6 Degrees: The Future of Film in the Global Village

168816805 FOR 6 DEGREES COVER PHOTO SHOTLately I find less films that I’ve actually seen, and more films popping up on my “to-see” list. My family gets annoyed when I look at a film and pronounce it may go straight to Netflix. That’s because of The Modern Lament:I don’t have time to see all these films!”; (and some of the films look really, really crappy!)

I think everyone is aware of the problem. The fact is  ALL kinds of media continue to bombard us daily. I can’t get through my e-mails every day, let alone the ambitious Netflix list I’ve compiled for 2014! That being said, there are some advantages to seeing films on television. Many of the best and brightest Hollywood talent-Claire Danes and Kevin Spacey come to mind- are gravitating towards cable and television. One of the biggest topics floating around Hollywood these days is the rise of the small screen. At a film conference last year, even Steven Speilberg confessed that “Lincoln” was almost made for TV.

Another new development concerning films involves the rise of the international market. Gone are the days when the United States traffic at the box-office dominated the decisions surrounding box-office hits. In the 21st Century, the Global Village of Film has given rise to a new standard in which films are marketed for international audiences. Once again, we are manufacturing and marketing films for a mass audience.

In my book, 6 Degrees of Film: The Future of Film in the Global Village, there’s a section discussing the great debate that occurred when talking pictures first came on the scene. One of the reasons studio bosses trembled at the thought of “talkies” was the thought of losing all that revenue. The reasoning was simple. Silent films were distributed globally. Talking pictures kept the films bound to the borders of their country of origin, or at least, the language of origin… With a global market for film emerging, once again the market has expanded. So now and into the foreseeable future… movies really are being made for the Global Village.

Film Notes: About Oscar

The Oscar Nominees this year are once again, inflated for maximum viewing audiences and not particularly for excellence in film-making. They could have pared the list down easily: Gravity; American Hustle; Wolf of Wall Street ; Philomena & Her-12 Years a Slave possibly…

It’s time and well past it for DiCaprio to be honored for his body of work. That’s usually the thinking that goes into the Best Actor category. Amy Adams & Cate Blanchett are too close to call-they may go ahead and give the Best Actress Oscar to Dame Judi Dench simply for the aforementioned body of work.

It’s worth noting that of the films nominated, only one was in the top ten Highest Grossing Films for 2013-the film was Gravity. The films that audiences wanted to see included “Iron Man 3”- coming in at # 1. Then the Children’s movies prevail-everything from Despicable Me 2 to Frozen & Fast & Furious 6 (for big kids!).

Sequels are still the order of the day. Not only Iron Man 3, but Thor: The Dark World, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Fast & Furious 6, plus the Wolverine, all were in the top 15 highest grossing films of the year. The Man of Steel was # 9, and Star Trek into Darkness was # 14.

There’s nothing new under the sun. Critics frequently complain about the lack of quality and originality found in movies. Many new films are remakes from comic books or rehashed storylines. And although I frequently criticize the decisions of top Hollywood producers, I’d like to point out another high-profile media superstar that constantly used reworked material. That would be William Shakespeare.

Make no mistake, I am NOT equating any of the current crop of remakes with the Master Bard. The point is that creativity is found when we least suspect it. Who knows what is lurking just around the corner?

Critics corner: Speaking of critics, some of the critically acclaimed films that are nominated include: 12 Years a Slave; American Hustle & The Wolf of Wall Street. I’ve taken issue at times with the dearth of important critical voices talking about films in recent years. With all things in the information age, there’s an up and a down-side to the dilemma. Although the web contains volumes of information, very little is original in content concerning modern film.

Filmgoers have always needed energized voices such as Roger Ebert, the late critic for the Chicago Sun-Times who provided not only clarity and knowledge to his critiques, but also a deep-rooted love of film and the rich history surrounding the art of filmmaking. That is lacking so often these days. However, there are some rays of sunshine.

As I flip through my Flipboard, (I admit I’m addicted to it), I am able to compile an interesting movie magazine consisting of several thoughtful pieces on film. The list of articles is provided at the end, if anyone cares to read through them at a later date. They include a piece about Jean Shepherd-the uniquely talented creator of the classic, A Christmas Story (I have a section about Shepherd in my 6 Degrees of Film book also).

There’s a piece in Esquire magazine on a subject that thoroughly intrigues me: namely, the ongoing book vs film debate. In this piece, the subject is James Thurber’s classic character-Walter Mitty.

