‘Bates Motel’ prequel series starts next week on A&E

I’m looking forward to watching “Bates Motel,” A&E’s prequel series inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” (1960). Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore star; the series starts March 18.

“I got into this wanting to defend who that woman was,” says Farmiga, as quoted in Entertainment Weekly earlier this year. “[In the show] she was just such a beautiful portrait of valiant maternity to me … [it's] a beautiful love letter between a mother and her son, and that’s that’s how I perceive the character. There’s an Edvard Munch painting of the Madonna. It’s really warped and it kind of exudes the sacred and the profane and it’s just psychologically gripping, and that’s what I was so drawn to with Norma. She’s a playground for an actress.”

You can see a preview of the series here. And for now I’m putting roadtrips on the back burner.

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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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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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Still crazy about iconic, scary ‘Psycho’ after all these years

Psycho/1960/Universal/109 min.

For a 51-year-old, “Psycho” looks fantastic.

The 1960 masterwork, perhaps the most famous of all Alfred Hitchcock‘s movies, is still smart, funny and beautiful to watch.

Janet Leigh

A low-budget, experimental film for Hitchcock (he was greatly influenced by Henri-Georges Clouzot’s “Diabolique” from 1955), “Psycho” wasn’t well received by critics. But the movie was a huge hit with the public and has remained popular ever since. Norman Bates, played by Anthony Perkins, is No. 2 on the AFI’s list of greatest villains, second only to Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter. “Psycho” singlehandedly spawned the slasher genre and, together with Orson Welles’ “Touch of Evil” from 1958, also starring Janet Leigh, marks the end of classic film noir.

Leigh plays Marion Crane, a secretary at Lowery Real Estate in sunny Phoenix. On a whim, Marion leaves town with a load of cash – $40,000 from her firm’s client, wealthy good ole boy Tom Cassidy (Frank Albertson). She’s hoping it will pave her way to the altar with her delectable but debt-laden boyfriend Sam Loomis (John Gavin).

Not far into her road trip, she feels pangs of guilt, but before she can turn around and give the money back, she stops at The Bates Motel where she meets uber-polite proprietor Norman and hears his mother screeching from the old dark house next door. After sharing sandwiches with Norman, Marion takes a shower and Norman’s gray-haired mother suddenly appears, knife in hand. It’s one of the most iconic scenes in cinematic history.

Later, Sam, Marion’s sister Lila Crane (Vera Miles), and Detective Milton Arbogast (Martin Balsam) launch a search for Marion. Arbogast perishes as he puzzles over the secrets within the Bates Motel, but eventually Sam and Lila unravel the core of the family craziness. Here’s a hint: It was all Mommy’s fault. Still, she’s a survivor, you might say, who gets the last laugh.

Hitchcock took a chance with first-time screenwriter Joseph Stefano who worked from Robert Bloch’s novel “Psycho.” The book was loosely based, many feel, on real-life Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein. Stefano, a psychoanalysis aficionado, borrowed liberally from Freud 101 to write his script. (Stefano later became the head writer for the classic TV horror show, “The Outer Limits.”)

Because he worried that the audience would get impatient with not seeing Norman’s mother for so long, Stefano peppered the dialogue with references to mothers so that at least the idea of Mrs. Bates was present. Sam refers to turning a picture of Marion’s mother to the wall; Marion’s office colleague Caroline (Patricia Hitchcock) mentions her mother twice in a brief conversation at the office. [Read more...]

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‘Diabolique’ is all surprise, all mystery, one twist after another

‘Diabolique’/1955/Cinédis/114 min.

Michael Wilmington

By Michael Wilmington

The worst kind of fictional horror, the kind that seeps into your psyche and stings into life your worst fears, sometimes springs from the seemingly mundane routines of life, when the placid world we know suddenly becomes a backdrop for darkness and evil.

