Blog Directory CineVerse

Book your plans for "Playbook"

Sunday, August 31, 2014

On September 3, CineVerse presents a decidedly different kind of romcom: “Silver Linings Playbook” (2012; 122 minutes), directed by David O. Russell, chosen by Danealle Kueltzo.

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Want to scare your kids away from drugs? Show them "Requiem for a Dream"

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Few films pack the power to scare you straight and make you think twice about indulging in the illicits like "Requiem for a Dream," Darren Aronofsky's visceral attack on the senses via cinema. Last night, our CineVerse group performed a toxicology report and deduced that this film tested positive for the following ideas:

WHAT OTHER FILMS DO YOU THINK OF AFTER WATCHING “REQUIEM FOR A DREAM”?
·       Trainspotting
·       The Basketball Diaries
·       Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
·       Spun
·       Pulp Fiction
·       Oslo, August 31st
·       Midnight Cowboy
·       Repulsion
·       Traffic
·       Drugstore Cowboy
·       Blow
·       Leaving Las Vegas
·       Days of Wine and Roses

HOW IS REQUIEM FOR A DREAM DIFFERENT FROM MANY OF THOSE OTHER FILMS, ESPECIALLY THE ONES DEPICTING DRUG USE AND ADDICTION?
·       Unlike some of those aforementioned movies, including Trainspotting, this film has a pointed agenda: to depict drug use and addiction as negative, damaging and dangerous; other movies sometimes glorify drug use and the effects of getting high.
·       This picture is unrelentingly bleak and pessimistic; in fact, it’s more akin to a horror movie than a drama or cautionary tale.
·       This film uses stylistic techniques with camera, editing, sound and music to help tell its story and to create, as phrased by Roger Ebert, “a new urgency to the drug movie by trying to reproduce, through is subjective camera, how his characters feel, or want to feel, or fear to feel.”

ARONOFSKY USES SPECIAL CINEMATIC METHODS TO TRY TO GET YOU TO FEEL AND EXPERIENCE WHAT THE CHARACTERS ARE EXPRERIENCING AND TO PROVIDE A MORE SUBJECTIVE INTERPRETATION. WHAT ARE THE SPECIFIC TECHNIQUES EMPLOYED BY THE FILMMAKER TO HELP TELL THIS STORY AND GET YOUR ATTENTION?
·       Hip-hop montage, as it’s called, which utilizes rapid cuts, similarly to an MTV video or edgy commercial. A typical movie may have 600 cuts; this film has more than 2,000.
·       Consider how the scenes and shots shorten in duration as the movie progresses, so that, near the ending of the film, we get increasingly rapidly juxtaposed shots—the effect of which is to ratchet up the tension and anxiety.
·       Long tracking shots, with the camera sometimes attached to the character so we can see and feel his/her movements and rhythm. In this way, the camera becomes more subjective.
·       Split-screen to juxtapose two or more characters and see how they’re coexisting or contrasting.
·       Time-lapse photography to quickly depict the passing of time
·       Hallucinatory images showcasing distorted visions of reality and disturbing imagery.
·       Alternation between extreme close-ups and extreme distance from the action.
·       Excellent use of sound effects and sound design to exaggerate the hollowness and fear the characters feel; consider the sounds of metal doors closing, an off-the-hook phone, and cash registers ringing.

HOW DO THE FILMMAKERS GET US TO SYMPATHIZE AND CARE FOR THE CHARACTERS, DESPITE THEIR MANY UNREDEEMING QUALITIES?
·       Through use of subjective camera; we see things through the characters eyes and become more complicit in and voyeuristic to their actions and mistakes. We get to step inside their shoes, thanks to the aforementioned techniques used, which makes it easier to root for and/or pity these people.
·       Through the smart casting of Ellyn Burstyn and the writing of her character: she functions as the heart of the movie. While we may be less inclined to empathize with her addicted-from-the-start son and his girlfriend, for example, we see how she starts out as a non-addict and is negatively transformed throughout the picture. She shows how normal people don’t start out like junkies.

