Guilty Pleasure No. 32: It’s So Cold In The D by T-Baby (a.k.a. My Excuse For Not Getting More Accomplished Today)


I’m supposed to be writing right now but I can’t get this damn song out of my head…

Oh well — I’m going to try to get something of value written and posted tonight, even if I do have an 8 year-old meme stuck in my head…

WISH ME LUCK!

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!

Guilty Pleasure No. 31: Hail, Caesar! (dir by the Coen Brothers)


Sometimes, I wonder if I was the only filmgoer who actually enjoyed Hail, Caesar! when it was released in February.

Oh, don’t met wrong.  I know that I’m being a bit overdramatic when I say that.  It got some good reviews from the critics, though the praise was rather muted when compared to the reviews that traditionally greet the latest film from the Coen Brothers.  I know more than a few people who have agreed with me that Hail, Caesar! was an entertaining lark of a film.

But I know a lot more people who absolutely hated Hail, Caesar!  Of course, no film is going to please everyone and the Coen Brothers have always had a tendency to attempt to deliberately alienate their audience.  But what has always struck me is the fact that the people who disliked Hail, Caesar seem to really, really dislike it.  Talk to them and you get the feeling that they view Hail, Caesar as almost being some sort of a crime against both humanity and cinema.

Taking place in a stylized Hollywood in 1951, Hail, Caesar! tells the story of Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin).  Eddie is a shadowy figure.  As head of production at Capitol Pictures, Eddie’s job is to keep the “bad” behavior of the stars from getting out into the press.  (The press is represented by Tilda Swinton who, in a typical Coen Brothers twist, plays twin sisters who are rival gossip columnists.  If the thought of that makes you smile, you are potentially a part of the right audience for Hail Caesar.  If it makes you roll your eyes, you should probably avoid the film.)  Eddie is the most powerful man in Hollywood and he will do anything to protect the image of the American film industry.  He will lie.  He will cheat.  He will threaten.  He is so ruthless and so good at his job that even Lockheed Martin is trying to hire him away from Capitol.  And yet, at the same time, Eddie is also a family man and a Catholic who is so devout that he goes to confession on a nearly hourly basis.

(For all you non-Catholics out there, Pope Francis only goes to confession twice a month.)

Hail, Caesar! follows Eddie as he deals with a series of potential problems.  Temperamental director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) is upset because he’s been forced to cast Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich, giving the film’s best performance), a good-natured but inarticulate cowboy star, in his sophisticated comedy.  Synchronized swimmer DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansoon) is not only pregnant but unmarried as well!  (It’s the 50s, remember.)

However, the biggest crisis is that Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) has vanished from the set of his latest film. A mysterious group known as The Future has taken credit for kidnapping him.  It’s not really much of a spoiler to reveal that The Future is a cell of communist scriptwriters and they are determined to convert the rather dumb Baird to the struggle.  As opposed to most films about Hollywood in the 50s, the communist screenwriters are portrayed as being a bunch of self-righteous and rather cowardly nags, the majority of whom spend more time debating minutiae than actually trying to the overthrow capitalism.  In many ways, Hail, Caesar is the anti-Trumbo.

As you might guess from the plot description, there’s a lot going on in Hail, Caesar but none of it really adds up too much.  Nor is it supposed to.  We’re encouraged to laugh at these frantic characters, as opposed to sympathize with them.  Eddie Mannix and Hobie Doyle both emerge as heroes because they’re the only characters who remain calm and confident, regardless of what strangeness is happening onscreen.  Eddie may be ruthless, the film tells us, but at least he gets results.  Hobie may not be the smartest or most talented guy in Hollywood, we are told, but at least he doesn’t pretend to be anything other than who he is.

Hail, Caesar! is a bit of a lark, a celebration of style over substance.  As far as Coen Brother films go, Hail, Caesar has more in common with Burn After Reading than No Country For Old Men.  The film is largely an inside joke aimed at people who know the history of Hollywood, which is perhaps why some viewers reacted so negatively.  Inside jokes are fun when you’re in on the joke.  When you’re not in on it, though, they’re just annoying.

