21 Jump Street-Capsule Review

Channing Tatum-star of both “21 Jump Street” and “The Eagle” is an up-and-comer along the lines of Keanu Reeves, who also showed us a new breed of actor that specialized in looking confused and dumb, sweet and “hunky” all at the same time. (It’s not just me-the best line in “The Matrix” comes from someone saying to Keanu: “You’re not too bright, are you?” The movie has gotten pretty good reviews-actually well over-rated reviews as one person wrote, “This is what a re-make Should look like!” This is at times an amusing film, but it’s not a great film. The characters/action tends to jump around and there’s very little character development. There are some amusing sequences, but they are surprisingly short. In other words, you can definitely “wait for video” on this one….

The Artist: Capsule Review for 6 Degrees of Film

The Artist is playing this weekend at Tampa Theatre. This review was originally published on 6 Degrees of Film in 2012. Here’s the updated version:

THe Artist T Theatre

One of the best sequences in “The Artist”, the Academy-Award winning black & white silent film, is the one where sound is used. That’s not to say that films without sound are not worth seeing. Some of the most moving sequences ever filmed have been moments that have no sound. Liam Neeson had the role in “Suspect” where he plays a mute, and it was apparent early on that he was the only one in a cast that included Cher with real acting chops. In “There Will be Blood” one of the most creative sequences in this dark look into the psyche of a self-made 19th Century robber baron was the opening of the film where Daniel Day-Lewis doesn’t speak for a good ten minutes into the film. In The Artist the scene where the very successful and extremely egotistical star dismisses the viewing of the “talkies” as a fad finds him waking up in a cold sweat in the night after he dreams of hearing sound on film where none had been before. That is perhaps one of the more creative moments in the film. This film stands really as a series of vignettes, a kind of homage to the way that early films were made.

They were short one-reelers and like the one and two-reelers, you could find the plot of this film written out on a half page of notebook paper. Boy meets girl, they fall in love; conflict ensues; they overcome obstacles to be together; the Denouement-Finis-The End.

That really is a short history of the movies encapsulated in this film. The power of silent film has been lost on so many generations that have missed out on much that was conveyed through film in the silent era, Actor and Comic Bill Murray recently spoke of watching a DW Griffith silent film in France that was totally riveting. It seems the French have a higher appreciation of the silent medium in general. I don’t believe that just everyone would simply fall in love with this movie. That is conveyed in the box office numbers, which show this film to be probably the least viewed of any Academy Award winner in recent years. It is not an action flick or a comedy or a chick flick. It is a film about film in the sense that it conveys some messages about the appreciation of a medium-silent film- that is not in existence save for a few random viewings on select cable channels. This is the nature of show business and this film is unique in that there are less than six degrees of association to arrive at the beginning history of film. It serves as a perfect example for anyone interested in the history of film, and it’s definitely a must see for those playing the game of “Six Degrees of Film!”

The Grey-Capsule Review

My first impression of this film is, “Surely they have shots of wolves living in the wild they could insert in this film? Why do the wolves look so fake?” The person I was sitting with thought the same. In this day and age, with this type of film here’s a tip: use the stock footage and edit it in with the “Automatron” wolf. This is NOT a “feel-good” type of movie. One other bone to pick: one plot point makes little sense. These people risk their lives to climb over a ravine to get away from the wolves. The wolves are territorial, but there should have been something to make us understand why the wolves are still after them. My thoughts were, “Really…still…with the wolves?” I mean, you expect us to believe the wolves also climbed over the gorge? They just cannot shake these particular wolves. If it were sharks, you can understand it. But wolves should just be one of the major dangers you might face after surviving an Arctic plane crash…These wolves are the Jaws of the Arctic-never relenting, never giving up. Liam Neeson is a great actor. There is one scene in particular, early in the film, where he calmly tells someone they are going to die. That is the point where he can emote to the extent that Clint Eastwood and John Wayne never could. Here is the “go-to” guy for action films of the age and he also happens to be a great actor. Nothing about the film in the latter half gives us pause to see him exercise his “chops”. I would recommend this to anyone who likes Liam Neeson films. A lot. This is not an action-adventure movie in the “Die Hard/Terminator” mold. This is more of a Jack London/Joseph Conrad tale. You see Man v Man; Man v Nature; Man V Himself and Man v Animal. All of the main storylines are rolled into one fairly predictable, fairly dark story. Don’t go see this if you’re looking for a light, upbeat escapist film. It’s not. One other point of privilege to note: there is a drowning sequence late in the film that could have come straight out of the Paul Newman/Henry Fonda film, “Sometimes a Great Notion” from 1971. Just sayin’

