Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Guilty Pleasures: The ScottDS Edition

by ScottDS

Wikipedia defines a guilty pleasure as “...something one enjoys and considers pleasurable despite feeling guilty for enjoying it.” At the end of the day, my personal definition of a guilty pleasure, as it relates to films, is: “A movie that, if I mention to a friend that I like it, will elicit a reply to the effect of, ‘Really? That?’” Some of this might have to do with my film school background and we all know film students are only supposed to like little indie films and dark dramas about tortured artists. [sarcasm off]

I like all of these movies. Some I own, others I haven’t seen in years, but the mere thought of them never fails to bring a smile to my face. Away we go...!

Congo (1995) – Based on the Michael Crichton novel and starring Dylan Walsh, a then-unknown Laura Linney, and Ernie Hudson, this film tells the story of an expedition to the Virunga region of the Congo. Linney’s character works for a telecom company and has been sent by her boss to search for a rare diamond but she’s also on a mission to locate her missing fiancé. Meanwhile, Walsh’s character, a primatologist, is attempting to take his sign language protégé gorilla Amy back home. This movie is a blast! It never takes itself too seriously, Tim Curry and Joe Don Baker chew the scenery – Curry plays a Romanian philanthropist; Baker plays Linney’s boss – and the gorilla effects, courtesy of the late Stan Winston, aren’t bad. There’s some downright ridiculous dialogue in the film along with some entertaining cameos from Joe Pantoliano, Delroy Lindo, and Bruce Campbell as the aforementioned fiancé. Whenever this film airs on TV, I know to clear my schedule for a couple of hours. “Stop eating my sesame cake!”

Executive Decision (1996) – Produced by action maestro Joel Silver and directed by former (and current) editor Stuart Baird, this film is probably more relevant now than when it was released. It involves the hijacking of an international flight by Islamic terrorists and the Special Forces team that’s sent to retake the plane. Kurt Russell is David Grant, a think tank expert who doesn’t quite get along with the mission commander, played by Steven Seagal (this conflict comes to a rather abrupt end). This film is fun and, despite the real-world nature of the plot, it’s not dreary or depressing to watch. The characters are likable, the flying effects are near perfect (though some of the model work at the end is a bit shoddy), and I admire any film with the guts to show the lead character learning how to fly in the first act. What do you think will happen at the end? The film does a few things that most films today probably wouldn’t do, including mentioning Islam and Allah by name, as well as crediting Israeli intelligence for their help. “If you screw up, you’ll never know it.”

Dick Tracy (1990) – I remember dressing up like Dick Tracy for Halloween that year (despite not yet having seen the film) and buying the making-of book at the 2nd grade book fair. Warren Beatty directs and stars in this big-screen adaptation of Chester Gould’s comic strip. I saw the film once when I was younger and didn’t appreciate it. I watched it again years later and thought, “This is pretty good!” It’s as much an ode to old Hollywood – complete with dance numbers, stylized matte paintings, and obvious studio backlot locations – as it is a loud 90s-era blockbuster, complete with Oscar-winning make-up effects, a heroic Danny Elfman score, original songs by Stephen Sondheim, and a design aesthetic that uses only seven colors. Beatty acquits himself nicely here, despite looking nothing like the original illustrated character. Glenne Headly is charming as Tracy’s girlfriend, Tess Trueheart. I’m indifferent to Madonna but she’s just fine as nightclub singer Breathless Mahoney. The supporting cast steals the show, starting with an Oscar-nominated Al Pacino as crime boss “Big Boy” Caprice. Add to that Seymour Cassel, Charles Durning, William Forsythe, Paul Sorvino, and cameos by James Caan and Dustin Hoffman, and you have yourself an underrated film that managed to create a comic book world without CGI. “You are not out! When you are dead, then you are out!”

