Tag Archives: Jodie Foster

Jonathan Demme 1944-2017

Director Jonathan Demme died today, 73 years old. In the clip above, he and Paul Thomas Anderson (who’s a big fan) talk about the creative process behind Demme’s films at the 2015 Austin Film Festival. If you want to learn more about The Silence of the Lambs (1991), go ahead and listen.

Born in Baldwin, New York, Demme started out in showbiz as a writer and producer, working on Roger Corman’s movies in the 1970s. That’s also where he got his chance at directing, making low-budget exploitation and action/comedy films for Corman’s studio. He broke into the mainstream with comedies in the 1980s, such as Melvin and Howard (1980), Swing Shift (1984), Something Wild (1986) and Married to the Mob (1988), none of them outstanding but effective genre pieces.

This was also the decade when Demme made his mark as a documentary filmmaker. In 1984, he released Stop Making Sense, his first concert film, an incredibly dynamic experience starring Talking Heads; in the clip above, the band performs “Once in a Lifetime”. Demme also made music videos for several artists and other documentaries, such as Man from Plains (2007), about President Jimmy Carter. He cared about humanistic causes, which he frequently returned to in his documentaries.

In the 1990s, Demme abandoned comedies in favor of darker subject matters. The Silence of the Lambs became his greatest success, earning him an Oscar. A marvelously taut and scary thriller, it featured amazing performances and Demme’s deliberately subjective camera helped create a hypnotic atmosphere, as in the clip above, Clarice’s (Jodie Foster) first meeting with serial killer Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins).

Philadelphia (1993) became known as Hollywood’s first real attempt at depicting the AIDS crisis. Even though Demme’s career went into decline after that, he still made Rachel Getting Married in 2008, a realistic, hand-held drama with lots of good live music throughout. In many ways, that film combined some of the director’s best traits. 

Demme’s last movie was Ricki and the Flash (2015), starring Meryl Streep as an aging rocker. Seems like a somewhat appropriate way to end an admirable career.

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In 2154, assembly line worker Max Da Costa (Matt Damon) is hurt in an accident and tries to make his way to Elysium, a space colony for the rich and powerful who’ve left the polluted Earth behind them. Director Neill Blomkamp went from District 9 (2009) to this more elaborate Hollywood movie, but they share themes. This is a dystopian tale with a social message, a vision of Earth where the haves are so far ahead of the have-nots that they’ve even left the planet. There’s an attempt to create a touching, emotional background for Damon’s character, but the brutal action and the grand sci-fi design is more engaging. 

2013-U.S. 109 min. Color. Widescreen. Written and directed by Neill Blomkamp. Cast: Matt Damon (Max Da Costa), Jodie Foster (Delacourt), Sharlto Copley (C.M. Kruger), Alice Braga, Diego Luna, Wagner Moura… William Fichtner.



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contactWhen Eleanor Arroway (Jodie Foster) suddenly hears a signal coming from the star Vega while working for a program that is exploring extraterrestrial life, the U.S. government quickly takes control of this historic event. Based on astronomer Carl Sagan’s famous book, the film takes a look at the nature of science and faith, often putting them at odds. Interesting and exciting, with eye-popping visual effects and a great Foster performance. Comparisons with 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) are unavoidable, but the story never reaches those profound heights. Excessive use of CNN as everybody’s only news source…

1997-U.S. 150 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Screenplay: James V. Hart, Michael Goldenberg. Novel: Carl Sagan. Music: Alan Silvestri. Cast: Jodie Foster (Eleanor Arroway), Matthew McConaughey (Palmer Joss), James Woods (Michael Kitz), John Hurt, Tom Skerritt, William Fichtner… David Morse, Angela Bassett, Rob Lowe, Jake Busey, Jena Malone.

Trivia: Peter Jackson contributed visual effects. The script was based on an original film treatment by Sagan and his wife, Ann Druyan.

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The Greatest Hits of 2013

It’s time for that annual list of this year’s highly anticipated Hollywood films. Here’s 2013 for ya.


* The Last Stand – Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first starring vehicle in ten years. Not expecting great things.

* Broken City – Allen Hughes directs this political thriller starring Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe.


* Warm Bodies – Director Jonathan Levine last made 50/50, so this romantic zombie movie has to be checked out.

