01 April 2017

Guilty Pleasures

by John M. Floyd

Anyone who posts regularly at blogs like this knows that ideas for topics can come from unexpected places. Today's column is the result of recent discussions I've had with my friend and fellow SleuthSayer Paul D. Marks, who--God help us both--is as obsessed with movies as I am. We've been emailing each other about some recent movies we've seen and why we liked them and why we sometimes prefer the old ones to the new, and so forth. We even decided to exchange lists of favorites, and mine include, predictably, some of the greats--Casablanca, To Kill a Mockingbird, Double Indemnity, Goldfinger, Psycho, The Godfather, The Shawshank Redemption, etc.

But . . . they also contain a lot that were not so great, and certainly not critically acclaimed. Why, then, did I like them? Why would I spend two hours watching something that probably provides little or no educational value, food for thought, lessons about life, or the broadening of any kind of horizon? My answer: because they're fun. Let's face it, when you sit down to watch something called Snakes on a Plane, you know you're not getting Citizen Kane or The Grapes of Wrath. But sometimes those crazy movies just hit the spot. They're sort of like Hostess Twinkies--I know they're not good for me but I scarf 'em down anyhow.

Diamonds in the rough

The following, in no particular order, are some of my cinematic "guilty pleasures." The funny thing is, they're all movies that, before I saw them, I thought I wouldn't like.

NOTE 1: Some of these actually are high-quality, big-budget movies--but most are not. Very few were mentioned in awards ceremonies. Ask me if I care.

NOTE 2: The films I've marked with asterisks are some of those that I could watch over and over and over again. And I do.

Get the Gringo
*Rustler's Rhapsody
Seven Psychopaths
Dumb and Dumber
*Bubba Ho-Tep
*A Life Less Ordinary
The Pawn Shop Chronicles
*Used Cars
Undercover Brother
The Postman
Captain Ron
*Silver Bullet
True Lies
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Me, Myself, and Irene
*Cowboys and Aliens
Liar Liar
My Name Is Nobody
Billy Jack
*Under Siege
*Hot Shots, Part Deux
Open Water
*Escape From New York
Last Man Standing
What About Bob?
The Mist
Kings of the Sun
The History of the World, Part I
*Texas Across the River
The Great Race
Welcome to the Jungle
*Office Space
*Lady in the Water
The Night Flier
The Hudsucker Proxy
The Betsy
*Waterhole #3
The Long Kiss Goodnight
*Galaxy Quest
The Quick and the Dead (1995)
A Million Ways to Die in the West
*Blazing Saddles
*Cat People (1982)
Vanishing Point
Forgiving the Franklins
*The Book of Eli
Kentucky Fried Movie
The Mothman Prophecies
Necessary Roughness

Non-so-guilty pleasures

One of the thrills of watching movies, to me, is occasionally stumbling across one that you've heard nothing about beforehand, and discovering that it's better than many of those that have been hyped to high heaven. These under-the-radar jewels are those that, once you see them, you remember forever.

Add-on category: excellent movies that no one seems to have heard about:

An Unfinished Life
Killer Joe
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
Medicine Man
The Gypsy Moths
The Flim Flam Man
The Last Sunset
The Spanish Prisoner
The Ballad of Cable Hogue
Edge of Darkness
The Cooler
True Romance
From Noon to Three
Red Rock West
The Man From Elysian Fields
The Gods Must Be Crazy
Bone Tomahawk
Sands of the Kalahari
In Bruges
Blood Simple
The Lookout
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
A History of Violence
This Property Is Condemned
Eye of the Needle
The Sea of Trees
Someone to Watch Over Me
The Molly Maguires
Out of Sight
Jack the Giant Slayer
The Water Diviner
Mountains of the Moon
The Salvation
The Chase
The Blue Max
Stranger Than Fiction
Leap of Faith
Heaven's Prisoners
They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
Brassed Off
Runaway Train
Hearts in Atlantis
The Homesman
Muriel's Wedding

Q and A

What movies have you seen, that might fit into either of these lists? Can you relate to my delight in uncovering good ones that I'd never heard about before? Do you sometimes find yourself disappointed when you see unsatisfying movies that the critics have all said were great? Do you
ever start watching one that you're sure you'll hate and find yourself enjoying it? Do you sometimes hate to admit you enjoyed it? Do you agree that I probably need to find better things to do with my time?

In closing, I should mention that I like a wide range of movies, from Notting Hill to Goodfellas, from Star Wars to Driving Miss Daisy, from Raising Arizona to Django Unchained. And the same goes for my taste in stories and novels and TV shows. I still write mostly mystery fiction, but I'll read and watch almost anything.

Bleary-eyed and poor, yes. Guilty, no.

Pass the popcorn . . .

