Blog Directory CineVerse

Filling your stocking with Christmas Hope

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Here's a holiday movie that doesn't get near the airplay and attention that yuletide favorites like "It's a Wonderful Life" or "A Christmas Story"; it's "The Lemon Drop Kid” (1951; 91 minutes), directed by Sidney Lanfield and starring Bob Hope, scheduled for Dec. 17, and chosen by Tom Nesis. Plus: join us for a preview of the January/February CineVerse schedule.

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A film that's no fraud in the thriller department

Thursday, December 11, 2014

CineVerse's examination of "The Imposter" garnered a diverse array of strong opinions and insightful reactions from group members last evening, many of whom were surprised by the power and structure of this decidedly different type of documentary film. Here's a roundup of our most salient talking points:

HOW IS THE IMPOSTER DIFFERENT FROM OTHER DOCUMENTARIES YOU’VE SEEN?
·         It uses dramatic re-enactments with actors to show you what happened, instead of relying solely on talking head testimonies.
·         It has the actors lip synch to words given by the real people talking heads.
·         It features archival footage from TV news as well as pop culture video snippets from shows like “Kojak”
·         It uses a few pop songs, including “Listen to the Music” (Doobie Brothers) and a tune by Cat Stevens
·         Even though it’s rehashing news that occurred years earlier and that may be known to some viewers, it tries to tell its story in a fresh, revealing way as if this was a never-told-before tale
·         The major talking head, and a major coup for the filmmakers to obtain, is Bourdin himself

THE FILM FORCES US TO ASK SEVERAL KEY QUESTIONS TO RATCHET UP THE TENSION AND BUILD SUSPENSE FOR THE VIEWER. WHAT ARE SOME OF THESE QUESTIONS?
As posed by Urban Cinefile reviewer Louise Keller:
·         Why would a 23 year old dark haired man with a French accent want to assume the identity of a missing boy seven years his junior?
·         What of the story of military sexual and physical abuse?
·         How does this man know of Nicholas' disappearance?
·         How can he fool the boy's family on the other side of the world? Or do they want to be fooled?
·         Is it human nature to want closure on the disappearance of a loved one?
·         Or is there another reason why they are quick to embrace him?

WHAT ARE THE MAJOR SURPRISES AUDIENCES EXPERIENCE WHILE WATCHING “THE IMPOSTER”?
·         We are shocked to discover that Bourdin fools the Spanish authorities as well as the family and is taken home to America.
·         We are awestruck at how Bourdin is able to be so accepted in his new role within the family and surrounding community.
·         There’s a major twist: suddenly, it’s possible that the family has murdered the real Nicholas and has accepted the imposter to cover up that crime.
·         Bourdin’s real identity is finally revealed, and we learn more about his past and possible motivations for attempting this deceit.
·         Consider that the only person who really suspects Bourdin is the private detective hired by a TV news show; this man wasn’t even assigned to investigate what he uncovers.

CONSIDERING THE HARSH TRUTH THAT THE REAL NICHOLAS IS NEVER FOUND, DO YOU BELIEVE, AS SOME CRITICS DO, THAT THIS MOVIE EXPLOITS ITS SUBJECT AND THAT THE FILMMAKERS ARE INSENSITIVE TO THE REALITY THAT A 13-YEAR-OLD BOY STILL REMAINS MISSING?

DOES THIS FILM REMIND YOU OF ANY OTHERS?
·         The Chameleon (a dramatic non-documentary adaptation of this story released in 2010)
·         F for Fake
·         Catch Me if You Can
·         The documentary Capturing the Friedmans

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Catch him if you can...

Sunday, December 7, 2014

You won't want to miss CineVerse on December 10, as we examine one of the most compelling documentaries ever made: "The Imposter” (2012; 99 minutes), directed by Bart Layton, chosen by Brian Hansen.

