Thursday, November 1, 2012

Capsule Reviews: A Perfect Getaway, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, Marnie

A Perfect Getaway (David Twohy, 2009)

David Twohy's A Perfect Getaway is a lean, juicy thriller with a twist so good that not even an hour's worth of teasing it saps its effect. "Nothing bad ever happens in Hawaii, right?" says one character during the film's placid opening, though even then his voice betrays doubt, and Twohy's sweeping panoramas of lush forests and beaches communicate remoteness and isolation as much as postcard-ready beauty. Steady long takes let the murmurs of a double murder on a neighboring island sink into the frame visually, casting shadows on its small but dynamic cast of newlyweds and lovers who come to fear for their safety. The actors do their part too, with Steve Zahn's nervously darting eyes suggesting first humorous discomfort, then mounting dread, and Milla Jovovich getting the best opportunity outside one of her husband's films to show off her enigmatic poker face reactions. Perhaps best of all is Timothy Olyphant, almost endearingly arrogant as a "man in full" (as his girlfriend calls him) When the other shoe drops, Twohy's stately, patient direction obviously shifts into a higher gear, but this only shows off other facets of his skill. A chase through the forest is subtly propelled further by comic-panel-like screenwipes that elide over a few steps to give the sequence even more momentum. The final showdown manages to consolidate even the characters' relationships into its tense payoff. (A sidenote: stick with the streamlined theatrical version over the director's cut, which adds most of its extra time to a key flashback, nice and nasty in the original version but overlong in extended form).

Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (Frank Tashlin, 1957)

My first Tashlin, though God knows why. This film plays like Amazon's "recommended for buyers of ____" feature for the entirety of my film-watching habits. From its deliriously cheeky credits, featuring both Tony Randall incompetently introducing the film and a host of leg-pulling fake ads, Tashlin wastes no time setting the frenzied tone of the farce. Tashlin's use of color and light makes artificial voids out of his sets, further emphasizing the mock construction of filmic images and how these false icons become social objectives for viewers encouraged to buy their way into a movie- and TV-approved lifestyle. As much peevish delight as Tashlin gets out of sending up advertisers, however, he also uses Rock Hunter to critique a society that gets its cues from advertising and pop culture, creating a Mobius strip of behavioral influence between pop and life that cheapens both. It ranks among the most pointed social commentaries of American life in the aftermath of World War II through the present, and even its lack of overt cynicism helps it embody the foolish, avaricious optimism that propels our self-image.

Marnie (Alfred Hitchcock, 1964)

Given Tippi Hedren's recent, public revelation of her torment at Hitchcock's hands, it is almost unsettling to consider that this film, taken with Hedren's other star turn in The Birds, contain some of the director's most rounded, sympathetic views of women. (Granted, this is saying nothing, but still.) Marnie privileges its female protagonist's perspective entirely, its flashes of humming red and shimmers of fake lightning, as Robin Wood once perceptively said, throwbacks to the director's early and formative exposure to German Expressionism. Admittedly, it's a shame Hitchcock did not have the faith in either his own talents (or, more likely, the audience's capacity to piece things together for themselves) to let these visuals speak for Marnie's mindset, but the mad, brilliant excesses of the film help keep the film moving where, say, Psycho grounds to a halt. From its early close-up on a purse made to look blatantly vaginal through the disturbing scene of marital rape between Sean Connery and Hedren, and its aforementioned cinematized explanation, this is one of the master's greatest films.

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