Beyond the Books

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Sunday, Jan. 4, 2015 1:39 p.m.

2014: What did you miss?

2014 was full of important moments in arts and entertainment, from the second season of “Orange is the New Black” to Facebook-phenomenon-turned-bestseller “Humans of New York” to the implantation of U2′s “Song of Innocence” onto unsuspecting iPhones everywhere.

But here are 10 moments you may have missed:

1. You’ve definitely jammed to Beyonce’s “Flawless***,” and you may know the novelist Queen Bey sampled for the song, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. But have you heard her 30-minute TED talk, “We Should All Be Feminists”?

2. When Jon Oliver left “The Daily Show” for a weekly HBO stint, I was convinced he was doomed. But “Last Week Tonight” has some of the most poignant commentary about topics from the death penalty to militarized police to pumpkin spice lattes.

3. What happens when “the new king of the West Coast” meets the most successful popstar of the year? A great remix, dubbed “Backseat Shake Off.”

4. In “High Maintenance,” a Brooklyn-based web series created by husband and wife Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfield, who have links to “30 Rock,” the same nameless pot dealer serves kooky, lovable customers around the borough.

5. “The Empathy Exams” by Leslie Jamison is a critically acclaimed, award-winning book, but that’s not why it’s a must-read. Jamison, who was born in D.C., writes about the skepticism with which we often meet invisible problems, like depression or anxiety, and our hesitation when it comes to simply being kind.

6. Telenovela-loving Jane Villanueva is “Jane the Virgin,” a 23-year-old who is accidentally impregnated during a routine check up. The plot sounds silly, but the comedy series is cleverly written and a charming must-see starring Gina Rodriguez.

7. EMA, Erika M. Anderson, is a South Dakota native who released two albums, “Beyond the Void” and “Future’s Void,” with Matador Records this year. From the soulful mockery of “Neuromancer” to the dreamy “So Blonde,” EMA spikes each of her songs with an unique edge.

8. In “How to Build a Girl: a Novel,” author Caitlin Moran introduces readers to 14-year-old Johanna Morrigan, a child of bohemian poverty and an aspiring rock n’ roll critic. Her journey to girlhood, which starts in 1990, is built by booze, boys and writing for a music mag – and it’s some of the funniest fiction of the year.

9. Outkast reunited a few times this year, but the group’s hometown performance at ATLast in Centennial Olympic Park was epic. The October weekend featured artists like Kid Cudi, Janelle Monae and 2 Chainz, but many of them recognized that the crowd was there to see “the youngest living legends on the planet.”

10. Jenny Slate, who has worked on “The Kroll Show,” “Bob’s Burgers” and “Girls,” stars in “Obvious Child” as a struggling comedian with a twisted sense of humor. The film nabbed 12 nominations and seven wins on the indie awards circuit for a reason: “Obvious” strips themes from “Juno” of their cute simplicity and takes a truly funny, raw look at the impact of an unplanned pregnancy.

Bonus: French Toast Crunch may not be back on the shelves until 2015, but General Mills announced that it would bring back the discontinued cereal last month. The company is playing into ’90s nostalgia via social media, but nobody is complaining about the return of the maple-flavored bites.

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Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2014 11:44 a.m.

What We’re Watching: ‘The Interview’

This post was written by Hatchet staff writer Eric Robinson.

“The Interview”

★★✰✰✰

Despite recent controversy, “The Interview” is not a film that seeks to make any profound statements about international politics, journalism or even North Korea.

It’s just a silly movie.

Promotional poster for "The Interview."

Promotional poster for “The Interview.”

This is apparent as the first encounters between television host David Skylark (James Franco) and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (Randall Park) unfold. A more sophisticated comedy might wring some clever jokes out of the arrangement, but “The Interview” takes the easy route, with the pair partying in the militarized society and making crude jokes about their genitals and Katy Perry.

A smarter version of “The Interview” would not necessarily be a better film. As juvenile as the humor of directors Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen is, their films usually work, whether it be the hilarious insanity of “This is the End” or the touching honesty of “Superbad.”

Which is to say “The Interview” is one of the worst filmmaking efforts by Goldberg and Rogen. Scenes scattered with hit-or-miss jokes drag on for much longer than they should, and the basic relationships between characters feel rather uncooked. Even Franco is a liability as his loud, abrasive performance becomes obnoxious rather than funny.

