Dec 29, 2012

This Is 40

...hours long. Which is a real pity, because there is much in Judd Apatow's nepotistic extravaganza that is funny and true. That Apatow can turn the extremely privileged, self-absorbed lives of an LA family (Paul Rudd and the Apatow femmes: wife Leslie Mann and daughters Maude and Iris) into something moderately endearing is a testament to his gifts as a comedy writer. Unfortunately, he could have benefited from more artistic distance. As in, don't cast your own family; you may have more freedom to be disciplined, and perhaps even to dig deeper and make a much more resonant film about family troubles.
This Is Forty is self-indulgent in the benign way in which parents dote on their kids. Apatow is too in love with his family, (even as they are a pain in the ass sometimes, as he makes abundantly clear) to whip the story into shape. There are many pointless scenes, improvisations are messy, potentially interesting themes, like people having second families, are not pursued, and certain plot threads are unconvincing afterthoughts, like the belabored conflict with the grandfathers (Albert Brooks, incapable of playing nice, bless him, and John Lithgow, pitch perfect as a pinched Wasp).
Paul Rudd is his usual game self, as Pete, who apparently did amazingly well at some point in his life, but now he owns an independent music label and is incapable of signing a lucrative act. He seems to have all the money in the world, but he can't make more because he is true to his passion for 80s rock. So he's a bit of a loser, as LA goes. Wife Debbie (Leslie Mann) is freaking out at turning 40, even if she has the body of an 18 year old, and a miraculously creaseless face. The movie is a chronicle of the aches and pains of young middle age among the wealthy in L.A., where there is downright hostility against gluten, western medicine and body fat.
Leslie Mann, although giving it her all, is not the most endearing presence to carry a movie. She is best when she is happy, and quite hard to take when she is whiny and controlling, which is for most of the movie. Although playing as loosely as they can, she and Rudd seem uncomfortable around each other.  The movie's rambling self-regard ends up exhausting our good will. This is a more than two-hour long nag.
The movie is mostly good natured, peppered with some classic Apatovian juvenile raunchiness (on the part of the adults, of course), but I was struck by how it became meaner as it progressed. Pete's dad was incredibly unsympathetic. He is very nice to his daughter in law, but a total dick to his son. Not only is he a relentless, unrepentant mooch, but there is a scene where he is also a coward. A scene in which Pete and Debbie lie through their teeth is funny, but it undermines our rooting for them. There is nothing wrong with people behaving like dicks in comedy, but the tone of this movie wavers between the adoring and the disparaging without ever achieving balance.

Dec 27, 2012

It's The Makeup, Stupid

Here are some of my thoughts on why it is very possible that Daniel Day Lewis will be nominated for an Oscar for Lincoln, whereas Anthony Hopkins, also delivering a flawless performance in Hitchcock, may not.

