6 Degrees: Friday Flix

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6 Degrees of Film

Lots to discuss this week in the film world. 6 Degrees has picked up some interesting comments in the past week regarding the hit movie Wonder Woman and the star power of Tom Cruise, among other things. Here’s some of the highlights from our 6 Degrees Magazine.

 

Critics Corner: Reviews are in for…Rough Night with Scarlett Johansson. The verdict-no surprise is…it doesn’t look funny. My Cousin Rachel has received mixed reviews, but this adaptation from Daphne du Maurier’s novel is favorably reviewed in the post at thecriticalcritics.com site. Churchill is reviewed at the Movie Waffler site, and this film also has received mixed reviews, and although the lead (Brian Cox) is praised, they also conclude that the small screen would easily carry this production (I’m not the only one who has started using this small screen/large screen marker to review films!)

Interesting Reads: The Supreme Court case Loving v Virginia came up 50 years ago this month. One of the films from the sixties, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” dealt with an inter-racial couple. But we don’t seem to have moved very far in telling the story that was told with veterans Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn and Sidney Poitier. Fifty years later, we are still stuck in the time warp, and this piece from NPR in 6 Degrees Magazine talks about reasons why that has been the case.

Hollywood News: Avatar is the Number One film of all time in terms of Box Office Hits. There is no date set for the planned sequel, but since it’s made more money than any other film in history, there is no doubt there will be another one coming round the bend.

One of the more complex issues is Net Neutrality. There’s a good article on Indiewire.com entitled: “Netflix Cares about Net Neutrality Again, and Here’s Why You Should Too” that attempts to explain the complexity of the arguments for and against, and basically lets the audience know that Big Corporate entities in general are not on the side of the average consumer.

In our magazine, there’s also an interview from Daily Actor with Geoffrey Rush, a consummate character actor. Speaking as one who has seen more than her fair share of films, the character actors usually tend to be the most interesting ones that carry the big films, that share the most intimate dialogue and give us the biggest laughs and the truest tears. It’s the actors that we know by their faces, but probably not by their names. They are not huge stars, but they are hugely talented and almost always have the most interesting and complicated characters to play onscreen and onstage. Geoffrey Rush is one of these characters.

What’s Coming: Here’s a point of personal privilege for those enraged readers who found my assessment of Doctor Strange in comparison to the Wonder Woman character completely idiotic. This is from a site that thoroughly covers the comic book genre (Fittingly titled: “We Got this Covered”)For many, the involvement of Doctor Strange is one of the most intriguing things about the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War. After being brought to life in wonderful fashion by Benedict Cumberbatch in November, the hero has quickly become a firm fan-favorite, with audiences eager to see him on screen again.”

Ok, that was my small vindication after trodding on some vehemently PRO-Wonder Woman fan’s toes who didn’t agree with my assessment. But for all that feel, as I do, that Cumberbatch is the superior actor and the film he played in was the better of the two, you’ll be glad to know that Benedict’s role in the upcoming aforementioned Infinity times….whatever has been greatly expanded.

The controversy is usually simply one of taste. And perhaps, as I suggested, some men may prefer seeing the beautiful and scantily clad figure of Gal Gadot as she races to the rescue from the trenches of World War I. However, one unforeseen lapse on my part was the political implications that would make Wonder Woman a hotbed of controversy.
Here’s a quote from someone: “I think the Zionist/Israeli lobby are behind Wonder Woman’s success. Let’s not forget that the movie heroine is an Israeli citizen”….Well, where to begin. Films are not reviewed with the political implications that are suggested here. Films are reviewed, hopefully, in terms of craft. The film is a statement of the entire production’s input, including the Director, the Producer, the Studio, and the artists who create the characters and in these modern times, the Computer Graphics and the cinematography surrounding the story

We are not going there, meaning into the politically charged motivations for someone who has a certain mind-set. However, the film that has been reviewed is part of a series of long-standing support; a genre emerging in Hollywood known as the comic-book genre complete with Origin tales of super-heroes. Hollywood’s intent, let there be no mistake-is to make money and make more movies. That has been the intent of the studios since they were filming in the back lots in New Jersey and at Edison Studios before they hit the sunny streets of Hollywood, California (Reference: 6 Degrees of Film: The future of film in the global village).

But the auteurs, the directors, the actors and the producers are also creating art. Some people may scoff at the comic book genre, but we know that Shakespeare created art and he worked pulling his plots from lots of dog eared material that had been floating around for ages. My point is that art can be created from any source material, including a comic book. And art is, as beauty, in the eye of the beholder.