* Identity Thief – Melissa McCarthy has two major comedies out this year, which could propel her into greater things. The first one also stars Jason Bateman.

* A Good Day to Die Hard – The fifth movie in the franchise. None of the predecessors have disappointed so far.


* Oz: The Great and Powerful – Sam Raimi’s prequel to The Wizard of Oz (1939) has a few trailers promising exciting stuff.


* The Heat – The Bridesmaids director strikes with another comedy, starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. Looks like another Stakeout, and could be a major hit.

* 42 – Brian Helgeland directs this drama about Jackie Robinson. Co-starring Harrison Ford.

* To the Wonder – Terrence Malick’s latest, with Ben Affleck leading the cast.

* Oblivion – Science fiction with Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman.


* Iron Man 3 – Shane Black directs this first follow-up to The Avengers.

* The Great Gatsby – Baz Luhrmann’s take on the iconic novel.

* Star Trek: Into Darkness – The second film in J.J. Abrams’s new vision of the old franchise.

* The Hangover Part III – A chance for this gang to redeem themselves.


* Much Ado About Nothing – Joss Whedon does Shakespeare.

* Man of Steel – Superman, as envisioned by Zack Snyder.

* Monsters University – Pixar’s big summer movie is a sequel to Monsters, Inc. (2001).

* World War Z – Zombies, Brad Pitt… and Marc Forster in the directing chair. Looks like a challenging combo.


* The Lone Ranger – Johnny Depp and Gore Verbinski reunite from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies for an American Western classic.

* Pacific Rim – Guillermo del Toro directing something that looks like a huge Michael Bay adventure.

* The Wolverine – Hugh Jackman returns in his most famous role, this time directed by James Mangold.


* Elysium – District 9 director Neill Blomkamp returns with a sci-fi thriller starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster.


* Rush – Ron Howard’s biopic of legendary Formula 1 driver Niki Lauda and the crash that almost killed him. Starring Daniel Brühl.

* The Tomb – Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger break out of a prison; directed by Mikael Håfström.


* Sin City: A Dame to Kill For – Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s follow-up to their 2005 movie.

* Oldboy – Spike Lee’s remake of the South Korean classic.

* Captain Phillips – Paul Greengrass’s latest is a story about Somali pirates hijacking an American cargo ship, helmed by Tom Hanks.

* Carrie – The remake of the 1976 horror classic is directed by Kimberly Peirce of Boys Don’t Cry fame.

* Malavita – Luc Besson’s gangster movie features Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones in the cast.


* Thor: The Dark World – The sequel reunites Chris Hemsworth with Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins. Dark Elves are also involved.

* The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – Jennifer Lawrence returns as Katniss Everdeen.


* The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – OK, so the first chapter was disappointing. Perhaps Peter Jackson will get it right this time?

* Anchorman: The Legend Continues – Fans are in for a letdown. The original wasn’t that great to begin with, and now they’re expecting the sequel to be a masterpiece. Oy vey.

* The Monuments Men – George Clooney directs this story about museum curators and art historians trying to rescue vital pieces of art before Hitler gets his hands on them. Starring Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon and Daniel Craig.

* Saving Mr. Banks – Tom Hanks as Walt Disney. Need I say more? OK, the movie also stars Emma Thompson, Colin Farrell and Paul Giamatti.

* Last Vegas – Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Kevin Kline and Morgan Freeman partying in Vegas.

* Jack Ryan – Kenneth Branagh directs this action triller, a reboot of the Jack Ryan franchise starring Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Branagh and Keira Knightley.

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When their sons get into a fight in school, the Longstreets and the Cowans gather in a Manhattan apartment to discuss the incident… but it soon gets out of hand. Roman Polanski shows once again (as he did with Death and the Maiden (1994)) that plays can be perfect fodder for movies; this is set in one room and the claustrophobia soon gets to us just as it does to these four adults who seem unable to rise above the level of their children. This irony is reinforced by the individuals constantly shifting allegiances as they argue, depending on what nerve they’re hitting. Hysterical at times… but extremely entertaining, and the cast is spellbinding.

2011-France-Germany-Poland-Spain. 80 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Saïd Ben Saïd. Directed by Roman Polanski. Screenplay: Roman Polanski, Yasmina Reza. Play: Yasmina Reza (“God of Carnage”). Cast: Jodie Foster (Penelope Longstreet), Kate Winslet (Nancy Cowan), John C. Reilly (Michael Longstreet), Christoph Waltz (Alan Cowan).

