Ep. 161 – Beastie Boys Story, Extraction, Bad Education

April 27, 2020 by  
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This week in another deep quarantine episode of The CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod review Apple TV+’s “Beastie Boys Story,” Netflix’s “Extraction,” and HBO’s “Bad Education.”

They also talk ever-shifting movie release dates, including the decision by Warner Bros. to release “Scoob!” straight to VOD.

Click here to download the episode!

Ep. 155 – Big Time Adolescence, McMillion$, and no movies in the age of COVID-19

March 15, 2020 by  
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In this week’s homebound edition of The CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod review Hulu’s “Big Time Adolescence” and the HBO documentary series “McMillion$” as coronavirus fears send new releases running from movie theaters.

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Ep. 126 – Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Rocketman, Running With Beto

June 4, 2019 by  
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On this episode of The CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod review GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS, ROCKETMAN, and the HBO documentary RUNNING WITH BETO.

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Ep. 120 – Captain Marvel, Leaving Neverland

March 9, 2019 by  
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This week on The CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod review the 21st Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, and first with a female lead, “Captain Marvel.” They also take a deep dive into the HBO documentary “Leaving Neverland” and what it means for the legacy of a dead entertainer now considered monstrous by part of the populace.

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Ben Cotner & Ryan White – The Case Against 8

June 22, 2014 by  
Filed under Interviews

In the documentary film “The Case Against 8,” filmmakers Ben Cotner and Ryan White take viewers deep behind the scenes of the legal battle to overturn California’s controversial Proposition 8 amendment, which banned same sex marriage in the state in 2008.

Cotner and White, who won the Directing Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, follow the two same-sex couples leading the charge as plaintiffs in the groundbreaking case, and also give an inside look at the legal team behind the fight, which the Supreme Court ruled on in June 2013.

During my interview with Cotner and White, we talked about how they were able to keep a legal-heavy issue like same-sex marriage at a level both lawyers and mainstream audiences could enjoy and why they would like to see a film about Proposition 8 from the opposite end of the spectrum.

“The Case Against 8” debuts on HBO Monday, June 23 at 8 pm CT.

Was it a challenge as documentary filmmakers to spend five years making this film and build on these relationships with your subjects and stay objective at the same time?

Ben Cotner: We really didn’t want to make a film about whether or not gay marriage was right or wrong. We wanted to make a character piece about the journey. We had never seen a case like this go to the Supreme Court, assuming that it would go to the Supreme Court when we started. We thought it would be a really interesting way to see how our judicial system works and the things people have to go through to bring up a lawsuit like this.

Why do you think these two couples (Kristin Perry & Sandra Stier and Paul Katami & Jeffrey Zarrillo) were picked to be the plaintiffs in this case? What do you think made them stand out and be chosen to represent the gay community?

Ryan White: I think it was perfect casting for our movie. There is some overlap between our film and the witness stand, so it was great they found some incredibly articulate people. All four have a way of articulating things about their past and current lives that came out on the stand and were really beautiful. We’re just grateful that Kris and Sandy and Paul and Jeff allowed us into their lives for the last five years. They are all very relatable. I know straight people relate to them in a lot of ways, too, judging from our screenings so far.

What was your pitch to them so you could follow them around for the duration of this case?

BC: Well, early on when we approached this film we were most interested in the fact that [lawyers] Ted Olson and David Boies were partnering on a case again same-sex marriage (Note: Olson and Boies had gone head to head in Gore V. Bush). We didn’t go into it thinking we were going to be following Kris and Sandy and Paul and Jeff. At the time, we thought they would just be named plaintiffs on the lawsuit. As the case went on, the judge sort of threw a curveball and decided it was going to trial. I don’t think they really thought the film was going to be as much about their personal lives as it ended up being. We were very grateful they were able to step up to the challenge presented to them in terms of testifying in the courtroom, but also to allow us to continue filming them.

How do you turn a subject as complex as this, from a legal perspective, into something viewers, who might not feel invested, can understand?

RW: Our main goal in the editing room was to balance the legal story with the human story. Ben and I are legal nerds and we had the opportunity to film two of the best in the business and all the other amazing lawyers that worked for them. A lot of that was going through different iterations in the editing room. We had a lot of different versions of our film that went into greater detail on certain legal issues that occurred during the case. But something that made sense to us wouldn’t necessarily make sense to someone else watching that footage. So, a lot of time was spent in the editing room trying to refine those legal scenes. We knew a lot of our audience was going to be lawyers because it features two of the best lawyers, so we didn’t want to dumb down the movie too much. So we tried to always strike that balance where a layman who doesn’t know about the legal system can still understand the legal intricacies, but we also wanted lawyers to enjoy watching it.

What intrigued you the most about Ted and David’s story and fit in well with the overall narrative?

BC: We have this joke where we say that Ted and David are the third romance in this story. They do have such complementary skill sets. David is one of the best trial attorneys in the country. He’s great at cross examinations. Ted is a famous orator and has spoken in front of the Supreme Court probably more than anyone. Their specialties were really a great pairing for this lawsuit. Coming together also allowed for this great partisanship around this issue of gay marriage. People can’t say this is a left or right issue anymore because Ted Olsen was up front. They were really fun to watch as this sort of third couple in all of this.

