explanations of how these things came about from the people who made them happen.
Obviously, beware spoilers - and if in doubt, navigate from this landing page.
ALICE EVE STRIPS
Film: Star Trek Into Darkness
What happens? Dr Carol Marcus (Alice Eve), new science officer on the USS Enterprise, has just revealed to Chris Pine’s Captain Kirk that she came aboard under a false name (Wallace) and is actually Admiral Marcus’ daughter. She has suspicions about the strange new torpedoes her father has developed, and to check them out safely, she needs to take a shuttle to a deserted rock and open one. Apparently she’ll need to wear a flight suit for the trip – so she strips off her uniform in front of the commanding officer she’s just met so she can change ASAP.
WTF? Possible excuses: there’s some flirtation going on. Pop culture has it that the mere presence of James T. Kirk makes women’s clothes fall off (he wasn’t actually that much of a dog in the original series). Or maybe they’re really casual about nudity in the 23rd century. The problem with those explanations: vanishingly few smart women ‘flirt’ by stripping; surely there’s a time and a place for Kirk to work his mojo; if they were all that casual, she wouldn’t express shock when he turns around a moment later.
Even the director and writers have admitted this was a gratuitous moment for the fanboys and apologised.
The lesson: If you’re going to get one of your “strong female characters” naked, at least put a little thought into it.
Film: Only God Forgives
What happens? Every time that he tracks down another ne’er-do-well and makes Bangkok a little safer for law-abiding citizens, Vithaya Pansringarm’s Lieutenant Chang unwinds with a little Thai karaoke at his favourite club, while his loyal officers sit around and listen to their hero. Truth is, he’s not bad – his tone’s a little thin in the higher registers, maybe – but even if he were, who’s going to tell him?
WTF? Well, karaoke is wildly popular all over the world – Empire’s been known to indulge – and especially in the Far East. So if you’re going to let off steam, we suppose it’s not a bad option. The real mystery here is Chang himself: audiences were slow to realise that Ryan Gosling’s Julian is not the hero of the film; that’s the endlessly moral, physically unstoppable police Lieutenant. Join in with him here.
The lesson: It takes a true hero to stand up and sing.
THE ENTIRE FILM
Film: Upstream Color
What happens? So there’s a grub, and people dig it up and put it in a pill? Anyone who takes the pill becomes utterly obedient and might sign over their entire life, until the grub (now a worm) is dug out of their body and implanted into a pig? Later, a woman who was given this pill and lost everything meets a man who’s been through the same experience, and they find the pig farmer? There are also some blue flowers by a river that seem to be part of the drug’s cycle. And… stuff?
WTF? Darned if we know. The idea of casting something out of a human and into a pig seems Biblical, but the whole film focuses more on the life cycle of this mysterious, will-sapping drug and how it might be disrupted, while also offering a sort of love story between damaged people. In any case, this is the sort of film you’re supposed to argue about afterwards, so let’s chalk up our lack of understanding as a success for writer / director / star / producer / composer / editor Shane Carruth (who you can listen to on the Empire Podcast here), and note that we loved the film anyway.
The lesson: Don’t do drugs? Or do. We’re not sure.
THE MICHELLE RODRIGUEZ CATCH
Film: Fast And Furious 6
What happens? Michelle Rodriguez’ Letty is propelled into the air when the tank she’s road-surfing on (as you do) comes to a sudden stop due to the car it’s dragging getting wrapped around a lamppost. Letty is thrown across the divide between motorway carriageways… but not to worry! Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto is also surfing in his convertible, and launches himself into space where he catches her, spins around and lands back on the bonnet of a car, safely on his side of the road.
WTF? Honestly, we’ve had some top physicists in the office, wearing white coats and writing on windows, and none of them has been able to explain the laws of momentum and gravity in a way that accounts for all of this. The forces acting on the pair, the comparative weights of Diesel and Rodriguez and the velocity each had should surely have resulted in them both splatting to the ground hundreds of feet below, between the two bridges – and yet here we are, with pen marks blocking our view of the street and no closer to figuring it out.
The lesson: Newton was wrong. Justin Lin has rewritten the laws of physics.
PETER CAPALDI'S CREDIT
Film: World War Z
What happens? At the end of the zombie movie, we learn that Peter Capaldi’s character – who we meet at a World Health Organisation facility in Wales – is credited simply as W.H.O. Doctor. No big deal except that just six weeks later, on August 4, Matt Smith’s successor as the star of Doctor Who was announced as… Peter Capaldi.
