The House


The Project of the Century

The 45th edition of International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) will be the first in nine years without current artistic director Rutger Wolfson at the helm. Much has been said of Wolfson's tenure as the head of one of the world's biggest public film festivals, and not much of it—recently at least—has been positive. Having missed 2014's festival period due to illness, he announced in December last year that the 44th edition would be his last.

The problems with IFFR are many, and to suggest that Wolfson is solely to blame for a declining reputation as a hotbed for high-quality leftfield cinema is merely mean-spirited. Still, it's an open secret these days, among press delegates at least, that IFFR has become something of a bloated balloon in the last decade—one whose expanding size each year means that its large team of programmers has to operate increasingly on an "any old film will do" policy. For now, one hopes that Wolfson's successor has the strength in character to realize that size matters, and that when quality control is no guarantee, smaller can indeed be better.

In fairness, most of the guffaws, walkouts, and eye-rolls in Rotterdam are to do with the Tiger Competition, which this year hosted 13 first or second features—11 of which were world premieres. Opting for a juried competition of this kind inevitably places a burden on the selected films: These are the works upon which the trades will place journalistic priority and so, in turn, they come to represent the festival as a whole—not only as an indication of its overall quality, but of the discerning eyes and political tastes of its programming team too. Venturing into the Tigers rarely ends well. Often characterized by a put-on radicalism, they range from the politically toothless to the off-puttingly pretentious. Unnamed, somnambulant archetypes that don't talk much are very much the "in" thing.

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TAGS: conquering china, don't think i've forgotten, embargo, international film festival rotterdam, iseeyou, jade miners, rutger wolfson, san siro, the project of the century, white coal


The Americans

Addressing the Soviet Union's ongoing misadventure in Afghanistan midway through the season-three premiere of The Americans, Arkady Ivanovich (Lev Gorn), the KGB's rezident in Washington, urges his comrades to consider the United States yet another front in the conflict. "They're fighting this war from here," he says of the Americans, "and so should we." Seeping into every nook and cranny of both global politics and private life, the Cold War's red-hot proxy fights have long defined FX's superb spy game, but as with Arkady's intimation of a growing battle, "EST Men" stakes out new terrain. Establishing the contours of a narrative that threatens to dissolve the familial bonds that Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) have worked so hard to forge, tonight's episode of The Americans brings the series closer to home than ever before.

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TAGS: est men, frank langella, Holly Taylor, Keri Russell, Lev Gorn, Matthew Rhys, Noah Emmerich, recap, the americans


Eddie Redmayne

1. "Eddie Redmayne." Jennifer Lawrence interviews the star of The Theory of Everything.

"I had these three images in my trailer—one was Einstein with his tongue out, another was James Dean, because Stephen is just effortlessly cool. He has this kind of shambolic confidence to him. And the last one was a joker in a pack of cards, a marionette with a puppet, because when you meet Stephen—I describe it as a 'Lord of Misrule' quality—he's got a great sense of mischief. I worked with a dancer as well, an amazing woman called Alex Reynolds. My instinct was to try to learn the different stages of the physicality like a dance. Like learning steps, you never have a hold of it—I'm a shit dancer by the way—but once you know the steps, you can then play."

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TAGS: aleksei german, dana stevens, daughters of the dust, eddie redmayne, edgar froese, greta gerwig, hard to be a god, jennifer lawrence, michael mann, michael sicinski, mistress america, noah baumbach, reverse shot, richard brody, slate, sundance film festival, tangerine dream, the theory of everything, thief, wesley morris


Steven Spielberg

1. "Steven Spielberg's speech to Holocaust survivors in Krakow." The Schindler's List director addressed dozens of Auschwitz survivors on eve of 70th anniversary of camp's liberation.

"It means preserving places like Auschwitz so people can always see for themselves how hateful ideologies can become tangible acts of murder. It means sharing and sustaining the testimonies of witnesses so that they can endure for teachers and students around the world their testimonies give to each survivor everlasting life and give to all of us everlasting value. Which brings us to where we are now, the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and despite the obstacles we face today I feel reassured by our shared efforts to combat hatred. And my hope for tomorrow's commemoration is that the survivors with us and those survivors from all round the world feel confident that we are renewing their call to remember, that we will not only make known their own identities but in the process help form a meaningful collective conscience for generations to come."

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TAGS: aleksei german, american sniper, auschwitz, barbara boxer, chris wisniewski, dope, hard to be a god, holocaust, kirby dick, laurie winer, lena dunham, reverse shot, steven spielberg, tangerine, the end of the tour, the hunting ground, wesley morris


Grim Fandango Remastered

There's a moment early on in Grim Fandango in which Manny Calavera, a down-on-his-luck travel salesman for the El Marrow branch of the Department of Death (DOD), finds himself negotiating with a braggart clown. "I can do anything," he insists, bitter that his balloon-animal stall has been overlooked in the greater hubbub of the DOD parade. "Bet you can't do Robert Frost," quips Manny. Five seconds later, Manny's walking around with a twisted, helium-filled poet. The balloon is useless, as it's not needed to solve any of this adventure game's puzzles. But the whimsical irreverence, the comic wastefulness, speaks to an age of sillier and more off-the-cuff games.

