Six Damn Fine Degrees #18: Toby Jones

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness.

You know how sometimes there are these strange cases of cinema serendipity, where within a year you’d get not just one but two big films about, say, asteroids heading for Earth and teams of astronauts sent on a mission to destroy them. Or CGI comedies about ants. Or biopics about legendary Scottish freedom fighters.

Perhaps the strangest of those pairs of ‘twin films’, as the phenomenon is called on Wikipedia, is the 2005 film Capote and 2006’s Infamous, both of which told the story of Truman Capote’s writing of his 1966 book In Cold Blood. Capote received wide acclaim and won its lead actor Philip Seymour Hoffman an Academy Award. Infamous, though, was barely noticed – beyond the comparisons to the film released earlier. And this extended to the actor who played Infamous‘ version of Truman Capote: Toby Jones.

The Two Capotes
Continue reading

Six Damn Fine Degrees #17: The Hunger Games (2012)

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness.

You can dismiss it as juvenile dross, and you would not be entirely wrong, but The Hunger Games (2012) gets one thing admirably right: it is very able to balance its theme of mass media voyeurism showcasing a random group of soon-to-die game show contestants with the fact that we, the audience, are watching their imminent demise alongside the anonymous masses in the film. We are made to be voyeurs, too, not entirely against our will, and yet we are asked to side with the contestants – or victims, let’s call them, for that is what they are. And since we are not heartless, we empathize with them.

Continue reading

Six Damn Fine Degrees #15: The Talented Mr. Finney

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness.

I have yet to see his romantic performance alongside Audrey Hepburn in Two for the Road, which Matt so vividly described in last week’s post, but there has been so much evidence of enormous versatility in his career, that I wanted to dedicate my post to him (who left us only two years ago, on 7th February, 2019, just two weeks prior to Stanley Donen, director of Two for the Road). To me, he will always be the actor with that special edge – the incredibly talented Mr. Albert Finney.

Continue reading

Six Damn Fine Degrees #12: A Fish Called Wanda

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness.

One of the ironies of life is that John Cleese, responsible for some of the most (in)famously absurd sketches in Monty Python’s Flying Circus, is more renowned for his work on comparatively unadventurous, straight comedies, two of them being Fawlty Towers and A Fish Called Wanda. And yet, it’s no accident that both are revered: they’re deliciously funny and incredibly mean-spirited, yet brimming with an inimitable charm nonetheless.

Continue reading

Six Damn Fine Degrees #9: Beloved

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness.

Of all the novels that the vast majority might deem unfilmable, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, released in 1987, would make their top ten. There are movie versions of so-called difficult texts such as Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, but not yet of McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, although the rights have been sold long ago, so there might not be any unfilmable text anymore. And I have seen theatre students turn Shakespeare sonnets into short plays, so there. I am certain that Beloved would have made my list when I read it for the first time. And yet the movie exists.

Continue reading

Six Damn Fine Degrees #8: Jason Robards

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness.

It is a fact universally acknowledged that sometimes very bad films can have a surprisingly good cast. Take Chernobyl: The Final Warning, for instance, which I would have been blissfully unaware of if it hadn’t been for last week’s Six Damn Fine Degrees entry by Alan. Sure, Jon Voight has been in films that should have been delivered to the nearest trash compactor before ever seeing the light of day, but he’s also been in some stone cold classics. (No, Baby Geniuses and the Mystery of the Crown Jewels isn’t such a classic. Sorry.) Speaking of trash compactors, Chernobyl: The Final Warning also features the Death Star MVPs Ian McDiarmid and Sebastian Shaw, who memorably co-starred in Return of the Jedi as the wacky duo Emperor Palpatine and Anakin “NOOOOOOOO!” Skywalker, at least before Shaw fell foul of the original Jedi Purge and was digitally replaced by a bald, scarred, Humpty Dumpty-looking Hayden Christensen. Then there’s Annette Crosby, who played Victor Meldrew long-suffering wife for eleven years before later taking on the famous Dickensian role of “Mr. F’s Aunt” in the BBC adaptation of Little Dorrit. Seriously, though, Crosby’s no slouch, as is evidenced by her OBE for services to Drama. The cherry on top of this particular radioactive sundae, though, is Jason Robards.

Continue reading

Six Damn Fine Degrees #7: Cinematic Chernobyl

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness.

The drive from Kyiv to the exclusion zone around Chernobyl is not long. The small coach my friends and I had hired back in 2018 took us there in just over two hours. “You can watch this to pass the time,” the driver said. “Some of it was shot in the exclusion zone so you’ll get an idea as to what to expect.” And so it was that I got to see the 1991 TV movie Chernobyl: The Final Warning.

Continue reading

Six Damn Fine Degrees #6: The Ghost and the Darkness

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness.

My beloved and me got tired of the cold winter days and dark December nights and fled to Kenya. We got what we wanted: the ocean, a warm, healthy climate, and all the excursions and outings we could handle. On one safari, we took a break at some farm and were invited by the employees to have a seat on some benches. I thought that we would be told about the flora and fauna, but no such luck. We realized that we were sitting in front of a TV screen, we heard a generated cough into life, the set started to flicker and display some logo, and we gathered with some astonishment that now was movie time.

Continue reading

Six Damn Fine Degrees #5: Jerry Goldsmith – Hollywood’s golden composer

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness.

Following up on Eric’s deep space exploration of the not-so-beloved Star Trek – The Motion Picture, I was reminded of how much of what we are supposed to believe and feel about the film’s improbable plot and presumed depth is achieved by its soundtrack: the grandeur of the USS Enterprise, the viciousness of Klingon aggression or the prolonged mystery surrounding V’ger are all greatly heightened and intensified by that one composer who more than once saved Star Trek (and Hollywood!) with his music: Jerry Goldsmith (1929-2004).

Continue reading

Six Damn Fine Degrees #4: Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness.

Following on from Alan’s retrospective on the inimitable The Curse of the Cat People, we’re making the leap this time from a horror-sequel-that’s-actually-a-sensitive-drama to a sci-fi movie that’s actually not all that bad. What links both of them? Director Robert Wise, who replaced Gunther von Fritsch after Curse‘s shoot fell behind schedule. Wise went on to have a storied career as a master genre-hopping craftsman responsible for classics like West Side Story and The Day the Earth Stood Still — and a full thirty-five years after Curse, he went on to direct Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Continue reading