Film Review: Game Night (dir by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein)


In this time of division and conflict, can we all agree that Game Night is a damn funny movie?

The film tells the story of three couples who regularly get together for, as the title suggests, a game night.  Ryan (Billy Magnussen) and Sharon (Sharon Horgan) are quirky and a little bit daffy.  Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and his wife, Michelle (Kylie Bunbury) are generally dependable and Michelle has a really interesting story about the time that she met a man who may have been Denzel Washington but probably wasn’t.  Meanwhile, Annie (Rachel McAdams) and Max (Jason Bateman) are an ultracompetitive married couple, frustrated in their attempts to conceive a child but always confident in their ability to win any game that they play.  At one time, Gary (Jesse Plemons) and his wife used to be a part of the group but, after they got divorced, Max and Annie stopped inviting him.  You really can’t blame them.  Gary’s seriously creepy.

And then there’s Brooks Davis (Kyle Chandler).

Brooks is Max’s brother and, at first glance, he would appear to be everything that Max isn’t.  Brooks appears to have a lot of money.  He claims to have a successful career, even if no one’s quite sure what he does for a living.  He drives a nice car.  When he comes to town to visit his brother, he rents out a mansion.  Brooks is the type of older sibling who always has an embarrassing story or two to share about his younger brother.  In fact, Max feels so inadequate when compared to Brooks that it’s even interfering with Max and Annie’s efforts to have a child.  When Brooks invites everyone to come to his house for a very special game night, Annie and Max are determined to beat Brooks at whatever game he’s planning on having them play.

It turns out that Brooks has hired a company to put on an interactive role-playing game.  While listening to a fake FBI agent (Geoffrey Wright) explain the background of the mystery that they’re about to solve, the couples are shocked when several masked men burst into the house.  Everyone’s impressed as the men beat the fake FBI agent unconscious.  When the men start beating up Brooks, everyone praises Brooks for the realism of his game.  After Brooks is dragged out of the house, the couples set out to solve the mystery of who is behind this kidnapping.  As for the fake FBI agent, he lies on the floor motionless.  Even when Ryan kicks his body, the agent doesn’t move.  Everyone agrees that the agent is a really good and committed actor.

Of course, the joke is that Brooks really has been kidnapped but nobody realizes it.  It’s a good joke but, to the film’s credit, it’s not the only joke.  In fact, Game Night actually get funnier after everyone eventually realizes that they’re no longer playing a game.  Ever after they realize that Brooks actually has been kidnapped, Annie and Max are so competitive that they still keep trying to outdo everyone else.

Annie and Max also discover that they have no choice but to involve their creepy neighbor and former friend, Gary.  Jesse Plemons doesn’t have a lot of screentime but he gives a performance that is so exquisitely strange and awkward that he ends up stealing the entire movie.  Watching Plemons, you both feel sorry for Gary and understand why no one wants to play with him.  His desperation to be apart of the group is both exasperating and somewhat touching.

In fact, the entire cast does a good job, bringing their often clueless characters to life.  Max and Annie are a likable couple and Bateman and McAdams have a natural chemistry that makes them a lot of fun to watch.  There’s a great scene where Max and Annie, still thinking that they’re just playing a game, subdue a group of criminals in a bar.  Max and Annie’s clueless joy is intoxicating.  They’re having fun playing at being tough and we’re having fun watching them.  Of course, it eventually turns out that the gun that Annie thought was a toy is real and loaded and … well, things get a little bit messy.  While the scene where Annie and Max try to figure out how to dig a bullet out of a man’s arm may have made me cringe a little, it also made me laugh.  That’s a credit to both Bateman and McAdams, who made the scene both real and funny at the same time.

Anyway, I really enjoyed Game Night.  Clocking in at 100 minutes, it’s a briskly paced and good-natured comedy that never makes the mistake of lingering for too long over its own cleverness.  Director Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley both redeem themselves for 2015’s Vacation.  If, earlier this year, you missed this one when it was in theaters, see it now and have a good time.

Film Review: Wonder Woman (dir by Patty Jenkins)


Wonder Woman is awesome!

I spent a while trying to think of the best way to begin this review.  There’s a lot to be said about Wonder Woman, as both a film and as a character.  Over the next few weeks, we’re going to be flooded with think pieces.  Is Wonder Woman too feminist or not feminist enough?  Does Wonder Woman herald a new direction for the DC Expanded Universe or is it destined to just be an anomaly among the ruins of crap like Man of Steel and Suicide Squad?  Does it announce the arrival of new star?  Is Wonder Woman pro-war or a plea for peace?  Does Wonder Woman live up to the rapturous early reviews or is it destined to suffer the same fate as the initially acclaimed, later-reviled Ghostbusters reboot?

