The Big Short: A Capsule Review

The Big Short

This film explains what a C.D.O is. (Collateralized Debt Obligation). In fact, the film defines and explains many of the mysterious terms that the big banks used to mask some of their riskiest banking practices in recent memory. The innovative use of asides and “celebrity appearances” (Margot Robbie in a bathtub explaining credit default swaps!), gives the audience a break from a story that could easily go over the heads of the average movie-goer in no time flat.

Kudos to the Director, Adam McKay, and the cast including a bearded Brad Pitt and an energized Ryan Gosling. Steve Carrell easily steals every scene he’s in with his frenetic portrayal of Mark Baum, a man who actually felt the pain of the average Joe dealing with the aftermath of The Big Short.

Recommended for anyone with an interest in following what caused the big crash of 2008 and understanding what really happened. It should be recommended viewing for almost all citizens of these United States!


The Artist: Capsule Review for 6 Degrees of Film

Six Degrees of Film

The Artist is playing this weekend at Tampa Theatre. This review was originally published on 6 Degrees of Film in 2012. Here’s the updated version:

THe Artist T Theatre

One of the best sequences in “The Artist”, the Academy-Award winning black & white silent film, is the one where sound is used. That’s not to say that films without sound are not worth seeing. Some of the most moving sequences ever filmed have been moments that have no sound. Liam Neeson had the role in “Suspect” where he plays a mute, and it was apparent early on that he was the only one in a cast that included Cher with real acting chops. In “There Will be Blood” one of the most creative sequences in this dark look into the psyche of a self-made 19th Century robber baron was the opening of the film where Daniel Day-Lewis doesn’t speak for…

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Three things you should know about…My Fair Lady

My Fair Lady


1. Leslie Howard starred in Pygmalion, the George Bernard Shaw adaptation from which the musical is based, in 1938 with Wendy Hiller, and it is worth seeing to compare and contrast with the more flowery musical.
2. Rex Harrison is probably the best reason to see the musical version of this. The music is memorable, and many of the songs became hits and are still sung today, but Harrison shines in the film and the cadence and half-talking, half singing quality of his numbers suited him perfectly as the composers, Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner, wrote the songs with him in mind to play the lead on Broadway.
3. At the time, the big controversy was the decision to snub Julie Andrews and give the lead to the well-known star, Audrey Hepburn. And Julie Andrews responded with one of the best known ripostes in Hollywood as she thanked Jack Warner for being “the man who made all this possible” after he passed her over for the part in the film version, which gave her the chance to win an Oscar for Best Actress in Mary Poppins.
Audrey Hepburn is one of my favorite actresses, and she does justice to the part although Marni Nixon actually sang the songs in My Fair Lady. Hepburn looks beautiful, as always, and holds her own with Harrison’s commanding presence as the iconic professor Harold Higgins.

Hepburn is seen on TCM later this week in one of her Oscar winning performances, starring in The Nun’s Story with Peter Finch. Her quiet dignity and ability to combine the strength of an iron will with grace and beauty have always made her best performances stand out.

She shines in “Funny Face, Roman Holiday, Sabrina, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, How to Steal a Million” and so many more. Set your TV to record any of her leading roles if you appreciate the glamour of Old Hollywood combined with brains and sophistication, and that is the whole package that was Audrey Hepburn.

Tampa Theatre is screening My Fair Lady Sunday, January 24th at 3:00 pm.

The Revenant: A Capsule Review

The Revenant

Forget about the bear…This film is Jack London on steroids. There are several heart-stopping moments in this tale of survival in its most basic form. Two of our greatest actors are working to make this a believable plot, and that is a stretch at times. The bear attack comes early in the film, and unlike “Saving Private Ryan” where the landing at Normandy is balanced with periods of relative calm, there’s little peace to be found in this unrelenting tale of survival.

The harsh elements and the question of what makes a man have the will to survive when Mother Nature’s harshest elements are working against you is one of the many points that pin this plot together. It is at heart a very simplistic tale of Man vs the Elements and Man vs Man.

But Tom Hardy and Leonardo DiCaprio deserve shared praise for their physical performances and nuanced shadings to at times one-dimensional characters. DiCaprio by far has the most physically difficult role playing Glass, the man who is left for dead in the wilderness after being mauled by a Mother bear protecting her cubs.

Hardy has, in a way, a more difficult acting task in his portrayal of a man who, although innately evil, has some elements of humanity that mark him as more than just a cardboard caricature of the “bad guy.” In these roles, there are shadings of Stephen Crane’s questions of survival voiced in “The Open Boat”. What gives our life and our very will to survive meaning? And in some subtler way, there are underpinnings of Conrad’s anti-hero found in “Lord Jim”. What makes a man a hero? And what makes him a coward? And do we have elements of both within each of us, where time and place may combine to make either heroes or cowards of us all?

