Thursday, June 22, 2017

Interview: Kumail Nanjiani on The Big Sick's real-life love story









Kumail Nanjiani was following a well-trodden path when he came to the United States from Karachi for college, majoring in computer science (though he did muddy the waters a bit by co-majoring in philosophy) and then working as an I.T. guy (although, he says, he wasn't much good at it). But somewhere along the way he strayed from the path. He traded Islam for atheism; became a stand-up comic, writer, and actor with a talent for appearing in zeitgeist-y shows like The Colbert Report, Key & Peele, and Silicon Valley; and married an American woman who's neither Pakistani nor Muslim.

The Big Sick, a smart, emotionally honest rom-com that Nanjiani co-wrote with his wife, Emily V. Gordon, is a fictionalized retelling of their courtship, which started as a guilty secret he kept from his parents, as his mother set him up with a series of nice Pakistani-American girls in hopes of arranging a marriage. In New York this week to promote the film, Nanjiani talked to me about how his relationship with Emily has made him a better man, the pros and cons of arranged marriage, and whether he might be a desi Sidney Poitier.

I have this theory that you're the desi Sidney Poitier, or one of them. There may be a couple others, like Aziz Ansari, maybe Kal Penn.

[Laughs] No! Really? Guess who's coming to dinner! That would be great.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Silicon Valley recap: Season 4, Episode 9, “Hooli-Con”












The Pied Piper team’s slow-boiling crisis of faith in Richard’s (Thomas Middleditch) leadership, which has been coming to a head throughout Silicon Valley’s fourth season, heats up several degrees in tonight’s episode, “Hooli-Con.” The push-pull between their respect for his brilliance as a coder and their doubts about his talent as a CEO puts the rest of the team in an awkward, can’t-live-with-him, can’t-live-without-him position.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Silicon Valley recap: Season 4, Episode 8, “The Keenan Vortex”












Eager to pass on his hard-won wisdom, whether anyone wants it or not, Richard (Thomas Middleditch) tells Keenan Feldspar (Haley Joel Osment) on tonight’s episode of Silicon Valley to enjoy his success while it lasts because “this can be a tough business.” Keenan, who’s such a good bullshit artist that he wins Richard over by admitting that, yes, he really is a bullshit artist, swats away Richard’s warning, and no wonder: The wheels of Silicon Valley are greased for operators like him. But in the trip-wired world of smart nerds like Richard and the rest of the Pied Piper crew, there’s rarely time to savor a victory before it blows up and knocks them back on their asses.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Silicon Valley recap: Season 4, Episode 7, “The Patent Troll”












On Silicon Valley, good things come to those who do nothing in particular, and what appears at first to be a stroke of good luck often turns out to be quite the opposite—or vice versa. In “The Patent Troll,” Bachman (T.J. Miller) doubles down on his dumb luck in “Customer Service,” when he happened to sit at big-fish Keenan’s table in a coffee shop, and gets himself pity-hired by Bream/Hall. His new position is as unearned as Jian-Yang’s (Jimmy O. Yang) windfall for See Food or Bighead’s guest lecture position at Stanford—maybe more so, since Jian-Yang did enough coding to create a hot-dog/not-hot-dog detector and Bighead shows signs of having some talent for teaching.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Silicon Valley recap: Season 4, Episode 6, “Customer Service”












Tonight's episode of Silicon Valley starts with the Pied Piper team squirming under the imperious glare of their last investor, Gavin Belson, and ends with Richard (Thomas Middleditch), practically vibrating with unease, on the world's most awkward elevator ride with Pied Piper's new backer, Dan Melcher (Jake Broder). Between those two bookends are a series of comic meditations on the friction between socially inept Silicon Valley programmers and the equally quirky VCs they resentfully rely on.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Silicon Valley recap, Season 4, Episode 5, “The Blood Boy”