WHAT THEMES ARE PUT UNDER THE MICROSCOPE IN REQUIEM FOR A DREAM?
·       Addiction and dependency, not just to drugs, but to material dreams, vanity, television, sex, sugar, and various forms of consumption.
·       How the “American Dream” of happiness is unattainable and impossible to achieve for many, especially when they pursue that dream through the mode of instant gratification.
·       We are each alone and alienated in this world—a world that can be so terrifying as to make us want to return to the womb for comfort and solace (think about the final shots of characters curling up into fetal positions).
·       The eye becomes an important symbol in echoing these themes: we see how a pupil becomes black and dilated when reality is artificially altered; and we also see how the blue color in the iris is a reflection of a blue sky, which suggests an idyllic existence of happiness and a natural state of reality at the same time.
·       Aronofsky was quoted as saying, about this film: “Requiem for a Dream is not about heroin or about drugs…The Harry-Tyrone-Marion story is a very traditional heroin story. But putting it side by side with the Sara story, we suddenly say, 'Oh, my God, what is a drug?' The idea that the same inner monologue goes through a person's head when they're trying to quit drugs, as with cigarettes, as when they're trying to not eat food so they can lose 20 pounds, was really fascinating to me. I thought it was an idea that we hadn't seen on film and I wanted to bring it up on the screen."

OTHER FILMS BY DARREN ARONOFSKY
·       Pi (1998)
·       The Fountain (2006)
·       The Wrestler (2008)
·       Black Swan (2010)
·       Noah (2014)

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Is it a "Dream," or a nightmare?

Sunday, August 24, 2014

On August 27, CineVerse will conclude its current monthly series, Pushing Boundaires: films that challenged the censors and created controversial but important works of cinematic art. Part 6: Sex and drugs and rock n' roll. “Requiem for a Dream” (2000; 102 minutes), directed by Darren Aronofsky.

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Coming soon to a CineVerse theater near you...

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Excited to learn what's on the calendar for CineVerse in September and October? Curious to know what Shocktober Theater films have been slated for the weeks leading up to Halloween? The schedule for the next two months is posted and ready for viewing by visiting http://1drv.ms/1lkq5YP

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In a class by itself

"Monsieur Lazhar" isn't your typical teacher-student type film. In fact, it's better than most movies depicting some form of classroom conflict because it doesn't try to dumb down the message or emotionally puppeteer us with overdramatic situations, dialogue or music. Here's how our CineVerse group graded this school-based picture:

THERE HAVE BEEN MANY FILMS ABOUT TEACHERS, SCHOOLS AND STUDENTS. HOW DOES THIS MOVIE APPROACH THIS SUBGENRE DIFFERENTLY AND IN FRESH, UNEXPECTED WAYS?

·       It starts out with a traumatic event; often, the traumatic event in a student/teacher film comes in act 3 or later (think Dead Poets Society)
·       As film critic Marjorie Baumgarten wrote: “This French-Canadian drama and its elegant study of grief, guilt, and recovery goes places that few films dare go. And it does so with an economy of expression that avoids the histrionics and uncomfortable sense of voyeurism that usually accompany such subject matter.” Baumgarten added that the film provides an “intelligent observation of the ways children and adults process grief.”
·       The teacher here is not some saintly model of professorial perfection; he has faults: he has trouble speaking fluent Quebec-preferred French; he’s rather old-fashioned in his approach (consider that he quotes Balzac) and in his structuring (think of his preference for desks in tidy rows); he has emotional scars and past baggage that he brings to the job.
·       The child actors cast as students here do a phenomenal job of acting, almost as if they are real students and not thespians.  

