Friday Flix: Armchair Film Fest

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Hello everyone…Thanks for stopping by this week. Some of the big movies have begun to roll out in the Summer Film series. In case you missed it, here’s the link to the Summer Film News from last week. Melissa McCarthy’s film, Life of the Party, is out and so is Book Club.

Book Club has gotten some surprisingly good reviews, albeit from a plot that is a weak one. But the actors are all A-listers, and it has good reviews in 6 Degrees Magazine from Ebert.com. Life of the Party has some mixed reviews, but for the most part, it is recommended as a good light comedy.

The Seagull, from Chekhov and starring Annette Bening, is reviewed on Ebert, as well as Solo: A Star Wars story. There are mixed reviews for the Solo/Star Wars film, and as some people have asked me why we would put both positive and negative reviews of a film in the same magazine, I would say that after reviewing films for many years, there are people who have strong opinions on films they absolutely love or they loathe. Case in point: for me it is a lukewarm loathing for Citizen Kane and Gone with the Wind. I never have had a soft spot for either of these films, but they are acknowledged classics.

Tastes in film are relative, but the artistic quality and merits of production techniques are not. Citizen Kane used some cutting edge camera work for the day, and Gone with the Wind was the first true Blockbuster in terms of marketing and promotion of a film. So they are acknowledged as bonafide classics, but you can certainly find reviews that pan both of these films out there somewhere!

Also in 6 Degrees this week: An interview with director Christopher Nolan on the impact of 2001: A Space Odyssey; plus a Film Comment column that looks at how cinema has dealt with race, discrimination and sexuality by addressing issues like homosexuality in subtle ways or with overt discrimination. There’s a look at the work of Tom Wolfe, the writer who died this week. His greatest contribution in terms of cinema was most likely The Right Stuff, another ensemble casting triumph that transferred the idea of the book-that the early pilots turned astronauts were courageous and they had ‘the right stuff’- into film with a panache and emotional appeal that is rare with most book adaptations. The book often loses so much in translation as to be unrecognizable or simply lackluster (Bonfire of the Vanities comes to mind.)

And finally, one interesting piece from Uproxx is entitled: The Franchise Era of Filmmaking: What is it, and how did we get here? This is a subject I often pontificate upon. Why are so many films remakes, or part of a series franchise? The article cites a list of box office high-grossing films, and last year there were none in the top 10, and only one-Coco from Pixar-which was on the list. The list that I occasionally print in Friday Flix shows only two of the all-time box office top 10 and three of the top 20 that are NOT part of a sequel or franchise and are original films and not remakes of earlier hit movies. “The business has shifted to brands, and franchises”….is one way of explaining it.

The explanation of the superhero genre, the big bucks involved, the profit margin that explains the continued success of this model, and the overall Hollywood machine is laid out in “The Big Picture: The Fight for the Future of Movies” by Ben Fritz. This article is highly recommended as a great long read.

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The Tampa Theatre, my hometown art theatre which has recently been renovated and has reopened, is beginning their Summer Film series. Most of the films look pretty pedestrian, but there are a few on the ‘lists’ that we have been discussing-specifically, the list of films to see in a movie theater once in your life. These summer series films are the original Bladerunner, Casablanca, & The Wizard of Oz, The other films, (not on Tampa Theatre’s list) I would recommend are Jaws, (MOST of Hitchcock’s films from the 50’s and 60’s),The Godfather, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Lawrence of Arabia. If any of these films are showing at an art house near you, run, don’t walk, to take them in and experience them in the theater.

We talked in Summer Film News about some of the recommended films to record in your own “Armchair Film Fest.” I would recommend The Great Escape on TCM this week, as well as You Can’t Take it with you, Magnum Force and Vanishing Point.

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Steve McQueen stars in one of his first major screen roles in this prisoner of war film from 1963, The Great Escape. The cast includes Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, James Garner, James Coburn and Donald Pleasance. The other films are Magnum Force, with Clint Eastwood in a classic tough guy role that may seem dated in the #MeToo era, yet this is who we are as Americans and the fact that Eastwood was loved and adored for the type of macho mantra of shoot first and ask questions later is one of his roles that cannot be ignored. Love him or hate him Clint is who we are.