In the film, we see David Blankenhorn, the founder and president of the Institute for American Values, change his position on gay marriage during the course of this case. Do you hope this film can change the minds of more people who are against gay marriage? Is that the ultimate goal – for people to be more accepting?

RW: Yeah, I wouldn’t say it was the ultimate goal. We wanted to make a character-driven film and let the audience go on this journey. I wouldn’t go as far to say we’re trying to change hearts and minds. We want people to open up to watching a story like this. Even if audiences are on the other side of this issue, we’d like for them to see the film and make up their own minds whether or not they are happy for [the couples] on their wedding day. But, yeah, there are a lot of people changing their minds. Even the President [Barack Obama] changed his mind. A person changing their mind is a real indicator about how quickly this is issue moving and where this country is headed.

When the Supreme Court nullified Prop 8 last summer, how did your film change? Did you have to go back and start reworking things or was this more about simply documenting events and letting them play out?

RW(Laughs) We had just started editing a few weeks before the Supreme Court’s decision. So, basically, the film had no shape. But Ben and I were prepared all along to finish this film no matter what happened with the Supreme Court. Obviously, it would’ve been a different film and a bigger call to action and a lot more devastating if [the Supreme Court had upheld Prop. 8], but we were dedicated to finishing it either way. We had made an agreement with the legal team not to finish the film until the case resolved itself. So, all our footage went into safety deposit boxes over the course of five years. When we knew the Supreme Court was hearing it, we went into hyper-drive.

What do you think a documentary film on the opposite end of the spectrum would look like –
let’s say “The Case for 8?” Did you ever think about the lawyers on the other side and how they were handling their own case?

BC: I think we both would do anything to see that film. I think it would be so interesting to see what was happening on the other side. One thing that was clear throughout the trial was that the people who were fighting for Proposition 8 really didn’t want information to get out about this case. They didn’t want the trial to be broadcast. They were really media shy about all of this. I think it would be fascinating to see that. We’d be the first ones to buy tickets to see that because we were both so curious about what their process was like.

Tony Hale – Veep (TV)

April 4, 2014 by  
Filed under Interviews

As the odd, neurotic and completely attached momma’s boy Buster Bluth in the popular television show, “Arrested Development,” actor Tony Hale embodied a character so weird that it took some time to get back in the swing of auditions after the popular series on Fox was cancelled in 2006. Though still a bit neurotic and eccentric, Hale has moved to HBO where his performance as Vice President Selina Meyer’s trusty bag-man/right-hand-man Gary Walsh earned him an Emmy win last year. In a phone conversation, Hale and I spoke about that Emmy night, his character’s built up aggression, his work on “Arrested Development,” and some directions the show is taking as it enters its third season on Sunday, April 6.

I wanted to start by congratulating you on your Emmy. I know it’s a little late.

I know, it’s crazy. It was a nutty night.

It was so exciting to watch because not only did you have your win, but when (co-star) Julia Louis-Dreyfus won her award, you both went up and accepted in character. Can you talk a little about what it was like to get that win and then have that huge laugh with her speech. You kind of had two moments there.

That night was soooooo fun. And so crazy. It was just like one big ride. The truth is, the simple fact that I was even on that list was overwhelming enough. That was such a highlight to have my name included with all those other guys and be in that category. That was overwhelming. It was one of those things where going into the Emmys I really checked my expectations. In my eyes, just being there was such a gift. When I won, I felt like my mind was exploding. I remember I had to look to my wife for her reaction in order to believe that it actually happened and they called my name. So that was so crazy and awesome and fantastic. And then when Julia won…she had called me that morning and discussed that she wanted to do this bit if she were to have won. It’s one of those things that of course you say yes and I was thrilled, but in the back of your mind you’re like, “Oh crap, this could really bomb.” I could really make an ass out of myself. Even more than I already do in my characters. Once we got up there it was fun. Any time I can work with her and ride that comic wave with her it’s just awesome.

One of the things that I love about “Veep” is how well defined every character is and how the audience is familiar with their qualities so you can find humor in really small things. Can you speak about the character development in “Veep” and being a part of an ensemble of such strong characters?

The whole thing is credited to (creator) Armando Inannuci because he has such a history with “The Thick Of It” and “In The Loop” of political satire. How the writers have developed the characters and storylines and the tightness of the script, that really is a credit to that whole team. To be a part of that team is just awesome. It’s one of those things where the more and more I do Gary, the more I realize that he’s just a mess. He’s in a job that he probably should have left in his 20’s but he’s gone into his 40’s. All he wants to do is be in the bosom of Selina Meyer. He just absolutely worships her. You see a real sweetness in him, too. Where everyone else is kind of positioning for power and trying to get ahead, Gary is very content. I will say that in this season he begins to exercise some other responsibilities. All he ever wants to do is impress her and show off to her. So he is trying to maybe show off a little bit and exercise some other things and obviously that fails miserably. It’s fun, man. What the writers did to Gary, knowing what kind of a character he is, it’s fun to do.

One of the trademarks and best things about the show is this creative cursing that we’ve come to know. It seems like every character except for Gary gets to partake in that. As an actor, does your character not having that tool in your toolbox that your castmates do…does that make it any more of a challenge to find a laugh in different places?

