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Despite the title, there is nothing at all new about this romantic comedy, but it manages to endear itself anyway.

Renée Zellweger plays uptight and ambitious Lucy Hill, an ambitious, stiletto heel-wearing executive based in Miami who thinks she can get a promotion by taking on a new assignment to oversee the retrofitting and downsizing of a manufacturing plant in Minnesota. As she discovers over and over, she is clearer on the theory than the reality, starting with concepts like “cold” and “snow.” And “factory” and “downsizing.” Casual decisions about eliminating jobs are a lot easier when looking at budgets and bar charts, not people.

The people Lucy meets in the small town of New Ulm are straight from the Ma and Pa Kettle school of movie country folk: cute, quirky, corny, colorful, and sometimes cantankerous. They are given to expressions like “Oh, cry in my cheese-beer soup!” And of course there is the handsome single dad (Harry Connick, Jr. as Ted) with whom Lucy will have to get off on the wrong (stiletto-clad) foot before discovering an unexpected (only to her) connection.

What works here is the easy chemistry between the two leads (despite the distraction of whatever Zellweger has done to her face). While it may seem at first as though the film is making fun of the locals, it is Lucy who takes most of the literal and metaphoric pratfalls. The film shows an unusual level of respect in a mainstream film for the New Ulmers’ religious faith, sense of community, generosity, and resilience. Both sides have to adjust their assumptions and discard their prejudices, but making Lucy’s journey the steeper climb gives the story some added sweetness. There may be nothing new here, but like one character’s favorite recipe, sometimes bland can still be tasty.

Many thanks to Phil Hall for taking the time to be interviewed about his new book, The History of Independent Cinema.

How do you define independent cinema?

I see independent films as productions that are financed and created outside of the Hollywood studio system.

Who were some of the earliest pioneers?

You would need to go back to the silent era. Carl Laemmle and Adolph Zukor challenged the attempt by Thomas A. Edison to create a monopoly on film production and distribution. Those two men literally kicked down the door to enable independent filmmaking to flourish. D.W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” may be a morally reprehensible film, but it was the first independently produced film to elevate a cinematic release to the level of national conversation. L. Frank Baum, the author of “The Wizard of Oz,” is responsible for the first film franchise, circa 1914 with a brief series of Oz-related films. Lee DeForest and Theodore Case were the leaders in bringing sound to film, while Herbert Kalmus and his partners at the Technicolor Corporation helped to expand the cinematic palette beyond black and white.

Where do independent films get financing?

Traditionally, from private investors. Some filmmakers have self-financed their work, which is easier to do today since the costs of equipment is not very expensive.

What have been some of the innovations in independent film-making that have been adopted by studio films?

For starters, the first film made in Hollywood was an independently financed production – Cecil B. DeMille’s 1913 “The Squaw Man.” The concept of the movie star was invented by Carl Laemmle, who also cooked up the first movie publicity stunt (the rumor that his first star, Florence Lawrence, was killed in a streetcar accident).

As previously mentioned, the use of color and sound in filmmaking and the film franchise originated with independent producers. The use of three-dimensional cinematography, widescreen projection, and video in place of 35mm film stock were all independent creations.

Which independent directors have become mainstream? Which independent actors?

There is a list in the book that I call the indie-to-Hollywood train, and its passengers have included Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, John Waters, Ralph Bakshi, George Lucas, Terrence Malick, Tobe Hooper, John Carpenter, Joan Micklin Silver, David Lynch, Joe Dante, Susan Seidelman, Joel and Ethan Coen, Gus Van Sant, Spike Lee, Steven Soderbergh, Richard Linklater, Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith, Robert Rodriguez, Edward Burns and Darren Aronofsky.

As for actors, Jack Nicholson is arguably the most prominent – rising from Roger Corman’s no-budget flicks to winning three Academy Awards.

Our deepest gratitude for the honor and sacrifice of all who have served our country.

Question: I saw this movie a long time ago back between 1999-2002. It’s a drama movie that I can’t think of the name of it. It’s about a married couple and the husband lets his mother who is between 50-60 yrs. of age come to live with them after her husband passed away. The husband and wife have this big house and he hires a maintenance worker to clean around the house and do some repairs. When the mother moves in sooner or later the mother and the maintenance guy who is very young about in is 20’s start to have an affair and try to keep it away from the son. It’s a great movie, one that I’ve been trying to find so if you know this movie please let me know the name of it.
Answer: That movie is “The Mother” and the handyman is played by future James Bond Daniel Craig.
Question: I remember my mom letting me watch a romantic comedy in the mid to late 1960’s about a “career” girl in a big city somewhere. She’s dating several different guys and they are all crazy about her. She ends up pregnant and we don’t know who the father is until the very end. She may have secretly married him or else they married in the hospital corridors – I can’t remember. (I know it’s not the Doris Day/Rock Hudson movie.) I think I remember that all the boyfriends are trying to convince her to marry them. I recognized most of the boyfriends from other movies and I think most of them were popular actors at the time.
Answer: That movie is “Doctor, You’ve Got to Be Kidding” with Sandra Dee, George Hamilton, and Bill Bixby.
Question: I’ve been looking for a film. I don’t know the name of it, or any actors in it. It’s about a woman who is kidnapped by a truck driver when their car breaks down. Her husband then goes looking for her and finds her locked in a cellar in his garage.

Answer: That’s “Breakdown” with Kurt Russell — very scary!
Question: Last year I happened on a movie on satellite where the US President became confined in a diner due to a snow storm – an international conflict flared and he was having to make tough decisions without the usual support – I had to leave suddenly and never saw the second half or even the name of the movie – can you help? Thanks
Answer: I am very fond of that movie! It is “Deterrence” with Kevin Pollack. I hope you get to see the ending!
Question: I saw this movie about 2 years ago with a woman in a window of a building and can not remember the name of it. I think the woman was in some kind of prison because she couldn’t leave and there were bars on the window. I do remember that she becomes friends with a young boy who she would speak to through the window and helps him in some kind of way by teaching him some kind of life lesson. The movie was focused around the boy. When he got older he went to see the woman again who I believe had her own house. The boy was white and the woman was black. It wasn’t a recent movie. I can’t remember much else. Please help? I would appreciate it so much. =]
Answer: That movie is “House of D.” The woman is played by Erykah Badu.
Question: Hello Nell. I was hoping you could help me figuring out the title of a movie i saw a while ago. It is about an English woman in a terribly boring and consuming marriage. She has no communication with her husband, and she ends up talking to the wall. The major part of the film’s dialogue is her talking to the camera (wall). After a glimpse to her life, she decides to go to Greece (with a friend that later ditches her). She meets a man (kinda tourist guide) and goes with him on a boat to an island where they make love. I remember that the title is the name of the woman, but I cant remember it.
Thank you very much for your help.

Answer: That movie is “Shirley Valentine,” with Pauline Collins. Enjoy!

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