Brain Donors (1992) – Directed by Adam Sandler regular Dennis Dugan, executive produced by the Brothers Zucker, and written by their Naked Gun collaborator Pat Proft, this film is a screwball comedy loosely based on the 1935 Marx Brothers film A Night at the Opera. The jokes and physical gags fly by at a mile a minute and the actors are perfectly cast, including John Turturro in the Groucho role of an ambulance-chasing lawyer, British comedian/filmmaker Mel Smith in the Chico role, and prop comic Bob Nelson in the Harpo role though, unlike Harpo, he gets to talk. Rounding out the cast is the late Nancy Marchand playing the Margaret Dumont dowager role. The story is typical latter-day Marx Brothers, including a young couple in love and sleazy villains who are after the dowager’s money. It’s a shame this film isn’t better known, having bombed miserably at the box-office. It manages to take some great Marx Brothers-style set pieces and mix them with some sexual innuendo that went completely over my (then) 9-year-old head. They throw everything in, including the kitchen sink (really!). “You can have my children. In fact, they’re out in the car if you want them.”

Trapped in Paradise (1996) – Or, as co-star Jon Lovitz refers to it, Trapped in S---. Written and directed by George Gallo (best known for writing Midnight Run), the film tells the story of the Firpo brothers – restaurateur Bill (Nicolas Cage) and his two recidivist brothers just out of prison, Dave and Alvin (Lovitz and Dana Carvey) – who rob a bank on Christmas Eve in the town of Paradise, PA. Due to a snowstorm, they find themselves stranded and treated wonderfully by the townsfolk, including the bank manager and his family. There are some twists at the end and it seems everyone is after these guys, including the feds and a couple of escaped cons that also want the money. The cast includes some familiar faces, including Donald Moffat, the lovely Mädchen Amick, and a hilariously deadpan Richard Jenkins as a harried FBI agent. Dare I say it, this film is something Frank Capra might’ve made 70 years ago. It’s not perfect and the romantic subplot is a bit ham-handed but there are some fun gags and Cage’s mannerisms are in fine form here. It’s also nice to see a well-shot comedy that takes advantage of the widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio. “Four lefts is a circle, you idiot!”

Alien 3 (1992/2004) – I’m biased because I saw the extended “Assembly Cut” on DVD before I saw the theatrical version. To this day, director David Fincher (this was his feature debut) disowns the movie and, despite being approached, refused to have anything to do with the new cut and declined to be interviewed for the 2004 DVD and 2010 Blu-Ray sets. As for the new cut of the film, in a word: wow! I was floored. I’m no sadist but I love the feeling invoked by the first frame: you’re f---ed. The acting is exemplary. While there are some conceptual flaws and character inconsistencies, these guys could’ve made their money by performing the film on stage. I think this is the best looking of the Alien sequels, thanks to the late Alex Thomson’s stark cinematography. Much of the sets (which consist of two colors: rust and gray) were constructed for a previous draft of the script but they add to the foreboding atmosphere with darkness lurking around every corner, large (and lethal) fans, and shafts of light. The visual effects are fine but the rod-puppet aliens are not up to par, despite being state of the art for their time. Elliot Goldenthal’s score is wonderfully melancholic. I should qualify for affirmative action because liking this film (in any version) puts me in a minority. “...we tolerate anybody. Even the intolerable.”

Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999) – This dark comedy, shot in mockumentary format (which wasn’t as common then as it is today), chronicles the contestants in the Sarah Rose Cosmetics Mount Rose American Teen Princess Pageant in the fictional town of Mount Rose, MN. It features some familiar faces, including Kirsten Dunst, Denise Richards, Ellen Barkin, Amy Adams (in her film debut), and Kirstie Alley as Richards’ mother and pageant organizer. (Plus a cameo by Adam West!) The film isn’t nearly as mean-spirited as you’d think but it doesn’t hesitate to poke fun at small-town life and it also has a nice un-PC streak as well. One of the pageant judges is clearly retarded and another might be a sexual predator. One contestant is being raised “Asian American” by adoptive Asian parents who neglect their own Asian daughter. Another is anorexic and needs to be wheeled around in a wheelchair for her talent portion. On a slightly political note, I’m glad no one knows about this movie because, if the media did, we would’ve seen footage from it airing non-stop in late 2008. (Take a guess.) “I’ll be doing a dramatic monologue. Right now, I’m thinking Othello. Or Soylent Green.”

