6 Degrees: Holiday Films Recommended

MIracle 47

 

As our local art house, Tampa Theatre, is gearing up for the Holidays by showing the original 1947 “Miracle on 34th Street”, we’ve decided to begin with this one too. It’s a great film to kick off the holidays as the action unfolds at the start of the annual Macy’s Day Thanksgiving Parade in New York City.

Things to know about “Miracle on 34th Street”

*Cary Grant turned the part down. Perhaps with his innate sense of comedy and marketing of his own character, he knew that the strongest leads in this film weren’t for the males!

*Natalie Wood debuts with one of the best performances by a child in film for that era or any other era to date. Her young and slightly cynical persona as Susie, the young level-headed and sensible little girl who dreams of living in a real house someday, is the glue that makes the film work. Had the part gone to a sickly sweet child without any patina of sophistication or age beyond her years, then the film would have made no sense. The point was to create a strong motivation for Kris (Edmund Gwenn) to convert the non-believers.

*It’s still the Best of the Series-no remake has come close to the original 1947 film.

*Fem Flicks: It’s one of the earliest films that portrays a working, divorced mother even with a semblance of realism. Maureen O’Hara does a brilliant job with this part.

*Santa on Film: Edmund Gwenn gives a pivotal performance as the Macy’s Santa on trial

Fred Mertz Foreshadowed: The small role for William Frawley was also pivotal. His cynical and worldly views underscore the Capra-esque overtones seen in the courtroom scenes.

*Capitalism is featured front and center in the plot. But the real heart of the story is the human elements of faith and forgiveness that bind the main characters together. The weakest link is the male lead given to John Payne. Although Payne does quite a good job in the role, his part is not the essential one for the success of the story.

Miracle on 34th Street is definitely recommended viewing for all who have not seen the original. The black and white film needs no colorized version to give it life. To kick off the Holiday Season, it should be the first on everyone’s list.

As mentioned above, Tampa Theatre is showing Miracle on 34th Street this week. They are going to show other films in their Holiday Film Series, including It’s a Wonderful Life from 1946, Holiday Inn from 1942, White Christmas 1954, and Home Alone from 1990.

The List of Holiday films featured in 6 Degrees is essentially an American Christmas Story. Americans seem to embody all of the elements that comprise the best and the worst parts of the Christmas season.

White Xmas

The 6 Degrees List varies slightly from the Tampa Theatre list. I would definitely recommend seeing White Christmas on the big screen. It was a VistaVision Creation of the fifties, and the colors and the pageantry are all part of the lost era which was the Golden Age of Hollywood.

a xmas story

But instead of showing Holiday Inn, 6 Degrees includes for week 3, A Christmas Story. It’s a nostalgic look at a bygone era. The saga of Ralphie and his quest to own a Red Ryder Rifle at Christmas still rings true for many of us.

Xmas Vacation

For week 4, Christmas Vacation. It’s the modern day classic comedy that embodies so much of the silliness of a Saturday Night Live ensemble with the heartwarming feel of a true Hallmark Christmas classic. Chevy Chase is never better than in this role of Clark Griswold.

a xmas carol

 

For Christmas, Eve some version of the Nutcracker is always worthwhile. My personal favorite is still the Baryshnikov version. And for Christmas day, the Dickens story of A Christmas Carol is still the best of stories to savor and to dissect. We are all Scrooge’s in some part, as we enter into the Christmas season. So it is fitting and appropriate to spend at least part of your Holiday with the Dickensian model of Ebenezer Scrooge. Scrooge is the perfect vessel to reflect and to identify with all of our inner ambivalence and anger over the commercially created Christmas season.

Happy Holidays to all our 6 Degrees Readers and we’ll see you @ the movies!

6 Degrees Fall Newsletter: Notes from the Global Village

6 Degrees of Film
6 Degrees of Film

 

Let’s start with The 400 Pound Gorilla:

 Star Wars: The Force Awakens premieres December 18th. This one is sucking all the oxygen out of the room! I have to confess that I was never a Star Wars fanatic. I saw the original film when it came out in 1976 and wasn’t impressed. I thought that the sequel, The Empire Strikes Back  was superior in every way, but I never became a true devotee of Star Wars.

