6 Degrees: Memorial Weekend

 

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Greetings to all our new 6 Degrees moviegoers…In each post, 6 Degrees rounds up the best of the weekly film reviews along with other articles linked to film to share with our readers. We look for unusual pieces as well as topical information to pass along. Upcoming trailers and news from Hollywood as well as film news from around the world, festivals like Cannes, which has just wrapped up, to news from the states where theaters are competing for their market share of the changing box office haul.

 

 Avengers Infinity 2018

If you haven’t had a chance to check out the Summer Film News, here’s the link to see what’s coming in June. For the last week before Memorial Day, Deadpool 2 won the box office and the Avengers: Infinity War has now made $1.85 Billion worldwide. So that is good news for all the superhero fans out there.

 

 solo star warssolo star wars

 

Solo: A Star Wars Story officially opens this weekend, and the reviews for this film are generally positive. We have Solo reviewed in 6 Degrees Magazine this week, as well as Chekhov’s The Seagull,  along with the Mary Shelley biopic, and an NPR review of Book Club.

 

 

 

At Cannes, the winner of the Palme d’Or was a Japanese film called Shoplifters. Notably, although Cannes has worked to try and keep up with the #MeToo moment we are at in our society, the only female director to win at Cannes was Jane Campion for The Piano, and that was 25 years ago. I think this means we can’t just call out the Academy without mentioning that European filmmakers need to “up their game” in terms of gender equality.

 

 2001 a Space Odyssey

 

*What’s new in 6 Degrees Magazine: This week we have rounded up: Roger Ebert’s collection of Star Wars movie reviews, for those of  you who may have missed the first go-round of the Force, starting way back in 1976. And in Film Inquiry, there’s a discussion of the continuing debate-Book v Film- and a look at which films pass muster. There’s also a great piece listing some of the classic films from 1968 that are celebrating their 50th Anniversary this year. Some of the best include 2001: A Space Odyssey, which is widely considered one of the best science-fiction films ever made. Others from 1968 are The Lion in Winter, The Producers, Planet of the Apes, Bullitt and Funny Girl. These are all recommended to record if they ever show on the small screen, preferably on Turner Classic to drown out the commercial interruptions!

 

 SOlo Star Wars 2018

 

Hollywood Redux: Another interesting discussion surrounds the question of how much of the newly-released: Solo: A Star Wars story was actually directed by Ron Howard? We know he was brought on to the project much later in the production, after the original director was fired. And in another unusual move for Hollywood, the family friendly Show Dogs has been forced to recut the already-released move after allegations of Sexual abuse occurred surrounding a scene in the film.

 

 

 

About the Guns: One article that caught my eye this week talked about guns in entertainment. I must say that the level of violence doesn’t necessarily correlate with the amount or presence of guns in any particular film. John Wayne and Clint Eastwood were heroes of a different world, where there were no mass shootings or school shootings to wring our hands and lament about the existence of violence in films and in the video world. I am a staunch advocate of gun safety measures, but also a huge action film fan as well as a Clint Eastwood fan. I do not see a correlation directly to violence in films, but instead, I see a way to glean an understanding of the gun culture we have inculcated in our society and to a large extent, in our own psyches as Americans. It is ‘who we are.’ But that doesn’t mean we cannot make needed changes. As for the existence of guns in movies, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. The guns in reality are a problem, therefore removing guns in the fantasy realm of cinema would not offer a solution.

 

 

Film anniversaries include Scarface returning to the theatres. I have never made it through the scene where they use a chainsaw in a bathroom. It was memorable in terms of violence in films as anything I have ever seen, and this speaks to the previous subject, where guns were specific to the reasons we have violent episodes in American life. Is it a depiction of the reality of the culture that we have become, or a leading influence in creating and spreading violent behavior? To my mind, it’s the former and not the latter. Films are a form of art, and that has been my contention from the time I wrote 6 Degrees of Film in 2013 till today. We are depicting the reality of our lives, not organically creating a new type of reality. Again, it is ‘who we are.’ And at times, the picture isn’t a pretty one! Scarface turns 35 years old, so let that sink in.

 

That’s it for now, film fans. There’s a lot of great films debuting, so check out the Summer Film News to plot your next trip to the theater, and have a great, safe and happy Memorial Day weekend. Till next time, see you at the movies!-ML

 

Friday Flix: Armchair Film Fest

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Hello everyone…Thanks for stopping by this week. Some of the big movies have begun to roll out in the Summer Film series. In case you missed it, here’s the link to the Summer Film News from last week. Melissa McCarthy’s film, Life of the Party, is out and so is Book Club.