But in this film, as with Jack London’s portrayals of Man vs. Nature in “The Call of the Wild”, we see some kinship with the elemental nature of what it takes for a human to survive when others would give up hope. There has to be something within a man that furthers the struggle, an inward spark that is seen faintly.

One of the unquestionable stars of the show is the cinematography, where Nature’s unyielding essence is on display throughout most of the movie. This is a long, and slightly drawn-out story of survival and revenge. But although we’ve seen it done before, in Jeremiah Johnson and in some respects, in Apocalypse Now, this is DiCaprio’s signature role and perhaps, the one that brings him a well-deserved Oscar for an impressive career full of stellar performances.

6 Degrees: Movie Trends for the New Year

6 Degrees of Film
6 Degrees of Film


Happy New Year to my fellow movie goers and 6 Degree friends! The Silly season is upon us, and in Hollywood, that’s saying a lot…(It’s always silly season, really). The Awards season has arrived with the Golden Globes, and BAFTA (British Films), and Film Critics Association and so on. The big Kahoona-the Oscars-just announced their nominees late this week.

But the most dreaded of all things for most film critics is the annual lists. The Year’s best films are all on parade as a sign of how very good or bad or banal or pseudo-intellectual the noted reviewer can be. There are some surprises when a list of films that no one in America has ever seen start to populate the lists. And then there are some absolute stinkers that crop up on one or two selected lists.

I think that the worst thing about the yearly list of lists is the predictable nature of the institutions that publish the lists. One of the reasons I’ve become overly cynical about the production of yearly film lists is that I not only write about film, but I also edit a film magazine. And the worst part of the job (besides not getting paid!), is that the same stories are recycled about 100 times and the only changes are the snazzy titles that are offered: “Films to watch when you want to lose weight”; “The best of….fill in the blank”; “Summer surf films”; “China is boffo at box office”; or “Who will be the next hero in the Cinematic Universe?”

The list goes on…I have my own list of movie trends. These are some of the things that seem to be rotated on an amazingly and at times, boringly regular basis:

Movie Trends List from 6 Degrees

  •  Sequels & Spin offs-These are the bread and butter movies for most of Hollywood. They are not all terrible, as I’ve often pointed out that Shakespeare did pretty well with re-hashing old plots.
    The Comic Book Universe-This is a genre that could use a good shake-up. It could use a small electrical shock for all the writers who continue to re-work the same basic plot through a never-ending list of superheroes bent on saving the world.

Wiz of oz 1
The Cinematic Universe-This is an interesting conceit as it encompasses so many different cinematic universes. We may think of Harry Potter or the Lord of the Rings, but it could be interpreted as far back as The Cinematic Universe of Oz or the Cinematic Universe of Charlie Chaplin and Laurel & Hardy. The Cinematic Universe connotes fantasy and storytelling, some of the strong suits of Hollywood classics. In the world of fantastic beasts and unrequited yearning, we find some of the greatest stories and cinematic universes imagined.

  • 482px-Garbo_Lenox_Publicity
    Fem Flicks/Girl Power-Although there have always been strong women in films, from Greta Garbo and Katherine Hepburn to Meryl Streep and Maggie Smith, we are now seeing a new generation of moviegoers who celebrate Girl Power and young women who can identify with the heroines in hits like Frozen and The Hunger Games bringing young girls into the 21st Century and seeking parity with young boys.
    Kid Power/Pixar movies/animated & Kids movies: Some of the most creative films of the past few decades have come out of the Pixar studios. This shouldn’t be a surprise as Walt Disney was one of the pioneers in the field of animation and live action films for children through most of the 20th Century. The trend continues in the 21st Century, with more imaginative and creative films being produced from Finding Nemo and Wall-E to Shrek and Tangled.
    Global village at the movies-Diversity and Foreign Films continue to converge with the English language market and we are fast becoming a Global Village of moviegoers. You can interpret that to mean that not as many great films are coming out of Hollywood these days.
    Rise of China at the Box office-This is one of those stories that happens to have some elements of truth mixed in with a spice of hyperbole to lend it credence. Yes, there is a huge burgeoning market in the world now for Chinese audiences, but there market share is still far below most of the North American audience.
    Rise of the Small Screen- Here is a trend about fifty years in the making. In my book, 6 Degrees of Film, the movie moguls of the fifties were scared stiff by the thought of televisions showing movies on the small screen and keeping moviegoers at home. New fads such as 3-D glasses and Smell-o-Vision came to the theatres. Nothing new here, except we can now watch films on our televisions and I-Pads. Perhaps the most worrying trend is the one where the most talented writers are now working for Cable Network series, and the most interesting and creative story lines are being discovered on HBO and Showtime, and not at major film studios.
    Rise of the Movie Blogger– With the rise of the movie blogger, we find an interesting panoply of titles and genres to blog about, ranging from horror to box office totals, from Film Noir to Bollywood, from Classics to Comic book genres, and even to blogs for gaming sites. The problem is, as with the movie studios, that there exist only a certain amount of talented writers and bloggers producing material, and the rest, as they say, is “crap”!
    Twilight of the Film Critic– Not necessarily. Some of the best reviews come from NPR, The Guardian, and other old faithful’s like The New York Times and LA Times, plus some unexpected places like, where Chaz Ebert, Roger’s widow, has put together a really creative and varied site with different pieces covering all aspects of filmmaking. Film Comment also produces thoughtful and erudite pieces on film on a regular basis.

