Tag Archives: HBO

Summer streaming all about movies, miniseries and catching up with the year’s best shows

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Will Arnett plays the title character in the third season of “BoJack Horseman.”

NETFLIX

When your Orange is the New Black binge is over (so, probably three days ago) there’s a long wait for new stuff on Netflix (unless you’re a fan of Marco Polo…). But the wait should be worth it. Animated cult favorite Bojack Horseman is set to return July 22, with Will Arnett’s washed-up anthropomorphic horse character considering his legacy amid a turbulent Oscar campaign. In August, Baz Luhrman’s latest project, the ’70s-era musical drama The Get Down, about the rise of hip hop in the Bronx, will debut its first six episodes on August 12.

Tired of internet streaming being all about TV? Good – you’re on the same page as Netflix, which is positioning itself to bulk up its film library this summer with some new deals. It’s already acquired the original Jurassic Park trilogy and Oscar-winner Spotlight. The summer will see the addition of the Back to the Future trilogy (July 1) and The Big Short (July 6), among many others. And in September, Netflix’s exclusive partnership with Disney will begin, bringing all the latest films produced by the company — now including Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars movies — to the service.

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“Difficult People” stars Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner.

HULU

Hulu’s bread-and-butter is still next-day streaming of what’s on TV during the regular season, so the best recommendation for the summer months is just to catch up on all the things you’ve missed while watching your other streaming services. Our picks would be Broad City, the last (and admittedly least) season of The Good Wife, the no-longer-final season of Nashville and ABC’s full slate of family comedies that are way better than Modern Family (i.e., Fresh Off the Boat, The Real O’Neals, Black-ish), but follow your instincts.

That said, Hulu’s original content arm is making a big play. It’s already dropped a new season of Casual, the comedy it casually (see what I did there?) launched last October about a newly divorced mother living with her brother and teenage daughter. In July, it’ll add a new season of Difficult People, the hilarious, offbeat comedy starring Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner as struggling and jaded comedians (July 12), and East Los High, the teen drama set in east LA now in its fourth season.

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Last year’s breakout hit “Mr. Robot” has arrived on Amazon Prime.

AMAZON PRIME

Summertime is Amazon pilots time, but grownups only have two options to vote on this season (the rest are for kids’ shows). Which of the two you’re more drawn to may depend more on which facet of Peak TV you’re more irritated by. If you’re done with aggressively gorgeous period dramas, check out The Interestings, which follows a group of ambitious friends who meet at an arts camp in the ‘70s, are chasing their dreams in the ‘80s and have for better or worse settled into adulthood in the ‘90s, featuring Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under) as the primary friend alongside Jessica Paré (Mad Men) and David Krumholtz (Numb3rs). On the other hand, if you want something that isn’t trying to be drama and comedy simultaneously, try The Last Tycoon, a Matt Bomer-driven depiction of 1930s Hollywood, inspired by an unfinished F. Scott Fitzgerald work.

Amazon Prime has also snagged the first season of one of summer’s hottest shows: Mr. Robot, only a few weeks away from its July 13 season two premiere on USA Network. The drama follows Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek), a hacker with social anxiety disorder and depression who is recruited to join anarchist “Mr. Robot” and his team of hacktivists.

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Bill Simmons hosts the weekly show “Any Given Wednesday” as part of his new deal with HBO.

HBO GO

True Detective may be dead in the water, but HBO isn’t willing to give up on gritty, enigmatic crime miniseries so soon. July 10 marks the premiere of their new venture: The Night Of, an eight-part series that follows the investigation of a murder in New York City. Originally, the show was a passion project of the late James Gandolfini, who loosely adapted it from British show Criminal Justice and planned to star as the central attorney. John Turturro will now play the role, chasing the answer to whether or not a young Pakistani man (Riz Ahmed) murdered a female stranger on the Upper West Side.

This summer’s also marking the premiere of HBO’s new series Any Given Wednesday, a talk show helmed by ousted Grantland editor-in-chief Bill Simmons. Like that ESPN-hosted longform journalism site, the new show (now with a few episodes already in the bank online) will feature interviews and discussions about pop culture and technology as well as Simmons’ core focus on sports.

Examining Robert Mapplethorpe three decades later

“The thing the world is most afraid of is the penis.”

That’s the claim Jack Fritscher makes, partially on behalf of his ex-lover Robert Mapplethorpe, in the new HBO documentary, Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures. The film, released parallel to an unprecedented joint exhibition of the photographer’s work at the J. Paul Getty Museum and Los Angeles County Museum of Art under the name Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium, offers an opportunity to look back on his often-shocking body of work and the influence he’s had on the world of photography.

For those who weren’t alive in the ‘80s, the name “Mapplethorpe” might not have the disquieting effect it had three decades ago. The openly gay photographer shocked the art world with his brazen photographs of male sexuality, nudity, and sadomasochistic practices. As fate would have it, he rose to fame when AIDS was devastating the gay community, making his work all the more controversial.

Indeed, his photographs were jarring. A self-portrait with a whip inserted into his anus shocked the art world and non-art world alike. Portraits of black male nudes shook the status quo of “beauty.” Nudity, sex, and blatant objectification of the penis were as normal to Mapplethorpe as sunsets to Monet. He flaunted this subject matter as if to say: “This is how I live; get over it.”

When a large retrospective of his work called The Perfect Moment opened at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in Philadelphia in 1989, it caused more than a stir, proving that the world was, indeed, very afraid of penis. Conservative lawmaker Jesse Helms attempted to cut funding from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) because of their support of Mapplethorpe’s work. In 1990, The Perfect Moment traveled to Washington, D.C.’s Contemporary Arts Center, where museum director Dennis Barrie was subsequently arrested on charges of obscenity.