WTF? Coincidence, folks, or a really insane stunt to get BBC executives to consider his candidacy. We know Capaldi���s a fan of Doctor Who: he’s already played two characters in it and wrote a fan letter in his teens that’s still on record – so we imagine he was pleased with his WWZ credit long before the BBC deal was finalised. But we’re reasonably sure it’s not the result of a series of time-travel escapades to totally change the end of Marc Forster’s film in order to set up an elaborate joke. Probably.
The lesson: Subliminal advertising works, kids!
THE CREDITS STING
Film: The Hangover: Part III
What happens? Following the wedding of Alan (Galifianakis) and his blushing / aggressive bride Cassie (Melissa McCarthy), the Wolf Pack awaken some days later in the ruins of the wedding venue along with their nearest and dearest. There is chaos everywhere – but perhaps the biggest surprise is that the unfortunate Stu (Ed Helm) now has full, pouting breasts. And there we leave the franchise, apparently forever.
WTF? While it certainly one-ups extracting your own tooth or getting a full-face tattoo, we’re not sure how plausible this is. While Empire is not personally experienced in breast augmentation, it’s our understanding that you’re talking about a serious medical procedure following which you’ll spend quite some time with more bandages on your bosom than The Mummy. However many drugs Alan gave them this time, we’re not convinced. And of course they’re going for social realism so they’ll be devastated by that.
The lesson: Don’t do drugs, kids!
THE BACKSTREET BOYS
Film: This Is The End
What happens? Heaven according to the stars of this apoca-comedy looks a bit like the heaven of A Matter Of Life And Death or Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey: everyone wears a lot of white, and you meet interesting figures from history. Of course here all the women wear bikinis and there’s more ganja than usual. Oh, and the music is provided by The Backstreet Boys, who launch into a rendition of ‘Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)’ to really get the celestial party started.
WTF? We’ll hand over to the Backstreet Boys themselves for this one, since they came into the office to explain the whole deal. Seriously.
The lesson: As long as there’ll be music, they’ll be comin’ back again. In heaven.
ROB LOWE'S FACE
Film: Behind The Candelabra
What happens? Everything is rolling along normally. Michael Douglas and Matt Damon are dating – as Liberace and his assistant Scott Thorson – when Lib decides that he needs a bit of a pick-me-up. In comes expert plastic surgeon Dr. Jack Startz (Rob Lowe) to make him look younger, boasting his own surgically augmented features. He looks – to put it kindly – like The Joker got a coathanger stuck in his mouth and then accidentally glued his eyelids shut while pulling his eyes towards opposing compass points. When your mum said that if the wind changed your face would get stuck like that, this is what she meant.
WTF? It took about an hour and 45 minutes to get Lowe looking like that every day, and he suffered migraines as a result of having his face so tightly taped up for long periods. The character is largely a creation of Lowe, Soderbergh and the script, since the surgeon on which he’s based didn’t look so extreme, but it’s a wonderfully bizarre figure to put Lib’s mere flamboyance into context.
The lesson: Stick to the natural look, please.
THE REAL-LIFE REMINDERS
Film: Pain And Gain
What happens? In Michael Bay’s adaptation of the true story reported in the Miami News, what’s amazing is what he didn’t add. Amid muscly men and pneumatic, scantily-clad women, an explosion or two and a number of instances of unsafe driving, Bay actually takes the time to remind us that the least believable stuff is actually true. They really did barbecue a human hand, for instance, in a lunk-headed attempt to dispose of evidence of a murder.
WTF? Seriously, that really did happen. The great shame of Pain & Gain is that people were hesitant to credit it with any relationship to real life because Michael Bay made it, but if you read the story itself, all the most ludicrous stuff basically came from court documents.
The lesson: Sometimes people are weird.
THE FINAL TWIST
Film: Safe Haven
What happens? We know, by this point, that Julianne Hough’s winsome fugitive is actually the battered wife of a corrupt cop rather than a fleeing murderer or something, but this Nicholas Sparks film has one more twist in the tale. It turns out that her new friend Jo, the girl next door, is in fact the ghost of the dead wife of hunky widower and Kate's love interest, Alex (Josh Duhamel)!
WTF? Yes, they Tyler Durden-ed his dead wife. It turns out she’s been there, advising Hough’s Katie, all along. On the bright side, this means that she can rest assured that she has his dead wife’s blessing for her new relationship. On the down side, we imagine it could put a dampener on things if she sticks around past the wedding date.
The lesson: When making a new friend, poke them to check they’re real, and insist on introducing them to other people to be sure they’re universally visible.
