From Star Wars to Sin City

Star wars logo




An excerpt from the 6 Degrees of Film: The future of film in the Global Village by Mary L Johnson:
“Star Wars is not a simple morality play; it has to do with the powers of life as they are either fulfilled or broken and suppressed through the action of man,” wrote Joseph Campbell, one of George Lucas’s inspirations for the mythology used to create Star Wars.
Mark Dippe, a visual effects supervisor, said that the first thing he thought when he saw Star Wars in 1977 was, “Who the hell is this guy George Lucas? The film just stood apart; it still does. I think George Lucas’s films had a big influence on changing the process and vocabulary of filmmaking. The legacy of Star Wars is that at ILM [Industrial Light and Magic], we get a chance to work on creating things that haven’t been seen before.”
Over twenty-five years ago, George Lucas incorporated Industrial Light and Magic after he made Star Wars and extended his empire into the first decade of the twenty-first century. From approximately 1987 through 2012, major developments from ILM and other parts of the industry have made the film industry what it is today. The industry witnessed the end of an era in film and the beginning of a new age of moviemaking.
Industrial Light and Magic has definitely framed the era and defined it with their many breakthroughs in visual effects. The storyboarding that is critical to their vision is now a major part of most successful film series, and the comic genre that has emerged would not have been a reality without the effects of ILM.
The criticism that Lucas and Spielberg films have juvenilized the movies, to my mind, is unfair. These filmmakers have given the public what they want, and there never has been a dearth of creative talent in the film industry. On the contrary, there are many exciting new avenues for young and innovative minds to bring their creations to the screen, including Internet productions and independent venues. We are always seeing new ways for artistic talent to emerge as the next big thing.
Film is changing and evolving as it has from the beginning, and the medium as a mass-communication tool and an art form make this an exciting time to break into the market. The future of film may involve the type of images seen in Sin City and Waltzing with Bashir, where actors are not filmed in the traditional way but with a kind of brushstroke or cartoon quality that enables the plot to go in many different directions. There might be alternate endings and story lines to follow with endless variations. Online, the viewer can access alternative views from various characters’ perspectives.
The experience of going into a darkened theater to view a film is changing forever. As in the penny arcades and nickelodeons that began the first century of film, we now see the evolution and dawn of a new age and a new way of understanding the world through the medium of film.
George Lucas spoke of his ideas on the future path that might occur using film and some kind of drug to enhance the experience. His ideas regarding future films would make theatrical, narrative-driven movies, in his words, “as quaint as an old silent-reeler”:
I see true environments being created and combined with a lot of biotech things going on, in terms of manipulating people’s senses through drugs. This combination will have the most powerful effect on the kind of storytelling we’re doing today. It’s too far off for me to worry about, and I’m not interested in virtual reality at its current level, because it’s just too crude. But if you can program virtual reality or simulator rides with biotech, you will have a very interesting non-world. The first step would be to take the simulator ride part of an environment … where you can just implant the story in a pill and live it.
That’s not outside the realm of possibility. You’d take the pill and go to sleep. It’d be like a dream and you’d have an actual, real, physical experience of something completely imaginary. What that’ll mean for society, I have no idea, and how you’d get there from here is way beyond me, but I know enough to know it’s within the realm of possibility. Because they’re already going there, creating images without actually making them, just as you create them in a dream.
Industrial Light and Magic
Jim Morr, a former president of ILM, said, “When ILM started, there was no effects industry. Now there’s an industry beyond ILM. I’m sure there are people who feel ILM has become too corporate since the early Star Wars days. Well, we are working on major Hollywood motion pictures, so it’s certainly not a free-for-all. But we are still kind of funky when you compare us to a business like IBM or Xerox.”
Lucas said, “ILM is also a company where it has to make enough money to develop the state of the art. So everything has to be done extremely efficiently, and they have to generate enough money year after year to be able to buy new equipment. It’s a very capital-intensive business, so that means a huge amount of money is reinvested every year after year after year. And most companies can’t do that.”
The Roots of ILM
A Life magazine story from the 1960s summed up the crisis in visual effects in movies: “There were so many innovations occurring in film, but in the field of special effects, there was a dearth of ideas. The big studios couldn’t finance the large Technicolor spectacles that had been the signature entertainment for decades at studios like MGM and Paramount. By the sixties, the film industry had begun to resemble, a company town where the mine has closed.”
Demographics had changed, and audiences had changed. Even television had evolved, and the world was rapidly changing too. This meant that movies needed to evolve and adapt to the changing times. There was an opening for a big turnaround movie.
One appeared in 2001: A Space Odyssey. At 2001’s release in 1969, Stanley Kubrick’s innovations were the cutting edge in technological advancement in films. But Kubrick’s innovations did not translate into other copy-cat films, and Kubrick remained something of a lone-wolf figure. For one thing, the film was made in England and was too big and too expensive to emulate. The film failed to revive the waning special-effects industry in Hollywood. But it did inspire a generation of young filmmakers who saw that it could be done.
