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Case Number 12751

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Movies 101: The Essential Interviews

City Lights Media // 2005 // 720 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // January 14th, 2008

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All Rise...

Judge Joel Pearce doesn't just want a film course in a box, he wants a masters program in cinema studies in a box.

The Charge

The essential interviews

Opening Statement

In retrospect, I'm not sure what I was expecting when I sat down to Movies 101. Perhaps I was impacted by the promise that the set comes from one of the best film courses in the country. How exciting, I thought, to get the chance to audit a course like that in DVD format. That would, of course, be cool, but that's not what Movies 101 has to offer. Instead, it is an interview show, as professor Richard Brown sits down and has conversations with many of the talents in the center of the Hollywood universe. Certainly not what I expected, but it's also not a disappointment. These are some of the best interviews I've ever seen.

Facts of the Case

As part of his famous film course at NYU, professor Richard Brown often invites celebrities to give his class and audience a chance to sit in on their conversations. These discussions cover all manner of topics, from the process of movie making to the experiences of being famous. Since I don't have access to the rest of the course, Movies 101 really just plays like an interview show with famous film celebrities.

The Evidence

I probably sound very disappointed that the Movies 101 set isn't a film course in a box, and I'm sure many of you are laughing at me for my ignorance. Well, I don't want to sound too disappointed, because I was absolutely engrossed by the interviews contained in this set. From people that I already respect highly to people that I have always dismissed out of hand, each one of these interviews does peer deeply into the art of acting, the art of making movies, and the art of living in the spotlight. There are four discs in total, each one with four separate interviews:

Disc 1: Award Winners
• Martin Scorsese
If any director could be considered an authority on New York, it would be Martin Scorsese. He is also, as it turns out, an extremely warmhearted and forthcoming man, who speaks from the heart with humility and humor in the face of his numerous successes. In this interview, he dives into ideas about his own films, and talks about art and the city he loves. It's a fabulous interview, one that sets the tone wonderfully for the rest of the set.

• Whoopi Goldberg
I suppose we shouldn't be too shocked to learn that a good interview with Whoopi Goldberg is a good time, and it is. It's also illuminating, because Goldberg has never been a traditional film star, and her recounting of the way she ended up starring in A Color Purple is one of the most sincere and touching moments on the disc.

• Cuba Gooding Jr.
It's easy to forget Cuba Gooding Jr.'s breakthrough role in Jerry Maguire in favor of the lighthearted fluff that he's been churning out since. Still, this interview has great value because it explores the ideology of a largely physical actor, one who trains through sports and movement. He's a very pleasant guy, too, and it makes me hope to see him in more top-notch productions in the future.

• Susan Sarandon
If Susan Sarandon comes across as a tough, uncompromising activist in the media, that's probably because she is exactly that. Her interview covers the balance between her personal and professional life, and also digs into the challenges that come with playing characters that truly exist. Sarandon is brilliant and sincere, making this one of the most challenging conversations on the disc.

Disc 2: Leading Ladies

• Jennifer Connelly
I have been a huge fan of Jennifer Connelly since seeing Labyrinth as a kid. She has grown up into a skilled and daring actress, and it's not many ex-models that would be willing to take that role in Requiem for a Dream. This interview looks at these successes, but it also spends a little time (if not enough) talking about her experiences working on Hulk, which must be a hard thing to talk about. Why do we ignore films that didn't work out well?

• Jennifer Aniston
Although many of the names on this list are easily recognizable, few have reached the level of raw celebrity that Jennifer Aniston has. And, somewhere along the way, she's also developed a reputation as a fluffy actress, a myth that she has battled through films like The Good Girl. This interview comes during the media storm of her divorce, and it's a great study of the double-edged sword of celebrity.

• Julianne Moore
Julianne Moore is another actor who takes serious risks with her film selection, and her interview reveals that she is a fun-loving yet highly intelligent woman. It is another standout conversation, as she talks about the experiences she has had working with so many of the industry's best directors.

• Sigourney Weaver
Although it's easy to think of Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley, she has had a long and impressive career spanning a range of genres and performances. In this interview, she recounts some of the best moments in that career, including her experiences on the sets of Alien, Ghostbusters, and The Ice Storm. She is extremely articulate, and the stories she tells are fascinating.

Disc 3: Leading Men

• George Clooney
Over the past few years, George Clooney has made a quick transition from heartthrob leading man to a producer and director on projects like Good Night and Good Luck. He also gives a great interview, taking a look at fame from one generation older. He is grateful his fame did not come earlier in his career, and his justification for that is surprising and interesting.

