Sunday, May 3, 2020

100 Words on Terrence Malick's A Hidden Life (2019)

By Thomas Puhr

Austrian farmer Franz Jägerstätter (a steadfast August Diehl) is imprisoned and executed for refusing to swear loyalty to Hitler. Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life (2019) captures this true story with the reverent awe it deserves, and the writer-director’s visuals are as gorgeous as ever (though their impact is blunted by repetition). As has often been the case with latter-day Malick, A Hidden Life is simply too long: a good three-hour film that could have been a great two-hour one. I can’t help but wonder what Badlands-era Malick (or at least a more discerning editor) could have done with this material.   

Monday, April 27, 2020

100 Words on Nicolas Pesce's The Grudge (2020)

By Thomas Puhr

High on atmospherics but low on the strong characterizations that marked his previous films, Nicolas Pesce’s The Grudge (2020) proves that not even a young, gifted director can resurrect this stale franchise. While there’s much to admire, including some striking compositions and genuinely upsetting set pieces, the writer-director leans far too heavily on cheap scares copied from previous installments. A convoluted narrative structure of overlapping timeframes prevents any emotional engagement. Perhaps most egregious is the underused supporting cast (John Cho, always excellent, doesn’t get nearly enough screen time). Ultimately, Pesce’s formidable talent behind the camera fails to overcome reboot constraints.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

100 Words on Chad Stahelski's John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (2019)

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By Thomas Puhr

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019) showcases some lush visuals, a cheeky sense of humor, and, most importantly, coherent and intricately-choreographed fight sequences. Nevertheless, the 2014 original remains the best in the series because of its crisp pacing (it’s still the shortest entry) and simple, but effective, characterization. For me, the small pleasure of watching Keanu Reeves kill someone with a book outweighs the other, grander set pieces on display in Parabellum. The sequels have become bogged down in their increasingly elaborate world-building and have lost sight of the original’s nimble style and wit. Alas, John Wick has become Marvel-ized.   

Thursday, January 17, 2019

100 Words on Panos Cosmatos' Mandy (2018)

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By Thomas Puhr
If a precocious, 15-year-old D&D enthusiast was force-fed LSD and given carte blanche to make any movie they wanted, the end product might look something like Panos Cosmatos' latest. Mandy is visually gorgeous, but it is Nicolas Cage’s performance as Red Miller, a man seeking revenge against the cult that murdered his beloved Mandy (Andrea Riseborough), that seals the deal. Though gloriously unhinged (especially when his enemies’ heads start rolling), Cage also imbues his character with genuine pathos. The late Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score, finished shortly before his death, does not disappoint. In short, Mandy is off-the-wall crazy and often exhilarating.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

100 Words on Alex Ross Perry's Golden Exits (2017)

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By Thomas Puhr
Quietly released in early 2018, Alex Ross Perry’s Golden Exits is the type of film that easily gets overlooked this time of year. An ode of sorts to Rohmer, the writer-director’s latest follows the intersecting lives of some New Yorkers, all of whom are connected in some way to visiting Australian, Naomi (Emily Browning). This may be Perry’s “warmest” film to date, but his trademark, acidic dialogue is still on full display. Most rewarding are the subtle parallels that emerge between the older and younger characters, as if the latter are looking at their potential future selves in a mirror. 

Friday, November 9, 2018

100 Words on David Gordon Green's Halloween (2018)

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By Thomas Puhr
Despite David Gordon Green’s considerable skills behind the camera and John Carpenter’s stamp of approval, Halloween (2018) cannot escape the clutches of fan service (multiple lines and shots are directly lifted from the 1978 classic). Ironically, the film is most successful during its comedic scenes; cowriter Danny McBride’s touch can be felt in much of the dialogue, especially during a vulgar rat-a-tat between a teenage girl and the little boy she is babysitting. Such moments are more than welcome. After all, Carpenter’s original has its fair share of strange humor. Green and McBride forgot one crucial element, though: genuine scares.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

100 Words on Jeremy Saulnier's Hold the Dark (2018)

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By Thomas Puhr

In his fourth feature film, Jeremy Saulnier applies his interest in elemental storytelling (simple motifs of darkness vs. light, revenge, etc.) to a much larger narrative canvas. Famous wolf tracker Russell Core (an understated Jeffrey Wright) travels to Alaska for a job and is embroiled in a sometimes overstuffed plot that tackles parenthood, Native American identity, mysticism, and war in the Middle East, among other things. Perhaps a bit overambitious for its own good, Hold the Dark (2018) nevertheless has its fair share of mesmerizing sequences, especially a remarkable shootout that showcases all of the director's compositional and tension-building finesse.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

