Robert F. Chew, a 52-year-old Baltimore actor and teacher who portrayed one of television’s most unforgettable characters as Proposition Joe on HBO’s “The Wire,” died Thursday of apparent heart failure in his sleep at his home in Northeast Baltimore, according to Clarice Chews, his sister.
Mr. Chew, who appeared in “Homicide” and “the Corner,” as well as “The Wire,” also taught and mentored child and young adult actors at Baltimore’s Arena Players, a troupe he stayed with as his television career blossomed through his work with David Simon. Through the Areana Players Youth Theatre, he brought new talent to the attention of casting directors and coached the team of young actors who played students in the Baltimore City School system in Season 4 of “The Wire.”
“Robert was not only an exceptional actor, he was an essential part of the film and theater community in Baltimore,” David Simon, creator of ‘The Wire’ said in an email Friday. “He could have gone to New York or Los Angeles and commanded a lot more work, but he loved the city as his home and chose to remain here working. He understood so much about his craft that it was no surprise at all that we would go to him to coach our young actors in season four. He was the conduit through which they internalized their remarkable performances.”
Chew was an absolute master with dialogue and facial expressions, and it’s fascinating to learn in this article that many of the kids who starred in Season 4 of “The Wire” were his students. If you haven’t seen this show, get the DVD or download it now. You won’t regret it.
Hey, kids, remember “The Goode Family”? You don’t…? Boy, that’s funny. You’d think you’d remember an animated series created under the watchful eye of Mike Judge, the man behind “Beavis & Butthead” and “King of the Hill,” not to mention such cult-classic films as “Office Space,” “Idiocracy,” and “Extract.”
Oh, wait, I know why you don’t remember it: because it only ran for 13 episodes in the summer of 2009 before ABC axed it.
Thankfully, however, the fine folks at Shout Factory have come through for “Goode Family” fans in the same way they’ve come through for fans of so many other too-quickly-canceled series over the years, offering up a complete-series set which features all of the episodes, including audio commentary from executive producers John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky on several of them, as well as deleted scenes and premises for unproduced episodes. Even better, the aforementioned Mr. Altschuler was kind enough to spend a few minutes on the phone with Bullz-Eye to discuss the series, not to mention some of the other projects he’s worked on over the course of his career.
John Altschuler: So, Will, what can I do you for?
Bullz-Eye: Well, sir, I do this TV column for Bullz-Eye, I’ve more or less got carte blanche to cover what I want, and, dammit, I want to cover the DVD release of The Goode Family: The Complete Series.
JA: [Laughs.] Well, great…I hope!
BE: It is absolutely great. I was a fan for the all-too-few episodes that aired, so it’s been nice not only to revisit the series as a whole but also to listen to the commentaries that you and Dave recorded for the set.
JA: Excellent, excellent. Well, I can’t stand the sound of my own voice, personally, but I hope it wasn’t too bad for you.
BE: No, no, not painful at all.
JA: Well, good!
BE: So to begin at the beginning, as it were, you and Dave actually knew each other well before you first met up with Mike Judge on “King of the Hill.”
JA: That’s right. Dave Krinsky and I go back to…we went to the University of North Carolina together and moved out to L.A…wow, back in ’87! And we just did movies and TV for, y’know, forever, and got hired on “King of the Hill” in its first season, and that’s how we met Mike Judge.
I can still remember the first time I watched “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills,” about the so-called West Memphis Three, a trio of teenagers – Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols, and Jessie Misskelley – who in 1993 were accused of the murder and sexual mutilation of three prepubescent boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. Maybe Baldwin, Echols, and Misskelley weren’t the most clean-cut teens imaginable, but watching the sad but undeniably enthralling “Paradise Lost,” it’s pretty easy to believe that their imprisonment was unjust, a case of the justice system gone horribly wrong.
Indeed, I was sufficiently affected by it that I continued to keep tabs on the case over the years, right up through when Baldwin, Echols, and Misskelley were finally released after almost 20 years behind bars. Similarly, directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, the gentlemen behind the camera for “Paradise Lost,” continued to follow the saga of the West Memphis Three, resulting in two sequels, “Paradise Lost 2: Revelations” and “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory.”
