The Digital Fix's Guilty Pleasures

Back in 2004 and 2005, when the Digital Fix was still known as DVD Times, we ran a regular feature in which our various contributors selected their favourites from across a spectrum of genres and themes. Horror, science fiction and more - including our choices for best romantic movie in time for Valentine’s Day - were all considered. Now, seven years later, we’ve decided to resurrect the idea and once again offer up a regular selection of films dear to our hearts. Of course, in the intervening years we’ve undergone various changes, from the name to the comings-and-goings of certain writers. Yet the remit remains the same: one theme, a whole variety of differing tastes and opinions which we hope will encourage both a little empathy and a little debate in the comments section. To further the interactivity please do offer up your own suggestions for future pieces - we’ll be happy to consider any that come our way. In the meantime, to kick things off… guilty pleasures.

Les Anderson: Hello Dolly
Gene Kelly, 1969

Gene Kelly's 1969 film version of Jerry Herman's smash hit broadway show is reckoned by some to be the film that killed the Hollywood musical for good. Made on a scale that few would contemplate nowadays it is certainly an exercise in excess. Filmed in Todd-AO and using some of the biggest, most grandiose outdoor and indoor sets ever built populated by 'a cast of thousands' this is, in some respects, the ultimate film musical. At the time of release it had a very mixed reception with many disliking it for its overblown qualities and the 'miscasting' of Barbra Streisand. However it has many things going for it which, in retrospect, now have a certain charm. First and foremost it retained, almost intact, Jerry Herman's indestructible score which was packed with 'good, hummable showtoons' as the man himself put it. Dolly's opening number was completely rewritten for the film and one extra song inserted just for Streisand. Apart from that the score is much as it was performed on Broadway but, of course, with much more opulent arrangements delivered by a very strong cast. The songs in the score have become such standards that two of the lesser-known numbers were resurrected and used to blindingly good effect recently in Wall-E. As for Streisand's mis-casting it's true she was 20 years too young and also the wrong ethnicity. Dolly in the Broadway show was an Irish-American woman who married a Jew. However Streisand's talent and presence and sheer star-power transcend these. The fact she was prepared to perform quite delicate but strenuous dance routines while wearing extremely heavy ornate costumes says a great deal for her professionalism which also allowed her to overcome Walter Matthau's loathing for her. There is no chemistry between them at all but she blows him off the screen anyway and really does carry the film on her delicately exposed shoulders. The Harmonia Gardens is still, I think, one of the greatest film sets ever built for its scale and detail and every corner is packed with people. It puts even Ken Adam's Bond sets to shame. This film was created for the BIG screen and the last time I saw it projected was in the late-80s in London and the print they obtained was very pink, such was the instability of the stock. However I recently saw it broadcast in HD on a big telly and it looked fantastic. I'm looking forward to its eventual release on blu-ray.

Emma Farley: 13 Going on 30
Gary Winick, 2004

When it was first released I was a massive film snob and flat-out refused to see it. My best friend talked me into giving it a go, describing it as a ‘feel-good’ film. Plus with Mark Ruffalo in it, it wouldn't have been too long before I finally saw it. Anyways, despite my usual hatred for most things Jennifer Garner, I really loved it. It reminded me of being younger and wishing I was older when I assumed everything would be easier. Re-watching it reminds me of all that hope and innocence. Plus I love a good dance scene and ass-kicking soundtrack. This cheesy teen flick has two particular scenes (the Thriller dance and the Love Is a Battlefield sleepover scene) that make me smile every time. I also think Judy Greer is under-appreciated as a comedic actress. PLUS, the magazine journo in me loves that the central character works for a women's lifestyle mag and tries to make her title appeal more to ‘normal’ women - something I've always wanted to see from lifestyle mags. To sum it up, it’s a sweet romance and a genuinely feel-good movie. And Mark Ruffalo is rather easy on the eye, which doesn't hurt...

Roger Keen: Basic Instinct
Paul Verhoeven, 1992

Okay, so this is the film that’s famous for the scene where a pantyless Sharon Stone uncrosses her legs in a room full of cops; though you can’t see all that much…even on slow play…but you don’t need me to tell you that. Whatever, the scene is well choreographed - the reaction close-up on Wayne Knight’s face is priceless. And there’s plenty more of Ms Stone’s flesh on display elsewhere, not to mention Jeanne Tripplehorn’s, and a rather unedifying full dorsal nude shot of Michael Douglas. Yes, Paul Verhoeven does ‘steamy’ extremely well, and with the additional elements of sadomasochism and bisexual kinkiness on offer, Basic Instinct has all the ingredients of an exploitative film you feel you shouldn’t be taking seriously.

