Film

Celulloid Culpability - Top 10 Film Guilty Pleasures of 2008

Like comedy or music, one's choice in cinematic pleasure can be very personal - and very peculiar. Take this tantalizing list of shameful indulgences. You can argue over their artistic value, but their individuals rewards definitely speak to those who champion them.

Display Artist: Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg Director: Jon Hurwitz Director: Hayden Schlossberg Film: Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantánamo Bay Studio: New Line Cinema Cast: John Cho, Kal Penn, Rob Corddry, Roger Bart, Neil Patrick Harris Website: http://whatwouldnphdo.com/ MPAA rating: R Trailer: http://www.movieweb.com/video/V07L568aepCKOV First date: 2008 US Release Date: 2008-04-25 (General release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/h/harold-and-kumar-poster.jpg

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List number: 10

Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay

Jon Hurwitz & Hayden Schlossberg

I'll admit it: I saw the trailers for the first Harold and Kumar movie and thought, "Ugh, stupid. Pass." But eventually I saw it on cable, and yeah, it was surprisingly funny. Still quite stupid, sure, but also really funny. Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay is, happily, more of the same. From the bottomless pool party to the surprisingly sophisticated rednecks to the return of the spectacular Neil Patrick Harris, the movie is packed with big laughs. It also plays with racial stereotypes to great effect, with Rob Corddry's performance as the hopelessly racist Agent Fox possibly the dimmest portrayal of an FBI agent ever captured on film. Chris Conaton

Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantánamo Bay

Director: Darren Lynn Bousman Film: Repo: The Genetic Opera Studio: Lionsgate Cast: Alexa Vega, Anthony Head, Paul Sorvino, Paris Hilton, Bill Moseley, Sarah Brightman Website: http://www.repo-opera.com/ MPAA rating: R First date: 2008 US Release Date: 2008-11-07 Image: http://images.popmatters.com/blog_art/r/repogeneticoperaposter.jpg

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List number: 9

Repo! The Genetic Opera

Darren Lynn Bousman

One part high-concept art and one part camp, Repo!: The Genetic Opera, what's not to love about a futuristic goth/rock/punk/industrial opera about repossessing people's organs?!. Taking place in the not-so-distant future, an epidemic of organ failure and recreational plastic surgery prompts a biotech conglomerate, GeneCo, to capitalize on the situation. Run by the decadent Largo family with an army of Genetic Repo Men at their service, payment for parts is extracted either monetarily -- or with the organs themselves. Accomplished Broadway performers Sarah Brightman and Paul Sorvino (whose voice and performance shine as the ruthless, bitter CEO of GeneCo) play alongside cult favorites Bill Moseley (The Devil's Rejects), the vocally gifted Anthony Stewart Head (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Paris Hilton. The result is a uniquely musical mixture of drama, shock-horror, and comedy. Lana Cooper

Repo: The Genetic Opera

Director: Michael Patrick King Film: Sex and the City Studio: New Line Cinema Cast: Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon, Chris Noth, David Eigenberg, Evan Handler, Jason Lewis, Jennifer Hudson Website: http://www.sexandthecitymovie.com/ MPAA rating: R First date: 2008 US Release Date: 2008-05-30 (General release) UK Release Date: 2008-05-30 (General release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/s/sex-and-the-city-movie-poster.jpg

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List number: 8

Sex and the City: The Movie

Michael Patrick King

A Grade-A estro-fest, the big-screen version of Sex and the City picks up at the next logical step three years from where the HBO series left off. It detours slightly, condensing the four main characters to neatly packaged archetypes for the sake of the two-and-a-half hour long film, allowing both old fans and new converts to jump in. In that sense, it detours from the TV show, less of a paeon to single life as it is a borderline cautionary tale of the pitfalls of long-term relationships. It's something of a sweet, yet cynical catharsis for women to commiserate with on-screen representation regarding the various stages of relationships. The guilty pleasure ante is upped thanks to the parade of couture flashed on screen with MTV-style, rapid-fire precision in every frame. Not without its cheese factor (including a clichéd, slow-mo phone drop at a pivotal moment in the film), at its core, the film incarnation of Sex and the City is as much about friendship as it is fashion. Lana Cooper

