The Baltimore Bullet (1980, directed by Robert Ellis Miller)

James Coburn was one of those actors who improved any film in which he appeared in.  Take The Baltimore Bullet, for example.  Without Coburn, The Baltimore Bullet is basically The Hustler without any of that film’s grit or edginess.  With Coburn, it’s still a bad remake of The Hustler but at least it’s got James Coburn.

Coburn plays Nick Casey, who was once known as The Baltimore Bullet.  He was the top pool player in the country but now, he makes a meager but enjoyable living traveling the country with his protegee, Billie Joe Robbins (Bruce Boxleitner), and hustling people out of their money.  Nick’s plan is to raise enough money so that he and Billie Joe can go down to New Orleans, enter the national pool championship, and defeat the reigning champion, a man known only as the Deacon (Omar Sharif).  The episodic film follows Nick and Billie Joe as they travel across the country, having comedic adventures and trying to stay one step ahead of all of the people that they’ve cheated.   Along the way, they pick up an aspiring country singer named Carolina Red (Ronee Blakley, who somehow went from her Oscar-nominated debut in Nashville to this).

The Baltimore Bullet doesn’t work for any number of reasons.  A big problem is that Nick and Billie Joe’s friendship never really makes sense.  There’s no real reason for Nick to need a protegee and Billie Joe often seems to be more interested in playing poker than playing pool.  We never understand why Nick would take someone as erratic as Billie Joe under his wing.  Another problem is that The Deacon never seems like a formidable opponent.  He’s just Omar Sharif, looking bored and carrying a pool cue.  Because we don’t like Billie Joe and don’t care about the Deacon, we don’t really care who wins the tournament.  Probably the most interesting thing about The Baltimore Bullet is that, while it was obviously meant to be a rip-off of The Hustler, its plot, with a veteran hustler teaming up with a callow protegee, actually has more in common with The Hustler‘s sequel, The Color of Money (which would be released 6 years after The Baltimore Bullet).

All of that almost doesn’t matter, though, just because James Coburn’s in the movie.  James Coburn always came across like the coolest human being on the planet, even in something like The Baltimore Bullet.  There’s not much depth to Nick as a character but Coburn plays the role with a gleam in his eyes and a leer that looks like it belongs on the face of a cartoon wolf and it’s impossible not to like him.  While everyone else is struggling with the bad dialogue and their inconsistent characters, Coburn looks like he’s having the time of his life.  Coburn was an actor who was incapable of giving a bad performance and he’s the main reason to see The Baltimore Bullet.

Review: Predator 2 (dir. by Stephen Hopkins)

Predator 2

Like any successful genre film, Predator would remain in the consciousness of filmgoers during the late 80’s. The film was that popular and successful. This also meant that the studio who produced and released the film were more than happy to try and replicate what made them a lot of money.  So, a sequel was quickly greenlit within the halls of 20th Century Fox.

Yet, despite the success the first film was able to garner despite some major production problems, this time around luck wasn’t with Predator 2. The follow-up film would have different production issues than the first but they would affect the film in the long run.

First off, John McTiernan wouldn’t be on-board to direct the sequel. His back-to-back successes with Predator and Die Hard has suddenly made him a coveted action director. His schedule would keep him from directing Predator 2 as his slate was already full with The Hunt for Red October being his next film. In comes Stephen Hopkins to helm the sequel.

Yet, the biggest blow to the production would be not being able to get Arnold Schwarzenegger to return in the role of Dutch, the sole survivor of the elite rescue team from the first film. As with most stars and sequels, this time it would be over a salary dispute that would keep Arnold from returning so in comes Danny Glover to take on the sequel’s lead role.

Now, Danny Glover has more than pulled his own action film weight with two Lethal Weapon films already under his belt, but in terms of on-screen charisma he would be a major downgrade from the presence Schwarzenegger provided the first film. But Glover was more than game to take on the role of Lt. Harrigan of the LAPD as the setting for the sequel moves from the steaming jungle canopy of Central America to the blistering asphalt and concrete jungle of gang-ridden Los Angeles.

