The House


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


Christmas, Again

Christmas, Again opens with a series of diffuse, colorful lights, suggesting the electronic video art of Nam June Paik in their abstract arrangement against a black background. They are less identifiable as Christmas lights than isolated beams of energy striving for coherent meaning. Fitting then, that these vibrant shimmers quickly give way to Noel (Kentucker Audley), a wayward twentysomething, pacing in front of his Christmas-tree lot, "sometime fairly recently in New York City," a subtitle explains. The immediate lack of both fine points and specificity in writer-director Charles Poekel's debut feature, shot on 16mm, is imperative to following its through lines of poorly uttered names, apocryphal stories, and faces that appear and then quickly vanish from the film, often within the same scene.

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TAGS: charles poekel, christmas again, hannah gross, Kentucker Audley, sundance film festival


King Abdullah

1. "King Abdullah, a Shrewd Force Who Reshaped Saudi Arabia, Dies at 90." Throngs of mourners gathered in Mecca early Friday just hours after Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud died. He was 90.

"King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who came to the throne in old age and earned a reputation as a cautious reformer even as the Arab Spring revolts toppled heads of state and Islamic State militants threatened the Muslim establishment that he represented, died on Friday, according to a statement on state television. He was 90. The Royal Court said in a statement broadcast across the kingdom that the king had died early Friday. The royal court did not disclose the exact cause of death. An announcement quoted by the official Saudi Press Agency said the king had a lung infection when he was admitted on Dec. 31 to a Riyadh hospital. The king's death adds yet another element of uncertainty in a region already overwhelmed by crises and as Saudi Arabia is itself in a struggle with Iran for regional dominance. The royal family moved quickly to assure a smooth transition of power in a nation that is a close ally of the United States, the world's largest exporter of oil and the religious center of the Islamic faith. In a televised statement, Abdullah's brother, Crown Prince Salman, announced that the king had died and that he had assumed the throne."

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TAGS: american sniper, andrew o'hehir, blondie, Brian Turner, chris stein, clint eastwood, debbie harry, hannibal, king abdullah, michael koresky, rapture, reverse shot, saudi arabia, the duke of burgundy, vulture


Björk

1. "The Invisible Woman." Pitchfork's Jessica Hopper converses with Björk.

"I have nothing against Kanye West. Help me with this—I'm not dissing him—this is about how people talk about him. With the last album he did, he got all the best beatmakers on the planet at the time to make beats for him. A lot of the time, he wasn't even there. Yet no one would question his authorship for a second. If whatever I'm saying to you now helps women, I'm up for saying it. For example, I did 80% of the beats on Vespertine and it took me three years to work on that album, because it was all microbeats—it was like doing a huge embroidery piece. Matmos came in the last two weeks and added percussion on top of the songs, but they didn't do any of the main parts, and they are credited everywhere as having done the whole album. [Matmos'] Drew [Daniel] is a close friend of mine, and in every single interview he did, he corrected it. And they don't even listen to him. It really is strange."

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TAGS: american sniper, björk, film comment, flavorwire, gett: the trial of viviane amsalem, greenpeace, hollywood, jason bailey, jessica hopper, jia zhang-ke, manohla dargis, mother jones, nicolas rapold, pitchfork, prison, shlomi elkabetz, smog journeys, vulnicura


American Horror Story: Freak Show

"Curtain Call" ends American Horror Story: Freak Show on an unsurprisingly dour and haphazard note, reveling in the show's most annoying ongoing assertion: that the freaks are "just like everyone else." No, they aren't. A man with flippers for hands who's lived in a circus all his life fantasizing about joining conventional American society isn't like a man born into that society unquestioningly with the privilege to take it for granted. These are profoundly different emotional experiences, and, if this sounds like over-literal nitpicking, bear in mind that American Horror Story goes to great efforts to congratulate itself on its "other"-friendly symbolism. The freaks are clearly meant to represent a great variety of minorities, and their often boring "magical negro" cuddliness is meant to attest to the inherent unifying decency of the human species regardless of variation.

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TAGS: american horror story, american horror story: freak show, angela bassett, curtain call, evan peters, finn wittrock, jessica lange, John Carroll Lynch, sarah paulson, wes bentley


Loitering with Intent

Two out-of-work actors searching for a new project, Michael Godere and Ivan Martin, took matters into their own hands when they wrote the feature-length screenplay for Loitering with Intent, with parts for themselves and their two famous friends, Marisa Tomei and Sam Rockwell. The story, about two out-of-work actors, Dominic and Raphael, attempting to write a screenplay on a 10-day deadline, suggests art imitating life, but the rest is playful fiction. The film is an intimate exploration of the dynamics of both the creative process and relationships in general, shining a rare light into what our own Chuck Bowen described as a "fleeting paradise of camaraderie and heartbreak, which at least offers proof of capacity for feeling." I had the chance to chat with actor-writers Godere and Martin, their stellar co-stars, Tomei and Rockwell, and director Adam Rapp about their years-long friendships, tricks of the trade to keep the energy high, Raymond Chandler Easter eggs, and more.

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TAGS: adam rapp, Ivan Martin, loitering with intent, marisa tomei, Michael Godere, sam rockwell


Barack Obama

1. "President Obama Delivers the State of the Union." In State of the Union speech, the president defiantly sets an ambitious agenda.

"The tax plan would raise the top capital gains tax rate to 28 percent, from 23.8 percent. It would also remove what amounts to a tax break for wealthy people who can afford to hold on to their investments until death. Mr. Obama also said he wanted to assess a new fee on the largest financial institutions—those with assets of $50 billion or more—based on the amount of risk they took on. Those proposals would pay for the community college initiative, which would cost $60 billion over a decade, as well as an array of new tax credits intended for the middle class. They include a new $500 credit for families with two working spouses; a subsidy of up to $2,500 annually to pay for college; and the tripling, up to $3,000, of an existing tax break to pay for college. 'It's time we stop treating child care as a side issue, or as a women's issue,' Mr. Obama said, 'and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us.'"

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TAGS: amos vogel, barack obama, blackhat, broad city, fandor, it follows, laura miller, michael mann, michael sicinski, mubi, richard brody, ryland walker knight, salon, state of the union







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