News flash: Two weeks from today, in my April 15 column, I'll be interviewing my old friend Gerald So, former president of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. We'll talk about crime-related poetry (which, if you haven't tried it, is great fun to read AND write). I hope you'll tune in and help me welcome Gerald to SleuthSayers!

And congratulations to all the Derringer Award nominees!


  1. I love Galaxy Quest! That is all.

  2. Fun post, John! Great lists of guilty and not-so-guilty pleasures. And it’s been fun going back and forth with you on movies.

    I think the first thing a movie should be is entertaining – or in your word ‘fun’ – and if there’s some life lesson in there as well that’s okay too. But for me movies should transport me into their worlds, whatever those worlds are, and entertain me.

    You mention Snakes on a Plane. As you say, definitely not Citizen Kane or The Grapes of Wrath, but a fun movie. I thought I wasn’t going to like it but caught it on cable late one night and really enjoyed it. So we have the same Twinkie Taste.

    Some movies that fit into your 2nd list for me would be: Americana (1981), Inside Moves, Soldier in the Rain, Hearts of the West, And Now My Love, Ghost World. And so many more. – And in the first list, just plain guilty pleasures, how ’bout The In-Laws (the original with Peter Falk and Alan Arkin): Serpentine.

    And no, I don’t think you need to find better things to do with your time, except maybe write, but you can’t do that all the time. So sit back, relax and watch a movie. And don’t feel guilty while you enjoy guilty pleasures :-)

  3. Barb, if you're like me, Galaxy Quest was a total surprise--I never thought it'd be worth watching, when I first heard about it. I had to talk my kids into seeing it, and they wound up loving it as well. I have even RE-watched it, several times.

    Paul, I agree completely--movies, like all fiction, should (first and foremost) be entertaining. I'm looking forward to being entertained by the ones you mentioned, because some of those I've not yet seen. And thanks for being my pen-pal, on all things cinematic.

  4. I've seen nearly every movie on your lists, some of them more than once, and I never feel guilty about it.

  5. Bill, I once heard actor Jeff Daniels say that when he first met Clint Eastwood, Daniels was so nervous he couldn't speak. He said Eastwood just looked at him, squinted, and said, "I loved Dumb and Dumber." You're right, I shouldn't be embarrassed to watch these crazy movies.

    Now if I could just not feel guilty about the Twinkies . . .

  6. Great list, John.

    I used to see zillions of movies, but not so much anymore. Three flicks I could probably watch weekly that aren't on your list: Raising Arizona, Bull Durham, and Grosse Pointe Blank.

    And yeah, it's not about "great," it's about entertainment. Otherwise, what's the point? Really.

  7. I know exactly what you mean, John, they’re not gourmet but perhaps ‘funner’ because they aren’t. I thought I was the only person who liked Django.

    When I was a impecunious student, (‘poor student’ sounds like bad student,) I sometimes took breaks to attend cheap NYC movie houses. At a Union Square hole-in-the-wall theater I saw THX-1138. I’d travel up to 42nd Street where the rough and tough youth hung out, shouting at characters on the screen and cheering when black heroes kicked butt. There I saw the ‘cult film’ predecessor to Billy Jack, Born Losers.

    Another I liked was a spaghetti western, with Lee Van Cleef. I recently saw a grainy video of it, probably pirated and duped many times. I didn’t recall it starting out that hokey, but before long I was into the story and the denouement was better than I remembered. The music wasn’t bad either.

    As you know, I loved Guardians of the Galaxy. Last year’s The Accountant I’d add to the list. It was far better than I expected.

  8. The Postman? I hated that movie because it was based on a brilliant novel by David Brin, which it mostly ignored. (The first 20 minutes of the flick are pretty solidly from the novel. Then things go to hell.)

    I just watched a real guilty pleasure flick call Redirected, and it inspired my next blog entry. Stay tuned this Wednesday.

  9. Ferris Bueller's Day Off, husband & I watched it again a couple of days ago. If you notice, two or three of the commercials running now contain lines from the movie.

    How about a category for movies other people love, but you (that is to say, "I") don't? I nominate The Sixth Sense.

  10. Oh, I almost forgot my "favorite" guilty pleasure movie, Gone In 60 Seconds, the original version starring Toby Halicki. It has what might still be the longest car chase on film that was shot in one take! Part of the movie took place at the Dom Polski in Dunkirk, N.Y. where I've been several times. The remake with Nicolas Cage is just O.K. & has none of the gritty authentic quality of the original.

  11. Best in Show, For Your Consideration, Radio Days, Running on Empty, The Mosquito Coast, Reversal of Fortune, Fading Gigolo, Minnie and Moskowitz, and many more.
    I've seen a lot on both your lists, and I, too, am not embarrassed a bit!