I believe that Ms. Gadot is a beautiful woman who has created a memorable character in the person of Wonder Woman. The myths and the artistic license may at some point create a film that can be truly seen as a work of art. I never particularly cared for the original “Star Wars”, which is heresy for a film critic. However, I thought The Empire Strikes Back was a darn good film. As I’ve written before, I’m waiting for some creative genius to take hold of the material found in comic book form and create something wholly other, a masterpiece that will make the entire industry stand on its head to see where this new form of artistic expression is coming. It may not be that far down the road!

Films have somehow become as political as the rest of our society, with folks on both sides seeing and reading events into the creation of the films that aren’t supposed to be there. I heard some other feedback this week also. Here’s one general comment: “Hollywood is a big, “incest-fest” anyway…the same ten actors and actresses get cast in every movie.” Now, this one I do agree with to a certain extent.

But again, being an old person, I remember a time when it seemed John Wayne or Jimmy Stewart or Clint Eastwood got cast in almost every film-certainly every Western film. So that critique has been around for a while. But the critics are always going to take issue with famous actors and their privileged lives.
To that point, I also thought Tom Cruise was a good actor, at one time. But he has certainly been lambasted recently, especially with the awful reviews coming in for The Mummy  (which somehow has managed to make money regardless of the bad reviews.) This comment comes from a harsh critic of Mr. Cruise: “It’s been 15 years since he’s been relevant!” Cruel. I think that there’s a ring of truth, but nevertheless, that was a cruel comment.

So, we find that the harshest critics, as with restaurant and hotel reviews of late, come from the movie fans simply reading the articles and agreeing and disagreeing, as is their wont. Keep up the good work, movie fans, and know that it gives us something to write about! I’ll keep working to get it right and till next time, see you at the movies!-ML

6 Degrees: Friday Flix

We are now officially in the Summer Season for films and there are a few I’m looking for over the next few months. Lady Macbeth and Dunkirk are two, and Will Ferrell’s new comedy is another that may pass muster.

Of course, the super hero season never ends, and the latest is Wonder Woman. My review is posting soon, and the recommendation is: You can wait for the small screen and rent Dr. Strange if you haven’t seen it yet. Of course, the ingenue who debuts as Wonder Woman, Gal Gadot, is very pretty, and the supporting cast is fairly decent. But it has been hyped as something it is not, which is a really good movie. It’s just an okay movie, but it’s nothing to write home about (in my humble opinion-which is that of a film critic!).

What else is happening? Turner Classic has a great lineup of Audrey Hepburn movies this month. She really is something to write home about. If you have not seen some of her best work, then set your DVR to record: Roman Holiday; The Nun’s Story and How to Steal a Million.

TCM also has a new blog, Streamline, and one of the interesting pieces is Revisiting Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet. Branagh is also going to appear in director Chris Nolan’s Dunkirk in July. Another post is about the documentary The Times of Harvey Milk. As I’ve stated many times, if you are trying to choose between the documentary work and the feature film, nine times out of ten choose the documentary. This one is far superior to the film that Sean Penn did about Harvey Milk.

In Film Comment, writer Mark Harris has an excerpt from his book, Pictures at a Revolution, about the films from 1967. The sixties marked a big turning point in cinema, with the old Hollywood dying out and the studio system gone, the new breed of filmmakers were trying to find different ways to tell the story. And there was a lot of innovative thinking as well as actual re-tooling of the entire process of film-making. And the newest type of filmmaker, the independent film producer and director evolved and came into their own in this era.

Harris talks about the James Bond films, and in particular You Only Live Twice and Casino Royale. Also this week, 6 Degrees magazine features an interview with one of the prize-winning past winners of Cannes, Lauren Cantet, who won for The Class in 2008. The full list of winners at Cannes is discussed and the roundtable of critics, including Chaz Ebert, talk about their craft in 2017.

One recently released horror movie that has been receiving lots of praise is It Comes At Night: As defined by what the meaning of the word “IT” is! There’s a good discussion about the beautiful women featured in Wonder Woman that are….of a certain age. It’s good to see older women in films, but the problem has always been that there are only a few choice parts for women over 40, while men…of a certain age-from John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart through Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt all get to work in romantic and leading men parts where their female counterparts are usually relegated to roles for mothers and small supporting parts. It hasn’t changed that much in Hollywood yet!

