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Red carpet chatter with some folks from “Backwash”

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If, like me, you grew up a weird kid compulsively watching the Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy and, yes and alas, the Three Stooges, then you might well enjoy “Backwash,” an enjoyably dippy web series with its final episode to be uploaded on Crackle this Monday night, December 20. The series stars Joshua Malina, who also wrote it, as the grumpy and conniving Val, who is, for whatever reason, charged with the care of the childlike and lovably idiotic Jonesy (Michael Panes). When they accidentally rob a bank with a sausage — you kind of have to be there — and hook up with a flamboyant ice cream truck driver, Fleming (Michael Ian Black, who I was unable to nab for a quick interview), the on-the-lamb trio begins a cross-country odyssey of sorts.

The enjoyably lowbrow but sometimes surreal silliness is book-ended by introductions from a rogues gallery of comic and acting talent, the funniest being a mysteriously bearded Jon Hamm, Allison Janney, John Cho, Dulé Hill, and Sarah Silverman. Somehow, Victorian author William Makepeace Thackeray is maligned as being the originally author of this more or less contemporary travesty lovingly directed by Danny Leiner, who also helmed “Harold and Kumar Go to Whitecastle.”

It was my privilege to chat with with some of the actors and creators of “Backwash” at the theatrical premiere of a somewhat shortened feature-length version of the web series. I started with Josh Malina, an actor I’ve been rather fond of since I stumbled over “Sports Night,” the show that convinced me that the writer of “The Social Network” was something more than an entertainingly glib semi-hack, actually a lot more.

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It’s the end of week movie news dump — now, with fewer items!

There really hasn’t been all that much interesting movie news this week, but things have definitely heated up just in the last few hours. Specifically…

* Via Quint at AICN, “The Hobbit” two-movie package has been officially greenlit, with Peter Jackson directing. It’s a good thing because I was really getting tired of those “it’s just about greenlit” “it’s almost greenlit” “no, it’s actually not quite greenlit because of MGM being on the block, nothing to see here” rinse-and-repeat stories. I don’t even care if Nikki Finke and Mike Fleming want to claim a “toldja” on this or how many casting rumors they’re repeating, just make the damn movies already.

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Oh, but first, they’ve got to solve the previously reported issues with SAG and AFTRA. As a good liberal I’m very pro-union and I think that anyone who thinks we’d be better off without unions should be immediately transported to a smokey factory in 19th century London and asked to work a 72 hour week without overtime pay. However, like all the other geeks, I nevertheless think SAG and AFTRA are probably overreaching here and are singling out the movie because of its high profile.

* A related story is also a classic example of an unpleasant news item arriving late on a Friday night in an attempt to bury it. The highly regarded executive Mary Parent — beloved of Joss Whedon fans for giving both the “Buffy” TV and the “Serenity” movie gigs — is officially out at MGM.

* The king of the world is supposedly flirting with making a movie about the queen of the world — not Oprah, but Cleopatra. Angelina Jolie is already set to star in a project that’s already sounding to me as bloated as the wildly over budget 1963 production, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, that nearly bankrupted Fox — despite being the year’s most successful movie (despite being a movie that almost no one likes today).

* It always tempting to make jokes about the porn industry, but HIV is no joke and there’s been an outbreak of it, so far limited to one on-screen sex worker. Is the site of a condom really that much of a boner buzz-kill?

* David Chase is reuniting with musical genius Steven Van Zandt, who played helmet-haired Silvio Dante on “The Sopranos,” as his music supervisor and is taking on a cast of more-or-less unknowns on his planned feature musical drama. This one I’m looking forward to. Before getting his start writing some of the best episodes ever of “The Rockford Files,” Chase was and presumably still is influenced largely by European art films.

BTW, if you’ve never heard Van Zandt’s great radio show and you like rock and roll, you’re missing something. Also, Mr. Van Zandt should be remembered as a human rights hero for his involvement with this great piece of pop music protest.

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Psyched for the premiere of HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire”?

If you’re not now, then you will be after checking out these videos which the network has kindly provided in order to help build the already-considerable buzz about the show.

America in 1920: The Great War was over, Wall Street was about to boom and everything was for sale, even the World Series. It was a time of change when women got the vote, broadcast radio began and young people ruled the world. From Terence Winter, Emmy Award-winning writer of “The Sopranos” and Academy Award-winning director Martin Scorsese, “Boardwalk Empire” is set in Atlantic City at the dawn of Prohibition, when the sale of alcohol became illegal throughout the United States. The new HBO drama series kicks off its 12-episode season Sunday, Sept. 19, at 9:00 PM EST / PST.

