Favorite Guilty Pleasure Movies

Clue (1985)
This movie is a classic of the broad comedy genre if you ask me. As a board game-to-film translation goes, I don't know if one could hope for much better. The cast is top knotch with Tim Curry standing out particularly. The comedy isn't particularly subtle or smart, but does it get any better than Mrs. White (Madeline Kahn) expressing her hatred for Yvette?

Mean Girls (2004)
While this satire doesn't entirely succeed due to the final 30 minutes resembling an after-school special, Mean Girls offers some quality laughs and an excellent performance by Rachel McAdams. I have lost count of how many little quotations from this film ("I know, right?" "Suck on that!") have been adopted as catchphrases by various friends of mine. Lindsay Lohan was still in the phase of her career in which she was actually acting and looking fresh-faced and fantastic. Oh, and we get sexy, funny, bespeckled Tina Fey in only her bra and a see-through tank top.

Music from Another Room (1998)
I can't really explain why I like this movie, but I can say that it's not because of Gretchen Moll. Maybe it's Brenda Blethyn, whom I always think is fabulous. Maybe it's Jennifer Tilly, whom I admit I kinda like despite her helium-infused acting voice. And I think that the blind sister storyline is actually the most interesting part of the movie. Maybe it's Jude Law, who at the time was still a new, very cute face that came with a charming accent. Maybe it's because I've always wanted to live above a bakery because my apartment would smell fucking amazing.

Freaky Friday (2003)
As a youngster I enjoyed the 1976 Freaky Friday, featuring the very cute and very butch Jodie Foster, and I did not expect to enjoy the remake. But pleasantly, Freaky Friday is one of the very few remakes that outshines the original. Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis have twice the chemistry of Jodie and Barbara Harris, and they actually try to act like each other. As far as the writing, the remake has something of a plot and is there anyone who doesn't think the Crypt Keeper line is brilliant?

Bring It On (2000)
This movie would have been worth the cost of admission if the projectionist had lost everything but the first and last reels with the opening credits cheer and Toni Basil's "Hey Mickey" homage at the end. Thankfully, the reels in between have memorable dialogue like, "This is not a democracy. It's a cheer-ocracy. I'm overruling you." "You are being a cheer-tator, Torrence, and a pain in my ass!" and Eliza Dushku playing the gayest straight character ever. Torrence totally wanted Cliff to go away at the end of the movie so that she could jump Missy's bones.

Allan Moyle's 'Pump Up the Volume' (1990)

Pump Up the Volume posterThough made in 1990, one is tempted to include Pump Up the Volume amongst the Hughesian-like melodramas and gross-out comedies such as Porky's that targeted a teen-aged audience in the '80s. However, doing so would be a mistake. This film has characters that defy the stereotypes of most high-school movies and an intelligent, well-written script that seems as applicable to the cultural landscape as it did almost 20 years ago.

Christian Slater delivers what must be his career-defining performance, borrowing not just a little from his fine work in another '80s classic, Heathers. Though he lowers his head perhaps one too many times in conveying Mark's timidity, Slater oozes charisma when Mark turns on his short-wave radio and broadcasts as Hard Harry. A bulk of the film consists of Mark just talking, but the combination of Slater's energy and wit and the thoughtful script keeps the pace up and holds the audience's attention. Samantha Mathis, in her first major role, also gives a nice performance, which begs the question, what happened to her career? Mathis and Slater have chemistry that practically crackles when they are on screen together.

Mathis' brief topless scene bothered me when I initially watched the film. I recognize that Nora taking off her shirt was less about sex and more about both she and Mark exposing themselves, making themselves vulnerable to each other. And, granted, Slater was topless too. I'm still not convinced that it was absolutely necessary, especially in a film aimed at a teenage audience, but Moyle directs in a way that does not make the scene about Mathis showing her breasts.

Pump Up the Volume addresses issues like teen pregnancy and suicide with a surprising amount of sensitivity and kindness. Moyle also explores the isolation and homogenization that the suburbs can encourage and, sometimes, inflict. Frankly, this film is one of very few projects that portray teenagers kindly and does not underestimate their intelligence and compassion or belittle the strong emotions that accompany that period in one's life.

Heather (Grody) Reid and Leisha Hailey: A Photographic Perambulation

Leisha Hailey, Heather Grody (The Murmurs)
The Murmurs, ca. 1994
(Heather Grody, Leisha Hailey)

Leisha Hailey, Heather Grody, Sheri Ozeki, Sherri Solinger (The Murmurs)The Murmurs, 1997
(Heather Grody, Leisha Hailey, Sheri Ozeki, Sherri Solinger)

Leisha Hailey, Heather Grody (The Murmurs)The Murmurs, 1998
(Heather Grody, Leisha Hailey)

Leisha Hailey, Heather Grody (The Murmurs)The Murmurs, 1999
(Heather Grody, Leisha Hailey)
I can't back you on that haircut, Leish.

