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Movies of Interest to Filmmakers, A-M

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Reviewed Products & Sources
Interesting Adaptation A lovelorn screenwriter turns to his less talented twin brother for help when his efforts to adapt a non-fiction book go nowhere. An account of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's attempt to adapt Susan Orlean's non-fiction book The Orchid Thief, which is the story of John Laroche, a plant dealer who clones rare orchids then sells them to collectors. We see the action of the book as we see Kaufman struggle to adapt it into a movie. The action of the movie perfectly portrays the mental process of creating a screenplay.
Interesting Always (1985) The many mysteries of marriage are explored in Always, a movie from love-him-or-hate-him writer-director Henry Jaglom. Jaglom himself plays David, who's about to get divorced from his wife, Judy (Patrice Townsend). But when a notary comes to sign the papers, David and Judy are so affectionate that the notary insists they reconsider over the Fourth of July weekend--a weekend that turns out to be filled with botulism, visiting friends, infidelity, barbecue, and lots and lots of talk about happiness and love. Jaglom's films are notorious for their psychobabble, but generally, just when you think you can't take another moment of narcissistic self-indulgence, something happens--sometimes something surprisingly moving, sometimes something joltingly funny. Jaglom has an ear and an eye for genuine human behavior; his characters can be annoying, but they rarely seem false. By the end, Always may prove to be unexpectedly involving."
Interesting American Movie is an often hilariously funny documentary about an inept, clueless filmmaker who does everything wrong. It perfectly illustrates what happens when you try to make a movie without a plan or basic skills.
Interesting The Anniversary Party (2001) It's easy to be skeptical when a couple of well-connected actors throw a script together, start shooting their fabulous friends with digital cameras, and call it a movie. But Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cumming, who bonded in Cabaret on Broadway, have crafted a rough little gem in The Anniversary Party. Influenced by Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Player, it's a devastating portrait of a fragile marriage and a perceptive look at life in Hollywood. The characters are based--to an eerie degree--on their Hollywood counterparts: Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates are a Shakespeare-quoting actor and his retired actress wife; Gwyneth Paltrow is a rising young starlet; etc. Leigh is an actress on the way down, and Cumming, a best-selling author and up-and-coming director, is the sexually ambiguous husband with whom she has recently reconciled. The titular party is to celebrate their sixth anniversary, and revelations about the characters accumulate as the evening progresses from a tense session of charades to an ecstasy-pill-fueled blowout by the pool. The screenplay combines brittle humor with melodrama and consists of more talk than action (as in the Dogme films that inspired it), but the proceedings are rarely less than compelling even if the characters, for the most part, aren't exactly the most likable bunch.
Must Have! Annie Hall Annie Hall is one of the truest, most bittersweet romances on film. In it, Allen plays a thinly disguised version of himself: Alvy Singer, a successful--if neurotic--television comedian living in Manhattan. Annie (the wholesomely luminous Dianne Keaton) is a Midwestern transplant who dabbles in photography and sings in small clubs. When the two meet, the sparks are immediate--if repressed. Alone in her apartment for the first time, Alvy and Annie navigate a minefield of self-conscious "is-this-person-someone-I'd-want-to-get-involved-with?" conversation. As they speak, subtitles flash their unspoken thoughts: the likes of "I'm not smart enough for him" and "I sound like a jerk." Despite all their caution, they connect, and we're swept up in the flush of their new romance. Allen's antic sensibility shines here in a series of flashbacks to Alvy's childhood, growing up, quite literally, under a rumbling roller coaster. His boisterous Jewish family's dinner table shares a split screen with the WASP-y Hall's tight-lipped holiday table, one Alvy has joined for the first time. His position as outsider is uncontestable he looks down the table and sizes up Annie's "Grammy Hall" as "a classic Jew-hater."
The relationship arcs, as does Annie's growing desire for independence. It quickly becomes clear that the two are on separate tracks, as what was once endearing becomes annoying. Annie Hall embraces Allen's central themes--his love affair with New York (and hatred of Los Angeles), how impossible relationships are, and his fear of death. But their balance is just right, the chemistry between Allen's worry-wart Alvy and Keaton's gangly, loopy Annie is one of the screen's best pairings. It couldn't be more engaging.
