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Toronto International Film Festival 2015: Introduction, The Assassin, & Taxi

One of Hou’s constant themes (one that recurs in the work of many of the notable Taiwanese directors) is alienation, not just of a personal, but of a national sort.

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Toronto International Film Festival 2015: Introduction, The Assassin, & Taxi
Photo: Well Go USA

In a recent Twitter exchange, critic and author Mark Harris described the Toronto International Film Festival as a “supermall.” The numerical facts for this year’s 40th edition suggest as much: 399 total offerings (289 features and 110 shorts) culled from 6,118 submissions from 71 countries. And in the previous two years I attended (2007 and 2008), there frequently was a consumptive feeling in the air that one would associate more with the marketplace than the movie house: Ingest now, digest much later.

That’s admittedly the rush of the festival circuit, an intoxicating feeling only intensified by Toronto’s sheer volume of choice, which allows you to catch a Ridley Scott here, an Apichatpong Weerasethakul there. Or delve deep into the avant-garde via the highly regarded Wavelengths program. Or catch some of the buzzed-about titles that played that year’s Cannes and will soon play this year’s New York Film Festival. Or just take a chance as scheduling affords, since there are always movies screening from early in the morning until late, late at night. (When else would Takashi Miike debut Yakuza Apocalypse, his latest exercise in extremity?)

There’s perhaps no filmmaker I’m happier to be confounded by than Hou Hsiao-hsien, and I suspect many Western viewers will find his ninth-century-set martial-arts drama, The Assassin, based on a short story written by Tang Dynasty author Pei Xing, bewildering on a narrative level even as they marvel at its opulent pictorial qualities. Certainly this is a cinematographic master class by Mark Lee Ping-bin, who shoots primarily in a square 4:3 ratio and luxuriant color aside from a black-and-white prologue and one musical interlude where the frame expands to 1.85 to accommodate the full length of a guzheng (Chinese zither).

But Hou isn’t one for gorgeously empty pageantry. Each image is also meant to illuminate the internal struggle of the eponymous killer Nie Yinniang (Shu Qi), who was kidnapped as a young girl, trained to murder corrupt officials, and now wrestles with her latest assignment: cutting down an Imperial Court lord (Chang Chen) who also happens to be her cousin. Her private strife is key to understanding the film, which unfolds with a peculiar pensiveness, like a dream at once half-remembered and half-forgotten. Each scene feels informed by dueling perspectives and shifting points of view, and even when the camera is focused on characters other than Nie, she appears to be present. Several lengthy dialogue scenes end with Hou revealing his protagonist emerging from the shadows—a voyeur not just to others’ discord, but to her own.

One of Hou’s constant themes (one that recurs in the work of many of the notable Taiwanese directors) is alienation, not just of a personal, but of a national sort. Nie is a person without a homeland, and is interestingly freer the more she focuses her loyalties inward. Though The Assassin is a wuxia through and through, the fight scenes—typically quick, glimpsed in long shot, and unnervingly accompanied by the sounds of nature—are secondary to the film’s overall sense of longing. It privileges neither bloody vengeance nor bodies in gravity-defying motion as much as it does a troubled, yearning soul slowly laid bare.

There’s a similar sense of agitation in Iranian writer-director Jafar Panahi’s Taxi. Like the two other works (2011’s This Is Not a Film and 2013’s Closed Curtain) this cinematic great made under the noses of his home country’s censorious government (the powers-that-be imposed a 20-year filmmaking ban on Panahi in 2010), the incitements are embedded within a stirringly playful surface. The conceit of the movie is that Panahi, once again playing a close-to-home version of himself, is now driving a cab to make ends meet. But proving you can’t ever stop a determined artist from practicing his art, he’s fitted the car with cameras that record the various passengers who hail him down.