WHAT IMPORTANT THEMES ARE TACKLED IN THIS MOVIE?
·       Grief, guilt and healing
·       Barriers to communication: Lazhar doesn’t speak good French, yet he must get his students to listen and understand.
·       The difficulty in adapting to change
·       Some wounds never fully heal; it’s in our ability to keep ourselves moving forward and focused that we can cope with tragedy and pain.
·       Teachers and school staff have feelings and needs, too, not just students.
·       Film reviewer Paul Byrnes wrote: “(The director) looks at what we have lost in our desire to protect children from abuse by teachers; the price students can pay for having powers they are too young to understand; the blunt stupidity of school systems that value rules over flexibility.”
·       The chrysalis: this is a transformational time for the students, between two teachers (the one who committed suicide and Mr. Lazhar); he represents their chrysalis stage as pupa before they (hopefully) transform into beautiful, mature butterflies.

FILMS THAT REMIND US OF THE EMPEROR’S CLUB:
·       Dead Poet’s Society
·       Mr. Holland’s Opus
·       Goodbye, Mr. Chips
·       To Sir With Love
·       The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
·       Dangerous Minds
·       Stand and Deliver
·       The Emperor’s Club

OTHER FILMS HELMED BY DIRECTOR PHILIPPE FALARDEAU
·       Congorama (2006)
·       It’s Not Me, I Swear! (2008)
·       The Good Lie (late 2014)

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A film in a class all its own

Sunday, August 17, 2014

On August 20, CineVerse invites you to meet an unforgettable teacher: “Monsieur Lazhar” (2011; 94 minutes), directed by Philippe Falardeau, chosen by Janet Pierucci. It's a World Cinema Wednesday special direct from Canada.

Plus: stick around for a preview of the September/October CineVerse schedule.

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Still scoring 20 years later

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Twenty years since its original theatrical release, "Hoop Dreams" still packs an emotional wallop, as evidenced by its impact on our CineVerse audience last evening. Here are some of the observations our group shared about this amazing fiilm:

WHAT SURPRISED YOU ABOUT “HOOP DREAMS” AS A DOCUMENTARY?
·       It’s much longer than most documentaries (ones made for television are usually around an hour; those made for theatrical release often clock in at around 90 minutes), yet, to many, doesn’t feel too long; in fact, many wish it were longer due to its absorbing, fascinating subject matter and personalities.
·       It employs a cinema verite style; cinema verite, according to Wikipedia, “combines improvisation with the use of the camera to unveil truth or highlight subjects hidden behind crude reality.”
o   With this approach, the filmmakers are almost always invisible (although you’ll hear the director’s voice ask a subject a question occasionally) and don’t appear to shape/color/comment on what we see; of course, there is no such thing as a truly objective lens, and shot/editing choices made by the filmmakers create a biased interpretation, even if unintentional.
o   By remaining out of sight and not trying to color our perceptions, the filmmakers let us reach our own conclusions about things.
o   Consider, too, that the filmmakers didn’t know quite what they were going to get when they started filming; over the course of five years, the movie took shape based on the experiences and fortunes of William and Arthur; in other words, the filmmakers didn’t try to manipulate, shoehorn or package this concept. They simply captured, like a fly on the wall, what they saw.
o   As director Steve James said in an interview: “I want to get to a place where I can capture people’s lives in an honest way, through demystifying the whole process, through having them be comfortable with the camera…instead of trying to disappear.”
·       It follows the lives of these two kids and their families over 5 years (using over 250 hours of footage), tracing their growth, triumphs and disappointments; rarely are we afforded such a privileged view of one or two subjects over such a long period of time.
·       It’s less about basketball and more about the realities of struggling and striving in the inner city, the transition from childhood to young adulthood, and life for underprivileged people in the United States.
·       It doesn’t try to utilize flashy camera moves, snazzy graphics or animations, or edgy editing techniques to tell its story; it tells a linear story, and lets its subjects speak for themselves and tell their own stories.
·       It doesn’t attempt to introduce, showcase or explain every major event in William and Arthur’s lives; for example, we suddenly see that William has a girlfriend and a baby; they aren’t introduced earlier.
·       Nevertheless, the filmmakers seem to be present to capture everything of importance, even the small moments that turn out to be important later. This speaks to the diligence and commitment of the filmmakers to constantly film and be available.
·       As essayist John Edgar Wideman said in his Criterion Collection essay on the film: “Editing, mediation are inevitable when constructing a narrative drawn from hundreds of hours of tape. The final cut of Hoop Dreams, however, seems not based on assumptions the filmmakers formed before they encountered the actual lives of their subjects but a story that evolved naturally as footage accumulated. A sense of gradual, dramatic revelation, of complicity in lives unpredictably unfolding, is achieved, in spite not because of the camera’s intervention.”