As for me, I thoroughly enjoyed Hail, Caesar!  It may not be the Coens at their best but it’s a lot of fun and it appealed me as both a history nerd and a lover of old movies.  The best parts of Hail, Caesar! are the scenes that parody the largely forgotten, big-budget studio productions of the 1950s.  This is the rare film that acknowledges that not every film made before the 1960s was a masterpiece.  The Coens love movies but that doesn’t keep them from getting a little bit snarky.  For example, check out this production number featuring Channing Tatum:

Is Hail, Caesar self-indulgent?

Yes.

Is it largely an inside joke?

Yes.

Did I absolutely adore it?

You better believe I did.

Hail,_Caesar!_Teaser_poster

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

Guilty Pleasure No. 30: Wolfen (dir. by Michael Wadleigh)


Wolfen_1981A guilty pleasure is a film that we might enjoy, but isn’t as loved by others overall. It’s the kind of film that you can watch on any given day, but to speak of it may cause raised eyebrows among your peers. Everyone has at least one film or two that they treasure in this way.

My Guilty Pleasure pick is 1981’s Wolfen, directed by Michael Wadleigh. Loosely based off the novel by Whitley Strieber, the film focuses on two homicide investigators who learn that the case they’re working may actually be caused by animal attacks. Often mistaken as a werewolf film, I really wouldn’t group Wolfen into that category. It’s supernatural in some ways, yes, but you won’t find any serious werewolf activity in it. Surprisingly enough, Wolfen was released in the theatre just a few months after Joe Dante’s The Howling. This makes me wonder how audiences took to Wolfen after seeing all of the make-up effects in Dante’s work. From an effects standpoint, Wolfen’s big claim to fame is the negative photography used to showcase the animals’ point of view. I can’t imagine it was incredibly amazing when comparing the two, but on it’s own, it’s not bad. It’s one of the few movies I’d like to see get a remake, if only to have the story match Strieber’s book better.

When a millionaire land developer and his wife are found brutally murdered in Battery Park, Detective Dewey Wilson is brought on to investigate. Albert Finney (Miller’s Crossing, The Bourne Ultimatum, Skyfall) easily carries the film as Wilson, feeling a lot like the owner of your favorite corner deli. Wilson’s detective work is subtle in the film, and Finney plays to that with a relaxed alertness. He comes across as calm, questioning, but you get the sense that if it came to blows, he’d be ready to react. I suppose most detectives are that way. When the murder is believed to be a possible terrorist attack, a Security Agency brings in a psychological expert named Rebecca Neff, played by Diane Venora (Heat, William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet). Wolfen was Venora’s first film and she’s good in this, though the screenplay is written in a way where it’s more Dewey’s tale to tell. The book did Neff’s character more justice than the movie, overall. Rounding out the casting is Gregory Hines (Running Scared, The Cotton Club – also with Venora) as a forensics expert, Edward James Olmos (Miami Vice, Battlestar Galactica) as a Native American worker who may know more than he says and Tom Noonan (Manhunter, The Last Action Hero, F/X – once again, with Diane Venora) as a Zoo Worker who’s just a little to into wolves in general. That’s just my opinion, though Noonan’s been known to play creepy very well. The performances here are all pretty good. No one is really out of place here, as far as I could tell.

If Wolfen suffers from any major problem, it’s in the writing. In adapting the novel, they had the chance to really bring the terror from the novel on screen. In the book, we’re given an understanding of what the Wolfen are – creatures older, faster and more terrifying than your typical canine. They came complete with their own way of communicating with one another, and Strieber’s novel even referenced his other story about Vampires, The Hunger. The final standoff of the book was a fight similar to From Dusk Till Dawn, with the hope that our heroes could maybe hold off what was coming. The movie decided to go a different route. Not terrible in any way, but it could have been really good if they stayed on track.

I could be off here, but I believe the film elected to try to make the story more relevant for its time by circling the murder around terrorism and using the Security Agency. The Security Agency has so little to do with the film outside of bringing Neff on the case, it’s incredible. About every 20 minutes, the film cuts back to this crew of personnel at their computers, watching footage of attacks (that have little to do with the original victim) in an attempt to piece together why this death happened. Meanwhile, Wilson walks into bar and gets the whole solution handed to him in a short story over a beer. I wonder if Wadleigh (who co-wrote the script) was trying to say that with all the technology at their disposal, all it really took to solve a crime was just regular legwork. To quote Olmos’ character “It’s the 20th Century. We got it all figured out.” That’s just my speculation on that.