There’s a review for The Exception on rogerebert.com. It didn’t get a good one-and neither did Churchill. There’s a review of the kids movie, Captain Underpants, on the Macguffin website. And Tom Cruise’s The Mummy has opened with decidedly mixed reviews. There’s one piece reminding us that the 90’s film of the same name was actually pretty good.

There are remakes, and then there’s the concept of the “shared universe” as discussed by Mike Ryan on Uproxx in the post: “Enough, Already, with this Shared Universe Trend.” Apparently, the Marvel comic universe has competition from the rival “Dark Universe”, which may just be a way to garner interest for a bunch of comic-book movies that the studios are desperate to plug. At any rate, the film critic universe still stands by the silly and old-fashioned notion that a good movie is hard to find. And not all of the comic flotsam floating around in these mixed universes contain good movies. As I am wont to say when someone is waxing lyrical about this film or that: “I’ll be the judge of that.”
We all will as we keep going back for more! See you at the movies-ML

6 Degrees: Friday Flix

 

Welcome to June, and we are officially starting to see the summer roll-outs for the Hollywood Summer Film Season. Starting with Wonder Woman, which has had some great reviews so far, we are seeing some of the early winners and losers. As we started listing them last week in the Summer Film Newsletter from 6 Degrees, it seems that King Arthur was an early casualty.

And at Cannes, the list of winners is included in this week’s 6 Degrees magazine. Sofia Coppola was awarded Best Director for her remake of the Clint Eastwood vehicle that is starring Nicole Kidman, The Beguiled. And the top prize went to a Swedish film, an art-world satire called  The Square.

 Some other surprises or break-out performances at Cannes included great reviews for Adam Sandler and Robert Pattinson (of Twilight fame). And one of the former darlings of European cinema, Fugitive Director Roman Polanski’s film, Based on a True Story, was said to be sadly flat. You never can tell…

 So…after Cannes, and before July 4th drops, there are some other note-worthy articles this past week. The number of LGBT characters in films, as with women and women directors, is still far short from where they could be as represented on film and in the film world. Jessica Chastain also discussed the way females are portrayed in films and describes it as “disturbing” during an interview at Cannes. There are some who are working to change the way things have always been done in Hollywood, but the entrenched attitudes have been around for over 100 years (as depicted in my book, 6 Degrees of Film).

 One of the trends that is encouraging surrounds the opening of  Wonder Woman and how much positive feedback the female director and some of the reviews have garnered. There’s a good article in Vanity Fair about tracing Wonder Woman’s Cinematic Origins also.

 One amusing piece from earlier this week was about Johnny Depp and his predilection for having his lines fed to him through a microphone. And honestly, if I was Depp and had to literally walk through the performances he has given for basically the same movie over and over, I might be tempted…

 There’s a good piece in The Guardian from director John Boorman talking frankly about some of the problems and challenges as he filmed the classic Deliverance, with Ned Beatty and Jon Voight. There’s also in the Guardian, an article discussing some of the pitfalls in trying to remake another classic, the Al Pacino gangster film Scarface, directed by Brian de Palma. And for those who are looking for something a little different in their film viewing, Rolling Stone has a list of “Alternate-Summer Movies” to preview.

 Some of the films with positive reviews, besides Wonder Woman, include the new drama about Winston Churchill, and the kids movie based on the best-seller, “The Adventures of Captain Underpants.”

 For film buffs like me, there’s an article talking about the classic Marx Brothers film, Duck Soup, from 1933, directed by Leo McCarey. At times, the Marx Brothers could be a bit irritating to me, but I’ve always had a soft spot for Duck Soup and the plot surrounding the mythical Freedonia.

 And in that vein, the newest books about film are recommended in the Out of the Past Blog. The original film, The Beguiled which was mentioned above as being remade by Sofia Coppola and starring Nicole Kidman, was a vehicle for Clint Eastwood back in 1971. He was playing another anti-hero, but this one was not as commercially successful as his other major hits in the day, so this is an interesting choice for a remake. The original is reviewed in 6 Degrees magazine.

 There’s a review of the upcoming  Lady Macbeth and also a list of the top ten movies from 1947! So check out the 6 Degrees magazine, and the Summer Film Newsletter that we released last week. Hope you are enjoying the summer days and look forward to seeing you at the movies!-ML

6 Degrees Summer Newsletter

 

Happy Summer to all our Readers and followers! This is the Summer Film Newsletter from 6 Degrees…At this writing, the Cannes Film Festival is in full swing. Here’s hoping that the Festival will bring to light some new, standout performances and notable films.

