Tag Archives: Taxi Driver

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #16 – JODIE FOSTER

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #16 – JODIE FOSTER

Having recently caught the underwhelming B-movie crime movie, Hotel Artemis (2018), on Sky Movies, I was suddenly reminded what a brilliant actor Jodie Foster is. She has been around for years so it’s easy to take for granted what a consummate performer and on-screen creator she is. Indeed, her sterling work held Hotel Artemis‘ weak narrative together; as she gave a nuanced and clever portrayal of a morally ambiguous medical professional.

Foster is an actor, director and producer who has received two Academy Awards, three BAFTAs, two Golden Globes and countless other nominations recognizing her screen skills and brilliance. She is one of those rare actors, like Ethan Hawke, who has transcended child stardom and become a prolific performer in adulthood too. Here are, in keeping with the rules of this feature, FIVE stand-out Jodie Foster roles that I can highly recommend you watch.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

TAXI DRIVER (1976)

Already boasting acting heavyweights such as Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro, this existential classic finds Foster as a teenage prostitute, Iris. It was a very risky role for all concerned, especially as Foster was only twelve at the time. However, it is one of the greatest child performances of all time, with Foster bringing vulnerability, toughness, smarts and pathos to girl lost on the mean streets of New York seeking salvation.

THE ACCUSED (1988)

Foster’s incredible performance as Sarah Tobias deservedly won her a first Academy Award. Tobias’ character is the victim of a brutal gang-rape and the film sets about to highlight the savagery of men and the injustices of the legal system. I have not seen this film in years but I will never forget Foster’s steely and emotional acting tour-de-force, plus the physical and mental bravery she committed to the stunning portrayal.

SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991)

If I didn’t include her role of Clarice Starling then I would need my head examined. Obviously, NOT by Dr Hannibal Lecter, I must add. Indeed, while Anthony Hopkins gets much kudos for his startling turn as no one’s favourite chef, it’s Foster’s sterling work which glues the film together. All in all it’s almost a perfect genre film which owes much to Thomas Harris’ fine characterisations of Lecter and Starling and Jonathan Demme’s excellent direction. Nonetheless, Foster brings the tough, determined, yet vulnerable, FBI rookie to life brilliantly; and her scenes with Hopkins spark, scare and thrill especially.

CONTACT (1997)

I wasn’t a massive fan of this film when it was first released. That was because I was expecting something more action-based akin to Robert Zemeckis’ previous body of work. However, Contact, on subsequent views is an emotionally rich and intelligent look at religion, science and contact with extra-terrestrials. Foster is Dr Ellie Arroway, a scientist who utilises radio signals to chart potential alien signals in space. In a role which doesn’t exclusively find her life in danger, Foster is able to show her range as an intelligent, heartfelt and sensitive character. As such Dr Arroway is, amidst the vast expanse of space and time, ultimately searching for that all-encompassing and universal desire: love.

INSIDE MAN (2006)

I love this heist film because it has so many brilliant aspects; notably one of the cleverest twists in recent movie history. Spike Lee directs in confident style, with Denzel Washington and Clive Owen excellent as the lead cop and main criminal, respectively. Jodie Foster steals her scenes as a feisty and venal fixer brought in by Christopher Plummer’s bank owner, to handle a more “delicate” element of the robbery. I liked that Foster chose a less heroic character to portray, as she struts and sells her services to the highest bidder. Ultimately, her Madeleine White is anything but white; instead she’s a black-hearted vulture, dealing with the greedy capitalists and politicians of first-world Manhattan.

FIRST REFORMED (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW – “Stunning work from Hawke and Schrader.”

FIRST REFORMED (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

Written and Directed by: Paul Schrader

Produced by: Jack Binder, Greg Clark, Victoria Hill, Gary Hamilton, Deepak Sikka, Christine Vachon, David Hinojosa, Frank Murray

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, Cedric Kyles, Philip Ettinger

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Paul Schrader is one of the greatest writers that has ever committed a career to cinema. He has been involved in the writing of exceptional films including: Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), Last Temptation of Christ (1988), and Bringing Out the Dead (1999), Blue Collar (1978), American Gigolo (1980), Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985), Light Sleeper (1992), Affliction (1997) etc. Of late he’d had some misfires, however, First Reformed, is a devastating return to form for Schrader.

