Whether it’s the breakfast special or a milkshake and a burger at noon, a diner is one of my favourite places to relax . . . and do movie quizzes. In fact, this might be our easiest and most relaxing quiz ever. What do you like that’s on the menu?
Whether it’s the breakfast special or a milkshake and a burger at noon, a diner is one of my favourite places to relax . . . and do movie quizzes. In fact, this might be our easiest and most relaxing quiz ever. What do you like that’s on the menu?
*. There’s a longstanding debate when making movies in English with a cast that’s supposed to be speaking in a foreign language. Not whether they should speak in the appropriate language and be given subtitles, that’s a preliminary decision, but whether, if they’re speaking English, it should be regular, “proper” English or English spoken in a thick (and usually laughably fake) accent of whatever language the characters are presumed to be speaking.
*. This can often be seen in World War 2 movies. Do the German officers speak in a posh British accent, or do they say things like “Ve haff vays of making you talk!” Do Russian and Japanese soldiers sound like they’re struggling to get English word order right? That sort of thing.
*. I couldn’t help but think of all this while listening to the cast of House of Gucci. Obviously, they’re Italian, and mostly speaking Italian to each other. But as an English-language production they have to be speaking English. Speaking English in an Italian accent is meant to indicate with a nod and a wink that this is-a what’s-a going on.
*. Performing in such a way can’t be easy. I imagine it as acting with a handicap. Jeremy Irons is an old man now, and to be honest I felt like about halfway through this film he was sort of giving up on the pretense of the Italian accent and just falling back into his regular voice. Meaning that as Maurizio Gucci gets older and sicker he starts to sound more British. Which felt odd.
*. It’s also hard not to let such voices slip into parody. Which actually works for characters like Aldo (Al Pacino) and especially Paolo (Jared Leto) who are more caricatures anyway. I read the book by Sara Gay Forden that the movie was based on and was struck by how Paolo is really set up here as a total idiot as well as an only son, and he wasn’t either. He had no head for business, but then neither did Maurizio (played by Adam Driver).
*. In any event, this movie is a star vehicle for Lady Gaga as Patrizia Reggiani anyway, and Gaga (born Stefani Germanotta) is at least of Italian descent (though her accent was criticized as sounding Russian by a dialect coach who actually worked on the film). I think she’s very good here at expressing a sort of wide-eyed earnestness ripening into something feral, and she makes the movie what it is. It’s not an easy part, having to allow for us to question just how much Patrizia was always a woman on the make and how much she really was in love with Maurizio.
*. On the other hand, I’m still not convinced Adam Driver is much of an actor, but he does bear a resemblance to Maurizio Gucci, who seems to have been a shadow of Patrizia in real life anyway.
*. Aside from just watching Gaga do her a-star-undone thing, I didn’t think there was much to see here. The Gucci family are an Italian snake pit in a tradition that runs from the Borgias to the Sopranos. That’s entertaining enough, but after a while I thought it all started to seem a bit like a fashion show. Director Ridley Scott can really do this kind of thing (production design, art direction) well, but the story probably would have worked better in the long format of a cable series as the business ins-and-outs have to be compressed to the point here where they’re more a distraction than high-stakes drama. And do I think the InvestCorp brain trust would be having meetings in team sweats? No.
*. Speaking of wardrobe, I’m sure they did a terrific job, but Lady Gaga’s lingerie did strike me as being anachronistic. At least I’m pretty sure thongs like that weren’t worn in the 1970s. They look very 2020.
*. In brief, I would have enjoyed it more if they’d played it up as full camp, which is obviously the tug that’s being felt throughout. Unfortunately, the talent involved meant they had to try for something more, and to be sure the camp road might well have ended in disaster. So in the end what they got is a muddle: a slickly produced but empty picture that’s part romance, part biopic, part crime picture, part business story, part music video. Some of it is trashy fun, but I’m hard pressed to think of what the point was.
*. That’s O as in OJ. Or Orenthal James Simpson. That Odin James, the star athlete here, has the same initials is surely just a coincidence.
*. I jest. The parallels between the Simpson case and the story of Othello were obvious and much remarked upon at the time this film came out (the Simpson trial concluding in 1995). It’s clear that the makers were plugging straight into it. And yet . . .
*. And yet listening to the commentary by director Tim Blake Nelson and the interviews with Nelson and the cast included with the DVD there is no mention whatsoever to O.J. Simpson. I find this to be a conspicuous omission and I’m not sure what explains it.