Those are all legitimate questions.  They’re all worthy of debate and discussion.  And I look forward to reading everyone’s thoughts on blah blah blah blah….

Yes, Wonder Woman is empowering, both as a film and as a character.  It’s amazing to think that, with all the super hero adaptations that have come out over the past ten years, Wonder Woman is the first one to center around a female super hero.

Yes, Wonder Woman does finally prove that DC Expanded Universe can produce a good film, though I do have to say that two of the best things about Wonder Woman is that it had very little to do with any of the other DCEU films and it felt more like an MCU film.  With the period setting (the film takes place during World War I) and it’s weary view of the wars that men fight, Wonder Woman has far more in common with the first Captain America film than it does with Man of Steel.

Yes, Gal Gadot is going to be a huge star and her performance here suggests that she has range beyond action films and comic book melodramas.

Yes, Wonder Woman is a plea for peace but it’s a sincere and honest plea and one that does not ignore the realities of human nature.

And, finally, yes, Wonder Woman deserves those good reviews and I believe it will stand the test of time.

When all is said and done, what really matters is that Wonder Woman is freaking awesome!  The teaming of director Patty Jenkins and star Gal Gadot has resulted in one of the most entertaining and exciting comic book movies of recent times.  Usually, I resent it when an audience breaks into applause at the end of a movie, largely because it makes me feel as if I’m being pressured to make a snap judgment about a movie’s worth before I’ve had time to give it proper thought.  However, this time, when the applause broke out at the Alamo Drafthouse, I happily joined in.

I could be wrong about this but I don’t think Wonder Woman is ever actually called “Wonder Woman” at any point during the film.  If she was, I missed it and I’m sure someone will correct me in the comments.  Instead, she is referred to by her proper name, Diana.  When the film opens (after the obligatory modern-day prologue), Diana is a child living on the island of Themyscira, the home of the legendary Amazons.  Diana is the only child among the Amazons.  The daughter of Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), Diana dreams of becoming a warrior but her mother refuses to allow it.  When Diana is trained, it’s in secret by her aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright).  At one point, Antiope tells Diana that if she’s going to be warrior, she’s going to have to be prepared to fight for everything.  No victory, Antiope tells her, will ever come easily.  I nodded at that line and I’m sure every other woman in the audience did so as well.  We understood what Antiope was saying.

In 1918, for the first time in centuries, a man reaches the island.  His name is Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and he’s an American spy.  No sooner does Steve’s plane crash on the beach then a boat full of Germans arrive.  After a genuinely exciting battle (perhaps the first exciting action scene to appear in any of the DCEU films), Steve reveals that the world is at war.  Suspecting that it is the influence of Ares, the god of war, that is causing people to kill one another, Diana defies her mother’s orders and leaves the island with Steve.  Steve’s goal is to keep the Germans from developing and deploying a lethal gas.  Diana, meanwhile, plans to track down and kill Ares.

While Steve is convinced that, as a result of human nature, wars are inevitable, Diana is resolute in her belief that all the evil in the world can be linked to Ares.  Their conflicting world views give Wonder Woman far more emotional depth and intellectual resonance than any of the other films that have, so far, been a part of the DC Expanded Universe.  By refusing to indulge in portentous hypermasculinity, it avoids becoming a pretentious slog like Man of Steel or Batman v Superman.  By refusing to treat war, death, and violence as a joke, it avoids falling into the soulless trap that imprisoned Suicide Squad.  When Diana runs and leaps into battle, she’s not just fighting for good against evil.  She’s fighting for the soul of humanity.

Some of the action scenes in Wonder Woman are nothing less than amazing.  The scene where Diana crosses the aptly named “No-Man’s Land” is destined to be remembered as a classic moment in comic book cinema.  I don’t want to spoil too much of the film but I will say that you’ll also never forget the way that Diana takes out a German sniper.  It’s an amazing moment, one that is matched by the film’s final battle.  Again, I don’t want to spoil anything so I’ll just say that the film’s finale brought tears to my eyes.

