Winter 2011 TCA Press Tour: Top 10 Quotes from Day 3

Day 3 of the Winter 2011 TCA Press Tour ran me ragged, moreso than any day which preceded it and, I feel rather certain, than any day to follow. Very rarely has it ever come to pass that I schedule a day full of one-on-one interviews and have every single of them go off without a hitch, and you can probably already guess that yesterday wasn’t an exception to that rule. I should probably just be happy that I got some of them, though: the way things were looking, I wasn’t entirely convinced that I was going to get any of them.

The last day of the cable portion of the tour began with breakfast with the members of the Rainbow Networks: WEtv (“Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best” and “Braxton Family Values”), IFC (“Onion News Network” and “Portlandia”), and AMC (“The Killing”). Shifting ballrooms, we next listened to A&E (“Breakout Kings”) and Lifetime (“Seriously Funny Kids” and “Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy”), but…do you detect a trend here?…we soon moved back to the other ballroom to get the scoop on stuff from Hallmark (“Goodnight for Justice”) and Starz (“Camelot,” “Spartacus: Gods of the Arena,” and “Torchwood: Miracle Day”). Lastly, it was – oh, dear – back to the other ballroom again. This time, however, HBO kept us sitting still for the duration of the afternoon, giving us looks into “Mildred Pierce,” “The Pee-Wee Herman Show on Broadway,” “Cinema Verite,” “Game of Thrones,” “Too Big to Fail,” and “The Sunset Limited.”

My problem, however, was this: I had to keep bowing out of this panel and that in order to participate in various roundtables and one-on-one interviews. Worse, one of the roundtables – stand up, please, Tommy Lee Jones – was shifted from a perfect location on the schedule into a spot which utterly disrupted almost all of the interviews that followed. In the end, though, I did manage to participate in two roundtables for “Game of Thrones,” including one with author George R.R. Martin, I and two other writers sparred with Mr. Jones (surviving the encounter without having any of my questions ridiculed or dismissed outright has earned me some sort of entertainment journalism merit badge, I feel certain), and still managed to chat one-on-one with the too-sweet-for-words Eve Myles (“Torchwood: Miracle Day”) as well as John Hannah and Peter Mensah (“Spartacus: Gods of the Arena”).

The evening event was brought to us by Hallmark, and it took place at the Tournament House…as in the Tournament of Roses…in Pasadena. It was a pleasantly low-key event which began with cocktails and featured a classy sit-down dinner. What I’m saying, basically, is that it was old-school in all the right ways, including familiar TV faces like Doris Roberts, Marion Ross, and Marilu Henner, who regularly found herself holding court about her superior autobiographical memory. I also had an opportunity to sit down and chat with 11-year-old Kiernan Shipka, who plays Sally Draper on “Mad Men.” What a little sweetheart.

Okay, that’s it for the Day 3 wrap-up. Time for your daily dose of my favorite quotes…

1. “I knew that I was doing a lot of plastic surgery, because Melissa, one time, called me when (my grandson) Cooper was four years old and they had ‘Return of the Mummy,’ and he ran to the TV and went, ‘Grandma, Grandma.’ But I think plastic surgery come on, guys. You know. How many people have you interviewed…if you had a stitch for every if you had a dollar for every stitch in the face of someone you’ve interviewed, you wouldn’t be sitting here. You know what I mean? It’s part of our business.” – Joan Rivers, “Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best” (WEtv)

2. “It is literally impossible to be more ridiculous than Fox News or MSNBC. It’s actually impossible. It’s happened multiple times that we’ll be kind of talking and brainstorming a joke in the writers’ room, we’ll get excited about it, and then it’s literally on the FoxNews.com website. So I think we have to kind of embrace that closeness. And the excitement for us is not being a parody of 24-hour news, but we are real news. Those are our competitors in a kind of slightly different world, and I think that believability is also part of what’s exciting about it. We’ve had online cases where, for example, last year there was a case where we published a story about Neil Armstrong now saying that the moon landing was a hoax, and all these papers in Bangladesh picked it up. There was a story about the Make-A-Wish Foundation being bankrupted by a child who wishes for unlimited wishes, which is pretty out there. It went on MySpace, which is kind of the Internet hub for morons, and we got this letter from the Make-A-Wish Foundation that was, like, ‘We’re getting hundreds of e-mails every hour, people who are concerned.’ So how ridiculous those things are, I think, really kind of opens up a lot of doors for us.” – Will Graham, “Onion News Network” (IFC)

