Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Girl and Hitchcock


One of the best courses I took in college was titled Hitchcock Reexamined, in which we watched all of Hitch’s films and discussed them ad nauseam. In addition, we detailed the man behind the infamy – his passions, obsessions, fears, desires – and so on. The course was as interested in the man as it was in his films, which made for some fantastic old time Hollywood musings. But the flip side is that, learning what I learned, it makes films as unaccomplished as The Girl and Hitchcock simply unforgivable.

It is very important to begin these reviews by stating outright that the words Based on a True Story are to be taken as loosely as possible in most any film depicting a real person. Liberties are taken, time is altered, moods are exaggerated – I get it, it’s part of the game. Thing is, if you’re going to change/add/remove from the way it was, then please, for the love of God, make it interesting.

And that is precisely what these films fail to do.

The Girl – Review
Hot off the surprising success of Psycho, Hitch (Toby Jones) was looking to make his biggest, boldest, scariest film yet. He focused on The Birds, and, with the encouragement of his confidant and wife, Alma (Imelda Staunton), he set his sights on Tippi Hedren (Sienna Miller) to star. The Girl depicts Hitch and Hedren’s tumultuous relationship from pre-production of The Birds through post-production on the little seen (but no less controversial) thriller, Marnie.

As was often the case of the director and his leading lady, Hitch immediately took a liking to Hedren. He subtly threw himself at her repeatedly, and when his advances resulted in her calling him a “fat pig” on set, Hitch consequently referred to her as “that girl” and turned his motivations from innocent tempter to cruel manipulator. In perhaps the most famous story between the two, Hitch made Hedren do several dozen takes of the scene in which her character enters an attic and is attacked by birds. During the scene, Hitch used mechanical and real birds to draw out authenticity, and nearly drove Hedren to a mental breakdown.
Now, these are all fascinating anecdotes that The Girl depicts… with about as much flare and verve as photographing a small block of wood. Instead of playing Hitch as a coy flirt, Toby Jones is forced to recreate him as a sexual deviant who, in one scene of utter lunacy, orders Hedren to be “sexually available to me at all times.” Did that happen in real life? Hell, I don’t know. But if it did, I sure hope it wasn’t executed as dully as it is here.

And don’t get me wrong, I admire the talent involved. Jones is a fine character actor, and for reasons entitled Interview and Factory Girl, I have always championed for Sienna Miller’s acting abilities. Both are…okay here, but they are given nothing to work with. (Okay, that's not entirely fair. Miller is rather good throughout.) Perhaps the film’s greatest criminal act is the astonishing underuse of Staunton, a flawless actress whose Alma is nothing more than a laughable caricature.

For fans of Hitchcock, old Hollywood, and/or making-of movies, there’s simply nothing driving me to recommend The Girl. This movie had a larger than life character to work with, and its attempt to give him a pulse remains futile at best. D

Hitchcock – Review
Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock begins as Hitch (Anthony Hopkins) is reveling in the monumental and immediate success of North by Northwest. But for his next feature, he wants to shock, appall, and, most importantly, feed himself with the danger of doing something new.

Soon, despite the constant nagging of his steadfast wife, Alma (Helen Mirren) to reconsider, Hitch has his sights set on adapting Robert Bloch’s Psycho. He goes through the motions of casting the premiere blonde bombshell, Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson), the delicate lead, Anthony Perkins (James D’Arcy), and because he’s contractually obligated, he throws his arch nemesis, Vera Miles (Jessica Biel) into the mix for good measure.

So, a movie about the making of one of the best films ever made. What’s not to like? Well, plenty.

Shortly after Hitchcock begins, we watch as famed serial killer Ed Gein (Michael Wincott) kills his brother by hitting him in the head with a shovel. Immediately after this, the camera pans over to reveal Hopkins’ Hitch talking into the camera about the crime that was just committed. His words are playful, sardonic and completely unnecessary. So that's the kind of film Hitchcock is.
Throughout the picture, Gein shows up in Hitch’s thoughts, dreams, and hell, even as a real life hallucination. Did Alfred Hitchcock suffer from a personality disorder in which he had conversations with serial killers? I don’t think so. Is it a cheap narrative ploy used solely as a default for lazy screenwriting? In my opinion, yes.

