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December 11-24
VOL.13 ISSUE. 8
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Psycho Therapy

Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Published Thursday December 13, 11:07 am
Hitchcock is uneven but undeniably entertaining

Hitchcock

Coming soon

3/5

It’s been a busy year for Alfred Hitchcock, as the master of suspense has been the subject of two biopics. The first, called The Girl, aired on HBO a couple of months ago and depicted Hitchcock as a borderline sociopath whose unhealthy obsession with his leading ladies (particularly Tippi Hedren) bordered on abuse. It wasn’t very good — the single redeeming element being the interesting dichotomy between a grotesque-looking man and his unabashed appreciation for beauty.

The second, Hitchcock,presents a much more rounded portrait of an artist endlessly fascinated by the human condition — particularly its darker side. Fresh from the success of North by Northwestin 1951, Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) feels restless. Concerned he may have reached his peak at 60, the filmmaker looks for a way to reinvent himself. He finds it in a schlock novel called Psycho, which was inspired by the case of notorious serial killer and body snatcher Ed Gein.

Far from a sure thing, Hitchcock faced some major challenges in getting Psycho off the ground, thanks to a reluctant studio and the rigidly high-strung morals of the MPAA.

Hitchcock’s wife, Alma (Helen Mirren), throws some further tension into the mix. While she’s been actively involved in most of her husband’s films, Alma pines for achievement of her own — all the while growing increasingly bitter over Hitch’s infatuation with his “blondes.” An answer for both problems comes in the form of Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston), a slick screenwriter who shows more-than-professional interest in Mrs. Hitchcock.

Based on Stephen Rebello’s book The Making of Psycho, Hitchcock works best whenever the focus is squarely on the director’s masterpiece. The backroom dealings with Paramount, for example, are quite absorbing (Hitch agreed to finance the movie out of his own pocket), as are the processes behind the casting of Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh.

On the downside, the film falters whenever it tries to dig into the filmmaker’s psyche — like the times when Hitch has imaginary conversations with Gein (Michael Wincott), which are supposed to explain the mindset he had while tackling the material. Instead, the outcome is hokey, and pulls you straight out of the movie. (Alma’s emotional affair isn’t terribly captivating either.)

But even when the film falls flat, strong performances by Hopkins and Mirren save it from being entirely dismissible. Hopkins manages to disappear inside the Hitchcock fat suit and finds the substance behind the mannerisms, while Mirren is more subtle: I had to watch the film twice to appreciate the emotional turmoil behind her stiff-upper-lip stance. The leads’ chemistry enriches the characters’ dynamic as a couple.

Scarlett Johansson shows some of her long-missing spark in a joyful turn as the bodacious Janet Leigh, the one blonde who knew how to keep Hitch at bay without antagonizing him. On the other end of the spectrum, Jessica Biel stinks up the joint as a very unconvincing Vera Miles. She was supposed to anchor one of the film’s strongest subplots (Miles chose family over becoming Hitchcock’s favourite), but her minutes on screen are reduced to a minimum, probably because of her middling performance.

Director Sacha Gervasi got the gig thanks to his terrific documentary Anvil: The Story of Anvil. Hitchcock is his dramatic debut, and Gervasi is equally as entertaining here as he was with Anvil. His films are widely uneven, but his priorities are the right ones — and he even manages to make the shower scene in Psycho suspenseful once again, which is worth kudos all on its own.

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No Silver Lining Here

Silver Linings Playbook

Galaxy

2.5/5

So: a man just released from a mental institution following a breakdown meets a cute widow with promiscuity issues. She’s in need of a partner for a dance competition, and persuades the guy to take on the role by offering to be a messenger between him and his estranged wife. As they practice for the contest, the problematic twosome falls in love. Hilarity ensues.

Obviously, this is a vehicle for Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey, or perhaps Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler, right?

Strangely,no. Silver Linings Playbook is actually a potential Oscar nominee, directed by Hollywood’s resident enfant terrible David O. Russell and starring up-and-comers Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. But for all the lofty names involved, the result is just a glorified rom-com.

Even after six fairly high-profile films, David O. Russell’s appeal remains a mystery to me. His movies go from quirky (Flirting with Disaster) to downright unintelligible (I Heart Huckabees). Russell’s supposed contribution to filmmaking (aside some amusing feuds) is unpredictability, but his films feature very conventional endings. (In Three Kings or The Fighter, for example, you can spot them coming from a mile away.) Granted, he can get good a performance out of Mark Wahlberg — but so can Seth McFarlane.

Silver Linings Playbookstarts out in fairly promising fashion, as Cooper, Lawrence and, to a lesser degree, Robert De Niro do a decent job depicting psychological disarray. Their obsessions and interactions are rooted in reality, as are their random outbursts of violence. But everything goes to hell when the dance competition is introduced: abruptly, Cooper’s character not only seems to undergo a miraculous recovery, but he begins to assist the others in achieving mental health.

The turn is unearned, unbelievable and puts the final hole in an already leaky boat.

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Paper-Thin

The Paperboy

The Roxy

1.5/5

Few films (or novels) have aged worse than Precious. Originally hailed as a searing exposé of inner-city abuse — complete with the Oprah Winfrey seal of approval — it’s now generally seen as a manipulative piece of trash in which tragedies pile up both artlessly and for no good reason.

Luckily for him, Precious director Lee Daniels was smart enough to lock down a follow-up gig before the backlash truly hit. Unluckily for audiences, the outcome is the backwoods sudser The Paperboy, a melodrama that’s so excessive it makes Pedro Almodóvar’s films seem bleak and restrained by comparison.

Featuring a parade of miscast actors, The Paperboy is anchored by Jack (Zac Efron), a standoffish teen who joins his brother Ward (Matthew McConaughey) in a crusade to free a shadowy hick (John Cusack) on death row. Their efforts are supported by the inmate’s girlfriend (Nicole Kidman), a prison groupie who’s not beyond bedding her new acquaintances. In fact, that’s all she seems to do in this movie: at some point, Kidman’s character pees on Efron’s, and it only gets more outlandish from there.

Rather than focus on the criminal inquiry — which might’ve made for a decent film — The Paperboy cares more about character quirks and casual racism. According to this film, all women are nymphomaniacs, all gays are perverts and straight men are a violent bunch. Halfway into the movie, the shock value wears off and boredom settles in. The resolution, simultaneously dumb and confusing, happens off-screen. So much for the plot.

Kidman and Cusack put in commendable efforts, but they’re far too wholesome to be believable as toxic swamp people. Efron, who’s supposed to carry the film, preens more than he acts, and McConaughey is no help either. Most problematic is that The Paperboy lacks a point, beyond getting Kidman to do increasingly lurid stuff. As visceral experiences go, soap operas are more gratifying.

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