CHANNING TATUM THE GIMP
Film: This Is The End
What happens? Yes, it’s a second entry for This Is The End, but both these developments were so thoroughly weird that they earned their place. As the Biblical apocalypse continues, Our Heroes venture outside in search of food, water and a chance at the Rapture. Instead, they find Danny McBride holding a semi-naked and utterly sanguine Magic Mike on a leash and insisting that he exchange sexual favours for (human) meat.
WTF? We’ll let Goldberg and Rogen explain this one. As far as it can be explained...
SUPERMAN KILLS ZOD
Film: Man Of Steel
What happens? After laying waste to huge swathes of Metropolis and Smallville in his attempts to terraform Kryton-form the Earth, Zod (Michael Shannon) has seen his ship and team destroyed. But he’s still swinging at Superman (Henry Cavill). The pair rampage through the city, but when they crash to a halt in Metropolis Central Station, Zod threatens a human family with his heat vision and Superman reacts under pressure by snapping the General’s neck.
WTF? In Kal-El’s defence, he’s making a split-second decision under extreme circumstances after a difficult few days, and Zod seems to have a death wish by this point, which is perhaps unsurprising given the destruction of all he holds dear and his whole crazy honour code. Superman is also acting to save innocent lives (for the first time in about an hour, mutter mutter). But the fact remains that Superman, icon of truth, justice and the American way, just straight-up executed someone. Find out just why director Zack Snyder and writer David S. Goyer did it on our special Man Of Steel spoiler podcast.
The lesson: Nobody’s hands are clean, we guess.
Film: Don Jon
What happens? Jon (Joseph Gordon Levitt) and Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) go on a date to the cinema, where they see a film called Special Someone. The poster advertises that its stars are Conner Verreaux and Emily Lombardo, but hold on just a cotton-pickin’ minute: that’s really Channing Tatum and Anne Hathaway!
WTF? It helps to have famous friends when making your directorial debut, we guess – and both Tatum and Hathaway have shown willing to poke fun at themselves in the past. In this case, they recorded the scenes from their execrable-looking fake rom-com in a couple of days to help Gordon-Levitt’s film. You’ll never look at Dear John or Love And Other Drugs the same way again.
The lesson: When making a movie-within-a-movie, make sure to recruit real movie stars.
BENICIO DEL TORO
Film: Thor: The Dark World
What happens? There you are, merrily watching the Thor sequel and just about supressing the urge to question all this cosmic-alignment and aether stuff, when the mid-credits scene takes an abrupt left turn and we see Sif (Jamie Alexander) and Volstagg (Ray Stevenson) bring a small container holding the aether to a mysteriously-wigged figure played by Benicio del Toro. Who the heck is this guy? And what the heck is going on with his make-up?
WTF? That, of course, is Taneleer Tivan, The Collector, and del Toro’s character in James Gunn’s upcoming Guardians Of The Galaxy, Marvel’s barmy space-opera adventure. The Collector is an Elder of the galaxy and about 3 billion years old, and occupies his days collecting (hence the name) objects of particular significance. The film features the same interestingly-hued aliens that you see briefly here, and stars a talking raccoon and talking tree with a one-phrase vocabulary, so it’s a risk to say the least, but it also looks like bags of fun, and del Toro’s weird little cameo here just made us more intrigued.
The lesson: Remember to stay through the credits of a Marvel movie.
CHANNING TATUM CHATS TO A SQUIRREL
Film: White House Down
What happens? John Cale (Channing Tatum, in an incredible third WTF moment this year) is a US Capitol police officer assigned to guard the Speaker Of The House. But on arriving to collect his boss one morning, he takes time out to berate a squirrel that has taken to raiding the politician’s bird house, pleading with the rodent to leave so that Cale won’t have to shoot him. Um.
WTF? It’s just an attempt to inject some humour into the film before all the action kicks off – and in fairness, Tatum kind of sells it. His likeably meatheaded and slightly self-deprecating air means that he can get away with the sort of ridiculousness that would die a million deaths if any of the other action leads out there tried it (except, perhaps, his G.I. Joe: Retaliation co-star The Rock). Still, we are watching a grown man attempt to intimidate a squirrel by showing it his gun, so it’s a weird moment even by the standards of Roland Emmerich films.
The lesson: Always try to negotiate first, then blow that big-tailed sucker away.
MARTIN SCORSESE CAMEO
Film: One Direction: This Is Us
What happens? Martin Scorsese is the Oscar-winning, universally acclaimed director of such films as Raging Bull, Goodfellas and The Departed, the man who made notable music documentaries like Shine A Light and The Last Waltz. He’s an authority on cinema history and a major force in film preservation. And then he turned up in the One Direction documentary and every parent in the audience who’d been dragged along by their offspring went, “EH?”
