Family fiasco

Unlike many child stars, Jodie Foster has grown up to carve herself a serious career in the movie business, not just as an exceptional actress but as a director, as we see in tonight's painful Thanksgiving reunion, Home For The Holidays (Pearl, 9.30pm).

When Foster was three years old her mother put her forward to appear naked in a suntan lotion commercial. By the age of 14 she was the main breadwinner for her family and had been nominated for an Oscar, for her wonderful performance as 12-year-old hooker Iris in Taxi Driver.

But acting was never enough. Foster found the time and the inclination for a high-powered academic life, studying comparative literature at Yale. With that background, she is now as ambitious behind as she is in front of the camera, busy directing and producing movies for her company Egg Pictures.

Home For The Holidays, her second film, is a bitter-sweet comedy for Thanksgiving. Holly Hunter plays Claudia, a single mother laden with woes: she has just been fired from her museum job, her teenage daughter has announced that she plans to lose her virginity that weekend and she has a stinking cold. On top of all that, she has to cope with the annual mix of drumsticks and family dysfunction that Americans call Thanksgiving, having to go home to join a plethora of obnoxious but sometimes loveable relatives for the occasion.

It is an obvious story, laden with heavy-handed jokes. But Foster still manages to capture the spirit of mixed-up family life.

The director knows full well the pressures of single-parenthood, her mother having brought up four children single-handedly. She, too, is now a single mother. She also knows of frosty sibling rivalry, with her less successful brother Buddy telling all in an unauthorised and unnecessary biography of her life.

Anne Bancroft plays the irritatingly all-knowing mother, and Charlie Chaplin's daughter, Geraldine, an embarrassingly mad, rude aunt. Robert Downey Jr is the one who really excels, as the obnoxious gay brother, whose sexuality is grudgingly tolerated by the elder generation, but not by a priggish sister and brother-in-law, setting the scene for inevitable family storms.

Storms of a more natural kind are explored in tonight's Violent Planet (Pearl, 8.30pm), which focuses on the climatic force of most interest to typhoon-prone Hong Kong.

Storm takes an unusual perspective of such an event, following the path of a single hurricane from its beginnings as a small dust storm in Africa, its gathering of size and speed across the Atlantic and its powerful climax as it slams into the coast of America.

Along the way, nature reacts. There are bizarre locust storms, frogs and lizards parachute to safety and a Florida alligator is sucked into the air by a vicious tornado. But the storm does not only spell destruction. Forests and coral reefs are also regenerated by the culling of the old. New coastlines are formed, rich in nutrients from the debris.