But the film is not completely devoid of value. Park’s performance as Kim Jong-un is a unique piece of acting that simultaneously mocks and embodies his real-life counterpart. A few scenes even display glimmers of the fantastic absurdism of Rogen’s previous films, whether it be the odd interview with Eminem or a crazed tank battle.

It’s unfair that “The Interview” was embroiled in this controversy, as it only created inflated expectations for a film that does not even attempt any bold political satire.

And even when viewed as a nothing more than a farce, the sporadic laughs and overall shoddy performances fail to allow “The Interview” to serve its intended comedic purpose.

Director: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg
Genre: Comedy
Cast: Seth Rogen, James Franco, Randall Park, Lizzy Caplain, Diane Bang

Available virtually everywhere but Regal Entertainment and AMC Entertainment theaters.

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Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2014 10:53 a.m.

Where to celebrate New Year’s in the District

Being home for New Year’s Eve means partying with high school friends, avoiding old flames and navigating your hometown bar scene. For those lucky souls ringing in 2015 back in D.C., here are the best places to be when the clock strikes midnight.

Two parties for the price of one
Head to the Black Cat for its New Year’s Eve Ball: The bi-level event will feature Peaches O’Dell and her Orchestra as well as DJ Dredd and Grap Luva. On the mainstage, Peaches will be all about a rhythmic genre, “jump swing,” a modern take on the saxaphone-driven beats of the ’20s and ’50s. And on the backstage, the DJs will spin a dance party that’s sure to stay with you all year.
Black Cat, 1811 14th St. NW. Doors at 8 p.m. $30

Celebrating with the beautiful people
Stay up until the first sunrise of 2015 as you rage the night away with 6,000 “Beautiful People” at Echostage. Italian DJ Benny Benassi has been on the scene since the release of “Satisfaction” in 2002, but he hit it big with the Grammy Award-winning mix, “Bring the Noise.” Since then, he’s worked with artists like John Legend, Madonna and Chris Brown.
Echostage, 2135 Queens Chapel Road NE. Doors at 8 p.m. $60

It may not be Mardi Gras…
But Bayou is hosting a New Orleans-themed bash anyway. With Abita beer and Hurricane specials – regular drinks in the Crescent City – and complimentary champagne at midnight, this is one of your cheapest options if you’re 21 or older. Alex Vans & The Hide Away, a local folk-rock band, will play at the event.
Bayou, 2519 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Doors at 10 p.m. $10

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Monday, Dec. 29, 2014 7:19 p.m.

Monday Mix and Editors’ Picks

Monday Mix

The year 2014 was (almost) all about the ladies. From Lorde to Azealia Banks to Lana Del Rey, scores of talented 20-something-year-old women found their sound and released powerful albums we loved.

Editors’ Picks

Music | Morgan Baskin, Culture Editor

This week’s pick: “Ghost Stories” Live 2014

Watch a live or acoustic version of Coldplay’s sixth album. They’re shimmering, sweet and full of energy.

Lit | Tatiana Cirisano, Assistant Culture Editor

This week’s pick: “The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion” by Meghan Daum

From Los Angeles Times columnist Meghan Daum comes this new collection of confessionals, detailing “taboo” topics about growing up.

Film | Jeanine Marie, Contributing Culture Editor

This week’s pick: “Unbroken”

With the visionary Angelina Jolie at its directorial helm, “Unbroken” captures the traces of humanity found in the extraordinarily brutal life of Louis Zamperini.

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Promotional poster for "The Interview."

Promotional poster for “The Interview.”

West End Cinema will join 300 independent theaters across the country in screening Sony Pictures Entertainment’s controversial film, “The Interview,” on its original Dec. 25 release date.

It’s a Christmas miracle. Or as one of the movie’s stars, Seth Rogen, says: “Freedom has prevailed!” Rogen plays alongside James Franco as two American journalists who are recruited by the CIA to assassinate North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un.

West End Cinema co-founder Josh Levin, who called the movie “the most controversial release of the 21st century,” said in an email to media that it will be shown at 2:30 p.m. and 8:20 p.m. for a week starting Thursday, with tickets available online.

