Friday, January 11, 2013

Worth Mentioning - Her Beauty Is Beyond Compare

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody watched a master create a Psycho, Tom Cruise kick ass, and an actress shine.


Based on the book "Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho" by Stephen Rebello, this biopic centers on just what the book's title promised. Following an opening scene reminiscent of an Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, we enter the life of the famed director in 1959.

Immediately after the premiere of North by Northwest, Hitchcock gets to work looking for his next project. He's offered an adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank, but it's not for him. MGM is interested in having him direct an adaptation of Ian Fleming's spy thriller Casino Royale with Cary Grant in the lead role of James Bond, but that's territory too similar to North by Northwest.

While Hitchcock is still in demand, there are some who question how much longer he can go on. He's sixty years old, and the media is starting to look around for a new master of suspense. Hitchcock is tired of studios wanting him to do the same thing over and over. He wants to prove himself. He wants to work on something that will bring back the feeling of freedom he had when he was first starting out. He wants to take a risk. The studios are wary of that. Every time he Hitchcock tries to do something different, it loses money. No one wants to repeat the failure of Vertigo, the 1958 disappointment that ranks on AFI's best films list and just dethroned Citizen Kane as The Best Film of All Time in last year's Sight & Sound poll.

Hitchcock finds inspiration in the lurid pages of Robert Bloch's novel Psycho, a story that his wife Alma Reville dismisses as "low budget horror movie claptrap". But Hitchcock feels he can elevate the material, he's excited by the concept... He's so passionate about Psycho that when Paramount declines to pay for it, he finances the film with $800,000 of his own money.

Through the making of the film, we get to see how Hitchcock works with his actors, lavishing attention on some and snubbing others over perceived betrayal. In the midst of the shoot and the politics of filmmaking, Hitchcock also deals with weight issues and starts to fear that his wife, the very supportive woman behind the man, may be having an affair with her friend, writer Whitfield Cook (who worked on Hitchcock's Stage Fright and Strangers on a Train). As he brings the story of Norman Bates to life, Hitchcock has imagined interactions with the real life Deranged graverobbing murderer the character was based on, Ed Gein.

Anthony Hopkins disappears into the role (and fat suit) of Hitchcock, Helen Mirren is great as Alma Reville, and all of the actors cast as the Psycho actors do well in their parts. Ed Gein is played by Michael Wincott and as I expected when I first heard the news of that casting, watching him made me want to see a whole movie with Wincott as Gein.

Anvil documentarian Sacha Gervasi does fine work switching to directing biographical drama, delivering an interesting and entertaining film. While I enjoyed the movie, I was left wanting more, wishing it had been more in-depth, I wouldn't have minded it running a bit longer.


The opening minutes of this film are very disturbing, bringing to mind real life incidents that happen much too often. News reports of the latest tragedies are fresh in the minds of audience members as we watch a man pull into a high level of a parking garage in Pittsburgh, take out a sniper rifle, and emotionlessly view random people in a park across the way through the scope. Men, women, children. After moving his crosshairs from person to person, a moment that's also reminiscent of a similar scene in Dirty Harry, he begins to open fire.

Five people are killed, and a suspect is soon arrested. A former Army sniper, who we recognize was not the man in the parking garage. He tells the authorities only one thing before being beaten into a coma by his fellow inmates: "Get Jack Reacher."

Reacher is a man impossible to find. No residence, no phone, no driver's license. A former Army Military Police officer, he lives off wire transfers of his pension and spends his days drifting around the United States, riding buses and hitchhiking. But the investigators on the sniper case don't need to track him down, the suspect is already on his radar, and when he sees the man's name on the news he comes to them to check on what's happening.

Once in Pittsburgh, Reacher gets caught up in the definitely-not-open-and-shut case, teaming with the suspect's attractive lawyer, played by Die Another Day Bond girl Rosamund Pike, to find out who has framed the sniper and why... That's a trail that leads them to a strange, life-battered man called The Zec, creepily played by legendary filmmaker Werner Herzog, and his well-armed associates. Along the way, there are twists, turns, some great physical confrontations, and a standout dual purpose car chase through the streets of the 'Burgh at night, with Reacher behind the wheel of a pristine 1970 Chevelle.

Tom Cruise stars as Jack Reacher, and as a fan I was very entertained by watching him play such a badass, hard-hitting character, a man who can drop great put-downs and threats to his enemies and then quickly deliver on the promise.

There's also a Days of Thunder reunion in here, as Robert Duvall shows up late in the film to play a fun, helpful character who's a former Marine and quite a good shot himself.

The opening wasn't the only time the film reminded me of a 1970s police action/drama, it does have an old school feel to it, and I liked it all the more for that. I've seen some articles credit A History of Violence screenwriter Josh Olson as a co-writer on this, apparently he did work on the script in its early stages and judging by the movies he chooses to speak about on Trailers from Hell it does seem that this would be right up his alley, but the only credited screenwriter on the finished film is The Usual Suspects writer Christopher McQuarrie. This is also the second feature directorial effort from McQuarrie, coming way too many years (twelve) after his fantastic The Way of the Gun.

In the years since TWOTG, McQuarrie has been doing a good amount of script doctor work, as he did on X-Men, and it was his working relationship with director Bryan Singer that first led him to collaborating with Tom Cruise, when Singer directed Cruise in Valkyrie. McQuarrie has been working with Cruise quite a bit lately, doing an uncredited polish on Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, writing the upcoming All You Need Is Kill and the probably abandoned Top Gun sequel.

The film is based on the novel One Shot by Lee Child, just one of many Jack Reacher stories the man has written (One Shot was the ninth book to be published in the series). There's a lot of material to work with should the studio decide to continue with the cinematic series and I'm definitely up for seeing some more Reacher on the screen.

In the meantime, if things pan out, McQuarrie and Cruise may next be teaming as director and star on Mission: Impossible 5. To that I say, "Yes, please."

JOLENE (2008)
I'm more aware of Jessica Chastain than I am familiar with her. For anyone who pays attention to movie news, her name has been unavoidable, the word that she has become over the last couple years one of the most highly regarded and in-demand actresses working in Hollywood impossible to miss. Even so, I've only seen a couple of the movies she's been in, one of them being The Tree of Life, where she did make an impression as the mother.

Watching Jolene, it's easy to see why her career has recently skyrocketed. The movie was filmed in 2008, but not released until around the time the "Chastain is the next big thing" floodgates were about to burst. She stars as the titular character, in a story that follows her over a period of ten years, beginning when she gets married (for the first time) at just 15.

As Jolene makes her way through the years, she makes a lot of highly ill-advised choices and most of the people she encounters are despicable. She's not even a particularly likeable character herself, we really only sympathize with her because of how life relentlessly dumps on her at every turn... And yet Chastain carries the viewer through. With a lesser actress in the lead, I wouldn't have been compelled to write about the movie, but Chastain's captivating performance is definitely worth mentioning.

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