From a Cinematography viewpoint, Wolfen has some impressive scenes, particularly those of the Manhattan landscape. For a city that doesn’t sleep, the streets as they’re filmed here are barren, with lots of shadows. One scene in particular has Finney and Olmos’ characters talking on top of a bridge, and I have to wonder not only how they were able to get that shot, but how the actors maintained their composure. One wrong slip and either of them could have fell. I also love seeing New York City in the early 80’s, where most of the Bronx and Brooklyn looked like warzones. Both Wolfen and Nighthawks (also released in the same year) are great examples of how bad the city really was during that time.

Wolfen was also one of James Horner’s first scores. Listening to it, you can hear elements of what you’d find in Aliens, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and his other pieces.

Overall, Wolfen is a good film if you find yourself running into it late at night and there’s nothing else to catch. I watch it on purpose, but that’s just me. We all have our tastes. If at all possible, consider reading the novel as well.

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

Guilty Pleasure No. 28: Swimfan (dir by John Polson)


Oh my God, y’all — Swimfan was on last night!

Do you remember Swimfan?  It originally came out in 2002 and it starred Jesse Bradford, the hot guy from Bring It On, and Erika Christensen, the drug addicted runaway from Traffic.  The movie is like a high school version of Fatal Attraction.  Jesse swims for the high school swim team.  Erika is a psycho stalker who is obsessed with swimmers.  Chaos follows.

I was on a high school date when I first saw Swimfan.  Fortunately, the movie offered up some very important life lessons.

Probably the film’s most important lesson was that you should always put out because, if you don’t, your dumbass boyfriend is going to end up cheating on you with some psycho bitch who is going to go all obsessive on his ass and end up framing him for murder.  When Swimfan starts, Ben (Jesse Bradford!) is dating Amy (Shiri Appleby) and they’re a cute couple but Amy is more into studying and planning for the future than in having sex with Ben.

So, of course, Ben ends up cheating on her with the new girl at school, Madison Bell (Erika Christensen).  He does this despite the fact that Madison is obviously unbalanced from the minute that he meets her, has a major case of the crazy eyes, and tends to come across as being a little bit robotic.  It’s only one night and Ben says that he feels terrible about it but Madison still decides that Ben is her man now.

It all leads to this scene:

(I have to admit that the artful placement of the camera in this scene makes me laugh every time.  The filmmakers were obviously really determined to get that PG-13 rating.  Also, just a little tip — if you’re taking nudes for your man, try smiling.)

When Ben keeps rejecting her, Madison conspires to get him kicked off the swim team.  She also kills the swimmer who takes Ben’s place on the team and frames Ben for the crime.  (The exact same thing happened to Michael Phelps but you never hear about it because all the media wants to talk about is that time he got his picture taken at that party.)  And then she tries to kill Amy and, the movie tells us, this all could have been avoided if only Amy hadn’t spent so much time worrying about which college to go to.  Keep your man happy, girls, the movie tells us, or be prepared to deal with the consequences. Boys will be boys!

The other life lesson is that you should really learn how to swim.  Since this movie is called Swimfan and it features a gigantic subplot about swimming, you can already guess that it’s all going to end with a big fight in a pool.  Ben can swim.  Madison and Amy can’t.  Can you guess what happens?  Watching Swimfan last night reminded me that I still need to learn how to swim.  Thank you, Swimfan!

Anyway, Swimfan is definitely a guilty pleasure.  I mean, if you want to get technical about it, this is a really, really bad movie.  The plot is derivative of every single stalker thriller that you’ve ever seen.  Jesse Bradford is pretty good but Erika Christensen appears to be in a daze.  And yet, whenever I see that it’s on, I can’t help but watch it.  Some of it, of course, is because Swimfan appeals to the same nostalgia that still causes me to sing …Baby One More Time, at the top of my lungs, whenever I’m driving home despite the fact that Britney’s later songs are so much better.  But beyond the nostalgia appeal, Swimfan is just so ludicrous and silly and over the top.  How can you not be a fan of Swimfan?

