Blog Directory CineVerse

Ghosts of The Holocaust invade New York City

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Make plans to join CineVerse on June 1 for “The Pawnbroker” (1964; 116 minutes), directed by Sidney Lumet, chosen by Mike Bochenek.

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Caught in the crosshairs

Thursday, May 26, 2016

"The Hunt," Thomas Vinterburg's stomach-churning examination of the devastating aftermath of a false accusation, plays like a real world adult horror story and a "this-can-easily-happen-to-you" cautionary tale. This is a film that gives us plenty to chew on long after the credits roll, including the question of how to interpret the final scene. Collectively, our CineVerse group took aim at the task of analyzing "The Hunt" and came away with these observations:


WHAT DID YOU FIND DIFFERENT, UNEXPECTED AND UNUSUAL ABOUT “THE HUNT”?
The ending is unresolved and ambiguous: we don’t know who fired the gun, and there is no conclusive wrapping up of loose ends.
Even though we know from the start that Lucas is innocent, the compounded feeling that almost no one believes him leaves the viewer with a disquieting doubt of sorts about the matter.
The filmmakers use handheld camera, natural lighting and very little music to tell their story.
The young student who accuses the teacher is not depicted as some kind of incomprehensible villain; we are shown her possible motivations and better understand the complex nature of why she acts the way she does.
This movie dares to inject a counterpoint to the popular assumption that all children are honest, innocent and unimpeachable witnesses to violence and victimization.
The filmmakers also apparently researched transcripts of police interrogations of suspected pedophiles in Denmark, America and other European nations, which adds credibility and authenticity to the movie.
The setting is a forest community, which gives the story a Grimm’s fairytale-like feel or even the vibe of a cautionary and tragic folktale told around the campfire.
The criminal/police investigation isn’t the prime focus here—it’s the court of public opinion that counts in this picture, not necessarily a criminal court case.

WHAT THEMES ARE EXAMINED IN THIS PICTURE? WHAT IS THE “MORAL OF THE STORY”?
The hunter becomes the hunted; Lucas is a hunter early in the film—literally and figuratively; he is hunting for a better life and relatively happy domesticity.
Consider that the story starts and concludes with a hunt of some sort: in the opening, it’s a hunt by local residents of a small community in a Danish forest. In the end, it’s a hunt for the teacher’s life.
Blogger Roy Stafford wrote: “This is a rural community in which we see only four communal meeting places – the nursery school, the supermarket, the church and the country club/hunting lodge – which though it is a private house seems also to be the centre for social activity. It’s interesting that Lucas is effectively ‘barred’ or at least unwelcome in the first three but that the last is a kind of haven.”
Director Thomas Vinterberg has stated that this movie is meant to comment on what he regarded as a crisis in the Scandinavian masculinity. As film reviewer Geoffrey Macnab wrote: “One warped level, the accusations can be seen as benefiting Lucas, since they give him an excuse to fight back. in his defiance, he reclaims his identity and becomes even more macho, confronting his tormentors in the church and demanding that they look in his eyes (the inference is that they will find no guilt there).”
There’s a thin line between civilization and the jungle – between order and chaos and between trust and doubt. Human beings, by nature, can easily become suspicious, be susceptible to rumors and hearsay, and succumb to mob mentality.
Once you are accused and considered guilty in the court of public opinion, it’s very likely that you will always remain guilty and unforgiven. There is no undoing of a witch hunt injustice. Perhaps that’s how to interpret the film’s last shot in which Lucas may or may not have literally been shot at by someone—he is going to always have to wear that mark of shame and doubt and one or many people will not forgive him.
The film asks the question of every viewer: what would you do in this situation if you were the teacher? What would you do if you were the child’s family member or a concerned villager?

OTHER FILMS OR WORKS OF LITERATURE THAT REMIND YOU OF “THE HUNT”?
“Fury” starring Spencer Tracy
“The Celebration” (known as “Festen”, which also deals with the topic of child sexual abuse, this time by a parent), also directed by Vinterberg
“The Crucible”
“Day of Wrath”
“Straw Dogs”
American Westerns like “A Fistful of Dollars” and “The Oxbow Incident”, in which vigilante justice is meted out upon often innocent men
The pitchfork- and torch-wielding mobs in the “Frankenstein” films
Hitchcock’s “The Wrong Man” starring Henry Fonda
“Atonement”, also about a man accused of a child molestation he didn’t commit.
“To Kill a Mockingbird”
“Fanny and Alexander” (shots of Klara mimic compositions in Ingmar Bergman’s masterpiece, and the dog is named after Fanny)
The legends, folktales, and stories about witch hunts, especially the Salem witch trials.