This change in location made for an interesting take as it helped establish some world building that showed these Predators have visited Earth many times in the past and not just in the faraway jungles but more towards areas and places rife with conflict. We learn that it hunts those who have survived the conflicts of the area they’re in. Only the strongest for these extraplanetary hunters.

Unlike, the original film, Predator 2 fails in not having a cast of characters that the audience could empathize and root for. This follow-up is mostly about action and even more gore than the first. Even the opening sequence tries to one-up the jungle shooting scene from the first film, yet instead of shock and awe the sequence just seems loud and busy,

Predator 2 suffers from a lot of that as the film feels more than just a tad bit bloated. The Thomas brothers (Jim and John) who wrote the original film return for the sequel but were unable to capture lightning in a bottle a second time around. Where the first film was very minimalist in it’s narrative and plot, the sequel goes for the throw everything in but the kitchen sink approach. We have warring drug gangs, inept police leadership, secretive government agencies with their own agendas.

What does work with Predator 2 and has made it into a cult classic as years passed was the very worldbuilding I mentioned earlier. We learn a bit more of this predator-hunter. While some comes as exposition from Gary Busey’s special agent role Peter Keyes, the rest comes from just seeing the new look of this particular Predator courtesy of special effects master Stan Winston.

The biggest joy for fans of the films comes in an all-too-brief scene showcasing the trophy case of the Predator inside it’s spacecraft. Within this trophy case are the skulls of the prey it’s hunted and killed. One skull in particular would ignite the imagination of scifi action fans worldwide. It’s a skull of a xenomorph from the Alien franchise. It made fans wonder if the two films were part of a larger tapestry. Both properties were owned by 20th Century Fox, so there was a chance and hope that the two meanest and baddest alien creatures on film would crossover together.

It would be many, many years before such a team-up would happen. Even when it finally did fans of the franchises would be let down with what they get after waiting for over a decade.

Predator 2 could be seen as trying to make lightning hit the same patch twice or it could be seen as a quick cash grab by a studio seeing a potential franchise. Both are true and without its two biggest stars, Arnold Schwarzenegger and John McTiernan, returning to reprise their roles for the sequel the film was already behind the eight-ball before filming began.

While the follow-up had some interesting new ideas that helped round out the Predator as one of film’s greatest onscreen villains, it also failed to capitalize on those ideas in a creative way. There’s some good in Predator 2, but way too much baggage and too much bad to have it live up to the success and popularity of the original.

That’s Blaxploitation! 12: COTTON COMES TO HARLEM (United Artists 1970)

cracked rear viewer

I’m not really sure if COTTON COMES TO HARLEM qualifies as a Blaxploitation film. Most genre experts point to Melvin Van Peebles’ SWEET SWEETBACK’S BADASSSSS SONG and/or Gordon Parks’s SHAFT , both released in 1971, as the films that kicked off the Blaxploitation Era. Yet this movie contains many of the Blaxploitation tropes to follow, and is based on the works of African-American writer Chester Himes.

Hardboiled author Chester Himes

Himes (1909-1984) began his writing career while doing a prison stretch for armed robbery. After his short stories started being published in Esquire, he was paroled in 1936, and soon met poet Langston Hughes, who helped him get established in the literary world. Reportedly, Himes worked for a time as a screenwriter for Warner Brothers in the 40’s, but was let go when a racist Jack Warner declared he “don’t want no n*ggers on this lot” (1). His first …

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Film Review: Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (dir by David Lynch)

“It was a dream!  We live in a dream!”

— Phillip Jeffries (David Bowie) in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)

Even among fans of the show, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is controversial.

If you read Reflections: An Oral History of Twin Peaks, you’ll discover that many members of the television show’s cast either didn’t want to be involved in the film or didn’t care much for it when it came out.  Fearful of being typecast, Kyle MacLachlan only agreed to play Dale Cooper on the condition that his role be greatly reduced.  (Was it that fear of being typecast as clean-cut Dale Cooper that led to MacLachlan later appearing in films like Showgirls?)  Neither Lara Flynn Boyle nor Sherilyn Fenn could work the film into their schedules.

When Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me premiered at Cannes, it was reportedly booed by the same critics who previously applauded Lynch’s Wild at Heart and who, years later, would again applaud Mulholland Drive.  When it was released in the United States, the film was savaged by critics and a notorious box office flop.  Quentin Tarantino, previously a fan of Lynch’s, has been very outspoken about his hatred of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.  When I first told people that we would be looking back at Twin Peaks for this site, quite a few replied with, “Even the movie?”

And yet, there are many people, like me, who consider Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me to be one of David Lynch’s most haunting films.

It’s also one of his most straight forward.  Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is a prequel, dealing with the events leading up to the death of Laura Palmer.  Going into the film, the viewer already knows that Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) is full of secrets.  They know that she is using drugs.  They know that she is dating Bobby (Dana Ashbrook), while secretly seeing James (James Marshall).  They know about her diary and her relationship with the reclusive Harold (Lenny Von Dohlen).  They know that she is a friend to innocent Donna Hayward (Moria Kelly, somewhat awkwardly taking the place of Lara Flynn Boyle).  Even more importantly, they know that she has spent the last six years of her life being abused by BOB (Frank Silva) and that BOB is her father, Leland Palmer (Ray Wise).  The viewer starts the story knowing how it is going to end.

Things do get off to a somewhat shaky start with a nearly 20-minute prologue that basically plays like a prequel to the prequel.  Theresa Banks, who was mentioned in the show’s pilot, has been murdered and FBI director Gordon Cole (David Lynch) assigns agents Chester Desmond (Chris Isaak) and Sam Stanley (Kiefer Sutherland) to investigate.  Chester and Sam’s investigation basically amounts to a quick reenactment of the first season of Twin Peaks, with the agents discovering that Theresa was involved in drugs and prostitution.  When Chester vanishes, Dale Cooper is sent to investigate.  Harry Dean Stanton shows up as the manager of a trailer park and David Bowie has an odd cameo as a Southern-accented FBI agent who has just returned from the Black Lodge but otherwise, the start of the film almost feels like a satire of Lynch’s style.

But then, finally, we hear the familiar theme music and the “Welcome to Twin Peaks” sign appears.

“And the angel’s wouldn’t help you. Because they’ve all gone away.”

— Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)

A year has passed since Theresa Banks was murdered.  The rest of the film deals with the final few days of the life of doomed homecoming queen Laura Palmer.  Laura smiles in public but cries in private.  She is full of secrets that she feels that she has to hide from a town that has literally idolized her.  She has visions of terrifying men creeping through her life and each day, she doesn’t know whether it will be BOB or her father waiting for her at home.  She knows that the world considers her to be beautiful but she also know that, within human nature, there is a desire to both conquer and destroy beauty.  When she sleeps, she has disturbing dreams that she cannot understand but that she knows are important.  At a time when everyone says she should be happy to alive, all she can think about is death.  Everywhere she goes, the male gaze follows and everything that should be liberating just feels her leaving more trapped.  For all the complaints that Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is somehow too strange to be understood, it’s not a strange film at all.  This is David Lynch at his most straight forward.  Anyone who thinks that Laura’s story is incomprehensible has never been a 17 year-old girl.

This is the bleakest of all of David Lynch’s films.  There is none of broad humor or intentional camp that distinguished the TV show.  After the show’s occasionally cartoonish second season, the film served as a trip into the heart of the darkness that was always beating right underneath the surface of Twin Peaks.  It’s interesting how few of the show’s regulars actually show up in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.  None of the characters who represented goodness are present.  There’s no Doc Hayward.  No Sheriff Truman.  No Deputies Andy or Hawk.  No Pete Martell.  No Bookhouse Boys.  Scenes were filmed for some of them but they didn’t make it into the final cut because their tone did not fit with the story that Lynch was seeking to tell.  The Hornes, Dr. Jacoby, Josie, none of them are present either.

