Hitchcock Film Review: Alfred Hitchcock’s Biopic Starring Anthony Hopkins And Helen Mirren

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Rating: CC / 40%

 

Summary: Bereft of the build-up Hitchcock’s films were famous for, this biopic fails to thrill.

 

Director: Sacha Gervasi

Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Toni Collette, Jessica Biel, Michael Wincott, James D’Arcy

 

Sacha Gervasi’s narrative directorial debut film ‘Hitchcock’ is perhaps the sloppiest and most trifling motion picture with the name of Alfred Hitchcock associated with it. A biopic on the Master of Suspense, Hitchcock is bereft of the build-up that made his pictures such a thrill to watch. Its writer John J. McLaughlin, whose screenplay is based on Stephen Rebello’s punctiliously researched ‘Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho’, gives us deconstructed tidbits brushing up each aspect of the book – his obsession with murder, the ups and downs in the relationship between him and his wife Alma Reville, his fetishistic fascination with young and strikingly beautiful women, the difficulties faced during the making of Psycho, his dreams and hallucinations (featuring dreaded murderer and body snatcher Ed Gein) and even Alma’s creative escapades with writer Whitfield Cook. The failure here is that these components don’t add up to much when put together – there is disconnect and no surprise. Had Alfred Hitchcock been alive, he’d have dismissed this film outrightly; it is neither Hitchcock in wit nor spirit nor artifice.

 

It opens with the director’s trademark introductory address to his audience. After the blockbuster success of his previous film North by Northwest, Hitchcock (played by veteran classical actor Anthony Hopkins in a hammy, unmemorable performance) now aims to make a youth-oriented low-budget horror thriller. ‘Why?’ question his friends, the press, the critics and the producers; to this, the clear-headed, cocksure Hitchcock replies ‘Because this time it’s I who is making it’ (not quoted verbatim so don’t bother looking for such a dialogue). The actual reason may be that he wants to prove he’s still got it in him. And so he takes up Psycho, the story of a ‘queer dressed up in his mother’s dress killing women’ as Alma (Helen Mirren) puts it. He finances the film himself when Paramount back out as producers; they simply refuse to fund a movie that kills its leading lady before interval (within the first thirty minutes to be precise). He stands his ground against the prudes at Motion Picture Production Code, who squirm at the violence and nudity Hitchcock intends to show in Psycho – the famous shower stabbing sequence and Janet Leigh’s nipple. He casts Anthony Perkins (James D’Arcy), Janet Leigh and Vera Miles (Jessica Biel) for the lead roles, and begins shooting immediately after a funny little oath ceremony with his cast and crew that no movie secrets would be divulged.

 

He manages to freak Leigh out twice with the frightening intensity of his direction. In the shower sequence, he pushes Perkins aside, takes the knife prop and thinks of everyone he hates while making violent stabbing motions inches close to Leigh. After he yells cut, she looks shaky and distraught. He neglects Alma, who spends her time collaborating with pal Whitfield on his script. He suspects she’s cheating on him, and she bursts out he’s being unreasonable; she’s always been supportive of him, but he may not be far from the truth this time. Their relationship reminded me of Helen’s earlier film The Last Station, which was about the last days of Russian writer Leo Tolstoy. That film too lacked in terms of content, but unlike Hitchcock, The Last Station proved enormously entertaining and engrossing because it had a clearly planned concept and narrative. There is little justice done to Alma and Hitchcock’s relationship here, partly because of the lack of chemistry between Mirren and Hopkins, but largely due to McLaughlin’s fluffy, casual and perfunctory treatment of the film’s script. In fact, the film could and should have done without the unnecessarily hallucinatory scenes involving Ed Gein (Michael Wincott). It should’ve developed Janet Leigh’s character, played by Scarlett Johansson with conviction and sincerity, further instead of shoving her into the picture every now and then like a poorly written character who was only included the actress playing it was the producer’s daughter or girlfriend. It should’ve been majorly about the filming of Psycho, which surprisingly has a thoroughly marginal role in the entire movie.

Hitchcock offers little insight into the mind of the master. Its actors merely try to entertain us with wild impersonations hoping that they find some truth in the performances. But how can that happen when the script itself rings so false?