In French filmmaker Henri-Georges Clouzot’s masterpiece of suspense, “Diabolique,” a school near Paris turns into the site for a cold-blooded murder and a den of everyday nightmares. “Diabolique,” called “Les Diaboliques,“ (“The Devils”) in France, is a movie about the mystery and terror of appearances, and the ways that they can ensnare us, drive us mad or destroy us.

If there was ever a movie review that needed a “Spoiler Alert” it’s “Diabolique,” a film that doesn’t have one surprise up its sleeve, but many. It’s all surprise, all mystery, one twist after the other, going off like firecrackers until the end of the film.

Vera Clouzot

Simone Signoret

“Diabolique” takes place in a boarding school, an ugly, sprawling ex-chateau run by a ferret-faced brute of a headmaster, Michel Delassalle (Paul Meurisse) and his weak, ill and persecuted wife Christina (Vera Clouzot). Delassalle viciously exploits and abuses his wife, and is openly unfaithful to her, with the school’s science and math teacher, a sultry, smart blonde named Nicole Horner (Simone Signoret, in one of her most famous roles).

Headmaster Delassalle is an awful man and the school is an awful but believable place, with bleak dormitory rooms, rotten food, dark hallways, and a dirty swimming pool in which something terrible, we feel, will happen. Or maybe not.

In the first of the movie’s string of shocks, we discover that Christina and Nicole, wife and mistress, have formed an unholy alliance. Both seemingly disgusted by the swinish Michel, they are plotting to kill him and disguise it as an accident.

And Michel is such a cad and sadist – a brilliant performance by Meurisse, who was later just as fine for both Jean Renoir (“Picnic on the Grass”) and Jean-Pierre Melville (“Le Cercle Rouge”) – that we don’t condemn the women. Another brilliant actor of astounding longevity, Charles Vanel, plays superlatively well the retired detective Fichet, who starts sniffing around when he runs into Christina at the morgue.

The man who made this astonishing and frightening movie, writer-director Clouzot, seemed to be many things himself: a cynic and a sometime sadist to his actors (especially his own wife, Vera), a friend/collaborator of artistic greats like Pablo Picasso, a WW2 opportunist who worked for a company run by the occupying Germans, and, above all, a genius at making movies that tightened the vise of anxiety like a noose around the audiences’ throats.

Clouzot was, in fact, the only specialist in suspense who was ever plausibly bracketed with Alfred Hitchcock – and Hitchcock was one of “Diabolique” ’s biggest admirers. The wry British master of movie fear wanted to buy the novel, “Celle qui n’etait plus,” by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, on which “Diabolique” was based.

When “Diabolique” became an international hit, Hitchcock bought another Boileau-Narcejac novel, and turned it into his masterpiece “Vertigo.” Hitch then acquired a Robert Bloch novel called “Psycho” and essentially made it his own “Diabolique,” shooting in black and white, playing up similar scenes and themes (including the idea of murder in a bathroom), borrowing liberally from the earlier movie’s style and execution, even reworking some of its advertising gimmicks. [Read more...]

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Cinematheque honors Alfred Hitchcock, Bernard Herrmann

You can always count on the American Cinematheque to give noiristas some love.

The Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood is running Suspense Account: The Films of Alfred Hitchcock, featuring his Technicolor spectaculars, such as “North by Northwest,” “Rear Window,” “Vertigo,” “The Birds,” “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” and “To Catch a Thief.” Also showing are suspense thrillers “Notorious,” “Shadow of a Doubt,” “Suspicion,” “Spellbound,” “Saboteur” and “Psycho.” Now under way, the series runs through June 9.

Additionally, from June 23-30, the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica will host A Centennial Tribute to Composer Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975), one of cinema’s most brilliant and influential artists. The series will screen “Cape Fear,” On Dangerous Ground,” “Citizen Kane,” “The Magnificent Ambersons,” “Vertigo,” “Obsession,” “Marnie,” “Psycho,” and “Hangover Square.”

Check the schedule for more details. The Egyptian Theatre is at 6712 Hollywood Blvd. The Aero Theatre is at 1328 Montana Ave. General admission is $11; members pay $7.

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