"The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane" Starring Jodie Foster

 8/26/2020

This is a strange little movie that came out of the 1970s that starred a 13-year-old Jodie Foster, released the same year as her break out role as Iris in “Taxi Driver”.  In this film, she co-stars with Martin Sheen, Alexis Smith, and Scott Jacoby, all of whom deliver great performances in this uneasy and disturbing story of a young girl who is diabolical and smart beyond her years.

Foster plays Rynn Jacobs who has just moved back to the area to live with her father, a famous poet, in a big house down the lane.  She had previously been living in London.  It is Halloween and also her 13th birthday when she is visited by the creepy and lecherous Frank Hallet.  His mother Cora has leased the house to the Jacobs' for a period of three years.  Frank has a reputation around town as a pedophile but who also has two kids of his own.  He makes a number of advances towards Rynn but she is quite mature for her age and brushes him off.  The clothing and soundtrack of the film are pure 70s with its bright colors and funky score.

The next day Rynn is visited by Cora who drives up in big green Bently.  She barges her way in and when Rynn refuses to help her in getting some glasses from the cellar she is annoyed and just beside herself, such a rude little girl!  Rynn does seem to be hiding something and we have yet to see her father as she gives numerous excuses why he can’t be bothered.  Rynn also doesn’t attend school, which Cora is going to look into.   She ends up leaving empty-handed and in an angry huff.  Rynn then makes a trip into town and runs into Officer Miglioriti who offers her a ride home.  He also is looking for her father and Rynn provides yet another excuse.  From now on it seems to be constantly raining.  The next day Cora makes a return visit and things get heated as she refuses to leave until she sees her father.  Rynn fires back with threatening to tell the cops about Franks's unwanted advances towards her.  Taking matters into her own hands Cora opens the cellar door, which under the kitchen floor, and is horrified by what she sees.  The door slips and smashes her on the head.  Cora is dead and Rynn covers it up.

We are then introduced to Mario, the policeman’s nephew, an older teenager who rides by on his bike dressed as a magician with a long billowing cape.  She sees Rynn trying to move Cora’s Bently and stops to talk with her.  Mario walks with a cane and says he is a cripple.  They seem it hit if off and Mario returns after his magic show and moving Cora’s car.  Rynn has made them dinner and they are having a good time.  Mario is the perfect cure for Rynn’s loneliness and boredom.  Officer Miglioriti knocks at the door and comes in for a brief moment.  He mentions that Cora is missing and Frank might come snooping around asking questions.  Soon after Miglioriti leaves, Frank does show up and this time he wants answers.  It a shocking and controversial scene Franks tortures and kills Rynn’s pet hamster then tosses it in the fireplace.  He terrorizes the kids but Mario and his sword cane have Frank eventually leaving.

Rynn then confides in Mario as to what she’s been up too, they bury Cora’s body.  Rynn then helps Mario take a bath (awkward).  Then it’s implied that they have sex in front of the fireplace.  The next morning Miglioriti is back and insists on talking to Rynn’s father, who miraculously appears and walks halfway down the stairs.  They briefly chat and he signs a book for him.  Miglioriti apologizes for not believing her and leaves.  We then find out it was actually Mario in disguise.  Then we come to the most WTF scene of the movie when in her bedroom Rynn strips naked and gets into bed with Mario.  Now it’s obvious that there is a body double used because Jodie was actually 13 during filming but the audacity by the director to put in a scene like this takes some pretty big balls.  This whole movie walks an uneasy line with sexuality in general.  Rynn is a sort of femme fatale, Lolita-esque type character who plays with the hearts and emotions of all of the characters.

To wrap things up Mario gets stuck in the hospital with pneumonia and Franks takes one last shot at Rynn.  He gropes her chest while grabbing a safe deposit box key that is on a chain around her neck.  He wants answers and finds evidence that Rynn has killed Cora and her own mother.  In a scene earlier foreshadowed with Mario, Rynn makes them some tea with once cup spiked with cyanide.  Frank thinks he knows what she is up to but winds up playing right into her hands and drinks the poison.  We end on a very long take on Rynn’s cold and blank expression as the credits roll.

"Afterschool" Starring Ezra Miller

8/22/2020

Writer/director Antonio Campos first came upon the scene with his 2008 film “Afterschool”.  This painfully authentic early portrayal of teens and how the new internet and cell phone culture affects the students at a prestigious prep school.  When tragedy strikes the student body seems desensitized and indifferent to the violence that has occurred.

The film follows one such student named Rob, played by Ezra Miller, who is a shy and withdrawn kid who can be usually found in front of his computer watching violent Youtube videos, porn, or playing violent video games.  He is meek and introverted but has these violent outbursts that show his inner struggle and anger.  The alienation, depression, and loneliness he feels comes across in a very honest way.  The rich all-white prep school culture is brutal and looks worse than any public high school.  The pressure is immense and unrelenting and Rob looks to be on the brink.  When looking for an elective class he chooses video production and is partnered with Amy for a project.  There is an awkward scene where they talk about sex and this leads to a disturbing realization of how modern teenage boys learn about sex from internet porn.  The line between reality and fantasy is quickly becoming blurred.  This is one of the main themes of “Afterschool”.

