Friday, April 21, 2017

Bad Movies We Love

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Were you at Malice when Rosemarie and Vince Keenan accepted their award? They described their manuscript as a mystery featuring Edith Head. Wow. The entire audience swooned. All agreeing it was a fabulous idea, and I can tell you, the wave of “why didn’t I think about that” washed over the entire crowd. Led by me.

Well, that book, DANGEROUS TO KNOW, is an Agatha nominee for Best First now! And hurray. And of course it’s deeply and fabulously rooted in old Hollywood.  So what better for the Keenans (writing as Renee Patrick) to talk about—than movies!

They DO Make ’em Like That Anymore
                  Rosemarie and Vince Keenan

Return with us now to the Second Golden Age of Movie Magazines, the early 1990s—which was twenty-five years ago, and doesn’t that give one pause? Using the standard boy band system of classification, Premiere was the serious one, Entertainment Weekly the cute one, and Movieline the scruffy, pouting troublemaker. Movieline ran blind items, just like Hedda Hopper used to do. And each issue ended with the column that was our shared guilty pleasure: Bad Movies We Love.

BMWL cast its net fairly wide, taking aim at disaster films (the entire Airport series, The Swarm), films that were disasters (Myra Breckinridge), and even Academy Award-worthy fare like The Greatest Show on EarthButterfield 8 and Fatal Attraction. (Also making the failing grade: not one but two movies in which half of our sleuthing duo, costume designer Edith Head, appeared as herself: Lucy Gallant and The Oscar.) The spotlighted titles came from a range of eras and genres, but each possessed some element that captivated—a hypnotic atmosphere, a galvanizing performance. They fascinated despite, and often because of, their flaws.

They were, in short, bad movies we love.

And they’re still making them, though Movieline is no longer around to keep track of them. Permit us to share a pair of favorites, joined in a number of ways. They’re both show business biopics from 2004 with leading men named Kevin that employ the same unusual—some would say baffling—structure. And we watch them over and over.

Vince’s choice is Beyond the Sea, a passion project for Kevin Spacey who co-writes, directs and stars as singer/actor Bobby Darin. 

Funds for the movie were cobbled together from several European sources, which accounts for the staging of the title song on what looks like a blustery afternoon in Bavaria with Spacey in a canary yellow suit crooning to Kate Bosworth as Sandra Dee, so cold you can see her breath. Spacey is several years too old for the role—a fact the movie clumsily acknowledges—and hits a few clams when he recreates Darin’s singing. But his enthusiasm for a bygone era of entertainment when the nightclub was king lends this cracked pinwheel of a movie an undeniable verve.

Rosemarie, meanwhile, harbors a soft spot for 
De-Lovely, which chronicles the life of Cole Porter. Most of the maestro’s songs are sung by what K-Tel used to call ‘contemporary artists’ with varying degrees of success. Robbie Williams tosses off the title song with such élan it’s mystifying he never became a bigger star in America, while the less said about Sheryl Crow’s “Begin the Beguine” the better. 

The more traditional musical numbers are uniformly dreadful—Louis B. Mayer singing “Be A Clown”?—but the movie has a refreshing openness to using the tunes in different ways. Anchoring it all is Kevin Kline’s performance as Porter. He’s wholly believable as a man who wears his genius lightly. His talent brings him joy, and it brings him joy to know it brings others joy. Kline may find himself in the middle of cacophonous chaos, but the twinkle in his eye cannot be faked.

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Both movies use the same framing device, taking place in the afterlife with the protagonists telling their own stories in formats they understand: Darin’s as a movie, Porter’s a Broadway musical. And it’s this risky metaphorical gambit—life as a show, and the show as life—that accounts for the films’ strange hold over us. Darin, knowing that illness would eventually claim him early, develops a hunger for performing that sustains him—and is matched by Spacey’s own zeal for the spotlight. And De-Lovely’s ending, with every figure from Porter’s life appearing onstage to serenade him to the Pearly Gates with a rendition of “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” never fails to reduce Rosemarie to tears. Hokey? Absolutely. But it also succeeds in dramatizing the totality of a person’s existence, all the missed chances and found love, in a single rousing sequence.


