Guilty Pleasure No. 50: Maid in Manhattan (dir by Wayne Wang)


Whenever I see that the 2002 film, Maid in Manhattan, is going to be playing on HBO or Cinemax, I always think to myself, “I can’t understand why everyone hates on this film.  I mean, it’s not that bad.  It may be predictable and silly but it’s kind of sweet and Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughey have a tame but sexy chemistry.”

Of course, then I watch the film and I discover that Maid in Manhattan is not the film where Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughey fall in love.  That’s The Wedding Planner.  Instead, Maid in Manhattan is the one where Jennifer Lopez is a maid who works in a big fancy hotel and who is a single mother to a precocious child who is obsessed with Richard Nixon.  Maid in Manhattan is also the one where Jennifer Lopez falls in love with Ralph Fiennes.  Fiennes plays a candidate for the U.S. Senate.  Everyone is worried that he’ll never make it to Washington if people discover that his girlfriend is a maid.  I think his bigger problem is that he’s a Republican running for the U.S. Senate in New York.  (At least, I assume he’s a Republican because — as we learn from his conversations with Lopez’s son — he certainly seems to know a lot about and be rather sympathetic to Richard Nixon.)

I still like Maid in Manhattan, though perhaps not as sincerely as I like The Wedding Planner.  Some of that is because Maid in Manhattan takes place during the Christmas season and I love a good wintry romance.  Some of it is because this is probably the only mainstream film to feature people discussing the good points of Richard Nixon.  There’s the fact that Jennifer Lopez is always perfectly cast as someone determined to make something out of her life, regardless of whether or not the world supports her or not.  She’s always had the ability to make steely ambition sympathetic and that’s a good ability to have when you’re playing a maid who is determined to get promoted into management.

Finally, there’s the odd romantic pairing of Ralph Fiennes and Jennifer Lopez.  It’s one of those things that shouldn’t work and yet, strangely, it does.  Fiennes always brings a certain off-center, neurotic energy to his performances, which not only explains why he’s played so many villains but also why it’s strange to see him starring in a romantic comedy.  And yet, that odd energy is exactly what Maid in Manhattan needs.  It keeps the viewer on their toes and it makes the surprising discovery that Fiennes and Lopez have romantic chemistry all the more rewarding.

Don’t get me wrong, of course.  This is a deeply silly movie and there’s a lot of less than sparkling dialogue and the plot falls apart if you even start to think about it.  The entire story revolves around mistaken identity, with Fiennes not realizing that Jennifer Lopez is a maid and …. well, it’s all a bit unnecessarily complicated.  The film also takes Fiennes’s political aspirations a bit too seriously.  It’s not quite as bad the whole thing with Matt Damon running for the Senate in The Adjustment Bureau (“Due to his charming concession speech, he will someday be elected President,” — whatever, Beto) but it gets close.

But, still — I love romance and I love New York and the pairing of Jennifer Lopez and Ralph Fiennes in Maid in Manhattan is just too strange (and oddly effective) for me to resist.

Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings
  28. Swimfan
  29. On the Line
  30. Wolfen
  31. Hail Caesar!
  32. It’s So Cold In The D
  33. In the Mix
  34. Healed By Grace
  35. Valley of the Dolls
  36. The Legend of Billie Jean
  37. Death Wish
  38. Shipping Wars
  39. Ghost Whisperer
  40. Parking Wars
  41. The Dead Are After Me
  42. Harper’s Island
  43. The Resurrection of Gavin Stone
  44. Paranormal State
  45. Utopia
  46. Bar Rescue
  47. The Powers of Matthew Star
  48. Spiker
  49. Heavenly Bodies

(Canadian) Guilty Pleasure No. 49: Heavenly Bodies (dir by Lawrence Dane)


“She’s reaching the top …. with everything she’s got!”

That’s the tag line of the 1984 Canadian film, Heavenly Bodies.  It’s a perfectly vapid tagline for an entertainingly vapid movie.  It was on TCM last night and I just finished watching it.  It takes a lot to get me out of my horror film habit in October but how could I resist a movie about Canadian gym rivalries?

Now, even though this isn’t a horror film, it is a Canadian film from the 80s which means that it features a lot of performers who will be familiar to fans of old school slasher films.  For instance, the film stars Cynthia Dale, who was also in the original My Bloody Valentine.  Cynthia plays Samantha, an administrative assistant who quits her job and opens up her own independent gym, Heavenly Bodies.  Samantha is an aerobic dance instructor, perhaps the best in all of Ontario.  Samantha is also a single mother but there’s no better way to find a lover than to teach him aerobics.

