6 Degrees: Summer Newsletter

maggie gyllenhall

Women in Hollywood: Sexism & Age Discrimination. Now there’s Maggie Gylenhall to add to the list of women speaking out about some of the unfair and discriminatory practices Hollywood has been engaged in for decades. In her case, she was told that at age 37, she was too old to be the love interest for a 55 year old man!

angelina jolie

 

Top 10 Highest Paid Actresses: No big surprises, but some small ones. I would have thought Scarlett Johannsen or Drew Barrymore would be on this list. Maybe Kate Hudson? Other than that, it’s fairly predictable. Some of the older females, all still relatively young mind you, but not by Hollywood standards!

1. Angelina Jolie
2. Jennifer Lawrence
3. Kristen Stewart
4. Jennifer Aniston
5. Emma Stone
6. Charlize Theron
7. Sandra Bullock
8. Natalie Portman
9. Mila Kunis
10. Julia Roberts

Selma 2

Top 10 Spiritual Films-2014 from Dr. Edward McNulty
1. Selma
2. Calvary
3. Ida
4. Cesar Chavez
5. The Good Lie
6. The theory of everything
7. The Railway Man
8. St Vincent
9. Unbroken
10. Son of God

Another film list that caught my eye was a list of Spiritual Films of 2014. The list found in Presbyterian Today includes some of my favorite films from last year. Selma, St. Vincent, Calvary, Cesar Chavez, The Theory of Everything, Unbroken, Ida & The Railway Man are some of the films on the list.
I would add The Drop, with Tom Hardy and the late James Garolfini., plus The Imitation Game with Benedict Cumberbatch. These are films that had meaningful messages and all featured characters who, at their core, had some spiritual depth and beliefs that made these films resonate.
There should be some point to reviewing films other than relating the obvious such as whether you recommend it to others. If movies are simply mass entertainment, then word-of-mouth or box office results should be enough to send people to see them. But some films have, at their core, a statement to make or a deeper meaning which is meant to be conveyed to the viewing audience. And in this day and age, it’s becoming harder and harder to find the films with deeper meanings and values.
It’s pointless to reach the end of a year and simply decide, based on box office or one or two critics opinions, which films have staying power. Of course, the reason for award shows like the Oscars or Cannes is to bring to light many obscure and fine works of art. But sometimes that’s not enough.
Many of the films lauded by Hollywood don’t really leave lasting impressions. They may simply reflect a mood of a particular time or era. And there are other films that do leave lasting impressions. Over the past decade in film, the films that have lasting power are few and far between.

Next month I’m featuring a list of films from the past decade that have some kind of lasting impact in our culture. Here’s a list of upcoming Summer Films.

Coming in June

spy

June 5th: Spy with Melissa McCarthy: Hopefully funnier than some of her latest outings. McCarthy is a talented comedienne with a deft touch given the right material. She was wonderful in St Vincent with Bill Murray.

Entourage: The hit series with Jeremy Piven comes to the big screen.

Jurassic World

June 12th: Jurassic World-Coming again to a theatre near you! Jurassic World takes off from the end of the first outing. Jurassic Park is one of the films listed in the top 100 Highest Grossing Films list. Hence, the inevitable rework!

 

Inside out

Inside Out: Pixar’s latest offering. As I’ve said many times, some of the most imaginative and creative work in films is done by Pixar. The film is about five emotions-Joy, Anger, Disgust, Fear & Sadness-that exist in the mind of a young girl.

A little chaos

June 19th: A Little Chaos has received mixed reviews. The plot revolves around Kate Winslet as one of the gardeners who helped design the gardens of Versailles  during the reign of King Louis XIV.

Max dog movie 2015

June 26th: Max-This one is not Mad. This is about a service dog from the war and is billed as an ” American family adventure film.” Max is a service dog who must help the family of his fallen handler heal as they recover from his loss.

Coming in July

Terminator Genisys-Another outing with the Terminator. Arnold Schwarzenegger is starring and this one is billed as ” a sequel and a reboot’ of the series. After reading the synopsis, suffice it to say that John and Sarah Connor will try to unravel the time travel screw ups that occur as the writers struggle to make sense of it all.

Mr Holmes

July 10: Mr. Holmes-has received critical acclaim. Ian McKellen stars as an aging Sherlock Holmes.

Ant man

Ant-Man-The ever affable Paul Rudd stars as the super-hero Ant-Man. The plot surrounds Rudd as con-man Scott Lang, who has the ability to shrink and gain astonishing strength when wearing the incredible super-suit.

Irrational man

July 17: Irrational Man-Woody Allen directs Emma Stone and Joacquin Phoenix in this film that debuted at Cannes. Billed as a “mystery drama”, the plot revolves around Phoenix as a college philosophy professor who is experiencing an existential crisis, but finds meaning to his life when he begins a new relationship with one of his students, played by Emma Stone.

