6 Degrees: Friday Flix

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Hello Film Fans! We are entering an exciting season with lots of awards and film releases that will kick off the start of Awards Season in Hollywood and around the globe. There’s the Sundance Film Festival for Independent films, followed by the Oscars in February and the Cannes Film Festival later in the Spring.

So that means there’s a surfeit of really good movies to see out there (for a change!). I’ve heard good buzz about The Shape of Water, one of my must-see’s, as well as Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Spielberg’s The Post.

Other films in contention for top awards include The Florida Project with Willem Dafoe, Lady Bird, directed by Greta Gerwig, and Phantom Thread starring Daniel Day Lewis.

The Many Elephants in the Room: These days, there are many ways to be “Politically Incorrect” when talking about film and the Hollywood Studio System. Harvey Weinstein was just the tip of the iceberg which has set off a real earthquake which is long overdue, not only in the famed Halls of Hollywood, but as a National Conversation for Americans to begin in the workplace. At Friday Flix and on the Six Degrees blog, we’ve talked for the past year about the ways in which women are slighted in Hollywood. Not only slighted in the directors’ chair, but in women’s pay, and of course, on the infamous ‘casting couch’ which has become, thanks to serial offenders such as Weinstein, an open secret. So the fact that we are talking about these things is a positive development as we move into 2018.

There’s still a long way to go. And the diversity issue, another well-known open secret in Hollywood, has also become an issue at the Oscars, with #OscarsSoWhite trending, as well as the many barriers which still need to be broken in terms of diversity and gender. For those who believe this is a recent phenomenon, cast your minds back (if you are just a child-use the Google Machine!) to the time that Marlon Brando refused his Best Actor Oscar in 1973 and sent a young Native American woman named Sacheen Littlefeather on stage in full Tribal dress to state the reasons why Brando didn’t want to accept his Academy Award. He was, to say the least, ahead of his time on this issue. And to bring this conversation full circle, there’s a good piece featured in 6 Degrees Magazine from The New Yorker this week that asks: Can Hollywood Change Its Ways?

Looking forward to: Hostiles, the Western with Christian Bale, which has gotten good advance reviews. For more films coming soon, we compiled a list of the 2018 releases that look promising. And Tom Hardy is starring in his own Comic book film, Venom, set to release in October of this year.

The Black Panther film opening next month has received lots of good advance press and has a big following as a long-anticipated comic offering. There’s a list of books set to become films in 2018 that are listed in an article from Bustle, if you feel so inclined to read the plots and compare. There’s a list of best 21st Century films out from Gizmodo. I can’t agree with many of the films listed, but Arrival and Ex Machina, and possibly Let the Right One In would probably make the cut on my list….

I’m working to compile some of the best films of the past two decades. That would be the films of the 21st Century. In my book, 6 Degrees of Film: The Future of Film in the Global Village, there’s an entire section that features the work of George Lucas and his Industrial Light & Magic Studio. The CGI concept of film-making has really revolutionized the industry. As someone said in the book, the ideas and concepts that were simply on paper or in someone’s head can now be conceptualized with the industry’s graphic and computer capability. The only limits now are bound in the limits of the director or filmmaker’s imagination.

My gift to all of the devoted film fans of 6 Degrees is a downloadable Chapter of 6 Degrees of Film: From Star Wars to Sin City. If you’d like a copy, please sign up here for the Friday Flix and the upcoming Oscar Newsletter, and you’ll get link to receive a copy of the chapter from my book. I’ve got other upcoming gifts for Film Fans in 2018, and hope to hear from all of you during the course of the year. Until then, See you at the movies!-ML

Next Week: A look at the new Movie Pass -the Good and bad points when using the service

Can Hollywood Change its Ways?

 

 

6 Degrees: Friday Flix

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Happy New Year, Film Fans!
This week, here’s a look back at some of the things we’ve talked about in the past year. The changing business of movie making and changing habits of movie goers….

The “Woke” business of Hollywood: The #MeToo Movement and Harvey Weinstein scandal, as well as the #AllWhite Oscars issue is still dogging Hollywood. Diversity has been a problem since Marlon Brando sent a young Native American woman onstage at the Oscars to announce why he was not going to accept the Oscar for Best Actor for The Godfather in 1973.

In the year ahead, here’s what to expect: From the turn of the 21st Century, we expect what one of the more interesting articles of the week has pointed out: MOST of the biggest box office films of the past year were in one of four categories: 1) Superheroes; 2) Animation; 3) Live-action FROM animated original versions; and 4) …..Star Wars!

