Cinemax Friday: Jailbait (1993, directed by Rafal Zielinski)

Jailbait takes place in Hollywood, the city of dreams.  It opens with one of those long treks down Hollywood Boulevard that should be familiar to anyone who has seen a direct-to-video 90s film.  Street performers try to cheat tourists out of their cash.  Hookers look for customers.  Pimps look for new girls.  Vice cops look over the scene and say, “I’m too old for shit.”  A Greyhound bus pulls into the station and the city’s newest inhabitant, 17 year-old Kyle Bradley (Renee Humphrey), steps off.

Kyle’s from Nebraska and she’s come to Los Angeles because she wants to be a professional dancer.  By the standards of Nebraska, Kyle may be streetwise but she soon discovers that nothing is easy in Hollywood.  She wants to find her half-sister, Merci (Krista Errickson) but Merci is nowhere to be found.  Soon, Kyle is living on the streets, stealing food to survive and faking a heroin addiction to get a bed at the local rehab center.

What Kyle doesn’t know is that Merci is a high-class hooker.  After one of her clients is murdered, Merci is framed for the crime.  Merci’s on the run, though she still finds time to sing in a band.  Heading up the investigation into the crime is Sergeant Lee Teffler (C. Thomas Howell).  Teffler thinks that Merci’s innocent and believes that the murder is connected to a human trafficking ring that is run by his childhood friend, Roman (David Laboisa).  When he meets Kyle, he takes her back to his apartment to keep her safe. Teffler swears that nothing can happen between them because she’s only seventeen.  Kyle says that age shouldn’t matter and, because this is a 90s Cinemax film, he decides that she has a point.

In the late 80s and 90s, there were a countless number of films about innocent girls getting corrupted as soon as they got off the bus in Hollywood and Jailbait is certainly one of them.  Jailbait, however, is one of the better examples of the genre because, from the start, Kyle is tougher than the naive, aspiring starlets who usually populated these films.  Though Hollywood turns out to be an even harsher place than she was expecting, Kyle still comes across like she can take care of herself.  That she’s not portrayed as being a wide-eyed or easily manipulated innocent makes Kyle’s relationship with Teffler feel less problematic than it would be otherwise.  All of the characters, not just Kyle, are written and performed with more depth than you would normally expect to find in a film like this.  Teffler is not just a renegade cop and Roman is not just an evil pimp.  Because of their former friendship, they are portrayed as being two sides of the same coin.

It also helps that Jailbait is better acted than the standard straight-to-video film, with Renee Humphrey and Krista Errickson bringing a lot of depth to their roles.  Even C. Thomas Howell, who often seemed to be sleep walking in his 90s films, is effective as the conflicted Teffler.  Visually, Jailbait does a good job of capturing the glitzy grime of Hollywood.  Though it may not be as well-know, Jailbait is a worthy companion to films such as Angel and Vice Squad.

Scenes That I Love: James Earl Jones in Dr. Strangelove

It seems rather appropriate that, while we spend this year celebrating TSL’s 10th birthday, we’ve taken the time to recognize the birthdays of so many of our favorite directors and actors.  Earlier today, Jeff already paid tribute to Andy Kaufman and Donald Cammell.

Well, today is also James Earl Jones’s birthday and there’s no way we’re going to let that go unacknowledged.  James Earl Jones is 89 years old today and he’s still working.  Everyone, of course, knows Jones’s voice and the story of how, when he was a child, he suffered from a stutter so severe that he refused to speak.  (Jones has described the years before he entered high school as being his “mute years.”) What’s often overlooked is just how good of an actor James Earl Jones is.  Jones has played everyone from villains to mentors to heroes.  He’s appeared in every possible genre and his presence has never not been welcome.

James Earl Jones made his film debut with a small role in Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 satire, Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.  Jones played Lt. Luther Zogg, one of the men aboard the B-52 bombardier that eventually causes the end of the world.