Heavenly Bodies was also directed by a veteran of Canadian exploitation, Lawrence Dane.  Remember Happy Birthday To Me?  He plays the father in that movie.  I’d love to know the story of what led to Lawrence Dane not only directing but apparently also helping to write the script for a movie about an independent health club.  I mean, to go from working with David Cronenberg and winning Genie Awards to directing Heavenly Bodies seems like quite a career trajectory.  As a sidenote, how much more interesting would Heavenly Bodies be if it had been directed David Cronenberg?  I imagine that all the leg cramps would be a bit more graphic.

Samantha is selected to host her own exercise show on Canadian TV and a bigger Canadian gym decides that the only way to deal with this upstart is to destroy Heavenly Bodies by buying out their lease …. or something.  To be honest, I really couldn’t follow half the plot of Heavenly Bodies.  I just know that there was a lot of dancing and lot of exercising and a lot of shots of Samantha walking around Toronto.  The film came out a year after Flashdance and all of the scenes of Samantha walking around the city are basically filmed in exactly the same way as the shots of Jennifer Beals walking around Pittsburgh.  (There’s even a scene where Samantha stands in front of a poster for Flashdance, trying to convince people to join her gym.)  Whereas you kind of admired the way that Jennifer Beals handled herself on the dangerous streets of Pittsburgh, you never really worry about Samantha because …. well, it’s Toronto.  As I watched the film, I started to think about the fact that Canada consistently sends its best actors to the U.S. while those of us in the States consistently send our bad movies up north.  I’m not sure if that’s really a fair trade.

Anyway, the two gyms decide to settle their differences with an exercise marathon that is televised on Canadian TV.  (I’m going to assume that the film takes place in-between hockey seasons.)  Basically, the exercise marathon is one of those things where you have two teams and everyone just keeps exercising until they drop.  The last person standing is the winner and their gym gets …. I don’t know, bragging rights?  I mean, I’m not even how they were able to convince anyone to put an exercise marathon on TV.  I guess it was an 80s thing.

Can you guess who wins the exercise marathon?

Listen, Heavenly Bodies is technically a bad movie but I still like it because there’s a lot of dancing and everyone in the cast is so enthusiastic about whatever it is that they think they’re doing.  There’s something to be said for enthusiasm.  Add to that, the exercise marathon just has to be seen to believed.  This is a film of the 80s and its Canadian to boot so how can it not be a guilty pleasure of sorts?

Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings
  28. Swimfan
  29. On the Line
  30. Wolfen
  31. Hail Caesar!
  32. It’s So Cold In The D
  33. In the Mix
  34. Healed By Grace
  35. Valley of the Dolls
  36. The Legend of Billie Jean
  37. Death Wish
  38. Shipping Wars
  39. Ghost Whisperer
  40. Parking Wars
  41. The Dead Are After Me
  42. Harper’s Island
  43. The Resurrection of Gavin Stone
  44. Paranormal State
  45. Utopia
  46. Bar Rescue
  47. The Powers of Matthew Star
  48. Spiker

 

Guilty Pleasure No. 46: Spiker (dir by Roger Tilton)


The 1985 film, Spiker, is an attempt to make an exciting movie out of the one of the most boring sports in the world, men’s volleyball.  Not only does the film attempt to make volleyball look exciting but it attempts to do it on absolutely no budget.  Anyone who doesn’t appreciate the combination of guts and foolishness necessary to even attempt this is not a real film fan.

Spiker follows a group of college volleyball players as they train to qualify for the Olympics.  Or, at least, that’s what I think is supposed to be going on.  The plot is really difficult to follow, not because it’s complex but just because it’s volleyball and who cares?  We learn that the coach of the team (played by Michael Parks) is a tough taskmaster.  We learn that one of the players needs to get his act together and be more mature.  We learn that another member of the team has a wife who is jealous of all of his volleyball groupies.  Eventually, the team competes in Japan and Poland.  In Japan, the teammate who needs to get his act together gets drunk and wanders around with two prostitutes.  Poland, meanwhile, is represented by a high school gym and four women doing the polka.  One Polish woman asks a member of the team to smuggle out some letters.  Which he does.  Yay.  Exciting.

As I said, there’s a lot of volleyball in Spiker but you’re never really sure if the American team is winning or not.  Unless it’s being played on a beach and everyone’s wearing a skimpy bathing suit, volleyball is a thoroughly uncinematic sport.  I mean, what do you think of when you think about volleyball in the movies?  You think about Carrie White not hitting the ball and then burning down the school.  What you don’t wonder is, “I wonder who was winning when Carrie missed that hit?”

