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What's playing? A multiplex of guilty pleasures

It's summer. Movies with names like "Predators" and "Piranha 3-D" are coming out. If there was ever a season to feel no guilt about going to the nice air-conditioned theater, chewing on some Sour Patch Kids, and settling in for two hours of guilt-free diversion, now's that time.Movies editor Gael Fashingbauer Cooper and TODAYshow.com contributors Dave White, Linda Holmes, and Craig Berman share th
/ Source: TODAY.com

It's summer. Movies with names like "Predators" and "Piranha 3-D" are coming out. If there was ever a season to feel no guilt about going to the nice air-conditioned theater, chewing on some Sour Patch Kids, and settling in for two hours of guilt-free diversion, now's that time.

Movies editor Gael Fashingbauer Cooper and TODAYshow.com contributors Dave White, Linda Holmes, and Craig Berman share their cinematic guilty pleasures below. We want to hear yours, too — add them in the comment box at the end of the story.

Eighties boob comedies

The return of the R-rated comedy has been nice for people who think filthier is funnier, but the return to comic nudity has come with a philosophical shift. Seth Rogen’s butt and Jason Segel’s penis just can't compete with the gleefully exploitive stupidity of 1980s cable staple “Porky’s.” Gone, maybe forever, is that brainless “WHOO-HOO!” style of filmmaking. Granted, the nudity was lopsided and sexist. Women did all the work, which is why the pendulum has now swung back so far that body doubles and bras-on sex scenes are the drab norm. But just watch “Hamburger: The Motion Picture,” “Private School” or “Up The Creek” and try to argue that jiggling breasts aren’t the funniest thing you’ve ever seen. They were idiot movies for idiots to watch, but they were shot-through with wild abandon, almost rebuking the creeping conservatism of the 80s. Scott Baio may be one of those conservatives now, but back then he starred in “Zapped!” as a guy who could make girls' tops fall off with his mind. Hollywood, please reclaim your role as corruptor of youth and deliver more naked flesh. We all need something to laugh at.   —Dave White

Engaged movie audiences

Before every film, there is an announcement warning people to be quiet. For the most part, I agree with that concept. But let’s not take this too far. Part of what I’m paying for is the experience of watching the film with other people. I like to laugh along with them, cry along with them, and sometimes even shout and cheer with them. One of my first movie memories is of watching "Rocky IV." When the indomitable Rocky Balboa knocks out Ivan Drago, throwing what turned out to be the uppercut that toppled the Cold War, the audience stood up and cheered like it was a real Vegas prizefight. That alone was worth the price of the ticket.  —Craig Berman

Hilariously over-the-top movie deaths

One of the best things about seeing a bunch of scary films is that you get to see a lot of totally ludicrous deaths. It's tough to be scared when you're wondering exactly how the propmaster got that guy's head to explode, or exactly how many gallons of corn syrup blood were involved in that shark attack. This doesn't work for actual scary movies, like "Paranormal Activity," but plays most excellently for slasher and monster flicks of all kinds. In this summer's "Predators," someone gets their skull and spinal column ripped right out of their body, a la "Mortal Kombat." In the "Nightmare on Elm Street" remake, a character cuts off Freddy Krueger's hand with a paper cutter and uses that killer's own bladed fingers to slice his throat. And in a true classic of the genre, in 2000's "Final Destination," a teacher puts cold vodka into a hot mug, which cracks, dripping liquid into her computer, which blows up, cuts her throat, starts a fire, and somehow causes her to pull a knife block over on herself. Please note that if any of these deaths felt real to me, I wouldn't take them so lightly, but come on — killer vodka? I'll drink to that.  —Gael Fashingbauer Cooper

Liam Neeson's voice

Morgan Freeman has an amazing voice; ditto James Earl Jones. But lately I've been spellbound by the honey-soaked voice of Liam Neeson. I've seen the Irish actor in "The A-Team," "Clash of the Titans," and "Chloe" this year, and I'd like to nominate him for an Oscar for his dulcet tones alone. Really, he's wasted as an actor. Neeson should be the doctor who tells you you have a deadly disease, or the president saying he's going to double your taxes, or the angry driver swearing at you for cutting him off on the freeway. Because no matter what he says, you'd do just about anything to keep him talking. Whether he's bellowing "Release the Kraken!" or purring "I need to speak to the Jedi Council," his voice flows over the syllables like a river, a sweet, sweet chocolate syrup river.   —G.F.C.

Mall theaters that have seen better days

When a movie is extra-bad, there’s something awesome about seeing it in the worst possible place you can find. In Los Angeles, until recently, that role was filled by the now-closed theater at the Beverly Center mall. Graffiti-tagged and knife-slashed seats, unreplaced broken bathroom mirrors, horribly inept projection and sound, casually unconcerned staff. The volleyball-and-martial-arts exploitation film “DOA: Dead or Alive” burned up in the projector and no one seemed to notice. The sound in “From Justin to Kelly” was so woozy it made the movie’s horrible songs feel like an experimental sound installation in an art museum. You could waltz in with an entire Panda Express meal and watch “Larry The Cable Guy: Health Inspector” without being hassled. I swear I saw a rat once. It was a totally immersive trip into movie-watching hell, a feel-bad environment for feel-bad films. But for the select few, it’ll be missed, maybe like an emotionally abusive ex, but missed all the same.  —D.W.

