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"The innocent will be punished with the guilty..."

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Long before "A Few Good Men" suggested a few inconvenient truths, including truths we "can't handle" (like the fact that the dirty work that some men do in the military isn't so easy to swallow yet keeps our country safe), "The Caine Mutiny" was making this finer point via the morally complex conundrum involving Captain Queeg. Backed by an admirable roster of actors and a Pulitzer Prize-winning story penned by Herman Wouk, this picture works on many levels. In the court of public opinion, CineVerse gives you exhibit A, B, C, etc.:

WHAT MAKES THIS FILM STAND OUT? WHAT’S MEMORABLE ABOUT IT?

  • It’s more of a morality tale and a psychological drama than a war combat or war action picture. 
    • Bluray.com reviewer Martin Liebman wrote: that the movie places “absolute reliance on story over raw action and kinetic activity. The picture plays with a understated fa├žade and a pace that's "slower" than even that employed by more modern films with a similar premise…There's no need for flash in The Caine Mutiny…audience members will find themselves too engrossed in the plot and the characters to realize that the movie lacks that visceral pizzaz so often employed to distract from, rather than add to, a plot. The story's primary dynamics deal more in mental and emotional exercises, anyway; this is the story of people who must face a drastic change in routine in a time already defined by great stress, and have those pressures exponentially increased when it becomes apparent that the man under whose command they fall may not himself be up to performing his duties with the capability and capacity the situation demands.”
  • It functions as many types of movie in one: a war movie, a courtroom drama, a psychological thriller, and a period piece.
  • The filmmakers do a good job of immersing us aboard the Caine and making us feel like we’re part of the crew.
  • The cast is deep and rich with character actors and notable names.
MANY CHARACTERS PLAY ARCHETYPAL ROLES. CAN YOU CITE EXAMPLES?
  • Queeg plays the authority figure: a seemingly indomitable force whom all the other characters revolve around. He also serves as the villain, yet a morally complex one.
  • Maryk stands as the reluctant hero, someone in whom we place our trust but who faces a true moral conflict and who has reservations about taking over command.
  • Keefer represents a catalyst—a force that changes the story and sets events in motion; he’s also a betrayer, the de facto cynic and somewhat of a comic relief; he thwarts Queeg, but he’s also upsetting Naval trust and tradition.
  • Keith is a surrogate for the audience, representing our eyes and ears among the crew and a witness to what happens. He functions as a Starbuck of-sorts for this story.
  • Greenwald serves as the story’s conscience. DVD Talk reviewer Jamie S. Rich wrote: “He's the one who recognizes all of the pieces on the chess board and calls them out for the complicity they had in what occurred onboard the Caine. Without him, the case of Queeg vs. crew would appear to be cut-and-dried. After the trial is over, however, he drunkenly brings the hammer down on the self-satisfied victors, raising questions about loyalty, courage, and the true meaning of duty.”
NOTABLE THEMES IMBUED IN THE CAINE MUTINY:
  • The need to do the right thing under duress, which can be incredibly challenging and produce harsh consequences.
  • Exploring the nature of courage and conviction.
  • The meaning of discipline as a code of conduct; one officer has to have the discipline to overrule his captain and take command when he feels like lives are at stake.
  • You can’t handle the truth. Rich wrote: “Greenwald makes a compelling argument about the necessity of men like Queeg, what they are asked to do, and what he and the other men involved were occupied with while Queeg was doing it.”
  • Yin and yang, as symbolized by the two metal balls Queeg handles. According to Wikipedia, “In Chinese philosophy, yin and yang describes how seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world, and how they may give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another.” It’s a concept that suggests dual natures, which Queeg has. 
OTHER MOVIES THAT THE CAINE MUTINY MAKES YOU THINK OF:
  • Mutiny on the Bounty
  • Mr. Roberts
  • Run Silent, Run Deep
  • A Few Good Men
  • Tunes of Glory
  • Crimson Tide
OTHER FILMS BY EDWARD DMYTRYK:
  • Crossfire
  • Murder My Sweet
  • The Young Lions
  • Raintree County
  • Warlock

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The strawberry statement

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Humphrey Bogart and an all-star cast beckon you to join them for CineVerse on May 23, when the main attraction will be “The Caine Mutiny” (1954; 125 minutes), directed by Edward Dmytryk, chosen by Jim Doherty.