Since I’ve written a book on film, it’s obvious that the cultural phenomenon and overwhelming impact that Star Wars has had on film-making in general, and also on our culture, is too great to be denied. In 6 Degrees of Film: The Future of Film in the Global Village,  the book delves into the history of how George Lucas and his Industrial Light and Magic Company  dominated the industry for years and put CGI-Computer Graphics Imaging, and special-effects in the forefront of the movie industry.

When Lucas sold his rights to Disney, many loyal fans were stunned and felt a sense of betrayal. But after reading some interviews Lucas gave, it really did make sense for him to move his ideas and creative themes to Disney. He said in an interview featured in 6 Degrees that “ …I’m not 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.”

After reading this, it makes sense that Lucas would sell his theme and his mythology to a group that specializes in transferring dreams to paper and making those dreams come true. That’s the Disney mantra and the new theme park being developed by Disney seems to be the natural extension of the Cinematic Universe Lucas created over a quarter of a century ago.

This Fall, Biopic’s abound: One recurring theme seen over and over are the number of films based on true stories. From Everest to The 33, from Black Mass to  Bridge of Spies, it seems that the source material is telling us that truth is hopefully, much more interesting to audiences than fiction!

Fem FlicksThe Suffragette & The Hunger Games: Mockingjay-Part 2

The Hunger Games returns Jennifer Lawrence to her breakthrough role as Katniss Everdeen in this last installment. The Suffragette stars Carey Mulligan and one of the legends of the screen in a role of Emmaline Pankhurst, founder of the Women’s Movement in turn of the century England. The role seems tailor made for a strong female such as Meryl Streep.

Famous Directors: Oscar winners Ron Howard & Stephen Spielberg present their films, In the Heart of the Sea and Bridge of Spies, respectively.

Best Actors: DiCaprio & Tom Hardy, De Niro & Tom Hanks, some of Hollywood’s finest actors are starring in films this fall. De Niro and Tom Hanks are both featured in upcoming films, De Niro stars with Anne Hathaway in The Intern, and Hanks stars in Bridge of Spies. Michael Fassbender is taking on the role of Steve Jobs in a biopic. Bill Murray returns to Leading Man Status with Rock the Kasbah

And James Bond is back in a much-anticipated film Spectre with Daniel Craig returning to play the iconic role of Bond.

The Tarantino: Genre’s are turned on their heads with Quentin Tarantino at the helm. This much-anticipated Western, The Hateful Eight, stars Samuel L. Jackson and Kurt Russell.

The Holiday season will usher in some of the most-anticipated children’s movies of the year. The Peanuts Movie and The Good Dinosaur will arrive just in time for Christmas.

But of course, on Christmas Day, as keeping with tradition, some of the darkest plots are featured. The Revenant, with DiCaprio and Tom Hardy is the heartwarming story of a man attacked by a bear and left for dead by his friends in the middle of the wilderness. Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight promises to be just as warm and fuzzy, giving us a Western with lots of blood and gore and vengeance.

The Armchair Film Fest: For warm and fuzzy, two Holiday classics will be guaranteed. At some point, Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, one of the best films Capra and Jimmy Stewart made, and Christmas Vacation, which is definitely Chevy Chase’s best work, will be shown on television.

You may see A Christmas Story looped endlessly on cable networks, so it’s easy to just turn it on at any point to lighten the mood. Of course, Miracle on 34th Street with Maureen O’Hara and Natalie Wood is another standard that will lighten your spirits-if you are over the age of 40.

I find that Milennials and Gen X’ers don’t bother to watch too many films that were made in black and white. Too bad, as they are missing out on some of the greatest films ever made.

Here’s the Fall Movie List starting in September with:

September

Sicario 2015
9/18
Sicario: A female FBI agent (Emily Blunt) delves into a shady drug-cartel task force run by agents from both U.S. and Mexico.

 

black mass 2 depp 2015

Black Mass– The buzz for this biopic is around Johnny Depp’s much anticipated portrayal of the infamous Boston Gangster Whitey Bulger.

Everest 2015

Everest: This Bio Pic is based on the real-life 1996 tragedy that took the lives of eight climbers on Mt. Everest.