Vanishing Point belongs in the category of one of those really interesting films that got away. Barry Newman was a TV star, with a modest following, when he made this film in the early 70’s that has some degrees of connection to Thelma and Louise and other films like, The Driver with James Caan. It’s about a man named Kowalski who makes a bet that he can deliver a Dodge Challenger from Denver to San Francisco in 15 hours, and finds himself in a race against time to beat the clock, law enforcement, and his own internal demons. It’s a kind of existential quest, with the man vs man, and man vs machine story line keeping the film’s doomed lead character, in tandem with the bare bones plot, moving forward to its inevitable conclusion.

Cannes film festival has had some interesting debuts these past few weeks. There was one screening from director Lars von Trier called The House that Jack Built that prompted numerous walkouts over the gory content. Spike Lee has a film at Cannes called BlacKkKlansman which is the type of film and statement that Lee has been making since Do the Right Thing. The film is adapted from a memoir of an African-American policeman who infiltrated a chapter of the KKK in the 1970’s. Lee’s voice is one we need to hear loud and clear in these confusing times.

That’s all folks, for this week. Soon we will be heading into summer and hopefully, get some vacation time to relax and …watch movies, what else? Till next week, see you at the movies-ML

Links:  The Franchise Era of FIlmmaking:

6 Degrees: Summer Film News

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6 Degrees of Film

Hello Film fans! In this edition of Summer Film News, we are looking at the movies opening in the summer of 2018. From the films we have seen, here’s a list with some that look interesting enough to recommend making a trip to the movies.

Avengers Infinity 2018

At the Movies Now: Avengers: Infinity War has already opened. This one is already setting records…. so we can safely say that this is a hit movie that will do well, as did the two similar films which are in the top ten box office hits of all time.

The Classics: The Seagull with Annette Bening is a remake of Chekhov’s classic play. And an artsy Chekhov film is something you don’t see too often, at least not with A-list stars. This one is billed as a story of ‘unrequited love and artistic jealousy.” Annette Bening is one of only a handful of actresses with enough clout and acting chops to pull this dramatic adaptation off. Brian Dennehy co-stars.

Mamma Mia sequel 2018

The Baby Boomer Movies: Book Club and Mamma Mia! Here we Go Again; Mission Impossible- Fallout and Life of the Party with Melissa McCarthy, are all baby boomer fanfare.  Most of these are films that people of a certain age will gravitate towards.

The Documentaries: Out now is RBG, a documentary about the life of the notorious Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and a documentary on the life of Hedy Lamarr called Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story. Both are must see films in an era where we are striving to teach our girls about how to be brave and courageous, and to stand up for what we believe in. Coming soon is a doc on Pope Francis; Pope Francis- A Man of his word, from director Wim Wenders, plus an upcoming look at the life of Fred Rogers, the man who was known as Mr Rogers entitled Won’t You be my Neighbor? Rogers life may surprise some who have pigeonholed him as simply the nice man in the sweater who taught kids on public television.

SOlo Star Wars 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story opens May 25th, and is directed by Ron Howard. This is the highly anticipated prequel that is debuting at Cannes Film Festival. Some of the advance previews have gotten good reviews, so it looks promising. It  is also an interesting prospect to watch an award-winning director such as Howard, one who is so obvious a fan of the genre and yet isn’t part of the original Star Wars clique, show us with fresh eyes their ‘take’ on this classic tale.

The Remakes and Sequel Season: Ocean’s 8 is out June 8th; this is the female version of the franchise and stars Sandra Bullock and Julia Roberts. They will have to convince me the very original poster for this film contains something that has not been done and redone many times over….
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom opens June 22nd
Sicario: Day of Soldado opens June 29 plus the aforementioned Mamma Mia sequel plus Denzel Washington returns in his sequel offering as The Equalizer 2

Mamma Mia sequel 2018

Mamma Mia! Here we go again hits theatres on July 20th…here we go again… This may not be worth revisiting, but I’m a huge Meryl Streep and Colin Firth fan, and this premise does (not) seem interesting enough to hold our attention….
 Mission: Impossible-Fallout starts July 27th…. And I ask without snark….but in the tradition of all good soap opera openings: will Tom Cruise ever make a film that is anything other than an exercise of gymnastics and stunts? He was a good actor in another life…

Papillon 2018
Papillon is coming at the end of the summer cycle, it’s set for release late in August. The original would be hard to beat. The original film from 1973 with Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman was a great action-adventure film that was also an intense drama and remains one of McQueen’s great screen triumphs. Charlie Hunnam (King Arthur) plays the lead in the remake. The film is based on the real life story of a Frenchman who is desperate to escape from a life sentence in a French Guiana penal colony.

