Hitchcock Review (Kirk Haviland)

Hitchcock (2012)

Starring Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Danny Huston, Toni Collette, James D’Arcy, Jessica Biel and Michael Wincott

Written by John J. McLaughlin based on the book “Alfred Hitchcock and the making of Psycho” by Stephen Rebello

Directed by Sacha Gervasi

New this week in theaters, opening exclusively at the Varsity in Toronto and expanding nation-wide in the weeks to come, from Fox Searchlight comes Hitchcock. The biopic about the master of suspense himself Alfred Hitchcock, despite the inference of title, is not a story of the man and his life, but the shooting of his seminal film Psycho and his relationship with his wife and most trusted collaborator Alma Reville.

Hitchcock starts at the premiere for Alfred Hitchcock’s (Hopkins) North by Northwest. With the media convinced that the director’s best days are behind him, Alfred sets his wife Alma (Mirren) and assistant Peggy (Collette) on the lookout for his next project. Hoping to get his script in contention Whitfield Cook (Huston) shows up and starts sweet talking his former flame Alma. Meanwhile Hitch becomes enamored with the new book based on the real story of serial killer Ed Gein (Wincott), who Hitch sees as a manifestation during the filming, entitled Psycho. Against the wishes of the studio, his wife and everybody else, Hitchcock embarks on adapting the story and getting it committed to film. But the studio, his health, his former starlet Vera Miles (Biel) and current starlet Janet Leigh (Johansson) may all conspire to get in the way. And Whitfield may have other plans for Alma.

Hitchcock is far from an in depth, hard hitting biopic, but almost immediately the audience realizes they are in for a more whimsical and light hearted treatment. Hopkins is memorable as Hitchcock, like his Nixon he does not completely disappear physically into the role, but uses his performance to allow the audience to buy into the character. That said it’s Mirren and her portrayal of Alma that steals the show. Her Alma is a confident and strong woman who is long overdue for her room in the spotlight after all the work she has done in her husband’s career, and sensing this Huston’s Whitfield attempts to take advantage. The rest of the supporting cast is quite good here, with Johansson doing some excellent work as Leigh and Biel possibly doing here best work in ages as Vera Miles. The decision of including Ed Gein as a character in the film is far-fetched and would have been terribly out of place if the performance by Wincott wasn’t so accomplished. His Gein makes you yearn for a biopic of his own on the serial killer.

The script plays it light in tone and strives more for comedic beats rather than hard hitting, dramatic interpretations. More “My Week with Marilyn” than a straight biopic, Hitchcock only serves to explain and enact the period in 1959/1960 surrounding the filming of Psycho and not much else. The characters are fleshed out well here, though the script does manage to stay close to the surface throughout, not delving too deeply into any of the relationships besides Hitch and Alma’s. And other characters, like the studio head for example, are more caricatures than characters. The film would be better suited with a title that exudes this whimsy and tone rather than the more serious sounding Hitchcock.

Kudos must be given however to the team behind the film as the set design and decoration, costuming and cinematography are all fantastic. The film looks phenomenal and provides an exceptional peek into the work of producing a feature film in the late 1959 studio system. From the small housing offices for the production and the soundstages to the vintage vehicles and decor of the Hitchcock home, the film doesn’t miss a beat. The film will not surprise me at all if Oscar comes calling in February rewarding the fine work here with some technical nominations.

Audiences going into this film expecting a warts and all telling of Hitchcock’s life and loves will be disappointed with this effort. But audiences willing to go with the tone and playfulness of the film and really invest in the performances, especially Hopkins, Mirren and Wincott, will be satisfied with the effort. Despite its flaws, Hitchcock is indeed a recommend.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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Magic City Season 1 Blu-Ray Review (Kirk Haviland)

Magic City Season 1 Blu-Ray Review

Starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Olga Kurylenko, Steven Strait, Jessica Marais, Christian Cooke, Yul Vazquez, Taylor Blackwell, Dominik Garcia-Lorido, Elena Satine, Michael Rispoli, Kelly Lynch and Danny Huston.

Series created by Mitch Glazer

New this week from Starz Network and Anchor Bay Entertainment comes the first season of the acclaimed series Magic City. The lavishly conceived and staged production set in 1959 Miami Beach is a crime ridden gangster drama with a gloss and charm set to draw you in and make you stay a while. Producer Mitch Glazer used recollections, both fantasy and fact, to craft this series based on the Miami Beach he knew growing up. But does Magic City hold up with the quality of other contemporary cable shows?