That’s a good question. I haven’t gotten that question before. I like that question. I think with Gary, there’s a lot in the tension of wanting to say something, but he holds back a lot. So just in his civil silence, when he’s being reamed or when he wants to ream somebody else, you can just feel he’s about to explode. I’m tellin’ ya…one of these days Gary is going lose his shit and it is not going to be pretty. It is going to be a hurricane of emotion. He has held a lot in and I think all he wants to do is just absolutely go off on Dan. He’ll never go off on Selina because that’s like going off on the messiah. He’ll never do that. But when it comes to Dan or when it comes to Jonah, one of these days his dreams are going to come true and he is going to lose his mind. And that’s not going to be a pretty day. That’s going to be a day you want to stay home.

I can’t wait to see that.

Me too! Me too.

We didn’t see much of it in Season 2, but there’s an ongoing thing of Gary having a problem with not feeling validated for his job or really even his life. Where do you think that stems from and do we see it come to a head in Season 3 at all?

I don’t know if his father ever comes into the picture, but he’s transferred a lot of his mother issues onto Selina, which seems to be a theme in the characters that I do. There was one line where he said, “My dad wanted a man” or something like that when he was sitting on the bed with Selina last season.

I think it was, “He wanted a man for a son.”

I know! He wanted a man for a son. Such a sad thing. He never acknowledges his own manhood because its never been affirmed enough by his dad. He’s desperately trying to plea through that in a phone conversation in the first season. One of these days I want his dad to show up and you know he’s probably just a detached football coach somewhere. All he ever wanted to do was have his son play sports and all Gary wanted to do was pick out Selina’s wardrobe.

You bring up that episode, which was “Running” and I believe your Emmy submission episode. How fun was it to play that excitement in Gary knowing that it would all come crashing down. That was the one thing he always wanted from that relationship.

Oh yeah. And in show time, it was about a 2-4 hour time where she was saying everything he had ever dreamed of. She wanted to go to his parents 40th wedding anniversary. They were going to dance. She was telling him how much he meant to her. It was the entire emotional bank that he had invested in for the past 15-25 some odd years was manifesting itself before his eyes. And that was his nirvana. He was experiencing his nirvana. And unfortunately it was a drug induced statement because of the St. John’s Wort that he had given her. But in those moments in time, he was on cloud nine. Then it obviously it came crashing down when the drugs wore off and he was back into his deep depression. There was also another moment in Season 2 where they were at Catherine’s party and she made a joke about “if I told you to kiss me, would you kiss me?” She’s joking and Gary took it very seriously and said, “Yeah. Absolutely I would kiss you.” In a perfect world, they’re going to be married, in Gary’s eyes. He’s desperately looking for those moments in time where she can finally wake up to the reality that Gary is all that she needs.

Most of the writers and directors that you work with on “Veep” are British, and yet there is no culture barrier that you find when you watch other British shows. How do you think the writing staff has been so successful in crafting a show that has a British sensibility but everything is in the realm of American politics and culture?

I love it. I mean obviously, because they’re British they’re on the outside looking in to our political system. Whereas we are very used to our political system. So it does bring that perspective. There are a few times when we are reading scripts where we have to say, “Yeah, that’s a Britishism.” Words will come out and we’re like, “We’ve never heard of this word.” We’ve had to replace it with American lingo, but they know a lot more about our political system than I know. Which is sad to say that. They are really in tune. It’s just a perspective that I think brings a uniqueness to the show.

As a diehard fan of “Arrested Development,” actually sitting down and watching the new episodes as they came out after so many years was a completely surreal experience. Was it the same for not only returning but doing press and actually seeing it come out and people talking about it?

It was. It was one of those things where you’re in it, you’re doing press and then you’re just kind of feeling like you’re in a time warp because it had been about seven years since we had finished the show. That’s just weird. You never get a chance to return to something you’ve done. I remember when we were shooting it, which was many months before press, my first day on set was the scene when we were all in the living room. So that was crazy because here I am in costume in my pastel argyle disaster and everybody else is in costume and Portia [de Rossi] has the blonde wig on and you’re kind of looking around going, “I cannot believe it’s been six years since we finished shooting our last episode and here we are.” They completely recreated the penthouse to the tee. It was just odd. It was really odd but fantastic at the same time because you never get that opportunity.

It almost seems like in moments where Gary is mortified or disturbed by what’s going on or looking at his attachment to Selina, there are some Buster Bluth qualities in him. Do you think that they share any of the same character DNA?

Oh yeah. I think there’s definitely some shared DNA. But the thing is, if Buster were in Gary’s environment, he would be rocking in a corner. He would have had about probably 50 panic attacks in the matter of an hour, whereas Gary has gotten very used to the pressure. Obviously he falls apart many times, but he steps up. Selina would never have hired Buster Bluth, but she knows that Gary can handle it at times. There’s been this kind of graduation with characters. Buster was the way he was. Gary is the way he is. Maybe my next character will be a little more into the realm of normality. We’ll see. Or maybe I’ll stick with the dysfunction.

The first non-Buster role I saw you in was in “Happythankyoumoreplease” and I was blown away by how great you were. Partially because you are so great in that movie but I also had you being so ingrained as being Buster Bluth that I was like, “Who is this person?” Do you ever find that people are surprised by your more grounded performances after embodying such an odd character on such an iconic show?