HOtel Trans 2018

The Kids Films are Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation and Incredibles 2; plus Teen Titans Go! To the Movies…. I have often said that some of the most innovative work in film is done by Pixar (Incredibles 2) and is found in children’s movies. Therefore, let’s hope the imaginative sparks will fly into main stream films some day!

DOg days 2018

The Comedies of Summer include the Melissa McCarthy offering called Life of the Party, and Mamma Mia! Here we Go Again, plus Dog Days, opening  in August, and a film with Mila Kunis billed as an “International espionage comedy’ also in August, called The Spy Who Dumped Me.
Regarding Life of the Party, I have found that some of McCarthy’s comedies have been hit and miss. Spy was funny but the one with Sandra Bullock- The Heat (2013)- was deadly dull. So who knows?…The story line for this outing has McCarthy  going back to school with her daughter. This is one of our 6 Degrees reworks. Rodney Dangerfield, as Thornton Melon, went Back to School back in 1986 and it’s hard to find a comedy to top that particular subject. (Watch it just for the Triple Lindy!)

Spy who dumped 2018
Dog Days looks light and fairly benign, and the film with Kunis-The Spy Who Dumped Me– could be something different, but we’ll have to wait for some early reviews. Although with SNL’s Kate McKinnon co-starring, this one could be a sleeper hit. Stay tuned

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Something Completely Different:
Christopher Robin opens August 3th- and is a live action version of the well-known children’s story. This version, with Ewan McGregor, is billed as a fantasy and it could be one of those films where the previews show us one type of film, and we see a completely different version when we get to the theatre. McGregor sums up the plot of the grown up version of Christopher Robin as one where he is ‘finding his relationship with his younger self again.’

The Meg on August 10th stars Jason Statham in an updated action version of Jaws with a megalodon monster that measures 70 feet Ordinarily I would not include this type of rehash, but it seems intriguing enough as they are trying to mesh Jaws with Jurassic Park to create another box office bonanza.
Slender Man is a horror flick debuting in August. Horror is big, and many of the most original plots with the best reviews have come out of the horror genre. It and Jordan Peele’s Get Out come to mind. Horror used to be for the bad B set only, and the films in recent years have shown the genre to be making a comeback

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society starring Lily James opens in August in the states, with James playing a writer in 1946 who exchanges letters with German occupied residents of Guernsey during World War II.

This is the end of what we have seen that is coming this summer. And you can start adding to some of those lists we’ve been talking about. I’ve noticed that when you see film reviews and film blog sites, we are always looking at lists. And a few of these lists have films that I may have missed. But most of them seem fairly pedantic and uninspired. I have encouraged everyone to make up, besides the Netflix list you may keep or films that you have missed at the theatre, a running Personal list of films to record and to watch. In the same way we have book lists for those titles you want to read at some later date, these are films which are ‘must see’ for the course of your lifetime and that you don’t want to miss.

From 6 Degrees of Film; the Future of Film in the global village, there are several lists, including a list of top 100 films, that can be found in the back of the book. The book has an overview of the history of film, as well as some insights into where we are going with movie making in the twenty-first century.

In the coming months, 6 Degrees and Friday Flix will highlight some excerpts from the book that will apply to the current state of moviemaking in Hollywood. We have been talking about the diversity issues, and the MeToo movement which sprang from the Harvey Weinstein scandal, and the forerunner of this, the old Hollywood casting couch cliché where women were notoriously exploited by older, rich, powerful executive men who used young girls and got away with it for over a hundred years.

The Future of Film in the Global Village

Talking about the future of film. I see a lot of art houses showing revivalist work and Film Festivals featuring favorite actors as well as genres and directors. I see the neighborhood movie theatres being converted into multi-use platforms. Some are mega-churches, or meeting venues.

