Tag Archives: Jodie Foster


The Silence of the Lambs (1991) 4.4/5 (6)


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Rating: The Good – 78.4
Genre: Thriller
Duration: 118 mins
Director: Jonathan Demme
Stars: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn

One of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful thrillers, The Silence of the Lambs scooped all five top Academy Awards and gave us arguably the most celebrated villain in movie history. Starring Jodie Foster as FBI recruit Clarice Starling and Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter, Jonathan Demme’s film focuses on the attempts of the talented but inexperienced young agent to tap the mind of the brilliant but deranged psychiatrist in order to aid the bureau’s pursuit of a terrifying serial killer who skins his victims. Though The Silence of the Lambs is perhaps best remembered for its acting and writing, it’s Demme’s directing that sets it apart from the majority of thrillers by intricately setting and maintaining the right tone and mood throughout, an achievement that ultimately elevates the aforementioned acting and writing. In fairness, Foster didn’t need much help for she delivers a wonderfully vulnerable performance full of tempered resolve. As Demme’s moral crucible she helps ground perspective no matter how outlandish the story becomes. This is crucial because Harris has a proclivity for overplaying his hand and skirts the edge of caricature a little too often for comfort. This is best exemplified by his Lecter character. There’s undeniably an arresting quality to the cannibalistic therapist but it takes a deft touch to tease out the more fascinating features of his personality that, for the most part, lie latent. Brian Cox had masterfully humanised him in the seminal Manhunter (to which this film is an unofficial sequel) but Hopkins goes another way and, while he puts in a wholly dramatic not to mention memorable shift, it lacks nuance and therefore realism. There’s just too much looniness to his Lecter and altogether too much revelling in said looniness. Psychopaths, after all, are very good at concealing their pathology but this Lecter is blatantly bananas. However, what he lacks in sophistication, Demme makes up for. Tak Fujimoto’s cinematography is rich in the grime of murder and Howard Shore’s score is softly invigorating and along with some exceptional production design, the director renders palpable a moody tension that carries the audience all the way to the close.

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Elysium (2013) 2.53/5 (3)


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Rating: The Good – 65.7
Genre: Science Fiction, Action
Duration: 109 mins
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Stars: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga

The year is 2159 and while Earth has turned into an overpopulated slum planet, the wealthy have relocated to an orbiting space station which caters to their every need and, from which, the planet below is harshly governed. Matt Damon top lines as a lowly factory worker who must make his way to the space station named “Elysium” if he is to find a cure to the fatal dose of radiation he was exposed to in a work related accident. Unfortunately, Elysium’s minister of defence (a very nasty Jodie Foster) takes a dim view of those Earth peasants who attempt to sneak past her atmospheric defences and usually resorts to blowing them out of their ragged socks. However, when the first minister attempts to curb her extremist leanings, she sets about engineering a coup that Damon just happens to get caught up in. But not before he is surgically connected to a metal exoskeleton that makes him as strong as the droids which Elysium uses to enforce the law and the similarly exoskeletonised mercenaries who Foster uses to chase down Damon when he accidentally downloads the plans for her little coup (don’t ask!).

On the face of things, Neill Blomkamp’s eagerly awaited follow up to his directorial debut, the South African sleeper hit District 9, ticks a number of boxes: a 1980’s esque sci-fi escapism; a director who recently made an impressive debut in the genre; and one of the 21st century’s most watchable action stars. And for the first 40 or 50 minutes, it more or less lives up to that promise. Damon shows a likeable presence as the blue collar everyman who like Schwarzenegger’s Doug Quaid, reluctantly gets caught up in the political instability of his world. The film has a distinctive look, captured stunningly in 4K, and the visual effects are elegant and well conceived. And then there’s the hint of a time honoured bad guy dynamic where a sinister yet erudite mastermind uses a greasy thug to do her dirty work (think Kurtwood Smith and Ronny Cox or Michael Ironside and err…Ronny Cox).

Alas, as much as all this plays to an 80’s vintage of science fiction, this turns out to be very much a 21st century movie with all the muddled scriptwriting problems that blockbusters of this century are almost invariably beset with. Instead of taking the neat sci-fi premise and telling a simple straight forward story on the back of it, Blomkamp tacks a number of weak subplots onto the basic plot. What the purpose of these side plots are is anyone’s guess. Is it an attempt to make the movie something more than ‘just’ an action sci-fi? Are there deluded executives demanding the story have a “social angle” because some irrelevant focus group indicated a place for it? Whatever the reason, it pulverises the otherwise sleek concept.

