Most of our 6 Degrees followers know of the many problems I’ve written about regarding the current superhero and comic-book genre and Hollywood’s love of remakes. For the most part, we’ve been able to write about films that are interesting and innovative, with both the documentary and indie film format being two of the most recommended as we see each new film season begin and cycle through the predictable rounds. One bright spot has always been the animated films for children which often use unique and creative ways to communicate and really work to stimulate the imagination of young kids. But even the awards and upcoming film lists have begun to lose their value as we see less original work recognized, and more formulaic and rehashed material used.
CGI hasn’t helped as we see many big ticket spectacles relying heavily on Computer generated images to tell the story. So we have come to the new summer film lineup. I am recommending less than five films I see in the latest Hollywood lineup. They are: Shaft, Aladdin, Once Upon a Time in America, The Lion King and The Secret Lives of Pets 2.
This is remarkable and a first, as I think back on the years where we have listed an average of fifteen to twenty films. The documentary titles are unique, and have also been a bright spot in the movie listings, with recent films like Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and Amazing Grace both showcasing the lives of great departed American icons from our recent past. Even with the blip on the radar of documentary work and innovative kids films, there is really not enough to warrant a Summer Film Newsletter list.
However, there is some good news on the Indie Film front. The releases of Independent films with unique plots and A-list actors has grown in past years. This summer, there are the following:
The Dead Don’t Die: Directed by Jim Jarmusch and starring Chloe Sevigny, Bill Murray and others. The plot: 3 small town police officers join forces with a morgue expert (Tilda Swinton) to combat a zombie attack.
Wild Rose: A musical drama about a young Scottish single mother who is released from prison and dreams of going to Nashville and becoming a country singer. Julie Walters stars as her disapproving mother.
Them That Follow: Set in Appalachia, the story is about a pastor’s daughter in a love triangle with a young man who is skeptical of the snake-handling church and its beliefs and the boy who is part of the congregation and is the chosen suitor her father is pushing on her.
Ophelia tells the story in Hamlet of the ill-fated girlfriend and of Hamlet’s mother Gertrude from a feminist’s point of view.
In classic Indie fashion, here’s an intriguing ‘What if” for a plot. What if the Beatles had never been discovered and no one but you knew about their music? The film from director Danny Boyle, Yesterday, imagines a young musician waking up after an accident to find the world has never heard of the Beatles music. He sets himself the task of bringing the legendary band’s music to an uninitiated world.
Another musical entry is Blinded by the Light, a musical drama from Sundance that is a joyous celebration of the music of Bruce Springsteen.
Finally, there is Official Secrets, starring Keira Knightley as a whistleblower who leaks information to the press about illegal activities from the US leading to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Ralph Fiennes also starts in this film which debuted at Sundance.
There are other intriguing plots this summer in the Indie category, but none of the films previewed for major release, in my opinion, has either an original plot or a unique spin. That is a sad commentary on the state of Hollywood and the type of films that are green-lighted these days.
Hello Film Fans! We have a new list for those of you who are like me and keep a running list for your Armchair Film Festival. The films listed here are shown on Turner Classic Movies in April. Most are available on Netflix or other online streaming services. We have listed films on strong women role models; the films of Stanley Kubrick; films with Steve McQueen and a few other generational films that mark the era in which they were made. All of these are recommended to watch and record at some point in your life as ‘must see’ movies.
Films about strong women: Adam’s Rib and Ninotchka are both being shown and the question is often asked: Why should we care about these old black & white movies?
Adam’s Rib is a story of two lawyers, a married couple, who suddenly find themselves embroiled in a courtroom drama where a woman who was experiencing domestic abuse (played by Judy Holliday), tries to kill her husband. The story is a far advanced pre-cursor about women’s rights and is a timely message for this #MeToo era we are in. Katherine Hepburn is the perfect foil for Spencer Tracy, and this is probably their best film together.
