6 Degrees: Friday Flix

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6 Degrees of Film

Greetings movie buffs! We have an interesting line up of both old and new films in April In the list of films that turned fifty this year we find one of the most famous sci-fi movies of all time, pre-Star Wars, and it is Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Also turning fifty is the campy original classic The Planet of the Apes with Charlton Heston. There’s some good articles on both of these films in 6 Degrees magazine this week.

At Cannes: The Penelope Cruz/Javier Bardem thriller: Everybody Knows will open Cannes film festival, And we are excited to hear that Ron Howard’s film, Solo: A Star Wars story, is going to premiere at Cannes..,stay tuned

The Superhero Watch: Wonder Woman was named the most ‘profitable’ superhero movie of 2017. That is news, because the film that has jumped to the top ten list of highest grossing films is Black Panther. This film has been phenomenally successful, and ‘has legs’ as they say in the buz. I update the highest grossing films list periodically, as it gives us a good window into what the public wants in terms of films, and in some ways, it shows us where we have been and where we are going in terms of culture:

As of 2018:

black panther 2018

Black Panther is Number Ten– Telling us Black Lives DO Matter (but it’s better in Wakanda!)
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017- the latest film) is Number Nine
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -Part II (2011- the last one) is Number Eight
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) is Number Seven – hence…the latest entry is out soon!
(Fast and) Furious 7 (2015) is Number Six
Marvel’s The Avengers (2012) is Number Five…We GET it!
Jurassic World (2015) is Number Four…The new one is also out this summer-see list
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) is Number Three-much better than Number 9, by the way!
• Number Two: Hanging on for dear life…is TITANIC from 1997-which is ancient for this list!
Number One: Avatar from 2009, both Numbers 1 & 2 directed by James Cameron, both feature love stories, so perhaps with The Shape of Water winning Best Picture, we realize love may come in different forms, but romance is not dead at the movies!

Avatar movie

At the movies; Ready Player One, Spielberg’s offering based on the Video game, has garnered mixed reviews. The film depiction of Ted Kennedy’s tragic scandal Chappaquiddick is also in theatres now. Also set for re-release in theatres in July: The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine which I predict will do well in this era and climate of protests as well as the MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements.

There’s a good review of the new Joaquin Phoenix thriller: You Were Never Really Here from Rolling Stone featured in 6 Degrees magazine this week. Isle of Dogs, from director Wes Anderson has also received good reviews. The film starring John Krasinski,  A Quiet Place has just opened to good reviews. The novelty in this one is the spider creatures who are attracted to sound, which means much of the movie is viewed in silence, which makes for an interesting premise…

Coming Soon: We will be out with the Summer Movie News in May, but to preview, some of the openers this summer include:

Avengers: Infinity War opening on April 27th
Life of the Party: May 11- a comedy with Melissa McCarthy
Solo: A Star Wars Story opens May 25th, and as stated above, directed by Ron Howard
Ocean’s 8- June 8th, is the female version of the franchise
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom opens June 22nd
Sicario: Day of Soldado opens June 29th
Mamma Mia! Here we go again is on July 20th…here we go again…
Mission: Impossible-Fallout on July 27th
Christopher Robin opens August 3th- and is a live action version of the well-known children’s story
• The Spy Who Dumped Me on August 3rd stars Mila Kunis in an ‘international espionage comedy’
The Meg on August 10th stars Jason Statham in an action version of “Jaws” with a megalodon monster that measures 70 feet
Slender Man is a horror flick debuting August 24th

So…lots of variety and a return to good solid storytelling and creative and inventive plots. Of course I’m kidding, this list is a short list with mostly sequels and standard Hollywood fare. Every now and then, there’s a standout like a Juno, or Her, or once in a blue moon you’ll see something wonderful like 2001: A Space Odyssey. Even Planet of the Apes, in its original format, was cheesy but interesting enough to spawn a generation of sequels.

As for me, I want to see how Ron Howard handles the Star Wars mythology. And from this list, I have to admit there’s not a whole lot that looks exciting or different to choose from. However, there’s a part of me that loves to see something deliciously bad from time to time....Gidget Goes Hawaiian always makes the cut for me in terms of really bad movies we love to watch against our better judgement. I’m sure everyone has some films on that short list…

Gidget is playing this weekend on TCM, so we can indulge in the short term, and celebrate some of the classic masterpieces that don’t come around often, like 2001: A Space Odyssey, as it celebrates its fiftieth anniversary. Check out 6 Degrees to read up on this classic film. Have fun and till next week, see you at the movies! ML

 

 

 

 

 

6 Degrees: Capsule Review:The Black Panther

black panther 2018

I’ve seen so many reviews of this film that center around the ‘feel good’ politics of Black Panther. I’ve seen the fantasy politics of Black Panther listed, as well as the spoiler alerts tying the film into the Marvel Universe. There’s the record breaking box office numbers, as well as the stories of the many groups of young African American children going to see this film. And others who see it are wearing traditional African garb. In short, it’s a phenomenon…a ‘thing’.

