Tag Archives: Jodie Foster

Better Together


by George Wolf

Numerous biopics have shown us numerous ways to illustrate a life through formula and cliche. Nyad smartly maneuvers around most of those by anchoring a tale of persistence and achievement with a warm and intimate friendship.

The achievement is Diana Nyad’s quest to become the first to swim the 110 miles from Cuba to Key West. She tried – and failed – at the age of 28, then took a few years off. Well, more than a few.

Crediting a “soul ignited by passion,” Nyad (Annette Bening) returned to her dream at the age of 61. And her best friend Bonnie Stoll (Jodie Foster) was there to train her, push her, and sometimes protect her from herself.

Oscar-winning documentarians Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi (Free Solo, The Rescue) are right at home with a true story of personal struggle, but together with screenwriter Julia Cox and the two veteran leads, carve out an entertaining and satisfying narrative.

Nyad is proud, motivated, and shamelessly self-absorbed (“It’s not that I don’t know I’m this way!”), while Bonnie is pragmatic, patient and heroically loyal. They make a fascinating and sometimes frustrating pair, and of course, Bening and Foster bring them both to life with a brilliant, lived-in authenticity.

And rather than a generic, chronological rehashing of Nyad’s life, indelible moments are seen in flashback, often at the most organic times. The long, solitary hours in the water meant Nyad’s mind would search for motivation, even if it was painful.

Chin and Vasarhelyi are not shy about weaving in some actual archival footage. And while that helps accentuate both the difficulty of Nyad’s quest and her love of self-promotion, it also adds to the list of story elements being juggled.

But with Bening and Foster setting the gravitation center, this ship never strays too far off course, and Nyad comes ashore as a worthwhile endeavor.

Rough Justice

The Mauritanian

by George Wolf

In the face of the highest of ideals, America is capable of horrible things. According to his own writings, Mohamedou Ould Salahi believed in those ideals, until he was held without charge in Guantanamo Bay for over 14 years.

Oscar-winning director Kevin Macdonald and a cast full of veteran talent tell the story of The Mauritanian with impressive craftsmanship, a proud conscience and a narrative cluttered with good intentions.

Not long after 9/11, Salahi (Tahar Rahim from A Prophet and The Past) was apprehended with suspicions of being a Bin Ladin confidant and the “Al-Qaeda Forrest Gump.” His was to be the first death penalty prosecution of The Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld response, until human rights attorney Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster) took up Salahi’s case pro bono.

The script, adapted from Salahi’s book by M.B. Traven, Rory Haines and Sohrab Noshirvani, picks the emotional teams early. Salahi is a sympathetic character, and quickly charms Hollander’s assistant Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley) while Hollander herself remains unmoved, committed only to the rule of law.

This commitment serves her well, especially against Marine lawyer Stu Couch (Benedict Cumberbatch), who has a personal and professional stake in seeing Salahi put to death.

Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland, State of Play, One Day in September) breaks from the pack of similarly-themed films with a tone that shifts between self-congratulations and tearful apology. The “rough justice” abuse Salahi suffers is clearly barbaric but still feels sanitized, and part of a larger question the film eschews in favor of heavy hearted hindsight.

But there isn’t a false note in this cast. Even when their character arcs may feel predetermined, every player – from principals to supporting – delivers enough heart and humanity to keep the lessons of Salahi’s ordeal resonating.

Landing at a time when the conscience of the country is literally being voted on, The Mauritanian is a committed if somewhat unwieldy reminder of the stakes.

Her Story

Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché

by Hope Madden

Do you know Alice Guy-Blaché? Documentarian Pamela B. Green thinks you should.

She is clearly right.

Guy-Blaché’s groundbreaking career has not been celebrated in the same way as her historical counterparts. She was not only the first female filmmaker, she was among the first four filmmakers, period. She boasts an output of around 1000 films, among them the first narrative film, the first color tinted, and one of the first two films with synchronized sound.

And yet, of the dozen or so filmmakers and actors Green interviews in the opening montage, including Geena Davis, Peter Farrelly, Catherine Hardwicke, Peter Bogdanovich and Ava DuVernay, only DuVernay recognizes the name.

Says Bogdanovich, “I’ve spent my life making films and have written for years about film and I’ve never even heard of her.”

Well, clearly Peter Bogdanovich never took a Women in Film class at Ohio State.

Whether you have or have not heard of Alice Guy-Blaché, Green’s film is bound to be informative, showcasing a figure with remarkable aptitude not only in business (she ran her own studio and produced her own films) but amazing artistic vision, pioneering much of the comedic and dramatic form we now take for granted.

Jodi Foster lends respectful narration (and spot-on French pronunciation!) to an earnest and loving—if sometimes tedious—exploration.

Green’s film is at its best during rare interview footage of the filmmaker, at the time nearing the end of her life and taking a wistful, reflective posture. Between that, footage from Guy-Blaché’s canon, and responses from modern filmmakers on that footage, Green pieces together some engaging and illustrative moments.

