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I’m Not Ashamed of Any of These

By Randal Stevens · May 24, 2010

Until my job got retarded, I used to be a film critic. Telling people that I was a film critic typically used to elicit two assumptions from average people: 1) I had seen every movie currently playing in theaters, but 2) I didn’t like them because all my favorite films are foreign and/or circa 1960. Neither of those two assumptions are even remotely true (though one of my favorite films does cut it close – the French Last Year at Marienbad from 1961) for two reasons: 1) I only got to see one movie a week when I was writing reviews and 2) I have great appreciation for the Hollywood system of filmmaking. Were one to peruse my DVD collection, they would of course find some standard cinephile staples (Goodfellas, Citizen Kane, Bicycle Thieves), but they’d also find some titles that would generally be considered unbecoming for a film critic to own. None of them are masterpieces, groundbreaking or even exemplary in any way, but I’m not ashamed to admit having purchased any of them. Here’s why:

1) Airheads: On top of featuring the painfully mediocre Brendan Fraser and the frequently unfunny Adam Sandler, this 1994 comedy was written by the guy responsible for writing all three xXx movies and directed by the guy who also cursed us with Hudson Hawk and My Giant. However, what Airheads lacks in high art (which is everything) it makes up for in pure, unadulterated, guilt-free escapism. Within all of us, there’s a moral compass that steers us away from breaking the law for the purposes of upholding civility and harmony. However, within all of us there’s also a voice of reluctance saying that it’s just not worth the consequences. I see Airheads as a fun little fantasy about a world where consequences are removed, because essentially by the end, all three protagonists have made out with barely slaps on the wrist for guys who held an entire radio station hostage. Sure, they go to jail, but they also get a record contract, the adoration of smokin’ hot girls and in the process, became the poster children for the benefits of Stockholm Syndrome. They don’t get away with murder, but they get away with a shit ton of shit. How many of us would love to pull off something illegal if we knew we could get away with it? There’s something uncomfortably resonant about that.

2) Career Opportunities: John Hughes is known more for the films he’s written and directed than for those he’s just written and that’s really a shame. Sure, for every Uncle Buck there’s a Baby’s Day Out or a Home Alone 3 for every Christmas Vacation, but there’s some overlooked stuff in there; Career Opportunities included. Directed by some guy of whom you’ve never heard unless you’re really into “Curb Your Enthusiasm” or “Party Down” (Bryan Gordon), Career Opportunities is, like Airheads, a fantasy fulfilled on screen. How many males out there wouldn’t slay for the chance to spend an entire night alone with a white tank top-clad Jennifer Connelly? My point exactly. Additionally, it features the same trademark wit and snappy dialogue that Hughes films of the 80s promised and delivered. In Career Opportunities, most of that wit comes courtesy of the talented and vastly overlooked Frank Whaley. Whaley, a character actor commonly relegated to supporting characters and bit parts in television and indie films, is actually a very talented actor (he’s co-founder with Ethan Hawke of the Malaparte theater company) and proves it in this film by bringing a degree of vulnerability to a character who is a world class bull shitter. Did I mention Jennifer Connelly in a white tank top? Throughout the entire film?

3) Ghostbusters II: I really don’t understand why this film gets dumped on so much. You’ll be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t like the original Ghostbusters, but you’ll find the Ghostbusters II haters fairly easily. People will claim that the second installment is not as good as the first, with which I agree, but they’ll also say it’s either A) not funny and/or B) ridiculous. While I concur that the original was a funnier film overall, I truly believe that the courtroom sequence in Ghostbusters II is the funniest sequence in either film. After all, it gave us gems like this one from a very befuddled Louis Tully: “Your Honor, ladies and gentleman of the audience, I don’t think it’s fair to call my clients frauds. Sure, the blackout was a big problem for everybody. I was trapped in an elevator for two hours and I had to make the whole time. But I don’t blame them. Because one time, I turned into a dog and they helped me. Thank you.” In regards to the attacks of the film being ridiculous – why, because they made the Statue of Liberty walk through NYC? – let’s keep in mind that the first one featured a Sumerian god attacking the city in the form of 100-foot tall marshmallow man. Suspension of belief is sort of essential for both.

4) Heaven’s Gate: Let’s pretend, for a moment, that this wasn’t the film that bankrupt United Artists, that didn’t permanently blacklist Michael Cimino, that didn’t put the nail in the coffin for the most prolific decade of American filmmaking. Let’s pretend that this was just an overly long historical drama that, similar to many studio pictures, went over budget and over schedule. If we can do that, we can see Heaven’s Gate for what it is: an interesting character-driven drama about a little-known yet significant event in America’s history. Thirty years separated from the initial hate that was spewed upon it, Heaven’s Gate features great performances from its cast as well stunning production design and absolutely gorgeous cinematography from Vilmos Zsigmond (McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Black Dahlia). Keep in mind that the cinema elite was so ready to hate this film before it was even released and it’ll help shift perspective on this epic film a bit.

5) Throw Mamma from the Train: The feature film directorial debut from Danny DeVito would be hilarious enough of its own, but the fact that it’s almost a comic re-telling of Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train adds an element of cleverness to the film. Superbly cast, Billy Crystal is excellent as the self-important/self-loathing writer and Danny DeVito is equal parts charming, pathetic and hilarious as his clueless writing student. Once the two hole up in DeVito’s house after an ill-conceived and unwanted murder plot goes awry, the film becomes truly hilarious with the introduction of DeVito’s mother, Goonies villain Anne Ramsey:

– “Who the hell are you?”

– “I’m Owen’s friend.”

– “Owen doesn’t have a friend.”

– “That’s because he’s shy.”

– “No he’s not. He’s fat and he’s stupid.”