Melanie Griffith: Sex at a discount

Never gave much thought to Melanie Griffith. In the height of her career, the late 1980s/early 90s, I dismissed her as a dollar-store Marilyn Monroe, with the Michelin body and the boop-a-doop voice. (See also: Jennifer Tilly.) She seemed insubstantial, especially compared to leading actresses of her time, such as Glenn Close, Meryl Streep and Sigourney Weaver.

But I’ve been forced to reassess, watching Griffith back-to-back in two films, Stormy Monday (Mike Figgis, 1987) and Something Wild (Jonathan Demme, 1986), and realizing that she has a quality, one that may have been better appreciated in the days of classic Hollywood, an ability to shift from light drama to comedy effortlessly.

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Sometimes it’s hard: Under the Volcano (1984)

I had a girlfriend once–hm, maybe I should stop there.These days, that alone seems like an accomplishment. Anyway, I clearly recall this woman becoming almost physically ill as she watched Nic Cage commit suicide-by-drink in Leaving Las Vegas (1995). She simply couldn’t watch someone purposefully abuse themselves so thoroughly.

But then, she wasn’t in love with Cage’s character (or me, as it happened) and so perhaps didn’t quite understand the capacity a spouse or partner can develop for witnessing the self-mandated destruction of an intimate.

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BP Double Feature: House of Bamboo (1955)/Who’ll Stop the Rain (1978)

Post-war is hell in both Tokyo (above) and New Mexico.

War–and service–in these two very different films are things to be exploited.

In Samuel Fuller’s  House of Bamboo, GIs who defeated Japan in the Big One want to do it again, from the inside out. Acting from a sense of superiority and entitlement, they seek to dominate the country in a criminal sense in the way just a decade earlier they did so militarily.

In Karl Reisz’s Who’ll Stop the Rain, the Vietnam vets at the center of the story want nothing to do with the country they left behind, but they’ll use its riches–in this case, heroin–to profit in the same manner as Fuller’s ex-Army men.

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BP Double Feature: His Kind of Woman (1951)/ Macao (1952)

Both of these films rely on the chemistry between Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell.  Physically, they were larger, more exaggerated, more, er, robust, than any pair of actors on the screen at the time. Both conveyed a sense of insolence, even ambivalence to the proceedings at hand.

Macao is easily the more conventional of the two films–with a story that was designed to be out of your head a few minutes after you left the theater.  Don’t take it from me. Take it from the New York Times’ famous grouch, Bosley Crowther, who wrote:  Macao a flimflam and no more—a flimflam designed for but one purpose and that is to mesh the two stars. The story itself is pedestrian—a routine and standardized account of a guy getting caught in the middle of a cops-and-robbers thing.” Sounds like just about every Ryan Reynolds/Sandra Bullock movie at the multiplex, right?

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BP Saturday Night at the Movies: The Third Man (1949)

Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly. — Harry Lime

The most famous quote from a film packed with good lines. Orson Welles’ entrance into the story is so well-known, so famous for perhaps being the most dramatic reveal in cinema, that it surprised me when I realized that his name is third-billed in the opening credits. These days, that would qualify as a spoiler alert, with every armchair analyst simply waiting for Welles to show up.  But audiences 60 years ago weren’t as jaded, weren’t so adept at reverse-engineering movies.

Seeing it again (and appreciating it more than ever), I was struck by how ineffectual Joseph Cotton’s Holly Martins is. He doesn’t solve the mystery. He can’t win the girl. He’s a complete failure at the lecture he delivers. Moreover, Martins knows exactly who he is. He knows he’s a two-bit writer of “cheap novellas,” just as he knows, deep down, he can’t compete with Lime for the heart of Anna Schmidt.

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Postscript: Man on Fire (2004)

One of these two is an alcoholic mercenary in need of the kind of redemption that can be only be delivered at the hands of an innocent child. (Hint: It’s not Dakota Fanning.)

I didn’t set out to watch three movies about kidnapped children in a row, but for whatever reason, it worked out that way. After High and Low and Changeling, however, Man on Fire comes at the viewer like a flying mallet.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone, since the director is Tony Scott, the director of Top Gun, The Rock, et al. You know what you’re signing up for, which is typically a film as  a subtle as the WWF.

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BP Double Feature: Changeling (2008)/High and Low (1963)

I don’t believe they made lips like these in 1928

Both films center on the kidnapping of sons. Both films deal with power and its mirror image, helplessness.

Christine Collins, the heroine of Changeling, the more recent Eastwood film, has almost no station in society. A single mother in 1928 Los Angeles, she is effectively a non-person. Indeed, as has been in the case with many films about L.A., it’s the institutions, specifically the LAPD, that holds the power. The department, as personified by a squirrelly Capt. J.J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan), blocks Collins at every turn, first by refusing to believe her son is gone, then by “substituting” one boy for another.

Kingo Gondo, a Yokohama corporate titan, on the other hand, literally stands above the citizenry, in a house that overlooks the city. When it appears his son has been kidnapped, the police move heaven and earth to solve the case, devoting massive resources to the investigation.

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