Hitchcock


Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock.

Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock.

(2012) Biographical Drama (Fox Searchlight) Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Danny Huston, Jessica Biel, Toni Collette, Scarlett Johansson, Michael Wincott, Richard Portnow, Michael Stuhlbarg, Kurtwood Smith, James D’Arcy, Ralph Macchio, Kai Lennox, Tara Summers, Wallace Langham, Paul Schrackman, Currie Graham, Melinda Chilton, Mary Anne McGarry. Directed by Sacha Gervasi

Alfred Hitchcock is one of the most decorated and respected directors in the history of movies. We are familiar with him as a man mainly through his television show and his dry sense of humor, his cameo appearances in his own movies such as Vertigo, The Man Who Knew Too Much and Strangers on a Train. Few know that as he finished another triumph, North by Northwest, he was aching to redefine himself. He managed to do that with a little movie called Psycho.

Hitchcock (Hopkins) and his wife Alma Reville (Mirren) are reveling in the acclaim for his latest picture. Like the wives of many great men, Alma contributes a great deal to his success although she has been content to remain out of the limelight. However, Hitch’s colossal ego and womanizing has frayed her patience to the breaking point. She assumes he will take on another suspense film for which he has become justly famous.

However, her husband yearns to stretch his wings somewhat which doesn’t bother you – when she discovers that his next project will be based on the Robert Bloch novel Psycho she is horrified. The movie is about a serial killer (who is in turn based on Ed Gein (Wincott) who has been haunting Hitch’s dreams of late) which in that era was unheard of. Until then, movies took the point of view of those who chased killers, not of the killers themselves and particularly not those who were clearly insane.

But as usual, Hitchcock gets his way. However, the studio shares Alma’s concerns. Hitchcock is forced to finance the film himself with Paramount acting only as a distributor. He sets out to assemble the cast which will include Anthony Hopkins (D’Arcy), Janet Leigh (Johansson) and Vera Miles (Biel). The latter Hitchcock had worked with before – until she had dropped out of the production due to her pregnancy, incurring the wrath of the director and he didn’t mean to let her forget it.

Because Hitch is paying for this, things are done on the cheap. Black and white film stock in an era of color. Filming on the Universal lot rather than Paramount’s because studio space is cheaper there. First-time screenwriter Joseph Stefano (Macchio).

But while something amazing is taking shape onscreen, things are in chaos at home. Alma is not just feeling taken for granted, she’s feeling downright ignored. Her contributions, normally appreciated and vital, are being virtually unheard. She is feeling somewhat obsolete, particularly as Hitch pays more attention to Leigh. Alma begins to develop a relationship with budding screenwriter Whitfield Cook (Huston) which drives Hitch crazy with jealousy. Still, as the film comes towards completion, will the movie vindicate the director’s vision – and will it be enough to save his marriage?

History shows that it did and Hitch remained married to Alma until his death in 1980. Psycho remains to this day the most profitable black and white sound film ever and in some ways is the film most identified with Hitchcock. As I mentioned in my review (see link above) this is the movie that ushered in the modern horror genre in many ways with the serial killer POV, the death at an early stage of the film of a lead character, excessive violence (although it seems tame today) and the psychosexual aspects of murder.

But this is a film about that film so we must talk about Hopkins as Hitchcock. Hopkins is one of the ablest actors of our time, having mastered characters both villainous and kind. He assays the character of Hitchcock with the use of a fat suit (Hopkins had just completed a weight loss program and was loathe to gain a significant amount of weight to take on the part of the portly Hitchcock) and an uncanny mimicry of the director’s mannerisms. Does he capture the essence of Hitchcock? I think so, insofar as we know what the essence of Hitchcock is.

There’s the rub, in fact. No disrespect to Hopkins, Hitchcock was and remains an enigma in many ways. He was a very public figure but we never really got to know the man. Sure, there are lots of biographies that talk about his obsession with his leading ladies (that were nearly always blondes), his difficult relationship with his mother, his tyrannical style as a director, his flirtatious nature which most people today would say bordered on sexual harassment. However there is precious little information direct from the source – Hitchcock disliked talking about himself except in very broad terms. Most of the more intensely personal information that Hitchcock ever revealed was in an interview by French director Francois Truffaut years later. Hopkins gives a game try but he’s hampered from the get-go.

Mirren is a different matter. She has as much onscreen personality as any actress alive, perhaps the most of any. She’s like a hurricane bearing down on a peaceful fishing village and as Alma nags Hitch about his weight and drinking, expresses her opinions about the risks he’s taking with their savings and his career or quietly standing off to the side in his shadow, Mirren makes us understand that she was a formidable woman indeed and every part as necessary to Hitchcock’s success as the director himself.