Even without the plot confusion, the script becomes increasingly coarse. After an encouraging introduction, the villains fail to develop beyond their archetypes and Blomkamp uses them and the heartlessness of the new world system merely to flick switches in the mind of the audience. Sharlto Copley’s (Blomkamp’s leading man from District 9) central bad guy becomes more and more laughable in his nastiness and with the persistent and frankly ridiculous overuse of slow motion (coupled with the usual formidable score), Blomkamp gives the audience what seems like forever to ponder just how mean he is. Foster shows more potential but she too is painfully static in her cruelty. Not surprisingly for a film which is saturated with side plots, it’s the secondary characters that suffer most. Alice Braga is just a token presence and an actress with her talent should really start becoming concerned with potential typecasting. But at least she’s good with what she’s given. Wagner Moura on the other hand adds a new layer of awfulness to the catalogue of sci-fi’s bad performances with an altogether misjudged turn as the lesser of two evils whom Damon inevitably sides with against the elite. Positives notes on the acting front are sounded out by Damon himself who yet again proves a safe pair of hands for driving a blockbuster and a sinister William Fichtner who delivers the goods with his usual interesting degree of edge.

Technically, Elysium similarly suffers much more than it should. The concept design is rich and the immaculate visual effects would have done every bit of it justice if it were not for Julian Clark and Lee Smith’s bewildering editing. Every one of the fight sequences, of which there are many, is rendered nearly unintelligible by some frankly amateurish assemblage. Of course, Blomkamp’s stylistic ambitions played a major role here but somebody needed to speak up and steady the ship. Speaking of the fight sequences, as the movie wears on, the metal exoskeleton becomes an increasingly bemusing affectation for it really just isn’t an integral part of the story. This leaves the audience to notice it at the most random times and wonder what the hell its point is!

In the end, Elysium qualifies as a seriously flawed but visually and conceptually rousing piece of entertainment which fans of 80’s sci-fi in particular will probably accept – if only because we’ve been starved of classy science fiction for too long.

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Contact (1997) 2.79/5 (2)


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Rating: The Bad – 54.5
Genre: Drama, Science Fiction
Duration: 150 mins
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Stars: Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Skerritt

Robert Zemeckis’ big budget adaptation of Carl Sagan’s story stars Jodie Foster as the prodigious astronomer whose obsession with discovering evidence of extra terrestrial life pays off when she receives a deep space signal. Things get even more astonishing when she discovers that the signal contains a cyphered message with instructions on building an interstellar craft that promises to unite the two communicating civilisations. As the world scrambles to catch up with the implications of this message, she and a team of meddlesome government officials led by a nasty Tom Skerritt prepare to build and launch the machine.

As you’d expect from a Robert Zemeckis science fiction epic, Contact is punctuated by some fantastic visual effects and thrilling drama. In particular, he comes into his own during the central contact sequence serving up a feast of pin point editing, sound mixing and dialogue, a feat which reminds us all of exactly what his strengths are. Alas, Contact is flush with his other trademarks too such as the impulse to inflate the basic idea with lofty aspirations. The result is a reckless twisting and deformation of the plot until all sense is wrung out of it.

The major problems with Contact are in the writing. Unforgivable contrivances or outright plot holes litter the script to justify speeding our heroine through a maze of painfully earnest emotional crucibles. But worse still is the Fisher-Price philosophy that runs through them in order to paint the story with the illusion of profundity. Mathew McConaughey is shoehorned into the proceedings as a nondescript religious leader and with him some frustratingly superficial religious considerations. These would have amounted to nothing more than gestures if they didn’t arise so persistently throughout the film and then culminate in an ostensibly mind blowing (but in reality mind numbing) coalescence with the story’s more scientific themes. Clearly there was an underdeveloped desire to draw bigger ideas into the central story of alien contact but not nearly enough intelligence or delicacy to give them shape. Ultimately, the story bounces awkwardly along in much the same manner of Alan Silvestri’s big boring score. Constantly trying to build towards big emotions but delivering nothing but hot air.