Last week, Sony canceled the movie’s release after unknown hackers threatened attacks on theaters. The FBI traced the threat to the North Korean government.

Google Play, YouTube Movies and Microsoft’s Xbox Video are also letting users rent the film online for $5.99.

Two theaters in Virginia – One Loudoun in Asburn and Manassas 4 Cinemas in Manassas – will join West End with screenings on Christmas Day.

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This post was written by Hatchet reporter Carly Stern.

With winter blockbusters rolling into theatres and exams out of the way, there’s finally room for quality time with your favorite actors.

But if you’re not in the mood to arrive at the theater an hour early just to snag a seat, here are some alternatives to December’s blockbusters.

Action/Fantasy

Promotional poster for "Exodus."

Promotional poster for “Exodus.”

Blockbuster: “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies”
Opens Dec. 17

The final installment of “The Hobbit” trilogy finds Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) seeking the Arkenstone after reclaiming Erebor. Fans of the franchise will love watching as the fate of Middle Earth comes into question and the races of Men, Elves and Dwarves must chose to work together or suffer fatal consequences.

Alternative: “Exodus: Gods and Kings”
Opens Dec. 12

For those seeking thrills, an epic story and plenty of digital effects but don’t want to annoy friends by asking what’s going on every five minutes, look no further than the retelling of this Biblical story. Christian Bale is no stranger to the genre of action and stars as Moses opposite Joel Edgerton’s Ramses.

Comedy

Blockbuster: “The Interview”
Opening in select theaters Dec. 25

Now that “The Interview” is back in select theaters for its original Dec. 25 release date, the highly anticipated film is sure to draw crowds. In this action comedy, James Franco and Seth Rogen play two journalists recruited by the CIA to assassinate North Korea’s leader. But even fans of the “Pineapple Express” duo might choose to forgo the controversy in favor of a more laid-back film experience.

Alternative: “Horrible Bosses 2”
Opened Nov. 26

Featuring an all-star cast (Jason Batman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day and Christoph Waltz) with even more superstars than “The Interview,” this sequel is sure to be a humor-heavy fan favorite. Watch as hilarity ensues when Nick (Bateman), Dale (Day) and Kurt (Sudeikis) go into business for themselves while attempting to kidnap the son of an industry opponent.

Family Friendly

Promotional poster for "Big Eyes."

Promotional poster for “Big Eyes.”

Blockbuster: “Into the Woods”
Opens Dec. 25

This family-friendly musical (read: It won’t be awkward to see with your parents) is centered on a childless baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt). After meeting the witch (Meryl Streep) who brought upon their curse of infertility, the couple learns that it can be reversed if they find the ingredients to restore her beauty. Though the film features an an award-winning cast, those not into the musical style might opt for a different film.

Alternative: “Big Eyes”
Opens Dec. 25

Tim Burton’s docudrama is sure to deliver all the fairytale feel of “Into the Woods” without the lip-synching Hollywood actors. It is based on the true story of Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), a painter notorious for his commercialized work of waifs with big eyes and his wife, Margaret (Amy Adams), the true visionary behind his pieces.

Drama

Blockbuster: “Unbroken”
Opens Dec. 25

After marveling over the fact that Angelina Jolie directed this movie, you can secretly admit to yourself that its premise looks kind of “meh.” “Unbroken” stars Jack O’Connell as Louis “Louie” Zamperini, a former Olympic athlete who enlists in the military and becomes a prisoner of war during World War II.

Alternative: “Foxcatcher”
Opened Nov. 14 

In an unusually dramatic role, Steve Carell plays a wealthy heir who assembles a team of athletes to compete in the 1988 Seoul Olympics. While Angie won’t be a driving force to see this movie, a shirtless Channing Tatum definitely will be.

Promotional poster for "The Good Lie."

Promotional poster for “The Good Lie.”

Blockbuster: “Wild”
Opened Dec. 5

In an attempt to deal with past struggles of abuse and addiction and find inner peace, recent divorcee Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) hikes 1,100 miles across the Pacific Crest Trail. Based on Strayed’s best-selling semi-autobiography, the concept itself is fascinating, but the film may be slow for anyone who thinks that the premise of “girl goes on a long walk” is too bland.

