Bullz-Eye’s TCA 2011 Winter Press Tour Wrap-Up: Kneel Before Oprah!

The TCA Winter Press Tour is an event which never quite seems to live up to the TCA Summer Press Tour…but, then, that stands to reason, as the mid-season series rarely match the ones which hit the airwaves in the fall, right? Still, the experience never fails to be one which I enjoy, mostly because you never know what’s going to be around the corner, and Day 1 really set the stage for that: during the course of 12 hours, I interviewed Betty White, Henry Rollins, and Bruce Jenner, and, thanks to National Geographic, I wore a giant snake around my neck. Not a bad way to begin things…

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Winter 2011 TCA Press Tour: Day 11 – or – The Day The Tour Ended

As I start this write-up of the final day of the Winter 2011 TCA Press Tour, it actually still is the final day of the Winter 2011 TCA Press Tour. Normally, I don’t start these things until the next day, after everything that’s going to happen has happened, but the last panel of the tour wrapped at around 2 PM PST, so as far as I’m concerned, I’m officially off-duty. The only thing left for me to do is pack my bags, grab some food, have a few drinks with friends, and catch my shuttle to LAX…and, yet, I thought about it and decided, “Since I’ve actually got the time to do it, maybe I should go ahead and write up the last few panels before I ever leave Pasadena.”

Makes sense, right? That way, there’ll be nothing hanging over my head to finish when I get home, and I can enjoy at least a day or two of much-needed downtime.

Unfortunately, none of the transcripts are online yet, so you won’t be getting any exact quotes unless the fine folks in the transcription department manage to get them knocked out between now and 2:00 AM (that’s when I have to head down to the lobby), so you’ll just have to make do with a few random recollections for now, and I’ll play catch-up when I’m home, rested, and ready to write again.

Even before John Landgraf took the time to do a teleconference with TV critics to explain why FX had to cancel “Terriers,” I’ve thought he was one of the nicest and most approachable network presidents. Mind you, I blame this really just on one experience with him, when he made good on a promise to reveal the producer who was working on a rewrite of FX’s “Powers” pilot (Kevin Falls, who may or may not still be involved at this point), but the “Terriers” move was a classy one that just helped to underline how I already felt. He sounds hopeful that “Lights Out” won’t follow the same path in the ratings as “Terriers,” and, boy, so do I. I’ve seen the first five episodes of the show already, and I’m loving it.

Next up was Louis CK, who couldn’t have sounded more grateful about the way the critics have embraced his series…but, then, he was probably already beaming from the praise that had just been heaped on him by Landgraf in his introduction. We didn’t really get much of an idea what to expect from Season 2, which stands to reason, since he hasn’t even started production yet. The funniest moment came when FX exec John Solsberg invited all of the critics in the audience to visit the set, something which clearly hadn’t been mention to Louie, who shot him a tremendous “what the fuck?” look.

Even after talking to Elijah Wood at the Fox party the other night, I still couldn’t quite wrap my head around what to expect from his new sitcom, “Wilfred,” about a man who, when he looks at his neighbor’s dog, sees a man in a dog suit who talks in an Australian accent. (It’s based on an Australian series, with the same actor – Jason Gann – playing the dog in both.) Having now seen the pilot, though, I was rather surprised to find myself laughing a lot. It’s absolutely as ridiculous as it sounds, but Gann is hysterical, so I’m now curious to see if it’s going to be more than just a one-off. Of the panel, I really just have one immediate observation: Fiona Gubelmann is cute as a button and has legs that go on for miles.

The last of FX’s panels was for “Justified,” but even with a huge panel, I couldn’t help but notice one face missing: Elmore Leonard, the author responsible for creating the character of Marshall Raylan Givens. As it turns out, he’s been so inspired by the show that he’s now in the middle of writing a brand new novel entitled…you guessed it…Raylan. In his absence, though, Leonard offered a statement in which he raved about the show, particularly the performance of Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens. Funnily enough, though, Olyphant wasn’t asked a question until well into the proceedings, a fact which he noted with mock indignation. (“It’s like they got together and said, ‘Hey, nobody ask Walt (Goggins) or Tim a question. Fuck those guys. Fuck those guys. Nobody say anything to them.’”) I really need to finish catching up on this show before Season 2 kicks off, because I love all that I’ve seen thus far.