Jodie Foster has been given an awful lot of slack over the years and while she’s more than competent with a tight script to work with, she flounders within this sloppy nonsense signing off with a denouement (wherein she explains the wonders of the universe to a bunch of school kids) that comes off a little manic and uncomfortably ludicrous. Skerritt does the best with what he’s given but his character couldn’t be have been made more poisonous if he wore horns and a tail. McConaughey suffers similarly under the weight of his character’s smarmy silliness.

Contact was a bold undertaking and was much anticipated due to the calibre of talent behind and in front of the camera. Unfortunately, rather than playing to its strengths, it flounders in those ambitions and becomes another example of Hollywood missing the mark.

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Taxi Driver (1976) 4.91/5 (3)


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Rating: The Good – 93.7
Genre: Crime
Duration: 113 mins
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd

This brave examination of a borderline sociopath who becomes increasingly alienated from the world as he sees it from his taxi-cab provides a fascinating and cynical analysis of the thin line between society’s perception of good and evil. The movie opens with Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle, applying for a taxi driving job. Over the next few scenes, we learn just why he wanted the job and how in the long run, it only augments his personal descent. Bickle is not a socially adjusted individual, and he is increasingly incapable of understanding those around him. His initial flirtations with Sybil Shepherd’s prim character Betsy end in disaster when he brings her to a pornographic film because he saw other couples there. Only his encounter with a young child-prostitute played wonderfully by Jodie Foster appears to slow his descent into full madness but in the end it becomes the pretext for his biggest break.

De Niro is stunning in this movie and he makes Bickle his own like few if any actors have made any of their characters. This is not “acting” we’re witnessing but an intuitive realistion of a sociopath’s psyche. And this is the greatest achievement of all when it comes to the cinematic implications for this film, namely, that De Niro, director Martin Scorsese, and writer Paul Schrader were brave enough to lure the audience into Bickle’s mind and to encourage them to root for him. On the directing front, Scorsese’s work here is nothing short of seminal in that Taxi Driver counts as one of the most innovative and conceptually energised movies ever made. However, we should never forget Schrader’s raw and daring screenplay nor the great Bernard Hermann’s mesmerising (and final) score, both of which, were just as important in establishing this film’s place in history as its direction and central performance were.

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Inside Man (2006) 3.95/5 (3)


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Rating: The Good – 72.8
Genre: Crime, Thriller
Duration: 129 mins
Director: Spike Lee
Stars: Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie FosterWillem DafoeChristopher Plummer

Spike Lee takes an above average heist story and turns it into a slick and deliciously layered minor classic. Denzel Washington plays the hostage negotiator who is called to the scene of a bank robbery where the hostage-takers (led by Clive Owen) employ a series of clever tricks which keep the police in a constant state of confusion. Add some conspicuous interference from the Mayor’s office, the owner of the bank (Christopher Plummer), and their pit-bull representative Jodie Foster, and matters become even more complicated for Washington’s character. The plot is gripping and the dialogue is Lee’s usual brand of real-cool/cool-real but the two standout strengths of this film are the acting and its structuring. Washington revels in his role as the seemingly carefree cop, Willem Dafoe and Chiwetel Ejiofor as his deputies are great bang for your buck, Foster is pure nastiness and Owen seems in charge of everything. The story is structured slightly unorthadoxly so that as the heist is progressing, the film intermittently skips forward and gives us snippets of the hostages’ later accounts to the police. This allows Lee to send us wherever he wants in terms of our suspicions and keep surprising us as he does. Lee’s slick touch is all over this and, in general, it makes an already top story a real treat to watch.

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Panic Room (2002) 3.75/5 (4)


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Rating: The Good – 68.2
Genre: Thriller
Duration: 112 mins
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Jodie Foster, Kristen Stewart, Forest Whitaker

This dark and moody thriller sees mother and daughter (Jodie Foster & Kristin Stewart respectively) engaging in a battle of wits with three home invaders from the dubious safety of their panic room. As he demonstrated in Seven, Fincher is a master of atmosphere and suspense and he hones that talent to a fine point here as the relentless tension keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout. Panic Room is nowhere near Fincher’s best work but it’s certainly one of the better examples of the modern thriller where the story or the characters inhabiting it typically play second fiddle to the concept driving (selling) it.

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