What makes Spiker a pleasure is it’s determination.  The film is truly convinced that it can somehow make volleyball exciting and you have to admire it for being so sure of itself.  It’s kind of like those people who spend night after night in Marfa, waiting for the UFOs to arrive.  They may be crazy but you can’t help but admire their dedication, even while you’re laughing at some of the absolutely atrocious dialogue.

The other thing that makes Spiker a guilty pleasure is the extremely intense and almost unhinged performance of Michael Parks at the volleyball coach.  Parks plays the coach as being tough-as-nails and always in a bad mood.  The film’s best scene features him throwing volleyball after volleyball at a player who has displeased him.  Parks does so with a look of grim determination on his face, the sign of a dedicated method actor giving it his best even in a B-movie that he probably agreed to do because he needed to pay the rent.  What makes Parks’s performance so memorable is that he never really seems angry.  Instead, he just seems to be perpetually annoyed and that makes him all the scarier.  Anger, after all, passes.  Annoyance is forever.

Spiker is a bad film but it’s endlessly watchable precisely because it so misjudged.  You can’t help but find both it and Michael Parks’s performance to be oddly fascinating.

Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings
  28. Swimfan
  29. On the Line
  30. Wolfen
  31. Hail Caesar!
  32. It’s So Cold In The D
  33. In the Mix
  34. Healed By Grace
  35. Valley of the Dolls
  36. The Legend of Billie Jean
  37. Death Wish
  38. Shipping Wars
  39. Ghost Whisperer
  40. Parking Wars
  41. The Dead Are After Me
  42. Harper’s Island
  43. The Resurrection of Gavin Stone
  44. Paranormal State
  45. Utopia
  46. Bar Rescue
  47. The Powers of Matthew Star

Guilty Pleasure No. 47: The Powers of Matthew Star


A few weeks ago, I was looking through the Guide and I noticed that MeTV had apparently started airing a show called The Powers of Matthew Star.

The name immediately intrigued me, though I wasn’t quite sure why.  I think that some of it just had to do with how silly it sounded.  The Powers of Matthew Star.  Of course, someone named Matthew Star would have powers.  But what type of powers?  Since his last name was Star, it would probably be a good guess that they would be extraterrestrial powers and since his first name was Matthew, it stood to reason that he was either an angel or a human-alien hybrid, or perhaps an alien pretending to be a human.

As I pondered just who Matthew Star could be and what his powers were, I suddenly realized the real reason why the title jumped out at me.  I had actually heard of this show before.  Several years ago, while I was reviewing all of the Friday the 13th films for this site, I came across several references to The Powers of Matthew Star.  That was because the show had featured by Amy Steel (who survived Friday the 13th Part II) and Peter Barton (who did not survive Friday the 13th — The Final Chapter).

Because The Powers of Matthew Star airs at four in the morning (Sunday morning, to be exact) I set the DVR to record it.  I’ve now watched a handful of episodes and I like the show, even though I’m still not really sure what’s going on.

As I suspected, Matthew Star (played by Peter Barton) is an alien who is pretending to be a human.  Each episode opens with a narrator explaining how Matthew Star ended up on Earth but I have to admit that I’ve found the narration next to impossible to actually follow.  As far as I can tell, Matthew Star is actually a member of alien royalty but, after his home planet was either conquer or blew up, he had to go to Earth in order to hide out from another alien race that wants to destroy him.  Because he looks like a teenager, Matthew has to go to high school and deal with high school stuff while, at the same time, solving crimes for the government.  As far as his powers are concerned, he can apparently move stuff with his mind but he has to be careful about moving too much because then his cover might get blown and the aliens that are searching for him might destroy Earth.

Matthew’s guardian is Walt Shepherd (Louis Gossett, Jr.), who is a teacher at the high school and who knows about Matthew’s powers.  I think Walt is actually supposed to be another alien, though the episodes I’ve seen have not exactly been clear about this.  Matthew’s best friend is Pam (Amy Steel), who is the editor of the school newspaper.  Matthew has a crush on her but he’s not sure if he can ask her to prom because he’s an alien and he’s got other aliens looking for him.

From what I’ve seen, the show’s a bit silly.  For instance, one episode featured Matthew and Shepherd going to Italy on some sort of top secret government job.  The very next episode featured Matthew using his powers to win a high school football game and it ended with a message about the importance of education.  Despite my love of Italy, I preferred the football game episode to the secret agent episode.  The football game episode was so achingly sincere that it was hard not to enjoy it.