Instead, there’s just Larua and her father.  As much as they try to deny it, Laura knows that she is going to die and Leland knows that he is going to kill her.  Killer BOB and the denziens of the Black Lodge may be scary but what’s truly terrifying is the sight of a girl living in fear of her own father.  Is Leland possessed by BOB or is BOB simply his way of excusing his own actions?  If not for Leland’s sickness, would BOB even exist?  When Laura shouts, “Who are you!?” at the spirit of BOB, she speaks for every victim of abuse who is still struggling to understand why it happened.  For all the talk of the Black Lodge and all the surreal moments, the horror of this film is very much the horror of reality.  Leland’s abuse of Laura is not terrifying because Leland is possessed by BOB.  It’s terrifying because Leland is her father

David Lynch directs the film as if it where a living nightmare.  This is especially evident in scenes like the one where, at the dinner table, Leland switches from being kindly to abusive while Laura recoils in fear and her mother (Grace Zabriskie) begs Leland to stop.  It’s a hard scene to watch and yet, it’s a scene that is so brilliantly acted and directed that you can’t look away.  As brilliant as Ray Wise and Grace Zabriskie are, it’s Sheryl Lee who (rightly) dominates the scene and the rest of the film, giving a bravely vulnerable and emotionally raw performance.  In Reflections, Sheryl Lee speaks candidly about the difficulty of letting go of Laura after filming had been completed.  She became Laura and gave a performance that anchors this absolutely terrifying film.

“Mr. Lynch’s taste for brain-dead grotesque has lost its novelty.”

— Janet Maslin

“It’s not the worst movie ever made; it just seems to be”

— Vincent Canby

If you need proof that critics routinely don’t know what they’re talking about, just go read some of the original reviews of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.

And yet, having just rewatched the show and now the movie, I can understand why critics and audiences were baffled by this film.  This is not Twin Peaks the TV show.  There is no light to be found here.  There is no comic relief.  (Even Bobby Briggs, who had become something of a goofy anti-hero by the time the series ended, is seen here shooting a man in the head.)  There is no exit and there is no hope.  In the end, the film’s only comfort comes from knowing that Laura was able to save one person before dying.  It’s not easy to watch but, at the same time, it’s almost impossible to look away.  The film ends on Laura’s spirit smiling and, for the first time, the smile feels real.  Even if she’s now trapped in the Black Lodge, she’s still free from her father.

Since this was a prequel, it didn’t offer up any answers to the questions that were left up in the air by the show’s 2nd season finale.  Fortunately, those questions will be answered (or, then again, they may not be) when the third season premieres on Showtime on May 21st.

Previous Entries in The TSL’s Look At Twin Peaks:

