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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Toronto After Dark 2012: In Their Skin Review (Robert Harding)

Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2012

In Their Skin (2012)

Starring Selma Blair, Joshua Close and James D’Arcy

Directed by Jeremy Power Regimbal

Home invasion is never an easy subject. The thought of someone entering your house and stealing stuff is bad enough but thinking it could happen when you’re home is truly frightening.  Thoughts of being tied up, property stolen and the house being damaged are just the beginning as you never know the full intentions of the invaders.

After the accidental death of their young daughter, Mark (Josh Close) and Mary (Selma Blair), along with their young son, decide to drive to their family’s very large isolated vacation home in order to spend some quality family time together and help cope with their loss. Not long after their arrival they meet up with what appear to be overly friendly neighbours only to find out that Bobby (James D’Arcy), Jane (Rachl Miner) and their son Jared Sykorski are not entirely who they seem to be.

First time Director Jeremy Power Regimbal has managed to put together an amazing first feature. The audience at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival made their thoughts known during the screening of the film as they winced, cringed and gasped in unison during multiple moments in the film.

Getting this great cast together was possibly the best thing to happen to this film. Everyone involved does a fantastic job of conveying their various psychoses and neuroses. Without these marvelous performances In Their Skin could have come across as a campy low budget horror flick rather than the convincing thriller it is. As suspense movies go, In Their Skin does a very good job of controlling tension through pacing and the hard to master skill of foreshadowing.

Despite all that is good about In Their Skin, I still had a few problems with it. I didn’t quite connect with the attitude of Mark and Mary at the beginning of the film. I realize they are supposed to be affected by the death of their daughter but I wasn’t sure exactly what emotions they were feeling. Were they supposed to hate each other? Were they simply distant? It was never really clear. The end result is that the viewer is never truly able to connect with them as the victims. The other problem I had came from the way the film ended.  The film spends so much time building tension and suspense but when it came to the conclusion, things seemed to end rather quickly and without much thought or creativity.  While the ending wasn’t as dark as I would have enjoyed, I would have been just as happy with an ending that felt fresh and showed a little more development.

There is a lot of talent coming out of Canada lately when it comes to genre filmmakers and I’d put Jeremy Power Regimbal among them. He has a good grasp of pacing, camera angles and story concept and while he hasn’t created a masterpiece with In Their Skin, he has managed to put together a film that gets under your skin, even if only for a short period of time.

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Fantasia 2012 – Replicas Review (Matt Hodgson)

Fantasia Film Festival 2012

Replicas (2012)

Starring Selma Blair, Josh Close, Rachel Miner, and James D’Arcy

Directed by Jeremy Power Regimbal

After a brief reviewing hiatus at Fantasia to try and keep my sanity intact, I’m back. For the past few days it has seemed like I’ve been picking the wrong screenings. I’ve seen some mediocre movies over the past few days, but nothing really good. As usual, it always seems to be the movies that I know nothing about, and therefore have no expectations for, that seem to be the winners. Replicas, the directorial debut from Jeremy Power Regimbal, pleasantly surprised me and was filled with cleverly written dialogue and excellent acting anchored in an environment filled with off-beat comedy and bizarre social situations.

Mark (Close) and Mary (Blair) have retreated to a lovely forested home with their son in order to escape a world of hurt. Not long ago their young daughter died in a tragic accident and the wound has never healed. Not only do Mark and Mary miss their daughter every day, but they are finding themselves drifting apart emotionally. Their stay at a beautiful vacation home is a last effort to try and grow close again, in addition to giving them the peace and solitude needed to heal as individuals. Unfortunately for them, the neighbours happen to be bizarrely intrusive and incredibly socially awkward. After the neighbours invite themselves over for dinner, the reluctantly budding relationship between the two families takes a dark turn and the sensitive details of Mark and Mary’s loss and struggling relationship are on display for all to see.

Replicas is a very impressive debut for Regimbal, particularly concerning the beautiful visuals found throughout the film. The story calls for fairly generic locations: a house, a forest, a bridge, but the actual locations selected, particularly the house, are gorgeous to look at. Of course the very professional photography certainly plays a role in making these locations pop off the screen onto our retinas. Replicas is most likely a low budget movie, but you would never guess it from looking at it.

The performances are also quite impressive. Blair and Close are great in the roles of a devastated mother and father, but my favourite performance had to be the deliciously quirky one turned in by James D’Arcy as Bobby. Although D’Arcy may be the best at it, the entire cast of adults all seem to have their fingers on the pulse of the awkwardly comedic dialogue exchanged as the two families get acquainted.

The script is incredibly well-written in terms of dialogue and pacing, setting itself up for something very original but eventually settles for the everyday, at least as far as the film world goes. My biggest problem with Replicas was the direction chosen for the plot. This is not a technical criticism, more of a storytelling one. Despite the hugely entertaining dynamic between the ‘normal family’ and the ‘crazy family’, the filmmakers decided to follow a certain twist early on in the movie which felt a little safe considering the unusual first 30 minutes or so. I understand that the filmmakers had a specific story in mind, I just wish they could have been a little more daring. However, with a directorial debut it’s hard to fault Regimbal, as Replicas is very funny, entertaining, twisted, and has an exceptionally professional feel to it. One of the best movies I’ve seen at Fantasia 2012, Replicas is recommended for the wonderfully original first segment alone, although the entire film is certainly worth your time.

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