October

10/2

Legend 2015

Legend: Tom Hardy plays a dual-role of the Kray Brothers, real-life British gangsters of the 1960’s. Hardy plays both Ronald & Reginald Kray.

 

The Martian

The Martian: This Sci-Fi Adventure tale stars Matt Damon as an astronaut left for dead by his fellow crew members and forced to survive alone on Mars.

10/9:

Steve Jobs film

Steve Jobs: Michael Fassbender plays Jobs in this bio-pic which has already garnered Oscar buzz for his portrayal.

Pan 2015

Pan: Hugh Jackman stars in this new take explaining the origins of the famed Leader of the Lost Boys, Peter Pan.

10/16

Bridge of spies speilberg hanks

Bridge of Spies: Speilberg & Hanks collaborated on this bio-pic based on the real-life Cold War exchange of a Russian spy for an American U-2 Pilot.

Truth: Robert Redford plays Dan Rather and Cate Blanchett is producer Mary Mapes in this film based on a true story. The story that ruined Dan Rather’s career is based on the real-life controversial news story involving George W. Bush and his Texas National Guard records.

10/23

Suffragette 2015

Suffragette: The film depicts the suffragette’s fight for women’s rights in England. Meryl Streep stars in the film for only four minutes, but her role as a pivotal women’s rights leader Emmeline Pankhurst is a vital one.

Rock the Kasbah Murray

Rock the Kasbah: Bill Murray stars as a burned-out agent stuck in Kabul, Afghanistan who discovers a young talented girl and decides to promote her.

November

11/6

Spectre bond

Spectre: James Bond returns to the screen with Daniel Craig back as Bond.

trumbo 2015

Trumbo: Bio-pic of acclaimed writer Dalton Trumbo, who was blacklisted by Hollywood in the 1950’s after the McCarthy hearings.

11/13

The 33

The 33: Antonio Banderas stars in this bio-pic based on the 2010 true story about 33 Chilean miners trapped underground for 69 days after an explosion.

11/20

Hunger games final movie 2015

Hunger Games: Mockinjay:  Final Installment: The much anticipated final installment of Katniss Everdeen’s (Jennifer Lawrence) fight against the ruling Panem government.

Children’s Animated Films

the good dinosaur

The Good Dinosaur: From Pixar, the film imagines a world where the dinosaurs didn’t become extinct, and the plot is a unique twist on boy-meets-dog tales; a friendship arises between the dinosaur boy and his pet -a feral human child.

Peanuts 2015

 

The Peanuts Movie: The film touts the fact they used many of Charles Schulz’s original drawings, such as digital versions of Shulz’s depictions of rain and even Pigpen’s cloud of dirt!

11/25

Victor Frankenstien 2015

Victor Frankenstein: James McaVoy and Daniel Radcliffe star in this unusual twist to the famous story as the film switches the focus to Igor, Frankenstein’s servant.

11/27

I saw the light

I Saw the Light: Yet another bio-pic tells the Hank Williams story featuring his rise to fame, his volatile relationships, his addictions and his spiral downward before his death at age 29.

December

12/11

Heart of the sea

In the Heart of the Sea: Ron Howard directs this film based on the true story that inspired Melville to write Moby Dick. It centers around the 19th century crew of the whaling ship, the Essex, which battles the elements after a whale destroys their boat in the treacherous deep waters of the Pacific Ocean.

12/18

Star wars logo

Star Wars: The Force Awakens: The Big Kahuna finally arrives after fanfare including detailed coverage of the Milennium Falcon and even the movie trailer. Star Wars returns to the big screen just in time for Christmas. Buy your tickets early.

The Hateful Eight

12/25: Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight: A Western in the Tarantino Genre with Samuel L Jackson and Kurt Russell.

The Revenant

12/25: The Revenant: DiCaprio and Tom Hardy, who are perhaps two of the greatest actors working in films today, star in this movie, also based on a true story, of 19th Century trapper Hugh Glass (DiCaprio).  The plot revolves around Glass seeking revenge after being attacked by a bear and left for dead by his companions.

On the subject of Casablanca

 

Editor’s Note: Casablanca is playing this Sunday, September 18th at Tampa Theatre as part of the Summer Film Series. The film begins at 3:00 pm.