It makes sense to me. It makes sense to me that obviously it’s hard to see beyond Buster because it took some time after “Arrested Development” to kind of get back on the audition trail and showcase what else I can do. It’s not like somebody is going to be casting a movie right after “Arrested Development” was done and have to cast this part for a lawyer and be like, “Oh you know who would be good? The guy who played Buster Bluth.” You have to showcase other stuff and Buster was pretty much animated. He was pretty much a live cartoon. You’re dealing with those kind of extremes. I was so happy to do it, but with playing that kind of dysfunction, that’s always going to be attached to me as an actor. I had such a blast doing it and to be able to do it again. I’d do it again and again and again.

C. Kane, J. Wilson, F. Conroy, M. Deutch, T. Lowe & H. Perez – 50 to 1

April 3, 2014 by  
Filed under Interviews

In the film “50 to 1,” director and Oscar-winning producer Jim Wilson tells the underdog story of Mind That Bird, the winner of the 2009 Kentucky Derby. Mind That Bird, who was a long shot to win the Derby (50-to-1 odds), shocked everyone when he went from dead last after the first turn to take his place in the Winner’s Circle after breaking through his competition in the homestretch.

During an interview in San Antonio with Wilson, screenwriter Faith Conroy and actors Christian Kane, Madelyn Deutch, Todd Lowe and Hugo Perez, we talked about the incredible 2009 race, the challenges the film faced during production and got an update on how Mind That Bird is doing these days as a retiree living on a dude ranch in New Mexico.

There’s been a film about horse champions Seabiscuit and Secretariat already. What was it about Mind That Bird’s story that resonated with you to want to make a film about him?

Christian Kane: Let me tell you, I love those stories. Everybody loves a horse story. I feel like those horses were supposed to win. I look at those stories as documentaries. [“50 to 1”] is “Rocky,” man. This is the underdog. This horse was not supposed to be [in the Kentucky Derby] much less win the race.

Jim Wilson: What’s fun about it, too, is that the characters are so gritty. I wanted something dirtier than we’ve seen in the past. You go watch this race on YouTube and it’s stunning. Visually, it’s the most stunning race out of tens of thousands of races. At the end of the week, I am so depressed because I want to see a film that is uplifting and inspiring. Why did I want to make this film? It’s because I honestly don’t want to see any of the other films out there. I produced films in the [70s and 80s] and I miss a lot of those great films.

Faith Conroy: Yeah, it’s gotten to the point in movie making where I don’t even feel inspired to go to the theater anymore. The kinds of movies they’re putting out there, really aren’t the kinds of movie I want to see. I thought, “Why don’t we write our own?” This story just blew us away. We saw how much heart these characters had. I want a movie to make me feel good and inspired. That’s why I go to the movies.

I recently saw the 2009 race on YouTube. I had never seen it before. It’s amazing that the announcer didn’t even see Mind That Bird until the very end.

Madelyn Deutch: I know! He (Tom Durkin) quit his job the next day, didn’t he? Yeah, after 25 years announcing horse races he retired. He was so ashamed he missed the call. It was that big of an upset. (Note: Durkin sited “debilitating anxiety” as the reason he retired in 2011).

So, Madelyn, as someone who has a background in horses, how did you feel seeing that race take place?

MD: I didn’t see it live because I really wasn’t into horse racing. I grew up in California where show jumping is a really big thing. I started doing that when I was four. I remember when I got the job watching it on YouTube and thinking, “Oh my God.” It doesn’t even seem physically possible. The horse was on rocket fuel or something. As a horse person, I don’t understand how jockeys ride at all. It’s like their floating above the horse. They’re riding on their tiptoes. As a jumper, I respect the shenanigans out of those jockeys. I don’t know how they do it.

JW: I’ve followed sports all my life. Let me set this up: Here is this small horse on this track that had been rained on the night before. This horse is going off at 50-to-1 odds, meaning no one is betting on this horse. Nobody is giving this horse a chance and he leaves them all in the dust. He beats all these other horses that have been flown in from all over the world. In 24 seconds, he passes 18 horses! The only other horse who ran faster than him in the history of the Derby by one-fifth of a second was Secretariat. And that was on a perfect track. And he was the favorite. Secretariat was the greatest horse of all time. Something magical happened [with Mind That Bird] that day.

CK: It looked like Divine Intervention.

JW: Yeah, it does! You look at it and say, “This shouldn’t be.” This horse didn’t just beat the others by a nose or a head. He blew by them, and then he just kept running.

Todd Lowe: People just applaud during the racing scene. I tear up. I think we all do. I don’t want to get too spiritual about it, but you do get a chill up your spine watching the race. It was like the hand of God was touching this horse and pushing him into the front. Grown men are walking out of the theater in tears. I’ve been working on “True Blood,” which is dark and about adult themes, so to work on something that is warm and uplifting makes me proud to be a part of it.

CK: I’ve seen the race a couple of times myself. I saw it on YouTube, too. If you’re a fan of horse racing and you see this on the big screen, it doesn’t look real. That’s why you want to see this at the theater. You’ll see stuff that you didn’t see in the race.

