The House


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


Mad Max: Fury Road

1. "Ridin' Dirty." Richard Brody on Mad Max: Fury Road.

"[George] Miller and his co-writers, Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris, lend the story a quasi-Biblical starkness as well as a visionary mythology involving a band of older biker women, the Vuvalini, who are refugees from the 'green place' as well as the last bearers of witness to those bygone green times. The revolutionary fervor that rises toward the end of the film is rousing and gratifying. But it's precisely in these satisfactions that Miller's vision turns from stark to thin. Furiosa's place in the Citadel's regime is left unexplored; what she knew and when she knew it—the use of women as breeders and men as blood tanks—is never made clear. Her place in the hierarchy, the place of other women of similar martial talent, the means by which Immortan Joe holds sway over the Citadel's insiders and dominion over the huddled masses below, the passions that rise up—bloodlessly and cheerfully—when Furiosa and Max make their assault (such as it is) on the Citadel, all of these matters, which would render the world-making thicker and the characters more substantial, are left aside."

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TAGS: arielle holmes, benny safdie, bob seger, cooties, david letterman, heaven knows what, josh safdie, keith uhlich, late show with david letterman, mad max: fury road, night moves, patti hartigan, rey pamatmat, richard brody, the boston globe


Sicario

Watching Emily Blunt's kidnapping specialist Kate Macer be talked into volunteering to assist on some patently shady cross-border operation near the start of Sicario, I was oddly reminded of a similar scene at the start of Aliens, where despite losing her entire crew in the previous installment, floating in space for 57 years, and having her daughter die in the meantime, Ellen Ripley needs only around two minutes of convincing to return to the fray. Macer doesn't have the best of opening scenes either, which involves her discovering a whole army of corpses hidden in a suburban Arizona home by a drug baron, before a booby trap goes off, injuring her and maiming one of her team. Yet Macer is as ready as her kick-ass antecedent to throw caution and plausibility to the wind, happily donning the mantel of audience surrogate and taking unlikely decision after unlikely decision so we can be led ever further into the supposed intricacies of America's war on drugs. Unfortunately, director Denis Villeneuve is incapable of putting together the same sort of thrillingly never-ending action sequences as James Cameron, marooning Sicario in the dubious borderland between serious analysis and dumb pleasure.

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TAGS: benicio del toro, cannes film festival, denis villeneuve, emily blunt, harvey keitel, josh brolin, michael caine, paolo sorrentino, sicario, youth


Jon Hamm

1. "Jon Hamm Talks About the Mad Men Series Finale." The actor speaks with Dave Itzkoff of the New York Times about the screen cut to the 1971 Coca-Cola "Hilltop" commercial and more.

"My take is that, the next day, he wakes up in this beautiful place, and has this serene moment of understanding, and realizes who he is. And who he is, is an advertising man. And so, this thing comes to him. There's a way to see it in a completely cynical way, and say, 'Wow, that's awful.' But I think that for Don, it represents some kind of understanding and comfort in this incredibly unquiet, uncomfortable life that he has led. There was a little bit of a crumb dropped earlier in the season when Ted says there are three women in every man's life, and Don says, 'You've been sitting on that for a while, huh?' There are, not coincidentally, three person to person phone calls that Don makes in this episode, to three women who are important to him for different reasons. You see the slow degeneration of his relationships with those women over the course of those phone calls."

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TAGS: alex french, amy, Asif Kapadia, bill backer, catherine breillat, dave itzkoff, howie kahn, ilm, jon hamm, lászló krasznahorkai, laura bennett, mad men, man booker prize, mccann, nicole richter, reverse shot, slate, the new york times, wired


George Miller

1. "Mad George." For Variety, Scott Foundas profiles Mad Max: Fury Road director George Miller.

"[Nick 'Nico' Lathouris]'s one of those people who digs very deeply into material, and that's exactly what Fury Road needed,' says Miller. 'Otherwise, it would have been just a surface action movie. To the extent that you detect any subtext, that's stuff I really worked out with Nico.' That subtext included a strong feminist slant, including a topical discussion of women's reproductive rights (in the film's inciting incident, Theron's character breaks a group of pregnant 'breeders' out from under Immortan Joe's ever watchful eye). 'So much of extreme world poverty is really, truly because of the lack of empowerment of women, and if that were to change one day, a lot of those problems would be solved,' observed Theron. 'I think George is really aware of that stuff in the world, and I think he's truly interested in women.'"

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TAGS: aaron hicklin, charlize theron, film comment, george miller, i'll see you in my dreams, judy blume, mad max: fury road, maze runner: the scorch trials, nick pinkerton, out magazine, sam elliott, scott foundas, variety


Cemetery of Splendor

Apichatpong Weerasethakul's quietly incandescent new feature, Cemetery of Splendor, is so serene, so perfectly meditative, that it puts the viewer in precisely the same hushed reverie to which its characters eventually submit, one's fluttering eyes due not to tiredness, nor boredom, but rather some strange, inexplicable desire to join in with all the collective dreaming on screen. Moving away from the spatial and temporal bifurcations of much of his previous work, the film fixes its tender gaze on all the myriad things that one specific place has been, gently and often imperceptibly shifting between past and present, legend and modernity, wakefulness and dream.

