‘Live from Baghdad;’ Hysterical Blindness;’ ‘Normal;’ ‘My House in Umbria’

The year in telepics

As Yogi Berra famously said, “It’s deja vu all over again.”

President Bush sending troops into war against Saddam Hussein and securing a relatively easy victory.

While HBO’s “Live From Baghdad” focused on the CNN crew that ended up having exclusive coverage of the 1991 Gulf War, the story also reflected current events.

“The movie had value independent of the timing, but that was eerie,” says Keri Putnam, senior VP of HBO Films. “It provided a different perspective on the business of collecting the news.”

In the telepic, Michael Keaton and Helena Bonham Carter are news producers who must decide whether to stay in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad as the U.S. military is about to begin bombing.

“Live From Baghdad” helped present the danger that many journos face covering war. While a great majority of the scribes covering the recent war came out unscathed, a few reporters — NBC’s David Bloom and Atlantic Monthly magazine editor-at-large Michael Kelly — were killed.

Washington Post critic Tom Shales called the Mick Jackson-directed telepic “a combination of ‘Broadcast News’ and ‘The Year of Living Dangerously’ … compelling and rich with exotic detail.”

Back in America — New Jersey to be precise — Juliette Lewis and Uma Thurman starred in “Hysterical Blindness” as a pair of big-hair Garden State gals looking for a man in all the wrong places.

Directed by “Monsoon Wedding” helmer Mira Nair, “Blindness” was a pet project of Thurman, who served as exec producer. “She had incredible passion for it and brought it to us,” explains Putnam. “It was a world that was so fully observed.”

Wrote San Francisco Chronicle critic Carla Meyer: “Nair and writer Laura Cahill dare to build a movie around some flawed but rather unexceptional women, emerging with a fine character study that’s short on plot but rich in the tiny revelations of real life.”

HBO’s last two telefilms — “Normal” and “My House in Umbria” — were heavy with Oscar-winning thesps.

Based on the Jane Anderson play, “Normal” starred Oscar-winner Jessica Lange and nominee Tom Wilkinson in a story that’s anything but. The latter plays a longtime married husband who feels an overwhelming desire to become a woman. Lange is the spouse who manages to hang on to the man who’s not much of a man anymore.

“We couldn’t have been luckier with the casting,” says Putnam. “Tom brings an incredible humanity to it and with Jessica there’s a huge emotional range.”

“My House in Umbria” features Oscar winners Maggie Smith and Chris Cooper as train passengers who help each other cope after a terrorist attack.

Based on the novel by William Trevor and directed by HBO vet Richard Loncraine (“The Gathering Storm,” “Band of Brothers”), “Umbria” was filmed on location in the Tuscany region of Italy.

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