I’ve taken a slight hiatus from this feature, but I’m back with a couple new lists. As always, please use the Comments section below to share your faves.
For this list, I decided to tackle the concept of the Guilty Pleasure flick. I wouldn’t call any of the movies that made my list a bad movie – in fact, in their own way – they are all pretty damn good, even if the mass market might not see it that way. These are the flicks that you spy while channel surfing and settle right into no matter which scene you’re on. Guilty pleasures seem to be birthed from our favorite genres. For some, it’s the Chick Flick, with Pretty Woman and Dirty Dancing jockeying for top spot, while others may enjoy the action beat, with Commando or Demolition Man duking it out for top honors. For me, my heart is in the B movies. While I am a great devotee of all forms of cinema, B movies get me right in that pleasure spot. I’m sure it’s a proclivity that was formed in my early days weaned on Godzilla flicks and Creature Double Feature.
Anyway, here are my Top 5 Favorite Guilty Pleasures.
5. Tomb Raider
Like some Guilty Pleasures, I actually hated this movie the first time I saw it. Being an avid gamer, I was absolutely enthralled with the Tomb Raider universe, and found Lara Croft to be one of the most fully-formed (no pun intended) characters to come along in a good while – giving Solid Snake a run for his money. When Angelina Jolie was cast in the role, I had high hopes that we would finally get the brand of adventure that only Spielberg and Lucas seemed able to deliver in the Indiana Jones flicks. For my money, we can’t get enough of those, and Tomb Raider seemed primed to deliver. Then I saw the flick and felt under whelmed by its pedestrian mish-mash of Hong Kong wire-fu and secret society thriller conventions (although TR’s Illuminati beat Dan Brown’s Opus Dei to market). The film released, had a decent opening weekend in June of 2001, then quickly faded from the marquee and my memory.
In August 2004, we moved to our new home, where a switch from Cable to DirecTV hooked us up with every flavor of premium channel (did you know that there is actually a channel named Skinemax?). One weekend afternoon, as I had bested The Boss by 956 additional channels with nothing on, I came across Tomb Raider. 102 minutes later, I was dumbstruck. I watched the entire film again and found myself enjoying it.
This became one of those movies where no matter the time of day, it was on, and if I came across it, I was sucked in like a tractor beam. I came to relish such absurdities as the “All Seeing Eye” and Lara being awakened in the middle of the night by a buried Coo-Coo clock (or was it a telltale heart) and truly grooved on the inspired casting of Jolie’s estranged dad, Jon Voight, as Lara’s dead pappy, Lord Richard Croft.
There are some great goony action sequences – including a night-time raid on Lara’s mansion by the Michael Bay Touring Militia and Theater Company – and a script which provides such fantastic groaners as “One Tomb Raider is Good. Two Tomb Raiders are Better.” The fact that Lara is continually referred to as a Tomb Raider just makes me smile. I’ve been checking Monster.com for weeks in hopes of seeing a new TR position posted.
One final post-script, the new James Bond (Daniel Craig) co-stars in this film as Lara’s Belloq.
Of course Michael Bay would make this list. I’d even wager that Michael Bay is the greatest purveyor of Guilty Pleasures the world has ever know. The thing is – his B movies come dressed in pricy duds – with slick special effects, crackerjack actions sequences, and enough zoom cuts and quick edits to bring on a case of temporary epilepsy. Between Bad Boys 1 and 2, The Rock and Pearl Harbor, it’s tough to pick a favorite. Fortunately, Armageddon is on his resume, and for my money, this quaint little tale about NASA’s asinine decision to send a Dirty Dozen of Oil Drillers into outer space to rip an ‘Asteroid the Size of Texas’ a new one, is in the holy quintet of guilty pleasures.
There’s so much to chew on here. There’s Ben Affleck’s romance of Liv Tyler with animal crackers (“Will the great wildebeest head North towards the mountains… or South toward the underbrush?”). There’s Bruce Willis’ over baked Southern drawl. “You’re telling me our government. The Youuuuuu-nited States government…” There’s the Aerosmith Greatest Hits that plays over every training montage (what the hell does Sweet Emotion have to do with test driving the Armadillo?). And of course, Peter Stormare’s crazy cosmonaut. Stormare is like the Euro-trash Christopher Walken – which now that I write that, seems like an oxymoron.
Anyway, if this weren’t guilty pleasure enough, Bay has to go and tug on the heart strings by having Willis’ Harry Stamper sacrifice himself for the good of the world. And as cloying and manipulative as the scene is, with Liv Tyler saying one last goodbye to Daddy, damn’t if it didn’t mist my eyes a bit. Fortunately, we know Liv will be all right as she’s got Affleck’s AJ and his lunch box of animal crackers to support (and feed) her.
3. Hard Target
Hard Target is arguably the best John Claude Van Damme flick ever made. What’s that they say about being the World’s Tallest Midget? The Muscles from Brussels certainly owes mad props to producer Sam Raimi, who is credited with introducing Hollywood to the action stylings of Mr. John Woo through this 1993 action flick.
Although Woo would really get his gun on in 1998’s Face/Off (arguably his best Hollywood flick), Hard Target apes a lot of the conventions Woo defined in his Hong Kong crime flicks. Here was my first taste of the Woo buffet – with generous servings of balletic gun battles, hero and villain dramatic face-offs (which always culminate in the two blasting away at each other mere inches apart) and dizzying camera moves that dart through the carnage with kinetic grace. Oh yeah, and doves… lotsa’ white doves in the damn’dest places.