On the beach in southern New Jersey sat Atlantic City, a spectacular resort known as “The World’s Playground,” a place where the rules didn’t apply. Massive hotels lined its famous Boardwalk, which featured nightclubs, amusement piers and entertainment that rivaled Broadway. For a few dollars, a working man could get away and live like a king – legally or illegally. The undisputed ruler of Atlantic City was the town’s treasurer, Enoch “Nucky” Thompson (Steve Buscemi), a political fixer and backroom dealer who was equal parts politician and gangster and equally comfortable in either role. Because of its strategic location on the seaboard, the town was a hub of activity for rum-runners, minutes from Philadelphia, hours from New York City and less than a day’s drive from Chicago. And Nucky Thompson took full advantage. Along with his brother Elias (Shea Whigham), the town’s sheriff, and a crew of ward bosses and local thugs, Nucky carved out a niche for himself as the man to see for any illegal alcohol. He was an equal-opportunity gangster, doing business with Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg), “Big Jim” Colosimo (Frank Crudele), “Lucky” Luciano (Vincent Piazza) and Al Capone (Stephen Graham).

As “Boardwalk Empire” begins, Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt), Nucky’s former protégé and driver, returns home from the Great War, eager to get ahead and reclaim his rightful place in Nucky’s organization. But when Jimmy feels things aren’t moving quickly enough, he takes matters into his own hands, forming a deadly alliance with associates of Nucky’s that sets the Feds, led by Agent Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon), on his mentor’s tail. Complicating matters further is Nucky’s burgeoning relationship with Margaret Schroeder (Kelly Macdonald) a woman in an abusive marriage whom he tries to help. The show also stars Michael Kenneth Williams as Chalky White, leader of the city’s African-American community; Dabney Coleman as Commodore Louis Kaestner, Nucky’s mentor; Paz de la Huerta as Nucky’s girlfriend Lucy; Aleksa Palladino as Angela, Jimmy Darmody’s Bohemian girlfriend and mother of their three-year-old son; Paul Sparks as Mickey Doyle; Anthony Laciura as Eddie Kessler; and Gretchen Mol as Gillian, a local showgirl with whom Nucky shares a long and complicated history.

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TV in the 2000s: The Shows that Defined the Decade

A recent issue of Time magazine has the phrase “The Decade from Hell” emblazoned across its front cover. It’s referring to everything America has gone through in the past ten years, and it’s difficult to argue such an assertion: it’s been a shitty decade on a national level. During such times of stress, people inevitably turn to entertainment as a form of release, and although the methods in which we’ve distracted ourselves over the last ten years have unquestionably diversified, television remains the most easily accessible outlet for most Americans.

Within the format itself, the whole concept of reality TV must surely have been the biggest revolution of the decade. It’s really easy to bag on reality TV – mostly because the bulk of it is so damned unreal – but anybody who spends any time in front of the tube has surely had at least a couple of reality series they consider appointment TV. The two concepts that paved the way for everything else are undoubtedly “Survivor” and “American Idol.” The former, of course, opened the floodgates for the genre, and while it’s seen a considerable dip in the ratings department over the years, 12 million viewers isn’t a viewing figure to sneeze at. The latter, despite all the bitching and moaning and cries of “it’s not as good as it used to be” that accompany each new season, remains one of the most watched shows on the tube, likely due to the fact that it’s strictly a talent competition.

On “American Idol,” the only backstabbers are the judges, and since they aren’t part of the competition, their amusing duplicity is championed. The contestants, on the other hand, are innocents, and once the competition is underway, we’re given no peek into any possible backstage drama, which is a good thing, because by the time the audition rounds are over, we’ve had enough drama to last the whole season. Everything that comes after is all about who can best transfix us for three minutes a week via one pop ditty. It actually says something positive about the U.S. that “American Idol” remains our #1 form of reality entertainment, even if the actual reality is that the vast majority of Americans couldn’t care less about buying the winner’s album six months after they’re crowned.

You might think reality TV is a bunch of crap, and in most cases you’d be right, but the whole idea of it, to my mind, led to an important revolution, and that is serialized nighttime television (the classic “soap” formula notwithstanding). Reality shows taught viewers how to become invested in characters, how to be concerned for their eventual fate, and, most importantly, how to pay attention to an ongoing storyline, and the need to tune in every week. It didn’t take long for the networks to figure out that there was an audience for shows that didn’t continually hit the reset button. “24” must have been the first successful show of the decade to embrace the serial formula, and it embraced it whole hog. It required you to tune in for every episode, because each installment was another hour of a single day in the life of Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer. That “24” premiered less than two months after the terrorist attacks on 9/11 was pure happenstance. That it became enormously popular with viewers? Probably not so much. America needed some fictitious reassurance that there were folks on the job who could get shit done, and “24” filled the prescription.

Strangely, “24” didn’t open the network floodgates for more such programming right away. It took a few years, and then “Lost” made its mark. The number of “Lost” episodes I’ve seen could be counted on two hands, but that’s not because I didn’t like it, but because real life got in the way of it being appointment TV. Yet I viewed the pilot for “Lost” several months before its 2004 premiere, and when it ended I was convinced that I’d seen the second best TV pilot ever made. (“Twin Peaks” stills sits at #1.) The fact that a show as intricate as “Lost” still has a hardcore, central audience is perhaps a testament to that pilot. “24” started a new story with each new season; “Lost” required that you tune in for every episode of every season.