 There was a third show business biopic in 2004. Ray was a critical and commercial hit, earning a Best Picture Academy Award nomination and a deserved Oscar for Jamie Foxx’s turn as Ray Charles. We enjoyed the movie, but we never revisited it. Maybe it’s not bad enough.

Or perhaps it needed a Kevin.


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HANK:  So Reds, what bad movies do you love? (I loved De-Lovely.) And um, French Kiss. And Speed. And best/worst of all, Point Break.  

(Yesterday's winner of an advance readers copy of You'll Never Know, Dear is Finta! Send me your mailing address: hallie "at" hallieephron "dot" com.)


Renee Patrick is the pseudonym for married authors Rosemarie and Vince Keenan. Rosemarie is a research administrator and a poet. Vince is a screenwriter and a journalist. Both native New Yorkers, they currently live in Seattle, Washington. Learn more at reneepatrickbooks.com

Dangerous to Know

Los Angeles, 1938. Former aspiring actress Lillian Frost is adjusting to a new life of boldfaced names as social secretary to a movie-mad millionaire. Costume designer Edith Head is running Paramount Pictures’ wardrobe department, but only until a suitable replacement comes along. The two friends again become partners thanks to an international scandal, a real-life incident in which the war clouds gathering over Europe cast a shadow on Hollywood.

Lillian attended the Manhattan dinner party at which well-heeled guests insulted Adolf Hitler within earshot of a maid with Nazi sympathies. Now, secrets the maid vengefully spilled have all New York society running for cover – and two Paramount stars, Jack Benny and George Burns, facing smuggling charges.

Edith also seeks Lillian’s help on a related matter. The émigré pianist in Marlene Dietrich’s budding nightclub act has vanished. Lillian reluctantly agrees to look for him. When Lillian finds him dead, Dietrich blames agents of the Reich. As Lillian and Edith unravel intrigue extending from Paramount’s Bronson Gate to FDR’s Oval Office, only one thing is certain: they’ll do it in style.

58 comments:

  1. Congratulations, Rosemarie and Vince, on your Agatha nomination . . . .

    I enjoyed “The Oscar” but most of the “bad” movies that I love are the science fiction “B” movies from the 1950s, which I never thought were nearly as bad as the critics decreed although some were downright creepy. Same goes for the Star Wars “Phantom Menace” film . . . .

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    1. 'The Oscar' is another favorite of ours. Stephen Boyd really chews the scenery in that one. And Tony Bennett, whom I love (and who went to the same high school as my mom!), doesn't come off very well.

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  2. I've been watching a lot of Hallmark movies this last year because they've been turning out cozy mysteries as movies based on books I've either read or have had in my TBR pile for way too long. Yes, they have a certain cheese to them, which is a combination of the writing and the acting. (Seriously, no amount of acting training will help deliver some of those lines.) And yet, I am constantly checking to see when the next one premiers so I'm sure not to miss it.

    And some of the Disney movies I loved as a kid don't hold up quite as well as an adult. The biggest example that sticks out to me is Herbie Goes Bananas. Rewatching it as an adult, I have to laugh at the preposterous story and the cheese factor there. And yet? The nostalgia makes me love it even as an adult.

    (And maybe this just proves I love cheese, both to eat and to watch.)

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  3. Thank you for sharing. i really like it .write a paper

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  4. I love everything about the movies--the stories, the settings, the cinematography, the music, the costumes--so much fun to see the sketches for costumes--the variations on a theme until they get it just right for the character. And Edith was the master! What a fabulous idea for a series--congratulations on your Agatha nomination! My TBR pile is morphing into a TBR-room--maybe the premise for a cheesy scifi movie??

    My favorite bad movie? 'I Sailed to Tahiti with an All-Girl Crew'. Gardner McKay (in swim trunks), Pat Buttram, Diane McBain. For those summer nights when it's too hot to move, I pour myself a tall glass of iced tea, kick off the flipflops, and rest my mind (and my eyes--did I say Gardner McKay in swim trunks??).

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    1. Oh my gosh! Gardner McKay in swim trunks? I managed to get a dispensation from my parents so I could stay up an extra hour to watch Adventures in Paradise.

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    2. 'I Sailed to Tahiti with an All-Girl Crew'? What a title! I'd never heard of this but I just watched a clip on YouTube and now I have to see it.