There is some good news with original films and screenplays. They are distributed more widely than ever before. The Sundance Film Festival has been a mainstream entity for the past two decades. And Indies are recognized for bringing diversity, original storylines and the introduction of new faces to inject new blood into the old Hollywood system.

So there’s good news and bad news with the year before us. We still have a long way to go in terms of diversity and gender equality as portrayed in most mainstream films. However, there is a new attitude and it’s a part of the collective consciousness sweeping the country that is dictating the terms for the future. And it bodes well for women and minorities.
In my book, 6 Degrees of Film: The Future of Film in the Global Village, I talk about the past as prologue for many of the problems facing Hollywood in the 21st Century. To some degree, they have never completely done away with the old Hollywood studio system, of corporate bigwigs and the casting couch syndrome dictating policy and making the final decisions as to who’s in and who’s out…This feels like a sea change has occurred, and a new vision and perhaps eventually, a new and improved Corporate mindset will take hold in Hollywood as well as throughout Corporate America.

 

Hollywood has always been about making money. Art was a secondary pursuit.
In this case, Life imitates Art to the point where Art may finally be on the winning side of history! Here’s a list of some of the articles in the past week edition of the online magazine: 6 Degrees of Film. Until next week, see you at the movies!
Featured in 6 Degrees of Film Magazine:
Movie Ticket Sales were the Lowest in 25 Years
How Songs Shaped Show Business on the Silver Screen
40 Most Beautiful Shots from Movies in 2017
Steven Spielberg at the Oscars
Movies to watch in 2018

6 Degrees: Star Wars Capsule Review

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It seems that all the Star Wars films are scrutinized such that it creates a checklist they must adhere to in order to be dubbed “authentic” Star Wars films. Here are some Bullets for a very Star Wars type of film….

• Did it push all the buttons for the Star Wars space battles?…Check
• Did it contain some quirky and humorous characters, lovable and villainous? Check
• Did it contain some emotional moments where the characters talk about “the dark side”? Check
• Did it leave some questions unanswered just like the old school serials? Check
• Did it introduce some new characters and use as part of the main plot, the best actors? Nope

This was a very Star Wars-ian Star Wars movie. There was the quest, the villain, the conflict with the Dark Side, and even a “mini Death Star” for some reason. But there was about five minutes with the best actor in the film, Benecio del Toro, and there was Mark Hamill, who was always the lightweight in acting chops,  and who was asked to carry the heaviest load in terms of conflict and nuance. It doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Many parts of the plot don’t make a lot of sense. But in between, there is Star Wars. Literally, the war that takes place in space is fought throughout most of the film. And interspersed, there is young Rey, who is on a quest and is noble and earnest. She is also conflicted, and is in some kind of mind-meld through the Force that connects her with Kylo Ren, who we all know has gone over to the Dark Side. Or has he? Maybe….maybe not. But do we care? THAT may be the burning question.

The film doesn’t lead us to the point where we DO care a whole heck of a lot about the conflicted nature of the new and improved version of Darth Vader. And that may lead us down the rabbit holes where we wait to see what Ron Howard is going to do with the spin-off version of the Han Solo film. Or it may raise even more questions about the many other spin-offs and rabbit holes where we are led in this fable about a time “Long, long ago in a Galaxy Far, Far away…”

 

6 Degree: Friday Flix

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Happy Holidays Film lovers! This week at the movies, there is a trickling list of film awards that are beginning to give us a sense of the biggest winners for this award season. And the highly anticipated Star Wars: The Last Jedi has finally opened in theatres before Christmas. In addition, Turner Classic is showing Christmas films as well as some other recommended films to record. For this week, we recommend Modern Romance and Little Shop around the Corner

The National Film Registry has announced their annual film picks. They have added: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner; Superman; Titanic; Gentlemen’s Agreement with Gregory Peck; Field of Dreams; 2000 Memento; Spartacus; and the 1978 Superman from director Richard Donner starring Christopher Reeve; Also preserved, the Disney classic animated film, Dumbo from 1941 and Die Hard with Bruce Willis

The Deal from Disney: Buying up 20th Century Fox, Disney has not exactly cornered the market, but they have really brought the hammer down on their competition. In addition to owning the Star Wars franchise, the other Film Franchises include: The Marvel Cinematic Universe (HUGE); plus Predator/Alien…, which adds up to about ¼ of the ENTIRE film industry! Warner Bros is the second largest market share at 15%, then Sony, Universal and Paramount. Who says the Big Studio Age of filmmaking is dead?

