Friday, 28 December 2012

The Girl

The Girl
The Girl is a BBC/HBO co-production dramatising the making of Alfred Hitchcock's films The Birds and Marnie, and Hitchock's relationship with his leading lady, Tippi Hedren. Toby Jones stars as Hitchcock, and Sienna Miller plays Hedren.

Directed by Julian Jarrold, it premiered on HBO on 20th October and was broadcast on BBC2 on 26th December. It's one of several fictionalised films about the making of real films, including My Week With Marilyn, Gods & Monsters, Ed Wood, RKO281, and Shadow Of The Vampire.

It's not the only Hitchcock biopic this year: Anthony Hopkins also played him, in the film Hitchcock, about the making of Psycho - a film that The Girl refers to both directly and indirectly. The Hopkins film takes some liberties with the facts, suggesting that Hitchcock's wife Alma contemplated adultery, and making tenuous connections between Hitchcock and Ed Gein.

In contrast, The Girl aims for more authenticity. Its screenplay was based on Spellbound By Beauty by Donald Spoto, who also wrote the authoritative The Dark Side Of Genius and The Art Of Alfred Hitchcock. Tippi Hedren herself was a consultant on the project, and we have to rely on her account of what happened on the film sets and in her dressing room.

Hedren's screen test, however, is easy to verify, and its atmosphere is misrepresented in The Girl. The screen test recreated in The Girl presents Hitchcock as a voyeur, making an uncomfortable Hedren kiss an impassive Martin Balsam, played by an older, unattractive actor. In the real screen test, however, Hitchcock can be heard joking with Hedren and Balsam, putting them both at their ease, and Hedren and Balsam - both New Yorkers - have a friendly rapport.

Whether Hitchcock was really guilty of sexual harassment, as The Girl alleges, we will probably never know for sure. Precisely what he said or tried to do remains unclear, though his awkward lunges and advances are plausibly portrayed in The Girl. Presumably he was more forward with Hedren because he felt that he had discovered her, in contrast to the untouchable icons (such as Grace Kelly and Ingrid Bergman) he had previously worked with.

Toby Jones is too short, though he captures Hitchcock's voice flawlessly. Anthony Hopkins made little attempt at a vocal impersonation, though he had a more appropriate stature. Jones is an increasingly prolific actor: in the past few years, I've seen him in Snow White & The Huntsman, The Hunger Games, The Adventures Of Tintin, My Week With Marilyn, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Captain America, The Rite, Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows I-II, Frost/Nixon, and The Mist.

The supporting cast includes Imelda Staunton, entirely convincing as Alma Hitchcock, in contrast to Helen Mirren's miscast role in the Anthony Hopkins version. Penelope Wilton plays her standard drippy character, ideal in Shaun Of The Dead, though inappropriate for Hitchcock's sharp assistant Peggy Robertson.

Monday, 24 December 2012

المصرى اليوم

المصرى اليوم‎
A cartoonist working for Egypt's المصرى اليوم‎ newspaper is currently facing blasphemy charges. Doaa El Adl's cartoon, depicting Adam and Eve, was printed yesterday. (Egypt previously banned the graphic novel Metro, in 2009.)

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Frankenweenie (2D)

Frankenweenie
Tim Burton's latest film Frankenweenie (released in the same year as Dark Shadows) is his third stop-motion animation. (He previously produced The Nightmare Before Christmas and co-directed Corpse Bride.) It was filmed in black-and-white, like the classic Universal horror films of the 1930s, many of which it pays tribute to: not only Frankenstein (townsfolk with flaming torches) but also Bride Of Frankenstein (a dog with a streak of white fur) and The Mummy (a boy wrapped in bandages).

The central character, Victor Frankenstein, shares his name with Mary Shelley's original protagonist, and looks like Victor from Corpse Bride. He makes 8mm home-movies, like the kids in Super 8, and Burton is surely indulging in some personal nostalgia. Winona Ryder (from Edward Scissorhands, which shares Frankenweenie's retro-suburban setting) and Martin Landau (from Ed Wood, another black-and-white horror homage) are among the voice cast.

The atmosphere is decidedly Gothic, complete with a graveyard and flashes of lightning. Victor and his classmates reanimate various dead pets, creating macabre creatures that terrorise the town: one rampages like Godzilla, and others resembling Gremlins emerge from the water like the Creature From The Black Lagoon. The climax is surprisingly intense for a Disney cartoon: a windmill is burned down (as in Sleepy Hollow), a giant tortoise is electrocuted, and a squealing mutant bat is impaled on a stake.

Frankenweenie was filmed in 3D, though I saw the 2D version; it was also released in IMAX DMX 3D. It's a feature-length adaptation of Burton's own short film of the same name.

Monday, 17 December 2012

The Hobbit
An Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first film in a new trilogy directed by Peter Jackson. The films are set in Middle-Earth, like Jackson's breath-taking Lord Of The Rings series (The Fellowship Of The Ring, The Two Towers, The Return Of The King), and the Hobbit films are Lord Of The Rings prequels.

Whereas the Lord Of The Rings films were adapted from three substantial novels, the three Hobbit films are all based on a single 300-page book, and are padded out with additional material. Jackson clearly sees The Hobbit as an epic equal to The Lord Of The Rings, though that's not how its author envisioned it. Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows was split into two parts to prolong the franchise for an additional year, so the studio was presumably delighted to stretch The Hobbit into a trilogy.