And really, from what I’ve seen, that’s the main appeal of The Powers of Matthew Star.  It’s silly and the plot is difficult to follow but there’s an overwhelming sincerity to the show’s portrayal of Matthew as an alien who just wants to save the Earth, enjoy high school, and work up the courage to ask Pam out on a date.  If I had been alive and like 13 years old in 1982, I would have had such a huge crush on Peter Barton.  Barton is incredibly likable as Matthew Star and he and Amy Steel are a cute couple whenever the show allows them to get together.

Unfortunately, according to Wikipedia, it appears that the whole high school angle of the show was dropped after the first 12 episodes.  (MeTV is only 7 episodes in.)  Starting with the 13th episode, Matthew was no longer a high school student, Amy Steel was no longer on the show, and every episode featured Matthew and Shepherd exclusively using their powers to defeat terrorists and other criminals.  That doesn’t sound like it’ll be as much fun.  I’ll probably stop DVRing the show once that happens.

Until then, though, I’m enjoying the adventures of Matthew Star, alien royalty-turned-high school student!

Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings
  28. Swimfan
  29. On the Line
  30. Wolfen
  31. Hail Caesar!
  32. It’s So Cold In The D
  33. In the Mix
  34. Healed By Grace
  35. Valley of the Dolls
  36. The Legend of Billie Jean
  37. Death Wish
  38. Shipping Wars
  39. Ghost Whisperer
  40. Parking Wars
  41. The Dead Are After Me
  42. Harper’s Island
  43. The Resurrection of Gavin Stone
  44. Paranormal State
  45. Utopia
  46. Bar Rescue

Guilty Pleasure No. 46: Bar Rescue


 

As I write this, I’m watching Bar Rescue on the Paramount Network and I’m trying to figure out why it is that I like this annoying show.

Bar Rescue, of course, is one of those shows where a jackass goes into a failing business — in this case, a bar — and basically screams at everyone for an hour until the bar starts making money.  It stars Jon Taffer, who has all of the charm of a low-level gangster who desperately needs to make his quota for the week or else the capo is going to break his thumbs.  The main them of each episode is that Taffer takes “bar science” very seriously and apparently cannot fathom a world where anyone tries to do anything different or quirky with their business.

If you search the internet, you’ll find all sorts of stories about the bars that Taffer “saved.”  A good deal of them went out of business after Taffer gave them their makeover.  Several of them immediately went back to the way they were running things pre-Bar Rescue.  Some of those bars have survived and some of them have not.  Taffer always makes a big deal about renaming almost every bar that he saves.  It’s rare that anyone sticks with Taffer’s new name.

I have to admit that I rarely drink so I’ve never really cared that much about bars.  In fact, it’s kind of hard for me to imagine anyone caring about the decor of the place where they’re getting drunk.  That may be one reason why I always find it oddly compelling to listen to Taffer rant and rave, as if designing the perfect bar is somehow the same thing as restoring the Sistine Chapel.  Whenever Taffer brings in his bar experts, I find myself smirking a little bit because Taffer’s experts are usually just people who are obviously angling for a show of their own.  The “experts” tend to be so condescending that I actually look forward to people talking back to them.

Speaking of people talking back, another reason that I watch Bar Rescue is because there’s always a chance that someone might throw a punch at Jon Taffer.  Seriously, he’s just obnoxious!  It’s interesting to compare him to someone like Gordon Ramsay, who is just as loud and overbearing but who also somehow remains likable through the whole ordeal.  Taffer just comes across as being a bully.

(What’s funny is that, while I was researching the bars that the show previous rescued, I came across several comments from people who worked at those bars.  Most of them said that Taffer was actually very polite and rather affable off-camera.  He plays a bully for the ratings and …. well, Hell, I’m watching so I guess it’s working.)

Watching the show in the age of Coronavirus, Bar Rescue almost feels like an artifact from a different age.  Today, I watch it and I notice the huge crowds of people, all pressed up against each other in the bar.  I notice all of the hand-shaking.  (Taffer almost always shakes the bar owner’s hand at the end of each episode.)  Just the fact that the show features a different bar every week makes Bar Rescue feel like something you might find in a time capsule.

Like I said, I don’t usually drink.  But, as soon as all this is over, I’m going out and getting so drunk.  (Well, buzzed.  Actually, I’ll probably just go out and have a glass of water while everyone else gets drunk.  But still, I’m going out, dammit!)  Until then, I guess I can just watch Bar Rescue….

Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings
  28. Swimfan
  29. On the Line
  30. Wolfen
  31. Hail Caesar!
  32. It’s So Cold In The D
  33. In the Mix
  34. Healed By Grace
  35. Valley of the Dolls
  36. The Legend of Billie Jean
  37. Death Wish
  38. Shipping Wars
  39. Ghost Whisperer
  40. Parking Wars
  41. The Dead Are After Me
  42. Harper’s Island
  43. The Resurrection of Gavin Stone
  44. Paranormal State
  45. Utopia

Guilty Pleasure No. 45: Utopia


Utopia ended on a Halloween.

Now, I’m not talking about utopia as a concept.  I imagine that there are still people out there who think that the idea of creating a utopia is a a viable one.  (I’m not one of those people but that’s mostly because I think living in a perfect world would be hella dull.)  Instead, I’m talking about a reality television show that premiered in September of 2014 and which was canceled one month later.

Though it’s pretty much forgotten today, Utopia was a pretty big deal in the months leading up to its first episode.  It’s estimated that Fox spent 50 million dollars to develop and promote the show.  Not only would Utopia air twice a week but, much in the style of Big Brother, audiences would be able to watch the show’s participants interact live online.  The commercials, which were inescapable that summer, explained that 12 people with radically different philosophies would be expected to come together and form a new society on a California farm.  An atheist would live with a minister!  A libertarian would have to work with a socialist!  An attorney would have to find common ground with an ex-con!  A huntress would eat at the same table as a vegetarian!  The show was an experiment that would last an entire year and it would answer the question: Can different people come together to start a brave new world?

I have to admit that I was kind of excited for the show.  Utopia started just as the 16th season of Big Brother came to an end.  That season was one of the worst in the history of Big Brother, largely as the result of the show’s producers putting the insufferable Frankie Grande in the House and then trying to rig the show in his favor.  After a terrible season of Big Brother, I was actually had hope that maybe Utopia would be everything that Big Brother had ceased being.

Of course, I was wrong.  From the first episode of Utopia, it became obvious that we would never learn whether people could come together to start a brave new world because, for the most part, no one on the show was interested in doing that.  There was a lot of drinking, of course.  There was also an entire episode devoted to one of the Utopians, a pastor, worrying that he would lust in his heart for the female Utopians unless they started wearing more clothes.  For two episodes, a redneck named Red announced that he wanted to start his own society in the woods but eventually he changed his mind.  The Utopians lived on a farm but only doomsday prepper Bella seemed to have any farming experience and, as quickly became obvious in her case, having experience doesn’t necessarily mean that you know what you’re doing.

It was a weird show.  I’m assuming that Fox thought that there would be instant conflict if they put a libertarian and a socialist together but, for the most part, no one on the show ever discussed their differing philosophies.  In fact, it was hard to see that any of them had any philosophy as all.  Hex was regularly described as being a “huntress,” despite the fact that we never saw her hunt.  Rob was described as being a libertarian but we never actually saw him discuss what that meant and he acted like just as much of a petty authoritarian as the other members of the cast.  The show tried to create the appearance of conflict but, like most Americans outside of Twitter, the cast dealt with their differences by not really discussing them.  So, as a result, we ended up with entire episodes devoted to doomsday prepper Bella getting upset because veterinary assistant Bri wanted to have some say in how the farm animals were fed.

The one thing that kept all of this from being unbearable dull was that the show’s perpetually optimistic host, Dan Piraro, described every minor event in breathless detail.  When one of the Utopians got too drunk and acted like an ass, he was put on a trial.  The end result of the trial?  Everyone asked him to please not get drunk and act like an ass again.  “And so the Utopians have created a legal system!” Piraro exclaimed.

As the show progressed, the Utopians started to get bored.  Some of them voluntarily left Utopia, largely because they just wanted to find something better to do with their time.  After the show’s producers tried to turn attorney Mike Quinn into the star of the show and centered a few episodes around his relationship with “polyamorous Dedeker,” he abruptly left.  (“And so Mike leaves Utopia….”)  Whenever an old Utopian left, two prospective new ones would be brought in and would explain why they should be selected to live in Utopia but the new Utopians soon proved themselves to be just as boring as the old ones.  The Utopians attempted to raise money for food by opening up their farm to the general public.  Huntress Hex gave hunting lessons and revealed that she wasn’t really sure how to use a bow and arrow.  One of the new arrivals attempted to create a website for the farm, just to have the site besieged by online trolls.  Ratings crashed and the show soon went from airing twice a week to only airing on Fridays.

And yet, the worse the show got, the more fascinating it became.  Utopia offered audiences the opportunity to watch a month-long train wreck as it unfolded.  It was so bad that you couldn’t look away and each attempt by Fox to somehow spice up the show only made it more of a disaster.  I would watch each episode just to see how much more pointless the show could become.

