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.

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.”

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Walking Dead recap: Season 7, Episode 9, "Rock in the Road"












If The Walking Dead were a boxer, it'd be hit-like-a-hammer George Foreman, not float-like-a-butterfly Muhammed Ali, so the sly head-fake that opens “Rock in the Road” comes as a welcome surprise, throwing us effectively off balance. The episode starts where the midseason finale left off: outside at night in Alexandria with Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) just after an as-yet-unidentified stranger, whose face we've yet to see, leaps down from the wall where he or she was spying on him. The ominous memory of that mystery stalker—not to mention the show's penchant for blowing up any post-apocalyptic community that starts to feel safe or stable—primes us for mayhem, as Gabriel finishes pondering a passage in his Bible and heads into the supply room. So when the camera lags behind him as he rounds a corner, the sudden clatter registers as the sounds of a struggle until the camera catches up and Gabriel is seen loading up on canned goods and tools that could double as weapons, which he then puts in the trunk of a car that he drives off into the night.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Girls Season 6












The rest of television has caught up so fast with Girls that it's hard to remember how refreshingly truthful and new the show felt when it premiered, to great success and much backlash, in 2012. Lena Dunham's observant series, the first to be both by and about young women navigating that awkward stage between the end of college and the beginning of adulthood, paved the way for other auteur-driven TV programs—like Donald Glover's Atlanta, Issa Rae's Insecure, and Rachel Bloom's Crazy Ex-Girlfriend—that provide a deep-dive view of a small cohort of people and the subculture they inhabit.

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Comedian










Somewhere around the year 2000, Robert De Niro's appearance in a film stopped being a sign of promise and became a flashing yellow light. Every now and then he's still part of an intriguingly complicated film like the ones he's made with David O. Russell, who used the actor's truculent skepticism to challenge Jennifer Lawrence's screwball optimism and sheer life force in Joy and Silver Linings Playbook. More often than not, though, De Niro's characters suggest 3D men in 2D universes, like the funnyman at the center of director Taylor Hackford's flabby and formulaic The Comedian.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Interview: Asghar Farhadi












Like many great writer-directors, Asghar Farhadi has spent most of his career ringing variations on a theme: In a classic Farhadi setup, fissures within a family or other intimate group are thrown into relief when a trauma or a primal conflict brings out previously hidden aspects of the main characters. Thanks to their fine-grained realism and the intimacy of their settings, his films convey a lot of information about life in contemporary Iran, particularly among Tehran's educated and artistic elite.

The filmmaker also has a good ear for the way men and women communicate, and a sharp eye for the politics of gender. His latest--and this year's Foreign Language Film Oscar winner--is The Salesman, which is set in the world of theater in which Farhadi started out. Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) and Emad (Shahab Hosseini), a youngish married couple, are starring in their theater group's production of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman when a violent sexual attack shakes Rana's world, propelling the normally sensitive and supportive Emad into a state of macho rigidity.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race & America














Matthew Ornstein's Accidental Courtesy aims straight at the heart of the post-election debate over how to deal with the racist groups emboldened by Donald Trump's victory: Is it best to engage in conversation and try to change hearts and minds, or to simply work to defeat them? The documentary follows African-American musician and self-appointed race ambassador Daryl Davis as he befriends members of the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups. Davis has been engaged in this experiment in radical friendship for nearly 30 years, and he proudly displays roughly two dozen Klan robes that were given to him by former members of the KKK, convinced that his friendship was an important factor in causing their change of heart.