Film review by Jason Day of Game Night, the comedy about suburbanites in trouble, starring Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams.
Director: Sacha Gervasi. Fox Searchlight/Cold Spring/Montecito Picture Company. (12a)
Producers: Alan Barnette, Joe Medjuk, Tom Pollock, Ivan Reitman, Tom Thayer.
Writer: John J. McLaughlin.
Camera: Jeff Cronenweth.
Music: Danny Elfman.
Sets: Judy Becker.
Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Danny Huston, Toni Collette, Michael Stuhlbarg, Michael Wincott, Jessica Biel, James D’Arcy, Richard Portnow, Kurtwood Smith, Ralph Macchio.
Renowned and respected by all in Hollywood, film director Alfred Hitchcock (Hopkins) feels too comfortable in himself and a sudden dip in adoration from his critics. He is looking for his next big film and what he needs is something nasty, dirty and shocking. Despite the consternation of his loyal wife Alma (Mirren) and most of Tinseltown, he finds it in the pulp horror novel Psycho. With no support from Hollywood big-wigs, he remortgages his house to fund the film and assembles cast and technicians, despite everyone predicting this folly will be his down-fall.
Here’s a quirky little cinematic treat. Greatly polished but not greatly accomplished, the enjoyment here lies more in the neat approach taken in presenting the back history to how a well-known (in fact, one of the most well-known) movies came to be made.
Alfred Hitchcock always maintained, possibly with his tongue in one of his portly cheeks, that Psycho, largely credited by everyone else as inventing the modern horror film, was nothing more than a comedy.
This could very well have been part of his own marketing spiel to whip up interest in a film that was clearly not an out and out laugh fest (incest, murder and necrophilia not usually producing a high titter tally with movie audiences). But with this reference at the fore front of their minds, writer McLaughlin and director Gervasi have nonetheless created a fruity comic drama about the genesis and production of Psycho.
The viewer is in fact completely made aware of this point in a neat preamble that sees notorious serial killer Ed Gein (Wincott) casually bumping his brother off on their Wisconsin farm, coolly observed by Hitch, who sips a cup of tea whilst commenting on the action.
These bizarrely comic moments punctuate the film at regular intervals and serve another purpose, as they help develop a seam of psychotic darkness that increases as the action proceeds. Hitch has regular conversations with Gein about how to embellish or improve his film based on Gein’s life and crimes and also for a chit chat about the director’s own black fantasies. Gein in facts ‘counsels’ him as a psychiatrist would, when probing him about his treatment of women, Hitch declaring that he has been having “impulses…strong ones”. If only ‘Tippi’ Hedren could have been a fly on the wall.
Thankfully, the comedy is allowed to come to rescue such dark moments thanks to the arch, naughty performances. Hopkins underwent the make-up department’s full prosthetic demands and certainly looks the part, allowing his physical tics and playfully mordant performance to light up the screen (at the end, he ‘conducts’ his premiere audiences’ screams in time with Bernard Hermann’s screeching violins score). Unaccountably though he misses a cockney trick with the vocal interpretation, sounding far too much like the clipped, Welsh intonation that is Sir Anthony. But this is still a fun role and the pathologically funny lines are brought to the fore by him. Compare this performance with Toby Jones in another recent Hitch bio, The Girl, in which his accent was spookily recognisable as The Master.
Mirren scores strongly as his forthright and talented wife Alma, although even the most ardent of Reville’s admirers (she is credited as being the galvanising force and sculptress of his career) would be pushed to agree she was ever this buxom and flirtatious.
One would never have believed Janet Leigh was quite the professional actress Johansson portrays her as, but this is a timely reminder of how very good an actress she was in Psycho. Biel has a knowing glint in her eye in a small but telling role as a strong-willed and sarcastic Vera Miles, the Psycho co-star and former Hitch favourite whom he very nearly made into a world-wide star but whose resistance to his over-bearing and controlling style of direction almost ruined her career.
British actor D’Arcy clearly wasn’t in need of anything even approaching a latex make-over as Anthony Perkins sharing, as he does, an uncanny likeness to the American star and also nails the twitchy, nervous, lost boy demeanour that secured Perkins the part that launched him.
