"I think anything is a guilty pleasure that you think you shouldn't like but you totally do, and that your feeling of liking makes you very confused and troubled about yourself for having." - Chris Knipp

We all have them, bad movies that we love in spite of every rational thought telling us we shouldn't. I'm not talking about the films that are so bad they're good in a cool / campy sort of way (I'm looking at you, Showgirls!), but the ones that are simply bad, the ones that we avoid talking about for fear of outing ourselves as fans.

Guilty pleasures are those films that often defy explanation, the turkeys we can't seem to justify. In honor of Thanksgiving, we asked our regular contributors to do just that: think of a movie you love that is almost universally reviled, loathed, panned, dismissed, and generally thought of as not worth the celluloid it may or may not have ever been printed on...then write a couple of paragraphs explaining why you love it. Read on to see if some of your own guilty pleasures made the cut.

Aside from the fact that it boldly breaks all the rules of morality and taste, Caligula has generally been condemned on aesthetic grounds. But it's hard to dismiss because of the famous actors in it, Peter O'Toole, John Gielgud, Helen Mirren, Malcolm McDowell, and the elaborate and often beautiful staging of everything, so it has that element of ambiguity of judgment, that opening for ambivalence, that confusion of feeling, that contributes also to guilty pleasure.

Anything else in the guilty pleasure list is lightweight compared to Caligula. You'd have to find something pretty disgusting, or pretty sick, or pretty awful to compare to it, and whatever you found would most likely be just so 100% BAD that it would really just be camp, and the enjoyment of camp is a relatively harmless and acceptable activity compared to liking something truly disgusting and immoral.

The only other real guilty pleasures on film would be out and out porn movies. But is porn disgusting? Is it even immoral? Not to my mind. It may awaken confused feelings in relatively naive or straitlaced people, but to my mind most of it is really quite wholesome, and some of it is even quite well done. But if you start thinking some of it is really artistic and underappreciated, that starts to make it a guilty pleasure because of that element of confusion.

©2010 Chris Knipp

Fever Pitch has many of the clichés we have come to identify with Hollywood romantic comedies: a relationship between two people with little in common, the secret he’s been hiding that she discovers, the inevitable breakup, and the very public – well, I won’t go any further but you get the picture. In spite of its predictability, it works, especially if you love baseball as I do, though I’m not quite as obsessive as Ben Wrightman, a Boston schoolteacher played by Saturday Night Live comedian Jimmy Fallon. Adapted from a novel by Nick Hornby by veteran screenplay writers Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, Ben is a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan whose Uncle gave him season tickets when he was seven years old and he’s been kind of stuck emotionally at that point all of his life.

While the premise of Fever Pitch is that some things are more important than baseball (perish the thought), you would never know it from the way things turn out. Of course, to any one familiar with the history of the Boston Red Sox, it is a team that will break the hearts of its most die hard fans -- but this is 2004, the year the curse of the Bambino came to an end and as the Red Sox move to a new level, Ben might just do the same. Both lead performances are excellent and the Farrelly Brothers even manage a pretty gross gag. While Fever Pitch will never be mistaken for an art film, it is a joyous romp that will have to go down as one of my guilty pleasures.

©2010 Howard Schumann

Freddy Got Fingered is a bildungsroman, a picaresque tale. A young man named Gord, played by Tom Green, seeks to find himself. He works in a cheese sandwich factory, but he wants to be a cartoonist. A big Hollywood producer, played by Anthony Michael Hall (!), tells him that his cartoons are really stupid, rather beyond stupid, not even stupid; additionally, he says the animals in his drawings require more life, that Gord needs to get inside the animals. So that's exactly what does Gord does. Gord falls in love with a woman who gets off on having her paralyzed legs beaten with a bamboo cane. He also masturbates a horse, licks open wounds, and, for reasons I can no longer remember clearly, impersonates an obstetrician in a delivery room. This is of course the setup for the film's piece de resistance: Gord swings a newborn baby around his head, using the umbilical cord as a lasso!

Why, you ask, is this good, in any way? Because Tom Green performs these stunts, and many more, with a perfectly insane, innocent, robust energy that you just don't find elsewhere. Ribald nonsense in teen comedies like American Pie, to take a relatively tame example, is supposed to be disgusting; the actors and writers and filmmaker underline the disgust, shove DISGUST! in your face. The characters in American Pie know they're being disgusting; Tom Green doesn't know that. Of course you swing a newborn baby around by its umbilical cord; what else would you do with it? The transgressions inFreddy Got Fingered (eight to ten per half hour) are unpredictable, unparalleled, sui generis, full of pure oblivious energy, infused with something very much like love.