WHAT IS THE IMPACT AND LEGACY OF HOOP DREAMS?
·       It was one of the first feature-length films shot completely on video, which created a fresh, cost-effective formula for producing non-fiction movies.
·       After the film didn’t get an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary of 1994, the controversy of this oversight led to the eventual formation of the Academy’s special Documentary Branch; this branch is much more experienced and suitable for judging documentaries.
·       Hoop Dreams was voted the greatest documentary of all time in a 2007 poll by the International Documentary Association, and ranked the 17th greatest doc of all time by Sight & Sound magazine.
·       The film was named to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry, underscoring its importance to the history of American cinema.
·       By grossing $8 million at the box office, this movie proved that documentary films can be commercially successful and worth pursuing.

OTHER FILMS BY DIRECTOR STEVE JAMES
·       Prefontaine
·       Stevie (documentary)
·       30 for 30 episode “No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson”
·       The Interruptors (documentary about Chicago homicides)
·       Head Games (doc about sports-related head injuries)
·       Life Itself (forthcoming doc about Roger Ebert)

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Nothing but net

Sunday, August 10, 2014

On August 13, make plans to attend CineVerse for one of the finest documentaries ever created: “Hoop Dreams” (1994; 170 minutes), a stirring and inspirational account of two young boys striving for basketball greatness, directed by Steve James, chosen by Tom Nesis.

Note: due to the long runtime of the film, CineVerse will start promptly at 6:45 p.m. and conclude at 10:15 p.m. this evening to allow enough time for discussion.

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A candid conversation about "The Conversation"

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Francis Ford Coppola's "The Conversation" is chock full of crunchy nuggets of content--including cultural context, themes and symbols that leave the viewer satiated. Our film group devoured this 40-year-old feature with delight, and came up with these observations:

DESPITE THE FACT THAT IT WAS NOT A BOX-OFFICE HIT, HOW WAS THIS FILM INDICATIVE OF THE TIME PERIOD OF ITS THEATRICAL RELEASE AND REFLECTIVE OF THE MOOD OF THE COUNTRY AND EVENTS AFFECTING IT?
  • Americans were growing more suspicious of authority and distrustful of government in the wake of Watergate (in fact, the Watergate cover-up was exposed just prior to this film’s release), the Vietnam War, the Warren Commission findings and the assassinations of major leaders
  • There was a pervading, brooding sense of paranoia and cynicism in the culture, and conspiracy theories were becoming more popular to explain political mysteries
  • Many Americans felt helpless to affect change and ignorant of what might really be going on
·       This is one of a number of dark, brooding, pessimistic thrillers that examined themes of paranoia, corruption, and disillusionment in the 1970s; other examples include:
    • Executive Action (1973)
    • Day of the Dolphin (73)
    • The Parallax View (1974)
    • Chinatown (1974)
    • Three Days of the Condor (75)
    • All the President’s Men (1976)
    • Capricorn One (77)
    • Winter Kills (79) 
WHAT’S UNIQUE ABOUT THIS PICTURE AS A SUSPENSE FILM/POLITICAL THRILLER?
·       It relies on very little action: most of the plot involves watching Harry eavesdrop on people.
·       Other thrillers typically include chases, explosions, sex, violence, etc. to keep your attention.
·       The villains in this story (some anonymous corporation) remain primarily out of sight; the bad guys prove to be enigmatic, elusive and difficult to pinpoint.
o   Essayist Megan Ratner wrote: “An often neglected aspect in discussions of America in the 1970s is the shift in corporate identity. No longer were businesses merely commercial entities – they began to be individualized. Brands and the corporations behind them started to take on aspects of personality, the marketing ever more sophisticated. Sharing a Coke and wearing Levi’s jeans became more than just soda and dungarees: it was a way of life, a corporate dogma. And the corporation as grand manipulator is at the very center of The Conversation.”
·       In keeping with its voyeuristic themes, many of the shots are composed and staged from a voyeuristic point of view.
·       It has the DNA of a horror film, with its taut suspense, amorphous villain, and grisly murder elements.