A lot of the detail in the film will be fascinating to the uninformed, but a lot about the behind the scenes making of Psycho will already be known to movie buffs, as Stephen Rebello’s book on which the screenplay is based was originally published in 1990. Just to show how much of a movie geek I am, the necessity of Vera Miles’ immobile, concrete wig is explained away here as covering up her brunette hair (in defiance of Hitch, she changed her hair colour). The real reason is because Miles had shaved her head for her most recent role in Five Branded Women. Perhaps Miss Biel, who gave an interview about how terrifying it was to portray a real-life movie star, was too spooked herself at this suggestion?
Director: Jonathan Liebesman. Warner/Legendary/Thunder Road.
Producers: Basil Iwanyk, Polly Johnsen. Writer:David Mazeau, David Leslie Johnson. Camera: Ben Davis. Music: Javier Navarrete. Sets: Charles Wood.
Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Edgar Ramirez, Toby Kebbell, Rosamund Pike, Bill Nighy, Danny Huston, John Bell, Lily James, Sinead Cusack.
Now living the quiet life as a fisherman with his 10 year old son, half mortal/half God Perseus (Worthington) is called upon one last time to save irreligious humanity when his father, the great God Zeus (Neeson) is captured by his other son, the jealously enraged God of War Armes (Ramirez). Perseus has to rescue Zeus, with the help of warrior Queen Andromeda (Pike) and comic foil Agenor (Kebbell).
Clearly out to best Clash of the Titans in terms of audacious spectacle and popcorn munching fun, director Liebesman (Battle Los Angeles and, in the near future, the remake of teenage mutant Ninja Turtles) is clearly in his element with this sand and sandals daftness.
Topping the original was always going to be a foregone conclusion, given that Clash was such a wooden, serious and dull affair, itself eclipsed by the equally leaden but splendidly crafted 1981 film, the one with the memorable stop-motion special effects from Ray Harryhausen.
Liebesman, thankfully, is a man with a good sense of humour and Wrath ticks along nicely with just the right sort of ripe, juicy, Hollywood dialogue that befits a film raiding classical antiquity with scant regard for accuracy or respect.
Casting Nighy, for starters, was an audience pleasing stroke of genius. Nighy, who looks as though he has tottered onto the set still pissed from the wrap party of another film (an update of The Tempest perhaps, set on a council estate in Bury and in which he plays a genial, amnesiac Prospero) plays the God Hephaestus as a sprightly Northerner with poor short term memory but plenty of long term recall for a misspent youth (“Zeus showed me how to seduce Mermaids…handy that!”). It’s a performance that shouldn’t work, it should stand out like a sore thumb unbalancing the rest of the film and scream at the critic to scream at him for doing this…but it actually works splendidly thanks to his pitch-perfect comic timing and the fact that the other performers also belong on another film set (Pike from the hockey fields at an indeterminate but frightfully expensive private school in a generic British period drama; Kebbell from an episode of Eastenders etc).
The jokes continue in the unintentionally, joyously funny dialogue; when Worthington has to square up with his half-brother, amidst dozens of Titans killing hundreds of fellow soldiers, he says to Pike with the utmost solemnity: “Keep them off me”. Neeson and his estranged brother Hades (Fiennes) prepare to confront their all-powerful father by saying “Lets have some fun…like in the old days” (the old, old days presumably). The immortal bros later combine their powers in a Ghostbusters “Cross Streams!” finale.
Worthington’s gruff, whispering monotony contributed in no small part to the snooze fest that Clash became and he seems more tiresome here, so hats off again to the top drawer supporting cast for helping prick the audience’s attention.
Filmed in 3D, the technology is magically realised in a key number of arresting scenes: a roller-coaster ride through the mantle of the Earth with boulders flying straight toward you and a dizzyingly designed labyrinth to Tartarus, the underground prison. Thankfully, the audience is given plenty of time away from these moments to right themselves and avoid the nausea that 3D can create.
(P.S. many thanks to my good friend and classics master Katie Taylor for some helpful comments along the way)!