Tapping into the structure and themes of arguably his greatest work, Taxi Driver (1976), we find Ethan Hawke portraying New York chaplain, Reverend Ernst Toller. He is a complex, haunted and sad man, yet instilled with a strong sense of duty and commitment to his dwindling congregation. He keeps a journal to record his thoughts and these are delivered via a devastating voice-over. Hawke’s voice staggers across the images delivering a combination of existential pleas for understanding and an intelligent questioning of the world around him. Toller’s depression or malaise is not helped by his alcoholism and illness spreading through his body. Thus, Schrader and Hawke create a very empathetic character, out of sync and in grief but very likable to his peers and flock.

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When Amanda Seyfried’s local mum-to-be Mary comes to see him about her troubled husband, Michael, Toller agrees to speak with him about his concerns for the world and the damage humans are inflicting on the environment. When the drama arrives you just feel every agonising moment through Hawke’s beautifully realised character. Just watching Ethan Hawke in a room is enough for me as he is such a nuanced and clever actor. Schrader frames Toller in doorways, rooms, shadows, mirrors and pulpits, pushing him into spaces and trapping him. The sparse nature of the sets also acts as a symbol of Toller’s emptiness and feeling of despair at the world. Yet, at no time does he question his faith per se. The film certainly has an air of that but the big indictment is the horror we have perpetuated upon God’s Earth; challenging whether we deserve this beautiful planet.

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Ultimately, this is quintessential Paul Schrader. Taking a broken individual in the midst of a life crisis and attempting to find salvation or redemption. Whereas Taxi Driver (1976) was, in part, about Travis Bickle cleaning up the streets of New York, Ernst Toller finds a desire to clean up the corporate and capitalist industrial processes which are destroying the Earth. While First Reformed’s ending is not as explosive or cathartic as Taxi Driver it paradoxically creates hope for a fascinating character nonetheless. While he may not be able to save the Earth, Reverend Toller, may somehow be able to save himself.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #6: ROBERT DENIRO

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #6:  ROBERT DENIRO

“If you don’t know Robert DeNiro – he used to be an actor.” Doug Stanhope

In a recent stand-up special Beer Hall Putsch drunken, irreverent funny man Doug Stanhope does an extended routine about Jake La Motta. During the hilarious piece he refers to Raging Bull and more specifically Robert DeNiro. As the above quote suggests DeNiro’s career in the last few years has been more akin to that of a jobbing journeyman with the occasional flash of former genius thrown in.

With forgettable roles in Grudge Match (2013), Killer Elite (2011), Showtime (2002) and many more, his C.V. reads like something Steven Seagal would be hard-pushed to be proud of. He has, it seems recently, aside from a few David O. Russell films, been picking acting roles based on scheduling and a pay-cheque rather than their artistic merits. But hey who am I to worry about a man making a few quid; we all have to pay the rent!

Yet, from a craft perspective it is worth remembering DeNiro appeared in films by some of the great directors such as: Scorcese, Bertolucci, DePalma, Mann, Tarantino and Coppola. At one stage he was the greatest ever living actor and here are SIX roles to remind us of that. It was a tough choice but these are my FAVOURITE performances of, perhaps THE finest actor of a generation.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

MEAN STREETS (1973)

Harvey Keitel is the lead character, Charlie, in this classic-early-Scorcese-urban-street-epic, but DeNiro steals every scene as the ducker-and-diver Johnny Boy. It’s a funny and violent performance containing that trademark grin, verbal dexterity and cool intensity which would become hallmarks of the young Italian’s subsequent performances. His Johnny Boy is flighty and unreliable compared to Keitel’s solid gangster-wannabe and their scenes together are a particular joy as Johnny Boy drives Charlie mad with his irresponsible nature.