Book Club has gotten some surprisingly good reviews, albeit from a plot that is a weak one. But the actors are all A-listers, and it has good reviews in 6 Degrees Magazine from Ebert.com. Life of the Party has some mixed reviews, but for the most part, it is recommended as a good light comedy.

The Seagull, from Chekhov and starring Annette Bening, is reviewed on Ebert, as well as Solo: A Star Wars story. There are mixed reviews for the Solo/Star Wars film, and as some people have asked me why we would put both positive and negative reviews of a film in the same magazine, I would say that after reviewing films for many years, there are people who have strong opinions on films they absolutely love or they loathe. Case in point: for me it is a lukewarm loathing for Citizen Kane and Gone with the Wind. I never have had a soft spot for either of these films, but they are acknowledged classics.

Tastes in film are relative, but the artistic quality and merits of production techniques are not. Citizen Kane used some cutting edge camera work for the day, and Gone with the Wind was the first true Blockbuster in terms of marketing and promotion of a film. So they are acknowledged as bonafide classics, but you can certainly find reviews that pan both of these films out there somewhere!

Also in 6 Degrees this week: An interview with director Christopher Nolan on the impact of 2001: A Space Odyssey; plus a Film Comment column that looks at how cinema has dealt with race, discrimination and sexuality by addressing issues like homosexuality in subtle ways or with overt discrimination. There’s a look at the work of Tom Wolfe, the writer who died this week. His greatest contribution in terms of cinema was most likely The Right Stuff, another ensemble casting triumph that transferred the idea of the book-that the early pilots turned astronauts were courageous and they had ‘the right stuff’- into film with a panache and emotional appeal that is rare with most book adaptations. The book often loses so much in translation as to be unrecognizable or simply lackluster (Bonfire of the Vanities comes to mind.)

And finally, one interesting piece from Uproxx is entitled: The Franchise Era of Filmmaking: What is it, and how did we get here? This is a subject I often pontificate upon. Why are so many films remakes, or part of a series franchise? The article cites a list of box office high-grossing films, and last year there were none in the top 10, and only one-Coco from Pixar-which was on the list. The list that I occasionally print in Friday Flix shows only two of the all-time box office top 10 and three of the top 20 that are NOT part of a sequel or franchise and are original films and not remakes of earlier hit movies. “The business has shifted to brands, and franchises”….is one way of explaining it.

The explanation of the superhero genre, the big bucks involved, the profit margin that explains the continued success of this model, and the overall Hollywood machine is laid out in “The Big Picture: The Fight for the Future of Movies” by Ben Fritz. This article is highly recommended as a great long read.

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The Tampa Theatre, my hometown art theatre which has recently been renovated and has reopened, is beginning their Summer Film series. Most of the films look pretty pedestrian, but there are a few on the ‘lists’ that we have been discussing-specifically, the list of films to see in a movie theater once in your life. These summer series films are the original Bladerunner, Casablanca, & The Wizard of Oz, The other films, (not on Tampa Theatre’s list) I would recommend are Jaws, (MOST of Hitchcock’s films from the 50’s and 60’s),The Godfather, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Lawrence of Arabia. If any of these films are showing at an art house near you, run, don’t walk, to take them in and experience them in the theater.

We talked in Summer Film News about some of the recommended films to record in your own “Armchair Film Fest.” I would recommend The Great Escape on TCM this week, as well as You Can’t Take it with you, Magnum Force and Vanishing Point.

Great escape mcqueen

Steve McQueen stars in one of his first major screen roles in this prisoner of war film from 1963, The Great Escape. The cast includes Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, James Garner, James Coburn and Donald Pleasance. The other films are Magnum Force, with Clint Eastwood in a classic tough guy role that may seem dated in the #MeToo era, yet this is who we are as Americans and the fact that Eastwood was loved and adored for the type of macho mantra of shoot first and ask questions later is one of his roles that cannot be ignored. Love him or hate him Clint is who we are.

Vanishing Point belongs in the category of one of those really interesting films that got away. Barry Newman was a TV star, with a modest following, when he made this film in the early 70’s that has some degrees of connection to Thelma and Louise and other films like, The Driver with James Caan. It’s about a man named Kowalski who makes a bet that he can deliver a Dodge Challenger from Denver to San Francisco in 15 hours, and finds himself in a race against time to beat the clock, law enforcement, and his own internal demons. It’s a kind of existential quest, with the man vs man, and man vs machine story line keeping the film’s doomed lead character, in tandem with the bare bones plot, moving forward to its inevitable conclusion.

