Six Damn Fine Degrees #33: Donnie Brasco

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 has been a little forgotten, hasn’t it, that little gangster flick called Donnie Brasco (1997)? It hasn’t anything as iconic to offer as The Godfather‘s ascent to power or The Godfather: Part II‘s empty shell of a mob boss, although it does have Al Pacino at its center, too. It’s not a Scorsese-style hellride that could make us like or at least weirdly admire the hard men of organized crime we are supposed to condemn outside of a movie theater.

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #31: Talia Shire in Rocky and The Godfather

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!

Alan’s shining piece on why Shelley Duvall is the true star of The Shining, Stanley Kubrick’s masterful Stephen King adaptation, reminded me of another late ’70s star almost forgotten for the emotional impact she had on audiences while staying in the background of strong male leads – and doing it twice in the most successful and critically acclaimed films of the decade: Talia Shire in The Godfather and Rocky series of films.

Woman in the shadows, but always at the very heart of each of her Rocky outings: Talia Shire as Adrian.
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Six Damn Fine Degrees #29: The Outsider

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!

After the first two episodes of The Outsider, you might be forgiven for thinking it is meant as a meditation on relentless anguish. The cinematography alone is so bleak – if it isn’t nearly pitch black, it is almost sepia – you can almost feel the crushing weight of it, even with the sound off.

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #28: Bill Camp

I admit I am probably slightly more name-driven when it comes to picking my movies. Plus, if there is a face popping up in several different genres, I might get hooked. Bill Camp seems to pop up in very diverse movies; it is really rather ironic that, for all the various genres, he often plays an unlikable character, or at least one with an impossible task or a hidden agenda. I have never consciously seen him cheerful or happy or anywhere near exuberant. It is to his credit that I never thought of him as anywhere near typecast. Speaks to the quality of his acting.

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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.

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #16: Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

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.

If there is one film, just one, that should be seen on the big screen in unadulterated 70 mm, it has to be Lawrence of Arabia.

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Howl, howl, howl! Wolfwalkers (2020)

This will come as no surprise to those who have seen The Secret of Kells (2009), Song of the Sea (2014) and The Breadwinner (2017) by the Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon: their latest, Wolfwalkers, is gorgeous to look at. More than that, their films all have very specific visual styles derived from what they’re about, even if they’re recognisably Cartoon Saloon. I like it when animation creates an aesthetic that is emphatically not realistic, for instance the way that Pixar’s Soul did in its metaphysical spaces – and Cartoon Saloon has been great at using and combining visual styles taking inspiration from sources such as illuminated medieval manuscripts and Afghan miniature painting. In Wolfwalkers, the designers and animators evoke two different worlds by means of very different aesthetics: 17th century Kilkenny has the flattened, right-angled quasi-perspective of woodcut prints of the time, creating vistas and compositions that use depth to striking, even unsettling effect not too dissimilar from deep focus, yet always grounded in the historical style it imitates. In contrast, the woods not far from the town are depicted in a more free-flowing, rounded style, giving these places a distinctly different feel, at once more naturalistic than the stylised streets of Kilkenny and more mystical. Visually and narratively, nature in Wolfwalkers is imbued with a life and spirituality that reveals Wolfwalkers – and Cartoon Saloon’s films in general – to be kindred to the worlds of Studio Ghibli, in particular the films of Hayao Miyazaki.

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #11: Martin Landau

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.

Would you have guessed who the young and apparently artistically gifted man in the image below is? Well, reading about him in the last Six Damn Fine Degrees post by Julie, I was reminded of how often this enormously talented actor has been a saving grace and the secret star of so many movies and TV shows I love. And therefore I decided to dedicate this eleventh post to him!

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #10: Ed Wood

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.

Johnny Depp as Edward D. Wood Jr.

If there ever was a prime example of positive thinking gone awry, it has to be Tim Burton’s interpretation of Edward D. Wood Jr.

A filmmaker in the 50’s, an era of highly localized and diversified cinema where there was still a space for worse-than-B grade films, the real Ed Wood’s two best known films are Glen or Glenda and Plan 9 from Outer Space. He is most noted for being voted the worst director of all time, posthumously, in 1980. It is clear he wanted to make extraordinary movies, but lacked everything, from money to quality control to, well, competence. But they do have… personality.

Note: spoilers below…

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