But then again it has an undeniable quality that’s worth examining, and that for me qualifies it as a guilty pleasure. Joe Eszterhas’ script is a clever piece of hall-of-mirrors construction - a meta-pulp fiction yarn about a trigger-happy cop with an addictive personality who becomes easy prey for the devious mastermind writer/murderess, who wants to turn him into a ‘character’ in her ‘novel’. Playing games with the different ontological levels of ‘fact’ and ‘fiction’ in a film is not an easy act, as evinced by the execrable Stranger than Fiction; but Basic Instinct kind of pulls it off by remaining true to pulp sensibilities whilst keeping up the tension in a series of increasingly fantastical yet strangely plausible convolutions and twists. The characters have an authentic heightened reality and the pairing of Douglas and Stone - in a role turned down by Kim Basinger, Michelle Pfeiffer, Meg Ryan and several others - is casting par excellence.

So there is an argument for a certain depth beyond the sex and violence - a gloss of seriousness on the a priori guilt factor - and with various nods to Hitchcock - in particular the obsessional dreaminess of Vertigo - a ridiculous but entertaining Pacific Heights car chase and an excellent look from cinematographer Jan de Bont, there are other factors to offset the smut element. The 2006 sequel though was a dreadful rehash and a telling indicator of the gulf between good trashy and bad trashy. Sadly, perhaps, it was also an indicator that Sharon Stone is a little bit past her best for going commando.

Mark Lee: Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot
Roger Spottiswoode, 1992

Roger Spottiswoode’s 1992 parental embarrassment-based comedy Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot was, critically at least, an unequivocal and unmitigated disaster. There’s an endless supply of evidence to support this claim, whether it’s the 4% Rotten Tomatoes rating, the three Golden Raspberry awards, or even lead player Stallone’s assertion that it is the worst film he ever made.

Yes, technically and rationally, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot is a film that should barely occupy an atom’s worth of space in anyone’s cerebral infrastructure. It’s vacuous, predictable, and uninspired. So why on Earth would I confess to it being a personal guilty pleasure? Have I no shame?

I’m not sure if it’s because I first caught it at the cinema as a teenager, and it’s somehow become inextricably entangled in the jumble of warm memories I recall from the time (I saw Body of Evidence at the cinema a year later and have no such fond memories of that particular work), but I am fairly certain that it relates to the central ‘cringe’ factor of the movie – a ‘cringe’ which is used again and again as the only real joke in the piece. The cringe in question is ‘Mom’ Getty’s insistence on revealing to all connected (and many unconnected) with Stallone’s tough cop Joe Bomowski that he was a little boy at one time, with all of the vulnerabilities and weaknesses that accompany that period in our lives. As we become adults, we reconstruct ourselves some distance from our childhood selves, and the last thing we want – especially as a tough guy cop – is for anyone to shatter our cover. If comedy is about laughing at others’ misfortune because we’re relieved that it isn’t us, then Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot should be comedy genius. And whilst it’s clearly stratospherically removed from comedy genius, I just can’t deny that I still do find it highly entertaining.

Whether it’s Mom’s insistence on showing all and sundry embarrassing photos of Stallone as a child, her cleaning of his apartment – including ‘washing’ his gun, or a ‘jumper’ who climbs off of a ledge to safety when he sees what Bomowski has to put up with from his mother, you’ll either be laughing at the simple comedy, reaching for the remote control, or pushing sharpened drawing pins into your eyeballs.

I don’t own the DVD, but if Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot is running on TV, I just can’t help myself. It stands for most things in films which I normally cannot stand, but then, aren’t most people drawn to their own personal guilty pleasures by forces they don’t understand and are unable to rationalise?

Anyway, it’s there. I’m ‘out’. I’ve watched Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot on more than one occasion, and what’s worse is that I’ve enjoyed it.

Mom? Shoot me now.

Gavin Midgley: The Mummy
Stephen Sommers, 1999

Some films turn out to be rock solid entertainment when you know perfectly well they shouldn’t, and Stephen Sommers’ remake of The Mummy is one such case for me. I read all the withering reviews when it was first released, and indeed when I saw it at the cinema I came out somewhat disappointed. I think I was hoping for a new Raiders of the Lost Ark, one of my all-time favourites which I pretty much grew up on, but what I got seemed to be a half-arsed knock-off with inferior actors and even worse CGI effects.

Yet strangely I found myself drawn back to it. This probably had something to do with the enticing poster artwork, which promised a rattling old-fashioned adventure tale, a proper Ripping Yarn, with its mixture of Lawrence of Arabia-style sand dunes, crossed with Indiana Jones-style heroics and creepy cursed Egyptian tombs. Maybe that’s why it was the very first DVD I bought (along with The Mask of Zorro in a two for £30 deal from Our Price; how times have changed). And on second viewing the film’s charms became more readily apparent. There were some good bits to be found here: the lush photography and rousing Jerry Goldsmith score certainly helped, as did a cast who knew exactly how to treat the material with just the right amount of tongue in cheek. And Rachel Weisz had never looked lovelier.