 

Casablanca

 

Casablanca is one of the best B movies ever made. The local paper here in Tampa had a dispute over whether it should be designated as a “Chick Flick” or simply a classic film. In my role as a film critic, I’m moving away from the term “Chick Flick” in describing movies. There are Fem flicks-defined as films for women, by women and about women…I would not put Casablanca in this genre.

Casablanca is much more than just a chick flick. It was a film written with quite a convoluted history of authorship, as you can tell in the following excerpt. No one really knew how it was going to turn out even when they were shooting it!

The following is an excerpt from “6 Degrees of Film: The future of film in the Global Village” by Mary L Johnson. The book is available on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Degrees-Film-Future-Global-Village/

Casablanca
Script authorship of Casablanca also was disputed, only this time it was writer versus writer who vied for the lone credits. Someone said about this B movie classic, “One of the charms of Casablanca lies in its awkwardness. Not only do the politics and romance sit side by side, but that there are two or three contrasting manners of style. There’s the comic-cynical, the soppy-elegiac, and the solemn-propagandist … [It’s] not so much a story as a stringing together of great moments to remember. How, and in what order we remember them is left to us, and this is part of why we like the film so much.”
Four authors claim to be the true author of Casablanca. There is Howard Koch, who claimed he was brought in “to shape the film’s politics”; the brothers Julius and Philip Epstein, who wrote as a team; and Casey Robinson. Robinson said that he had the idea for a film “out of a ‘lousy play’ called Everybody Comes to Rick’s.”
According to Koch, the story was, “So they start shooting and Hal comes to me and says, ‘We need some help. There’s a little trouble.’ Bogart had said, ‘I won’t shoot this __________’; and he had used a very nasty word and gone home.”
Ingrid Bergman on the Casablanca shoot said this: “Every day, we were shooting off the cuff; every day they were handing out dialogue, and we were trying to make sense of it. No one knew where the picture was going, and no one knew how it was going to end … We said, “Well, who are we?” … and Curtiz would say, “We’re not quite sure … It was ridiculous. Just awful … Bogart didn’t know what was going on, so he retired to his trailer … I wanted to know who I was supposed to be in love with, Paul Henreid or Humphrey Bogart?”
The Epstein brothers had gone on to another project for Frank Capra and were not available, so they sent the script in from Washington page by page. Two scripts were floating around, one from the Epsteins and one from Howard Koch. Robinson was brought in to add the love-interest angle. It was apparent that “none of them knew he was working on a movie that would turn out to be something to boast about; all the signs were that Casablanca would be a stinker.”
The facts are this: The film used some lines from the play, Everybody Comes to Rick’s, including the line “Then play it, Sam” and the song As Time Goes By. The irony was that Julius Epstein was not proud of his part in scripting Casablanca. He called it “slick shit,” and said, “Casablanca is one of my least favorite pictures. I’m tired of talking about it after thirty years. I can explain its success only by the Bogie cult … I can recognize that the picture is entertaining and that people love it. The whole thing was shot in the back lot. Furthermore, there were never any such things as letters of transit around which the entire plot revolved. The movie is completely phony.”

Excerpt from 6 Degrees of Film: The Future of Film in the Global Village

 

 

The Armchair Film Festival: Recommended Summer viewing

168816805 FOR 6 DEGREES COVER PHOTO SHOT

The Bad B’s of summer come later. But for now, you can enjoy the ambience of a slower time and put your feet up to enjoy a well-deserved vacation. For many of us, that means movies. I would recommend some great summer films like the trilogy that begins with The Little Shop around the Corner and continues with In the Good Old Summertime. The third & final film in the trilogy of remakes of the same story is You’ve got Mail with Tom Hanks & Meg Ryan. What’s next up…? The Little Tweet around the Corner?

My Brill career

Fem Flicks: The Harvey Girls, My Brilliant Career and I Know where I’m Going.

