Movies 101 (2005) - Rotten Tomatoes

Movies 101 (2005)

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New York University film professor Richard Brown opens up his standing-room-only Movies 101 class for the first time in this AMC series. Moviemaking luminaries such as Jon Voight, Sigourney Weaver, Julianne Moore, George Clooney, Daniel Day-Lewis and Martin Scorsese discuss the filmmaking process, life in the spotlight and the history of the medium. Each conversation is illustrated with relevant clips from hundreds of classic movies.

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Better For Some Harder Questions One does not expect Cuba Gooding, Jr., to be introspective, and I think one should encourage him when he's willing to do it. Marty Scorsese has told about his childhood asthma often enough so that I can nearly recite along with some of the stories. It is probably worth exploring that Jeff Bridges is inclined toward talking people out of casting him in things and that George Clooney grew up poor as often as not, that his preference for talking about his political views over his personal relationships probably stems from his outspoken father. And I am madly curious which films Kevin Kline made for the money and which directors Jennifer Aniston will never work with again. However, our amiable host seems ill inclined to press the point, or indeed any point whatsoever. I long to take proper film classes some day, but if this man is the best at teaching them, it may not be worth it. "This man" is Richard Brown, who appears to teach at NYU. He hauls celebrities, mostly actors, in front of a class; the appeal seems to be that he does not tell his students in advance who will be gracing the stage. The only director is Scorsese, leaving aside people like George Clooney who also direct. But since this is the highlight of two seasons of episodes, it's possible that there are more directors in the episodes we don't get. (Wikipedia, to whom I might otherwise turn, is under blackout at the moment.) All but one of the people interviewed in the episodes at hand are very famous indeed; there are Academy Award winners and nominees a-plenty (the Academy's database is not currently returning results; maybe they're doing a work stoppage), and most of the others seem likely to get at least a nomination at some point in the future. And Our Celebrities sit and chat with Richard Brown about their lives and works, fielding some pretty softball questions for our edification. What I don't get is why one of the "highlights" of the course is Josh Lucas. I mean, okay, Cuba Gooding, Jr., hasn't had the best career since his Oscar win, which he does explain in some pretty serious detail. (Lesson One: Don't think winning an Oscar means you can do whatever you want.) But he does have that Oscar, and the soul-searching is valuable stuff for anyone looking to get into acting as a career. What's more, I had to look up who Josh Lucas even is, which puts him right out of place among people like Daniel Day-Lewis and Whoopi Goldberg. He was also so boring that his was the only episode I didn't even actually finish, so it can't be that he had such deeply fascinating things to say. When the great work your host is interviewing someone about is the remake of [i]The Poseidon Adventure[/i], you might want to consider that the guest hasn't done much worth talking about. So I'm a little confused by that, and it's definitely the weakest spot in the collection. However, I'm quite serious that the pieces are softballs. Asking Jennifer Connelly how she met her husband and what she thought of him on the set of [i]A Beautiful Mind[/i] is the sort of thing you should leave to [i]People Magazine[/i] puff pieces, not a serious interview in front of a film class. If you're going to have her there, why not ask her about working with Muppets? That's what most of your audience really wants to know about. Make Jon Voight actually tell you who the person considered first for Joe Buck in [i]Midnight Cowboy[/i] was! Oh, I know these people all want to work some more, but is it really going to destroy Julianne Moore's career if she names a few names? Have Willem Dafoe compare himself directly to various of his costars if he's going to start making comparisons. I mean, Richard Dreyfuss was willing to tell Nathan Rabin exactly what he thinks of Oliver Stone for the [i]My Year of Flops[/i] book. If you're making a show of having these people for your classes, really draw out the teaching moments. Do I think an interview with Dennis Quaid is essential? No. Susan Sarandon and Sigourney Weaver, possibly. But I think calling this "The Essential Interviews," as the DVD set does, is forcing the issue quite a bit. Though to be perfectly honest, I don't think any interview is essential when it comes to teaching film school. There are essential films to watch, but I think there's more to learn from them than from listening to the stories of the people who made them. I also don't think talking to any of those people is any more essential than talking to anyone else who made the movies. Does talking to Jeff Bridges tell you more about [i]The Fisher King[/i] than talking to Terry Gilliam--or Robin Williams? Or, indeed, any one of a number of people whose names most people don't know? I know someone who thinks going to film school is all that it takes to be someone who will change the world of film; I think perhaps the person she needs to hear interviewed is the second associate producer or something pettier still.

Edith Nelson
Edith Nelson

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