Cannes film festival has had some interesting debuts these past few weeks. There was one screening from director Lars von Trier called The House that Jack Built that prompted numerous walkouts over the gory content. Spike Lee has a film at Cannes called BlacKkKlansman which is the type of film and statement that Lee has been making since Do the Right Thing. The film is adapted from a memoir of an African-American policeman who infiltrated a chapter of the KKK in the 1970’s. Lee’s voice is one we need to hear loud and clear in these confusing times.

That’s all folks, for this week. Soon we will be heading into summer and hopefully, get some vacation time to relax and …watch movies, what else? Till next week, see you at the movies-ML

Links:  The Franchise Era of FIlmmaking:

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

Capsule Review: Ben-Hur-Rated JPB for Just Plain Boring

Ben Hur 2016

This film is Rated JPB = Just Plain Boring. How could it be this boring, I wondered? The plot of Ben Hur was well-known, and the actors were for the most part, unknowns-it turns out for good reason. The one known actor, Morgan Freeman, did the walk-through of his life to pick up a paycheck. He put more emotion into the commercials I’ve seen him in than what was on display in this film.

The story line leads Judah Ben-Hur to a slave galley and then back to his hometown of Jerusalem, where he miraculously feels compelled to produce this special sword which was given to him by his nemesis, Messala, who is also his adopted brother. The problem with this is that Judah has been a slave for the past five years, with no sign of that sword tucked away. One cannot help but wonder if these small details escaped the notice of the writers and producers of this production?

The problem, I would put forth, is mostly with the shoddy writing. But it doesn’t stop there. Not only is the screenplay badly written, but the film is also sloppily edited and poorly acted to boot. Even the CGI (Computer Graphic Imaging) and Special Effects during the Climactic Chariot Race come across as looking stilted and phony.

In short, give this updated version of Ben-Hur a miss and rent the fifties classic with Charlton Heston and Stephen Boyd. That one may be corny but it’s imminently more watchable than this boring thing.

Recommended Tarzan viewing: Go back to the Source!

Recommended Tarzan viewing
Recommended Tarzan viewing

The best of Tarzan? The answer of course would be the ones with Johnny Weismuller as Tarzan the Ape Man from 1932 and Tarzan’s New York Adventure from 1942. This was the best of Tarzan on screen. He was the epitome of the White Man as the Lord of the Jungle. There was always an interesting clash of elements in the Tarzan mythology. He was part White Supremacist and Nativist, mixed with equal parts of the Eco-friendly man and Protector of the Weak; then finally he was the ultimate Loner without a country and Rebel with a cause.

Tarzan’s role as the white man in the jungle made him innately superior, in accordance with the Darwinian model, which was always reinforced in his domination over the animals in the jungle. But there was a mystical reverence of nature found in Tarzan, and his softer side always shone through in his love for Jane. All of these elements combined to create, along with the fantastic action shots of Olympian Johnny Weismuller, this mythic but believable creature.

We could identify with that Tarzan. The innate animal charm of Weismuller combined with his physical prowess as he swung from vines and wrestled crocodiles gave us something to hang our hats on. His character had teeth. The Tarzan of the 21st Century is not as easy to read. He is not only inscrutable because of his character, but there is no clear shot at gleaning any new knowledge of Tarzan. This is a scattershot film, one of those saddled with the dreaded flashback syndrome. Any time we may grab hold of a good chunk of dialogue or action, there comes another dreary flashback to steer us away from any semblance of interest in this plot.

The plot? Tarzan returns to the jungle to save Jane. That’s about it. In the beginning we see that he is already ensconced in Greystoke Manor in England. It would have been interesting to see him in English Society, but we’re only given a brief glimpse from the opening sequence. We are mostly waiting for him to strip off his English Lord duds and begin to act like Tarzan. The weak and insipid but standard Tarzan yell near the end is about par for the course in this film. It’s so faint and half-hearted, it could be a metaphor for the entire project.

The recommendation for anyone who isn’t a die-hard Tarzan fan, but perhaps wants to know more, is to read the books by Edgar Rice Borroughs, then rent the most popular of the series: Tarzan the Ape Man (1932) & Tarzan’s New York Adventure; and if you are still interested, watch the re-make from 1984: Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan with Christopher Lambert.

