Accepting the Blame

The Top Guilty Pleasures of 2007

by PopMatters Staff

16 January 2008

PopMatters proffers its collection of 2007's most notable defective faves. And it's okay to laugh. After all, we'd probably do the same to you and your uncomfortable fixations as well.

Sometimes, a guilty pleasure is the best satisfaction one can have. It’s the most personal and pertinent, establishing a direct connection to your consciousness and never letting go. It haunts your waking hours, obsessing you like an addict awaiting its next media fix. Of course, the accompanying embarrassment that greets their discovery is enough to put people off their passion—sometimes permanently. But in the long run, we defend our culpable enjoyment with a pervasive purity of spirit that’s unmatched elsewhere. Indeed, many don’t care if their friends and fellow fanatics “get it’. After all, one man’s trash is another’s hour long drama featuring glitzy society sluts cat-fighting at regular intervals. Or maybe it’s a comedy with more dopiness than depth.

Whatever the case, PopMatters has decided to showcase a few of our staff’s more memorable blameworthy delights for 2007. The criteria for such choices was simple—whatever TV show, film, or DVD the writer felt at fault for liking—perhaps even loving—they included for consideration. In some instances, the choice was questionable at best (can an awards season spectacle running away with dozens of critic’s list honors be considered a guilty pleasure?). On the other hand, there were more than a couple selections that seemed downright deranged (look, we’ve got nothing against Larry the Cable Guy personally, but…). As a result, we feel this list best represents the true definition of a guilty pleasure—something you love ridiculously, which others may reject outright, but at least they recognize why you love it…sort of.

Looking over the 15 highlighted discomfitures here, there’s a fairly even divide between TV, film and DVD. Some selections revolve around a single individual. Others use the person as a means of projecting onto their entire career. Specific shows are mentioned, while other more generalized delights are described. One thing’s for certain, few if any of the listed laments would be characterized as classics. As a matter of fact, in the case of one unadulterated bad Roman era spectacle, the back story on the production is far more interesting than the sexed up film itself. So get ready to blush and, maybe, acknowledge a few of your own entertainment faults as PopMatters proffers its collection of 2007’s most notable defective faves. And it’s okay to laugh. After all, we’d probably do the same to you and your uncomfortable fixations as well.

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Balls of Fury

Director: Robert Ben Garant
Cast: Dan Fogler, Christopher Walken, George Lopez, Maggie Q, Thomas Lennon, Robert Patrick

(Rogue Pictures)
US theatrical: 29 Aug 2007 (General release)

Review [31.Aug.2007]
Balls of Fury Robert Ben Garant

Sometimes, dumb is all you need—and Balls of Fury is that heaping helping of sensational single digit IQ-uity. Actually, it’s unfair to call this witty, borderline satiric spoof of martial arts movies and sports films brainless. It’s actually very smart in its silliness, a good natured goof that wants to earn its hilarity any witty way it can. Yes, it’s frequently sophomoric and slightly scatological, and it riffs on so many comic cross references that you can get lost in all the homages, but the fact remains, this is a wonderfully effective little film. It’s the kind of insanity destined to become a cult classic. Bill Gibron

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Director: Tinto Brass
Cast: Malcolm McDowell, John Gielgud, Peter O’Toole, Helen Mirren, Teresa Ann Savoy

(Independent Artists)
US theatrical: 14 Aug 1979

Caligula Image Entertainment DVD

As a movie, Caligula lacks even the basics of believability. It’s a flaccid fever dream stuffed full of exaggerated opulence and inherent insanity. It represents director Tinto Brass at his most referential (this is pure faux Fellini, nothing more) and Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione at his most arrogant. Stuck in the middle were directionless actors, an incredibly pissed off writer—none other than Gore Vidal—and sets so spectacular they dwarfed the standard Hollywood design. It was cinematic excess as only the Italians could create and the foundation for a lineage of rumors and innuendo. Such creative car crashing is a flop lover’s dream come true. Bill Gibron

