Bullz-Eye’s TCA 2010 Summer Press Tour Wrap-Up: From the Big Bang to the Jersey Shore

He’s back.

That’s right, the summer 2010 press tour of the Television Critics Association – that’s TCA to you, see? – has come and gone, leaving in its wake a piece that I love to compile but hate to finish. It’s just that kind of experience: there’s always something else to write about.

I know I say this every time, so you’d think my mindset on the tour would’ve changed by now, but I still continue to get excited when I fly to California and spend the better part of two weeks ensconced in a hotel, watching and listening as closely as possible (which, admittedly, isn’t often as closely as I’d like) to various stars, directors, producers, and writers as they do a dog and pony show to promote their program. I know they get sick of it sometimes, but for my part, I still haven’t. I spend the better part of 48 weeks of the year in Chesapeake, VA, a place where I do not regularly cross paths with the people that you see on your TV screen. As such, I remain excited about the opportunity to participate in these ridiculously cool opportunities, and I still feel like I have to share the experience with you, the reader, lest they begin to seem normal to me.

It’s not normal.

It’s the TCA press tour.

And trust me, unless you’re actually in show business, life doesn’t get much less normal than this.

Most entertaining panel by a broadcast network: “Circus,” PBS. Given the subject matter of the series – yes, it really is about the circus, specifically what it’s like to be part of a traveling circus in 2010 – it wasn’t entirely surprising that the panel kicked off with acrobat Christian Stoinev demonstrating some of his gymnastic abilities, but that didn’t make his performance any less impressive.

Plus, he earned bonus points for incorporating a cute little dog named Scooby into the act, who jumped onto Stoinev’s butt, strolled down his back, sat on his feet, and looked as calm as possible as Stoinev balanced semi-precariously on his parallel bars.

Most entertaining panel by a cable network: “Kids in the Hall: Death Comes to Town,” IFC. When I walked into the ballroom and found that we’d all received autographed DVDs of the Kids’ latest endeavor, I thought, “Can it get any better than this?” (I’m a sucker for anything autographed.) Indeed, it could, as the Kids – minus Mark McKinney, who’d been called back to Canada because of a family emergency – held court and kept us in stitches.

Some of my favorite moments:

QUESTION: How long had it been since you had cross-dressed professionally before (“Death Comes to Town”), and was that sort of a difficult readjustment for any of you?
SCOTT THOMPSON: Define “professionally.”
QUESTION: With a large crew.
SCOTT THOMPSON: Oh.
DAVE FOLEY: Not just any exchange of money.
BRUCE McCULLOCH: So if you shoot porn with a small crew, that wouldn’t count…?
KEVIN McDONALD: That’s not cross-dressing professionally.
DAVE FOLEY: Yeah. If you put on a nice shirt and give a handjob at the bus station, that still is professional.
SCOTT THOMPSON: Yes, it is.
BRUCE McCULLOCH: And by “handjob,” we mean “Bible reading,” as we like The Bible.

* Dave Foley on the audience response to Scott Thompson’s cancer being in remission: “I’m getting a sense that a lot of these people are on the cancer side. Well, I hope you are proud of yourselves. ‘Oh, dammit, not another one beating cancer. Poor cancer. When will people learn to love cancer?'”

* Scott Thompson: “I had a much easier time making (‘Death Comes to Town’), even though I was fighting cancer, than I did with ‘Brain Candy,’ honestly. It was tougher to fight Paramount. Because, at least with cancer, you can win.”

QUESTION: Do you find that people, when they see you, wanted to just squash your head? Because, like, I’m sitting here, like, resisting.
DAVE FOLEY: Yeah, a lot of time it has no reference to that gesture. It’s people actually want to crush our heads.
KEVIN McDONALD: The first apartment I ever moved to in Los Angeles, 1996, I was in bed the first night, and a couple were having a fight in the floor above me. And he was crying, “I’m going to crush your head,” and I thought they were fans, but it turned out they weren’t.
DAVE FOLEY: Yeah, it was a bloody homicide.
KEVIN McDONALD: It was a bloody homicide, yes.
DAVE FOLEY: But still, you felt flattered.
KEVIN McDONALD: But still, I felt flattered.