George Lucas was one who acted on that inspiration. He said, “Almost from the moment film was invented, there was this idea that you could play tricks, make an audience believe they were seeing things that really weren’t there. But this was completely lost by the 1960s.”
Lucas labored for two years on his Star Wars script. The film’s goal was to create a universe. But beyond that, he was looking for a storyline that would serve as a staging ground for a new kind of mythology.
Lucas said, “I was struck [at the time] by the fact that the western was the last American myth and there’d been no mythology created since the mid-fifties. I thought space was the next environment where you could begin to develop that mythology.”
History of Industrial Light and Magic
George Lucas created ILM in 1975 to provide visual effects for Star Wars. How he did it is a story that in many ways parallels the innovations that Steve Jobs incorporated at Apple. A new approach to special effects was needed and a void to be filled. Lucas saw it and acted.
Most of the major studios had begun to dismantle and discard the trappings of the studio system. They had sold off their back lots, auctioning off props and equipment. Among the casualties of this corporate downsizing were the effects departments. The most talented of the artists either retired or scattered to find work. Consequently, cameras were consigned to the scrap heaps, put in storage, or sold cheap.
“Visual effects was, at the time, a dying art. A number of studios passed on the [Star Wars] script before [Fox] picked up the project.”
In forming ILM, Lucas sought to emulate the studio-effects departments that were now long gone in Hollywood. One of the first things ILM did was to look at the past and become resourceful in renovating the old equipment. They set out to locate an outdated camera known as a VistaVision.
The History of VistaVision
VistaVision, invented in the 1950s, is a film format used to create big-screen images such as those in The Ten Commandments. VistaVision also was used in the classics North by Northwest and White Christmas.
Although Paramount studios developed VistaVision, they soon abandoned it as too expensive. And theater owners had to retool theaters to show the films made in the format. Only about twenty theaters ever really retooled to show the movies to their full advantage.
Industrial Light and Magic wanted to achieve superior visual quality in their shots. They solved some of their problems by incorporating the old VistaVision cameras, acquiring them at bargain-basement prices. The two cameras built for use in The Empire Strikes Back were the first live-action VistaVision cameras built since the days of The Ten Commandments. For that reason, an old Ten Commandments poster hung above the printer in the optical department at ILM for many years.
ILM reimagined and retooled VistaVision equipment to become the VistaFlex camera. These cameras became one of the most significant (and also underrated) advances in camera technology after Star Wars. But unlike their predecessors, these cameras were lightweight and compact—the hot-rods of photographic equipment.
After Star Wars achieved its historic global box-office success, ILM became the permanent special-effects unit of Lucasfilm Ltd. Subsequently, a renaissance of VistaVision technology flourished at ILM. This innovative group also would go on to develop motion-control technology.
Motion Control
Motion control is the ability to control the movement of the camera, and the photographic subject in synchronization to the movement of the film through the camera. After the success of Star Wars, ILM had the opportunity to accelerate enormously the integration of electronics and filmmaking.
Motion control started in 1971 with Douglas Trumbull using it on the film Silent Running. John Dykstra, who worked at ILM and was a special photographic effects supervisor for Star Wars, had been a member of that team. Dykstra recalled, “We took archaic cameras, built before we were even born, and we created hybrids of them by bolting different parts together. Nobody else was inventing cameras to make films in 1975. We were there when a genre was being born and reborn.”
It is fair to say that George Lucas and his team rescued a dying part of their industry—the art of special effects—and transformed it into something wholly different, something extraordinarily special—even unique—to enhance the term special in the phrase.
The Dykstraflex System
Another breakthrough moment in the early history of ILM came with the Dykstraflex system, named for John Dykstra, the photographic effects supervisor for Star Wars.
The Dykstraflex system was built before the advent of personal computers. All of the interaction is between the motion-control system and the camera operator. The system was in operation for fifteen years, from 1976 to 1993.
Until the computer revolution hit with full force in the 1990s, the compositing process was in the hands of ILM’s optical department—the optical dogs—who were required to handle an incoming rush of film elements while ignoring the heat of deadline pressures. Little did they realize that by the spring of 1994, the old, photochemical optical process would be completely replaced by the electronics of digital computers, and the optical dogs would become obsolete.
So it went with a lot of the old optical equipment. It was either decommissioned and put on display or dismantled. The optical department itself was reduced to a small staff with two computerized motion-control printers. Talk was that celluloid film itself might soon become extinct.
In the anticipated future without physical film, the digital cameras would be used to record live-action or composite elements. Then the computer graphics would generate three-dimensional characters and sets, and compositing and editing would be accomplished in the digital realm. The final movie would be beamed directly to home viewers by satellite or through computer modem or electronically projected in the quaint, old-fashioned confines of a movie theater.
