I love movies and television.  And I love the ins and the outs of Hollywood (OK – honestly I love it mostly so I can make fun of it, but still…).  And usually when the two come together (meaning movies or TV shows ABOUT Hollywood), it rarely works.  I mean there are hits…like The Player, Sunset Boulevard, or The Bad and the Beautiful.  But, mostly there are misses.  And then there are the movies that are set in the world of Hollywood but are more about other storylines and not really entirely focused on the movie business, such as Singin’ in the Rain, Hugo, Extras (well, that’s not HOLLYWOOD, per se, since it’s set in London, but it’s still a TV show about the movie/TV industry). 

Episodes, like Extras, is a joint television presentation between Showtime and the BBC (Extraswas between HBO and the BBC).  And the cast is British/American too.  The two main characters, TV screenwriters from London who move to Hollywood to “re-do” their hit UK show there, are British (Tamsin Greig as Beverly and Stephen Mangan as Sean).  But, the “actor” who gets the part in the American version of the show is played by VERY-American actor Matt LeBlanc, best known for the iconic Joey on the iconic sitcom Friends.  Because LeBlanc is the complete opposite of the character in the British version of the show, the entire show has to be re-worked to cater to LeBlanc’s younger, more attractive character.  This, naturally, causes tension between Beverly and Sean since they know they have “sold out” for success and money. 
The writing is rapier sharp…in all the right places.  The humor is dark and sarcastic but super witty.  The “Hollywood” characters have just the right tone of dishonesty/falseness.  And the relationship between Beverly and Sean has just the right amount of homesickness, selfishness and pride.  If you know anything at all about the goings-on of Hollywood, you will love this show.  Even if you do not know about or even enjoy the “Hollywood” scene, I’m still thinking you will love it. 
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A fun, lively film about an entertainer/magician/all-around-showman who has a final last hurrah in the spotlight, which is much more than he really deserves. John Malkovich comes across with a unique, completely original character that makes me respect him more as an actor. After playing bad guy after bad guy, his performances got a little monotonist. Here, though, Malkovich cannot be called anything but unusual and exceptional. The story of a “Kreskin-like” illusionist (actually, Buck Howard was inspired by The Amazing Kreskin, which you find out at the end) who we think is waning toward retirement. When he comes up with one last big idea to gain some popularity back, of course the audience thinks he’s crazy (which is pretty accurate). But, the idea, by some twist of fate, takes off and gives him more success than he’s ever had. The story itself is silly at times but Malkovich makes this movie with his quirky, distinctive performance.

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Interviews with Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Barbra Streisand and Clint Eastwood, done with moderator James Lipton’s trademark blue question cards, do not get any better. Anyone who likes film, has an interest in the film business, or even just likes any one of these actors needs to see this. Lipton starts, as usual, with childhood question, but quickly moves into the acting process and breaking into the business. All four actors are candid and forthright…especially Streisand, who I expected to be more buttoned-up. Newman was Lipton’s first guest so you will also see the evolution of the show as well. Lipton focuses mostly on the acting process and getting to the core of how their individual method works. A great study on acting, actors and film in general!

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In the world of show business, there is a lot of material for comedy. And The Office (the British television show) creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant use every last one of the opportunities for humor until the well is dry and until the audience is laughing so hard they cannot get off the couch to put the next disc in. Again, Gervais acts in the series also, as he did in The Office and his comic timing is just brilliant. He plays a struggling actor who makes a living as an extra in movies and TV. Unlike most extras, his character sees all of his “extra” roles as small, bit parts which will lead to larger and better roles. Naturally, this is not always the case, which adds to much of the humor. A series of “real” famous actors as guest stars helps make this comedy series a real winner.

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A dark, yet I’m sure realistic look at Hollywood in the 1950s through the eyes of a director, writer and actress. Kirk Douglas stars as the son of a vicious and unloved Hollywood studio head who even has to have his son bribe people to come to his funeral. His son, idealistic at first, soon has the movie business corrupt and harden him, just as it had done to his father. Told in a series of three flashbacks from each of the main players in Douglas’ life (the writer, the director and the actress), it is a well-done film that didn’t hold back any punches when it came to the truth about the movie business and its players.

