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 4

Not all of the critics who attend the TCA Press Tour care a lot about PBS’s days of the tour, but I always try to attend as many of their panels as possible. For one reason, I’m a longtime Anglophile, so it’s like shooting fish in a barrel to convince me that I ought to check out a new episode from one of the “Masterpiece” shows. For another, I’m a former record store clerk and music critic, so the concerts are always an easy sell. And then, of course, you’ve got the retrospectives of various actors, films, and televisions series. Basically, there are any number of reasons for me to get excited about PBS…and, as usual, they gave me several this tour.

Breakfast came with an introduction from and a short Q&A with Jose Andres, host of “Made in Spain,” a show which I now feel like I need to watch just because he was so darned charming. After that, we got an update from PBS Kids which was surprisingly unexciting, but I stuck it out because I didn’t want to feel guilty about strolling out with the “Dinosaur Train” and “Super Why” toys that were on table. (My daughter’s going to love them…) From there, we shifted into the big ballroom and spent some time with Jeff Bridges as he talked about his upcoming “American Masters” special, then back to the small ballroom for the “Masterpiece” presentations on “Upstairs Downstairs” and “Zen.”

Back to the big ballroom again for “Bears of the Last Frontier,” but although I was fascinated, I had to slip out early in order to do a one-on-one with Rufus Sewell about his work on “Zen.” Thankfully, I made it back in time for the long but wonderful panel for “The Best of Laugh-In,” featuring Gary Owens, Jo Anne Worley, Ruth Buzzi, Lily Tomlin, and creator George Schlatter. Sadly, I missed most of the next two panels, “Forgiveness: A Time to Love & A Time to Hate” and “Independent Lens: Artists Profiles,” but on the other hand, it’s because I was able to help my buddy Brian Sebastian on interviews with Owens and Tomlin, even getting a few questions in myself.

The evening event was a performance by Harry Connick Jr. in conjunction with his “Great Performances” special, and I thought it was fantastic, if unabashedly jazzy. But, really, if you were expecting anything else, then you clearly haven’t been listening to the man’s music very much. All I know is that he tore the roof off the joint, and I loved every minute of it.

Okay, time for your top 10 quotes of the day. You’ll note more repetition of shows this go-round, but all I can tell you is that there were fewer panels and less instantly memorable moments in some of them. I think you’ll still get a few good laughs from this bunch, anyway, though. See you tomorrow!

1. “I got a little bit nervous when they told me that I had to be speaking in front of TV critics. I knew I was coming here to share time at PBS, but all of a sudden it’s, like, ‘The room is going to be full of TV critics.’ Great: all my life dealing with food critics one by one, and now I’m going to have to be dealing with an entire room of TV critics…?” – Jose Andres, “Made in Spain”

2. “There’s an element in making movies, the collage, that you give all your stuff and then the director cuts it up and makes a different piece out of it. Seeing myself as this young guy (in ‘Tron: Legacy’), it rubbed my fur a little bit the wrong way. You know, it was a bit like…remember the first time you heard your voice on a tape recorder, how weird it sounded to you? Early on in my career…I don’t know if we have time for kind of a long story. You feel like a story or not?

“My first film was called ‘Halls of Anger.’ The movie was about busing white kids into a black school, and I was the white kid who was supposed to be, you know, trying to integrate into the sports and all these things. And the black kids keep beating me up. So now this is the scene here; what I’m going to describe is the climax of the film. And Calvin Lockhart, wonderful actor, is playing the boys’ vice principal. And the scene is; I’ve been beaten up, and now I’m there, and I say, ‘I’m quitting.’ And I’m in tears and everything. He says, ‘No, you got to stick.’ I say, ‘I’ve had it. I’ve had enough,’ you know. So we started shooting the scene, and we did Calvin’s side first. And all my emotion came, and I was thinking, ‘God, I hope I have it when we come back to my side.’ Then they shot all the coverage of all the people’s reaction, and I was there. And then they came to my side, and I kicked ass, man. I was so…it was like fresh, and I got applause from the crew. And I was, like, ‘Oh, man, maybe I should do this acting thing. I’m pretty good!’ Now we cut to Watts, and it’s the premiere of the show, and I’m sitting there with my brother on one side and my father on one side. And I’m saying, ‘Wait till you guys see my…’ Well, you know, not saying it to them, but I’m saying it inside. And here comes the scene. And here it comes. And now they’re on Calvin. Yeah, Calvin, the boys’ vice principal. Yeah. Cut to me. Cut to me. Why aren’t you cutting to me? And now they cut to me…and my face is something like (a grimace). And the entire audience laughs…and I just about had a bowel movement. And if you listened, it was the perfect opposite reaction that I wanted from the audience.