Metaphor for the End of an Era: Shattering the Glass
From 1990 through 1993, the industrial part of the ILM equation changed dramatically. ILM had a beautiful four-foot-tall and six-foot-wide glass painting of the gothic New York City building used in Ghostbusters II. But the glass had warped and shattered when ILM tried to have it framed. That was the end of glass paintings. The same could be said for the old-fashioned way that brush and oils were used for matte paintings on film. Within five years, the outmoded brush and oils were replaced by the digital medium.
The company was experimenting with the new Photoshop program on Macintosh (Mac) computers, and the head of the computer graphics department realized they could do matte paintings and composites on this simple little box. Ironically, Lucas himself is not a digital graphics guy at heart. He said,
I’ve never been that interested in computers … I’m interested in making movies and creating images and in doing it in the easiest way possible. When you start out making movies, you’re trying to get the largest vision with what amounts to a limited amount of resources. So it’s a constant struggle to add more colors to the palette, and the way you get more colors is to spend huge amounts of money. But at some level, there are colors you can’t get, because no amount of money will get you there.
With Star Wars we were basically off the color palette. The technology did not exist, but that’s what the story was. I wanted to tell this story, but the color only existed in theory. The only way you’ll get there is to create technology that will bring those colors into the realm of what’s achievable, and that’s basically what ILM was. So I had to get involved in computers and the high-tech area … And for a long time at ILM, the state of the art was using computers to manipulate hardware—the old-fashioned nineteenth century celluloid—through sprockets technology … In 1978–79, I put together a computer division because I wanted to get a digital printer.
A microcosm of the end of the studio system occurred with the computer age replacing the age of cameras and sprockets. George Lucas began by reorganizing the entire computer-graphics division at Industrial Light and Magic.
Lucas continues, “On T2 [Terminator 2] I realized that we didn’t need to think in three dimensions all the time, that the images for film are really two-dimensional and flat. Once I realized that we could paint on the individual film frames … I realized we could do anything.”
Through the use of computer graphics, Lucas transformed not only ILM, but the entire film industry within five years. By 1993, ILM had entered into a strategic business alliance with Silicon Graphics (SGI) that allowed for ongoing cooperation in developing high-powered workstations (computers).
At this point, the Mac Squad was formed. They utilized Macintosh computers and Photoshop software to combine the digital world with such traditional departments as optical, animation, and rotoscope. {Author’s Note: Rotoscoping is a technique in which animators trace over footage, frame by frame, to use in live-action. The glowing light saber in all three original Star Wars films, was a product of rotoscoping.} As with the beginning years of film production, the processing power and the speed and memory of computers made the transition to digital occur many years earlier than some had believed to be possible. Computers were becoming faster, and memory capability was doubling at an incredible rate.
The Age of Industrial Light and Magic
The film age we now live in is the age of Industrial Light and Magic. In essence, today is the age of the computer and special effects. For many years, the special-effects personnel worked anonymously. But with Star Wars, that anonymity ended. And so it continues that movie audiences expect and demand to be thrilled and dazzled by the artistry onscreen.
Lucas, naturally, disagrees with critics who claim that special effects tend to overpower subtleties of plot and character at times. He said, “The people who saw Star Wars and said ‘spectacular special effects!’ just never understood it. The same thing with Indiana Jones … Some people look at those movies and they don’t see the intricacies of the character and story … You can see so many movies released in the wake of those two movies, just loaded with special effects and stunts, but they don’t make very interesting movies.”
Future Shock
Industrial Light and Magic’s retooling included the sweeping away of archaic trappings of the industrial age. By the spring of 1994, the property master was cataloguing and auctioning off many old props, industrial hardware, and memorabilia that ILM had acquired in the 1970s.
This new technowave was felt with brutal suddenness in the halls of ILM. The old matte-painting department was replaced with computer hardware and painting-software systems. The old motion-control camera was replaced by some twenty computer-graphic workstations. The optical printing department was virtually eliminated by a high-powered scanner.
Dennis Muren of ILM said, “We became professionals as a calling, not just a career choice … I feel like the world has changed around us with a suddenness that no one could have predicted—and right now, we’re experiencing future shock!”
Lucas has nostalgic reflections. After all, he was the one who resurrected the VistaVision equipment to make Star Wars. He said, “I don’t like technology much, so I have no emotional ties to the technology whatsoever … I care about the images on the screen, and I’m not really enamored with the process at all. As a matter of fact, technology mostly gets in the way, and therefore, you’re constantly trying to get a better tool … On the practical side, I don’t think anybody really likes to stand out in the snow at three o’clock in the morning when it’s forty degrees below zero.”