But more than this, underneath the Raiders homage and slapstick horror, you can feel a real love of classic Hollywood, especially the matinee adventure serials: the cliffhanger endings, the chiselled hero who thinks with his fists, the beautiful damsel in distress, the comedy sidekicks and goofy jokes, the hammy English acting, the exotic locales, the silly-but-exciting storyline... In some ways it does an even better job than Raiders in this regard. Spielberg’s tribute had the audacity to transcend and improve upon its inspirations to become a genuinely great film; The Mummy has no such pretensions. It is content to be a slice of simple good-looking escapism - what Hollywood always excelled at - and I admire it for being just that. Pity the sequels couldn’t come close to being as much fun.

Anthony Nield: Samurai Cop
Amir Shervan, 1989

The last few years have seen three cast iron additions to the ‘so-bad-it’s-good’ school of filmmaking to rank alongside perennial favourites Manos: The Hands of Fate, Monster-a-Go-Go and Plan 9 from Outer Space. Tommy Wiseau’s The Room has become a genuine cult favourite and deservedly so; it’s a 21st century Glen or Glenda, a deeply personal film wrapped in awfulness that reveals so much about its creator it rewards repeated fascinated viewings. Birdemic: Shock and Terror, on the other hand, is staggeringly inept in every department, so much so it becomes impossible to look away. And then there’s Troll 2, now the subject of its own documentary, Best Worst Movie, although the film itself is little more than the sum of its YouTube-available highlights. Yet such is the shadow cast by this trio that other recent atrocities have found themselves somewhat lost in the mix.

One such atrocity is Amir Shervan’s Samurai Cop from 1989, a film that - to this viewer at least - inspired a childlike awe thanks to its astonishing inability to get anything right. Although, of course, this is exactly why it proves so entertaining. Essentially what we have here is a spin on an ultra-violent buddy-cop movie popularised by Joel Silver during the eighties through Lethal Weapon, its sequels and numerous rip-offs. Indeed the set-up is pretty much interchangeable from any of these more impressively budgeted efforts: two mismatched cops of differing ethnic origin take on a bunch of foreign villains involved in drug smuggling; cue explosions, banter, a bit of martial arts and everything else you would expect. Except having the correct framework doesn’t necessarily translate into having the correct approach…

In place of Mel Gibson, say, we have Matt Hannon, former bodyguard to Sylvester Stallone and a man never to act again - although acting is hardly the correct word under these circumstances. He’s been cast primarily, it would seem, for his mostly thong-ed physique and remarkable mane of hair (one that easily upstages the very impressive collection of mullets on display). He’s also supposed to be something of a charmer and a real hit with the ladies, yet all this reveals is the deep-seated misogyny at the heart of Samurai Cop. It’s here where the guilt comes in as the sexual politics of the film are appalling (women are required solely to disrobe and/or find Hannon irresistible and/or smile happily as he tries to bed someone else in their vicinity), not to mention the hideous racism and one particularly shocking gay stereotype. And yet this is exactly why it remains so gobsmackingly entertaining: every line, every character prompts immense laughter and it’s all topped off some of the worst editing and direction you’ll ever see. Tellingly, you could remake the film word-for-word and shot-for-shot with Will Ferrell and his ‘frat pack’ cohorts and it would be likely be proclaimed a comic masterpiece; Samurai Cop is absolutely perfect in its awfulness.

Ian Sandwell: The Mighty Ducks (aka Champions, The Mighty Ducks Are The Champions)
Stephen Herek, 1992

I often like to think of guilty pleasures not as something that is so intrinsically bad that no-one should watch it and more as the sort of film that has its merits, but that doesn't mean I should still be watching it at my age. Step forward The Mighty Ducks. It was a crowded field but this was the film that I watched most growing up after taping it on video one day (which makes me feel old just saying), and it remains my go-to film whenever I'm hankering for a quick, enjoyable fix.

Why? Well it probably boils down to a conversation my friends and I were having while devouring a Pizza Hut buffet. We were talking about an upcoming party one of our friends was having and reflecting on how nowadays, we'd probably like nothing more than just to go to bed early and have a good night's rest. Basically we're just not as young as we used to be; a point hammered home by the two-day hangover that followed the aforementioned event. And what better way to regress into childhood that watching your favourite childhood film? That I probably shouldn't get so swept up in the climactic Championship game, given that I know Charlie will perfect the Triple Deke and hit the winning goal, is irrelevant and part of what makes it the guiltiest of pleasures. Yes, it's the standard underdogs tale but its sheer spirit and entertainment value mean that only the most hardened, callous soul wouldn't be cheering on the Ducks against the Hawks, or start quacking along as the team defy the Principal and allow Gordon Bombay back into their hearts.