Brad Casselden, Dave Doyle, Heather Grody, Leisha Hailey, Jon Skibic (GUSH)GUSH, ca. 2001
(Brad Casselden, Dave Doyle, Heather Grody, Leisha Hailey, Jon Skibic)
You're looking very Shane today, Leisha. Except you have hips.

Dear Bernard (Heather Reid)Cast of Dear Bernard, 2004
(Producers: Jorja Fox, John Switzer, Katherine Kendall, Heather Reid)
(Book, Lyrics and Music: Heather Reid)

Heather Reid, Jon Skibic, Ryan MacMillan (REDCAR)REDCAR, 2007
(Ryan MacMillan, Heather Reid, Jon Skibic)

Leisha Hailey, Camilla Gray (Uh Huh Her)Uh Huh Her, 2007
(Camila Grey, Leisha Hailey)

David O. Russell's 'Spanking the Monkey' (1994)

Spanking the Monkey promo posterSpanking the Monkey's playful title will cause you to expect this film to resemble David O. Russell's subsequent films, I Heart Huckabees and Flirting with Disaster. Even the promotional poster calls this film a "comedy." In actuality, Russell's 1994 feature, which has become something of an indie classic, is quite a dark and disturbing film.

All of Russell's films that I've seen have had a distinct flavor. Flirting with Disaster is a zany, road trip movie; I Heart Huckabees blends more subtle comedy with philosophical musings, resulting in something similar to a Wes Anderson affair; Three Kings is an action/adventure war movie unlike any other war movie I've seen.

Spanking the Monkey explores the psychological effects of isolation and lack of privacy, including incest and suicide, with the darkest of dark humor. While none of the main characters are particularly likable, with perhaps the exception of Carla Gallo's Toni, Russell's script and story are compelling, lulling the viewer into almost a dull, unsettling resignation, much like Ray. Though none of the faces are very familiar ones, the acting is solid and Russell's direction effectively duplicates Ray's sense of claustrophobia. Spanking the Monkey is not what I would call an enjoyable film, but it is a well-made one.

For another Monday

Amber Benson, Adam Busch, Danny Strong and others
Ahh! Look at teeny tiny Danny Strong on the end there. He's so little!

Russell Brown's 'Race You to the Bottom' (2007)

Race You to the Bottom is a character study that delves into the sometimes complex feelings that can arise between straight women and their gay male friends. Besides issues of negotiating one's sexuality, Russell Brown's first feature film explores being in one's mid-twenties and trying to transition into the responsibilities of adulthood. However, neither Nathan, a gay travel writer, nor Maggie, a temp with a political science degree, has the maturity to handle those responsibilities, and they are drawn together by their need for romantic escape. Though Maggie has a steady boyfriend, his apparent depression prevents him from fulfilling Maggie's emotional and sexual needs. She is drawn to Nathan's charisma and sleeping with him assuages her insecurities about her body. For serial seducer Nathan, his relationship with Maggie most likely began as a standard flirtation, but as the film begins he confronts his increasing affection for her.

As insecure, vulnerable Maggie, Amber Benson turns in a beautifully textured performance. From her first appearance on screen she imbues the film with energy and warmth. Even as Maggie becomes nastier toward Nathan, Benson never loses the audience's sympathy, giving each of Maggie's actions an undercurrent of desperation. Maggie is one of a string of characters in Benson's recent work who are unapologetically sexual beings, and Benson continues to choose projects that address matters of sexuality.

Co-star Cole Williams' performance is solid though not as affecting. At times Williams' acting comes across as a performance, but that tendency may have been a deliberate choice given Nathan's manipulative nature. Despite Nathan's brash veneer, Williams is charismatic and compelling, giving the audience enough glimpses of Nathan's humanity to make him more than just a one-dimensional character. Williams gives Nathan a certain flamboyance but he never crosses over into "screaming queen" territory. I don't know whether Williams identifies as straight or queer, but he doesn't balk at his intimate scenes with other men as some young actors worried about their careers might. Though Benson and Williams click as friends and companions, they do not generate quite the sexual heat needed for some of the steamier scenes. Benson had better romantic chemistry with Buffy co-star Alyson Hannigan. Making a lot of a small part, Justin Zachary leaves an impression as Maggie's cuckolded boyfriend.