Capsule Review: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

***Is about as convoluted a plot as anyone could wish for. This is a subtle film with so many nuanced looks and character references one must keep track of every tic and blink that passes from eye to eye.

This is also the type of film that makes me wonder if there is going to be a coming “great divide” in this country between age groups who watch movies. There are films for a certain age that I know my 21 year old niece refuses to watch. The Black & White & low-tech films of yore are not high on her list.

On the other hand, the girl with a Dragon Tattoo is someone that she can easily identify with. I thought that I, a middle-aged woman, would not be able to identify with this character. But in the way of cinematic magic, there is a universal element that everyone who has been dumped or has been alone or has been asked to fend for him or herself can find in this vulnerable yet hardened young woman.

In “Tinker, Tailor”, we are back to the low-tech world of the early 70’s and the Cold War era where all eavesdropping requires elaborately placed listening devices and the real world of James Bond emerges. There is nothing remotely similar to the antics of the comic-book action figure that Mr. Bond has become. This world is inhabited by quiet men in tweedy suits wearing unassuming expressions with glassy stares.

I must admit that there are a few moments that teeter on the edge of attention-deficit danger in the middle of the film. But the plot is definitely one where all lovers of mystery and good story-telling will want to know how it all ties together in the end. It is simply convoluted, if it is possible to be both simple in technological jargon yet convoluted in the realm of sophisticated dialogue and plot.

With the low-tech world nicely portrayed in this and the recent “Killer Elite”, we are forced to remember what the world was like before Tom Cruise gave us Mission Impossible to the nth degree and only high-technology will do to entertain the mass viewing audience.

We are still expected to think and therefore, the old fashioned Sherlock Holmes-ian style of critical analysis and logical thinking applies here. We must do our homework for this film, and that, in the end, is a good thing!

Grumpy Old Critic on War Horse

My father became very jaded about movies in his later life. He seemed to think there was nothing new under the sun and that the best movies made were already completed by 1939. I hope I don’t go that far (although he could have been right), but there is a tendency for us old folk to get jaded about these young whippersnappers and their confounded new-fangled way of doing things.

Hence the term: “Grumpy Old Critics”

There’s something so bothersome in films and some of the clichés. One of them is the dog and cat metaphors. We always know there is evil lurking when the obligatory scene of the dead pet-be it dog or cat-is shown to the audience to let us know to beware.

Just once, just once, I ask, will they let the poor dumb G-Damn animal LIVE till the end of the film?! The latest I speak of, lest I spoil anyone’s shock and horror, is found in the film, ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”

The film is quite good, and yet they felt the need to broadcast the evildoer’s intentions with the death of a domestic animal. There are so many things in this film that I did NOT see coming, but that was not one of them…

“War Horse” was painful to watch for several reasons. I drank too much liquid and really was in pain. There was a child in a stroller, a toddler, behind me that was sobbing and that child really should not have been in the picture.

I also feel something for those of us who are animal lovers to the point of being dotty. I am one of those nuts. And after seeing Old Yeller die, and Bambi’s mother, and the Yearling die, and all the animals in “Dances with Wolves” go, then you become not hard-hearted but instead completely unable to watch another innocent animal suffer. Not to spoil the film, (don’t read this if you haven’t seen War Horse and think the ending must be secret), but I’m very glad the animal does not die.