  1. Twin Peaks: In the Beginning by Jedadiah Leland
  2. TV Review: Twin Peaks 1.1 — The Pilot (dir by David Lynch) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  3. TV Review: Twin Peaks 1.2 — Traces To Nowhere (directed by Duwayne Dunham) by Jedadiah Leland
  4. TV Review: Twin Peaks 1.3 — Zen, or the Skill To Catch A Killer (dir by David Lynch) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  5. TV Review: Twin Peaks 1.4 “Rest in Pain” (dir by Tina Rathbone) by Leonard Wilson
  6. TV Review: Twin Peaks 1.5 “The One-Armed Man” (directed by Tim Hunter) by Jedadiah Leland
  7. TV Review: Twin Peaks 1.6 “Cooper’s Dreams” (directed by Lesli Linka Glatter) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  8. TV Review: Twin Peaks 1.7 “Realization Time” (directed by Caleb Deschanel) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  9. TV Review: Twin Peaks 1.8 “The Last Evening” (directed by Mark Frost) by Leonard Wilson
  10. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.1 “May the Giant Be With You” (dir by David Lynch) by Leonard Wilson
  11. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.2 “Coma” (directed by David Lynch) by Jedadiah Leland
  12. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.3 “The Man Behind The Glass” (directed by Lesli Linka Glatter) by Jedadiah Leland
  13. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.4 “Laura’s Secret Diary” (dir by Todd Holland) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  14. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.5 “The Orchid’s Curse” (dir by Graeme Clifford) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  15. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.6 “Demons” (dir by Lesli Linka Glatter) by Leonard Wilson
  16. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.7 “Lonely Souls” (directed by David Lynch) by Jedadiah Leland
  17. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.8 “Drive With A Dead Girl” (dir by Caleb Deschanel) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  18. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.9 “Arbitrary Law” (dir by Tim Hunter) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  19. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.10 “Dispute Between Brothers” (directed by Tina Rathbone) by Jedadiah Leland
  20. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.11 “Masked Ball” (directed by Duwayne Dunham) by Leonard Wilson
  21. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.12 “The Black Widow” (directed by Caleb Deschanel) by Leonard Wilson
  22. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.13 “Checkmate” (directed by Todd Holland) by Jedadiah Leland
  23. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.14 “Double Play” (directed by Uli Edel) by Jedadiah Leland
  24. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.15 “Slaves and Masters” (directed by Diane Keaton) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  25. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.16 “The Condemned Woman” (directed by Lesli Linka Glatter) by Leonard Wilson
  26. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.17 “Wounds and Scars” (directed by James Foley) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  27. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.18 “On The Wings of Love” (directed by Duwayne Dunham) by Jedadiah Leland
  28. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.19 “Variations on Relations” (directed by Jonathan Sanger) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  29. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.20 “The Path to the Black Lodge” (directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  30. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.21 “Miss Twin Peaks” (directed by Tim Hunter) by Leonard Wilson
  31. TV Review: Twin Peaks 22.2 “Beyond Life and Death” (directed by David Lynch) by Lisa Marie Bowman

Cleaning Out The DVR Yet Again #40: Melinda (dir by Hugh A. Robertson)

(Lisa recently discovered that she only had about 8 hours of space left on her DVR!  It turns out that she’s been recording movies from July and she just hasn’t gotten around to watching and reviewing them yet.  So, once again, Lisa is cleaning out her DVR!  She is going to try to watch and review 52 movies by the end of 2017!  Will she make it?  Keep checking the site to find out!)


I recorded Melinda off of TCM on November 13th.

First released in 1972, Melinda is technically a murder mystery.  Frankie J. Parker (Calvin Lockhart, giving a brilliant performance) is a popular radio DJ in Los Angeles.  When we first see Frankie, he’s driving his expensive sportscar through a poor neighborhood.  It’s a neighborhood that he knows well but, as opposed to those around him, he’s made it out.  He’s handsome, slick, and more than a little arrogant.  When he arrives at a local gym, he looks at himself in a mirror and says, “I shouldn’t say it … but I am a pretty motherfucker.”  Frankie’s a student in a taekwondo class taught by Charles Atkins (Jim Kelly).  Charles gives Frankie a hard time about not giving back to the community.  Frankie blows off his concerns.  To be honest, we really should dislike Frankie but he’s so damn charming.  As played by Calvin Lockhart, Frankie has one of those irresistible smirks, the type of the lights up the screen.

One night, Frankie meets the mysterious Melinda (Vonetta McGee) and spends the night with her.  He thinks that it’s just going to be another one night stand but Melinda tells Frankie that he has the potential to be more than he realizes.  Touched, Frankie goes to work and resolves to be a better person.  Then he returns home and discovers that Melinda has been murdered!

The rest of the film deals with Frankie’s attempts to discover who murdered Melinda.  It turns out that Melinda had underworld connections and mob boss Mitch (Paul Stevens) is desperate to recover something that Melinda had in her possession when she died.  But honestly, the whole murder subplot is a MacGuffin (if you want to get all Hitchcockian about it).  Ultimately, Melinda is a character study of Frankie Parker and how, over the course of solving Melinda’s murder, he learns that there’s more to life than just looking out for himself.