After providing Batman v Superman with its only good moments, Gal Gadot finally gets the film that she deserves and she gives an amazing performance.  As played by Gadot, Diana is confident but never arrogant, occasionally naive but never foolish.  She’s a fighter, one who refuses to surrender even when the rest of the world tells her to go home.  (There’s a rather interesting throw-away line, in which Steven’s secretary says that she’s looking forward to getting to vote in her first election.  Wonder Woman is saving a world that wouldn’t even allow her a voice in selecting the man who are constantly putting it in danger.)  Gal Gadot gives a charismatic and star-making performance.

Also giving a good performance — perhaps a career best if you take Hell or High Water out of the equation — is Chris Pine.  When Pine first appears, he seems to be doing a riff on his too-perfect Prince Charming performance in Into the Woods.  But, as the film progresses, Pine brings unexpected depth to this role.  Special mention should also be made of David Thewlis, who may not have a huge role but who makes the most of his limited screen time.

But, with all that in mind, the most important thing that I can tell you about Wonder Woman is that the film is an absolute blast, a fast-paced and exciting action film that is complimented by strong performances and an unexpectedly poignant subtext.

It’s empowering.

It’s entertaining.

It’s worthy of the applause that filled the Alamo Drafthouse.

In short, it’s absolutely awesome.

See it this weekend.

(Now, Marvel, where’s that Black Widow movie that y’all better be developing?)

Cleaning Out The DVR Yet Again #25: Marie Antoinette (dir by Sofia Coppola)


(Lisa recently discovered that she only has about 8 hours of space left on her DVR!  It turns out that she’s been recording movies from July and she just hasn’t gotten around to watching and reviewing them yet.  So, once again, Lisa is cleaning out her DVR!  She is going to try to watch and review 52 movies by the end of Tuesday, December 6th!  Will she make it?  Keep checking the site to find out!)

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On November 12th, I recorded 2016’s Marie Antoinette off of Starz.

Before I review Marie Antoinette, I think it’s important that you know that I am an unapologetic Sofia Coppola fan.  I love every film that she’s made and I look forward to her upcoming remake of The Beguiled.  At the same time, I can also understand why some people feel differently.  Sofia Coppola’s films are not for everyone.  For one thing, almost all of her films deal with rich people.  The existential angst of the wealthy and/or famous is not a topic that’s going to fascinate everyone.  When you watch a Sofia Coppola film, you never forget that you’re watching a film that’s been directed by someone who largely grew up in the spotlight and who knows what it’s like to have money.  An ennui born out of having everything and yet still feeling empty permeates almost every scene that Sofia Coppola has ever directed.  (If you have to ask what ennui is, you’ve never experienced it.)  Many viewers look at Sofia Coppola’s filmography and they ask themselves, “Why should we care about all these materialistic people?”

However, while Sofia Coppola may not know what’s it’s like to be poor (or even middle class for that matter), she does understand what it’s like to feel lonely.  Her filmography could just as easily be called “the cinema of isolation.”  It doesn’t matter how much money you may have or how famous you may or may not be, loneliness is a universal condition.  A typical Sofia Coppola protagonist is someone who has everything and yet still cannot connect with the rest of the world.  More often that not, they turn to excessive consumption in order to fill the void in their life.  To me, the ultimate Sofia Coppola image is not, regardless of how much I may love them, Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation.  Instead, it’s Stephen Dorff (playing a far less likable version of Bill Murray’s Translation character) standing alone in the desert at the end of Somewhere.

Marie Antoinette, which was Sofia’s follow-up to Lost in Translation, is technically a historical biopic, though it makes little effort to be historical or accurately biographical.  Kirsten Dunst plays Marie Antoinette, the final queen of France before the French Revolution.  It was Marie Antoinette was accused of dismissing starving French peasants by announcing, “Let them eat cake!”  (For the record, it’s probable that Marie Antoinette never said that.  It’s certainly never heard in Coppola’s film.)

Marie Antoinette opens with the title character arriving in France at the age of 14.  She’s an Austrian princess who has been sent to marry the future king of France, Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman).  From the minute we meet her, Marie Antoinette is portrayed as being a pawn.  Her mother arranges the marriage as a way to seal an alliance with France.  The king of France (played by Rip Torn) expects Marie Antoinette to get produce an heir to the throne as quickly as possible.  Meanwhile, her new husband is an infantile and immature fool who doesn’t even know how to make love.  Marie Antoinette finds herself isolated in a strange country, expected to be all things to all people.

