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.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

tiff 2017: 100 Words on Justin Harding and Rob Brunner's Latched (2017)

By Thomas Puhr
Within its crisp 17-minute runtime, Justin Harding and Rob Brunner’s Latched (2017) pulls off an impressive feat. Deftly combining elements of drama, folklore, and all-out horror, this short follows single mother Alana (Alana Elmer), who retreats to an isolated cabin for creative inspiration only to find herself the unwitting harbinger of a murderous fairy from the surrounding woods. The conceit behind the fairy’s reawakening is both perverse and darkly humorous, and the practical effects for the creature are top notch. Vivien Villani’s sweeping, orchestral score helps create a gothic-tinged atmosphere for what could have been a tasteless exercise in gratuity.    

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Oaxaca Film Festival Roundup: 2017

Amy Miller’s eye-opening Tomorrow’s Power (2017) begins with a shocking hospital scene in Gaza, wherein surgeons are interrupted mid-operation by a power outage. All they can do is wait in the dark and hope the lights return as soon as possible. This emergency, we learn, is a common occurrence in Gaza. Miller’s globe-trotting documentary further chronicles the energy crisis in terms of oil exploitation in Colombia and coal plant deforestation in Germany. Most engagingly, she discards the usual voiceovers, academic commentators, etc. in favor of having those actually affected by these crises tell their own stories, in their own words.

A cocktail of screwball comedy, coming-of-age drama, and family mystery, The Song of Sway Lake (2017) perhaps tries to be too many things at once. Its first third is its most lighthearted and successful; audiophile Ollie (Rory Culkin) and his wayward companion Nikolai (Robert Sheehan, who delivers some creative one-liners with gusto) crash the former’s family estate in search of a priceless, nearly-mythical record. These early misadventures provide many genuine laughs, but director Ari Gold’s detours into darker family drama feel abrupt and unnecessary. Nevertheless, the film has a big heart and undeniable charm (not to mention a lovely soundtrack).

An unnamed man and woman (Todd Bruno and Aniela McGuinness) abduct and torture a suspected rapist (Mike Stanley) as part of an ill-conceived plot to extract a confession. Writer-director Lou Simon’s 3 (2016) takes what at first seems a straightforward premise and cleverly shifts the character dynamics so that each person, at one point or another, seems to be both the hero and villain. The small cast and spare setting lend the film a theatrical atmosphere, and Simon wisely avoids excessive gore in favor of psychological tension. The twist ending, though unexpected, doesn’t mesh convincingly with the film preceding it.

By Thomas Puhr

Thursday, August 17, 2017

100 Words on Alexandre Aja's The 9th Life of Louis Drax (2016)

By Thomas Puhr

Despite an unconvincing performance by Aiden Longworth as the titular character and a glaringly-obvious twist ending, Alexandre Aja’s The 9th Life of Louis Drax (2016) is still noteworthy as a phantasmagoric cocktail of genres (it mixes elements of feel-good family dramas, creature features, psychosexual thrillers, police procedurals, and [naturally] graphic horror-shows in its story of the mysterious circumstances surrounding Louis’ coma-inducing fall from a cliff during a family picnic) and as an opportunity for the director to display some genuinely-startling imagery; consider, for example, an extended, dreamlike hypnosis session, or the del Toro-esque monster that guides Louis through his subconscious.  

Thursday, August 10, 2017

100 Words on Jim Jarmusch's Paterson (2016)

By Thomas Puhr
Things repeated in Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson (2016): circles, symbols of repetition, painted on curtains; twins, both literal and figurative (the titular Paterson [Adam Driver], an aspiring poet, encounters a Japanese doppelganger at a crucial moment); the daily routines of Paterson and his wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), the small variations of which feel like different drafts for the same, universal poem; word-filled pages replaced by empty pages, which must be filled again; and water, indicative of both life’s transience and endurance. Paterson, recognizing these cycles, continues his life’s work; to paraphrase his “twin,” an empty page sometimes presents the most possibilities.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

100 Words on Lorcan Finnegan's Without Name (2016)

By Thomas Puhr

As its title suggests, Lorcan Finnegan’s Without Name (2016) addresses nature’s inscrutability. Eric (Alan McKenna) and Olivia (Niamh Algar) are land surveyors working in a remote Irish forest: a setup that allows for some eerily-beautiful nature shots. In one scene, Eric vanishes in the forest; while Olivia frantically searches for him, Finnegan’s clever camerawork makes the surrounding trees appear to shift and warp her (our) perspective, like a naturally-occurring hall of mirrors. A stroboscopic sequence reminiscent of A Field in England (2013) adds to the visual experimentation.  “Communicate!” Eric shouts at a phantom-like figure roaming the forest. Nature remains silent.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

100 Words on Sean Byrne's The Devil's Candy (2015)

By Thomas Puhr
Sean Byrne upends the clich├ęd association between heavy metal music and Satanism in The Devil’s Candy (2015). Though shaggy-haired and covered with tattoos (a characteristic of many a villain/henchman), metalhead/artist Jesse (Ethan Embry) emerges as a sympathetic hero who resists the devilish presence threatening his family’s new, countryside home. Byrne largely favors suspense  over gore (a sequence in which Jesse’s daughter struggles to escape a killer’s bathroom is particularly nail-biting) and incorporates some vivid imagery, such as an arresting montage of Jesse’s frenzied painting with a killer’s frenzied cleaning of a murder scene. Who says heavy metal can’t be subtle?   

