Saturday, January 12, 2013

A few words on Hitchcock and The Impossible

Hitchcock (2012 - Sacha Gervasi)

Hitchcock tries to be part character study and part filmmaking docudrama, and never really comes together as either. Attempts are made to probe Hitchcock's psychology by showing him as a man haunted by visions of Ed Gein. In another scene, we see him eavesdropping on Vera Miles (a very unconvincing Jessica Biel) in her dressing room--a scene clearly intended to evoke Norman Bates spying on Marion Crane in Psycho. It's indicative of the movie's psychological insight that the Vera Miles character actually says outright, "The Jimmy Stewart character in Vertigo--THAT'S Hitch." Perhaps most ridiculous is the scene where he gets frustrated at the stabbing motions in the shower scene, takes the knife, and begins showing how it should really be done. At other times, the movie gives us Hitchcock The Character, with all of the traditional personality quirks on display, and still, at others, we get Hitchcock as one of those over-the-hill athletes trying to make one last comeback. We also get a look at his marriage: he obviously loved his wife, but he also openly flirted with his female leads in front of his her, and then was unbelievably jealous when she when left the house to work with a screenwriter to improve his script. (It's indicated that Hitchcock doesn't like her leaving the house, or doing anything, unless it's to serve a purpose for him. It's also indicated that she more or less accepts this and is okay with it.) It's not that a movie couldn't incorporate all of these things, but Hitchcock never incorporates them into any coherent vision of Alfred Hitchcock. They all feel like a bunch of separate character traits, instead of parts that make up the whole man. Hitchcock isn't really any better when it focuses on filmmaking. It doesn't offer anything beyond a bunch of in-jokes, and while Sacha Gervasi tries at times to imitate Hitchcock's style (something that could make for a fun approach), he doesn't do it consistently, so it never amounts to anything beyond a few meaningless visual flairs in an otherwise indifferently-shot film. You get a few moments here and there in the performances (mainly Mirren and D'Arcy) that may not make the movie worth watching, exactly, but at least deserve a bit of credit. Overall, though, Hitchcock is a waste.

The Impossible (2012 - Juan Antonio Bayona)

There's been a good bit of discussion about it, but I will say that I'm not mortally offended that a film about the 2004 tsunami has wealthy white tourists as its protagonists without any real minority "representation". I don't think anyone could argue against the fact that The Impossible only offers a very small perspective on the tsunami, but I do think a good movie could be made from the story of how this family--or any family--was affected by the tsunami. The problem here is that The Impossible just isn't a good movie. Too much of it is in poor taste: For example, Bayona's deicision to end the film with the protagonists flying away on an otherwise empty private jet. His buildup to the tsunami is in even worse taste, with its sense of impending doom laid on way too thickly, like something out of a cheap horror movie. Bayona establishes a sense of family dynamics early, and the opening scenes are not bad, but Bayona ultimately skips on any familial observations, because he is way too eager to get to The Good Stuff. Once the tsunami hits, it's clear that Bayona is a decent technician, but through these scenes it's clear that he's quick to fall into suspense and disaster genre traps. He also makes the unwise structural decision to tell the story from the point-of-view of the mother and one of the sons, then to go back and tell if from the point-of-view of the father and other two sons before bringing it together with after a series of near-misses and chance encounters. The performances are decent, but Tom Holland as the oldest son is the only character who gets anything close to a real dramatic arc. I don't get why everyone's going on about Watts, but then again (aside from Mulholland Drive), I never do.

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