Anthony Hopkins / Helen Mirren / Scarlett Johansson / Dany Huston / Toni Collette / Michael Stuhlbarg / Jessica Biel / James D’Arcy / Richard Portnow / Based on the book ‘Alfred Hitchcock and the making of Psycho’ byStephen Rebello /Screenplay by John J. McLaughlin /Original Music byDanny Elfman /Cinematography by Jeff Croneneweth /EditorPamela Martin / DirectorSacha Gervasi
If an actor is not suitable to play a role to begin with, then slapping on expensive makeup with a trowel, strapping the poor sod into a fat-suit and then filling in the cracks with CGI tomfoolery will not help matters. Personally I like to see the actor’s face, and be impressed by subtle gestures and physical performance.. while, let’s be honest.. if Anthony Hopkins hadn’t turned up for work one day, they could have simply propped up the fat-suit in front of the cameras and told Dame Helen just to shake his arm a bit every now and then.. if Tony dubbed in the voice in post-edit, would anyone really notice the difference? Perhaps its just me, but every scene with Tony as Hitch disturbingly reminded me of Mr Creosote about to pop in ‘Monty Python’s ‘The Meaning of Life‘?
I suppose even the Hitchcock suit makes more sense than Nicole Kidman‘s plastic nose in ‘The Hours’, which miraculously didn’t transform her into poor Virginia Woolf, who despite the assumption of the creative team, isn’t best known for having a big nose. God knows what they’d make of The Barry Manilow Story! Geoffrey Rush managed to work genuine magic in ‘The Life and Death of Peter Sellers‘, proving that the craft of capturing a person’s essence is to be found in performance, and not in lazy reliance on prosthetics. The Hopkins talent shines through of course, but is ultimately hampered by being encased in a thick layer of porridge.
All this said, there is actually much to enjoy in this biographical study, which is not so much a dissection of Hitch himself, as a look behind the creation and origin of his most successful film, Psycho. In fact, take a look at the credits, and you’ll notice that what we are actually watching is an adaptation of a fascinating book by Stephen Rebello, called ‘Alfred Hitchcock and the making of Psycho‘. Coincidentally enough I came across this little gem of a book a year ago, and would heartily recommend hunting out a copy.. albeit with a little warning for the squeamish, in regards to the Ed Gein opening chapter (a shocking, though very much necessary background to the material).
I’m not at all sure about the casting of Helen Mirren in the role as Alma, Alfred’s wife and cine-collaborator since the Silent days. Perhaps someone a little less vivacious was needed for the role.. I suspect the producers looked around for an English actress of the correct age, and discovered that only one A-lister would be recognized in Arizona, so despite being quite wrong for the part.. Mirren got the job. There’s nothing at all wrong with her performance, in fact she’s rather good. Scarlett Johansson was a logical choice for Janet Leigh, but with such famous actresses it’s an inherent problem substituting one for another in a Bio-pic.. I’d much rather see an unknown, personally.. but names put bums on seats, so.. If I were to pick out the one shining performance, it would be Toni Collette‘s loyal and belittled secretary ‘Peggy Robertson’. Collette always manages to turn in a striking performance from stage centre, or from the sidelines, but of course she is a quality actress of the first order.
I suppose I’m unsure about this particular take on ‘Hitchcock’.. initially I was worried that we’d be getting yet another portrait of a twisted oddball, which in it’s desire to capture the imagination, neglects the film-making itself, taking the cleverly developed complexities of a film like ‘Psycho‘, and making every twist and turn just a crass reflection of Hitchcock’s own lusts and insecurities. To be fair, the film didn’t fall into that trap, and even in it’s overall styling, there was an attempt to create a mood and visual style that acted as homage. Even the soundtrack had a deferential nod to the canon of films. Perhaps though, the ultimate product was a little too lenient on old Hitch? By sidestepping the terrible treatment that Tippi Hedren experienced during the making of ‘The Birds‘ and of ‘Marnie‘, we get a much more sympathetic character in Alfred.. and the ending is a very saccharine affair.
It must have irked the producers somewhat to see the BBC’s own Hitchcock drama ‘The Girl’ steal the acclaim from under their noses. Toby Jones offered us a Hitch unfettered by window dressing, who utilises the revolutionary and much cheaper trick of achieving a convincing Hitch performance through merely jutting his stomach out a bit. If only Hollywood had thought of that bold innovation, they could have halved their budget, and afforded to fatten up Tony a bit with some meat pies and cakes.
The only way to get any sort of meaningful understanding of Alfred Hitchcock is to watch his films. That’s ‘ALL’ of them.. sorry, they’re required viewing.. the Silents right on through to the last.. okay, you can miss out ‘Family Plot‘ (since that was bloody awful, and Hitch was practically asleep on-set). If all you have to go on is this current Hollywood biographical piece, then at least watch it back to back with the BBC’s drama ‘The Girl‘, allowing one foot in homage, while the other is on firmer and less glossy ground.
