FilmJerk Favorites

A group of unique directors and the essential works that you've got to see.

||| Alfred Hitchcock |||
Alfred Hitchcock

This is perhaps an obvious choice, however, most people tend to overlook the Master of Suspense’s early work as well as the relevancy of his last film as a key element in the continuing transition and development of the genre he defined.

One of Hitchcock's early triumphs, this predecessor to the mistaken identity man on the run scenario Hitchcock turned to time and again, stars Robert Donat as the innocent wrongly accused of murder and pursued by both the police and enemy spies. This is the first example of Hitchcock’s mastery over the suspense tale, giving us a glimpse of the greatness to come.

Considered to be one of Alfred Hitchcock's greatest works, this story of two men who meet by chance on a train and frivolously discuss swapping murders is a prime example of a common Hitchcock theme of the man who suddenly finds himself within a nightmare world over which he has no control. You can easily see how this film lays the ground work for the more popular “North by Northwest”.

Alfred Hitchcock's final film is a light-hearted thriller involving phony psychics, kidnappers and organized religion, all of which cross paths in the search for a missing heir and a fortune in jewels. Here, Hitchcock has brilliantly developed his signature form to include the now common, and often overused, device of plot twist, after plot twist, after plot twist. Widescreen!

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A Thousand Years of Good Prayers

By BrianOrndorf

November 6th, 2008

"A Thousand Years of Good Prayers" is a lovely film of small intentions, yet embellished with an enormous heart. It's a story of a father and a daughter forced to confront their mounting personal unease, yet the picture is far more interested in the mechanics of dialogue, and how interaction with fellow human beings can fill the nagging holes in the soul.

A Thousand Years of Good Prayers

Arriving in Spokane, Washington from Beijing to visit his daughter Yilan (Feihong Yu), elderly Mr. Shi (Henry O) is looking forward to working on his English and getting a better idea of why his daughter experienced a failed marriage. Once settled, it becomes clear that Yilan is hoping to avoid her father as much as possible, leaving Mr. Shi wandering around the neighborhood, striking up friendships with fellow adults of various cultural backgrounds. Trying to deduce just what’s ailing his child, Mr. Shi finds Yilan’s tolerant life challenges his customs, forcing him to reconsider his own mistakes to best appreciate Yilan’s.

Shot with HD cameras under the direction of Wayne Wang (with a script adapted from Yiyun Li’s short story), “Prayers” is a character piece that humanely probes into the conflicts of a father and daughter divided by cultural perception and wilted emotional exchanges. It’s a poetic film, quite satisfied with extended takes of observation, assuming the perspective of Mr. Shi as he ventures out into the strange land of suburbia greeting strangers with hopes to better relate to his daughter. Wang appreciates the stillness of Mr. Shi, using his reserved manner to contrast against the coarse politeness of the America he encounters, finding some light comedic moments to counteract what is a somber tone for the picture.

Just watching O’s performance is enough to allow “Prayers” to make a lasting impression. O’s work merges contemplative thought with social curiosity into a luxurious character who peers out from behind his years at a democratic land that confuses him, yet enchants him completely. While the Yilan subplot is where “Prayers” is ultimately headed, Wang makes time for Mr. Shi to have his adventures, most notably in the company of a similarly-aged Iranian woman who communicates with Mr. Shi through broken English and a shared history of political oppression. These moments capture the passion Wang is hoping for, sitting down with two lonely people and hearing their fracture enthusiasm for conversation and company. The film shines brightest when emphasizing these misplaced souls.

The payoff of Yilan’s distance is a complicated issue that fits uncomfortably with the rest of the movie dramatically, yet fulfills thematic requirements appropriately. Watching Mr. Shi and Yilan come to terms with their dysfunction isn’t easy to watch, and Wang treats the emotional frost with surprising reality, concluding “Prayers” on a mournful, yet accurate note of matured familial contentment.

My rating: B+