Guilty Pleasures: Chris La Tray

Your Memory Will Fuck You

I’m not gonna lie. I’m a pushover when it comes to movies. I tend to be the guy that Hollywood banks on to queue up and swallow a lot of their shit. Blockbusters? I watch ‘em. Not all of them, but plenty. For example, I’ll skip the new Transformers movie just as I skipped the last one. I haven’t seen Green Lantern yet, and the jury is still out as to whether or not I will. This year I have seen Fast Five, Thor, and X-Men: First Class. I loved them all. Source Code. Super 8. Hanna. The Mechanic. I don’t usually do comedies in the theater, though I did see Bridesmaids. Those movies tend to be the province of my wife, as she has the same soft spot for goofy stuff as I do for blow-everything-up action extravaganzas. We enjoyed Bridesmaids even though it was rife with flaws.

See, going to the movies is one of my favorite things to do; same for her. Get a huge soda, a gargantuan tub of popcorn, and just shut down the brain to everything but sensory stimulation for 90 minutes. She isn’t nearly as forgiving, so we compromise and go about 50/50 on my movie choices vs. hers (okay, it’s more 70/30, but she doesn’t complain so I’m not yielding any ground until I have to). Yes, I can appreciate the occasional “film” of the indie or foreign variety (thank god she loathes RomComs as much as I do) but I still prefer a friggin’ “movie” nine times out of ten. Which is why I go for the over-the-top stuff. I realize one can pick a lot of these movies to pieces, but where is the fun in that? I may be a bitter and jaded old bastard when it comes to music and what people hump their own legs over all the time, but when it comes to movies I’m a total sucker.

As you can imagine, I’ve seen a few clunkers in recent years that left me tickled while leaving reviewers falling all over themselves to tear apart. A couple of which I liked way more than their ratings on Rotten Tomatoes would have one expect. I saw GI Joe – The Rise of Cobra (33%) in the theater. Yeah, it’s pretty bad, but I still loved it enough to buy on DVD and I’ve watched it a couple times since then (another difference between my wife and I: she rarely re-watches, but I would constantly if I could find the time). I saw Whiteout and enjoyed it too – it’s carrying a 6% rating (that’s a fucking travesty if you ask me). I still watch the hell out of that King Arthur movie with Clive Owen, and that sucker’s pulling something like a 32%. A friend of mine from the heavy music community, where Conan reigns supreme, asked what I was anticipating with the new Conan the Barbarian movie looming on the horizon. I told him I was stoked. Worst case, we get a movie about a dude hacking up other dudes with a sword. Where can you go wrong with that?

I didn’t want to choose something recent when Jeremy asked if I’d like to write about a guilty pleasure, though. I wanted to go with something older, more obscure, that maybe other people hadn’t seen or heard of. At least the casual movie watcher anyway. I’m not one of those people who is going to wow anybody with clever references to movies all but the most hardcore have never heard of. So as a generally mainstream movie buff, I had my work cut out for me.

The second album I ever bought was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. After Love Gun by KISS. But it was the fucking BeeGees/Peter Frampton version because I saw the movie and loved it! However, I will not, simply refuse, to go there. I was a stupid kid. The brain was fried by staring at the nearly naked chicks lounging on the stairs on the cover of the aforementioned KISS record. Whatever the reason, I’m just saying we won’t discuss it further.

So Conan the Destroyer would have been an easy choice. People hated that movie. I liked it (see the worst case example above, add a sexy Olivia d’Abo as viewed by a high school kid, and you have multiple watchings). But I thought I could do better, maybe go with something a little more unexpected.

They look like Siamese triplets.

The Sylvester Stallone movie Victory, or Escape to Victory as it played back in the day when I saw in the theater, is one I love to this very moment, unabashedly. Add Sly to a cast that includes an international who’s who of soccer studs – especially the godlike Pele – in a WWII prison escape movie and I was in heaven. Probably one of my top 15 or 20 favorite movies all time. But researching it a little showed me it wasn’t reviled enough. Same with another pulpy masterpiece I haven’t seen in ages, nor is it available on Netflix, the Tom Selleck/Bess Armstrong vehicle High Road to China. I loved that movie when it came out, and damn near picked it for this rambling essay. A drunken Selleck having at dudes via fisticuffs, flying a biplane and blowing up a Chinese warlord’s army? And Wilford Brimley too? Please.

No, I decided to go with a comedy (and realize now I should have known better, as, aside from only a finger count’s worth of exceptions, is a genre that generally fails me). I picked the ill-fated MAD Magazine attempt to walk in National Lampoon’s footsteps, Up the Academy. I’ve remembered it fondly. A pre-Karate Kid Ralph Macchio as a mobster’s kid sent away for being, as his dad says in the opening line of the movie, “A little fart.” I remembered there being some quality sex in it, which was important because the participants were kids roughly the age of me and my horny friends. I remembered lines like “Say it again!” and “You’ll stick out like a turn in a punchbowl.” So we’re basically talking about the usual romp of teenage shenanigans, this time at a military school where a motley collection of punks have been sent by their exasperated parents in order to shape up. Fun, right?

What I remembered most about it is how later that same summer Caddyshack came out. Everyone loved that movie. I loved Up the Academy. And it kinda pissed me off because everyone was all, “Oh, Caddyshack, it’s so great! Woo, woo, woo!” and that made me resent the fucking thing (a movie which has since climbed high onto my list of favorite comedies; I may be easy, but I ain’t entirely stupid!).

So last night I popped up some corn, went to the corner store and filled up a big cup of soda, and settled in to watch Up the Academy on the Netflix and then write about it’s timeless awesomeness.

Jesus H, what a steaming pile of shit that movie is. I didn’t even make it through. Saw a couple parts that had lingered in my memory that were okay for nostalgia’s sake (for example, the girl who plays the girlfriend of the kid whose dad is running for mayor, who can’t be scandalized by his kid constantly knocking his girlfriend up while said father is running on an anti-abortion platform, is as cute and gloriously buxom as I remembered). The movie is racist, homophobic, xenophobic, misogynist . . . you name it. No wonder MAD never made another movie. By the time the obnoxious fat kid who had been kicked out of nine other boarding schools in two years arrived on the set, I turned it off.

I guess I wasn’t alone in deciding it was awful. From Wikipedia:

The film was neither a commercial nor critical success when it was originally released, and was disowned by both the staff of MAD magazine and actor Ron Leibman (who, despite his sizeable role, had his name completely removed from the credits and promotional material). Besides paying Warner Bros. $30,000 to remove all references to MAD from the film when it was released on home video, MAD’s publisher William Gaines issued personal handwritten apologies to every person that wrote the magazine to complain. However, the film developed a small cult following. Following Time Warner’s purchase of MAD (and after Gaines’ death in 1992), all references to the magazine were reinstated on cable television. In 2006, the original version of the film was issued on DVD.

So let this be a lesson to you all, kids. Don’t trust what you thought was awesome when you were all of 13 or 14 years old or so. Unless a superhero is involved. Which reminds me: only three weeks to go until Captain America – The First Avenger comes out. Midnight showing, here I come!

Chris La Tray is a rocker, a writer, and a wannabe adventurer. His nonfiction writing has appeared in the Missoula Independent, Vintage Guitar magazine, and World Explorer magazine. His short fiction has appeared at Beat to a Pulp and the Crimefactory special edition, Kung Fu Factory. It may appear in other places too if he’d just get around to submitting it. He invites you to come visit him at