Kristen Stewart / Charlize Theron / Chris Hemsworth / Sam Spruell / Sam Claflin / Ian McShane / Bob Hoskins / Ray Winstone / Nick Frost / Eddie Marsan / Toby Jones / Lily Cole /Screenplay byEvan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock & Hossein Amini / Art Direction by Andrew Ackland Snow, Alastair Bullock, John Frankish / Production Design byDominic Watkins / Soundtrack byJames Newton Howard / Cinematography by Grieg Fraser / Editing by Conrad Buff IV & Neil Smith / Produced by Laurie Boccaccio & Gloria S. Borders / Directed byRupert Sanders
Lips red as blood, hair black as night.. ..bring me your heart, my dear, dear Snow White
Universal certainly have given us a decidedly dark take on the Snow White fairy-tale, with some wonderfully evocative set pieces, and a fresh injection of realism.. albeit with a liberal helping of shiny prism lens flare. Gone is the saccharine Max-Factor Snow White, and in her place stands (or sort of slumps in angsty teenage fashion) Kristen Stewart,the reigning spirit of Emo-cool, shabby-chic.. complete with dirty fingernails and unkempt hair. Sam Spruell, plucked from a plethora of British TV mini-dramas, does the whole Prince Charming bit with aplomb, but shouldn’t really bother, since we all know that Kristen Stewart prefers a ‘bit of rough’ from the wild woodlands. Said ‘bit of rough’, with a mock Scottish accent you need crane an ear to follow, is Chris Hemsworth, an Australian actor better known these days as the Mighty Thor (decidedly the worst of last year’s Avengers franchise movies).
For evil foes, we have the splendidly nordic looking Charlize Theron as wicked Queen Ravenna, stealing the youth from young maidens to maintain her eternal beauty.. and her vile brother ‘Finn’, so drained of all independence and goodness by his cloying sister, that he almost seems sucked of colour to the point of becoming an albino.. played with wonderful relish by the superb Sam Spruell, with an exceedingly amusing haircut. You’ll need to wait it out till the 2nd half for the er.. eight dwarfs turn up, but they’re more than worth their weight in gold, lining up such quality heavyweights as Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, Toby Jones.. and the superb Bob Hoskins, for whom this role marks his retirement after 40 years of outstanding performances.
The real magic of the film is in the exceptional quality of the sets, costumes and effects, all of which have been so lovingly constructed that they are nothing short of breathtaking. Nordic trolls; intricate explosions into clouds of doves and ravens; hallucinatory tumbles through writhing woodlands.. all more impressive than the last. Acting-wise the quality is not so constant. Some of the accents are a little heavy handed, and the dialogue overly simplistic at times. Charlize Theron, looks magnificent and stunning throughout (even curiously during her aging sequences), and acts wonderfully with her expressions.. but is let down a little by her strange pauses in dialogue, as she over concentrates on her pronunciation. There’s something interesting about her English tone, but perhaps she should have kept her American accent.. or reached a compromise. Stewart’s regal, English accent is the more believable, but has it’s own occasional mishaps. By far the most moving moments in the film occur around the dwarfs, who give a little masterclass (no pun intended) in a peculiarly British resonance of performance, and jocular humour. Hoskins stands out as a sort of blind, Homeric seer, whose class manages to add a particular depth to what is otherwise fairly simple dialogue.
If there is a criticism to made of the dwarf characters themselves, it’s that they do blatantly follow the Hollywood construct of a Merry Olde England, that is peopled by an odd hotch-potch of Scottish, Northern & Irish stereotypes to the point of cultural insult. Though nowhere near as shocking as the peculiarly cartoon like Irish characters of Ridley Scott’s ‘Legend’, or the farcical cabinet of cultural curiosities in Ron Howard’s ‘Far and Away’. Although Snow White is a fairy-tale, and as such meant to be a colourful exaggeration by nature, this version nevertheless is attempting to tell the tale with a sharper clarity of realism.. and as such dances a difficult line between the two states. On the whole it does this with a reasonable level of success, which offers a respectful nod to the Disney cartoon forerunner, but at the same time manages to keep a polite distance. Some scenes are very much reminiscent of ‘Lord of the Rings’, with a rain-soaked trek across gorgeous, dramatic mountainscapes (in Scotland this time, as opposed to New Zealand), only occasionally dabbling with the CGI magic box, which films like ‘The Chronicles of Nania’ trip and fall headfirst into.
The film clocks in at ten minutes shy of three hours, and rides along at an entertaining pace, without dragging unduly. The ending is fairly satisfying, but some sort of a prologue to complete the love aspect of the tale, and to tie up loose ends would have been nice. Especially considering the time taken to establish the characters and plots.
If I were to hand out prizes, then Kristen Stewart would get a clanging pat on the back for best best looking girl in a suit of armour.. Charlize Theron for most ridiculously beautiful evil-type person in a motion picture.. a vigorous shake of the hand to whoever made the Evil Queen’s fabulous throne.. and above all.. Bob Hoskins for sheer class and gravitas. Cheers Bob!
-Interview Magazine- (2012) Snow White Promotional Shoot
Kristen Stewart & Charlize Theron by Mikael Jansson