And the film has been well received. Of the films in the superhero universe, this one is a cut above the rest. The plot centers around the rise to the throne of T’Challa, who is the new king in the fictional African country of Wakanda. Wakanda has hidden its amazing and superior technology from the outside world, and this is the central debate later in the film. Should they share this knowledge, or continue to keep it hidden…?

Without too many spoilers, the film is driven by the rise to the throne of the new king, played by Chadwick Boseman.  The Black Panther’s super powers include not only superior intellect, but his strength which is derived from the special formula that is given to the king to drink. And then there’s the technology, similar to James Bond’s, where he dons a special suit made of the miraculous fictional metal mined only in Wakanda known as Vibranium.  The Vibranium  makes him impervious to bullets and other weapons of dastardly origins.

But in my estimation, the thing that sets this superhero apart is the fact he is touted as a man with a heart. His father talks to him from beyond the grave, telling him, “You are a good man, and that is something that may bring trouble for you”, which is a wise thing to tell your son, if you only have a few moments with him in the afterlife. The film centers not entirely on the concept of this superhero saving people and thwarting dastardly deeds, but also working to help others, to find himself and to find his true love.

In other words, it may depict the life of an ordinary man in an extraordinary world, or the reverse of this. That is the debate in history: Are great and exceptional men made so by the times they live in, or is greatness thrust upon them due to the circumstances in which they find themselves? We think of our Founding Fathers and the greatest Presidents and leaders of the Civil Rights era. These men all had great hearts, and although most had their share of flaws, they were able to rise above and to grasp the moment and meet the occasion to prevail.

In this film, T’Challa may or may not be the one who is the strongest fighter, but he is the one who is the ablest, the wisest, and the one who will prevail. This is the takeaway that is most heartening for any of the superhero films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Perhaps, in the end, at least according to the laws of this fictional universe, not the strongest but the wisest will be the one who prevails. It’s a good lesson in life.

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

The Wonder of the Praise of Wonder Woman

W Woman 2017

The final verdict: It was okay, but Dr. Strange was a better movie. It’s hard to say if this was one of the top tier comic genre films, as they are coming at us so fast and furious-couldn’t help that one!…And, there seems to be such a dearth of fairly good Hollywood Blockbusters at this juncture, that any movie that follows a fairly cohesive plot line is heaped with immense praise.

There were some good moments in Wonder Woman, but the wonder of it all was why there was so much praise heaped upon this one film? Perhaps the bar has been lowered to the point that simply being able to tie the plot points together and end the film with a plug for the rest of the DC Comic Universe (as opposed to DC!) makes for what passes today as decent film-making.

The films of the comic-book era that stand out include Batman, the original and the Dark Knight series, the first Thor film, and Dr. Strange, with Benedict Cumberbatch mainly supplying the added zip to the series. But, this film has been notable in that a female director was chosen, Patty Jenkins,to film a story that included the Amazonian women of Paradise Island along with the beautiful ingénue, Gal Gadot, playing the lead of Wonder Woman.

The suspicion is that many of the males seeing this were perhaps overawed by the female power knitted into the fabric of the super-hero genre that produced the ultimate fantasy woman-Wonder Woman. However, the film’s rise and fall really wasn’t with the acting chops of  Gadot, or any one stand-out performer. It touched on the naivete and simplistic dedication to the cause of justice that overrides all the knit-picking realities that crop up with the super-heroes who are intertwined into the actual history of the world.(In this case, the history of World War I).

Lending the film some mystery was the dark cinematography of the second half of the film; it seemed to be in stark contrast with the bright and beautiful landscapes from the fantastic world where Wonder Woman originated. That, and the CGI that dominates all comic films was the journey and the medium’s message for the extent of this film.

So, the verdict is to see this or not, depending on your radar for the love of comic characters, or CGI, or simply good-looking and athletic Amazonian women who dedicate themselves to the causes of justice and freedom. You may want to wait for the small screen, or go for it, depending on your own dedication and predilections. In any case, make sure to catch Dr. Strange if you haven’t seen it. That one remains the better film of the two.

6 Degrees: Friday Flix

 

6 Degrees of Film

This week, there’s still some controversy about the Oscars show that
somehow managed to crash land the ending of a perfectly decent show. And then we found out that the ratings were abysmal, so perhaps it’s better to just go back to the drawing board and be glad more people didn’t see the fiasco at the end of the evening! And on a sad note, the beloved figure for movie buffs, Robert Osborne, a man who was the urbane and dapper host of Turner Classic Movies for many years, died recently. He will be missed. Here’s some of what’s happening atthe movies, found in the magazine-Six Degrees of Film online:

The Upcoming Dates for Festivals: Noir City: Will be held March 24
to April 2 in Hollywood- Two of the best Noirs featured: This Gun for
Hire & Ministry of Fear.