The irony is all this controversy peaked at the exact time when Mapplethorpe was at his weakest. In 1989, at the age of 42, he passed away in his home from complications due to AIDS.

Although he lived a short life, Mapplethorpe had a tremendous influence on the gay rights movement, the art world, and the medium of photography. He continued to work even as he was dying, and was obsessed with the fame, fortune, and controversy that surrounded him during his career.

Had he lived, however, he would have seen the Mapplethorpe mania dwindle. In the 27 years since his death, there have been no ambitious exhibitions of his work at any major museums until this year, with the opening of The Perfect Medium in March. During these 27 years, gay marriage became legal, the AIDS crisis declined, and many of the taboos surrounding homosexuality were broken down.

In a publication based on the show, called Robert Mapplethorpe: The Photographs, curator Paul Martineau states,“the authors of this volume hope that the insights presented here will bring new light and greater balance to the study of his work.” In other words, The Perfect Medium is an attempt to place Mapplethorpe’s work in a current context after being locked in a drawer for years.

The Photographs is a massive book, consisting of thousands of prints from The Perfect Medium and five essays by art critics. The most insightful observation is from Richard Meyer in an essay called “Mapplethorped” which states, “Today, the price of Mapplethorpe’s work at auction, the critical and interpretive attention it has received, and its acquisition and display by prominent museums attest to the fact that it has indeed achieved something legitimate in the history of art.”

This means that Mapplethorpe is now embedded in the canon of art history. His portraits are examined by art students for their formal beauty rather than their erotic nature, his photographs sell at auctions for upwards of $300,000 to members of the cultural elite, and museums show his work alongside other famous art. But does this mean the rest of the world has finally accepted the shocking candor of Mapplethorpe’s vision?

Self Portrait 1980 Robert Mapplethorpe 1946-1989 ARTIST ROOMS  Acquired jointly with the National Galleries of Scotland through The d'Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/AR00225
A self-portrait of Mapplethorpe, taken in 1980. Photo: Tate

This documentary, Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures, gives further insight to this. It is certainly made for a mainstream audience, abandoning the sterile and official presentation of The Photographs and giving way to crass language and honesty.

The viewer is presented with some rare interviews from members of the Mapplethorpe family, including his brother and sister. In a raw and unscripted moment of vulnerability, Edward Mapplethorpe introduces himself by saying, “I am Robert Mapplethorpe’s younger brother.” He laughs nervously and diverts his eyes from the camera, as if he is not sure whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.

He and his sister claim their family was very strict and Mapplethorpe never fully admitted his homosexuality to his parents. They agree he was competitive and jealous, and his work was a source of contention in the family. His sister Nancy recalls pushing their mother around in her wheelchair at an opening of his work and the awkwardness that prevailed afterward.

Some of Mapplethorpe’s photographic subjects were also interviewed, and describe how he lured them to his apartment from bars and used flattery to persuade them to model. A few subjects claimed that they were his lovers, but others felt that he “used” them for their bodies. In the words of model Marcus Leatherdale, “To be in Robert’s world, you either had to be rich, famous, or sex.”

In contrast to these testaments, a recurring scene shows curators at the Getty and LACMA gathered around his work in reverence as if staring down at a holy shrine, their fingers tracing the meticulous composition of the images. The juxtaposition shows the duality of his work. It is appreciated — worshipped, even — in a high art context, but remains embarrassing and confrontational to those who view it from a personal level.

All in all, the most telling aspect of the Mapplethorpe resurgence is the utter lack of controversy surrounding it. An article recently published in the LA Times disagreed with a museum wall text stating that Mapplethorpe was an advocate of an “openly gay lifestyle” — and is perhaps the most inflammatory statement about the show.

In 2016, the only remnants of the hysteria are the nervous giggles from those who knew him. This time around, there are no angry politicians, protestors, or incarcerated curators. In some ways it is a bit insulting: Mapplethorpe surely would have been irked to see his work turned into sacrosanct objects in a museum. In other ways, however, it is a refreshing reminder of the increasing acceptance of homosexuality in society.

Is the world still afraid of the penis? As we march into a more progressive age, only the audience can answer that question.

Beyonce slays at tour opening, gives no insight into ‘Lemonade’

Whether scorned woman or confident seductress, Beyonce moved seamlessly between the two on the opening night of her Formation World Tour in Miami, offering no insight into the rumors of marital infidelity fueled by Lemonade, her latest album.

Queen B came out swinging April 27 in an oversized black western hat and bodysuit, trading her normal stilettos for military-style combat boots. She opened the show with “Formation” and had the crowd in a frenzy as she moved to her latest anthem “Sorry,” noticeable scorn in her tone as she sang, “Tonight, I regret the night I put that ring on.”

Both songs were from Lemonade, which she released days earlier in an HBO special with full visuals. Much of the album appeared to tie into Beyonce’s life, and lines like “Are you cheating on me?” raised questions of whether her husband, Jay Z, had been unfaithful.

Her opening anthems were fueled by red lights and hot fireballs shooting into the night sky to punctuate her rage — and the angrier she got, the more excited the crowd grew. At one point, Beyonce donned a sequined bodysuit studded with red flames as she sang about her plans to “smack that trick” as a tempestuous lightning storm raged on a screen behind her and later a red, she-devil-esque number.

