6 Degrees: Friday Flix

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6 Degrees of Film

 

Hello Film Fans! This week in 6 Degrees some of the best movies of the Season are starting to roll out. The Florida Project with Willam Dafoe has received great reviews, and Blade Runner 2049 has received ridiculously good reviews. I recall the first film didn’t get such a great reception at the time of its release. If you have never seen the original, please do so before seeing the new Bladerunner. There’s a review in 6 Degrees Magazine of the original film starring Harrison Ford.

Other movies out this week include The Mountain Between Us with Idris Elba and Kate Winslet and Una, with Rooney Mara, which is adapted from a stage play Blackbird.

Other projects of note include the Variety review of the documentary on Steven Spielberg. There’s a trailer for the new Woody Allen film Wonder Wheel  with Kate Winslet. The children’s film My Little Pony is reviewed on SF Gate, which recommends the film “only for established fans” (5 and under, we presume!)

One interesting Oscars note: Foreign Language film submissions hit a record high this year, which is good and speaks well for the nature of the Global Village in which we live.

One of my newly discovered favorite film sites is awesomebmovies.com. This week, they have an interesting piece called The Modern Day Western vs The Classic Western Movie. It’s a very interesting concept, and considering that modern day westerns come few and far between, we need to grasp that the entire genre was one that dominated early Silent film and extended well into the fifties and sixties with Clint Eastwood being the last major star to draw huge crowds to see Westerns. There’s an argument that Star Wars films are a reboot of the Western theme, but for this piece, the original concept of Western films sticks to the films of the Old West.

Speaking of Westerns: If anyone would like to see a great Western that is rarely shown, set your box to record The Westerner on Turner Classic Movies this weekend with Gary Cooper and Walter Brennan. It’s one of Cooper’s great performances as the Western hero, a drifter named Cole Harden, and Brennan shines as Judge Roy Bean, the epitome of good and evil rolled into one in his character. There’s a great scene where Cooper casually lets the Judge know that he has a lock of hair from Bean’s goddess, Lillie Langtry, and the comic undertones are almost as good as classic Jack Benny. Catch it if you can!

Here’s the link to our Fall Film Newsletter, featuring all the films released in October. There are lots of good movies being released this fall, (in contrast to a slow summer), so hope you can get out there and catch a good flick this week. See you at the movies!-ML

Capsule Review: The Magnificent Seven

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This remake from director Antoine Fuqua, and starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt, sticks fairly close to the plot of the original from 1960. This is a steady and solid remake of the classic Western with a winning cast of characters. Jennifer Lawrence is on board as a young widow who is determined to rid her town of the villainous gang of outlaws running roughshod over the citizens. The old formula still holds: the town under siege, heroes riding in to save the day, upholding the values of the West while instilling revenge and righteous fury to right the wrongs they see. The audience seeks closure in the denouement, which is the ritual gunfight, or as it stands now, the gun battle. Finally the balance of the Universe is restored when right triumphs over overwhelming might.

Denzel Washington is one good reason to watch this film. Ethan Hawke is equally up to the challenge playing a broken but not bowed anti-hero role. There’s not much more to add as there is new ground broken here in movie history, but the storytelling elements of the film hold it together. Unlike the unfortunate Ben Hur remake, there is a cohesive plot to follow…thus making this film imminently more watchable. And for moviegoers hankering for the return of a good old-fashioned Western, this film delivers.

Chris Pratt may be slightly miscast with some of his comic asides delivering touches of awkward comic relief. When the character is a natural fit for a Western, as was the case for an actor like Steve McQueen, who starred in the original, it’s always hard to compare the performances. But as a whole this film, set firmly in the category long neglected in Hollywood of a pure Western movie, fits the bill nicely.

Gene Wilder in The Frisco Kid and other Films that Got Away

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Gene Wilder was unique in his temperament and physical appearance. By that I mean he was uniquely suited for the role of his life in Young Frankenstein and equally up to the task for his classic performances in The Producers and Blazing Saddles.

Screening this month on Turner Classic are some Gene Wilder gems. Some of these are on my short list of Films that Got Away. One is the 1970’s film, Start the Revolution without me. Wilder began to perfect his controlled manic style of comedy in this piece with Donald Sutherland. It’s a spoof on the classic tale of The Corsican Brothers, with the two brothers played by Wilder & Sutherland- one set of royal birth and the other of peasant extraction, and the ensuing comedy in the dual roles is comic fodder for both Wilder and Sutherland.

The Frisco Kid was a one-off type of comedy where you might “get it” or perhaps not. But there were plenty of gems for the taking in this Western, where Wilder plays a Rabbi traveling West with his cowboy companion, played by Harrison Ford. A couple of moments are priceless: Wilder as the Jewish Rabbi is trying to eat breakfast with monks who have taken a vow of silence. This proves to be nearly impossible for the amiable Jewish persona that was Wilder. And when the pair find themselves in an Indian camp, Wilder is at his comic best when he is describing how the Jewish people celebrate in similar fashion to the Indians. “Watch that Lady! I think that lady is a Jewish Indian!“… Priceless

Speaking of cult classics, Turner Classic Movies is also showing the ever-popular Strange Brew this week. Oddly enough, this 1983 film was loosely (very loosely) based on the story of Hamlet-complete with ghosts and the Elsinore tableau thrown in for good measure. The two Second City alumni, Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis of Ghostbusters fame, are perfectly cast as two hapless Laurel & Hardy-esque screwballs who are trying to make the connections and discover the secrets of the mysterious brewery. A Canadian classic, this is not for everyone, but some of the funniest bits occur when the two are seemingly just playing it loose with the off-the-cuff remarks that have been a staple for years in our household.

Start the Revolution without me, Strange Brew, and The Frisco Kid are all playing this week on Turner Classic Movies. Check your listings for the times, as most are middle of the night showings.

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

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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.