Blog Directory CineVerse

Off off off off off off off Broadway

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Christopher Guest has a knack for lampooning wannabes, hacks, washed-up talents and struggling artists, as evidenced in his multiple mockumentaries. He showcases these deft skills quite impressively in his directorial debut, "Waiting for Guffman," which flew well under the radar on its initial release but has since become a cult classic that even spawned, ironically enough, an off-Broadway musical (!). Last evening, CineVerse evaluated this picture and came away with the following thoughts:

WHAT TOOK YOU BY SURPRISE ABOUT THIS FILM OR DEFIED YOUR EXPECTATIONS, GOOD OR BAD?

  • This isn’t a laugh riot knee-slapper with a high yuks quotient. Instead, the comedy is more spaced out, often subtle or chuckle-inspiring versus guffaw-inducing. 
  • Roger Ebert wrote: “Guffman'' is not as insistently funny (as “This is Spinal Tap”), perhaps because it has a sneaking fondness for its characters ("Spinal Tap'' ridiculed its heroes with true zeal). The movie doesn't bludgeon us with gags. It proceeds with a certain comic relentlessness from setup to payoff, and its deliberation is part of the fun (as when it takes its time explaining the exact nature of the travel agent's plastic surgery). Some of the better laughs are deadpan.” 
  • The dialogue was often improvised, and that comic spontaneity benefits the movie. 
  • There isn’t one lead star or comedian; director Christopher Guest builds his mockumentary comedies with a stock company ensemble cast that often includes himself, Eugene Levy, Parker Posey, Catherine O’Hara, and Fred Willard. 
  • Unlike other comedies and mockumentaries, the tone of the humor is less sarcastic, caustic, offensive or outrageous. There are no body humor jokes, and we get no crude, lowbrow humor. And the characters are sympathetic and relatively down to earth. 
    • Critic James Berardinelli wrote: “Where Spinal Tap, like many parodies, relied upon acid humor and vicious barbs to generate laughter, Waiting for Guffman is a much gentler creation. This movie can be considered an affectionate satire, because, while it pokes fun at small-town America and high school stage productions, it also offers up a heartfelt homage to them.” 
    • On the other hand, you could make a case that Guest delights in humiliating his characters here. Bluray.com reviewer Michael Reuben wrote: “Guest specializes in characters so wrapped up in personal obsessions, and so lacking in self-awareness, that they can't see how ridiculous they've become. There's a streak of cruelty running through his work, as characters routinely reveal too much for their own good on camera, but in his later efforts.” 
  • The title is a riff on the Samuel Beckett play “Waiting for Godot,” a name that makes you possibly think you’re about to see some pretentious, intellectual, elitist entertainment. 
  • It feels like an insider’s story; the characters, as well as the filmmakers, convey a knowledge and passion for off-Broadway theatrical life and the politics of putting on a play. Put another way, although this is a fictional and exaggerated comedy, it feels credible and plausible. 
THEMES PRESENT IN THIS MOVIE
  • Serendipity and parallelism: Corky is like the town’s founder in that both, it is suggested, follow the wrong path; the 150th anniversary musical is akin to the East-to-West expedition; the community thespians are like the earlier travelling settlers; and “California’s promise of riches has become Mork Guffman- Broadway producer and embodiment of a life outside of Blaine,” according to the blog Little Kicks Dance
  • Redemption: Corky, a washed-up Broadway wannabe, is getting his second chance. 
  • Small-town America can be both worthy of ridicule and charming thanks to its real everyday people. 
  • Unrealized dreams, which is a hallmark theme of Guests’ films 
OTHER MOCKUMENTARIES, MOVIES, AND TV SHOWS THAT WAITING FOR GUFFMAN BRINGS TO MIND
  • This is Spinal Tap 
  • Best in Show 
  • Take the Money and Run and Zelig 
  • Borat 
  • What We Do in the Shadows 
  • The Producers, especially the “Springtime for Hitler” musical 
  • The SCTV television program 
OTHER FILMS BY CHRISTOPHER GUEST
  • Best in Show 
  • A Mighty Wind 
  • For Your Consideration

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Femme fatale fantastico

Film noir fans get a special treat on December 12, the date that CineVerse spotlights “Laura” (1944; 88 minutes), directed by Otto Preminger, chosen by Nick Guiffre. Plus, we'll watch “The Obsession” (12 minutes), a short piece featuring interviews with several film historians, critics, and filmmakers, discussing the story of Laura, its characters, and Otto Preminger's direction.