Just when you thought she was in full-on fury, she switched to the overtly sexual “Rocket” and “Drunk in Love,” a song seemingly about her once hot and heavy marriage. She drew from an older song, “Me, Myself and I,” to remind the crowd “I’m going to be my own best friend,” and brought two girls from the audience who had perfected the choreography to the much-mimicked “Single Ladies.”

She moved so skillfully between vulnerable and in control, that it was impossible to tell what was real and how much was artistic posturing.

Beyonce did not mention her husband — aside from a quick thank you at the end — and said little about Lemonade, noting only that her favorite song was “All Night,” a slow number that starts, “I’ve found the truth beneath your lies.” There was no mention of the presumed other woman, the much-discussed “Becky with the good hair.”

Noticeably absent from the two-hour concert were the political undertones of her Super Bowl halftime show earlier this year, where Beyonce’s dancers donned berets, sported Afros and wore all black, similar to the style of the Black Panther party.

Police unions urged officers not to volunteer or work at her shows and criticized what they called her “anti-police” messages. The police presence at the Miami show seemed normal, and media reports have revealed that security sign-ups for her upcoming Tampa show have not been an issue.

She also did a quick cover of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams,” cast her stage in purple to honor Prince during a costume change while “Purple Rain” played and dedicated her final number “Halo” to the late star as fireworks shot into the night sky.

“Prince, thank you for your beautiful music. … He’s an artist that inspired all of us,” she said.

In perhaps the most meaningful moment, Beyonce said her daughter reminded her on the way to rehearsal that “when I was a little girl and I dreamed, I dreamed of this day right now. … You’re witnessing my dream coming true right now.”

Later, a montage of Jay Z holding the couple’s newborn child in the hospital played as she sang — a reminder that the last time she toured, she headlined with her husband. The April 27 show also included a snippet from Jay’s grandmother’s 90th birthday telling the crowd she turned life’s lemons into lemonade.

And Beyonce — whatever state her personal life and marriage is in — appears to be doing the same. Her commanding performance of “Freedom” served as reminder to the world that she “breaks chains all by myself. I’m gonna keep running because a runner don’t quit on herself,” she sang as her dancers splashed about an onstage pool. She carried that theme into “Survivor,” encouraging those in the crowd who had “survived anything in your life, I want you to celebrate with me tonight.”

And, just to keep everyone guessing, she gave a shout-out to her husband at the end.

“I want to dedicate this song to my beautiful husband,” she said. “I love you so much.”

 

‘Game of Thrones’ star Emilia Clarke finds personal strength in playing Daenerys

The frenzy surrounding Game of Thrones continues to mount as Season 6 approaches. The epic HBO series based on novels by George R.R. Martin has become so popular that every minor leak or hint of a spoiler travels across cyberspace with unprecedented velocity, and the massive interest in questions like “Is Jon Snow really dead?” will surely push the series’ audience past 20 million viewers this year.

And fans can be confident that Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys Targaryen will continue to play an active part in the bloody mayhem that has turned the series into a cultural phenomenon. Clarke, as the exiled princess Daenerys (aka the “Mother of Dragons”), is arguably the cornerstone of the show. So can Clarke provide any insights into Season 6 for GoT’s legions of fans?

“Hah, you know I can’t reveal anything,” Clarke says. “I can tell you that it’s going to be an epic season and you’re going to see some of the biggest moments that have ever been shown on television. Other seasons have been more centered around building up the story and evolving the characters and storylines. This season though is relentless. … It’s just go, go, go!”

Game of Thrones has defined 29-year-old Clarke’s career. She’s seen her life transformed from that of a disgruntled and “incompetent” call-center employee into a lead actor on a series that has changed the TV landscape and made her an international sex symbol. She’s also ventured into film, turning down the role of Anastasia in Fifty Shades of Grey to play Sarah Connor in Terminator Genisys last year. Later this year, she’ll appear opposite Sam Clafin in Me Before You, a romantic drama that also partners her with former GoT co-star Charles Dance (who played Tywin Lannister).

Clarke was raised in Oxfordshire, England, and first became entranced by the world of show business when, as a toddler, her parents took her to a London production of Show Boat. She lives in London and was rumored to have briefly dated GoT’s Kit Harington (Jon Snow) last year. But her GoT shooting commitments have led her to despair over her romantic life: “(Romantic relationships) are absolutely impossible. I’m soppy and I do like to believe that when the right person comes along, it will work, because you want to make it work. Everyone else seems to manage it.”

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In the new season of “Game of Thrones,” Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) must reclaim her throne and her dragons after being captured by Dothraki horselords. Photo: Macall B. Polay/HBO.

Emilia, how does it feel to be a central player in one of the greatest series in the history of television?

Sometimes it’s difficult to for me to believe how lucky I’ve been. This series has given me the kind of role that every actress dreams of getting. I never imagined while I was working at this terrible call-center that I would get a part on Game of Thrones, much less get to play a major character. Even when I was told that I was going to play Daenerys, I had no idea it would turn out to be so important. I was just happy to be able to earn a living doing what I love.

Will Season 6 see Dany rebound after some of the harsh times she encountered last season?

She’s going to move forward again. She’s going to trust herself and her instincts more and then stand by her decisions. She won’t make the same mistakes again. There’s a lot of interesting things in store for her and the other characters. I don’t think audiences will be disappointed. There’s going to be something for everyone this season.

Apart from the work itself, what do you look forward to when you go back onto the set and get to put the blonde wig and costumes on again?