  12. Hey gang--I just got home from a booksigning 100 miles south of here, and I need to catch up a bit on responses to your kind comments.

    Steve, I have all three of those movies you named--but my favorite of the three is Raising Arizona, one of the funniest, quirkiest movies ever made. I love it from start to finish.

    Leigh, I liked both the chained and unchained versions of Django--and I have THX-1138 right here at home. And I really, really hate to admit this, but I was thinking Born Loser, which I first saw while in college, when I listed Billy Jack, which is of course the sequel. Duh. I bet the Lee Van Cleef western you mentioned was For a Few Dollars More, one of the better ones--though he made several. And I too liked The Accountant. I saw Guardians of the Galaxy in a theatre, with one of our sons, and I had mixed feelings about that one.

    Rob, I've not seen "Redirected," but I've made a note of it--thanks. As for "The Postman"--I thought it, like Waterworld was one of Costner's misfires, but for some reason I liked 'em both. Hey, that's what I mean by "guilty."

    Liz, I liked Gone in 60 Seconds, but I LOVED Ferris Bueller. And I confess, I also liked The Sixth Sense, only because it surprised the hell out of me. The only movies by M. Night Shyamalan I didn't like were The Happening and The Last Airbender.

    Eve, I've seen all the movies you named except Fading Gigolo--and I wish I'd named a couple of those. As soon as my lists got compiled, they needed to be redone. So many movies, so little time . . .

  13. Sorry, folks--I used quotes around some of the movie titles in my comment a minute ago. Post-signing fatigue.

  14. John, I love many of the movies on your lists, especially Galaxy Quest. I don't think we ever have to apologize for loving a movie that makes us laugh. And there's an underlying sweetness to that movie that makes me love it all the more--I love the way it embraces its characters, regardless of their quirks and flaws. I'd say the same things about another favorite, Stranger than Fiction.

  15. Bonnie, I never liked Tim Allen until I saw him in Galaxy Quest. What a jewel of a movie. When I suggested it to my kids, they thought I'd lost my mind--and then they loved it as well. And yes, Stranger Than Fiction was another pleasant surprise.

  16. Like the lists. I'd add one: Michelangelo Antonioni's BLOW UP starring David Hemmings and Vanessa Redgrave. Did I miss DAY OF THE JACKYL on your list? Love that movie too.

  17. John, I'm embarrassed that I omitted the title of the Lee Van Cleef movie, The Big Gundown. Van Cleef starred in a number of spaghetti westerns, not that I can remember titles. In one, he manned a river-crossing rope barge and in another, he took on a deadly family that built their wealth and political empire on killing. One of his most memorable adversaries was an amazing gay gunfighter. (If I remember right, that film contained a machine gun… an anachronistic weapon somehow transported from WW-I to the Old West.)

    For a Few Dollars More is such a great film, I don't classify it as a guilty pleasure but a treasure. For me, it was my favorite of the Clint Eastwood man-with-no-name trio. At times, Van Cleef's 'old man' character upstaged Eastwood's. Come to think of it, Van Cleef may have been referred to as 'old man' in The Big Gundown.

  18. O'Neil, Blow Up was another of those I saw in college. (I remember going to movies a lot more than I remember studying . . .) And no guilt feelings about Day of the Jackal--a good movie all the way around. That's one I haven't seen in a LONG time.

    Leigh, I do remember The Big Gundown--as you said, one of Lee Van Cleef's many non-Eastwood spaghetti westerns. And I agree with you about For a Few Dollars More--one of the best sequels ever. As for Eastwood's calling LVC "old man" in that movie, Eastwood was actually only five years younger than Van Cleef.

  19. These may well be called "popcorn movies:" "Driftwood" (2006, the one with Raviv Ullman and Dallas Page) a low-budget scare flick set in a youth detention center. (Don't confuse it with several other movies also titled "Driftwood.") "Zotz!" A fun flick about the powers of a magic coin with Tom Poston, Jim Bakus and Cecil Kellaway.
    More in the guilty pleasure category: "A Night In Heaven," with Christopher Atkins as a male stripper who has a fling with one of his professors (Leslie Anne Warren.) Described as having a good movie frustratingly close to its surface, trying to come out. Definitely a guilty pleasure is "Bug" (1975) William Castle's last film. A horror flick about fire starting cockroaches. The movie is stolen by one of the sets: the kitchen from "The Brady Bunch!" Happy viewing! Stock up on that popcorn!

  20. Jeff, I can always count on you to come up with movies I haven't seen. I remember Zotz and A Night in Heaven, but not other two. More choices for my Netflix queue.

    Another good thing about movies that are so bad they're good: you never get your hopes up too far. There's something to be said for low expectations!


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