Meet me in St Louis is another summer film with Judy Garland singing a few of her most famous songs like “The Trolley Song”, The Boy Next Door” and “Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Garland was one of a handful of women in Hollywood with the talent and the clout to pull off the portrayal of a young girl in a film like Meet me in St Louis, and yet carry the lead with the depth and maturity of a much older character. Judy Garland is also featured in a remarkable film with one memorable scene, where the women who are working as waitresses battle the saloon girls. The movie is The Harvey Girls one of the Fem Flicks recommended in July. If you have never seen it, it’s definitely worth it to set your VCR to tape.

Also another notable Judy, Judy Davis, in her brilliant 1979 screen debut aptly titled, My Brilliant Career. A film out of Australia and also featuring a young Sam Neill, it’s the story of an independent young woman living in a time where to be single was the least desirable status for any female of marriageable age, it’s a triumph for women who have always wanted to be known by other titles than simply wife or mother. (Not that there’s anything wrong with those titles!

The third recommended Fem Flick is one lesser known British film with Wendy Hiller called I Know where I’m Going. A remarkable film for its day, it’s also a study in independence for women of all ages who yearn for something more at some stage of their life journey.

shirley temple

Shirley Temple…who would group Shirley Temple with the independent minded ladies starring in films on Turner Classic in July?  Yet Ms Temple was one of the most talented young ladies to ever grace the screen. She had it all-she sang, she danced, she was adorable, and she hit her marks and knew her lines and everyone else’s by all accounts. There really has never been a child actor to equal Shirley Temple.

Although certainly not a traditional feminist, Shirley Temple did pave the way for many child actors who came after her, and certainly opened many doors of opportunity in Hollywood for young, talented females. Perhaps that didn’t always turn out as well, as many child actors, including Temple, didn’t grow into adults with the same depth of ability and charisma. But there were a few exceptions, such as Elizabeth Taylor and Natalie Wood.

JDeanstamp

Summertime always makes me think of James Dean’s Legacy in film. He really did spark a generation of young, perpetually misunderstood men who longed to be “The Rebel.” The Bad Boy image was cemented with the forever youthful and tortured performances of James Dean, who starred in just three films, and was slated to appear in Somebody Up There Likes Me when he died tragically in a car crash at the age of 24. Paul Newman replaced him in that film, and in my book, 6 Degrees of Film, I’ve often compared the arc of Newman’s career in connection with the death of James Dean and the inherited mantle of the Rebel without a cause.

Newman went on to star in Hud, played Billy the Kid in The Left Handed Gun and had hits playing the outlaw rebel Butch Cassidy and finally, an older version of the James Dean rebel in The Verdict. James Dean didn’t live a long life, but his aura inhabited the screen for many performances that followed in the tradition of The Rebel on film.

The films of Les Blank: Short films, documentarians and independent filmmakers owe something to the superb short films that director Les Blank made. In a time when there was no such thing as Youtube or even a DVD, Blank made independent films. For many who are tired of constant remakes and re-hashing of old plots, Blank is like a breath of fresh air. He made original films about unique people and places and the documentaries hold up well in this era of Computer Generated graphics and comic book plots.

adv of robin hood 38

The Adventures of Robin Hood, still the greatest of the Robin Hood films and it starred a young Errol Flynn. Flynn was known for doing his own stunts, and he was and remains one of the most physical and athletic leading men Hollywood ever produced. “Giving it his all” went to new heights with Flynn . A native of the island of Tasmania, Errol Flynn was set apart from so many others of his day who were great actors, yet not believable in the period pieces that Flynn excelled in.

Many of these films are available on DVR and Netflix, and they are highly recommended for summer viewing and the Armchair Film Festival. See you at the movies!

Montgomery Clift and the LGBT Connection

Mont cliftIn light of the recent Supreme Court decision regarding same-sex marriage, it comes to mind that many younger people have no idea who Montgomery Clift was. He was a tortured soul and a fearless actor. He was also before his time in so many ways. He was loved by both men and women, who saw the vulnerability that shone out of his eyes. He made us love him for the man he was, not the Hollywood pinup that was presented to the world at large.

His performance in films of the fifties made him a worthy contemporary and competitor of Marlon Brando. Montgomery Clift was also bi-sexual, and because it was the fifties in America, Clift was forced to live his life in the closet, never openly acknowledging his sexuality. Perhaps it even made his acting more intense, but for whatever reason, his films are still gripping and highly recommended viewing.