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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

Guilty Pleasure No. 27: Sex Decoy: Love Stings


Fox_reality

First off, a tweet from five years ago:

I cannot begin to put into words just how much I miss the Fox Reality Channel!  From 2005 until it went off the air in 2010, Fox Reality was the channel to go to if you wanted to watch some of television’s greatest guilty pleasures.  It was all reality tv all the time, a mix of original programming with reruns of shows like The Amazing Race, American Idol, Hell’s Kitchen, and about a hundred different dating shows.  Occasionally, they would devote an entire weekend to showing just one show and I have many fond memories of binge watching Paradise Hotel on Fox Reality.

Fox Reality also showed its share of cheap original programming as well, including today’s guilty pleasure.  If you were watching the Fox Reality Channel in 2009 (as I was and I have the tweets to prove it), there’s a good chance that you saw this commercial:

Now, of course, after seeing that commercial, you probably said, “Oh my God, I have to watch this show!  I mean, it says ‘sex’ right there in the title so it has to be good!”

So, you tuned into the Fox Reality Channel and, after sitting through the last 15 minutes of a rerun of The Rebel Billionaire: Richard Branson’s Quest For The Best, you watched Sex Decoy: Love Stings.

Fortunately, just in case you were unsure about what you were about to watch, the opening credits explained the whole concept behind this “reality” show:

All 8 episodes of Love Stings started out the same way, with Arizona P.I. Sandra Hope talking about how worried she is about her three daughters: Kashmir, Jasmine, and Xanadu.  It upsets Sandra that all three of them dislike her nerdy boyfriend and business partner, Tom.  It also upsets Sandra that all three of her daughters work as strippers whenever they are running low on funds.  (But, if Sandra is so worried about all of her daughters becoming strippers, why did she give them all stereotypical stripper names?  That’s what I’ve always wondered…)  Then the daughters show up and make fun of Tom and complain that Sandra doesn’t treat them like adults…

It’s probably around this time that you, the viewer, came to realize that Sex Decoy: Love Stings was obviously an attempt to create a hybrid of Cheaters and Keeping Up With The Kardashians.  Much like the Kardashians, Sex Decoy was obviously scripted.  However, Sandra and her daughters made Kim, Khloe, Kourtney, and even Kris look like Oscar-winning thespians by comparison.  Sandra, in particular, had an amazingly robotic voice.  Her dialogue and her interactions with Tom and her daughters were so lacking in emotion and spontaneity that they became odd portraits of existential dread.  And when Sandra robotically talked about how much money she made by exposing cheaters, it almost felt as if we were watching one of Jean-Luc Godard’s experimental attacks on capitalism.

Anyway, after each episode’s family crisis had been set up, we would then meet this week’s client and get around to exposing their mate as being a cheater.  This, of course, involved a lot of secret cameras and a sex decoy who would be brought in to seduce the cheater while the client watched in a nearby trailer.  (Often times, Sandra would use her own daughters as the decoy which was kind of icky.  A running subplot, throughout the series, was that Kashmir felt she was never properly used as a decoy and, as a result, would threaten to go back to stripping.)  The client, naturally, would often get very upset and eventually, the cheater would end up being confronted while the cameras rolled.

And again, what made this so fascinating was the total inability of Sandra or her daughters to show any hint of human emotion.  The client would get upset and start yelling.  The cheater would try to talk his way out of it and occasionally beg for forgiveness.  Meanwhile, Sandra and the daughters would watch and say things like, “He.  Is.  A.  Cheater.”  It was almost as if they were aliens sent down to Earth to expose cheaters.

Each show would end with Sandra, Tom, and the daughters doing some sort of family activity.  Sandra would often brag that Sex Decoy was a family business but, being a robot, it always came out as, “After.  All.  We.  Are.  A.  Family.  Business.”

It was seriously just so strange to watch and that strangeness made it the epitome of a guilty pleasure.  Sadly, Fox Reality is gone but Sex Decoy lives on!  You can watch every episode on Hulu.  And, fortunately, there’s only 8 of them so, right when the novelty of the show starts to wear off, it’s over!

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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

Guilty Pleasure No. 26: Project Greenlight


ProjectGreenlight640

Project Greenlight may be the most guiltiest pleasure to be found on television right now.