Perhaps I’ve said too much and my affection for the film will forever taint any of my forthcoming reviews. I can hear it now - ‘you can't trust him, he likes The Mighty Ducks ...even the sequels’ (and that last part is unashamedly true) - but give me a choice between a hard-hitting, thought-provoking Oscar winner to watch in my spare time or another trip down memory lane with the Ducks and you know what my answer would be? Quack, quack, quack, quack, quack.

Matt Shingleton: The Happening
M. Night Shyamalan, 2008

Anyone who has had the displeasure to sit through Lady in the Water knows how badly M. Night Shyamalan’s career has jumped the shark, but I don't think anyone was ever prepared for his subsequent foray into feature filmmaking: The Happening, a film so soulless you could almost believe it was created by some alien artificial intelligence. It's not that The Happening is merely a bad film, indeed if it were just as interminably annoying as the monumentally pretentious Lady in the Water then there is no doubt I would not be arguing for it as a guilty pleasure here. It has a genuinely semi-intriguing premise that harks back to science fiction B-movies and TV shows of the 50s, but from that Shyamalan has crafted a film so devoid of all the trappings of a something made by someone who understands how human beings actually interact, that it could very well be the most bizarre ‘thriller’ ever produced in Hollywood.

That makes The Happening perfect car-crash cinema, you sense something is off the moment you see Mark Wahlberg cast as a sensitive science teacher, but when you first see Zooey Deschanel you know that Shyamalan has completely lost the ability to direct or even cast actors effectively. I mean really, how the hell do you make Deschanel appear as charmless as she is here? Lesser filmmakers could shave her hair off, put her in a fat suit and cast her as a violently man-hating lesbian feminist and men would STILL find her adorably kooky, but in The Happening she is just empty: a void with a pretty face. Wahlberg is even worse, the only kind thing you can say about his performance is that it might be the best joke an actor has ever played on a filmmaker, but whereas Deschanel is simply unsettling, Wahlberg has strayed so far from the reservation that he just becomes funnier and funnier as his character's predicament becomes more and more desperate.

You're not supposed to laugh at The Happening, at least I think you aren't, but Shyamalan’s attempts to snowball the plot from brooding menace to apocalyptic pandemonium are genuinely hilarious. Surely it can't be that hard to film a suitably creepy suicide or a shockingly graphic murder? It's hard to express the perverse pleasure you can get from watching a man coax a lion into eating him by simply extending his hand out in a rather limp fashion like he's attempting to hold-hands with the animal, or watching another man start a large field mower and then just flop in front of it, but the pièce de résistance has to be the sequence where a terrified child attempts to force his way into a boarded up house only to take a shotgun blast straight to the face by the crazy inhabitant. That's the moment I decided this film was possibly comedy genius. Don't get me wrong I like kids in film, or real life for that matter, I just think they should be shot in the face more often. In film of course... not in real life.

So although technically The Happening is Shyamalan’s most incompetent film, I can justify it as a Guilty Pleasure like this: If I visited a friend and they suggested putting on Lady in the Water I'll suggest they paint a bedroom and leave me in there to watch it dry. If they suggest watching The Happening instead then I'd be OK with that because I can actually laugh when watching The Happening, which is more than I can say for half the comedies that come out of Hollywood these days...

Mike Sutton: Sudden Impact
Clint Eastwood, 1983

I consider myself a liberal person. In fact I’m extremely liberal, perhaps even anti-establishment, especially when it comes to law and order issues. But just every so often I get the urge to feed the little reactionary demon inside me with a dose of Charlie Bronson, Chuck Norris or, best of all, Clint Eastwood sweeping the scum off the streets without any resort to any of those pesky little human rights issues which usually worry me so much. Dirty Harry is much too ambiguous to be fully satisfying on this level, Magnum Force is hopelessly confused while The Enforcer and The Dead Pool are too incompetent to be enjoyed.

But Sudden Impact is something else again. It’s somewhat shabbily made and too many things about it seem second-hand, from Bradford Dillman's frightfully cross Captain to Lalo Schifrin’s embarrassing synth score. Yet it’s also exciting, packed with action and so extremely right-wing in its implications as to be laughable. As Dirty Harry Callahan wanders somnolently about the West Coast trying to solve a series of murders which seem to have only one suspect - Sondra Locke at her most wooden - he gets to take out his anger on all manner of stereotypes - lesbians, black hoodlums, white street-punk rapists and female judges. In one of the best scenes of all time, he even gets to kill a vicious Mafia boss simply by talking to him. Meanwhile, Pat Hingle gets to ham it up big time as a suspicious country sheriff, the Eastwood regular Albert Popwell turns up in order to indicate that not ALL black people are thugs and Harry hooks up with a flatulent dog called Meathead. It all ends with Harry returning from the grave with a Christ-like halo and the chief bad guy impaled on the horn of a merry-go-round unicorn. It has to be seen to be believed.

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