6 Degrees: Star Wars Capsule Review

SW The Last Jedi 17

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 Degrees: Holiday Film News

6degreesLogogif (2)
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:

shape of water 17
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…

SW The Last Jedi 17
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.
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.

6 Degrees: Friday Flix


Happy Thanksgiving weekend to all! This week, in 6 Degrees Magazine, we are featuring reviews of the latest releases: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is reviewed; Coco-the new Pixar film and Denzel Washington’s Roman J. Israel, Esq., plus Thor: Ragnorak and Lady Bird are all reviewed in the magazine.
There is an in-depth review of Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour. And one of Paul Newman’s greatest films, a masterpiece of the sixties: Cool Hand Luke is reviewed in Film Comment.
For the Holidays: The Man who Invented Christmas with Christopher Plummer and Dan Stevens is reviewed on Roger The film looks at the real-life character of Charles Dickens and the motivations and circumstances that surrounded his creation of the Christmas classic, A Christmas Carol, and the invention of the iconic character of Ebenezer Scrooge.
Another Christmas release that has gotten good buzz is director Guillermo del Toro’s new film, The Shape of Water. And of course, there is the new Star Wars film, The Last Jedi, which is projected to break all box office records when it opens just two weeks before Christmas.


The Holiday Film Newsletter is coming soon. It’s hard to believe the year is coming to a close and with it, the film “lists” and the awards and the release of probably the best films of the year. No wonder they call it “The Crazy Season!”…Happy Thanksgiving and see you at the movies!-ML

6 Degrees: Friday Flix


This week in films, we are still reading about the fallout over a lot of the scandals that have snowballed from the Weinstein allegations. There have been rumblings for the past few years surrounding the nature of the lack of diversity in the Academy Awards and the members who choose the nominees. The small number of female directors, the female leads in film and the roles that they are offered, particularly for women who are over forty, are all controversial topics that we have covered in Six Degrees.

