Monday, September 06, 2010

Enemy of the State

1998, US, directed by Tony Scott

Although Tony Scott's interests often seem to be more technical and visual rather than thematic, this is the first in a string of his films that run with the idea of an ordinary - or relatively ordinary - man thrown into circumstances far beyond his normal experience. There's never much time to reflect on those experiences in a Scott film, though, given the narrative momentum, and while there are brief quiet interludes to establish the family life of Robert Clayton Dean (Will Smith), the overall impression is rather breathless. Similarly, minor characters are liable to literally or figuratively dispatched once they are no longer of use to the plot.

At times, Scott's use of 1970s stalwarts like Jon Voight and - especially - Gene Hackman seems gratuitous, as though he's trying to capture something of the great films in which they played, most obviously Hackman's turn in The Conversation. I think, though, that he's also trying to suggest some continuity in the way that people feel that the state - and its many nefarious agencies - is able to intervene in their lives, with the corrupt or the misguided able to command resources for either their own benefit or what they feel to be a higher purpose. In that light, the film, though made well before 9/11, still feels remarkably fresh, although we may feel less confident in the displays of apparent technical omnipotence which feature so prominently here (and which are a source of enduring fascination for Scott, able to cut between several different versions of "real time").

Father of the Bride

1950, US, directed by Vincente Minnelli

Another of Vincente Minnelli's portraits of American family life, Father of the Bride might lack the sustained visual flair of Meet Me in St Louis but Minnelli consistently introduces striking ideas to what starts out as a comedy of family manners (and which features some terrific comic performances).

There's an amusing montage sequence early on when Spencer Tracy casts his mind back over his daughters' many beaus, several of whom seem like bad dreams waiting to happen, before Minnelli throws Tracy into a real nightmare on the eve of the wedding, his mind filled with terrifically strange, surreal images, such as the floor which threatens to swallow him up. Of course, floating beneath everything are the father's authentic fears of replacement, an idea beautifully, and rather subtly, conveyed as the camera pulls back when the young bride and her successful suitor reach the altar, with Tracy fading into the background to pick up the bills. It's a simple gesture that nonetheless conveys everything about the shift in alliances.

Friday, September 03, 2010

His & Hers

2009, Ireland, directed by Ken Wardrop

Ken Wardrop's first documentary feature delivers on the promise of shorts like Farewell Packets of Ten and Undressing My Mother, developing a fascinating portrait of life in the Irish midlands with emotional depth and striking visual skill. Like most of his short films, the subject matter is inspired by his own family history, particularly that of his mother: the film is a series of vignettes from numerous women, each narrating a minute of two of their own lives, with the film moving from birth to death in a brisk 80 minutes.

Men are absent from the film in physical terms, but their presence hovers constantly - even persistently - offscreen, for almost all of the women talk about brothers, fathers, sons, husbands, partners rather than about themselves. Indeed, at times it's as though the women exist only in relation to the male presences in their lives - even after those men have left - which tends to suggest a rather traditional view of Irish women. That is often reinforced by the ways in which Wardrop films women exclusively confined to their homes or gardens, as though there are no other domains in which they might define and articulate themselves (few of them speak about work, for instance, and most of them refer to household tasks). It's not clear whether Wardrop is implying that Irish society itself doesn't allow for more varied female portraits - perhaps that's the question he's asking us to ponder, since the film is free of explanatory paraphernalia.

Wardrop's cinematographers, Michael Lavelle and Kate McCullough, do extraordinary work, finding constant surprises in otherwise ordinary Midlands homes, shooting rooms in a style that splits the screen as we look through two doors simultaneously, or through windows to the world beyond. That visual playfulness nicely underlines Wardrop's witty cuts from one story to the next, and the rich vein of humour that persists almost to the end of his film.


List of all movies

Most of the images here are either studio publicity stills or screen captures I've made myself; if I've taken your image without giving you credit, please let me know.

About Me

Boston, Massachusetts, United States