HITCHCOCK (2012)

December 5, 2012

hitch Greetings again from the darkness. Here goes: John J McLaughlin wrote this Hitchcock screenplay based on Stephen Rebello‘s book “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho”, which was based on the filming of the Psycho screenplay from Joseph Stefano, which was loosely based on Robert Bloch’s book, which was based on the grizzly real life crimes of Ed Gein. Whew!

It’s kind of interesting that Alfred Hitchcock is hot again some 36 years after his final movie.  His Vertigo recently displaced Citizen Kane as the all-time greatest film. HBO is still running their recent production of The Girl, which is based on Hitchcock’s making of The Birds and his unhealthy connection to Tippi Hedren. And now, we get this Hollywood production, supposedly based on the master of suspense. I say supposedly, because this film plays like it was written by the heirs of Alma Reville, Hitch’s long time wife and collaborator. We all knew she worked on his films and hitch2contributed ideas, but the film wants us to believe she was the real genius behind the public genius.

The movie is entitled “Hitchcock” and is based on the making of Psycho, but in fact, it’s more the story of Alma and her husband. While there is nothing wrong with that story … in fact, it is quite interesting and entertaining … it’s also a bit of false advertising.

Helen Mirren portrays Alma, and instead of the mousy woman who usually faded into the background, we see a fairly strong and talented woman who goes toe-to-toe with Hitch in her best scene. Sir Anthony Hopkins dons some facial appliances and a fat hitch3suit and does a solid job of capturing the odd, creepy, leering, disturbed, insecure genius we recognize as Alfred Hitchcock. He comes across as louder and more in-motion than what we have previously seen. And while director Sacha Gervasi makes it clear that Hitch is not a “normal” guy, he doesn’t dwell too much on the blond fixations.

The emphasis on the skills and importance of Alma would be fine were it not so exaggerated. Surely every great director and writer and artist has a muse and/or support system; and, there is no question Alma was a very talented lady, but her strength here bordered on distracting to the overall picture. Especially needless was the storyline of Alma being attracted to screenwriter Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston), who wrote Strangers on a Train for Hitchcock.

hitch4 The Hitchcock humor is allowed to shine through (“call me Hitch, hold the cock”) and his battles with Paramount Studio head Barney Balaban (Richard Portnow) and the censorship board (Kurtwood Smith) are excellent. Hopkins finds the humanity under the fat suit and is especially good in his work with Scarlett Johansson (as Janet Leigh) and Jessica Biel (as Vera Miles). I also got a kick out of James D’Arcy as the affected Anthony Perkins and all his quirky mannerisms.

Though this barely qualifies as a story on the making of Psycho, it was chilling to watch the addition of Bernard Herrmann’s iconic score added to the shower scene. In fact, Danny Elfman does a nice job of subtly adding a Herrmann-type score to this film. I’m not sure if the film will play well with all Hitchcock aficionados, but if you can forgive the Alma slant, it’s actually quite interesting and entertaining and kind of a sweet film at its core.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you want to see what would happen if Alfred Hitchcock took personal advice from serial killer Ed Gein OR you want to see two great actors (Mirren, Hopkins) having a really good time OR you want to see Scarlett Johansson play Jamie Lee Curtis’ mother.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you expect to learn much about the making of Psycho

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3rQuRLERl6A

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THE A-TEAM (2010)

June 13, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. Plenty of hating going on by the real film critics for this update of the 80’s TV series. What I saw was a fun, over-the-top action film designed to explode with entertainment value. There are plenty of things that prevent this from being a great movie, but nothing that prevents it from being a good ol’ time at the local cinema.

Writer/Director Joe Carnahan makes some of the same mistakes he made in Smokin’ Aces, but overall, he lets the bigger than life characters control the film … well, except when the sometimes-ridiculous action sequences take over. His casting choices are interesting: Liam Neeson as Hannibal (originally played by George Peppard), Bradley Cooper as pretty boy charmer “Face” (Dirk Benedict on the series), District 9 actor Sharlto Copley as scene-stealing daredevil Murdock (was Dwight Schultz) and UFC bad boy Quinton “Rampage” Jackson replacing the iconic Mr. T as B.A. Baracus.