WTF? Well, Scorsese also has a daughter who appears to be a fan of the band, so he attended their Madison Square Garden gig and apparently got invited backstage – and you’d expect the red-carpet treatment for such a luminary. It’s also worth remembering that the director of the film is respectable documentarian Morgan Spurlock, so it’s possible he talked him into it. Perhaps the biggest surprise of all is that the film is actually OK, even when you put Scorsese’s cameo to one side.
The lesson: “I’ve been listening to your stuff. I like it!” Scorsese tells the band. Maybe we need to give these guys another chance?
Film: We're The Millers
What happens? David Clark (Jason Sudeikis) is a drug dealer posing as a family man on vacation in order to smuggle a large amount of pot across the US / Mexican border. His ‘family’ includes Kenny (Will Poulter), David’s neighbour, who has an unfortunate episode where a tarantula that stowed aboard their RV in a fruit basket gets loose, crawls up Kenny’s trousers and bites him on the unmentionables. He suffers an allergic reaction to the bite, and drops trou to reveal a ballsack swollen to the size of a grapefruit that makes everyone in the audience physically recoil in horror.
WTF? The good news is that there is no reliable record of a tarantula bite causing a human fatality, but that’s probably cold comfort to Kenny, or Kenny’s privates. You will be profoundly relieved to know that this was a prosthetic – ain’t nobody going method for something like this – but it’s still one of the most extreme scenes in the film and an unexpected moment even by the standards of modern comedies, which don’t generally shy away from gross-out humour.
The lesson: Spiders are bad.
DEXTER FLETCHER FARTING
Film: Sunshine On Leith
What happens? A drunken Edinburgh bum stumbles out of a pub – which is full of punters busy singing The Proclaimers’ ‘Over And Done With’ like they’re in some sort of musical – swiftly hiccoughs, then farts. Loudly. You can’t believe you’ve just heard what you’ve just heard, and check around the cinema to see if you can spot any guilty-looking faces, but no, it’s true, you’ve just watched an old soak toot a very loud toot – and that old soak is played by the film’s director, Dexter Fletcher.
WTF? Soap himself, The Man Who Was Babyface, the proper-serious-grown-up director of Wild Bill (where he cameos as someone called ‘Mysterious Barry’), has farted in your general direction. The way Fletcher himself tells it on the Empire Podcast, he was forced into the cameo by his director of photography, George Richmond, and he didn’t go method. For a similar WTF moment in another Edinburgh-set film released in 2013, check out the madder-than-a-bag-of-spanners dream sequence in Filth, where David Soul plays a cabbie and everyone sings ‘Silver Lady’.
The lesson: Farts are still funny, no matter how much you want to believe otherwise.
THE IMPROBABLE SHOTGUN
Film: Django Unchained
What happens? Lara-Lee Candie Fitzwilly (Laura Cayouette) is very much on board with her brother Calvin’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) slave-owning ethos, so while it’s a shock to see Django (Jamie Foxx) turn his shotgun on her when she tries to interfere with his vengeance, it’s not exactly an unwelcome one. The real surprise is when the hit causes her to fly backwards about 15 feet as if propelled from a cannon.
WTF? It’s almost certainly down to Quentin Tarantino’s commitment to giving Django’s bloody revenge as much operatic scope as possible – even if that does mean displaying a flagrant disregard for the normal laws of physics. And hey, maybe physics were different in the 19th century; did you ever think of that?
The lesson: Don’t trust the scientist, trust in QT.
Film: After Earth
What happens? It’s an alien beast that hunts humans by literally sensing their fear. But how? When Kitai (Jaden Smith) overcomes his fear, he instantly becomes invisible to the beast, despite the fact that he’s been terrified for several days and presumably stinks of terror. While we’re at it, how come everything on Earth has evolved so fast when it’s only been a thousand years? And why are they so vicious to humans when there haven’t been any for a millennium (possibly a Willenium)?
WTF? The ursa really only work as a metaphor and not even remotely as an actual way of hunting people. If the alien civilisation that created them could add the ability to psychically sense fear or whatever, couldn’t they make that an extra sense and not a substitution? How can they know humanity well enough to spot how we get scared and not also spot eyes and ears and useful things like that to work with instead? It doesn’t make any sense on a story level, but as a physical representation of our own weaknesses, it’s a good bit stronger.
The lesson: Emphasise the “sub” in “sub-text” and make sure it all works on the upper level too.
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