Mickey Rourke’s battered face

Mickey Rourke used to be pretty. Too pretty, in fact, for the kind of actor you could always tell he wanted to be. At the beginning of his career he refused the Tom Cruise golden god path and dove into films like “9 ½ Weeks,” “Angel Heart” and “Barfly,” movies that made you feel like you were rolling around in dirt alongside him. So what happened next? He decided to wreck it all in the boxing ring. A broken nose, mangled tongue, crushed cheekbone and sketchy reconstructive surgery later, he emerged the man you see today. The weirdest part: he’s even more compelling to look at now. The oddly placed facial hills and valleys are like a topographical map of suffering. It’s what people used to call a “mug.” Even better, you can tell he’s leading with it now, working it out on screen face-first instead of running from it, adding weird hair choices (unwashed, bizarre blond highlights) like some kind of dare. It’s a specialized kind of beauty, sure, but not one you can turn away from.  —D.W.

Movie moppets

OK, some moppets are appalling. No one could claim precocious kids (especially in commercials) haven't earned every bit of vitriol that's rained down on them. But unless you have a tiny little heart made of coal, you might find room in it for the fact that before the one thousandth time you heard "Jerry Maguire's" Jonathan Lipnicki say that the human head weighs eight pounds, it was kind of funny! It was! In your real, ordinary life, you probably feel no shame at all about giggling at strange things said by small children; don't judge yourself too harshly if you laugh at an occasional moppet in the movies. And some moppets are downright tragic. Have you ever seen Tina Majorino as the older sister in the Meg Ryan alcoholism melodrama "When A Man Loves A Woman"? She's amazing in that movie. She should have gotten an Oscar nomination for that movie. When that movie came out, she was nine.  —Linda Holmes

The All-Valley Karate Tournament in the original 'Karate Kid'

No sports film offers a more improbable win than Daniel LaRusso’s shocking victory at the All-Valley Karate Championship in the original "Karate Kid." The underdog overcomes extreme odds, gets revenge on his classmates who have wronged him, and wins the heart of the girl. I don’t feel guilty about loving that. What I feel guilty about is my need to treat this like it was an actual sporting event. I’ve spent way too much time thinking about details like how Daniel got such a sweetheart draw despite having no tournament record, whether he set a record for most points lost en route to a championship, and how the committee got the “LARUSSO” sign for the bracket made so quickly. I’m not saying that I wanted one of the ESPN “30 for 30” documentary series to have been on Daniel LaRusso’s karate career — but if there was one, I'd watch it. Heck, I could probably write it.   —C.B.

Theater popcorn

For me, the popcorn is a greater priority that the film itself. That doesn’t make much sense. It’s not like popcorn isn’t available in 1,000 varieties at my local grocery store. But there’s something about movie popcorn — no butter, please — that can’t be replicated outside of the theater. I’m not sure if it’s the oil, the popper, or whether they sprinkle addictive substances atop the bag along with the salt. All I know is that when my wife and I plan a movie night, I am focused on the popcorn from the minute the day begins. I’ll skip dessert or just order an appetizer if we’re going after dinner, and won’t eat breakfast if we’re attending a matinee with the kids. And, while I love my two children to pieces, they know better than to expect to eat out of my bag — they get their own. “Share and share alike” may be a fine lesson for the playground, but it stops at the movie theater snack bar.   —C.B.

Tom Cruise

Once upon a time, Tom Cruise wasn't a guilty pleasure; he was a regular pleasure. The toothy grin, the cocky, All-American swagger ... he was even funny. Not just in "Risky Business," but in "A Few Good Men," and in "Jerry Maguire," he demonstrated a surprisingly light touch with a deadpan joke. Plus, he was Tom Cruise, for crying out loud. The movie star to top all movie stars. Even his name sounded entertainingly recreational. And then, of course, it all got weird. He married a tween-drama actress who was four years old when "Risky Business" came out, and he acted sort of goony about it, and then he yelled at Matt Lauer and made Brooke Shields upset, and all of a sudden, he was sort of hard to like. But honestly, in "Knight And Day," he's got the grin back, and he's not being quite so self-serious, and boy, he's held up pretty well, good-looks-wise. Despite everything, there's still a robust movie star in there.   —L.H.

Weird concession stand offerings

My mom never bought us treats at movies when we were kids, and I never really took to popcorn. But somehow I've become fascinated with the oddball concession stand offerings found at movie theaters. It's not just the food — I'm also fascinated with the beverages, from espresso drinks at my neighborhood Seattle cinema to the eleventy billion flavors of Icees at your average mall theater. Sure, daiquiri machines were omnipresent on New Orleans' Bourbon Street, but I didn't expect to be able to order a frosty alcoholic drink at a strip mall-like theater near the airport. My Los Angeleno husband introduced me to Pink's chili dogs when we first met, but I was stunned to see that certain L.A. theaters sell them. And while movie candy prices rival small cars, I always have to sneak a peek at the weirdest choices. Why get a boring Snickers when you can buy cookie-dough balls dipped in chocolate? Eating at movies has become kind of like going to the state fair, only less sweaty.    —G.F.C.

Well-placed swearing

There's nothing particularly creative about the substitution of profanity for real dialogue. The fact that your characters all say "F---" a lot doesn't make them any more interesting than people who say "huzzah" or "23 skidoo." But that doesn't mean there aren't moments when a perfectly placed piece of swearing doesn't make dialogue pop like nothing else. "Die Hard" is full of fantastic explosions of swearing. The most famous, obviously, comes right after "Yippee-ki-yay," but it happens throughout the movie, as Bruce Willis wraps his bloodied lips around a wide variety of not-at-all-repeatable remarks, many directed at the incompetent police chief (Paul Gleason) who keeps almost getting everybody killed. Sure, you can replace swear words with substitutes, but if you've ever seen "The Breakfast Club" on basic cable and been subjected to the spectacle of a bunch of alleged high-school kids yelling "FLIP YOU!" at each other, you know that it's just not the same.  —L.H.