Ninotchka is one of the Garbo films showing this month, and one that I find the most ‘watchable’ of her work. She was known for her aloof air, and the billing was “Garbo Laughs” to sell this picture. It is a story of pre Cold War Russia and the character of Russians infiltrating and a happy go lucky American who is sent to deal with them is particularly timely in this age of Russian involvement in our elections
Films from Stanley Kubrick; 2001: A Space Odyssey and Dr Strangelove; these are two films made for our time.
Here’s a link to the 6 Degrees Dr Strangelove review, and again, in this political climate, no matter what your political stance may be, the notion that a film that was written as a serious take on the Cold War posturing was turned into a black comedy by Kubrick was a genius move. Apart from 2001, this is one of my favorite films from Kubrick
2001: A Space Odyssey was a precursor to everything. All things sci-fi; before there was a Star Wars, before there was a Star TREK, before there was any notion of the world envisioned by George Lucas, there was 2001: A Space Odyssey. It is one of the best films ever made, according to most acclaimed critics, and I share that view. The film perfectly encapsulates a time period where we were beginning to explore space, and ask questions about the meaning of the big picture in science, which has led to the era of quantum computers and the Big Bang and serious talk of Einstein’s Unified Theory.
Here’s an excerpt from my book, 6 Degrees of Film on 2001:
2001: A Space Odyssey—This great film works on
many different levels and is the gold standard for most
science-fiction films of the latter part of the twentieth
century. The beginning and end of the film take place
in very different settings than one would think of as
“outer space.” The scenes with the apes on earth and
the old man in a sterile room contrast directly with the
high-tech world associated with science fiction, and
they are vital for the film to work.
Six Degrees of Film: Science-fiction films, futuristic
and innovative speculative fiction, Aliens, Blade
Runner, The Matrix
Films with Steve McQueen: McQueen embodied the essence of what is ‘cool’, in a way perhaps more than anyone after James Dean, who died too young to really crystallize the essence of cool meant to a grown man. Bullitt and Soldier in the Rain are both shown on TCM this month, and in both, McQueen takes the legacy of James Dean to another level.
Bullitt is almost the natural continuation of a legacy that began in the fifties with Dean in Rebel Without a cause and Giant. Paul Newman and Steve McQueen were the natural successors to this legacy and the embodiment of the persona of ‘cool’ as defined by Hollywood and a new era of movie stars.
In Bullitt, one of McQueen’s best films, the first of the ubiquitous car chase sequences is filmed in San Francisco, with McQueen driving his iconic Mustang through the city in a first of its kind car chase. And in Soldier in the Rain, McQueen acts opposite Jackie Gleason, where Gleason plays a straight role that is perfectly suited for the larger than life swaggering characters that he made famous.
Charlie Chaplin at his best: He was the most famous movie star and the most recognizable character during Hollywood’s early years. Chaplin’s “The Little Tramp’ was instantly recognized all around the globe. And in the era of silent film, something that has been lost since the early 20’s is the universality of the character that didn’t depend upon dialogue when creating film stories and sequences. The notions of living in poverty and scraping by were also part of the Tramp’s appeal. The Gold Rush is one of his most famous films, and the sequence where he dances with the bread rolls is also one of the most widely shown segments in this film.
The Thin Man is another classic esteemed for the witty dialogue and captivating characters. Myrna Loy and William Powell were brought back for sequels for many years. In the era we live in of continual sequels, it proves that what’s old is new again!
Here’s an excerpt from 6 Degrees of Film about the writing team for The Thin Man series:
Goodrich and Hackett
Francis Goodrich and husband Albert Hackett were coauthors
of three screenplays based on Dashiell Hammett’s 1934 novel
The Thin Man. Longtime friends of Hammett, they found and
nursed him through more than one drunken spree.
Goodrich and Hackett came to Hollywood in the middle
of the talkies panic. At first, they were under contract with
MGM and had credits for at least thirteen films, including the
Thin Man series. The Nick and Nora Charles partnership was
Dashiell Hammett’s invention, but Goodrich and Hackett took
the brand and made it their own. The witty, companionable
back-and-forth banter between Nick and Nora set The Thin
Man scripts apart; the barbs and counter-barbs made the series
resonate with a kind of literate love talk, a sustaining of the
relationship’s vitality and edge—and its equality.”
