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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

'Masters of Sex' at Paleyfest and Other Great Television

SHOWTIME'S MASTERS

Last night I attended the "Masters of Sex" panel at the Paleyfest, held at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. The cast and creators are just as lively and provocative as the show itself, and I'm really looking forward to the upcoming season.

Cast members Michael Sheen, Lizzy Caplan, Caitlin FitzGerald, Annaleigh Ashford and Teddy Sears were in attendance with executive producers Michelle Ashford and Sarah Timberman. The cast talked about their experiences auditioning for the show, working with period costumes and hairstyles ("By period clothing, do you mean sweatpants?" cracked Caplan) and trying to fathom the unfathomable mysteries of sex.

It was delightful to see Sheen and Caplan jousting so playfully, comparing their pre-"Masters" credits — he onstage as Hamlet while she lit up the screen in Hot Tub Time Machine.

FitzGerald hilariously explained the length of time they spend in hair and make-up: "The truth is, women would run everything, but we're too busy getting ready." And Ashford described the joys of trying to use the bathroom while dressed in the clothing of the day. "You have to ask someone to help you pee. I haven't done that since I was like four."

Sheen talked about what a pleasure it was to embody a character that could grow and change over the course of seasons as well as with an ensemble that really clicked. And they do.

Caplan gave my favorite quote of the night. When an audience member asked a rather fuzzy question about being able to separate her work from real life, she quipped, "Some people flip burgers for a living. Some people get naked and grind against Michael Sheen," to which he responded, "Quite a lot of people, actually."

MAMA'S BOY IS BACK

Spoilers here if you're not up to date. If you're a fan of A&E's "Bates Motel," then you must be as pleased as I am with the episodes that have aired thus far. Norman (Freddie Highmore) and Dylan (Max Thieriot) have helped Bradley (Nicola Peltz) "disappear" after she killed the drug lord who murdered her father. Norma (Vera Farmiga) reacts violently when her brother, Caleb (Kenny Johnson), comes to town, bringing to light a secret that sends Dylan in to a tailspin.

Meanwhile, some characters are starting to form new relationships. Divorcee George (Michael Vartan) has taken an interest in Norma while Norman's sometimes-crush Emma (Olivia Cooke) seems to be turning her romantic attentions to a pot-dealing bad boy, Gunnar (Keenan Tracey).

And sure, the hotel seems to be doing well, but black clouds are looming. Construction of the new interstate is going ahead as scheduled, which will cut them off from tourist traffic, and Norman is getting crazier than ever. In the latest episode, aired last night, he went to Caleb's motel room to persuade him to leave town, only to start speaking as Norma herself before brandishing a knife in an attempt to kill him.

Highmore and Farmiga continue to be the most watchable messed-up mother-son duo since...well, Anthony Perkins and Anthony Perkins. Thank God for DVRs so I can race through the commercials. I refuse to believe the audience for "Bates Motel" also watches the repugnant "Duck Dynasty."

ALL HAIL EVA

As if her role in Bertolucci's nostalgic The Dreamers (2003) wasn't enough to win me over to Eva Green's offbeat charms, I just caught her performance as the wonderfully over-the-top villainess Artemisia in the crazy fun 300: Rise of An Empire. It's a performance that will live on and grow in the annals of cult history — and here in the Village.

So I'm looking forward to seeing her as the medium Vanessa Ives in Showtime's "Penny Dreadful," which begins airing May 11th. Created by John Logan (Hugo), it's kind of a monster mash-up series set in Victorian London at a time when the horror classics were being written. Green is joined in the cast by Josh Hartnett and Timothy Dalton. It's an intriguing if rather perplexing premise...and it'll be interesting to see how it's pulled off.

JUDGE-MENT

Mike Judge, whose Office Space and "King of the Hill" are highly-regarded cult favorites, takes another stab at television satire with HBO's "Silicon Valley," about a group of schlubs forming a start-up. I'm a big fan of Judge's films Idiocracy and Extract, so I'm anxious to see his skewering of this culture. It's based on his real-life experiences as an engineer in the Valley.

Explaining the show's premise, Judge told The Verge that people like Mark Zuckerberg wouldn't be the the most powerful people in the world a century ago; it was the time of alpha males like Rockefeller and Carnegie, not these introverted programmer types. It's these naive, socially-awkward nerds that are the targets of Judge's comedy.

But the big boys aren't spared, either — they're depicted as being so filthy rich they can only justify their wealth by claiming they're "making the world a better place." Yeah, I remember how unliveable the planet was before Instagram. And get ready to see some hilariously over accessorized "campuses" with every employee amenity you can possibly conceive of. The show starts April 6th.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Weird Movie Village is Five Years Old!

And they say relationships don't last. It was February 26, 2009, when I wrote my first post for this blog. And what a long, strange trip it's been. That first missive was about the good old days of working at the drive-in theater, an experience that a lot of today's readers don't have the opportunity to enjoy. I hope I've been able to bring some of those memories to life for you as vividly as a bag of greasy, stale popcorn.