Sex and the City

Director: Kenny Ortega Film: High School Musical 3: Senior Year Studio: Walt Disney Pictures Cast: Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Lucas Grabeel, Corbin Bleu, Monique Coleman Website: http://disney.go.com/disneypictures/highschoolmusical3/ MPAA rating: PG First date: 2008 US Release Date: 2008-10-17 Image: http://images.popmatters.com/blog_art/h/hsm3poster.jpg

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List number: 7

High School Musical 3: Senior Year

Kenny Ortega

No worries here, Disney’s rabidly popular High School Musical franchise survives its transition from cable to the big screen with all of its “Up with People” élan quite intact, thank you very much. Sure, it basically just recycles the story from its first iteration; and sure, the peppy, relentlessly catchy songs only occasionally progress the plot or add any depth to the characters or themes (as you would expect, in a normal musical); and sure, it’s anachronistic and hammy and ludicrous to the point of tears. But goshdarnit, I can’t say I had a more flat out joyful and exciting film going experience all year than taking in HSM3 with my girlfriend (like myself, a rabid devotee) and a theater full of little kids, all of whom knew all the words, and a large contingent of whom were quite determined at belting out each song with manic brio and enthusiastic interpretive dance. Jake Meaney

High School Musical 3: Senior Year

Director: Neil Marshall Film: Doomsday Cast: Rhona Mitra, Bob Hoskins, Malcom McDowell, David O’Hara MPAA rating: R First date: 2008 Distributor: Universal Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/d/doomsday.jpg

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List number: 6

DOOMSDAY

Neil Marshall

Following up The Descent, one of the scariest, most effective horror movies of the past decade, with a big dumb post-apocalyptic action movie is not an obvious move. But maybe writer/director Neil Marshall needed a break from all that intensity. Regardless of his motivation, DOOMSDAY (Yes, it's supposed to be all capitals), is a rollicking action flick that never slows down. Shamelessly ripping off The Road Warrior and a half-dozen other movies, DOOMSDAY is the story of a superspy (Rhona Mitra) sent into desolate, long-quarantined Scotland to retrieve a possibly non-existent antidote to a virus now ravaging London. Along the way she meets cannibal punks, armored knights on horseback, and Malcolm McDowell in full scenery-chewing mode. Trust me, it's awesome. Chris Conaton

Doomsday

Director: Jeff Wadlow Film: Never Back Down Studio: Summit Entertainment Cast: Sean Faris, Djimon Hounsou, Amber Heard, Cam Gigandet, Evan Peters, Leslie Hope Website: http://www.neverbackdownthemovie.com/ MPAA rating: PG-13 Trailer: http://www.apple.com/trailers/independent/neverbackdown/trailer/ First date: 2008 US Release Date: 2008-03-14 (General release) UK Release Date: 2008-04-04 (General release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/n/never-back-down-poster.jpg

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List number: 5

Never Back Down

Jeff Wadlow

Never Back Down is essentially The Karate Kid with mixed-martial arts and no conscience (or grasp of reality) whatsoever. The movie depicts a high school where everyone's lives revolve around fighting, house parties are just a cover for mixed-gender brawls, and absolutely everything is captured on video and immediately uploaded onto YouTube. And it feels like almost half of the film's (two hour!) running time is taken up by montages set to the cheapest jock rock the producers could find. Yet despite its adherence to formula, Never Back Down is enthralling in its lunacy: its depiction of teenage life is so ridiculous it borders on surreal, and its “use violence to solve your problems” moral goes from odious to hilarious by the time the hero’s mom is encouraging him to participate in unregulated street fights. Jack Rodgers

Never Back Down

Director: Fred Wolf Film: The House Bunny Studio: Columbia Pictures Cast: Anna Faris, Emma Stone, Colin Hanks, Kat Dennings, Beverly D'Angelo, Katharine McPhee, Rumer Willis, Kendra Wilkinson, Kiely Williams Website: http://www.thehousebunny.com/ MPAA rating: PG-13 First date: 2008 US Release Date: 2008-08-22 (General release) UK Release Date: 2008-10-10 (General release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/h/house-bunny-poster.jpg