*. The other big headline tie-in for O was the school shooting at Columbine, which happened in 1999. That’s after this movie was filmed, but since it happened just at the time it was going to come out, the release date had to be pushed back over a year.
*. This (school violence) is a subject Nelson does talk about, and at one point during the commentary he even specifically compares Odin and Hugo to Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold (the Columbine killers). The thing is, where the O.J. Simpson connection is obvious, and I think significant, I don’t see anything meaningful in viewing O as a story relating to school violence. Is that really what this story is about? I don’t think so.
*. Whatever the subtext, I think this is an intelligent adaptation of Othello that works on most levels. Othello is Odin James, a star high school basketball player. Iago is Hugo, son of the coach (“Duke” Goulding, “or The Duke, as he is called”). Desdemona is Desi. There’s a handkerchief. Some of the lines are closely followed but translated into the vernacular. Like: “Reputation? Who gives a fuck about reputation?”
*. There are of course some changes, but I thought most of them made sense. Hugo, for example, is motivated by jealousy over his father’s love of Odin. This is believable and helps simplify the play in a way that was probably necessary. And while Hugo’s plan at the end is overly complicated, at least he has one. I’m not sure Iago had any vision of where all this was getting him.
*. One change I didn’t care for, or understand, was the business with the doves and the hawk. This struck me as laboured and unclear. Odin is a hawk (because he’s not like the other birds, being the only black student at this school), but Hugo is also a bird of prey among the innocents. Whatever. I never cared for John Woo’s birds either.
*. Another thing I didn’t “get” was the introduction of the date-rape scene. There is no corresponding event in the play, and it’s presented so awkwardly here that it makes me wonder why they bothered.
*. Here’s the set-up. Desi and Odin escape on a planned getaway to a motel. In order to have sex. In case there is any doubt about consent, Desi makes herself clear before things get started: “I want you to do what you want with me. I want you to have me however you want. I want to give myself to you the way you want me. Don’t hold back.”
*. They do have sex. Desi gets on top for a while, then they settle into some basic missionary. At some point she asks him to stop, though it isn’t clear what he’s doing that she objects to. This later leads to a discussion over whether what happened was date rape.
*. The interpretation of all this is difficult. For what it’s worth, Desi is emphatic that it wasn’t rape. But I couldn’t figure out why they introduced such muddy waters in the first place.
*. The cast is decent, with the exception of Josh Hartnett’s performance. That’s not to say Hartnett does a bad job, it’s just that the way he plays the part of Hugo seems wrong to me. And I’m assuming that was by design.
*. Is this just a matter of taste? After all, many reviewers found Hartnett’s understated approach impressive, and Nelson praises the performance as expressive of “charm and intelligence.” But I still think it’s a mistake. The thing is, Hugo really has to come off as someone who is well liked and capable of inspiring trust in others. Think of how often Iago is described as “honest” in Othello. Does Hugo seem honest to you? I can’t believe anyone would trust him for a minute. Even the hapless Roger should have seen right through him.
*. This restraint is also expressed in the direction. At one point on the commentary Nelson refers to how “the feel of the filmmaking here is very determined, careful, deliberate, and rational as well,” in order to mirror Hugo’s plotting. That’s defensible, but again I think it works against what the film needs, which is a faster rhythm, pulling us along in the fateful undertow. Despite not being a long movie, it moves through a lot of plot at a sedate pace.
*. Julia Stiles seems to have been the go-to girl for Shakespeare adaptations at this time. She was in the Taming of the Shrew rom-com 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) and a modern-dress Hamlet (2000) around the same time. I wonder if that was all by chance.
*. There’s a scene in English class where the kids are being taught Shakespeare. Obviously if they’d been reading Othello that would have been a little too obvious, so instead they’re doing Macbeth. But when the teacher gets upset at Hugo and Odin talking in class, she rounds on them and asks “Would either one of you care to name one of Shakespeare’s poems?” Why? Why would they be talking about Shakespeare’s poetry in a class on Macbeth? And while Shakespeare wrote two long narrative poems that had titles, his best-known poems are his sonnets, which didn’t have names, only numbers. This seems an odd slip for such an otherwise literate script.