The final episode aired on Halloween and it featured the host wearing a cape and, if I remember correctly, plastic fangs at one point.  By this point, Fox had changed the show’s concept.  Now, the viewers would vote each week on who they wanted to banish from Utopia.  (“But I’m an atheist!” Hex wailed, “America’s going to hate me!”)  Or, at least, that’s what the show’s producers said was going to happen.  Instead, Utopia was canceled before America ever got a chance to vote.

Interestingly, the only people shocked by Utopia‘s cancellation were the people living on the farm.  Apparently, the day after Halloween started out normally for them and for whoever might have been watching them on the live feeds.  Sometime in the afternoon, the feeds abruptly went down and never came back up.  From what I’ve read, the Utopians were called into a meeting and told that they were going home immediately.

Utopia has never been tried again but I fondly remember watching it.  The Utopians failed to create a brave new world but they kept me amused for 12 episodes.

Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings
  28. Swimfan
  29. On the Line
  30. Wolfen
  31. Hail Caesar!
  32. It’s So Cold In The D
  33. In the Mix
  34. Healed By Grace
  35. Valley of the Dolls
  36. The Legend of Billie Jean
  37. Death Wish
  38. Shipping Wars
  39. Ghost Whisperer
  40. Parking Wars
  41. The Dead Are After Me
  42. Harper’s Island
  43. The Resurrection of Gavin Stone
  44. Paranormal State

Guilty Pleasure No. 44: Paranormal State


“We are students…..we are seekers…..and sometimes we are warriors. And each time we help someone, I feel like I’m one step closer to finding the truth…”

The words opened up all 86 episodes of Paranormal State, a “reality” show that ran on A&E from 2007 to 2011.  They were delivered by Ryan Buell, who was the head of the Pennsylvania State University Paranormal Research Society.  Buell also narrated every episode of Paranormal State and perhaps the most memorable thing about the show was the strangely robotic sound of his narration.  Buell delivered his lines in a memorably flat monotone, one that rarely betrayed a hint of emotion while talking about the spirits that the Team supposedly dealt with in each and every episode.  Even when Buell talked about the demon that had supposedly been stalking him since childhood, he did so with all the emotion of Alexa confirming a grocery list.

Paranormal State was one of those shows where people would around in a dark house with an infrared camera while randomly saying stuff like, “Did you feel that?  I felt a suddenly cold wind in this room.  You’ll just have to take my word for it.”  Occasionally, a light would get knocked over or a door would close on its own.  Along with asking each other if they had felt anything, the members of the Paranormal Research Society were also fond of asking, “Did you hear that?” and “Oh my God, did you just see that?”  I always liked it when they would review the film in slow-motion and point at a barely visible smudge on the image and say, “There it is.  There’s the spirit.”  Ultimately, it would usually lead to a medium being called in and wandering around the house and going, “It’s time for you to move on, spirit.  Whisper something if you’re here.  Oh my God, did you hear that?”

It was all pretty obviously staged and kind of dumb but I still enjoyed the show because I liked the idea of a bunch of college students skipping class so that they could spend the night in a deserted barn while waiting for the ghost of a angry farmer to push over a pitchfork or something.  I mean, if my college had given credit for ghost hunting, I totally would have done it!  The show may have been fake but it was fun to pretend that it was real.

After the show ended, Ryan Buell had his personal difficulties, which I’m not going to dwell on.  As for the show, it actually lives on.  I recently came across reruns on the FYI network and I’ve lost track of the number of people I’ve met who, like me, can recite that opening narration by heart.  Seriously, it just gets in your head.

Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings
  28. Swimfan
  29. On the Line
  30. Wolfen
  31. Hail Caesar!
  32. It’s So Cold In The D
  33. In the Mix
  34. Healed By Grace
  35. Valley of the Dolls
  36. The Legend of Billie Jean
  37. Death Wish
  38. Shipping Wars
  39. Ghost Whisperer
  40. Parking Wars
  41. The Dead Are After Me
  42. Harper’s Island
  43. The Resurrection of Gavin Stone

Guilty Pleasure No. 43: The Resurrection of Gavin Stone (dir by Dallas Jenkins)


Well, we’re halfway through October and the annual Shattered Lens Horrorthon and what better time than now to review a …. faith-based comedy about an irresponsible actor who pretends to be a Christian so that he can star in a megachurch’s Easter play?

Embrace the unexpected!