Dec 26, 2012

Life Of Pi

I was very skeptical about Life Of Pi, which, with a combination of 3D, computer effects and the threat of syrupy spirituality, was as appealing to me as a date with the Holy Inquisition. Having not read the book by Yann Martel, I expected the worst. I hate spirituality. I don't have it and I don't like it when people rub it in, especially in entertainment.
Well, I'm happy to report that this lovely, thoughtful film by the ever elegant Ang Lee is very beautiful and enjoyable. Life Of Pi turns out to be a parable of the myths and stories we need to imagine in order to endure the human condition, the cruelty of nature, the vagaries of fate. At the beginning, I was confused by the opening credits. I couldn't tell what was shot in real life and what was computer animation. If this is disorienting at first, soon it settles into a spectacular mix of both. The film is so gorgeous, so luminous, that before Pi endures his shipwreck, it feels like the most pleasant, gentle meditation, a gift for the eyes. Lee sustains an unhurried, yet never boring, pace as the older Pi (the always welcome Irrfan Khan), tells his unbelievable story as a flashback to a young writer (Rafe Spall, soulful). Pi is a gifted, curious child, an outsider with an eccentric name other kids make fun of. In Pondicherry, where he grows up the son of a zookeeper, he is in familiar terms with the wondrous stories of the millions of Hindu gods, but he also likes Jesus and he also likes Islam. The young Pi instinctively understands all these religions as different versions of one God he believes in. His father, a rational man, cautions him against the darkness of religion. He tells him he doesn't mind Pi believing, but he needs to use reason to arrive there. So far, so good.
Soon the poor Pi, now a young man, is stuck in a lifeboat with Richard Parker, a fearsome and beautiful Bengal tiger. God is nowhere to be found and nature takes over. Pi is a vegetarian and a protector of animals. But from a former encounter with the tiger when he was a child, he knows that Richard Parker will tear him to pieces, so he is stuck trying to manage the beast as they float on the vast ocean, all alone. I braced for new age pieties and corny clichés, or for Disneyfied animals who suddenly decide to become "man's best friends" and crack jokes; thankfully, they never showed up. They are animals and they behave as such. Pi (Suraj Sharma, a great sport) is intelligent and resourceful and learns how to survive inclement nature. Nature is shown to be as beautiful and generous as it can be ruthless, and as magnificent as the images of the different moods of the ocean are, nature's behavior is never a sanitized fantasy. The scenes of a cargo ship capsizing in a violent storm are very powerful. In general it is pretty astounding how Lee manages to never stray from an intellectually honest journey, with a credible hero, in the most fantastic of circumstances. He never gives in to sappiness, or to out of control special effects. The sensibility of this film is not what is usually found in American 3D blockbusters. That is to say, this is a movie about complex themes, where people, animals and nature all behave credibly. It does not condescend to the audience. The 3D is used elegantly and in harmony with the story, there are no cheap thrills. Chapeau to Ang Lee for never succumbing to the easy and obvious: it is an amazing directorial feat.  He combines a subtle, sensitive touch with the certain control of a dictator. Only a dictator could whip the complexities of shooting with such technology for what is essentially a delicate story, into a coherent, meaningful, artful shape.
There is a wonderful philosophical twist at the end that will leave atheists and believers equally happy. Agnostics will interpret this parable as saying that God and religion are yet another necessary human story. Those who believe will see the hand of God in Pi's deliverance.

