Sunday, April 17, 2016

A Perfect Murder

Year 8, Day 108 - 4/17/16 - Movie #2,308

BEFORE: We're about as far away from Halloween as we can get right now, but Turner Classic Movies has chosen to run a bunch of early horror/German expressionist films, like "Nosferatu", "Faust" and "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari", and I'm thinking that I've got a couple of vampire films lined up for Halloween, wouldn't these fit in nicely?  And while each individual film might not thrill me, the chance to have all THREE of those on a DVD is a chance I can't pass up.  And this is why I'm still making no headway on my watchlist - I got it down from 140 to 139 last week, but progress is stalled again.

Michael Douglas carries over from "Don't Say a Word".

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Dial M For Murder" (Movie #1,752)

THE PLOT: A Wall Street hedge fund manager whose speculations allow him to live an extravagant lifestyle with his younger wife discovers she is having an affair with an artist.

AFTER: They had to change the title of this Hitchcock story, I guess, because nobody dials the phone according to the letters anymore, am I right?  I miss those days when people tried to figure out a 7-letter word that would help them remember their phone numbers more easily, because who can keep 7 numbers straight?  Way back in the 1930's they had to use exchanges based on neighborhood names to keep things straight, like FAIrway-6704 or such.  And if you wanted to talk to an operator (because again, who can remember 7 digits?) you just dialed "0" and if you wanted someone killed, I guess you just dialed "M".  It was a rough time, but at least it was easier to hire a killer.  

The problem with a lot of Hitchcock films, besides his refusal to shoot in color, is that they look like they were shot on a very simple set, which they were.  Like with "Lifeboat", you know they didn't take Tallulah Bankhead out to the ocean and put her in a real boat, they had a fake boat on a gimbal and a rear-projection screen with the image of an ocean's horizon.  Compare that to a film like "Unbroken" or "Castaway" and you can see how far movies have come.  "Dial M For Murder" was based on a stage-play, which sort of explains how it all takes place in one apartment, and all the action is based on the movements and phone calls one can make inside that space.  But it's the rare case where the lack of different venues is forgivable, because it does add a distinct claustrophobic feel to the proceedings.  

Here with the remake, they did a really good job of opening the locations up, we get to see the artist's loft space in Greenpoint, the grand apartment on the Upper  West Side, complete with giant circular staircase, even the wife's mother's mansion out on Long Island.  Yes, we (eventually) find out that the young wife here is even richer than her older husband, which leads to a secondary motive for wanting her dead, her affair is not enough.  I guess when you put the two together, divorce is out of the question, because then she'd keep all her inherited money, plus half of the joint money, and that's just not acceptable once his stock speculations lead to margin calls, or something. 

So, Gwyneth Paltrow's character has to die.  And not for the usual reason, which is that she's recently pitched herself as a "lifestyle guru" with a blog with a ridiculous brand name (Goop) that pitches cooking and eating tips as if they're mantras for feeling good about yourself.  I read a Daily News article that took her cookbook to task - like grilled cheese sandwiches, for which you'll need bread, cheese, and a broiler.  Who knew?  And pita bread pizzas, which require pitas, store-bought tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and, let me guess, an oven.  She also recommends making beet chips and tomato soup that simmers for hours, when there are much, easier solutions already on the market.  But for someone who claims to want to "simplify" things for "super-busy" people, what could be simpler than opening a can of soup?  But I guess this is what you feel you have to do to stay relevant when it seems like Hollywood no longer has roles for you.

Hitchcock films also frequently featured characters talking about a "perfect murder", as if there could be such a thing, one with no clues, no loose ends, nothing to point the police toward who really committed the crime.  Steven Taylor here thinks he's come up with one, by hiring his wife's lover to kill her, thus exposing his true nature and motives for sleeping with her, getting rid of him and her at the same time, and allowing him to keep all of his money, and perhaps half of hers.  That's assuming that things go according to plan, which they don't.  After that it becomes a more dangerous game, with each side jockeying for position, hiding things from police, and seeing who can come out on top with the most assets.  Because speaking honestly or going for marital counseling was apparently never an option.  

It's a lot like someone put "Wall Street", "Fatal Attraction" and "Unfaithful" into a blender and hit "purée", then used that mixture as a sauce to cover Hitchcock's original film.  

NITPICK POINT: I get that Emily, the wife, works at the U.N. as a translator.  But why point out that she can speak to the lead police detective on the case in, what, Russian?  Especially if that's never going to be important later on.  I kept thinking there would come a time where she needs to tell him something without her husband being able to understand it, but it never came up.  So, that was a waste of time.  

NITPICK POINT #2: The murder plan hinges on Emily taking a bath at a particular time, because that's what she does when her husband plays poker.  OK, maybe people are creatures of habit, but she was clearly going through some emotional stuff, there's no guarantee she would have stuck to her routine.  Plus, who gets out of a bathtub to answer a telephone?  Yeah, people still called landlines back in 1998, but weren't they rich enough to afford an answering machine?  Hell, they were rich enough to hire someone to stand there and answer the phone for them.  

Also starring Gwyneth Paltrow (last seen in "Bounce"), Viggo Mortensen (last seen in "Hidalgo"), David Suchet, Sarita Choudhury (last seen in "Admission"), Constance Towers, Novella Nelson, Will Lyman (last heard in "Little Children"), David Eigenberg.

RATING: 5 out of 10 kitchen knives

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