Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Hitchcock


The Flower is at the age where she's starting to get more cultural references (at least more outside juvenilia) and this naturally exciting development got her enthused to see Hitchcock, the biopic of the auteur centered around his making of the cinematic masterpiece that is Psycho.

We watched Psycho a few months ago; I also showed her Hitch's little featurette, which she may have liked more. The trailer for the Hitchcock movie features a lot of similar humor, so she was quite excited. I even got a picture of her in the shower display, although she was stabbing out rather than being stabbed. (My kids.)

Hitchcock features Anthony Hopkins in the title role, and it is nice to see him do some acting after what seems like a decade of phoning it in. (Well, not quite a decade. He was great in 2005's World's Fastest Indian, an under-stated and under-rated gem.) Helen Mirren plays his wife Alma, and she's good (of course) but the role is almost unbearably traditional, i.e., supportive and neglected wife.

Danny Huston (son of John) plays the stiff (heh) lothario that's wooing Alma but perhaps entirely to get his material to Hitch, while working actor Michael Wincott plays Ed Gein, Hitch's spiritual counselor throughout the movie.

Standouts include Ralph Macchio as the screenwriter, Joe Stefano, and James D'arcy, who seemed to actually channel Anthony Perkins, both in very brief scenes.

Jessica Biel plays Vera Miles, who Hitch loved and lost when she decided to take time out have a family. There's a rumor going around Hollywood that Biel is upset over not getting the roles she wants. There's another rumor that this is due to what's called in the industry "not being very good". The latter rumor is confirmed in this film, sadly. She's not bad, exactly. She's just not very good.

Actually, I kept thinking of that scene in Ed Wood where Sarah Jessica Parker (playing Dolores Fuller) is doing a line with Juliet Landau (playing her usurper on Bride of the Atom, Loretta King) reads a line across from her, and does it masterfully badly. It's the sort of bad acting actors love to do, and there are hints of inappropriate anger and jealousy along with the overacting that comes with trying to upstage.

I kept thinking of that scene whenever Biel played against Scarlett Johansson's Janet Leigh. Johannson is immensely appealing as Leigh, being cheerful and professional and cooperative without being intimidated by Hitch, a phenomenon at least partly explained by her previous movie having been with Orson Welles. Kinda surprised me. I sorta though Johannson peaked with Eight-Legged Freaks.

This is one of your typical end-of-the-year acting movies and it largely doesn't disappoint. The fat suit Hopkins wears is a little bit distracting (some times more than a little) but sometimes he's dead on.

The movie excels in a few areas: When covering the actual making of Psycho, showing Hitch in all his arrogant glory and passion for art, it's very good indeed—if not exactly accurate. Hey, some of these stories are legendary, like Hitch getting the reaction he wanted out of Janet Leigh by using cold water, not by doing the stabbing himself in a particularly convincing manner. We know that Janet Leigh doesn't blink after being killed, she breathes.

Or at least we think we know that. We also thought, for example, Leigh was never naked in the film, but she later claimed that the moleskin she was covering her modest with washed off on one occasion. And that the shower scene originally tested to laughs, before the music was added in, though some are say it wasn't test audiences so much as the scene not working for Hitch and others "in post".

Well, whatever: one shouldn't expect a rigorous study from a pop film. It's fun enough and close enough, however much people think Hitch should have been shown as a sadist, or bit players think they should've gotten more credit.

The story of the making of the movie is glued together with a melodrama about Hitch's obsession with his leading ladies and Whitfield Cook's (Huston) wooing of Alma, and also the great financial risk of making the movie (even though the movie defuses that by pointing out the vast amounts of money Hitch was getting from his TV series, thanks to his agent).

This stuff is almost laughably movie-of-the-week, reducing these great people to weird little neuroses and insecurities. I'm not saying they're not accurate, mind you, because I don't know. I mean, obviously it's not accurate in a literal transcript sort of way, but over the decades Alma and Alfred doubtless suffered all sorts of marital problems so, hey, maybe there's some accuracy here. (Apparently the Alma/Whitfield affair is a "thing", pushed by...Alma Hitchcock scholars?)

But this stuff plods along. Except!

For quite a few scenes in this part, director Sacha Gervasi imposes over the Hitchcock's marital tensions, classic Hitchcokian camera angles. Like at one point, while Alma is bitching about something with her back to Alfred, he's looking at the back of her neck, the camera dollying in like Strangers On A Train.

I think, accuracy aside, Hitchcock himself would've approved of this kind of thing, as he would have the idea that Ed Gein was his sort-of Jiminy Cricket. It really reflected his brand of black comedy.

So, not a great movie, but some great moments therein. The Boy and The Flower both approved, The Flower being particularly excited that she got many of the references.

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