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Over Pressure, by Reed Lackey

14 Jan

In the realm of faith-based films, perhaps the least likely of sub-genres to encounter (second only to out-right horror) is the suspense thriller. The challenges in developing a compelling narrative while still making the film accessible to families are numerous. Tackling those challenges in his most recent film, Thy Neighbor, is director George A. Johnson, who has managed to craft a compelling and provocative suspense film, even if it does still succumb to some of the usual difficulties of both the suspense and faith-based genres.

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The Uncurious Case of Adam McKay, by Tyler Smith

18 Dec

It may have helped his career and general pedigree, but it would seem that the worst thing for director Adam McKay’s artistic sensibilities was winning that Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar in 2016 for The Big Short. In rewarding his comedically-anarchic approach to would-be dramatic material, the Academy essentially communicated to McKay that his throw-everything-at-the-wall instincts were much more of an asset than a liability. And while it can be refreshing to portray harrowing real life events in a humorous fashion – see Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin as a recent example – it can lead to an unevenness of tone and execution that amounts to a sort of thematic wheel-spinning; making a lot of noise, but ultimately going nowhere. This is most certainly true of McKay’s new film, Vice, which purports to portray what lay behind the actions of former Vice President Dick Cheney. The instincts that may have served McKay well with the event-centered Big Short fail him here, as his attempts to make an illuminating character study are undercut by his own incredulity. The final product is a film that is self satisfied, condescending, and – perhaps worst of all – exceedingly uncurious. 

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Lookin’ for Adventure and Whatever Comes Our Way, by Josh Long

6 Dec

It’s always a bit strange to me that the “road movie” is even a genre. It’s a weirdly specific format and structure, and while I don’t have any problems with it, I always wonder what draws people to that particular type of story. Maybe it’s the wonder of seeing different places, maybe it’s the pressure cooker of people trapped together in a vehicle (a plane, train, or automobile, if you will) for long periods of time. Maybe it’s the unlikely connections between people, which has become a staple of the genre. Whatever it is, people are still making road movies and will continue to do so. While Hannah Fidell’s The Long Dumb Road may not bring anything strikingly new to the road movie, the wit and the performances make it a worthwhile watch.

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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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Master Weaver, by Bob Connally

22 Jan

Through 21 years and 8 features, Paul Thomas Anderson has been making his mark time and again as a singular filmmaker. Often celebrated for his shot compositions and the level of bravura he brings to each project, what often gets lost is his extraordinary ability to create unique characters with incredible dimension. While his casting choices are impeccable there’s a reason the greatest actors of our time are so eager to work with him. For one actor in particular, Daniel Day-Lewis, Anderson’s latest film turns out to be (at least for now) an unexpected swansong. Few actors or actresses have had a better one.

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