The place in question is an improvised hospital in Khon Kaen, northeastern Thailand, which has been set up to house all the many soldiers struck down by some mysterious sleeping sickness. Jen (Jenjira Pongpas Widner), a middle-aged housewife with an American husband and one leg shorter than the other, turns up at the hospital to volunteer, recalling immediately that this former school is the one she herself used to attend. She's quick to befriend Keng (Jarinpattra Rueangram), a medium and possible FBI agent able to tap into what the slumbering inmates are dreaming, and swiftly makes one soldier, Itt (Banlop Lomnoi), into the son she never had.

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TAGS: apichatpong weerasethakul, Banlop Lomnoi, cannes film festival, cemetery of splendor, jarinpattra rueangram, jenjira pongpas widner


Louder Than Bombs

It's hard to remember exactly when being promoted to the Cannes competition ceased to mean much—the actual moment when festival director Thierry Fremaux decided that giving a platform to the likes of, say, Pedro Costa, Lucrecia Martel, or Apichatpong Weerasethakul (the latter bafflingly downgraded to Un Certain Regard this year) was simply not good for business. The decision to elevate such dully competent, glossily empty fare as Joachim Trier's Louder Than Bombs to premier-league status serves, if nothing else, as a sobering reminder that those days are gone for good. Yet this isn't the only artistic downfall that Trier's film marks, as Isabelle Huppert's previously sure hand at picking the crème de la crème of contemporary cinema has clearly also gone awry, the venerable French actress coming off here like a profile-hungry Madonna in desperate search of a new Mirwais.

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TAGS: cannes film festival, devin druid, gabriel byrne, isabelle huppert, jesse eisenberg, joachim trier, louder than bombs


Mad Men

1. "Mad Men Series Finale Recap: I'm Okay, You're Okay." Matt Zoller Seitz recaps the final episode of the show.

"The Coke ad at the end is funny and ironic. It packages hippie sensibilities for a TV commercial, and Don starts the series selling cigarettes and ends selling stomach-and-tooth-rotting soda. But the tone of that ad is uncharacteristic of Don, whose most striking campaigns tended to have a melancholy, self-aware vibe, bordering on meta. The Coke ad is all about making the viewer feel good. It's a Pollyannaish ad that befits a smiley-faced episode. I don't have a problem with that. These characters have made mistakes and learned from them while remaining the same flawed people they always were. Any happiness they receive in this finale isn't an unmotivated, unrealistic, out-of-nowhere gift. They worked for it."

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TAGS: armond white, cannes film festival, frank rich, justin kurzel, macbeth, mad max: fury road, mad men, marion cotillard, matt zoller seitz, michael fassbender, sam fuller, Samantha Fuller, steve jobs


Mad Men

Considering that "Person to Person" is the series finale of Mad Men, it's best to start with its final images: the famous "I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke" commercial from 1971 that married we-are-the-world humanism with an absurd and insidious kind of capitalism. Writer-director Matthew Weiner cuts to the ad just as Don (Jon Hamm) begins to smile, settling into his first meditation session at a new-age pavilion in Northern California. Is he imagining the ad? There's not much to suggest Don is going to revert back to his life as a calculating ad man, especially after the way he reacts to Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) saying McCann would take him back. More conceivable is the idea that even this seemingly positive-minded form of self-exploration will eventually be co-opted and dumbed down to sell carbonated sugar water to the masses. And as much as a way of processing existence, such as meditation, can be packaged and sold, so can people begin selling themselves as a product or a way of life, something that someone must choose over something else to prove their worth.

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TAGS: bruce greenwood, Caity Lotz, christina hendricks, elisabeth moss, january jones, jon hamm, mad men, matthew weiner, person to person, recap


Game of Thrones

The Game of Faces, as taught to Arya (Maisie Williams) by her fellow corpse-scrubber (Faye Marsay), isn't as simple as claiming (or meaning) that you are no one. It involves thoroughly convincing someone else that you are someone—just not the person that you were. Like the Game of Thrones, this task of self-effacement and reinvention for the sake of survival is played—whether they're aware of it or not—by most citizens of Westeros, and those who fail generally end up dead. As Arya's trainer, the man once known as Jaqen H'ghar (Tom Wlaschiha), might put it, it's a game that "we never stop playing." In the case of the monastic assassins dwelling in the House of Black and White, it's doubly true, for as Arya soon discovers, the dead bodies passing through their temple are preserved beneath it, their faces—entombed in the mausoleum wall for future use—continuing to serve long after they've passed on.

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TAGS: charlotte hope, Diana Rigg, faye marsay, Finn Jones, game of thrones, iain glen, Indira Varma, iwan rheon, jerome flynn, jonathan pryce, maisie williams, nikolaj coster-waldau, recap, sophie turner, unbowed unbent unbroken, will tudor







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