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A day at the TV Land Awards

Cast Of The Love Boat

The TV Land Awards are not an “and the winner is…” kind of award show extravaganza. They’re more a series of honorary nods to the very popular shows of television’s illustrious, time-killing past with an emphasis on glitz. And so a bunch of us media types were invited to add to the hub-bub at the Sony Studios back lot on a breezy April, waiting on a red carpet for whichever celebrity was escorted to our assigned spots, with those from famed print and broadcast outlets obviously getting the first dibs. In the case of this lowly pixel stained wretch, I felt honored to chat with a few really terrific performers who, each in their own way, had made quite an impression on me personally.

That most definitely applies to Jane Leeves, the comedically gifted actress best known as Daphne, Niles Crane’s Manchester-born one-true-crush and eventual wife from “Frasier.” After confessing that I’d had a crush of my own on her since before her famed “Seinfeld” turn as “Marla, the Virgin” her response was typically blunt-yet-charming. “I’m not that old!”

“Neither am I!,” I blurted. (I later learned that Ms. Leeves birthday was the following day. My own birthday was two days prior. I guess age was on both of our minds.)

Aside from being no non-TV star herself, Ms. Leeves was there to promote her now show, coincidentally to be aired on TV Land in a rare foray into original programming, “Hot in Cleveland.” The show teams Leeves with Wendy Malick (“Just Shoot Me”) and Valerie Bertinelli (“One Day at a Time”). The three play “very L.A.” career women with show business-related backgrounds of various types. (Leeves plays an “eyebrow plucker to the stars.”) Feeling a bit aged out of the L.A. game, they attempt a trip to Paris, but instead find themselves marooned at the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They quickly realize that beautiful, middle-aged women who can refer to celebrities by their first name are actually in fairly short supply in the midwestern metropolis and they decide to stay and be big fish in a smaller glamor pond. Betty White costars as a neighbor, perhaps a wacky one. Cue the glib comparisons calling this a “younger ‘Golden Girls.'”

Nevertheless, fans of Ms. Leeves should rest assured that her character is no retread of Daphne Moon. “She’s focused her whole life on her career and has forgotten to have a life. She’s the sort of smart aleck, wise-ass of the group, so it’s very different.”

janeleeves2

Then, perhaps feeling a bit star-struck, I went with the fallback question I frequently steal from our esteemed Will Harris. What project has she done that she doesn’t feel has gotten enough attention.

“It’s my cooking, quite frankly.”

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Early De Niro

I’m such a fan of Mel Brooks, that I’ve given short shrift to his fellow filmic Kennedy Center honoree, Robert De Niro. The show airs at 9:00 tonight (Eastern and Pacific), but in the meantime, here are a pair of key moments from 1973, when two performances in smaller films garnered De Niro a great deal of attention and some critic group awards, paving the way for his role in “The Godfather: Part II” and superstardom.

Bang the Drum Slowly” was a gentle, somewhat thin and corny, sports comedy-drama/tearjerker based on a book by Mark Harris. In it, Michael Moriarty portrays a seasoned major league baseball player who befriends a less successful teammate who is not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but who also has an incurable illness and whose only wish it to finish out the season. It’s far from a heavy-duty film and De Niro’s magnetic but ensemble-friendly performance is a million miles from the tortured or melodramatic tour de force you might expect. He also generates some extremely nice chemistry with Moriarity, a really outstanding actor in his own right who actually might have received nearly as much or more attention for this film than De Niro did. It also shows that De Niro has the ability to be one of the most hilariously lame dancers you’ll ever see at about 1:38.