The whole trilogy has just been released in a four-disc set – one for each film, plus an extra disc of bonus material – and upon receiving a review copy, I was pitched an interview with Berlinger. At first, I hesitated, thinking, “Geez, do I have any place to run this?” Then I realized, “Hello, technicality: all three films made their debut on HBO, so I’m calling in a loophole and putting this baby in ‘The Light from the TV Shows’!” The next thing you know, I’m on the phone with Mr. Berlinger, having the chat that sits before you now. Read on…
Bullz-Eye: I should probably start by telling you that I’ve just spent a fair amount of the preceding 24 hours plowing through the new “Paradise Lost Trilogy” set.
Joe Berlinger: Oh, my God. Watching it in one fell swoop…
BE: Yeah, I said on Facebook, “This is a whole lot of depressing footage to watch and know that you’re only going to get a semi-happy ending in the end.”
JB: Yeah, I know. Imagine me living it! [Laughs.] At least I spread it out over two decades. But to pile it all on like that…I’m actually curious: how does it feel watching one after another? Does it feel repetitive?
BE: No, it doesn’t. [Hesitates.] Well, okay, there are moments, I guess. But they’re acceptable knowing the fact that each one was made several years after the next.
JB: Okay, so it holds up as a trilogy, watching one after another?
Those with a soft spot for Australian soap operas may forever think of Melissa George as Angel from “Home and Away,” but they’re doing both her and themselves a disservice by maintaining that mindset, because George has handily proven over and over again that she’s a far cry from being just another soap opera actress, be it by her Golden Globe nominated performance on HBO’s “In Treatment,” her work with David Lynch (“Mulholland Drive”) and Steven Soderbergh (“The Limey”), or her despicable turn as Lauren Reed on ABC’s “Alias.” With her latest small-screen endeavor, Cinemax’s “Hunted,” George is returning to the spy side of things, but trust Bullz-Eye when we tell you that “Hunted” is on a completely different level of television than “Alias.” We talked to her in conjunction with the series’ premiere – 10 PM tonight and every Friday night for the next several weeks – while also quizzing her about a few other past endeavors, including working with Heath Ledger on “Roar,” getting the shaft on “Grey’s Anatomy,” and just barely missing out on being part of one of the most notorious sitcom flops in NBC history.
Bullz-Eye: To begin at the beginning, how did you find your way into “Hunted”? Was it an audition situation, or did they come looking for you specifically?
Melissa George: They were very strict about making people read. Some jobs, not so much, they know who they want. But “Hunted” is (being produced by) HBO and BBC together, and they were both having to choose and decide, so we had the English with the Americans, so that’s why the audition process was so long.
I was walking on the West Side Highway in New York, and my phone rang. It was my agent saying, “I’ve just read the most dynamic role for a woman, it’s as complex as what you played on ‘In Treatment,’ with a bit of action, which you’ve done before. It’s shooting in Europe, it’s really good, it’s written by Frank Spotnitz, it’s an English and American production…you’ve got to get it.” That’s kind of what he said. And I hate when they say that, ‘cause that means no sleep for me. Because, y’know, of course if it’s that great I want to play it. And I was then shooting a movie with Julia Stiles in Los Angeles (“Between Us”) and I was busy with that, and I had a video camera set up in the hotel room, and I put together a scene. They asked me to do three scenes, but I just did one. It was the one where she confronts her ex in the apartment. Very emotional. And I remember I was just so choked up…and I was recording myself, not speaking to anybody, because I didn’t have an actor reading with me. And I was, like, “Oh, my God, I really love this part…” And I cut, printed, and sent it. I couldn’t do any more scenes because I was really upset. I felt really strongly about this woman. And I waited. I didn’t care, because I was shooting a movie.
