Guides | August 2, 2007 | Comments ()
There’s something that rings awfully false to me about the guilty pleasure classification. Over the years, it’s lost all its meaning. Now, people brag about their guilty pleasures. Movies like Showgirls, Wild Things, Starship Troopers, Roadhouse, Cruel Intentions and their ilk have gained a sort of cult-like status as “guilty pleasures” that many of us are proud to admit a fondness for. Who doesn’t love Deep Blue Sea or Varsity Blues? Or the Final Destination series? Hell, I don’t know when it happened (though I’m guessing Eszterhas and Klosterman had something to do with it), but the “guilty” part of “guilty pleasures” has completely lost its teeth. Wikipedia, in fact, defines guilty pleasures as “a phrase used in the UK and US to denote things (e.g. pop music, novels, films, television shows, books, food) that one really likes but often finds too embarrassing to admit to.” But who the hell is embarrassed to admit to them anymore? Over at Time Magazine, for instance, there is a critic who counts There’s Something about Mary, Diabolique and Gone with the Wind among his guilty pleasures — there’s no shame in those choices, except for the guilt you should feel for enjoying the blatant racism of Wind. On Cinematical, Christopher Campbell includes A Prairie Home Companion and MI:3 among his top 10 guilty pleasures of 2006. Where’s the guilt in that? Guilt should work on a relative scale. If a large number of folks can agree on a guilty pleasure, there can no longer be any guilt in enjoying it. It’s simply a mainstream pleasure — there’s nothing to be embarrassed about, right?
We here at Pajiba like to think of ourselves as discerning, intelligent viewers (“pedantic” or “pretentious” to some of you), but we’re not always above lowbrow fare. We have our weaknesses, too. So, with today’s Guide, we here at Pajiba want to bring back guilty pleasures in their truest sense by introducing you to flicks we’re actually embarrassed to admit to. These aren’t guilty pleasures, these are our Secret Shames: Films that, were it not for this Guide, we’d never admit to liking in public. Movies that we are legitimately ashamed of enjoying. Admissions that might knock us down a few points in our readers’ estimation.
Of course, we’re not doing this alone. This Guide’s comment section has an incentive. There will be a “prize package” (as the radio DJs like to say) awarded to the person who makes, and properly defends his or her love of, the most embarrassing admission. To that person, we’re giving away one free Pajiba T-shirt (you can choose from the many over at One Horse Shy), and the cool kids over at Fabulous Stationery, who are allegedly big Pajiba fans, are also awarding a $50 gift certificate you can use to purchase very cool personalized cards, notes, and stationery over at FabulousStationery.com. But, before we get to yours, here are the staff’s secret shames. Do feel free to mock us.
Elmopalooza (1998) — When people give me crap about liking this film, I generally point to the ubercool appearances by hip celebrity guest stars Gloria Estefan, The Fugees, Kenny Loggins, Cindy Crawford, Rosie O’Donnell, Tyra Banks, and Chris Rock. Er .. Actually, I only mention the presence of Jon Stewart because the rest of them are just as shame-inducing as the film. In Elmopalooza, Jon hosts a special at Radio City Music Hall to celebrate 30 years of “Sesame Street,” but he and several crew members are trapped in the dressing room when the door gets stuck. While Jon tries to shovel his way out of the room to great comic effect, Elmo tries to step in as host, but things go wrong, and Elmo begins to wallow in his own self pity. When David Alan Grier sobs, “Elmo, don’t go,” I know in my heart that he really means it. Finally, Oscar the Grouch hatches a masterful plan to knock down the door, and everyone makes it onstage for the highly emotional finale. If you don’t get a little teary during the montage featuring “Rubber Duckie,” “C is for Cookie,” and “I Love Trash,” then I’m very sorry, but you have no soul. Yet what I really love about “Sesame Street” is the agelessness of its characters. During “Sesame Street,” I never have to explain that the real Yellow Wiggle may never return, and I don’t have to feel my mortality when the Blue and Purple Wiggles start sprouting grey hair. Most importantly, I can avoid the impending sense of doom associated with the psychotic gleam in the Red Wiggle’s eyes. Ah yes, it really is the little things that matter. — Agent Bedhead