We see a bit of the filming of the movie – oddly the iconic shower scene gets very little time here – but then again this isn’t really a nuts and bolts primer about the making of a movie. It’s about how movies get made and in particular this one, which followed a somewhat torturous path to completion. Film buffs will probably be curious to see this but might be disappointed. For one thing, it misses out on some interesting aspects, like Hitchcock submitting an anonymous bid to Bloch for the rights so he could low-ball the author. For another, it does fudge on history although one of the items that critics have been disparaging the most – Alma’s relationship with Cook – is actually true, verified by correspondence between the two.

I found the movie to be an entertainment more than a historical document. As the former, this is a winner. Although I never believed for a moment I was watching the Master of Suspense at work, I felt like I was watching how he might have worked and I am satisfied I got some insight into his creative process. However, as the latter, I don’t think this stands up nor do I think it was meant to. There is enough here to be informative as to how the movie came together and we see some aspects of Hitchcock but again I don’t think we get a very complete portrait of the man. Then again, an hour and a half is really an insufficient amount of time to really get a complete picture of anyone.

WHY RENT THIS: A fascinating look at the creative process behind one of the most iconic films ever made. Mirren is a force of nature. Of interest to film buffs.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Really doesn’t give a lot of insight to Hitchcock the man. Fudges a little bit on history.
FAMILY VALUES: Some cinematic images of violence, a bit of sexuality and some language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Scenes set in Hitchcock’s office on the Paramount lot were filmed in the late director’s actual offices, which are still there.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There’s an amusing cell phone PSA.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $23.6M on an unknown production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD/Blu-Ray rental only), Amazon (rent/buy), Vudu (rent/buy),  iTunes (rent/buy), Flixster (rent/buy), Target Ticket (purchase only)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Shadow of the Vampire
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT: Darling Companion

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New Releases for the Week of December 7, 2012


December 7, 2012

PLAYING FOR KEEPS

(FilmDistrict) Gerard Butler, Jessica Biel, Uma Thurman, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Dennis Quaid, Noah Lomax, Judy Greer, James Tupper.  Directed by Gabriele Muccino

A down on his heel retired soccer star dreams of a career in broadcast journalism while trying to make ends meet. In order to try to connect with his son he becomes the coach for his youth soccer team, hoping to reconcile with his ex-wife who is on the verge of getting re-married. Just when it looks like he’s making headway, the opportunity of a lifetime comes up which might throw all his dreams into disarray.

See the trailer, featurettes and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for some sexual situations, language and a brief intense image)

Bad Kids Go to Hell

(Bad Kids Productions) Judd Nelson, Ali Faulkner, Ben Browder, Chanel Ryan. Based on the comic book series of the same name, a group of kids locked in detention on a Saturday find themselves tackling a serial killer on the loose and what may or may not be supernatural phenomenon that are clearly malevolent in nature.

See the trailer and promos here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Horror

Rating: R (for violence, language, sexual content and some drug use)

End of Watch

(Open Road) Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena, Anna Kendrick, America Ferrera. A re-release of the gritty L.A. cop drama that played to critical acclaim and decent box office.

See the trailer, clips and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Cop Drama

Rating: R (for strong violence, some disturbing images, pervasive language including sexual references and some drug use)

Hitchcock

(Fox Searchlight) Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Danny Huston. The greatest director in the movies takes on a project that is so controversial that the studios won’t touch it. His partner and love is skeptical but as Alfred Hitchcock risks everything to get this film (which the world would come to know as Psycho) made, the stakes get incredibly high.

See the trailer, a clip and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Biographical Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some violent images, sexual content and thematic material)

Khiladi 786

(Eros International) Akshay Kumar, Asin, Mithun Chakaborty, Paresh Rawal. The eighth installment of the most successful franchise in Bollywood history. Here to prove his worth to his father, the owner of a marriage bureau, a ne’er-do-well son winds up arranging a marriage between a cop and the sister of a mob figure. In order to make the marriage work, the criminals pretend to be cops but what they don’t know is that the family of cops are actually conmen pretending to be cops. Oh, who cares what it’s about, it’ll have plenty of singing and dancing.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Searching for Sugar Man

(Sony Classics) Sixto Rodriguez, Stephen “Sugar” Segerman, Clarence Avant, Eva Rodriguez. A Detroit “can’t-miss” phenom in the ’70s records a single critically acclaimed album that bombs and disappears from the rock and roll radar admit reports of a gruesome onstage suicide. The reports of his demise set a group of some of his South African fans on a quest to find out what really happened to him and to their surprise, those reports turn out to be greatly exaggerated.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: PG-13 (For brief strong language and some drug references)

Horrible Bosses


Horrible Bosses

Raise the roof, 1999!