The Graduate; told the story of the sixties, encapsulated on film. The emergence of the anti-hero in Dustin Hoffman, a short and funny and virtually unknown young actor with an everyman appeal was one of the more startling and lingering after-effects from the film. The plot where the young man is having an affair with an older woman was also a topic not often directed to comedy in film; and this was considered an extremely risqué subject at its debut. Finally, the direction of Mike Nichols combined with the memorable musical score of Simon & Garfunkel sets this film apart and overlays the time capsule of the sixties as an indelible part of the theme of isolation in a changing world.
Picnic at Hanging Rock; one of the best of director Peter Weir; and the beginning of a Golden Age for Australian filmmakers. In an era of films that were breaking out from formulas that tied them to the times they were made in, this movie has a timeless appeal. Peter Weir directs this film that defines the new era of independent film-makers and gives audiences food for thought without overlapping dialogue or story arcs. The film is a quiet study that has a haunting quality throughout that lingers with the hints of foreboding found in the girls’ actions before they embark on their ill-fated excursion to Hanging Rock. Again, this film deals with the theme of isolation in a way that Weir brings home through the use of slow-motion camera shots and a haunting theme that is in sync with the silent desperation shown in this unique, groundbreaking classic.
From 6 Degrees of Film book:
Picnic at Hanging Rock—Another early film of Peter
Weir, this film is based on a true story* of a group
of Australian girls picnicking at a popular tourist
attraction called Hanging Rock during the Victorian
era. They are lost and some never return, but the ones
who do seem to have suffered a life-altering experience.
The event has undertones of horror and sexual tension
as the returning girls struggle to tell the adults what
happened. *Although this has been disputed…
Hope you enjoy the Armchair Film Fest for this month. Till next time, see you at the movies!-ML
Hello Film Fans: In honor of Women’s History Month, there is a list of films that were showcased and highlighted this past month on Turner Classic. I recommend to record as most are seen fairly regularly or are easy to rent. Some of these women were groundbreaking pioneers as there characters on film show us that we have always revered women who are smart and funny and courageous. It’s not always been easy to find your niche when Hollywood had the casting couch and the Golden Age of Film was not known for championing women’s causes or for enlightenment. But a new day is dawn, and we are not turning back. Here’s a list of films and women who were featured this past month on Turner Classic:
Carole Lombard in To Be or not to Be: Carole Lombard was known as one of the most versatile comediennes of her era or any other. She really played straight man to Jack Benny in this piece. Benny’s timing was unmatched, but Lombard kept up with him and she gave the greatest performance of her short career in this classic
Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep: In the “Me Too” era, some would find fault with many performances and personas that sprang from the forties and fifties female stars. But Bacall was really a path setter, and gave as good as she got in keeping up with Humphrey Bogart’s very cynical and world weary characters. Bacall was not simpering, but tough and smart and funny, which was a distinct contrast to the wide-eyed dumb blonde routines that Marilyn Monroe and other big stars used as the standard for female stars throughout the fifties. A few bucked the trend, like Bacall and Katherine Hepburn and Audrey Hepburn, but most were conformers.
Eleanor Parker: Many Rivers to Cross: Eleanor Parker is best known for the classic Baroness with evil intentions as she set out to catch Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music. But she was a great comedienne and actress in her own right, and this was a light comedy that veered off from many others of the fifties era in which it was made.
As stated earlier, the persona for many was the dumb blonde, but in setting out to ‘get her man’ in this frontier comedy, Parker is athletic and funny and smart and determinedly setting a different standard for women to emulate. I saw this film as a young girl and always remembered the counter-typical character portrayed here of a woman who is bound and determined to get what she wants and goes after it with everything she has. And in the short blurb in the beginning of the film, it’s obvious that there is some recognition that women had to be rugged individuals with strength and character in order to survive in the early days of our country’s founding.