The 2017 film, The Resurrection of Gavin Stone, tells the story of Gavin Stone (Brett Dalton), a former child star who is now better known for his stints in rehab than for his acting.  After a trip to his hometown ends with Gavin getting arrested for public intoxication and apparently firing a catapult off the top of his hotel, Gavin is sentenced to do community service.  He has to live with his estranged father (Neil Flynn) and he can’t leave Ohio until he’s completed his hours.  What about Gavin’s career back in California?  What career?

Anyway, Gavin ends up doing his community service at the local Protestant megachurch.  The well-meaning pastor (D.B. Sweeney) suggests that Gavin just do maintenance work until his hours are up.  Gavin would rather try out for the lead role in the church’s annual Easter play, both because he wants to act and because he has a crush on the play’s director (Anjelah Johnson-Reyes), who just happens to be the pastor’s daughter.

“Well, the play is a part of our ministry,” the pastor explains, “so we do ask that everyone involved be a Christian.”

“I am a Christian!” Gavin announces, even though he’s totally not.

Naturally, Gavin gets cast in the role of Jesus.  Along with learning about his role, Gavin spends rehearsals shaking up the church’s somewhat stodgy play and, slowly but surely, becoming a better human being.  However, when Gavin is suddenly offered a role on a television series, he must decided whether to do what’s best for the play or what’s best for his career.  You can probably already guess what’s going to happen.

Obviously, a lot of people are going to be turned off by the film’s Christian origins but The Resurrection of Gavin Stone is actually a surprisingly sweet movie and, compared to most faith-based films, it’s not particularly heavy-handed.  Unlike a lot of Christian films, Gavin Stone actually has a sense of humor about itself and it’s hard not smile a bit when Gavin, after spending a night with Google, shows up for church on Sunday with a Jesus fish on his bumper and loudly greeting everyone with “Blessings!”  Brett Dalton (who we all know as Grant Ward on Agents of SHIELD) is sincere and likable in the lead role.  Anjelah Johnson-Reyes is stuck with the underwritten stock role of being the preacher’s daughter who loosens up over the course of the movie but she actually does a pretty good job of bringing some spark to the character.

The Resurrection of Gavin Stone has its flaws, of course.  There’s a few times that the dialogue gets a bit clunky and you never quite buy the film’s positive conclusion.  But what this film’s does very well is that it captures the excitement of being a part of a production.  The best parts of the film are the ones that just focus on the characters rehearsing.  Anyone who has ever been involved with a community theater will be able to relate and it’s kind of fun to watch everyone progress from stiffly reading from the script to delivering their lines like fully committed amateur thespians.  The Resurrection of Gavin Stone is at its best when it celebrates the joy of performing.

Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings
  28. Swimfan
  29. On the Line
  30. Wolfen
  31. Hail Caesar!
  32. It’s So Cold In The D
  33. In the Mix
  34. Healed By Grace
  35. Valley of the Dolls
  36. The Legend of Billie Jean
  37. Death Wish
  38. Shipping Wars
  39. Ghost Whisperer
  40. Parking Wars
  41. The Dead Are After Me
  42. Harper’s Island

Guilty Pleasure No. 42: Harper’s Island


Oh my God, do you remember Harper’s Island!?

Way before The Walking Dead and American Horror Story made death and gore safe for mass consumption, Harper’s Island was the scariest show on television.  I have to admit that, when I first heard about the show, I wasn’t expecting it to be.  Way back in 2009, whenever the commercials for the show would air and that little girl would go, “One by one,” I would roll my eyes so hard that I once nearly gave myself a concussion.

“Really?” I would say, “A slasher television show where at least one person dies every week?  And it’s going to be on network TV?  There’s no way this is going to be bloody or scary enough to be worth watching.”

However, I did watch the first episode because I figured that I could at least be snarky about it on twitter.  (I had joined just a few months before the show premiered.  Harper’s Island was the first show that I ever live tweeted, even though I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as “live tweeting” way back then.)  The episode opened with a man tied to the propeller of a boat, screaming as the engine started.  The episode ended with Uncle Marty (played by special guest star Harry Hamlin) getting chopped in half by an unseen assailant.

“AGCK!” I said.

I was hooked from that episode on.

 

Believe it or not, Harper’s Island wasn’t just killings.  It actually did tell a story, about a young woman named Abby (played by Elaine Cassidy) who returns to her childhood home, on Harper’s Island, for her best friend’s wedding.  Many years ago, Abby’s mother was among those who was killed by a serial killer named John Wakefield.  From the minute that Abby arrives, she feels that something bad is going to happen and it turns out that she’s right.