When filming an empty hallway for his project Rob inadvertently films two girls who burst forth in obvious distress.  The twin girls Anne and Mary are quite popular and Rob calmly and quietly continues to film them overdosing on some tainted drugs until they stop moving.  He does nothing to help them as other students and teachers come to their aid, but it's too late.  Rob is interviewed by the police and then the school psychologist about what he saw.  He seems to be in a state of shock but not grief-stricken or sorry about what happened.  While in a therapy session he volunteers to make a memorial video of the girls.  Rob always seems to be in a melancholic state of confusion.  He has awkward sex with Amy in the woods, well more awkward than normal teenage sex I guess you could say.  Rob’s inability to express his emotions or to develop any kind of personality is frightening because he is in a way a model of thousands of teen boys his age.  What's even more bizarre is the memorial video he ends up creating.  When screened for the headmaster all he could say was “is this a joke?”  The film is a disjointed, jumbled mess of poorly edited clips and photos of the girls, completely lacking in empathy or any kind of human emotion.  You start to really think there is something seriously wrong with Rob but you don’t know exactly what.  The movie's final scenes are absolutely chilling but are they real or just make belief?

Watching “Afterschool” now more than 10 years after its release has lost a bit of its punch since it was such an “of the moment” comment on teens in the pre-social media smartphone era. Although the idea of how the internet can create socially awkward and desensitized teens is still an issue.  If you liked Ezra Miller in “Afterschool” he plays an even more messed up psychopathic teen in Lynne Ramsay’s 2011 film “We Need to Talk About Kevin” Which I reviewed a while back.

   

"Christine" is the Unforgettable True Story of Christine Chubbuck


8/7/2020

“Christine”, not to be confused with the Stephen King story and subsequent movie, is the shocking and heartbreaking true story of Christine Chubbuck, a woman fighting her internal and external demons in the broadcast news business of the 1970s.  This film was directed by Antonio Campos, who previously directed the amazing 2008 film “Afterschool”.


Rebecca Hall plays the title role of Christine a news reporter for a small station in Sarasota Florida.  Christine lives with her mother after an incident at her previous job in Boston sent her packing.  She obviously has some mental health issues, but in the 70s this was extremely hidden and taboo to talk about openly, and still is to some extent.  On her time off Christine performs puppet shows at the local children’s hospital.  These shows look to be an emotional outlet for her as she uses these characters to express her deepest feelings to the only people that actually pay any attention and listen to her.

Working in a white male-dominated industry Christine is a tough as nails workaholic.  Always itching to do more important she is constantly given demeaning cream puff stories.  That station on the other hand is struggling to find and keep its viewers.  They must start to subscribe to the new “if it bleeds it leads” concept of journalism if they plan to stay in business.  Christine also begins to have severe abdominal pains which she tries to brush off as stress, but this eventually leads her to a doctor's office.  She will need an operation to remove a cyst along with one of her ovaries, making it difficult to get pregnant in the future.  The overarching theme of loneliness is present in every scene she is in.  Christine is not an easy person to get to know and comes off quite cold and standoffish.  She has a crush on the lead anchor George, played by Michael C. Hall of Dexter Fame.  George is a nice guy, but kind of dumb.  He is obviously not as outlandish as Will Ferrell’s Ron Burgundy, but you can see a sliver of it now and again.


Christine buys a police scanner in hopes of tracking down juicier stories and runs out to a fire in the middle of the night and captures this emotional and ironic story of an older man who won’t stop smoking even though his house has burned down more than a few times.  She is proud and excited about this new work and upon bringing it to her boss is shot down for not shooting the fire itself.  Christine starts to spiral down a familiar path as she argues with her mother, who has found a new boyfriend.


Bob Anderson the station owner is looking for two people to work at a much bigger station in Baltimore and this looks to be the big break Christine has been looking for.  She has also started to become friendlier with George, first at a drunken Fourth of July party, then a bit later he asks her out to dinner.  At the end of this dinner, he brings her to this new age support group for people to work through their problems, which was a little strange.  To boost her profile for the possible promotion Christine fakes a flat tire in order to talk to Bob at his home.  She also requests to be a co-anchor for a trial run from the station director in which she is constantly feuding with and surprisingly he agrees.  Although Christine hears that George has been selected for the promotion and he doesn’t choose her to go with him.  This is the last straw and something breaks in Christine’s psyche.  She’s thinking that everyone is against her and is bound for a lonely barren existence for the rest of her sad pitiful life.  So she buys a gun she was looking at earlier on, a .38 snub nose.  The day comes for her big on-air time and there is a technical problem leaving her on air with nothing to say, so she reads a prepared statement of her own, takes the gun out of her bag, and shoots herself in the head on live television.  She briefly makes the news herself and the sad tragic story of Christine Chubbuck comes to an end.  


“Christine” is a powerful character study of a woman who was chewed up and spit out by a society that refused to change.  It's also an early indication of how important a person's mental health is and how we treat each other.  Christine was by no means a bad person, she worked tirelessly in the hopes of making a difference.  In hopes of being listened too and recognized as a valuable and worthwhile person.  The story of Christine Chubbuck cannot be easily forgotten after watching this film.