The House


The World of Kanako

Tetsuya Nakashima's The World of Kanako follows ex-cop Akikazu Fujishima (Kōji Yakusho) as he bludgeons and growls his way through the grade schools, shopping malls, drug dens, and criminal underworld of Tokyo in search of his estranged teenage daughter, Kanako (Nana Komatsu). Divorced and unemployed, his mind addled from abusing prescription drugs, Akikazu has zero investment in his world. When his ex-wife (Asuka Kurosawa) tells him of their daughter's disappearance, Akikazu uses the event as a pretense to go on a violent rampage, insulting and assaulting everyone he comes across in a journey that quickly reveals itself to be less about finding his progeny than about getting revenge against the world for all of the perceived injustices that he's ever suffered. Angry, sweaty, and disheveled from the start, he never bothers to change his one increasingly bloodstained suit, though this doesn't prevent him from entering schools and shopping malls to physically and verbally abuse schoolgirls and their female teachers.

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TAGS: asuka kurosawa, film comment selects, hiroya shimizu, kōji yakusho, nana komatsu, satoshi tsumabuki, Tetsuya Nakashima, the world of kanako


Voice Over

Voice Over sketches a portrait of an upper-middle-class family in Chile, flitting from one highly charged plot point to the next (a birth, a funeral, an illicit affair, the dissolution of a marriage) without probing too deeply into any of the characters or feelings involved. That can make it feel a bit like an upscale soap opera, as beautiful sisters Sofia (Ingrid Isensee) and Ana (María José Siebald), their flawless skin generally lit to a caramel glow, speculate in upscale settings about other members of their family, with an occasional break to have sex (Sofia with an inappropropriate boyfriend; Ana with a blandly supportive husband) or take care of their children.

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TAGS: cristián jiménez, daniel castro, film comment selects, ingrid isensee, maría josé siebald, paulina garcía, voice over


Madonna

1. "Express Yourself: The Making of Madonna's 20 Greatest Music Videos." The directors who worked alongside the MTV-era maverick tell their stories. (Below is Mary Lambert on her "Like a Prayer" clip.)

"I knew that we were pushing some big buttons, but I sort of underestimated the influence and bigotry of fundamentalist religion and racism in this country and the world. I always think that, if my work is successful, it goes beyond my intentions and in this case it definitely did. The most important thing was to force people to reimagine their visual references and really root out their prejudices. Using burning crosses to reference racism to religion. Why not a Black Jesus? Why can't you imagine kissing him? I wanted to speak about ecstasy and to show the relationship between sexual and religious ecstasy. I think that subconsciously a lot of people understood this and were either enthralled or outraged by it. Consciously, I don't think a lot of the audience would have made this interpretation."

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TAGS: andrew grant, bbc, camille paglia, carrie & lowell, filmmaker, Jeff Reichert, jenny lou ziegel, john boorman, like a prayer, madonna, mary lambert, matthew porterfield, michael koresky, pitchfork, reverse shot, rolling stone, ryan dombal, sufjan stevens, take what you can carry, zsuzsanna kiràly


High Society

French cinema has the fortunate tendency of representing girls as actual human beings, instead of pretty adornments twirling around a male lead. Alice (Ana Girardot), the girl in High Society, might have been reduced to a supporting-role function of her own working-class life had she not run into Agnès (Aurélia Petit), a well-connected and well-coiffed designer. Agnès helps take Alice out of the hood to develop her creative skills and get into a renowned fashion school. A support that Agnès soon regrets, as the girl ends up falling for Agnès' son, Antoine (Bastien Bouillon), forcing lower and upper classes to make contact beyond fleeting bursts of philanthropy.

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TAGS: ana girardot, aurélia petit, Bastien Bouillon, film comment selects, françois ozon, high society, Julie Lopes-Curval, young and beautiful


The Americans

"You have a conscience, Philip," Gabriel (Frank Langella) says during an exchange of Afghan weed and wary glances in tonight's episode of The Americans, as Philip (Matthew Rhys) hesitates to take advantage of Kimmy (Julia Garner), the teenage daughter of a high-ranking CIA official. "There's nothing wrong with that," Gabriel continues. "But conscience can be dangerous." Releasing the tension of "Open House" and "Dimebag," "Salang Pass" turns inward, constructed from nostalgic smiles and pangs of guilt. For Philip and Elizabeth (Keri Russell), conscience is dangerous because it's instinctively honest, always interfering with the work at hand—which is, as Philip acknowledges, the work of making the lie real.

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TAGS: costa ronin, frank langella, Holly Taylor, Julia Garner, karen pittman, Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, Noah Emmerich, rahul khanna, recap, salang pass, the americans


American Sniper

1. "Evil Against Evil." Niles Schwartz on the fascinating incoherence of American Sniper.

"As a consequence of real life, American Sniper's rehabilitation of Chris, where he gradually overcomes the PTSD that he's been rejecting by reaching out to physically wounded veterans, is tragically overwhelmed by the horrific return of the repressed. I regret that sounds like a trivialization of an actual tragedy, but the film's conclusion is, for me, an all-too-appropriate way to express the insoluble character of America's last 15 years, with its rampant and contradictory foreign invasions coupled with disengaged psychological hermeticism. Chris Kyle says goodbye to his wife and children before taking a young vet with PTSD to a gun range, where we know the young man will—inexplicably—shoot Chris. Taya's perspective of the mysterious young man waiting for Chris by a truck is one of the most unsettling images in recent memory, the film's third angel of death recognized by the knowing audience, or perhaps another doppelganger heralding a terrifying psychosis we/Chris/America cannot snap out of. Eastwood again invokes The Godfather, as the husband's enigma and burrowed sins walk away from the gaze of a long suffering wife, the closing door blotting her out from what calls him away."