For the Armchair Film Fest: The Annual TCM Classic Film Festival:
April 6 to April 9th: Make ‘Em Laugh: Comedy in the Movies: Born
Yesterday, The Graduate; High Anxiety, Postcards from the Edge, What’s
Up, Doc? are just a few of the classic comedies featured.

Books on Film: The Way Hollywood Tells It: Story and Style in Modern Movies-Hollywood welcomes innovation, but it also controls it” is a quote from book author, David Bordwell. He writes about the fact that, although the times we are living in are extremely disruptive, the film industry has actually encouraged the Hollywood machine to remain fairly consistent in terms of the style and the production techniques used in film from the early years. Bordwell argues that the Hollywood  model of mass market theatrical filmmaking is continuing with traditions that emerged as early as 1917. The norms of the actual process of filmmaking have remained fairly stable, as the mores and styles have changed through the years. In the book I wrote in 2013, 6 Degrees of Film, many of these same ideas parallel those of Bordwell’s The Way Hollywood Tells It. The films of the modern era are very much in league with the styles and filmmaking techniques that emerged in the early classics and during the Golden Age of Cinema.

Robert Osborne: Goodbye to a genuine Good Guy. Osborne had written the definitive history of the Oscars, and was once an actor himself. But his legacy is one that made him a beloved fixture at Turner Classic Movies, where he introduced feature films for decades.

Recommended: A great piece in The Hollywood Reporter has been written on the origins of how the original King Kong came into being. It’s called, “Origin of ‘Kong’: The Unbelieveable True Backstory of Hollywood’s Favorite Giant Ape“, and it’s centered around a real life explorer and filmmaker named Merian C. Cooper, who ended up at RKO with the legendary David O. Selznick. Selznick came up with the name, King Kong, by the way.

Of Note: There’s a piece on Dr. Strangelove, one of our favorite films. At this period in our history, Strangelove seems strangely prescient suddenly. There’s more on the continuing Oscar drama surrounding “”envelope-gate”. And coming soon to the 16th Annual Tribeca Film Festival in New York, The Godfather cast members will reunite. That should be worth the wait.

What Critics are Saying About: I don’t feel at Home in this World Anymore- has been given glowing reviews by critics. The unusual choice of the worst Best Picture “Snubs” from the past two decades is another list that is interesting. There are reviews for all 9 of the Best Picture nominees for 2017 found in our magazine. An interesting, but a bit in the weeds piece, again from David Bordwell, on the early history of Cinema, is one where he explains the static camera style of the early days of cinematography, the “tableau” style. The issue surrounding this is how the techniques of storytelling developed in films in the early period-before 1920, when films were still silent. Bordwell explores the style in detail in this article from his site.

Reviews for: Get Out has been getting positive reviews; Kong: Skull Island has had many good reviews, but there are some mixed opinions on this one; Beauty and the Beast has debuted with favorable reviews; Moonlight, the best picture winner (eventually), has also garnered mostly favorable reviews. The Ottoman Lieutenant, although praised for its visuals, has been garnering poor or lukewarm reviews owing primarily to a weak script. Logan has been garnering good reviews. And finally, there’s a list in our magazine of the best Vampire movies of all time. If you’re a fan, check it out.

Best of the Web: Check out these sites on the web. Some of the best articles are found on The Hollywood Reporter, NPR (National Public Radio), the L.A. Times and Davidbordwell.net.

One of the titles that caught my eye was “Films for Intelligent Audiences“. Of course, readers, you are all intelligent, and although I don’t agree with many of the films listed, the concept is a good one. Hollywood and filmmakers in general need to make MORE films for Intelligent Audiences. Some of the films that I did agree about that were on this list include Inception and The Big Short, Fight Club, Prestige, The Matrix, GoneGirl, and Memento. The idea is that we should promote and applaud more films that make us think and take us out of ourselves by challenging our intellect. These are the films that will be remembered a generation from now.

Here’s to the films that challenge us. See you at the movies!-ML

6 Degrees: Friday Flix

6 Degrees of Film
6 Degrees of Film: Friday Flix

Lately, I’ve been talking about the problems in the Oscar broadcast, as well as the mentality of the entire Academy of Motion Pictures. Other problems are cited this week in a piece from 6 Degrees Magazine talking about the obscure Best Picture winners that nobody sees. Moonlight is no exception. It’s the second lowest-grossing winner in history (The Hurt Locker is first!) Spotlight and The Artist were also box office failures. Which doesn’t mean they aren’t good films, or that they will not eventually be recognized. But five of the past eight winners were rather obscure, little known films. There seems to be a pattern emerging here, as I mentioned last week. The Academy needs to rethink their criteria for judging these films, as well as the categories they’ve set up.