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  5. My list of favorite bad movies keeps getting longer. Presently it includes "The Beast With Five Fingers" with Peter Lorre, "Mousehunt" with Nathan Lane and Lee Evans, "Blades of Glory" with Will Ferrell and, yes, Amy Poehler, and the best worst movie ever, "Plan 9 From Outer Space", with the dead Bela Lugosi. Ed Wood directing, producing, and probably making the papier-mache' headstones.

    I also make my own popcorn.

    Bonne chance Rosemary and Vince, on your Agatha nomination.

    Ann in Rochester

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    1. Oh my gosh, Plan 9? With the flaming pie pan?

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    2. Hank, I thought it was a hub cap!

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    3. Finta, you're yesterday's winner! Email me with your address.

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  6. Flora! That's hilarious. I have never heard of that movie… But it sounds,, un, unique..

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  7. Aren't most musicals--and operas, for that matter--kind of awkward? But, oh, I do love the music, even when it makes absolutely no sense for anyone to suddenly break out into song. And dance.

    The soundtrack to De-Lovely is so uneven. But Kevin Kline has serious pipes, and Alanis Morisette's "Birds Do It" is the only thing she sings I actually like. And then there's Lemar, singing "What Is This Thing Called Love?" Whoa, baby.

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  8. My favorite bad movie is the movie within a movie in SINGING IN THE RAIN. "I cayn't stan' 'im." I know it's deliberately bad but it's Soooo funny.

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    1. Me too. I love her "speaking" voice.

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    2. She should have won that year for best supporting actress. She was wonderful " I can seeoooou"

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  9. Hallie, it is! And yes, I think there is a certain "cheese factor" to most musicals.

    I can't think of one I adore off the top of my head (not enough caffeine?), but The Hubby has a dedication to "Joe vs The Volcano" that is a bit scary. During one of his deployments that was one of two movies that were available, so he watched it over and over and... He says he saw it so often it grew on him. =)

    Mary/Liz

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    1. You know, I saw that. I think on a plane, without the headphones. It's kind of sweet.

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    2. Not to get all sappy, but Vince and I saw "Joe vs. the Volcano" on one of our first dates so it's a favorite. I love the idea that committing to a relationship is like holding hands and jumping into a smoking volcano. You just have to take the leap. Also, I want Joe's luggage.

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    3. Joe vs the Volcano is one of my all-time favorite movies. I've converted many people who've never seen it and heard bad things.

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  10. I'm not a great fan of bad movies, although if I ever get the chance to see Lifeforce I'm going to have to waste a couple of hours on it. Tobe Hooper directs Peter Firth and Patrick Stewart as they battle naked vampires from outer space. I mean, seriously, what's not to like? And, I have to confess, I have a secret fondness for Smokey and the Bandit. It's a complete redneck classic; both a product of its time and a comedy that holds up surprisingly well in spite of all the "Oh, no! Really?" moments.

    Ah, but Edith Head? Talk about a classic! I remember her on the Art Linkletter show when I was a little kid, and thinking she was so cool. By college I was working in a costume shop, and I had a much better idea of how cool she really was. I even loved Brad Bird's interpretation of her in The Incredibles. Dangerous to Know sounds like a gotta-get-it addition to my must read list!

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  11. Oh, yes, The Incredibles. SO funny. But a brand new movie within a movie that's fabulous--Their Finest. Highly highly recommended. Anyone who is a writer must see it! And the movie looks like a WW 2 era movie--and then they are making a movie that looks like a movie that was made at that time. It is SO great. And even the music is perfect.

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  12. I love bad movie that wear the label proudly, movies that start out knowing they're absurd and silly, movies that start with high concept art like sharks in a tornado and write the script to fit the art; plot is thing, characters are uniformly stiff and stereotypical, the acting ... hammy, at best, and shaky, as the norm.

    I'm, of course, talking about the SyFy fare of Sharknado (original, two, three and four with number 5 premiering this summer), Sharktopus, Big Ass Spider, Lavalantula, etc.

    I like going into the showing knowing exactly what to expect. It's so disappointing waiting months for the $500M big studio effort, with a trailer that was a 10th of the budget, and it's a trainwreck into a bus wreck, flying off a cliff into a rapidly melting glacier ... where, literally, the $15 bucket of almost stale popcorn is the best thing about the experience.