Meanwhile, back in Hollywood, the Summer Premieres are starting earlier each year. One of the first fatalities of the early openers has occurred with King Arthur: Legend of the Sword from director Guy Ritchie. One of my favorite review titles came from Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers: Welcome to to a King-Sized Pile of Crap.”

One of the most anticipated openings as far as the Summer Blockbuster category has been Wonder Woman, which opens in early June to kick off what is also known as the Summer Comic Book Hero Season. The other notables have been the Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2, which made a lot of money-no surprise. And the Alien: Covenant film is one of the continuing prequels in the Alien series, which has done well.  

Some of the anticipated kids movies are the fun sounding Captain Underpants, also opening in June. Also for kids, there is Cars 3, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which opened in May, and another Despicable Me movie with Steve Carell.

There’s the serial brigade: with Transformers: The Last Knight. There’s the remakes: The Mummy with Tom Cruise, My Cousin Rachel with Rachel Weisz and The Beguiled with Nicole Kidman.

There’s sci fi  flick: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets as well as War for the Planet of the Apes (another sequel/remake/rehash?).  For the documentary enthusiasts, there’s Letters from Baghdad in June and An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power in August….

I’m looking for Dunkirk slated for July 21st and starring Tom Hardy. Lady Macbeth with Florence Pugh is set for July 14th. And Charlize Theron is in Atomic Blonde, an action pic opening July 28t

Other notable actors and openings are Once Upon a Time in Venice with Bruce Willis-June 16th; Baby Driver on  June 28th; Spider-Man: Homecoming on July 7th; and another Charlize Theron film The Last Face on July 28th.

All in all it’s not a bad lineup. There are a few good films that are most likely watchable, and that’s sometimes hard to find when so many films are remakes or sequels/serials that don’t break new ground. Which is why Cannes and other film festivals are so important, as they often bring into prominence the smaller films with low budgets that are more interesting and have new faces and talent lurking under the radar.

There isn’t any one type of film that tells us that Hollywood is on the way out, but the handwriting has been on the wall for at least a decade or more. There are so many choices out there, with Indies and Bollywood vying for the same audiences, and the double-edged sword is that there’s a lot of talented directors and actors who are working in films with small budgets and are on the cusp of making it. But there’s also a higher than ever demand to keep cranking out the same stale formulaic versions of yesterday’s hits because they still make money for the studios! So that’s not going to change anytime soon.

But, there are a few art house movies that make us sit up and take notice. And I almost forgot….Will Ferrell is making a comedy, The House, set to open on June 30th, so let’s hope there are a few laughs along the way as we prepare for a long hot summer in the U.S.

Be on the lookout for the 6 Degrees Friday Flix posts and the latest installments in our 6 Degrees of Film magazine that will highlight some of the week’s top film news and news of note from Hollywood. Till next time, see you at the movies!-ML

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6 Degrees: Friday Flix-The Mother’s Day Edition

6 Degrees of Film

I’ve been thinking about some of the ways films have portrayed Motherhood over the course of the past 100 years in Hollywood history. What a wide arc of role models we have in Hollywood films that portray Moms. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some of my favorite on-screen portrayals of Mom come to mind.
Moms on Screen:  I loved Glenn Close as Robin William’s mom in The World According to Garp. Close was the wise and caring mother who advised her son early in life that childhood without a Dad wasn’t a handicap he needed to bear. Then there was the wise Mother Superior who advised the young novice Maria in The Sound of Music to follow where her heart led her and to climb every mountain.

The mother of the movement, Sarah Conner from both the Terminator and Terminator 2 inspired a world-wide rebellion. There was actress Maureen O’Hara, the ultimate model of the working mom way back in 1947 who paved the way in the original Miracle on 34th Street. And there are the mothers who inspired us and gave us hope. The Victorian model for mothering was seen in Mary Astor in Meet Me in St. Louis. The cool ex-hippie version was played by Meryl Streep in Mamma Mia. And there was Shirley Maclaine’s loopy and self-absorbed character seen in Postcards from the Edge. There is the self-sacrificing mother. That leads us back to Shirley MacLaine, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of a mother fighting for her dying daughter in Terms of Endearment. Sally Fields has played several versions of this. From  Forrest Gump to Steel Magnolias, she has been the epitome of a Mom with heart who was willing to sacrifice everything for her child.