And I see a lot of films being made for the small screen. You can bet there will be more series with six or eight episodes, (Benedict Cumberbatch as Patrick Melrose) to be sold as a feature in a ‘boxed set.’ And hopefully, we can create our own “Armchair Film Festivals” as we can begin to personalize our smart sets to view and download our favorite films, customized in a digital system for our own personal use. (You can make good use of the ‘must-see’ list of films!)

There are good and bad arguments in seeing our own tastes in cinema displayed before us. Of course, Netflix and Amazon will still be able to suggest films that we like, based on our settings. So that is not going away in the future world of film. But as we get older, our tastes in music and film will change along with everything else. We will see this is an evolving list to grow and to revise through the years.

Critics will perhaps move to categories and genres that encompass older films and films of the past….like the 6 Degrees of film critic! The inevitable comparisons in film styles and categories will make it necessary, after seeing many films with similar plots and story lines, to have film guides for the styles and genres of the past that reemerge in different formats.

And we will always have Paris. What do I mean by that? I don’t know, but it always sounds good, and I recommend every film goer to watch Casablanca at least once in your lifetime.
Speaking of Casablanca, here’s a line up of some films for Millennials to watch and record…

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• Bogart Film Fest: Some of his best work is seen this month on TCM, including the aforementioned Casablanca and a less well known but equally entertaining film, Across the Pacific.

Another THin Man
• The Thin Man Series: Coming on TCM this month, the original was one of the “Screwball Comedies” that Hollywood churned out during the depression era thirties. The witty repartee and the film chemistry between William Powell and Myrna Loy make these light comedies classic and timeless. Highly recommended as part of anyone’s must-see film series, and part of the Armchair Film Fest to record this month.

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* The Great Escape with Steve McQueen. One of my favorite lines about the actor was from a critic who said, “He could act with only the back of his head on screen’ By that, I think the critic meant that Steve McQueen was a natural, and that he didn’t have to reach for anything. One of his early successes was in this film from 1963 featuring a great ensemble cast about a real-life prison break from a prisoner of war camp in Nazi Germany.

Lion in Winter 1968
The Lion in Winter: In contrast to the coolest of cool actors, here are two that blew hot most of the time: Peter O’Toole and Katherine Hepburn. They worked together in the film adaptation of the play; “The Lion in Winter.” The wonderful thing about this story is that it really is part of our historical record. There was a Henry II who ruled England with his powerfully political wife, Eleanor of Acquitaine. And he really did lock her up after she rebelled against him with their oldest son, Richard the Lionhearted. And he did trot her out only for royal events such as Christmas holidays. And that is where the story picks up, with Eleanor coming home for the holidays. The playwright took the challenge of “What if…?” and wrote this funny, bizarre and poignant script which results in a bonanza of emotional scenes for great actors. This is a clever and moving film at times, and there really are no two better actors to play these over the top characters than Peter O’Toole and Katherine Hepburn. They worked well together but were only on screen as a duo in this one film, (By the way, Hepburn’s nickname for O’Toole in real life was “Pig.”)

Its a wonderful life
• Capracorn: This is the name given to all of the work of Frank Capra, who is somewhat unfairly labeled with the title of schmaltzy director of heart-tugging films. He did indulge in this tugging of heartstrings at times, as did many, (Spielberg is guilty of this too). But Capra’s films are classics, and some of them are seen less than the one shown almost on a loop at Christmas time, Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life. Before Jimmy Stewart became George Bailey, he starred in You can’t take it with you with his acting partner from It’s a Wonderful life– Lionel Barrymore. Barrymore was a member of one of the first of Hollywood elite acting dynasties, the Barrymore Family. John, Ethel and Lionel were all consummate actors of stage and screen, and they would be the first ones to tell people how good they were.
• Barrymore portrays a laid-back character in this film, a complete turn-around from his mean Mr. Potter role in the Christmas classic. You Can’t Take it with you is also based on a Pulitzer prize winning play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. The theme centers around the idea that we need to stop worrying about tomorrow, about making money, and concentrate on the things that matter and on what makes us happy. This was apparently a problem even when we supposedly lived in a much slower paced society. But this film came out during the Depression, (1938), and the themes of working for what really matters and looking for more in life than just getting ahead and making money were already huge issues for middle class America