And so, Marie Antoinette does what I always do whenever I’m feeling unsure of myself.  She hangs out with her girlfriends.  She throws expensive parties.  She gambles.  She flirts.  She shops.  She has fun, regardless of whether it’s considered to be proper royal behavior or not.  Occasionally, she is warned that she is losing popularity with the French people but she’s not concerned.  Why should she be?  She doesn’t know anything about the French people.  All she knows about is the life that she was born into.  She didn’t choose to be born in to wealth and power but, since she was, why shouldn’t she have a good time?

The French Revolution doesn’t occur until near the end of Marie Antoinette and when it does happen, it happens quickly.  And yet, the shadow of the revolution hangs over the entire film.  We watch the knowledge that neither Marie Antoinette nor her husband possess: eventually, they are both going to be executed.  And knowing that, it’s hard not to cheer Marie Antionette on.  She may be destined for a tragic end but at least she’s having a little fun before destiny catches up with her.

Kirsten Dunst makes no attempt to come across as being French or Austrian but then again, neither does anyone else in the film.  After all, this is a movie where Rip Torn plays the King of France without once trying to disguise his famous Texas accent.  Coppola isn’t necessarily going for historical accuracy.  Instead, in this film, Marie Antoinette serves as a stand-in for countless modern celebrities.  In the end, Marie Antoinette is portrayed as not being much different from Paris Hilton or Kardashian.  Meanwhile, the people who eventually show up outside the palace, carrying torches and shouting threats, are the same as the viewers who loudly condemn reality television while obsessively watching every episode of it.

Coppola’s stylized direction results in a film that is both thought-provoking and gorgeous to look at and which is also features several deliberate anachronisms.  (In many ways, Marie Antoinette blatantly ridicules the very idea that history can be accurately recreated.)  Perhaps because it was following up the beloved Lost In Translation, Marie Antoinette has never got as much praise as it deserves but I think it’s a film that is totally deserving of a reevaluation.

(Sidenote: Fans of Italian horror should keep an eye out for Asia Argento, who has a small but very important supporting role.)

Wonder Woman Trailer Emerges At Comic-Con To Thunderous Applause


Wonder Woman

“What I do is not up to you.” — Wonder Woman

With that single line in the newly released San Diego Comic-Con trailer for next summer’s Wonder Woman a gauntlet has been dropped on manbros everywhere.

With Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice having been received with underwhelmingly at best to outright vehemence with some, DC was now setting it’s sights on the third of the DC Triumvirate to help right the DC Extended Universe film franchise. With Patty Jenkins doing directing duties and Gal Gadot in the title role, Wonder Woman will actually beat Marvel Studios in having the first female-led superhero film by at least a year.

From the reaction written about at SDCC’s Hall H where Warner Bros. had it’s presentation the trailer was received with thunderous applause and hope that DC has learned from their past mistakes and now ready to truly show the world it’s own diverse and wondrous universe of Gods, monsters, heroes and men.

Wonder Woman is set for a June 2, 2017 release date.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #103: 21 Grams (dir by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu)


21_grams_movieRemember how shocked a lot of us were when we first saw Birdman?  Well, it wasn’t just because Birdman featured an underwear-clad Michael Keaton levitating in his dressing room.  And it also wasn’t just because Birdman was edited to make it appear as if it had been filmed in one continuous take (though, to be honest, I would argue that the whole “one continuous shot” thing added little to the film’s narrative and was more distracting than anything else.)  No, the main reason we were shocked was that Birdman was directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and, when we thought of an Inarritu film, we thought of something like 2003’s 21 Grams.

It’s not easy to explain the plot of 21 Grams, despite the fact that 21 Grams does not tell a particularly complicated story.  In fact, if anything, the plot of 21 Grams feels like something that either Douglas Sirk or Nicholas Ray could have come up with in the 50s.  Indeed, the plot of 21 Grams is far less important than the way the Inarritu tells the story.  (In that, the dark and grim 21 Grams does have something in common with the arguably comedic Birdman.)

Inarritu tells his story out of chronological order.  That, in itself, is nothing spectacular.  Many directors use the same technique.  What distinguishes 21 Grams is the extreme to which Inarritu takes his non-chronological approach.  Scenes play out with deceptive randomness and it is left to the viewer to try to figure out how each individual scene fits into the film’s big picture.  As you watch 21 Grams, you find yourself thankful for little details like Sean Penn’s beard, the varying lengths of Naomi Watts’s hair, and the amount of sadness in Benicio Del Toro’s eyes because it’s only by paying attention to those little details can we piece together how once scene relates to another.