Mickey Virus: It isn’t a crashing bore, but it’s neither smart nor exciting enough to work as a thriller. Strictly for TV viewing.

Mickey_Virus_Official_Poster_2013-207x300My fourteenth job for the site ourvadodara.in. Click the following link to read my review of 2013 Bollywood Film ‘Mickey Virus’ Starring Manish Paul and Elli Evram : http://ourvadodara.in/mickey-virus-review . Also, do visit the site for any updates about Vadodara life. I shall henceforth post the latest Bollywood & Hollywood Movies releasing in cinema halls in Vadodara on http://ourvadodara.in/

 

Vertigo Review: Alfred Hitchcock’s Superlative Tragedy

Vertigomovie_restorationRating: AA / 90%

 

Summary: The maestro plays with the elements of lust, love, deception, guilt, truth and loss in fabricating a doomed love story that’s built on a plinth of deception. Vertigo is a brilliant tragedy from the master of suspense.          

 

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Cast: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes, Tom Helmore

 

Alfred Hitchcock is known to evoke a sense of dread and paranoia through the narrative device of a disturbing déjà vu, repeating actions and events in the lives of his films’ and series’ characters albeit furthering the plot’s complexity each time. In an episode of ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’, a television series produced and presented by Hitchcock that aired for over three decades after making its debut in 1955, a woman who is found to have killed her husband in the climax appears has the scene at a grocery store thrice, once in the beginning only to buy certain items, then after a fight with her husband in which she has bruises on her cheek, and later to take a large ‘storage carton’. We, the audience members, don’t follow this woman – she is a mystery to us. We watch from the perspective of her neighbors, a ‘happily married’ couple. The wife believes something (sinister) happened to the woman’s husband after their violent argument. We agree with her, and follow her, and later her husband in finding out what really took place that night. We feel what they feel – paranoia.

 

For about ninety minutes in Hitchcock’s classic Vertigo, the director stokes our paranoia and intrigue by limiting our knowledge of the plot’s events to the protagonist James Stewarts’ perspective. After the opening credits, a hypnotic mixture of imagery and sound itself, we soon find Stewart’s character John, better known as ‘Scottie’, hanging from the rooftop ledge. A police officer in pursuit of a criminal, he is unable to save another officer, who falls down the building to his death, after acrophobia (fear of heights) and vertigo get the better of him. He retires, spends time with his ex-fiancé Midge Wood (Barbara Del Geddes), and hopes to get over his fear soon. He tries getting up a small-stepladder, goes dizzy and falls into Midge’s protective arms. She still loves him very much.

 

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Kim Novak as Madeleine

He on the other hand is soon fascinated by Madeleine, the mysterious wife of Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore), a wealthy acquaintance. Gavin approaches Scottie, tells him his wife might be possessed by the spirit of one Carlotta Valdes, and entreats him to follow her. With Midge’s help, Scottie learns that Carlotta was the great-grandmother of Madeleine who committed suicide. Madeleine has no knowledge of this fact, but she’s found visiting her grave, and then an art museum where a portrait of Carlotta is hung. Carlotta’s got an expensive red necklace on, and an imposing look. Later she leaps into the San Francisco Bay. Scottie dives in, rescues her and brings her to his home. He recounts the incident to her, probes her with direct questions, but she remembers little. After excusing himself for a moment, he calls up Gavin and informs about the incident. Madeleine suddenly gives him a slip. He locates her the next day, and takes her out. She is distant, reserved and otherworldly – the fascinating creature you’d usually find in Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry, perhaps. We too are intrigued and tantalized by her mystery, yet not without sensing something ulterior, something sinister – its Hitchcock after all. The guy gave us Rebecca, where the young protagonist and her husband are haunted by the memory of his dead first wife. In Psycho, he gave us Norman Bates, a motel-owner who is found to be suffering from split-personality disorder, where he is dominated by his mother’s (manic) personality especially when he is attracted to a woman.

 

The foreboding moment in Vertigo comes right after Madeleine and Scottie kiss passionately. She suddenly wrests herself from his arms and runs up a bell tower, saying ‘This was not supposed to happen’. Scottie pursues her, but his acrophobia weakens him and he’s unable to stop her from jumping off the tower. With his reputation tarnished completely, Scottie remains in a hospital for months suffering from acute melancholia and guilty consciousness. Midge, supportive as always, wistfully remarks that Mozart won’t heal him, as the doctors suggest; Madeleine will, but alas she’s dead. She retreats from the story thereafter. After his release, Scottie meets a Madeleine lookalike.