The Gein pop-ups aren’t even the half of it. The majority of the film chronicles how difficult Alma had it with old Hitch. He was continually overbearing, relentless and rude, not to mention a grade-A narcissist. As a means of revenge, Alma buys fancy bathing suits, swims in her pool, and collaborates with a suave screenwriter (Danny Huston) in the writer’s cozy beach home.

Huh? What does that have to do with anything? When the film is at its best, it pits Hopkins and Mirren against each other, one-on-one, so why not more of this? Give them ample room to shine and they’ll kill it. Sadly, this film does very little of that.
(I mean, seriously… why no talk of Hitch’s physical impotence, or the relationship he and Alma had with their daughter, Patricia? Very odd.)

I glossed over the supporting cast earlier, and that is intentional, because it is exactly what this film does. Johansson, Beil, and particularly D’Arcy (who is a dead ringer for Perkins) are all given nothing to do. They stand off to the side, in the frame of Hitch’s film, idly releasing a stale line here and there. Much like the engaging, heated arguments between Hopkins and Mirren, I longed for more worthy screen time from the cast.

My bashing could go on, but I hope by now you get the point. (Okay one more: Pay attention during the scene in which we watch a live audience watch Psycho. Listen to the delivery of the actors on the screen. It’s the scene when Lila Crane and Sam Loomis visit Sheriff Al Chambers. I’m hard pressed to think of any line deliveries that are as poorly executed as those.) And I suppose that is exactly what Hitchcock is, a laughable version of events that are anything but, and could’ve been remembered as so much more. D

33 comments:

  1. I saw some of The Girl and was left... unimpressed. I don't think I'll go see Hitchcock either. I'll just stick to seeing Hitchcock's films once I get the urge to do a Hitchcock marathon in the future.

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    1. And I think that is a very wise decision on your part. Stick to the real man, leave the half hearted biopics alone.

      Unimpressive is a really good word for them.

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  2. I found these reviews very entertaining, almost more fun to read than glowing reviews of awesome films. Now, I can safely skip these two films without feeling guilty. :-)

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    1. Ha, with all the love I've been spreading to flicks on this blog lately, I suppose it was time for a little thrashing. But really... sad that the movies sucked so bad. You can DEFINITELY skip them.

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  3. Yikes, Hitchcock is as bland as The Girl? I was hoping since there is a larger cast and centered around the making of Psycho that it would be at least a more than passable feature. Ah well I still be seeing it for the behind the scenes story. Dunno what is going on with HBO films these days, they haven't had winner in years. Though their recent Witness Documentary series blows everything out of the water, one of the very best things the network has ever done, eye opening and just jaw-dropping.

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    1. Actually, I'd go as far as to say that Hitchcock is more bland than The Girl, and because it has a more accomplished cast, I expected it to be better. But, no. I do hope you enjoy it more than I did, but fair warning, the behind the scenes parts are few and far between. Sigh.

      HBO movies really have sucked lately, haven't they? But I agree, their docs are consistently on point.

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  4. I knew Hitchcock would be bad! No one listened to me, but I could tell from the trailer...

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    1. Oh I was seriously afraid that the film's horrible trailer would be a perfect representation of the film. And, in my opinion, it was indeed.

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  5. Damm! That is disappointing to here about Hitchcock. I had hoped it would do better. I'll definitely see this myself, and fingers crossed I find something to like, but this doesn't sound good at all!
    I wish I could have had a semester of Hitchcock at uni! We did get to see Vertigo on the big screen though (and it was my first time watching it too). Great reviews! (Is it bad that I hadn't really heard of The Girl? The name sounds familiar, but still...)

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    1. That Hitchcock course was one of the best things to ever happen to me. I was already a huge fan of his work, but that course took it to a whole new level.

      Not surprised you haven't heard of The Girl, it was a very poorly-publicized HBO film that didn't get very good reviews. It came out a few weeks ago and just, well, wasn't very good.

      If there's something to like in Hitchcock, it is Hopkins and Mirren, both of whom are really quite good. But only in a handful of scenes. The rest of the time, they are completely wasted.

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  6. Ouch. I'll consider myself warned, but I still want to see them at some point. My basic rule is: if it's not Twilight, I might watch it. ;)

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    1. Ha, that's a fair enough rule right there. Glad you're warned, my friend... it's a very real warning indeed.