Trivia: Matt Dillon was allegedly considered for a role. Polanski’s son Elvis appears in the opening scene.

Last word: “I don’t think the movie is theatrical. Because what would that be? On the contrary, I think it is highly cinematic. As cinematic as it gets. Just because it’s a confined space doesn’t mean it’s not cinematic. Just because the camera movements are not from thirty-foot cranes swooping over Death Valley and behind the racing stagecoach doesn’t mean it’s not cinematic. Everything affords a little more attention to detail. But, I wonder – and it would be an interesting discussion to entertain for some time – I wonder whether that’s not actually more cinematic than technological efforts to prove the point.” (Waltz, Moviefone)


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The Brave One



braveoneNYC radio host Erica Bain (Jodie Foster) and her boyfriend (Naveen Andrews) are attacked in Central Park; he is beaten to death and Erica’s grief isn’t relieved until she buys a gun and shoots the first criminal she sees. Death Wish (1974) gets a modern and surprisingly effective remake in the hands of a very persuasive filmmaker. There are many similarities to the original, but the script treats the classic dilemma with greater intelligence; its final conclusion is hardly moral but it’s interesting to see how this film reflects the problems of the “war on terror”. Foster brilliantly balances the roles of a victim and an avenger; Terrence Howard is also good as an almost equally damaged cop.

2007-U.S. 122 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Susan Downey, Joel Silver. Directed by Neil Jordan. Screenplay: Roderick Taylor, Bruce A. Taylor, Cynthia Mort. Cast: Jodie Foster (Erica Bain), Terrence Howard (Mercer), Naveen Andrews (David Kirmani), Carmen Ejogo, Nicky Katt, Mary Steenburgen.

Last word: “The movie is not about vengeance; I think it’s actually about rage. She loves this city but also hates it – in the way she loves this part of herself emerging that’s authentic and real but also despicable and hateful.” (Foster, New York Magazine)

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Silence of the Lambs: Quid Pro Quo


silenceofthelambsIt is rumored that writer Thomas Harris has never seen the film adaptation of his novel “The Silence of the Lambs”. I don’t really believe that, but if it’s true, then perhaps Harris should see it considering how his subsequent novels featuring Hannibal Lecter have been unable to reach the height of Jonathan Demme’s version. This serial killer thriller stands as one of the best ever, so intense and chilling that one can’t help but being drawn into its seedy world.

Hannibal Lecter was first introduced to moviegoers in Michael Mann’s Manhunter (1986), but it was in this film that he became a worldwide phenomenon. Director Demme made a fair share of documentaries before this movie and has done an excellent job of making it as frighteningly realistic as possible. Autumnal shots of a fairly cold and damp Ohio, Virginia and Pennsylvania dominate this tale of a serial killer nicknamed Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine) who kills women, skins them and dumps their bodies in watery areas. The FBI has reached a dead end and needs the help of a professional, another serial killer called Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) who’s been interned in a maximum security prison for eight years. He isn’t talking, but special agent Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) sends an inexperienced cadet, Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), there to see if her presence makes a difference. It does. Lecter gives her a clue, and soon the investigation is progressing. Lecter is a former psychiatrist who was exposed as a deranged murderer who ate his victims (he tells Clarice that he once enjoyed a census taker’s liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti) and it turns out that Buffalo Bill was probably a former patient of his. But in order to divulge information about this man to Clarice he demands quid pro quo. He wants a better cell and he wants Clarice to open up and tell him a few things about herself. It’s a dangerous game, but as Clarice and the FBI come closer to finding Buffalo Bill, she learns more about herself during the sessions with Dr. Lecter. He, on the other hand, has specific plans for the future that the FBI might not like.