WHAT IS CURIOUS, DIFFERENT AND UNIQUE ABOUT HARRY CAUL AS A MOVIE PROTAGONIST?
  • He’s actually not very good at his craft. As Roger Ebert put it: “Here is a man who is paid to eavesdrop on a conversation in a public place. He succeeds, but then allows the tapes to be stolen. His triple-locked apartment is so insecure that the landlord is able to enter it and leave a birthday present. His mail is opened and read. He thinks his phone is unlisted, but both the landlord and a client have it. At a trade show, he allows his chief competitor to fool him with a mike hidden in a freebie ballpoint. His mistress tells him: ‘Once I saw you up by the staircase, hiding and watching for a whole hour.’” Additionally, his actions may have resulted in the deaths of a mother and child. And throw in the fact that he’s a hunter who has become the hunted; a surveillance man who is now being watched and bugged himself.
  • He’s a bland, quiet, lonely, anonymous man who has very little to distinguish him as distinctive, other than his saxophone and jazz records.
  • He’s fixated on maintaining his privacy, yet ironically works as a wiretapper invading other people’s privacy.
  • He’s fittingly named: “Caul” means the membrane that enwraps a fetus, and also mean’s a spider’s web.
    • We “Caul” like images of various sheets, opaque surfaces and membranes throughout the film: consider Harry’s see-thru raincoat, the plastic curtain inside his office, the telephone booth he stand inside, the glass partition separating the hotel balconies, and the shower curtain.
WHAT THEMES ARE ESPOUSED IN “THE CONVERSATION”?
  • Privacy, and the limits to which we can enjoy and assume it. Coppola was quoted as saying: “I wanted to make a film about privacy using the motif of eavesdropping and wiretapping, and centering on the personal and psychological life of the eavesdropper rather than his victims. It was to be a modern horror film, with a construction based on repetition rather than exposition, like a piece of music. And it would expose a tacky, subterranean world of wiretappers: their vanities and ethics."
  • Guilt, and the extent to which we are personally responsible for the well-being of others through our actions, even if we don’t intend them harm.
  • The dangers of relying too much on technology. This story has been called an “Orwellian morality play” in which technology is employed against the person using it. 

OTHER FILMS THAT YOU MAY THINK OF AFTER WATCHING “THE CONVERSATION”
·       Enemy of the State, which also features Gene Hackman
·       Antonioni’s Blow-Up, which has a similar plot that focuses on photography instead of sound recording
·       Brian De Palma’s Blow Out, which also spotlights a sound recordist protagonist involved in a murder conspiracy
·       Hitchcock’s Psycho, which also depicts the murder of a woman in a hotel and the flushing of a toilet as a small plot point
·       Chinatown, released the same year and featuring a similar backstory in which the main character is haunted by the consequences of his actions that occurred years ago in another locale.
·       Serpico, which delved into similar themes of corruption.

OTHER FILMS DIRECTED BY FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA
·       The Godfather trilogy
·       Apocalypse Now
·       The Outsiders and Rumble Fish
·       The Cotton Club
·       Peggy Sue Got Married
·       Bram Stoker’s Dracula
·       The Rainmaker

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