Six Damn Fine Degrees #81: Heavenly Creatures (1994)

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!

Caveat: here be spoilers.

Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures begins, after a 1950s type commercial for Christchurch, New Zealand, with two young women, girls really, running through shrubbery screaming hysterically. Covered in blood, they are found by a tea shop owner. “It’s Mummy,” says one, “she’s been terribly hurt.”

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Family ties: Mare of Easttown (2021)

Honestly, if it hadn’t been for the show’s pedigree, I might not have given Mare of Easttown much of a chance. It just looked like any number of other series: a grim, drab crime story about one young woman who’s been gone for a year, another who’s found dead, and the grizzled investigator working the case. At least that investigator isn’t male for once, but then it’s not like we haven’t had a fair number of female investigators investigating the murder of other women by now. What’s to elevate Mare of Easttown over so many other grim, drab stories of violence against women?

Well, other than it being an HBO series? And the title role is played by Kate Winslet? Oh, and there’s also Julianne Nicholson, Jean Smart and Guy Pearce?

Okay, okay, streaming service: you’ve convinced me. I’ll give this a chance. Just know that it isn’t quite as easy as that to convince me. I might still watch the series and be frustrated by how much it wastes a great cast on a story that we’ve seen several dozen times already, right? Right?

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I’ll be in my trailer… watching trailers: Say it with me – “It’s not TV. It’s…”

Join us every week for a trip into the weird and wonderful world of trailers. Whether it’s the first teaser for the latest instalment in your favourite franchise, an obscure preview for a strange indie darling, whether it’s good, bad, ugly or just plain weird – your favourite pop culture baristas are there to tell you what they think.

Remember when every year seemed to see the release of half a dozen adaptations of YA novels, with bonus points if you were 1) starting a trilogy, 2) the final film of that trilogy was to be split into two films and 3) there were still people interested enough to watch the final instalment? For last Friday’s Six Damn Fine Degrees post, Mege took a look back at the YA franchise that probably fared best, apart from the media behemoth that was Harry Potter, and that in no small way because of a cast to die – or kill – for: The Hunger Games.

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iMac billionaire

It’s rather surprising to realize that Steve Jobs is a Danny Boyle movie. Boyle’s trademark is kinetic energy – his camera wants to move, to jump, pan and zoom and sometimes go wild (remember how Trainspotting hit the ground running all those years ago?). His biopic Steve Jobs, however, shows you two hours’ worth of talking heads. That is what you get when the screenplay is by Aaron Sorkin.

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Suffer the little children

I missed Monster’s Ball when it was on at the cinema, and I never really went out of my way to see it on TV. There’s no particular reason for this – except, perhaps, that there seemed to be more talk about the fairly explicit sex scene between Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton than about anything else. Okay, a good sex scene can make a film better (Don’t Look Now, I’m ogling you!), but there’d better be something beyond copulatory goodness.

Marc Forster, the director of Monster’s Ball, is one of the few Swiss people who’ve made it big in Hollywood – so big in fact that he’s now doing the new James Bond movie. He seems to be comfortable in many different genres and he gets in the good actors.

Stranger than Fiction

And yet. I wasn’t too keen on Stranger than Fiction, a film that desperately wanted to be more clever than it really was. True, Will Ferrell put in a fairly poignant performance, and I always enjoy watching Maggie Gyllenhaal, but all in all the movie felt like Charlie Kaufman Light, turning its metafictional veneer to the service of an essentially trite Carpe Diem story. And what was worse (at least for me): the book that the critically acclaimed author played by Emma Thompson was writing was drivel of the worst sort. It wasn’t even a parody of literary fiction – it was the sort of thing that a decidedly mediocre first-term creative writing student might cobble together, feeling awfully proud of himself.

Last week we watched Finding Neverland. Again, Forster’s assembled a lovely cast of actors: Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Julie Christie, Dustin Hoffman. The film is well crafted, obviously. But the story and dialogues render their work disappointingly toothless. Most of the performances are adequate, but let’s face it: it doesn’t take much to get an adequate performance from these actors. It’s more difficult to get a bad performance from them. But what can they do, when their characters can all be summarised in two sentences without being reductive?

Finding Neverland

There are small joys in both films. Dustin Hoffman is understated but great fun, both as the theatre impressario and as Stranger than Fiction’s literary critic. (I just wish he’d say what is so blatantly obvious – that the book Will Ferrell’s character is in is badly written rubbish.) And Freddy Highmore (who went on to play with Johnny Depp yet again in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) is great. Not only is his acting subtle and moving, his character is probably the only one in the film who is ambivalent, who has depth, who doesn’t fit comfortably into a well-worn cliché.

Talking of children: perhaps the strangest, sweetest sight in any Deadwood episode is that of the school children lined up behind Joanie Stubbs and Calamity Jane holding hands, walking down the thoroughfare to their new school. For a few moments, the scheming and bloodshed comes to a complete halt as the inhabitants of Deadwood come out to watch the children. I have a feeling, though, that “Amateur Night” will be the last episode of the season (and, sadly, series) that will allow for such peace and quiet. Something is going to happen, and it’s going to happen sooner rather than later. I’ve rarely seen a series that managed as well to ratch up the tension. Somehow I have the distinct impression that the title of a recent P.T. Anderson film will describe the last three episodes of the series quite accurately.

And no, I don’t mean Punch Drunk Love.