Hollywood has portrayed Motherhood in all of its forms. But they seem to excel at telling the story from 1000 feet up, which is not a surprise, as the male-dominated field of Hollywood producers and story-tellers still hasn’t permeated our mindsets enough to change the culture in a meaningful way. There have been great and powerful women in Hollywood with powerful portrayals of mothers and strong female leads, but the trends and the statistics still point to a male-dominated industry that makes it hard for female directors and writers to break through. Still, there are signs of progress. More people are becoming aware of the disparity between the female directors and the female writers and story-tellers than ever before.

Coming Soon: Meanwhile, we are still gearing up for some of the big summer releases. Wonder Woman is one of the big openers; War Machine stars Brad Pitt in a war satire from Netflix; and Blade Runner 2049 will star Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford, who is returning in the character of Deckard.

Critically Speaking: Movies released recently include Guardians of the Galaxy 2-which has seen favorable reviews; Snatched with Goldie Hawn and Amy Schumer-this comedy has had mixed reviews. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword has struggled also, particularly with critics like Peter Travers of Rolling Stone calling it a “King-sized pile of crap.”

There’s an Australian film about serial killers called Hounds of Love, which has been called disturbing by many reviewers. Alien: Covenant has also received some mixed reviews, as films that have followed the original story have found it hard to replicate the unique and complex undertones seen in Alien and Aliens.

There are some early signs of promise, such as favorable reviews for Guardians of the Galaxy 2, but they can’t really bring back the box office magic found in years past with huge blockbuster hits waiting to be previewed. There are interesting films, there’s films debuting at Cannes with lots of potential, but nothing on the horizon screams “Glory Days” to the fading Hollywood blockbuster model.

Some of the upcoming films of summer feature interesting actors: Harry Styles will make his acting debut in Dunkirk; Sofia Boutella-the girl with the blades for legs in Kingsman: The Secret Service will trade the blades for linen wrappings in Tom Cruise’s upcoming remake of The Mummy. Boutella also has a role in Charlize Theron’s action film Atomic Blonde.

From the Festivals: Sofia Coppola will debut at Cannes Film Festival her remake of the Clint Eastwood vehicle from the 70’s, the Civil War film The Beguiled, which stars Nicole Kidman. The Chicago Critics Film Festival also runs this week- May 12-18th. And the Canadian International Documentary Festival has just wrapped, running from April 27-May 7th.

About Documentaries: I would urge any film goer to rent or even check out from the library some of the best films that are made in any genre, the documentaries. Films portraying the life of Harvey Milk: The Times of Harvey Milk from 1984; plus one of my personal favorite’s: The Fog of War, Michael Moore’s documentary on Columbine: Bowling for Columbine and his earliest piece Roger & Me. No matter what your political leanings are, some of these films are vital to telling a story and getting out of the way as they let the scenes unfold and allow you to make up your own mind. Don’t allow the bias of any political lens that you possess to prevent watching some of these gems. The left and the right need to know more about some of the particulars that documentaries pluck out of the fiber of the story as we watch details unseen in traditional, linear film-making formats.

Enough said on my “See more Documentaries” soapbox for the week! I’ve now plugged classic black and white films, Film Noir, and have moved on to the Documentary category. Next plug….could be strong women characters in film or my love of classic Westerns! Who Knows?

One last thing: Molly Haskell’s piece on Robert De Niro in Film Comment is worth checking out. Read it in the 6 Degrees of Film magazine this week. I’m hoping to be checking out some of the early summer releases this week-maybe even that “King-sized pile of crap” also known as King Arthur. I’ll let you know and see you at the movies!-ML

6 Degrees Friday Flix: The Cinco de Mayo Edition

 

6 Degrees of Film

The Cinco de Mayo Edition: Happy Cinco de Mayo to one and all…I am still pleasantly surprised, as mentioned in the past week, at the response that most have to any mention of James Bond. Bond has made a huge impact, not only in the movies themselves, but in the global interest in who plays Bond onscreen and the continued interest in the screen legacy of the Bond franchise.