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List number: 4

The House Bunny

Fred Wolf

If you subscribe to the brilliance of the "smart-dumb" comedic stylings of the criminally underutilized and underappreciated Anna Faris (which I most certainly do), then The House Bunny was the one and only late summer comedy you had penciled in for 2008. A distaff version of Old School, with Faris playing a Playboy Bunny forced to find a new gig as a sorority house mother after eviction from the Mansion, the film is a showcase for the breezy off the cuff daffiness and impeccable comic timing that has become Faris' bread and butter. Though ultimately disposable, and falling far short of capitalizing on its girl power message, I think I laughed more in the first half hour of The House Bunny than I did during the entirety of the summer's much vaunted Tropic Thunder, and enjoyed Farris' turn as Shelley the Bunny more than any other female performance I saw this year. Now, someone please, get this girl a better agent! Jake Meaney

The House Bunny

Director: Adam McKay Film: Step Brothers Studio: Sony Cast: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Richard Jenkins, Mary Steenburgen, Adam Scott Website: http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/stepbrothers/index.html MPAA rating: R First date: 2008 Distributor: Sony US Release Date: 2008-07-25 (General release) UK Release Date: 2008-08-29 (General release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/s/stepbrothersmp08.jpg

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List number: 3

Step Brothers

Adam McKay

The script for Adam McKay's latest anarcho-comic circus was probably about five pages long, tops, and filled with notations like, "Will and John go off on each other," and it shows. There's roughly three seconds of plot in this patched-together piece about two unnaturally immature step brothers (Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly) forced to live together (they don't like it, there's your story). But the non-sequitur obscenities the two concoct in their hilariously frenetic free-association rants eventually reaches a fever pitch that leaves you gasping for air. Chris Barsanti

Step Brothers

Director: Steven Spielberg Film: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Studio: Paramount Pictures Cast: Harrison Ford, Shia LaBeouf, Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, Ray Winstone, John Hurt, Jim Broadbent, Ian McDiarmid Website: http://www.indianajones.com/site/index.html MPAA rating: PG-13 First date: 2008 US Release Date: 2008-05-22 (General release) UK Release Date: 2008-05-22 (General release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/k/kingdomofthecrystalskull.jpg

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List number: 2

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Steven Spielberg

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has a lot working against it, it's true. Just by coming 20 years after Last Crusade, it was facing an uphill battle. Then you have the scenes that go past simple ridiculousness into outright egregiousness. Yes, the refrigerator sequence and the greaser monkeys were unforgivably awful. But Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford know what they're doing, and they keep the movie fun despite George Lucas's subpar story. And let's not forget the unfairly maligned Shia LeBouf. Hated in many places on the internet for no apparent reason, he turns in another likable, solid performance as Mutt, and he and Ford play well against each other. It may be the weakest of the four, but Crystal Skull still captures a lot of what made Indy great in the first place. Chris Conaton

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Director: Kevin Smith Film: Zack and Miri Make a Porno Studio: The Weinstein Company Cast: Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Craig Robinson, Jason Mewes, Katie Morgan, Traci Lords Website: http://www.zackandmiri.com/ MPAA rating: R First date: 2008 US Release Date: 2008-10-31 (General release) UK Release Date: 2008-11-14 (General release) Image: http://images.popmatters.com/film_art/z/zachmiripornposter.jpg

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List number: 1

Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Kevin Smith

Writer/director Kevin Smith delivers arguably his foulest and funniest flick yet with Zack and Miri Make a Porno. Two platonic pals, Zack and Miri, find themselves strapped for cash and decide to produce and amateur porn with their friends to makes some cash. Complicating matters is the worry of repercussions of on-camera sex taking a toll on their friendship. As Zack, Seth Rogen, a staple of Judd Apatow comedies, is a natural fit for Kevin Smith's brand of likeable raunch alongside Smith's long-time side man, Jason Mewes who pops up in a supporting role. The female cast members also carry the, ahem, load with Traci Lords lending authenticity and Banks as the reluctant starlet. Slightly controversial with advertising for the film edited or omitted in some markets across the nation, the film's title belies a very real sort of romance -- once you get past jokes about bodily fluids and fornicating with a flashlight. Lana Cooper

Zack and Miri Make a Porno

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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