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.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Tribeca Film Festival: Manifesto









There's no dialogue in Julian Rosenfeldt's Manifesto, just recitations of manifestos about art—plus the excerpt from Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels's Communist Manifesto that kicks off the first scene. That may sound like a recipe for didactic miserabilism, but the film is vibrant and engaging, even entertaining. What it's not is particularly thought-provoking.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Walking Dead recap: Season 7, Episode 16, "The First Day of the Rest of Your Life"












Skipping lightly across the surface of relationships and individual states of mind to focus on the stockpiling of weapons or the formation of fragile alliances, The Walking Dead's seventh season was almost exclusively about the march to war. Negan's (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) sadistically fetishized slaughter of Abraham and Glenn in the season opener established him as a ruthless despot who could only be unseated by extraordinary means. Several characters, including Rick (Andrew Lincoln), Morgan (Lennie James), and Ezekiel (Khary Payton), tried to resist the call to battle that was Maggie's (Lauren Cohan) unwavering response to Negan's psychotic display, but their reservations were swatted away with no real debate, creating the illusion that war was the group's only viable alternative.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Walking Dead recap: Season 7, Episode 15, "Something They Need"












Aside from the armored walker that Rick (Andrew Lincoln) fought in the junkyard where Jadis's people live, it's been months since roamers posed a credible threat to anyone on The Walking Dead. They're usually just a slightly titillating excuse for some action, and the catalyst for a jolt of camaraderie or tension among the humans they encounter. True to form, the barnacle-festooned skeleton that stumbles into focus at the start of “Something They Need,” and the herd that materializes behind it, lurch obligingly into Oceanside just as Rick's arms raid is teetering on the edge of catastrophe.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Interview: Alex Karpovsky on Girls, Politics, and Growing Up










Throughout six years on Girls, a dozen years' worth of indie films before that, and the run of sometimes higher-profile films—including two by the Coen brothers—that he's starred in since the HBO series boosted his profile, actor-writer-director-producer Alex Karpovsky keeps ringing slightly less nebbishy variations on the kinds of men Dustin Hoffman played in his youth. A typical Karpovsky character is introverted but charismatic, handsome in an unflashy and distinctive way, maybe a little too smart for the room, and sometimes callow or neurotic but always essentially a mensch.

In our interview last week, Karpovsky told me that all of his characters are “amplifications” of parts of himself. Sure enough, he comes off as articulate, wryly funny, and wary of self-aggrandizement in person as he does on screen. He talked about the best and worst parts of being on a television show that gets as much love and hate as Girls (which wraps up its final season on April 16), the death of his character's mentor, Hermie (played by Colin Quinn), and what his Russian-Jewish parents think of the state of American politics.

Over the last six years, Girls has been one of most loved, hated, and talked-about shows on TV. What were the best and worst parts of being in the middle of all that?

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Walking Dead recap: Season 7 Episode 14: "The Other Side"












The absence of dialogue in the scenes before the opening credits of this week's episode, “The Other Side,” makes Maggie (Lauren Cohan) seem nearly iconic: a legend in the making, as she teaches knife-throwing and does that benevolent-leader thing of acknowledging people by placing a reassuring hand on their shoulder. It's good to see her, since she's been absent from the last few episodes, and particularly gratifying to see her looking good, almost as happy and loose as Rick and Michonne did during their extended supply run in “Say Yes.”

Thursday, March 16, 2017

New Directors/New Films: Person to Person












Dustin Guy Defa's Person to Person started as a short film by the same name, a pungently detailed portrait of a certain slice of pre-gentrified New York in which Bene Coopersmith played more or less himself as a quietly charismatic Brooklyn record-store owner. The feature film is a collection of interwoven, sometimes overlapping character studies that encompass a wider swath of characters and locations with varying degrees of success.