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CineVerse moderator returns to the Classic Film Jerks podcast

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Erik Martin, your friendly neighborhood CineVerse moderator, was recently asked to return as a guest for the newest episode of the Classic Film Jerks, a free podcast hosted by movie fans Michael DiGiovanni and Andrew Bloom. Every month, Michael and Andrew watch a different classic movie they've never seen before and then discuss it to decide if that film is worth all the "classic" hype heaped upon it. They pride themselves on being everyman Joes--not movie snobs or cinema eggheads--and use ample amounts of humor to make for a fun and engaging hour-long episode each month.

In May, the Jerks have chosen a flick I nominated--"High Noon" (1952), one of the all-time great westerns. Together, we explore what makes this movie tick (pun intended) as well as what doesn't stand up so well 66 years later. To hear the episode, click on the image below or visit tinyurl.com/highnoonjerks.

Erik first joined the Jerks in early 2017 to chime in on the Marx Brothers' "Duck Soup." You can hear that episode by visiting tinyurl.com/ducksoupjerks.

CineVerse encourages you to subscribe to their free monthly podcast via Stitcher or iTunes or access past episodes on demand at stitcher.com/podcast/atomic-geeks/classic-film-jerks. Erik's been a faithful listener for 5 years and can vouch for the show's high entertainment value.

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Songs in the key of strife

Thursday, May 17, 2018

It's heavy stuff, but if you can take the emotional wallop packed into Ingmar Bergman's "Autumn Sonata," you'll be rewarded with an intimate look at a troubled relationship between a mother and daughter and fantastic performances from Ingrid Bergman and Liv Ullmann. Such was the consensus reached among our CineVerse attendees at last night's meeting, who also came to the following conclusions:

WHAT IMPRESSED YOU OR STOOD OUT AS MEMORABLE OR INTERESTING ABOUT THIS FILM?

  • The casting. Arguably, Ingrid Bergman is perfect to play this neglectful mother character; consider that she left her husband and daughter behind when she ran off with director Roberto Rossellini, and didn’t see her daughter for several years.
    • Criterion Collection essayist Farran Smith Nehme wrote: “Playing Charlotte meant tapping into her own choices and the reams of newsprint from the 1950s accusing her of being unfit for motherhood. And there’s another tidy irony here, one that would scarcely have escaped her director’s notice. Ingrid Bergman’s American stardom began with Intermezzo: A Love Story (1939), a remake of her Swedish hit. She plays a pianist who falls deeply in love with a married violinist played by Leslie Howard . . . and gives him up for the sake of his child.” 
    • Liv Ullmann is also fittingly cast in this role, being that she fathered a daughter with Ingmar Bergman and had expressed shortcomings as a wife and mother. 
  • Knowing that director Bergman was neglectful of his many children, partially due to his busy schedule as a filmmaker, this film could have been his attempt to show both sides of the story—that of the abandoned child and that of the artist pursuing his or her life’s work at all costs. 
  • The film opens and closes, strangely, with Eva’s husband Viktor breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience about his wife Eva; this arguably makes Eva a more sympathetic character yet also a complex one who doesn’t seem to love her husband much if at all in return. It also makes Viktor a surrogate for the audience who observes the relationship between Eva and Charlotte. 
  • It’s a credit to the filmmakers and the actors that both Charlotte and Eva can be sympathetic characters, or at least deserving of our understanding or empathy. It’s important that there be a balance here so that we can appreciate the struggle between the mother and daughter and what each represents. 
  • In the hands of a someone else, this movie would likely have been ponderous, pretentious, melodramatic and too depressing. But, according to Slant Magazine reviewer Chuck Bowen: “Autumn Sonata offers a parade of miseries that would be absurd in a lesser filmmaker’s hands, but what Bergman’s imitators have never entirely grasped is his sensuality, his tenderness and even his sense of humor; they only respond to the unhappiness, which they regard as offering piercing truth rather than metaphor…Bergman shines a light of hushed awe on his characters. At his best, and the first half of Autumn Sonata is as good as anything he ever made, the filmmaker achieves a transcendent empathy.” 
THEMES EXPLORED IN AUTUMN SONATA:
  • Art vs. family. Charlotte pursues the former at the expense of the latter, and Eva treasures the latter at the detriment of the former. “When Bergman shows repeatedly that Charlotte does not know what it is to be a mother, he is also showing that neither does Eva understand what it is to be an artist,” wrote Nehme. 
  • Using words and/or music to communicate. Blogger Norman N. Holland wrote: “The mother uses music to hurt the daughter; the daughter uses words…to hurt the mother. The whole film rests on dialogue, but then there are those powerful close-ups of faces (Bergman’s art). Music and film represent art, and words represent human love (or the failure of love), and the two spheres are, in Bergman’s work, utterly separate and antagonistic. This is a film about words and music and how the words don’t always go with the music.” 
  • Life imitates art. Consider that this film is structured like the four movements of a classical sonata, which is defined as “a composition for an instrumental soloist, often with a piano accompaniment, typically in several movements with one or more in sonata form.” According to conductor Tobin Sparfeld, “Sonatas are usually based in one key, or tonal center. They begin in that key and return there at the end. Most sonatas have three movements (fast-slow-fast), though some have four.” 
  • Finding identity through your life’s passion. For Charlotte, her identity revolves around being an artist; for Eva, she identifies with being a nurturer—of her disabled sister, husband, and dead son. 
  • Death, which is omnipresent throughout this film; think about the death of Leonardo and Erik, the condition of Eva’s sister, and the eventual death of Charlotte, who is getting on in years. 
  • Physical touch, which is shown or suggested repeatedly in this movie in the form of hugs, embraces, cheek stroking, and more. 
  • The fleeting nature of time. Bergman likes to show lots of clock faces and suggest the passing of many years, standing as a chasm between mother and daughter. 
  • Love. “This whole film is about love and attempts at love and the failure of love. The characters talk and talk about love, notably when Viktor tells Charlotte that Eva has told him she is incapable of love (presumably, because she had no mother-love as a child). 'I was quite ignorant of everything to do with love,' presumably because her parents never touched her,” wrote Holland. 
MOVIES THAT “AUTUMN SONATA” MAKES YOU THINK OF:
  • Now, Voyager 
  • Imitation of Life 
  • Mr. Skeffington 
  • A Dream of Passion 
  • Interiors, September, Hannah and Her Sisters, and Crimes and Misdemeanors by Woody Allen 
  • The Piano Teacher 
  • ’Night Mother