Dec 24, 2012

Zero Dark Thirty

The Hurt Locker is a much better movie. So is Paul Greengrass's United 93, the greatest film ever made about 9/11. It's worth comparing it to Zero Dark Thirty, because Greengrass avoids every single pitfall that makes Zero Dark Thirty a problematic entertainment. For one, he uses no recognizable movie stars;  glamorous faces do not remind us that this is only a movie and egregious liberties have been taken with the story. He also eschews the conventional single hero narrative for a fragmented "you are there" style, which shows massive government incompetence, as well as moments of individual courage. Perhaps because he is not American, he was able to sidestep the trite, incurable hero syndrome that seems mandatory in every Hollywood movie. Hence, United 93 honors history by rendering it as faithfully, realistically and intimately as possible. Its impact is devastating. True, nobody saw it, having no stars and dealing head on with a terribly painful collective moment; whereas Zero Dark Thirty will be much more commercially successful. One, because it is about triumph, not loss; and two, precisely because of its lack of authenticity. Even The Hurt Locker, a great American anti-war film, has more conviction and more outrage than ZDT.
My first problem with ZDT, and a cardinal sin in film, is that I was bored for a very long time before things got interesting, which only happens in the last third of the film, when they finally move to capture Bin Laden. ZDT seems to take as long as it took the US to nail Bin Laden. I wouldn't mind the procedural if it were riveting, but it isn't. It is plodding. Scene after scene dutifully documents the torture techniques utilized by the US in the war against terror. It's a deeply uncomfortable laundry list: conveniently outside of the purview of our laws, CIA agents use waterboarding, torture prisoners with sleep deprivation and hardcore heavy metal, stuff them in tiny boxes, hang them for hours, humiliate them with dog collars, and play mind games. The main torturer, played by Jason Clarke as if he was warming up for his daily tennis match, is deliberately made to be a very casual American dude who refers to his victims as "bro". I applaud the fact that we are not in for mustache twirling villains, but where is the bete noire in his soul? Are the filmmakers saying everyone can become a torturer if the justifications are strong enough?
Critics are hailing ZDT's obfuscations as moral ambiguity. I beg to differ. The movie is afraid of its own point of view, which is actually unclear. Critics are celebrating the mere fact that ZDT dares portray the issue of American torture (as if we didn't know plenty about it already), but the problem lies in how it is portrayed. I do not think that the movie glorifies torture, but I'm not sure that it condemns it. In the end, it isn't clear whether the film infers that torture helped get information that led to Bin Laden's capture or not. This is a problem. Granted, it would have been revolting to have Maya, the CIA agent heroine (Jessica Chastain, miscast), give epic speeches about the evils of torture, the kind of wishful fairy dust that Hollywood sprinkles around in its issue movies to feel better about itself. Alas, the script is content to show her silent discomfort as she attends some of the torture sessions, yet not much later in the film she daintily prods a torturer to slap a detainee. We never see how she really feels about this. Is she just following orders? Does she think the means justify the ends? It would have been interesting if we saw her take a stand, any stand. But ZDT is as wishy washy about the torture issue as the central character. And herein lies the problem: this is a contrived entertainment that takes something that happened in reality and makes it into a formula with a single heroine, therefore stripping it of any legitimacy or authenticity. It doesn't want to be Rambo, but it doesn't have the guts to go the other way. It seems as if director Kathryn Bigelow and writer/producer Mark Boal are torn between presenting a realistic portrayal of the hunt for Bin Laden, or crafting a conventional movie narrative. Had they chosen the first option, Zero Dark Thirty could have been a much stronger film. But the decision to center the story in a single heroine dooms the movie. Big deal if she is a woman. She is utterly boring as a character, just a reminder that this is a fantasy fiction based in reality, and not a film which really aims to explore the complexity of this war.
Except for the fact that she is an obsessive workaholic without a life (bo-ring), we don't really know who CIA agent Maya is. It is said by other characters that she is a killer, How do we know this? She works long hours, stares a lot at screens, and is a pest to her superiors. I did not believe her character for a second. Not because she is a woman, but because, in operations like this, it is ludicrous to pretend that ONE relentless person, dead set against everyone in the CIA and the rest of the world, was responsible for the capture of that maniac. It's just immature. And don't get me started on the final frame, of her sitting by herself on a big ass military plane, crying. What is this supposed to mean? America is sad for all the torture?
The best parts of ZDT are the actual action sequences towards the capture of Bin Laden, precisely executed both by Bigelow and by the guys who play the commandos that got it done. As in The Hurt Locker, Bigelow is good at relying how soldiers actually communicate in the middle of an operation. Minimal words, all instructions. The way bombings occur, without warning, as it is in real life, is jolting. Boal and Bigelow do everything in their power to show decorum and restrain at the storming of Bin Laden's compound. Everything else reeks of fakeness. Cringeworthy plot devices creep in: it is not enough to want to capture the barbaric mastermind who engineered the loss of thousands of innocent people all over the world. As this is a movie, Maya has to have a personal reason to vow to nail Bin Laden. This turns out to be the death of some of her CIA colleagues in the car bombing of a US base in Afghanistan. Puhleeze. Albeit suspenseful, this sequence is so telegraphed, so movie-like, that one thinks that if CIA agents are stupid enough to let a car breach inspection into an American military base in that hellish part of the world, they deserve what they got coming.
Meanwhile, the filmmakers have Maya, this supposed "killer" agent, sit obediently in the back at all important meetings as the boys make plans, and then when she opens her mouth, she says a one liner that strains credulity. For a "killer" agent, she behaves like a schoolgirl, petulantly scribbling in her bosses' window the number of days that go by without capturing Bin Laden. Puhleeze.
Then there are bizarre casting choices. Were American actors afraid to make this movie? The main torturer is played by Jason Clarke with a clear Australian accent. I spent half the movie trying to figure out if Australians were farmed out by the CIA to do our torture for us. My current boyfriend, Mark Strong, does an impeccable American accent, as does Joel Edgerton (another Aussie). But why cast a British actor, Stephen Dillane, as an American national security advisor? He sounds like he's ready for tea and crumpets. This is the CIA we are talking about. Everyone needs to sound like John Wayne. As for Jessica Chastain, she tries her best but is a movie star, and hence completely wrong for the role, for this and other reasons. Remember, very few people had seen Jeremy Renner when he starred in The Hurt Locker.This makes a huge difference: better movie = less box office. In an ideal, ageless world, someone like Frances McDormand or Annette Bening would play Maya. Someone with ovaries of titanium. Someone who can look you in the eye and make you unravel. Alas.
It is well known that the filmmakers had access to some people in the government. This seems to have fettered their imagination. This movie is more interesting for all the stuff it leaves out. Was it ever discussed if Bin Laden should be captured alive and brought to trial or was it, as the movie shows, a fait accompli to get him killed? I would have loved to see this conundrum dramatized. The CIA agents in the movie don't seem to have an opinion, pro or against, of what their superiors are asking them to do. There is no conflict, no dialectic, they are just executors. This is extremely problematic, as in foot soldiers that commit atrocities and chalk them up to just following orders.
Hence, I find it rather revolting that some critics have decided to bestow a Best Film of the Year award upon this confused movie, which leaves out all sort of interesting questions in favor of an impoverished, oversimplified narrative. I find it rather repulsive for a movie to be awarded accolades just for owning up to America's unsavory policies without having the balls to have a point of view about them, either for or against. It is also pathetic to overpraise a movie just because it deals with a difficult topic in a way that isn't Rambo. This sets a very low bar.

