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.

New Directors/New Films: Happy Times Will Come Soon












In Happy Times Will Come Soon, Alessandro Comodin tries to work out a new filmic vocabulary that merges realistic fiction with fable—fracturing time, tracing out just the barest outline of each character and situation, sometimes mixing realism with surrealism, and lingering so long on shots in which the action barely changes that he all but forces us to be in the moment with him. But while the director creates many individual moments of beauty, his film is a mélange of gorgeous tiles that never quite comes together as a mosaic.

New Directors/New Films: Sexy Durga















Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s Sexy Durga generates a steady thrum of dread that builds to cringe-inducing levels as it follows a couple, Durga (Rajshri Deshpande) and Kabeer (Kannan Nayar), over the course of a night in the southern Indian state of Kerali. Though their body language and occasional urgent exchanges speak to the tender intimacy between the two, their minimal dialogue tells us almost nothing about them except that she’s a Hindi-speaking northern Indian, he’s from Kerali, and they’re trying to hitch a ride to a railroad station so they can catch a train north. This pointed lack of detail makes the story of one couple’s journey gone horribly awry feel universal, an allegory about the violent misogyny that plagues India.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Walking Dead recap: Season 7, Episode 13, "Bury Me Here"












With “Bury Me Here,” The Walking Dead snaps back to its default position for this season, focusing on how Rick's group and their allies are getting motivated and ready to engage the Saviors. The dialogue gets reset too, laden with expository or aphoristic speeches, so Richard's (Karl Makinen) suicide-by-Morgan death galvanizes other key players to commit to the cause—but only after Richard has portentously warned Morgan (Lennie James) that he will live to regret it if he doesn't abandon his dream of pacifism, then spouted one of those geysers of backstory that always signals a character's death.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Interview: Tatiana Maslany and Tom Cullen









When Orphan Black debuted in 2013, Tatiana Maslany burst into critical consciousness, like a circus performer leaping through a circle of fire, with her profound creation of a wildly diverse sisterhood of clones. Meanwhile, Tom Cullen, who specializes in bringing to vivid life the emotional vulnerability of brooding men, was continuing to attract increasingly high-profile parts, like a recurring role as one of Lady Mary's suitors on Downton Abbey.

In The Other Half, a moody romance that opens this Friday, the real-life couple—whose relationship started during the filming of 2012's World Without End in Budapest—play opposite one another for the first time. The script, which the actors had been discussing for years with writer-director (and close friend) Joey Klein, is about the deep but precarious connection between Cullen's character, who's grieving over the loss of his brother, and Maslany's, a warmhearted, often joyful woman with bipolar disease.

In a sometimes playful, always mutually supportive and openhearted conversation at a New York City hotel, Maslany and Cullen discussed the pros and cons of playing a love story with your real-life partner, the freedom and challenges of shooting a film on the fly, and what they've learned from each other about acting.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Walking Dead recap: Season 7, Episode 12, "Say Yes"












A lot happens in “Say Yes,” almost all of it compelling. Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh) insists that Rick and his crew bring her even more guns than the shitload they reclaimed from the soldier walkers. Tara decides to tell Rick about the Oceanside group. (Might the women at Oceanside be willing not only to join the fight, but to hand over some of their guns to the trash dwellers?) And what is with that giant female walker Rosita encounters with the bloated head and neck? Is that just normal decay or it is some new mutation they aren't yet aware of? It's getting a little tiresome, though, to watch Rosita (Christian Serratos) stomp around in an unchanging state of stony-faced rage, telling everyone she wants to be alone. At least she eases up at the end of the episode, recruiting Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) to help her kill Negan, even though that's unlikely to end well.

New Directors New Films: Patti Cake$









As the bass-heavy, dance club-lit dream that opens writer-director Geremy Jaspers's Patti Cake$ makes clear, Patricia Dombrowski (Danielle Macdonald) is a legend in her own mind, a stadium-thrilling rapper who goes by Killa P or Patti Cake$. But to almost everyone else she's just a fat girl, so large that the bros in Bayonne, her down-at-the-heels hometown, call her Dumbo.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Walking Dead recap: Season 7, Episode 11, "Hostiles and Calamities"












The gods must have heard my prayer. Tonight's episode of The Walking Dead, “Hostiles and Calamities,” takes a break from the hatchet-faced military strategizing and obligatory slicing and dicing that's lately dominated the show to look at Negan's (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) Sanctuary, that Dantean dystopia with an Orwellian name. The death count isn't quite zero in this episode, but Dr. Carson's (R. Keith Harris) Holocaust-evoking demise feels anything but titillating or gratuitous. And, for the first time I can remember, not a single walker is whacked, though one does lose its bottom half, along with some gooey innards, as part of its slow slide toward total disintegration.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Walking Dead recap: Season 7, Episode 10, "New Best Friends"












Rick (Andrew Lincoln) is still uncharacteristically happy in “New Best Friend,” thanks to the group that he ran into at the end of last week's episode and forms an alliance with this week—and he hasn't even been told yet about the seaside community that Tara (Ma Masterson) encountered during her last supply run. Yet, even by the standards of The Walking Dead (whose characters often speak in aphorisms, if they say anything at all), this new group is theatrically taciturn. It's as if their response to the end of the world had been to devolve rapidly, losing the power of speech in the process. Their leader, Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh), talks, like The Road Warrior's Lord Humungus, in the clipped monosyllables of a toddler, ordering a follower to escort Rick to the top of the trash pile by saying: “Show Rick up-up-up.”