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TAGS: academy awards, american sniper, daniel kasman, evan johnson, guy maddin, independent spirit awards, jason bailey, niles schwartz, peter strickland, slavoj žižek, slawomir sierakowski, the duke of burgundy, the forbidden room


The Golden Era

"I can't tell if anyone will read my stuff later. But I'm quite sure that the gossip about me will go on and on," laments writer Xioa Hong (Wei Tang) on her deathbed. Ironically, despite pointedly registering that complaint, The Golden Era does just what she dreads. Shunting her writing to the side to focus on her tragic love life and early death, Ann Hui's film reduces an intriguing sounding woman—one who, by the film's own account, made a name for herself as a writer without conforming to conventional mores, either about how to write or how to behave—to a Camille-like figure of pity, picturesquely tubercular, ill-used by men, and admirable mainly for the gallantry with which she faced an avalanche of bad luck.

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TAGS: ann hui, film comment selects, the golden era, wei tang, xioa hong


The Films of David Cronenberg Ranked

David Cronenberg's films don't age. This is incredible when one considers the range and speculative nature of the material that often attracts the director, particularly during the first half of his career. Many low-budget 1970s and 1980s genre films are quaint now, but the years haven't diluted Cronenberg's early "body horror" films one iota, and, in many cases, time has intensified their outrage, which mixes the visceral with the cerebral in a fashion that's distinct to the filmmaker. Cronenberg has subsequently worked in every genre, save, arguably, for comedy, though his films are reliably informed by a subterranean strain of mordant humor. He's adapted a handful of notably subjective novels thought to be "un-filmable," and he's consistently wrestled with defiantly alienating subjects, often associated ambiguously with unconventional sex.

This agelessness springs from an uncommon authorial focus, directness and clarity, which is reflected by the films' deceptively unfussy, nearly sculptural mise-en-scène (honed in significant part with a group of longtime collaborators). Cronenberg rarely strains for melodrama, never leans too heavily on the score when silence or diegetic noise will more effectively establish emotion or mood. The director never approaches shocking material as if it's shocking, and this casually intellectual need to explore something, while reserving judgment in a manner that's analytical yet human, is the very center of his cinema. Cronenberg's greatest accomplishment, though, may be the mystery that tinges all of his films, which still, for all their thematic ambition, ultimately possess an element of unknowability. The weird pull of these films can be attributed to a contradiction: They're the work of a literalist who's determined to plumb the figurative.

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TAGS: a dangerous method, a history of violence, cosmopolis, crash, crimes of the future, david cronenberg, dead ringers, eastern promises, existenz, fast company, m. butterfly, maps to the stars, naked lunch, rabid, scanners, shivers, spider, stereo, the brood, the dead zone, the fly, videodrome


The Smell of Us

Larry Clark is in full-on zeitgeist mode with The Smell of Us, yet another entry in the filmmaker's growingly tiresome oeuvre, built entirely on the ways desire and disgust necessarily overlap in sexual preference and social formation. At least, these themes roam freely within the director's work, though only rarely (in, say, Bully) do Clark's films distance themselves enough from their material in order to gesticulate meaningful expression. That's because Clark's understanding of significance is one faultily tied to lived experience, as if all the on-screen toe sucking, ass licking, sagging skin, and hardcore fucking were evidence enough of its chafed authenticity. In an early scene, a bum named Rockstar (played by Clark himself) pisses his pants as he wantonly pours wine all over his face. That seems to be as reflexive a gesture as Clark can muster from the film's thinly sketched presentation of a group of young Parisian skaters moonlighting as novice hustlers, replete with Clark's typically poseur-voyeur aesthetics.

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TAGS: bully, film comment selects, hugo behar-thinières, kids, larry clark, lukas ionesco, mathieu landais, michael pitt, spring breakers, the smell of us, wassup rockers


Birdman

1. "Decoding the 2015 Oscars." Academy Awards: Mark Harris on the Birdman win and what it tells us about Hollywood

"Or don't do that, because the truth is, the time-capsule approach to Oscar voting is overrated. The Oscars aren't really about posterity (they've never enhanced the long-term reputation of a winner or damaged a loser); they're about transience, a selfie snapped at the end of a long campaign. And what this selfie said was 'Come on, we're trying.' The sing-off between Neil Patrick Harris and Anna Kendrick and Jack Black was, even by the standards of a fairly self-conscious ceremony, very meta. Those two strains of argument—'Let's celebrate our effort!' and 'This business is going to hell!'—sat side by side in the house last night, and, of course, the winning movie was the one that cannily embraced both of those views."

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TAGS: academy awards, birdman, graham moore, house of cards, j. bryan lowder, Lizabeth Scott, mark harris, netflix, nick pinkerton, rumsey taylor, the completist, the imitation game, the new york times, virginia heffernan







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