Tonight’s episode probes the disconnect between worthiness and success in a world where sizzle almost always trumps substance. Exhibit A is Gavin Belson (Matt Ross), whose brittle ego may be collapsing under the weight of a bad case of imposter syndrome. In the cluttered old garage that Gavin has preserved as a museum to “the spirit of innovation,” he shows the Pied Piper team the workstations where he and Peter Gregory created Hooli. It’s a startling moment, partly because it reminds us that Gavin and Peter’s bitter rivalry was initially a partnership, but mainly because it conjures up an unfamiliar image of Gavin as a true visionary with more to offer than Machiavellian maneuvering and unfathomable wealth.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Silicon Valley recap, Season 4, Episode 4, "Teambuilding Exercise"












Taking up where “Intellectual Property” left off, tonight's episode of Silicon Valley opens on Richard (Thomas Middleditch) arriving at the lion's den of Gavin's (Matt Ross) McMansion (it even has a giant lion's-head door knocker) to make a deal on his peer-to-peer Internet idea. Simultaneously satiric and dramatic, their meeting makes us fear for, root for, and laugh at Richard, sometimes all at the same time. Writer Meghan Pleticha and director Jamie Babbit toss in little flavor bombs of observational humor at intervals, like the decorative suits of armor Gavin toppled while rampaging through his living room after he was fired, then wind up the scene with a crisply timed slapstick rim shot as Richard's clumsy attempt at a triumphal gesture sets Gavin's couch on fire.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Intent to Destroy and For Ahkeem












Much as Americans love reality television, we tend to shun documentaries, especially issue-based ones, probably because many of us see film and TV as a form of escapism. So the $100 million left by Armenian-American billionaire Kirk Kerkorian to finance a film about the genocidal killing of as estimated 1.5 million Armenians by the Turkish government in the early 20th century went to a fiction film, Terry George's The Promise, which is currently playing in theaters nationwide. Meanwhile, Joe Berlinger's Intent to Destroy has no distributor or theatrical release date after its premiere at Tribeca. And that's a shame, because it's a far better film than George's stiff costume drama. Its depiction of the horrors of the genocide is more unvarnished, and therefore more accurate. More importantly, it explains the importance of that chapter in human history and examines the century-long denial campaign by the Turkish government that's all but erased the tragedy from the world's memory.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Interview: Diane Lane









After he acted with Diane Lane in her first film, 1979's A Little Romance, Laurence Olivier called the then-14-year-old “the new Grace Kelly.” The description still feels apt. Like Kelly, Lane comes off as simultaneously hot and cool, her honey-smooth voice and air of classy self-possession paired with a mischievous sense of fun and unselfconscious sexuality. But fortunately for Lane, as she discussed in our recent conversation, she came along at a much better time for women than Kelly did, a time when Hollywood and the world at large were less prone to stereotyping women.

Lane has played everything from tough to tender in a wide roles ranging from a preternaturally self-reliant teen in Francis Ford Coppola's Rumble Fish to an inchoately frustrated young housewife in Tony Goldwyn's A Walk on the Moon to early reality television star Pat Loud, who embodied so many of the changes that rocked middle- and upper-middle-class America in the '70s, in Cinema Verite. For all their differences, her characters share a sense of integrity and a watchful intelligence that point to complicated inner lives.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Silicon Valley recap: Season 4, Episode 3, "Intellectual Property"












Tonight's episode of Silicon Valley takes a satiric look at some of the ways that the all-important yet elusive concept of intellectual property plays out in the Valley, starting with Jian-Yang (Jimmy O. Yang) and Bachman's (T.J. Miller) pitch to the Coleman Blair venture capitalists. Jian-Yang's modest recipe-app idea is quickly passed over and replaced by a purely theoretical but more exciting one: See Food, the kind of potentially transformative app every coder dreams of inventing. It's a hook so sharp and shiny that the VCs throw $200,000 in seed money at it and Monica (Amanda Crew), aware there's no substance behind the flash, uses it to try to lure in her douche-bro nemesis, Ed Chen (Tim Chiou), in hopes of triggering a failure big enough to take him down—or at least take him down a couple of notches.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Interview: Azazel Jacobs









The son of avant-garde pioneers Ken and Flo Jacobs, Azazel Jacobs has the most conventional career in his family. He's still far from a household name, but he's been steadily scooting closer to the mainstream ever since his first feature, Nobody Needs to Know, a satire of New York City's theatrical subculture that doubles as a call to resist the capitalistic powers that be.