    With the Asylum (the movie company responsible for most of the crazy schlockfests airing lately), I know what I'm getting and it's goofy fun that I don't have to take seriously and can pause when I need to get more good popcorn or go to the bathroom. Granted the seats in my house don't recline but I also don't have to endure strangers wearing too much perfume, the guy who thinks an hour into a movie is a great time to call his friends, or a toddler who should be at home in bed but is kicking my seat with gusto despite the fact that his legs shouldn't actually be able to reach my seat.

    And the truth is out ... I'm a movie curmudgeon.

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    1. I love the exterminator and the security guard in Big Ass Spider. I watch that one every time it's on SyFy.

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    2. What's the one with Kevin Bacon (I think) and the big worms under the sand? Big Worms Under The Sand? :-)

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    3. Tremors! I love that movie, which does indeed star Kevin Bacon. I've even watched the many unnecessary (but still fun) sequels.

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    4. Tremors! Yes! And it has a Kevin!

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  13. I tend to separate bad movies into different types of categories.

    There's the the kind that are just all about bad, like anything made for Syfy. I wouldn't watch that garbage even if I got paid.

    Then there's stuff like pretty much anything on the Hallmark Channel stations, which are predictable fluff. But I don't mind predictable as long as they don't go out of their way to insult my intelligence. Which explains why I watch all those darn Xmas movies they make, but have grown increasingly irritated by them as quality control in making even remotely believable scripts has been abandoned. And their mysteries have been markedly worse lately.

    Then there are the bad movies that for whatever reason had good intentions but lacked a good story or had issues with bad casting.

    Then you have "bad" movies that are actually good but just got savaged by critics and failed at the box office. But you actually love them and don't consider them bad at all. My pick for this would be The Last Starfighter which is a movie I stop whatever I'm doing when I see it is on TV. And after a 29 year wait, I got to meet the lead actress, Catherine Mary Stewart, from the movie at a convention. If you were a male between 12-15 when the movie came out, you were in love with her...period.

    And then you have the ones that are actually just really bad movies. I would have to say that the first movie that comes to mind in this the Jennifer Garner movie Elektra. This was before anyone had a clue as to how to make a coherent comic book movie. This movie was wrecked by bad casting,wooden performances, a stupid story made worse by the actual dialogue and the fact that due to the fact that the Elektra costume stunk. (Though understandable because the actual outfit from the comics is thoroughly unrealistic as a real world outfit). As Jennifer Garner stated when the movie was coming out, she was a superhero who wears panties and the actual costume wouldn't come close to allowing for that.

    The truth be told, before the Marvel movies finally got a clue, most of their movies were garbage. And the less said about the DC Universe (Superman/Batman) movies the better.

    Oh, and then there's the movies that everyone thinks are great but you (or in this case, me) find to be abominations of the first order. I'm going to take crap for this I'm sure, but Fargo made me wish for death long before the movie finished playing. It was so bad that it sucked the energy out of me so that I couldn't even turn the damn VCR off to escape the horror.

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    1. Oh, and the Russell Crowe movie Gladiator. A film that never should've been expanded beyond the 2 1/2 minute trailer for it.

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    2. I love The Last Starfighter!! Love it. Is that considered a bad movie?

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    3. Nor me. C'mon, Robert Preston! Dan O'Herlihy in lizard make-up! It's a classic!

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    4. Exactly! A classic. And really a terrific idea for a plot.

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    5. Like I said, it's considered a bad movie because it failed at the box office. But it has a big following from people who actually like it. First movie to have extensive use of CGI too.

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    1. "Get Out" is terrific. Scary, disturbing and hilarious - all at the same time.

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  15. I like De-Lovely too. And I agree about Sheryl Crow. I enjoy listening to Kevin Kline being a Frenchman in French Kiss. That way I can also see my secret crush Jean Reno. One bad (probably) movie that always makes me laugh is Chevy Chase's Family Christmas Vacation. It is so ridiculous yet I watch it every darn time. I am also a sucker for bad scifi movies on SyFy. And I grew up on all those monster movies from the 50s and 60s. My favorite is a movie (Mant) within a movie called Matinee. Half man, half ant. John Goodman is a movie producer hyping his new movie Mant and is in Key West or thereabouts during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Personal note: boy do I remember that! Anyway the movie movie Mant is dead on with all its stereotypes. The self important doctor who has the charts to explain how a man might be transformed after being bitten by an ant exposed to x-rays. The wife, trying to save her husband from being destroyed by the army, yelling Steve! I have sugar! And waving a big bag of it. And so forth. That movie struck a chord as far as getting the times right.