It’s a movie studio on wheels (all 82 minutes of Taxi, save for the provocative closing moments, take place within the vehicle), with the entire populace of Tehran as potential stars. The fares might be figures of fun (a Sancho Panza-like bootleg DVD merchant) or prone to escalating tragedy (a woman who tries to get her dying husband to amend his will on an iPhone video as Panahi drives them to the hospital). Yet there’s also a degree to which they exemplify aspects of Panahi’s own tormented subconscious—as well they should since most of the film’s action, despite the seeming verisimilitude, is staged.

Both This Is Not a Film and Closed Curtain also dealt, via a meta mix of reality and fantasy, with the trials of creating art within a suppressive system. There’s something even more potent about Taxi’s approach, in large part due to the mobility provided by the cab itself. Liberating on the one hand, the vehicle is still, on the other, as much of a prison as the apartment and the beach house Panahi attempted to inject with imaginative life in the previous two films. An artist can be continually on the move and still be trapped. That Panahi still feels the muse’s call under such duress is an example to celebrate and to follow.

The Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 10—20.

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Watch: The Long-Awaited Deadwood Movie Gets Teaser Trailer and Premiere Date

Welcome to fucking Deadwood!

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Deadwood
Photo: HBO

At long last, we’re finally going to see more of Deadwood. Very soon after the HBO series’s cancellation in 2006, creator David Milch announced that he agreed to produce a pair of two-hour films to tie up the loose ends left after the third season. It’s been a long road since, and after many false starts over the years, production on one standalone film started in fall 2018. And today we have a glorious teaser for the film, which releases on HBO on May 31. Below is the official description of the film:

The Deadwood film follows the indelible characters of the series, who are reunited after ten years to celebrate South Dakota’s statehood. Former rivalries are reignited, alliances are tested and old wounds are reopened, as all are left to navigate the inevitable changes that modernity and time have wrought.

And below is the teaser trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAcftIUE6MQ

Deadwood: The Movie airs on HBO on May 31.

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Watch: Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Gets Teaser Trailer

When it rains, it pours.

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Photo: Columbia Pictures

When it rains, it pours. Four days after Quentin Tarantino once more laid into John Ford in a piece written for his Beverly Cinema website that saw the filmmaker referring to Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon as Tie a Yellow Ribbon, and two days after Columbia Pictures released poster art for QT’s ninth feature that wasn’t exactly of the highest order, the studio has released a teaser for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The film was announced early last year, with Tarantino describing it as “a story that takes place in Los Angeles in 1969, at the height of hippy Hollywood.”

Set on the eve of the Manson family murders, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood tells the story of TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), as they try to get involved in the film industry. The film also stars Margot Robbie (as Sharon Tate), Al Pacino, the late Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, Dakota Fanning, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Kurt Russell, and Bruce Dern in a part originally intended for the late Burt Reynolds.

See the teaser below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Scf8nIJCvs4

Columbia Pictures will release Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on July 26.

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Watch the Stranger Things 3 Trailer, and to the Tune of Mötley Crüe and the Who

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence.

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Stranger Things 3
Photo: Netflix

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence. On Friday, Jeff Tremaine’s The Dirt, a biopic about Mötley Crüe’s rise to fame, drops on Netflix. Today, the streaming service has released the trailer for the third season of Stranger Things. The clip opens with the strains of Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home,” all the better to underline that the peace and quiet that returned to the fictional rural town of Hawkins, Indiana at the end of the show’s second season is just waiting to be upset again.

Little is known about the plot of the new season, and the trailer keeps things pretty vague, though the Duffer Brothers have suggested that the storyline will take place a year after the events of the last season—duh, we know when “Home Sweet Home” came out—and focus on the main characters’ puberty pangs. That said, according to Reddit sleuths who’ve obsessed over such details as the nuances of the new season’s poster art, it looks like Max and company are going to have to contend with demon rats no doubt released from the Upside Down.

See below for the new season’s trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEG3bmU_WaI

Stranger Things 3 premieres globally on July 4.

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