The film tells the story of three people whose lives are disrupted by the type of tragedies that the pre-Birdman Innaritu was best known for.

Sean Penn plays Paul Rivers, who is a sickly mathematician who desperately needs a new heart.  He’s married to a Mary (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who devotes all of her time to taking care of him and is frustrated by Paul’s fatalistic attitude towards his condition.  When Paul does finally get a new heart, he gets a new existence but is haunted by the fact that it has come at the expense of another man’s life.

Christina Peck (played by Naomi Watts) is a former drug addict who is now married with kids and who appears to have the perfect life.  That is until her husband and children are tragically killed and, in her grief, Christina falls back into her old lifestyle.  The formerly stable and happy Christina becomes obsessed with the idea of getting revenge for all that she has lost.  Naomi Watts was deservedly nominated for an Oscar for her work here.  Her vulnerable and emotionally raw performance holds your interest, even when you’re struggling to follow the film’s jumbled chronology.

And finally, there’s Jack Jordan (Benicio Del Toro).  Like Christina, Jack is a former drug addict.  Whereas Christina used the stability of family life to help her escape from her demons, Jack uses his new-found Christianity.  And just as Christina struggles after she loses her family, Jack struggles after tragedy causes him to lose his faith.  Like Paul, he struggles with why he’s been allowed to live while other have not.  Del Toro was nominated for an Oscar here and, like Watts, he more than deserved the nomination.

(While Sean Penn was not nominated for his performance in 21 Grams, he still won the Oscar for his role in Mystic River.)

21 Grams is a powerful and deeply sad film, one that will probably shock anyone who only knows Inarritu for his work on Birdman.  21 Grams is not always an easy film to watch.  Both emotionally and narratively, it’s challenging.  But everyone should accept the challenge.

 

 

Shattered Politics #74: The Aviator (dir by Martin Scorsese)


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“The way of the future.” — Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) in The Aviator (2004)

As I recently rewatched the 2004 best picture nominee, The Aviator, I realized that, in the film’s scheme of things, Ava Gardner was far more important than Katharine Hepburn.  (Or, perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that Kate Beckinsale’s Ava Gardner was far more important than Cate Blanchett’s Katharine Hepburn.)

Over the course of the film, both Hepburn and Gardner are involved with billionaire-turned aviator-turned film director Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio).  Throughout the film, Katherine is portrayed as being flighty, pretentious, and overdramatic.  There’s a lot of dark humor to the scene where Katherine breaks up with Howard, largely because Katharine is incapable of not acting as if she’s making a film.  Her every word is so carefully rehearsed that you have to agree when Howard says that she’s incapable of not giving a performance.  Ava, on the other hand, is always direct.  She has a sense of humor.  She has no trouble telling Howard off.  Whereas Katharine put on airs of being an incurable romantic, Ava tells Howard flat out that she doesn’t love him and is only using him to forward her career.

But, while Katharine Hepburn gets more screen time, it’s Ava Gardner who actually saves Howard’s business.  Towards the end of the film, after Howard has had a nervous breakdown and has locked himself in a hotel room, it’s Ava who suddenly shows up, cleans him, and dresses him.  She’s the one who gives Howard the strength to leave his room and to face down the corrupt senator (Alan Alda) who is investigating his business.

Of course, Howard Hughes is best known for once being the world’s richest recluse.  In the 1960s, Howard locked himself away in a hotel room in Las Vegas and spent the next decade laying naked in bed and watching television.  The Aviator doesn’t deal with this period of Howard’s life but it’s full of scenes where we catch glimpses of Howard’s future.  Throughout the film, we watch as Howard obsessively washes his hands.  We watch as he gives precise instructions on how even the simplest of tasks are to be accomplished.  We watch as he grows increasingly paranoid about the germ-filled outside world.  The film suggests that Howard’s obsessive compulsive disorder both served to make him a great engineer and a great filmmaker while, at the same time, ultimately destroying him.

The Aviator was the second film that DiCaprio made with Scorsese.  And, as bad as DiCaprio may have been in Gangs of New York, he’s absolutely brilliant in The Aviator.  As a character, Howard Hughes has so many quirks and tics that it would have been easy for DiCaprio to go overboard.  Instead, he gives a surprisingly subtle performance.  And, even more importantly as far as I’m concerned, he actually sounds authentically Texan when he speaks.