• Josh Lucas
When I was first browsing the list of performers on this set, I was a bit surprised to see Josh Lucas among such auspicious groups. I'm a little less surprised after seeing this interview. His interview reveals him as an upcoming star to watch, a confident, intelligent actor who chooses projects more for his own sense of fun than the promise of success. Actors like that are the one who find themselves in the most exciting projects, and I look forward to seeing what comes next for him.

• Daniel Day-Lewis
If this set comes with one unusual and awesome opportunity, it's this interview with Daniel Day-Lewis, shortly after he came out of a self-imposed retirement as a cobbler in Italy to play in Scorsese's Gangs of New York. He doesn't give many interviews, although his is one of the most enlightening and entertaining of the bunch. He recounts his stories as a young actor and his intense method-acting approach for My Left Foot and other highly regarded films. The thing that impresses most is his humility, a rare thing to see in one of the best actors currently working.

• Dennis Quaid
Dennis Quaid comes at this interview looking back on a long and varied career, and it's an entertaining ride. He also speaks with an unexpected candor, and his talks about the struggles between himself and the director of Great Balls of Fire tell us more about the filmmaking process than most of the production featurettes that I've seen. He's a pleasantly down-to-earth guy, and it makes for a fine interview.

Disc 4: Icons

• Jon Voight
An entertaining storyteller, Jon Voight's interview doesn't always relate to the art of filmmaking, but it's certainly never dull. He reminisces about some of the remarkable films early in his career, though, and it's very interesting to see how some people are able to land so many interesting roles.

• Jeff Bridges
I've always considered Jeff Bridges to be one of the most reliable (and underrated) actors in Hollywood. Richard Brown approaches him with the same level of respect, and focuses on what it's like to become an actor in a large family of celebrities. Like many of the others, this interview shows him to be both pleasant and articulate—an ordinary guy that has managed to make a big career in the movies.

• Willem Dafoe
With little formal acting training, Willem Dafoe has gained a lot of respect as a character actor. This interview comes shortly after his remarkable turn in Shadow of the Vampire, and he talks with humor and humility about the roles that he has played. He is surprisingly down to earth considering some of the controversial roles that he has played, which makes it a rich discussion to sit in on.

• Kevin Kline
The last interview in the set is with the fabulously versatile Kevin Kline. The interview on this disc discusses a wide range of films, from A Fish Called Wanda to The Ice Storm. The interview itself is witty and fun, a reminder of his talents as an actor and a performer.

Is it worth checking out this set? If you are a fan of these celebrities and want to see deeper into their experiences, this is a fine way to start. The interviews are a flawless balance of information and entertainment. It isn't the stunning peek into the moviemaking process that we're promised on the cover, but we would be hard pressed to find a better collection of celebrity interviews. A big part of the credit has to go to Richard Brown, who clearly prepares for these interviews but also thinks well on his feet, taking the discussions into new topics with an organic fluidity. The celebrities obviously respect him, which means that they open up more than I've seen in most interviews.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Of course, Richard Brown is very careful to keep up his relationship with these celebrities. In order to maintain face, he often shies away from the tough questions. All actors make bad films sometimes, and Brown sometimes dodges bullets by glossing over the bad moments in each celebrity's career. At times, I wonder if these interviews would be even better had Brown been willing to ask some tough questions and go into some of the rockier topics. Still, I realize that it's a sacrifice that he needs to make to remain part of the moviemaking machine.

In terms of the transfer, Movies 101 is delivered as well as anyone could expect. It's an interview show, after all, but we do get an anamorphic widescreen transfer that looks quite nice. The dialogue is always easy to understand, too, which is the only requirement for the Dolby Stereo sound.

We also get a wide range of special features, including a number of interviews with Brown, exploring his approach to the art of interviewing celebrities. These are good, but Brown is definitely best when he allows himself to be eclipsed by the presence of celebrities. We get a bit of bonus footage as well, but most of it is on the film's webpage (linked on the DVD), which anyone has free access to.

Closing Statement

If anything, Richard Brown's Movies 101 has become too successful. It is no longer truly a part of the education establishment, and has been transformed into a part of the industry it once studies at arm's length. This is not necessarily a bad thing for us, because it still allows us to see some of the best celebrity interviews going. It really is worth checking out. Even if you have watched the interviews on television, you get a lot more of the conversations here.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 90
Audio: 85
Extras: 80
Acting: 90
Story: 86
Judgment: 87

Perp Profile

Studio: City Lights Media
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 720 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Behind the Scenes Featurettes
• Additional Interviews
• Highlights


• IMDb
• Official Site

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