* When asked about their current relationship with Lorne Michaels, who introduced them to the U.S., McCulloch said, “I watch him get a haircut once a year when I go to ‘Saturday Night Live,'” while Foley claimed, “I chill his Amstel Light.” (“And drink it,” added McDonald.)

* Kevin McDonald made the bold choice of using the word “guff” at one point, receiving no end of ridicule from his fellow Kids. “It’s a tough word,” said McCulloch,”I know it’s tough to hear.” Thompson gasped and shrieked, “You said ‘guff‘!” Foley, however, offered a practical solution to the assembled journalists. “You can put asterisks in that. Just G-asterisk-asterisk-asterisk for your print,” he said, adding, “Of course, you online media people can just change it to ‘fuck.’”

* “Death Comes to Town” was filmed in North Bay, ON, but Foley said that it was a rarity for locals to come up and acknowledge their recognition of the Kids. “Canadians don’t do that,” explained Thompson. “Yeah,” agreed Foley. “They’d just come up and start talking to you like they knew you. You know, you would be in the grocery store, and somebody would just come up behind you and say, ‘Special K is marked down today. I’m getting the Special K as well. What are you doing later, Dave?’ And that was how you knew they recognized you.”

* The miniseries features Foley playing “the kindly old town abortionist,” which made it a bit difficult to scout for locations. Foley said that they had to keep making up stuff to tell the people of North Bay, saying things like, “Yeah, this scene, it’s a gynecologist’s office,” or “Oh, it’s an obstetrician’s office.” Or, as Scott Thompson claimed, “It’s a very bad day care.” At this, the crowd of critics erupted with a mixture of boos and laughs. “That was good,” Thompson assured us. “That was bad,” Foley assured him. At this, Thompson nodded, grinned, and admitted, “Very bad.”

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More Boris K.

I’m not quite sure I did the great Boris Karloff justice with the clip I selected earlier this evening. Below, therefore, I’m putting some later career highlights of the great character actor who managed to play some of the nastiest monsters and villains of his era in innumerable films while also being considered one of the nicest guys in Hollywood. (Apparently that little girl he threw in the lake in “Bride of Frankenstein” couldn’t get enough of him, even in full monster make-up.)

First, some of Karloff’s very cool introductory remarks from Mario Bava’s multistory horror flick, “Black Sabbath” — which not only gave Ozzy Osbourne’s seminal heavy metal its name but also was reportedly part of the inspiration, structurally at least, for “Pulp Fiction.”

More videos after the flip!

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Post-Turkey Day film news bites

A few items as Hollywood finishes digesting its turkey and stuffing.

* Paramount has picked up “Area 51,” the science fiction follow-up to the ridiculously profitable “Paranormal Activity” from writer-director Oren Peli. Somewhat to my disappointment, this one will also use the “found footage” gimmick, though I guess we can assume that with an exponentially larger budget — $5 million (about enough to pay for craft services on some films) as opposed to $15,000 — Peli will at least attempt to spread his wings creatively. One reason to give him props, however, is that the film has already wrapped principal photography. We can’t accuse the Israel-born former video game designer of failing to strike while the iron’s hot!

Matt Damon and Julia Styles in * It appears that The Playlist broke the story that it appears that the very talented Paul Greengrass has left the helm of “Bourne 4” and if he goes, Matt Damon may not be far behind. Still, at this point it’s a tale without an ending in more ways than one

* Kim Masters considers “Avatar” and Robert Zemeckis’s motion capture and 3-D work as featured currently in “A Christmas Carol.” To me, they’re creatively too different beasts in that James Cameron‘s creations aren’t trying so hard to be realistic, which I think is the real reason for the “ugly” problem with the creator of Roger Rabbit’s more recent work. As for the “Avatar” characters, I’m not sure I’m going to love them yet, either, but we’ll see when the movie’s out. I’m also not at all sure that movies need to be revolutionized in quite this way.

* Over at Film Threat, Gary Morris of the highbrowish Bright Lights Film Journal is interviewed. Among the topics: interviews like this one. Don’t fear the meta. (H/t The Auteurs on Twitter.)