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The Guff-man cometh

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Don't miss CineVerse on December 5: That's when we'll be treated to “Waiting for Guffman” (1996; 84 minutes), directed by Christopher Guest, chosen by Bob Johnson. Plus: We’ll play a movie trivia game prior to the film for a chance to win DVD prizes.

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Concerto for a conflicted genius

Thursday, November 29, 2018

"Amadeus" nailed the major maestro biopic subgenre back in 1984. Ten years later, a group of filmmakers would attempt the same feat with "Immortal Beloved," spotlighting perhaps the greatest musical genius in classical music history, Ludwig Van Beethoven. The critical reception was spotty, and box-office receipts weren't stellar. But this picture has a lot going for it, foremost because the soundtrack (solely consisting of Beethoven's own music) is masterful, the casting of Gary Oldman in the lead role is spot-on, and the cinematography is sumptuous and robust. CineVerse analyzed this movie last night and came away with these conclusions:

MOVIES SIMILAR TO IMMORTAL BELOVED

  • Amadeus 
  • Citizen Kane (with its flashback framing and investigative catalyst character) 
  • Mahler and Lisztomania by Ken Russell 
  • The Devil’s Violinist 
  • Copying Beethoven 
  • Chopin: Desire for Love 
  • The Phantom of the Opera (the unmasking scene) 
HOW DOES THIS FILM DEVIATE FROM EXPECTATIONS, PRECONCEIVED NOTIONS, AND OTHER FILMS ABOUT FAMOUS COMPOSERS?
  • It’s not meant to be historically accurate; the movie was criticized at the time of its release for being liberal with the known facts of Beethoven’s life. But instead of aiming for historical precision, the filmmakers try to make a more entertaining, even impressionistic, biopic that arguably lets the music take center stage and the true life events fall into the middle ground and background. 
  • It’s structured almost as a mystery whodunit. And it uses an investigator type character as its audience surrogate, who attempts to learn the identity of the titular personality. In this way, the filmmakers hoped to build intrigue and keep the viewer more engaged. 
  • Interestingly, the three women who are all “immortal beloved” candidates/suspects are entrusted to narrate this story. Instead of letting the tale unfold organically, we have three assigned storytellers. 
  • It tells its tale in flashback instead of as a linear narrative. Unlike “Amadeus,” it doesn’t delve much into Beethoven’s early years as a child prodigy or his rise to renown playing for royalty. This story is primarily focused on his middle to later years, when his deafness became increasingly problematic. 
  • The movie also veers into fantastical, cerebral, stream-of-consciousness territory. 
    • Roger Ebert wrote that this is a “film that imagines the mental state of Beethoven with a series of images as vivid and convincing as a dream…(Bernard Rose) has created a fantasy about Beethoven that evokes the same disturbing, ecstatic passion we hear in his music.” 
    • Janet Maslin of the New York Times wrote: “Think of this as an extremely ambitious classical music video, with visual ideas that merely echo the moods of the music. The music tells its own story, and the music is glorious.” 
  • Some have criticized Gary Oldman of being a scenery chewer, an overacting thespian at times. But here, many critics have lauded his performance as being both “powerful and restrained,” nuanced and sensitive as well as turbulent and revealing. 
THEMES AT WORK IN THIS PICTURE
  • Frustration and cosmic irony—Beethoven loses a priceless gift central to his art, his hearing; he also encounters challenges in the form of his sister-in-law, who thwarts his efforts at custody of Beethoven’s nephew. 
  • Passion—for art, music, love 
  • The power of music to evoke memories, fantasies, and passionate emotions 
  • Mystery: the central yarn here is trying to uncover who the composer’s “immortal beloved” is 
  • Unpredictability—the man himself was known as volatile, brooding, and capable of wild mood swings. 
OTHER FILMS BY BERNARD ROSE
  • Paperhouse 
  • Chicago Joe and the Showgirl 
  • Candyman 
  • Ivans Xtc

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Ode to Ludwig

Sunday, November 25, 2018

On November 28, CineVerse will feature “Immortal Beloved” (1994; 121 minutes), a biopic about Beethoven directed by Bernard Rose, chosen by Marce Demske.

