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Stage icon Patti LuPone relishes new role in Ryan Murphy’s ‘Hollywood’

It’s the Tinseltown that might have been in star-studded new Netflix series out May 1

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Patti LuPone, gay news, Washington Blade

Patti LuPone (left) and the cast of ‘Hollywood,” out today on Netflix. (Photo courtesy Netflix)

For award-winning actress and fierce LGBTQ ally Patti LuPone it all starts with the costume.

“I love costumes,” she says. “I love to wear them and I love to use them. I’ve been very fortunate in my career that I’ve had incredible costumes on my body.”

In fact, the legendary chanteuse says that costume fittings are an essential part of her rehearsal process.

“A good costume designer can help you define character. It all starts with the shoes. They determine how the character walks.”

She says everything else flows from there.

Glamorous costumes certainly set the mood for LuPone’s current television project. She’s starring in “Hollywood,” the latest series from gay television mogul Ryan Murphy. She plays Avis Amberg, the unhappy wife of studio executive Ace Amberg. When Avis unexpectedly assumes control of Ace Studios, she turns Tinseltown on its head and greenlights the controversial movie “Meg.”

LuPone says the series asks the question “what if?” What if you could change history? What if things were done differently in Hollywood? What would it look like if women and people of color and members of the LGBTQ community could work openly and tell the stories they wanted to tell?

“It’s also a throwback to an extremely glamorous time in Hollywood with all of its gorgeousness and foibles,” LuPone says by phone. “I don’t want to give anything away, but I will say there is a happy ending.”

LuPone was of course thrilled at the chance to wear shimmering costumes from the Golden Age of Tinseltown.

“I get to look great,” she says. “When I went to the costume fittings I was in heaven. I was ravenous. When someone puts you in hats and gloves and furs and tailored clothes that are incredibly well-made you just behave differently. Sarah Evelyn did an extraordinary job with the costumes. There’s just stunning clothes for all of us.”

LuPone was especially excited that half of the costumes seen on screen were vintage.

“The workmanship was exquisite,” she says. “It’s amazing that these clothes are still wearable. Now there’s no quality control. You can buy a jacket for $10,000 and it falls apart on you.”

LuPone also says the excellent writing staff helped her slide into the character of Avis.

“I just fell into it,” she says. “I didn’t feel like I had to struggle with the part even though I’m not in any way like her. I’m not married to a studio head. I’m very happily married. I don’t have any of the concerns this woman had, but it felt very natural for me. When it’s good writing your job is done for you, and this is good writing.”

The iconoclastic LuPone, who just celebrated her 71st birthday, also appreciates that Avis is a rule-breaker who shatters traditional Hollywood stereotypes about older women.

“Avis has unbelievable freedom,” LuPone says.

Avis is proudly and forthrightly sexual and also supports other women instead of tearing them down.

For example, in her first moments onscreen, Avis hires the services of call boy/aspiring actor Jack Castello (David Corenswet) and the two enjoy a steamy tryst at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Later, Avis helps veteran studio executive Ellen Kincaid (Holland Taylor) break out of the romantic mire she’s stuck in and casts “over-the-hill” starlet Jeanne Crandall (Mira Sorvino) in a leading romantic role.

“Avis can break the norms because she’s in a powerful position,” LuPone says. “There’s nothing to hold her back. I had a ball playing her.”

All seven episodes of “Hollywood” drop on Netflix on Friday, May 1.

Meanwhile, Patti LuPone is waiting to get back on stage. She’s playing Joanne in the Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company,” a transfer from London’s West End. Previews started on March 2, but the production was forced to shut down due to the COVID-19 crisis. Performances are planned to resume in June.

LuPone has played the role before (and the iconic number “The Ladies Who Lunch” has become one of her signature songs), but she notes that this time there’s a twist. The lead role, a sexually active 35-year-old bachelor, is now being played by a woman instead of a man. Bobby becomes Bobbie.

The change, she notes, makes the show much more poignant. It’s one thing, she says, for a single man to be “boinking” beautiful women, but there seems to be a problem when a middle-aged woman is sexually active and single. Bobbie’s not married and the clock is ticking and that’s a big problem for a woman.
LuPone also adds that the recasting of the lead role is not the only gender-bending change in this production.