The show, which is currently airing its fourth season on HBO, was one of the earliest reality shows.  The concept behind the show is deceptively simple.  Every season, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon have held an online competition for aspiring filmmakers.  The winner of the contest gets to direct a feature film, with the understanding that there will be TV cameras present to record every decision, argument, and screw up.  At the end of the season, the film is released and hopefully, a major new filmmaker is discovered.

The pleasure part is obvious.  If you’re like me and you love movies, there’s no way you can’t be fascinated by the chance to go behind-the-scenes of an actual production.  It’s always fun to watch as the director struggles to maintain his (so far, all of the directors have been male) vision against the whims of studio execs who, often time, seem to be annoyed by the director’s very existence.

As for me, I’ve always been fascinated by the casting process.  (Don’t believe me?  Check out this post that I wrote about The Godfather.  And then check out this one too!)  My favorite part of Project Greenlight is always the episode that deals with the casting.  I love seeing who auditions, who gets turned down, and who decides that they want nothing to do with the film.  It’s a lot of fun!

As for the guilty part of this guilty pleasure, it comes from knowing that a show like this thrives on conflict.  As much as Ben and Matt may say that they are only interested in selecting the most talented director, it’s also obvious that the director they pick has to make for good television.  If production on the film goes smoothly, that’s good for the film but it’s not necessarily good for the show.  That’s just the truth when it comes to reality television.

Hence, watching Project Greenlight always leads to conflicting emotions.  On the one hand, you want the movie to turn out to be a good movie.  You want the director to be up to the task.  On the other hand, you’re specifically watching this show to watch the director screw up and make mistakes and piss people off and get into fights.  Gossip lovers that we are, we love the behind the scenes drama but it’s rare that drama actually leads to a good film.

Check out Project Greenlight‘s track record.

Season 1 started way back in 2001!  (Both this season and season 2 are available on DVD and I recommend checking out both of them.)  The winner was Pete Jones, a friendly nonentity who went on to direct the extremely forgettable Stolen Summer.  There was a lot of behind-the-scenes conflict, mostly due to a clash of personality between certain members of the crew.  From the minute the season started, it was obvious that Pete was a nice guy but essentially in over his head.  And, in many ways, Season 1 taught viewers an important lesson: when it comes to the film industry, nice guys get screwed.

However, as chaotic as season 1 may have been, it was nothing compared to what happened in 2003 when season 2 aired!  Whenever anyone wants to make the argument that Ben and Matt purposefully pick directors who are totally wrong for whatever film is being made, they usually point to season 2.  Season 2 featured the directing team of Kyle Rankin and Efram Potelle directing The Battle of Shaker Heights.  The Battle of Shaker Heights was supposed to be a quirky coming-of-age dramedy and a character study, so, of course, Ben and Matt selected two directors who were apparently incapable of human emotion.  And the end result was pure chaos!

Now, I will say a few things in Kyle and Efram’s defense.  When you watch season 2, the overriding theme is that these two directors totally ruined a great script.  Just in case we missed that, the show even featured screenwriter Erica Beeney complaining that these two directors were totally ruining her great script.  Well, sorry — the script for Battle of Shaker Heights was never that good to begin with.  (“It’s about this kid — Kelly — who is really pissed off,” Erica would tell us at the beginning of every episode, as if she was the first person to ever write about a kid who was really pissed off.)  I doubt anyone could have made a good movie out of that script.  Picking two directors who were so totally wrong for the material only served to compound the inherent suckiness of the material.

Season 2 has got a true train wreck appeal to it.  It’s one of those things that you watch with horrified fascination.  (Incidentally, Shia LaBeouf is heavily featured in season 2 and I have to say that he fits right in.)

The third season of Project Greenlight aired in 2005.  It was broadcast on Bravo and it’s unique in that it actually featured a good director (John Gulager) making a reasonably successful film (Feast).  As such, it doesn’t quite work as a guilty pleasure because, from the minute Gulager starts directing, you don’t feel any guilt about watching him.  Instead, the most interesting part of the third season comes early on when a bitchy casting director continually tries (and succeeds) at sabotaging Gulager’s attempts to get a cast with whom he feels comfortable.

(Season 3 has never been released on DVD but, the last time I checked, it was available on YouTube.)

