2.16.2017

The Films of 2016: Short takes (III)



Hunt for the Wilderpeople (dir. Taika Waititi) – This absolutely delightful all-ages film is a big-hearted adventure story set in rural New Zealand, where a troubled kid (Julian Dennison) and his irascible foster dad (Sam Neill) head for the bush in an attempt to elude the social services agents trying to separate them.  Sharp and smart without ever resorting to cheap irony, it has a wonky charm that Wes Anderson could only dream of.  Worth seeing for Neill’s performance alone—though it also sports one of the year’s funniest screenplays.     


Blue Jay (dir. Alex Lehmann) – Not all of the emotional beats land right in this intimate two-hander—a micro-indie so micro it makes something like Miss Stevens look like The Lord of the Rings—in which a pair of former high-school sweethearts (Mark Duplass and Sarah Paulson) spend a day and a night drinking, reminiscing, and imagining what might have been if they hadn’t broken up some twenty years before.  That is to say that it doesn’t quite unfold as organically as Before Sunrise or Weekend, to name two of the film’s most obvious influences.  Nevertheless it’s peerlessly acted by Paulson, playing a woman whose outwardly calm demeanor masks quiet, nagging discontent.  It’s impossible not to be mesmerized by her big, dark eyes, which by the end of the film have come to look like bottomless pools of sadness.  Duplass is good, too, doing his familiar awkward-dude shtick, though he fumbles a key scene.  Recommended.          



Thunder Road (dir. Jim Cummings) – The director of this Sundance-acclaimed short film, shot in a single fourteen-minute take, was an associate producer on Trey Edward Shults’ Krisha, and it has a similar vibe: it’s a squirmy, uncomfortable-funny character study in which a grieving son (played by Cummings) performs a tribute to his late mother to the accompaniment of the titular Bruce Springsteen song.  Like Shults, Cummings shows promise as a filmmaker adept at capturing moments of raw humanity.  But (also like Shults) he doesn’t yet seem to know where to go with them, and at times Thunder Road’s uneasy mix of pathos and comedy threatens to run it off the rails.  It’s not just that we’re unsure whether we should laugh or cry: Cummings seems unsure about which he wants us to do, and that’s a problem.     


The Exquisite Corpus (dir. Peter Tscherkassky) – The work of experimental filmmaker Tscherkassky involves the recombination and recontextualization of existing film footage to surreal and hypnotic effect.  His best known film, Outer Space (2001), transforms a few minutes of the 1981 horror film The Entity into something even scarier than it was in its original form.  The Exquisite Corpus is a collage of fragments taken from various stag and nudie films, heavily overlaid and looped, creating a kaleidoscope of sexual images that is more phantasmagorical than arousing.  It’s a mysterious and eerie nineteen-minute-long blur of a movie set in the dream space of the pornographic imagination.

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