6 Degrees: Friday Flix

168816805 FOR 6 DEGREES COVER PHOTO SHOT

Hello to all Film Fans & Friends! The good news, surprising to some of us, is that Dunkirk has opened to really good reviews. It’s short-107 minutes -Thank God! (Spare me from the overly long Summer serial movies recently that have begged for good editing!). So that’s a pleasant surprise… And the Planet of the Apes film has also gotten surprisingly good reviews. There is always hope that we’ll salvage a fairly blah summer film season.

 
Wonder Woman has continued to rake in the money. But there comes a point in the summer film season when we start to desperately look around for some good films on the horizon. And there are usually these great little hidden gems of cinema that are a big reason why many of us continue to watch movies.

 

6 Degrees Magazine: This week, check out these articles online. There’s an article about Director Werner Herzog’s masterpiece of a documentary Burden of Dreams, which is about the making of the film Fitzcarraldo in 1982.

 
Critically Speaking: As mentioned, the reviews for Dunkirk and War for the Planet of the Apes have been good. Also, there’s The Big Sick, with a supporting cast that includes Ray Romano and Holly Hunter, so that has garnered interest and hope that the Rom-Com’s are not dead (simply in need of a 21st Century upgrade!).

 
The Indie Film: The Little Hours is reviewed on the macguffin film site as well as the sci-fi film from director Luc Besson, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Film Comment also has a post on the Valerian film, which is based on a popular French graphic novel series entitled Valerian and Laureline by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mezieres. Film Comment calls the series of books a “travesty of storytelling”, and says the film itself is “bereft of narrative tension” but instead functions “strictly as spectacle.” Valerian reviews as a whole have been mixed, so this explains it as good as any other reason I’ve heard. Rolling Stone has a film review of Valerian with the lead: “Luc Besson makes a Sci-Fi Mess.”

 
We’ve already mentioned War for the Planet of the Apes, which has garnered good reviews after suffering through a few stumbles in the past with some duds in the continuing “ape” series. There’s a film out called Endless Poetry, from an 88 year old Chilean-French filmmaker which has been getting good reviews.

 
And finally, Lady Macbeth is reviewed on Ebert.com, and focuses on the performance from the 21- year old lead Florence Pugh. It’s worthy to note that Lady Macbeth is NOT based on the Shakespearean character, but instead comes from a Russian novella by Nikolai Leskov titled “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk”, a book centering on ways women were suppressed and stifled in the 19th century. (It makes a difference!)

 
Notable Deaths: There’s an interview from Film Comment featured in our magazine done recently with the late Martin Landau, who won an Oscar for his supporting role in Ed Wood. And the other recent passing was of the much-admired Horror Director George Romero, famous for the original 1968 Night of the Living Dead film, as well as the many spawns of that classic: Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead and many others, including the TV series from 1983, Tales from the Darkside.

 
Well, till we meet again film goers. I’m excited about the films coming soon (Stephen King’s The Dark Tower is one) and the great Armchair Film Festival offerings from Turner Classic. Hitchcock lovers have had a fantastic month in July if they tuned in and recorded the entire catalog of Hitchcock classics. One of my favorite lines will always be from Notorious, when Madame Sebastian learns her son has married a spy. She quietly lights a cigarette and tells him, “We are saved by the enormity of your stupidity.” I have truly come to adore that line, and try to apply it to my own life whenever possible. See you at the movies!-ML

Capsule Review: Inferno

tom-hanks-inferno

The film comes across as fair to middlin’ entertainment. The plot was convoluted-some elements didn’t make sense or tie together well-which proves that the over-used device in storylines of “nothing is as it seems” can grow old.

But the scenery and cinematography was beautiful. If this was “The Big Sleep” with Bogart you wouldn’t necessarily care about the loose ends that don’t add up or all the plot elements that don’t make sense. But if the film isn’t that good, and few are as good as Bogie’s films, then you may begin to wonder what the point of the exercise was.

In this case, you do wonder. What’s the point of this? It could be a film that, if not for Tom Hanks or Ron Howard, would be sent straight to video or perhaps wouldn’t have been green-lit. Because but for some of the lovelier screen elements, this film may be deemed entirely forgettable.

