Passion Movie Review

Brian De Palma dips into his old bag of tricks once again with Passion, resurrecting his exercises in stylistic silliness. From Dressed to Kill to Body Double to Femme Fatale, it’s the director’s return to what could be described as Hitchschlockian. His affinity for the Master of Suspense has been evident for decades. Unlike Hitchcock, his homages come with a hard R rating and an increased level of the ridiculous. De Palma is winking hard here with throwbacks to past uses of split screen, which is used memorably in a ballet sequence mixed with blood. If only the whole thing were more consistently enjoyable.

The character of Christine (Rachel McAdams) is one that’s basically required to smoke cigarettes and she does. She’s an ad exec with limitless ambition and a do whatever it takes attitude. Her assistant Isabelle (Noomi Rapace) appears more quiet and reserved, but it turns out she’s ruthless as well. She’s having an affair with Christine’s beau (Paul Anderson) and that dynamic creates all kinds of melodrama as Christine wants her in that way as well. It all comes with a heaping of the sleaze De Palma is known for gleefully wallowing in. Karoline Herfurth plays Isabelle’s subordinate who also has a massive crush on her. Essentially, everyone has a thing for Isabelle. Rapace is stuck with the more subdued role while McAdams gets to have a good time with her over the top part.

Dressed to Kill is easily the filmmaker’s finest work in this genre. Nothing has really come close since, but all follow-ups certainly have their flashes of depraved fun. That applies to Passion, but it takes too long to get there. For De Palma aficionados, the nostalgic payoffs don’t really begin until that screen splits and twists start to follow. Unfortunately that’s about an hour into the proceedings. By then, even De Palma’s most ardent fans burning for Passion might have subsided a bit.

**1/2 (out of four)

The Disaster Artist Movie Review

The Disaster Artist begins with filmmakers J.J. Abrams and Kevin Smith and actors Adam Scott, Danny McBride, and Kristen Bell extolling the strange virtues of The Room. That terrible movie became one of the most unlikely cult hits of the 21st century. The rest of the picture details its strange maker Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) and the process to bring it to a midnight theater showing near you.

Just as The Room was Wiseau’s warped vision all his own, this is clearly a passion project for Franco. I suspect many of the other well-known actors who turn up in parts large and small are devotees of the unintentionally hilarious 2003 film that Franco is recounting. Like Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, this is a good movie about a bad director. Not as good, but it’s an entertaining watch that doesn’t probe too far into its subject’s real story. Truth be told, maybe we don’t really wanna know.

Tommy Wiseau wouldn’t want it any other way. We first meet him in San Francisco circa 1998 as he pours his heart into Marlon Brando’s monologue from A Streetcar Named Desire at an acting class. His rendering is quite awful, but it’s his devil-may-care attitude and blind commitment that gets the attention of Greg (Dave Franco). He’s a fellow student who’s more reserved. Tommy is too, but in a much different way. His age is a mystery and he’s not about to tell it. A European accent (where in that continent… who knows?) counters his contention that he hails from New Orleans. Most interestingly, Tommy seems to have a limitless supply of money and no one knows why.

His new pal Greg manages to ignore those puzzling personal aspects and they road trip it to L.A. to move in together and pursue their dreams. Although he seems to have some prospects, Greg can’t catch a break. Tommy’s overall bizarre vibe is an immediate red X to casting agents. The only solution is to finance his own feature.

And The Room is birthed throughout a long shooting process with a director who has no clue what he’s really doing. We see Wiseau torment his cast and crew because he read somewhere that’s how Alfred Hitchcock did it. Those who know The Room will revel in revisiting Wiseau (who casts himself as the romantic lead) and his humorously questionable line readings. There’s his screenplay that inexplicably brings up cancer subplots that go nowhere and sex scenes that would be deemed too horrible for 2am Cinemax play.

Franco, who also serves behind the camera, is obviously enamored with getting his portrayal of Tommy’s mannerisms and his journey to make this project as accurate as possible. Even if you’re not familiar with Wiseau’s cinematic opus, one YouTube viewing of an interview with him and you’ll know Franco nails it. The star/director, in addition to casting his brother, finds roles for Dave’s real life wife Alison Brie and his frequent costar Seth Rogen as a perpetually bemused script supervisor. Yet just as the real Tommy made his personal relationships and the shooting experience all about him, so is the case with The Disaster Artist.