It’s a mixture of excitement and trepidation. I think it compares to the feeling you have when you return to school after the summer holidays and you get to wear the uniform again and see all your friends whom you’ve missed while you’ve been away. And of course I have to wonder whether my dragons are going to devour me one day!

What’s a typical day like, working on Game of Thrones?

It varies a lot, of course, depending on whether we’re doing more intimate scenes or we need to do greenscreen (for the dragons).

Usually I’m up very early in the morning and I spend two-and-a-half hours in hair and makeup before I’m ready to go on set. Most of the time is spent getting the hair right. The wig is very big and it takes a lot of work. I’m very happy when I get to take it off because it’s so hot and heavy.

Clarke's time working on "Game of Thrones" varies depending on whether or not she's acting opposite greenscreen sets depicting her dragons. Photo: HBO.
Clarke’s time working on “Game of Thrones” varies depending on whether or not she’s acting opposite greenscreen sets depicting her dragons. Photo: HBO.

You and Peter Dinklage were both nominated for Emmys this year. How did that feel?

It was such a great honor and I’m so happy for Peter (who won for best supporting actor in a dramatic series). He’s such a charming and wonderful man and it was so great to finally get to work with him (in Season 5). He has such a superb sense of humor and everyone loves being around him on the set because he’s so funny and clever.

Daenerys is a very powerful albeit lonely figure. How has your perspective on her changed as the character has evolved over the years?

It’s been a revelation for me to be able to grow with her and watch her transform from a girl into a woman. She has great natural strength and self-assurance and I try to draw as much inspiration as I can from her willpower and determination in the face of great challenges.

I feel I’ve matured faster because playing Dany has forced me to think more seriously about my own life. It’s been exciting for me to get to evolve along with my character.

You’ve often stated how you thrive on playing determined women like Dany and Sarah Connor.

I was very shy and awkward as a teenager but I always had an inner sense of determination and ambition. I aspire to playing strong women because that’s how women are in real life even though that’s not always portrayed in film or TV. George (R.R. Martin) has created very dynamic and empowering female characters who use their femininity and sexuality as well as their intelligence to make their mark in the world.

Do you hear from a lot of young women who feel inspired by your portrayal of Daenerys?

Yes. That’s a wonderful part of my job. I enjoy being able to reach people through my work and maybe help give them confidence and empower them to achieve their dreams.

Self-confidence and self-belief are very important issues for young women and I am very proud that I have had the chance to play a woman who has transformed herself from a girl with low self-esteem into a much more powerful and confident young woman. She’s a great example to young women, I think.

Is there a key to being both a smart and successful woman?

I think women need to embrace our strength as well as our vulnerability and sensitivity.

You’re playing quite a different character in your upcoming film, Me Before You.

Yes. I’m playing a more goofy, awkward woman. She’s kind of clumsy and insecure at times, more like the person my family and friends see in real life.   But thanks to playing Dany, I’ve become much bolder. At least I hope so.

Game of Thrones premieres April 24 on HBO. 

‘Game of Thrones,’ ‘Kimmy Schmidt’ lead spring streaming recommendations

HBO GO

If you’re a subscriber to HBO GO or HBO NOW, you know what’s coming. Winter — I mean Game of Thrones season 6. The April 24 premiere finds Cersei humbled, Sansa on the run, Arya blinded, Dany captured and Jon Snow dead — or, as Billy Crystal might say, “mostly dead.” Which is a step up from every other GoT character you’ve loved and lost.

HBO is hoping, though, that your mind’s not too blown after the premiere to catch the two comedies also premiering April 24. The socially inept techies of Silicon Valley will be launching their third season, in which lead character Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) fights to regain control of his startup after being forced out as its CEO. Similarly struggling is Veep’s President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), who will open the fifth season facing a tie electoral vote that puts her re-election prospects in the hands of byzantine government bureaucracy — exactly what the show’s so good at skewering.

SHOWTIME

Showtime feels like the little brother of the big premium cable networks, always playing second fiddle to HBO. But its partnership with Hulu is a step ahead of HBO’s similar team-up with Amazon Prime. HBO is only releasing its older shows on the streaming library, but Showtime is being featured as a premium add-on for Hulu, so you can watch any show or movie for less than the cost of a stand-alone subscription — $9 a month versus $11.

Showtime has a pretty extensive TV and film library that we won’t get into — other than to say their biggest hits Homeland, Dexter, Shameless and Weeds are all available. In the next few months, two of their more underrated shows will see season premieres.

First is House of Lies (that show you keep mixing up with House of Cards), on April 10. Instead of a scowling Kevin Spacey and a devious Robin Wright, you get a smarmy Don Cheadle and an ambitious Kristin Bell, working as management consultants trying to secure deals at any cost. Then there’s Penny Dreadful, premiering May 1. The Victorian-era horror drama, in the vein of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, features characters from literature’s most terrifying works — Frankenstein, Dracula, The Portrait of Dorian Grey — facing demons and monsters both physical and mental.

NETFLIX

TV has so many antiheroes that an anti-antihero can be an alarmingly refreshing concept. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, arguably the buzziest show launched by Netflix last year, will return to the streaming service April 15 with the same bright, sunshiney energy that made its tale of a former “Mole Woman” escaping her bunker and thriving in New York City so compelling. This season is actually the first that creator Tina Fey has developed for Netflix (the show was originally meant for NBC), but she’s promised that the show and lead actor Ellie Kemper won’t be breaking out the profanity or nudity just because they can.