Dec 22, 2012

The Impossible

The only authentic part of this movie by J.A Bayona (The Orphanage) is the spectacular, utterly realistic recreation of the tsunami that hit Southeast Asia in 2006. The special effects are truly extraordinary, but the movie, sadly, is not. All the attention of the filmmakers seems to have gone into the creation of the special effects at the expense of character, or arc, or anything resembling a fully realized story. It has a very weak script. Mind you, I cried like a banshee at the sight of blatantly manipulative human emotion under extreme duress; beautifully enacted by all the amazing blonde and English speaking actors who portray the Spanish family upon whose real story the film is based.
Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor and the three outstanding young actors who play their kids, deliver real emotion in spades. If it weren't for them, the movie would be dangerously close to a dud.
The problem is that the filmmakers have decided to abandon authenticity for the promise of global box office success. I'm not sure the bet will pay off, at least here in the States. The screening I saw yesterday night (Friday opening) was almost empty.
Now, The Impossible is a full-fledged Spanish production: from director J.A Bayona (The Orphanage), to most of the film crew and armies of special effects and hair and make up people (unbelievably awesome job). But instead of, say, using megastars Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz and three Spanish boys to portray the family, speaking in Spanish with subtitles, or even in heavily accented English, the producers thought that they could gain a wider audience by making everybody blond and English. It's a waste of energy to decry the plague of unfair casting practices in commercial movies. It is unfortunate, but part of the reality of film today, which is that films need stars to get made and seen, and stars, for the most part, tend to be white. The irony here, not to detract from the soulful and generous work of Watts and McGregor, is that they are not bigger stars than Bardem and Cruz, who are a galaxy unto themselves. So this Anglo casting does not necessarily guarantee a wider audience. The plot is feeble. It follows the fate of Maria, the mother, played by Watts, and her oldest son, Lucas. It strands the dad and the other two kids offscreen for two thirds of the film. This is a huge missed opportunity to show more effects and to explain to the audience what happened to them without resorting to exposition. This is a rare instance where I wish that some Hollywood hand with a knack for disaster could come to the rescue, because even as there is a tsunami aftermath going on, not much really happens. The script does not seem to know or care about who is this English family living in Japan, what makes them tick. I bet had they remained Spanish, the filmmakers would have naturally understood who they were and the story would be much richer.
Bayona, bereft of a good plot, manufactures cheap, vapid emotional cliffhangers. He is adept at creating a sense of menace, as he showed in The Orphanage, a film that scared the living daylights out of me. In the first minutes of The Impossible, before the tsunami hits, he shows the tranquil ocean and the colorful little fishies swimming in it, and we get a tingle of dread, bracing for the unimaginable devastation that is soon to come. And he dares to imagine it, brilliantly. The way in which he portrays the feeling of getting swept and mangled by a giant wave is extraordinary. But any time the characters open their mouths, out come the most inane lines. The movie works best when no one speaks. And, not trusting that the audience's emotion flows naturally from following the family's terrible upheaval, he contrives scene after scene of unnecessary audience manipulation, without the grace or skill of a blockbuster master like Steven Spielberg. Overwrought orchestral music does not help. Too much repetition blunts the impact of sweeping crane shots of the devastation. Worse, towards the end of the movie, Bayona repeats the scenes of the tsunami. At the beginning, I marveled at the skill and restraint he showed on keeping them short for added realism and power. Seeing them once is enough for them to leave an indelible impression. Showing them twice is a huge miscalculation.
My theory is that the Spanish government financed this movie in the hopes of bringing some SFX industry to its shores, like Europe gives Woody Allen money each year to film tourist brochures of its most charming cities. If I were a Hollywood mogul, after seeing what the Spanish can do with special effects, I'd scream "get me Madrid! But there is a crass whiff of calculation in making everything (except the tsunami) as generic as possible, missing rich opportunities to explore how privileged tourists and poor locals were affected, came together, or were torn apart by their inequities. When the only villains in the movie are an American couple who won't part with their cellphone, it is gratuitous and idiotic. So much could have been mined. Instead, we are left with the musty poverty of "the power of the human spirit", as boring a cliché as any.

