Blog Directory CineVerse

It sure beats the good and the ugly

Sunday, May 21, 2017

You won't want to miss CineVerse on May 24, when the spotlight falls on “The Bad and the Beautiful” (1952; 118 minutes), directed by Vincente Minnelli, chosen by Carole Bogaard.

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Film is a state of mind

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Whether you consider it more of a comedy or a drama, it's hard to deny the charms and philosophies at work on Hal Ashby's "Being There," featuring perhaps Peter Sellers' greatest performance. There's a lot of substance packed into this film, and more than meets the eye, as demonstrated by the extensive discussion we enjoyed last evening at CineVerse. Here's a roundup of that group talk:

THEMES EXPLORED IN BEING THERE:
The irony and danger of being a human cipher: 
o A man who is a blank slate and non-entity who seems to stand for and believe in nothing, yet ironically impresses and influences many by virtue of his ambiguity. As put by Criterion Collection essayist Mark Harris, Being There is “the portrait of a man who relates to no one but to whom everyone relates.”
o Harris says the film serves as a cautionary tale, noting that “we invest people with unspeakable power by reinventing them as reflections of our hopes and our vanities, and it is thus terrifyingly possible for us to endow a complete imbecile who watches TV all day with qualities he has never possessed.”
Being cast out of the Garden of Eden: Chance is evicted from his longtime home and is forced to wander, until he is taken in by “Eve.” 
Evolution and exploration: The film uses a disco version of the 2001: A Space Odyssey theme humorously and effectively; the song plays when Chance has to, for the first time, venture out of his cocoon into “outer space” and explore a strange new universe.
Power and privilege is own often unfairly bestowed upon an undeserving but fortunate man who looks the part: Roger Ebert noted: “Because he is a WASP, middle-aged, well-groomed, dressed in tailored suits, and speaks like an educated man, he is automatically presumed to be a person of substance. He is, in fact, socially naïve.” Recall what the housekeeper says about Chance: "Yes, sir, all you've gotta be is white in America, to get whatever you want."
The emperor has no clothes, but this is only recognized by the common man. Consider that street thugs, hired help and other middle- to lower-class people see Chance for what he dimwitted and unworthy of all the attention he’s receiving; but the upper class choose to see things in Chance that aren’t really there, indicating that they are as naïve and gullible as Chance.
Life is a state of mind, and ignorance is bliss: if your mind is relatively blank and carefree, life can appear carefree; Chance appears happy and content, likely because he’s ignorant, childlike and simple-minded.
Unbalanced, one-sided relationships: The characters who interact with and surround Chance grow and evolve or at least demonstrate that they’ve been affected by him; but we never get the sense that Chance grows, evolves, or truly connects with another human being. What’s going on in Chance’s head remains a mystery—the film’s last shot suggests that he remains naïve and oblivious to the world around him.

HOW DO YOU INTERPRET THE FINAL SHOT OF CHANCE WALKING ON WATER?
You could take it skeptically—that he is actually walking on a sandbar or hidden pier, which he may or may not be aware of; yet, from an observer’s perspective, it would appear as if Chance is actually able to walk on water and “perform miracles”, just as many who interact with him in the film begin to mistakenly conclude.
Or, you could take it literally, that he is actually walking on water from his perspective. Think about how Chance is so dissociated from reality and so brainwashed by television that perhaps, like the Road Runner who can run off a cliff without falling down, he believes he can truly walk on water because, as blogger Jeff Saporito theorizes, “he doesn’t understand his limitations. It is symbolic of his lack of restrictions…Throughout the picture, all of Chance’s actions stem from the honesty of his ignorance. He goes from a gardener to a confidant of billionaires to a presidential advisor to a presidential candidate himself, all without realizing. Chance walks on water at the end because he doesn’t realize he can’t.”
Or, Chance could represent a Christ-like figure who, like any other human, shouldn’t be able to walk on water, but is a rare breed who has the supernatural power to actually do so. Consider that we know very little about Christ’s background between birth and his emergence as an adult, just as we know almost nothing about Chance.
The fact that multiple interpretations are possible reinforces another of the film’s key themes: the nature of perception, and how we each see what we want to see in a character, which can differ from viewer to viewer. 