One strong independent funny woman not enough? All you have to do is hold on until May 20, when comedian Maria Bamford will explode onto your screens in Lady Dynamite. If this semi-fictionalized tale of “a woman who loses — then finds — her s**t” is as weird, unorthodox, in-your-face and wonderful as Bamford’s work in stand-up and on shows like Arrested Development, we’re in for a hell of a ride.

HULU

Hulu has some big TV coups this month, thanks to a landmark deal with Warner Bros. Television. The biggest get? Mid ‘00s teen drama classic The O.C., available on streaming for the first time since it went off the air in 2007 after only four seasons. Also arriving is fellow CW hit Smallville — perhaps the perfect salve to victims of Batman v Superman — as well as more recent shows like Blindspot and Lucifer.

There’s some nice original programming too, to sweeten the deal. Aaron Paul-vehicle The Path, about members of a religious cult in New Hampshire, has already premiered (to mixed reviews, admittedly, but those critics who liked it are fittingly fanatical). April also marks the return of The Mindy Project after a long winter hiatus. Mindy Kaling’s sitcom got increasingly realistic after making the jump from Fox to Hulu, and the midseason premiere will double down on that shift, with OB/GYN Mindy Lahiri and her son Leo on their own after she leaves her fiancé Danny Castellano.

AMAZON PRIME

If you haven’t joined Clone Club, sweet Jesus please join Clone Club. This year’s secular Easter miracle was the release of Orphan Black’s third season (FINALLY) on March 27. The new season of this edgy, grounded sci-fi series about women who discover they’re clones caught up in a global conspiracy shows up on BBC America April 14, so if cord-cutters can catch up before then, they’ll have a few days to enjoy knowing as much as their snooty cable-owning friends.

Prefer your bundles of joy not carbon copies created in a lab and studied as part of an ongoing experiment? Then you might like the second season of Catastrophe, the Rob Delaney/Sharon Hogan Anglophile romcom about a bi-continental couple whose one-night stand leads to an impromptu relationship. The comedy of Season 1 came from Rob and Sharon trying to date while pregnant; Season 2 jumps ahead in time to find Sharon pregnant again and the two as dysfunctional as ever.

Lena Dunham begins to say goodbye to ‘Girls’

Lena Dunham is a feminist force of nature. The wunderkind actress/director/writer/producer best known for her ground-breaking TV series Girls has helped young women (and men) come to terms with the agonies and ecstasies of sex, relationships, work, and personal identity. As the eternally conflicted and self-questioning Hannah Horvath, Dunham has served as a lightning rod for female angst alongside her Girls’ castmates — Allison Williams (Marnie Michaels), Jemima Kirke (Jessa Johansson), and Zosia Mamet (Shoshanna Shapiro). Over the years we’ve watched Hannah try to make sense of her dysfunctional relationship with Adam (Adam Driver) while her friends deal with their own challenges of love, lust, and longing.

Soon audiences will get a chance to revel in more adventures in Hannah and her sisters-in-arms’ world as the fifth season of the cult HBO series unfolds. Recently, Dunham confirmed that Girls will come to an end after Season 6 (set for release in 2017) in order to avoid “overstaying our welcome” and not “soften” as many series do over extended runs.

“It’s been very rewarding to have seen this show address issues that are important to me and which are important to women in general,” Dunham says.  “I’m also proud that we have such a great and amazing team of women who are part of Girls and have contributed so much while being supportive of each other in an industry that needs to be give more opportunities to women.”

Season 5 of Girls picks up on the more hopeful ending note of Season 4, in which Hannah enters a serious, more adult relationship with her teaching colleague, Fran (Jake Lacey). Over the course of the new season, their romance evolves into a safe haven for Hannah, but it may not be what she wants after so many years of dysfunction with Adam. Meanwhile, Marnie’s marriage may be hitting the skids while Shoshanna deals with the aftermath of her decision to leave her adoring boyfriend Scott (Jason Ritter) and Jessa’s new occupation as a therapist causes her to do some soul-searching while questioning the way she looks at her relationship with the other girls.

The 29-year-old Dunham grew up the daughter of well-known members of the New York arts scene — her mother is famed photographer Laurie Simmons and her father is the artist Carroll Dunham.

Lena Dunham lives in New York City with her long-time boyfriend, musician Jack Antonoff. Said Dunham about her strong female following: “We’ve been very blessed to have the experience of people continuing to engage in the show in a really kind of rabid way.”

Dunham made an appearance at the recent Sundance Film Festival to present her new documentary film, Suited, which she produced. She also made headlines last year when she interviewed former U.S. Secretary of State and Democratic Party presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for her email newsletter.

We sat down with Dunham to talk about the final seasons of Girls, as well as what’s next for her and how she’s adapting to being in the media spotlight.

How do you feel about bringing Girls to an end?

When I started working on Girls I was 23 and I conceived it as something that would cover a very specific period in the lives of the characters. It was about figuring things out in your 20s as you become adults and now that I’m about to turn 30 I feel that it’s time the women you see in the series move on just as we need to move on to other projects. … These birds have to fly!

You’ve spoken about wanting to keep the momentum up and not wanting to keep the series going past a sixth season?

It’s important to wrap up the storylines in a way that preserves the original idea and integrity of what I wanted to say about these young women and their experience of getting a job, becoming an adult, and dealing with everything that comes with that time in their lives.

Now that I’m turning 30, it makes sense to bring my 20s to a close and be able to move on to start thinking about and pursuing other projects. I want to do films and write other kinds of stories and as much as I’ve loved Girls it’s the right time to wrap things up.

What are your feelings about your generation of women that comes to sex and relationship?