Films reviewed in 6 Degrees Magazine: Man on Fire with Denzel Washington from 2004, Doctor Zhivago from 1968, The Apartment from 1960, and The Wolf Man from 1941 are all reviewed in the magazine this week. These films are worth a second or third look, if you’ve never seen them.

Film Reviews in Theatres Now: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Lady Bird, as well as The Shape of Water are all reviewed and recommended. Coco, the children’s animated film from Pixar has been number one at the box office for the past several weeks.

From Hollywood: One article this week asks, “Are Cinematic Universes hurting cinema?” The argument is on the one hand, pushing the fact that the filmmaker-driven method, where the director has total control of the film and the creative process is the best, as opposed to the broad focus on the Big Picture, the larger universe where someone oversees a vision for the entire story and emphasizes that the focus should be on that. The argument is that there can only be one or the other, not both methods! The notion is that the ‘shared universe’ method doesn’t work well. The bottom line is that audiences have become more sophisticated, and have caught on to the fact that this shared universe method isn’t working. The article ends with this nugget: “The cynicism of audiences of Hollywood remakes, sequels and high-concept films and inevitable franchise fatigue is something to talk about for another day.” Unfortunately, that day has arrived! I do believe that audiences are not going to simply let a film ’coast’ on the reputation of the series or the franchise. As always, the audience will flock to a well-written film with a strong plot, compelling lead characters and original ideas. These are still the ‘bread and butter’ core films that all successful studios feed from. Disney may buy all the studios they can absorb, but if they don’t have these core ingredients in the films they make, than Hollywood will become nothing but a fond memory before too long.

This year, the inevitable film lists have been trotted out. For the most part, the best of 2017, the best sci-fi films, the best romantic comedies and horror films are all mildly amusing as a kind of parlor game. But there is never any real analysis other than listing of films by rote, with picks coming from critics based on their own personal bias. The bigger picture to focus on is when we look at the films that the National Film Registry board has added, as well as the films from the past 17 years that make up the 21st Century. These are the films that stand the test of time.

The films that have a lasting impact on our culture, and changing cultural and societal messages are the films that will resonate in the long run. Here’s hoping that you begin to have a fun and relaxing holiday time with friends and family, with plenty of time to make the trek to the cinema. See you at the movies!-ML

6 Degrees: Friday Flix

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6 Degrees of Film

For those who are disillusioned about politics and America, and America’s place in the world, please remember that we’ll always have Paris. You may have heard that line, and perhaps you don’t know that it’s one of the memorable lines from Casablanca. My personal favorite line in this film is NOT “Play it Again, Sam”, (which was a misquote: The line is: “Play it, Sam!…You played it for her, you can play it for me!”), but the line where Bogie tells someone that he came to Casablanca ‘for the waters.’ When told they were surrounded by desert, he says, “I was….misinformed.”

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Casablanca is just one of the memorable films playing this month on Turner Classic Movies. Last week we mentioned Meet Me in St Louis, which is a great holiday film starring Judy Garland . One of the highlights of the film is Garland singing, “Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which became one of her signature songs.

Garland is also in the remake of The Little Shop around the Corner, the classic Ernst Lubitsch film with Jimmy Stewart from the thirties. They remade it as a musical, In the Good Old Summertime, with Judy Garland and Van Johnson in the fifties. And then, they remade it again with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in You’ve Got Mail. As you can tell, the story is memorable enough to rework, and each of these films did well at the box office.

The plot revolves around two co-workers who compete for sales in a small music shop, and they develop a dislike for each other. Their personal life is marked by a correspondence, (they used to be called ‘pen-pals’ in the old days,) that develops into a romantic courtship.

For each slight given the other, they tell their friends about the wonderful nature of the person that they have met and their developing romance through the mail. Of course, they don’t know what the other looks like. And so, the plot thickens when they agree to meet, and the male in the story realizes that the person he has been dreaming about is the same annoying young woman he works with in the store.

At first, he begins to tease his co-worker, and begins to see that she has also fixated on him as her romantic ideal. From there, he begins to try and develop a friendship with her, and draws her out about her ‘intended.’ The girl eventually does decide that the real flesh and blood person she works with is the one she would choose, and the end has the two pairing up as he reveals his love for her.

The plot plays like a revamped Shakespearean comedy, with twists and turns and sub-plots that lend itself to the final denouement. But the story has proven to be a durable one, as they’ve remade it successfully in three separate variations of the theme. The story in each film starts as a kind of screwball comedy, with mistaken identities and revolving doors, but at the essence of this tale is the sweet and at times, bittersweet nature of love, where the eternal ideal is always at odds with the realities of life. The true meeting of the minds is seen in the final outcome for each of these stories, and the updated versions through the past century of film are worth a view (or two.)