What Critics are saying aboutMarch Movies that are being released to DVD or coming to the small screen in 2017 include: Memento; Blazing Saddles; Jurassic Park; This is Spinal Tap; Pete’s Dragon; The BFG; Who Framed Roger Rabbit; The Life Aquatic; Wht’s Eating Gilbert Grape; A Man Called Ove; Sweden- Sing; Fantastic Beasts & Where to find them; Passengers; Miss Sloane; Assassin’s Creed;Elle; Silence; Patriot’s Day and Midnight in Paris.

The Logan spinoff film with Hugh Jackman has had generally good reviews. Kong: Skull Island has also opened to favorable reviews. Get Out, a Horror/Thriller directed by Jordan Peele, has been given almost perfect scores from Rotten Tomatoes, and has earned some rave reviews. The romantic comedy Table 19 has, on the other hand, been generally panned across the board. The Great Wall with Matt Damon has also been panned and considered a flop. Finally, there is a long-read on the Some Came Running site in praise of the Martin Scorsese film Silence, recently released.

The genre of comic book films was discussed in The Guardian this past week. The critics have come out with a list of favorite superhero films, and they include: Batman from 1989 (my favorite also!); Captain America: The Winter Soldier; Thor: The Dark World and The Dark Knight. All of these are generally well reviewed and represent some of the best in a newly established genre that has had some weak entries in recent years. There are some imaginative possibilities in this category, but the lazier end of the spectrum can provide simply a host of CGI scenes with little chance of clever dialogue or original scripts.

Best of the Web: From the Ebert.com site, there’s a great tribute to the actor Bill Paxton, who died suddenly last week. A piece in Film Comment laments the death of the comic film. One quote said, “Hollywood has perfected {the comic film} using the generic formula and familiarity to generate laughs.” We live in a fast paced and ever changing media environment, and the society has created the need for ever more complex screen stories. We need characters created in classics such as The Thin Man or His Girl Friday, or physical comedy that rivals the early Jim Carrey films or classic Chaplin or Keaton. In other words, the films that pass for comedy these days aren’t really all that funny, and they don’t seem to be trying too hard.

Recommended: Logan, Fences; Lion at the movies. Arrival is recommended for the small screen. And if you like Hugh Jackman, rent the following: Kate & Leopold; Scoop; Les Miserables.

The Big Picture: Movies for 2018 awards are already being mentioned. They include: The Big Sick- A Romantic Comedy with Ray Romano & Holly Hunter; Dunkirk with Tom Hardy. The true story of the massive evacuation known as the “Miracle of Dunkirk”; Christopher Nolan directs;  and Darkest Hour- Gary Oldman plays Churchill during the Battle of Britain.

The idea that films are somehow immune from the other problems that plague us in society is laughable. We are a divided nation politically, and even, or perhaps especially, our film community illustrates the divide we face. There is always a need for films with clever, witty dialogue, actors who charm and move us in the same breath, films that unite us and great directors who challenge us to look at life in a new and different way. These are the challenges as we move into the future, and as mentioned this past week, these are the types of films that we don’t see often enough. Art has always been about the future, and a new way of looking at life. This is a pivotal moment in the field and craft of film-making, and let us hope that there are artists working today that will rise to the occasion and
bring us together through the great and beautiful art of film-making.

Capsule Review: Dr. Strange

ben-cumberbatch-dr-strange
Except for a brief mention of the Infinity Stones, this film pretty much stands as a separate story and isn’t mired in the Marvel Universe. This is an origin tale, but with Benedict Cumberbatch, it’s more about the character than the comic book. The film feels as if it’s not simply the glib and at times desperate for laughs stylized pieces like the “Guardians’ movies appear to be. Dr. Strange is a darker and somewhat more studied hero. Perhaps because at times, the style is reminiscent of Christian Bale’s portrayal in “Batman Begins”. Cumberbatch is more in league with this version than the other Marvel-ians, as the character travels to the Far East to study the mystical teachings of the Ancient One, played by Tilda Swinton.
Cumberbatch is excellent in the part, with humor that is much more subtle and in keeping with his Sherlock persona. The script manages to keep the action sequences intact, providing an enjoyably escapist adventure throughout the length of the film. A stand-alone story is preferable, as this is, to one where you must be in the loop regarding all the lore of the universe of heroes now populating the culture. The tone and range of this movie set it apart as a worthy entry in the annals of the comic genre film fare.