There are cameos from some of the Lord Of The Rings cast, notably Andy Serkis playing Gollum, though Ian McKellen as Gandalf is the only returning member of the original Fellowship. The Fellowship's replacements, a band of dwarves, are mostly unremarkable. The dwarf leader is a pale imitation of Aragorn from Lord Of The Rings. Martin Freeman, in the lead role as a young Bilbo Baggins, gives an understated, naturalistic performance that's unlike the rest of the cast. The highlight comes when Bilbo meets Gollum, in an extended two-hander sequence that recaptures some of the Lord Of The Rings magic.

The film is most interesting as a technical experiment: it was filmed at forty-eight frames-per-second (known as HFR, or High Frame Rate), twice as fast as the regular frame rate. The faster frame rate eliminates the judder caused by camera panning, and it also produces impressive detail and clarity in the projected image. Higher frame rates were previously attempted by Douglas Trumbull in his ShowScan process, though the technique had never been used for a commercial film until The Hobbit.

The HFR effect is similar to high-definition television, and therefore appears less cinematic. Also, the extra clarity exposes the artificiality of the sets, props, and visual effects. (And there is much more CGI than in The Lord Of The Rings.) The sets look like sets; thus, instead of immersing us, as Jackson intended, the forty-eight frames-per-second distance the viewer.

An Unexpected Journey was filmed in HFR 3D, and that's the format that I saw it projected in. It's also screening in 3D, 4DX, IMAX DMX, IMAX DMX 3D, and HFR IMAX DMX 3D versions. If you're lucky, you can also find it in regular 35mm.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Cinema Diverse

Cinema Diverse
Tears Of The Black Tiger
Wisit Sasanatieng
Cinema Diverse, a free season of films organised by Films Forum, opened at BACC on 24th June and closed last night (a week earlier than originally scheduled). The closing film was Wisit Sasanatieng's cult Thai 'new wave' classic Tears Of The Black Tiger, a 'spaghetti western' influenced by Sergio Leone in a melodramatic, nostalgic lakorn style. The director and cast-members were present for a Q&A after the screening. (Tears Of The Black Tiger has been shown previously at the National Film Archive, in 2010 and 2009.)

Wisit's other films are Citizen Dog, The Unseeable, The Red Eagle, the music video เราเป็นคนไทย, the short film Norasinghavatar, and a segment of the anthology film Sawasdee Bangkok. He also designed the posters for the Bangkok International Film Festival in 2008 and 2009, and wrote the script for Nang Nak.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Encounter Thailand

Encounter Thailand
My second feature for Encounter Thailand magazine, Spooking Thailand's Filmgoers, is published in the November issue (on pages 32-34). The article is a preview of the upcoming 10th World Film Festival of Bangkok, including an interview with the Festival's founder, Kriengsak Silakong. My debut Encounter Thailand feature was published in October.

PDF

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Hollywood's Top Ten

Hollywood's Top Ten
Hollywood's Top Ten
Last year, Hollywood's Top Ten, a show on the cable station ReelzChannel, broadcast two lists of the greatest films ever made: Movies To See Before You Die (2nd November, selected by Richard Roeper) and Best Movies Ever Made (2nd December, voted by the audience).

The Movies To See Before You Die are as follows:

1. The Godfather I-II
2. Citizen Kane
3. The Shawshank Redemption
4. Pulp Fiction
5. The Usual Suspects
6. Breathless
7. Annie Hall
8. It's A Wonderful Life
9. This Is Spinal Tap
10. The Searchers

The Best Movies Ever Made are as follows:

1. The Godfather
2. The Dark Knight
3. Star Wars IV: A New Hope
4. Gone With The Wind
5. The Shawshank Redemption
6. Forrest Gump
7. Casablanca
8. Schindler's List
9. GoodFellas
10. Titanic

Note that, in the audience poll, Titanic is the James Cameron version rather than the earlier British version. Roeper's list contains eleven films, as The Godfather and its sequel share the #1 position.

Interestingly, The Godfather is the #1 film in both lists, though the audience may have been influenced by Roeper's list. The Dark Knight and The Shawshank Redemption are consistently popular modern classics, though Roeper's list is too populist: it has no silent films, and only a single foreign-language film. (I compiled my own list of 10 Essential Films this month.)

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

10 Essential Films

A Trip To The Moon
Le Voyage Dans La Lune
A Trip To The Moon (Georges Melies, 1902)

The Cabinet Of Doctor Caligari
Das Cabinet Des Dr Caligari
The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari (Robert Wiene, 1919)

Battleship Potemkin
Бронено́сец «Потёмкин»
Battleship Potemkin (Sergei Eisenstein, 1925)

Citizen Kane
Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)

Double Indemnity
Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944)

Bicycle Thieves
Ladri Di Biciclette
Bicycle Thieves (Vittorio de Sica, 1948)

Rashomon
羅生門
Rashomon (Akira Kurosawa, 1950)

Breathless
À Bout De Souffle
Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard, 1960)

Psycho
Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)

2001: A Space Odyssey
2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)

Listed chronologically. Selected from a database of 500 Classic Films.

video

Sunday, 9 December 2012

The End Of Fun

Unholy McTrinity
Russian prosecutors are investigating one of the world's most prestigious museums, the Hermitage in St Petersberg. The museum is currently hosting The End Of Fun, an exhibition by Jake and Dinos Chapman, which opened on 20th October.

The exhibition includes the bronze sculpture Unholy McTrinity, which features a crucified Ronald McDonald. Police apparently received complaints from visitors accusing the artists of blasphemy. The show's centrepiece is a recreation of the Chapman's installation Hell, which was destroyed by a fire in 2004.

Blasphemy charges were previously brought against the Forbidden Art 2006 exhibition in Moscow. S Brent Plate's book Blasphemy discusses other blasphemous art. The End Of Fun will close on 13th January next year.