Then I got a call saying, “They want you to meet with Frank and read a scene.” I was, like, “Oh, my God…” There were so many freaking people in this room. [Laughs.] So many people! I thought it was just going to be me. Every actor thinks that when you’re asked to read, it’s just gonna be you. But it was a lot of people, and I was on my own. But I met Frank, and he said to me later on, once I’d gotten the role, that he knew from when I put myself on tape, and when I went in to read, he said, “I just feel really connected to her.” But that was it. I didn’t hear for awhile after that, so I was, like, “Ugh, this is gonna be one of those jobs…” And then S.J. (Clarkson), who’s directing, got onboard, and…the director has a big say, so Frank’s got his choice made, BBC and HBO made theirs, but now I have to wait for S.J. to make hers. So I had to meet her. They fly me from New York to L.A. to have lunch, and all we do is talk about film, and then…I was the only girl, but I had to read with lots of guys. And none of the guys I read with got it. [Laughs.] But I was the only girl they were using, and yet still hadn’t told me that I’d got it! And I was, like, “What’s going on here?”
But I was so convinced that I was onboard that I went around convincing everyone else around me that I was. I was, like, “Oh, yeah, I’m gonna be playing this role in a few months…” But I hadn’t heard anything, and I was going, “This is ridiculous! They’re going all over the world looking for this actress, every single country, and I’m, like, “Well, does she have to be from a particular place?” “No, they don’t care where she’s from, because she has to play so many nationalities, so many different languages and accents.” So I waited while they went around the globe, reading hundreds of girls, and they were losing me, because I was going, “Well, if they wait too long…” And then finally everyone was, like, “C’mon, S.J.!” So that’s the story. And it was so funny on set, because while we were filming in Morocco, S.J. would come up to me and speak French, then she’d say, “Oh, sorry, wrong actress.” Like she’d found a girl in France that she really liked. I was, like, “Shut up, I know you didn’t find anybody!” [Laughs.] It was one of those things where the joke went on forever. Like, the whole season of the show. “Sorry, what’s your name?” So I don’t quite know what happened that made it take so long to decide, but I know that when I seize on something, man, I’d better get the job. Because I was honestly delusional. I was, like, “Yes, I’m shooting London in a few months,” and everyone was, like, “But have they said ‘yes’?” “No. But I’m going to be shooting!”
The WIGS channel on YouTube could unkindly be called the online equivalent of television’s Lifetime network, specializing in stories of the lives of women that are, ironically, primarily created by men. The first of these web series is “Jan,” created, written and directed by Jon Avnet, who is probably best known for producing hit ’80s and ’90s films like “Risky Business” and “Fried Green Tomatoes,” the latter of which he also directed. Like the superior “Blue,” “Jan” is simply named after its lead character, Jan (Caitlin Gerard), an aspiring photographer who has just gotten what might be her big break, so long as her life doesn’t get in the way.
Jan works as an assistant to Mel (Virginia Madsen), an established photographer whose latest project is a book called “Afterglow,” which is a collection of shots of women immediately after the completion of sexual encounters. The first session features British movie star couple Gery (Stephen Moyer, best known as Bill Compton on HBO’s “True Blood”) and Andie (Jaime Murray, best known as Lila Tournay on the second season of Showtime’s “Dexter”). Gery seems to immediately like Jan and, when Mel is preoccupied with a phone call at the crucial moment, he convinces her to take the shots instead, which leads to Jan being fired. Luckily for her, deadline pressures from the magazine Mel works for causes her to rehire Jan, though Mel takes the credit for the photographs and warns Jan that she is on thin ice.
Jan also has a junkie boyfriend, Robbie (Kyle Gallner), who is constantly pestering her and her roommate, Vanessa (Laura Spencer), and complicating their lives. This subplot should make the series more interesting, but what it mainly does instead is make everything feel less focused. The tone of the entire series is very uneven, and quirks like Jan’s initial clumsiness and her habit of getting the hiccups when she’s nervous come and go without ever really going anywhere interesting. Likewise, the late addition of a new boyfriend for Jan feels inconsequential and tacked on, despite the conflict it would seem likely to create with Robbie, the ex, and Gery, who flirts openly with Jan and drops by her place to take showers (another contrived quirk that feels less than genuine). All in all, the stakes are never really high enough, nor is Jan a compelling enough character to make this series particularly worthwhile. Check out “Blue” instead, if you want to see what the WIGS channel is like.