Neeson handles the Hannibal role with an all-knowing smirk, a Cuban cigar and the knowledge that he is mostly the straight man here. Cooper relishes the chance to remove his shirt and flash his dimples and blue eyes. Copley provides much hope for his acting future since he pretty much takes over the screen in all of his scenes. Jackson, on the other hand, really should consider going back to the UFC world – his acting skills are responsible for some of the weakest moments in the film.

I purposefully chose “some of the weakest moments” so as to make a real point in regards to the deflater of the film. The deflater is the one who causes the film to go flat (the air from the balloon) every time he/she is on screen. Without question, the A-Team deflater is Jessica Biel. Apparently straight from the Elizabeth Berkley school of acting, Biel continues to land gigs because producers find her attractive. The attribute of “attractiveness” is only effective for photographs if not teamed with some type of acting ability. When Ms. Biel holds a gun, emotes or reads a line, the viewer feels nothing but letdown. Despite the carnage reaped by the boys, she out-kills them with her screen time.

The good news is that there are some really funny lines and moments despite the fantastical nature of the action sequences. Also Carnahan and co-writer Brian Bloom (who also plays bad guy Pike) have done an admirable job of paying tribute to the original series. Dirk Benedict and Dwight Schultz have cameos and a brief scene post-credits. Mr. T reportedly rejected a chance to appear and, of course, George Peppard passed many years ago. We even get a tribute (albeit a quick one) to the A-Team van … and it’s nice to hear the familiar sounds of the theme song and series opening.


VALENTINE’S DAY (2010)

February 13, 2010

 (2-12-10) Greetings again from the darkness. Really no need to offer commentary on the story. If you have seen the preview (how could you have missed it?), you know it’s a major chick flick with a long list of Hollywood celebrities who come together and display the trials and tribulations that we have come to celebrate as Valentine’s Day – surely a concoction born of greeting card companies, florists and confectioneries.

For most of the movie, one song kept popping in my head – Marilyn Manson’s “The Beautiful People”. I have never seen so many beautiful people in one film. As you have noticed, the word “actor” has purposefully been avoided – celebrities and beautiful people are a more accurate description of what director Garry Marshall has delivered.

Thankfully, he tossed in Hector Elizonda, Shirley Maclaine and George Lopez or the movie might have done for plastic surgery what Urban Cowboy did for C&W dancing. On top of the beauty, we are subjected to an endless stream of downright SKINNY people! Everyone has noticed Taylor Swift is rail thin, but she doesn’t even stand out here. Jessica Biel, who once had a real-life body, looks cadaverous. Even her character exists on candy and treadmills. Throw in Ashton Kutcher, Topher Grace, Jennifer Garner and Jessica Alba, and one can make the argument that the cost for this cast was offset by the lack of necessity for an on-set lunch buffet.

Look, I realize this is just a chick flick comedy that is designed to poke a bit of fun at our need to love and be loved … or rather just not be alone. But a touch of reality could have helped. Raise your hand if you believe Julia Roberts might be miscast as the soldier returning home on leave from the front lines of war. Or that a brilliant doctor (Patrick Dempsey) might be a little more careful in covering his tracks of indiscretion? Or that Anne Hathaway couldn’t find a slightly more rewarding way to earn a living than her “phone entertainer” job?

Couldn’t help but notice the Pretty Woman connections with Garry Marshall, Julia Roberts, Hector Elizando and Larry Miller. Ms. Roberts even gets in a funny little jab over the closing credits. Some attempt was made to interconnect the multiple story lines and I do appreciate the struggle to show intimacy in the mess of Los Angeles … just too many obvious skits and stereotypes to make this anything more than a half-hearted effort by all involved.  And by “all”, I am including the 10-12 other “stars” that I have not named here.