“The characters Amy and Paul become Jamie and Paul, a homosexual couple. This fresh focus on gender expectations really sharpens the lines.”

In typical fashion, LuPone credits costume designer Bunny Christie with helping her define her character.

“I told director Marianne Elliott that there are four people in my big scene,” LuPone says. “Three actors and a coat. I had to wrangle the coat. It’s wonderful.”

LuPone began building her LGBTQ fan base with her Broadway debut in “Evita” (1979). On stage, she’s best known for her legendary musical theater performances (Fantine in “Les Misérables,” Mama Rose in “Gypsy,” Mrs. Lovett in “Sweeney Todd,” Reno Sweeney in “Anything Goes,” Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard,” Lucia in “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” and Helena Rubenstein in “War Paint”), but she’s also won acclaim for her starring role as Maria Callas in Terrence McNally’s “Master Class” and for her work with playwright David Mamet.

Notable film roles include “Witness” and “Driving Miss Daisy” and her early television work includes gritty roles as Libby Thatcher in “Life Goes On” and librarian Stella Coffa in the HBO prison drama “Oz.”

Given her love of exotic costumes and larger-than-life characters, LuPone has enjoyed taking on more flamboyant roles in recent years. In “Coven,” season three of Ryan Murphy’s “American Horror Story,” she played Joan Ramsey, a deeply religious housewife who made the mistake of moving next door to Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies. In Murphy’s “Pose,” she appeared as real estate tycoon Frederica Norman and got to sing the Stephen Sondheim anthem “I’m Still Here” at an AIDS cabaret.

She also appeared as both Dr. Florence Seward (season one) and hedge-witch Joan Clayton (season two) on “Penny Dreadful.”

The award-winning actress (two Tonys, two Grammys and two Olivier Awards to date) is also winning over a new generation of LGBTQ fans with her work on the queer-themed cartoon “Steven Universe.”

LuPone says she had never done voice-over work before, but jumped at the chance when series creator Rebecca Sugar asked her to join the cast. LuPone voiced the evil Yellow Diamond in the television series and the subsequent movie.

Like the rest of us, LuPone is trying to stay safe and sane during the COVID-19 crisis. She recently celebrated her birthday with a Zoom bingo game (and a lot of martinis) and has become an active presence on Twitter (@PattiLuPone), where she’s taken fans on a tour of her basement while dressed like silent screen star Norma Desmond.

With LuPone’s busy schedule, it’s “as if we never said goodbye.”

‘Hollywood’ sizzles

David Cornswet and Patti LuPone in ‘Hollywood.’ (Photo by Saeed Adyani; courtesy Netflix)

Expectations matter. If you binge-watch Ryan Murphy’s new Netflix limited series “Hollywood” this weekend (and you should) and expect to see the “revisionist history” they advertise, you’ll be disappointed.

But, if you tune in and expect to see a delicious escapist fantasy, then you’ll be in heaven. “Hollywood” is a frothy wish-fulfillment dream, a delectable parfait with terrific acting, gorgeous costumes, engaging heroes, despicable villains and a happy ending worthy of a classic Tinseltown blockbuster.

“Hollywood” centers on the glamorous Avis Amberg (Patti LuPone), a former silent movie star who married a studio executive when her career tanked (she sounded “too Jewish” for talkies). When she unexpectedly takes the reins at Ace Studios, she turns Hollywood into a real dream factory where women, people of color and queer people get to make movies, tell their stories, win Academy Awards and live happily ever after.

LuPone is simply magnificent. She’s smart, stylish and sexy. She looks amazing (the terrific costumes are by Sarah Evelyn) and delivers the crackling dialogue with fantastic flair and flawless timing (Janet Mock served as one of the producers, writers and directors for the show). LuPone also brings an appealing warmth and vulnerability to the role. She becomes the brains, heart and soul of this new celluloid kingdom and her performance is perfection.