So the continuing saga and fallout is something that we will continue to watch. We celebrate some of the success in past years, notably the first female director, Kathryn Bigelow, to win an Academy Award. Also the first female African-American President of AMPAS, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Science is Cheryl Boone Isaacs. And Meryl Streep announced a Screenwriters Lab for Women writers over 40. All of these things mark progress, but the numbers show that it’s a long, slow uphill slog.

6 Degrees Magazine: Some of the noted articles this week feature two very strong and talented women in Hollywood, one living and one long dead. The first is Frances McDormand, and the second is the legendary Katherine Hepburn.

Articles from this past week: Frances McDormand talks in the Daily Actor about her Academy Award winning role in Fargo as well as the new movie,  Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. The film is reviewed in 6 Degrees Magazine from SF Gate. Another actor interviewed in The Daily Actor is Idris Elba, who is riding a wave and stars in the successful The Mountains Between Us.


Film Book Recommended: The book is called: Seduced by Mrs Robinson; How the Graduate Became the Touchstone of a Generation by Beverly Gray. Few born in the later decades can understand how ground-breaking films like The Graduate really were. This was a film with an anti-hero, outside of the norm of the stereotypical tall, dark and handsome leading man.  And the film dealt with an anti-establishment period in history where young people protested the Vietnam War and questioned their parents’ values and traditional culture. Another recommended article this week is: “6 Books to read before the 2018 Movie Adaptations”

There’s a review of The Pink Panther, where the critic can’t quite understand the appeal of this 1963 hit. I am one of those firmly in the category that everything Peter Sellers did was funny, so this is just another of his ground-breaking films. Although it was a traditionally directed comedy from Blake Edwards, Sellers had a unique style that lent itself to absurd moments in comedy. That appeal may have come through loudest in my favorite Sellers performance(s) in Dr. Strangelove. But clearly it’s on display in this film.

Thor: Ragnorak won the box office this past week, and the new Justice League has received some mixed reviews. Although I’m not known to be a fan of the superhero genre, there is definitely a double tier for the better films that have been made, and those that we can easily forget.

The American Film Institute is 50 years old, and celebrates in Hollywood this weekend with their annual AFI Film Fest. The American Film Institute educates filmmakers and honors the heritage of the motion picture arts in the United States. There is an AFI Catalog of Feature films that catalogs the first 100 years of this art form (I am so hopeful when I see films classified as an “art form”. Read my book to hear more on this!) The good news is the AFI Catalog is accessible online and it’s free of charge.

Recommended: Some Holiday movies are suggested in this  week’s article of films to watch on Netflix. I always recommend kicking off the season with the original black & white Miracle on 34th Street. Chevy Chase’s Christmas Vacation has become a staple in our household. Some also love Will Ferrell’s Elf, as well as A Christmas Story, and the constant appeal of It’s a Wonderful Life and the very corny White Christmas, all of which are Holiday staples.

The Nativity Story is very appealing, and is especially powerful to watch during the Christmas season. And George C Scott remains my favorite Scrooge, but there are now so many versions that you can judge for yourself, But A Christmas Carol should be part of your schedule of Holiday viewing. Jim Carrey joins the pantheon with his take on The Grinch in the live-action The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.

Opening at Christmas: In past weeks, we have run a list of films opening, from the Fall Film Newsletter as well as in Friday Flix. But Star Wars, as usual, will suck much of the oxygen out of the room for all the December debuts. One of the more intriguing aspects of the newest Star Wars entry is the introduction of a mysterious character played by Benicio del Toro. Anything that may actually shake up the predictable nature of the Star Wars saga will be welcome! For my personal pick, The Shape of Water looks intriguing, and it opens in December.

For Children: Disney’s Pixar’s Coco has become the highest grossing animated film in Mexico’s history. Although The Star is also opening, I’m not a huge fan of the idea of an animated retelling of the Christmas story. For that, I’d recommend that families watch the afore-mentioned The Nativity Story and speak to children about the actual historical times that surrounded the Birth of Christ. However, there’s a host of talent poured into this lavish animated retelling of the story with the cute Shrek-like characters that somehow converge on Bethlehem and work themselves into the story of Jesus’ birth.