After that third season, Project Greenlight went away for a while but now, 10 years later, it’s back!  It has returned to HBO and, after three episodes, it’s starting to look like this season may be the guiltiest and most pleasurable of all!  Ben and Matt were producing a comedy called Not Another Pretty Woman this time around.  (Pete Jones even returned to write the script.)  Not Another Pretty Woman has been described as being a broad comedy.  So, of course, they selected Jason Mann, an extremely intense elitist film snob.  One of the first things that Jason Mann did was try to fire Pete Jones and replace him with the screenwriter of that well-known comedy, Boys Don’t Cry.  When that didn’t work, Mann abandoned Not Another Pretty Woman and instead requested to make a film called The Leisure Class instead.  And, amazingly enough, he got HBO Films to agree, which means that either nobody had any faith in Pete Jones or everyone has total faith in Jason Mann!

Will that faith be rewarded or will The Leisure Class be another Battle of Shaker Heights?  Will Jason Mann be another John Gulager or will he fade into the same obscurity in which Efram Potelle and Kyle Rankin currently reside?

As of right now, I don’t know.

But I can’t wait to find out!

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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

Guilty Pleasure No. 25: From Justin to Kelly (dir by Robert Iscove)


There’s a lot of reasons why a movie might become a guilty pleasure.  Often times, it’s because the film is technically terrible and yet still, for whatever reason, it’s fun.  And then sometimes, it’s because the film was made at a different time and, as a result, our modern cultural overlords demand that we dislike it regardless of how much we may also enjoy it.

And then there are films that you literally feel guilty for owning, watching, and sometimes enjoying.  These are the films that you always find yourself making excuses for owning,  Whenever I let anyone know that I have 2003’s From Justin To Kelly on DVD, I always make sure to point out that I also own the Criterion edition of Jean Renoir’s Rules of the Game and several films directed by Werner Herzog.

“Don’t judge me!” I shout, as my guests stare down at Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini’s retouched smiles beaming at them from the cover of From Justin To Kelly, “I actually do have good taste….”

And, if worst comes to worst, I just tell them that it was a gift from an old boyfriend who, just two days after giving me the DVD, was tragically killed while doing charity work in Vermont.  “The enemy is hunger…not the hungry!” I say and, while they sagely nod in agreement, I always push the DVD to the side.

From-justin-to-kelly

However, the fact of the matter is that I do own From Justin To Kelly and I actually have watched it more times than I’m willing to admit.  It’s difficult for me to explain why.  It’s not that From Justin To Kelly is a good film.  There’s a lot of people who claim that From Justin To Kelly is one of the worst films ever made and, while I think that’s a bit of an exaggeration, it’s hard to deny that the film really is pretty terrible.

From Justin To Kelly, of course, is the American Idol film.  By coming in first and second at the end of Idol‘s first season, Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini were contractually obligated to appear in a movie that would be written by Kim Fuller, the brother of Idol‘s producer.  From Justin To Kelly was quickly written and filmed so that it could both appear in theaters and be released on video before the start of Idol‘s second season.  If From Justin To Kelly had been a success, I imagine that all future American Idol winners and runner-ups would have been forced to appear in similar films.  And I have to admit that it’s kind of disappointing that From Justin To Kelly was not a success because I would have loved to have seen a beach movie starring Taylor Hicks and Katharine McPhee.

However, From Justin To Kelly was not a success.  In fact, it was such a failure that the producers of Idol decided to give up on movies and instead concentrate on doing what they’re good at — i.e., neutering otherwise interesting singers by forcing them to sing ballads written by Kara DioGuardi.  For the most part, the only time that you hear about From Justin To Kelly is when Kelly Clarkson talks about how much she hated making it.

(Reportedly, Kelly spent hours sobbing after reading the script.)

As for the film itself, it’s a romantic comedy musical beach party movie sort of thing.  Texas-born Kelly Clarkson plays Kelly, a girl from Texas.  Pennsylvania-raised Justin Guarini plays Justin, a guy who was raised in Pennsylvania.  Kelly is a waitress who gets dragged down to Florida for Spring Break by her friends, Alexa (Katharine Bailess) and Kaya (Anika Noni Rose).  (Bailess and Rose deliver their lines in the least convincing Texas accents ever.  However, since Kelly won American Idol and is very much a Texan, her movie friends had to be Texan too.)  Justin, meanwhile, is the “King of Spring Break,” which is odd since he and his friends Brandon (Greg Siff) and Eddie (Brian Dietzen) host parties that feel like they’d be more appropriate for a church camp.  (Then again, maybe Justin was meant to be the King of Bad Spring Break.  Maybe, if Idol had continued to make movies, Adam Lambert would have eventually gotten to play the King of Good Spring Break.)