Another sci-fi series that did just that was “Battlestar Galactica,” a show that, due it being on a niche network (Syfy), never amassed a huge audience yet snagged boatloads of publicity and awareness nonetheless. It was no small feat to take an utterly laughable short-lived series from the late ‘70s and re-envision it for modern audiences, but Ron Moore and company did just that…and they did it far more successfully that anyone ever guessed possible. Most amazingly, the show taught us a lot about ourselves, by thoroughly defining what it means to be human, and as the damaged ‘00s dragged on, there may not have been a more important lesson to be learned.

On the same day I saw the “Lost” pilot, I saw another pilot for a completely different kind of series. While I didn’t rank it as one of the greats, there was one thing I was sure of: it would be a massive hit…and it was. “Desperate Housewives” was precisely the sort of vapid, soapy fare that had been absent for far too long on American TV. It clued into the seemingly bland suburban construct which surrounds so many Americans, via the Lynchian notion that “all is not what it seems.” Most anyone who lives a suburban life can no doubt relate to that idea, because wherever there are groups of people, there are bound to be some of them that are fucked up. “Housewives” is littered with fucked up suburbanites of all shapes, sizes and types, but they’re kooky and funny and there’s always some twinkly music playing in the background that in the end makes everything OK. It is not great television, but over the years it has, for the most part, been immensely watchable in the most disposable sort of way.

Around the same time period as “Housewives,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” made some major waves. It’s a series I have never watched and never plan to, but I’d be foolish to omit it from discussion since it brought two annoyingly obnoxious terms to the TV table: McDreamy and McSteamy. I haven’t heard either in a few years, but there was a time when they seemed to define everything that was wrong with television. I assume “Grey’s” fans have grown out of it…or maybe the show killed one of those guys off? I’ve no idea and can’t be motivated to investigate. Presently, there’s a brand new version of it going around, through cinema, via Camp Edward and Camp Nimrod. People can be so easily distracted it makes you wonder why some shows actually try harder.

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Sons of Anarchy 2.2 – Small Tears

After the events of last week’s episode, it didn’t seem like Kurt Sutter was going to waste any time in getting to the showdown between the Sons of Anarchy and the Neo-Nazis, but when I actually had the time to sit down and think about it, I wondered if Gemma would actually tell Clay about what happened to her. Fast-forward a couple of days to tonight’s episode, and sure enough, Gemma is keeping mum on the subject. For the time being, the only people that know about Gemma’s attack are Wayne and Tara, and even they don’t know who was responsible. She’s made them swear not to tell anyone else, either, and in order to cover it up, Wayne wrecks Gemma’s car to make it look like she was in a crash. It’s only a matter of time before Clay finds out, however, because she’s acting really vulnerable around him, and he’s gotta know that someone as headstrong as Gemma wouldn’t be that shaken up over something like a car crash.

If nothing else, Gemma has certainly succeeded in pissing off Charming’s newest residents – namely AJ, who can’t believe that Gemma hasn’t told Clay the truth. When he runs back to tell Ethan (henceforth known as Mr. White) the bad news, Mr. White suggests they might have underestimated Gemma. Whether that means they’re going to attack her again remains unseen, but they’re definitely not about to give up after one failed attempt. In fact, Mr. White already has another plan in play (providing intel to the Mayans about a gun deal going down between the Sons and the One-Niners), though I have to think that goes against everything he believes in. After all, he didn’t tell AJ that he was working with them, and we already know his feelings on that subject matter.

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The shootout at the aforementioned gun deal happened as a result of Jax’s decision to pin the Mayan murder on the One-Niners, and though Clay wasn’t happy about it to begin with, he was doubly pissed when it resulted in Bobby taking a bullet to the shoulder. Jax’s reasoning for the frame-up was great (“Spur of the moment, seemed like the right thing. Sure you can understand.”), but I can’t help but feel like Clay still came out on top when it was all over. He really does seem to know what he’s doing when it comes to running the club, and though Jax is going to continue to crucify him for Donna’s death, he still needs to learn a few things before he takes over. Then again, it was going to end up badly for the Sons no matter what Jax did with the body, so he really had no choice.

Plus, he quickly redeemed himself by coming up with a new way for the club to make some extra cash. When Otto’s wife, Luanne, has to shut down her porn studio due to an investigation by ATF (no doubt ordered by Agent Stahl out of spite), a rival producer known for the sleazy treatment of his female stars (Tom Arnold) tries to steal Luanne’s girls. Jax and Co. effectively persuade him to back off with the help of some baseball bats, and in return, the Sons get a 50% stake in everything Luanne earns. It’s kind of a shit deal for her, but it’s better than what she was expecting when she agreed to meet Jax at the abandoned warehouse, to which he replied, “You think I brought you here to Adrianna you?”

Comparisons to “The Sopranos” be damned, it’s nice to see the writers have finally begun to embrace the similarities between their show and the former HBO hit. Casting Drea de Matteo was certainly a coup from the start, but this easily trumps her guest appearance any day of the week.

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