*The Death of Cinema? Martin Scorsese and Ridley Scott have both been quoted in recent interviews lamenting the death of cinema as we know it. Both have blamed the comic book genre, a likely target for those of us old enough to remember the debut of The Godfather and Raging Bull, Blade Runner and Jaws as they became huge hits at the movies. The award-winning directors talked about the millennials ability to watch big-screen features on any device; the advent of CGI; the comic book genres and the difficulty of getting a project “green-lit” when so many sequels and comic book series are in the works. Conversely, Scorsese also acknowledged the “revolution in filmmaking” that has allowed so many young people to make films on a very small budget. And the directors Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, David Fincher, Alexander Payne, the Coen Brothers and Paul Thomas Anderson all drew praise from Scorsese. So…all is not lost!

*What They’re Saying About: Guardians of the Galaxy 2 is on track to break records and pull it into the top moneymakers lists. It Comes at Night has debuted as a first rate horror film for 2017

***Star Wars Day: There is such a holiday now, honoring the impact Star Wars has on our culture. One article in 6 Degrees magazine highlights the top Star wars Movie Moments. We all know the lines:… “Luke I am your Father, give in to the Dark Side of the Force; I love you…I know” and “Help me,Obi Wan Kenobi- You’re my only hope.”

The way Yoda speaks Pig Latin of a sort, the power of the Force to create magic and the quest for Luke to find his father are all deeply entrenched in our lexicon and our culture. The myth begins with…Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away…and the myth continues to build into the 21st Century.

Such is the power of imagination. As J. K Rawlings created the mythical realm of Hogwarts, so did George Lucas create the universe of Star Wars. There may be a universal acceptance of Star Wars Day, but as it stands now, the Force is honored mostly with costume parades and toy sales.

In my book, 6 Degrees of Film, there is an acknowledgment that the last quarter of the 20th Century belonged to Star Wars. Not only through the film and the story-telling lens, but the myth and the persistent allure of the stories of the Force and the nature of the Dark Side permeate our culture. There doesn’t seem to be any signs of waning interest in the universe of Star Wars, particularly since Disney has bought the rights and promotes it through theme parks and characters. In short, the first two decades of the 21st Century have also been steeped with the mythos of the Star Wars Universe. 

**Films to be excited about in the Summer of 17: Some of the summer releases include: The HouseWill Ferrell returns to his comic roots; Wonder Woman-with a nod to GirlPower world wide, the tale of the invincible Amazonian warrior is hopefully spun to interest women who need a dose of empowerment in the current climate. And finally Dunkirk; with director Christopher Nolan giving us his take on the true story of the “Miracle of Dunkirk”; along with Tom Hardy, Harry Styles and Kenneth Branagh.

About The Godfather: They didn’t want Pacino or Brando; Pacino thought it would flop; they couldn’t use the word Mafia in the film; but the movie somehow managed to come together and catapulted Al Pacino and James Caan to fame. The film also reignited Brando’s faltering career, and promoted Francis Ford Coppola into the pantheon of great directors of all time.

*Coming on TCM: There are lots of Bogart films and war films featured on TCM during the month of May. Pulled from the vaults at Turner Classic, some of Bogart’s greatest films, The Big Sleep and To Have and to Have not are being shown. One of his lesser known films, Across the Pacific with Mary Astor, is also shown in May. It’s highly recommended for all who may be interested in the continued allure of the great character that was Humphrey Bogart.

*Godzilla v King Kong: coming in 2020, there is already “buzz” about the upcoming clash of the two major Hollywood film monsters. The latest film Kong: Skull Island was a tepid entry in the listing of monster movies. But the classic originals are both being shown this month on TCM: Godzilla (with Raymond Burr) and King Kong-the one with Fay Wray and the Empire State Building. Both are must see’s for those who are at all interested in the litany of monster movie classics.

*About Film Noir: If you do get a chance to watch The Big Sleep, or another classic Film Noir, remember some of the rules to identify this genre: The scenes are lit for night; there are lots of scenes with rain, which tends to accelerate the dramatic events; the narrator is crucial; and usually sets the tone for the type of dark and ominous moods that beset the characters and the subsequent events. There is often a passionate attachment to the past, followed by a fear of the future; and the overall movie themes almost always encompass loss, nostalgia, mysterious attachments to objects or people from the past and insecurity in all of its forms.

*50th Anniversary of The Graduate: Groundbreaking films were rampant during the period when The Graduate debuted in the sixties. Easy Rider, Bonnie and Clyde, Cool Hand Luke and Hud broke all the rules of filmmaking to date. Mike Nichols made this comedy with a relative unknown star named Dustin Hoffman in the lead role. The rest, as they say, is history.

