Home for the Holidays (1995)

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The holiday movie is a game of two halves: go for comedy and you’re swerving from true sentimental meaning;  go for drama and you’re avoiding the utterly futile fun of bringing (invariably dysfunctional) families together. So the comedy-drama is the middle road of choice and that’s what director Jodie Foster steers through here with a script by the fascinating and wayward WD Richter (adapted from a short story by Chris Radant). Newly fired Holly Hunter is the divorced mother of a teenage girl who flies to Baltimore for the Thanksgiving gathering back home with her folks Anne Bancroft and Charles Durning: her awful sister Cynthia Stevenson has already arrived complete with husband Steve Guttenberg and teenage children;  her gay brother Robert Downey Jr shows up with his new friend, Dylan McDermott, which is a mystery since he’s in a long-term relationship; and there is (of course) an eccentric aunt, Geraldine Chaplin. The situation descends into the anticipated back-biting, blame and viciousness while it becomes clear that Downey  has actually married his boyfriend and McDermott is there to be introduced to Hunter. The great cast (including my beloved Austin Pendleton!) works as an insurance policy against the predictability:  when Foster was given the script which she then produced through her own company as her sophomore outing she and Richter worked on the material to more closely reflect her own experiences. What is it Tolstoy said about families? “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. A lot of turkey was eaten during this production and quite a bit of it winds up onscreen. Happy Thanksgiving!

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Enemy of the State (1998)

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Director Tony Scott revolutionised cinema – he literally changed the way we perceive images onscreen, for better or worse. This was his masterpiece, in my humble opinion. Working from a screenplay by David Marconi, it tackles the surveillance society head-on in what might be perceived (and confirmed in its casting of Gene Hackman as Brill) as a continuation of issues Coppola was raising in The Conversation (1974). Will Smith is the labour lawyer whose usual difficulties arise from mob infiltration but now has to deal with the might of the all-seeing National Security Agency. It’s non-stop action, threats, violence, fear and of course surveillance in a thrill-a-minute, thoughtful blockbuster. This is how we live now. Tony Scott RIP.