In many ways, much of The Aviator reminds me of Gangs of New York.  Both films are gorgeously produced period epics that try to cover a lot of material.  Both films are absolute cat nip for history nerds like me.  But, whereas Gangs of New York leaves one feeling vaguely dissatisfied, The Aviator actually improves with subsequent viewings.  Whereas the action in Gangs had no center, The Aviator revolves around Howard and the actor playing him.

While the Aviator starts off with Howard making movies and romancing Katharine Hepburn, it’s at its best when Howard appears before a committee chaired by Sen. Owen Brewster (Alan Alda) and passionately defends both himself as an engineer and a businessman and the right of innovators everywhere to freely pursue their passion.  The film suggests that Brewster was bribed by Howard’s main business rival, Juan Trippe (Alec Baldwin, in unapologetic villain mode), and it’s hard not to applaud when Howard stands up for himself.

Speaking of which, it’s odd, so soon after reviewing Alan Alda in The Seduction of Joe Tynan, to see Alda playing a far less ethical politician in The Aviator.  That said, Alda’s corrupt performance in The Aviator is a hundred times better than his cutesy work in Joe Tynan.  If anything, Alda gives a performance here that will remind everyone of why they don’t care much for their congressman.

The Aviator was nominated for best picture but it lost to the far more low-key Million Dollar Baby.  Scorsese would have to wait until the release of The Departed for one of his films to finally win best picture.

Film Review: Hitchcock (dir by Sacha Gervasi)


Alfred Hitchcock is one of those iconic cultural figures who will never go out of style.  Though he’s been dead longer than I’ve been alive, he’s still one of my favorite directors.  If I see a Hitchcock film listed in the TV schedule, I can guarantee that I will find the time to watch it.  Whether its The 39 Steps, Rebecca, Strangers On A Train, Topaz, or Frenzy, if it’s Hitchcock, I’m there. And I’m not alone as far as this is concerned.  If Hitchcock hadn’t made The Birds, James Nguyen would never have made Birdemic.  If Hitchcock hadn’t made Psycho, hundreds of low-budget horror films would never have had a chance to be distributed on DVD by Anchor Bay.

While it may have been Vertigo that was recently named the best film of all time by the Sight and Sound Poll, Psycho remains Hitchcock’s best known and most popular film.  Psycho is certainly my favorite Hitchcock film, which is why I was certainly curious when I first heard about Hitchcock, a new movie that claims to tell the true story behind the making of Psycho.

Hitchcock opens with 60 year-old Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) trying to figure out how to follow up the success of North By Northwest.  Hitchcock settles on adapting a little-regarded pulp novel that’s based on the true life crimes of serial killer Ed Gein.  Over the objections of the censors, the studio, and all of his associates, Hitchcock makes Psycho his next film.  At the same time, his wife Alma (Helen Mirren) deals with living in the shadow of her famous husband.  While Hitchcock devotes all of his time to his film and obsessing over his leading actresses, Alma find herself tempted by a slick screenwriter named Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston).

(Has anyone good ever been named Whitfield Cook?)

As a film, Hitchcock is likable but shallow.  Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren have great chemistry and they’re a lot of fun to watch but you never truly believe that you’re watching the true story of the making of a movie that changed cinematic history.  Whenever Hitchcock threatens to become truly insightful about the artistic process, the story abruptly cuts away to another scene of Alma writing on the beach with Whitfield Cook.  It doesn’t help that Danny Huston plays Cook as such an obvious cad that it actually diminishes Alma as character when she doesn’t immediately see through him.

Similarly, in the role of Alfred Hitchcock, Anthony Hopkins gives a performance that is very likable and quite watchable but, in the end, still feels rather shallow.  His performance feels like a good and entertaining impersonation but it never quite feels real.  The closest that the film (and Hopkins) comes to suggesting any of Hitchcock’s inner demons is when he imagines having a conversation with Ed Gein (played by Michael Wincott).  These scenes feel terribly out-of-place when compared to the rest of the film.

The actresses playing the women in Hitchcock’s life fare a little bit better.  Jessica Biel and Scarlett Johansson are well-cast as Vera Miles and Janet Leigh, respectively.  Helen Mirren is widely expected to earn an Academy Award nomination for her performance as Alma and she does have several strong scenes in Hitchcock.  As I watched the film, I certainly could relate to Alma’s desire to be taken seriously as an individual and her frustration with being defined solely by the vows of marriage.  It’s a feeling that Mirren captures perfectly.

In the end, Mirren aside, Hitchcock is entertaining but forgettable.