Some Spiritual Films to Watch & Record

On this Easter weekend, here is a previously compiled list I made of ten films suggested to watch with the spiritual aspects of the filmmakers in mind. Some are surprising (Harry Potter & Star Wars), and others come from traditional religious subjects and themes. But they all hammer home the message that the spiritual nature of our lives is found not only in churches and in religious settings, but in all aspects of our existence, and in all corners of the universe-even in galaxies “Far, Far Away”….! Happy Easter from Six Degrees!

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For some, modern films have less meaning and less deeply spiritual content than films of old. Although there are many recent films that do convey deeply meaningful messages, the great films of the past have the benefit of time to preserve their spiritual themes. But too often, these classics are seen as just old movies with little to say to milennials and they don’t connect with our lives today. As with great classic books, these messages are timeless and not to be over-looked, and the spiritual content of the films endures. Here is a list of ten films-some of them familiar to us, some that are shown on television frequently, some fairly recent, but all with some spiritual message that still speaks to us.

The 3 Godfather’s from 1948 – This John Wayne film is one of the most spiritual films he made.  John Wayne stars as one of three outlaws who are transformed through the act of love. They become Godfathers by accident, as they are charged with watching over an innocent baby whose dying mother pleads with the men to protect and care for her infant. The three men, against all odds, facing sure death and agonizing hardships as they cross a desert and battle outlaws, are changed by their unselfish love for the child.

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The Wizard of Oz from 1939 – This film is not at first seen as spiritual, but it remains notable for many of us from the moment the audience sees a transformed landscape as the door opens from a black & white cinematic shot of Kansas into a new color-filled world of Oz. The transformation is a kind of metaphor for the realization of a spiritual awakening as found in Christianity and in other religions. It’s a spiritual awakening we all take part in as our eyes are opened to a new life filled with the spirit and mindfulness of being. The message is carried throughout that what lies within each of us is the only true way to our salvation…and to discover it, we need to step outside of ourselves and look within, and be grateful for the lives we have been given

Sound of Music

The Sound of Music from 1965: We need to take note that this film was directed by Robert Wise, who was a noted Film Noir director from the forties and fifties. The back shots of the scenes in the abbey give a spiritual aspect to this film that has often been dismissed as light and fluffy family entertainment. As the Mother Superior sings one of the memorable songs, “Climb every Mountain”, it serves as a metaphor for the film.

We all must endure the mountains of want and hardship, of suffering and loneliness, and we must scale them to achieve our dream. For Christians, and for other religions,  it is an act of faith in life itself, and the promise of eternal Salvation. The Baroness is depicted as so materially grounded, and such an obvious contrast to Maria, who literally has to give up everything to climb a mountain in the end, that many may look at this portion of the film as a typical ‘cat fight’ between two women and just dismiss the purpose.  However, when the film is seen in its entirety, the cinematic grandeur of the backdrop, combined with the emotional impact behind the messaging which was based on true events-a family fleeing the Nazis-we see the film as a message meant for a generational message that carries deep emotional impact.. We can look back at the spiritual moments of this film and reflect that it does leave us uplifted and feeling there is a deeper meaning here.

LadyHawke from 1985: Matthew Broderick and his talks with God set this film apart. Broderick is introduced as a thief, and we see him as the Everyman and a flawed hero.  Although the film was marketed as a love story between two doomed characters, Broderick’s thief is the one we can most identify with in this story. The spiritual nature is shown when we see there are two parts to every man, portrayed as the wolf and the hawk in the characters of Michelle Pfeiffer as the “LadyHawke” and her wolf-lover, played by Rutger Hauer. The two combine to illustrate that we are both the sinner and the redeeming healers, and the two parts are found in each of us.

H Potter & Deathly Hallows

The Harry Potter series from 2001 through 2011:  Good vs Evil are often very obvious symbols in the battle between Harry Potter and the evil Voldemort. But the theme running through the story of Harry Potter-of nothing is as it seems-found in all of the books and films, is a deeply spiritual message. The message throughout is to be careful of things that seem too good to be true. And the films tell us that we must look beneath the surface to find the true treasure within. The treasure in Harry Potter ends up being the friendships forged and the magic of Love, and the final message that Love triumphs over Evil.

 

Groundhog Day from 1993:The theme is that the ultimate power of Redemption can change everything; it brings true love and meaning to our otherwise empty lives. We see this in the character of a broken and shallow man, portrayed in one of the best roles Bill Murray has ever brought to the screen, and the life that he must forge as he begins to awaken to this new way of living. He has lived as an invisible man, choosing a non- existence and he is forced to confront his life and transform it into a richer and more fulfilling path. It is a path where he must help others and find the meaning of true love. This is the ultimate Redemption film, and one with deep Spiritual overtones.