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Maestro Milos makes a masterpiece

Friday, December 5, 2014

Milos Forman pulled off a challenging task in taking the story about a classical composer and making it cinematically vibrant and relevant for contemporary audiences. Indeed, "Amadeus" stands up, 30 years later, as a riveting interpretation of Mozart's life and passion. Here is some conclusions our CineVerse group reached on this picture:

WHAT IS INTERESTING AND UNEXPECTED ABOUT THIS FILM?
·         The way it depicts a genius like Mozart as very coarse, vulgar, childish and human.
·         It’s actually more of Salieri’s story, with him serving as the narrator and telling the story in flashback; this is almost like a psychological confessional, as if he were the patient on the couch and we were the therapist listening to his secrets.
·         This is not meant to be historically accurate: for example, it is widely believed that Mozart died of rheumatic fever; here, Salieri is suggested to be a revenge-driven snake with murder in his heart. Yet, the fact that the story is told in flashback by an older and possibly insane narrator lets the filmmakers off the hook—he is not necessarily a reliable narrator.
·         The casting of Tom Hulce, perhaps best known prior to this for appearing in “Animal House,” was a surprise to many; he pulls off the role quite well, perhaps because he has an impish, boyish face and no haughty English accent—making Mozart more likeable and identifiable to viewers.
·         The movie doesn’t look or feel like a stodgy, traditional biopic or historical costume drama in its cinematic approach: it employs fast cuts, clever editing, and complex flashback-infused storytelling to tell its fairly chronologically progressive but also unconventionally nonlinear story.

WHAT THEMES ARE AT WORK IN AMADEUS?
·         Cain vs. Abel:  this is a tale about a good seed contrasted against a bad seed who is jealous and harbors evil thoughts
·         The struggle of the superego (Salieri, who is bound by convention and tradition) vs. the id (Mozart, who follows his base instincts but also doesn’t feel confined by what is expected of him in society or musically)
·         The conflict between Apollonian and Dionysian elements: the former follows measured restraint and tact (Salieri) while the latter pursues hedonistic ecstasies. In this way, Mozart is Salieri’s alter ego, personifying al the desires, talents and passions that Salieri lacks; conversely, Salieri has the manners, respect and modesty and gift for diplomacy that his rival lacks.
·         This is a study in many contrasts:  between genius and mediocrity, passion and sobriety, light and dark (consider how Mozart has light hair and is often shown in the light, while Salieri dresses in darker garb)

FILMS THAT AMADEUS REMINDS US OF:
·         Immortal Beloved
·         A Song to Remember and Impromptu, both about the composer/pianist Chopin
·         Eroica
·         Mahler
·         Shine
·         Lisztomania

OTHER FILMS BY MILOS FORMAN
·         One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
·         Ragtime
·         The  People Vs. Larry Flint
·         Man on the Moon

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Mozart and the movies make beautiful music together

Sunday, November 30, 2014

On December 3, CineVerse will celebrate the 30th anniversary of “Amadeus” (1984; 180 minutes; director’s cut), directed by Milos Forman and chosen by Joe Valente. Note: due to the extremely long runtime of this film, we will start our meeting at 6:45 and conclude at 10:15 p.m.

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No CineVerse meeting on Nov. 26

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Family comes first, which is why there will be no CineVerse meeting on Nov. 26. Enjoy your Thanksgiving holiday.

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An exercise in eye candy indulgence

Thursday, November 20, 2014

"To Catch a Thief" may not be among the pantheon of Hitchcock masterpieces, but it's still quite an entertaining romp filled with beautiful people and deliciously naughty dialogue for a mid 1950s flick. Here's what our CineVerse group concluded about this minor classic from the Master of Suspense:

WHAT IS NOTABLE, DISTINCTIVE AND DIFFERENT ABOUT “TO CATCH A THIEF”?
·       It’s visually a very rich, colorful, sumptuous and attractive movie, filled with pretty faces, picturesque locales, elegant costumes, and decadent indulgences (food, jewelry, etc.), all showcased in Technicolor and widescreen Vista Vision—the latter was one of the newer widescreen formats introduced in the 1950s
·       It’s a very sexually playful film replete with double entendres, coded sexual symbolism in the visuals, and suggestive body language and expressions—perhaps the naughtiest Hitchcock ever got when it came to being sexually playful and suggestive.
o   Consider the scene where Grant asks Kelly “do you want a leg or a breast,” or when Kelly asks, “Tell me, how long has it been?” “Since what,” Grant replies. “Since you were in America last,” Kelly says.
o   There’s also the famous sequence where Kelly says “If you really want to see fireworks, it’s better with the lights off. I have a feeling that tonight you’re going to see one of the Riviera’s most fascinating sights. I’m talking about the fireworks, of course.” We then see them kiss as fireworks explode outside, insinuating a sexual climax between them.
o   There are ample references to “lumber” (a metaphor for male genitalia), “diamonds/necklaces” (metaphor for Francine’s breasts), and teasing sexual innuendos throughout. There’s even a hilarious shot where a crippled waiter sees Cary Grant and is (subconsciously) so awestruck by Grant’s attractiveness that he pops a champagne bottle cork and spills the contents, suggesting a climax—not just any male orgasm, but the power of Grant to even make an impotent (i.e., possessing a wooden leg) man climax!
o   This was regarded as a particularly troublesome movie by censors at the time, what with its metaphors for ménage a trios, multiple orgasms and suggestions of “unusual” sexual acts.
·       Arguably, this is lightweight Hitchcock, as, compared to so many of his other pictures, the tone here is much lighter, the plot is not as meaty or interesting, the macguffin Hitchcock employs here is simply the identity of the thief, and there really isn’t much suspense built beyond our waiting for the two protagonists to make whoopee with each other and relieve the romantic tension.
·       Film critic Peter Bradshaw remarked: “Hitchcock's superbly insouciant crime caper from 1955 must surely be one of the last movies in which the American super-rich are indulged so extravagantly and adoringly – the kind of people who stub their cigarettes out in fried eggs.” Likewise, reviewer David Krauss posited: “'To Catch a Thief' is the apex of style and personification of cinematic chic. Never before had a Hollywood movie showcased a European locale with such authenticity, and by thrusting us into the rarefied world of the ultra-rich, Hitchcock succeeds in presenting the ultimate escapist fantasy.”
·       Grant—as he is in “North by Northwest”, and as James Stewart is in “Rear Window” and “Vertigo”—is much older than his costar and her character, yet it’s fitting that the actor and character are this age, as Grant was considering retiring from acting at this time, but Hitchcock talked him out of it, and his character also is coming out of retirement.

HOW IS “TO CATCH A THEIF” SIMILAR TO OTHER HITCHCOCK PICTURES?
·       It employs the theme of “the wrong man on the run,” an innocent man accused of a crime who is pursued by the police or other party.
·       Grace Kelly is the perfect embodiment of one of Hitchcock’s favorite tropes: the icy blonde who oozes elegance and sex appeal.
·       Film reviewer Alex Young wrote: “Hitchcock’s use of the camera continuously demonstrates how to create the atmosphere of a film by capturing sweeping landscapes without any jump cuts during action sequences. Each scene is very focused without using any fancy optical illusions while still creating mystifying metaphors that let the viewer’s imagination soar and allow each scene to flow into the next one very organically. These visual storytelling techniques are signature elements Hitchcock utilized throughout his body of work so the plot pieces itself together by while each member of the audience is unable to anticipate what will happen next.”

WHAT THEMES ARE AT WORK IN THIS FILM?
·       How human beings are innately attracted to risk and danger.
·       All people, in some capacity, are fakes and charlatans with duplicitous natures who wear masks to hide their true selves.

FILMS SIMILAR TO “TO CATCH A THIEF”:
·       Jewel Thief (1967)
·       Tiger in the Smoke (1956)
·       The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)

OTHER NOTABLE MOVIES BY ALFRED HITCHCOCK:
·       North by Northwest, Notorious, and Suspicion, also starring Cary Grant
·       Rear Window and Dial M for Murder, also starring Grace Kelly
·       Vertigo
·       Psycho
·       The Birds
·       Strangers on a Train
·       Shadow of a Doubt

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Hitch plays it cool with Cary and Kelly

Sunday, November 16, 2014

In a span of a week, we move from a bicycle thief to a jewel thief. Make your plans toattend CineVerse on November 19 for To Catch a Thief” (1955; 106 minutes), directed by Alfred Hitchcock, chosen by Rose Krc.

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Psyched about the bike

Thursday, November 13, 2014

What more can be said about a film that's virtually perfect in every aspect, one that's been studied and cherished for decades and which continues to inform and inspire new audiences all over the world, regardless of age, ethnicity or creed? Actually, plenty. Here's a recap of observations gathered during last night's CineVerse meeting on "Bicycle Thieves."


