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: Top 10 Quotes from Day 2

The first half of the second day of the Winter 2011 TCA Press Tour belonged solely to the Turner networks, who had been notably MIA from the summer tour. Although there were unconfirmed reports that they were not entirely thrilled with the dates that had been set for that tour, as most of their summer programming had already premiered by the time the tour kicked off, but during the opening remarks, we were assured that “we ask for time on the critics tour schedule when we can make it worth your while.” Fair enough, then.

After an “Adventure Time”-themed breakfast from Cartoon Network, Adult Swim brought on a plethora of panelists for “Childrens Hospital” (everyone in the above photo was in attendance, plus executive producers Jonathan Stern and David Wain), TNT followed with “Franklin & Bash,” “Falling Skies,” and “Men of a Certain Age,” then HLN and CNN wrapped things up by getting real and presenting the new talk shows from Dr. Drew Pinsky and Piers Morgan, respectively. Given that I ended up pulling one-on-one interviews with Malcolm McDowell, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Breckin Meyer, Garcelle Beauvais, Ray Romano (and Jon Manfrellotti), Scott Bakula, and Henry Winkler, I am hard pressed to have an unkind word to say about the Turner experience…except, that is, the fact that I diligently and politely contacted publicists for both networks and studios in an effort to nail down interviews in advance but was still ultimately left to fly by the seat of my pants and spend the morning in catch-as-catch-can mode.

Our working lunch was brought to us by the unlikely tag-team of BET (“The Game,” “Let’s Stay Together”) and Playboy TV (“Brooklyn Kinda Love,” “Swing”), and from there it was on to the Discovery family of networks: Animal Planet (“Taking on Tyson,” a look into Mike Tyson’s love of pigeons…yes, seriously), Science Channel (“An Idiot Abroad,” with Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant, and title character Karl Pilkington), Investigation Discovery (“The Injustice Files”), and the mothership, the Discovery Channel (“Gold Rush – Alaska” and “Kidnap & Rescue”).

By then, the excitement / cynicism in the room was palpable: it was time for the OWN Network presentations. We’d been promised a welcome from Oprah, but we didn’t get one. Instead, we got an introduction from network CEO Christina Norman. She’s a very nice lady, but it wasn’t quite the same, and she admitted as much when she came onstage after a lengthy series of clips featuring Ms. Winfrey, saying, “I know: after all that Oprah, I am a massive disappointment to all of you.” Her Majesty did indeed deign to participate in a Q&A with us, but not until after we sat through panels for “Your OWN Show” (10 finalists compete to get their own series on the network), “The Gayle King Show,” and “Our America with Lisa Ling.” After Oprah held court, using what my esteemed colleague Bill Harris of the Toronto Sun referred to as the George W. Bush Technique, which involved offering incredibly lengthy answers in order to minimize the number of questions actually asked.

After the Q&A came to a close (and you can believe that it only ended when Oprah wanted it to end), we were all invited to attend the evening event which, although it was ostensibly brought to us by the OWN Network, nonetheless featured attendees from shows throughout the Discovery family of networks. This resulted in my having close encounters with Mike Tyson, author James Ellroy, and…well, I didn’t actually get to talk to Oprah, but I did stand very close to her (along with Carson Kressley and Nancy O’Dell, hosts of “Your OWN Show”) and breathe the same air as Oprah, so my understanding is that I will now never get cancer…which is nice, of course, but, damn, I really could’ve used a new car.

I know, you wish I’d gotten a new car, too. Don’t be sad, though, as I’m already sad enough for both of us. Besides, I’d much rather you read my selections for the top 10 quotes of Day 2 and leave me wallowing in my own car-less misery. No, don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine…just as long as you don’t forget to come back for my coverage of Day 3.