(2011) Comedy (New Line) Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, Jennifer Anniston, Colin Farrell, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Donald Sutherland, Julie Bowen, Ioan Gruffudd, Isaiah Mustafa, Ron White, Bob Newhart, Lindsay Sloane, Celia Finklestein. Directed by Seth Gordon

Everyone who spends any amount of time in the workplace sooner or later is going to have it happen to them. The horrible boss – we all have horror stories about one or two. Some are so horrible we often fantasize about pushing them in front of a train. Of course, we would never do such a thing for real…would we?

Of course, most of us never have bosses like these. Nick Hendricks (Bateman) however, does. He is working hard for a promotion that has been dangled out in front of him by Dave Harken (Spacey), a mean, cruel, vindictive and manipulative man who jerks the rug out from under Nick’s feet after months of “motivating” him with the promotion.

So does Dale Arbus (Day), a dental assistant to Dr. Julia Harris (Anniston), a dentist with a libido the size of Texas. She harasses Dale, who’s engaged to the beautiful Stacy (Sloane) and wants no part of the predatory advances of Dr. Harris. Her obsession with him is threatening his future with Stacy.

Kurt Buckman (Sudeikis) has a great boss. Jack Pellit (Sutherland) is easy-going and is well-liked by his employees, especially Kurt who is like a son to him. His actual son, Bobby (Farrell), is a train wreck. A drug addict, a womanizer, and a selfish greedy bastard, when he takes over the company after a tragic set of circumstances, Kurt suddenly knows what it’s like to have a horrible boss.

All three of these guys are friends going back to high school. All three of them commiserate with each other at a local watering hole. All three of them agree that their lives would be better if their bosses were dead. And all three of them have seen Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train.

So has Mofo (that’s not his name, but his name wouldn’t exactly be marquee material) Jones (Foxx) who did ten years in the slam, and he figures out what these men have in mind. He agrees to become their “murder consultant” for a fee. The idea is for all of them need to kill each other’s boss – that way they can’t be pinned with a motive to kill a perfect stranger. Of course these types of ideas always work better in the movies…

First off, this is one of the funniest movies of the summer. It is much in the same vein from an overall standpoint (not so much in plot) as Bad Teacher and The Hangover Part II. It’s a raunchy, push-the-envelope kind of comedy that takes territory previously plumbed by Office Space – in some ways not as well and in others better – and pushes the boundaries a little bit further.

It helps having a stellar cast like this one. Bateman has risen rapidly through the ranks and become one of the busiest actors in Hollywood at the moment. He is likable and somewhat everyman-ish. He has a bit more of an edge here than he usually does but that’s understandable given the movie. Sudeikis has many of the same qualities, although he’s a bit more acerbic than Bateman. He does a pretty good job here, enough so that he might well move up a notch on the Hollywood ladder.

Day is best known for his work on the TV show “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” I found him a little bit whiny here, which got on my nerves after awhile but I can see how he might be the breakout star from this movie, if there is one. His moment with Bateman in what will be forever known as the “cocaine scene” (the one where the three of them reconnoiter Bobby’s apartment and discover a cache of cocaine which Dale promptly drops on the floor. Day becomes, shall we say, infected. It’s one of the best moments in the film.

The bosses are great too. The actors playing them are all stars in their own right and they have fun with the outrageous parts. Anniston turns her image on its ear, playing a nymphomaniac of a boss. We see a side of Anniston that is far sexier than we’re used to (not that she can’t play sexy – she has and certainly does so here) and quite frankly, it’s pretty welcome. I like seeing her go out of her comfort zone a little.

Farrell can chew scenery with the best of them. His performance as Bullseye in Daredevil was one of the best things about that movie, and with his combover he is scarcely recognizable physically and like Anniston, you sense he’s having a good time with this. Spacey has played tyrannical bosses before (see Swimming With Sharks) and in some ways this is more or less a repeat of that performance, only on steroids.

Sutherland and Newhart, two veterans, only get a scene apiece, but make the most of their time. I would have liked to have seen more of them. Foxx only gets three scenes but he makes the most of his cameo as well. Otherwise nearly all the action revolves around the bosses and their employees so much of the onus is on their shoulders.

Fortunately they carry the movie well. Part of what makes this movie work is the casting. However, the other thing that makes the movie work is the writing. There are plenty of funny jokes, some great comic bits and the actors are given room not only to improvise but to take their characters as far as they can.

It doesn’t work well everywhere and some of the bits do fall flat. It isn’t Office Space which was a much better commentary on the modern workplace, but this is more of a comedy about cubicle cowboys pushed to their limits. It’s crude fun, and yes those who like their humor a little more gentle might be put off by this, but it is funny nonetheless. Sure, those who are unemployed might kill for any sort of boss, but those who are in need of a laugh should make a beeline for this one.

REASONS TO GO: At its best the movie is extremely funny, one of the funniest of the summer. The bosses sink their teeth into their roles.