Jones has often said that he didn’t really care for either the role or the film.  Lt. Zogg is a small role and it is true that, if not for the fact that he’s played by James Earl Jones, you probably wouldn’t remember much about him.  For the most part, Jones spends the majority of the movie listening as Maj. Kong (Slim Pickens) talks about following orders and doing their patriotic duty.

And yet, I think Jones is a bit too dismissive of the role.  It’s a small role but the undeniable authority of Jones’s voice provides a nice contrast to the country drawl of Maj. Kong.  Without Lt. Zogg calmly following orders, it would be too easy for the audience to dismiss Maj. Kong as an outlier as opposed to a representative of what the film viewed as being the military’s blase attitude towards the possibility of nuclear war.

Add to that, Jones’s delivery of “Hey, what about Maj. Kong?” is absolutely perfect.

So, with that in mind, here’s James Earl Jones in two scenes from Dr. Strangelove!

4 Shots From 4 Films: Happy Birthday, Donald Cammell!

4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

86 years ago, Donald Cammell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland.  The son of a friend and biographer of the infamous Aleister Crowley, Cammell grew up surrounded by bohemians, artists, and magicians.  After getting his start as a painter and establishing himself as a mainstay of “swinging London,” Cammell pursued a career as a screenwriter and director.

Cammell only completed a total of four films, all of which walked the very thin line between brilliance and pretension.  All four of them have since developed strong cult following but were considered to be financial and critical disappointments when first released.  As a result, Cammell had a difficult time getting anyone to back the majority of his projects.  Cammell also had the misfortune to get involved with Marlon Brando during the latter’s mercurial period.  Brando commissioned Cammell to write and direct at least two films for him before losing interest just before shooting was set to begin.  Frustrated with both his life and his career, Cammell shot himself in 1996.  He reportedly survived for 45-minutes after shooting himself and he spent that time recording his thoughts on life and dying.  Though Cammell died in relative obscurity, his films have since been rediscovered and reevaluated.  His legacy lives on.

4 Shots From 4 Films

Performance (1970, directed by Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg)

Demon Seed (1977, directed by Donald Cammell)

White of the Eye (1987, directed by Donald Cammell)

Wild Side (1995, directed by Donald Cammell)


Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (dir by Mike Nichols)

I’ve starred in a production of Edward Albee’s play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

That’s right.  I’ve played Martha, the heavy-drinking and dissatisfied wife of a burned-out English professor named George.  Yes, I’ve played the same role for which Uta Hagen won a Tony and Elizabeth Taylor won an Oscar.  Among the other actresses that have played Martha on stage: Colleen Dewhurst, Meg Tilly, Diana Rigg, and Kathleen Turner.  And, of course, me.

Now, I should admit that I was only 16 when I played Martha so I was perhaps a bit too young for the role.  Fortunately, my friend Erik — who played George — was only a year and a half older so he was just as miscast as I was.  (It was, at one point, suggested that I should try to put some gray in my hair but I pointed out that, as a redhead, I would never have to worry about that.)  On Broadway and film, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? runs for over two hours.  The production in which I starred only had a running time of 13 minutes.  Also, the version in which I starred did not feature the characters for Honey and Nick.  I mean, who needed them when you could just watch Erik and me yell at each other for ten minutes straight.

And that’s pretty much what we did.  When we told our drama teacher that we would be doing a scene from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? for our “Dramatic Duet,” I’m pretty sure that I saw her roll her eyes.  I imagine that’s because she knew that both of us had a tendency towards the dramatic and that the main we picked the play was so we could compete to see who could be the first to go hoarse from yelling.  She was right, of course.  There was no nuance to our performance, largely because neither one of us really understood what the play was about.  We just thought it was funny that some of our classmates covered their ears while we were loudly insulting and taunting each other.  (For the record, I went hoarse before Erik did and I spent the next two days receiving compliments about my new sexy voice.)

