Hitchcock

December 7, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson
Directed by: Sasha Gervasi (“Anvil! The Story of Anvil”)
Written by: John  J. McLaughlin (“Black Swan”)

It would be a tough assignment for any director to capture someone as influential a filmmaker as Alfred Hitchcock much less try to understand what all the moving parts inside his head are doing. Director Julian Jarrold (“Brideshead Revisited”) and HBO attempted to do it this year with “The Girl,” an unmoving, made-for-TV movie about Hitchock’s obsession with actress Tippi Hedren during the shooting of “The Birds.”

In “Hitchcock,” director Sasha Gervasi (“Anvil! The Story of Anvil”) and screenwriter John  J. McLaughlin (“Black Swan”) choose another of Hitchcock’s classic films, “Psycho,” and try to pull back the curtain to reveal some of the behind the scene issues Hitch confronted while making a film inspired by serial killer Ed Gein. Unable to earn financing from his studio (although he had just made “North by Northwest” and “Vertigo,” which are now considered by many as two of the best films ever made), Hitch (played here glibly by Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins) decides he will finance the movie himself. His wife Alma (Oscar winner Helen Mirren) stands by him as always for support.

Living with one of the greatest filmmakers of the era, however, is no easy task. “Hitchock,” while it does give us a interesting glimpse of the moviemaking process, is more a movie about Hitch and Alma and how they are able to work through their marital issues while in the spotlight. Unlike “The Girl” there is really no mention of Hitch’s sexual advances toward his leading ladies. In “Hitchcock,” Scarlett Johansson portrays Janet Leigh, whose relationship with the larger-than-life title character is played as professional. Sure, it’s not very hard to make Hitch seem like the creepy old man making the pretty blonds in the room uncomfortable as he ogles over them for far too long (there is a scene where he peeks at an undressing Vera Miles through hole in the wall), but “Hitchock” is less about his perverseness and more about the motivation behind the man making the movies. Still, it comes up short in that aspect.

While Hopkins and Mirren are wonderfully cast in their roles and do everything they can to create this loving albeit strained relationship, what goes wrong with “Hitchcock” comes from the odd changes in tone and stagnant script. A few scenes are written with Hitch having imagined conversations with serial killer Ed Gein. McLaughlin might’ve thought this would give insight to the dark places Hitch had to be to make a movie like “Psycho,” but each of these talks feels like an unnecessary interruption.

Acting aside, “Hitchcock” is a disappointment. Instead of making a film with Hitchcockian flare, Gervasi should’ve concentrated on making a film about the man – a cultural icon of the 20th century who deserved more than getting showering over with plenty of narrative inelegance.

Black Swan

December 17, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky (“The Wrestler”)
Written by: Mark Heyman (debut), Andres Heinz (debut), John J. McLaughlin (“Man of the House”)

If searching for a young director with an audacious approach to filmmaking that is unlike anyone else working in the industry today, look no further than Darren Aronofsky.

While his last film, 2008’s critically-acclaimed drama “The Wrestler,” was less bizarre than some of his earlier works including “Requiem for a Dream,” “The Fountain,” and “Pi,” Aronofsky finds his way back to an unusual narrative in “Black Swan,” a hypnotic, psycho-sexual thriller that plays like high-art horror.

Academy Award nominee Natalie Portman (“Closer”), who will definitely earn a second Oscar nod for her role here, plays Nina Sayers, a ballerina who is chosen as the fresh face of the company by her demanding director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassell). Although Thomas chooses Nina as the lead for his version of “Swan Lake,” he’s not sure she has what it will take to perform both distinct parts of the classic ballet. While she is technically flawless and built to play the White Swan, Nina is missing the fiery passion needed to transform into the Black Swan.

With an overbearing (bordering on obsessive) mother (Barbara Hershey) at home watching her every move and a new ballerina (Mila Kunis) from San Francisco who might be out to take her role on stage, Nina’s paranoia begins to take effect on her fragile mental state.

Thus begins Aronofsky’s take on a metamorphosis that rivals David Cronenberg’s 1986 film “The Fly.” While not nearly as graphic in nature, “Black Swan” is just as intense and chilling. Portman, whose real-life ballet skills probably helped her earn the role, has never been better. It’s a confident performance in a beautiful and unnerving film that examines the significance of ambition and what someone will sacrifice to reach perfection.