A tragic car accident sidelined his career while he was still at the height of his fame, and the aftermath and recovery made him face those inner demons. Addicted to pain killers and alcohol, Monty Clift suffered an inner torment along with his outward pain in his final years.

Yet his body of work is remarkable. Clift is superb in so many films, beginning with the adaptation of a Theodore Dreiser novel called A Place in the Sun with Elizabeth Taylor. He then manages to make a boiler-plate B movie, The Search, somehow become one of the most heart-rendering stories of suffering that came out of the post-World War II era. He was able to convey onscreen what was felt by millions of displaced families living in the ruins of Europe at the end of the second World War.

Clift went on to give stellar performances in The Young Lions, Red River and Miss Lonelyhearts, and with each part he played the vulnerability and the pathos are on full display. A man who lived ahead of his time, each performance was in the moment and spot on in conveying the torment and inner angst that so many in the LGBT community have known and felt for so many years.

Those who have not discovered Montgomery Clift and his body of work, I would highly recommend an intensive session for the “Armchair Film Festival”. Don’t delay in screening some of Clift’s classic performances found on DVD or shown on Turner Classic Movies.

Casablanca: Who wrote what? An excerpt from upcoming “Six Degrees of Film”

Casablanca

Script authorship of Casablanca also was disputed, only this time it was writer versus writer who vied for the lone credits. Someone said about this B movie classic, “One of the charms of Casablanca lies in its awkwardness. Not only do the politics and romance sit side by side, but that there are two or three contrasting manners of style. There’s the comic-cynical, the soppy-elegiac, and the solemn-propagandist … [It’s] not so much a story as a stringing together of great moments to remember. How, and in what order we remember them is left to us, and this is part of why we like the film so much.”[i]

Four authors claim to be the true author of Casablanca. There is Howard Koch, who claimed he was brought in “to shape the film’s politics”; the brothers Julius and Philip Epstein, who wrote as a team; and Casey Robinson. Robinson said that he had the idea for a film “out of a ‘lousy play’ called Everybody Comes to Rick’s.”

According to Koch, the story was, “So they start shooting and Hal comes to me and says, ‘We need some help. There’s a little trouble.’ Bogart had said, ‘I won’t shoot this __________’; and he had used a very nasty word and gone home.”

Ingrid Bergman on the Casablanca shoot said this: “Every day, we were shooting off the cuff; every day they were handing out dialogue, and we were trying to make sense of it. No one knew where the picture was going, and no one knew how it was going to end … We said, “Well, who are we?” … and Curtiz would say, “We’re not quite sure … It was ridiculous. Just awful … Bogart didn’t know what was going on, so he retired to his trailer … I wanted to know who I was supposed to be in love with, Paul Henreid or Humphrey Bogart?”[ii]

The Epstein brothers had gone on to another project for Frank Capra and were not available, so they sent the script in from Washington page by page. Two scripts were floating around, one from the Epsteins and one from Howard Koch. Robinson was brought in to add the love-interest angle. It was apparent that “none of them knew he was working on a movie that would turn out to be something to boast about; all the signs were that Casablanca would be a stinker.”[iii]

The facts are this: The film used some lines from the play, Everybody Comes to Rick’s, including the line “Then play it, Sam” and the song As Time Goes By. The irony was that Julius Epstein was not proud of his part in scripting Casablanca. He called it “slick shit,” and said, “Casablanca is one of my least favorite pictures. I’m tired of talking about it after thirty years. I can explain its success only by the Bogie cult … I can recognize that the picture is entertaining and that people love it. The whole thing was shot in the back lot. Furthermore, there were never any such things as letters of transit around which the entire plot revolved. The movie is completely phony.”[iv]


[i] Adaptations from Short Story to Big Screen, Harrison, S. Three Rivers Press, New York, 2005

[ii] Adaptations from Short Story to Big Screen, Harrison, S. Three Rivers Press, New York, 2005

[iii] Adaptations from Short Story to Big Screen, Harrison, S. Three Rivers Press, New York, 2005

[iv] Mank: The wit, world, and life of Herman Mankiewicz, Meryman, Richard, Morrow, 1978