One would expect a Baz Luhrmann, Tim Burton, or Steven Spielberg to be responsible for tedious, rambling fluff like The Aviator. Indeed, I can scarcely believe that this way-overlong, splashy biopic about the aviation movie-maker and entrepreneur Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) could have been directed by the same man who helmed Goodfellas and Taxi Driver. Yet it was. The man’s name is Martin Scorsese, and his understanding of the word “sellout” is second to none among Hollywood’s elite.
That Blackmail should be Hitch’s first talkie is tacit in the film’s very title: a blackmailer’s irony would be difficult to capture solely through facial expressions and intertitles. The opening scene, however, initially seems a preamble to a silent film. It commences with typical Hitchcockian energy, a hustle-and-bustle approach that presages Rich and Strange or North by Northwest.
The first few minutes of Lars von Trier’s genre-defying film Melancholia do what so few films in recent memory have done: celebrate the unexpected. A woman in a bridal dress? Birds falling slowly to earth and horses collapsing on their rear ends? A dark planet drifting through space? The “Liebestod” from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde playing in the background? And it’s all shot in super slow motion. Later on, these seemingly disparate elements will begin to make sense, but they ultimately leave the viewer in a state of quiescent post-contemplation, never clarifying their intentions with semaphores.
From the outset of The Wrong Man, it’s evident that this is a very different kind of Hitchcock film. Which turns out to be both good and bad. For one thing, Hitch’s beloved cameo appearance is absent for the first and only time in his oeuvre. Instead, he sets the stage by walking toward the camera as a brightly backlit silhouette in a dark alley, informing us that unlike any of his other pictures, this one is a true story. Whereupon the ensuing explanatory note tells us that this tale is “stranger than the strangest fiction.” In this stark docudrama, in other words, Hitch’s characteristic flair for the melodramatic and suspenseful take a back seat to realism. The result is a film that becomes a bit clinical at times, dragging from event to event along a timeline as the wheels of justice churn ahead slowly. Nevertheless, as audiences had come to expect from Hitchcock, The Wrong Man exhibits a trenchant eye for details of both the visual and the verbal kind.
“It’s an evil fucking room.” Samuel L, Jackson, as Dolphin Hotel manager Gerald Olin, sums up the nature of the evil in 1408 with his usual pithy bluntness. In this intense horror flick based on a Stephen King short story and directed by Swedish filmmaker Mikael Håfström, there are no visible ghosts (well, maybe a few short-lived ones), headless phantoms, or flesh-eating zombies. And thank God, because it’s generally so much scarier without them. The baddies in this film are forces unseen, demons who possess a room rather than haunt it. Part nightmare, part acid trip, part psychological thriller, 1408 is one of the more successful King adaptations, combining the cerebral with the visceral in a way that may even outstrip Kubrick’s The Shining (which, for the record, has never been one of my favorite Kubrick films)..
There are films that ramble, films that pander, and films that needlessly exploit. Spring Breakers achieves the rare dishonor of excelling at all three. Apparently director Harmony Korine believes that the best way of satirizing the moral decadence that continues to rip apart society’s seams is to rub peoples’ noses in sex and violence. Given the maturity level of your average sex-starved teeny-bopper wannabe, that’s like giving a chocolate bar to a six-year-old and reprimanding him for enjoying it. Spring Breakers, despite its pseudo-intellectual pretensions, has the essential qualities of a mass-audience-pleasing film. Korine’s acid-rave cinematography, spiraling around beaches and party rooms showing off bikini-clad bods, glamorizes the lusts for nether pleasures. Everyone knows that the weenie is an easier muscle to work than the brain.