In The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, the filmmakers have taken an unusual choice of material and created an interesting concept. The notion involves taking Thurber’s original material and then updating the idea of modern man being lost. Only this time around he is lost in the noise and confusion of the information age.

It’s a notion worth exploring, but perhaps better served in the film Her. Her is the story of a young man falling in love with the personal assistant voice on his phone. After reading the story of a football player engaged to a woman who apparently didn’t exist, this plot doesn’t seem too far-fetched!

Other pieces include the acclaimed science-fiction writer, Harlan Ellison, reviewing, Saving Mr. Banks (NOT favorably-I might add!)…

Coming in March: My series on the history of Science-Fiction in Film. Also, a new piece inspired for the laziest Film Festival devotees (including myself): The Armchair Film Festival: French Films are examined.

Monuments Men: Capsule Review

monuments menThis film plays it pretty straight. No surprises, and if anything, it seems to be a bit lacking in humor. Which is odd, considering George Clooney, John Goodman and Bill Murray figure prominently in the action. All things considered, this seems to be an earnest attempt at storytelling. The film is about the true story of how the Allied forces retrieved some of the great art pieces of Europe.

The criticism lies when people expect too much. The operative phrase at the beginning of the movie is this film is based on a true story. Therefore, all the elements of storytelling include the writers perspective, the directors point of view, a certain slant from which the story is told, etc…

And yes, there’s a bit of “hoke” in parts of the plot, but really not enough to make one wince or engage in eye-rolling. Sometimes “it is what it is” is truly…what it is! In this case, the story does involve the fact that Adolph Hitler really did try to swallow whole all of the greatest art treasures of Europe. And the Allied Forces really did do something seemingly altruistic by hunting down and returning many of the treasures of European Art Culture. These are the set of facts the filmmakers worked with and the result is an interesting if not uber-remarkable tale.

This is a war story and it does have some scenes of death and destruction across Europe. But the large part of this tale is a war story without blood and guts. It’s about some of the intangible stuff that makes life worth living and worth fighting and dying for. That really does seem to be the point.

Simply and sparsely told, the film deals with those things often lying on the periphery of the action. It’s about those unseen boundaries and the unforeseen consequences of war-and those with vision enough to live beyond their own place and time. Perhaps the takeaway from this is that such vision is still needed in places where people still feel the effects of war in their everyday lives.

The Wolf of Wall Street & The Genius of Scorcese

Wolf of W StreetThe first impression you take away upon leaving the theater is the need to shower…It’s a film that engrosses one in the sleaze of the moment. From the first few scenes, we are pitched headlong into the roller-coaster ride that was Jordan Belfort’s (DiCaprio’s character’s) existence.

The audience is pitched the notion that the world that existed for Belfort was an amoral one, brimming with contempt for the people they represented. As stockbrokers, Matthew McConaughey is seen in a small but crucial role where he explains why the stockbroker doesn’t care to make money for the client, only to be able to pitch the idea of the brass ring-there’s more where this came from…

The opening of the movie feels more like “Goodfellas” and has some of the intensity of Raging Bull. When you witness the sex scenes, they come across as sleazy rather than erotic. These people have no redeeming qualities. Basically, the men are idiots, and the women only slightly less so. The first wife of Belfort comes across as a kind of prophet, one who is doomed from the start. And when the characters behave with contempt and a total lack of concern for the rest of humanity, there’s still a tendency to laugh. Why are we laughing at these idiots? This is the genius of Scorcese

The genius of Scorcese is highlighted beautifully in the very last scene. It’s shot in the relative quiet space of an ordinary subway car. Yet, in the context of the story, the scene is pregnant with unspoken angst and disillusionment. That is the beauty and the genius of Scorcese. He has turned the story of yet another corrupt Wall Street prodigy into a Greek tragedy, and left us, the audience, in the role of the Greek chorus.

We now must fill in the blanks with meaning. That is the takeaway from this…Yet another Wall Street bad boy, one who flew too close to the sun. And yet, we are taken inside the bubble to witness the seduction of capitalism and its lingering after-effects. There is no cure in this microcosm of Corporate Greed and Excess. But in most cases, we see that there is never a wish for a cure, and not even a call to pull the plug.

The denouement is a quiet end in this very wild (and long) ride. And that may be the final take. Scorcese shows his genius for understating the obvious and casting DiCaprio outside the boundaries of our daily lives….The Great Gatsby on crack cocaine Is Jordan Belfort….There is no irony in the takeaway. We see it and it is what it is. That’s the genius of Scorcese.