Though Melinda was obviously made to capitalize on the blaxploitation craze of the early 70s, it’s actually far more low-key than most of the better known films in the genre.  (Or, at least it is until the karate-filled finale.)  Perhaps because it was directed by a black man and written by noted black playwright Lonne Elder III, Melinda is far more interested in exploring what makes its characters who they are, as opposed to just putting a gun in their hand and having them shoot up the screen.  Frankie Parker emerges as a fascinating character.

Mention should also be made of the performance of Rosalind Cash, who plays Terry, Frankie’s ex.  Cash gets an absolutely amazing scene where, while attempting to convince a bank employee that she’s Melinda so that she can get into Melinda’s safe deposit box, she tells off a rude teller.  It’s such a good scene and Cash delivers her lines with such fury that you find yourself forgetting that the teller was actually correct in her suspicion that Terry wasn’t actually who she said she was.

Melinda is probably one of the best films that hardly anyone has ever heard of.  Keep an eye out for it.

Horror on the Lens: The Beast Must Die (dir by Paul Annett)

For today’s horror on the lens, we have The Beast Must Die.  In this 1974 film, millionaire Tom Newcliffe (Calvin Lockhart) invites a group of people to spend the weekend at his mansion.  Tom explains that one of them is a werewolf and therefore “must die.”

But who is the werewolf?  Tom has come up with several werewolf tests but, actually, it turns out that the easiest way to discover the identity of the werewolf is to just let the werewolf kill everyone who isn’t a werewolf.  Or, at least, that’s the way it seems to me.

The best thing about The Beast Must Die is that it features a 30-second werewolf break where the audience is encouraged to announce who they think the werewolf is before the actual solution is revealed!

Seriously, many movies would be greatly improved with a werewolf break.


Back to School #8: Halls of Anger (dir by Paul Bogart)

Halls Of Anger

Everybody loves Jeff Bridges.

Last month, the Democratic senator from Montana, John Walsh, announced that he wouldn’t be running for reelection because, much like Lianne Spiderbaby, he had been caught plagiarizing.  (Incidentally, I was one of the many bloggers caught up in Lianne’s web of thievery.  If you have ever read Lianne’s review of Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath, you were essentially reading my review of Black Sabbath.)  Unfortunately, for the Montana Democratic Party, Walsh had already won the Democratic primary.  So, the Montana Democrats held an emergency meeting to select a new nominee.

Governors, ranchers, former congressmen — nearly every prominent Democrat in Montana announced that he didn’t want the nomination.  It looked like all hope was lost but then a petition appeared online, asking the Democrats to nominate Jeff Bridges for the U.S. Senate!  This petition made national headlines and, in just a few hours, it had received thousands of signatures.  For a few brief days, everyone was truly excited about the prospect of U.S. Sen. Jeff Bridges.  I even signed the petition myself, despite the fact that 1) I don’t live in Montana and 2) I’m not even a Democrat!

(I’m a member of the Personal Choice Party.  PCP in 2016!)

Ultimately, he announced that he had no interesting running and wasn’t even sure if he was registered to vote but, until that happened, why were so many of us excited about Jeff Bridges running for the Senate?

Because, in this time of division and conflict, everybody loves Jeff Bridges!

He’s just an incredibly likable actor.  Even when he’s playing a villain, like in Iron Man, he still comes across like someone you would want to live next door to.  He’s everyone’s perfect hippie uncle, the guy that even people who don’t smoke weed want to get stoned with.  If you ever watch any of his early films — and Bridges has been making movies for nearly 50 years now — you’ll discover that this unique and likable charm is something that Jeff Bridges has always possessed.

It’s certainly present in 1970’s Halls of Anger.  This was Jeff Bridges’s film debut, made at a time when he could still pass for a high school student.  He was 20 when he made this film and I have to say that for those of us who best know him as the Dude, Rooster Cogburn, and whoever he was playing in Crazy Heart, it’s always interesting to see just how handsome Jeff Bridges was when he was young.

