Saturday, August 1, 2015

My Dirty Dozen: 12 Guilty Pleasures on DVD

They’re the "vintage" movies I watch for fun, even cut up with commercials on TBS or USA, whenever they show up in the schedule. They’re the DVDs I hide in the drawer of the entertainment center, because I just don’t want to explain to my dinner guests why I have a copy. (Let alone that their sprung-open plastic latches reveal that I watch them frequently.)

You know the kind of movies I mean. Here’s my top twelve, in no particular order:

1. Fast Times at Ridgemont High, 1982

f you can’t relate to someone in this movie, man, you’re dead and buried! Phoebe Cates and Jennifer Jason Leigh both bare-chested (not to mention Senn Penn); Ray Walston’s definitive teacher-from-hell; Judge Rheinhold as the gormless fast-food pirate drooling (and masturbating) over Cates. There’s nothing here to exercise your grey cells. It’s just FUN.

2. The Mask, 1994

If I only have a minute, I zip to the dance scene when Jim Carrey as “The Mask” first appears at the Coco Bongo Club and groove with the zoot-suit riot he unleashes there. But for sheer lyric beauty, what could surpass Cameron Diaz in a wet blouse? And that dog—you’ve gotta love the dog! What more do you want for a lazy summer’s viewing?

3. Repo Man, 1984

Emilio Estevez gets way, way “out there” in this sleazy spoof of UFO-fanaticism. While there are good performances by Estevez and Harry Dean Stanton, the movie is stolen entire by Tracey Walter as the loopy Miller, who tends his trash-can full of burning rags as he explains “reality” to Estevez.

4. Strictly Ballroom, 1993

Paul Mercurio stars in this great send-up of competitive ballroom dancing. The music is fantastic, the dancing is inspirational (in a rural contest kind of way), and the villains are so despicably petty. Predictable only if you’ve seen every local-dancer-makes-good movie ever made. Show me your paso doble!

5. Theatre of Blood, 1973

Grand Guignol is a genre in which gore is the point. This movie takes that fine French tradition and makes it totally English, with Vincent Price, in a ham-and-cheesy take-off of himself, murdering theatre critics using methods gleaned from Shakespeare. Diana Rigg appears in drag—the first time I saw this movie, it was nearly over before I recognized her!

6. Earth Girls Are Easy, 1988

Olympian Geena Davis falls for a hairy alien Jeff Goldblum when his spaceship falls into her swimming pool. The music (mostly by Julie Brown) is zany, the plot is nearly non-existent, and Peter Rocket makes a great skanky boyfriend. Really, all you need to know is “Damon Wayans and Jim Carrey” and “Geena Davis in a corset and stockings.” Angelyne has a cameo.

7. Dodgeball, 2004

This send-up of the “Cinderella sports team” formula-flick is perfect on all levels: the “heroes”led by Vince Vaughnare serious losers, the “villain” is played by Ben Stiller as a more-muscular version of Zoolander, and Rip Torn’s coach is ten inches of icing on this fruitcake. It scarcely needs Steve the Pirate, but I maybe that’s why I keep watching this film. I just love fruitcake.

8. Videodrome, 1983

This dark sci-fi thriller has hints of snuff films and sexual torture, but the real soul-shaker is the plot gimmick: What if something you watched could infect your mind, truly take over your will? James Woods stars as the hapless viewer, sucked in by the porn and infected by visions of Debbie Harry. When he reaches into his own belly and pulls out the gun, you’ll squirm—but you’ll be back. You’ve watched it once…

9. UHF, 1989

Give Wierd Al Yankovic a UHF TV station, and you get nothing highbrow or classy; but loony skits abound: “Wheel of Fish,” “Conan the Librarian,” a sleaze-talk show (“Lesbian Nazi Hookers Abducted by UFOs and Forced Into Weight Loss Programs!”), “Raul’s Wild Kingdom.” (“For those of you just joining us, today we’re teaching poodles how to fly.”) Add Al’s spoofs of Dire Straits’ “I Want My MTV” and Sylvester Stallone in Rambo—and all of that’s only about ten minutes of this movie. Really, really great in its own goofy way.

10. Underworld, 2003

Kate Beckinsale is a vampire, and they’re the good guys. The villains are werewolves, but the formula is Romeo-and-Juliet gang-war noir. Unless you’re from Eastern Europe, Beckinsale is the only actor you’ll have heard of, and that helps. So does the staging, which will remind you of Ridley Scott. I thought this would be a cheesy blood-sucker, but to my surprise, it didn’t suck at all!

11. Major League, 1989

Charlie Sheen as “Wild Thing.” Wesley Snipes as Willie Mays Hayes, who plans to steal more bases than anyone ever did before. And Bob Eucker as the “voice” of the abysmally-bad last-place baseball team, the Indians. All you need for pure popcorn-munching pleasure is the wonderful Randy Newman title song (“Burn On, Big River”) and the irreligious religious conflict between a born-again Christian and a voodoo-idol worshipper. Did I forget Randy Quaid as the rabid fan?

12. Hairspray, 1988

Back when Rikki Lake was fat… er, pleasingly plump, she made this nutty paean to the birth of the Sixties. Debbie Harry is in this one, too, but the real shock is Divine, who appears in a rare second role as a man. Pia Zadora has a neat cameo as a beatnik, and Mink Stole keeps her clothes on as the assistant producer of a “Rock Hop” TV show. The movie’s segregation theme is handled lightly, with more focus on Rikki the “Hair-Hopper” and her changing ‘dos. History-Lite. Very lite.

As a special treat, you can watch the '88 version, then pop in the 2007 musical and compare the performances.

Those are my guilty pleasures. The floor is now open for your confessions—just give me a minute to make some popcorn!