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A double shot of Bergman

Sunday, May 13, 2018

World Cinema Wednesday returns to CineVerse on May 16, when we'll watch and talk about “Autumn Sonata” (1978; 94 minutes), directed by Ingmar Bergman and starring Ingrid Bergman, chosen by Dave Ries. Plus: Enjoy a trailer reel of important works by Ingmar Bergman.

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"I'm the bad guy?" Yeah, pretty much...

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Viewed 25 years after its release, in the modern age of increasingly alarming gun massacre, road rage and domestic violence incidents, the film "Falling Down" can feel like a cautionary tale warning viewers of the future about the ticking time bomb nature of marginalized men easily triggered by societal pressures. While the movie has its flaws and detractors, it can still feel disturbingly relevant today. Last night, CineVerse attempted to dismantle this explosive device by taking it apart and studying its design. Here's what we discovered:

WHAT STUCK WITH YOU AND RESONATED, OR FOR THAT MATTER FELT UNRESOLVED, AFTER VIEWING THIS PICTURE?
  • This was definitely a time capsule movie of its time and place, set in Los Angeles—the setting of the Rodney King beating and subsequent race riots that happened a year earlier. Los Angeles was considered by many a tinderbox of racial animus around this time.
  • Some have theorized that the darkness of Foster’s character is what was simmering in many white older males at this time, which gave fuel to the right wing news media that tapped into these angers and fears.
    • LA Weekly writer April Wolfe wrote: “This film is a prediction of what the ’90s would birth: Toxic, indiscriminate white male rage and what would become the Fox News generation. Today, Falling Down remains one of Hollywood’s most overt yet morally complex depictions of the modern white-victimization narrative.”
  • The filmmakers have to walk a fine line here between seeming to condone and sympathize with Foster and criticizing his actions. Some critics argued that Foster is depicted as an everyman most viewers can identify with, and that they play it both ways and want Foster to be both a villain and a hero; their retort is that this doesn’t work because you can’t have it both ways. 
    • According to Washington Post reviewer Hal Hinson: “It's a nifty little switcheroo the filmmakers pull in the movie's final act. First, they turn their Everyman into an avenging angel, then point a condemning finger at us for rooting for him. It also turns out that D-FENS isn't as much of an Everyman as he was first made out to be. It seems that he had a history of violent behavior, and so instead of being a movie about an average guy who snaps, ‘Falling Down’ is about a nut case pretending to be an average guy who snaps.”
    • Others believe that Foster is a classic antihero who you want to root for but who possesses many negative traits that give him plausible, credible shades of gray.
    • Consider that Foster inflicts violence upon minorities in the film, which was considered racist back in 1993 to many viewers and quite likely even more so today.
  • Seeing through a filtered lens. Foster’s iconic browline glasses, popular in the 1950s and 1960s, become a symbol for an outdated world view. The fact that he wears these Cold War-era glasses suggests a lot about what Foster represents. 
