Highly entertaining ‘Hitchcock’ lacks inherent drama

For me, the much-awaited “Hitchcock,” which had its world premiere at AFI Fest 2012 presented by Audi, is the cinematic equivalent of the curate’s egg: parts were good. And the actors were quite good (Oscar-worthy some say) in their parts: Anthony Hopkins as director Alfred Hitchcock, Helen Mirren as his wife Alma Reville and Scarlett Johansson as actress Janet Leigh.

We meet the Hitchcocks in 1959, enjoying the success of “North by Northwest,” Hitch and Alma having made the critical flop “Vertigo” the year before. At 60, the great auteur was at the height of his fame and yet was unable to convince Paramount to finance his next film, “Psycho,” a story based on Robert Bloch’s lurid novel about a serial killer. So the couple decide to finance it themselves – a huge gamble that paid off nicely at the box office and with critics. The movie was nominated for four Oscars.

Against this backdrop, director Sacha Gervasi depicts the artist as a brilliant, shrewd, canny and compulsive man with no end of personal peccadilloes (overeating and obsessing over elegant blondes top the list) and renders a portrait of a marriage that was at times strained but resilient enough to last 54 years.

Upon accepting the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award in 1979, Hitchcock said: “I beg permission to mention by name only four people who have given me the most affection, appreciation, and encouragement, and constant collaboration. The first of the four is a film editor, the second is a scriptwriter, the third is the mother of my daughter Pat, and the fourth is as fine a cook as ever performed miracles in a domestic kitchen. And their names are Alma Reville.”

Arguably, their ultimate bond was the work – making movies that masterfully blend high art, humor and entertainment in a way that has been often repeated and only rarely rivaled.

With its luscious looks, meticulous period details and engaging performances (even if Hopkins sometimes veers into a slightly mannered impersonation), Gervasi’s “Hitchcock” entertains, to be sure. The opening sequence and the scenes where we see Hitch directing Leigh are especially memorable.

But as I watched this glossy yarn, I couldn’t help wondering why this story was being told, what it was adding or subtracting to the legacy of Alfred and Alma. In other words, because “Hitchcock” lacks an inherent drama and an editorial stance by Gervasi, it also fails to involve us deeply or move us. That said, there’s an intrigue to the back story of a film as famous as “Psycho” and, to that end, “Hitchcock” doesn’t disappoint.

“Hitchcock” opens today in limited release.

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AFI Fest 2012 starts tonight with ‘Hitchcock’ world premiere

I’m very much looking forward to the 26th annual AFI Fest, which starts tonight in Hollywood with the world premiere of “Hitchcock” directed by Sacha Gervasi and starring Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren and Scarlett Johansson.

Other galas include: “Life of Pi” (in 3D), “Lincoln,” “On the Road,” “Rise of the Guardians” (in 3D) and “Rust and Bone.” For an overview of the festival, read Anne Thompson and Sophia Savage’s nifty preview piece here. AFI Fest 2012 is presented by Audi.

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Hitch bio-flix premieres, ‘Psycho’ and ‘Dressed to Kill’ at Aero

Decades after making “The Birds” (1963) and “Marnie” (1964) with Alfred Hitchcock, actress Tippi Hedren said the director harassed her and hindered her career, after she rebuffed his advances. “The Girl,” a recounting of her side of the story, premieres Saturday at 9 p.m. (8 p.m. Central) on HBO.

Directed by Julian Jarrold and written by Gwyneth Hughes, ”The Girl” stars Sienna Miller and Toby Jones. If other Hitchcock blondes, such as Eva Marie Saint, Kim Novak, Ingrid Bergman and Grace Kelly, received similar treatment, they did not publicly reveal it. You can read Richard Brody’s excellent review of the movie here.

Writing for HuffPo, TV critic Lynn Elber describes the “stunned silence” after a private screening of the “The Girl,” held for Hedren, her friends and family, including daughter Melanie Griffith.

According to Elber, Hedren had this to say after the event in Beverly Hills: “I’ve never been in a screening room where nobody moved, nobody said anything. Until my daughter jumped up and said, ‘Well, now I have to go back into therapy.’”

It will be interesting to compare that treatment to “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho,” which opens the AFI Fest 2012 on Thursday, Nov. 1. (General release is Nov. 23.)

Directed by Sacha Gervasi, the film highlights Hitchcock’s relationship with his wife Alma Reville and her contributions to his work, particularly 1959’s “Psycho.” The film stars Anthony Hopkins as Hitch, Helen Mirren as Alma and Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh. (Imelda Staunton plays Alma in HBO’s “The Girl.”)

And, tonight at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, there is a great double bill: “Psycho” and “Dressed to Kill” (1981, Brian De Palma), starring Michael Caine and Angie Dickinson.

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‘Brighton Rock’ is eye candy with an entertaining cast

Brighton Rock/2010/IFC Films/111 min.

“Brighton Rock” opens with a shot of oil-black ocean waves. Like the moonlit water, the film is beautiful but turgid and at times untamed in the hands of first-time feature film director Rowan Joffe.

Based on a Graham Greene novel, it’s a classic crime story first made into a movie in 1947 with a script by Greene and Terence Rattigan. This time around, Joffe, a scribe whose credits include “The American” and “28 Weeks Later” wrote the screenplay, changing the setting from the 1930s to 1964.

Helen Mirren and John Hurt

Young, ruthless and 100 percent pure psychopath, Pinkie Brown (Sam Riley) has risen to the top ranks of a gang in Brighton, a seaside resort town (the title is a reference to the souvenir sticks of hard candy sold there). Avenging a betrayal to his gang, Pinkie sets out to kill a man named Fred Hale (Sean Harris), who happens to be friendly with a working-class grande dame, Ida Arnold (Helen Mirren).

Knowing his life is in danger, Hale parries along the pier, looking for a way to escape, and gloms onto a stranger – a shy, frumpy teenage waitress named Rose (Andrea Riseborough). But this just delays the inevitable and soon Hale is dead at Pinkie’s hands. The last person to be seen with Hale, however, is Frank Spicer (Philip Davis), a booze-weary senior member of Pinkie’s gang. And, by chance, Hale, Spicer and Rose are captured by a touristy photographer; Rose gets the claim ticket for the photo.

Though Pinkie’s overarching objective is to join forces with a rival gang led by Colleoni (Andy Serkis), his immediate priority is to nab that claim ticket and seduce Rose in order to keep her quiet. While it’s easy to keep Rose under his thumb, keeping the feisty Ida from investigating Hale’s death proves to be a spot of bother. As the moral driver of the story, Ida stands in contrast with the young couple who ironically cling to their identities as Roman Catholics.

Joffe’s film is gorgeous to look at – stunning cinematography by John Mathieson matched with superb art direction by Paul Ghiradani and Kellie Waugh, especially the slightly surreal scenes at the Cosmopolitan Hotel. And for the first two acts, Joffe creates a darkly moody atmosphere and balances the storylines deftly.

But as the plot progresses, Pinkie’s dealings with Colleoni essentially dissolve as the focus shifts entirely to Pinkie, Rose and Ida. The strange couple seems an awkward transplant to the ’60s – how does the time change serve the storytelling? [Read more...]

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