*. It’s a hard movie to fault when you look at it piece by piece. As I’ve said, it’s a smart, literate adaptation. The performances are capable. The racial angle is effectively presented. Odin’s final lines, making a passionate appeal for some respect and not to be seen as a stereotype, are very strong and underline what I think should have been the main theme of the film. Hugo, however, sucks a lot of the life out of the proceedings and Nelson just doesn’t bring any spark to the direction. It’s definitely worth a look, but at the end of the day I can’t call it a success.
*. I really enjoyed Under the Silver Lake, though I feel guilty saying that.
*. I think my guilt arose from a sense that it was a good-looking, meaningless tease that works hard to give the impression of being about something deep or important or serious, of having “something to say,” when it really doesn’t. At the end of the day, I don’t think there’s anything under Silver Lake. But it’s still a lot of fun just for its aesthetic-intellectual veneer.
*. It’s beautiful on the surface. Huge credit to cinematographer Mike Gioulakis and production designer Michael T. Perry for creating such a fantastic alternative L.A., with locations ranging in their fancifulness from Sam’s enormous apartment (which looks the size of about three L.A. apartments in such a complex) to the Songwriter’s San Simeon/Xanadu. The camera seems in love with all of this, from tricky long shots like the entry to the club where the girl is singing to the magical walk Sam (Andrew Garfield) and Millicent (Callie Hernandez) take by the mesh fence around Silver Lake. The lighting on the fence is truly beautiful, turning the fence into a glowing membrane separating us from dreamland.
*. A movie that looks this good could get by just on being so nice to look at. But the design and the colour and the way the camera moves are only parts of what is an elaborate striptease. Now a striptease is fun as it happens, and that’s really the whole point of it, but should we be disappointed at the payoff here, the absence of any final reveal?
*. Because I don’t think Under the Silver Lake makes any sense. People, including some of the people involved in its making, testify that there’s much more going on here than can be deciphered in a single viewing. Or even multiple viewings. I’m sure that’s true. Perhaps if you play the parrot’s squawk backwards it’s actually saying something. But these hidden correspondences are just more layers to be peeled off the onion without taking us anywhere aside from the basic idea, common to such plots since the 1960s, that we have a need to find pattern and meaning in a world that we perceive to be increasingly chaotic and meaningless.
*. I see Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 as being the ur-text of this kind of story, and while Lynch is the obvious comparison to make for this movie, I still found it more Pynchon than Lynch in that it more directly interrogates conspiracist thinking and theories. There’s been a multiplier effect though in these kinds of fantasies given the reach and intrusiveness of the Internet, and Under the Silver Lake offers up a warren of rabbit holes to duck down. But do any of them connect?
*. I’m sure connections can be drawn, but they remain tenuous at best. I was left having no real idea what the Songwriter was up to, how the Owl’s Kiss fit into things, or what Sam’s relationship to his ex-girlfriend signified. The idea that billionaires were being buried alive in the Hollywood hills with nubile lovers was something I couldn’t understand the point of. The Comic Fan (a wonderfully creepy Patrick Fischler) seems to have some vision of how all this fits together, but he’s not talking.
*. Wasn’t there something just a little sexist in the way all the young women became indistinguishable and were treated as props to be dressed (or undressed) in creative ways, by both the men and the movie itself? I don’t usually call movies out for this, but here I was wondering if it was deliberate.
*. So nothing added up for me. Perhaps there was an explanation for it, but writer-director David Robert Mitchell (who did It Follows) isn’t going to tell us what it is. Just for starters, what exactly does Sam do, or even want to do with his life? Has he come to L.A. to make it as a musician? Is that something he’s working at? How long has he been coasting before getting bounced from his huge apartment and having his sports car repossessed? I guess none of that matters.
*. I don’t know if Mitchell, who I think is one of the most impressive new talents going, had a point, buried it too deeply, or just wanted to have fun playing with the whole ball of yarn. What is expressed, I think, is less a search for meaning in modern culture than the desire to somehow establish that all of modern culture — the pop songs, the video games, the magazines — isn’t just a crushing waste of time and bottomless pit of shit, like the full toilet bowl we stare down in one scene. You can indulge in that kind of fecal haruspicy if you want, but isn’t that a hole you’d rather not go down?