REASONS TO STAY: A few of the bits don’t work as well. Day’s voice got annoyingly whiny after awhile.

FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of crude, sexual content and almost non-stop foul language. There is also a scene of drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Anniston dyed her hair a darker brown to differentiate her character from the lighter roles she usually plays.

HOME OR THEATER: This works just as well on the home screen as it does in the multiplex.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

13 Tzameti


13 Tzameti

All right, all right, we'll film the damn thing in black and white!

(Palm Pictures) Georges Babluani, Pascal Bongard, Aurelien Recoing, Fred Ulysse, Nicolas Pignon, Vania Vilers, Olga Legrand, Christopher van de Velde, Agustin Legrand, Jo Prestia. Directed by Gela Babluani

Desperation can make us do extraordinary things. We will do whatever it takes to get out of the situation we’re in, risk anything – even our own lives.

Sebastien (Georges Babluani), a contractor barely making ends meet, accepts a job in a rundown old home for an immigrant Georgian couple. When he accidentally puts a hole in their roof, he overhears a conversation indicating that there is a package that promises great riches. When the Georgian owner dies of a drug overdose, Sebastien decides to take the package for himself.

It leads him to a dilapidated hotel in the middle of nowhere where a game is going on, a dangerous game that the French authorities would very much like to infiltrate and stop but a game that delivers to its victors great riches. Sebastien has no idea what he’s getting himself into from the get-go and by the time he realizes what’s going on, getting out is not an option. In fact, his only option is to win.

I’m deliberately leaving the plot summary very vague, because the less you know about this movie, the more enjoyment you’re likely to take out of it. It’s well-plotted and when you look back on it, you realize that the entire movie switched gears completely near the middle of the film, but so expertly is it done that not only do you not notice it but it feel very organic within the framework of the movie.

Gela Babluani won the Luigi de Laurentiis award at the prestigious Venice Film Festival for the best first feature by a director, as well as the Grand Jury Prize for world cinema at the Sundance Festival, and it’s not hard to see why. A Georgian immigrant himself (whose brother plays Sebastien in the film), he has delivered a marvelous film, full of suspense and tension from the opening moments to the very last shot.

The mood is enhanced by the black and white photography, serving to make this an almost film noir kind of atmosphere, which is almost Hitchcockian in its simplicity yet with an elegant Gallic permeation that gives it an extra little twist.

Georges Babluani is marvelous as Sebastien. He is a bit on the passive side, mainly because terrible things tend to happen when he takes chances. He is neither a coward nor a hero but somewhere in between, an ordinary man driven by circumstances he doesn’t quite understand into extraordinary conditions. He behaves much the same as I think I’d behave in similar circumstances.

The game that he is forced to play (I won’t reveal much of it so as not to ruin the powerful effect of the movie) is stark and brutal, and is filmed in an almost industrial manner. Orders are barked with military precision and shots of stark, bare light bulbs reinforce the utilitarian feel. While there is a great deal of violence, there isn’t a whole lot of gore, at least not in the traditional sense. This isn’t a Saw movie except in only the barest sense of sadism in the creation of the game itself.

The thing that is the most extraordinary is that the game depicted here actually exists in France, and apparently it has been going on for some time. The movie is about the circumstances that would lead someone to play in a game with such high stakes, and in that sense the movie is wildly successful. If I had a quibble, there are just two; the people running the game are depicted as almost cliches and in some ways that makes them more terrifying because we don’t really get too much of an insight to them, but in the end the film would have been better if we had. Secondly, the incredible suspense of the first two thirds of the movie breaks down a little in the third and the ending is a bit anti-climactic.

Beyond that, however, this is a terrific movie that is well-worth seeing. Some might find the starkness off-putting and there are some who abhor both subtitles and black and white, but if you get past those prejudices, you will find a movie of extraordinary power and substance well worth your effort in getting to know better.

WHY RENT THIS: A marvelous air of tension and suspense filmed in beautiful black and white, giving it a feeling of a Hitchcock film noir with a French sophistication.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie isn’t able to maintain the suspenseful tone of the first third, and some of the characters surrounding the game are tissue-thin.

FAMILY VALUES: Mature subject matter and some scenes of shocking violence make this a no-no for child viewing.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Tzameti is the number 13 in Georgian, so the title is literally “13 Thirteen.”

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are a surprisingly bountiful amount of interesting extras, like an interview with someone who actually participated in one of these underground shooting matches and survived, as well as a short film by Gene Laufenberg called The Sunday Game that fits nicely into the overall themes of 13 Tzameti. Finally, there’s an interview with Babluani discussing life as an immigrant in France. Overall, a very strong collection of extras, a definite keeper.

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

TOMORROW: Lemon Tree