Friday, August 9, 2013

Jodie! Jodie! Jodie!

Werth: Hello, Doctor Lecter.

Wise: Did I eat someone and not know it?

Werth: I'm practicing my Jodie Foster imitation for this week's Film Gab.

Wise: She and Matt Damon headline one of the most-hyped releases this week, Elysium. Looking at her, it's hard to believe she's been a movie star for over forty years.

Werth: One of her earliest successes was 1976's The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane. Foster plays the ultimate latch-key kid, Rynn, a bright 13 yr. old who doesn't seem to have any parental supervision. She spends her time combing the beach, doing the NY Times crossword puzzle, learning Hebrew, and reading Emily Dickinson.

Wise: That sounds like my perfect summer vacation. 

Werth: Soon uppity landlord Mrs. Hallett (the domineering Alexis Smith) begins to suspect that Rynn's poet father is not taking a nap or working in his office and confronts the self-reliant, Rynn. 
Rynn has an ace up her sleeve, however, in that Mrs. Hallett's son Frank (Martin Sheen keeping it creepy) is a suspected pedophile, and he's been stopping by to compliment Rynn's hair a little too often.

Wise: I love a good hair compliment.

Werth: The film is a great slow-burn thriller that unfolds as we find out what Rynn is hiding, and how she's going to continue to hide it. A little romantic spark is added by Mario (Scott Jacoby before he played Dorothy's son Michael Zbornak on the Golden Girls) a crippled magician who seems overeager both as a character and an actor. 
What really makes this film watchable is 15 yr. old Foster, who plays Rynn as a little adultwise beyond her years and more clever than the grown-ups around her. '76 was a big year for Foster. She starred in Disney hit Freaky Friday and got an Oscar nom for Taxi Driver, cementing her image as a young actress who wasn't afraid of a challenge. 
And she courted controversy in Little Girl by getting naked on camera before sliding into bed with her boyfriend. It's shocking to see someone so young take that kind of risk, but it wasn't really Foster. Her nude scenes in both Little Girl and Taxi Driver were performed by her body double, older sister Connie Foster.  

Wise: Strong family resemblances also inform one of Foster's later movies Panic Room (2002).  She stars as Meg Altman, a recently divorced woman who buys a brownstone on the Upper West Side of Manhattan where she and her daughter Sarah (a pre-Twilight Kristen Stewart) hope to reside in peace.  The house previously belonged to a reclusive millionaire whose grandson, Junior (Jared Leto), believes that the old man had millions of dollars hidden in the titular safe room.  He assembles a crew—Forest Whitaker as Burnham and Dwight Yoakam as Raoul—to break into the house and steal back the money.  His plans are disrupted by the presence of Meg and Sarah, and what was planned as a simple breaking and entering erupts into an all-out war.  

Werth: Breaking and entering: the gateway drug to crime.

Wise: The film is David Fincher's follow-up to Fight Club (1999), and he uses some of the same visual tricks—sinuous
camera moves, jump cuts, and off-kilter angles—to keep the tensions rising, although Panic Room lacks some of the humor of its predecessor.  Leto has some amusing bits as a spoiled rich kid, but once the action gets going, almost all sense of lightness is lost.  He and his henchmen gradually become more and more bloodthirsty as Meg prevents them from getting the money and eventually they devolve into chaos.  There's something deeply horrifying about these bad guys that taints the rest of the movie, and no matter how righteous Meg's revenge, their depravity lingers like a bad aroma. 

Werth: I'm still trying to get over the corn rows.

Wise: Some critics have hailed Panic Room as a feminist breakthrough; instead of being a victim of home invaders, Meg fights back.  It makes sense with Foster in the part, although the film could have turned out very differently.  Nicole Kidman was originally cast as Meg, but she had to drop out of the production because of an injury, prompting a major rewrite of the script to reflect the change from Kidman's glamorous and fragile characterization to Foster's more stouthearted one.  Foster is
always best when her characters are driven into some untenable situation and she has to assert her own powers to claw her way back to normalcy.  Panic Room seems to provide the perfect opportunity for that, although the movie never quite gels.  Foster's kick-assery will have you cheering even if she doesn't quite save the rest of the film.  

Werth: Chicka chicka chickabee.  

Wise: Maybe you better save your Nell impersonation for next week's Film Gab. 

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