The House


Total RecallSome of the first things about Total Recall I latched onto as a young cinephile were its dazzling production design and special effects, its breathless action sequences, its over-the-top violence—in short, its surface. And, of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger, trying to come off as a normal guy despite his superhuman physique, heavily accented English, and increasingly ubiquitous one-liners. Today, though, my appreciation for Paul Verhoeven's mind trip goes beyond simple nostalgia, and hinges on how its seductive look and immediate visceral pleasures are wily in their concealment of grand themes.

Certainly, the film's Philip K. Dick-inspired plot is rife with elements revolving around images and their sinister undercurrents: Douglas Quaid's (Schwarzenegger) obsession with Mars as a deliverance from his empty idyllic existence on Earth; his gradual discovery of a supposed secret past as a spy named Hauser; Lori (Sharon Stone), the blond bombshell of a wife who turns out to be an operative for villainous henchman Richter (Michael Ironside); the seemingly normal resistance fighter (Marshall Bell) whose torso houses the legendary mutant leader named Kuato.

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TAGS: arnold schwarzenegger, dan o'bannon, Gary Goldman, Marshall Bell, Michael Ironside, paul verhoeven, Robert Costanzo, ronald shusett, Roy Brocksmith, sharon stone, summer of 90, total recall


Female Rock Critics

1. "The World Needs Female Rock Critics." The problem for women is that our role in popular music was codified long ago.

"The problem for women is that our role in popular music was codified long ago. And it was codified, in part, by the early music press. In the effort to prove the burgeoning rock scene of the sixties a worthy subject of critical inquiry, rock needed to be established as both serious and authentic. One result of these arguments—the Rolling Stones vs. Muddy Waters, Motown vs. Stax, Bob Dylan vs. the world—was that women came out on the losing side, as frivolous and phony. Whether a teen-age fan or a member of a girl group, women lacked genuine grit—even female critics thought so. 'The Supremes epitomize the machine-like precision of the Motown sound,' wrote Lillian Roxon in her rock encyclopedia. 'Everything is worked out for them and they don’t buck the system.' Judgments like that are still routinely applied to female artists today. In Jessica Hopper’s [The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic], under the chapter heading 'Real/Fake,' appears a 2012 essay on Lana Del Ray, an artist whose look harks back to those big-haired, mascaraed sixties singers, and whose career has unfolded beneath a cloud of suspicion as to her credentials, musical and otherwise. 'As an audience, we make a big stink about wanting the truth, but we’re only really interested in the old myths,' Hopper writes. The myth of women’s deceitfulness is one of the oldest."

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TAGS: Amy Schumer, anwen crawford, charles taylor, Ellie Kemper, gina rodriguez, jessica hopper, jonathan franzen, kate mckinnon, lena dunham, nick pinkerton, pickup on south street, purity, reverse shot, samuel fuller, the end of the tour, the first collection of criticism by a living female rock critic, the village voice, tomorrowland, Tracee Ellis Ross


Mary Ellen Mark

1. "Mary Ellen Mark, Photographer Who Documented Difficult Subjects, Dies at 75." The photographer, whose unflinching yet compassionate depictions of prostitutes in Mumbai, homeless teenagers in Seattle and mental patients in a state institution in Oregon made her one of the premier documentary photographers of her generation, died on Monday in Manhattan.

"The empathy and humanism of the work, published in book form in 1979, impressed critics. Robert Hughes, in Time, called Ward 81 'one of the most delicately shaded studies of vulnerability ever set on film.' After the show, Ms. Mark signed with the Magnum photo agency. Her interest in social outcasts remained a constant throughout her career, reflected in the book Falkland Road: Prostitutes of Bombay (1981), unusual for being in color. While on assignment for Life in 1983, she began photographing homeless teenagers in Seattle, a ragtag collection of small-time drug dealers, prostitutes and panhandlers who populate the pages of Streetwise, published in 1988. With her husband, the filmmaker Martin Bell, who survives her, she turned her encounters into a film, which was nominated for the Academy Award for best documentary in 1984."

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TAGS: apichatpong weerasethakul, cannes film festival, cemetery of splendor, daniel kasman, elizabeth semmelhack, Eve Ensler, justin chang, mad max: fury road, mary ellen mark, mubi, peter debruge, point break, scott foundas, the new york times, the vagina monologues, variety


Back to the Future IIIThere was a comfort in realizing that Back to the Future III would be set in the Old West after Back to the Future II had just spun everything audiences knew about the series on its head. It was straightforward and familiar, with the focus back on the characters rather than the murky complexities of time travel. More than just the promise of one more ride in the DeLorean with Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox), the trailer that followed "To Be Concluded" at the end of Back to the Future II felt like the sly wink from a parent having to close a storybook on a dark cliffhanger, promising that everything was going to be okay. The heroes would win, everything would go back to normal, life would be sunshine and daisies. It felt like sweet relief in the theater, with the terrible uncertainty that Doc was even alive instantly smoothed over. It still feels like the start of a new trajectory now, and the first glimmers of the overly earnest filmmaker Robert Zemeckis would become four years later with Forrest Gump.