After FX’s panel, the network provided us with a free lunch, along with the opportunity to chat with several stars of the shows. I had ridiculously bad timing whenever it came to trying to grab members of the “Wilfred” cast for interviews, but I was pleasantly surprised to see Holt McCallany, who plays Patrick “Lights” Leary on “Lights Out.” Fantastic guy, and we had a really nice conversation about the show and how his character develops over the course of the episodes I’ve seen thus far. He swears the best is yet to come.

Okay, kids, I’m tired of waiting for the transcripts to come in, so I’m…

Dammit! That’s what I get for checking: they all just came in at once. Okay, fine, I’ll offer up a few quotes to close up my coverage. I hope you’ve enjoyed getting my perceptions of this strange event known as the TCA Press Tour. Stay tuned for my final wrap-up sometime soon…and look for further adventures during the 2011 Summer TCA Press Tour!

“What I felt about ‘Terriers’ was that the audience that was watching it, which included many of you and hundreds of thousands, actually, ultimately, in total viewers, millions of people at home, I knew they were going to be really disappointed it wasn’t moving forward, and I thought that they deserved as clear an explanation I could give them as to why it wasn’t, and a chance for you, as their representatives, to sort of have at me and ask why isn’t it coming back and for me to explain myself. I don’t know why networks haven’t done that before. I’ve never done it before. And I guess maybe it’s just that I’m now coming up on seven years in this job. And in seven years, you have some great successes and moments of exultation, and you have bragging rights, and then you have some failures. And I think you just get used to the rhythms of both in your work and eventually you get to the point where you’re capable of embracing your failures, learning from them, and talking about them. I think most programming executives are just fundamentally too insecure or too defensive to get to that point. And maybe I’m just old enough and I’ve been doing it long enough that I can take that tag.

“I think there’s always been a disconnect, unfortunately, between audience taste and critical acclaim. I think in those rare circumstances where you all have near unanimity and are willing to stand up on a table and shout, ‘This is the greatest show of all time,’ I think you guys can move the needle. But I think the reality is that you disagree with each other most of the time. Unanimity is rare, and most of you don’t feel you want to stand up on a table and shout even if you like a show, so you have to raise a huge din. You did raise a huge din on ‘Mad Men,’ and what that did — ‘Mad Men’ has become, by our analysis, literally the most critically acclaimed series in the history of television. (You have) taken it from a dismal ratings failure to ratings mediocrity.” – John Landgraf

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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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“New Moon” and “The Blind Side” to have repeat box office bout

With a number of mostly rather underwhelming looking new films debuting this post-Thanksgiving/pre full-Christmas insanity week in medium-to-wide-release, box office pros like jolly Carl DiOrio of The Hollywood Reporter and Variety‘s Pamela McClintock appear to agree pretty strongly that the battle this week will once again be between the romantic monsters of Summit’s “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” and the football loving Red State good Samaritans of Warners’ “The Blind Side.” Considering that, as I wrote about last Sunday, “New Moon” dropped by 70% in its second last week while “The Blind Side” actually grew without the benefit of a major expansion — something I’ve never seen in the entire time I’ve been writing these posts — my money’s on the Sandra Bullock feel-good drama.

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Of the four new releases said to be appearing in 1,000 to 2,000+ theaters this weekend, the most promising, both artistically and commercially, is “Brothers,”  a remake of a widely acclaimed Afghanistan war-themed 2005 drama from Denmark. Distributed by Lionsgate, the movie is an intense love triangle involving the not-actually-dead young Afghanistan war vet played by Tobey Maguire, his not-actually-a-widow played by Natalie Portman, and his black sheep brother, Jake Gyllenhaal — who looks so much like a brother to Maguire that he once is supposed to have nearly replaced him in one of the “Spiderman” sequels.  (If they worked Elijah Wood into the cast, they would have achieved the baby-faced, raspy-voiced star trifecta.)