Women are as confused by sex and the emotions that come with it as ever. Our instincts aren’t helping us when it comes to dealing with men in their twenties who don’t have a deep need or understanding of romantic relationships. I doubt that most men in their 20s are emotionally equipped to handle a serious relationship.

Most films and TV are utterly irrelevant to younger women because they never get at serious issues of self-worth and communication and being able to really talk to guys. We’ve grown up with the distancing effect of Facebook and texting and that often provides a false sense of comfort. I also wanted to present sexual situations in a realistic way and not portray sex as this classically profound or deeply romantic experience. Women can watch this series and think and talk about their own experiences without feeling so awkward about it. That’s why it’s important to break down these taboos and television is the most effective medium to do that.

What do you see down the road for yourself now that you’re about to enter your 30s?

I would like to stay in New York and continue writing and directing. I love the city. It is my home and here is my family. I hope I have children. And I hope over the next ten years I’m going to make a few more movies and write some more books that I will be proud of.

I also hope that there are going to be a lot of interesting surprises. If you had told me at the beginning of my 20s that I would be where I am today, I would never have believed it!

Was fame something that attracted you?

Fame is a by-product. My goal was always to be creative and write stories that are enlightening and compelling in some way. I wanted to talk about women’s lives and the way we engage the world and all the issues and problems young women face. I felt that there hadn’t really been a lot that I’d seen in film and especially on TV that I could relate to and that really spoke to my experience and many young women like me.

You’ve been very critical of the way society judges women’s bodies?

We live in a time in which we are confronted with unrealistic body images that the media is promoting and defining women in terms of those very idealised images.

Women are constantly staring at body images that do not like ours. This creates a lot of problems with regard to how to see ourselves and the guilt and resentment and shame we feel towards our bodies. That’s not only true for women but for men as well. The difference is that men are not judged on their appearances and whether they conform to an ideal the way women are judged.

You’ve been on a running and fitness kick of late, haven’t you?

I decided that it was time to change my habits. I’m the kind of person who would stay in bed and write all day if I could. Running and becoming more active physically is not something I was really anxious to do but once I started running I actually experienced that rush of endorphins that runners talk about. I feel really good after I’ve been running.

I’m naturally very lazy physically so this has been a revelation for me and I have changed my attitude about exercise. I’ve realised that just like you need to use your brain so it doesn’t atrophy so you need to move your body to keep it healthy.

You’ve spoken many times about the kinds of nasty and even vicious comments people have made about your body?

It’s very hurtful. Anyone who goes through high school and has to deal with taunting and insults will understand that. Now most of the abuse that comes my way is on the internet and it’s easier to handle that although it’s never pleasant. But insults about your appearance are always the last resort of someone who can’t find a more intelligent or civilised way to disagree with you. I can’t take it seriously.

What advice would you give young women or teenagers who are often subject to body shaming and being called fat or ugly?

When I was a teenager, I was so confused about how my body was changing and so full of fear that I would say: “You know what? Everything will be fine.” The best thing you can do is to be interested in becoming more aware of who you are and the world around you. You should accept that some days you’re going to like yourself and feel super about who you are and your appearance and on other days you’re going to hate yourself and the way you look.

But don’t get caught up in that and just stay true to who you are and explore life with a lot of hope and passion. The most important thing is to find a way to keep the mind and body in harmony and to find a healthy way to deal with both.

You’ve produced a documentary, Suited, which you brought to Sundance. What can you say about that?

My sister is the subject of the documentary and she is someone who has always had a complex relationship with gender. She’s a gender-non-conforming person born in a woman’s body. … She’s the coolest person I know.

 

Wisconsin-set ‘Making a Murderer’ tops winter streaming recommendations

Steven Avery.

It’s a name you might not have known a few weeks ago, but one that’s now almost inescapable thanks to Making a Murderer, Netflix’s answer to viral true crime sensations such as the podcast Serial and the HBO series The Jinx. Released in full on Dec. 18, the 10-episode documentary, rated “binge-worthy” by Time magazine, has captivated streaming audiences everywhere and is perhaps one of the most-watched original series released by the streaming service in an already-strong year.

Perhaps nowhere is the show more polarizing than here in Wisconsin. Avery, who’s from Manitowoc County, served 18 years in prison beginning in 1985 after being convicted of sexually assaulting a Manitowoc woman. He was ultimately exonerated of the charge, thanks to the efforts of the Wisconsin Innocence Project and DNA testing, and released in 2003. But a few years later, Avery was arrested again and charged with the death of photographer Teresa Halbach — a crime for which he’s currently serving a life sentence. Making a Murderer suggests the sheriff’s department and prosecutors mishandled the case at best and, at worst, could have framed him for it.

The response to that suggestion has been varied and often visceral. Two separate Internet petitions calling for the pardoning of Avery (and his nephew, Brendan Dassey, who was also convicted for the crime) have already amassed at least 160,000 signatures. A petition directed at the White House has the 100,000 signatures necessary to require President Obama to respond.  Prosecutors maligned by the documentary have come out harshly against it, with Manitowoc County Sheriff Robert Hermann telling Appleton’s The Post-Crescent that the series skews evidence, takes it out of context, and should be considered a “movie” rather than a documentary.

Make up your own mind. Netflix and its competitors both in streaming and traditional TV may be flooding the market with a glut of quality fictional programing, but even with its veracity challenged by those it condemns, Making a Murderer stands out as a vibrant examination of real life, raising real questions about the inner workings of our criminal justice system.