Joe Versus the Volcano (1990) – I think this film is a masterpiece but, considering how well it didn’t do at the box-office, I’m probably alone. Written and directed by John Patrick Shanley (who would later adapt Congo) and starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in their first of three on-screen pairings, this film tells the fairy tale story of Joe Banks, a hypochondriac who is diagnosed with an incurable “brain cloud” and, in exchange for being able to briefly live like a king, is sent to the island of Waponi Wu where he will jump into a volcano, sacrificing himself to appease the gods. Hanks is his usually everyman self, Meg Ryan is hilarious in three separate roles, Dan Hedaya steals the show as Hanks’ dyspeptic boss, and Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, and Ossie Davis all lend solid support (per usual). This film is unique and downright odd at times but it all works, thanks to Shanley’s vision and steady hand at the wheel. I saw this film during a rather unpleasant time in my life and fell for it instantly. If I ever meet Mr. Shanley in person, I owe him a big hug. “Dear God, whose name I do not know… thank-you for my life.”

There’s more, but I’ll spare you. That means my piece on Weekend at Bernie’s will have to wait till next time!

34 comments:

Tennessee Jed said...

Really . . . those?? Seriously, they are as good a list as the next man's. That said, I must admit to having only seen four of them. Congo was a great read, and despite nothing I can readily put my finger on, I never quite felt good about the film. I would also say, I can't feel too guilty about liking Executive Decision. Same with Joe vs. the Volcano.

patti said...

scottds: guest blogger!

here's my dirty little secret: i like just about any film (movie, whatev) that hanks and ryan do together.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Thanks for the article. And if anyone else gets the urge to contribute a guest article, please e-mail me! :-)


More comments to come in a moment.

T-Rav said...

Mmm. I can't really say much, as I've only seen portions of the last two (and maybe Alien 3, if that's the one with Winona Ryder in it). I did like what I saw of Joe Versus the Volcano, if I remember right.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I enjoy Congo too, though I agree it's more of a guilty pleasure than anything else. I think Tim Curry is great and I always like Ernie Hudson.

I'm with Jed on Executive Decision, I don't really see it as a guilty pleasure.

Dick Tracy... I wanted to like this so much, but it just didn't work for me. More than anything, I blame Warren Beatty for being so lifeless.

I like Brain Donors, though it was too close to the Marx Brothers to feel original. Now, Kentucky Fried Movie.... that was something else!

Trapped in Paradise and Drop Dead Gorgeous I haven't seen, though I am interested in DDG now that you mention it.

Alien 3.... yeah. It's funny that we both have different cheesy Alien movies on our lists! LOL! This one was too narrow for my tastes and took itself too seriously.

I'll probably take heat for this, but I actually don't like Joe v. the Volcano and I'm not a big fan of Hanks until he got more serious. There... I said it.

By the way, I've thought of another couple. I never miss Death Race 2000 with David Carradine and Attack of the Killer Tomatoes with a cast of millions.... :-)

ScottDS said...

Jed -

Yes... those! :-) I read Congo the novel years after I saw the film and it was very good but the film definitely has a cheeky tone (for lack of a much better word) that the novel doesn't have.

As for Executive Decision, I had a feeling someone would express a sentiment like yours. The reason I call it a "guilty pleasure" is because I'm not really known for my love of films like this. It isn't exactly well-remembered, nor would I rank it anywhere near something like Die Hard on my list of awesome action movies. But it's definitely entertaining and, like any good action film, there is a certain efficiency on display that is to be admired.

Having said that, as far as hijacking films go, I'll take this over Passenger 57 any day! "Always bet on black!"

ScottDS said...

Patti -

I've actually guest blogged several times before. I wrote a review of a hilarious British news quiz show called Have I Got News For You and a couple years ago (has it been that long?!?!), I wrote a multi-part series on my film school misadventures (which I'll have to update for this site).

I haven't seen Sleepless in Seattle or You've Got Mail - not quite my bag. :-)

ScottDS said...