His latest, The Lovers, which premiered at this year's Tribeca Film Festival, is a tart, smart, moving, and genuinely dramatic romantic comedy. It stars Debra Winger and Tracy Letts as Mary and Michael, a long-married couple who've both turned to affairs after growing apart but are beginning to wonder if they're even more tired of the affairs than they were of their marriage.

I spoke to Jacobs, who I last interviewed in 2011 for The L Magazine, at Manhattan's Smyth Hotel about taking inspiration from 1950s romantic comedies, the chemistry between Winger and Letts, and how it felt to cede ownership of his latest film to the audience.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Silicon Valley recap: Season 4, Episode 2, "Terms of Service"












In this week's episode of Silicon Valley, Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) takes about a minute to transition from underdog to overlord as PiperChat's new CEO, getting high on his own hot air. But it only takes him another minute to come back to earth, in a crash landing so humiliating and terrifying it even satisfies the perpetually disgruntled Gilfoyle (Martin Starr), whose rivalry with Dinesh is so deep he'd rather see Dinesh fail than see his own company succeed.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Interview: Jon Bernthal









Thanks in part to his hard body, soft eyes, and a formerly broken nose that gives him almost as distinctive a profile as Javier Bardem's, Jon Bernthal has played a lot of cops and ethnic roles, many of them alpha males, though he's been offered a bit more variety of parts since his breakout role as Rick Grimes's best friend turned rival, Shane Walsh, on AMC's The Walking Dead.

I met with Bernthal this week at a Tribeca hotel, where he was promoting two of his latest films, both playing in this year's Tribeca Film Festival. In Jamie M. Dagg's neo-noir Sweet Virginia, Bernthal plays Sam, a hotel manager in a sleepy town who's forced into action when a killer comes to town. He plays another reluctant hero in Brendan Muldowney's Pilgrimage, a grim tale of a group of 12th-century monks enlisted to bring the Pope a sacred relic they have been safeguarding, who embark on their perilous journey under the protection of Bernthal's mute former soldier.

Polite, sincere, and prone to searching for just the right word, Bernthal seemed a bit younger and more diffident in person than he does on screen. We talked about studying theater in Moscow, the surrogate-father bond Sam forms with a young woman that was Bernthal's favorite relationship in Sweet Virginia, and why Frank Darabont and I see him as a latter-day John Garfield.

The Circle











When Mae (Emma Watson) gets a chance to work at The Circle, a fictional tech behemoth, she's so thrilled at the thought of ditching her soul-deadening customer-service job that she can barely fake the chill required to ace the interview, which evokes Google's infamously unconventional and challenging questions. Mae's starry-eyed enthusiasm rhymes with the voyeuristic thrill The Circle gives its audience: a glimpse behind the curtain of a fictional version of one of those companies that collect so much information about us while they simultaneously retain a stubborn sense of mystery about how they operate. Complete with petanque pits and a professional-quality stage where hot bands play at parties that extend well into the night, The Circle's campus might be the glossy love child of a billionaire's private island and the world's best endowed and most exclusive college.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Silicon Valley recap: Season 4, episode 1, "Success Failure"












Richard (Thomas Middleditch) bumbles his way to an unlikely victory at the start of the season premiere of Silicon Valley, posing as an Uber driver in the latest chapter of Pied Piper's comically inept struggle to survive. The nerdily awkward pitch Richard initiates to the venture capitalist in his back seat, video-conferencing with the rest of the Pied Piper team to show off the unexpectedly popular platform they've created more or less by accident, doubles as a reunion for the show's viewers, bringing the main characters together in all their dysfunctional glory.