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No CineVerse meeting this week

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Just a reminder that, as is tradition this time of year, CineVerse will not meet on the day before Thanksgiving (Nov. 21). The Oak View Center building will be closed. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

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"He used to be a big shot"

Thursday, November 15, 2018

"They don't make 'em like they used to" is an axiom that is appropriately applied to any of the classic Warner Brothers gangster flicks the studio churned out in the 1930s, many of which starred James Cagney. The only thing that could top a Cagney picture was one in which he was paired with Humphrey Bogart, as was the case with "The Roaring Twenties" (1939). CineVerse took a trip back to the bootlegger era and watched this picture last night; not a single attendee gave a thumbs down. Here are our reflections on the movie:

WHAT DID YOU FIND INTERESTING, UNIQUE OR UNEXPECTED ABOUT THIS FILM?
  • The interplay and dynamics between James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart is notable. 
    • It can be strange to see Bogart playing a supporting character in a gangster movie; truth is, he had not quite yet become a top-billed star. 
    • This was actually the third and final movie that the two would appear in together, the others being Angels With Dirty Faces and The Oklahoma Kid. 
  • The movie has, a somewhat “pseudo-documentary feel,” according to Genevieve McGillicuddy with Turner Classic Movies. Evidence of this is that it incorporates “newsreel clips and popular music from the period, and a voiceover by an omniscient reporter who assures the audience that what they are about to see is based on true events.” 
  • Be mindful that the gangster and his moll are based on real-life figures Larry Fay and Texas Guinan. 
  • It’s also imbued with an epic feel and scope, considering that it traces the rise and fall of a man from World War I through the Great Depression. 
WHAT THEMES OR SYMBOLS STAND OUT IN THIS MOVIE?
  • Karma, cosmic destiny, hubris, and the sense of a life squandered: Bartlett is due for a comeuppance by the end of the film and gets it. 
  • Exploiting the American dream: Bartlett capitalizes on America as the land of opportunity by being an opportunist whose lawlessness eventually catches up with him. 
  • Life in the fast lane, and the fleeting nature of time: this story covers many years in the life of a man, but passes at a quick pace. Quotes from Bartlett in this film include “I didn’t have time to think about them,” and “I’m in too much of a hurry to worry about somebody getting sore at me.” It helps that Cagney has a quick, energetic nature to him in his physical movements and speech. Consider, as well, the fast-moving camera work, relatively short shots and scenes, and brisk pace of the story being told. 
  • The end of an era, sentimentality, finality and romanticizing the past. This story and this movie seem to be wistful for a bygone time, warts and all; it also plays as an elegy for and concluding statement on the gangster picture cycle, which dominated the 1930s but arguably came to an end here. 
    • Panama Smith’s line, “He used to be a bigshot,” resonate as a final statement that draws the cycle to a close. 
    • Martin Scorsese said of the movie: “The Roaring Twenties shows a gritty reality that romanticizes the dark side of human nature.” 
  • Circles: from the plate of spaghetti and the portholes on the boat to the spinning globe and nightclub stools, this film is replete with spherical shapes and circular patterns. 
OTHER MOVIES OR WORKS OF LITERATURE THAT THE ROARING TWENTIES REMIND US OF:
  • The Great Gatsby 
  • Gangster pictures of the 1930s by Warner Brothers and other studios, including: Little Caesar, The Public Enemy, Scarface, Lady Killer, G Men, and Angels With Dirty Faces 
OTHER FILMS DIRECTED BY RAOUL WALSH:
  • White Heat 
  • High Sierra 
  • The Big Trail 
  • They Died With Their Boots On 
  • The original The Thief of Baghdad 
  • They Drive By Night

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Touch of Welles

Sunday, November 11, 2018

In episode five of the Cineversary podcast, the spotlight shines on Touch of Evil, Orson Welles' 1958 film noir classic, which marks a 60th anniversary this year.