I could go on about films for a long, long time. This will have to be the end of the Summer Film News and we hope you are as excited to see some of these films, on the big screen and the small one, as we have been in compiling the list and writing about them. Till next week, have fun, get those must-see lists of movies going, and see you at the movies!-ML

6 Degrees: Friday Flix Armchair Film Fest Edition

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6 Degrees of Film

For the Armchair Film Fest Crowd: For those couch potatoes, like myself, who love films and prefer to partake of Film Festivals from the comfort of their living room chairs, here’s some recommended viewing for May. Here are two big blocks of films shown on Turner Classic you may want to watch and record. The first is the action adventure series with Johnny Weismuller and Maureen O’Sullivan who star together in a string of Tarzan films. Tarzan was the Nativist ideal billed as the “King of the Jungle” who ruled with compassion and care as the lord of his domain. This is on the heels of Darwin’s theory that the strongest survive, and it followed the early 20th century notion of the domination of stronger countries (The United Kingdom and the United States come to mind), over the weaker ones as we went nation-building throughout Africa and the Middle East. The entire film series has an underlying theme of man’s dominance, and yet some surprisingly modern views of women, as Jane, (played by Maureen O’Sullivan-mother of Mia Farrow) tosses aside all of society’s norms to abandon her country and her fiancée to live with Tarzan in the wilds of Africa. The best of the series, after the original Tarzan, is Tarzan’s New York Adventure and Tarzan Find’s a Son!

The other Film Fest that is a must see on TCM in May is the Thin Man series. Myrna Loy is a favorite for all women, including myself, who appreciate the strong female role models that popped up from time to time in Hollywood. Myrna Loy had terrific chemistry with William Powell, and the two made a string of Thin Man gems, with lots of witty dialogue and clever plot twists during the ‘screwball comedy’ period of the thirties and forties. The original Thin Man is one of the best of the series, as well as the second- After the Thin Man– with a young Jimmy Stewart, and the third, Another Thin Man, with a hilarious baby birthday party featuring the toughs of New York City, all of them tough guys carrying their babies around. As is often the case, hilarity ensues.

One not to be missed film on TCM is A Few Good Men, which in the climate we live in, both politically and ethically, is a wonderful example of an intense courtroom drama that has a lasting moral message of dogged determination and the idea that the truth will out in the end. A must-see for anyone who has never had a chance to watch one of Tom Cruise’s best performances, as well as an outstanding role for Jack Nicholson with the memorable line: “You WANT me on that wall!…You NEED me on that Wall!”….The connotations are obvious as they resonate today.

The Avengers

Well, we recently listed the top 10 money making films of all time. And the Avengers makes the list at No. 5 AND No 7…(Age of Ultron). So it’s no wonder that the new Avengers film: Infinity War, has suddenly begun to explode records in terms of box office earnings. There are several reviews of the movie in this week’s 6 Degrees magazine, and most of us have gleaned that some of the Marvel characters don’t make it through to the end in this one. Enough said, however, in true Marvel hero fashion, the one hint I will drop is that most of these characters that meet their demise have already announced their sequels so we’ll have to just stay tuned to see if they live to fight another day. My prediction: as long as they are making money hand over fist for the studios, we don’t have to worry about a shortage of super-heroes!

One list I found funny this week in 6 Degrees supposedly had the ten most boring films of all time. And Brad Pitt was in three of them. I didn’t agree with all of the films on the list, not because any of them were particularly stellar ( However I do like Meet Joe Black), but because in my lifetime, I’ve seen so many really bad, really boring films. And these would not make the top ten cut.

That happens a lot when I see the lists compiled from many of these film blogs. I realize I’ve seen a hell of a lot of films, and some really bad ones to boot. And my movie watching experience extends decades beyond what these bloggers and writers are including when they compile any list-comedy, film noir, action, drama, etc….So I suppose it’s all relative. However, I am not as down on Brad Pitt as this critic seemed to be. He also had Tom Cruise in two of these films, and yes, they were bad Cruise vehicles. (See above-Tom Cruise was in a few good films like A Few Good Men)

Stay tuned for the Summer Film News coming next week. We highlight some of the top summer offerings, as well as discussing some of the major film trends of the 21st Century. Don’t miss out! Till next time, have fun and I’ll see you at the movies!-ML