LuPone is surrounded by a top-notch cast that brings together veteran actors and fresh-faced newcomers. Jim Parsons, known for his work on the sitcom “The Big Bang,” is electric as the snarling Henry Willson, the closeted agent and sexual predator who knows where the bodies are buried. Holland Taylor (“Bosom Buddies” and “Two and a Half Men”) is wonderful as casting agent Ellen Kincaid and Joe Mantello (Broadway’s “Angels in America”) offers a richly layered performance as a closeted studio executive.

Murphy regular Dylan McDermott is charming as Ernie, the suave Hollywood pimp based on the historic Scotty Bowers. His stable of affable sex workers includes Archie Pope, who blazes with sincerity and passion as a black gay screenwriter and David Corenswet, who’s period-perfect as the ambitious actor with the chiseled cheekbones.

Samara Weaving conquers some inconsistent writing to turn in a fine performance as Claire Wood, an aspiring starlet, but two of her castmates struggle with their roles. Darren Criss is rather monotonous as the cheery wanna-be director and Jake Picking is wooden as a fantasy version of actor Rock Hudson.

The cast has great fun demolishing Hollywood stereotypes, especially those around older women. LuPone and Taylor (both over 70) get sizzling sex scenes with their younger male co-stars. And while the female characters engage in delightful repartee with each other, they always have each other’s back. Despite some personal friction, Avis hires an “over-the-hill” actress (a superb Mira Sorvino) for a romantic lead and Claire cheers on the actress who gets the role she wanted.

In “Hollywood,” Ryan Murphy and company create an exquisite escapist fantasy where Tinseltown really is Dreamland and dreamers do find their rainbow connection. Since it simply ignores the historical reality of the period (messy things like laws against miscegenation and sodomy), it’s not really revisionist history, but does that really matter? Right now, a stylish and sentimental fantasy sounds perfect.

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Everything you need to know about WorldPride 2021

Party in Scandinavia with the happiest people on Earth

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Confetti rained down in New York’s Times Square at Stonewall 50 WorldPride New York’s closing ceremony two years ago. (Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

By Mikey Rox| NEW YORK – It’s been two years since Stonewall 50 – WorldPride NYC 2019 became the largest international Pride celebration in history, but the “bye” year of 2020 wasn’t due to the pandemic. 

The global celebration has been held every odd-numbered year since 2017 given its massive logistical undertaking (with sporadic celebrations in 2006, 2012 and 2014 before then), and WorldPride Copenhagen – Malmö 2021 couldn’t have come at a better time. 

Hundreds of thousands of cooped-up queer revelers and allies will flock to the twin host cities in Denmark and Sweden, respectively, from Aug. 12-22, to party with the happiest people on the planet, a delightful distinction provided to the Scandinavian countries by the United Nations’ famous World Happiness Report. (The United States ranked No. 19 in the most recent report, FYI.) 

So what’s in store for this year’s all-out progressive-flag-flying festival? Read on for more.

Two LGBTQ anniversaries in Denmark

If you can believe it, it’s been 70 years since Danish doctors in 1951 performed the world’s first successful genital reconstruction surgery, a medical marvel that provided hope to transgender people the world over. This year is also the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Gay Liberation Front’s Danish chapter, which has been instrumental in blazing trails toward equality for the country. Look how far it’s come.

Opening ceremonies kick off in Copenhagen

In conjunction with Copenhagen Pride, WorldPride will officially start late afternoon on Aug. 13, but in adherence with COVID-19 protocols the opening ceremony won’t be held in WorldPride Square (at least not as of press time; things could – and probably will – change). That potential snafu notwithstanding, Denmark welcomes vaccinated U.S. travelers, and if any testing is needed, both PCR and antigen tests will be available free to everyone, including tourists, 24/7. Copenhagen is OPENhagen again.

WorldPride Square will be open for the rest of the fest

WorldPride Square, a makeshift village of sorts (similar to the Olympics) located within Copenhagen’s main square, will provide a gathering place for all attendees that have traveled far and wide. LGBTQ+ and non-governmental organizations spanning the globe will set up shop in the square to greet pedestrians, provide information, and invite folks to get involved. Art exhibits also will be a centerpiece of the village, alongside a street-food market and bars with plenty of space to relax. 