*. Despite my reservations I think Under the Silver Lake is a terrific little movie and comes close to being a great one. A big drag on it though is Garfield, who looks the part but just doesn’t sound right. He may be even more miscast here than he was playing Peter Parker, and the character is just a little too shallow to relate to as well. At least I couldn’t figure him out. My sense is that at the end he’s on his way to becoming a new version of the Comic Fan, and that he might just be OK with that.
*. If the whole thing was meant as a parody of a David Lynch movie, which it may well have been, it might be enjoyed on that level. Even at 140 minutes it doesn’t feel long. But I was just there for the striptease. Does it all add up to anything but a pile of discarded clothes? I didn’t think so, but that doesn’t bother me.
*. Over the years, there’s been significant interest expressed in remaking the Italian film Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion for a North American audience. At one point Paul Schrader wrote a script and Al Pacino or Christopher Walken were tabbed to star, but the project was shelved (and Schrader and Walken went on to do The Comfort of Strangers, which was at least set in Italy). Then Jodie Foster’s production company was said to be interested, with Sidney Lumet set to direct, but that didn’t go anywhere either.
*. There are various reasons for wanting to remake a foreign-language movie. Probably chief among these is the idea that it will play well in domestic markets. But I think for the talent I just mentioned it was more likely that they either thought it was a great idea that would translate well to a North American setting, or because they felt the original left something on the table.
*. I think both of these were in play. There’s a great premise here, whose satiric message about political corruption and the bureaucratic madness of the justice system would play just as well in the U.S. in 1970, or, for that matter, today. But at the same time, it’s an idea that has more potential than is realized here. Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion was well regarded when it came out, winning the Grand Prize at Cannes and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, but it’s a movie where I think people saw a lot of room for improvement. It had a great story, but the execution was off, and quickly dated.
*. Pauline Kael found it off-putting: “The film is extremely dislikable. Petri is a highly skilled director but he doesn’t use suspense pleasurably; he doesn’t resolve the tensions, and so you’re left in a rather foul mood.” I don’t really agree with this, but I can understand Kael’s feeling of queasiness. It has to do with the question of tone. Just what kind of a movie is Elio Petri making?
*. One with a political message, to be sure. But the satire and general sense of loopiness muddies the water, much as it did in The 10th Victim. It’s hard to take the proceedings seriously, especially with Ennio Morricone’s score playfully going boing-boing in the background. But most disconcerting of all is the dream ending, which takes a perfect ironic climax and just tosses it aside. Why? By that point it was clear we were no longer watching a movie that was trying to be realistic, however serious its themes.
*. Gian Maria Volonté plays a chief homicide inspector (“Dottore”) who decides to kill his lover in order to prove, perhaps only to himself, that he is untouchable. But his actual motivation is as obscure as it is perverse. He may just be bored. It’s hard to see him as a Roman Raskolnikov, trying to prove that he is beyond good and evil. And it’s equally hard to see him as a fascist zealot, because what would his scofflaw attitude be proving then, to himself or anyone else? I understand Petri’s point in all of this, but what is Dottore’s? Exposing police corruption? Roger Ebert thought he was driven by a compulsion to find out just how powerful he really is, but I think he’s more consciously self-destructive than that. He’s been a master of the game and now he’s sick of it. He’s an artist, with a fetish for staging crime scenes, and what he really wants to do is direct . . .
*. We’re left with a line from Kafka and he may be the real presiding spirit, with his sense of the absurd and that we are all somehow victims of the law, whichever side we’re on. But this is another thing that undercuts Dottore’s big speech about how tough the police have to be on crime.
*. I don’t think Petri was trying to be suspenseful, which is something else that might have attracted Hollywood. This is really a sort of reverse of The Big Clock, with the killer wanting to be caught. You could also connect it up with the American cinema of paranoia of the 1970s, only this time seen through the eyes of the Man.
*. Even more perversely, to my eye, is that it’s not a movie that scores many style points. Poliziotteschi usually have more signature moments in them than this. The only grin I got was the art gallery of oversize hand- and fingerprints. Which was gloriously silly in the best Italian way.
*. So I can see wanting to remake it ten or twenty years later. And indeed I can see it being remade today. I think it would work. Just think of how many times The 10th Victim has been remade, under various titles, and the ideas being explored here are equally as contemporary and pressing. Dottore is really just a phoney who has never had anyone call his bluff, which has only made him bolder and more degenerate. Those guys are still with us.
Time to get a grip this week. A grip around the necks of your enemies as you squeeze the life out of them! Now see if you can get a chokehold on some of these movies . . .