Some of the other top offerings from streaming services to watch for this winter are:

NETFLIX

Making a Murderer is going to dominate the conversation about Netflix for the next few months, but by March 4 the streaming service is poised to shift into campaign mode. That’s when its first success story House of Cards returns, with now-President Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) embarking on a re-election campaign that’s sure to be as cutthroat as his original path to the White House.

This winter will also see the long-delayed arrival of the final season of Parks and Recreation on Jan. 13 (although it’s been on Hulu since airing), Chelsea Handler’s four-part documentary series Chelsea Does on Jan. 23, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny, the delayed sequel to the 2000 martial arts film, on Feb. 26.

Netflix’s reboot of Full House also shows up on Feb. 26, but the more we hear about Fuller House, the more we want to tell everyone involved to “Cut It Out.”

AMAZON PRIME

The final months of 2015 were big ones for Amazon’s original programming. Transparent, the company’s first breakout success, turned in another exemplary set of 10 episodes in December, taking the story of transgender family matriarch Maura (Jeffrey Tambor) and her family in fascinating new directions that explored the family’s past tragedies and attempts to heal themselves in the present. Amazon Prime got another boost from The Man in the High Castle. Based on Philip K. Dick’s alternate historical novel of the same name, it explores what happens when Germany and Japan occupy and divide the United States after winning World War II. The series’ pilot was the most-watched in the history of Amazon Prime’s original programming when it premiered last January, and the full 10 episodes subsequently became the company’s most-streamed original series.

The second season of the classical-musicians-behaving-badly dramedy Mozart in the Jungle dropped on Dec. 30 and continues into 2016. Come for the resoundingly attractive Gael García Bernal, stay for national treasure Bernadette Peters.

HULU

Hulu’s value still resides primarily in the content it gets from other providers — with next-day streaming available for most network TV shows and an increasingly large library of Hollywood’s most popular films. 

But this winter marks the premiere of one of the service’s few original programs to date: 11.22.63. Based on a Stephen King novel, the nine-hour limited series follows a schoolteacher (played by James Franco) who travels back in time to prevent the assassination of JFK but finds his mission more complicated than he expected. The J.J. Abrams-produced series will start airing weekly episodes on (when else?) Presidents’ Day, Feb. 15.

HBO GO

If you’re a parent with an HBO subscription, this is the month you get to brag to all the other parents at daycare about how your munchkins have already seen the latest episodes of Sesame Street, premiering on the cable station and its streaming component HBO GO on Jan. 16 (don’t worry, the episodes will still air on PBS after a nine-month exclusivity window). After the kids go to bed, you can tag team episodes of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and new ’70s music industry drama Vinyl starting Feb. 14, or wait a week to start half-hour comedies Girls and Togetherness Feb. 21.

See also: Netflix documentary stirs national debate over prosecutorial misconduct in famed Wisconsin murder case

Queen Latifah takes long road to ‘Bessie’ film

When Queen Latifah was approached 20 years ago to play Bessie Smith, she had to do some research.

“I was Queen Latifah the rapper. I had no idea who Bessie Smith was,” the singer-actress told the Television Critics Association this week.

Since then, she’s been thoroughly schooled in the life and talent of the legendary blues singer, whom Latifah, 44, finally gets to portray in the HBO film “Bessie.”

Her music “may be almost 100 years old, but it has a power a lot of artists could learn from today,” Latifah said. Smith herself would be a success if she were a contemporary artist, Latifah said of the singer who died in 1937 at age 43.

“Bessie,” whose cast includes Mo’Nique, Michael Kenneth Williams, Khandi Alexander, Mike Epps and Charles S. Dutton, will air this spring. A date was not announced.

The film was directed and co-written by Dee Rees and includes among its producers Lili Fini Zanuck and Richard D. Zanuck, who first brought the idea of a Smith film to Latifah. Richard Zanuck died in 2012.

Eerie HBO drama ‘The Leftovers’ probes a post-rapture world

Not long ago, 2 per cent of the world’s population vanished. Quietly, instantly, with no provocation.

This unfathomable loss continues to haunt all those left behind, including residents of the small New York town that serves as the setting for The Leftovers, HBO’s eerie new drama premiering Sunday at 9 p.m. CDT.

The 10-episode series brushes over the seminal event, picking up the story as the third anniversary of the Sudden Departure nears. It finds the locals (played by a cast that includes Justin Theroux, Amy Brenneman, Chris Eccleston, Carrie Coon, Liv Tyler and Michael Gaston) mired in grief, bewilderment and discord.

 “They have to find a way to come together, but some people are going to be able to achieve that — and others aren’t,” says Damon Lindelof.

The Leftovers was co-created by Lindelof (of ABC’s Lost) and Tom Perrotta (who wrote the novel that inspired it). Earlier this week they joined an Associated Press reporter to discuss their new project.

Perrotta: “It’s a different kind of apocalyptic story, because the physical world remains intact. It deals with the psychological adjustment to trauma. It follows what people make of this mysterious, traumatic event, which doesn’t fit into either a scientific or religious framework.”

Lindelof: “Some people just try to go back to the way things were before this thing happened. Other people say, ‘This was a sign. I can’t continue to operate the same way, now that this cosmic event has occurred.’ The opportunity we had was to write a show with characters who, in wildly different ways, were trying to get on with their lives. This allows us to execute a genre show that doesn’t feel like a genre show: The only piece of genre happened three years ago, leaving all the characters now to filter their world through the very strange prism it created.”