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    1. We love Matinee and Mant! A pitch-perfect recreation of those giant bug movies. And you can also count us as people who watch Christmas Vacation every year, quoting lines from it as the holidays approach.

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  16. Jay and Hank, I love The Last Starfighter, too! Going to see if I can find it somewhere.

    Hank, would love to see Their Finest but will probably have to wait until it's streaming. Not available in a theater very near me.

    I've never seen De-Lovely, although I think I may actually have the DVD. Going to look! And I loved French Kiss.

    Now the confession--the not just bad but really stupid movie that I will watch over and over again? Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo. Just thinking about it make me start to snicker.

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    1. I'm sure you can buy it on DVD. I know they have the original and the 25th anniversary edition. Of course, mine is more special because Catherine Mary Stewart signed it...:D

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  17. Rosemarie and Vince, I forgot to say that your book sounds wonderful! Another one for the TBR room, as Finta says....

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  18. A likely contender for a Bad Movie would be Big Trouble in Little China, but I could watch it again and again.

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  19. Congrats on your Agatha nomination, Rosemarie and Vince! I can't wait to read "Dangerous to Know!"

    I don't know if this qualifies as a bad movie, but I always have to stop what I'm doing and watch "Selena." It's a biopic, and I knew the sad ending before the first time I saw, but I can't look away! Maybe because of the music?

    On a different topic, how do you two write together? Do you actually sit in the same room, crowded around the keyboard? Swap chapters? I'm curious and so impressed!

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    1. Thanks, Ingrid! And yes, Serena counts.

      We have an odd working process. We outline together, then one of us writes a first draft while the other edits. Then we switch places for the second draft, and finally do a pass through the manuscript side by side as "Renee Patrick." It's awkward, but it has the added advantage of also being time-consuming.

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  20. my favorite "bad movie" was a tv movie starring Rikki Lake "Babycakes" - it probably has a low rating, but I would still watch it every few years...hard to get past 1980s hair and clothes styles making it difficult for younger viewers to enjoy it :)

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    1. I saw Babycakes! It's a TV remake of a movie by Percy Adlon, who had a hit with Bagdad Cafe, and it's actually pretty good (although you're absolutely right about the clothes and hair).

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    2. Bad movies are sooooo good! (Hank, I just watched Point Break a few weeks ago.)

      I think there is something very good to be said for passion projects getting made. Sometimes the business of creativity makes us all conform to this and that for the sake of bigger sales, so I applaud Kevin #1 for Beyond The Sea. Now I probably have to watch it!

      Good luck with Dangerous To Know!

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  21. I commented but FB seems to have eaten it! Loved this blog and must go get Dangerous to Know. I have a memory of reading a book by Edith Head when I was in jr high, and have been interested in costumes ever since. Liked De-Lovely very much. I mean, Kevin Kline. Plus Cole Porter music. And Beyond the Sea was interesting, as I do remember Bobby Darin very well. True bad movies? In our house my husband has that covered but I do like Major League. Very, very silly sports movie that makes me laugh every single time

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  22. My favorite bad movie? Roadhouse with Patrick Swayze and Sam Elliott. I've watched it a dozen times.

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    1. Ah,that is one of my spouse's favorites, too.

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    2. Another "bad" movie that is great!

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  23. Hank, I love Speed! Another guilty pleasure is Wedding Crashers. I know I am missing so many but those are the ones that I've a few too many times.
    Wonderful news about your Agatha nom, Rosemarie and Vince!!! Congratulations.

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    1. Oh, wedding crashers! Wedding crashers! I love it deeply and madly. But that's not a bad movie, right?

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    2. Yeah, I know it is. But I still love it. Glad to hear it!, sister Jenn!

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  24. I'm guessing that two of my favorite movies, which happen to star Kurt Russell, are considered bad movies. Captain Ron and Overboard.

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  25. I love The Blob (the original) and poorly dubbed Godzilla movies

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  26. I am shocked that no one mentioned The Valley of Gwanji with James Franciscus.It is a cowboy movie with dinosaurs.

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