*. In the 2010s horror films, or at least some horror films, started taking a higher road by making a raid into the territory of art-house and social commentary. In terms of the former it branched off into the realm of the weird, and in the latter case the woke (a label I’m using a bit freely here to cover a range of social-justice attitudes, primarily relating to race and gender).
*. I don’t mean those labels to be pejorative, though they certainly can be taken in that direction. The thing is, genre filmmaking needs a shot in the arm every now and then to jolt it out of stale formulas and conventions, and by 2010 (or thereabouts), coming down from “peak zombie” and with shaky-cam horror having lost its novelty, horror fans were looking for something new.
*. Weirdness and wokeness did give us something new, and there were some great results. It Follows and Get Out being a couple of the best examples. But weirdness could also turn into an invitation to narrative laziness and the construction of stories that made no sense with “twist” endings that had no explanation, while wokeness could become preachy and simplistic. Put the two together, and ridden to excess, horror was getting both pretentious and obscure.
*. Alex Garland, writer-director of Men, is someone who has never shied away from obscurity or pretention, so I wasn’t too surprised at how it turned out. Harper Marlowe (Jessie Buckley) is a young woman recovering from the apparent suicide (even that’s not clear) of her abusive husband. So she rents a ginormous country estate as a getaway. Right away my humbug alert was triggered. Why on earth would a single person want to rent such a huge place for a bit of quiet time? It’s ridiculous.
*. But then I guess we’re meant to suppose we’ve removed to fantasyland: a place of mythic greenness with apparently very limited phone service. The fact that phones can’t get a signal is a well-worn horror cliché by now, as is the idea that in an emergency Harper doesn’t even know the address of the place she’s just rented. Like I say: fantasyland.
*. To make not much of a story even shorter, Harper finds the village she’s staying in to be populated by a bunch of guys who are really only one guy, played by Rory Kinnear. Being men, they range from threatening to unhelpful. Whether any of them actually exist or are just products of Harper’s sense of guilt, or whether they’re emanations of some supernatural, ancient force, the embodiment of the Green Man of local lore, is up for grabs. And then maybe they’re just meant to illustrate the point that all men are the same (that is, shit), and the question of whether the way they manifest makes any sense or not can be left hanging.
*. OK, there’s the weird and the woke for you. Grounded in a home-invasion plot and what’s come to be called folk horror. But compare this to an ur-text of folk horror like The Wicker Man and you can see the difference. The Wicker Man made sense, and its twist at the end was truly disturbing. Men isn’t into making sense so much as making a point.
*. Garland isn’t without talent. But Men starts out as atmospheric and creepy and quickly turns into something dull and stupid. The serial births at the end go on too long, and Harper looks like she’s gotten bored of the spectacle before it’s halfway through. I kept imagining her turning away and saying “you’re all just being silly now.” And none if it is anything new. For scenes of body-horror birthing, the end of The Brood was more horrifying and shocking, the end of Gozu weirder, and the end of The Amulet a more powerful feminist statement. Rory Kinnear’s bloody self-recycling is only repetitive and ridiculous, with a climax (or punchline) you’ll have seen coming long in advance.
*. The direction taken by the horror that I’ve been describing can work if it’s part of a genuine effort in making it new. But just being weird and woke is already starting to feel stale, and this is a movie that’s basically going over tropes that have been well mined already, without the courtesy of being coherent. It looks good and the performances are nice to watch though, which is enough to give it a passing grade in the present climate anyway.
*. I’ve mentioned before the tension in Othello between the roles of the two leads and the way Iago tends to take over the play. Orson Welles’s 1951 version actually reverses the usual polarity, with his gruff and plus-size Moor dominating Micheál MacLiammóir’s somewhat weedy Iago. Of course, it probably helped that the film was Welles’s baby.
*. This version of the play achieves more of a balance. That isn’t how it was received, however, as most of the praise went to Kenneth Branagh’s Iago. Rita Kempley in the Washington Post put it most forcefully: “Kenneth Branagh doesn’t just steal the show; one suspects he might have sat in the director’s chair as well.”
*. Well, maybe he did. But I think not. This movie (directed by Oliver Parker, who, fun fact, first appeared on the big screen as one of the moving men in Hellraiser) doesn’t have the flair and quickness on its feet of one of Branagh’s productions at the time.