“That was like a real crossroads for me with the acting, because I thought, ‘God, how do you protect yourself?’ And you don’t. You just have to be willing to lay it out there and put yourself in some director’s hands.” – Jeff Bridges, “American Masters: Jeff Bridges – The Dude Abides”

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It’s another end of week movie news dump

It’s oh so tempting to slack off with more trailers and videos, but a few items too interesting to ignore…

* Regular readers, both of you, may remember a number of interview pieces here and elsewhere by me dealing with a film called “Middle Men.” Well, my interview with the film’s producer and presumed model for the lead character, Christopher Mallick, has become a lot more interesting over the last few days. It has drawn some unusually strong comments from netizens, and not for no reason. The Wrap’s Johnnie L. Roberts sums up how funds deposited by Mallick’s current company, ePassporte, have been effectively frozen — leaving some people truly in the lurch — and also that this isn’t the first arguably suspicious crisis that Mallick has weathered.

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I will say that if you have over $240,000 pre-loaded on a card which I gather is mainly for use on porn sites these days (not online poker as I once assumed) — I’m no one to judge on this matter, but I think you’ve got a bit of a problem.

* A much more positive story, especially for hardcore movie fans, is Roger Ebert’s announcement that he is returning the format he and Gene Siskel perfected back to its original PBS home, with a few interesting new twists including the presence of the one of the universe’s more photogenic of cinephile bloggers, Kim Morgan of Sunset Gun, alongside headliners Christy Lemire and Elvis Mitchell, Omar Moore and Ebert himself.  Nikki Finke, via TV Deadliner Nellie Andreeva, provides the turd in the punchbowl. (Please, Mr. Mitchell — don’t give Ms. Finke the pleasure of a “Toldja!” here.)

* Speaking of the amazing Mr. Ebert, be sure to check out his TIFF swag.

* William Monahan, who did such a great job turning the engaging-but-slender Hong Kong thriller, “Infernal Affairs,” into a full-bodied near masterpiece for Martin Scorsese in “The Departedwill be working with “Tron: Legacy” director Joseph Kosinski on something called “Oblivion” for Disney.

* Alamo Drafthouse will be getting into the film distribution game with a bang in more senses than one with their release of the ingenious, ultra-dark British comedy, “Four Lions,” which really does do for terrorism what “In the Loop” did for needless wars. A parking snafu created by the organizers of the Los Angeles Film Festival caused me to be 20 minutes later for the screening but, even so, I can’t imagine that the film will be anything less than one of the year’s best, even if its premise scares many away.

  

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Endgame

It’s the late 1980s in South Africa. The most important political prisoner of the 20th century, Nelson Mandela (a miscast Clarke Peters), is being readied for his release as brutal violence and unrest are reaching a boiling point. Realizing that civil war is very bad for its African interests, a powerful English gold trading firm sends a conscientious PR flack (Jonny Lee Miller) to set-up secret negotiations. Will Esterhuyse (William Hurt), a centrist Afrikaner academic, is dragooned into going into those negotiations to act as a spy for the brutal neo-fascist white supremacist apartheid regime. Eventually, however, he finds himself actually forging common ground and heroically comes clean to the leader of the ANC delegation, future South African President Thabo Mbeki (Chiwitel Ejiorfor).

Unfortunately, director Pete Travis (“Vantage Point“) tries to make what actually should be a rather traditional PBS production into an over-amped action thriller, despite the reality that the real “action” of this story amounts to several white guys and black guys sitting around talking. Travis’s disinterest in the actual content of the story, his irritating and pointless reliance on jarring editing and sound effects, and a hideous audio mix which often makes the dialogue impossible to understand without turning up the volume to painful levels, destroys the inherent drama of the story as well as strong performances from some great actors. It’s a crime because, “Invictus” notwithstanding, the story of how apartheid ended without the catastrophic bloodbath the world fully expected still demands to be told on screen.

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Make ’em Laugh: The Funny Business of America

Simply put, the three-DVD set of PBS’ six-part special on comedy in America is a must-have for any fan of comedy. Hosted by Billy Crystal and narrated by Amy Sedaris, “Make ’em Laugh” traces the origins of the wiseguy, the oddball, the breadwinner, the satirist, the pratfaller, and the groundbreaker in incredible detail, combining footage of the masters at work (both movies and TV) with interviews of dozens of comedians, writers and producers. (Holy cow, was Jack Benny’s writing staff an All-Star lineup of funny.) It’s all very informative, but if the set has one flaw, it’s in each show’s tendency to stop the timeline around 1989, which results in the omission of several prominent modern-day comedians (Bill Hicks, Patton Oswalt and Sarah Silverman, to name a few). That will happen, of course, when trying to condense 80 years of comedy into six hours. Each disc also contains extended interviews with dozens of comedians, and a couple bits of guys telling their favorite jokes. Great stuff, across the board.

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