High Anxiety

Jodie Foster proves she can be one tough mother in 'Flightplan,' while Tim Burton creates a stop-motion morgue with 'The Corpse Bride'

In Flightplan, Jodie Foster — her face taut with anxiety, her aqua eyes clear, alert, fueled by purpose — plays a mother whose six-year-old daughter vanishes on an international flight bound for America. As she frantically (and loudly) instigates a plane-wide search, causing a major inconvenience for all the passengers, not to mention the captain and crew, it becomes increasingly evident that no one ever saw the child in question. She’s not on the passenger manifest, reports an exasperated attendant, and a subsequent phone call to a morgue director in Germany, where Foster’s character just sealed a casket containing her husband, seems to confirm a worst possible nightmare.

Seems to.



Smashing good fun: Foster

Because the highly entertaining Flightplan, if nothing else, has a whopper of a twist — one that no one in their wildest dreams could possibly guess. Writers Peter A. Dowling and Billy Ray should be congratulated for putting Herculean effort into their explanation for this airborne madness. And while the ”Aha!” moment may be one of the most implausible things you’ve ever encountered on screen, you’ve at least got to admit, it’s creative.

After the twist is gotten out of the way, Flightplan resumes its action-packed course, but this time in a slightly different manner. It virtually transforms into a second movie. What better way to stretch your already inflated admission dollar?

Were Flightplan obliged to rely on narrative alone, it would likely go down in flames. But it’s got Foster to keep it aloft, and she gives a furiously compelling, fully credible performance as a mother who may or may not be losing her mind to grief. In Panic Room, Foster spent much of the time reacting and plotting. Here she takes full feral charge. It’s a spectacular, gripping portrayal, perfectly modulated and deeply felt, and while it may not win Foster another Oscar, it manages to remind us of how entirely commanding a screen presence she can be.

Foster is well supported by Peter Sarsgaard as a skeptical yet helpful air marshal and Sean Bean, as the plane’s grim, perplexed captain. The passengers are almost incidental to the action, although the movie manages to address the subject of terrorism and Muslim-phobia in a rather stark and startling way. It also tosses a few cheap red herrings into its mix — including one very early on that’s unforgivable.



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Directed by Robert Schwentke, a German director making his American debut, Flightplan is set almost entirely on the plane. The director has done his homework on the master of suspense — the movie has its share of nicely-realized Hitchcockian moments — and he manages to make the claustrophobic setting both cramped and expansive. (It’s fortuitous that Foster’s character is a propulsion engineer who happened to work on the plane on which she’s traveling, so she knows how to explore its every nook and cranny and secret space with rampaging abandon.)

The air pocket of implausibility keeps Flightplan from being a first class thriller. But that’s okay, I’ll settle for coach just fine.




The Corpse Bride

It would not be out of line to wonder if Tim Burton is a secret sadist. After all, in this day of CGI-animation, to engage a fleet of artisans in the laborious, intricate machinations of stop-motion animation seems tantamount to torture. Yet Burton is an ”ist” of a different sort: a purist, a man who clearly values the artistic creation of something as much as he values the resulting art itself. And his Corpse Bride is a eye-popping work of art.

It’s also a little dull, ultimately lacking the dazzle that made 1993′s similarly produced A Nightmare Before Christmas such a memorable, rambunctious joy. Shortcomings aside, this story of a morose, sensitive young man (Burton fave Johnny Depp) who, on the eve of his wedding, instead accidentally marries a corpse (Helena Bonham Carter, Burton’s wife), still manages to wriggle, like a green-and-purple Peter Lorre-inspired maggot, into your heart. It’s a fairy tale with a morbid streak six feet deep.



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I’ll give Burton this much: He does things on his own terms (how else to explain Planet of the Apes?), and the family-oriented Corpse Bride is unique in that celebrates the notion of death as being something far more joyful and exciting than being alive. It’s an unsettling conceit, one that parents will probably have to explain to their younger kids, but at least it offers hope for something alive and kicking after we’ve dearly departed. Clearly, Burton is hoping for a color-drenched underworld of frolicking skeletons, helpful spiders, impossibly adorable maggots, and disembodied heads carried by skittering cockroaches. Why, it’s enough to makes you shout, ”Well I’ll be buried alive!”

Randy Shulman is Metro Weekly's Publisher and Editor-in-Chief. He can be reached at rshulman@metroweekly.com.

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