Host Erik Martin interviews Jonathan Rosenbaum, former head critic of the Chicago Reader, author of several books on cinema, and consultant on the 1998 re-editing of Touch of Evil and on the 2018 completion of Welles’ movie The Other Side of the Wind. Together, they discuss why Touch of Evil is worth celebrating all these years later, its cultural impact and legacy, what we can learn from the picture today, how it has stood the test of time, and more.

To listen to this episode, click the play button below.

You can stream, download or subscribe to the Cineversary podcast using Apple Podcasts, iTunes, Anchor, Breaker, Castbox, Google Podcasts, Google Play Music, Overcast, Pocket Casts, PodBean, RadioPublic, Spotify, Stitcher, and TuneIn.

Learn more about the Cineversary podcast at www.tinyurl.com/cineversarypodcast, like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/cineversarypodcast, and email show comments or suggestions to cineversegroup@gmail.com.

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Love finds a way

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Nowadays, homosexual characters are much more accepted and prevalent in mainstream films. But it wasn't that long ago that this wasn't the case. One film that wasn't afraid to depict a gay love story, at a time when gays were more criticized, scrutizined, parodied, caricatured and marginalized (1987), is "Maurice," a lesser-known Merchant/Ivory gem that portrays how difficult it was to hide and maintain a homosexual relationship in Britain's repressive pre-World-War I era. CineVerse had much to talk about last night, including the following:

WHAT DID YOU FIND INTERESTING OR UNEXPECTED ABOUT THIS FILM? 

  • Its long runtime. It supposedly stays faithful to the source material novel by E.M. Forster, but cinematically this could be a long sit and a slow burn for many viewers. 
  • Its happy ending. According to the director James Ivory: “The thing that marks Maurice as a gay film is that its story has a happy ending. Forster always wanted that. He wrote about it and said that. Most gay stories, at least back then, ended with some very bad thing. In that way, it was maybe ahead of its time.” 
  • The timing of its release—1987. A homosexual love story wasn’t as widely accepted or tolerated by moviegoers at this time. Consider that the world was still grappling with the growing AIDS crisis, and many gays were being blamed, shamed or castigated because of it. 
  • Its impressive cast, including Hugh Grant, Rupert Graves, Ben Kingsley, Simon Callow, Denholm Elliott, and James Wilby. 
  • The debatable message of the film. Per Roger Ebert, who gave the movie a positive review: “By arguing that (Maurice and Scudder’s) decision to stay together was a good and courageous thing, ‘Maurice’ seems to argue that the most important thing about them was their homosexuality. Perhaps in the dangerous atmosphere of homophobia in the England of 75 years ago, that might have seemed the case. But this film has been made in 1987 and shares the same limited insight.” 
  • The movie surprisingly features full-frontal male nudity, which could have been more controversial in 1987. 
WHAT THEMES STAND OUT IN MAURICE?
  • Love vs. lust—physical attraction contrasted with deep emotional affection 
  • Love conquers all 
  • Betrayal 
  • Secrets 
  • Class differences 
  • The classic love triangle 
  • The challenge of trying to live a lie and not be true to yourself 
FILMS OR WORKS OF LITERATURE THAT REMIND US OF MAURICE
  • Brokeback Mountain 
  • Howards End 
  • A Room With a View 
  • Beautiful Thing 
  • Parting Glances 
  • Shelter 
  • My Beautiful Laundrette 
  • Sunday Bloody Sunday 
OTHER FILMS DIRECTED BY JAMES IVORY
  • A Room With a View 
  • Mr. and Mrs. Bridge 
  • Howards End 
  • The Remains of the Day 
  • The White Countess 
  • Call Me By Your Name

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