Wednesday, June 27, 2012

It's Been A Pleasure...Part 1

The following are Guilty Pleasures in Pop Culture that offer an enjoyable experience in ways that must be explained:

(You'll notice that I wrote 'part 1' in the title. This post will be ongoing and yes, there is a comic book in this list)...

1. Knock Off - In 1997, Jean Claude Van Damme appeared with Rob Schneider in this action-comedy flick set during the Hong Kong Handover, in which the UK took their Union Jack off the flagpoll and let China replace it with their flag, under the proviso that the status quo in Hong Kong remain the same...ish. The muscles from Brusseles played Marcus Ray, a clothing manufacter with a shady past linked to bootleg merchandise. Schnieder played his business partner, an undercover CIA agent who was assigned to keep tabs on Marcus. Paul Sorvino played Schnieder's boss. Lela Rochon played a CIA agent working undercover as ... well, the whole point of the film is a series of double and triple-crosses concerning nano-bombs small enough to disguise as buttons on bluejeans or watch batteries, with Jean Claude being the guy who has to spot the real ones from the fakes (I'm quoting the trailer). The film is the forerunner for the Rush Hour movies, only less leaden and a better ensemble and some really good action sequences and showy camera angles using practical effects. I can watch this anytime.

2. The Life and Death of Peter Sellers - oh boy. You know the saying, "Never work with your heroes"? I knew what I was in for because I had read the Roger Lewis biography a year before seeing this, which was the source for it, as well as Ed Sikov's more sympathetic Mister Strangeglove, which I had read before the former. I had bought the DVD of this for the nice price of $1.99 last month and never regretted it, because I enjoyed it a lot. However... I must inform you that Peter Sellers, in real life, was an abusive, insecure, paranoid, egotistical, negative, drug-addled and self-destructive man-child who may have only been kind to Sophia Loren (who he was gaga over) and members of his old comedy troop, The Goons, though you'll get an argument from me that he kept them around as little more than his entourage. Once you get over that hurdle, you'll find how the screenwriters and director and the stars of the film (Geoffrey Rush actually becomes Sellers in some places, Charlize Theron and Emily Watson are terrific, Stanley Tucci awesome as Stanley Kubrick) are able to bring this actor to life one more time. BTW, I wouldn't mind seeing Rush play Clouseau in a Pink Panther film. Perhaps that Romance of The Pink Panther which was originally intended to wrap the series and was co-written by Sellers. This is not the only time an artist belied his/her own work with their personality/private life - it seems like just a matter of course, really. What's interesting is I can still watch any movie with Sellers after this. Hey, he was dead before I turned one!

3. Azrael, Agent of The Bat - I wonder if people picked this book up for kick-ass violence and superhero action. If you did, you probably didn't find it at all satisfying. That's because this book, the thinking man's Spawn , was all about a vehicle for Dennis O'Neil to tell stories. I don't think he was conciously aware of it, but over the course of 100 issues, O'Neil was reflecting on how costumed superheroes go through different incarnations and change in order to stay relevant. Azrael's various costume changes were part of the character's evolution: first as an obvious Spawn-wannabe, then a member of the Bat-family, then finally his own man before reverting back to his own form of "AzBat-Man" by choice. A lot has changed in the DCU in the decade since he was killed off, but some characters are too good to stay buried. I'm still surprised how jolly that book was. More like a dark pulp-gothic comedy than average superhero soap opera fare.

4. Victorious - There are many tv shows out there that have what is sometimes referred to as "The secret weapon" - a character played by an actor or actress whose performance makes it the reason to keep watching - often the only reason. Even if, on average, they get less than 3 minutes of screentime when they do appear - if at all! On Seinfeld, it was Wayne Knight as Newman. On Futurama, it was Bender the robot. In The Electric Company, it was Ashley Austin Morris as Francine Carruthers. In Victorious, it is Daniella Monet as Trina Vega. Every time she arrives, she gets the whole joint jumping. When she disappears, we realize how dull the show - an interchangable carbon copy of most teen sitcoms - and its main cast are. In fact, the producers should consider a spinoff: What Was Trina Doing?, which, just like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (or "The Zeppo" or "Lion King 1 1/2", for those of you who don't know), would show what Trina was doing for the remaining 19 of the 22 minutes she was kept offscreen.
It also doesn't hurt that the talented Ms. Monet wears micro-mini skirts and short-shorts in almost every scene she's in. Nice legs. She's 23 and was 20 when the show started. Of course that means that she was 23 when the show started and is 26 now - that's the way it is.

5. A View To A Kill - This was the first James Bond film I remember watching, as well as the first I remember watching in a theatre. In fact, it's actually the only one I've seen in a theatre! But this is not about nostalgia: I still find it to be an entertaining James Bond movie. It's got gadgets, locations, crazy villains (Christopher Walken before he became Christopher Walken - you know what I mean), literal cliffhangers borrowed from silent movie serials, (the finale looks like a scene from The Perils of Penelope Pitstop), some hot greasy-lipped 1980's Bond Girls ("Hey, it's the other mom from That 70's Show!") and Grace Jones, who, well, fans of Roger Moore say he gets bonus points for having made out with her and lived - few men can boast that accomplishment. It's also got an awesome soundtrack by John Glen and the title song by Duran Duran is a perfect Bond theme, even if the lyrics are ... strange. Bonus fact: if you've ever read the Bond spinoff novels by John Gardner, you'd cry deja vu after seeing this film and Never Say Never Again after reading Role of Honor. Video games and Blimps? Yes.

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