Tuesday, May 24, 2011

My Top Ten Guilty Pleasure Movies

And now for something completely frivolous. I've been watching and reviewing way too many glum movies lately, trying to sort through the last couple of prestige pictures from 2010 and making myself sit through a batch of Robert Bresson's ponderous religious films. So let's have some fun. Here are my top ten guilty pleasure movies, in no logical order. Logic has no place here.

"Muppet Treasure Island" - I love the Muppets. I love Tim Curry. So when you put them together for a goofy pirate musical, I cannot resist. "Muppet Treasure Island" feels like a "Muppet Show" sketch that has gone on too long, and there isn't nearly enough of Fozzie Bear or Miss Piggy. The topical jokes are bad, none of the new Muppets really work, and there's only a cursory attempt to establish that all-important friendship between Jim Hawkins and Long John Silver. But the songs are catchy, Gonzo and Rizzo keep the energy up, and the sight of a giant Muppet crowd scene is always a thing of joy.

"Legend" - Speaking of Tim Curry, he got to play the horned villain, Darkness, one of the most visually impressive fantasy monsters I've ever seen, in Ridley Scott's epic mess of a fairy tale. The movie is gorgeous, full of great imagery and atmosphere. But the plot? Not so good. Besides Curry, the performances aren't much to write home about either. Yes, a young Tom Cruise does play the hero, but all he does is bum around with a gang of little people for most of the movie. And yet, the fantasy-loving kid in me still goes all gooey at the sight of the unicorns. Does anyone know if the TV edit will ever hit DVD?

"The Golden Child" - An Orientalist fantasy so out of whack with any version Asian culture I know, I feel a little reluctant to admit that I've even seen this one, let alone enjoyed it. Eddie Murphy, however, is worth every minute. He made "Golden Child" when he was at his comedic prime, and he's on fire in every single scene. Every time I see him go into the "my brother Numsy" speech in the Nepalese airport, I crack up. As an added bonus, Victor Wong and James Hong, the ubiquitous Chinese actors who made their careers playing so many wise and/or crazy old Asian men, both appear in this movie. Which brings us to...

"Big Trouble in Little China" - Why isn't the real San Francisco Chinatown this exciting? There is an awful lot of mystical mumbo jumbo dialogue here that makes no sense, and the script is a hopeless muddle, but how could you say no to those outrageous John Carpenter monsters? Or the crazy kung-fu street battles? Or the the fantastically goofy special effects? After all these years what I've really learned to appreciate about "Big Trouble" is the humor. Kurt Russell's Jack Burton never loses his cool, but he can take a pratfall with the best of them. And Victor Wong as Egg Shen gets all the best zingers.

"Robin Hood" - I'm talking about the animated Disney version from the 70s, where Robin Hood is a fox and Little John is a bear. It is considered by many to be one of the worst Disney films, and I can't say disagree. If you're at all familiar with Disney animation, you'll spot bits of animation cribbed from several older films. They even recycle a couple of the same shots in different scenes, and it looks terrible. Yet my brother and I watched this movie endlessly when we were kids, especially after we figured out how to use the VCR. And I still catch myself humming Roger Miller's songs and mimicking Peter Ustinov's wimpy Prince John.

"Joe Versus the Volcano" - Joe, played by Tom Hanks, is told that he has a terminal illness. So he makes a deal to live out the rest of his days in luxury, provided that he hurl himself into a volcano on a certain date. On his subsequent voyage of discovery, Joe encounters three potential love interests who are all played by Meg Ryan. This doesn't really work. Neither do the tribe of island natives lead by Abe Vigoda, or the complete cop-out of the ending. However, I really enjoy the early scenes with Tom Hanks in existential crisis, especially a section of the film where he ends up adrift on the ocean.

"Twilight Zone: The Movie" - Four directors, four remakes of classic "Zones." No question, the John Landis segment is the weakest one. Moreover, the real-life tragedy that occurred during its filming casts a pall over the rest of the film that has never really gone away. George Miller's "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" and Joe Dante's "It's a Good Life" are both wonderfully freaky nightmare fuel. And I actually like Spielberg's "Kick the Can" better than the original, smarmy as it is. Has there ever been a more obvious Magic Negro character than the Scatman Crothers character here? Speaking of Spielberg...

"Hook" - This movie was inescapable during the 90s, billed as Steven Spielberg's return to the fantasy genre. There are some good things in it, namely the flashback sequences, Dustin Hoffman's Hook, Maggie Smith's Granny Wendy, and a John Williams score that is among his best. But then you have the Lost Boys, and the multiple cop-out endings, and that godawful Neverland set design. You want to know what aggressive whimsy looks like? This is it, and it's not pretty. Still, my brain easily skips over the worst parts, and the cheesiness has gotten more amusing with age. Just look at Rufio's hair and try not to laugh.

"Aeon Flux" - Yup, I'm that one fan of the original MTV cartoons who thought that Karyn Kusama's take on the character was actually kinda interesting. It bears almost no resemblance to the "Aeon" created by Peter Chung. Characters were drastically revamped and desexualized, and the dialogue is memorably awful. And for an action picture, there's not much action worth getting excited about. But the visual design of the film is so eye-catching, and there are all these cool little science-fiction concepts and ideas peppered throughout the film that show a lot of potential. Can we reboot and try again?

"Conan the Destroyer" - More humor and less gore meant that this was the "Conan" film that got the most play in my house as a kid. It's nowhere near as good as the original "Conan the Barbarian," but I still think the sequel has gotten a bad rap. This was a lighter, sillier movie by design, where Arnold revealed himself to be a natural comedian as he struggled with more dialogue and a smaller budget. I didn't mind the stunt casting of Wilt Chamberlain, because I had no idea who Wilt Chamberlain was. All I cared was that Grace Jones was cool, Mako was funny, and Conan fought a wizard! And a big monster!

I feel better now. Be on the lookout for my TV guilty pleasures sometime in the future.

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