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Dark Shadows

Cast: Joan Bennett, Jonathan Frid, Grayson Hall, Louis Edmonds, Nancy Barrett, David Selby, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Alexandra Moltke, David Henesy, Denise Nickerson, Thayer David

US: 27 Jun 1966

Dark Shadows: The Beginning MCI DVD

Rumor has it that Dan Curtis, frustrated by the lack of enthusiasm for his tanking Gothic soap opera, asked his adolescent daughter for some creative advice. “Put a ghost in it” was her educated response. He acquiesced and, oddly enough, it worked. The ratings picked up, and it wasn’t long before his efforts became a cult phenomenon. For years now, fans have been angry over the decision to release the series in a Barnabas-only ideal. This year, the original non-paranormal episodes, subtitled The Beginning, finally arrived. While not as macabre as the rest of the run, these first few segments are a hilarious, pre-haunted hoot. Bill Gibron

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Ghost in the Teeny Bikini

Director: Fred Olen Ray
Cast: Nicole Sheridan, Rebecca Love, Christine Nguyen, Evan Stone, Alexandre Boisvert

(Retromedia Entertainment)
US theatrical: 8 Aug 2006

Fred Olen Ray’s ‘Bikini’ Series Retromedia DVD

Ever wonder what porn stars do in their off hours. Why, they make low budget softcore sex romps. Not just cable-ready versions of their hardcore features, but real b-movies helmed by established and wannabe filmmakers eager to tap the available (and typically cheap) talent pool for a little stunt casting production value. One such slash and burn cinemaniac is the fearless Fred Olen Ray. Cobbling together a wonderful cast of carnal icons, including Nicole Sheridan, her half-pint hubby Voodoo (a.k.a. Alexandre Boisvert), Evan Stone, and others, he’s made several cheesy classics guaranteed to make even the silly schlock lover pop in appreciation. Bill Gibron

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I Love New York: The Complete First Season

US DVD: 2 Oct 2007

Review [12.Nov.2007]
I Love New York VH1

I confess I have love to spare for the post-production staff of I Love New York 2. Its cheeky decision to cut the first interviews of contestant “Midget Mac” to show only the top of his head was, to say something, inspired. But this one is really for New York’s mother superior, Sister Patterson, who chews up the screen while she chews out everyone else in her path. Patterson—the sole voice of reason on a program whose premise states that there is no reason for this show aside from New York’s bottomless supply of chutzpah—keeps the motley cast real, and keeps us emotionally invested in daughter Tiffany, who remains endlessly quotable despite her increasingly preposterous “New York” get-ups. Maureen Miller

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The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency

Cast: Janice Dickinson, Peter Hamm, Nathan Fields, Savannah Dickinson, Gabrial Geismar, Duke Snyder

US: 6 Jun 2006

The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency Oxygen Network

She’s a total train wreck, a former ‘70s supermodel who believes plastic surgery and sass keep her relevant in the post-millennial fashion biz. In truth, she’s that favored kind of fame whore - a washed up wretch who knows her 15 minutes are up and yet continues the dogged pony show. Thanks to appearances on America’s Next Top Model, The Surreal Life and the UK series I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Outta Here her profile is higher than ever. With her unreality series about the modeling world still working it on Oxygen, she remains a viable remnant of Me Decade mediocrity - and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Bill Gibron

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Kid Nation

Series Premiere
Cast: Jonathan Karsh
Regular airtime: Wednesdays, 8pm ET

US: 20 Sep 2007

Review [26.Sep.2007]
Kid Nation CBS

At first I felt guilty about looking forward to a reality show that might expose children to a Donner Party-style frontier tragedy. When that didn’t happen I felt guilty about liking such an aimless lil’ Survivor clone that shamelessly pulled my Hallmark heartstrings. In the end Kid Nation provoked the warring responses of all great expertly edited interactive trash TV. One minute I was damning the producers for exploiting the young, the next yelling at a nine-year old for not cleaning the dishes. Finally I’d sigh “awww” at the clearly foreshadowed redemptive closer. I’m not smarter than a 5th grader. Michael Buening

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The Knights of Prosperity

Cast: Donal Logue, Sofía Vergara, Lenny Venito, Maz Jobrani, Kevin Michael Richardson, Josh Grisetti