Alternative: “The Good Lie”
Opened Oct. 3

Also starring Witherspoon, this time as an aid worker, “The Good Lie” tells the story of “The Lost Boys,” a group of 3,600 refugees who were orphaned in Sudan when northern militia destroyed their village. After they are granted an opportunity to move to the U.S., the boys must learn to find jobs and adjust to Western society.

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Monday, Dec. 22, 2014 7:10 p.m.

Monday Mix and Editors’ Picks

Monday Mix

Winter break is here, which means you can say goodbye to cram sessions and hello to our party anthems playlist. Whether you’re celebrating the holidays, the New Year or simply the fact that your to-do list is empty, kick off break the right way with these 18 tracks fit for partying.

Editors’ Picks

Music | Morgan Baskin, Culture Editor

This week’s pick: Yo La Tengo, “Extra Painful”

It is the last full week of 2014, so I’m recommending my favorite album from this year: Yo La Tengo’s “Extra Painful,” a remastered version of the 1993 classic. The album is filled with treasures like previously unreleased demo versions of songs such as “Smart Window,” “Double Dare” and “Slow Learner,” along with live acoustic versions of “From A Motel 6” and “Big Day Coming.”

Lit | Tatiana Cirisano, Assistant Culture Editor

This week’s pick: NYT Book Critics’ Best of 2014

It’s winter break, which means you’re officially out of excuses when it comes to finding time to read. If you’re not sure where to start, New York Times book critics Michiko Kakutani, Janet Maslin and Dwight Garner are here to help, listing their top reads of 2014.

Film | Jeanine Marie, Contributing Culture Editor

This week’s pick: “The Theory of Everything”

Eddie Redmayne, best known for his role as Marius Pontmercy in “Les Miserables,” plays the physically and psychologically demanding role of Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything.” His portrayal of the brilliant and crippled scientist is generating Oscar buzz, as is Felicity Jones’ role as Jane Wilde, Hawking’s wife. The film is executed beautifully by director James Marsh – or maybe I’m just a sucker for a real love story driven by science and terrible circumstance. Either way, be sure to catch the heart-wrenching film before awards season rolls around.


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This post was written by Hatchet staff writer Ariana Mushnick.

Finals season is winding down, and chances are you’ll soon be home for the holidays with little to no responsibilities. Take advantage of your free time with the best of Netflix’s latest, from Britney Spears’ 2002 cinematic debut to 236 hours of “Friends.”

X

Promotional poster for “Almost Famous.”

“Almost Famous”
Available: Dec. 1
Take a journey into the ‘70s with a movie full of corduroy, platform shoes and Kate Hudson circa 2000 rocking round blue-tinted sunglasses at all hours of the night. The semi-autobiographical film directed by Cameron Crowe tells the story of an aspiring teenage music journalist who has the adventure of a lifetime. Touring with a rock band as a writer for Rolling Stone at age 15, he witnesses all the sex, drugs and rock n’ roll with hilarious awkwardness and coming-of-age moments.

“Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues”
Available: Dec. 6
Ron Burgundy is back in action. The 763 new jokes the trailer brags about may be stupid, but they sure will make you laugh. Unwind from finals season with this cast packed with comedic icons: Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd and David Koechner. Even if the plot seems silly, watch until the end for the epic fight scene even funnier than the first film’s, this time featuring Harrison Ford, Kanye West, Will Smith and Tina Fey.

“American Beauty”
Available: Dec. 1
Before Frank Underwood, Kevin Spacey was Lester Burnham, who leads just about the opposite life of his “House of Cards” character. Watch Spacey’s Academy Award-winning performance as a miserable father facing a mid-life crisis. The twisted plot unravels as Lester becomes fed up with his neurotic wife and infatuated with his teenage daughter’s best friend. You may be dreading a month of holiday family dinners, but after this you’ll be glad you weren’t born into the Burnham family.