*Question: What makes a comic book movie “artful”? Or what makes any movie artful for that matter? My favorite Batman film remains Tim Burton’s Batman and also the original Superman starring Christopher Reeve…not so much for the artful nature, but for the fact that these films as a whole  were treated as comic book entities as well as major Hollywood films.

The Batman series with Christian Bale was probably more artistic in the treatment of the dark side of the character. But the artful nature of any film is shown in nuanced vignettes and superior story-telling, and that is something missing in most of the comic book genre.

The great actors playing the villains always make the most interesting parts of the whole. Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger were undoubtedly the best parts of the Batman series. But there is no comparison with the aforementioned classics, The Graduate and The Godfather.

The comic book genre lends itself to the Hollywood treatment and the characters and nature of the beast will never be transformed into an art piece. The latest films stand on their graphic comic elements, not on the ideals and nuanced character portraits that are buried within the central themes.

Finally, once again here’s wishing everyone a happy celebration for the 5th of May known as Cinco de Mayo. A big shout out to my friend and colleague and fellow critic Jason King, who supplies us with some of his reviews from “Salty Popcorn” including The Zookeeper’s Wife and other delights. Until next week, as we gear up for more Summer Film releases-See you at the movies!_ML

6 Degrees Friday Flix

6 Degrees of Film

Coming to the end of April, we are beginning the film festival season with the conclusion of New York’s Tribeca Film Festival and the advent of Cannes in May. Accompanying this is the kickoff of the Summer Film season, formerly known as Blockbuster season. There are a few interesting entries, but what has piqued my interest this past week has been some background research, which I periodically do, into the highest grossing films lists. They give us clues into our own culture as it lays out in stark numbers what people are flocking to see, both currently and, as we will see, over the longer term, what movies people love the most!

What it says about us:  These numbers come from the site that does nothing but reveal the box office gross for the films of the past week, as well as of all time. There are two lists that we should pay attention to when thinking about films in general. One is the current standings for the highest grossing films. These are the top 10 currently :

Avatar; Titanic; Star Wars: The Force Awakens; Jurassic World; The Avengers: Furious 7; The Avengers: Age of Ultron; Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Part 1; Frozen and Iron Man 3.

Director James Cameron has the top two spots. The comic book world and Marvel Cinematic Universe dominate with three of the top 10 on this list. Sadly, movies made before the turn of the 21st Century seem to be passe.  Only Titanic has managed to cling to the top ten, still at number two. Star Wars is huge! Harry Potter is still relevant, and Girlpower has come into its own with Frozen’s appeal.

The other list is the all time highest grossing films adjusted for inflation. This includes the following:

  1. Gone With The Wind  3.4 Bill- 1939
  2. Avatar 3.2 Bill-2009
  3. Titanic 2.5 Bill-1997
  4. The Sound of Music 2.3 Bill-1965
  5. ET 2.3 Bill-1982
  6. Dr. Zhivago 2.0 Bill-1965
  7. Jaws 2.0 Bill-1975
  8. Snow White 1.8 Bill – 1937

It tells us that romance is not dead. Classic romantic tales of doomed lovers still sell tickets. James Cameron is still huge! Star Wars is always going to be on the list, and Spielberg makes it into the pantheon with Jaws and ET making the list.

Girlpower somehow still makes its voice known, especially to young girls who, since 1937, have been empowered by the tale of a young determined woman who survives in the woods alone with seven small dwarfs. The lone musical on the list (not counting Disney’s animation) is The Sound of Music, which has seen the sound of cash coming in for decades now. I’m a big fan of this film, but realize that some people consider it as nails against the chalkboard.

Some of the surprises on the list of top grossing films, listed on the site….and going through the top 50 are, at least for me, that James Bond is still a heavy hitter with Skyfall and Spectre making the list.  Johnny Depp is still making the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels ad nauseum. Why? The movies keep turning up in the top grossing films of all time.

Some other surprises for me: A film I liked but is still controversial in the Star Wars Pantheon is Star Wars: The Phantom Menace-Episode I with Liam Neeson. It is the third highest grossing Star Wars film of all time. Go figure.

I was surprised that The Jungle Book live action remake from 2016 is in the top 50 highest grossing films. I liked it, but it still surprised me to see the numbers.  Other surprises were that the original Jurassic Park is still in the top 25…The Dark Knight Rises in in the top 20- of all Batman films…and as bad as reviews were for Batman vs Superman it’s in the top 50 highest grossing of all time

No surprise about the number of sequels listed. And there was a complaint last week from a reader who couldn’t open a list (neither could I) from a site that touted the top Billion dollar grossing films of all time.