And Freddy Got Fingered has Rip Torn as Gord's father, the alleged fingerer. Dad wishes that Gord might someday behave as an ordinary human being; of course, Dad is a piece of work himself, living proof of the hopelessness of that desire. Dad is really stupid, rather beyond stupid, not even stupid . . . What fun when distinguished actors wallow in abject silliness and anarchy, and do it better than genuine slacker anarchists would think to do it. Envision Rip Torn chasing Tom Green around the living room, shouting and waving, Tom Green shouting back, around and around. Pure bliss! (Think Kathleen Turner in Serial Mom.)

I have entered the Way Back Machine, returned in my capsule to 2001, where I have surveyed the initial critical reaction to Freddy Got Fingered. "Disgusting" is the single most popular adjective in that literature. Those commentators have fallen afoul of Professor Wimsatt's affective fallacy. Freddy Got Fingered is not about how they happen to feel, it is about what Freddy Got Fingered is, about the platonic essence of the thing called Tom Green. If, like me, you associate cinematic disgust with the likes of Patch Adams or He's Just Not That Into You, I recommend that you elevate Freddy Got Fingered to the top of your queue.

Whatever happened to Tom Green? He wasn't boring, that's for sure.

©2010 Les Phillips

Hudson Hawk is a wildly out of control mess, the kind of gross miscalculation that would normally ruin a career...and in the case of Bruce Willis, it almost did. Riding high on the rapid-fire success of a hit TV show ("Moonlighting"), a wildly successful movie franchise (Die Hard), and, yes, even a successful album (Willis' 1987 collaborative recording "The Return of Bruno"), Willis was given carte blanche--literally and figuratively--to create the very definition of a vanity project. The end result was a critically savaged box office bomb that would go on to receive six Razzie nominations and win three (worst picture, worst director, and worst screenplay), as well as earn the dubious distinction of being the last film produced by the financially troubled Tri-Star Pictures before being bought out by Columbia Pictures.

If you're looking for a pedigreed disaster, look no further.

And yet, Hudson Hawk easily qualifies as one of my all-time favorite guilty pleasures. Certainly a piece of it was and continues to be my willingness to overlook Willis' smug arrogance, a trait that worked very much in his favor with his small screen persona of David Addison and his earlier big screen outing as John McClane. While Eddie Hawkins pushes the limits of audience tolerance for such things, I found it little more than a continued evolution of a character Willis had been developing his entire career. But that would only be a piece. The majority,even to the point of being overwhelming, is the film's willingness to go so deliriously, so brazenly, so absolutely irreversibly over the top.

Look no further than Darwin and Minerva Mayflower (I should add that both Richard E. Grant and Sandra Bernhard were nominated for Razzies).

You don't watch Hudson Hawk so much as surrender to it, and it isonly in the act of surrender that one can really start to appreciate it. Underneath the whirlwind of cartoonish slapstick (on which the film relies perhaps a bit too heavily) is a combination of genre playfulness, clever satire, and (thanks largely to "Worst Director" Michael Lehmann, fresh off the cult success of Heathers) a streak of dark irreverence that are all actually quite sharp. Parts of it are also quite funny, particularly in that SNL skit that you watched on Saturday and thought "What the hell?!?" only to laugh out loud about just thinking about it later on in the week.

So, Hudson Hawk is a wildly out of control mess. While I can recognize and acknowledge its considerable flaws, it still somehow manages to charm me and make me laugh out loud every time I see it. To paraphrase the film itself, if Da Vinci was alive today, he'd be eating microwave sushi, naked, in the back of a limo, watching Hudson Hawk.

©2010 Ed Owens

Mortal Kombat is so poorly acted, so lazily choreographed and shot, so lame in so many ways that it requires an act of conscious will to suspend one's disbelief for its running time. I love it anyway.