Pan 2015

July 24: Pan-Another tale of Peter Pan, this is the background story for the traditional tale of Peter and his journey to Neverland.  Hugh Jackman stars as Blackbeard and Rooney Mara is cast as Tiger Lily.

Vacation 2015

July 29: Vacation-The remake of the original Vacation, this one stars Ed Helms with a cameo from Chevy Chase. Rusty Griswold (Helms) decides to re-connect with his family and take them to see “Wally World”, the mythical theme park that is soon to be closed.

 

RIcki and teh flash

Ricki and the Flash-This is one of those Fem Flicks. Meryl Streep stars and Jonathon Demme directs in this musical comedy/drama. Streep plays a musician who “gave up everything” for her dream of rock-and-roll stardom. Now she is returning to her home to try and make peace with her family.

Opening in August

Man from uncle

August 7: The Man from U.N. C. L. E.- This looks promising, although it is recycled material from the hit series from the sixties. The characters are set in the 1960’s again, as CIA agent Napoleon Solo works with KGB operative Illya Kuryakin to foil a mysterious criminal organization working to proliferate nuclear weapons.

Straight out compton

Straight Outta Compton-This also shows promise to be a timely entry with a story about the hip-hop group NWA as they emerge from Compton, California in the mid-eighties and change the music industry and pop culture forever with their unique brand of music and tales from life in the hood.

Masterminds

Masterminds-Something on the lighter side, with Kristen Wiig and Zach Galifianakis starring in this comedy based on a true story of one of the biggest bank heists in American history.  Kristen Wiig is another talented comedienne who suffers when she’s not given the right script. Hopefully, this one will hit the high notes. Owen Wilson and fellow SNL veteran Jason Sudeikis also star.

Other films of note opening this summer are:  Mission Impossible with Tom Cruise  and  another Fantastic Four remake.

 

black mass

September 2: Black Mass with Johnny Depp starring as gangster Whitey Bulger. Depp has been getting rave reviews for his portrayal of Bulger.

Films that make us cry: The Miracle Worker

Miracle workerThe Miracle Worker is a cathartic experience for me. Each time I watch the film, there’s a visceral reaction at the end when the truth is revealed to the young Helen Keller. The poignant innocence of the child, and the parents love for their strong-willed daughter is such a powerful and universal message. Yet it is the strong and silently steadying influence of the teacher, Anne Sullivan, portrayed with brilliance by Anne Bancroft, that gives this film the strength to inspire for generations to come.
Pitting the will of the child against the powerful force of enlightenment is a metaphor that rings through in the building clash of wills between the two, the teacher and her unmanageable student. But the moment that brings tears to my eyes in each viewing is the moment of enlightenment.
Knowledge means everything to Helen Keller, a brilliant human trapped in a body without the means to express herself. With the advent of the most illuminating of AH-HA! Moments in cinema, Bancroft and the young Patty Duke transfix the audience as we watch that most intimate and tender of moments when the teacher breaks through.
As they gyrate in tandem with the hand signals that indicate water, the two artists perform the most beautiful dance imaginable. Art and knowledge triumph over darkness and ignorance in one graceful swipe of a gesture as the blind and deaf Helen Keller realizes the meaning of water, and the communicating symbol will open up a new world for her. The teacher, Anne Sullivan, truly becomes a worker of miracles.

Seinfeldian Moments in Strangelove

 

Pickens on the bomb

Dr. Strangelove plays this month on Turner Classic. If you have ever reminisced about the Seinfeld moments in your life, you might appreciate these Seinfeldian moments in the film, Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and love the Bomb.

Scott as General Buck

1) The Big Board: General Buck Turgidson is completely paranoid about the Russians being able to see “the Big Board”. Haven’t you ever thought about how childish the rules and games are that the highest in command play as they move people and entire cultures around on their imaginary chess boards?

Jack Ripper

2)Precious Bodily Fluids: I can never think of fluoride in the same way after hearing Sterling Hayden as the deranged Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper talk seriously about how fluoridation of the water was sapping his “precious bodily fluids.”

Strangelove bomb

3) Slim Pickens is for ever immortalized as he is riding the rocket at the end of the film. It’s been reported that Pickens was not told he was acting in a comedy, but simply read his lines straight. His classic take-away line after reading a checklist for his survival kit was,”Shoot, a feller could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all that stuff!”

Scott as General Buck

4) General Turgidson again, in one of George C Scott’s greatest roles, is talking about the possibility of nuclear war. After Peter Sellers, as President Muffley, exclaims that this is Mass Murder, Turgidson answers with, “I didn’t say we wouldn’t get our hair mussed!”

5) President Muffley (Sellers) in his finest ironic mode: “ Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here. This is the War Room!”