TAXI DRIVER (1976)

Isolation and slow psychosis have never been so compelling in DeNiro’s portrayal of lonely anti-hero Travis Bickle. Schrader, Scorcese and DeNiro were young, edgy artists who delivered a character study which found Vietnam veteran, Bickle, trying to stay sane on the bleak, venal streets of New York. DeNiro bleeds desperation and desire for love and hope. Bickle so desperately tries to fit in with society and do right by people but he’s just too wired to achieve this socially. However, via mania and violence he finds redemption and the acknowledgement of the humanity he so desperately craves.

RAGING BULL (1980)

In terms of marrying both a physical and psychologically formidable performance then THIS is probably DeNiro’s finest role. Obviously he’s famous for putting on a shedload of weight for prize-fighting role of Jake La Motta, however, it’s not a gimmick to sell a film. No, the weight gain is part of the character’s arc as he moves from prime physical masculinity and deteriorates to a fat, useless mess of a man who has pushed all his loved ones away due to mounting paranoia and self-loathing. DeNiro designs a character who hates himself and others and whose ability to suck up punishment and pain is a boon to his boxing ability but detrimental to his sanity. In this performance DeNiro proves there is most certainly method in the madness; a stunning film for which the Italian deservedly won a Best Actor Oscar!

KING OF COMEDY (1983)

In this stunning, dark comedy of embarrassment DeNiro is the deluded stand-up comedian who is SO desperate to get a break he kidnaps a leading chat show host portrayed by the wonderfully jaded Jerry Lewis. DeNiro is brilliant at all forms of madness whether it be: psychos, paranoiacs or the obsessively maladjusted such as hapless Pupkin. I can identify with the character though as he is just so desperate to gain fame his persistence, if not his methods, are actually something to be admired. Not known for his comic roles generally, DeNiro is fantastically funny with his skippy walk, bad dress sense, ticks, delivery and imaginary conversations with the celebrities he so badly longs to work aside. You know what too: his stand-up comedy isn’t actually that bad either. Overall, stalking and obsession have never been so funny or painful.

MIDNIGHT RUN (1988)

What! No Godfather II! No Deerhunter (1978)! No Heat (1995)! And no Casino (1995). Not trying to be contrary but I love this film. It is a rollicking road movie and concerns ulcerated bail-bondsmen, Jack Walsh (DeNiro), who must take a fastidious accountant (Grodin) on a “midnight run” to ensure he testifies against a violent gang boss (Dennis Farina). Obviously, as this is a buddy movie the two “opposite” characters bicker and fight over the course of the story but eventually settle their differences and find a common bond. The pace never lets up as the two “rivals” use every form of transport possible to get across country and it was great to see DeNiro in a less serious role cutting loose with a witty and zinging script.  DeNiro brings a world weary pain and cynical humour to a great genre character film.

GOODFELLAS (1990)

As far back as I can remember this has always been my favourite gangster film. Scorcese, Pileggi, Pesci, Liotta and DeNiro were all on fire here in this epic ensemble character story focussing on the rags-to-riches-to-rags-again-narrative of mobster Henry Hill. Yes, Liotta is the lead and Pesci won the Oscar but DeNiro steals pretty much all his scenes as Jimmy “The Gent” Conway. His characterisation is of a charming man who is in fact a bloodthirsty yet charismatic career criminal. DeNiro’s arc shows a man graduating from lorry-jacks to masterminding one of the biggest robberies ever in American history before descending into paranoia and an aging gangster always looking over his shoulder.

DeNiro would give other commanding or at least interesting performances later in his career, for example: Cape Fear (1991), Casino (1995), Heat (1995), Everybody’s Fine (2009), Jackie Brown (1997) and Silver Linings Playbook (2012) but his CV since Goodfellas is, if I’m honest, very patchy. So let us not forget that he has provided some of the most memorable celluloid performances ever. Yes! I’m talking to you!