First Knight (1995) — Wow. Well, how could I ever make a tenable case for liking First Knight, one of the worst takes on Arthurian legend to ever reach celluloid? First, Richard Gere plays Lancelot not as a Dark Age knight, but as an angsty vagabond straight out of a Diana Wynne Jones novel. Gere’s Lancelot (in true Costner fashion, he doesn’t even feign an accent) wanders around the countryside earning money via his convenient proficiency with a sword and proffering cryptic lines like “You must not care whether you live or die” to let us know he’s so tortured. Lance woos Guinevere, played by former hot tamale Julia Ormond, who finds his sorrowful bad-boy schlock unbearably hot, though she’s set to be married to Arthur (Sean Connery), who serves up witticisms like “There are laws that enslave men, and laws that set them free!” with something resembling dignity. The whole thing is a big, soppy, saccharine mess, and the props all look like tinfoil, but anytime the damn thing is on — a lazy afternoon offering from TBS, probably — I’ll watch it, start to finish. Perhaps it’s my geeky weakness for swordish adventure yarns; more than likely First Knight is just better at stupid wish-fulfillment entertainment than most of us want to admit. — Phillip Stephens
Hocus Pocus (1993) — Hocus Pocus is a finite family flick featuring vanilla teen angst and an inaccurate depiction of the Salem Witch Trials for the sake of you-can-go-pretty-low entertainment. We are introduced to teenybopper Max (Omri Katz), who is a Salem, Mass. newbie, his neurotic parents — played by Beverly D’Angelo and some guy that should have been Chevy Chase — as well as Max’s cute-as-a-button sister, Dani (Thora Birch). After inexpertly wooing the class hottie (Vinessa Shaw) with his transplanted Californian cool, Max remains skeptical of the Sanderson Sister legend that has held Salem in its thrall for centuries. He pish-poshes the idea that lighting any kind of candle, be it black or a poorly-crafted euphemism for impurity, will bring back a terrifying trio of witches. In pitiful plot propulsion, the suburban snot lights the candle and summons the town blight. Enter kooky witches and the reason why I love Hocus Pocus. Since the makers of this movie decided to side with scary Puritans and regurgitate a clichéd, misinformed version of the 1692 trials, it is appropriate that the witch characters are archetypes of “undesirable” women: a loudmouth leader, a fat follower, and a slut. Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker, clad in unforgivably commercial costumes, play sisters hellbent on remaining young and … somewhat attractive forever. In ill-advised Geisha makeup (seriously, what is going on with Bette’s lips in this movie?) and striped stockings, the tenured actresses sort of sidestep the pitfalls of poor writing and act their hearts out. Hocus Pocus may be silly, but it’s also worth watching if only to see Midler preen, Najimy bumble and Parker play. The film’s title track, “I Put A Spell On You,” is a favorite of mine and is performed during the movie by Bette Midler. Were I a professional wrestler or a witch, it would totally be my theme song. — Constances Howes
Home Alone (1990) — Sure, Home Alone features more dumb slapstick than a Jerry Lewis flick, more demands for suspension of disbelief than The Matrix, and more sentimentality than five Lifetime originals about cancer changing someone’s perspective. What can I say, I’m a sucker. For most people, It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story are probably the two most likely movies to be part of the holidays, but this one isn’t far behind for me. It might be the season itself, which is a time for indulging sentiment. It might be the soundtrack, which combines beautiful original work by the man who shares my name with some traditional seasonal numbers. It might be the presence of actors like John Candy, Catherine O’Hara, and Daniel Stern, whose talents do something to negate Macaulay Culkin’s worst mugging. But the blond little critter actually isn’t bad here — he’s even poignant in the church scene with his old-man neighbor. And despite how ridiculous the string of pratfalls becomes during the break-in scene, some of them are funny, and I always laugh out loud at Joe Pesci’s delivery of the line — “He’s not callin’ the cops — from a treehouse?!” Of course, I haven’t gone within a country mile of any of the sequels — there’s shame, and then there’s shame. — John Williams