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Interesting Big Kahuna (2000) Two salesmen (Danny DeVito and Oscar winner Kevin Spacey) and a company researcher (Peter Facinelli) set up shop in a hotel suite in Wichita, Kansas, on a business trip. They hope to sell their particular brand of industrial lubricants to the elusive Mr. Fuller. Spacey and DeVito are seasoned pros, while Facinelli is excited about his first business trip. DeVito is going through some kind of mid-life crisis; Spacey is all about the sale and little else; and the new kid is naive, moral, and extremely religious. Once the characters are established, nothing much happens. They talk. They prepare for their sales party, and they talk. The event starts, but the movie quickly cuts to the mess in the room afterward so they can talk about what happened during the party. Even when Facinelli is given an invite to hang out with Mr. Fuller at a private party, the camera stays behind in the hotel room to listen to Spacey and DeVito talk. Talk talk talk. Based on the play by Roger Rueff, who also wrote the screenplay, The Big Kahuna never really feels like a movie, probably because it's all talk and no story, set in a hospitality suite that increasingly feels like a prison.
Must Have! Chinatown Hollis Mulwray is a chief engineer of the water department. Ida Sessions, pretending to be his wife Evelyn, asks P.I. JJ Jake Gittes to investigate his adulterous ways. Jake takes photos of Hollis with a young lady. Hollis then turns up murdered, which Jake decides to investigate. Jake finds more than he was looking for. He discovers a plot to buy cheap, unwatered land for low prices, water the land, and sell it for millions of dollars. The plot is masterminded by one Noah Cross, who is Evelyn's father and Hollis' one-time business partner. His investigation leads him to an affair with Evelyn and a discussion with Noah Cross, both of whom seem curiously interested in the girl Hollis was seen with.
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Must Have! Clerks (10th Anniversary Edition) (1994) Before Kevin Smith became a Hollywood darling with Chasing Amy, a film he wrote and directed, he made this $27,000 comedy about real-life experiences working for chump change at a New Jersey convenience store. A rude, foul-mouthed collection of anecdotes about the responsibilities that go with being on the wrong side of the till, the film is also a relationship story that takes some hilarious turns once the lovers start revealing their sexual histories to one another. In the best tradition of first-time, ultra-low budget independent films, Smith uses Clerks as an audition piece, demonstrating that he not only can handle two-character comedy but also has an eye for action--as proven in a smoothly handled rooftop hockey scene. Smith himself appears as a silent figure who hangs out on the fringes of the store's property.
Recommended Erin Brockovich A real woman. A real story. A real triumph. Julia Roberts stars as Erin Brockovich, a feisty young mother who fought for justice any way she knew how. Desperate for a job to support herself and her three children, she convinces attorney Ed Masry (Albert Finney) to hire her, and promptly stumbles upon a monumental law case against a giant corporation. Now, Erin's determined to take on this powerful adversary even though no law firm has dared to do it before. And while Ed doesn't want anything to do with the case, Erin won't take "no" for an answer. So the two begin an incredible and sometimes hilarious fight that will bring a small town to its feet and a huge company to its knees.
Must Have! The Fugitive Wrongly convicted of murdering his wife, Dr. Richard Kimble escapes from a prison bus and tries to find out why she was killed and who the murderer really was. He is relentlessly pursued by Samuel Gerard, a U.S. Marshal, and is forced to keep out of contact from any friends or relatives. However, his determination and ingenuity soon produce results and he comes to the frightening realisation that he can trust no one.
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Must Have! The Godfather Generally acknowledged as a bona fide classic, this Francis Ford Coppola film is one of those rare experiences that feels perfectly right from beginning to end--almost as if everyone involved had been born to participate in it. Based on Mario Puzo's bestselling novel about a Mafia dynasty, Coppola's Godfather extracted and enhanced the most universal themes of immigrant experience in America: the plotting-out of hopes and dreams for one's successors, the raising of children to carry on the good work, etc. In the midst of generational strife during the Vietnam years, the film somehow struck a chord with a nation fascinated by the metamorphosis of a rebellious son (Al Pacino) into the keeper of his father's dream. Marlon Brando played against Puzo's own conception of patriarch Vito Corleone, and time has certainly proven the actor correct. The rest of the cast, particularly James Caan, John Cazale, and Robert Duvall as the rest of Vito's male brood--all coping with how to take the mantle of responsibility from their father--is seamless and wonderful.