OTHER MOVIES DIRECTED BY THOMAS VINTERBERG
“Far From the Madding Crowd”
“The Celebration” (known as “Festen”, which also deals with the topic of child sexual abuse, this time by a parent
“Submarino”

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Something is rotten in the state of Denmark

Sunday, May 22, 2016

World Cinema Wednesday comes back to CineVerse on May 25 with an acclaimed drama from Denmark: “The Hunt” (2012), directed by Thomas Vinterberg, chosen by Janet Pierucci.

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The key to unlocking the secrets behind "Notorious"

Thursday, May 19, 2016

By the time he made "Notorious" in the mid-1940s,  considered by many to be his finest picture to date, Hitchcock had proved to be the ultimate filmmaker--a creative craftsman who took all the truths he learned from silent film, early talkies, and his teeth-cutting years as a popular director of British films in the 1930s and applied them to the Hollywood studio system with an ingenuity and flair that put him at the top of the game. It's all on display in "Notorious": the inventive camera work, the visually expressive narrative style that communicates more with images than words; the tight editing; and the exquisitely lit compositions that showcase Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman as quite possibly the most attractively filmed couple the silver screen had ever seen.  And then there's that key to the wine cellar, which figures prominently as a symbol/motif throughout the movie--a prop worthy of one of the most celebrated crane zooms ever attempted to that point. CineVerse had a lot of fun parsing through this content hunting for meaning and merit, both in ample supply. Here is what we concluded:

WHAT ARE THE SEPARATE MOTIVATIONS OF DEVLIN AND ALICIA IN THEIR ROLE AS SPIES, AND HOW DOES THIS ADD DELICIOUS COMPLEXITY TO THE STORY AND CHARACTERS?
Devlin is cold and mean to Alicia so that she’ll more easily gravitate toward Alexander and do a better job as a spy; yet he’s not just pretending to be cold and bitter—he wants his protégé to be promiscuous with the enemy, but he despises that part of her character
Alicia accepts the job not only to improve her notorious reputation and association with her father’s Nazi sympathizing, not only because she accepts it as patriotic duty, but also because she loves Devlin; and yet she tries to hurt him later by commenting on how she’s Alexander’s playmate and will marry him

WHAT ARE SOME IMPORTANT THEMES, SYMBOLS AND MOTIFS AT WORK IN NOTORIOUS?
Trust and betrayal: Devlin of Alicia, Alicia of Devlin, Alicia of Alexander, etc.
The masking of identities and pretending to be something you’re not
A key, which is a small symbol, but an important focus of our attention for a while
Man’s inhumanity to his fellow man: Devlin and Alicia love each other, but wish to hurt each other; we hurt the ones we love the most
The consumption of dangerous liquids—whether it be alcohol or poison—to either inflict harm or escape from reality 
A woman willing to be forced into transforming into a different identity to satisfy a manipulative male (revisited in Vertigo)
Fairytale theme of a princess captured by a dark knight, locked in a tower and waiting to be rescued by her knight in shining armor

WHAT IS PIONEERING, ENVELOPE PUSHING, RISKY AND RISQUE ABOUT THIS PICTURE, ESPECIALLY FOR 1946?
In the famous kissing scene between Devlin and Alicia that begins on her balcony and continues inside her apartment while Devlin makes a phone call, nearly three minutes of slightly interrupted smooching ensue. This was the longest extended kissing scene of its kind to that time; film censors tried to limit each on-screen kiss in a film to three seconds or less. 
Hitchcock creates a sympathetic Nazi villain: We actually feel more sorry for Alexander than for Devlin, you could argue
Innovative and artistic camera work and lighting: consider the long crane shot from the top of the staircase to the key in Alicia’s hand; Alicia stepping into the light by the end of the recording Devlin plays; Devlin standing in the doorway in the canted point of view shot while Lisa wakes from a hangover; Devlin’s white hangover elixir glass contrasted with Alex’s black poison coffee later; Lisa’s poison-induced hallucination; and the uninterrupted extended take of Devlin at Lisa’s bedside at the conclusion. 
This picture's got one of the baddest matriarchs ever to grace the screen: Alexander's mother, played with icy aplomb by Leopoldine Konstantin, the quintessential mother-in-law from hell, along with Eric the strongest and most remorseless villain in the film

VARIOUS:
This is arguably the greatest Hitchcock picture of the 1940s.
It’s his first truly realized love story.
“Notorious” is Hitch’s most richly expressive visual style on film yet to this point.
This is a perfectly cast movie: we believe Bergman and Grant.
There is not an ounce of fat on this film—a testament to the masterfully constructed tight screenplay co-written by one of the all-time greats—Ben Hecht.

