Thursday, May 16, 2013

recent historical movies without Lincoln

Hitchcock. Blatant but half-hearted attempt to depict Hitchcock's creativity as a function of his psychology. Focused half around the making of Psycho, which actually gets scanted (if you're seriously curious, read the book about it), and half around a hackneyed, probably half-invented crisis in his marriage, which at least gets resolved and they walk away happy. Anthony Hopkins sounds rather like Hitchcock but looks nothing like him, instead resembling a gigantic hideous malformed superannuated baby. Actors I didn't recognize until I read the credits: Toni Collette as Hitchcock's stereotypically long-suffering secretary, Peggy, and Michael Wincott as Ed Gein (the real-life murderer who was Bloch's inspiration for Norman Bates), who frequently appears in Hitchcock's imagination as his psychotherapist. Bloch does not appear but is namechecked, as is Anthony Boucher in whose review Hitchcock learned of the book, and Hopkins pronounces Boucher's name correctly, so somebody was paying attention.

Hyde Park on Hudson. Another movie that can't decide what it is, a memoir by FDR's mistress Daisy or an account of King George and Queen Elizabeth's visit to Hyde Park, much of which Daisy missed. The latter is much more interesting and amusing, as the King and Queen whisper to each other trying to figure out the hidden political implications of being served hot dogs. Daisy is naive to the point of being dull, and the film reaches its nadir when she tearfully discovers she's not FDR's only mistress (ya think?). The opposite of Anthony Hopkins, Bill Murray doesn't sound much like FDR, but manages physically to resemble him impressively. Surprising presence: Olivia Williams as Eleanor (doesn't look much like her). Regrettable absence: any reference to the fact that Daisy bred Scottish terriers, and, over a year after the events of the film, gave FDR the immortal Fala as a present.

Hatfields & McCoys. Considering that I panned The Godfather as three hours of men pointlessly killing each other, why, then, did I so richly enjoy this mini-series, which is five hours of men pointlessly killing each other? Possibly because it didn't pretend to be anything else. The whole point is the futility and the stubbornness that makes it futile. And it's really well done, grippingly written with yeoman work on a filmmaking quality standard that hardly existed forty years ago. Kevin Costner as old man Hatfield and Bill Paxton as old man McCoy are both really good - no Costner ticks - and lead a memorable cast. The historical accuracy is impressive, especially considering that so is the lucidity - the clear flow of the story, plus the fact that, in a story where a state line running down the middle of the battlefield is a major factor in the plot, the script is always clear whether you're in West Virginia or Kentucky at the moment with virtually no use of title cards.

42. Jackie Robinson's uniform number, a piece of trivia I hadn't known. Covers the first two years of Robinson's career with the Dodgers, one year with a farm team and one in the majors. Ends with the Dodgers winning the pennant (they lost the Series, so who wants to end with that?). Another uneasy balance of a movie, between the black man in a hostile world and the Good whites being noble. Bridges this by giving Robinson other blacks to talk with (his wife and a semi-narrative sportswriter) and by showing Bad whites unflinchingly. The baseball itself, besides being rather advanced for this non-fan, is genteel, much more so than in A League of Their Own - no pissing, no managers yelling at boneheaded plays - but the racist catcalls from the stands are unabridged. A scene with an opposing manager trying to get Robinson's goat with the crudest possible insults is chilling. Added extra bonus disconcertion: he's played by Alan Tudyk.

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