October 25, 2014

Hitchcock: Entertaining visit to Hollywood, with a Movie Menu extra helping of Hitchcock

Each week, the Reel Dad checks the nutritional value of a movie — new or classic — to help you choose what to watch. This week’s pick is a new film about the making of the movie Psycho, titled Hitchcock, opening this week in New York City before playing in local theaters.

For anyone who hesitated to step into a shower after watching the classic film Psycho, the new movie Hitchcock offers a delicious behind-the-scenes look at how cinema treasures are made. With a fun screenplay, rich visuals and delicious performances, this is the ideal celluloid confection for the holiday season.

Movie buffs have savored Psycho since it premiered in 1960. With an unconventional narrative — telling the story in three acts and killing off a major character early in the film — this deceptively complex film inspires film fans to dissect its many elements. As Stephen Rebello details in his book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, the real impact of the film — quite daring for the time — emerges from its creative treatment of violent images. Director Hitchcock delivers more chills through suggestion than most filmmakers achieve with detailed images.

Hitchcock the personality magically comes to life in Hitchcock as both a master moviemaker and a man troubled by his relationships with women. With great respect for the detail of Rebello’s book, the film offers marvelous anecdotes about how Psycho travels to the screen. Hitchcock is so filled with gossip and gab that it’s as delicious a movie diversion as we have been treated in quite some time. With the tease of a tabloid, balanced with the nuance of a novel, director Sacha Gervasi delivers a most entertaining view of Hollywood as well as an insightful look at the creative mind behind so many movies. Hitchcock always delights and never disappoints.

Sir Anthony Hopkins, assisted by great makeup, creates a convincing impersonation of Hitchcock, complete with the director’s rotund physical appearance and distinct speaking voice. The actor does not recreate “Hitch” — who became, thanks to television, a well-known character — as much as he uses gesture and expression to suggest how the director could have behaved. Director Gervasi cleverly parodies Hitchock’s introduction to his weekly series to introduce the film with subtle suggestion of the fun yet to come.

As appealing as Hopkins’ performance may be, the women in Hitchcock deliver the award-worthy performances. Helen Mirren, as the director’s wife and creative partner Alma, creates a memorable characterization of a woman talented enough to make a difference to what appears on the screen and insightful enough to know how to care for a creative spirit. Scarlett Johansson offers a pitch-perfect rendition of Janet Leigh in a remarkable portrayal that captures the magic of this actress while recreating her moments in Psycho. They both deserve to be remembered at Oscar time.

What makes Hitchcock such fun — and much more pleasing than last year’s similar My Week With Marilyn — is its marvelous attention to detail from the specificity of the shots from the original film to the gestures of the actors and the period detail of the physical production. The movie returns us to a time when the movies were as much about the people who made them as what we experienced in a theater. For a filmmaker as driven as Hitchcock, pushing the creative limits was all in a day’s work.

Film Nutritional Value

Hitchcock

* Content: High. For anyone who enjoys movies, especially classics, Hitchcock invites us to a behind-the-scenes look at one of the greatest directors at work.

* Entertainment: High. As it tells us all about one of our favorite movies, Hitchcock creates its own world of creative egos, fears and illusions.

* Message: Medium. The sensitive examination of Hitchcock’s marriage reminds us that even the famous face human challenges.

* Relevance: Medium. The film is great fun; you may enjoy it more the more you remember Hitchcock and his films.

* Opportunity for Dialogue: High. After you share this film, introduce your older children to the films of Hitchcock. Like this movie, they are great fun.

Hitchcock is rated PG-13 for some violent images, sexual content and thematic material. It runs 98 minutes.

4 Popcorn Buckets

Movie Menu

What’s on your family’s movie menu this week? Choosing what films to offer is a lot like planning what meals to serve: You want to savor something that you enjoy at the same time you nourish the mind, heart and body. Here are a few nutritional movies available this week on television and cable for you and your family.

North by Northwest, one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous films, shows a different side to the director’s creativity than what Hitchcock highlights. This entertaining roller coaster ride about mistaken identity serves its delicious delights in a fantasy world that only such a master cinema chef could create. No one but Hitchcock would dare to place his hero in an art gallery where those in pursuit have no intention of letting him go free or landing him, in the finale, on the face of Mount Rushmore in recently polished dress shoes. In every scene, Hitchcock creates the least likely setting for his unlikely target to try to escape. 

The crop dusting sequence is the piece de resistance of this movie meal. Only Hitchcock would put his hero in the middle of a field in the middle of nowhere. Slowly we begin to notice, in the distance, the sounds of crop dusting aircraft. As the engine noises grow louder we realize, before our hero, that he will soon be the target of devious flying. If only we could tell him to get out of the field as Hitchcock forces his hero to creatively consider how to get out of this maze. The moviemaker loves to push us to the edge by playing with what he knows we know as he puts his characters through one challenging moment after another. North by Northwest airs on Turner Classic Movies at 1:45 p.m. Friday, Nov. 23.

The legendary Julie Andrews was named the Best Actress of 1964 for her magical performance as Mary Poppins. This marvelous musical reminds us that families are as fragile as the most delicate of porcelain in the loveliest of living rooms. No matter how comfortable that place may be, and how much the people who inhabit the house may love each other, without commitment and nurturing a family may find itself less connected than what anyone hopes to be. 

And, without connection, the family will never experience the magic. Parents may forget — in a world filled with sophisticated ways to entertain — that something as simple as taking a few minutes to fly a kite can create just the kind of magic that can make a difference to children. Leave it to this most special nanny to help everyone in the house notice the magic they create for themselves when they take the time to spend with each other. Who else could host tea parties on a ceiling or win a racehorse in a chalk pavement picture? 

The world Poppins creates is beautifully brought to life by the Disney studios in, perhaps, their greatest film achievement. Walt Disney himself brings a personal commitment to the film, sparing no expense, and ensuring a standard of quality and clarity. At the center of the film is Andrews, in her Oscar-winning film debut, who radiates as Poppins. Today it’s marvelous to remember how exciting it was to first see this lovely actress on the screen. She was a superstar from the first frame. Look for Mary Poppins on ABC Family at 3:30 p.m., Friday, Nov. 23.

Serving nutritious movies can be as easy as turning on the television. And be sure, as you watch together, to share what you observe, question and consider. Watching movies together can prompt valuable family discussions.