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A Magazine for Sheffield

Guilty Pleasures.


This month's Filmreel welcomes three guest writers, each taking a very personal stance on the notion of guilty pleasures. Their only guideline has been to focus on a single film and highlight any of its redeeming features in cinematic terms. But, in what's becoming a Filmreel tradition by now, I was looking forward to being surprised and these very individual voices have certainly done that.

Nicola Bierton, from last month's onslaught against Remakes, delivers an effervescent take on the blockbuster Volcano; Alex Keegan, a regular contributor for some time, immediately deviated from the instruction of 'one film only' and brings us an unashamed praise of Exploitation Cinema; and, for the first time on Filmreel, Sarah Christie shares her invigorating dissection of what makes Alien: Resurrection pretty damn good.

But what about me? Like everyone else I do have my guilty pleasures, of course. There's no denying or suppressing it, even if some very diluted Catholic influence can be found in my altogether unholy lifestyle and filmmaking.

I did set out to write a piece focussed on one film as well, but, to be honest, that would've been much, much easier had I still been at university, or locked in the years that preceded my professional practice as a filmmaker; when the invitation from pseudo-film collaborators to sit around all day watching and talking about obscure flicks was too much to resist.

These days, it's utterly impossible to have a guilty pleasure, because I don't even have time to rewatch the films I truly love by the filmmakers I admire. It's a fact of life: the moment you start making films professionally, you watch a lot less films, because the process is so time-consuming (when embraced with dedication, that is). I've also been called a prolific bastard, which doesn't help.

But for the sake of Filmreel, I'm going to conclude by creating a split between the unashamed pleasures of exploitation (which , for me, is headlined by the great Jess Franco) and the actual guilt-eliciting enjoyment of certain mainstream films (under which films like Jan de Bont's Speed and the Liam Neeson star-vehicle Taken fall). For me, true guilt can only be found in enjoying byproducts of what Hollywood once did well, which amounts to 99.9% of American films released in the past 30 years.



We've all got one - a film we love to watch, but we're embarrassed to admit how many times we've seen. Whether you're firmly into double-figures for a tacky rom-com that everyone else hates, or you still go teary-eyed for a Disney film you first saw as a kid, we've all got a guilty pleasure movie.

My personal choice is Volcano. Yes, the one starring Tommy Lee Jones about a volcano erupting in downtown LA. Before you start mocking my choice, hear me out.

The story may be totally implausible, especially the fact that the characters are so oblivious to the possibility of a volcano-style disaster, given that LA has a history of geological hiccups. Likewise, I'm sure the real authorities wouldn't have to blow up buildings to change the flow of magma. But, as stories go, it does have what audiences love; action, suspense, family, even a small undercurrent of collegial rivalry. The director Mick Jackson is a man we can trust for giving us the suspense and the love we feel in Volcano. After all, he was the man who managed to conjure up a believable romance between a lone-wolf security guard and a shallow celebrity pop star in 1992's The Bodyguard. Nevertheless, the acting is solid, especially from Tommy Lee Jones. No matter what people say, he has a paternal quality about him that makes me root for his character every time and Anne Heche's ice cold demeanour is realistic enough to get the audience's blood boiling.

Just because the film plays like a giant cliché, it's not something to get pompous about. What else would you expect from a film called Volcano? Suspend your belief in science, humanity, government and even common sense. This isn't meant to be educational, but rather something fun that was made as a piece of escapism, and in a world of council tax, parking tickets and five fruit or veg a day, two hours of 'fun' is nothing to be ashamed of.

Volcano's brilliance lies in more than its ridiculous premise, but in its blockbuster set-pieces and its solid unapologetic action sequences. In fact, the best way I can defend my guilty pleasure movie is likening it to my guilty pleasure dessert. Volcano bubbles and pops with sugary goodness, the sticky toffee pudding of 90s cinema - bad for the heart, great for the whole.