EuroGames will be held simultaneously

If you enjoy watching athletes compete in variety of sports that range from boxing and badminton to dancing and dodgeball, add the spectator-friendly EuroGames to your list of to-dos while you’re in Copenhagen. If you want to get hands-on, consider signing up to become a volunteer at the games, to be held Aug. 18-20; EuroGames’ website is currently accepting those applications. 

Spread out and explore other WorldPride villages

While WorldPride Square will serve as the jump-off for the 10 days of festivities, other available villages will allow crowds to spread out and explore their individual interests. In addition to Sports Village for EuroGames athletes and fans, other villages will focus on kids and families, youth, women, and the queer community, among others. Programs and content of these villages will be target-audience specific but open to everyone.

You might have a brush with royalty

Mary, Crown Princess of Denmark, Countess of Monpezat, is patron of Copenhagen 2021, making her the first-ever royal to serve in the role for a major LGBTQ+ event. Say hi if you spot her; she knows a queen when she sees one.

Despite pandemic protocol, the show will go on

Organizers have said in an official statement that despite some COVID-19 restrictions, they’re “continuing to plan for full delivery of all Copenhagen 2021 events taking into account the guidance and recommendations” of government agencies. Doubling down, organizers have promised they will not cancel or postpone events. 

Now there’s only one thing left to do: Let’s go!

Mikey Rox is an award-winning journalist and LGBT lifestyle expert whose work has been published in more than 100 outlets across the world. Connect with Mikey on Instagram @mikeyroxtravels)

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Hollywood’s Peter Kallinteris Agency launching LGBTQ dreams

“It’s important to me to actively participate with a platform and space for the LGBTQ community. I want to make a difference and be a leader”

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Hollywood sign courtesy of the City of Los Angeles

HOLLYWOOD – Whether they’d admit to it or not the aspiration for most actors is to be sitting in the Dolby Theatre at some point in their careers, dressed in their finest fashion ensemble at the most prestigious event of the year and hear, “and the Oscar goes to [insert their name].” Conversely also true for the Emmy awards or the Tony awards, yet for many LGBTQ artists the path to that goal is fraught with obstacles and difficulties.

In 2018, a young Black actor from Atlanta, Georgia, was given a supporting role as Ethan in the surprise hit film Love Simon. That actor, Clark Moore, in interviews with host Rob Watson, journalists Dawn Ennis and Brody Levesque on RATED LGBTQ RADIO and separately with Teen Vogue’s Shammara Lawerence spoke of the difficulty landing roles like that of Ethan, but also the conflict inherent with how the film and television industry has seen LGBTQ actors.

Answering a question by Teen Vogue’s Lawerence centered on that conflict, Moore bluntly assessed the landscape telling her; “Historically, I think the reason why there haven’t been more gay roles or more gay actors playing roles that have lots of layers to them and lots of depths to them is because for whatever reason, people think that the story is done. We’ve seen the gay character. We know what he says. We know what he thinks. We don’t need to tell that story anymore, but if you think about it, we’ve had a full canon of stories about straight white men that stretch back millennia, and so we’re only scratching the surface,” Moore pointed out.

“If we can have stories about people all the way back thousands of years ago and we can still be telling the same story now about straight white men and their journey to self-discovery or redemption, there’s plenty of stories to tell of people of color and LGBTQ people and anybody who falls in the intersection of those two identities,” he added.

Yet in the age of digital moving beyond the traditional film and television as more and more content is streamed online- and there’s insatiable need by casting agencies for a wider diverse spectrum of actors, there are still obstacles in the path for LGBTQ actors, especially trans and disabled LGBTQ actors.

Enter Peter Kallinteris, who with his broad based knowledge and understanding of the critical needs of the LGBTQ actor community decided that the time has arrived to have specialized representation for that community.

“Looking to the past, Hollywood hasn’t been very kind to the Queer community. Throughout the history of cinema gay men were either played as effeminate, weak, airheads, and lesbians as tough softball or gym coaches, who are often played by straight people,” Kallinteris said. “Within the the broader culture, there are subcultures, just as within any community. They are nuances within each that will never find its way between the pages of a table read.”