US: 3 Jan 2007

The Knights of Prosperity ABC

Though short-lived and shown intermittently by ABC during the show’s run, The Knights of Prosperity was a goofball mid-season treat. Starring Donal Logue as Eugene Gurkin, the ringleader of a misfit gang, the show’s premise (and initial name) was: Let’s Rob Mick Jagger. They came surprisingly close to pulling off the big heist, but the particulars of plot didn’t matter as much as the interactions between the characters, which included the sexy Esperanza (Sofia Vergara), the womanizing cabbie Gourishankar “Gary” Subramaniam (Maz Jobrani), and Knights’ greatest contribution to TV, Kevin Michael Richardson as the extra-large and tracksuit-clad Rockefeller Butts, whose Barry White-like voice concluded the show’s theme song with, “We the Knights, baby”. Too quirky for prime time, ABC aired only ten episodes. Good night, Knights of Prosperity. Michael Keefe

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3ABN Network

Cast: Various

(3ABN Network)

Let’s Cook Together / Food for Thought 3ABN Network

When they aren’t busy prophesying the Rapture and rebuking normative society, what do most devote Christians like to do? Why, whip up vegetarian dishes, that’s what. If you ever find yourself scanning up (or down) the expansive line-up of your local cable/satellite TV provider, stop off and give this pair of plebian cooking shows a try. Barebones in their production values, but high concept in their devotion to all things soy and pseudo, you’re a mere serving of liquid aminos away from 30 mind-blowing minutes of crackpot crock potting. Toss in a few scripture passages and serve. Bill Gibron

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Director: Greg Mottola
Cast: Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Bill Hader, Seth Rogen

US theatrical: 17 Aug 2007 (General release)

Review [18.Aug.2007]
Review [17.Aug.2007]
Michael Cera Actor

Cera-come-latelies first encountered the now ubiquitous comic actor as a gangly, mumbly lad of eighteen. There was a time not so long ago, though, when loving Cera used to connote guilty, sexy, pervy shame, even for college kids who quoted Arrested Development like it was their major. Way back when, that was! In fact, that was less than one year ago, when Cera still looked twelve and his understated mannerisms seemed further beyond his years. Now the rightful 40-year-old virgin is a full-fledged, grown-ass man, and he’s taken over straight-to-YouTube entertainment (and, quite possibly, North America’s collective heart). Cera’s current success seems less guilty pleasure than logical conclusion. As good an excuse as any to revisit the apotheosis of Cera’s juvenilia, “Impossible is the Opposite of Possible,” Cera’s video “model of personal development.” I laughed, and I laughed. You Tube Clip Maureen Miller

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Mr. Brooks

Director: Bruce A. Evans
Cast: Kevin Costner, William Hurt, Dane Cook, Demi Moore, Danielle Panabaker, Marg Helgenberger

US theatrical: 1 Jun 2007 (General release)

Mr. Brooks Bruce A. Evans

Now that the golden era of the major studio serial killer thrillers seems to be over, it’s good to see that they’ve finally learned how to have fun with the genre. Case in point in this needlessly glossy and utterly campy treat wherein Kevin Costner plays a serial killer (by day a successful businessman and father, of course), trying to quit his homicidal tendencies but continually goaded back to them by his snide little id, a figment of his imagination named Marshall personified by William Hurt. Uninvolving subplots with a bored Demi Moore as a cop on Costner’s trail and Dane Cook (perfectly cast, for once) as a queasy creepy sycophant killer-in-training take a back seat to Brooks and Marshall’s hilariously giggly, nattering conversations. Hurt’s customary overacting for once seems dead-on instead of ludicrous (as in, say, A History of Violence), while Costner uses his long-dormant sardonic grin and sociopathic blankness to killer effect in a film that’s almost worth it. Chris Barsanti

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Romance & Cigarettes

Director: John Turturro
Cast: James Gandolfini, Kate Winslet, Susan Sarandon, Mary-Louise Parker

