Blog Directory CineVerse

Lemmon appeals to the masses

Sunday, May 24, 2015

On May 27, makeplans to attend CineVerse for “Mass Appeal” (1984; 99 minutes), directed by Glenn Jordan, chosen by Pat McMahon.


No CineVerse meeting on May 20

Sunday, May 17, 2015

CineVerse will take a break and not meet on Wednesday, May 20. We will return on May 27th. 


A wolf in monster's clothing

Friday, May 15, 2015

Although it comes camouflaged in all the genre conventions and trappings of a formulaic horror film, "The Grey" is actually quite a philosophical excursion that asks deep existential questions of the viewer. Thematically rich and worthy of repeated viewings, this picture gets to the heart of what it means to be live and die as well as our place in nature. Here's what our CineVerse Group uncovered:

Man’s place in nature. The men can be seen as invaders infringing on the territory of the wolves (nature), who are simply doing what they instinctually know to defend their territory and survive. Reviewer Thomas Caldwell wrote: “The Grey is a critique of American foreign policy and military intervention, with the men from the oil drilling team representing an invading force and the wolves representing local insurgents. The wolves use their knowledge of the environment and the element of surprise to pick the men off one by one, like guerrilla forces who have changed the rules of engagement to compensate for their smaller numbers and inferior weaponry. When Diaz graphically decapitates a wolf and holds its head like a trophy while screaming at the pack, ‘You’re not the animals, we’re the animals!’ he has committed a war crime, making him worse than the enemy he is fighting against.” Director Joe Carnahan further offered: “It’s also man’s intrusion on the natural world and industry, and the fact that we’re always encroaching on this thing (nature).”
The important of maintaining dignity in the face of death and how the way we approach death says a lot about us as human beings.  Think about how the early wolf Ottway shoots dies—simple, peaceful, as part of nature.  Director Joe Carnahan said in an interview: “The very basic thesis is, ‘As important as it is how you live, it’s equally important how you die.’” Additionally, an interviewer posited “whatever these guys thought was going to happen with their death was what happened,” to which Carnahan replied, “That is absolutely a spot-on assessment.”
Fate vs. free will and self determination. Think about how one of Ottway’s group asks: “How could we survive the plane crash if it wasn’t meant to be ordained?” He is met with the response: “Ordained by who? Nah, just blind luck. Fate doesn’t give a fuck.”
Does God exist, and if not, how are we to find and salvation in both life and death? 
o “The Grey” has been called an atheistic, nihilistic, even cynical film, while others consider it very philosophical and spiritual. 
o Consider how Ottway calls out for God’s help, but soon he’s desperate and says “Fine, I’ll do it myself.” Films rarely depict atheism in such a supportive stance—they typically turn to religious beliefs as a source of strength, hope and salvation. 
o Interestingly, Ottway’s faith, if he had any before, isn’t miraculously reinstated by the end of the picture.
o Consider, too, how any characters that had faith or religious beliefs are killed. The lone survivor outlasts them arguably on the merits of his own inner resolve, intelligence, contempt for his situation, and bravery.
o Blogger Derek Murphy suggested: “The atheist, who has lost all faith in life after his wife died and was ready to kill himself just before the crash (symbolically disrupted by a wolf – the same creature who later takes his life?) has no illusions to distract him. He focuses on the here and now. He appreciates the necessity of the fray. Life is a brutish battle. Only the strong survive.”