  • Blogger Preston Fassel wrote in his essay: “Falling Down is about the last gasp of the 1950s in the face of the savagery borne of the early 1990s recession, set at that culture’s ground zero: the gang-ravaged, at-one-another’s-throat “melting pot” of Los Angeles. While proponents of 1950s social values had been given a “second chance” in the form of the Reagan 1980s, the economic collapse that came to define the early 1990s, and the resultant societal backlash, proved to be the final nails in the coffin of mid-century Americanism as an acceptable, mainstream ideal…It’s appropriate, then, that the glasses that came to symbolize the outdatedness of the 1950s generation were chosen...Not only do they put his character into context as a “leftover” from another era, but they are literally how he sees the world: A portal which warps his environment and leaves him perceiving of life as still existing as it did during another time. And, of course, the crack that appears in his glasses partway through the film symbolizes his own fragmented and fractured vision not only of America but indeed of his own life.”
THEMES THAT EMERGE AFTER WATCHING FALLING DOWN:
  • The thin veneer that separates civilization from chaos and barbarity. Witness how many of the people Foster encounters lack courtesy, tact or civility. His patience and tolerance dissipates as he continues to experience these characters and situations. 
  • Newton’s third law: Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. The equal and opposite reaction for Foster is Prendergast, who also feels pressured, obsolete and not needed, yet has learned to deal with these pressures and conform to society. It’s a twist of fate that the one person who shows him politeness and respect is the man who eventually ends his life. 
    • Think about how similar Foster and Prendergast are: both wear short sleeve shirts with a tie; both have a daughter they can no longer see; both are, in a sense, serving their last on the job; both face rat race pressures endemic to living in a big city. Yet, when one man loses his meaning/purpose in life (Foster), another finds new meaning and purpose (Prendergast).
  • The dehumanization and depersonalization of mankind. Think about how the main character really doesn’t have a name; instead, he’s associated with his license plate, D-FENS.
  • Going home, also a metaphor for revisiting or living in the past. 
  • The fallacy or death of the American dream.
  • Class warfare, and the disparity between the haves and the have-nots.
  • Social injustice, and how your worth as a human being in society seems to be determined by your net worth. For proof, consider the scene where Foster observes a black man defined a loan due because he isn’t “economically viable.”
SYMBOLS AND MOTIFS USED IN THIS FILM INCLUDE:
  • Eyeglasses, which are an old fashioned type and later develop a cracked lens
  • The hole in the sole of Foster's shoe, suggesting a hole in his "soul"
  • London Bridge, the song about which is repeated throughout the film (underscoring the movie’s title)
  • The snow globe/horse, implying that Foster is living in a fantasy land where he wants things to be perfect
  • Signs and graffiti, which capture Foster’s attention and often provoke him
OTHER MOVIES THAT FALLING DOWN MAKES US THINK OF
  • Network
  • 8½ 
  • Death Wish
  • Do the Right Thing
  • Joe
OTHER FILMS DIRECTED BY JOEL SCHUMACHER
  • The Lost Boys
  • Flatliners
  • A Time to Kill
  • St. Elmo’s Fire

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Grown man meltdown

Sunday, May 6, 2018

On May 9, CineVerse will examine a man in the midst of a serious mental and social breakdown as we watch and discuss “Falling Down” (1993; 112 minutes), directed by Joel Schumacher, chosen by Nick Guiffre.

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Being frank about the beans

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Hard to fathom that it's been a solid two decades since the Farrelly brothers unleashed their runaway comedy hit "There's Something About Mary" upon the world. All these years later, it's irreverent impact can still be measured in modern comedy movies. We celebrated the picture's 20th anniversary at CineVerse last night by asking the following questions and discussing the following answers:

WHY IS THIS MOVIE WORTH CELEBRATING 20 YEARS LATER? WHY DOES IT STILL MATTER, AND HOW HAS IT STOOD THE TEST OF TIME?