Hugo, I don’t know if you ever go to the racetrack yourself, but would you put your own money on a horse that had 50-to-1 odds?

Hugo Perez: I don’t think I would. It’s just hard for me to let money go that easy. It’s an incredible story, really. I watched the movie at the premiere. You see this horse weaving through the others. It’s just moving like a snake between the other horses. It’s fantastic.

Todd, what did you learn about horses during the making of this movie that you didn’t know before?

TL: I didn’t even know the difference between a quarter-horse and a thoroughbred. I grew up in Houston in the 80s. Horse racing wasn’t too big. But there is a drama to the sport. I’ll bring $50 to the track one day. I might win. I might lose. But it’s $50 for a day’s worth of entertainment. That’s what I enjoy about it.

JW: That’s a great way to look at it. As a kid, I used to take $18 or $20 with me to the track. There are nine races, so I could put $2 down on each race. My goal for the day was to earn enough to pay for a beer and a good hotdog or burger. That was my entertainment. You become a pretty good handicapper when your food is on the line.

So, did you all get to meet Mind that Bird?

MD: Oh, yeah.

CK: Yeah, he’s been out to premieres with us. He’s part of the family.

MD: He gets way more attention than we do!

Did you get an opportunity to ride him, Madelyn?

MD: No, I never got to ride him, but I did most of the riding in the film.

JW: Would you get on Bird?

MD: Yeah! Are you kidding me?!

Was this movie being shot around the same time all the controversy with the HBO series “Luck” came out and some of those horses died on the set?

JW: That was part of the difficulty of funding the movie. “Luck” had just been pulled from the air. The film “Secretariat” hadn’t really done well in the box office. It wasn’t a great time to have written a story about horse racing and say, “Let’s go make this!” Hollywood was not willing to make a horse story. Before they even read it, they were like, “We don’t really want this, Jim.”

FC: Yeah, but studios turned down “Dances with Wolves” (1991 film Wilson won an Oscar for as a producer) a number of times, so there you go.

Jim, there is still a lot of controversy in the sport of horse racing. As someone who owns and races horses, do you see this first hand? Is there still a problem in the industry?

JW: When you’re dealing with an animal that is in your care and you’re in a competition where there are millions of dollars involved, that’s when things happen, yes. People want to get ahead. They want to see their horse in the Winner’s Circle. Man does the same thing with steroids. They want to get to the finish line first. Are there people out there that will try something illegal to get ahead? There always will be. All you can do is try to police the heck out of it. But there are so many great things about horse racing, too, which is why we wanted to make this film.

CK: You should see how Bird is living now.

JW: Oh, yeah. He’s living the good life. He’s living out in Roswell, New Mexico with his owners and eating all the bass he wants.

CK: Yeah, he lives on this big dude ranch. He has peppermints whenever he wants.

MD: He’s going to get so fat!

CK: Yeah, he doesn’t look like he misses too many meals these days.

JW: He looks like he’s pregnant.

MD: He really is a miracle horse! He’s pregnant! He won the Kentucky Derby at 50-to-1 odds and he’s pregnant!

JW: Not only is it a miracle he won the race, now he’s giving birth to twins!

CK: That should be the sequel!

SXSW 2014 Review – Silicon Valley (TV)

March 17, 2014 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

Starring: Thomas Middleditch, TJ Miller, Zach Woods
Created by: Mike Judge (“Beavis and Butthead”)

While reviews of TV are not something we typically cover at CineSnob, one of the most fun and worthwhile events of SXSW was the screening of Mike Judge’s (“Office Space,” “Beavis and Butthead,” “King of the Hill”) new HBO comedy series “Silicon Valley,” which explores the world of technology start-ups in California.

As a lowly worker at a tech company, Richard (Thomas Middleditch) has used his spare time developing a website that can match a users music to a database of published music to see if they are infringing on any copyrights. While the website has limited usage, Richard has developed a compression algorithm that has the potential to change the face of the Internet and become a billion dollar industry. When faced with offers from various companies to buy him out, Richard must decide if he will take the money and run or venture into self-running a massive company with no experience and only the help of his friends and roommates.

Very rarely do you see a pilot episode as polished and defined as the first episode of “Silicon Valley.” From the opening moments of the episode (which features a hilarious cameo), “Silicon Valley” is firing on all cylinders as the laughs come big and consistent and the characters don’t need much introduction to get a sense of who they are. As a lead, Middleditch is a great stroke of casting, able to be mild-mannered enough to be likable and really getting across the vulnerability and fear of a man who has stumbled across a potentially life changing idea. While the rest of the cast is filled with well-known improvisers and stand up comedians, the standouts are actor and improv veteran Zach Woods (“The Office”) and comedian TJ Miller (“She’s Out of My League” and “Cloverfield.”) Woods self-deprecating, eager to please character is a welcome addition to the ball busting roommates and Miller’s lazy character is probably the most consistent source of character humor in the beginning of the show. Martin Starr and Kumail Nanjiani deserve a little bit more screen time, and the second episode sees a slight dip in quality, but regardless the pilot stands as one of the best comedy pilots in recent memory.