Perhaps the moral is that life is not simple or easily understood in black and white terms; there are many shades of grey inherent in our existence.
“The Grey” could be referring to the grey wolves or the grey wilderness or Ottway’s “grey matter” in his brain. Wikipedia says grey matter includes regions of the brain involved in muscle control, and sensory perception such as seeing and hearing, memory, emotions, speech, decision making, and self-control.
Just as the color grey is the intermediate shade between black and white, “the Grey” could be the intermediary moral and existential state between good and evil, life and death, or even heaven and hell. 
If you give credence to the latter, perhaps “the Grey” is a kind of purgatory that Ottway must endure—a test he must pass before he can rest in peace. One theory is that he has already died, but he cannot transcend to “heaven” or his soul’s next state of existence until he has proven himself worthy somehow as a survivor, fighter, or resourceful person capable of redemption. Ponder the possibility that Ottway could have actually died several times throughout the film (e.g., when he attempted suicide, during/immediately following the plane crash, etc.), and that what we see in the snowy wilderness is actually him in a kind of purgatory between two worlds.  Isn’t it strange, after all, that Ottway awakens after the plane crash thrown far from the wreckage, alive and in one piece.
Caldwell further posited: “Similar to Captain Willard in Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979), and before that Charles Marlow in Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novel “Heart of Darkness,” Ottway’s physical journey is a metaphorical journey through his own soul. Many of the situations in The Grey suggest elaborate tests designed to assess his faith. Ottway may rage against God’s absence, but the cruel scenarios the men face reflect the constant presence of the insecure God of the Old Testament who constantly needs validation and evidence that his creation believes in him. The film contains symbolic moments such as a leap of faith and a deadly watery baptism, all of which test the resolve of the men and claims the lives of those who fail it. On the other hand, the Old Testament version of a harsh and judgmental God is not too dissimilar to the idea that nature is similarly unforgiving, making the film a series of punishments for the men who had the audacity to think they were the rulers of their domain when they are merely its subjects. Whether the punisher is an indifferent universe or a vengeful God, the men in The Grey suffer for their arrogance.”
Carnahan said in an interview: “It’s the grey area. It’s between life and death, this nebulous thing that you don’t really understand.”

Ottway’s flashback/memory of his wife, which could represent a kind of heaven or serene state of mind/existence—a place he’s now far removed from.
The wolves themselves, which symbolize a force of nature that is neither good nor bad, yet both beautiful and terrifying
Ottway as a Christ-like figure shepherding his flock
Ottway as an Alpha wolf/leader of the pack

John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (1982), which also depicts an extreme survival struggle in the snowy wilderness and gives viewers a bleak, ambiguous ending
“The Edge” (1997)
“Apocalypse Now” (1979) and Joseph Conrad’s story “Heart of Darkness”
Jack London’s “Call of the Wild”
The short story, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”
“Alive” (1993)

“Narc” (2002)
“Smokin’ Aces” (2006)
“The A-Team” (2010)


I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house down...

Sunday, May 10, 2015

On May 13, Join CineVerse for one of the best action survival movies of the last few years: “The Grey” (2011; 117 minutes), directed by Joe Carnahan, chosen by Jeff Kueltzo.


The wonderful "Truth"

Thursday, May 7, 2015

CineVerse's exploration of sophisticated screwball comedies came to a close, bookend-style, with a standout Cary Grant picture: "The Awful Truth," which brings our study full circle, since we began this monthly series in January with Grant's "Holiday." Here's our group's take on this classic comedy:

This is the film that truly gave Cary Grant his famous suave but sometimes silly screen persona and began his reign as the king of screwball comedies.
The subject matter is somewhat controversial for a 1930s Hollywood film: divorce and separation.  While this topic had been tackled before, the degree to which it is jovially and irreverently handled here could have raised a few eyebrows among viewers.
There's a pervasive sexual undercurrent throughout the proceedings here: backspace.  Blogger Richard Cross wrote: " There’s a lot going on under the surface of The Awful Truth, and the film’s sophistication lies in the persistent sexual subtext rather than in the characterisation of Lucy and Jerry. It’s there in the scene in which Lucy tries to prevent Daniel from passing the threshold of her apartment because Jerry is already there, hiding behind the door that seals that threshold, and poking Lucy with a pencil to make her laugh at Daniel’s earnest, but hopelessly sappy, love poem; it’s also there — and less subtly so — in the scene in which Lucy and Jerry are each escorted home on the front of policemen’s motorbikes, and Lucy begins bouncing up and down in order to sound her driver’s horn. It’s a sophisticated subtlety that modern movies lack because they’re no longer constrained by the implacable rules laid down by the 1930s Production Code, which essentially forced writers of that era to dig deep in order to express the sexual element of their stories without falling foul of the censors.”
As zany, madcap, slapstick, farcical, and silly as The Awful Truth can get, at its core it's a sensitive film with humanist sensibilities, one with undeniable depth of emotion, sweetness, and endearing charm.  And consider, for example, how romantic and quiet the end scene is, which underscores the true love and affection shared by the reunited husband and wife.
The film also feels a circular in construction, coming full circle by the end in mirroring the situation that sets the plot in motion: the movie starts with Lucy supposedly having an away from home a fair with Armand, and bands with her having an away from home affair with Jerry.  Also, Jerry and Lucy are paired with romantic opposites they aren't really compatible with, creating a love quadrangle vs. love triangle.
This is also a picture replete with metaphors and motifs, the primary ones being clocks or dials, wind, dogs and cats, music and the ability of music to cause pain (consider how Jerry and Lucy cannot make beautiful music together and are out of harmony, yet they each use music to cause the other discomfort) and doors.  Throughout the film, doors open and close literally and figuratively, suggesting the boundaries or lack of boundaries between lovers.  And
o Reviewer Ed Howard suggested the following: “Doors dictate the film's relationships. Here, the door keeps the two men apart even as it subtly connects Dunne and Grant, especially once Grant starts playfully poking her under her arms, tickling her in order to get her to laugh at Bellamy's earnest love poem. The door defines this romantic triangle and its sexual ground rules: Grant, the current husband not yet divorced, is already inside, while Dunne is trying to keep Bellamy, the interloper from outside, from, ahem, crossing her threshold (a metaphor used even more blatantly (and hilariously) by Hitchcock, in The Trouble With Harry).”
o Howard further posited, about the last scene: “The final door of importance here is, naturally enough, a bedroom door, the final degree of intimacy in the progression from entryway to guest room to boudoir.”
This movie echoes the double standard that women experienced at this time; consider how Lucy has never really cheated on Jerry, although it's possible that Jerry has cheated on her.  The former is explained and Lucy is exonerated, but Jerry's story about his trip to Florida is never fully explained.  Often in Hollywood pictures, women are forced to defend and explain themselves, while the actions of their male counterparts are often brushed under the rug.
The movie often has a loose, improvisational free-spirited feel, which plays into the rumor that director McCarey loved improvisational, impromptu acting and ad libbing; the duet between Bellamy and Dunne was supposedly unscripted.
This is considered among the subgenre of screwball comedies called "comedies of remarriage," in which couples previously married or on the brink of divorce rekindle their romance and matrimonial commitments.

The Philadelphia Story and His Girl Friday, both starring Cary Grant
The Palm Beach Story
The Noel Coward play and film Private Lives
Neil Simon’s Seems Like Old Times
Shakespeare's Much Ado and About Nothing

Duck Soup
Going My Way
The Bells of St. Mary’s
An Affair to Remember
Various shorts featuring Our Gang and several Laurel and Hardy films


Take aim at a quality film

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Don't miss Cinema Chat, the Oak Lawn Public Library's monthly movie screening and discussion event, which, on Saturday, May 9, showcases "American Sniper" (2014, 132 minutes).

This free event starts with a public viewing in the lower level theater at 1 p.m. sharp, following which a group discussion of the film will commence and conclude by 4 p.m. For more info, click here.


A fond farewell to the screwballs

In the finale to our monthly series, Sophisticated Screwballs: Masterful Romantic Comedies from Hollywood's Golden Age, CineVerse spotlights “The Awful Truth” (1937; 91 minutes) on May 6th, directed by Leo McCarey, play a movie trivia gamechosen by Joe Valente. Plus: Movie trivia game prior to the film.