Perrotta: “After all, how long can they discuss this thing that has no answers? No one has anything new to add to the conversation. In fact, the Guilty Remnants” — a nihilistic cult that wears spectral white, chain-smokes and never speaks — “has adopted a vow of silence in part because they feel there’s nothing to say.”

Lindelof: “This is not a meditation on grief, per se. But everybody on the show is suffering some kind of post-traumatic stress. Even if they’re pretending not to still be affected, there’s now a part of them where, if the friend you were just talking to has stepped around the corner out of sight, you’re programmed to go, ‘Oh, my God, it’s just happened again!’”

Here in Mapleton, and around the world, the “leftovers” are dogged by the same awful unknowns about those who disappeared: What happened to them on that Oct. 14 upheaval? Where have they gone? And why them? What underlying common denominator could possibly link a local infant named Sam with Shaquille O’Neal and Gary Busey among the millions plucked from sight as if at random?

Don’t come to The Leftovers expecting anyone to learn why. Including you.

Lindelof: “If you were to read Tom’s book, within the first 50 pages it would become clear that he has no interest whatsoever in resolving the issue of the departure. That’s not the story we’re telling here, either.”

And this stands as one of many differences between The Leftovers and Lost, Lindelof’s monumental thriller that kept viewers breathless for an explanation — which they finally got, sort of — of the fate of the passengers of Oceanic Airlines Flight 815 after its crash landing on a remote tropical island.

Lindelof: “On Lost, right out of the gate, John Locke is saying, ‘We were brought here for a reason. I’m going into the jungle and seek out the answers.’ Not on this show.”

Perrotta: “I still don’t have the answers! In the world and in this community, there’s a breaking down and there’s a coming together, simultaneously, and we’re trying to show both processes — and it gets pretty messy. But the audience, like the characters, is always operating inside the mystery. There’s no getting outside of it.”

Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press.


‘Normal Heart’ beats with outrage

A long time in the making (Barbra Streisand held up the screen rights for years), the movie adaptation of Larry Kramer’s difficult early AIDS-era play The Normal Heart finally premiered May 25 on HBO. It was a fitting start for the Memorial Day Weekend, as there are so many friends, family and loved ones who must not be forgotten.

The Normal Heart opens in 1981 with the arrival of Ned Weeks (an impassioned Mark Ruffalo in a career-high performance) at Fire Island Pines, the epicenter of the nation’s gay sexual revolution and recreational drug use. A semi-autobiographical character, Weeks is, like Kramer, a writer who has pissed off more than a few of Fire Island’s regulars for his negative views on promiscuity, especially those he published in a book (Kramer shook up the gay world with the novel Faggots). While he remains aloof to the scene, Weeks is far from chaste.

The occasion for his visit to the Pines is the birthday celebration for Craig (Jonathan Groff), lover of closeted ex-marine/current Wall Streeter Bruce (Taylor Kitsch, who is hereby forgiven for all of his past bad acting choices). The festive atmosphere, however, is short-lived.

Beginning with the 1981 article in The New York Times about a rare cancer that appeared to affect only gay men, The Normal Heart beats hard, fast and erratic. Sanford, a shop owner who recognizes Ned at the doctor’s office, has lesions of Kaposi’s sarcoma — a rare form of cancer prevalent during the early years of AIDS.  Dr. Emma Brookner (an unglamorous, wheelchair-bound Julia Roberts in the most impressive performance of her career) tells Ned that she’s seen several patients like Sanford. But she’s frustrated by the lack of response from gay organizations, which she needs to help her get out the word about the yet-unnamed disease.

Brookner enlists Ned, and his notorious big mouth, to enlighten New York’s promiscuous gay community about the possible link between the cancer and sex. Ned organizes a meeting with Brookner and members of the community. It goes badly, beginning with Brookner’s startling announcement, “You’re all going to infect each other and you’re all going to die.”

The men, not ready to give up their new-found freedom, jeer as they quickly flee Brookner and her dire prophecy. Ned welcomes her to “gay politics.”

In pursuit of getting journalistic coverage, Ned meets handsome, closeted New York Times writer Felix (Matt Bomer) and a romance develops. But this glimmer of joy is overshadowed by the increasing number of deaths, the mistreatment of hospital patients with GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency, as the disease was then known), the lack of government funding and closeted New York Mayor Ed Koch’s refusal to deal with the disease out of fear it would lead to outing him and high-ranking members of his staff. 

The 1982 formation of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, with Bruce as president, is a turning point. Executive director Tommy (a brilliant Jim Parsons) becomes the voice of reason (and much-needed humor) during some of the film’s most heated moments. Ned’s short fuse and sharp tongue continues to vex him, and by extension the organization. Making matters worse, Felix discovers a KS lesion on his foot. If you haven’t already cried a few times at this point during the movie, check your pulse and be sure to have a box of tissues handy.

As a director, Ryan Murphy (Glee, American Horror Story) is no Mike Nichols, but he holds his own. Some of his trademark visuals work quite effectively. To his credit, Murphy doesn’t shy away from the sex, some of which is depicted graphically. It’s a necessary component of the story.

As with HBO’s award-winning adaptation of Tony Kushner’s Angels In America (directed by Nichols), The Normal Heart is finding its audience not in movie theaters, but in people’s homes. In some ways, that’s preferable, as The Normal Heart is a draining tear-jerker that raises a lot of difficult questions that still warrant discussion. 

With young gay and bisexual men, particularly of color, continuing to disproportionately represent new cases of HIV, The Normal Heart should be required viewing for millennials. For many of the rest of us, it’s an accurately bleak trip down the memory lane of horrors that formed the backbone of our later political succsses.