The same story device of having to figure out a mystery using the superior knowledge of the lead character, Robert Langdon/Tom Hanks in Dan Brown’s Universe within the literati world can only take you through the first act. By the end of the film, it’s clear that this story line is one that has gone out with the last decade. It’s almost too strained a notion when this film finally winds down.

I would recount the plot if I thought that it mattered to anyone, but I repeat-what’s the point? This one is much better to see on the small screen, as you can probably skip the unnecessary plot points-which count for about half of the movie.

 

 

Recommended viewing: Forbidden Planet

Forbidden Planet

The reason this film, above most of the others in the Summer film series at Tampa Theatre, should be seen in a darkened movie house can be answered in one word-CinemaScope. The process of CinemaScope was unique to the fifties, and this film was a prime example of a process that made the colors and the visuals blend into the storyline and in doing so created one of the first science-fiction Cinematic Universes for audiences and lovers of the genre.

The plot of Forbidden Planet involves a spacecraft traveling to the planet Altair IV to discover what happened to a group of scientists sent to explore the planet decades ago. Commander Adams (Leslie Nielsen-playing it straight!) & his crew find only two people living there; Dr Morbius, played by Walter Pidgeon, and his daughter Altaira, played by Anne Francis.

Made in 1956, the movie is loosely based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest and was most notable for the introduction of Robby the Robot. Robby was more than just an inanimate object, and the film made it a cut above the usual hokey sci-fi stereotypes in that the character of Robby actually became an integral supporting role in the movie.

Full of lush colors and classic fifties sci-fi visuals, Forbidden Planet was, as mentioned above, shot in the groundbreaking Cinema Scope process and was nominated for Best Visual Effects at the Academy Awards. The picture is a genuine science fiction classic, and to cement its importance in the genre, it was entered into the National Film Registry in 2013.

There are only a few films in this series that are worth sitting in a dark theatre and viewing during the long hot summer months. This is one of them. Forbidden Planet is playing at Tampa Theatre this Sunday at 3:00 pm.

Forb Planet #2

Summer Film Series at Tampa Theatre: The ones to see at the movies!

Tampa Theatre
Interior of Tampa Theatre

Tampa Theatre has released their Summer Film Series. I was a bit disappointed with the selections this year, but there are a few notables coming… These are the ones I would recommend as “must see” theatre viewing for those who’ve never seen them on the big screen.
Forbidden Planet is coming in June. A campy science fiction classic,  this one was made in the heyday of fifties Golden Age studio films. The plot loosely follows the story of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, with Walter Pidgeon playing the Prospero part (Dr. Morbius) and his daughter, played by the ingénue Anne Francis. Leslie Nielson is in a perfectly straight role pre-Airplane, starring as the astronaut-hero who is out to stop the madness and woo the girl. Robby the Robot is the memorable sci-fi staple, and the movie is filmed in gorgeous fifties Cinemascope color.
Notorious is one of Hitchcock’s best films. Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman give memorable performances in this classic thriller. One of the greatest lines in film history is delivered by Madame Sebastian, the cold and calculating mother of villainous Claude Rains. “You are protected by the enormity of your stupidity” is the classic line. Never has a put-down been delivered with such precision and flair.
The Wizard of Oz is a film that everyone should see on the big screen. There has never been anything to match it in art and simplistic style. It still easily makes the top ten lists of most of the film critics worth their salt.
Casablanca is another film that stays with you. It’s a classic B-movie, with another memorable performance from Ingrid Bergman. But this film belongs to Bogart. It’s his signature role and he achieves iconic film status in the part of the loner Rick, who hides his secrets and his sentiments from the world in his café in Casablanca.
These films were made for big-screen viewing, and if you have the time, should be seen in the theatre. It’s definitely my opinion, (which is shared by many veteran critics), that most of the films made in the modern era can’t touch these cinema classics.
Here’s the schedule for these classics at Tampa Theatre. I have to note that this is not the complete line up, but rather the line up from 6 Degrees of the films worth seeing at the movies! Drop me a line to give me your line up of films that should be seen in the theatre. I’ve got a list & definitely have opinions as to which films make the cut.