Final showdown a masterstroke
What a Hollywood breakthrough this is for British actor Anthony Hopkins. He had enjoyed decades of prosperity on stage, film and television, but I guess nothing could prepare him for the kind of superstar status he would enjoy after playing a person who, while staring at you intensely, describes how he likes eating human livers. Hopkins plays Lecter as a flamboyant yet somehow discreet, intelligent, playful and very, very dangerous human being. He gets to fully put those qualities on display in a tense and brilliantly directed sequence in Memphis. Foster is equally good as the rookie who isn’t even yet an agent; she has a past that torments her and it’s a daring choice to embark on a therapeutic, cleansing path to mental health. Anthony Heald is very amusing as the arrogant and sadistic shrink in charge of Lecter and his fellow prisoners. Demme uses close-ups a lot and that becomes a mesmerizing part of the film; it’s easy to be fascinated by the characters’ faces. The final showdown between Clarice and Buffalo Bill is such a masterstroke, a wonderful example of how suspense is constructed in the editing room. Howard Shore helps immensely with his eerie music; this is the score that became his true breakthrough.

The film deals with ugly, dark subject matters, but director Demme never loses his wits and neither does the story. We are manipulated into seeing an evil man as kind of a hero in the film – and amazingly enough we’re pleased to see him triumph in the last scene.

The Silence of the Lambs 1991-U.S. 118 min. Color. Produced by Edward Saxon, Kenneth Utt, Ron Bozman. Directed by Jonathan Demme. Screenplay: Ted Tally. Novel: Thomas Harris. Cinematography: Tak Fujimoto. Music: Howard Shore. Editing: Craig McKay. Cast: Jodie Foster (Clarice Starling), Anthony Hopkins (Hannibal Lecter), Scott Glenn (Jack Crawford), Ted Levine, Anthony Heald, Brooke Smith… Roger Corman, Chris Isaak. Cameo: George A. Romero.

Trivia: Gene Hackman and Robert Duvall were allegedly offered the part of Lecter. Serial killer Buffalo Bill is a composite of three actual murderers; Ed Gein, Ted Bundy and Gary Heidnick. The character of Lecter next appeared in Hannibal (2001); also followed by a TV series, Hannibal (2013-2015).

Oscars: Best Picture, Director, Actor (Hopkins), Actress (Foster), Adapted Screenplay. BAFTA: Best Actor (Hopkins), Actress (Foster). Golden Globe: Best Actress (Foster). Berlin: Best Director.

Quote: “I do wish we could chat longer, but I’m having an old friend for dinner.” (Hopkins to Foster)

Last word: “There’s something very cool about taking from Hitchcock and Fuller. So [Tak Fujimoto and I] started playing around with subjective cameras with ‘Melvin and Howard’, and a little bit here and a little bit there. Then along came ‘Silence of the Lambs’, and that seemed like, ‘This is why we’ve been playing with subjective camera. Let’s go for it.’ Because they go inside each other’s heads. So we went for it. That, in a certain way, was a fulfilling experience. We had been pursuing a certain kind of style, a classic style: Roger Corman meets classic Hollywood shooting with a strong dose of subjective camera and a little seasoning of Martin Scorsese hand-held.” (Demme, A.V. Club)

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Inside Man


insidemanWhen masked bank robbers take hostages, New York detective Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) is called to the scene; he finds himself matching wits with the gang’s leader (Clive Owen) and a mysterious power broker (Jodie Foster). Director Spike Lee’s first real Hollywood thriller is a stylish and exciting film; he portrays a bank robbery that makes no sense and then carefully gives us clues to what the criminals really are after. Washington and Owen are charismatic in the leads and Foster tries to do something with an inessential character that hardly required an actor with her skills. It may be a little hard to believe in the extravagantly crafted screenplay, but why would you ruin things by thinking about it too much?

2006-U.S. 128 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Brian Grazer. Directed by Spike Lee. Music: Terence Blanchard. Cast: Denzel Washington (Keith Frazier), Clive Owen (Dalton Russell), Jodie Foster (Madeleine White), Christopher Plummer, Willem Dafoe, Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Trivia: Ron Howard was allegedly considered for directing duties.

Last word: “It came together quickly because Denzel had a specific window. At the time I sent the script to Denzel he was playing Brutus on Broadway in ‘Julius Caesar’. He said: ‘Spike I want to do it but this is when the play ends, I’m going to take a week off, then I’ll begin a week later and we’ll have four weeks of shooting.’ It had to come very quickly to fit within Denzel’s schedule. If he wasn’t doing it, then the film wasn’t getting made.” (Lee, indieLondon)

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Taxi Driver: Rough Justice


taxidriverTravis Bickle can’t stand the streets of New York. He’s waiting for the rain that will wash the trash off the streets, all the thieves, murderers, queers, pimps, hookers. They’re all the same to him. He can’t sleep, which is why he gets a job as a cabbie. He may hate the streets but he doesn’t fear them – he’ll take you anywhere, any seedy address in the Bronx or Harlem. Travis is a Vietnam vet looking for a life and a purpose now that his military service is completed. He has no idea that he’s about to find a mission, a mission that will completely engulf him.

