Jodie Foster's Christmas turkey


"Home For The Holidays" (15) Virgin, Omniplex, UCIs, Dublin.

The more actors try their hand at directing, the more one wishes they stayed in front of, rather than behind the camera. Jodie Foster, far and away the best actress of her generation in Hollywood, made a promising directing debut five years ago with the touching and low key Little Man Tate. Her second venture behind the camera, Home For The Holidays is distinctly less impressive with the subtlety of the first film replaced by shrillness. The result is so truly anonymous that anyone could have made the movie.

Belatedly released here a year after it opened in the US, Home For The Holidays is set over the course of a Thanksgiving weekend and among a small town Baltimore family which, in the de rigueur tradition of recent American family movies, is thoroughly dysfunctional. The movie opens with a mannered Holly Hunter, edgy and sneezing, as Claudia Larsen, a single mother whose dread of returning home for the weekend is compounded by the shock of losing her job at a Chicago museum and the fear of her teenage daughter (Claire Danes) losing her virginity while she is away.

The stress factor soars as she is met at the airport in Baltimore by her hyper active mother (chain smoking Anne Bancroft in a wig) and her distracted dad (Charles Durning) who lives in a world of his own. When her gay brother (Robert Downey Jr) and his friend (Dylan McDermott) arrive later that evening, she moans, "I've been here 11 hours and 15 minutes already". Rounding out the cast are Geraldine Chaplin as Hunter's eccentric aunt, Cynthia Stevenson as her bigoted sister and Steve Guttenberg as Stevenson's ultra conservative husband.

Working from a limp, predictable screenplay by W. D. Richter, director Foster founders time and again and fails to achieve the sureness of touch she showed in her first outing as a director. As she establishes just how irritating life with the Larsens can be, the movie itself turns equally irritating, and Foster seems ill at ease with some crude humour and awkwardly staged slapstick. The unfortunate Geraldine Chaplin is saddled with the worst lines in a movie which does nobody any favours.

"Jingle All The Way" (12) Savoy, Virgin, Omniplex, UCIs, Dublin.

This weeks other holiday movie, Jingle All The Way is set among another, of American cinema's dysfunctional families. It opens on Christmas Eve as a workaholic Minneapolis businessman (Arnold Schwarzenegger) realises he has forgotten to buy the toy coveted by the young son he neglects. The trouble is that this toy, Turbo Man, is the most popular on the market and, all the stores have been sold out since Thanksgiving.

What follows is a frenzied quest in which Arnie vies with a manic postman (Sinbad) to find a Turbo Man. The snowballing disasters which ensue may amuse undemanding children, but accompanying adults may well be snoozing long before the ludicrous finale - a Christmas parade during which we are asked to believe that the adults watching it would get deliriously excited at the sight of its apparent star attraction, Turbo Man. A veteran of television commercials and an E.R. regular, seven year old, Jake Lloyd is tolerable as Arnie's son, while the big man himself is strictly on auto pilot The movie is ploddingly directed by Brian Levant, who made Beethoven and The Flintstones.

"The Boy From Mercury" (PG) Savoy, Virgin, Omniplex, UCIs, Dublin.

Made for a fraction of the budget of the Schwarzenegger picture, Martin Duffy's appealing Irish film, The Boy From Mercury is invested with a deal of good natured feeling which wholly evades Jingle All The Way. Set in Dublin in 1960, it features the likeable newcomer James Hickey as eight year old Harry Cronin who lives with his widowed mother (Rita Tushinghan) and his older brother (Hugh O Conor).

Harry's fantastic imagination leads him to believe that he and his dog, Max, are extra terrestrials sent from the planet Mercury to study life on Earth, and his fantasy world is heightened by his cherished weekly ritual of watching cliffhanger Flash Gordon serials in the cinema.

The narrative may prove too slender to engage adults as much as children, and while Tom Courtenay seems largely superfluous as the boy's wacky uncle there ought to have been much more of the older brother so wittily played by a high coiffed O'Conor.

"Fallen Angels" (members and guests only) IFC, Dublin.

The fifth film from virtuoso Hong Kong style master Wong Kar wai, Fallen Angels, is a complicated thriller set against a neon nightscape as a disillusioned professional assassin - aptly known as Killer - attempts to reform and form a relationship with his partner in crime.

Brilliantly lit by the gifted Australian cinematographer, Christopher Doyle, the movie is a dazzling visual treat. However, unlike Wong's previous movie, Chunking Express, it is thin on substance and humour, and is far less emotionally involving a muddled narrative does not help.

Nevertheless, it would be very unwise to write off Wong - his is a unique talent and all he needs is more substantial material with which to work.

Hugh Linehan adds:

"Twelfth Night" (General) Screen at D'Olier Street, Omniplex, Dublin.

Shakespeare's comedy of misunderstandings, confused identity and gender swapping might seem to offer fertile ground for a late 20th century film adaptation (directed, perhaps, by Pedro Almodovar), but Trevor Nunn's new version, though amiable and pretty to look at, somehow never takes flight.

Nunn's Illyria, an uneasy amalgam of 19th century Mitteleuropa and P. G. Wodehouse-ish English country house, is too fragmented to encompass the play's multiple narrative strands convincingly.

While a succession of familiar British character actors make appearances, very few manage to do [much more than the minimum expected of them. In fact, the film [seems strangely under rehearsed, as though the likes of Nigel Hawthorne, Richard E. Grant and Mel Smith were simply asked to turn up and do their usual party pieces. This is particularly true of Grant and Smith, who throw away many of the comic possibilities of Aguecheek and Belch; Hawthorne fares a little better as the conceited Malvolio, but still seems to be acting solo. The same problem afflicts Ben Kingsley's Feste, who appears to have wandered in from an entirely different movie.

It's the two lead actresses, Helena Bonham Carter and Imogen Stubbs, who come best out of all this as Olivia and Viola; Bonham Carter in particular seems to be shedding the drippiness which afflicted so many of her previous performances. Handsomely photographed in autumnal hues by Clive Tickner, Nunn's film provides a, pleasant enough entertainment for a couple of hours, but the final impression is of ideas only half realised and chances missed.