As Ike Evans (Morgan) rings in the New Year, with the Chairman of the board himself Frank Sinatra crooning in the Grand Ballroom at his luxurious Miramar Playa Hotel, Castro’s rebels seize Havana just 200 miles offshore.  Miami is turbulent but the Kennedys, the mob and the CIA all hold court here. Evans must deal with the Mob, his complicated family and a city in the midst of dramatic change. Ike is the King of the beach and the Miramar is his crown jewel, but everything comes at a price. To finance his dream, Ike sold his soul to mob boss Ben “The Butcher” Diamond (Huston). Ike’s wife Vera (Kurylenko) and his three kids, Stevie (Strait), Danny (Cooke) and Lauren (Blackwell), all think he’s an honorable man, but he can’t break his pact with the devil. In fact, nothing at the Miramar Playa is what it seems. The days are sunny but the nights are full of intrigue, excess and bad decisions that come with a price. As Ike’s world threatens to implode, he fights for his family, and the Miramar Playa, in Magic City.

The strength of Magic City is the layered universe it has created. The main plot playing out is the struggle of Ike to stay afloat and ahead of the Mob and a Bulldog District Attorney determined to go through Ike to Ben Diamond. But all around this we get the sub plots of Stevie getting involved with the “most wrong woman possible” played by Marais, The D.A. trying to pit the ambitious Danny against his family with the promise of a prestigious Assistant D.A. position once out of school. Also, a call girl by the name of Judi Silver (Satine) who manages to be in the wrong place at the wrong time many times over, Ike’s General Manager Vic (Vazquez) tries to liberate his wife who is trapped in Castro’s embargoed Cuba and Ike’s new bride Eva tries to prove to everyone that she does have a place in the business and the family. These storylines bleed and thread themselves throughout the fabric of the main story and enrich the final product as a whole.

Morgan is fantastic as Ike, he carries an old school swagger and charm about him that just oozes onscreen, and his charisma is a perfect fit for Ike. I’ve been listening to people tout Strait as a talent to watch ever since 2005’s Undiscovered and Sky High, but this may be the first time I have started to agree with them. His Stevie makes bad decision after bad decision, but you see that even he knows he is making the wrong decisions he is smart enough to realize them for what they are, though his nature prevents him from passing on temptations. Olga Kurylenko is a bit of a revelation here. I’m not sure I have ever seen her so confident and in charge of herself onscreen. She seems to have melted into Eva effortlessly and the show is all together better not because of her sex appeal but her acting ability. You can tell Huston loves being the scenery chewing, cigar chomping mobster for whom violence is reactionary and without remorse.

The other star of the film is the Miramar Playa. Meticulously planned and executed to resemble the posh and opulent hotels of Miami Beach’s yesteryear. You can tell that creator Glazer has spent hours upon hours of research on the setting, making sure everything is just right. From the pool to the Atlantis Bar, complete with windows into the bottom of the pool outside, where naked women often casually swim by, the lobby, and Ike’s suite and office,  no detail is too small to be out of place and the show often takes minute rest stops in plot to emphasize these details. The amount of smoking going on here could give Mad Men a run for its money and ashtrays, as the late 50s would dictate, are everywhere.

Where Magic City loses its luster a bit is in the dialogue, which at times goes too far into Soap Opera territory, and a couple of side stories involving an ex of Eva and a burglar and his clumsy ransom demands. The actor portraying the cat burglar is pretty awful and the role of Cliff, Eva’s ex, forces actor Steven Brand to try and execute the duality of a charmer with impure intentions towards Ike’s wife, something he does not quite pull off.

The Blu-Ray comes equipped with a good handful of special features. Six behind the scenes featurettes that explore the cars, style and music of Magic City as well as other Starz specials about the creation of the series and the history behind it. The Starz Studio feature is a 15 minute behind the scenes piece with plenty of info about the series and its creation. The rest of the features are two to five minute segments about various aspects of the production.

Magic City may not be one the best shows on TV…yet, but it’s addictive as the nicotine, narcotics, booze and women who inhabit it. Magic City is a strong recommend.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

Make sure to keep up with what’s going on at Entertainment Maven by liking our Facebook page and having updates delivered right to your Facebook News Feed. It’s the only way to stay on top of all of our articles with the newest blockbusters and all the upcoming films, festivals and film related events in Toronto.

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E-mail me directly at moviejunkieto@gmail.com

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