Happy Summer! The FOTS team comes together again to defend some of the films, TV, and music they love…but really shouldn’t.
1) Katy Perry. I could write an entire entry about “female trash pop.” Ke$ha, Miley Cyrus, Kelly Clarkson; I love them all. But no one tops the mountain in such a category like Katy Perry. She’s the true Queen of Trash Pop. It’s never Black Sabbath or Tool that I find myself turning to in the darkest corners of my daily jogs — it’s KP and her infectious pop anthems. While the rest of the world was fascinated with Left Shark during the Super Bowl halftime show, I was secretly jamming out to a medley of songs written for teen girls while Katy flew away on a shooting star. Be still my beating heart! I may have seen her concert film, but even I’m not willing to fully admit to such. Sure, she’s a studio creation marketing on male fantasy, but I can’t bring myself to care. Who wants to live in her brightly colored, Girl Power confectionary of a dream world? I do! Too much of this sugar will rot your brain, but small helpings go down oh so sweetly.
2) Chopped. I like to pretend that reality shows are beneath me, but I’ll confess to watching endless hours of Chopped. Food Network’s delightful cooking game show is an hour-long combination of food porn and entire seasons of other reality shows. I can’t but find myself endlessly captivated by chefs attempting to craft dishes out of bizarre baskets of ingredients. Chopped gives you reason to contemplate how rattlesnake meat, emu eggs, or grasshoppers (all real ingredients used on the show) can fit into a dinner entrée. Thankfully, every episode features a payoff as the chefs get whittled down from 4 to 1, and a winner is always crowned after 60 minutes of competition. I’m aware that the cockiest chef always get cut, but that never stops me from watching 6 episodes in a row on lazy Saturday afternoons. It appeals to my deepest desire: delicious food. That, and just what does go with pickled eggs and calf eyeballs.
3) The Sandlot. Yes, yes. I know that The Sandlot is a cult classic, but the film critic in me knows that it sucks. This nostalgic jaunt through the 1960s gleefully ignores the real world to bring us a kid-friendly tale of backyard baseball. Just how is it that a black kid is seamlessly playing baseball in southern white suburbia during this volatile decade? How do just 9 kids play an entire game of baseball? Why does The Sandlot feature endless shots of kids screaming while grabbing their faces and (poorly) pretending to be scared? All of that aside, I can’t help but love the film. I’m a die-hard baseball fan, and The Sandlot always rekindles my memories of playing as a kid – back when the score didn’t matter as much as just being out in the fresh cut grass. I completely wore out a VHS of this film as a child, and now I can never forget when Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez pickled the beast. He succeeded where vacuum cleaners, intricate pulley systems, and even Erector Sets had failed. Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.
1) Survivor. I’ve watched Survivor since it began way back in 2000. I was in middle school. The finale of its first season (won by the frequently nude future tax evader Richard Hatch) drew over 50 MILLION(!) viewers. Survivor is the granddaddy of reality TV, but 15 years and 30 seasons later, it has nonetheless outwitted, outplayed, and outlasted its legion of imitators. It’s an American institution. But more than the challenges and immunity idols and the ageless Jeff Probst’s catchphrases, what keeps Survivor evergreen is the very real, very human drama. When you drop over a dozen people on an island for a month, they’ll show their true selves, and the machinations, blindsides, and betrayals are often – not always, but often – as fascinating as any scripted TV, and names like Boston Rob, Cochran, Eliza, and Coach are shorthand for truly indelible characters. Not every season is a winner; some casts, and some gimmicks (like 2006’s much-ballyhooed tribe division by race) are dead on arrival, but those moments of pure karmic satisfaction make all the nonsense worth it.
