Sunday, December 6, 2009

Film Review: PSYCHO (1998, Gus van Sant)

Stars: 3 of 5.
Running Time: 105 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Ann Heche, Bill Macy, Vince Vaughn, James Remar (RENT-A-COP, THE WARRIORS), James LeGros (PHANTASM II, ACE HITS THE BIG TIME), Viggo Mortensen, Julianne Moore, Philip Baker Hall, Rita Wilson, Robert Forster (ALLIGATOR, VIGILANTE). Music by Bernard Herrmann. Cinematography by Christopher Doyle.
Tag-line: "Check in. Unpack. Relax. Take a shower."
Best one-liner: "She might have fooled me, but she didn't fool my mother."

Perhaps Gus van Sant wanted to prove that 'movie magic' doesn't necessarily reside on the duplicatable surface. Well, Gus: point taken. Like the clone of a human being would not possess the same memories (or soul), a nearly shot-for-shot remake (with the same script and Herrmann score) of PSYCHO is going to strike your average cineaste as ill-advised. [Gus does add a few flourishes (i.e., Mom Bates lets down her hair, murders are crosscut with subliminal flashes of gals in lingerie, rolling clouds, and cows (!).]

Or maybe it's a goat? It's only on screen for like 1/20 of a second.

But by no means is this bad. It's packed with talented actors, all trying their best: Bill Macy as Arbogast, Viggo Mortensen as the hayseedily sincere Sam Loomis, James Remar as the stern state trooper,

James LeGros as the car salesman, Philip Baker Hall as the sheriff, and Robert Forster as 'the guy who gets to explain everything at the end.'

Forster spells it all out.

Ann Heche (as Marion) is no Janet Leigh, and her haircut is pretty questionable, but she holds her own.

In the middle of all this is Vince Vaughn (a few years before he began exclusively playing himself) as NORMAN BATES. Wearing tight, gay bowler(?) attire and engaging in some dubious line readings, Vaughn is in wayyy over his head, and he knows it.

Consequently, the level of fear he exudes in each scene varies depending on how talented his costars are (note his heightened jumpiness around Bill and Viggo).

He does nail that final stare, though, so it's not a total loss.

Anyway, I guess Gus couldn't decide whether or not to have this thing take place in 1960 or 1998. Well, to be more accurate he DID decide- the opening titles say "1998," but he neglected to tell his cast, all of whom seem to have costumed themselves. Julianne Moore, for example, rolls in with headphones, a backpack, and a hoody- pure 90's.

Mere seconds later, Bill Macy scoots in wearing a zany royal blue suit straight from the 50's. I guess Gus also neglected to tell Bill Macy that he wasn't playing Sky Masterson.

Viggo attempts to mentally reconcile the collision of 50's and 90's happening before his very eyes.
Macy is the best. And he really milks that stairwell tumble for all it's worth.

Nice! Three stars.

-Sean Gill


BelmontHeir said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
HK Fanatic said...

I think I might be a Gus Van Sant apologist of sorts, 'cause I really like this movie. Well, "really like" as in I can appreciate that it's not the complete disaster a remake of Psycho ought to be. Maybe it's just the talent involved: Christopher Doyle as director of photographer, Viggo and William H. Macy...I can even find things to appreciate in Vince Vaughn's decidedly neurotic performance.

One thing: Danny Elfman actually did the soundtrack for the film. It's a variation on Herrmann's score but I'm fairly certain it's not identical. Also, there's a pretty decent Pet Shop Boys song on the soundtrack called "Screaming."


Sean Gill said...

No, I definitely enjoyed this thing far more than I ever thought possible, and Doyle's cinematography always goes a long way.

I did a little research just now on the music- evidently the official line is that Elfman "adapted" Herrmann's score, which, from what I can gather, means that he kept certain parts exactly the same, but changed the tempos, orchestration, reverb, etc. in certain places. The result was, for someone who hasn't watched the original in a few years such as myself, to think that it was entirely a duplication.

J.D. said...

I tried to get into this film being a big Van Sant fan (I even like COWGIRLS GET BLUES) but I'm sorry, he committed cinematic heresy on this one. The casting of Vince Vaughn was all wrong starters. With his hulking, imposing frame, he just doesn't pass mustard as a supposedly meek Norman Bates ("who wouldn't harm a fly.") who is secretly a killer. Anne Heche has always been the acting equivalent of a black hole for me (right up there with Tia Leoni) and I would have rather gone with Drew Barrymore in the same role in SCREAM!

I dunno, this project was just ill-conceived from the jump and died a merciful quick death critically and commercially.

Sean Gill said...

Heh, yeah I kinda get the idea that they cast Vaughn based on his ability to do the creepy stare at the end, and maybe neglected to have him read any of the scenes that required Perkins' nuance.

Anonymous said...

I've heard about his cameo...That's clearly the goat from Jurassic Park. I'd heard he worked closely for a long time with director Gus Van Sant to get his onscreen image "just right". It's a pity the scene was cut due to time constraints. Oh well, that's Hollywood. More can be heard about it in the directors commentary on the Bonus DVD.