Home run of a movie musical

Thursday, April 30, 2015

"Damn Yankees" may not be a household name among fans of Hollywood musicals, but it holds its own as a crowd-pleasing Eisenhower-era artifact that will get your toes tapping. While it certainly doesn't reinvent the wheel or outshine most anything by MGM's Arthur Freed unit, this little slugger can still hit for power in the charm department, even if gets picked off base here and there. Here's our scouting report, CineVerse style:

How is this film different from and similar to previous Hollywood musicals?
It’s a surprisingly spirited and lively musical, thanks to strong music and the dynamism of Gwen Verdon as Lola, despite the fact that its songs and repertoire are not as memorable as those from other classic Hollywood musicals.
Aside from the then-popular heartthrob idol Tab Hunter, the cast is not as well known; that’s because the filmmakers chose to primarily cast the performers from the original Broadway theater production.  The advantage of doing this is that they know and fit their parts well; the disadvantage is that there are no major movie stars featured in this picture.  Contemporary musical adaptations that also followed this formula are The Pajama Game, South Pacific, and Oklahoma!.
On that note, and to the movie’s credit, the casting of Gwen Verdon is a curious but correct one; she’s arguably not as attractive or glamorous as a known Hollywood starlet might have been, but she’s an excellence dancer with kinetic panache, rhythmically energetic sexuality, and undeniable screen presence.
One of the film’s secret weapons is the brilliant choreography by Bob Fosse, who also appears onscreen as a dancer.
Like other musicals of this Cold War period, Damn Yankees perpetuated a proclivity for Americana and all-American virtues, as evidenced in other big screen musicals of this era, like Oklahoma!, State Fair, and Take Me Out to the Ball Game.
Unfortunately, as can be argued about Brigadoon and some other film musicals of this period, there’s a staginess and somewhat static theatricality that pervades throughout Damn Yankees.  It simply doesn’t play very well cinematically.  The picture wastes its widescreen aspect ratio by not maximizing its compositions spatially and by keeping the camera fairly immobile.  Many critics also maintain that the acting is flat and impassionate.
Also, many feel the film fizzles out by lacking a grand finale musical number to close out the picture.
Due to censorship issues, some of Lola’s sizzle is muted; she isn’t allowed to swing and sway her hips and flout her legs as seductively as she does in the Broadway version, critics and scholars contend.  As vibrant and alluring as she is, and the codes and mores of the 1950s mandated that her sex appeal be toned down and her movements carefully edited.
Reviewer Matt Bailey summarized musicals of this period accurately: “In the late 1950s, the movie musical fell on hard times. The decade began with the genre at its incontestable peak: lavish, extravagant films like Showboat, An American in Paris, and Singin’ in the Rain were the order of the day. As the years progressed, however, movie musicals continued to be made but delivered diminishing returns. Whereas the start of the decade offered back-to-back productions by MGM’s legendary Arthur Freed crammed with astonishing song-and-dance numbers, the end and the start of the next put forward nothing but dull, widescreen vistas of obvious soundstages where singers flown in from Broadway (or worse—Hollywood actors who couldn’t sing) stood around and declaimed on love and marriage in adequate but unmemorable song. With hoofing and tapping somehow hopelessly out of fashion, the movie musical became staid and unexciting: the poor man’s punishment for not being able to see the original Broadway show.”

Other films that damn Yankees brings to mind:
The Devil and Daniel Webster
Angels in the Outfield (1951)

Other movies directed by both George Abbott and Stanley Donen:
The Pajama Game

Other films directed or co-directed by Stanley Donen:
On the Town
Royal Wedding
Singin’ in the Rain
Funny Face


Baseball meets Broadway

Sunday, April 26, 2015

With baseball sesaon now in full swing, it's only fitting that we fete one of the favorite musicals from the 1950s: "Damn Yankees” (1958; 111 minutes), directed by George Abbott and Stanley Donen, chosen by Rose Krc, which is scheduled for April 29.


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