However, I am beginning to think that there is no situation where an innocent child or animal is abused or treated cruelly that can be spinned in a positive light. In other words, I’ve seen two movies for younger audiences that I couldn’t possibly recommend for children. (Hugo was the other one.)

Adults such as myself have a hard time with sappy animal films. But those who are not yet fully developed emotionally probably shouldn’t see this film. It’s about war and death and violence and suffering. Yet there’s a beautiful animal in the midst and a plucky young kid right out of “National Velvet” who believes in him.

So…..I just can’t resign myself to believe this is a good children’s movie.

Capsule Review: Hugo – a film by Martin Scorcese

My thoughts on this film revolve around the marketing of it. For someone who rails constantly against the “new-fangled” commercialism of film criticism and the emphasis on numbers and placement of advertising, this is extraordinary.
Imagine my excitement, as a bona-fide “film nerd” and one who has used the man in the moon shot of the spaceship through the eye of the moon-man as a central graphic for my blog, “6 Degrees of Film”, upon hearing that Scorcese was doing a movie about George Melies!
Well, I do agree with the critics that say that the photography is wonderful. It is a children’s film not necessarily for a child. It is a film for film buffs, but not that I can tell, any other type of viewing audience. These days, where people are looking for “the next new thing” with Avatar and many wonderful independent film-makers turning out small gems, this film doesn’t feel like it really has a target audience.
There is a justifiable criticism that I’ve read that states that once the “secret” is out, about half-way through the movie, then the rest of the film leaves you squirming at times in your seat.
There is nothing inherently wrong with the overall concept of this film. It does feel like a homage that is perhaps thirty years? too late to be relevant. George Melies was a pioneer in the art of film-making and perhaps a documentary that gave him much needed credit for his work is justified.
But a full-length motion picture with a plot straight out of Disney a la 1962 would not be my first choice.

Excerpt from 6 Degrees: Due out in February 2012!

“Hugo” is the new Scorcese film that is, in part, about some of the early work of filmmaker Georges Melies….his “moonshot” showing the man on the moon with a spaceship through his eye is one of the graphics from “6 Degrees of Film!”….So, what’s old is new again! Author’s Note
Here’s part of Chapter One:

There are a myriad number of books and film classes documenting the exact origins of film. The earliest films consisted of simple reels of people engaged in a kiss or a physical activity. The first films, silent moving pictures, evolved from the existing technology. Some of the first films at the beginning of the twentieth-century dealt with the future and science-fiction, which continues to hold great fascination for audiences. These films showed what the future might look like and this has always been one of the vital factors in film-making. The depiction of events outside of the reality of everyday life turned film into art.

Early films such as “Birth of a Nation” and “Battleship Potemkin” are of note as they depicted social issues that also entertained mass audiences.

Film was and is entertainment for the masses. If you want to learn, you read. If you want an experience, you go to the
movies. The act of going to the movies was marketed to the masses at the turn of the twentieth century. Nickelodeons were invented for the express purpose of driving in large crowds of people. The “art” of motion pictures consisted of short reels of flickering images.

The “blockbusters” of the day had titles like, “The Great Train Robbery” where a man turned to the audience with a gun and fired it for no apparent reason other than to create a stir.

Thomas Edison and the Mass Marketing of Movies

Films had begun at the turn of the century and had generally been regarded as a commodity to be turned out. In much the same way that auto parts manufacturing interested Henry Ford, Thomas Edison became immersed in the wholesale marketing of film to the masses.

Thomas Edison was one of the first mass marketers of film. Although he wasn’t strictly interested in the art of motion pictures, he did know how to turn a buck. There were other pioneers more interested in the “art” of film like George Melies, a Frenchman who created some of the first “science-fiction” films at the turn of the century. But he was not a businessman, and he didn’t understand how to gain control of the small, artistic films he created. That is a lesson that Edison understood. And in the end, Mass Marketing has always been an integral part of Hollywood and film-making in general.

But at the beginning of the twentieth century, the only entertainment for poor people often was nickelodeons. Poor immigrants were patrons of early cinema as they could learn about American life and values plus learn English from the subtitles!