Hitchcock ordered his assistants to buy every copy of Psycho in town so that no one would know the ending…

Instead of taking the usual biography film approach and trying to cram a person’s personality, relationships and life into a 2 hour film – which let’s face it, isn’t possible – this film focuses instead on an important and emotionally intense slice of Alfred Hitchcock’s life. The part during which he wrote and directed Psycho. It’s a great idea, because really you get to know a person best from what they do and how they react in a situation, especially a stressful one. Aside from that, there is also the more conventional movie narrative to add interest and tension.

This was a time of Hitchcock’s career when he had been criticised for playing it safe and for not being as bold or inventive as he was in his early films. Psycho was Hitchcock’s response and was a shocking film for the time. You know this when the censor vetoes a scene of a flushing toilet, reasoning that: “No film shown in the United States has or will ever show a toilet”. You can only imagine then what the response might be to a transvestite killer with mother issues who attacks women in the shower with a machete…

The Hitchcock of this film (played ably by Anthony Hopkins) is a complicated character, one who fantasises about and becomes overly attached to his blonde heroines (he cast a string of them in his films). His relationship with his wife Alma (Helen Mirren) is close and essential, since she is also a vital part of his writing team. However this marriage is on shaky ground as Alma is becoming closer to her friend and writer – Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston). To add to his woes no film studios have any faith in Psycho, and Alfred can only get it made by mortgaging his home to raise the funds.

Overall Hitchcock is a very good film, it’s engaging with emotionally complex characters. Even though most people will already know that Psycho was a success, it’s still interesting to find out about the story behind it, and how the actors were cast. For example Anthony Perkins was apparently cast as the killer Norman Bates because he was secretly gay, and therefore was always hiding (in his mind at least) what was a deep dark secret.

Interesting, engaging and well worth watching 7/10

Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) accepts congratulations from the inmates after recording his live album at Folsam Jail in 1968

All I knew about Johnny Cash before I watched this film was a few of his songs (Ring Of Fire, A Boy Named Sue, Walk The Line) and that he dressed in black. I feel like I know a lot more now but at the same time not necessarily as much as I hoped I would.

This is a biopic that tells the story of Cash’s early life and success, and it particularly focuses on his on/off relationship with the country singer – and writer of his hit “Ring of Fire” – June Carter.

Joaquin Phoenix is superb as a brooding Cash who feels constant guilt for his brother’s death, suffers from drug addiction and struggles with his relationship with his father. Importantly considering the part he’s playing, his vocal performances are spot-on and although you can of course tell it’s not Cash singing, he gets just the right amount of resonance and emotion into his voice. However this effect is slightly spoilt at times by it being noticeable that his live performances are overdubbed with a pre-recorded ‘live’ vocal track. It’s true that the quality of the singing is better this way but you do lose some of the rawness and spontaneity you get with a genuine live performance. That being said overall all the music is very impressive.

With less screen-time Reese Witherspoon is even better in some ways as June Carter, Cash’s main love interest (note Cash is already married). She displays a remarkable range in her acting, ably adding nuance and emotion through both facial expressions and body language. She is also vocally very capable. It is true she doesn’t have to carry the film like Phoenix, but she does very much bring June Carter to life as a real person.

I think it was sensible for the film to keep it’s focus narrow rather than trying to cram in too much but for me it’s just a little too focused on Johnny and June’s relationship. After the opening 20 minutes, you don’t really learn a lot else about Cash apart from this and in particular, the middle section of the film becomes a little bogged down in this way. However their story is told well with genuine affection and is often touching. Cash is painted here as quite a pathetic figure, constantly craving the approval of his father and often descending into a spiral of drink and drug abuse when things don’t go his way. He spends a lot of the movie following after June like a puppy-dog apparently needing her by his side before he can display any kind of mental strength.

A quality biopic with great music and performances, and if you stick with it through the slightly bland middle section, it’s a rewarding one too. 7/10

Sorry Leonardo but you won’t win an Oscar for this one….

Does anyone actually go to watch these biographical films at the cinema? Even at home I thought twice before pressing the record button. But anyway here we go…

Leonardo DiCaprio is a good actor and although much older now, he still has that boyish, slightly effeminate quality which has never quite left him. My initial impression was that maybe his J. Edgar Hoover wasn’t masculine enough but then after learning more about the man as the film went on – his latent homosexuality, his unusually close relationship with his mother and the wearing of women’s clothes. Well, maybe he’s a better fit for the role than I initially thought.

The film switches back and forth between J.Edgar’s younger days before he was head of the FBI, to his twilight years as head of the Bureau. I did find it interesting, and the relationship between the FBI and the government is especially illuminating. However there is the feeling that the portrayal of J.Edgar just isn’t as well rounded as it could have been – the film just seems to focus on a few key aspects of his personality, and you never get the impression you are watching a real person.

Only watch this if the subject matter interests you or if you are interested in history in general. 5/10