T-Rav -

Alien: Resurrection is the one with Winona Ryder... you'll have to ask Andrew about it since he's a much bigger fan of that film than I am. ;-)

Alien 3 is the one where Ripley's bald. The DVD/Blu-Ray features a great documentary on everything that went wrong with the movie and I highly recommend watching the extended cut before you watch the theatrical version. (IMDb and Wikipedia both offer decent summaries of all the differences.)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott and T_Rav, You guys should do an Alien 3 showing at the Temple of Doom clubhouse! ;-)

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

You'll be happy to know Christian Toto mentioned this site in his most recent post. Just a generic blurb but, considering I just e-mailed him about it on Saturday, he does fast work!

See my reply to Jed re: Executive Decision.

A friend of mine just recommended Attack of the Killer Tomatoes... I haven't seen that, nor have I seen Death Race 2000. I'll add 'em to the list.

Kentucky Fried Movie is... okay. As you'll soon find out, the DVD commentary is a riot from start to finish. John Landis and Robert K. Weiss also worked on a similar film in the 80s titled Amazon Women on the Moon. It, too, is simply okay.

As for Joe vs. the Volcano, what can I say? It fell through the cracks where it waited for someone like my friend to come along and recommend it to me. And for that, I'm eternally grateful. (Long story.)

(I'm in the Apple Store - no time for italics!)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I just saw that he mentioned us. That's very nice of him! And thanks for e-mailing him.

Tomatoes and Death Race 2000 are truly stupid 1970s movies. Tomatoes is a bit like an early form of the Naked Gun movies, only much more primitive, a heck of a lot cheaper, and really poorly done. But somehow it's just campy enough to be enjoyable.

Death Race takes itself more seriously, but it's still totally campy. And you can't beat Carradine as Frankestein and Stallone as Machine Gun Joe. It's captivating... somehow.

A lot of people do like Volcano and huge numbers of people love Tom Hanks in that time period. I just never took to him for some reason -- at least until he dropped the comedies, then I really began to like him.

T-Rav said...

You call him Dr. ScottDS, Andrew! (Probably not a doctor but it was all I could think of for a comeback.)

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, I had no idea Tomatoes was a student film! That's amazing as they managed to create a true cult classic.

By the way, my favorite line in that one comes from the song the GI is singing, "we gave 'em Alabama and they gave it right back...." LOL!


T-Rav, Dr. ScottDS, I like that! It has a real Dr. Evil ring to it!

Ed said...

Scott, I've seen "Congo" far too much in my life! Lol! I like "Alien 3" too, though I can't tell you why exactly. It's like a video game, but a fun one. It reminds me a lot of a more serious "Doom".

ScottDS said...

Hmmm... Bev's comment seems to have disappeared. I didn't know Tomatoes was a student film either.

Andrew -

Re: Hanks, can I assume you're not a fan of Bachelor Party? :-)

I'm definitely not a doctor! The joke actually took me a few minutes to get.

"Shortcut!"
"Yes, Indy?"
"No, shortCUT!"

ScottDS said...

Ed -

You're the first person to describe Alien 3 as a videogame but I suppose all the Alien films have that first-person shooter quality. Most fans of the Alien films have another word to describe the film: torture. :-)

As for Congo, I always tune in when it airs on TV. I'm hoping it's released on Blu-Ray one of these days.

Ed said...

Scott, I've heard it called a music video because of the way it's shot, though it doesn't have music to it. To me, it's most like a videogame because they get first very close to first person a lot more than in the other films.

ScottDS said...

Ed -

Alien 3 was David Fincher's first film and he got his start doing commercials and music videos, including Madonna's "Vogue" and Aerosmith's "Janie's Got a Gun" among many others.

After making Alien 3, he is reported to have said, "I'd rather get colon cancer than make another movie!" (or words to that effect)

Ed said...

He must have changed his mind because he did some great films after that -- "Seven", "Fight Club" and "The Game", and "Panic Room". "Benjamin Button", "Zodiac" and "Social Network" are all supposed to be good too.

ScottDS said...

Ed -

That's quite an understatement! He obviously did change his mind.