Myrna Loy: The Bachelor & the Bobby Soxer; Myrna Loy was the antithesis of the ‘dumb blonde’ throughout her career. She was not blonde, of course, and the characters she portrayed embodied some of the sharpest and wittiest dialogue ever written for film. In The Thin Man, she made her mark along with William Powell as a woman who is determined to be more than just ‘the little wife’ who stays home and simpers while her man does all the dangerous work. And in this film with Cary Grant, she plays a judge who has the measure of the Cary Grant character and he knows it. She is smart and completely in control of every situation, and that is a pleasant departure from some of the standard Hollywood fare of the Golden Age of Film where women were often portrayed as either femme fatales or hopelessly dumb.
Sigourney Weaver in The Year of living Dangerously: Sigourney Weaver has made a career of landing these pioneer roles where women are the front and center heroes, as in Aliens where she takes charge and essentially carries the role that a man would have played a generation before her. And in this film, The Year of Living Dangerously, she’s a journalist who is not only the most ethical of the characters, she is also vulnerable but worldly wise at the same time. It’s a truly amazing performance from a young Sigourney Weaver, and a very prescient moment when we hear of the Mel Gibson character described as someone who is charming but fatally flawed.
Women’s History Month showcases some of the film roles where strong and decisive characters are developed in this selection of beautiful and brainy women. We have seen the creation of the characters that Angelina Jolie played, that Jennifer Lawrence has perfected along with the new Captain Marvel star, Brie Larson, and the emergence of the women in Black Panther. The latest Mad Max film with Charlize Theron finally has tipped the hat to the notion that women are as tough and courageous and resourceful as men. Here’s hoping for another one hundred years or so of creative and brilliant characters for women to play, and for women to write and direct (and women critics to critique!) Till next time, see you at the movies-ML
Hello Film Fans: As we move into March, there’s some films that are opening that have gotten good “buzz.” One is the Julianne Moore remake Gloria Bell. Film comment reviews the film, and since this is a remake, there’s a piece from a site called “Gold Derby” that explores the real reason why Hollywood insists on remaking foreign language films. The answer is money (I’m not spoiling it-it’s in the TITLE!)
And even though the Oscars are behind us (I found them forgettable in every way), the SXSW Film Festival begins this weekend in Austin. So we are still in Awards Season through the spring with the Cannes Film Festival still to come.
6 Degrees magazine has some interesting items regarding the juncture of film and Women’s History Month. One is a piece talking about The Status of Feminist Film Criticism from rogerebert.com. Also we need to remember that there were directors from the Golden Age of film who were known as ‘Women’s directors,’ even though they were men! George Cukor is one, and he is remembered also in 6 Degrees.
Also in 6 Degrees, there’s a piece on Orson Welles: The Other side of Orson Welles, and from Entertainment Weekly, director Francis Ford Coppola talks about the 50th anniversary of the release of the classic book from Mario Puzo, The Godfather, upon which his masterpiece is based.
Turner Classic is showing Night Train to Munich a couple of times this month. This film is deceptively slow to start, so don’t give up on it. It has some elements of Hitchcock in it, right down to the two comical English characters who show up earlier in Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes. Set your machines to record on TCM in March for:
*Night Train to Munich/The Big Sleep/Young Frankenstein/Inherit the Wind/The Year of Living Dangerously and This is Spinal Tap. All are classics in their own right, and all deserve the space of a column each….I almost forgot The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer with Cary Grant.
Stay tuned in the coming weeks. It seems that some of the classics that are generated regularly from Turner Classic fall into one of several categories; Classic Film Noir; Classic Comedy, Classic films that got away, Classic Romance….What makes a film “Classic?” We will list the criteria for some of the films made before World War II, during the Golden Age of Film, and some that are considered ‘Modern Classics.” Till next time, movie buffs, have fun and see you at the movies!-ML
The following is an excerpt from my book: 6 Degrees of Film: The Future of Film in the Global Village-published in 2013-MLJ
One of my biggest beefs is that even in the twenty-first century
the Academy Awards show looks a lot like a holdout from a
bygone era. The glitz and glamour are not as believable when
there is so much more to the film industry in the modern era.
The age of computer imaging and video games and the type
of sophisticated special effects used in modern films are barely
acknowledged. Little mention is given to the separate awards
ceremony held for the scientific and technical awards.