It’s a complex character that writer Paul Schrader has created. Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) cannot really be labeled a psychopath, but he definitely has psychological problems. He goes on a date but chooses to take the girl (Cybill Shepherd) to a nice little… porno theater. He gets involved in a presidential campaign, but ends up a security threat. No matter what he does, Travis can’t seem to adapt to people around him. But as the movie progresses, the mission slowly takes shape in his mind. He realizes that he is the one who must correct wrongs. An innocent-looking, 12-year old girl (Jodie Foster) who makes a living as a prostitute becomes the spark that ignites the fire burning inside Travis. He is the one who must rescue her from her pimp as well as those disgusting men who abuse her, and washing that trash off the streets is going to be a little messy.

Dark, rainy and gritty
It’s not a pretty film that director Martin Scorsese unleashed on the world in 1976, but Taxi Driver is an enduring classic. He shows us a New York looking like it was flushed down a toilet. It’s dark, rainy, gritty and the streets are about as mean as they can get. Accompanied by Bernard Herrmann’s unsettling score (his last), Scorsese creates a place that very well could give a dangerous person like Travis Bickle the incentive he needs to go berserk. But there’s also a kind of beauty about the whole thing – the title sequence, with its yellow cab slowly emerging from a cloud of steam, is stunning. One obvious reason why the film is so memorable is De Niro’s performance. His character starts out as a restless young man and ends up a determined avenger with a Mohawk hairdo and an obsession with firearms – he is utterly convincing every step of the way. The famous sequence where he’s talking to an imaginary foe in the mirror, and points a gun at him, shows a man about to fall off a cliff. He could be someone who’s just playing around, but we all get the feeling that he is actually preparing to deliver the rain that will wash the trash off the streets. The supporting cast is pure perfection. Shepherd is charming as the girl Travis tries to woo and Albert Brooks is fun as the guy who has a crush on her. Young Foster took a chance playing the child prostitute and her performance reveals a star in the making; her scenes with De Niro ring true.

The shootout in the ending, where Travis finally delivers the rain in his attempt to save the poor child, is raw and terrifying. It may not be tasteful or very well directed but it’s hard to forget. The epilogue, where Travis has become a hero after killing all those people, is interesting; the best way to interpret it is as an expression of irony. Taxi Driver is controversial and there are people who can’t stand it. Depressing to watch, the film is also fascinating in the way it makes one sympathize with and, eerily enough, understand a human being that you don’t really want to understand.

Taxi Driver 1976-U.S. 113 min. Color. Produced by Michael Philips, Julia Philips. Directed by Martin Scorsese. Screenplay: Paul Schrader. Cinematography: Michael Chapman. Music: Bernard Herrmann. Cast: Robert De Niro (Travis Bickle), Cybill Shepherd (Betsy), Harvey Keitel (Sport), Peter Boyle, Jodie Foster, Albert Brooks… Martin Scorsese.

Trivia: Rock Hudson was allegedly considered for the part of the presidential candidate. In 1981, John Hinckley shot President Ronald Reagan in an attempt to impress Foster, after seeing her in this film.

BAFTA: Best Actress (Foster), Film Music. Cannes: Palme d’Or.

Quote: “You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? Then who the hell else are you talking… you talking to me? Well I’m the only one here. Who the fuck do you think you’re talking to? Oh yeah? OK.” (De Niro talking to himself in the mirror)

Last word: “In 1973, I had been through a particularly rough time. My marriage broke up and I had to quit the American Film Institute. I was out of work; I was out of the AFI; I was in debt. I fell into a period of real isolation, living more or less in my car. One day, I went to the emergency room in serious pain, and it turned out I had an ulcer. While I was in the hospital talking to the nurse, I realised I hadn’t spoken to anyone in two or three weeks. It really hit me, an image that I was like a taxi driver, floating around in this metal coffin in the city, seemingly in the middle of people but absolutely, totally alone.” (Schrader, Sabotage Times)

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