100 Words on Joachim Trier's Thelma (2017)

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By Thomas Puhr

Joachim Trier’s Thelma (2017) adds a supernatural twist to his usual humanistic technique. It opens intriguingly enough, with a booming, Scanners-esque score by Ola Fløttum and a startling scene in which a father contemplates killing his young daughter, Thelma (played as an adult by Eili Harboe). The girl, we learn, has dangerous powers, which reemerge when she becomes attracted to a college classmate, Anja (Kaya Wilkins). The relationship between these two women is the film’s strongest element, but Trier instead focuses on the origins of Thelma’s psychic powers in the film’s latter half, which spoils some of the premise’s mystique.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Berlin 2018: 100 Words on Evan Johnson, Galen Johnson, and Guy Maddin's Accidence

Photo Credit: Six Shooter Records

By Thomas Puhr

Accidence (2018) immediately demands multiple viewings. Presented as a single shot that merges live action and unobtrusive animation, the short chronicles the goings-on of an array of apartment building tenants whose paths intertwine in unexpected and surreal ways. The stories on dollhouse-like display range from the banal (a man sleeping on his balcony), to the dramatic (a murder), to the bewildering (a man investigating shadows through a window). Maddin, Johnson, and Johnson merge the beginning and end (a clock in the central room proves key) so that the film, like a mesmerizing ambient album, could seemingly repeat itself into eternity.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

100 Words on Maurice Haeems' Chimera (2018)

By Thomas Puhr
Like its conflicted protagonist, Maurice Haeems’ Chimera (2018) suffers from a bit of an identity crisis. On the one hand, it is a cerebral piece of speculative science-fiction: Henry Ian Cusick (playing it straight) is Quint, a scientist who freezes his children while searching for a cure to their life-threatening illness. On the other hand, it is a gleefully over-the-top ode to B-movies: Kathleen Quinlan (hamming it up) costars as Masterson, a mysterious woman funding Quint’s experiments in hopes of reviving her husband. Some wild shifts in tone make Chimera uneven yet unpredictable. Its final third packs an undeniable punch.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

100 Words on Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread (2017)
By Thomas Puhr
Daniel Day-Lewis gives a quietly intense and vulnerable performance as Reynolds Woodcock, an obsessive fashion designer, in what will be his final film. There is much to admire here, from the sumptuous costume design, to a hedonistic, almost surreal New Year’s Eve party, to some beautiful footage of Woodcock’s reckless nighttime drives (Anderson is the uncredited director of photography). The film’s second half, detailing the protagonist’s unconventional relationship with his muse/wife, Alma (Vicky Krieps), is its most engaging, especially when the writer-director dips ever-so-slightly into supernatural territory. Ultimately, like its central character, Phantom Thread remains aesthetically fascinating but emotionally remote.  

Thursday, December 7, 2017

100 Words on Olivier Assayas' Personal Shopper (2016)
By Thomas Puhr

Maureen (Kristen Stewart, in an eye-opening performance), a part-time clairvoyant and full-time personal shopper for a spoiled celebrity, obsessively searches for a sign from her deceased brother in Olivier Assayas’ enigmatic Personal Shopper (2016). Though the film does showcase some supernatural imagery, it is most intriguing as a character study. As Maureen stalks the empty rooms of what was her twin’s house, tiptoes around her perpetually-absent boss’ lavish apartment to update it with the latest couture and jewelry, and has an increasingly-disturbing text dialogue with an unknown number, one realizes she is just as much a ghost as her brother.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

100 Words on Joe Ahearne's B&B (2017)
By Thomas Puhr

A gay couple (Sean Teale and Tom Bateman) staying at a bread and breakfast play a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse with its homophobic proprietor (Paul McGann) and another guest (James Tratas), who they suspect is a “basher.” Writer-director Joe Ahearne takes this premise, which initially feels like a setup for some gore-fest, and moves it in some unexpected directions; think of a DePalma-esque psychosexual thriller crossed with a tragic morality play. Once the final twist has settled in, one is left with the bleak impression that those living double lives may sometimes be more imprisoned than those literally behind bars.