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The spy who loved me (long before Bond)

Sunday, May 15, 2016

CineVerse returns to its Our Favorite Films series on May 18 with part 29: “Notorious” (1946; 102 minutes), directed by Alfred Hitchcock, chosen by Joe Valente. Plus: enjoy the brief documentary “Alfred Hitchcock: The Ultimate Spymaster” (13 minutes).

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All's well that ends Welles

Friday, May 13, 2016

As your faithful CineVerse moderator was picking up his son from Indiana University last week to bring him home for the summer, he remembered that the college's Lilly Library is home to one of the largest repositories of Orson Welles artifacts in the world--from film scripts and rare photographs to letters, memos and legal papers. The materials in this collection, in fact, total approximately 20,000 items related to Welles's efforts on radio, stage, and film as well as to his political and personal life. Realizing I had a rare opportunity to investigate some of the items in this collection, I talked my son into delaying our homeward departure for a spell so that I could get my Orson fix. When it was all said and done, we had actually ended up spending two solid hours parsing through a portion of this Welles treasure trove (like a kid in a candy store, I could have stayed for days, believe me).

Highlights of my perusal included browsing through:

Second final draft of "Citizen Kane"
Early script with working title "American"
  • a second revised final screenplay of "Citizen Kane" that was marked up with handwritten notes and revisions (possibly by Welles, more likely by John Houseman and script supervisor Amalia Kent and others involved in the production)
  • an early draft of "Kane" when the film's working title was "American" (being able to pick up, leaf through and study such sacred scrolls--of arguably the greatest screenplay ever written--was like an out-of-body experience for me, let me tell you)
  • several of Welles' radio play scripts used for his groundbreaking series "The Mercury Theater on the Air" back in 1938 (anyone who knows me is aware of my adoration for old time radio, particularly Welles' work in it)--including his adaptation of Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities" (alas, no "War of the Worlds" radio script was included in this collection)
  • an original press kit for "Kane" given to members of the media and critical community upon the film's debut in 1941
    "Citizen Kane" original press kit
  • set and publicity photographs for "Kane" as well as photos of some of the movie's original storyboards
  • Photos of original storyboards for "Kane"
  • a shooting schedule, pre-budget estimate, and copies of cast and crew release forms (with signatures) for "Kane."
    Pre-budget estimates for "Kane"
But my unlikeliest discovery occurred when I looked to the table next to me; a college student and her mother had an actual Academy Award statuette in their hands that was also part of the library's collection. Awestruck, I came over and inquired about it and learned that it was John Ford's 1940 best director Oscar for "The Grapes of Wrath" (I thought it was for "Stagecoach," but I was mistaken). Incredible!

It was an amazing afternoon this classic film fan will never forget.
John Ford's best director Oscar
for "The Grapes of Wrath"

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Adrift in a sea of moral uncertainty

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Hitchcock's "Lifeboat" is a departure for the movie maestro away from his trademark murder mystery-intrigue type of suspense picture. But it's no less riveting in the way it tightens the knot and pits its characters against each other in a desperate situation where violence and evil are likely consequences. The film is particularly fascinating as a time capsule study of wartime propaganda--the merits of which, or lack thereof caused "Lifeboat" to endure surprising criticism from some reviewers back in 1944. Here is what our CineVerse group observed about this movie:

WHAT WOULD HAVE BEEN CONTROVERSIAL ABOUT THIS FILM UPON ITS RELEASE IN 1944?
The depiction of a Nazi officer as smarter, more emotionally controlled, and physically capable than the American and English passengers on the ship.
Additionally, Hitchcock makes us identify with and slightly sympathize with the German: consider how he yawns when the young mother becomes histrionic, how he seems at first to be their salvation from a death at sea, how he successfully amputates the American’s leg. Later, after we learn what the Nazi has done and is planning, our sympathies shift to the others on the boat. According to film reviewer Dan Callahan, “Hitchcock’s shifting sympathies guarantee our guilty involvement with the characters until he builds to a climax of intellectual and spiritual excitation.”
Several horrible incidents occur throughout the film, including an amputation, a descent into insanity, stressful confrontations and deliberations, and multiple deaths—such as the death of a baby, the drowning/possible murder of its mother, the drowning of an American amputee, and the violent mob killing of the German. These sobering events cast a downbeat, negative pall upon the picture and upon humanity.
The progression of the survivors from a group of trusting, optimistic hopefuls into an angry, violent mob capable of suddenly murdering a fellow passenger suggests a dark, primitive side to man’s nature—even if they are killing a Nazi. In fact, the nurse—a caregiver dedicated to healing and compassion—is the first to mortally attack the German, which says a lot.
This would have been a convoluted, difficult-to-digest propaganda film during World War II. On one hand, Hitchcock defended the movie as a “microcosm of the war,” saying in an interview “we wanted to show that, at that moment, there were two forces confronting each other—the democracies and the Nazis.” On the other hand, the German is shown in somewhat of a sympathetic light as an admirable resource of strength, intelligence and cunning, which many critics viewed as pro-Nazi propaganda. 
Interestingly, Hitchcock has Joe remain on the sidelines during the confrontations and mob killing—perhaps elevating Joe to the high moral ground of a Christian pacifist and, mercifully, preventing audience backlash against an African American character being involved in an act of violence against a white man—which could have riled up viewers in the mid 1940s. Hitchcock also takes a dig at racial politics of the time by having Joe as if he gets to cast a vote.
The adult sexuality is also a bit racy for the times: Connie is a loose, sexually experienced and enticing female, and the nurse has been having an affair with a married man.

WHAT IS THE MORAL TO THIS STORY?
Every person is capable of benevolence and cruelty, of compassion as well as hatred—even if the hatred is justified in the cause of war.
“Survival of the fittest” is an inhumane philosophy among desperate humans.
Fascism and totalitarianism is evil, and its followers cannot be trusted. Consider how Connie—the surrogate for the audience—at first gives the German the benefit of the doubt and trusts him with saving their lives; yet she, like Ritt and the nurse, changes her opinion about the German later in the film.
Faith in humanity and human connection is more important than material possessions—consider how Connie eventually loses all her prized belongings, one by one, and how even the rich businessman loses at cards. The message here to moviegoers is that true sacrifice and rationing by Americans back at home is needed if we are to win World War II.
“War’s first casualty is human decency,” as written by movie reviewer Glenn Erickson.
God helps those who help themselves—which also serves as a rallying cry for inspiring the troops and the families at home during World War II.
“The more we quarrel and criticize and misunderstand each other, the bigger the ocean gets,” says the millionaire—which becomes one of the themes of the film.

HOW DO YOU INTERPRET THE ENDING OF THE FILM? STANLEY SAYS “WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WITH PEOPLE LIKE THAT,” TO WHICH CONNIE REPLIES, WELL, MAYBE THEY CAN ANSWER THAT.”
The “they” Connie is referring to are the people who were killed before and during their shipwreck experience.
It’s as if Connie is insinuating that this is a very complicated and confusing morality—how are the living to judge the living? Perhaps only the dead can judge the living, in this case, the Nazis.
On the other hand, saying “maybe they can answer that” suggests that, of course, the dead cannot talk and provide an answer, but their deaths don’t have to be in vain if the survivors are able to avoid the same fate and learn from their deaths.

WHAT OTHER FILMS OR STORIES DOES “LIFEBOAT” REMIND YOU OF?
Disaster thrillers like The Poseidon Adventure, All Is Lost, Life of Pi, and Abandon Ship!
Other Hitchcock “confined setting” movies like Rope, Rear Window, and Dial M For Murder
Lord of the Flies

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Seasick with suspense

Sunday, May 8, 2016

On May 11, CineVerse is proud to revisit Hitchcockronology: A Sequential Study of the Master of Suspense. Once a month throughout 2016, CineVerse will examine the artistry, style and themes prevalent in several major works directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starting with early pictures and progressing toward later movies in his filmography. In part 5 of this monthly series, we'll explore “Lifeboat” (1944; 97 minutes), directed by Hitchcock. Plus: stick around for the documentary “The Making of Lifeboat” (20 minutes).