Most Bullz-Eye readers will recognize Adrian Grenier as Vincent Chase from HBO’s “Entourage.” But there’s much more to him than that. Grenier has always been passionate about the environment and living a sustainable lifestyle, and eventually that passion led him to co-found a company dedicated to this purpose.
I recently attended Ford’s 2012 Go Further event will several hundred other bloggers, and Grenier was featured on a panel with his SHFT.com co-founder Peter Glatzer to discuss green lifestyle issues along with other experts and activists. Frankly I came away very impressed. So many activists in this area can become very preachy about the subject, and that’s particularly true with celebrities. But Grenier is much more interested in inspiring people to make their lives more sustainable, and that’s the mission of SHFT.com according to their website:
SHFT is a multi-media platform founded by film producer Peter Glatzer and actor-filmmaker Adrian Grenier. Our mission is to convey a more sustainable approach to the way we live through video, design, art and culture.
The website covers a wide variety of topics, including architecture, art, business, conservation, design, energy, fashion, food and home & garden. They’re aiming for an audience looking for innovative ways to change the way they live their lives in order to better take care of our planet.
One effort is called “The Big SHFT” which involves a partnership with Ford Motor Company.
The night before, we heard from Bill Ford who recounted his own commitment to these issues and he candidly discussed how the powers that be at Ford looked at him like he was an alien when he brought up these issues years ago. But he wouldn’t give up, and now Ford has become a leader in this area.
Among the presentations at the Go Further event involved some of the innovations coming out of Ford’s research labs that are changing the materials that go into their cars. One example is Ford’s use of soybean-based foam in seat cushions, backs and head restraints that saves about 5 million pounds of petroleum annually. The next step according to the researchers is making these foams biodegradable.
Ford is also focusing on recycled materials like plastic bottles, denim and old tires. They also working on other initiatives, like retired US currency of all things. With its strong, tensile characteristics, they are looking into shredding these old greenbacks for use in the manufacture of plastic parts like trays and bins. Currently retired currency is simply burned.
The possibilities are endless, as long as we put our minds to it. Ford is one of the many companies pushing for these solutions, and SHFT.com wants to inspire more companies and individuals to look for more innovations. You don’t have to be a multi-national corporation to make a difference.
Check out the SHFT.com website for more cool content in this area. You can also follow them on Facebook and Twitter. For some the green issue has become very political and polarizing, but it doesn’t have to be that way. All of us can learn more about simple changes we can make for a more sustainable lifestyle, and this bottom-up approach can have a huge impact.
Julia Stiles stars as the title character in “Blue,” a new web series produced by the YouTube channel Wigs, which is described as “a digital channel producing high-end, original, scripted dramatic series and short films about the lives of women.” “Blue” certainly fits this bill, as it has high, network-standard production values and explores the life of Francine, aka Blue (Stiles), a single mother who works in an office and moonlights as a prostitute. We are introduced to her in the middle of serving a client, Cooper (David Harbour), who turns out to be an old acquaintance from high school. Cooper has more than a simple professional interest in her, and there is speculation that he might be the father of her 13-year-old son, Josh (Uriah Shelton).
Josh is a precocious, A-student who is beginning to be curious about sex and who is too smart not to know that his mother is hiding something about herself from him, though he is not yet sure what. He befriends Cooper, seeming to need a father figure in his life to complement the good relationships he has with his mother and his grandmother, Jessica (Kathleen Quinlan), a sexy older woman prone to over-sharing about her love life. Meanwhile, beginning in the third episode, Blue has an oddly mentor-like relationship with her office co-worker, Lavinia (Sarah Paulson), who looks up to her, thinking Blue really has her life together. Lavinia seeks Blue’s advice about her relationship with her ex-husband, Walter (so far unseen), who seems to be using her for financial support due to his ailing health.
The series is created, written and directed by Rodrigo Garcia, who is known for his work on feature films like “Mother and Child” and last year’s “Albert Nobbs,” as well as television series such as HBO’s “The Sopranos” and “Six Feet Under,” the latter of which has a similarly soap opera feel to it. The first season runs 12 episodes, each around eight minutes long, which means the entire first season is roughly the length of a relatively short feature film, and each episode is basically a single long scene, or two shorter, connected ones. Some of these work better than others; while Blue and Josh have great chemistry and really good dialogue in the second episode, and a subplot involving Josh’s troubles at school in the tenth and eleventh episodes is especially interesting, I have to admit I have very little interest in the relationship between Blue and Lavinia. Paulson is a very good actor, but her character is sort of weak and whiny, and it remains to be seen if her subplot will garner more interest. On the other hand, the first season ends with an intriguing development involving an older man from Blue’s past, and fans of soapy drama will definitely want to tune in for new episodes once they become available.