We also talked last week about Lord Jim as a Spiritual film that’s recommended to rent or record. Another great performance from Peter O’Toole that is playing this month on TCM is My Favorite Year. The movie would never have worked without the over-the-top character of O’Toole parodying his own legendary capers and drunken displays. This is a good film for the holidays and for those old enough to appreciate the air of nostalgia that surrounds the main characters and the plot.

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There’s an Armchair Film Festival waiting for those who love Hitchcock: Rear Window, with Grace Kelly and Jimmy Stewart, and North by Northwest with Cary Grant are both on TCM this month. These two movies showcase Hitchcock in top form. The paranoia and slightly dark and deviant world that he hints at or alludes to at times is seen just peeking through enough in these two films to make them more than merely interesting.

For those who have never seen Albert Brooks on film, I would recommend hitting record for Modern Romance. Brooks has a droll way of delivering a line that no one else has been able to achieve. The closest I can think of in comparison is W C Fields. Both comics talk about the situations at hand, and at the same time they seem to comment on the state of the world and their own sly and paranoid asides and thought experiments tend to lend a totally different meaning to the spoken word. Watch the master at work in Modern Romance on TCM.

Finally, for some of the greatest repartee ever filmed, the Thin Man Series with William Powell and Myrna Loy is playing on TCM around New Years. Start the New Year the right way and record these two in action. They are funny and droll, they’re stylish and entertaining and witty as well as being perfect foils for each other in this series of films.

Hope everyone is enjoying their holidays and taking time to see a movie or two. I’m looking forward to The Shape of Water, and of course, the latest Star Wars film is about to drop in the next week. The other films that have been well received are Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Wonder, and The Disaster Artist. Till next week, see you at the movies-ML

 

Holiday Film News

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Happy Holidays Film Fans! This week, we are featuring the just-released Holiday Film News,  with a few recommendations for those who want to see movies on the big screen, as well as for those who are looking for good holiday film fare to watch at home.

In the 6 Degrees magazine: An article from The Reel World is about Daniel Day-Lewis and his decision to quit acting.  There’s a look at 2018, with films headlining the Sundance film festival.  And we feature movie reviews for The Shape of Water, Lady Bird, Roman J. Israel, Esq. and Woody Allen’s Wonder Wheel.

And if you have ever wondered why all the awards and the best films of the year are all squashed into the one month, December, read the Variety article, about overcrowding the films and awards. This year in December, 32 films have been scheduled to open in 31 days. And the awards have all moved earlier too. National Board of Review and NY Film Critics announce winners in late November. SAG Awards deadline is December 10th.

It’s a problem with no solutions in site. But for the moment, enjoy the movies recommended, and till next week, see you at the movies!

6 Degrees: Holiday Film News

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The latest from Hollywood still surrounds the scandals from Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey and it continues as more men and women come forward to tell their stories. The impact is something that will be felt as we see some movies are on hold, some films with green lights will not be made, and we even saw Kevin Spacey stripped from his role in a major release this month.
The films that are released in the Holiday season have come to represent some of the cream of the crop, with studios holding back releases to compete in the Awards season that kicks off with the start of the new year.
The lists of best of the year also gives us some questionable picks in order to make the requisite 10 or 20 films that fill these end of year lists. It gives us a better window to step back and look at the films of the 21st Century, and the changes that have come in the way we see movies.
Even in the past ten years, we now have more people watching films on their devices, on the small screen, and even seeing films debut on Netflix, Amazon, and other cable companies. So, the change in the way we watch films and the way we respond is significant. The relationships and the way the characters are created and fleshed out, the way the writers use foreshadowing and the nuances of cinematography and the techniques they use to lend detail has changed so much in the 21st Century.
I have written about the industry’s overuse of CGI (Computer Generated Images), and the good and the bad associated with the Star Wars era of Lucasfilms and Industrial Light & Magic. For better or worse, it has dominated the industry in so many ways.  And this has also meant Hollywood now has the ability to bring to life so many elements of storytelling that were not possible or conceivable even twenty years ago. These things are all factors that have shaped the way we see movies today. But the real strength of films will always begin with the story. The element of style evolves; and when a good story is compelling, and told with creativity and passion, there is often a good film in the making.