Last Action Hero (1993) — This has the ingredients to be a solid flick. Trying to be a meta/irreverent send-up of both Hollywood and action flicks in general, it’s written by a guy who knows his way around action flicks, having penned Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout. More importantly, it’s directed by John McTiernan, who is, of course, responsible for the best action film of all time. It not only stars Arnold Schwarzenegger in the peak of his action career, smack-dab between T2 and True Lies, but it features Sir Ian McKellen as Death himself. Yet, it’s not a good movie. I recognize this. The central plot device, a magic ticket passed down from Harry Houdini, is beyond ridiculous. The kid who enters into the fictional movie Jack Slater IV via this magic ticket is played by Austin O’Brien in what has to be one of the worst performances ever put on film. The dialogue is cheesy and overwrought, and the film fails at being either a true adrenaline action flick or a hilarious comedy. Despite myself, however, I can’t help but love this movie. It’s got some great unintentional comedy, best exemplified by Arnold’s attempt to act his way out of a wet paper bag when he tries to portray Jack Slater processing the realization that he’s actually a fictional character. But more than that, I truly enjoy much of its intentional ridiculousness — from the film-within-a-film’s over-the-top action (random explosions and bodies flying everywhere), to some of the meta-humor (like when it’s pointed out that F. Murray Abraham’s character shouldn’t be trusted because he killed Amadeus) to the wonderful trailer for Hamlet (I would so go see that movie!). Round it off with a kick-ass soundtrack, and what can I say? Despite my instincts, I unapologetically enjoy the hell out of this flick. —Seth Freilich
Nothing But Trouble (1993) — After having my first two choices thrown out for not being “shameful” enough, I picked a film that was so bad that it got me ridiculed by not only our fearless leader but also my mother (who is in no way a woman of discerning taste) — after stopping by and seeing the Netflix envelope on the coffee table, she declared it to be the worst movie she had ever seen in her life. Say what you will about Nothing But Trouble, but it’s got one helluva all-star cast: Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, John Candy in drag, Demi Moore and Taylor Negron. OK, scratch that last one. But if you’re still unimpressed, the entire film can be redeemed by a — wait for it — Digital Underground performance. Yes, the legendary hip-hop band not only appears but also performs in this film, and if you ask me, indelibly validates Tupac’s life and legacy. As for the actual plot, Chris and Diane (played by Chase and Moore) are a pair of uppity New Yorker types on their way to a meeting in Atlantic City (with Negron’s character and some other chick in tow) when they decide to take the scenic route and end up in a creepy town called “Valkenvania” which I’m guessing is supposed to be somewhere in Pennsylvania. After succumbing to a minor traffic violation, they’re taken by the local deputy type (Candy) to a bizarre estate and forced to stand trial before a psychopathic Judge, played by a penis-shaped prosthetic nose wearing Aykroyd. Hijinks ensue, Chase makes his usual round of dry humorless quips, and Moore befriends a pair of giant mutant diaper wearing babies named Bobo and L’il Debbull. Did I mention the penis nose? Fan-freaking-tastic. — Stacey Nosek
The Rock (1996) — The films forged in the unholy alliance of director Michael Bay and producer Jerry Bruckheimer aren’t so much movies as calculated assaults on your central nervous system, designed to erode your will until they can make you feel happy or excited or sad or whatever just by presenting the illusion of a story. These movies don’t have a narrative, but simply pile one scene after the other to trick your brain into thinking action is occurring, when really, you could rearrange half the scenes or just watch the trailer and get the same effect. But damn it all, I still like The Rock. I’m secretly pleased as hell that it inexplicably found its way into the Criterion Collection, because this is one balls-out awesome action movie. Yes, the dialogue is terrible — witness the terrible joy that is the prom queen scene, and the sheer stupidity of the “Rocket Man” exchange — but somehow the sight of Nicolas Cage screaming at Sean Connery is just too much fun as they trudge their way