Of course, Abby’s not the only one on the island.  There’s the other members of the wedding party.  There’s the island’s inhabitants, the fishermen and the deputies and the cafe owner and the local reverend whose destined to lose his head in the woods.  They’ve all got their quirks and subplots.  Boisterous Malcolm (Chris Gauthier) is in desperate need of money.  Local fisherman Jimmy (C.J. Thomason) is still in love with Abby.  The groom, Henry (Christopher Gorham), has issues from his past that he needs to deal with.  Some of them are likable.  Some of them are annoying.  Some of them, like spoiled Chloe (Cameron Richardson), are meant to be annoying but become likable as the series progresses.

And, in the end, none of their hopes and dreams really mattered because, by the end of the show, everyone was pretty much dead.  The ads for Harper’s Island promised a bloodbath and that’s what the show delivered.  It wasn’t just that at least one person died per week.  It was also that they usually died in the most macabre and disturbing ways possible.  This was the type of the show where the most likable groomsman ended up getting chopped into pieces and then tossed into an incinerator.  Another wedding guest chose to drown herself rather than be attacked by the killer.  Sometimes, the killers didn’t even have to be around for someone to get killed.  Who can forget poor Booth (played by Sean Rogerson), accidentally shooting himself in the leg and bleeding out while America watched?

And yes, you did watch every week because you wanted to see who would be the next to die.  (That’s where the guilty part of the pleasure comes in.)  But you also watched because the show was produced and directed so well.  The island was a wonderfully atmospheric location and the cast really committed themselves to bringing the show’s morbid reality to life.  At the time, it was the darkest show on television and it could have been even darker because, originally, the plan was for the killer to get away with it.  In the end, karma caught up with the killer but not before we were all traumatized upon discovering just who was responsible.  Harper’s Island‘s mystery was as intriguing as its deaths were bloody.

Being ahead of its time, Harper’s Island struggled in the ratings and it was never a big hit with critics.  But, with the help of Netflix and the the occasional marathon on SyFy, Harper’s Island‘s reputation has improved and grown over the years.  Looking back, it’s easy to see that Harper’s Island was not only the forerunner to American Horror Story but it was also a far better series.  American Horror Story tends to condescend to the horror, keeping the genre at arm’s length through misdirected pretension.  It’s a show for people who think that they’re too good for horror.  Harper’s Island, on the other hand, fully embraced both the horror and the melodrama and it did so without apology.

Seriously, what Halloween is complete without a trip to Harper’s Island?

Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings
  28. Swimfan
  29. On the Line
  30. Wolfen
  31. Hail Caesar!
  32. It’s So Cold In The D
  33. In the Mix
  34. Healed By Grace
  35. Valley of the Dolls
  36. The Legend of Billie Jean
  37. Death Wish
  38. Shipping Wars
  39. Ghost Whisperer
  40. Parking Wars
  41. The Dead Are After Me

Guilty Pleasure No. 41: The Dead Are After Me (Raiders of the Living Dead), performed by George Edward Ott


If you watched Raiders of the Living Dead earlier today, you heard this theme song:

The dead are after me….

We are the Raiders of the Living Dead….

Seriously, how can you not love that!?  Yes, the song is totally mid-80s and it’s kind of silly but it’s also kind of perfect.  Certainly, it’s the best thing about the film and the song has even gone on to achieve a life outside of the movie that it was written for.  There are bands that regularly cover this song.  It’s a permanent part of my Halloween playlist.

Seriously, you can ask my friends and they’ll tell you that, every October, they’re forced to listen to me sing this song in my off-key way.  The deeeeeeeead are afterrrrrr meeeeee….

Many sites incorrectly refer to this song as being called, like the movie in which it appeared, “Raiders of the Living Dead.”  The actual title is The Dead Are After Me.  It was written and performed by a musician named George Edward Ott.  I did some research and I came across some comments that Ott left on another site, in which he discussed how this song came into existence.  From Morgan on Media:

In 1986, after viewing early outtakes of the film with Sam Sherman and Tim Ferrante, I went home and wrote the song in about 15 minutes. Cheesy song for a cheesy movie! 

Yes, it is a cheesy song but it’s also rather brilliant in a cheerful, no apologies sort of way.  Just try to get out of your head.

Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings
  28. Swimfan
  29. On the Line
  30. Wolfen
  31. Hail Caesar!
  32. It’s So Cold In The D
  33. In the Mix
  34. Healed By Grace
  35. Valley of the Dolls
  36. The Legend of Billie Jean
  37. Death Wish
  38. Shipping Wars
  39. Ghost Whisperer
  40. Parking Wars