“Crossroads”
Available: Dec. 1
If you’re looking for a more casual movie night, “Crossroads” is an option for some fluffy entertainment. Three young friends bury a box and make a pact to open it the night of their high school graduation, but by the time senior year rolls around, they’ve ended up in separate cliques. Kit (Zoe Saldana) is the popular prom queen, Mimi (Taryn Manning) is a pregnant rebel and Lucy is the innocent good girl, who is played – ironically – by Britney Spears. Despite their diverging paths, they fulfill their pact to open the box and end up reuniting for a roadtrip in a yellow convertible with jam sessions to “Bye, Bye, Bye” along the way.

“Friends”
Available: Jan. 1
If binge watching TV shows is more your style, Jan. 1 is your lucky day. All 10 seasons (that’s 236 episodes, 83 hours) of the iconic series will be available New Year’s Day to help you kick off 2015. “Friends” is on just about every list of “Top TV Shows of All Time,” but if you’re not familiar with the series, it follows Rachel, Joey, Chandler, Phoebe, Ross and Monica as they try to make their way through life as young adults in Manhattan.

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Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014 3:07 p.m.

What We’re Watching: ‘Force Majeure’

This post was written by Hatchet staff writer Eric Robinson.

“Force Majeure”

★★★★✰

Discomfort is definitely the feeling one experiences when watching director Ruben Östlund’s “Force Majeure,” a Swedish film that follows a family on vacation at a ski resort in the French Alps.

After the father, Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke), has a moment of cowardice, his seemingly perfect life with his wife, Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), and his two kids is completely shaken.

Promotional poster for “Force Majeure.”

What follows is an examination of gender roles, masculinity and parenthood, with Ebba keeping Tomas from moving past the event, and Tomas refusing to openly take responsibility for his actions.

Östlund captures the tension between the two parents with long, uninterrupted shots of their conversations that are completely stationary, forcing the audience to witness every moment of their unease. Each talk is like a ticking time bomb, as one wrong word or facial expression has the potential to turn a civil exchange into a full-blown argument.

Östlund’s strengths are in more than just the conversation scenes: His film contains some fantastically beautiful imagery. In one scene, the characters are caught in a snowstorm and barely visible. Faint shadows serve as the only visual aid, and the audience must use them to follow the characters.

In another scene, a stunning pan of the French Alps at nighttime shows little orange lights dotting the peaks in the distance. Even the opening scene, which consists of a simple shot of the French Alps during the day, is gorgeous in the way the blue of the sky contrasts with the pure white of the snow.

But there are moments of “Force Majeure” that seem a little extraneous, particularly in the final scenes. Kuhnke also flubs a few emotional moments toward the end, which dampens the film’s resolution. But Kuhnke lackluster performance doesn’t hamper the bold way “Force Majeure” challenges the image of the “perfect family” and the roles that mothers and fathers are supposed to play.

In one crucial scene, Ebba argues with a woman over open marriages. Ebba is perplexed by the family’s health because it goes against her preconceived notion of how marriages are supposed to work. Such is the problem with Ebba’s marriage: Both partners have expectations for “how marriages work” that get in the way of a healthy relationship.

“Force Majeure” is ultimately a cry for emotional openness and less judgment between married couples. As a cinematic bonus, it does this with flair and beauty.

Released: Oct. 31
Director: Ruben Östlund (“Involuntary”)
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Cast: Johannes Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Clara Wettergren, Vincent Wettergren, Kristofer Hivju, Fanni Metelius

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Cuddle with kittens Thursday at the Humane Society's pop-up cat cafe. Photo by Flickr user "pinguino k" under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

Cuddle with kittens Thursday at the Humane Society’s pop-up cat cafe. Photo by Flickr user “pinguino k” under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

Looking for a way to unwind after finals? The Washington Humane Society’s pop-up cat cafe is coming to the Rock & Roll Hotel on Thursday.

You heard that right.

About a month after announcing a partnership with upcoming cat cafe Crumbs & Whiskers, the Washington Humane Society will offer playtime with adoptable cats in two VIP rooms of the venue at 1353 H St. NE from 5 to 8 p.m.

Guests can also check out a cat “reading room,” where they can learn more about the organization, and 15 percent of all sales from the event will go to the Washington Humane Society.

The pop-up joins a growing trend of “cat cafes” – coffee shops that offer cuddles with kittens while you sip your latte – across the country, from New York City’s “Meow Parlour” to Oakland, Calif.’s “Cat Town Cafe.”

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