Here are some of the Holiday films opening in theatres in December:

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The Shape of Water is coming December 8th : Set in the 1960’s, the film tells the story of a mute woman working as a janitor at a top secret government facility that houses a new kind of creature…

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The Last Jedi opens Dec 15Th: The cast of the last film returns to answer some of the questions that were left hanging. The character of Rey, and her connection with Luke Skywalker are some of the main drivers of the plot.

THe Post 2017

The Post opens Dec 22nd: Steven Spielberg directs, Tom Hanks stars as Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee; Meryl Streep is the publisher Kay Graham The film deals with the imminent release of the Pentagon Papers. It’s based on the true story of events surrounding the paper’s editorial decisions and how they handled this momentous event in our nation’s history.
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Other Holiday Films to watch and to record:

Recommended Christmas films: In the past weeks, I’ve recommended viewing: The Nativity Story, It’s a Wonderful Life and Elf/ A Christmas Story, Christmas Vacation and A Christmas Carol….(Choose your favorite version of Scrooge!)
Other Spiritual films: There are films that are shown at Christmas with a definite holiday feel. Some of them are spiritual in nature, with religious overtones. And others are simply worth watching for the cathartic feeling or the good vibes that you may want to share with loved ones during the holidays. The Sound of Music is the obvious choice, but there are other films that have the desired impact. The films listed here are not “Feel-Good” Family films, but they have either religious or spiritual overtones that reflect the holiday spirit.
Lord Jim, a film from 1965 with Peter O’Toole, is from a novel by Joseph Conrad and tells the story of a man seeking redemption for a sin he had committed earlier in his life. The idea that we are all guilty of something that we would like to forget, and to overcome our fears and our past, makes this film memorable.
The Name of the Rose is by Umberto Eco and stars Sean Connery as the monk who travels to a monastery, and discovers a series of murders that he is determined to solve. The theme of the book speaks of the uncertainty and inability to solve life’s mysteries, using the murders from the monastery to emphasize the chaotic nature of life. Sean Connery is powerful as the masterful monk, filled with conviction and the determination. It’s this force of nature that is Connery’s performance that gives this film strength.
Arrival with Amy Adams is a sci-fi film that has many layers stretching beyond the usual boundaries of science and CGI. There are some impressive visuals, and great acting from both Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, her partner in solving the mystery of the aliens. But the memorable moments are strictly earthbound ones, where we see the layers unveiled as Adams, working as a linguist, struggles to communicate with the alien species and discovers much about herself as the film progresses.
King Arthur with Clive Owen is yet another retelling of the Arthurian legend. This one is set in Britain, and the knights of the round table are a nomadic band with a leader who is dedicated to Christ. The best scenes in this are the ones that show the conviction and dedication of a life given over to helping others, and striving to overcome our own personal and moral failings.
To Kill a Mockingbird is a film mentioned many times for its spiritual depth and lingering themes dealing with love and redemption. The heroine is a young girl, Scout, and she narrates the action in past tense, in a faithful translation from the book. We see Scout’s small town and her father, Atticus Finch, through her eyes. Gregory Peck really “owns” this film, as his presence, and the courtroom drama that makes up much of the action in the second half are the highlights of the film. The message, that it’s a sin to kill a Mockingbird, and the Christian themes of spiritual redemption and healing make this film one of the all-time favorites for those who are searching for some depth when watching a movie.

Other Recommended Holiday/Feel Good Films for Family Viewing:
Meet me in St Louis stars Judy Garland, and features Garland singing many of her hits, including “The Trolley Song” and “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” Judy Garland was young when she made this movie, and it was directed by her future husband, Vincent Minelli, who worked to showcase her many talents as she sang and acted her way into our hearts.
Sleepless in Seattle was a huge hit when it was released, and if featured one of the most popular couples in recent decades: Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. I confess that this isn’t my favorite of the Hanks/Ryan pairings-I prefer You’ve Got Mail, which is also a good family film. But this film is one that has a popular appeal and also features the small boy who decides to match make for his father, played by Hanks, during the holidays.
National Velvet is adapted from a best-selling book and is also good family fare. Elizabeth Taylor is seen in one of her first roles, as the young Velvet, who is obsessed with horses.
In Emma, the “Jane-ites” are given a visual treat in this beautifully filmed adaptation from Jane Austen starring Gwyneth Paltrow. The film begins during the Christmas season, so it has a holiday look and feel to it. And even though the film is suitable for all ages, it’s generally classified as a “Chick Flick.” I dub it a Fem Flick, for women and that sub-set of men who actually like and “get” Jane Austen and her low-key but acerbic wit.