2) A Knight’s Tale. Medieval sports? Romance? Quippy dialogue? AND a cast that includes Heath Ledger, Robert Baratheon, Wash from Firefly, Lydia from Breaking Bad, and the best role of Paul Bettany’s career? Sounds like a runaway hit today, yet when A Knight’s Tale was released in 2001, it was seen as a dud. Much was made of the film’s anachronisms, particularly its use of Queen and David Bowie on the soundtrack. “It’s a classic ‘what were they thinking’ movie,” said one critic. “Unmotivated storyline, dull leading man, lazy movie,” said another. Okay, all fair. But I love it anyway, not just because I’m a sucker for the time period, but because A Knight’s Tale is ridiculously entertaining if you can get on writer/director Brian Helgeland’s weird wavelength. The character work is so strong: Ledger is in full heartthrob mode as a squire who takes over a joust for his dead lord and gets on a rocket ship to stardom; Bettany is a riot, oozing charisma as Ledger’s herald, Geoffrey Chaucer (“Thank you, I’ll be here all week!”). It has been weighed, it has been measured, and it has been found fantastic.
3) The Ocean’s Trilogy. These films are no one’s idea of high art, or even pop art. They’re confusing, patchwork, sometimes careless Frankenfilms, despite the efforts of respected director Steven Soderbergh. The A+ -list cast have financed many a vacation with these projects, particularly in the case of the shambling middle film of the trilogy (regarded by everyone as the worst one). Nevertheless, when my wife and I sit down on the couch to watch a movie on a random night, you’d be shocked how often this is what we pick. When these films are clicking, there’s nothing more effervescent than watching George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, and the rest of their merry men pal around in Las Vegas, pulling grand heists while sticking to all of the genre’s comfortable tropes. I’m particularly a fan of Thirteen, whose unconventional structure and acidic villainy from Al Pacino makes it, for my money, the most re-watchable of the series. But throughout the trilogy, the editing is razor-sharp, the score from David Holmes is a blast, and it recaptures Old Hollywood razzmatazz better than anything else this century.
1) Green Day. You could ask most people who know me, and most would describe my musical leanings as “punk:” think Morrissey, The Clash, Ramones, Patti Smith, etc. However, I harbor a dark secret: my absolute favorite band is Green Day. Yes, they’ve been decorated with awards, continue to sell out stadiums, curse Justin Bieber, and were the thing of parents’ nightmares twenty years ago, but here’s the thing: now I am the parent, and Green Day is no longer the thing of cool. I will continue to tell anyone who will listen, including you, Dear Reader: American Idiot (2004) is the finest album of our lifetime, a true musical breakthrough in lyrical storytelling, sound, and melody. Every hipster, self-respecting rock critic, and true punk fan is shaking their head at me right now, but I still sing “Brain Stew” at full volume whilst driving down the interstate, and I will rock my red tie in the mosh pit next time my favorite So-Cal trio, Billy Joe, Mike, and Tré, ride through town. Count on it.
2) Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. As a kid, our copy of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure was recorded off television during one of those free HBO weekends on VHS – it was the second feature on a six-hour tape, beginning mid-sentence in the opening George Carlin monologue, right after the credits for Jeremiah Johnson. Upon first viewing in 1990, I was astonished by the epic bodaciousness of friends Bill S. Preston, esq. (Alex Winter) and Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan (Keanu Reeves) and their hijinks, traveling in a phone booth time machine (not a phone box time machine) in an effort to secure the greatest history report subjects of all time. This film still holds up: the sincere acting efforts, the quotable scenes, the twisty Rian Johnson-type time travel explanations. There is quite a cult following now for Bill and Ted, but as a self-respecting cinefile, I typically get the side-eye when listing it among my favorite films. Guilty pleasure is an understatement, and I typically pull out the same damaged VHS copy whenever I am home for the holidays. After all, what better lesson to carry though life than: “Be excellent to each other, and party on, Dudes!”