My posts haven't been as regular as of late, but  I've also been serving as an L.A. theater and music critic. The last show I covered was Kaiser Chiefs, who were last seen here in 2008. And this town has great equity-waiver theater in so many neighborhoods -- the west side, Hollywood, the Valley -- even Sierra Madre! Add to that the various Twitters and Tumblrs and that's a whole lotta content.

Still, I'm intent on keeping the Village open and even hope to add some new features this year. In the meantime, I'd like to take a look at what's transpired in the Village over the past half-decade.

Not just reminiscing about drive-in and grindhouse classics from years gone by (although they're so fun to cover), the Village has also provided reviews of a lot about new films. From completely straightforward features like Saving Mr. Banks to a Hollywood premiere of an English slasher, I've tried to make sure that WMV patrons are kept up-to-date on what's new and what should really be ignored (i.e., any Hangover sequels).

By way of projection (okay, digital projection), for 2014, I'm interested in seeing 300: Rise of an Empire, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Neighbors, 22 Jump Street, The Hobbit: There and Back Again and — okay, let's see what Disney does with Into the Woods. I just can't dredge up the excitement for the latest X-Men or Spider-Man, and I've frequently let my feelings be known about the Paranormal Inactivity series of stinkers.

The Village lost some important denizens over the years. Karen Black and Susan Tyrrell were among those whose losses stung the most, but there were also: Anne Bancroft; Jackie Burroughs; Patricia Neal; Poltergeist's tiny Zelda Rubenstein; wildman Ken Russell; character stalwart (and Russ Meyer fave) Charles Napier; Billy Jack himself Tom Laughlin; porn legends Harry Reems and Jamie Gillis; the all-around showman Dave Friedman; and — of course — the ultimate pussycat, Tura Satana.

The Village is the place where we salute great performances in films, and we're not talking about Meryl Streep in The French Lieutenant's Woman. More like Ellen Burstyn in The Exorcist, Christina Ricci in Addams Family Values (remember her trying to smile?) and Crispin Glover in Willard, to name a few. And if you want to see a gallery of the cult celebs I've had a chance to meet, do visit the women's gallery here and the men's gallery here.

Of course, there have been plenty of posts covering weird movies, some earning their own column (Valley of the Dolls, City of the Living Dead, Night of the Living Dead), and some coming in gangs. For example, how about David Carradine in drag as the mother of a feral kid whose tongue has been removed and has been trained to kill like an animal? We got it. A movie about a guy who eats contaminated poultry and becomes a blood-drinking, turkey-headed monster? Ditto. You know, it's about time for a new post exploring films on the fringe. Maybe they'll make Kardashians Go To Hell 3D next year.

Themes also figure large in Weird Movie Village. Here, you've been able to explore such diverse and intriguing topics as:
The author with John Waters
Directors have been given an honored place here as well. It's always a privilege to be able to acknowledge the distinctive vision of a particular director...even if it's for the wrong reasons. Along with the aforementioned Ken Russell, we've featured David Cronenberg, Tim Burton, Lucio Fulci and the crown prince of earnest but misbegotten cinema, Ed Wood. And John Waters, whose talents reach far beyond the cinema, was honored as a national treasure.

We've kept up with contemporary television, too. True Blood, which began so promisingly, has become an incomprehensible bore and it's hard to believe it's still dragging along. Ryan Kwanten says there'll be a whole lot of dead characters in its final season. Good.

Breaking Bad, which never had a bad season, concluded last year with its dignity intact. Dexter, which had some shaky years but regained its footing to reach a more or less satisfying conclusion, also ended in 2013. Sadly, The Borgias, which had been working up such a good head of steam, was deemed to expensive for Showtime and the plug was unceremoniously pulled. Dracula, NBC's dabble in cable-edgy blood and sex, likewise came to an abrupt halt, but it wasn't particularly notable, so…meh.

HBO's Boardwalk Empire is wrapping up this year. After the death of Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt), the show seemed to go into a free-fall, but it came roaring back in 2013 with its strongest season. Hopefully it'll go out with a well-deserved bang.

The same can't be said for The Walking Dead, which slipped into a coma before its mid-season break last year and shows no signs of reviving. Happily, shows like Bates Motel, just entering its second season, are ready to step in to break up the ennui.

And the edgy comedies are doing just fine. Nurse Jackie is coming back for its sixth season in April, and it's showing no signs of wear. Meanwhile, the Showtime sex farce Episodes is in the midst of its third season and actually keeps getting better. Speaking of sex, the subversive Masters of Sex has been renewed for a second season in 2014, and Shameless is in the middle of its fourth season. It's great but so intense because it's really hitting the fan in the Gallagher household.

I hope to add more video to Weird Movie Village in 2014. Maybe I'll try out that new-fangled Vine thing. Otherwise, I hope you'll make plans to visit the Village often to get your fix of strange.

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