That devotion from Franco is enough to make this a worthwhile experience. If you’re looking for any insight into what really made Tommy who he is, you won’t find it here. The ultimate irony is that Wiseau did end up succeeding in a town where that’s nearly an impossible feat. He didn’t know that the earnest drama he thought he was making would result in Rocky Horror Picture Show style late night screening madness. What kind of man could achieve this? We may never know, but it’s a fun question for Franco and others to ponder.

*** (out of four)

A Quiet Place Movie Review

Prior to this, John Krasinki’s most notable contribution to the sound of silence was his wordless and humorous deadpan expressions that populated each episode of “The Office”. That all changes with A Quiet Place, his supremely satisfying horror flick that uses the absence of noise in scary ways.

Tense and well-crafted, the pic is set in the near future as alien creatures roam the Earth and destroy anything that makes a sound in its path. The Abbott family exists in a rural town where seemingly all other humans couldn’t keep their mouths shut. Lee (Krasinski) and wife Evelyn (the director’s real-life wife Emily Blunt) are raising three youngsters – their deaf daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and two younger brothers. Their every move and action is designed not to elevate decibel levels to dastardly outcomes. A battery-powered toy causes a family tragedy.

About a year later, the Abbotts are coping with loss while Evelyn is in the final days of a pregnancy. This brings the natural question: how in the world can they survive with a baby on the way? The film takes careful consideration of the details to their staying alive. The characters are in a persistent state of worry. So are we.

A Quiet Place has a simple concept and wisely doesn’t waste time explaining the events that put the Abbotts in their predicament. We know we need to know. Make a sound and you’re a goner. Perhaps sequels or spin-offs will delve into the history. It’s not exactly necessary. Krasinski had previously made two comedic dramas that made little impact with critics or audiences. We did not know he was capable of something like this and it’s an announcement of a filmmaker who’s found a roaring place in this genre. There’s some Spielberg influence, a sprinkle of Shyamalan, some Hitchcockian stuff here and there. Additionally there’s an Alien vibe happening. That classic’s tagline was “In space, no one can you hear you scream.” The rule is Earthbound here. Yet it also feels highly original at times.

Much of the film is silent itself save for the solid musical score. We don’t even get the amount of symphonic jump scares that you might expect. Like many famous horror titles, A Quiet Place has something to say about parenting and you may find yourself reconsidering its themes of that subject once the credits roll. Krasinski and Blunt are convincing as the protectors of their always vulnerable flock. Simmonds (who is deaf herself) is terrific. The picture is pulled off well enough that you may find yourself tempted to tip toe immediately afterwards.

***1/2 (out of four)

Nocturnal Animals Movie Review

Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals is centered on a woman living in a fancy world surrounded by her own boredom and regret at certain life choices. The film is an often fascinating mash-up of Hitchcock, a little De Palma inspired Hitchcock, and most surprisingly, a West Texas crime tale that looks and feels like this year’s earlier Hell or High Water. We also have a more conventional tale of a romance gone astray and the emotions involved with that. It’s a concoction that sometimes is a little messy, a tad campy at moments, veers in tone shifts, and is also directed a fashion designer who seems to know exactly what he wishes to fashion.

L.A. art gallery owner Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) is living a wealthy life in an unhappy marriage and a career she’s grown to believe is purposeless. One day, she receives a manuscript. It’s from her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) that she was only married to for a couple years around college. The novel grabs her. It’s the aforementioned High Water looking story of a remarried Edward on a West Texas road trip with his wife and daughter when they are terrorized by bad guys led by a disheveled and effectively menacing Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Their encounter takes a dark and tragic turn and soon Edward is teaming up with a ranger (Michael Shannon, in a terrific performance) to deal with its aftermath.

The story cuts back and forth between the actions of Susan’s ex-flame’s West Texas narrative (is it real or not?) and her unhappy life on the West Coast. We also witness the courtship of them in college. This juxtaposition creates an often dream like quality (a little David Lynch thrown in for good measure) and it’s rather intoxicating. We basically get to know everything we need to know about Susan’s character in a great short scene with Laura Linney as her debutante mom. Other key characters and their motivations don’t become clear until later.