 Sunday June 26: Forbidden Planet review
  Sunday July 10: Notorious review
  Sunday Sep 4: Wizard of Oz
  Casablanca Sep 18th: Casablanca

Back to the Future & The Future on Film in 6 Degrees

Backto future 2015

October 2015 will be the 30th anniversary of the premiere of  Back to the Future. Some of the films portrayals of a future world have been remarkably accurate. Other things were missed, but that’s the nature of predictions. Here are a few of the major things the film got right (and a few things missed):

 

 Nike Self-tying shoes: The shoes they came up with look remarkably like the type that Nike sells.
  Hoverboards: The technology is there for a few elites, but not for the general public.
 Drones & Robot Technology: The drones were imagined with uncanny accuracy.
  Biometric Scanners-for eyes/Fingerprint ID’s: This is current state of the art technology
 Google glass specs: Although they aren’t flying off the shelves, we do have Google glasses
  Flying cars: Nope. Not yet.
  TV Screens and video chats: Predated Skype and FaceTime with their imagined version.
  No Internet! Probably the biggest omission is the scope of the internet and how much it affects our daily lives
Back to the Future will be screened as part of Tampa Theatre's Summer FIlm Series this Sunday at 3:00 pm at Tampa Theatre.

Star wars logo

 

In the beginning, there was George Melies’ A Trip to the Moon in 1902. By 1939, The Wizard of Oz came along. But there were no real “cutting-edge” special effects on film for the first fifty years or so. Until Stanley Kubrick made 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968 and gave audiences a glimpse into just what the filmmaker can do with a superior imagination and a large budget.

From Forbidden Planet and The Day the Earth Stood Still, to Star Wars and Jurassic Park, futurist sci-fi has advanced technologically to the point where the Special Effects completely dominate the action and the plot. Star Wars, released in 1977, was the game changer, in terms of special effects and the way the future was portrayed on film. Audiences were no longer satisfied with a flying car held up by string or a giant enlarged lizard. They wanted to see and to experience something extraordinary. And George Lucas and his Industrial Light & Magic studios delivered. They were the game changers in charge of the newly minted Cinematic Universe of the 21st Century.

Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) became so adept that the end result made one of the principal managers say, “The only thing that limits films these days are the budget and the scope of the director’s imagination. “We’re helping directors previsualize their films. Our designs are becoming more specific to the actual look of the film.”

One veteran from Industrial Light & Magic speculated of a future where film becomes an interactive experience, enabling participants…”to explore virtual worlds or even inhabit the form of computer graphics characters, controlling the action with a joystick. Players from all points on the planet could be linked through TV screens, computer modems, or game pods in arcade settings.”
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When asked if films will become obsolete, ILM Visual Effects Supervisor Dennis Muran said: “Eventually…..theaters will be able to use an electronic or laser-light projection system, which is not a new thing; it’s been around for a long time. The hard part will be getting the thousands of movie theaters around the country to upgrade and install a new $200,000 projection system

And the man with the vision, George Lucas, who created the Cinematic Universe we now live in, said this about futuristic film :

“I see true environments being created and combined with a lot of biotech things going on, in terms of manipulating people’s sense through drugs. This combination will have the most powerful effect on the kind of storytelling we’re doing today. It’s too far off for me to worry about, and I’m no interested in virtual reality at its current level, because it’s just too crude. But if you can program virtual reality or simulator rides with biotech, you will have a very interesting non-world. The first step would be to take the simulator ride part of the environment…where you can just implant the story in a pill and live it.
That’s not outside the realm of possibility. You’d take the pill and go to sleep. It’d be like a dream and you’d have an actual, real, physical experience of something completely imaginary. What that’ll mean for society, I have no idea, and how you’d get there from here is way beyond me, but I know enough to know it’s within the realm of possibility. Because they’re already going there, creating images without actually making them, just as you create them in a dream.”

This experience would not be standard movie theater fare as we have come to know it. It would be a reality far removed from our own near future world. As long as humans aspire to dream and to create, we will be interested in watching movies in whatever form that might be.