As a source of laughs, it’s easy to see how anyone remotely interested in technology will devour “Silicon Valley.” For example, a passing 4-way bike with a table in the middle where a meeting is taken place is one of the best pieces of visual humor in the episodes screened. But beyond the tech world, Judge has laid down the foundation for a great underdog story with strong characters, gifted comedic actors and truly hilarious writing. Most of the humor is broad enough to resonate with anyone looking for a smart, character driven comedy. With his background working in technology serving him well, Judge’s first foray into live-action television hits the ground running fully formed and is wildly successful. If the first two episodes are any indication of how the rest of the first season of “Silicon Valley” will go, HBO has a massive hit on their hands.

“Silicon Valley” premiered at SXSW 2014.

For more coverage of SXSW 2014, click here.

Angelic Zambrana – Girls (TV)

February 28, 2014 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

It’s been six years since Latina actress Angelic Zambrana made heads turn as part of the young ensemble cast in the Oscar-winning film “Precious.” In the film, Zambrana played Consuelo, an at-risk teenager opposite Oscar-nominated actress Gabourey Sidibe’s title character. Since the 2009 drama, Zambrana has starred in a number of independent films, including “Sleepwalk with Me” and “Rites of Passage.”

Zambrana’s 2012 film, “Musical Chairs” will be airing throughout the month of April on HBO & will be available on demand via HBO GO! In “Musical Chairs,” the inspiring romantic film from renowned director Susan Seidelman (“Desperately Seeking Susan”), Angelic stars alongside EJ Bonilla, Leah Pipes, Laverne Cox, Morgan Spector, Auti Angel, Jerome Preston Bates, and Nelson R. Landrieu.

During an interview with me on her birthday (Feb. 21), Zambrana and I talked about what’s she’s been up to since her role in “Precious,” how she feels about nudity as an actress and explains what the situation would have to be if she said yes to playing a role as a chola.

How has life changed for you over the last five years since your film “Precious” received so much attention back in 2009?

I think more than my life, I have changed over the last few years. “Precious” was a really beautiful experience. It catapulted me. I got to meet all of my idols – Oprah Winfrey, Sidney Poitier. It was crazy. I changed as a person. I became more humble. I focused more on the art of acting and caring less about the sparkle. We were all kids when we did “Precious.” We were all mature and talented, but I needed to grow as an actor. That’s what I’ve been working on.

What about professionally? Did your role in “Precious” give you more opportunities in the industry? Did you have the advantage of being able to say “no” to some of those things if they weren’t right for you?

Even before “Precious,” I would already say no to things that were badly written. (Laughs) There’s nothing you can do to save a badly-written script. No good actor could save a badly-written script. Some of the scripts were just overtly sexual. I mean, if [the sex] has something to do with the story, I’m all for it. But if it’s just gratuitous, then I’m not. But “Precious” did open the doors for more auditions, to meet studio heads, to go to meetings. It gave me so much confidence and I had so much fun doing those things. Sometimes I wouldn’t get into auditions because I was typecast, but for the most part “Precious” did open doors for me. Even today, “Precious” still helps with the pitch.

Give me an example of something you’ve said “no” to.

The thing is I’ve said yes to things I thought were going to be great, but they didn’t pan out. (Laughs) I think what I’m trying to do now is take care of who I am as an actor and really do things that I want to do. I won’t name specific things I’ve said no to, but I would say no to things that I didn’t feel comfortable doing. I mean, I like a good challenge, but if it’s something I don’t agree with or felt was gratuitously sexual for no purpose, I wouldn’t do it.

So, nudity, in general, wouldn’t be out of the question for you, but it would have to serve a purpose in the story, correct?

Yeah. I mean, I love my body. It’s my instrument. I’ve been an athlete since I was a child. I work out now. I don’t know if I would do nudity or not. I’m still young in my career. I don’t know if I would want to put myself out there like that. For me to expose my intimate parts to the world, I feel like it would really need to be worth it. (Laughs) I’m not going to be like, “Wooo! Here are my tits!”

Nudity on TV has been a hot-button topic recently since “Girls” debuted on HBO. I know you recently had a small part on that show. What’s your take on the show and how it’s been criticized by some as including nudity simply for nudity’s sake?

I think that each artist has different things they are willing to compromise and not compromise on. It’s [Lena Dunham’s] show. It’s her baby. If she sees a reason why [there should be nudity], it will have its benefits in the long run. She believes in what she is doing. If you want to be naked and it makes sense to you, it will be fine. If you are uncomfortable and you’re out there and you’re naked, it’s going to be [uncomfortable].

Another criticism about “Girls” is that, until recently, there haven’t been any Latina actresses on the show. This season we have Melonie Diaz in a supporting role. Did you see this as a problem in past seasons, especially since the show is set in a city as diverse as New York?

I always felt these shows that cast in New York City really do a good job at casting diverse characters. With a show like “Girls” I think that’s starting to change and I think that it’s happening overall. I mean, I have an audition for something soon that I never thought would be open to a Latina. I can’t say what it is yet, but it’s a period piece. But I think the media is finally getting it and the doors are finally opening up. There are more things opening for [Latinos]. We don’t have to be the drug dealers anymore. But I love “Girls” because it’s true to what it is. That’s her and her group of friends. As long as it’s realistic, then I’m OK with that. I don’t feel like there has to be a minority in everything.