This version, with Margot Robbie, a great actress under-utilized as Jane, and Alexander Skarsgard as the Ape Man is not worth the price of admission. Samuel L Jackson and Christoph Waltz are also great actors who are picking up a paycheck and not much else in this Sominex version.

Tarzan 2016

 

 

The Big Short: A Capsule Review

The Big Short

This film explains what a C.D.O is. (Collateralized Debt Obligation). In fact, the film defines and explains many of the mysterious terms that the big banks used to mask some of their riskiest banking practices in recent memory. The innovative use of asides and “celebrity appearances” (Margot Robbie in a bathtub explaining credit default swaps!), gives the audience a break from a story that could easily go over the heads of the average movie-goer in no time flat.

Kudos to the Director, Adam McKay, and the cast including a bearded Brad Pitt and an energized Ryan Gosling. Steve Carrell easily steals every scene he’s in with his frenetic portrayal of Mark Baum, a man who actually felt the pain of the average Joe dealing with the aftermath of The Big Short.

Recommended for anyone with an interest in following what caused the big crash of 2008 and understanding what really happened. It should be recommended viewing for almost all citizens of these United States!

 

Shakespeare at the Movies: West Side Story at Tampa Theatre

N wood moreno wsidestory

 

West Side Story is playing this Sunday at Tampa Theatre. This 1964 Musical is yet another modern re-telling of the Shakespearean tale of Romeo & Juliet. In this version, a young and beautiful Natalie Wood stands out in the part of Maria. Rita Moreno plays Anita, the confidante of young Maria. Moreno won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for West Side Story. Although the critics have written that the portrayal of New York gangs “are about as threatening as a charging group of kittens”, still, this is a worthy adaptation of Romeo & Juliet set in a different place and time. West Side Story is part of Tampa Theatre’s continuing Summer Film Series.

Shakespeare at the Movies

Shakespeare has been the featured screenwriter for countless numbers of film adaptations of his plays. Many of the most famous ones have seen several rounds and variations on a theme. Romeo & Juliet has gone from the streets of Verona in Italy to the streets of New York and down to the beach. Macbeth has moved from Scotland to Japan and The Tempest has travelled into space in “Forbidden Planet”.

Some of the best adaptations are ones that have faithfully adapted Shakespeare’s incomparable dialogue and story-telling genius in the heart and soul of the re-telling. Here are a few of the modern adaptations of Shakespeare:

10 things

10 Things I Hate about you: One of the best re-works of the Taming of the Shrew plot. This film was made in 1999 and stars Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles. Another good version of the original play was made in 1967 by Franco Zefferelli with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in the lead roles.

Romeo & Jul 1968

Romeo & Juliet: The 1996 film by Director Baz Luhrmann moves the story to Verona Beach with rival gangs. Franco Zefferelli made a beautifully photographed classical version of the story in 1968, with a cast of young stars including Olivia Hussey as Juliet.

Hamlet branagh

Hamlet: There are many good versions of Shakespeare’s most well-known play. The classic Olivier film was made in 1948. Director Franco Zefferelli made a version starring Mel Gibson in 1990 that was generally well received. And Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet was released in 1996.

Macbeth 2015

Macbeth: The film by famed director Kurosawa, Throne of Blood was made in 1957. He transferred the story of Macbeth to feudal Japan. Director Roman Polanski made a film version in 1971 of Macbeth. And yet another Macbeth has been re-made in 2015 with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard in the lead roles.

Henry V

Most critics agree that Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V was one of the best adaptations of Shakespeare ever made into a movie. Branagh also made a good version of Much Ado about Nothing in 1993 starring his wife at the time, Emma Thompson. Films that loosely adapt the story in a fresh and innovative way are the most difficult to pull off, but if successful, are some of the best films to watch. Shakespeare’s endless supply of ideas and commentary on the human condition provide a limitless storyboard for creative directors.

my own private

Films like My Own Private Idaho, Chimes at Midnight, Men of Respect, Hamlet at Elsinore, Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and Prospero’s Books are proof of just a few of the turns that Shakespeare’s stories may take.

Romeo & Juliet has been adapted many times for film, with at least 13 – 14 major film productions. As You Like it and The Merchant of Venice have been adapted at least 12 times. King Lear and The Tempest are almost as popular as Hamlet, with 13 – 14 major adaptations to date. But the plays most adapted to film of all of Shakespeare’s works would be either Macbeth or Othello, both with between 15-17 major film adaptations of the Shakespearean tragedies.