Bagdad Cafe,
and six more movies

Bad Boy Bubby (1993)

The Neverending
Film Festival

I don't even know what I just turned off.

There's a plump woman, and a balding man I thought was her son but I guess he isn't, since he squeezed her boobs. He's clearly sick in the head, and there's an older man who's just discovered he's the father of the sick-in-the-head balding man.

These three are living in a disheveled basement and never go outside. They shout at each other a lot, and the balding man has a hobby of wrapping living things in plastic, so they can't breathe. He's already killed a cat, and now he's wrapped up his father's head.

I'm half an hour into this gloomy, depressing celebration of Saran Wrap, and enough is enough.

Verdict: BIG NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Bagdad Cafe (1987)

On vacation in American sagebrush country, Jasmin (Marianne Sägebrecht) and her husband or gentleman friend have an argument. He drives away in their car, and she walks into the desert, along the highway, lost and alone.

Meanwhile, in the tiny town of Bagdad a few miles up the road, a woman named Brenda (CCH Pounder) runs a dusty gas station, hotel, and café that comprise 'downtown'. She's angry at her husband, who's forgotten — again — to get the coffee machine repaired, and she's angry in general, which is understandable. The town ain't much, business is lousy, and her husband is worthless. When he threatens to leave, she tells him to go right ahead.

Jasmin, lugging her large suitcase, eventually wanders into town, and into the café, where Brenda takes an immediate disliking to her. They're opposites, as often happens in the movies, but it seems real here. Pretty soon it's magic, but I shan't tell you anything more than that, sorry.

Bagdad Cafe is sort of a comedy, though there aren't many jokes. It's a slow brew, not a quick boil, esoteric and atmospheric. Give it the time it deserves, and it'll draw you into its story about these two very different people, and about the cafe's most loyal customer (Jack Palance).

There's a jarring and out-of-place song-and-dance sequence toward the end, but before and after those few minutes, there's not a false note anywhere, and the last scene is perfection.

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Desk Clerk (2019)

This is do-it-yourself moviemaking, about the life and times of a desk clerk at a hotel. It's obviously written by and stars a desk clerk or (I hope) former desk clerk, Michelle Bowser.

It's amateur, so don't expect highfallutin' production values or a perfectly polished script, but sometimes amateur is a good thing — in this case, it means Michelle's saying what she wants to say, and no studio executive is telling her to tone it down or do it different. It feels like a friend is telling you about a job she hates.

She deals with demanding, flirty, and insistent customers, laundry room refunds, a malfunctioning computer, disinterested non-help from the IT Department, and everything else that can go wrong in a hotel overnight.

Desk Clerk is frantic and funny all the way through, and had me smiling for an hour and a half. The acting is not going to be Oscar-nominated, and the movie isn't quite as funny as it thinks it is, but it is funny, and makes me glad I've never been a desk clerk.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Dr Alien (1989)

An extremely stupid sci-fi comedy, lacking any laughs.

♦ ♦ ♦

My Dinner with Andre (1981)

After not seeing each other for a long time, playwright/actor Wallace Shawn and theatrical director Andre Gregory met for a meal in a ridiculously swanky New York restaurant, and had a mind-blowing conversation.

Both of them being high-class art-people, they decided that their conversation ought to be a movie, so they wrote down everything they'd said, left out the smutty jokes, and re-enacted their dinner, directed by Louis Malle (Black Moon, Calcutta, Letter to the Gallows).

It's hard to imagine a more pretentious, artsy-fartsy concept for a movie, and never once have I eaten in a restaurant half as grandiloquent as where they're eating. And yet, My Dinner with Andre works, if you're in the right mindset.

There are boring bits, definitely, and every time I've seen it, I'm reminded that Wally and Andre are people I'd probably hate in real life. They came from a much more pampered world than me, and much or most of their conversation sounds like the way the worst privileged, over-educated white people talk.

By midway through the movie, though, I'm always wading in, and after that I'm immersed and fascinated.

"I just don't know how anybody could enjoy anything more than I enjoy getting up in the morning and having a cup of cold coffee that's been waiting for me all night still there for me to drink in the morning, and no cockroach or fly has died in it overnight. I'm just so thrilled when I get up and see that coffee there, just the way I wanted it, I just can't imagine how anyone could enjoy something else any more than that."

Tonight was the fourth time I've seen My Dinner with Andre, and each time the effect has been lessened, and the magical mid-movie moment — when it morphs from pretentious bullshit into a fascinating philosophical conversation — comes a little bit later. Possibly related, tonight was also the first time I'd seen it anywhere but in a theater. At home there are more distractions, the room wasn't darkened, the screen isn't as huge and all-encompassing, and the bullshit parts seemed bullshittier than I'd remembered.

Still, by the time Wally and Andre discuss the morality of sleeping under an electric blanket in a cold winter, I was glad to be eavesdropping in that ghastly restaurant where I'd never want to eat. Maybe you'll join us for terrine de poisson (fish pâté) and cailles aux raisins (roasted quail with raisins).

Verdict: YES.

Bonus link: To save money, their dinner in a swanky New York restaurant was filmed on sets in Richmond, Virginia.

♦ ♦ ♦

Paperhouse (1988)

A slow, somber chiller about a young girl who has fainting spells, and forges a telepathic connection with a crippled boy she's never met. She visits the boy by drawing the house he's in, where he's perpetually looking out the window.

It's ethereal, a horror that takes place entirely within the kids' minds, and yours, so you'll have to bring your imagination, ready for stretching.