Though some of the directorial flairs distract, Race You to the Bottom is beautifully filmed. The color palette and photography give the film an almost nostalgic presentation, which contributes to the romantic fantasy world that Nathan and Maggie have created for themselves. Surprising for a contemporary film, Kristen Anacker's wardrobe is a highlight. Nathan's clothing projects his pretensions, especially the corduroy jacket and open-collar shirt he wears for most of the film, which I thought of as a slightly dated ensemble of an intellectual. Maggie's clothes reflect a burgeoning sexuality slightly hindered by a lingering child-like quality. My favorite of Maggie's ensembles couples a sexy red boatneck and short black skirt with a pair of canvas sneakers. I also thought Ryan Beveridge's score was a lovely addition.

The film's main weakness is the script, which is choppy at times and overwritten. Brown's writing doesn't demonstrate enough trust in his actors to convey some of the emotional beats. However, I do like Brown's willingness to linger in gray areas. During Maggie and Nathan's first big fight, both characters are portrayed as doing the right thing: Maggie for telling Nathan that she is in love with him and Nathan for refusing to say something insincere in response. The ending is also nicely ambiguous. And the flashback structure works amazingly well with the exception of one or two of the scenes.

Though not a perfect film, Brown's directorial debut is a solid effort and worth a viewing for the beautiful scenery and Amber Benson's performance.

They're cute

But Ganya or death, baby!

Catchy song

But more importantly, cute close-ups.

Gap Classics campaign

Annie Leibovitz has photographed a new series of ads for Gap. As always, I love the simplicity of her images and how she photographs women in particular. She sexualizes them without being the least bit exploitive.

Lucy Liu
Sarah Silverman
Selma Blair

More Leisha

The sequence at -1:32 in this video exemplifies why I have a big ol' crush on Leisha Hailey.

Also, I prefer this simplified version of "White Rabbit," because it isn't trying too hard to be the Jefferson Airplane original, which it can never be.

Adrienne Shelly's 'Waitress' (2007)

Waitress - Keri Russell, Adrienne Shelly, Cheryl Hines
Reading a description of the plot of Waitress won't fully prepare you for seeing the film. Adrienne Shelly's posthumously released final project is a dark, risky film with a warm, inviting color palette and a happy ending. Knowing that Shelly started her career in Hal Hartley films (and having seen a Hartley film) gives you an idea of the tone and style -- everything seems just a little off and slightly heightened. Complementing the dialogue and acting style, Shelly blows out the color a bit, making everything seem a little too warm and golden.

Keri Russell disappeared for a while after Felicity ended, but she has come back strong with some nice performances in The Upside of Anger and now this film. She has able assistance from the supporting cast, most notably Cheryl Hines as her feisty coworker and Andy Griffith as the curmudgeonly owner of the pie shop where she works. Nathan Fillion is charming as the bumbling new OB/GYN, and he and Russell make a cute couple. However, I was distracted throughout the film by Fillion's eye color. I don't remember his eyes being that blue on Firefly or in Serenity. Perhaps he was wearing contacts or the color correction on the film altered his eye color.

Waitress - Keri Russell, Lew Temple, Cheryl Hines
Scenes with Jeremy Sisto made me downright uncomfortable, which speaks well of his performance. The abuse that Earl inflicts on Jenna is more emotional than physical, and from his first appearance in the film he sucks the air out of the room. I could have done without the scene in which Earl practically rapes his wife. His character is not drawn very three-dimensionally, but I can see why Shelly might have made that choice. This film is more likely to attract a female audience. To make some women sympathetic to Jenna, who is vocal about her displeasure about her pregnancy and who, in fact, writes hate letters to her unborn child, Jenna's situation needs to be pretty terrible.

Waitress is very much about discovering possibility. At the beginning of the movie, Jenna can only see possibility in the pies that she makes because of her suffocating home life. Her affair with Dr. Pomatter causes her to see more possibilities for herself, and the birth of her child allows her to see so much possibility that she finds the strength to leave Earl and start her own life.

Yes, I just gave away the ending, but Waitress isn't exactly breaking the mold where plot is concerned. Despite that fact, Adrienne Shelly's final film is appealing, offering likable characters and several laugh-out-loud moments.

Waitress - Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion

Punky Leisha Hailey

I think this cover of "White Rabbit" is pretty banal — Heather Grody's twee voice cannot compete with Grace Slick's aggressive, throaty wail and the instrumentation isn't new and interesting enough to compensate. But I love how intense and fierce Leisha is trying to look in this video. I also love all the electric guitar feedback at the end of the song and the complete absence of an electric guitar in the video.

Kinda creepy

Amber Benson
That painting is a horrible likeness. That's like the wicked stepmother version of Amber.

A fair amount of ridiculousness

I'm slightly charmed more by "Hott4Hill" but I'm a little turned off by both videos.


Willows, Doppelgangland
I wonder if that's Alyson Hannigan's stand-in on the far right there. She's really pretty.