Now that I’ve grown up a little, I think I have a better understanding of what Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is actually about.  At the very least, I now understand that the story is about more than just two burn-outs yelling at each other while a younger couple awkwardly watches.  I now understand that the game that George and Martha play over the course of the night is not a game of hate but instead a game of a very dysfunctional but also rather deep love.  If anything, I now have more sympathy for George and Martha and far less for the play’s judgmental younger couple, Nick and Honey.

Of course, it helps that I’ve seen the 1966 film version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  Directed (in his directorial debut) by Mike Nichols, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? features Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton as George and Martha and George Segal and Sandy Dennis and Nick and Honey.  All four of them were Oscar-nominated for their roles, making Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? one of the few films to see its entire cast nominated.  Elizabeth Taylor and Sandy Dennis both won in in their categories but it really is Richard Burton (who lost to Paul Scofield) who dominates the film.

Burton was a performer who could be shameless in his overacting.  (Just watch his performance in The Exorcist II if you need proof.)  And really, one would expect that the role of George would appeal to all of his worst instincts.  Instead, Burton gives a surprisingly subtle performance.  He growls when you expect him to yell and he delivers the majority of his lines not with fury but instead with a resigned and rather sardonic self-loathing.  He’s actually less showy than Elizabeth Taylor, who gives an overall good performance but still sometimes comes across like she’s trying too hard to convince the audience that she’s a 50 year-old drunk and not one of the world’s most glamorous film stars.  Throughout the film, Burton seems to be digging down deep and exposing his true self to the audience and, watching the action unfold, you can’t take your eyes off of him.  Everyone in the cast does a good job with their roles but Burton is the one who keeps the film moving.  Just as George is ultimately revealed to be stronger than he originally appears, Burton also reveals himself to be a far more compelling actor than you might think if you just knew him from his lesser roles (and performances).

Admittedly, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is not my favorite of the many films that have been nominated for best picture over the last 90 years.  Even when the characters are inhabited by skilled performers, a little bit of George and Martha goes a long way.  That said, this is a historically important film.  The film’s language may seem tame today but it was considered to be shockingly profane in 1966.  The fact that the National Legion of Decency declined to condemn the film despite the language was considered to be a major step forward in the maturation of American cinema.  In fact, it can be argued that the MPAA rating system started as a way to tell audiences that a film like Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? was not morally objectionable but that it was still meant for adults.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? received thirteen Academy Awards nominations.  It was nominated in every category for which it was eligible.  It won 5 awards but ultimately lost Best Picture to rather more sedate theatrical adaptation, A Man For All Seasons.


Music Video of the Day: Man on the Moon by R.E.M. (1992, directed by Peter Care)

71 years ago today, Andy Kaufman was born in New York City.

The self-described “song and dance man” often expressed his displeasure at being called a “comic,” but it can not be denied that he changed the face of American comedy.  As Kaufman once put it, “I am not a comic, I have never told a joke. … The comedian’s promise is that he will go out there and make you laugh with him… My only promise is that I will try to entertain you as best I can.”  Kaufman’s brand of performance art was featured on both Saturday Night Live and Taxi.  When Kaufman died of lung cancer at the young age of 35, many refused to believe that he had died and instead said that, like Kaufman’s wrestling career and his Tony Clifford persona, it was just another elaborate hoax.  To this day, there are Kaufman truthers out there who are waiting for Andy to come out of hiding.

R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe was one of those who spent his teenage years watching Andy Kaufman on Saturday Night LiveMan on the Moon was Stipe’s tribute to Andy Kaufman and the song is full of references to Kaufman’s life.  Kaufman was famed for Elvis impersonations and Stipe even attempts to imitate the King himself when sings, “Hey, baby, are we losing touch?”  Stipe has also said that the song was meant to be a tribute to Kurt Cobain and that the refrain of “yeah yeah yeah” was Stipe’s way of paying homage to Cobain’s frequent use of the word in his lyrics.

The video was directed over three days in Antelope Valley in California.  The video opens with Stipe in the desert, catching a ride from Bill Berry and eventually reaching a truck stop where he and the other customers watch Andy Kaufman perform on TV.

Happy birthday, Andy, wherever you are!