Dec 18, 2012

2012 Best and Worst And Everything In Between

This was a good year for movies. These are films I saw during 2012. As I recall them, some of them have made an indelible impression while others, even as I loved them coming out of the theater, fizzle out in memory. Some gain in estimation, while the hatred I have for the ones at the bottom of the barrel has not abated.
Some of the following films have not been released yet. I am missing several major ones, opening this week and next, which will be added in the coming days.

Amour. Michael Haneke
Rust And Bone. Jacques Audiard
Caesar Must Die. Vittorio and Paolo Taviani
Beyond The Hills. Cristi Mungiu
Like Someone In Love. Abbas Kiarostami 
The Gatekeepers. Dror Moreh

Very Good
Django Unchained. Quentin Tarantino
Bernie. Richard Linklater
Life Of Pi. Ang Lee
Alps. Giorgos Lanthimos
Argo. Ben Affleck
Robot And Frank. Jake Schreier
Celeste And Jesse Forever. Lee Toland Krieger
The Queen Of Versailles. Lauren Greenfield 
Ai Wei Wei: Never Sorry. Alison Klayman
Polisse. Maïwenn
Headhunters. Morten Tyldum
Monsieur Lazhar. Phillipe Falardeau
Tabu. Miguel Gomes

Lincoln. Steven Spielberg
No. Pablo Larraín
Hitchcock. Sacha Gervasi
Silver Linings Playbook. David O. Russell 
Moonrise KingdomWes Anderson
Frances Ha. Noah Baumbach
The Bay. Barry Levinson. 
The Cabin In The Woods. Drew Goddard 
Fill The Void. Rama Burshtein
A Late Quartet. Yaron Zilberman
The Dictator. Sacha Baron Cohen
Wanderlust. David Wain
The Woman In Black. James Watkins
Skyfall. Sam Mendes
Barbara. Christian Petzold
Our Children. Joachim Lafosse

Good but Flawed
The Master. Paul Thomas Anderson
Sound Of My Voice. Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij
The Sessions. Ben Lewin 
Footnote. Joseph Cedar 
The Deep Blue Sea. Terence Davies 
Bachelorette. Leslye Headland
How To Survive A Plague. David France

More Flawed Than Good

Zero Dark Thirty. Kathryn Bigelow
This is 40. Judd Apatow 
This Must Be The Place. Paolo Sorrentino

Flight. Robert Zemeckis
Anna Karenina. Joe Wright
We Have A Pope. Gianni Moretti
Magic Mike. Steven Soderbergh
Dark Horse. Todd Solondz
Cosmopolis. David Cronenberg 
Something in The Air. Olivier Assayas
The Impossible. J.A. Bayona
Cloud Atlas. The Wachowskis, Tom Twyker
Goodbye, First Love. Mia Hansen Love
Arbitrage. Nicholas Jarecki
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. John Madden 
Take This Waltz. Sarah Polley
Killing Them Softly. Andrew Dominik