Also, given that this is a Scorsese film about quasi-criminal characters in seventies Little Italy, the NSFW warning is somewhat in effect.

And in Martin Scorsese‘s third film and first masterpiece, “Mean Streets,” De Niro pretty much became the De Niro we know today, and I think this scene, which also features a young Harvey Keitel in the leading role as well as familiar-faces-to-be Richard Romanus and David Proval, makes that point about as clearly as possible.

  

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“Mel Brooks Begins”

You can see Mel Brooks collecting his Kennedy Center Honor from the president on television Tuesday night, but only right here on the Internet can you see the first ever film by one of the funniest men in movie history.

In this 1963 Oscar winning animated short subject, a cantankerous old Jewish man (voiced by Brooks, of course) watches an abstract/experimental short in the style of Canada’s Norman McLaren. It’s called, “The Critic.”

Brooks wrote this, of course, but the actual director and producer who handled the animation was Ernest Pintoff. Nevertheless, I think we can agree that it’s really Mel’s movie.

Just for fun, just a few years later, Mel shows off his mimicry skills to chat-show host Dick Cavett and then-celebrity critic Rex Reed. This clip gets gradually funnier as it goes, and the Frank Sinatra bit is kind of a gas.

  

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“Avatar” tops a weekend of holiday box office bounty

If you’ve been following the horse-race over at Nikki Finke’s place, you’ll know it’s been a very long holiday weekend of box office ups and down. However, for those of us who can wait a day or two for the results, it’s actually somewhat simple.

Avatar movie image (3)

James Cameron‘s super-expensive 3-D extravaganza for Fox, “Avatar,” emerged as the victor of a three-way battle for the top prize with an outstanding second-weekend estimated take of $75 million and an absolutely minuscule drop from it’s first weekend of 2.6%, according to Box-Office Mojo. The Hollywood conventional wisdom has it that most science fiction films drop by at least 50% on their second weekend. Clearly, this is not most science fiction films and the fact that people are waiting to see this one in 3D and paying extra for the privilege is not hurting. So, as I’ve alluded to often enough, the word of mouth on this thing is something else. However, as always, I await the backlash as some folks plunk down their extra-heavy 3D ticket price and fail to have a religious experience.

Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law as Holmes and Watson, or some version thereofSecond place, of course, was Guy Ritchie’s unorthodox action-comedy take on probably the oldest genre franchise in the biz, “Sherlock Holmes.” The Robert Downey, Jr./Jude Law team-up loosely drawn from the late 19th/early 20th century works of Arthur Conan Doyle defeated “Avatar” and all-comers on its record setting Christmas opening. It then fell a bit and earned a still whopping estimated $65.38 for Warner Brothers, a company that certainly has some experience with franchises. Better yet, this one is in the public domain, which means fewer folks get a share in the wealth.

Fox’s “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” actually beat “Avatar” by a couple of million on its early opening day last Wednesday, but fell sharply on Christmas Eve and rebounded the rest of the weekend, for a very healthy estimated third place showing of $50.2 million. Critics may detest it; parents may barely tolerate it, but, to paraphrase the old blues song, the little kids understand (or don’t know any better). The film’s total estimated take starting from its early opening is just a tad over $77 million.

Considering it’s a Golden Globe-nominated sex comedy presumably aimed at a very grown-up audience — not only because of the average age of its stars but also because it’s R-rated, Universal’s “It’s Complicated” has generated the critical equivalent of a shrug, with our own David Medsker coming down on the very much negative side. That doesn’t bode extremely well for this sort of movie, which can use all the critical and awards help it can get.

Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin in Still, this weekend’s rising tide managed to lift this boat to the tune of an estimated $22 million or so, which is really not bad for this kind of film. Or, it wouldn’t be because Nikki Finke claims the budget was $80 million, which is way high for this kind of movie  and suggests to me that it’s possible stars Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, and Steve Martin let their agents negotiate extra-hard for a big pay-day because they were perhaps less than wowed by the film artistically. Universal just doesn’t seem to be cutting itself any breaks lately.

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