Target tells the tale of Van Damme’s Chance Boudreaux – a Cajun drifter pressed into service to aid a woman seeking her missing father. Chance takes his investigation from Bourbon Street to the Bayou, stumbling across a secret operation that allows millionaires to hunt The Most Dangerous Game – men.
Target features an embarrassment of riches with Lance Henricksen applying his trademarked gravel-throated menace to the main villain Fouchon, some over-the-top action sequences including Chance standing on a speeding dirt bike on a Louisiana highway in order to get a better shot at an oncoming truck and a final battle royale in a warehouse that apparently manufactures Mardi Gras floats. And then there is Wilford Brimley’s backwoods Uncle Douvee, who in his thick Cajun accident pops in and out of the final battle firing off what appears to be moonshine-tipped explosive arrows while offering up such country colloquialisms as “Here, drink. But do not spill. It kill de grass.”
Plus – this line alone practically guarantees admission to this list.
Natasha: Why’d your parent’s name you Chance?
Chance: Because… my momma’ took one.
2. Big Trouble In Little China
You know, this film could be a serious treatise on the student protest in Tiananmen Square, and it would make this list with a title like that.
Big Trouble in Little China, directed by John Carpenter who has had a few solid genre classics amid a packed resume of B-movie madness, is gonzo filmmaking at it’s finest. The film stars a young Kurt Russell as Jack Burton, heroic truck driver, and Kim Catrall – when she was actually hot and not the plus-sized tranny she morphed into on Sex in the City.
I haven’t the bandwidth to describe the entire plot but it goes something like this. Jack Burton (driver of the 18-Wheeler The Pork Chop Express) accompanies his buddy Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) to pick up his new bride-to-be at the airport. This woman, Miao Yin, is kidnapped because she has green eyes – a feature required by the centuries old David Lo Pan (a demon who rules the underworld beneath San Francisco’s Chinatown) to achieve immortality. Cattrall’s Gracie Law, a nosy reporter, also possess green eyes and is subsequently captured as well, leaving Burton, Chi and a master magician by the name of Egg Shen to lead an assault on the netherworld in a bid to reclaim the women, stop Lo Pan and prevent ‘ancient Chinese secrets’ from being revealed.
Added to this madness is a great character in Jack Burton. Kurt Russell applies his stamp to the action-hero archetype, creating a character that serves as kissing cousin to Bruce Campbell’s Ash. Both guys are so delightfully cocksure in their abilities. As case in point, most of Burton’s lines begin with the third person proclamation: “As Jack Burton always says…”
And then there’s this chestnut.
Jack Burton: “All I know is that this Lo Pan character comes out of thin air in the middle of a goddamn alley while his buddies are flying around on wires cutting everybody to shreds while he just STANDS there waiting for me to drive my truck straight through him with LIGHT coming out of his mouth.”
As Ed Humphries always says, that’s the recipe for guilty pleasure.
1. John Carpenter’s They Live
What’s this say about your career, when two films make the top five guilty pleasures? Carpenter’s flicks may have devolved into a distressing series of diminishing returns over the past few years, but in the 70’s and 80’s he carved some indelible images. While a few of his flicks (Halloween, Escape from New York, The Thing) are genuine classics, They Live falls squarely in the guilty pleasure camp. Like Big Trouble, it’s hard to get someone to watch the film once you’ve offered a plot synopsis.
They Live stars ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper as an unemployed construction worker ambling through Los Angeles looking for gainful employment. He makes his way to a shanty town – where he meets up with Keith David who opens his eyes to a great global conspiracy designed by aliens to lull the populace into sleep. Through the use of special sunglasses, people are able to see the world as it truly exists. For starters, it’s not in color. “They colorized us”, declares David. Billboards, magazine ads and television beam subliminal messages aimed at taming humanity – keeping the masses in line as subdued sheep. A glance at a dollar bill through the gaze of the glasses reveals the message – “This is your God.” Aliens are embedded throughout the government and when Piper wears the glasses – he can see them for who they really are. Piper decides that he is going to throw down and take a battle to the aliens – in a bid to break their hold over humanity by destroying the signal they beam across the Earth encouraging us to “sleep sleep sleep sleep.”
I saw They Live five times in the theater when I was in high school. I can’t explain why. This movie has sequences that are so goofy (including an extended 6 minute brawl between David and Piper where David is trying to get Piper to “put the f’n glasses on”). There was just something about Piper’s awakening that jibed with me. I think I am a sucker for those flicks where a common man discovers the real world is all a façade. It’s a common sci-fi theme that has been explored in works before, most recently Dark City and The Matrix.
Plus, Carpenter is notorious for delivering the ‘un-Hollywood’ ending. Here he lets Piper save the day – but at the cost of his own life. This was one of the first flicks that I saw where the hero kicked it at the end. Years later, I would catch Charlton Heston’s turn in The Omega Man and see that the dark denouement had a pedigree.
Carpenter is working on a very low-budget here and that coupled with the B-movie tone conspires to set him free. The film goes off into some imaginative areas – including Piper’s discovery of a back door space port to Alpha Centauri. Carpenter also wrote the script and penned this nice iconic line for Piper:
Nada: I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick some ass. And I’m all out of bubble-gum.”