Zodiac is excellent. They did a great job of recreating 1970s San Francisco and Robert Downey Jr. is, as always, excellent. (Though his character disappears for long stretches of time.)

The Social Network is very good and Fincher succeeds in making something as arcane as programming look and sound exciting. Is it Best Picture material? I don't know. But it's damn good though I'm sympathetic to the criticism that it's "cold." Jesse Eisenberg was excellent but I'm partial to him since several people have compared me to his Zombieland character.

I wanted to like Benjamin Button more than I did. I simply liked it but I wanted to love it, ever since the teaser trailer (the one that used Saint-Saëns' "The Aquarium" on the soundtrack) knocked me on my ass. It looks great, the score is great, the aging FX are great... but I don't think Fincher quite hit it out of the park. Definitely worth watching but not the timeless masterpiece it could've/should've been.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I did like Bachelor Party, but I'm not interested in seeing it again. That's the same way I feel about Big, Dragnet, Turner & Hooch and the rest. The first movie of his that I really like rewatching is Apollo 13.


Scott & Ed, I like all those films. Fight Club actually impresses the heck out of me. and I've written about The Game -- which I wish I could forget so that I could see it again fresh.

ScottDS said...

Dragnet could've made this list easily. I think it's a riot and I would've loved to be there during the story meetings:

"Okay, so it's a movie about the intersection of big government, big religion, and big porn. And there's a cult who call themselves P.A.G.A.N.s. And there's a character whose unofficial title is 'The Virgin.' Etc., etc., etc."

It's just one of those silly 80s comedies (like The Money Pit, another one I enjoy) that people still remember. And I wish I could deliver dialogue in Aykroyd's trademark staccato delivery.

Fight Club is actually the one Fincher film I don't enjoy as much as the others. It's impressive and visually stunning but I find it kinda difficult to watch at times.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Strangely, I think Fight Club is a very difficult film to watch, but I still think it's brilliant. I think no other film captures the anger of average males at the modern world right now, and it's brilliantly acted with really well done twists that change the meaning of the film.

To me, all those 80's comedies came up flat and half-hearted. When I look at what they were capable of doing in films like Ghostbusters, Animal House, and a slew of others and then I see these rather plodding comedies that took no chances, I just feel like it wasn't a very good effort. I don't hate these films, I just don't see anything in them that makes me want to go back to them again. By comparison, I can watch Ghostbusters a hundred times a year.

ScottDS said...

What's interesting is that I find many of those flat, half-hearted 80s comedies infinitely more watchable than the flat, half-hearted comedies of today.

I suppose - and this is just an example - if you put, say, The Hangover or Judd Apatow's popular A-list stuff on one end and those god-awful Epic/Date Movie spoofs at the other end, then what's left in the middle? The Dilemma? No Strings Attached? Paul Blart??

I'll take Dragnet over those any day of the week.

Of course, this isn't all rose-tinted glasses. The 80s had its share of crap, too!

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I'd take the 80s films over the comedies of today as well -- and I include Aptow in that. To me, his stuff is just ultra bland and largely depressing -- and I find myself hoping for the characters' deaths.

In fact, when I try to think of the most recent comedy that really held my attention and made me want to watch it again, nothing comes to mind.

ScottDS said...

Speaking of average movies, since I don't have enough material to warrant a second guilty pleasures article (and I think two between us is enough for now!), allow me to list some additional guilty pleasures:

-Commando
-Dragnet (see above)
-Weekend at Bernie's
-Weekend at Bernie's II
-Police Academy 3 (I realize that implying one PA film is better than another one is damning with faint praise but I just enjoy this one... by contrast, the first film has dated horribly)
-Star Trek V (I have a feeling this one will come up again)
-The Stupids (this one is borderline but there is a bizarre internal logic at work in this film and Tom Arnold gets to sing "I'm My Own Grandpa")
-Speed 2 (also borderline but I never thought it was as bad as the critics said it was)
-Ernest Goes to Jail (having grown up watching the adventures of Ernest P. Worrell, this is my favorite of those films)

So... did I lose all your respect or am I simply half-way there? :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Now you're scaring me Scott! LOL!