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TAGS: back to the future iii, Christopher Lloyd, lea thompson, Mary Steenburgen, Michael J. Fox, robert zemeckis, summer of 90, Thomas F. Wilson


Vergüenza y Respeto

Seen together, many of the excellent documentaries screened at the Buenos Aires International Independent Film Festival (BAFICI) articulate a surprisingly coherent argument about nonfiction filmmaking and its relationship to the real. The people on screen might not be invented characters, and their words might not (explicitly) be the creations of screenwriters, but the camera means mediation and performance. Someone selects the shots, presses the record button, and edits the footage, while the filmed subjects know they're being filmed and knowingly create a version of themselves for the consumption of unknown audiences. Rather than ignore this phenomenon, some of the best documentaries take advantage of it, emphasizing how capturing reality is a way of intervening in it.

No other film at the festival conveyed this as forcefully as Tomás Lipgot's Vergüenza y Respeto, concerning the Romani community in the greater Buenos Aires area. At the screening I attended, the film's subjects were actually in the theater, cheering, applauding, and laughing at their projected selves, transforming the cinema into their living room. Cinematic portraits of minorities often establish a distance between the observer and the observed, between the director and his or her subjects, which then grows into an irreparable abyss between the viewers and the viewed. To pose an Argentine example: Even the canonical, fictional works of Lisandro Alonso, though they interrogate the marginality of the rural characters, end up reinforcing their inscrutable Otherness. Alonso himself acknowledges this problem in his meta-textual, self-reflexive Fantasma, in which blinkered city-dwellers, after watching the director's own Los Muertos, fail to meaningfully connect with its provincial star, who travels to Buenos Aires for the quiet, underpopulated screening. "Who is this movie for?" Alonso seems to ask.

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TAGS: 35 and single, bafici, citizenfour, daigo matsui, jenni olson, joshua oppenheimer, laura poitras, paula schargorodsky, the look of silence, the royal road, tomás lipgot, vergüenza y respeto, wonderful world end


Dheepan

1. "Cannes: Jacques Audiard's Dheepan Wins Palme d'Or." Variety's Justin Chang reports on this year's winners.

"French auteur Jacques Audiard's Dheepan, an intimately observed, mostly Tamil-language drama about a makeshift family of Sri Lankan refugees in Paris, was the unexpected winner of the Palme d'Or at the 68th annual Cannes Film Festival on Sunday night. 'Thank you, Michael Haneke, for not making a film this year,' Audiard said as he accepted his Palme--a reference to the fact that the Austrian helmer of The White Ribbon and Amour had beaten him for the Palme his last two times in competition, with 2009's A Prophet (which won the Grand Prix) and 2012's Rust and Bone. Audiard appeared onstage with his lead actors, Antonythasan Jesuthasan and Kalieaswari Srinivasan, both of whom made their screen debuts in Dheepan."

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TAGS: cannes film festival, carol, dheepan, eli roth, four-walling, grantland, jacques audiard, justin chang, knock knock, maggie gyllenhaal, manohla dargis, Rebel Wilson, the new york times, todd haynes, variety, wesley morris


Game of Thrones

A great many gifts are at the heart of tonight's episode of Game of Thrones. As Jon (Kit Harington) heads north to liberate the Wildlings with Tormund (Kristofer Hivju), Sam (John Bradley-West) hands him the dragonglass dagger with which he slew a White Walker. Ramsay (Iwan Rheon) presents Sansa (Sophie Turner) with the flayed corpse of the elderly woman who swore to protect her, Reek (Alfie Allen) having betrayed her and the Starks once again. Melisandre (Carice van Houten) promises Stannis (Stephen Dillane) certain victory in Winterfell, but only if she's given royal blood—specifically that of his daughter, Shireen (Kerry Ingram). Bronn (Jerome Flynn) gets exactly the sort of crazed flirtation from a Dornish woman when Tyene (Rosabell Laurenti Sellers) withholds the antidote to her dagger's "Long Farewell" until he admits that she's the prettiest woman he's ever seen. After success in the fighting pits, Jorah (Iain Glen) is able to present Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) to Daenerys (Emilia Clarke). And finally, Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) presents Lady Olenna (Diana Rigg) with the same sort of gift that he provided Cersei (Lena Headey): the poisonous confession of a young man, in this case, that of the incestuous Lancel (Eugene Simon).