The Pits
You Ain't Seen Nothing YetAlain Resnais 
Les Miserables. Tom Hooper
Holy Motors. Leos Carax
Ginger And Rosa. Sally Potter

Dec 17, 2012

Out and About

Yours truly is happy to collaborate with writing about, what else, Movies!
Here's my first dispatch about 5 great movies you may have missed this year and five more coming down the pike.  I am happy to report, my post, which appeared today, is no. 6 in the most popular list! Enjoy!

Dec 8, 2012

The Sessions

Based on the real story of poet Mark O'Brien, The Sessions is about the romance between O'Brien (John Hawkes), who lived encased in an iron lung, and Cheryl, his sex surrogate therapist, (Helen Hunt).
It is an intriguing story. O'Brien was 39 years old and had never experienced sex with someone, so he wanted to give it a try. He ends up under the care of very professional, empathetic Cheryl, who struggles to keep the relationship at a distance, but caves under Mark's sweet charms.
The Sessions is gently funny and touching, but there is something too beatific and unconvincing about it; it's not messy enough. The humor befits a sitcom, but the situation deserves more depth; and the treatment of sex, while surprisingly frank for an American film, is like reading an operations manual.
Hunt and Hawkes bring enormous dignity and humanity to their roles and they elevate the movie far above its feel-good script. I wish the movie was not so eager to please the audience. Its sexual frankness is startling for an American film, but it belies a curious lack of eroticism. There is nothing sexy about it. This is not to say that one expects a horny movie with a disabled man at its center. But if Mark's most fervent wish is to experience sex, at the very least there should be some sexiness in his desire, even if he is in an iron lung. If anything, The Sessions is duly tasteful, mostly cheerful, and rather literal. Like its name, it is oddly clinical, and uses humor to deflect from the real nakedness of its themes. The only one who brings an edge to the table is Helen Hunt, very affecting as a woman whose carefully constructed fortress of professional demeanor (in the most intimate of professions) totally dissembles as she allows herself to fall for her client.
I suspect the movie is uncomfortable with its own sexuality. Whereas Cheryl is shown in all her full frontal glory (Hunt looks beautiful), a scene in which Cheryl shows Mark his body through a mirror, is decorously framed above the groin. Well, this defeats the purpose. If the point is to celebrate the miracle of the body, of Mark's body, why not show it as well? To avoid an NC-17 rating? We are still cloistered in puritanical territory, no matter how many times the words penis, vagina, nipples and total penetration are mentioned. One of the wasted themes in this film is the miracle of sexual pleasure, considering, as the movie shows at length, that if you break it down, a lot of stuff has to happen in order for sex to succeed. And while The Sessions is more confident and convincing in the way it depicts love, it is clumsy around sex. Everything is too explicit, in a Masters and Johnson kind of way. What it has in empathy, it lacks in imagination, which is an essential component of eroticism. I can't help but think of Jacques Audiard's Rust and Bone, which is also about an unlikely love affair between a disabled woman and an emotionally crippled man. The sexual tension is there, the desire is there, and that edgy, risky feeling of opposites attracting is powerfully visceral. None of this happens in The Sessions. For all the explicitness and the female nudity, it is still couched in an insipid aura of cuteness, which the two stars, and particularly Hunt, work with all their might to dispel.