*. Is that a bad thing? I don’t know. I’m not sure if Branagh is really the man for tragedy. And overall, I’m of the opinion that Branagh’s Shakespeare films describe a long downhill slide. His Henry V remains his best of them, in my opinion. And I really liked parts of Much Ado About Nothing. By the time we got to Hamlet, however, something was clearly going wrong.
*. I started feeling a little too used to his performances as well. Sort of like a singer whose voice you once fell in love with but who, when you hear more of their stuff, you start to get tired of all the same vocal tricks and limited range. I think Branagh is a fine actor, but his particular habits — the way he mouths his wide-chopped lines, or the way he turns his misty eyes up to the sky — start to seem too familiar and repetitive after a while. It’s also disturbing that he has the same mannerisms no matter what the role.
*. In any event, I think Laurence Fishburne makes a good counterweight. He plays Othello in a different register, which works because the character is meant to be someone who’s a bit exotic. He also has a brooding gravitas that balances Iago’s false amiability. In short, it’s a good pairing.
*. The film was lauded for being sexy, though I wonder if it was sexy enough. Then again, as a general rule, Hollywood doesn’t do sexy well. What it does well is romance, which is something different. Think nice clothes, candles, exotic locations, hands gripping preternaturally clean sheets. I guess in the play Desdemona is a bit of a romantic princess, but I think for the jealousy and the taboo element to really work there needed to be more heat. That’s not a complaint particular to this production though, which does at least make gestures in the right direction. Almost all of the Desdemonas I’ve seen have been too pure and fragile.
*. So Iago dies at the end? I can see that satisfying the audience’s sense of justice, and I think it’s often been presented this way (on film, for example, in the 1922 version). But it seems to me that if you’re going to go with this ending you have to edit out the lines that make it clear that he survives. Here they’re left in, and the ending only seems an excuse for that final tableau on the bed, where I didn’t think Bianca really belonged. I do think Emilia is a sadly underwritten character in the play, I’d love to have more of her, but as it is she’s very much a supporting role.
*. It did very poor box office, in part due to not having a wide release and coming out over the Christmas holidays. In any event, something about it doesn’t work for me. Of course, enjoying tragedy, especially one as depressing as Othello, is a figure of speech that has to be unpacked. But everything about this production just seems too heavy.
*. Were they trying to be too faithful to the text? Welles cut the play to pieces and made a far better movie out of the scraps. This Othello seems afraid to take chances, and while a production that’s hard to fault for anything in particular, I don’t think it’s much of a movie.
*. Years ago, at a time when calling out Hollywood for making stupid movies was in vogue, Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla (1998) received special attention. Though I didn’t hate that movie, I did have to agree with the complaints made about how dumb it was. As Roger Ebert put it: “One must carefully repress intelligent thought while watching such a film. The movie makes no sense at all . . . You have to absorb such a film, not consider it. But my brain rebelled, and insisted on applying logic where it was not welcome.”
*. If there is a lifetime achievement award for stupidity in stupid movies, Emmerich must be on the shortlist for it. Is Moonfall his stupidest yet? It may well be. I don’t think it’s a lousy movie, or any worse than Godzilla, but it left me trying to think of what age the audience would have to be to not need to check their brain at the door.
*. The “high concept” here is that our moon is actually a “megastructure” built billions of years ago by refugees fleeing a powerful AI they’d constructed that went sentient and decided it didn’t need humans anymore. So much for the theory of evolution and our understanding of the creation of the solar system.
*. Anyway, as things kick off here that same AI has discovered the refugee base inside the mostly hollow moon (which is, apparently, powered by a white dwarf star), and it (the AI) sends the moon crashing into the Earth. A shuttle crewed by three intrepid souls — Halle Berry and Patrick Wilson, both former astronauts, and John Bradley just because he happened to be hanging around NASA at the time — fly to the moon where they go inside and kill the AI and save the world, though Earth gets a pretty sound thrashing before the moon backs up and returns to its regular orbit. Which means everything returns to normal!
*. Well, you can try and come up with a sillier plot than that but I think you’ll be at it for a long, long time. This is as dumb as it gets. Dumber even than Geostorm, though this is a better movie. And if you want to see the end of the world, Emmerich is still your guy. He’s been doing this for a while now.