Here's why: there's a bit during which Johnny Cage, who is essentially Jean Claude Van Damme, is fighting a villain who can make lizard heads on chains fly from his palms. The fight begins in a beautiful grove, then magically transports to a kickass set that appears to be made of old sailing ship parts, plaster skeletons, cobwebs, and red gel lights. Cage lays down the fu just fine, but then he finds a pullup bar conveniently placed near a platform. He goes on to do a full Tribute to Gymkata, flips onto a platform, then does a nifty jumpkick to the villain's head. That's just awesome. Later in the fight, the villain turns into a flaming skeleton, a la Ghost Rider, which is also awesome. Then Cage finds a way to blow up the flaming skeleton and does a classic "leap away from the rear projection fireball." Among the debris that comes fluttering down is, you guessed it, an autographed photo of Johnny Cage, inscribed to his "Biggest Fan." I say that if your biggest fan is a recently exploded flaming skeleton, then your career is going GREAT!

So yeah, it's lame. Christopher Lambert is a lousy Basil Exposition. Robin Shou spends too much time on his hair. Bridgette Wilson, Talisa Soto, and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa are terrible actors. The fu isn't good enough to merit long takes. But Linden Ashby (as Cage) acquits himself well; the creature design, particularly for the multiarmed warrior Goro, is quite good; the sets and locations are fantastic and beautiful; and the soundtrack is thumpin'.

All things considered, Mortal Kombat is way more fun than it has any right to be.

©2010 Alexander Ellerman

I like the idea of Robert Altman more than his actual product. I tried to rewatch MASH a few years back and found its subversion registering as ugly, dated sexism. The ones I'm supposed to love, I merely appreciated. Short Cuts, The Player, Nashville...I'm glad I saw them; would recommend them, but I feel like they're crossed off a bucket list more than anything else. Didn't care a whit about Gosford Park. Didn't bother with Dr. T. Still haven't seen McCabe & Mrs. Miller.

Yet I have seen Popeye more times than I can count.

Altman and screenwriter Jules Pfeiffer base their film on not the classic Max Fleischer cartoons or the crude AAP/Famous library, but the classic Thimble Theatre newspaper strips. As such it's the only comic-book movie that really feels like its source. And that's perhaps why I didn't really get into the film until it hit video, where it could be re-read, as it were. The village and characters of Sweethaven pop out of a dreary Malta coast like 4-color ink on a yellowed newspaper. Little details in the background show up for no reason (count how many times you see the hermit). Altman's famous dialogue-overlap shtick works like word balloons on a page. Shelley Duvall is clearly in the role she was born to play. Robin Williams, who I normally cannot abide on screen, loses himself in the sailor man. From what I understand he was at a personal nadir, but it's one of two roles I've found him remotely believable in.

I can't honestly say Popeye isn't a mess, but paraphrase Olive Oyl, "It's mine," even if the rest of the world insists, like her girlfriends, "you can have it."

©2010 Greg Sorenson

There's a lot to be guilty about Who is Harry Kellerman and Why is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me? here. For one thing, the title. Filmmakers should know that absurdly long titles ending in question marks don't generally attract customers.

In addition, Herb Gardner (A Thousand Clowns) wrote the screenplay, and his humorous philosophy is less profound than he thought it was, a sort of middlebrow laughing-through-your-tears neurotic angst.

The picture stars Dustin Hoffman as a successful pop music composer who feels isolated and spiritually empty, despite (or perhaps because of) his success, and struggles with suicidal impulses, all of which he tries to work out in sessions with his psychiatrist (an over-the-top Jack Warden).

The dialogue is sometimes very funny, sometimesoff the mark, but what I love about the film is its weird, stream-of-consciousness style. Hoffman's character goes in and out of flashbacks and fantasy sequences, and often we're not sure whether a scene is actually happening or not until we get the rug pulled out from under us (again). I'm convinced that the film is trying to replicate the odd and unpredictable experience of getting high. It's a meeting of a light Jewish comedy style with the legacy of 1960s drug culture, a stoner movie shot through a "hip" Hollywood prism.

Shel Silverstein's music is good, and Hoffman doesa scene with Dr. Hook at the Fillmore East shot during an actual show. Barbara Harris, Oscar-nominated for this film (!), brings real soulfulness to a minor role as Hoffman's last-chance love interest. And Warden, who doesn't spring to mind when you think of "zany," really cracks me up here.

The picture was trashed by critics and died at the box office. I can understand why. It is a bit of a mess, and sometimes even bordering on tedious, but I love it as a relic from a moment in time, both in my life and the culture at large.

©2010 Chris Dashiell




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