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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Blu Tuesday: The Mel Brooks Collection

When “The Mel Brooks Collection” was released on DVD a few years ago, it was missing two key films. That oversight has been partly rectified with the inclusion of “Spaceballs” in the new Blu-ray box set, but “The Producers” is still surprisingly absent. I’m not exactly sure how you can even have a Mel Brooks collection without his directorial debut (especially when a movie he didn’t even direct made the final cut), but if you can get past its absence, this is still a great compilation for fans of his movies.

There are nine films in all, including “The Twelve Chairs,” “Blazing Saddles,” “Young Frankenstein,” “Silent Movie,” “High Anxiety,” “History of the World: Part I,” “To Be or Not to Be,” “Spaceballs,” and “Robin Hood: Men in Tights.” Each film comes with a 1080p video transfer and, with the exception of “Blazing Saddles,” a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. That’s probably better than they deserve, but it really breathes new life into the films and will hopefully earn them a new generation of fans.

Sadly, the bonus features are a pretty hit-and-miss affair, as most of them have appeared in some shape or form before. Only “High Anxiety” gets the Blu-ray exclusive “Am I Very Nervous Test,” which gauges your anxiety levels by asking you a series of psych questions during the course of the film. There are also trivia tracks for five of the nine films, and if you still haven’t seen the “Inside the Lab” picture-in-picture video track from the “Young Frankenstein” standalone Blu-ray release, it’s a cool retrospective on the making of the film that fans will definitely want to check out.

Oddly enough, the real highlight of the set is a 120-page hardcover book detailing the writer/director/actor’s remarkable career that is filled with hundreds of movie stills and behind-the-scenes photos. After all, most fans probably already own their favorite movies on some format (including a few Blu-rays), and while the new high-def transfers are certainly a nice treat, this will really make their day. Whether or not it’s worth buying the entire collection for depends on just how big of a fan you are, but at less than $100 for nine movies, it’s an amazing deal no matter how you look at it.

  

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Apparently, this is it

In something of a box office anticlimax to one of the most astonishing careers in entertainment history, despite surprisingly strong reviews, “This is It” with Michael Jackson has fallen somewhat short of expectations. The documentary about the preparations for Jackson’s never-to-be final tour won was, in fact, the #1 movie with an estimate of roughly $20.4-7 million for the weekend and $31.9-$32.5 for the “cume” since it’s Tuesday opening — that’s depending on whether you prefer the numbers offered by the breathlessly negative Nikki Finke or Variety’s more glass-half-full Pamela McClintock. The film was originally pegged for closer to $50 million or more.

Now, to be fair, I’ve never been a fan of this whole box office expectations game. In my book, a movie is a commercial success if it makes a profit; the bigger the profit, the bigger the success. That’s it. Still, considering who we’re talking about, it’s obvious why those expectations were sky high.

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Given that Jackson was substantially more admired and less controversial/mocked abroad, it makes sense that the worldwide numbers for “This Is It” look a lot better, with a take so far of $101 million. MJ remains, of course, huge in Japan and lots and lots of other places. Supposedly in response to this response, Sony has made the deeply unsurprising move of extending the film’s putative two-week run through Thanksgiving. Nikki Finke’s cry of “Con Artists” might seem a bit over-dramatic in a business that has long been under the spell of P.T. Barnum, but I’m not going to deny that this was a pretty naked and unconvincing ploy to try to create artificial excitement that, at least in the U.S., didn’t much take. If anyone tries to use it again any time soon, if I may indulge in the subjunctive tense, they be putzes. Still, fair is fair and it appears as if the King of Pop did beat the Hannah Montana concert film internationally, so there’s that.

While “This Is It” was the only new major release this week, and the weekend’s numbers were low overall, at least partially because of an inevitably somewhat low-key Halloween Saturday, there were other movies in play. Not at all surprisingly, the holiday was kind to “Paranormal Activity” which declined a miniscule 22% while adding theaters for an estimated weekend total of about $16.5 million and a “cume” of about $84.8 million.

Considering that it’s still playing in roughly a thousand fewer theaters than “This Is It,” this is a genuinely outstanding box office performance for a film which had an original budget that was actually less than half of the budget of the “zero budget” “The Blair Witch Project.” Perhaps wisely, Paramount appears to be keeping Israeli-born video game designer and now film director Oren Peli under wraps for the time being – no need to turn him into Quentin Spielberg just yet – but I trust he enjoyed the happiest of Halloweens.

Other than that, there were few surprises this weekend with all the current films pretty much staying static. However, I’m sure some of our young male readership will be interested to note that, as per Box Office Mojo, the best per-screen average this Halloween was just under $6,800 and it was enjoyed by Apparition’s “The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day” on 68 screens. Given the poor performance of my personal great black hope, “Black Dynamite,” which was released in seventy theaters by the same arm of Sony and did not even register this week, or last, at the Mojo, this kind of sets my teeth on edge. It ain’t fair but the most cinematically accurate spoof film since “Young Frankenstein” will be back for another try on DVD. That, as they say, is show biz, suckas.

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A Farewell to Gene Hackman

Don’t worry, Gene Hackman, is still very much amongst the living. It’s just that the 79 year-old Hackman casually discussed his retirement from acting in favor of writing historical novels while talking to Taylor Antrim of the Daily Beast today. (H/t Anne Thompson) Of course, there’s always the chance some great director can lure the Hemingway-loving Hackman out of retirement for the right role, but I’m going to assume he’s for real about giving up acting and thank him for all the great  — sometimes better than great — work.

Without ever really being an Alec Guinness or Peter Sellers-style acting chameleon, Hackman had one of the most amazing ranges of any actors of his era. He played thoroughly screwed up antiheroes, serious and comical villains of innumerable types, and ocasionally simply nice and/or likable guys. He was equally interesting playing all of them — even the nice ones. No doubt one of the best ever.

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A little touch of Frankenstein in the morning

Inspired by the likely remake of a true monster classic

And then a scene from another monstrous masterwork.

  

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