“To create an authentic moment the space has to be made for those who’ve lived that life every day. Gay, Black, White or Straight ect, our experiences of the world are different depending on how we show up. In many cases that will determine our outcomes,” he noted. “Specialized representation is so important because without the lingering trauma, and continued hatred & fear toward our community the Queer division of PKA wouldn’t exist, we’d just be accepted. We have important stories to tell and will continue to be telling them. PKA is just the begging for all to feel safe and thrive.”

In a statement issued from his offices at the Sunset-Gower Studios, the former historic home of pioneering Columbia Pictures founded in 1918, Kallinteris reflected, “When I was a young Actor being gay was career ending.”

“Today it’s celebrated. It’s important to me to actively participate with a platform and space for the LGBTQ community. I want to make a difference and be a leader because I can.”

To accomplish this he launched the Queer Division of his PKA agency. “The Queer Division of  PKA was inevitable, a natural outgrowth of my own personal evolution first by coming out as gay man, from Artist to Agent. The timing was right to make an impact with talent,” he said.

“As my Agency grew I was able to gleam that there was a space beginning to open up by which I could represent the full spectrum of Queer humanity & sexuality within the arts. Not as one dimensional static caricatures, but as beings who’s emotions run the full gamut of the human experience. This was very exciting to me, I have a opportunity to effect change. I wanted to be apart of history Pioneering a movement,” he added. 

He said that his message to LGBTQ artists is simple. “I want talent to know they will be given the opportunity to be who they are, live their truth and work for who they are without rejection, humiliation, fear, or hopelessness. People perform at their best, live at their best. And do their best when they are happiest.  PKA is not just a brand, we are the LGBTQIA community. If life imitates art, then let’s represent it boldly!”

His expectations of the film and television industry’s reaction? “My inspiration to launch the Q.D. is truthfully representing talent that reflects the current needs for the industry, and to remain a permanent fixture within the industry that continues to grow stronger. I want the industry to understand I’ve created this environment specifically for the Queer community. I’m happy & honored to be the first Agency that represents this community in this way,” Kallinteris said.

Last week, PKA, whose clients include, Justin Jedlica (TV personality), Steven James Tingus (President George W. Bush’s lead for disability research and policy for eight years), Kate Linder (The Young and the Restless), Albert Lawrence (IMDB Host), Deric Battiste aka DJ D-Wrek (MTV’s Wild ‘N Out), and Leslie Stratton (The Swing of Things, Truth or Dare), announced the launch of the Queer Division in a video.

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Julia Scotti, the movie, is just Funny That Way

Life is funny that way—not working out quite the way we thought it would. And that is ultimately the point

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Graphic courtesy of Susan Sandler

WHITING, NJ. – “You are a piece of work, Julia!” Simon Cowell blurted during her landmark America’s Got Talent debut.  Julia Scotti had just completed her audition for the show that ended not only with a standing ovation, but with the revelation that she had once upon a time been a stand-up comedian named Rick. As that news crossed the faces of the four judges, their collective jaws dropped. “I mean like you come out as the nice little granny school teacher all sweet and then you go into your routine and like WHOA. Talk about surprises – they are never ending with you, are they?” Cowell finished.

With Julia Scotti, the surprises never end.

Her latest surprise for the public is a gem of a film, Julia Scotti: Funny That Way.  It is a documentary of her journey from the days of Rick, the up and coming comic who performed on bills with Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld to Julia, who is wowing millions.

Of her transition, Julia has remarked. “It is NEVER an easy process whether you’re a public figure or not. You are essentially killing your old self and ending your old life. And with that comes the history you’ve built with friends and family. Some are very accepting, but most are not. That is why the suicide attempt rate for Trans  folk is still at 41%.”

Funny That Way does not spare us the heart-breaking fallout from the virtual “death’ of Rick Scotti.  Filmmaker Susan Sandler weaves Julia’s story, the losses and damage, to her rebirth, healing and the reuniting with her kids after a 15-year estrangement.

Julia and Susan sat down with us on the podcast Rated LGBT Radio to talk about the film.  “This is a story and like all stories, there is a beginning and a middle and an end. In the end, I want the audience to know there is HOPE. It is bumpy at times, joyous at times.  It is not just isolated to my life. You can have that in your life when you walk through that door of your own truth and come out the other side and when you look back on all you went through, you go ‘what the hell was I so afraid of?’ Look how happy I am.” Julia explains.