US theatrical: 7 Sep 2007

Romance & Cigarettes John Turturro

Sure, James Gandolfini can’t really sing, but none of them can, you see? John Turturro’s Queens-set musical is all pop standards belted out in Brechtian verite style by trashy housewives, their blue-collar men, gutter-mouthed slatterns and the occasional guy who’s just too cool for school (read: Christopher Walken). So, it ain’t supposed to be pretty; a good thing, because it ain’t. The set pieces never quite come together, and a good part of it is a serious drag. But occasionally afterward you find yourself remembering a particularly absurd moment (Walken’s dancing, maybe that backyard doo-wop punk band with Mary-Louise Parker, Mandy Moore, and Aida Turturro) and heck if it doesn’t bring a little grin to your face. Weird, ever so weird, and not good by a long shot. But different, and on the rare occasion wonderfully so. Chris Barsanti

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Shoot ‘Em Up

Director: Michael Davis
Cast: Clive Owen, Paul Giamatti, Monica Bellucci, Greg Bryk, Stephen McHattie

(New Line Cinema)
US theatrical: 7 Sep 2007 (General release)
UK theatrical: 14 Sep 2007 (General release)

Shoot ‘Em Up Michael Davis

There’s no rationalizing a movie like Shoot ‘Em Up. There’s no way to excuse its excesses or validate its unavoidable volatilities. Instead, one simply has to sit back and enjoy the highlight reel histrionics of the action, the pure visual pleasure of watching choreographed actors exchange pot shots like gun toting gladiators. While really nothing more than a glorified game of one-upmanship where Smith and Wesson replace sword and saber, and everyone has a vendetta driving their designs, it’s a Six Shooter Territory Wild West stunt show gone Gotham. With as much ambition as ammunition at its disposal, this is surfeit that really satisfies. Bill Gibron

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Southland Tales

Director: Richard Kelly
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Seann William Scott, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Nora Dunn, Beth Grant, Wood Harris, John Larroquette, Bai Ling, Jon Lovitz, Christopher Lambert, Mandy Moore, Holmes Osborne, Cheri Oteri, Amy Poehler, Miranda Richardson, Wallace Shawn, Kevin Smith, Justin Timberlake

(Samuel Goldwyn Films)
US theatrical: 14 Nov 2007 (Limited release)
UK theatrical: 7 Dec 2007 (Limited release)

Review [13.Nov.2007]
Southland Tales Richard Kelly

Sad about Richard Kelly. Once the golden boy after Donnie Darko, he wasted his intervening years with writing crap Tony Scott films (Domino) and penning this magnum opus, which hardly rewards the years of breathless chatroom fanboy waiting. That said, while the looping knot of a story is almost impossible to untangle (near-future paranoia and bald post-9/11 satire mixed with more stunt-casting than three Tarantino films put together), there’s something in Kelly’s monomania that grabs you here and there. Maybe it’s the Rock twittering his fingers and playing schizoid while a gaggle of SNL cast members run about playing revolutionaries. Could be the completely inappropriate usage of the Pixies’ “Wave of Multilation.” Or possibly it’s the last line, uttered while L.A. collapses in civil war and a rip in the space time continuum threatens to swallow Seann William Scott and his doppelganger: “Pimps don’t commit suicide.” Sit back, watch, feel sorry for everyone involved, and occasionally tip your hat to the sheer mania of it all. Chris Barsanti

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The Soup

Cast: Joel McHale

(E! Entertainment)
US: 1 Jul 2004

The Soup E! Entertainment

In it’s current incarnation, E! Entertainment Television’s weekly reality show wrap-up has found the perfect attitude, and host, to keep the concept alive for years to come. Joel McHale, following in such formidable footsteps as Greg Kinear and John Henson, takes the updated format, fiddles with the obvious pandering and implausibility, and spins it back into a wonderful grab bag of self-deprecating satire. Whether he’s skewering pop culture, celebrity, or the TV shows that cater to same, he brings a biting acerbity to what can occasionally feel like lampoon overkill. From “Chat Stew” to the “Clip of the Week”, it’s the most consistently funny show of its kind. Bill Gibron

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