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TAGS: aidan gillen, Diana Rigg, emilia clarke, eugene simon, game of thrones, iain glen, iwan rheon, john bradley-west, jonathan pryce, kerry ingram, kit harington, lena headey, liam cunningham, natalie dormer, peter dinklage, peter Vaughan, recap, rosabell laurenti sellers, stephen dillane, the gift


Orphan Black

Wracked by high fever, Sarah Manning (Tatiana Maslany) slips into delirium midway through "Certain Agony of the Battlefield" and comes face to face with the origins of Orphan Black. Infected via blood transfusion with the Castor clones' STD, she passes through a tunnel in her mind's eye only to greet Beth Childs in a gauzily lit kitchen of the afterlife, where she receives a message from her late "sestra" to the tune of the straining score. "We do terrible things for the people we love," Beth says, referring to the impenetrable Paul Dierden (Dylan Bruce). "Stop asking, 'Why?' Start asking, 'Who?'" Thus freighted with delusions, dream sequences, flashbacks, and musical interludes, "Certain Agony of the Battlefield" strings together a series of arresting images, but by the time Paul unwraps a grenade from his palm in the final minutes of the episode, these flickers of style add up to little more than a placeholder for dramas still to come.

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TAGS: ari millen, certain agony of the battlefield, dylan bruce, Evelyne Brochu, jordan gavaris, josh vokey, ksenia solo, kyra harper, orphan black, recap, skyler wexler, Tatiana Maslany


Mountains May Depart

The one thing to remain unchanged after being flushed through the tripartite structure of Jia Zhang-ke's flawed, fascinating Mountains May Depart isn't what you might expect: Time will not wither the Pet Shop Boys, whose fittingly titled "Go West" can still apparently unleash the same carefree enthusiasm when the film opens in 1999 as when it closes in 2025. This knowingly melodramatic look at the past, present, and possible future of China is uneven, moving, and ultimately hard to pin down, its seeming simplicity soon blooming into an enigmatic complexity which harnesses the emotional to address the global.

The film opens just before the turn of the century, where colors are bright and the mood is one of optimism, even as the boxy aspect ratio suggests that life isn't free of restriction. Like her country, Tao (Jia's perpetually engaging muse Zhao Tao) is bursting with life and wanting to push at boundaries, the most pressing being those imposed by her two friends, Zhang Jinsheng (Zhang Yi) and Liangzi (Liang Jin Dong), both of whom are interested in her and are continually pressing her to plump for one of them. As this love triangle unfolds in unusually classic fashion, references to the timeframe abound: talk of Macao being returned to the Chinese, coal mines being sold off at rock-bottom prices, the great sound quality of combined CD and cassette players. Tao's two suitors clash with such vigor that she's forced to make a decision, gifting one a wife and eventually a child and leading the other into self-imposed exile.

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TAGS: cannes film festival, go west, jia zhang-ke, liang jin dong, mountains may depart, Pet Shop Boys, zhang yi, zhao tao


The Assassin

In a competition otherwise marked by compromise and caution, Hou Hsiao-hsien's austere, astounding The Assassin feels like it's been beamed in from another era entirely, even as its heavily saturated, aggressively digital images carry an undeniably modern gleam. Formally entrancing, narratively confusing, and frequently sublime, Hou's take on the wuxia martial-arts genre is bracingly singular, a captivating lesson from a true master on all the things that can be controlled within the frame.

Although the film opens with a lengthy intertitle explaining the various interregional rivalries in ninth-century China, summing up the exact allegiances and character constellations contained within the plot that follows is no easy task. Since the age of 10, general's daughter Nie Yinniang (Shu Qi) has been in the care of a nun (Sheu Fang-Yi) entrusted with teaching her the ways of the assassin. In a ravishing black-and-white prologue sequence cropped on each side, we see the fruit of her mentor's labors: After Yinniang downs one victim riding by on horseback, she then moves on to the house of her next prey, yet is unable to go through with the killing, strangely moved by the family scene she discovers there. Disgusted by her lack of steel, the mentor releases her charge, returning her to a family she no longer has any connection to. Picking the most beautiful moment in this succinct, perfectly edited flow of images is impossible: a corpse on the ground, the trees rustling behind him; the assassin flattening her body against the ground before her unseen mistress; a child grasping at a flying insect, he and the camera in that moment oblivious to anything else.

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TAGS: cannes film festival, hou hsiao-hsien, sheu fang-yi, Shu Qi, the assassin







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