Dec 1, 2012


Or a sunny fairy tale about the genesis of Psycho, of all things. This enjoyable morsel by Sacha Gervasi (ANVIL! The Story of Anvil), improbably turns the story of how one of the greatest artists in the history of film made of one of the scariest movies of all time into a sweet little fable with a happy ending. If it wasn't for the two gigantic actors who portray Alfred Hitchcock and his wife, Alma Reville, it could have bordered on the ludicrous. But it is a joy to watch Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren deliver the goods, separately and as a long lasting couple. Hopkins doesn't look anything like Hitchcock, and his cumbersome make up still doesn't make him look anything like Hitchcock, except for the girth. But his characterization is dead on. He is as hilarious as Hitchcock was in his eccentric "master of suspense" persona. For Alfred Hitchcock was a brand. He was as much of a genius in the creation of his own marketing as he was as a film director. Hopkins delivers the quicksilver wit, with extensive pauses between words and a full beat before striking the punch line, just like the original. He is a hoot. His Hitchcock is at once grand caricature and something smaller, more vulnerable, more complicated. A very controlling man, a huge child with enormous, but being British, equally repressed appetites (which explain the rounded figure), a famous director who found himself wielding enormous power, particularly over his female actresses. I don't know if its a trick of camera and makeup or if it is Anthony Hopkins who achieves a chilling distance in his gaze, but this aloofness, this feeling that Hitchcock was always an alien in Hollywood, makes the portrayal rise above caricature.
There is a lot that could be really hokey in the movie, like the sequences where Hitchcock imagines conversations with Ed Gein (Michael Wincott), the real life serial killer on whom the book "Psycho" was based. But Gervasi sustains a lighthearted tone, immeasurably helped by pretty solid casting. He gingerly mentions the dark aspects of Hitchcock's personality without really investigating them, but they are there, more as discomfiting quirks than as truly sinister traits: Hitchcock's obsession with his actresses (the mistreatment of Tippi Hedren in The Birds was yet to come); his emotional blackmail of Vera Miles (Jessica Biel); the way he supposedly got Janet Leigh (a good Scarlett Johansson) to scream her heart out in the legendary shower scene.
But the movie also belongs to the unsung hero in Hitchcock's life, Alma, his wife and creative collaborator, who apparently was in no small part responsible for some of her husband's most brilliant artistic choices, like insisting on using Bernard Herrmann's score over the shower scene, or suggesting he kill off the leading lady before page 30, a first in the history of film. Always toiling in the shadows, but a known secret inside the industry, Alma was a woman of her time, making herself and her talents disappear in favor of the big man. We are reminded that she was once his boss; by this stage, they had been making movies for about 40 years. They were old fashioned in their mores, yet adventurous and visionary as artists. There is a very poignant turn in Alma's story as she is seduced by a colleague (Danny Huston), only to discover that, like Hitch, he is only using her for her brilliance. Mirren then has a controlled, beautiful meltdown where she finally reads Hitch the riot act that almost elicited cheers from the audience. It is a beautiful speech, writerly wishful thinking, and she nails it with such force, grace and skill, it's a cri de coeur for all unsung females who support and even improve their partners' celebrated achievements, with little recognition. Or for all those average, yet valuable women who are eclipsed by more gorgeous ones.
Hitchcock is also, and most enjoyably, about making an independent movie. A famed director, at the peak of his career, finds himself trying to get a movie made that no one will touch with a ten foot pole. Even Hitchcock, who was at the time the most famous film director in the world, could not get financing for what was seen as schlocky material, anathema to casting megawatt stars like a Cary Grant or a Grace Kelly.
At the peak of his career, fascinated by the horrid Ed Gein story, Hitchcock decided to make a B-movie, with second tier stars, for a very low budget, which he financed himself. This was the genesis of Psycho, one of the most revolutionary films of all time. In the few scenes involving Ed Gein and his sleazy serial killer grotesquerie, it implies the genius of Hitchcock in turning a seedy story into an elegant, black and white masterpiece of horror.  I wish this film explored more what made Hitchcock a great artist. I applaud that it gives Alma Reville her due, but it cheats Hitchcock of his own genius. We never really see him exercise the elegance of his creative thought, or his masterful craftsmanship.
I can't decide if Gervasi's lighthearted choice is cool or ridiculous, but it is great fun. Hitchcock is a triumphant comedy about a persevering artist, and a lot of the joy in it comes from relishing in hindsight the happy outcome of the story. We are all thrilled by Psycho, by the fact that Bernard Herrmann's music and that shower scene are now universal icons, by how Alfred Hitchcock, a prolific artist, continued making fresh masterpieces in his old age (The Birds, Frenzy), almost as if Psycho had given him a second wind.