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Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back from 1980: Not only is the Star Wars mythology of all the films deeply embedded with the symbolism of Good vs Evil; but this particular film highlights the redeeming power that comes from within; when we reject our own dark side even at a great cost.
The message is that we will prevail and come out a better person, and perhaps a different one than we were-in Luke Skywalker’s case, he even has a new limb! The Dark Side is within us all; the power of evil and darkness is all around us, a powerful force throughout the universe, but love will prevail, even with great hardships that we endure

Risen from 2016:  with Joseph Fiennes starring as the Roman Soldier. Risen is more than just a “puff-piece” regarding the nature of the Resurrection. This film explores the idea that someone can witness a miracle such as the resurrected body of Jesus, returned in the flesh; and have a transformative experience of faith, and use that power to reject the glory and the material wealth of their lives to follow the true way.

The Nativity Story  from 2006:  This is the story of the birth of Christ shown warts and all, meaning it reveals the historic timeline that puts us into the scene of where Christ was born and the harsh reality of life for those under Roman rule. The beauty of the story is captured and the simple purity of the tale of the Holy Family comes through in this version.

Marvin’s Room from 1996: We see three great actors, Diane Keaton, Leonardo Di Caprio and Meryl Streep, combine to tell the story of our own lives. It shows us the selfish nature of our existence in the character of Meryl Streep; the capricious and angry emotions that we carry in DiCaprio’s role as a young and troubled teen son, and the burdens and the joys of love in its purest form found in Diane Keaton’s part of the caregiver who is faced with her own mortality.
We are witness to all of this with the themes of love and redemption. There is love for others, in the caregivers role that Keaton has taken on, and the love for family and the love that is willing to sacrifice all in the end. It comes full circle as Meryl Streep eventually redeems herself, from a self-centered sister, daughter, and mother, she gradually learns the meaning of true love and sacrifice for others.

There are many films that give us a glimpse into the human condition, which depict the parts that make up the whole of our humanity, and these films are just a small preview of the many other movies that help us discover our own spiritual selves as we watch and process these stories from some of our greatest filmmakers.
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Holiday Film News

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Happy Holidays Film Fans! This week, we are featuring the just-released Holiday Film News,  with a few recommendations for those who want to see movies on the big screen, as well as for those who are looking for good holiday film fare to watch at home.

In the 6 Degrees magazine: An article from The Reel World is about Daniel Day-Lewis and his decision to quit acting.  There’s a look at 2018, with films headlining the Sundance film festival.  And we feature movie reviews for The Shape of Water, Lady Bird, Roman J. Israel, Esq. and Woody Allen’s Wonder Wheel.

And if you have ever wondered why all the awards and the best films of the year are all squashed into the one month, December, read the Variety article, about overcrowding the films and awards. This year in December, 32 films have been scheduled to open in 31 days. And the awards have all moved earlier too. National Board of Review and NY Film Critics announce winners in late November. SAG Awards deadline is December 10th.

It’s a problem with no solutions in site. But for the moment, enjoy the movies recommended, and till next week, see you at the movies!

6 Degrees: Holiday Film News

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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:

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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…

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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.
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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

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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

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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 Capsule Review: Beauty and the Beast

The positives in this review lie in the beauty of this film’s cinematography and costuming. There is no plot or character development to dissect. But the stand-out performer in this live action fairy tale film would be Kevin Kline, playing Belle’s father.

He is given the chance above all else to emote gentle affection and sincere dialogue with nuance and humor. Other than that, there’s little to distinguish this movie from the original animated version, other than the ability of our times to project Computer Graphic Imagery onto the big screen.

This would be an enjoyable time spent for a mother daughter duo of any age. It seems to be entertaining enough on all levels to recommend for family viewing, but from times past, this would be considered a “chick flick”.

There is a definite feminine bent, not feminist, to the portrayals and the entire illusory vision whipped up in this fable. Frozen and other animated tales in recent times have given rise to the more feminist versions of the trapped princess. And although there is nothing to object to in terms of PC standards in this portrayal of the young Belle, played solidly by Emma Watson of Harry Potter fame, there is conversely no real dilemma lying outside the constricted world of the fairy tale maiden in distress.

This is recommended for families who seek a world of escapist cinema with beautiful visuals and innocuous story lines. In that regard, this is the chick flick you may have been waiting for.

**Go See this if you are “Female seeking Escapism”.