 

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James Stewart as Scottie and Kim Novak as Judy

This woman is coarser, streetwise and less posh than Madeleine – her name is Judy. She has been ‘picked up’ more than once, she says. He tells her Madeleine’s story, and her heart melts. He invites her on a date, and she reluctantly accepts. He wants her to dress like Madeleine, to wear the same grey suit Madeleine wore, tie up her hair the same way. Judy has her own little secret, and it’s the first time Hitchcock shifts the film from Scottie’s perspective to Judy’s. We enter her mind, see a flashback that clears up the entire film for us. Now it’s time to wait and watch till the smoke clears.

 

You spend the last twenty minutes of Vertigo holding your seat tightly – it is uncomfortable, uncompromisingly disturbing and hard to digest. Hitchcock may be the master of suspense, but his Vertigo excels as a tragedy. By confronting the deception and guilt of his characters in the film, Hitchcock is able to draw out an emotional response from us – we pity these characters, and the tragic consequences of the (wrong) decisions they make. There is poor Midge, waiting fruitlessly for Scottie to return to her. But he’s fallen in love with Madeleine, who’s nothing but shoosh… won’t tell it! What I can say is that she is a character of great complexity, so much so that Meryl Streep would love to get her hands on the character (the actress has expressed slight resentment towards her performance in the 1982 psychological thriller film Still of the Night, because ‘the movie was just about her hair’). The part played by Kim Novak is not a one-dimensional ‘mysterious lady’; it’s much more than that. As Roger Ebert puts it, ‘she is one of the most sympathetic female characters in all of Hitchcock’.

 

The maestro, helped greatly by composer Bernard Herrman who creates the haunting background score, plays with the elements of lust, love, deception, guilt, truth and loss in fabricating a doomed love story that’s built on the plinth of deception.

Diva Review: A French Film By Jean-Jacques Beineix

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Grade: A / 80%

 

Synopsis: Jean-Jacques Beineix is too talented to allow any slip-ups to happen, and even if there is one, its done with great style and panache.

 

Cast:
Frédéric Andréi as Jules
Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez as Cynthia Hawkins
Richard Bohringer as Gorodish
Chantal Deruaz as Nadia
Thuy An Luu as Alba

 

Diva begins and ends with traditional romantic sequences having a lyrical quality reminiscent of classical Shakespearean love story. In the beginning, you have Jules, a young postman, entering a towering hall to take his seat in the third row from front and watch with bated breath as a magnetic black opera singer named Cynthia Hawkins slowly takes the stage and belts out an astonishing rendition of ‘La Wally, Act One’; after the show ends, our hero, enchanted by Cynthia’s breathtaking beauty and voice, hands her a bouquet and gets her autograph. She’s very warm and cordial, unlike the perception we hold for ‘divas’ usually, and asks Jules whether he liked her performance, and also about his moped; he corrects her, saying its not a moped but a mobylette, a miniature moped. ‘A mobylette!’ she utters, then smiles; before he’s able to say anything else, he’s pushed aside by ‘one of those socialite friends’ (b****!) of hers. The film ends with (spoiler alert) the two characters slow-dancing to Cynthia’s music, the same one sung by her in the beginning.

 

In between, however, Diva is filled with a prostitution racket, pistol-wielding hit-men, Taiwanese gangsters and a dose of action-thriller sequences, all seamlessly knitted together, forming its first loop right from the beginning, and making intricate patterns as the film progresses. All through the performance, while our mesmerized hero is transfixed by Cynthia, he is simultaneously recording her performance secretly on his professional-quality Nagra recorder; the singer, who’s 32, hasn’t made a single recording of her performances, reasoning that ‘Commerce should follow art. Art should NOT be made to follow commerce’. Girl’s absolutely right here! This illegal tape recorded by our naivete hero, whose intention was to take the copy to his garage-cum-home and play it day and night, is wanted by two Taiwanese gangsters who intend to make bootleg copies of the tape. Another problem arises when an ex-prostitute named Nadia Kalonsky puts a tape containing a shocking testimony exposing a high-ranking policeman in the carrier of Jules’ mobylette before getting stabbed to death by two fearsome hit-men.