• Where to find the best information about film? Of course, in my humble opinion, all the news that’s fit to print about film can be found at 6 Degrees of Film, our online magazine where reviews and the best pieces on current films are selected each week, with an emphasis on weekly round-ups of top film sites each Friday, and on Mondays the box office numbers and top films are all featured.

This week: we found the following:

• News of the death of the great and distinguished English actor, Alan Rickman
• An Interview with Director Paul Verhoeven
• A piece on the newly released Orson Welles Classic “Chimes at Midnight” which was Welles’ take on Shakespeare’s Falstaff.
• An interesting looking film : “The Treasure”, about three men on a treasure hunt in a suburban backyard-reminiscent of the classic with Robert Ryan, “God’s Little Acre”
• Reviews of The Revenant (6 Degrees has a piece)
Molly Haskell on “The Masculine and the Feminine”, a piece originally published in 1974. She looks at classics such as “The Big Sleep” and the on-screen relationship developed in characters portrayed by Bogart and Bacall.
• The complete list of Academy Award nominated films. The Oscars are held Sunday, February 28th, with Chris Rock as this year’s host. Should be a welcome change, with Rock calling attention to the lack of diversity and the ongoing “Old White Guy” problem plaguing the Oscars.
• An interesting piece on “Star Wars Mythology 3.0”. There is always a danger of overkill with so much publicity and attention surrounding the Star Wars film, but this is a different take on the Cinematic Universe, if you will, of Star Wars.
• Much more to be seen and read in 6 Degrees of Film @ the Movies

One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest at Tampa Theatre

Cuckoo's Nest

This was a ground-breaking film in many respects. Nicholson’s signature role as the rebellious McMurphy is one that is as bound with his acting legacy as much as Brando’s is bound with Stanley Kowalski in Streetcar or Bogart’s Rick from Casablanca. The supporting cast is also memorable, including acclaimed actors such as Scatman Crothers, Danny DeVito, Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched, and Christopher Lloyd.

And the story still resonates today, forty years after the film was made. It’s a story involving not only personal freedom, but the fine line we all walk in terms of moral relativity of good and evil and right vs wrong. Was Nurse Ratched acting with evil intent or did she simply make moral judgments based on the rules set by the confining nature of a structured institution which was a home for the mentally ill?

The film swept the major categories in 1975, a feat that has occurred only three times in the history of the Oscars. The only other two films that swept the Academy Awards were It Happened One Night in 1934, and the very different winner, The Silence of the Lambs, from 1991. One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest was based on the book by Ken Kesey, and was written in 1962. In Kesey’s book, the story was told from the point of view of McMurphy’s silent Indian friend, Chief Bromden.

Tampa Theatre is screening One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest on Sunday, January 17 at 3:00 pm.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid airs Sunday, January 17th

Butch & Sundance

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is one of the greatest westerns of all time, and it was made at a time when westerns were definitely on the decline. This is actually a funny movie. Most of the film is a comedy, with Paul Newman delivering one of the best comic performances of his career as the amiable outlaw Butch Cassidy. Robert Redford’s breakout performance as the Sundance Kid, plus the very real onscreen chemistry of the two leads, resulted in a generation of “buddy” films where two guys were paired together in various action roles.

But the unexpected bonus of this classic is the masterful direction by George Roy Hill. He had a flawless script by William Goldman, and two A-list actors to work with, but the film could easily have been forgettable in a less talented directors’ hands. Hill used a classic old-time musical score, arranged by composer Burt Bacharach, which permeated the entire film with an essence of nostalgia for a time long past. And his ability to weave the storyline through various scenes of the gorgeous Old West landscape interwoven with tight close ups of the gorgeous actors and their often hilarious dialogue was pure genius.

In my book, 6 Degrees of Film: The Future of Film in the Global Village, I wrote of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”:
Considered by many Hollywood insiders to be the best screenplay ever written, this film originally included some scenes that were reportedly scrubbed because Paul Newman couldn’t say the lines without laughing. Yet this is a poignant film at times that focuses on two real-life outlaws on the run for their crimes. The parts we remember most vividly are those that give the movie the aura of a “buddy” picture, than an action-adventure comedy, and finally a western very much of the sixties.

Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid airs Sunday, January 17th & Wednesday, January 20th. The film is playing at select theatres in collaboration with Turner Classic Movies.