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Philly cream without the cheese

Thursday, May 5, 2016

It's fascinating to watch Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant interplay and parry with comedic banter, verbal wit and facially expressive playfulness. Throw James Stewart into the mix and you've got fireworks amplified to the third power. Such are the undeniable charms of "The Philadelphia Story," one of the grand big star romantic comedies of Hollywood's Golden Age. In dissecting this light drama masquerading as a screwball comedy, here are the conclusions our CineVerse group reached:

WHAT ARE IMPORTANT CHARACTERISTICS SHARED BY SCREWBALL COMEDIES? WHAT ARE THE QUALITIES THAT MAKE THEM “SCREWBALL”?
Farcical stories and situations—where the film pokes fun at stereotypical characters, such as fatcat filthy rich fathers and spoiled rotten daughters (“My Man Godfrey”)
Fast pacing in the humor and repartee, direction, editing and dialogue delivery (“His Girl Friday”)
Physical humor, including slapstick (“Bringing Up Baby”), pratfalls (“The Lady Eve”) and sight gags (“To Be Or Not To Be”), are often used to elicit major laughs and make dignified characters look ridiculous
A plot centered on courtship and marriage (“The Philadelphia Story”) or remarriage (“The Awful Truth”)
Themes highlighting the differences between upper and lower socioeconomic classes, with many of the settings taking place among the high society but involving a likeable male love interest from the other side of the tracks (“Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” and “It Happened One Night”)
The female lead is often strong-willed, determined and sometimes tomboyish, commonly depicted as stronger and even smarter than her male counterpart (“Bringing Up Baby”, “The Lady Eve”)
A story involving a mistaken identity, misunderstanding, keeping of an important secret, occasionally involving cross-dressing or masquerading (“Some Like it Hot” and “Bringing Up Baby”
A classic battles of the sexes between a man and a woman, with the male lead’s masculinity often challenged by a strong female love interest (“The Awful Truth”)
Colorful supporting characters with quirky personalities (Barry Fitzgerald’s gardener in “Bringing Up Baby”, Mischa Auer’s protégé Carlo in “My Man Godfrey”)
Often, there’s a secondary character (such as a third wheel male suitor) who is more prim, proper and boring (Ralph Bellamy in “His Girl Friday” and “The Awful Truth”)
The golden period of screwball comedies was between 1934 and 1944, bookended somewhat between “It Happened One Night” and “Miracle of Morgan’s Creek”

“THE PHILADELPHIA STORY” IS TYPICALLY CATEGORIZED IN THE SCREWBALL COMEDY SUBGENRE. HOW IS IT DIFFERENT FROM MANY OTHER SCREWBALL COMEDIES, HOWEVER?
Instead of a comedic love triangle, it depicts a love rectangle, with three different men vying for Tracy’s attention.
There is a somewhat dark undercurrent running through this film, as evidenced by Grant’s character: we learned that he is an alcoholic, is not above physically reprimanding his wife and raising his fists to her, and making comments like “I thought all writers drink to excess and beat their wives. You know, at one time, I secretly wanted to be a writer.” You could also make the case that grant plays more of a straight man to the other more comedic characters, which gives credence to the belief that Grant’s is the most challenging role in the picture.
This movie also defies your expectation for a formulaic conclusion, which logic would dictate as her ending up with the newspaper reporter, with whom Tracy appears to have great chemistry and a lot of fun. Instead, she reconciles with her formerly alcoholic and arguably abusive ex-husband. The “getting back together with your ex” screwball comedy plot has been used before in past films, including “The Awful Truth,” but here it’s not as anticipated an outcome.

WHAT THEMES ARE EXAMINED IN THIS FILM?
The trials and tribulations of the idle rich in the privileged class, which can seem petty and trivial to some but are sickly hilarious and escapist to other viewers.
How men venerate women and put them on a pedestal. Consider that Tracy is called a “Citadel,” “virgin goddess,” “distant Queen,” “statue,” “your Majesty,” and “made of bronze” and one man promises to build her an ivory tower.
The unpredictability of love, as demonstrated by the fact that Tracy chooses her ex-husband in the end.
Masquerading, playacting and impersonating.

DOES “THE PHILADELPHIA STORY” BRING ANY OTHER MOVIES TO MIND?
Its remake, “High Society” (1956)
“Holiday,” also starring Grant and Hepburn
“ The Awful Truth,” slightly similar in plot and also featuring a well-intentioned but dull love interest who you know won’t end up with the girl at the end
“Bringing Up Baby,” another screwball comedy starring Hepburn and Grant
“Notorious,” also featuring Grant playing in acid-mouthed character who comes across as a jerk at first

OTHER FILMS DIRECTED BY GEORGE CUKOR
Little Women (1933)
Dinner at Eight (1933) 
David Copperfield (1935) 
Holiday (1938)
Gaslight (1944)
Adam's Rib (1949)
Born Yesterday (1950)
A Star Is Born (1954)
My Fair Lady (1964)

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