Category Archives: Film

Movie Review: Hitchcock / Truffaut (2015)

Respected critic Kent Jones’s documentary about the book of conversations between the two directors serves as an engaging introduction—or, if you’ve read the book, a worthwhile companion that offers added value.

When I first heard of this film about the conversations that took place between directing giants Alfred Hitchcock and François Truffaut about the former’s body of cinematic work (collected in a great 1966 book), I wondered if it was going to be a dramatization, a la Frost/Nixon. The interviews Truffaut conducted with his directing hero were of course far less combative and prosecutorial than those between the BBC reporter and disgraced former President, and so it’s hard to see where the dramatic conflict would lie. (So, for instance, the French stage play inspired by the book seemingly needed to add violence into the meeting, which it turned into a “confrontation”.)

That’s all irrelevant, because Hitchcock/Truffaut is not a dramatization; it’s a documentary—and one clearly made with love for Hitchcock’s work. It’s narrated by actor/filmmaker Bob Balaban, who got on famously with Truffaut while shooting Close Encounters of the Third Kind (read his excellent production diary), but it’s really the audio of the H/T interviews (overlaid with footage from Hitchcock films) that drives the film forward, along with pieces to camera from directors who were inspired by the book. Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Peter Bogdanovich and Richard Linklater are only a few among those on the roster here, and what they have to say is often tremendously insightful. Far from simply extolling Hitchcock as an inspiration to them, they all comment substantively on his work. Jones said in a Q&A at the BFI that he was interested not simply in Hitchcock’s technical style as the “master of suspense”—something he felt had been talked about enough already. He wanted to explore Hitchcock the man and the things that motivated him as an artist. Since Hitchcock opened up to Truffaut considerably in the interviews, they offer the best vehicle for exploring those things.

The film uses excerpts of the interviews, and words from the various directors, to provide a whistle-stop tour of interesting themes or questions in Hitchcock’s career. From his childhood fear of police influencing his perennially making “wrong man” thrillers, to his use of physical objects because of their often fetishistic symbolic meanings, and (although not covered in as much detail as it could have been) his working relationship with actresses.

It also does a great job of giving us the historical context attendant to Hitchcock’s career. The film reminded me of the rigors of purely visual storytelling involved in silent era films. It casts Hitchcock’s “actors are cattle” view of directing actors against the evolution of the star system and the rise of schools of acting that made it a serious discipline, and asks whether Hitchcock could have directed a Pacino or Hoffman in his typical way! It also quite interestingly asks what role Hitchcock’s style of filmmaking plays today, when multitudes of stories on different media compete for our attention, and when audiences’ expectations of storytelling have changed–we perhaps expect faster and more intense visual stimulation. Jones points his sights at The Fast and the Furious as an easy target here.

At 79 minutes’ length, the film breezes by. Personally I would have liked it to further develop some of the interesting questions it raised, but having said that, it probably strikes the right balance in terms of making the film interesting to a wide audience. I read the book exactly ten years ago and it’s inspired me to dig it out and re-read. By giving it some context and sharing with us some of the things that great filmmakers got out of reading the book, it offers some new perspectives with which to look back at the book and Hitchcock’s oeuvre.

P.S.: The audio of the conversations between Hitchcock and Truffaut has been available online for the past five years!

Indiana Jones 5: Lessons from the Crystal Skull

Earlier this week, Deadline reported that Steven Spielberg wants to direct Disney’s reboot of Indiana Jones, with Parks and Recreation and Guardians of the Galaxy star Chris Pratt donning the legendary fedora. There’s no confirmation, but another Indy film is pretty much guaranteed. In December, Disney CEO Bob Iger tweeted that the Mouse House intended to revisit the franchise at some point.

Bert Macklin and the Raiders of the Lost Park

With this news, I decided to go back and re-watch the last Indy instalment, the much-derided Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Continue reading

Thoughts on Her (2013) and Consciousness

For me, Her is the best film of 2013. I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days. It was an engrossing, original piece of cinema that delivered an ingenious concept in an emotionally authentic way. It’s the very best kind of sci-fi—one where the premise serves the growth of the characters. Spike Jonze has rightly been honored by the WGA for the script, and by rights he should be getting an Oscar on March 2.

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Creatives at the Cinema: Walter Mitty, Llewyn Davis and Mr. Banks (Review/Essay)

During the farewell fortnight of 2013, I watched three films released during or immediately before the holiday season: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (dir: Ben Stiller), Inside Llewyn Davis (dirs: Joel and Ethan Coen) and Saving Mr Banks (dir: John Lee Hancock). In that order (which, incidentally, is also the ascending order of how highly I rate them). They’re distinct movies that take place in varied settings, but what unites them is that each tells a story about creative people and (perhaps more obviously with the latter two than Walter Mitty) sheds light on some aspect of creativity and living the life of one who creates. I’ll review each film in turn and talk a little about what each has to say about creativity. Mild to moderate spoilers present.

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Star Wars Saga: What’s The Best Viewing Order for First-Timers?

The circle is now complete. Well, in truth it has been for eight years, after 2005’s Revenge of the Sith provided the final remaining chapter to the six-part Star Wars saga. Of course, Disney’s announcement last autumn of its Lucasfilm purchase and its plans for new Star Wars films means that circle is about to get a whole lot bigger (make that two circles = ∞, as the Mouse House plans to make an apparently endless number of annual films). How the Arndt-penned, Abrams-helmed Episode VII will fit in remains to be seen, but it will undoubtedly introduce Star Wars to a new generation of moviegoers. Legions of young new fans—and older hermits who’ve inexplicably not seen these ubiquitous films—will approach the original six-parter (ideally before seeing the sequels) with fresh eyes. So the question becomes: in which order should Star Wars Episodes 1-6 be watched?

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