*. To be honest, I initially thought this was going to be a comedy. Wilson, though buff enough here to try out for the MCU, has a nice comic touch playing a straight man, as seen in all those Conjuring movies. Bradley is just comic relief as the chubby conspiracy-theory nut. And even Michael Peña shows up as the all-too-disposable second husband. Throw this cast on top of an already ridiculous script and there was potential for lots of laughs. Alas, they play most of it with a straight face.
*. Despite it being so stupid, I still found Moonfall entertaining enough, even at 130 minutes. The ending suggests a sequel, which is something Emmerich apparently did have in mind, but I’m not sure the box office was good enough to justify any further expense. On the other hand, Emmerich is just going to do the same thing again anyway, no matter what the title is, so why not?
*. I think most people agree that Hitchcock’s filmography runs hot and cold. His output was highly variable, especially when he strayed from his comfort zone, which was the exploitation of an audience’s discomfort.
*. Among those of Hitchcock’s films that David Thomson rates as “thumpingly bad” he places The Trouble with Harry, and it’s a judgment I’m happy to sign on to. At least to my eyes this is a movie that doesn’t work at all. But just to play fair, it does have its fans and was apparently one of Hitch’s own favourites. And it still has its admirers today. Edward White, for example, in his recent biography The Twelve Lives of Alfred Hitchcock calls it “a much-overlooked gem of the Hitchcock canon, valuable not only because it is well structured and highly and entertaining but also because Hitchcock felt it reflected much of his personality.”
*. I want to stick with White’s book for just a bit, in part because I think it may be true that this is a movie that reflects much of Hitchcock’s multifaceted personality, but more because of what Thomas has to say about Hitchcock as entertainer, and specifically as a funny man. This gets to the core of where I think The Trouble with Harry goes wrong.
*. “Hitchcock wouldn’t be Hitchcock if the brooding darkness weren’t undercut by humor,” White writes. “In Hitchcock’s mind, humor wasn’t simply a garnish of color or light relief: it was the silver thread that ran through most of his best work.” His comic sensibility is said to have “stayed conspicuously constant across six decades of filmmaking — in fact, it might be the most recurrent element of his artistic style, even more than the suspense on which his legend has been built.”
*. Pointing out Hitchcock’s sense of humour is fair game, but I think it would be wrong to elevate it to this level of primacy. I bring all this up because The Trouble with Harry is a comedy, and not even remotely a suspense thriller. You have to judge it as a comedy, not a movie with some comic bits thrown in meant to leaven the horror. And judged by those standards I reckon it a total failure, as there is nothing funny about it.
*. Part of the problem is the script, which I wouldn’t have thought full of comic potential. It’s based on a novel by the English writer Jack Trevor Story that was set in England. Hitchcock transplanted the action to New England (Vermont), but kept a British actor, Edmund Gwenn for one of the leading parts. Gwenn isn’t funny, but he isn’t the only one left out at sea. There’s no black humour in just trying to get rid of a corpse again and again, and even the double entendres littering the script fall flat. Hitchcock could work sex and jokes into his thriller plots, but not the other way around.
*. I think everyone knows the real essence of comedy is timing. And I’d argue timing is the essence of suspense as well. But they’re different sorts of timing, and while Hitchcock understood the latter, he seems to have had no sense or feel at all for the former, at least in this movie.
*. Everything else about the film seems clunky too. There are continuity errors, problems with the sound, and crudities that you just wouldn’t expect in such a production. Like the jarring cuts from shots of the countryside back into the studio (complete with painted leaves). Or the way the lemonade sits without moving in the glasses of Sam and Jennifer when they’re talking together on the porch. I don’t know why that bugged me, but it did. Also bugging me was the way that they were supposedly digging a grave in a forest with a flat coal shovel as well as a spade. Good luck with that! Not going to happen.
*. Hitch wanted Cary Grant for the lead, but he’d gotten too expensive. John Forsythe struggles with the part, but I think Grant would have too. It’s just a ridiculous role and I don’t know how anyone could have played it. Shirley MacLaine is terrific in her screen debut, but the part of Jennifer wasn’t quite as hopeless.
*. That’s Jerry (the Beaver) Mathers playing Arnie, though this wasn’t his first movie. It was, however, Hitchcock’s first collaboration with composer Bernard Herrmann. Aside from Hermmann and MacLaine though I don’t think there’s anything worth noting here. Paramount didn’t want Hitchcock to make it, but they had a deal. As is the case more often than they get credited for, the suits were right.