Recommended from the Vaults: To rent or record, find a time to watch The Philadelphia Story, directed by George Cukor and starring Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart. This has been remade several times, with the latest version being the musical version with Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. But the Cukor film is definitely the one to watch, with the oft-seen vignette where Cary Grant pushed Hepburn down by simply shoving her in her elegant face! In today’s climate of misogyny and allegations of abuse, this may not be Politically Correct. But if anyone ever has seen Hepburn in action on film, then there’s no contest. She is one of the strongest female role models who ever worked in Hollywood. BTW, she is starring in Adam’s Rib on TCM this month, and it’s required viewing for all women everywhere. Take notes!

Recommended on 6 Degrees: Murder on the Orient Express has had mixed reviews, but the latest critique from SF Gate is a favorable one. There’s a couple of interesting articles in the magazine, one is in NPR that reviews a documentary made about Jim Carrey’s extraordinary journey into darkness when he played Andy Kaufman in Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond.

At the Movies: Lady Bird has been getting great reviews, a coming-of-age piece directed by Greta Gerwig. And Denzel Washington’s Roman J Israel, Esq. is another film that has gotten a lot of good buzz. There’s a review in Forbes of this one.

Coming Next: The Holiday Film Newsletter is coming next. Enjoy your Thanksgiving Holiday, one and all, and remember this is a good time to catch a flick, so I hope to see you at the movies!-ML

6 Degrees: Friday Flix

6 Degrees of Film

Hello to all film fans! This week we begin with the scandals that are rocking Hollywood.

Hollywood Buzz: On the Weinstein sexual harassment and abuse; the dominoes are cascading, and women are not tolerating this anymore. From the Roger Ebert site we feature in 6 Degrees magazine the piece: Why I stopped Watching Woody Allen Movies…. I have written about Allen in the past. His films are considered classics, especially many of his earlier ones. And I have a particular fondness for films like Hannah and her Sisters, which is showing on TCM this month. But over time, Woody Allen’s past behavior and the current climate have made his work toxic and his “brand” as they say, is as unpalatable as Bill Cosby’s and his ilk. So it’s not surprising to see more and more women particularly, coming out with this opinion about Woody Allen. Going forward, I don’t see anything that would turn this around. He is another sad commentary on a time long past where this behavior can just be overlooked with a wink and a nod. As Dylan told us, The Times They are a Changin.’ We have to get on board.
Casablanca Returns to theaters for the 75th Anniversary of the release of this classic. (Here is the 6 Degrees review.)
Recommended: The Florida Project has seen excellent reviews. Thor: Ragnorak has been well reviewed if you are a comic book movie fan, and for the small screen, they are screening some classic Hitchcock films on TCM this week, including Vertigo and Rear Window. At the movies, Captain Underpants is playing for kids, and The Mountain Between us with Kate Winslet and Idris Elba is recommended if you haven’t seen this one yet.

It’s time for my I’ll be the judge of that skepticism: Some of the articles on film have such overblown claims in their titles. The reason I can actually affirm this is that, unlike many who just glance at the headlines, I actually READ many of these lists that people put out as containing the best movies, the best genres, the most under-rated or over-rated films of ALL time! And I never agree with the entire list, but at times, there are some films that I do agree about when I think they’ve hit the right note. That’s why I groan at the end of the year “Best of” lists and the upcoming awards season where films are placed into categories. Rarely does any one year contain several masterpieces. And as those of us who love films agree, as time goes by, the works of many great filmmakers come to be appreciated more and more.
I believe that the film, Her is a great barometer for our times. And some of the greatest actors probably haven’t been acknowledged for their best work, which is found in films that most people have never seen! Tom Hardy is one actor I would recommend and should be on the list to binge watch his past films. Clive Owen and Russell Crowe are also great actors with filmographies containing many under-appreciated gems. (Try to rent Bent, The Sum of Us, Proof, and  I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead)
6 Degrees upcoming Holiday Films Newsletter: On the subject of lists, there are some of the children’s Christmas movies to watch with your kids recommended this week: They include: Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas from 1999; Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer from 1998, The Santa Clause from 1994; the Remake of Miracle on 34th street from 1994 and Home alone from 1990. These are a few that are fairly good, as well as Elf and the original Miracle on 34th Street, which is a true classic.
Coming Soon: Stay tuned for the HUGE avalanche of Star Wars marketing and film reviews for the December release of the next entry in the saga… Also, The Post is coming soon, directed by Stephen Spielberg and starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. The film is about the newspaper business and the history of the journalism done in the wake of the Vietnam War and the release of the Pentagon Papers.