through the increasingly ludicrous action scenes and manage to take down rogue Marines, one of whom was played by the Candyman. There’s the sad sight of Michael Biehn cashing a check, wondering where the hell his life went after The Terminator, and the even sadder sight of Ed Harris, slumming it up in some genuine schlock. Sure, the plot is nonsense — Cage, Connery, and a small group of soldiers infiltrate Alcatraz, where Connery was formerly interred, to stop Harris from blowing up the country — and Bay’s direction is sloppy and manipulative. But it’s so damn fun that it’s crappiness is just part of its charm. To borrow a phrase from Cage: How in the name of Zeus’s butthole could I not enjoy it? — Daniel Carlson
Son in Law (1993) — It was a close call for me. I couldn’t decide which was more embarrassing to admit: A grown heterosexual man’s fondness for The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (fuck you all) or a so-called critic’s immense affection for the 1993 Pauly Shore vehicle Son in Law. But, since the Tomatometer gives Sisterhood a 77 percent approval rating, I figure I’m not alone in my weakness for those super-magical Levis, which leaves The (fucking) Weasel, a.k.a., The Larry the Cable Guy of his day, one of those horrid personalities who fit somewhere between Carrot Top and Jim Varney in terms of sheer obnoxiousness. And no, my love for Son in Law does not have that much to do with Carla Gugino’s appearance in one of her first films (but, yeah: She was smoking, even with the pink hair). It is more about the comforts of the fish-out-of-water premise: A college resident advisor out in Southern California named Crawl (Shore) goes back home with his buuuuuuddy Rebecca Warner over the Thanksgiving Holiday. Rebecca, of course, is from rural America. (“Fresh off the farm, oh my God, I can’t believe it. Hallelujah. So you’re inbred?”) In order to get out of marrying her Midwestern fiancé, Rebecca pretends that she and Crawl are engaged. The expected hijinx ensue — Crawl milking a cow, slopping a pig, and making fun of the local inbreds, all the while falling in love with the simple folk. It’s formulaic as hell, it’s overpoweringly syrupy, and it stars fucking Pauly Shore. But, Shore doing John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” while riding around on a tractor is not to be missed (and that it’s not on YouTube is criminal). My advice: Go out and rent Son in Law and Encino Man, smoke a bowl, and tweak your nugs and munch on some grindage. I’ll shut up now. — Dustin Rowles
Sleeping with the Enemy (1991) — Send out the torch-lit lynch-mob. I can’t help liking this movie, or at least liking to watch it (is there a difference?). It’s appealed to me from the get-go, and I’ve seen it six times over the years — but I can’t bring myself to actually own it (a Julia Roberts film would probably make the rest of my DVD collection explode in protest, and God forbid anyone should see it on my shelves). I mean, there’s no justifying it, really. One could argue that it’s an early Roberts film, made just before she became the world’s most over-exposed “actress”; that Patrick Bergin’s abusive husband is a great screen villain; that the moment where he finds his supposedly drowned wife’s wedding ring in the plumbing is a real ooker; that the film indulges that fake-my-own-death-and-start-fresh impulse some of us have when things aren’t going so well; that Sleeping with the Enemy helped publicize the blight of marital abuse and marital rape; that I just want Patrick Bergin’s beach house, or Julia’s quaint little porch-house in Iowa. But I’m not sure all that wouldn’t just be whistling in the wind that whips up between my ears whenever I watch this beaut. Maybe its appeal lurks in its atmosphere — a browny warmy feel that pervades the film, even in the stark rooms of the Burneys’ modern home. Maybe it’s Ben, the World’s Best Boyfriend, a real-live Non-Threatening Boy with brown curls and access to a costume wardrobe. Maybe it’s all the kind strangers who reach hands out to limping Laura as she chin-ups her way back into society. Maybe it’s Roberts herself who, back in the ’90s, really did look to me like some ethereal femme (I’ve since lost my one-time girl-crush on her — tastes change, and bad ’90s hair detracts). I have no idea what it is about this movie, but it’s been a couple of years since my last view, and writing about it makes me want to rush out and rent it right now. God. Take me out back and shoot me. — Ranylt Richildis