Jeff Bridges, hiding his face in Halls of Anger

Jeff Bridges, hiding his face in Halls of Anger

In Halls of Anger, he plays Doug, one of 60 white kids who have been transferred to a majority black inner city high school in an attempt to integrate it.  Of all the new white students, Doug is probably the most confident and the most open-minded.  He’s also the most friendly.  His attempt to join the high school basketball team upsets the other students but — even after getting beaten up — Doug sticks with it.  You knew that he would because, after all, he’s played by Jeff Bridges.

Of course, Doug’s story is just one of the many stories told in Halls of Anger.  Another one of the transfers — a weak-willed and balding racist named Leaky (played by future director Rob Reiner!) — tries to provoke a fight with a black student, hoping that he’ll be sent back to his old school for his own protection.  White Sherry (Patricia Stich) dates a black classmate and is savagely assaulted as a result.  Newly assigned vice principal Quincy Davis (Calvin Lockhart) tries to both keep the peace and teach a group of functionally illiterate students how to read.  Militant J.T. Walsh (James Edwards) wanders the hallways and speaks of revolution…

Rob Reiner in Halls of Anger

Rob Reiner in Halls of Anger

Actually, I’m probably making Halls of Anger sound a lot more interesting than it actually is.  For the most part, it’s pretty much your standard 1970 social problem film, in that it’s full of good intentions but those good intentions don’t always add up to compelling drama.  Paul Bogart’s direction is often flat (the scene where Davis teaches his students how to read seems to drag on for hours) and the characters don’t so much talk to each other as they make narratively convenient speeches.

That said, Halls of Anger is worth watching just to see Calvin Lockhart’s authoritative performance, Rob Reiner’s hilariously bad performance, and Jeff Bridges’s charismatic debut performance.  He may never be a member of the U.S. Senate but everybody will always love Jeff Bridges.

You can watch Halls of Anger below!

What Lisa Marie Watched Last Night: Myra Breckinridge (dir. by Michael Sarne)

Last night, as I struggled to get some sleep, I ended up turning on the television to HBO and watching a truly infamous film — 1970’s Myra Breckenridge.  Based on a novel by Gore Vidal (a writer that I generally have little use for), Myra Breckinridge is infamous for being one of two X-rated film released by 20th Century Fox in 1970.  (The other one was Russ Meyer’s Beyond The Valley of the Dolls.)

Why Was I Watching It?

Because I’ve read a lot of books devoted to “the worst films ever made.”  And all of them mention 1970’s Myra Breckinridge as being one of the worst ever made.  And having seen the film, I can say that they’re right.

What’s It About?

Well, that’s a good question.  Okay, there’s a bisexual film critic named Myron Breckinridge (played by an actual film critic named Red Reed).  Myron gets a sex change operation from a pot-smoking doctor played by John Carradine.  “It won’t grow back,” Carradine warns him.

Next thing you know, Myron is Myra and is now being played by Raquel Welch.  Pretending to be Myron’s window, Myra goes to the acting school that is run by Myron’s uncle Buck (John Huston) and ends up falling in love with an acting student (played, pretty badly in her film debut, by Farrah Fawcett).  Unfortunately, Fawcett’s in love with a cowboy from Oklahoma so Myra ends up anally raping the cowboy with a big dildo.

Oh, and a 70 year-old Mae West in the film for some reason.  She plays a talent agent. 

It all sounds a lot more interesting than it actually is.

What Worked?

Nothing.  Just in case I’m not being clear, allow me to clarify: Nothing.  Seriously, this may indeed be the worst movie I have ever actually sat through.  What’s said is that it didn’t even work on a “so-bad-its-good” level.  I love trashy film but Myra Breckinridge isn’t really interesting enough to be trashy.  It’s just an amazingly boring film that thinks it’s about sex. 

I’ve also read some who have claimed that this film, bad as it is, has a certain camp appeal.  And, if you’ve never actually seen a campy film, you might think that Myra Breckinridge is camp.  However, camp is not boring.  Myra Breckinridge is.