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TAGS: broken age, Double Fine Productions, grim fandango, grim fandango remastered, Telltale Games


Hard to Be a God

1. "A Small Batch from Life's Work." J. Hoberman on Aleksei German.

"Befitting a movie its maker strove to realize his entire professional life, Hard to Be a God evokes an imagined past. Its setting is the kingdom of Arkanar on an Earthlike planet where society has evolved only as far as the Middle Ages or, perhaps, skipping the Renaissance, gone directly from feudal barbarism to barbaric fascism. Literacy is a capital crime. Russians are dispatched in a team from their achieved Utopia. Discreetly employing advanced technology, they live among the Arkanarians, observing their primitive ways, including coups and executions, while doing their ineffectual best to nurture positive human developments."

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TAGS: aleksei german, american sniper, charles p. pierce, deadline, eden, empire, hard to be a god, harvey weinstein, j. hoberman, lee daniels, mia hansen-løve, mike fleming jr., nick pinkerton, quentin tarantino, selma, the grand budapest hotel, the hateful eight, the imitation game, timbaland


Looking

Tops, bottoms, douches, enemas, rim jobs, "hot shower orgies," and even a swinging dick or two: Tonight's episode of Looking, written by John Hoffman and directed by Ryan Fleck, is all about the pleasures of sex and its most irksome complications. Hell, even Doris (Lauren Weedman) lands a big one. The series has never shied away from frank treatments of the subject (the pilot opened with Jonathan Groff's Patrick cruising in the woods), but "Looking Top to Bottom" addresses the physical and emotional logistics of fooling around with newfound confidence. It's unafraid of desire, and of the melancholic moments that often accompany its fulfillment.

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TAGS: Anna Boden, bashir salahuddin, Daniel Franzese, frankie j. alvarez, john hoffman, jonathan groff, Lauren Weedman, looking, looking top to bottom, murray bartlett, raúl castillo, recap, Russell Tovey, Ryan Fleck, Scott Bakula


Girls

"Female Author," the charged title of tonight's episode of Girls, refers on one level to an identity Hannah (Lena Dunham) has both adopted and allowed to delimit her existence; her self-conception as a female writer has guided her actions throughout the series, but as she comes to question her decision to attend the Iowa Writers' Workshop, she's also beginning to interrogate the very identity she's cultivated for herself. Read in that light, the title is a reminder of the labels we affix to ourselves and which constrict our own sense of possibility. On another level, though, the title is an acknowledgement of the agency wielded by the show's core group of women, as the episode traces three characters' attempts to wrest control of an identity that's been imposed on them, either externally or from within. In each case, that attempt at control is motivated by a dissatisfaction whose root cause Hannah understatedly expresses when she declares, "Being pigeonholed isn't fun."

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TAGS: adam driver, alex karpovsky, Allison Williams, Andrew Rannells, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, female author, girls, jemima kirke, lena dunham, recap


Rihanna

Earlier this month, Kanye West released a new track featuring music legend Paul McCartney. The move purportedly dumbfounded many of the rapper's fans, who took to social media to ask, in apparently exasperated fashion, who exactly this Paul McCartney person is. The reaction was not unlike the one the former Beatle received after appearing on the Grammys three years ago. Now, in what will inevitably result in another round of both genuine and sarcastic head-scratching, West and McCartney have teamed up with pop superstar Rihanna. It's been a merciful 26 months since the Barbadian singer's last album, Unapologetic, but it looks like she's gearing up for her comeback. Last night, RiRi tweeted "FIRST GLIMPSE AT MY NEW MUSIC!!!" (emphasis hers) with a link to her website announcing her new single, "FourFiveSeconds," a midtempo acoustic jam featuring McCartney on guitar and Rihanna and Kanye trading verses about a night of wilding. The "Loveeeeeee Song" singer has often thrived outside of her usual dance-pop pigeonhole, particularly on reggae-tinged tracks like "Man Down" and understated ballads like "Stay," but the stripped-down format of "FourFiveSeconds" only serves to highlight her vocal shortcomings. "I think I've had enough/Might get a little drunk," she sings, with a raw, off-kilter, Tuesday Night Music Club quality. But rather than charmingly rootsy, her voice is scratchy and strained; belting has never been Rihanna's forte, and it's as painful as it's ever been here.

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TAGS: fourfiveseconds, kanye west, paul mccartney, rihanna, single review


It Follows

David Robert Mitchell's It Follows, the latest from the John Carpenter Sensory Ethnography Lab, begins with a stunning confluence of panic-rousing stimuli. As the camera pivots slowly to the right, the soundtrack throbbing with sinister synth washes, a girl runs from her home, pausing briefly in the middle of her suburban street to stare in horror at a threat that's invisible both to the audience and the neighbor who kindly asks her if she needs her help. Before running back into the house, before driving off into the dead of night, before tearfully calling her father from a lonely beach, and before Mitchell jump cuts to a ghoulish vision of the girl's corpse, leg broken and dreadfully twisted back toward its head, the camera unbelievably, in one unbroken movement, flips between positioning the audience as victim and victimizer.

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TAGS: charade, David Robert Mitchell, it follows, jake weary, john carpenter, Keir Gilchrist, Maika Monroe, sundance film festival, the myth of the american sleepover







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