Dr Strangelove

The music that plays us out at the end, We’ll meet again also closed out Stephen Colbert’s final show. Dr. Strangelove lives with us on a daily basis. When Kubrick read the script for the thriller, Red Alert, he decided the only solution was to make a comedy. It was just too absurd in parts.
Unfortunately, like Kubrick, we can only see the way the super powers play games with entire nations and instead of shrieking or shrugging our shoulders, the only thing left to do is laugh at the absurdity of it all.

6 Degrees Notebook:

 

6 Degrees of Film
6 Degrees of Film

**Notes from Cannes: I thought we were through with movie awards shows for a while. The Oscars always manages to disappoint, but then, what can you expect from the BOOFS club? (That’s bunch of old farts). The statistics for the Oscars are clear. The Oscars have it at 94 % white, 76% male & average of 63 years old. Let’s hope they’ve made progress into the 21st Century over the pond and into France.
Cannes also premiered the new Mad Max movie, plus Woody Allen’s film, Irrational Man. The best buzz seems to be from a satire called The Lobster, a French crime thriller, The Conversation, and a same sex love story, Carol with Cate Blanchett.

**Women in Hollywood: The Empowered Strike Back! It seems to be the end of chick flicks and the new age of Fem Flicks. For instance, insiders were stunned that Pitch Perfect 2 beat out Mad Max at the box office this weekend. No one saw it coming.

I’ve been posting articles for over a year about the trends in Hollywood running towards women’s films. That means more powerful women like Meryl Streep are speaking out about sexism in Hollywood. And films like Frozen have catapulted into the top ten highest grossing films list because of girl power. Even the macho Mad Max movie was dominated by women.

Frozen pix

The world is changing and we see it every week in the results from the box office in Hollywood. As the front office knows, numbers don’t lie.

*We are now living, as Gary Susman from Moviefone put it rather well, in the Cinematic Universe created by George Lucas. Lucas created the world of Star Wars, and all that it entails. That includes the special effects from Lucas’s company Industrial Light & Magic, the THX sound system found in theatres, the Pixar movies that dominate the animation market, and the conversion from celluloid to digital that has revolutionized special effects and moviemaking for the past quarter century.

Star wars logo

What is the Cinematic Universe? In the past, we had always suspended disbelief in order to immerse ourselves in the film makers process. But the world has expanded and we now have several fantastic realms that are continually explored and re-imagined by different directors and storylines. The comic book genre that has exploded, and the world of Harry Potter plus the Tolkien universe all make up the Cinematic Universe we experience at the movies. But it wouldn’t be the same without the input from one man with a unique vision who created the tools we use to delve into the creative realm of the filmmaker. George Lucas is the creator behind all of our Cinematic Universes.

*From Cannes, there was a film about the making of Le Mans featuring Steve McQueen, one of my favorite actors. And a wonderful documentary revealing some of the footage from interviews of Hitchcock by another legend, Francois Truffaut. Woody Allen admitted that working to create a new Amazon series was a huge mistake. (I could have told him that…It seems we know more about Woody’s quirky personality than he does!)

*In my book, 6 Degrees of Film, I wrote at length on the phenomenal creation of George Lucas’ Cinematic Universe. He was a true pioneer when he re-invented the art of special effects in film and started Industrial Light & Magic, which was on the cutting edge of so many films from the eighties and nineties. The book is available at Amazon.com with the link here. http://www.amazon.com/Degrees-Film-Future-Global-Village/dp/1491701781/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1432158941&sr=1-1&keywords=6+degrees+of+film

Before there was Carson…there was Benny

Since David Letterman is leaving late night, I dusted off this never-used review of one of the masters of comedy, Jack Benny. Benny was the inspiration for Carson, who was in turn the mentor for a whole new breed of entertainer, the late night talk-show host. Letterman revered Johnny Carson, but Carson was inspired by Jack Benny.

Benny & Carson

Watching To Be or Not to Be brings back memories of the first time I saw the movie. I didn’t care for old black & white movies with long-dead actors. But To Be or Not to Be, the best movie Benny made, turned out to be one of the funniest comedies ever made. Not only Benny, but Carole Lombard came across as true masters of comic timing. Their pauses made for unforgettable moments, with the culmination of the film focusing on the blind devotion to Hitler, even leading men to jump out of an airborne plane without question, simply upon order of “the Fuehrer”. They periodically show it at art houses and on college campuses, and my wholehearted endorsement for this film would encourage anyone to see it in a movie theater setting.

Lately, I’ve been taping the old Jack Benny show from the fifties and sixties. It comes on at 4 or 5 am on a local station. There lies a treasure trove of comedy from the master. Before there was Carson, there was Benny. Jack Benny was known as the master of perfect timing. In comedy, timing is everything. For Benny, he had it down to a true art.