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Must Have! High Noon One of the greatest Westerns ever made gets the deluxe treatment on this superior disc from Republic Home Video's Silver Screen Classics line of special-edition DVDs. Written by Carl Foreman and superbly directed by Fred Zinnemann, this 1952 classic stars Gary Cooper as just-married lawman Will Kane, who is about to retire as a small-town sheriff and begin a new life with his bride (Grace Kelly) when he learns that gunslinger Frank Miller (Ian MacDonald) is due to arrive at high noon to settle an old score. Kane seeks assistance from deputies and townsfolk, but soon realizes he'll have to stand alone in his showdown with Miller and his henchmen. Innovative for its time, the suspenseful story unfolds in approximate real time (from 10:40 a.m. to high noon in an 84-minute film). This remains a milestone of its genre (often referred to as the first "adult" Western), and Cooper is flawless in his Oscar-winning role. The first-rate DVD gives this landmark film all the respect it deserves, beginning with a digitally remastered transfer from the original film negative. Additional features include the exclusive documentary The Making of High Noon, hosted by film historian Leonard Maltin and featuring interviews with the late Lloyd Bridges (who played Cooper's rival ex-deputy), director Fred Zinnemann, and producer Stanley Kramer..
Must Have! Home Alone Now and forever a favorite among kids, this 1990 comedy written by John Hughes (The Breakfast Club) and directed by Chris Columbus (Mrs. Doubtfire) ushered Macaulay Culkin onto the screen as a troubled 8-year-old who doesn't comfortably mesh with his large family. He's forced to grow a little after being accidentally left behind when his folks and siblings fly off to Paris. A good-looking boy, Culkin lights up the screen during several funny sequences, the most famous of which finds him screaming for joy when he realizes he's unsupervised in his own house. A bit wooden with dialogue, the then-little star's voice could grate on the nerves (especially in long, wise-child passages of pure bromide), but he unquestionably carries the film. Billie Bird and John Candy show up as two of the interesting strangers Culkin's character meets. Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern are entertainingly cartoonish as thieves, but the ensuing violence once the little hero decides to keep them out of his house is over-the-top.
Must Have! Jaws Martin Brody is the new police chief of Amity, an island resort town somewhere in New England. On a Summer morning, Brody is called to the beach, where the mangled body of Summer vacationer Chrissie Watkins has washed ashore. The medical examiner tells Brody that it could have been a shark that killed Watkins. Mayor Larry Vaughn, who is desperate to not lose the money that will be brought in by 4th of July tourists, wants Brody to say Watkins's death was caused by a motorboat propeller instead of a shark, because the thought of a shark in Amity's waters would drive tourists away from Amity. It looks like Vaughn is a mayor who puts money ahead of people's lives. Now the fun begins!
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Interesting Lifeboat (1944) Part mystery, part wartime polemic, Lifeboat finds director Alfred Hitchcock tackling a cinematic challenge that foreshadows the self-imposed handicaps of Rope and Rear Window. As with those subsequent features, Hitchcock confines his action and characters to a single set, in this instance the lone surviving lifeboat from an Allied freighter sunk by a German U-boat in the North Atlantic. A less confident, ingenious filmmaker might have opened up John Steinbeck's dialogue-driven character study beyond the battered boat and its cargo of survivors, but Hitchcock instead revels in his predicament to exploit the enforced intimacy between his characters.
Recommended Lost in La Mancha Because Terry Gilliam is unquestionably one of the great film directors of our time, Lost in La Mancha, a documentary that captures the collapse of his attempt to make a movie out of Don Quixote, makes for fascinating but painful viewing. Dogged by a reputation for being wasteful and out-of-control, Gilliam had to fight to gather the funding for the project, but the assembled cast (including French actor Jean Rochefort and Johnny Depp) and the fantastic design elements promised something glorious. Then jets flying overhead, flash floods, and the ill health of a lead actor completely sideswiped the already delicate production. The increasing stress and unhappiness of the filmmakers is gripping, but what truly tantalizes are the few bits of film that Gilliam managed to shoot--only two or three minutes of screen time, but enough to suggest a magnificent vision."
Interesting Memento Leonard (Guy Pearce) is an insurance investigator whose memory has been damaged following a head injury he sustained after intervening on his wife's murder. He can now only live a comprehendable life by tattooing notes on himself and taking pictures of things with a Polaroid camera. The movie is told in forward flashes of events that are to come. Leonard badly wants revenge for his wife's murder, but, as numerous characters explain, there may be little point if he won't remember it. This movie is as fine an example as you're going to find of taking a brilliantly simple idea and turning it into a gem of a low-budget movie.

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