Well, it turns out that ALL of the films on the highest grossing films list up to #30- Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Stone on up- all made 1 Billion dollars or more. Here’s the link again. It’s a depressing fact of life that Hollywood will continue to manufacture virtually the same films over and over as long as people pay good money to see them.

And another depressing fact for those of us who love film, the history of film, and in particular, films that were made in the twentieth century. The oldest film on the top 50 highest grossing films was Jurassic Park, made in 1993. Very few films before the turn of the century are on this list.

Speaking of surprises, in our magazine, 6 Degrees of Film, the comments about the buzz surrounding the pick for a new James Bond actor were intense. Some of the fans of Tom Hardy and Clive Owen weighed in, and both of these picks have my wholehearted endorsement!

The controversy of Idris Elba taking the role to become the first black James Bond continues. There were some mixed feelings about this, but he is a talented actor who would infuse the role with some much needed energy.

One comment from reader g Nelson was: “…enough with the juvenile movies based on comic books meant for an 8 year old.” Here, here Mr. Nelson! In the book, 6 Degrees of Film, there is a section devoted to the concern that filmmakers (Peter Bogdanovich is attributed with the quote) had about the “juvenization” of movies that was taking place. This has been an ongoing concern for many serious directors and film auteurs going on about forty years now.

Coming to the end of April, the films that are being released are still considered either Indie or those small scale films that lead us into the next season. And today most film sites are honoring the immensely talented director Jonathon Demme, who has died at the age of 73.

Hollywood Buzz: Upon learning of the death of director Jonathon Demme, many film sites such as Rolling Stone have listed some of Demme’s best work. Here’s a partial list: His documentaries: Swimming to Cambodia; Stop Making Sense and Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains; the comedies: Melvin & Howard; Something Wild and Married to the Mob. His masterpiece: The Silence of the Lambs, and the remake of The Manchurian Candidate plus his last film, Ricki & the Flash-released in 2015. Many stars and legends have been weighing in on this extraordinary director, dead at the age of 73, most notably Jodie Foster and The Boss, Bruce Springsteen.

Critics Review: The Circle with Emma Watson and Tom Hanks has mostly poor reviews. Summer movies are still being rolled out, and in mid-may, our Summer Newsletter will have a listing of some of the most promising picks. This week, Ebert.com reviews Obit  a documentary about the New York Times obituary department. The Promise is also reviewed favorably on Ebert.com. The highest grossing Spanish language film in US history: Instructions Not Included from 2013 has been remade as How to Be a Latin Lover, and it’s scheduled for release this week.

One of the most positive films in terms of reviews this week is The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki, a film about a boxer that was made in Finland and shot in black and white. (See my remarks about black and white from a couple of weeks ago!)

Critically Speaking: One interesting perspective in Film Comment comes from Mark Harris, the critic and author of the 2008, Pictures at a Revolution. Harris has explored the changing culture through the production and filming of five of 1967’s Best Picture Oscar nominees. The films were Bonnie and Clyde; The Graduate, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, In the Heat of the Night and Doctor Doolittle And continuing on that theme, he examines the Audrey Hepburn/Albert Finney film: Two for the Road, which can be described as uneven at times. It’s an interesting concept, again explored at length in 6 Degrees, as the counter revolution of the sixties swept all aspects of our culture, most especially through the films released in this period.

We had some discussion of the classic Bonnie and Clyde, a few weeks back, which was the film that launched the great film critic Pauline Kael’s career, as she praised the ground-breaking film at the time.

Martin Scorsese is returning to his directing roots and filming The Irishman, with De Niro, Al Pacino and Harvey Keitel, which may prove that this famed director of Raging Bull and Goodfellas perhaps is best when he’s in his element-gangsters and tough guys from New York.

The top prize at the Tribeca Film Festival went to Keep the Change, a love story about autism that starred people who are diagnosed with autism. And to keep the controversy rolling, Cannes 2017 has added the convicted child molestor and film director Roman Polanski’s latest movie Based on a True Story, to their official selections. We’ll see if the protests are again going to keep Polanski out of the running in the end.

And finally, it’s hard to believe they are celebrating the 20 year anniversary of Austin Powers release. The film is one that was based on the idea of a retro look at the swinging sixties, and is still fresh and funny twenty years later. Oh, Behave!

Best to all as we head into the Summer Film Season and a new month. See you at the movies!-ML