Monday, January 24, 2005


for our first date, i once asked a girl if she'd like to come around & 'watch a video'. i'd seen 'contact' for the first time a few days before this enthralling offer was made, & i, umm, wanted to watch it again. terrible. anyway - we watched it, i had a great time, & the relationship lasted about a fortnight.

what made me love this movie so much? part of it can be put down to cultural context. the movie's release coincided with the rise of the whole 'i want to believe' feeling among kids - i.e., 'the x-files'. for a few years there in high school you'd always look forward to wednesday nights, when every episode would seem to reveal answers but end up raising more questions, when mulder's faith & scully's doubt would be tested, when it was fun & ephemeral to believe in whatever supernatural sub-genre you enjoyed. the catchcry 'i want to believe' - which appeared during the title sequence of every show - symbolised something of this newfound desire to seemingly consume each conspiracy; each bit of skewed proof bolstering your belief in the world of truth lurking beneath the paternal, protective veneer of the cover-up. far be it from me to envisage a golden age of somewhat more imaginative kids, but it was only eight or so years ago that shopping malls around the country were bursting with teenagers trying to catch a glimpse of 'special agent dana scully', not the latest batch of big brother contestants. oh well.

'contact' is an x-files episode writ extremely large. first & foremost, it actually presumes to imagine an answer to that over-arching 'x-file' (the one that only ever popped up in the season finales) - life on other planets. second, the lead characters are almost a mirror image of scully & mulder - mulder (believer in supernatural possibility) vs. scully (believer in science, medicine, evidence); jodie foster (believer in science & extraterrestrial possibility) vs. matthew howeveryouspellhisname (believer in god). &, just as in the x-files, the whole thing is supplemented not only by the possibility of love, but by the fact foster (mulder) is always pitted against a larger, organised & suspiciously sceptical authority (for mulder, the FBI; for foster, the government)

of course one doubts the directors/writers/whatever of 'contact' would appreciate the comparison. they take their characters & character development extremely seriously, foster recruited to give the occasionally simplistic script some depth. & she excels, both at being passionate & at enlivening the adventure side of the story. indeed it's probably during the most action-climactic scene in the film - the journey through the 'wormhole', that she does her best work. the scene demands of her an emotional & physical soliloquy of sorts - sitting on a chair in the middle of a hollywood set trying to convince us that she's travelling at the speed of light towards a weird celestial epiphany: it must have been bloody hard work. what results is the best ten or so minutes of the picture - the gorgeous, gorgeous special effects combining with foster's teary wonder & curiosity, the decently-performed meeting between foster & her dead father (or genius 'vegan') set against a heavenly, beautifully rendered background; the whole thing rounded out by one of those undeniable hollywood messages of goodwill - 'your race is interesting, capable of the beautiful & the terrible' etc. it's hard to counter this scene with cynicism, unless you are completely averse to science-fiction &/or ethereal matters. watching the film for the first time in a while the other night, i found myself guffawing for the most part. but during this sequence the best you can really do is shrug yr shoulders & just appreciate the imagistic, imaginative & moral bravura (or is it bravado?) of it all.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

in the line of fire

'in the line of fire' is about as straight-down-the-line formulaic a film as you'll find. but in keeping with the premise of this unfortunately irregular blog, i'd best mention certain things that, in pop-critical parlance, take this from being a 2 & a half star action flick to a 4 (i despise the gutlessness of a 2 & a half star review, by the way, so commonplace in newspaper reviews - critics need to tear stuff apart, not sit on the starry fence).

i love an action/drama flick that uses establishing shots of the big washington monuments as kind of visual/thematic bedrock (why do you think i've watched 'jfk' four billion times? kevin costner strolling sternly in front of lincoln's statue - i'm happy). 'in the line of fire' doesn't muck around, rushing through its opening credits with the aid of an equally rushed score (no frills, this film - the score is completely forgettable), & planting its title, in the blandest font imaginable, across the traditional head-on view of the whitehouse.

'ok, that'll do', the director seems to say - 'let's get these characters established!'. first scene, therefore, is your usual cop-movie fare: heroic but troubled lead in full-flight, killing a few counterfeiters & arresting a ringleader, saving his wide-eyed partner's life etc. the role of the wide-eyed one is taken by dylan mcdermott, who plays it well enough - wife, kids, new recruit, nervous (unnecessary tears) = destined to die. inevitable death of partner (i can still hear it now; whenever these innocent types died in action films, my mum would always say, 'oh no! he was such a nice man!) is what tips gruff lead over the edge. character antecedents = holly hunter's love interest in 'copycat', jeff daniels in 'speed' etc.

'gruff lead' is what clint eastwood does best, though, & the writer knew this. i like certain of his lines - 'i gotta put all that shit back on!', after stripping down his white-collar-copper-clobber before abandoned sex - & his nice impatience with our brilliant villain's rhetoric - 'how much longer do i need to listen to this shit?'. what eastwood does really well (in his old age) is constantly contradict his diminishing physicality with a fierce, short-of-words streak that's always surprising. & the initially weird relationship with rene russo (where is she, by the way?) is saved by some quite nice writing - again, the surprise factor is important; for such a tawdry, cliched-lonely-spirit-swilling-detective character, his genuine interest in russo is refreshing, his romanticism kind of sparse, don't-expect-much & unexpected at the same time. sitting in front of the lincoln statue, he pines, 'if she turns around, she's interested...come on, turn around'. this romantic-glance motif carries through nicely into their piano-side love scene - the whole matter is rather pleasant, actually. & what's more (& this may sound, what, boyish?) the love-stuff doesn't ever interfere with the action side of things, as often happens in an action-drama - new couple have fight over hero's priorities, eventual reconciliation, sunset prioritisation etc.

that's all well & good. obviously the real feature of this film is john malkovich as our crazed but rhetorically controlled, nihilistic villain. he relates to eastwood (over the phone) in regards their mutual abjectness; malkovich as renegade CIA operative, eastwood as failed secret service agent (the 'failed to protect kennedy' theme is a bit jarring, i must say). & i guess the thing that separates the two men is russo; having found someone to brighten up the abjectness in his day, someone to, errrm, live for, we get that nice little postscript scene - russo & eastwood quietly walking out of the detective's desolate, dreary apartment as malkovich's voice prattles away on the answering machine - the ghost-voice of the villain now haunting the former haunt of the formerly nihilistic, deadpan detective. this last scene is a nice effort at character-thematics - again, it's something that takes this film over the 2 & a half star barrier. & it's bought off because of decent performers. watch this film if you haven't.

visitors since 26 august 04