The show is dated and the scenes with Rochester don’t pass muster with today’s PC media. Yet, there is an underlying sweetness of character and true courage in Benny’s shows. He is never afraid to go out on a limb, to let others take the big laughs and to turn the joke on himself. Beyond that, there is real innovation in his art. He was a true comedic genius, and like so many comics before him, he honed his craft in the rigorous world of Vaudeville.

Some personal favorites of mine include the show where his wife Mary, and the cast all go the the announcer Don’s house for dinner. Benny is forced to hide in the bushes with the rest of the “gang” and one by one, they are all allowed to come into the house. Benny alone is left in the bushes where it begins to rain.

The old gag where a robber asks Benny, “Your money or your life” is used, but that isn’t the funniest part. The fact that Benny is the only one left outside and is soaking wet, while the others are allowed in one by one makes this humor become almost absurdist in the end.

The joke is on Benny, and he milks it for all its worth. He mugs into the camera, exasperated and wounded at the same time, wondering why this always happens to him. The show always centered around Benny’s persona of a cheapskate who was in reality a charming, funny and endearing man. Nothing could hide the warmth of his humor and his infectious smile that lit up for each individual that stepped onto the stage with him. He was a generous and giving man, one who gave of himself with each performance. That was at the heart of Benny’s success.
Beyond that, there is real innovation in his art. He was a master of his art, and like so many comics before him, he honed his craft in the rigorous world of Vaudeville. Benny talks about his years in Vaudeville on several occasions, and used some of the routines in his shows.

The show featuring  Johnny Carson, seen as a young man just getting started and enjoying himself with his idol, Jack Benny, is one of the best of the lot. Carson sings and dances, he does magic and tells jokes with his mentor, Benny. There is a much more relaxed air about him when he didn’t have so much to lose. Benny himself introduced a string of young comics, including Carol Burnett and the Smothers Brothers. And several shows featured his old friends from Vaudeville, George Burns and Bob Hope.

Benny makes fun of the current trends of the era, which included lots of westerns and popular music.  But his is a timeless art of comic genius, in which he is the butt of the jokes, and the long-running gags are part of each show. In the comic universe he created, Jack Benny was vain, a would-be lady-killer, he was cheap, he couldn’t play the violin worth a darn, and he was often jealous of his fellow comics. Of course, the opposite was the truth.

The sweetness and big-hearted nature of the real Jack Benny shone through with each show. He illustrated in each episode the type of generous actor he truly was. There never seems to be a real replacement for the dominant figure of Johnny Carson in the late-night wars. And in the pantheon of comic legends, Jack Benny still shines alone among the stars.

Mad Max….again?

Mad Max Fury Road

Mad Max…again? No soup for you! That means no back story or character development is allowed. It’s just too bad if you don’t already know the story behind Max’s descent into madness as there’s just no time to waste for such silly details. There’s no time to stop and take a breather at all. This frenetically paced action yarn spins a fantastic tale with non-stop car chase sequence and some beautiful cinematography thrown in along the way.

The post- apocalyptic landscape is re-imagined yet again in this re-boot of Mad Max. The question comes to mind: why would you need actors the caliber of Tom Hardy & Charlize Theron in this fast-paced action series that comprises Mad Max? It may have something to do with the small sections of dialogue squeezed in to almost never-ending car chase sequences.

The spare and unyielding character rarely seen in the character of Max has to take shape literally in the blink of an eye. That is the time we are given for character development in this film. Tom Hardy does his best to provide some window into the soul of the haunted man that is Max. But given the few opportunities we have, there is little in the way of humor and too much time spent simply surviving.

The best of the series, The Road Warrior, did include some comic relief. The character of the pilot of the whirly bird, the dog and the small child all gave Max some reason to react. That extra layer is sorely missing in this outing. There isn’t enough down time to really assess the whys and wherefores amounting to a reason that most of the action occurs. What little we are given is completely overshadowed in the face of the admittedly spectacular car chase scenes. And that includes one of the most beautiful feats of cinematography I’ve ever seen with the desert landscape and an enormous cloud of dust covering the heavens.

I’ll have to admit that the fight between Charlize Theron’s character, Furiosa, and Max is one of the best I’ve ever seen staged between a man and a woman. There’s no girly punches and no quarter given because she’s a woman. It’s a fight to the death and it’s done extremely well. But it doesn’t really substitute for understanding the characters or what makes them tick.

There is a plot of sorts amounting to an absurd and completely illogical motif of survival given all the ridiculous actions thrown at the small band of escaping women and Max. The women are escaping servitude and bondage from a place called the Citadel. (The girls actually look as if they escaped from a Victoria’s Secret photo shoot.)

The plot seems merely incidental, and as with most apocalyptic settings, we must suspend disbelief and simply watch the events unfold. There is no down time really, and that’s one of the problems that I take away from this film. Even Max needs to take a break once in a while