Aaron Sorkin is back on TV, and you can catch “The Newsroom” premiere tonight on HBO. Will Harris was able to preview the first four episodes, and fans of Sorkin won’t be disappointed with this new series. Jeff Daniels is one of the best actors in the business and he has a great supporting cast to help him deliver Sorkin’s signature dialogue.
Meanwhile, if you haven’t been watching Louie C.K., you can check out the fabulous season 2 of “Louie” which is now out on DVD and Blu-ray.
Nothing impressed our movie critics much this week. “Brave” was a bit of a disappointment, while “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” had a hard time living up to its romantic comedy billing. Meanwhile, Woody Allen moves from Paris to Rome with his latest effort, and the result isn’t all that bad. Woody has become a caricature of himself, but at least he’s picking great locations for his movies.
For our car review this week we had the 2012 BMW 335i Sedan. Yes – it proved to be a badass vehicle. We were in San Diego this week driving the new Hyundai Veloster Turbo so check back this week for our driving impressions.
Finally, try the simple Cliquet for the perfect summer drink.
It’s arguably the laziest possible comparison to suggest that Aaron Sorkin’s new HBO series, “The Newsroom,” comes across like “Sports Night” and “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” fused with “The West Wing.”
With that said, however, it’s also hard to deny the inherent accuracy of such a statement, given that it’s a series that takes place behind the scenes of a television program, except rather than sports or comedy, the predominant thrust of the program is politics. Plus, it’s full of bombastic speeches, rapid patter, romantic comedy, and – oh, yes – more than a few walk-and-talks.
In a nutshell, “The Newsroom” is about as Sorkin-esque as anyone could possibly hope for his return to television to be. This, of course, opens a whole other can of worms…but we’ll get to that.
“The Newsroom” begins by introducing newsman Will McAvoy, played by Jeff Daniels, as he sits on a political discussion panel in a college auditorium, and although it’s basically a blind introduction which offers us nothing about his career, we can already tell from his responses that whatever talents he once had as a newsman have been supplanted by a desire to play it safe. It’s also a bit of a given that, in short order, he’s going to give an answer that causes him to break out of his rut, but it’s a testament to Sorkin’s writing and directing that, when it does finally happen, it still manages to feel pretty damned inspirational.
Father’s Day is just a week away, so this week we focused quite a bit on our Father’s Day Gift Guide. It’s one of the easier holidays to shop for as we mostly consider stuff we like as well, so there’s plenty of booze and gear, and Matt Byrd gave us his 10 best video games for dad. Of course there’s plenty more going on, so here’s some good stuff from the past week:
- In his review of “Prometheus,” David Medsker called it “the most gorgeous space monster movie you’ve ever seen” and he also gave it 3.5 stars.
- Meanwhile, “The Avengers” has had an incredible run at the box office. Read our review if you haven’t seen it yet.
- In the TV world, “Game of Thrones” wrapped up its second season on HBO. Read about the last episode in Nate Kreichman’s blog and you can catch up on all of our reviews and cast interviews on our new Game of Thrones Fan Hub. As this show is ending, “True Blood” returns for a new season which we hope is better than the last one . . .
- We also have to admit we have a thing for Callie Thorne (see her below). You’ll remember her as McNulty’s ex-wife in “The Wire,” but she really caught our attention as one of Hank Moody’s casual hookups in Season 4 of “Californication.” Now she stars in “Necessary Roughness” and Will Harris got to speak with her and other cast members as they start season two.
- We traveled to Nashville to test drive the all-new Nissan Altima, which should be a real winner in its category, and we also reviewed the 2013 Chevy Malibu Eco. This week we’ll be heading out to Utah to drive the new Ford Mustang on a track!