It would seem that in order to label a film a 'guilty pleasure', there needs to be a set of self-ascribed standards by which said film can be compared and deemed shamefully inadequate. Guilt implies that there is some better way to act which has been ignored in favour of a lesser pleasure that is worthy of humiliation. Alpha males who enjoy a cosy night in with their favourite Disney DVD would be made to feel guilty by their peers for not appreciating the nuances of the latest Jason Statham blockbuster, whereas that same blockbuster could be scandalously enjoyed by a broadsheet film critic whose love for stunts and 'the Stath' (as he refers to him in internet chat rooms) would have to be veiled behind a veneer of remorse.

Such disgraces arise from the aforementioned deviation from what one values as the purpose of cinema; whether that is the affirmation of a macho-mentality, or an intellectual insight into the world and humanity's place in it. I find myself sympathising more with the latter function. Cinema can elevate our understanding of others and pick apart the complex web of social, moral and political networks which we find ourselves entangled within.

The mere sight of Stanley Kubrick guiding us through a journey of the infinite sends me giddy at the knees. This said, I have over the last few years developed a near-obsession with films that undermine the sort of intellectual, technical and artistic feats films like 2001: A Space Odyssey exhibit. These come in the form of exploitation, blaxploitation and sexploitation films, mostly from 70s America, which are perhaps some of the most debaucherous, unethical and technically inept films that have ever been committed to celluloid. The films of directors such as Lucio Fulci and Russ Meyer fill me with an unbridled joy. It's the apparent commitment to making a film that will only ever be half-good; the obvious hours spent overdubbing, creating poor special effects and the probably unethical stance of only ever hiring actresses with over-sized breasts that I admire.

The pure love of filmmaking exhibited is infectious regardless of the end result. There's always a part of me which constantly nags, reminding me that I should feel guilty revelling in the gratuitousness of it all, but when you can watch someone vomit up their internal organs after being confronted by a suicidal priest ghost, then who really cares?



I was given the task of writing about a film I think is a guilty pleasure - and I failed. For me, a true guilty pleasure is a movie you know is awful yet still love, without having any idea why; a film you feel genuine embarrassment about admitting to liking. If I can unashamedly defend a critically-mauled film then the movie in question isn't really a guilty pleasure. And I feel no guilt about sticking up for my choice.

Alien: Resurrection is the fourth entry in the Alien franchise, the sci-fi series that launched the career of Sigourney Weaver and in Ellen Ripley gave mainstream action cinema its first (and arguably only) female protagonist with genuine agency, whose heroine status is due to her strength and intellect rather than her sexual capital.

The original Alien and its first sequel are recognised as classics, but critical consensus over Alien: Resurrection is far more mixed, with some even going so far as to brand it one of the worst films of all time. In my opinion it's not even the worst film in the franchise: that dishonour goes to the horribly muddled Alien3. So why did Resurrection create such rancour?

A possible answer may be that it was judged according to the wrong standards. Tonally it steps away from the previous films, swapping Alien's ice-cold chills for a schlocky sensibility that's closer to The Evil Dead. There is a ghoulish pleasure in splattery scenes and a sharpness to the comic asides that other entries in the series lack.

Taken on its own merits, Alien: Resurrection is...well, cool. Director Jean- Pierre Jeunet has a strong sense of style and there are plenty of visually arresting moments, least of all the debut of aliens that can swim. Though they are the film's one real example of naff CGI, combining the fear of drowning with the fear of space monsters ripping you to shreds is still a masterstroke.

Alien: Resurrection increases the complexity of Ripley's character. Cloned from the alien embryo-carrying heroine that committed suicide at the end of Alien3, Ripley now shares a bond with her extra-terrestrial enemies. The uncertainty over where our heroine's loyalties lie makes the film a far less predictable watch than the average horror movie. Even more compelling is the film's representation of its lead actress. Weaver was in her late forties when making the film, yet there is no attempt to make her appear younger. Having a strong female star at the centre of an action film is one thing, but having one that's middle-aged to boot? That's breaking boundaries and then some, and for this alone Alien: Resurrection demands respect.


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