Anyway, Kelly and Justin eventually meet.  Justin likes Kelly.  Kelly thinks he’s a player.  Justin’s like, “No, I’m not a player.”  Kelly’s like, “Okay, I guess we can be in love.”  But then Alexa decides that, no, Kelly and Justin should not be in love and, whenever Justin tries to text Kelly, Alexa texts back that Kelly’s not interested.  And, meanwhile, Kaya falls in love with a surly busboy (Jason Yribar), Brandon keeps getting ticketed by the same policewoman, and Eddie keeps failing to hook up with a girl that he met online.  Because, you know, the kids are so crazy with their text messages and their online dating and their … busboys.

(Seriously, did From Justin To Kelly really warrant that many subplots?)

During the whole time, everyone keeps singing songs and breaking out into choreographed dance numbers on the beach.  The film’s director, Robert Iscove, also did She’s All That and From Justin To Kelly at times feels as if it’s just a 80 minute version of She’s All That‘s prom dance-off, except in this case it’s performed by people who really can’t dance.

And yet, I’m going to take a minute to defend From Justin To Kelly.  While it’s true that the film’s songs don’t have anything to do with the film’s plot and they all lean a bit towards the vapid side, it’s also true that a few of them are catchy.  One reason why Kelly Clarkson is one of the few Idol winners to actually make a career for her outside of Idol is because she can make almost anything sound good.  For that matter, Justin Guarini is a far better singer than most people seem to remember him as being.  While it is true that, judging from their work here, neither Kelly or Justin can act, they’re both likable.  (Unfortunately, they also have next to no chemistry.  I was actually surprised to learn that Kelly and Justin apparently dated while making From Justin To Kelly because, for the most part, they both look terrified whenever they actually have to kiss on camera.)

From Justin To Kelly also has a massive nostalgia value.  After so many seasons and so many forgettable winners, it’s easy to forget about what a big deal American Idol was during that first season. I was 16 years old and I watched every episode and I got so emotionally involved in who was staying and who was going home.  Today, it seems incredibly silly that a movie would have been a part of Idol but, back then, it made total sense.  (That said, I know a lot of people who loved the first season of American Idol but I don’t know anyone who actually saw From Justin To Kelly in a theater.)

But, ultimately, I think the main reason why From Justin To Kelly remains an oddly fascinating bad film is because it takes place in a world that has absolutely nothing in common with the real world.  Nobody at Spring Break acts anything like any of the characters to be found in From Justin To Kelly.  Imagine a Spring Break where no one touched liquor, no one did drugs, and no one got laid.  Imagine a Spring Break where college students danced on the beach while wearing the most modest of bathing suits and flashing the most eager and innocent of smiles.  Even the film’s whipped cream bikini contest feels oddly chaste.  From Justin To Kelly might as well be science fiction and it’s just so odd to watch.

As you watch, you can not help but imagine how the people involved with both Idol and the film reacted to it all.  It’s actually fun to try to imagine what the cast talked in between shooting scenes.  Did they spent their time laughing at how bad the movie was going to be or did they try to fool themselves into thinking that it would all be okay?  (I’ve been involved in some bad community theater productions, which is what From Justin To Kelly resembles.  I know how darkly humorous thinks can get back stage as people try to come to terms with what’s happening.)  You watch and you ask yourself, “Did Kim Fuller actually think this is how American teenagers act when there’s no adults around?”  Even more fun, you can try to imagine what Randy, Paul and Simon said when they first saw the film.  I imagine it when something like this:

“Yo dawg, that was just alright for me, I don’t know, man, that was strange. Paula?”

“Argle bargle margle largle.  Simon?”

“It was rather like watching a small parakeet attempt to eat a 60 year-old man…”

And, as such, From Justin to Kelly remains a pleasure of mine.

It’s just one that I feel guilty about admitting to.

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