Director Jim Sheridan of “My Left Foot,” “In the Name of the Father,” and “In America” has a real flair for intense tales that dance around the edges of melodrama and then sometimes dive right in. The one-two-three punch of the very well known youngish stars would make you think this should come in with a decent amount of money — at least in the double digits. However, considering the growing news and controversy around the Afghanistan war, the topic might be a bit too timely for audience tastes. Also, a film like this should probably should at least crack 70% on the Tomatometer, especially, but hitting it of with something  in the neighborhood of 5060% of critics will have to do. Worse reviewed films have received Oscar nominations, however.

Robert De Niro in Next up is another remake of a foreign language hit, this time of an Italian comedy-drama/tearjerker from 1990 that starred the great Marcello Mastroianni and was directed by Giuseppe Tornatore of “Cinema Paradiso.” (Not at all a favorite of mine, by the way.) Disney’s PG-13 “Everybody’s Fine” brings us Robert De Niro as a widower trying to reconnect with his children and grandchildren and costars Drew Barrymore, Kate Beckinsale, and Sam Rockwell. A sentimental tale for the holidays with this kind of star power should have some wattage in theory, though  apparently the “tracking” is kind of stinking for this film which isn’t really wowing the critics either. Our own Jason Zingale liked it mainly on the strength of DeNiro’s performance but this one feels like the movie you settle for if grandma, or maybe great-grandma, wants to see something nice and you can’t get into the “The Blind Side.”

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The Scream Awards go down the rabbit hole (updated)

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There was a time in this world when young people were frequently slightly ashamed of being bigger than average fans of horror, science fiction, fantasy, and especially comic books. I, personally, wasn’t embarrassed …and I paid a price. Those days may be over. In any case, the capacity crowd that showed up for Spike TV’s Scream awards, largely in costume and largely dramatically over- or under-dressed for a nighttime outdoor show after a very warm day, seemed more like club kids and less like the kind of uber geeks who become entertainment bloggers and film critics and stuff like that.

The Scream Awards are, in their fun/silly way, a big deal. Big enough to attract a good number of stars and even a few superstars like Tobey Maguire, Jessica Alba, Morgan Freeman, Harrison Ford, Johnny Depp and his living legend “Pirates of the Caribbean” muse, Rolling Stone Keith Richard.

I, however, am not such a big deal and was reminded of that fact when, prior to the show I found myself with the less fashionable members of the not-quite paparazzi on the “red carpet” (actually a checkered walkway) with my little digital camera and even smaller digital recorder device, wondering whether I’d really get a chance to ask a question of one of the super-famed folks, knowing that the only question I could think of at the time would be something in the nature of “What’s it like be the most notorious rock and roll star in the world, having your blood changed, and snorting your late father’s ashes?” That probably would have been inappropriate, especially if I asked it of Jessica Alba.

What actually seems to happen at events like this is that, if you’re a small-timer especially, most of the big stars either go through another entrance or walk right by you at warp speed. Meanwhile, folks who are a bit more anxious to meet the press find their way to you with the help of PR types. As an example, for about half a second, I was almost able to talk with actor Karl Urban, who did such a great job homaging DeForest Kelly while putting his own hilarious stamp on “Bones” McCoy in “Star Trek.” However, within a nanosecond he remembered he was in a big hurry and politely scurried off.

After a few odd reality show people I didn’t recognize, and the pretty young actress who assays the part of “Female Addict” in “Saw VI,” our first actual notable was statuesque model turned actress Tricia Helfer. Helfer is, make no mistake, a true superstar to TV sci-fi fans and is best known as Number Six, aka “the hot blonde cylon” on “Battlestar Galactica.” The actress appeared with her significant other, the owner of a British accent and a Giaus Baltar-style beard, but I’m sure that’s a total coincidence. I had a not terribly consequential discussion with her — lost because I apparently forgot to press the “on” button on my digital recorder. One would expect no less an effect from Number Six. UPDATE: Yeesh! As pointed out by my PH compatriot John Paulsen, the actress was actually Kate Vernon, who played the lady-MacBeth-like Ellen Tigh. It is true, all statueseque blonde women in shiny dresses look alike to me! My apologies to all concerned or unconcerned.

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