Nocturnal Animals looks gorgeous as you might expect from a designer that Jay-Z made a song about. The cinematography is stunning and the musical score is often reminiscent of something we’d hear in an old Hitch pic or perhaps De Palma homage. There are moments that recall Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon in plot had that movie actually succeeded. Tom Ford wears his influences proudly and unabashedly in his sophomore effort. It’s anything but boring.

***1/2 (out of four)

Remaking Hitchcock

There’s a segment in Gone Girl where the bizarre relationship between Rosamund Pike and Neil Patrick Harris comes to a rather memorable end. This sequence contains a mix of sex and violence that would’ve made Alfred Hitchcock proud. It’s the kind of scene that the master director probably would’ve loved to film had the time he was making movies allowed it.

This is why, for the first time, a remake of a Hitchcock classic actually doesn’t sound like a bad idea. It was announced this week that Gone Girl’s director – the brilliant David Fincher – will helm a remake of Strangers on a Train, Hitch’s 1951 effort. The screenwriter is Gillian Flynn, who of course wrote the Gone Girl book and its screenplay. Ben Affleck will star.

If there’s anyone out there who could pull off the daunting task of remaking Hitchcock, it’s Fincher. Having said that, the last time an Oscar nominated auteur attempted the same feat… well, it failed miserably.

Gus Van Sant, who was fresh off Oscar attention for Good Will Hunting, made the infamously terrible decision to do a shot for shot remake of Hitchcock’s Psycho. Audiences and critics alike didn’t understand why and it struggled at the box office.

Psycho was released in 1998, as were two other Hitch remakes that also made little impression. A Perfect Murder took on 1954’s Dial M for Murder and starred Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow. It did better financially than Psycho but couldn’t hold a candle to its source material.

On the television front, Christopher Reeve appeared in one of his final roles headlining a rehash of Rear Window. While Reeve received positive notices, the picture itself didn’t.

Indeed the director who’s probably had the greatest success remaking Alfred Hitchcock is Alfred Hitchcock. In 1956, he released The Man Who Knew Too Much with James Stewart and Doris Day to solid box office results. 22 years earlier in England was his even more acclaimed original with Peter Lorre.

I’ll say this: Gone Girl is a movie that Hitchcock probably would have found highly enjoyable. The fact that its team is now involved in a direct homage to the filmmaker is certainly going to be interesting to watch.

 

 

 

This Day in Movie History: January 11

29 years ago today in Movie History – January 11 – Beverly Hills Cop with Eddie Murphy would top the box office in its sixth weekend while on its way to breaking various records. Cop was released at the height of Murphy’s super stardom. He’d already had significant successes with 48 HRS. and Trading Places, but Beverly Hills Cop turned him into the biggest movie star in America. The film would end up grossing $234 million domestically, making it 1984’s highest domestic grosser and the biggest earning R-rated picture of all time. That record would stand for almost two decades until 2003’s The Matrix Reloaded. The inevitable sequel in 1987 would post solid numbers with $153 million. By the time part 3 came out in 1994, Murphy’s career was on the downslide and a meager $42 million domestic gross would result. The actor’s inability to turn the third installment into a hit and the following year’s bomb Vampire in Brooklyn had some wondering if Murphy’s career was over, but 1996’s The Nutty Professor would revive his standing with audiences.

As for birthdays, Rod Taylor turns 84 today. He is best known for his leading man roles in 1960’s The Time Machine and especially in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1963 pic The Birds. He would continue to work in movies and TV for decades. Recently, Quentin Tarantino was able to coax him out of retirement to play Winston Churchill in an important sequence alongside Mike Myers and Michael Fassbender in 2009’s Inglourious Basterds.

Amanda Peet is 42 today. She first became known to moviegoers as Matthew Perry’s dental assistant turned aspiring hit woman in The Whole Nine Yards. Since then, she’s appeared in various pics from Saving Silverman to Changing Lanes to Igby Goes Down to Something’s Gotta Give to Syriana to 2012.

As for Six Degrees of Separation between the two:

Rod Taylor was in Inglourious Basterds with Brad Pitt

Brad Pit was in 12 Monkeys with Bruce Willis

Bruce Willis was in The Whole Nine Yards with Amanda Peet

And that’s today – January 11 – in Movie History!