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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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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Old Show, New Season: “Damages”

If we were to organize those readers of Premium Hollywood who’ve watched the entire first season of “Damages” into two groups – the ones who watched it when it originally aired and the ones who watched it when it came out on DVD – and took a quick poll about why the latter group watched it on DVD, I’d guess a sizable number of people would say one of two things:

1. I missed the premiere, and when I tried to pick up the series a few episodes in, I felt like I’d already missed too much.
2. I missed an episode during the season, and I knew I’d never be able to figure out what happened, so I just decided to wait for the DVD.

Yeah, it’s true: “Damages” is that kind of show…and I should know, having been one of the people who missed the premiere. But when I got the Season 1 DVD set, I blew threw it as quickly as my schedule allowed. It was an enthralling thriller which managed to be that rare breed of legal drama which almost never set foot in a courtroom, with gripping performances from Glenn Close, Ted Danson, Rose Byrne, and Željko Ivanek and many a moment that left you breathless. In the end, Ellen Parsons (Byrne) went through hell and back, leading her to declare war on Patty Hewes (Close) by teaming with the FBI to bring her down from the inside, all the while maintaining a front and pretending to be her number-one employee.

Season 2 begins in approximately the same chronological manner as Season 1, starting in the present with a jarring opening scene, then jumping back in time to begin the process of explaining how things got to that point in the first place. How odd it feels, though, for the initial flashback scene to show Patty Hewes making an appearance on “Live with Regis and Kelly.” Not that we haven’t gotten the impression that Patty’s a major public figure in the world of law, but it feels rather jarring to see her in the comparatively day-glo lights of the “Live” stage. Still, you can also imagine it setting Patty up for a big fall when she waves Ellen onto the stage and declares to the studio audience and the millions of viewers watching at home that she’d be lost without her.

But will Patty fall this season? Well, if she doesn’t, it certainly won’t be for lack of Ellen trying to make it happen. “You just want to arrest Patti Hughes,” she says to her two FBI contacts. “I want to destroy her.”

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