Susan had never directed a documentary before, but as one of Hollywood’s master story tellers, and a Golden Globe nominee, she was unfazed.  “The impetus behind this film was falling in love with Julia, her, then and now.  If you are working from a really rich, complex, compelling character –which is Julia—that is the GIFT. All of my nerve endings, my story telling, told me this was dynamic documentary, and that’s the form in which I wanted to tell it.”

Susan took five years to research, document and interact with Julia’s past.  She went through old footage of Rick Scotti’s stage acts and restored many of them so they could be used in the film. She brought on composer Matt Hutchinson for a beautiful score, and animator Sam Roth for whimsical cartoons that tie the story together.

Before the filming started, Julia had just re-connected with her son Dan, and daughter Emma.  A decade and a half ago, when Julia announced to her then spouse that she was in fact a woman transitioning, her then-wife retaliated by taking their kids away.  Dan and Emma spent their whole adolescence not knowing Julia at all. The story of that pain is told in Funny That Way.  Susan wanted to show the relationships real-time in the film as they came to reconnect with Julia. “We were just at the beginning stages of reconciling,” recounts Julia. “I did not want them feeling like I was just reconnecting with them because I wanted them in this film. I did not want to distance them even more.”

Dan and Emma were onboard, however.  Also on board, albeit only by phone, was Kate. Kate was  Julia’s last wife, described as Julia’s “love of her life”. Kate supported Julia emotionally and spiritually through out the entire transition process.  One of the most poignant moments in the film was Julia hearing Kate describe the end of their relationship.  Kate’s support was significant, but once Julia became fully Julia, it was evident to both that their relationship had changed and they had to let it go.

Susan captured many live moments of Julia’s evolving life.  She caught the very first time that son Dan ever called Julia “his mother” and the effect was pronounced.  Also caught in the film was a moment when Julia and Dan are watching Rick’s old stand up routines.  One such performance  takes Julia by surprise—it was a routine that she had not remembered ever doing.  It was a set where then Rick expressed his revulsion to transgender women in no uncertain terms.  Julia sat shocked.

“My sensibilities have been ‘woked’, I think that is the term for it.” She told me about that experience. ”Thinking back, I was going through issues and aware that something was not right internally. It frightened me to no end.  Looking at that clip, I am totally ashamed of what I did. It embarrassed me.”

“I knew it was me. I knew I was there. But I don’t feel a connection with that person.  That is the truth.”

The film does not dwell long on the past shames and regrets.  It arcs to the present where an adult daughter gets to see her parent’s comedy routine for the very first time.

Some of the greatest joy in the film is witnessing the growing relationship between Julia and son Dan. Dan is sweet and compassionate, and they both have a deep love of comedy.  Through their discussions and collaboration on things funny, we witness something decidedly not funny, the deep re-kindling love they have for each other.

The film will make you laugh, and cry, and laugh again.  New clips of Julia’s now famous turn on America’s Got Talent shows her more personal reflective moments over a life changing triumph.

The only regret director Sandler has about the film is how it will be brought to the public. “I am happy to be brining the film now for the people who have an appetite for it. For the truth, the humor, the complete emotional honesty.  But I mourn. I mourn the moments not being able to sit with you in a theater. And experiencing the film with you. It was supposed to be seen by audiences, and then give them the opportunity to go down the street and see Julia live at a club.”  But, life is funny that way—not working out quite the way we thought it would.   And that is ultimately the point.

Editor’s Note: The film was originally slated for theatrical release which was delayed then put off by the coronavirus pandemic.

Julia Scotti: Funny That Way is available now on digital platforms! That means you can rent or buy it online, at places like iTunes, Apple TV, Amazon, Google Play and more.

Here’s the full list of where you can find it. 

DIGITAL

iTunes
Amazon
Google Play
Xbox
VUDU
FandangoNow
Vimeo On Demand

CABLE / SATELLITE

iN Demand Movies
Verizon
AT&T
Vubiquity
DirecTV
Dish
Telus

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