* It technically ended yesterday, but the Boris Karloff Blogathon, hosted where else but at Frankensteinia, lives on with tons of material still coming in submitted by innumerable bloggers about the late, great character actor who originated the role of Frankenstein’s monster in 1931. Definitely worth many looks.

The vocal there is quite obviously reconstructed using the original recording by Bobby “Boris” Pickett. If you want to hear the actual vocal from the 1965 episode of “Shindig” featuring the real Boris Karloff, you may hear it here.

  

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Take that Kyle Smith! A very special movie moment

I could go on and on and on about how stupid I think Kyle Smith’s attempted take-down of the entire Harry Potter series is. But, rather than go on at length with thoughts about how anyone who writes for the mendacious New York Post should think several times before discussing morality in culture, I’ll simply go with a Harry Potter-inspired fantasy movie moment I forgot to include over the weekend.

This one is from perhaps my favorite Roger Corman film, the relatively lavish 1963 B-picture, “The Raven.” Much more a comedy/dark fantasy than a horror film, and only tangentially related to the Edgar Allen Poe poem, it is written by the great horror/fantasy writer Richard Matheson (the novel I Am Legend, both the book and the film “Somewhere in Time,” and innumerable “Twilight Zone” episodes) and featured three of the true greats of old school horror typecasting: Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, and (sadly not featured in this video) Peter Lorre. An extremely young Jack Nicholson is also on hand in the kind of bland, male ingenue roles that helped him to consider writing as a career.

I guess this might be the closest the movies have come to Harry vs. Voldemort until the second “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallow’s: Part II.” Of course, since I haven’t read the final Potter novel yet, for all I know they settle the whole thing on page 1 with card tricks and an applause meter.

  

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Harvey and Quentin, Oscar, Michael’s good night (and more bad reviews), Doug J., Guillermo, and Frankenstein

As I prepare to dive back into LAFF, I’ve got some quick items with a mostly geek-friendly bent to keep y’all satisified.

* Remember those reports that latter day mogul Harvey Weinstein was pressuring Quentin Tarantino to shorten “Inglourious Basterds”? Well, Harvey’s back to tell you they were all BS, and he’s not bothering with the initials.

* The Academy has surprised just about everyone by announcing that this year’s Best Picture category will double from the usual five nominees to ten, as it was in days very long past. Nikki Finke, aka the $14 million blogger, is displeased, and she might have a point. Personally, I love the Oscars, but anyone who thinks that awards are any particular indicator of absolute quality is, well, kinda dumb. It’s all wonderful hookum and self-promotion to me, though its possible this is too much of a good thing.

* Michael Bay’s “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” had a fine opening midnight indeed. And IFC’s David Hudson shows how he’s allowing some critics a fine target, as well, including the fanboy film friendly folks at AICN.

* The very talented actor Doug Jones, a friend of a friend who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a couple of times, is probably the most famous man in Hollywood who’s almost never recognized. That’s because most of his acting is done in heavy disguise, but the man behind the Silver Surfer, Hellboy’s pal Abe Sapien, and two of the funkiest monsters in film history from the fantasy-horror masterpiece “Pan’s Labyrinth” is being kept busy by his frequent boss, “Pan”/”Hellboy” director and all-around cool guy Guillermo del Toro. The latest from an interview with Sci-Fi Wire is that Jones is scheduled to play the monster in “Frankenstein” in a new version to come along in about five years, right after del Toro has a chance to finish his work on the two scheduled “Hobbit” films.

The voluble and often hilarious del Toro is easily the premier monster film maker of our time, and the fact that he is turning to Mary Shelley’s proto-monster tale with Jones is exciting news indeed. If anyone can step into James Whales’ shoes comfortably it’s the guy who once told Terry Gross that, much as Christians accept Jesus as their personal savior, at an early age he accepted monsters into his heart. And, anyone whose seen Jones’ work knows he’s perhaps the only human alive who can make those huge Frankenboots first inhabited by the great Boris Karloff his very own. This one could be a spiritual experience.

  

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