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A Year with Hitchcock: The Manxman, by Reed Lackey

7 Feb

The last of Alfred Hitchcock’s silent films is also arguably the best (although The Lodger remains the most significant). With strong, well-defined characters, a poignant and emotional narrative, and sturdy, focused direction, The Manxman is a solid entry in the filmmaker’s early catalogue.

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A Year with Hitchcock: Champagne, by Reed Lackey

4 Feb

Sometimes films aren’t trying to be anything complex or deep or rich or thought-provoking. But they at least need to not be boring. Champagne isn’t trying to be anything but a silly farce. But when the director of said farce is Alfred Hitchcock (albeit while his legacy was still in its infancy) it’s nearly impossible to divorce the expectations from the end result.

Ultimately, Champagne doesn’t amount to much of anything. It’s silly. At times, it’s even chuckle-worthy. But mostly, from both a narrative and thematic standpoint, it’s little more than a hollow waste of time.

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A Year with Hitchcock: Easy Virtue, by Reed Lackey

1 Feb

There is a discrepancy with when Easy Virtue was made in Hitchcock’s filmography. Truffaut’s definitive study of Alfred Hitchcock places this film as directly preceding The Ring, while most other records has it two films later. Regardless of when it was made, this one is quite fascinating, even if it isn’t very good. It contains very few of Hitchcock’s reputational trademarks, and yet somehow still makes sense when considered among his other early films.

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A Year with Hitchcock: The Farmer’s Wife, by Reed Lackey

28 Jan

Of all the things you’d expect from an Alfred Hitchcock film, straight-forward comedy would probably be last on the list.

Enter this early little gem — which would never rank among the comedic greatness of Keaton, Chaplin, or Lloyd (or even the funniest of Hitch’s work) — but is disarmingly funny nonetheless. The premise is very simple: a widower farmer decides to seek a wife. He seeks out a new bride in an almost mathematical fashion, frequently with highly comedic rejections. I chuckled several times during this film as each new rejection increased in absurd over-dramatics. It doesn’t ever quite rise to the status of screwball gold, but there are genuinely humorous moments.

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A Year with Hitchcock: Downhill, by Reed Lackey

26 Jan

Downhill is another early Hitchcock film – released in the US as When Boys Leave Home, under which it is most easily located – that wouldn’t classify at all as suspense (although it does maintain a certain ominous tone).

It’s a small character piece about a man who takes the blame for his brother’s wrongdoing (and suffers a variety of societal troubles as a result). It stars Ivor Novello (who played the lead role in The Lodger and actually wrote the play upon which this film is based). The story takes his character through a variety of jobs, a few relationships, and even a stint as a homeless vagrant. However, for all of the travels the story takes our hero through, he frustratingly ends up very much where he began, with no characters including himself having learned terribly much about the experiences. As a narrative it’s pretty innocuous and as a technical achievement it’s rather pedestrian. There are a small handful of notable shots and, as previously mentioned, the tone is effectively ominous throughout the film. But ultimately, this film does not hold up well.

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A Year with Hitchcock: The Ring, by Reed Lackey

23 Jan

An outlier in the filmography of a man mostly dedicated to suspense stories, The Ring is a sports-centric, love-triangle drama, and one that is surprisingly effective, despite some obvious flaws.

There is some conflicting information surrounding the chronology of The Ring in Hitchcock’s filmography. Most sources place it as immediately following The Lodger (which is where I’ve chosen to include it). However, according to “Hitchcock Truffaut” by Francois Truffaut, this was actually Hitch’s sixth picture. I mention this trivial contradiction because regardless of whether it was his fourth or sixth film, Hitchcock himself regarded it as his second “true Hitchcock film.”

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A Year with Hitchcock: The Lodger, by Reed Lackey

20 Jan

Hitchcock, and most of his critics and fans, consider The Lodger to be the first “true” Hitchcock film, despite the couple of earlier entries in his catalogue. It is unquestionably the most noteworthy of all of his early silent films. The Lodger certainly feels like what you would expect from an early Hitchcock film. It contains nearly all of the suspense master’s trademark qualities: suspicion, intrigue, murder, and – of course – blondes.

It is also the first representation of his most common theme, although mentioning precisely what that is would certainly constitute as a spoiler, so I’ll save it for the end.

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A Year with Hitchcock: The Pleasure Garden, by Reed Lackey

11 Jan

Hitchcock began his career in films designing title cards for the London branch of Paramount Pictures. He eventually worked his way up to assistant director and ultimately, of course, to director. The very first directorial effort by Hitchcock was a film called Number 13, but a production cancellation midway through due to financial difficulties caused the film to remain incomplete and what little there was of it has been lost to time.

I half expected The Pleasure Garden, the earliest surviving directorial effort from Hitchcock, to be flat and uninteresting. On the contrary, I rather enjoyed it.

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A Year with Hitchcock, by Reed Lackey

5 Jan

The phrase is this “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” What I think we mean when we use it (or its reverse that the whole is “lesser”) is a certain intangible quality that can’t quite be dissected or calculated. It reflects a sensibility that language is still struggling to define about why something “works” or doesn’t.

We consider this issue when discussing film constantly. Franchise installments are constantly being ranked in comparison with their sibling entries, which deepens and furthers the conversation on that particular franchise as a whole.

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Christmas Evil, by Reed Lackey

24 Dec

If you’re of the ever-growing variety of holiday movie-watcher who prefers sardonic wit and dark humor to sentiment and sap, or who prefers a bit of menace and violence to caroling or cookies, then top off the eggnog, because there’s a holiday treat in store.

Better Watch Out, a new film from director Chris Peckover (only his second feature), begins simply enough: responsible babysitter Ashley (Olivia DeJonge) is set to watch over 12-year-old Luke (Levi Miller) on Christmas Eve while his parents attend a party. This will be one of, if not THE last time, that Ashley will watch over Luke before she goes away to college and Luke wants things to be special. Unfortunately, the night is not long underway before it appears that someone may be trying to get into their home… if they aren’t already in.

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