James Cameron invented a new method of filmmaking, and
George Lucas and others initiated many breakthroughs in the
way we see things on film. But none of these accomplishments
are honored. New categories should be created to acknowledge
these developments so they can be brought to the public’s
The global village of filmmaking is compartmentalized
into one or two categories of short films and the foreign film
category. Even though Slumdog Millionaire won several Oscars
in 2009, the film is treated as if none of that ever happened.
The encapsulated world of Hollywood elites still appears to be
fairly homogenized (barring a few obligatory jokes about Jews
in Hollywood). The only nod to the changing of the guard
was in 2010 when Barbra Streisand handed the Best Director
award to a woman (Kathryn Bigelow for Hurt Locker) for the
first time, and when Halle Berry, the first African American
woman to receive the Best Actress award, acknowledged
Hattie McDaniels and all of the women of color who had
come before her.
If Hollywood and filmmaking are a large part of the
American persona, and this show is one of our best chances
to advertise our unique and diverse American way of life,
then why doesn’t Hollywood pull out all the stops on these
occasions? Instead, the powers-that-be in Hollywood present a
timid and tepid tribute to films in a way they have done many
times before. Shouldn’t there be some acknowledgement of
innovation? To my mind, that is “the stuff that dreams are
made of,” which Bogart spoke of so long ago.
Greetings Film Fans: The broadcast is coming soon for the Oscars, and the controversy over the decision to not include the cinematography categories during the live show has been resolved. This is the SECOND major controversy that has been addressed in the post Me-Too and whitewash era that the Academy (of old white dudes) has had to address.
This crisis is specifically one that will just address the 1% attitude that some of the awards are more important than others, and admittedly, many are more popular than these awards if you are not in the ‘biz’,as they say. But for the arbitrary decision to be made, for a numbers game of ratings to reduce the show’s time by simply eliminating some of the work that these people have been doing for decades and dismissing the categories as not important enough seems to be callous beyond belief. So many people objected, including an impassioned Russell Crowe, as well as prominent directors and others, that this had to be reversed.
So the favorites are still The Green Book and Glenn Close for Best Actress in The Wife. Other than that, it seems to be pretty wide and open. It would be amazing to see Spike Lee receive the first Best Director award for BlackkKlansman. And Christian Bale did phenomenal work in Vice that may also be a shoo-in. However, although I’ve complained for years about the awards ceremony, the length, the need for new categories, I will still watch it to see what happens.
You never know if they’ll call out the WRONG picture for Best Picture category?! Stay tuned for Oscar News, as we wrap up awards season in La La Land. Some stand out articles in 6 Degrees magazine this week: A piece on the films of the French New Wave cinema and one on the late great film critic Pauline Kael.
Till next time friends, stay cool (in the movie theatre) and see you next time at the movies!-ML
Hello Film Fans! The Awards season is here. Some of the big winners so far have been The Green Book, The Favourite, Roma and A Star is Born, with the latter two also receiving multiple Oscar nominations. Black Panther was recognized in the Academy’s Best Picture category, and Glenn Close is the favorite for Oscar’s Best Actress award with her performance in The Wife.
The Sundance Film Festival is under way and Robert Redford emphasized diversity in his opening remarks. Hollywood has been particularly sensitive to this subject with the controversies of ‘white-washing’ in films about people of color, as well as the lack of diversity in female directors, critics and writers and the ongoing under-representation of women in the industry.
Although some of you may have read from time to time my complete lack of enthusiasm for the comic-book genre as a whole, there have been some great movies within the genre over the years. I have always maintained that a writer as great as a Shakespeare (or a Lin-Manuel Miranda), could take a traditional story and spin it into a great film or work of art. That happened in the case of Shakespeare using the re-worked and well-worn stories of his era and creating great classics. The following short list includes some of the best of the super-hero genre:
Superman (1978) with Christopher Reeve
Batman (1989) with Jack Nicholson/Michael Keaton
Iron Man I (2008)
Spiderman I (2002)
The Dark Knight (2008)