1. “The one note we did get (for ‘Children’s Hospital’), it was from Warner Brothers…I hesitate to even tell you this, but when we turned in our first script for the web series, Warner Brothers called us up and said, ‘Um, do you think you could cut the shot where we actually see the Twin Towers burning?’ And we were like, ‘Yeah, do you know what? That’s a great note.’” – Rob Corddry, “Children’s Hospital” (Adult Swim)

2. “I actually improvise all my own parts. I don’t know why they hire writers. I enjoy ad-libbing greatly, because I…basically, I can’t remember what the hell I’m doing. What’s the show called?” – Malcolm McDowell, “Franklin & Bash” (TNT)

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Box office preview: Divide and conquer

That’s the studio strategy this week as three major releases with large and divergent natural constituencies hit movie theaters. All three movies are expected to do rather well by the folks whose job it is to guess these things, as evidenced by the small amount of daylight between the predictions showcased this week by the L.A. TimesBen Fritz and THR‘s ever jolly Carl DiOrio.

I don’t think there’s any reason at all to doubt that the family audience, which hasn’t had a new 3D animated comedy in a while to gawk at, will check out “Megamind.” Featuring the voices of Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Brad Pitt, and Jonah Hill, the film is the second of these comedies this year to focus on a putative villain after “Despicable Me.” This one takes a more superpowered spin with a pretty obvious spoof on the Superman mythos. Reviews are decent but muted, but the take is expected to be a very solid $50 million or so, which is not so muted.

Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Gallifianaki have a The reviews are substantially less positive for “Due Date,” which is to youngish men what “Megamind” is to families. I remember being unimpressed for the trailer for the new comedy from Todd Phillips starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Zach Gallifianakis, but apparently the sheer star power and the tried and true comic premise of a mismatched twosome on a road trip seems to be enough here for the R-rated comedy to get something in the $30-35 million neighborhood. Personally, however, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it under-perform. Star power just isn’t what it used to be these days and this is clearly not a second coming of Phillips’ “The Hangover.”

With a cast that includes Thandie Newton, Phylicia Rashad, Janet Jackson, Whoopi Goldberg and the Oprah herself, “For Colored Girls” is pretty clearly for African-American women as far as studio marketers are concerned. Based on the acclaimed  poetry-based play of the 1970s by Ntozake Shange (full title: For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf), the movie is not getting much acclaim from critics, who once again are none too fond of Perry’s penchant for melodrama, though many do seem to be given Perry credit for at least trying something different this time around. On the one hand, Tyler Perry’s fans are clearly unconcerned about critics, on the other, this is a very different kind of material than Perry’s usual. An amount of $20 million is being bandied about. In any case, one has to wonder what feminist author Shange makes of this excerpt from Carl DiOrio’s piece:

“In addition to Tyler’s core audience, we’re going after fans who are familiar with the play,” Lionsgate distribution topper David Spitz said. “We feel this could be the Sex and the City for African-American women.”

With Oscar season upon us, a number of notable films are coming up in limited release, including the Valerie Plame spy scandal film “Fair Game,” the fainting-inducing mountain climbing ordeal picture, “127 Hours,” and the Elliot Spitzer ordeal documentary, “Client Nine.” Notable for being both good and probably not having a chance in hell at an Oscar, however, is “Red Hill” which I’m not mentioning here not just because we were granted interviews with the director and star, though that never hurts, I admit shamefacedly.

Ryan Kwanten and Steve Bisley in

  

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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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Two thumbs up for Roger Ebert

I was really mad at myself for allowing myself to miss today’s “Oprah” segment with Roger Ebert, the first time he’s been interviewed for television since a series of extremely difficult surgeries following his successful cancer treatment left him unable to eat, drink, or talk. It’s also where he debuted — only briefly — his new computerized voice based on recordings of his voice taken from DVD commentaries.

Fortunately, I’ve been able to piece together a lot of via the excerpts at sites like the Huffington Post and this somewhat out of synch, undoubtedly sketchy video on YouTube where, at least for the time being, you can see a good chunk of the interview with Ebert and his obviously beyond devoted wife, Chazz.  There, my friends, is a real love story.

However, in all the talk about Ebert, his wisdom and good humor in the face of a fate none of us would want, the man who thinks more clearly than almost any of us about what movies really are, might get a little bit lost. Below, as time started to run out for his days of ordinary speech, he discusses his approach to criticism, “two thumbs up” and why he and Gene Siskel trademarked the phrase, and the ultimate futility of having to assign numeric ratings to movies.

  

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