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

100 Words on Trey Edward Shults' It Comes at Night
By Thomas Puhr
Trey Edward Shults’ follow-up to his fantastic Krisha (2015) is less a horror film (as it has been advertised) and more a stripped-down survival story, following the unsteady dynamics of two families sharing an isolated home during a mysterious, unexplained epidemic. Shults slightly changes the film’s aspect ratio whenever the young Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) has a foreboding dream; later, the writer-director alters this pattern in order to blur the line between reality and nightmare. Otherwise, the aural and visual experimentalism that made his first feature feel so exhilarating are largely absent. The performances, though effective, often feel stiflingly muted.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Cannes Short Films Roundup: 2017

100 Words on Jo Southwell's Deirdre (2016)
In her Cannes-bound short film, Deirdre (2016), writer-director Jo Southwell provides a glimpse into her gestating feature-length adaptation of an Irish folktale. Within a crisp 15-minute runtime, Southwell introduces the titular heroine (India Mullen), her fanatically-religious mother (Elaine Fox), and her absent, mysterious father (Zeb Moore). In addition to its mythological roots, the short makes some intriguing allusions to classic genre films; the violent mother locking her “sinful” daughter in a closet, as well as a disturbing bath scene, call to mind DePalma’s Carrie (1976). The film ends with a tantalizing cliffhanger, leaving much room for exploration in the feature.,w_620/v1480417071/knmrk1boio6blf7nuruv.jpg

 100 Words on Patricia Chica's Morning After (2017)
Patricia Chica’s 2017 Cannes short, Morning After, unflinchingly charts the evaporating notion of concrete gender dichotomies. Returning to Montreal from a trip abroad, Michael (Thomas Vallieres) finds himself redefining his sexuality over the course of an increasingly-erotic welcome home party. Other than some off-the-cuff philosophical observations (if the universe is constantly changing, why shouldn’t humans?), Kristian Hodko’s script is light on its feet; the actors, both male and female, inhabit their characters with a laid-back ease. Dop Martin Bouchard’s cinematography, reminiscent of Aguirresarobe’s work in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, bathes both the characters and their home city in a sensual glow.
By Thomas Puhr

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

100 Words on M. Night Shyamalan's Split (2016)
By Thomas Puhr
In his best film since 2002’s Signs, Shyamalan takes a conceit that is excessively used as a twist ending (a main character having multiple personality disorder) and instead makes it the foundation for his tale of three girls (headed by Anya Taylor-Joy) who are abducted and terrorized by a man (James McAvoy, attacking the role with relish) with 23 personalities; especially noteworthy is a final confrontation that is by turns genuinely-unsettling and oddly-touching (echoes of Blade Runner here); the requisite twist actually enriches the story preceding it, announcing what could be a more ambitious and experimental phase in Shyamalan’s career.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

100 Words on Adam Wingard's Blair Witch (2016)

By Thomas Puhr

Frequent collaborators Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s follow-up to the great The Blair Witch Project (1999) is well-constructed (a subtle visual twist brings everything full circle), yet ultimately unnecessary. Attempts are made to varnish the original’s roughness; a drone camera, for example, provides some eerie overhead shots (a clever conceit that is ultimately wasted). Just as John Carpenter did with his masterful update of The Thing, Wingard and Barrett make explicit what the original left in shadows. This decision is fine (did they really have a choice?), but the inevitable reveal of the creature is a mess of generic CGI. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

100 Words on Michael Wong's "The Story of 90 Coins" (2015)

By Thomas Puhr

In his directorial debut, “The Story of 90 Coins,” Michael Wong explores the peaks and valleys of a months-long relationship between the sentimental Wang Yuyang (Dongjun Han) and the ambitious Chen Wen (Zhuang Zhiqi), all in under 10 minutes, no less. The central conceit (Wang Yuyang gives Chen Wen a coin and accompanying note to mark each of their 90 encounters) allows Wong to hopscotch freely amongst the couple’s experiences, which range from comic to unabashedly-melodramatic. Despite an unnecessary postscript, the action ends on a pleasantly-ambiguous note. The cinematography, which tempers some overwrought moments with a crisp sheen, stands out.