Cecil B. Demented

Dir: John Waters, 2000. Starring: Melanie Griffith, Stephen Dorff, Alicia Witt, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon. Cult.

There was an attractiveness to having this be my first John Waters movie. As a growing cult fanatic, I found it odd that I'd never seen any of Waters' films, and, I'll admit, I assumed that he was too much of a staple in the cult-world; his fans seemed to be fond of him more than the movies. Moviegoers and Waters fans, from many different tastes, claimed that this was his worst movie. The steadfast remarks intrigued me, so I went and saw it at a revival theater thinking, "…well, it can only get better, apparently." The struggle to not judge the film too harshly was diminished as soon as the introduction credits came on. Mismatched red and black marquee letters (common for revival theaters) poked fun at mainstream cinema by having fake titles like Forest Gump 2 appear on the lineup and dissolve into a cast or crew members' name. From the beginning it was clear that Waters was a man who liked details, and I was allowed to then be rid of doubt.   The movie opens with a buzz over actress Honey Whitlock's (Melanie Griffith) premiere of her latest mainstream flop. The premiere is in Baltimore, and she turns just about every silent moment to herself into an occasion of bantering and disrespect of the town and its civilians. Meanwhile, a young group of misfits has infiltrated the theater's staff at the venue which is to house the event. Whispering mini-manifestos into walki-talkies for encouragement and prepping their alarming amount of explosives and ammunition, they eagerly await Honey's arrival. Their mission, headed by Cecil B. Demented (Stephen Dorff), is to kidnap the star and force her to act in their one and only underground film. Their message: take back the cinema, or more appropriately, death to bad cinema (as in blockbusters). The kidnapping is completed, but there is a casualty, so soon the group is wanted for murder. Still, they ...

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Jan 12, 2011 6:06pm

Night Moves

Dir: Arthur Penn, 1975. Starring: Gene Hackman, Susan Clark, Jennifer Warren, Melanie Griffith. Mystery/Thriller.

Like the original noir of the 1940s, the later '70s neo-noir, (if it’s fair to call it that, admittedly the definition is being stretched pretty thin), is a direct reflection of its times: Vietnam, Watergate, institutional paranoia. (The original noir often reflected the crumbling American dream). Chinatown, The Long Goodbye, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Prime Cut, and Taxi Driver might represent one end of the '70s noir spectrum while institutional paranoia can be found more handily in All The President's Men, The Conversation, Three Days of the Condor, The Parallax View, and even Jaws. Arthur Penn’s Night Moves falls somewhere in the middle. Gene Hackman takes on a Sam Spade/Mike Hammer role, a cynical tough guy who thinks he knows all the answers, but his latest case makes him realize the world is a lot more unpleasant than even he thought. And like one of the seminal '40s noir flicks, The Big Sleep, here all the pieces don’t always add up. But what is especially fun when the film is over is the discovery that what often felt like overwritten '70s mumbo-jumbo dialogue proves to have its purpose as all the pieces fall into place in the grand puzzle.

Harry Moseby (Hackman, in his mustache and hairpiece years), an ex-football player and now down-on-his-luck Los Angeles private detective, is hired by a rich retired actress, Arlene Iverson (Janet Ward, excellent in just a couple scenes) to find and bring back her sixteen-year-old daughter, a baby-voiced nympho, Delly (played by the very young Melanie Griffith back when her voice matched her face). Like in the best of noir, the missing person is only a small part of a bigger picture. Following the swath of young men Delly has left in her path (including James Woods, still looking like a juvenile, but as intense as ever), fairly quickly Harry finds the teen in hiding in Florida, with one of her mother’s exes ('60s & '70s TV staple John Crawford) and his girlfriend (Jennifer Warren). Meanwhile, he has to deal with his own crumbling marriage; his wife ('70s B-actress Susan Clark, sporting a David Bowie haircut) wants him to be more ambitious, but he lives by his own code and has to be true to himself. Like Nicholson in Chinatown, Hackman’s pursuit takes him way out of his comfort zone, as he is exposed to a new world that includes movie stuntmen, statutory rape, dolphin breeding and finally the smuggling of ancient Yucatan artifacts which all stem from the ugly underbelly of the institution known as Hollywood (with creepy Florida also playing a role).

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Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
Sep 29, 2016 12:26pm

Something Wild

Dir: Jonathan Demme, 1987. Starring: Jeff Daniels, Melanie Griffith, George 'Red' Schwartz. Comedy.

What happened to Jonathan Demme? He used to make the best movies. I’m talking about the films he did before Silence of the Lambs changed his life and career options for good. Perhaps regretting his film's instigation of a wave of serial killer-based entertainments, he got very high-minded after Silence of the Lambs and kept returning with more Oscar bait in the form of Philadelphia, which continued his winning streak, and Beloved, which did not. Since then he has alternated between director-for-hire projects and small scale documentaries, before returning to something like his old style with last year’s Rachel Getting Married. But nothing he has done in years has been as good as the comedies he did in the late 1980s. They were exuberant life-affirming spectacles. He brought a New York downtowner’s aesthetic to mainstream comedy and lifted up a dreary end of the decade—a time best remembered for comedies that celebrated getting rich or blowing shit up—with an offbeat sensibility. He was like an American Pedro Almodovar in love with the idea of New York as a melting pot of bohemians and working class immigrants, all tuned in to the same Afrobeat soundtrack. His New York was full of loud colors, Jamaican beauty salons, and cool people—one big punky reggae party.

Something Wild is his best film. It’s a film that celebrates a life lived without rules before segueing into darker territory exploring the same themes. Jeff Daniels plays Charlie, a nice guy yuppie in Manhattan that gets his kicks walking out on his lunch bill. Melanie Griffith is Lulu—she’s got the famous Louise Brooks bob and lots of Voodoo priestess jewelry on. She’s an edgy chick who catches on to Daniels’s pathetic act of rebellion immediately. She threatens to rat him out if he doesn’t get in her car and see where the day takes them. She’s going to teach him a thing or two about wild. Pretty soon they’re naked in a hotel room and she’s making him call his office while she otherwise distracts him. The scene is playful and sexy, rather than obvious, because Lulu isn’t objectified as Charlie’s "manic pixie dream girl" who teaches him to live; instead she’s the one in charge. The scene is more about Lulu’s fetishizing of Charlie’s straightness than anything, though we get the feeling that Charlie has been looking for someone like Lulu all along. It’s the complete opposite of how most straight male directors would have played the scene and just one of the details that make this film unique.

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Posted by:
Jed Leland
Nov 17, 2009 6:02pm
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