Commando and Weekend at Bernie's, definitely. Star Trek V, ok, not a problem. I prefer Police Academy I and II. But Speed 2??

ScottDS said...

That's why I said Speed 2 is "borderline." :-) It's not a good movie by any means but I don't think it's an abomination either. And I think Jan de Bont is a perfectly capable action director who should be better known than, say, McG or Brett Ratner. (If anything, he'll be remembered for the first Speed.)

Roger Ebert's review put it best: "I also chortled a few moments later, when the villain pulled out a piece of equipment labeled FIBER OPTIC CONVERTER in letters so large they could be read across the room. Doesn't mean much, but it sure looks good. And I will long treasure a moment when a computer asks Geiger, 'Time to initiate?' and he types in, 'Now.'"

We'll save the Police Academy discussion for another time, faaaaar in the future. :-)

Joel Farnham said...

Interesting list Scott.

I am now watching a series which I feel is a guilty pleasure. Veronica Mars. It is on NetFlix.

Fight Club is both terrifying and pleasing. I see the post-modern angst of young men. I didn't like that the character went all out and became PC and bunny-fuzzy at the end. I would have preferred that he missed and killed the "nice" side of himself instead of the evil side.

ScottDS said...

Thanks, Joel.

Veronica Mars has been on my radar for a while. I hope it stays on Netflix for a long time. The Mars producers later did a show that aired on Starz called Party Down. It only aired for two seasons of 10 episodes each but I'm a fan.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Excellent post, Scott!

I've seen most of these flicks and I liked Congo, Executive Decision and Trapped In Paradise (very funny!).

I only saw saw Joe vs Volcano once and wasn't impressed but I'm willing to give it another go and check out the others.

As for Alien 3, not my favorite Alien flick but I still watch it when it's on (unless Big Trouble In Little China is on). :^)

ScottDS said...

Thanks, Ben!

Alien 3 isn't a favorite for most people. If you still find it worth watching when it's on TV, you should check out the extended cut that was put together in 2003.

I need to see Big Trouble in Little China again. It's been waaaay too long!

tryanmax said...

Scott, doing a little back-reading and I landed on this article. My thoughts:

Congo - Really? That? Sorry, I just had to. But it still surprises me. I love Michael Crichton’s books, but very few of them have adapted to film well. This is not one of them.

Dick Tracy - I am with you all the way on this one. This is another one of those fond drive-in theater memories. I remember being dazzled by the vivid color and makeup effects, frankly, I still am. It’s kind of a spiritual predecessor to Sin City.

Brain Donors - I’ll have to look for this one, having recently become a fan of the Marx Bros. (Thanks to all the new digital sub-channels!)

Alien 3 - Okay, I’m convinced to go find the extended cut. Though you’ve now made me wary of admitting that I didn’t think the theatrical release all that bad. Better than Resurrection by a fair piece.

Drop Dead Gorgeous - Good, simple fun! Though I’m not quite making the late-2008 connection.

ScottDS said...

tryanmax -

Yeah, Congo is my ultimate "When it comes on TV, I need to watch it" movie. I like it a lot and I can't explain it - it's just so goofy and ridiculous at times and doesn't take itself too seriously (or seriously, period).

Brain Donors is worth seeking out. It's very stupid at times but the jokes come at a mile a minute and I think you'll laugh. It's rated PG but there is a LOT of sexual innuendo. I saw it as a kid and I know for a fact some lines went over my head.

Re: Alien 3, I had only seen bits and pieces of the theatrical cut so my first experience with the complete film was, in fact, the extended cut, which you can get on Blu-Ray and 2-disc DVD. It's not perfect and David Fincher declined the opportunity to participate (he has disowned the film) but it's still a fascinating glimpse at what could've been.

Re: Drop Dead Gorgeous, I could see the media using footage of the film in 2008 when discussing Sarah Palin. I mean, you've got beauty pageants, folksy small-town shenanigans, accents... maybe it's just me but when I saw the film last year (it had been years since I'd last seen it), my first reaction was, "I'm surprised no one turned this film into a Palin Internet meme!"

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