 
Our Jules temporarily hands the tape to one Alba, an alluring young girl who stays with a 30-plus man who goes by the name Gorodish; the relationship between the pair isn’t known and the only clues offered include a shot of the guy sitting in an open bathtub in one scene and solving a maze in another, which isn’t enough to take a call on the two. The book by Daniel Odier, on which this film is based, includes these two characters on recurring basis so if anyone’s interested in getting a copy, he/she can find it here. Both the tapes constantly change hands through the course of Diva but it isn’t hard to keep a track so long as you don’t take that damn phone and keep texting like Madonna did during the screening of 12 Years as a Slave. And the most unexpected things happen at the right time to clear up the mess; Jules is one lucky sonofabitch!

 

 

English: Jean-Jacques Beineix

Basically its the assemblage of unlikely elements in Diva could’ve made it a sub-standard Bollywood film in the wrong hands. I’m not kidding here; many Bollywood films are known for placing together an assortment of stock characters, situations, genres and music without achieving a right balance that is perfectly palatable in totality to the taste-buds. Jean-Jacques Beineix is too talented to allow any slip-ups to happen, and even if there is one, its done with great style and panache. The film, as Wikipedia describes, follows a colourful, melodic style termed ‘cinema du look’, which gives a preference to style over substance and focuses on young, alienated characters said to represent youth of Francois Mitterand’s (longest serving President of France who served as leader of Sociality party between the years 1981 and 1995) France. Just watch how his camera sways in mid-shots and extremely long-shots as Hawkins performs her concert, as if the camera’s under the spell of her golden notes. Then there’s the talked-about chase scene, hailed by Mr. Ebert as deserving enough to be ranked along-with the all-time classics, ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’, ‘The French Connection’, and ‘Bullitt’. Here, Jules rides his mobylette down the subway stairs, then inside a train and then up the escalator, while trying to evade the two hit-men.

 
The colour scheme used in the film is noticeable,though not overpowering. There’s a dreamy blue light on Jules as he listens to Cynthia for the first time. Cynthia’s white gown looks extremely elegant draped on her dark and beautiful skin. Her home is decked up in bright yellow shades. There is an extended shot of a light-house for no symbolic purpose except to highlight the compositional balance the shot achieves. The sound of tinkling piano as Jules and Cynthia get closer to each other easily succeeds in creating a mood of amour.
How do you feel at the end? ‘You like the film, you really like the film!’

 

Escape Plan Review: Middling prison affair. There are way better films to catch this week. Keep this for TV viewing, all you Stallone and Schwarzenegger fans!

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My thirteenth job for the site ourvadodara.in. Click the following link to read my review of 2013 Hollywood Film ‘Escape Plan‘, Starring Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger : http://ourvadodara.in/escape-plan-review . Also, do visit the site for any updates about Vadodara life. I shall henceforth post the latest Bollywood & Hollywood Movies releasing in cinema halls in Vadodara on http://ourvadodara.in/

 

 

Review of Captain Phillips: A spectacular film with engaging, funny, nail-biting and emotionally complex moments to cherish! One of the best Hollywood films of the year!

My twelfth job for the site ourvadodara.in. Click the following link to read my review of 2013 Hollywood Film ‘Captain Phillips‘, Starring Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi: http://ourvadodara.in/captain-phillips . Also, do visit the site for any updates about Vadodara life. I shall henceforth post the latest Bollywood & Hollywood Movies releasing in cinema halls in Vadodara on http://ourvadodara.in/

 

Review of Gravity: A commendably well-made survival story with spectacular visual effects and a poignant performance from Sandra Bullock. Don’t miss it!

My eleventh job for the site ourvadodara.in. Click the following link to read my review of 2013 Hollywood Film ‘Gravity‘, Starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooneyhttp://ourvadodara.in/gravity-review. Also, do visit the site for any updates about Vadodara life. I shall henceforth post the latest BollywoodHollywood Movies releasing in cinema halls in Vadodara on http://ourvadodara.in/