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After watching this film, saying “good morning” to folks takes on a whole new meaning. You say it and then just want to burst into song… “Good mornin’, good mo-o-ornin’… We’ve talked the whole night through…” etc. OK – maybe that’s just me. Maybe you won’t feel compelled to dance and sing around but I sure did after seeing this classic for the first time…and even subsequent times. Singin’ in the Rain is addictive. Yes, it is corny and hokey, but name a musical from the first part of the 20th Century that wasn’t. At least this one is poking fun at the movie industry and, in turn, itself. Unlike most of the Lerner/Loewe and Rogers/Hammerstein musicals of this same period, Singin’ in the Rain is more of a comedy than a drama. Well, OK, it does get pretty melodramatic but add Donald O’Conner to anything and comedy usually ensues. So, if you haven’t seen this one…or even if it has been a long time…check it out. When you walk into work tapping your toes, just sing “Good mornin’” to your co-workers and they will understand!

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Narrated by a dead man (something we learn right upfront), this film is one of the most biting, harsh commentaries ever filmed. Attacking Hollywood (which for a Hollywood movie is a risk) had been done before this film and has been done since but nothing packs the same kind of punch as the decline of the old, washed-up silent movie star Norma Desmond, played perfectly by another washed-up silent star Gloria Swanson. William Holden plays Joe Gillis, a down-on-his-luck screenwriter who becomes Ms. Desmond’s personal screenwriter and “companion.” Director Billy Wilder uses the screen here to make a film as dark and dismal as the plot…and this only enhances the story. An example would be the house Norma lives in…Wilder shoots it like a funeral home. It’s always dark and shadowy, just like Norma and her dreams of a “comeback.” There are some things in this film that seem to be just added for “dark” comic effect…like the burial of the monkey. Yes—monkey. These little oddities add to Norma’s dark and foreboding feel…she’s not only a has-been but Wilder wants us to also know she’s mentally unstable. Holden does a great job as the “sane” character in the film. His performance is crucial since it has to be the glue that holds all of the insanity together. But, it also has to be strong since we know he’s a doomed man. After all…it is his character floating in the pool, dead, at the beginning of the film…

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Humphrey Bogart is downright scary in this one…directed by Rebel Without a Cause director Nicholas Ray. Like another Bogart film noir film, Dark Passage from 1947, this is another one that Hollywood didn’t like to make that often…no “happy” ending. Most film noirs don’t end conventionally happy, but they do find some sort of resolution. There is no resolution here…In a Lonely Place ends even darker than it begins. The story revolves around Bogart’s character, who is a struggling screenwriter trying to get back on his professional feet. He has no desire to read the book he’s been asked to adapt so when he meets a young lady who has read it, he asks her to tell him the story…at his apartment. Nothing “bad” seems to happen but the next morning when we find out the girl has been murdered, we really are not sure how innocent Bogart really is. I mean, this is a man out of control. Right from the beginning, we see he has a bad temper and it only gets worse. This is NOT a nice guy, but somehow, due to the director of Ray and mostly to the stellar acting of Bogart, we like him. We feel for him and we WANT him to be innocent, even though we’re not 100% sure he is. One of Bogart’s best performances!!!

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Wait for a bumpy night and put this classic zinger on. This film revitalized Bette Davis’ ailing career and as soon as she speaks in this one, you will know it’s a performance she was born to play. Davis plays an acclaimed and long-standing Broadway actress who is the object of a wannabe starlet’s attention. At first, it seems the young upstart is just that…someone who is in awe at Davis’ mere presence. As the film goes on, we come to find out she’s much more than an impressionable, naive girl. The young girl, played by Anne Baxter, is great but Davis steals this movie right out from under her. Yes, this is the film that coined the phrase, “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.” And one could say the same about Davis’ performance here…strap yourself in because you will be surprised.

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