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    2. Hey, Josh ... that's my rule of thumb too. ;-)

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    3. It works, doesn't it? I haven't seen any Twilight films since the first one. ;)

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    4. And the first one was the least... offensive? Pointless? Whatever.

      So. Bad.

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  7. Ooh. I'm really anticipating Hitchcock but many review compared it to My Week with Marilyn, which almosy put me into a coma. From the trailer I think Mirren looked great, Alma is very fascinating, even the hints in The Girl made me feel that they should really make a separate movie about this woman.

    I agree with pretty much everything you said in The Girl review, In fact I think they made Hitchcock into a sex crazed caricature, Jones is a great actor but with material this ridiculous he really didn't have much to do. That said I really don't think Alma was caricature there, I thought Staunton did extraordinarly well with that script, she was the most fascinating character in the movie. Miller really surprised, I never was a fan but she was excellent in this.

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    1. I do hope you enjoy Hitchcock more than I did. For me, it was a complete wash. Mirren is great in a few scenes (as is Hopkins) but those few moments can't possibly save the film. I've heard the My Week with Marilyn comparison too, but this is more like a "funny" J. Edgar.

      I definitely didn't mean to take away from Staunton and Miller's work in The Girl. I enjoyed them both, but I thought the material they were given was next to garbage. Shame.

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  8. it seems criminal to make a poor movie when you're working with talent like Helen Mirren and Anthony Hopkins, or Imelda Staunton.

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    1. It does indeed. I understand what they both were going for - The Girl is very somber and portrays Hitch as a caricature of a sexual deviant, whereas Hitchcock portrayed him as a caricature of a farcical narcissist - both they both still suck.

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  9. I think I'm the only person who liked The Girl. Maybe it's because I didn't really let it affect my idea of Hitchcock. This was 'a' Hitchcock, who just happened to be a sadistic little creep. And I thought Toby Jones was rather good at portraying that. Also Staunton was amazing.

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    1. If forced to chose, I definitely prefer The Girl to Hitchcock, and I did enjoy parts of Miller and Staunton's work. Neither were bad, but both were given terrible material, in my opinion.

      It just didn't work for me :\

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  10. Damn, I was looking forward to catching Hitchcock at least. Sounds like I'll wait for a rental instead. Nice reviews, man, and thanks for the heads up.

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    1. Ha, my pleasure dude! Believe me, Hitch is one of my all time favorite directors, so I really wanted to like these films. But... I can't. I just can't.

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  11. I had the Hitchcock biopic on my radar because of Hopkins, now when I read your assessment, and other people's verdicts, I don't feel the urge to throw money at it. Perhaps instead I'll catch up on a few of Hitch's films that I still haven't seen yet.

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    1. YES, do that. Definitely watch some Hitch flicks as opposed to this. Very wise.

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  12. I do agree that watching Alfred Hitchcock's movies would be a better time spent then watching these, but I still liked "Hitchcock". I was very impressed at the suporting cast but yes I do agree they are not used much. That scene in the begining where the camera pans to Alfred Hitchcock and he gives some jokes reminds me a lot of the TV show "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" Where he would do the same thing before each episode. In my opinion it was a great way to open a movie.

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    1. Yeah I knew the fourth wall opening and closing deliveries were a direct homage to Presents, but ah, I dunno man, just didn't work for me.

      I honestly thought much of the cast in Hitchcock was cast perfectly, but nearly all were underused criminally. Oh well though, glad you got some enjoyment out of it!

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  13. Save Hitchcock and boycott BBC’s THE GIRL http://savehitchcock.com

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    1. Hmm, sorry man (or ma'am) but I liked The Girl more than Hitchcock.

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  14. This film really does lose its way from the opening scene. That Ed Gein stuff was bizarre and totally unnecessary. I also hate that they made a movie about the making of Psycho without showing James D'Arcy in character as Norman Bates!! Such a missed opportunity.

    Still, my very low expectations made me reluctantly like the film in the end. I can totally understand the hate though.

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    1. Glad we agree here. In his (very) few moments on screen, D'Arcy simply killed it as Perkins. The fact that they didn't show him as Norman was a big mistake in my opinion. And the absurdist humor tone throughout never worked for me in the slightest. Big bummer.

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  15. The Girl was an absolute hatchet job and Hitchcock had some fun moments but got too bogged down in the stupid soap opera Alma plot-line

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    1. Yep. Agree on both accounts. Rough shit, man.

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