You mentioned earlier about getting typecast, which I know is not something you want as a Latina in this industry. But at the same time, your role in “Girls” is a nanny. Talk to me about that. How do you make a decision to play a nanny in “Girls” but you might pass on playing a chola on another project?

The thing is, I wouldn’t pass on playing a chola unless it was badly written and cheap. A chola is a real person. If the role is great, give me the chola! For “Girls,” I went in for a bigger part and almost got it, but I was too young. So, they offered me [the nanny] role. So, I said, “Why not!?” I had fun with it.

I’m sure over the last five years there have been ups and downs for you going into auditions. Have you felt the cutthroat nature of the industry yet?

Yes, of course. I’m not this supermodel soap star. (Laughs) A lot of the times, there is this idea of what a Latina woman is supposed to look like. But I don’t focus on that. I focus on the fact that I have been given this gift and that I work really hard to improve on my art. But, yeah, I’ve felt the cutthroat nature of it all. When you do anything for TV or film, you’re put on this platform. [Actors] have a product to sell and people go to them when they want their product. But you have to have tough skin in this industry. Sometimes you don’t get a role because they wanted someone who is a blonde or someone tall or someone more ghetto. It’s all about how you fit into the story. As long as you audition your behind off, it’ll pay off somehow.

Kevin Pearce – The Crash Reel

July 15, 2013 by  
Filed under Interviews

In the documentary “The Crash Reel,” director Lucy Walker tells the emotional story of Kevin Pearce, a professional snowboarder who was in a terrible accident while training for the 2010 Winter Olympics. As a result of the crash, Kevin suffered a traumatic brain injury that completely changed his entire life. The film, which debuted at the 2013 SXSW Film Festival, isn’t just about snowboarding. It’s about Pearce’s injury, recovery and his will to get back and do the things he loves. It’s also about his loving family and the pain they go through trying to keep Kevin safe. “The Crash Reel” debuts Monday, July 15 as part of HBO’s summer documentary series. During an interview with Kevin, I spoke to him about his injury, his family, and what makes this documentary such a unique experience.

Now that you’ve had a lot of success with the film on the festival circuit, how are you feeling about the huge HBO audience that is about to see the film?

Yeah man, I’m kinda getting nervous to be honest with you. I never realized how big of a deal this was going to be but people are saying it’s going to kind of blow up. It sounds like it with how well the film has been received and how a bunch of people like. There should be some pretty cool reactions we see. The coolest part is that it’s such a different film than a normal kind of movie people watch about people that have been affected by brain injuries or that are related to Down syndrome, or that just face challenges in their life. They really become affected by the film and they can relate to me. It feels like a lot of people in the world have had something tragic happen to them in their life. It seems like it could be pretty touching for a lot of people. I’m excited to see what happens.

In the film, there are a lot of scenes where you’re really looking back to snowboarding again and I was wondering, was ever any time during your recovery where you couldn’t watch snowboarding because you couldn’t be out there or was it always something you were really connected to?

It’s always been something that I’ve been super connected to. It’s something I’ve always been so driven to get back to doing. At the beginning I thought I was going to be out snowboarding in a couple of weeks, and then when I started to hear the time frame that kinda just really drove me and kind of got me to work my ass off to get back into shape and get my brain ready to get back on the board. So I feel that was a huge push for me. Something that really helped me work so hard and get so much better.

So you think your drive to get back on the snowboard actually helped your recovery a lot?

Yeah, 100 percent. Like when I heard what I needed to do in order to be in the right shape to get back on my board, I feel like that really pushed me to work my ass off to make sure that my body and my brain were in a condition where I would be able to shred and ride happily.

There’s a lot of really emotional scenes in this film, especially with your family members wearing their heart on your sleeves. Most of it focuses on your brother David (who has Down syndrome) who is kind of vulnerable and emotional in the film. How do you feel about having these private and intimate moments with your family on display?

You know, that’s pretty normal for us. I think that it’s going to be very impactful and very helpful for families. I feel like it doesn’t happen very often where people just throw these things out there and let the world watch it. I feel like our family is very comfortable and my parents are very confident in how they raised us and how we run our lives and how our family works. We all are very honest and very trustful. I feel like it’s a great thing to be able to show people that this is how a very successful family works.

When you watched the film or even the footage for the very first time, did you remember a lot of the conversations and the rehab that took place or was it all kind of new to you?

It’s a lot of back and forth. There’s some stuff I remember super clearly and there’s some stuff I have no memory of at all. It’s kinda like 50/50 where there’s a bunch of stuff where I totally can remember still like, “Wow, damn, yes, that was such a big moment for me.” Then there’s some stuff where it’s so important for me to see because it’s like, “Holy cow, I was there. I was in that kind of shape. I was that bad” and just having no memory of it.  It’s so cool to see it on film and see where I was and what it’s taken to get back from that. It’s been really important for me to be able to see all that stuff – to see how far down I’ve fallen.

I don’t think it’s covered in the film, but did it impact your memory on things that happened before the accident?