Her film gets sidetracked too easily, though, answering questions from those very filmmakers who did not recognize Guy-Blaché’s name, “I would like to see inside her studio,” “I’d love to hear how she managed to be a filmmaker and a mother during that time period…”

These offshoot moments feel disjointed, lessening the intimacy with the subject the more successful moments nearly reach.

Green’s biggest misstep as a filmmaker is her preoccupation with her own sleuthing, some of which feels endearing in its enthusiastic amateurishness, but too often comes off as needlessly self-congratulatory.

Though Green herself struggles to create a film artistically worthy of the pioneering filmmaker, her heart is in the right place and her quest to help Guy-Blaché reclaim her own place in cinematic history is laudable.

Checking In?

Hotel Artemis

by Hope Madden

In a world where the U.S. government stops supplying bottled water to Flint, Michigan residents while international asshats Nestle are allowed to increase their pumping of clean water from just 100 miles away…

Well, that may not have been the inspiration for Hotel Artemis—the inspiration was probably that cool hotel in John Wick—but it is the kind of social disaster that will lead to the Mad-Max-like rebellion that backdrops writer/director Drew Pearce’s crime thriller.

Los Angeles, 2028, and the bloodiest riots the city has ever known have broken out over the privatization of water. With the police very, very busy, it’s a perfect time for a bank heist. But timing isn’t everything—skill helps—and soon a trio of wounded nogoodnicks are headed to the one place they can safely receive emergency care: the exclusive, subscription-based, criminal-only hospital, Hotel Artemis.

It may have a staff of only two—the nurse (Jodie Foster) and the orderly (Dave Bautista)—but it is chock full of high tech medical equipment, old-school security and strict rules. It may also be the best place to ride out these riots. Unless the tensions inside the hotel reach the same height as those outside.

It’s an intriguing premise, one rife with tense and bloody opportunity. A collection of bad people is trapped in an enclosed, retro-seedy space hoping to survive the storm.

If the story intrigues, the cast convinces. Jodie Foster nails the wearied, accepting, down-to-business Nurse. Though the dialog throughout is not as savvy as Pearce thinks it is, Foster delivers it beautifully and her physical mannerisms are even more convincing.

Bautista charms as her tender strongarm. Sterling K. Brown does no wrong ever, here again radiating an intensity that mingles sadness, obligation and moral authority.

Luckily for the entire ensemble, Pearce is more invested in character development than action. He creates a moody tension inside the walls, exacerbated by the explosion of rage and violence outside.

All of which hits fever pitch when LA crime boss the Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum as Jeff Goldblum) shows up wanting to break the rules.

Pearce and his top-to-bottom impressive cast deserve credit for sidestepping expectations and instead crafting a contained, absurd-yet-believable drama. Things get away from the filmmaker when he tries to complicate the plot with backstory, and there are two minor side plots that serve as little more than a distraction.

It’s also an awful lot of tension-building with little in the way of a final release. But Pearce and team have done something remarkable in the summer months: delivered a fresh, imaginative, original film.

Half Damon, Half Ironman


by George Wolf


Already this summer, a futuristic Earth in decline has had to deal with Tom Cruise and the team of Will Smith and son. Now it’s Matt Damon’s turn, but after a strong setup, Elysium finishes with mixed results.

Writer/director Neil Blomkamp , the visionary behind 2009’s excellent  District 9 , again crafts a futureworld that seems perfectly logical. It is 2154, and wealth inequality has finally led to complete segregation. The rich have fled Earth for Elysium, a man-made environment offering a pristine lifestyle free of overpopulation, disease, and the inconvenience of dealing with “non-citizens.” The poor masses stay behind, kept in check by Homeland security and its team of droids.

One of those left behind is Max (Damon, solid as always), an ex- con working in the droid factory. A tragic turn of events leaves him the perfect candidate to undertake a dangerous mission cooked up by the leaders of Earth’s rebellion, and in short order he becomes half Damon, half Ironman, battling assassins under orders from Defense Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster, laying it on a bit thick).

The parallels to current events are frequent and unmistakeable. From Occupy Wall Street to Obamacare, from Blackwater to immigration reform, Elysium will no doubt provide easy targets for “Hollywood Elite” finger pointing. Truth is, these are some of the same basic tenants Blomkamp explored in District 9, but this time he can’t find a subtle way out.

The visuals are impressive and the premise is well set, as Blomkamp again displays solid storytelling skills and a good grasp on pacing. Things break down when contrivance sets in (to guard against spoilers, that’s all I’ll say) and the film forgoes larger questions for easy, feel good answers.

It’s disappointing, because Blomkamp was on to something. Still, there are tense, exciting moments (with a bit of grisly violence), and, though it remains conflicted, enough smarts in Elysium to keep faith in Blomkamp as a leader in the future of science fiction.