That’s it for this week. There are some great films coming soon that we are excited about, as well as the Holiday Film Newsletter to watch for…Till then, see you at the movies!-ML

6 Degrees: Friday Flix Labor Day Edition

6 Degrees of Film


Happy Labor Day to all the Film Fans out there! We are very excited as we are ready to release the Fall Film Newsletter this weekend. There are about 52 films on the list, but much less in the final recommended pool of films to see this Fall. It’s always fun to see what’s coming around the bend. And after what can only be described as a lackluster Summer Season, there’s lots of room for improvement when it comes to Big Box Office releases. Some of the questions that we are hearing, and are asking, are part of the mix of articles and posts that we try to respond to on a weekly basis.

Just to name a few: What are the best films made to date in the 21st Century? What types of films do millennials want to see? And what is going to happen to the vast network of Hollywood studios and theatre chains that have thrived over the past decades on an expanding American audience? What do film buffs really want to know? These are the questions we try to address and to respond to each week in “Friday Flix” and in the 6 Degrees of  Film online Magazine.

This Fall, sign up for the Friday Flix at our 6 Degrees website, and you’ll find the links to the latest film reviews and the in-depth articles that we scan weekly as we look for the best of the web. Save yourself the trouble and go straight to the source!

What’s the Hollywood Buzz? Labor Day is here and the buzz is about the poor attendance at the box office and the sluggish sales. Of course, the answer always occurs to us that there is no problem when good movies abound. But the latest batch has been lackluster at best. The Films that are coming out this Fall hold some promising specimens.

The Shape of Water, Kenneth Branagh’s version of Murder on the Orient Express, the Justice League film for those who can’t get enough super-hero doses, and the big Kahuna: Star Wars- the Last Jedi are coming, just to name a few. There’s Blade Runner 2049 for geeks like me who remember the original 1983 Ridley Scott/Harrison Ford version. And some other movies are dropping that may or may not pan out.

So, depending on your taste, for Independent features, for action/adventure or comedy and romance (always lagging behind these days), there is something for everyone.

This week in 6 Degrees Magazine: Check out the TCM blog on The Wages of Fear, a great film based on a novel from 1953 called The Salary of Fear, the film is directed by Henri-George Clouzot and stars a young Yves Montand. There’s film reviews for The Hitman’s Bodyguard and Ingrid Goes West from the Macguffin film site.

A book on the wonderful actress Anne Bancroft is reviewed on the Film Comment site. Film Comment also remembers the late horror director Tobe Hooper who gave us the- if not immortal, at least the memorable “Texas Chain Saw Massacre” films. There are previews for 2017 Fall films from the Ebert site, and also previews of the Telluride Film Festival.

An interesting piece from Vox is entitled: Rotten Tomatoes, explained. There’s been some controversy of late over the RT scores having an adverse effect on box office returns. So there’s that.

And finally, we are set to prepare ourselves for the slowest Labor Day at the box office in 25 years. Just another sign of the growing influence of overseas sales, too many competing events and the drift of millennials away from the traditional theatrical experience, and, oh yes, the fact that Hollywood keeps making crappy films don’t help matters either!

The Fall Film Newsletter is coming out this weekend with a list that includes some of the more intriguing films opening this Fall. There’s the usual suspects: The sequels, some comic book genres, the kids films, the biopics, the adaptations of best-sellers and some that look like duds. There’s always one or two surprises in every batch of films that are unleashed on the public. Here’s hoping for some good surprises coming soon to a theater near you….Have fun with the Fall Film Newsletter and See you at the Movies!-ML