There’s definitely some struggles. Luckily, nothing too big has come up where I’ve forgotten something I really needed or really given me a hard time. But there’s definitely things that come up with my friends or my family reminding me [of something]. I’ll be like, “No way, that didn’t happen. I never did that. No way. I never kissed that girl. I never did that.” [My friends will say],“Yeah man, you were makin’ out with her!” And I’m like, “No way!” So little events and stupid things like that come up but never anything I’ve been too surprised about. There’s definitely things I forget but it’s more my short term memory that’s been the most affected. Things happening in real time these days that give me the most trouble.

I think one of the most interesting scenes in the film is the big dinner table scene where you’re talking with your family about whether or not they want you to return to snowboarding. You described a very specific feeling about what snowboarding means to you and how you feel when you’re doing it and how nobody in your family can really relate. What have you been able to do since the accident to fill that void in your life?

It’s been difficult. I’ve definitely gone through my challenges and my tough times. I’m really starting to find this one thing I love most and I find I can do best. That is riding powder. Just being up there in the mountains and out there in the back country, away from the parks and the people. Up there on my own just riding in the back country. It’s the coolest feeling being in deep, deep powder and just cruising and not worrying about hitting big jumps or doing double corks in the halfpipe. Just enjoying floating on the snow. It’s this special feeling that you get. Have you ever ridden powder? Do you snowboard?

No. I’ve never done it before. I’ve never really even seen snow before. I live in Texas.

It’s this special feeling. It’s like floating. It’s like walking on a cloud, if you could imagine what that feels like. That feeling is where I’ve found my way to replace what I can’t do anymore. I’m totally happy with that and I love it so much. It’s something I’ve really enjoyed being able to do. I was lucky enough that I got a bunch of really good powder days this year. I got to go up to Canada and it was one of the best trips I’ve taken in my life. Then I went to Vale and got some powder there. Then I was over in France at the X-Games. It snowed a bunch in Vermont and I rode there. So all winter I’ve been cruising around. I was so lucky I got to ride so much.

What did you do to replace the competitive side of snowboarding?

I haven’t found that one yet. That was something that I was obviously pretty damn good at and it really drove me. I love that competitiveness. I love pressure and I love it when I’m in those situations. I’m at the top of the halfpipe at the X-Games and it’s like, “Alright, you’ve gotta land this run. If you don’t land this, you’re done. If you land it, you win $20,000.” That pressure is what I’m all about and I feel like that in those moments I would just dig it. That’s something I’m trying to find again and how I can get that feeling in a safe, smart way. I’m still looking for it, to be honest with you.

What was the exact moment when you accepted the idea that you would not be able to compete professionally anymore?

I think a big one was up in Mt. Baker, which is in the film. When I went down that course, which is just a little run where you go through some gates. It was there I realized how much I was struggling with snowboarding and how hard it really was for me and how far I had fallen. It was there that I was like, “Alright, this is a turning point for me. This is reality. You’re not as good as you were and you need to change up and switch the things you’re doing now.”

With action sports it seems like there’s new levels of creativity and pushing those levels of danger. The trends are going big, faster and higher. Do you feel that anything needs to be done to protect these athletes or is it just the risk you take being an action-sports athlete?

I feel 100 percent like this is what these guys want to be doing and this is how they want to do it. There’s nothing forcing these kids to wake up every day and to do these things. These kids you’re seeing that are doing it are the best in the world. They’re very calculated and smart about how they are doing their tricks. It’s not like they’re up there being reckless and stupid about it. They’re training their asses off, getting in the right shape and then going up and trying these tricks because that’s what they want to do. I’d wake up every morning and I’d get to go up there and it was the most fun thing for me ever, getting to try these new crazy tricks. That’s who we are and how we are and I don’t feel like it would be one bit fair to tell these kids that they can’t do that. As long as they feel comfortable pushing it, and they’re having fun, I think they should 100 percent be allowed to do what they want.

The film ends with an update on you in November 2012. Since filming ended, what does your life look like now? Have there been any significant differences or improvements?

From what I can remember, my life is a lot the same. It’s really good and it’s really positive. I’m super happy right now. I’m so thankful my life is still so good after going through something so traumatic and so severe. I can still be so happy and live such a successful life. Obviously it’s way different, but I’ve found ways to fill that void of not having the competitive snowboarding. Whether it’s the public speaking or announcing the X-Games, I’ve been able to find ways to stay busy and continue to live a really cool, cool, successful life.

I think part of what makes this “The Crash Reel” such an interesting and compelling film is that you have so many different themes and storylines. It starts out with this rivalry between you and Shaun White. Then it gets into the accident and your recovery and then it goes into the family struggles. Do you think the number of themes that reoccur throughout the film make it such a unique and interesting experience?

I think there’s a couple things that make this film so unique and interesting. One is that it’s not a snowboard film. I hope we can share that with the world so people aren’t like, “Oh, I don’t want to watch another snowboard movie. I don’t like snowboarding” because it’s really not a snowboard movie. First and foremost it’s [about] family, I think. Hopefully, most people can relate to what it’s like to have a family. I think it’s a great opportunity to see what a very successful, good-working family looks like. Along with that, you see what it’s like to have a family who has struggles. Obviously, David – how amazing he is with his Down syndrome – and me with my brain injury and my dyslexia. There are so many different stories in one with this film and I think they’re all linked together really well. You can see a family that feels the struggles, but finds a way to push through and live a pretty extraordinary life.

“The Crash Reel” screened as a part of SXSW 2013.