WHAT DO YOU FIND FASCINATING AND RESONANT ABOUT “BICYCLE THIEVES” 66 YEARS AFTER ITS INITIAL RELEASE?
·         There is not much action or plot: this is a very simple but effective story that evokes a strong emotional reaction in viewers primarily from its visual poetry and nonverbal storytelling.
·         The father and son, along nearly everyone else in the cast, are not professional actors—these are just everyday people. Yet, marvel at how expressive their faces are and how natural their acting—or nonacting, in this case—is.
·         This film attempts to depict true poverty and economic hardship as it really was in one city at a given time in history: postwar Rome in 1948, which had been bombed out and crippled following the war.
·         The film is consistent and believable in its approach to realism: there is no contrived happy ending or resolution, and bad things happen to good people.
·         To put the film in proper context, consider that Americans didn’t often get to view pictures about poor people in this clear and close a focus before; even films made during and set in the Great Depression often softened the blow when impoverished characters were showcased, and almost always a happy denouement was included.
·         The character of the stalwart and compassionate Bruno, the son, and what we see him observe and react to, is what helps give the film extra power and resonance.
·         The film does attempt to make a political statement—that we should be more concerned with our fellow man and that a fairer political system should exist that provides greater opportunities to everyday people—yet, the film is not so much about the hardships of poverty or the quest to reclaim a stolen bike but rather the relationship between a father and his boy.
·         Charles Burnett, essayist for the Criterion Collection version of this film, said: “I was moved by how ordinary people were able to express so much humanity. The story achieved in very simple terms what I was looking to do in film: humanize those watching. (It) has the quality and intention of a documentary. It is totally unromantic. The characters are just ordinary people, and the film gives the impression you are watching life unfold before you. It is entertaining, but that is not the goal. Its goal is to make audiences aware of a particular social condition that needs a political solution. It is clear that it was made as a tool for change.”
·         Ultimately, the film succeeds and impacts us so strongly because we identify and sympathize with Antonio and Bruno, despite the fact that they don’t overemote or turn to speeches or soliloquies. We see them as they truly are and it is their behavior and unspoken actions that inform us about them. Antonio’s taking down a peg in front of his son is heartbreaking and universally appreciated, regardless of the time, place or ethnicity.
·         The film also doesn’t give us black and white, good vs. evil tropes: even the young bicycle thief himself is depicted as the victim of poverty and a corrupt, unjust and misery-inducing political system, and his family defends him.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE HALLMARK CHARACTERISTICS OF ITALIAN NEOREALISM MOVIES?
·         Shooting in near documentary style, on location and often using nonfactors/nonprofessionals
·         The subjects are typically working class people and the impoverished
·         The messages are often bleak, realistic and plausibly pessimistic—without a glossy coating, sentimentalizing and tacked on happy endings
·         There is a deliberate focus away from big name stars, complex psychological themes and issues, and intricate plots and action.
·         Critic Glenn Erickson wrote: “(the) purpose was to strip away the artificiality of conventional filmmaking to show life as it really is.”

WHAT ARE KEY THEMES POSITED BY “BICYCLE THIEVES”?
·         The power of family unity and love over materialism, capitalism, and suffering
·         The search for hope and faith (not necessarily religious faith, but perhaps faith in humanity) in a world that seems faithless; consider that Antonio is hunting for a Fides (“faith” in Italian) bicycle
·         Social conscience: it’s our duty as neighbors, acquaintances, citizens and even bystanders to help our fellow man, regardless of his social stature
·         Class struggle: This is a film about the division and disparity among social classes—we are shown how postwar Italy classes coexist, including the poor, the bourgeois, and the rich.

OTHER MOVIES THAT COME TO MIND AFTER WATCHING BICYCLE THIEVES
·         The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
·         Rome, Open City (1945)
·         Germany Year Zero (1948)
·         Furrows (1951)
·         Pather Pachali (1955)
·         Films with cities featured as a major character, including “Wings of Desire” and “Berlin: Symphony of a Great City”
·         Children of Heaven (1999)

OTHER FILMS DIRECTED BY VITTORIO DE SICA
·         Shoeshine (1946)
·         Umberto D (1952)
·         The Earrings of Madame de… (1953)
·         Two Women (1960)

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