  • It still matters because it’s still funny, arguably because it’s so politically incorrect in an era of increasing political correctness. There are no sacred cows, no situation is taboo and nothing is immune from satire. 
  • It has staying power because it works for a wide variety of viewers: men appreciate the toilet humor as well as the hotness of Cameron Diaz, and women like the romance angle and sweetness of Ted’s character. 
    • Reviewer Gary Susman wrote: “What the film revealed is that women enjoy bodily-fluid humor, too (at least if it's relevant to the story), and that guys actually like romance.” 
IN WHAT WAYS DO YOU THINK THIS FILM WAS INFLUENTIAL ON CINEMA AND POPULAR CULTURE?
  • It helped legitimize an emerging subgenre: the gross-out comedy, also called the crude comedy, which was also helped by contemporary comedy films from Saturday Night Live alums like Adam Sandler. 
    • What are some of the hallmarks of the gross-out comedy? Much of the humor comes from jokes previously considered in bad taste, including public humiliation related to bodily functions and fluids, crude sexual activity, animal hijinks or death, the conditions of special needs individuals, and more. 
  • It made a star out of Ben Stiller, who went on to a quite successful career, particularly in the following 10 years. 
  • It created a slew of imitators who tried to replicate the gross-out formula and crude teen comedy in films like American Pie, Road Trip, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Old School, Bridesmaids, and the Hangover trilogy. 
  • It also has an excellent credits/post-credits sequence, the “Build Me Up, Buttercup” number, which may have been influential on so many films today that feature post-credit Easter eggs (think of the musical number that accompanies the credits in “The 40 Year Old Virgin”). 
WHO DO YOU THINK THIS FILM APPEALED TO INITIALLY WHEN IT WAS RELEASED IN 1998, AND WHO DO YOU THINK IT APPEALS TO TODAY? AND IF THAT APPEAL HAS CHANGED, WHAT DOES THAT SAY ABOUT THE FILM’S IMPACT, INFLUENCE AND LEGACY?
  • Twenty years ago, it likely lured in teens and young adults as well as those who had seen previous Farrelly brothers comedies like Dumb and Dumber and Kingpin. 
  • Debatably, the movie has wider appeal today because it became such a word-of-mouth phenomenon in 1998 as both a theatrical must-see and a can’t miss rental at Blockbuster. I know of people in their seventies who still watch and love “There’s Something About Mary.” 
  • Consider that life is hard for a lot of us. What happens to Ted—unrequited love amid terrible trials and tribulations—can be sympathized and appreciated by many viewers, which makes this kind of an underdog story that’s easy to root for. 
WHAT ELEMENTS FROM THIS MOVIE HAVE AGED WELL, AND WHAT ELEMENTS HAVE NOT AGED PARTICULARLY WELL IN YOUR OPINION?
  • You could make a case that all the major comedy bits are still funny to some extent. Audiences still have a great capacity to laugh at others’ misfortunes and when characters are publicly shamed and humiliated, as often happens in Farrelly brothers films. 
  • Mary also stands as a pretty well-rounded and admirable female lead character who, while objectified by the males around her, has much more to offer than just a pretty face and body. 
  • Yet it’s possible many people wince and groan today when seeing characters like the mentally challenged brother or the struggles of the would-be disabled architect. As a society, we’re more sensitive about trying to maintain the dignity and respect of people with these conditions. 
DO YOU THINK THIS MOVIE WILL STILL BE WIDELY WATCHED AND CONSIDERED RELEVANT IN ANOTHER 20 YEARS? WHY OR WHY NOT?
  • Like any film, There’s Something About Mary stands at very least as a time capsule of what was funny and trendy at the time of its release—the late 1990s, in this instance. Putting the humor in context, it can probably still be funny and entertaining many years removed and for years to come. 
  • Considering the pop culture phenomenon that it was, it’s quite possible that this movie will be remembered, talked about and watched for generations to come. Buzz films and trendsetters, even the irreverent and controversial ones, often prove to have a lifespan well beyond what is predicted. 
OTHER FILMS THERE’S SOMETHING LIKE MARY REMINDS YOU OF
  • The comedies that followed featuring Ben Stiller playing a likeable but unlucky schlub, including the Meet the Parents trilogy and Along Came Polly 
  • The American Pie movies 
  • Judd Apatow comedies, including The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up 
  • Cat Ballou, which also had narrating song performances 
OTHER FILMS DIRECTED BY THE FARRELLY BROTHERS
  • Dumb and Dumber 
  • Kingpin 
  • Me Myself and Irene

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There's something about "There's Something About Mary"

Sunday, April 29, 2018

On May 2, Cineversary returns to CineVerse, when we celebrate the 20th anniversary of “There’s Something About Mary” (1998; 119 minutes), directed by Bobby and Peter Farrelly, chosen by Bob Johnson.

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