Saturday, September 15, 2007

Gang, Bang.

Jodie Foster's recent contributions to the cinema have been statuary at best. Maternal catastrophes and oblique espionage strategies took over the typically internal actress. Miss Foster made an art of harboring gruesome memories - not enacting them, per se. So, with her newest offering, she more or less returns to her roots. True, in non-flashbacks we witness the pinba... er tunnel attack which puts her in a coma and her fiancé in a plot. But that's the fine oiled monster of Hollywood logic. Now, because we have lived through Erica's turmoil, we can understand her want to get even.

At once far more artful than any of her recent pictures, and still not quite fun-artless, The Brave One is obviously an intended return to form for Miss Foster, who hand picked the role and demanded various script rewrites. And yet, there's a core deficiency in all of the film's characters. Even tortured Erica is so excruciatingly one dimensional that the shifts in her drive (revenge, justice, bloodthirst) bear no logical progression. Her character changes after the beating (we're privy to countless voice over analogies as to how she's become a stranger to herself, another person entirely...), but our capeless urban superheroine oscillates so greatly in her intentions that without any raison d'être, there is no plausibility to her transgression.

Self-consciously written to embrace a myriad of complex issues like vigilantism and that oh-so-fine line between right and wrong, the film becomes lost in the forest of capitol I Issues. Not knowing where, why or how to turn, the film's second hour is a muddled whirl, grasping for any morally firm ground. And much like Foster's perpetual flâneurie, the film breezes past such issues with a falsely confident terseness - as if mere mention was a form of critique.

Foster's acting is fine - as plausible as anyone in recent Hollywood who's won an Academy Award. It's a Performance and that's what we expect. But she could take happy lessons. The first of two unconvincing moments finds Foster chipper and shopping for wedding invitations, being reminded that the envelope is not cream but vanilla. Her perfectly sacrificial, perfect fiancé scoops her in his meaty and stable arms and her eyes show the worry of what's to come. "Not yet, Jodie!" a directing-on-autopilot Neil Jordan should have chimed. Unconvincing moment #2 (and because of this, one of the film's most memorable) finds Foster in a dingy bathroom, using a cracked mirror to apply lipstick - something so disarmingly awkward for Miss Foster. "Hey you," she flirts in the CRACKED (get it?) mirror.

Violence in The Brave One is something we have our nose rubbed in, not like Cronenberg's recent meditating on the explicitness of what violence truly is, but as a moral reminder - lest we forget. Foster guns down two robbers and potential rapists on the subway. A body slumps out the automatic doors when she leaves. A reminder of the action which occurred moments prior. Are we that prone to forget? Never is it quite disturbing - even a shot to the eye resembles a slot into which a child would insert a plastic peg.

Everything else is pretty dull. Jane Adams is hilariously underused - literally ignored out of the movie. And Terence Howard might as well have been playing a badged ottoman. But the ending! Oh, the ending! When we finally receive our undeserved reward! In perhaps the most bafflingly stupid plot twist I can recall, we receive our moment of emotional transcendence - replete with swooping crane shots, self-reflective voice over and Sarah McLachlan score. The ending's preposterousness made me love the film ultimately - perhaps because it overrides the purpose of its preceded 130 minutes. I learned a lot from Jodie last night - though I presently can't quite recall what. Save that she really needs to be taught how to correctly apply lipstick.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Coining the Feminine Fortification Flick

There would seem to be a new genre of cinema which has developed over the past few years, passing under the radar as summer action fare. Distinct from the phallocentric summer smash 'em / blow-up pic, we have recently found women struggling against the perils of urbanity to rescue their children from some unfathomable nasty. This nasty may come in the form of an absurdly convoluted hijacking scheme or an alien virus from space which overtakes the body. In any event, the narrative requires our female protagonists to deny her trust in fellow man and coast on impulse (contra logic) to keep her dear child from the harm at hand. Call it the Feminine Fortification Flick. Two years ago it came in the shape of the Jodi Foster vehicle, Flightplan. A woman, bereaving the recent death of her husband, takes her daughter on the newest, coolest plane ever only to have that child robbed from her. Shot from the estrogentatious point of view of our woman in peril, every figure in the film (read, masculine) is, not merely in her way, but the cause of her duress. Urban man's selfishness has caused many a woman to lose her child.

For the sake of this umpteenth remake of The Body Snatchers, in steps Nicole Kidman's Carol - a statuary figure of maternity if ever there was one. When we first lay eyes on her, donning the tightest white tee and see through sleep slacks - neither of which leave anything to the imagination, she's a marble sex object setting the breakfast table for her son. There's been a space shuttle catastrophe and all of the backwater ruralites just can't help touchin' the shards. These shards, of course, contain some alien compound which causes a cellular takeover in the toucher. All they need to do is go to sleep. They then become expressionless communists. Only problem is, until informed that, in order to pass as one of these reds, you must never show emotion, Kidman never shows a drop of humanism. She flatly declares the adoration of her son and she doesn't get hot from kissing (a horribly bored) Daniel Craig. To me, that's inhuman. But no, she's one of the remaining few who has not succumbed to the infectious bile these alien clones spew. In explaining the benefits to this new conformity, someone dear to her reminds her of a trip to the country. To take part in this alien race is to be interconnected(continuous), "like those trees in the forest" and see the end of world hunger and poverty. Doesn't really sound like much of a bad thing. And yet the narrative drives this woman to divorce herself from compassion towards fellow man as a means of survival. People run down the street crying and Kidman watches as they're hauled off to be sedated. Don't intervene cause then you're next. (Hating to be a contrarian, but haven't we learned anything from that whole holocaust thing?)

One must certainly take into account the target audience for these pictures - the suburban multiplexes of mid-America. In writing on consumer society, theorist Jean Baudrillard warns, "the tranquility of the private sphere has to appear as a value preserved only with great difficulty, constantly under threat and beset by the dangers of a catastrophic destiny. The violence and inhumanity of the outside world are needed not just so that security may be experienced more deeply as security...but also so that it should be felt justifiable at every moment as an option." Within the confines of our narrative, Kidman's passivity is this justification, translated for the patrons of the world who fortify themselves deeper within the home - buy the bigger cars, get the security system, do not talk to strangers - and shut out the possibility of urban peril. If society is your foe, the remedy is simple. This is the message these films purport.

As a film, The Invasion is irrevocably preposterous, and anyone who still maintains Kidman's strength as an actress must be exposed to this positively stoney performance. But the fact remains, this offering in FFF criminally justifies selfishness and brutality, even. The film's closing shadows a frightening justification on our occupation in Iraq - as a purely human impulse. "Own it," it would seem. That's what makes us human, a voice-over reminds, as if peace were something so alien to humanity that to embrace it would transform us into something else entirely. But that, it would seem, is terrain for Nicole to traverse.