"You don't have to be invisible to disappear."

It's sorta like A Nightmare on Elm Street without the gruesome elements, and Paperhouse never decides whether there's some supernatural element here, or just a kid with a creative and creepy subconscious. Doesn't matter; it's worth an hour and a half of your time either way.

Even before it gets goosebumpy, the movie's already a winner, because the girl is kickass and takes no crap. She's the kid I wish I'd been, except for the fainting spells and all. 

Based on the novel Marianne Dreams, by Catherine Storr, and produced by Dan Ireland, co-founder of the Seattle International Film Festival.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Who Killed Teddy Bear? (1965)

I picked this only for its ridiculous title, but you can't judge a movie by its name, and it's surprisingly not shit.

It was the mid-1960s, the production code was fading away, and movies were more willing to touch on touchy topics. This one touches 'em all. There's no swearing or nudity, but it's joylessly lurid for its time, and features or at least mentions all the leading perversions.

"Some are fetishists, some are sadists, some are masochists, and then there are the simple voyeurs, the pediophiliacs [sic] — but even that's too neat, too much like 'rules,' so we have the combinations, and I'm not talking about your Uncle Charlie who buys pin-up calendars. I mean the complicated pairings, the sadomasochists, the voyeur masochists, the exhibitionists, the necrophiliacs..."

Juliet Prowse plays Norah, a night club dancer who's smart and kind, fresh to the big city from her midwest unbringing, but somebody's been phoning her and breathing heavy, saying disgusting things that the audience can't hear.

Elaine Stritch is the owner of the night club — and of the movie, in my opinion. It's only a supporting role, but she's tougher than a nail-gun, and full of wisecracks and good advice. "You know what I think?" she says. "I think there's a little bit of this jerk in every guy, including the cops. Maybe they've all got a guilty conscience."

Sal Mineo plays Larry, and wanders the streets, pausing at a beatnik bookstore but then going into a trashy "girls girls girls" theater. He takes care of his mentally retarded sister, and might be sleeping with her.

Jan Murray plays the policeman sent to protect her, and he's tough, dumb, and more than a little frightening himself. He's extra cynical, because his wife was raped and murdered three years earlier.

"I can tell you anything you want to know about perverts and degenerates. I've gone ten steps beyond any psychiatrist. I've cataloged the condition of their teeth and the type of soap they use when they shave, and it's paid off, believe me, it's paid off good. The only record I don't have is how many of 'em I've sent away."

It's a cut-and-dried police procedural, but It helps that all the movie's women seem more intelligent than most 1960s flicks allowed, and it helps even more that Elaine Stritch is one of them.

The movie has nothing to say about the dark world it shows us, but it's never dull and occasionally it crackles.

Directed by Joseph Cates, father of Phoebe. 

Verdict: YES.


There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twentyplex, you're missing out.

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Top illustration by Jeff Meyer. No talking once the lights dim. Real butter, not that fake crap, on the popcorn. I try to make these reviews spoiler-free, but sometimes screw up, sorry. Piracy is not a victimless crime. Click any image to enlarge. Comments & conversations invited.   



  1. I haven't seen Bagdad Cafe in years, but it was one of those "magic" films the came out in the late 80s that left an indelible mark upon me. I'm so glad you discovered it.

    1. Yes yes yes, I came here to say almost the same thing. Bagdad Cafe is magic, like Doug said. The music and the desert and the cafe and Jack Palance in a small but increasingly important role, it's just a perfect movie.

      Doug, you're mistaken about the song-and-dance set. It's the high point of the movie... which now I have to watch again.

      Who Killed Teddy Bear sounds like a must-see too.

    2. It's a rediscovery, Mark. I saw it and loved it in the '80s just like you, then rewatched it last week. It's still terrific.

      I like singing and dancing movies, Jordan. I just wish we could've spent those five minutes with Brenda and Jasmin instead of singing and dancing. Still a great movie, of course.

  2. Can't remember if I recommended Bad Boy Bubby to you. I'd like to think I know you well enough NOT to have recommended it, as I assume it would be something you hate... and obviously you did!

    I will say this in its defense, though: that awful first 30 minutes is there for a specific reason. Shortly thereafter he escapes that hell and enters into the wider world, and the experience becomes amazing, like an infant encountering all the wonders and terrors of life for the first time, with no judgement or preconceptions. My understanding is that each subsequent scene (and there are many) is then photographed by a different cinematographer, lending a kaleidoscopic sensory swirl to the events. The whole thing becomes surprisingly moving.

    But yes, that first 30 minutes is very trying. Especially the bit with the cat, which I believe was actually real -- I can't watch that shit.

    The director has actually made a number of other, completely varied and excellent films. I wouldn't give up on him, maybe peruse his stuff on wiki and see what looks good.

    As for Baghdad Café... I place that in or near my bottom ten of all time least favorites. Boy I hate that movie. Quirk to the 100th power, no thank you! It doesn't help that that was rented literally every single day I worked at the video store for five years, one of our top sellers, and upon returning the disc people would be ecstatic about what they had seen. Sigh.

    1. There's often a long lag between getting a movie and watching it, but
      I don't think anyone recommended Bad Boy Bubby. I discovered it on my own.

      I can totally see why someone might hate Bagdad Cafe. All schmaltz,
      with a Hollywood/West German intent to force a smile on your face no
      matter what dammit. Similar to About Time, which I *loved* a few years
      ago, then rewatched last night and could hardly stand it. So. Much.


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