Actually, there is one scene that has an odd, “you’ve-got-to-see-this-crap” appeal to it and here it is.  Mae West sings “Hard to Handle.” 

What Doesn’t Work:

The entire freaking film.  Seriously.  I mean, I don’t even know where to begin or what specifically to point out because, if you simply take this film’s failings on a problem-by-problem basis, it creates the false impression that the film is somewhat watchable. 

Okay, here’s a few things that I simply will not be able to live with myself if I don’t take a few moments to be a bitch about:

1) There’s a lot of bad movies that are distinguished by interesting or, at the very least, watchable performances.  It’s as if the actors realize that they’re going to go down with the ship unless they bring something new to the film.  (Meanwhile, so-called great films feature some of the worst performances this side of Avatar…)  Unfortunately, Myra Breckinridge is not one of those films.  The cast alternates beyond going insanely overboard (like John Huston and Rex Reed) to delivering their lines with a dull contempt that seems to be directed as much at us as at themselves (like Raquel Welch.)

By the way, Raquel Welch is actually one of my favorite of the old school film stars.  For me, she’s a bit of a role model, a strong Latina who never felt the need to apologize for being both a sex symbol and an intelligent, succesful woman.  But Welch really does give a pretty bad performance here.  Then again, I would argue that she gives the material exactly the amount of effort it deserves.

2) As bad as the cast is, no one is as terrible as Mae West.  The 70 year-old West came out of retirement to play her role here.  Anyway, it’s hard to understand why she’s in this film.  At one point, when she meets a 6’7 actor, she says she’s only concerned with the seven inches.  Now, imagine this being said by your great-great-great-grandma and you have some idea what it’s like to watch her performance here.

3) This film was made in 1970 and it attempts to be all counter-cultural by having “hippies” wandering around in the background.  As well, we get a lot of hard-hitting political satire.  By that, I mean that various fat men in cowboy hats pop up and complain about “smut” and “nudity” in the movies.  I guess the audience is supposed to go, “Oh my God, they’re talking about movies like this!”  It’s for this reason that I think that Myra Breckinridge is actually secretly meant to be a piece of right-wing propaganda.

4) Finally, for no real reason, clips from old 20th Century Fox films are littered throughout the film, popping up randomly to…well, I was going to say “comment on the action,” but few of them manage to do that.  Basically, it works like this: you see Raquel Welch anally raping a man with a dildo.  And then you see a clip of Stan Laurel for a few seconds.  Then, you’re back to Raquel anally raping the man.  Suddenly, there’s a clip of Claudette Colbert smiling.  Suddenly, Raquel’s back and she’s still anally raping the man.  And by the way, I’m not just making this up so I’ll have an example.  This is what actually happens in the film. 

5) And again, allow me to clarify that this film — which features Raquel Welch using a dildo to anally rape a man — is still one of the most boring things ever made.

6) “Okay,” you’re saying, “if you hated it so much then why did you sit through the entire freaking movie, Lisa?”  I did it because, once I start watching a movie, I can’t stop watching until it ends.  That’s my addiction.  That’s my curse.  That’s a duty that I’ve proudly accepted as a film lover.  And not even Myra Breckenridge is going to keep me from doing my duty.

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments:

Yes, I know that this is where I traditionally offer up some sort of teasingly vague comment about my first year at college or where I admit that I’m scared of dogs, heights, swimming, and the area directly behind the television.  And you would be justified in thinking that a film that claims to celebrate sexual freedom and bisexuality would give me the perfect excuse to be all sorts of TMI.

But you know what?  There were absolutely no “Oh my God!  Just like me!” TMI moments in Myra Breckenridge because there was not one single moment that, in any way, rang true or seemed to possess any sort of insight about…well, about anything.  For an X-rated film that was specifically about sexuality, Myra Breckinridge left me as dry as the Sahara.

So, sorry — for the first time, I can say that I watched something that had absolutely no “OMG!  Just like me!” moments.

Lessons Learned:

I will watch anything.