3) Bonfire of the Vanities. This one is the real kicker, and the choice that is guaranteed to attract the most mud-slinging. Back when Bruce Willis was in his “high concept phase” (see: North, Hudson Hawk – two perceived failures I actually also REALLY like), this Brian de Palma-directed Tom Hanks vehicle based on the novel by Tom Wolfe is satirical gold in my (and I stand alone in this) opinion. When the film was released in 1990, you could hear the critical and commercial THUD from space, true story. No one likes this film about a Wall Street yuppie who is wronged by his mistress and circumstance. It is the comedic answer to Wall Street (er, the other one), and I laugh every time it is on television. So sue me! I still own both the DVD and VHS copy, and I’ll be here if ever anyone wants to argue its quiet brilliance. Vanities pulls no punches, lives somewhere decidedly outside the realm of subtlety, and strays quiet far from the novel, but its overbearing nature is exactly why it deserves to be loved!
1) Starship Troopers. Back in 1997, a reviewer used “sex, bugs and lock n’ load” as their half-sentence synopsis of this campy Paul Verhoeven-directed, $100-million alien war epic, and honestly, being in the eighth grade at the time, that sounded like the greatest movie ever. And, at the time, it was. Based (rather loosely) on a classic Robert Heinlein novel, Starship Troopers follows a trio of privileged white high school kids from Buenos Aires (for some reason), played by a pushing-thirty Casper Van Dien alongside twentysomethings Neil Patrick Harris and Denise Richards (again, playing recent high school grads) as they work their way through the ranks of future Earth’s Federal military system while humanity faces a savage, insectoid-alien threat. Despite how incredible that description sounds, it’s not a good movie by any cinematic measure — the dialogue is corny at best, the casting is ludicrous, the gore is goofy and applied liberally, and Verhoeven’s Robocop-style satirical commercial breaks have all the subtlety of a smack to the face; yet the score is awesome, the effects have aged really well, and the film takes itself just seriously enough to somehow make it all work. It maintains a secure position in my life as the greatest, and my favorite, “bad” movie of all time.
2) Grandma’s Boy. I have no problem admitting that there was a point in my life where I smoked a LOT of pot; not so much anymore — I mean, I still think it’s a great drug, I just have shit to do nowadays. However, back in those heady days my late-night go-to was the accidental masterpiece of stoner films: Grandma’s Boy. It’s the classic tale of an aimless, aged, perma-high game tester (Allen Covert) who is forced to move in with his doting grandmother (Doris Roberts) and her quirky roommates. He also finds time inbetween getting blazed to butt heads with the aggressively weird head programmer, and even get the girl in the end (Linda Cardellini). The film was produced by Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison company, and it’s pretty much everything you’d expect from them: dick jokes, fart jokes, people hurting themselves, silly cameos (a super over-the-top Kevin Nealon, David Spade and Rob Schneider), bizarrely quotable lines, and Nick Swardson playing a semi-retarded manchild. It’s the kind of film that’s best enjoyed in some chemically altered state or another, and is even better when you can enjoy it with a chemically altered friend or two, quoting lines and getting caught up in the sort of uncontrollable laughter that only really, REALLY stupid movies can produce.
3) Super Eurobeat. Okay, so technically this isn’t a single artist, but as far as niche subgenres of electronica go, I feel this is narrow enough to fit our criteria – besides, if you’ve heard one Eurobeat song then you’ve heard all of them. The unruly, spastic child of J-Pop and Eurodance, Eurobeat runs at high-BPM, sports stupid-catchy chorus hooks, and — since it’s of Euro origin but mostly produced in Japan — some really liberal, confounding use of English lyrics by people who don’t seem to have a solid grasp on the language. The end result is fast, furious and above all else, really embarrassing fun. As an old anime fan, I discovered Eurobeat through the iconic racing anime Initial D, in which Japanese sportscars drift around mountain passes at high speeds while Eurobeat plays, which is terribly appropriate. It’s the perfect accompaniment to anything you want to do at a dangerous pace: Eurobeat at the gym? New PR, and maybe a hernia. Eurobeat while driving? Speeding ticket. Eurobeat around the house? Impromptu dance party. Eurobeat on the slopes? You’re going to hit a tree. So on, so on… Etc, etc. It’s one of the goofiest, greatest things to come from Japan, and is to be enjoyed at one’s own risk.