Excerpt from 6 Degrees of Film: The Future of Film in the Global Village-ML Johnson 2013

Interstellar: A return to old-school Sci-Fi

Interstellar 2014This film is a highly fanciful return to old-school sci-fi movies. There is some science interspersed with fiction, making it more akin to last year’s Gravity than Kubrick’s 2001 , to which it has been favorably compared. It’s not quite up to the standards of that classic film, but that doesn’t mean one should dismiss it completely.
Matthew McConaughey is adequate, but not wholly comfortable within his character, retired NASA pilot turned farmer Cooper. His role as pilot extraordinaire and earnest engineer lays rather heavily on his shoulders. He’s much better cast as the loving father and farmer in the opening segments. Anne Hathaway seems miscast in this piece, and literally adrift within the space opera. Michael Caine’s character of Professor Brand seems to be almost written in as an afterthought, which means it’s a bit confusing as to why he’s there. John Lithgow as Cooper’s father-in-law is similarly under-utilized in the script.
Only the character Jessica Chastain portrays seems to be well-rounded. She’s completely comfortable in her role as the daughter Murphy, who is left behind on Earth. The story centers around a wormhole discovered by NASA scientists after an apocalyptic Earth event. McConaughey and crew must travel through it to three possible planetary candidates in order to ostensibly re-colonize the inhabitants of Earth.
The plot holes are big enough to fly the Starship Enterprise through with plenty of room to spare. This is not high-brow sci-fi, but this movie, special effects notwithstanding, signals a return to the old-school style of science-fiction space operas we remember from the fifties and sixties. Films like Forbidden Planet, or Invasion of the Flying Saucers come
to mind if you’re old enough to remember such flights of fancy. In other words, you must suspend disbelief and simply enjoy the special effects. At some point, you may even check your watch as the running time is 169 minutes, well in excess of 2 ½ hours.
This film comes not highly recommended, but recommended for lovers of science fiction. As long as you walk in with your eyes wide open, and not expecting the wonders of 2001: A Space Odyssey, you probably won’t be disappointed.

Prometheus

prometheusMy impressions of Prometheus are that the story-line in all Aliens sub-sets of movies must follow a checklist of prescribed events. The crew must be unaware of the evil lurking amongst them, and then suddenly be overcome by a strange and hideously grotesque alien life form. The theme of destruction from within is always coursing through the action sequences. We are always waiting for that horrible “thing” to come out of someone’s body. And knowing this, the good story-teller builds on the suspense. The horror is found in the evil that is like a plague surrounding the crew.

We know from the “get-go” that this crew is doomed. We are along for the ride to find out the “how” and the “why” and the “when”. The what and the where are all givens.

So…this movie is pretty good. Notice that I refrain from using the word “Great”. There could have been, as is the case with the cowbell, “more Charlize Theron”. She is one of the most interesting characters and is under-utilized. Guy Pearce is all but unknowable under the surprisingly fake looking old man makeup.

The captain, of the Prometheus ship, played by Idris Elba,plays his role perfectly and is also under-utilized.  Michael Fassbender is wonderful as David, the Robot. He dominates the first scenes, which are a clever little homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey. The cinematography in the opening shots is truly beautiful. The movie slides from here.

One of the strongest characters in the Alien trilogy of films is always the woman who must battle the Alien. This was masterfully played by Sigourney Weaver in two of the three Alien films. In Prometheus, the scientist/astronaut Elizabeth Shaw, played by the unknown actress Noomi Rapace, is the least memorable or interesting of all of the major characters. Rapace is the one that is tapped to carry the weight of much of the latter part of the film.  Apparently this role was the one Charlize Theron had intended to play originally. It was a big mistake, in my opinion, to switch the parts.

There are some interesting sequences, but the choice could have been better if Charlize Theron’s rather vapid character was given more heft. The Robot is an interesting character study, and that promising psychological fission is left largely unfulfilled as the action progresses predictably onward.

This is a good idea for a movie. The BladeRunner sequel that Director Ridley Scott is reportedly working on also sounds like a fantastic idea for a movie. But sometimes a great notion sounds better on paper. In this case, there is an okay movie about some forgettable characters that could have been something other.