OTHER MOVIES THAT BEING THERE MAKES YOU THINK OF:
Screwball comedies like My Man Godfrey
Rain Man and the Laurel and Hardy movies (Chance is kind of like a cross between Dustin Hoffman’s Raymond and Stan Laurel’s quiet, bowler hat-wearing imbecile)
Big
Forrest Gump
2001: A Space Odyssey
Dave

OTHER FILMS DIRECTED BY HAL ASHBY
Harold and Maude
The Last Detail
Shampoo
Bound for Glory
Coming Home

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A not so long time to go, in a library not so far, far away...

Monday, May 15, 2017

On May 20, Cineversary returns to the Oak Lawn Library from 1-4 p.m. This time, we'll celebrate the 40th anniversary of “Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope” (1977; 121 minutes).

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Capitalize on a Sellers market

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Circle May 17 on your calendar: that's when CineVerse will feature “Being There” (1979; 130 minutes), directed by Hal Ashby, chosen by Dan Quenzel.

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From the lost and found department

Thursday, May 11, 2017

David Fincher's "Gone Girl" takes viewers on a tense and uncomfortable ride through the minefield of an unhinged marriage and gets us to the other side in one piece--but without a feeling of safety or closure. Our CineVerse discussion group took a closer look at this work of dark chocolate and arrived at the following observations:

WHAT IS DISTINCTIVE, NOTEWORTHY AND PERHAPS OFF-PUTTING ABOUT GONE GIRL?
There are many shifts in point of view and perspective and several reveals that make our two main characters unreliable narrators: the result is that you don’t know who or what to trust.
There isn’t much subtlety or nuance to this movie; as reviewer Matt Zoller Seitz posits: “the film raises…questions and others, and it answers nearly all of them, often in boldface, all-caps sentences that end with exclamation points.”
Like Hitchcock or De Palma, the filmmakers aren’t concerned with telling a realistic story or unfolding a plausible plot; they want to create a moody atmosphere, unsettling tone and formalistic film.
o These kind of movies are called, according to critic Anne Billson, “preposterous thrillers” wherein “characters and their behavior bear no relation not just to life as we know it, but to any sort of properly structured fiction we may have hitherto encountered." 
o Seitz suggests: “Not a single frame is meant to be taken literally…it’s working through primordial feelings in the manner of a blues song, a pulp thriller, a film noir, or a horror picture.”

WHAT THEMES ARE AT WORK IN GONE GIRL?
How well do you know your partner? There’s a darkness and danger lurking behind every marriage, and even the person you think you love may not be trustworthy. Consider: which characters do you trust in this film? Maybe the sister?
As suggested by New Yorker critic Joshua Rothman, “are there any stories that we can tell ourselves about marriage that ring true?”
The myth of coupledom is oppressive and results in victimization: “marriage and victimhood are inseparable”, theorizes Rothman, who adds that coupledom creates a power relationship wherein one party is more dominant or winning than the other.
The media lies (consider the women’s and men’s magazines that previously employed Amy and Nick), and the media is bloodthirsty, ruthless and easily manipulated.
We live in a vapid, cut-throat, attention-seeking culture.
Dual identities and alter egos

HALLMARKS OF MANY DAVID FINCHER PICTURES:
According to blogger G.S. Perno:
o Dark, labyrinth-like worlds with many corners, twists and sudden turns
o Plot twists and twist endings
o A dark lighting style combined with filtered/overlayed colors and crisp, highly focused cinematography; characters often have shadows obscuring their faces
o Smooth tracking camera shots
o Occasional insertion of single odd frames—almost like a quick subliminal image
o Downbeat, somber endings that often lack closure for characters and/or viewers

OTHER MOVIES THAT REMIND US OF “GONE GIRL”
“Preposterous” thrillers like Vertigo and Dressed to Kill, wherein the plot may not make much sense but the overall mood created is palpable and resonant
Unreliable psychological thrillers like Memento and Mulholland Drive
Prisoners
A Perfect Murder
To Die For
Basic Instinct
The documentary series The Staircase
Laura

OTHER FILMS DIRECTED BY DAVID FINCHER
Se7en
Fight Club
Zodiac
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Social Network
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

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From the missing persons file...

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Join CineVerse on May 10 for “Gone Girl” (2014; 149 minutes), directed by David Fincher, chosen by Tom Nesis. Note: Due to this film’s long runtime, CineVerse may conclude closer to 10:15 tonight.

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A "Fast and Furious" for the counterculture

Thursday, May 4, 2017

There's no cult movie quite like "Vanishing Point," a strange but exhilarating chase flick from 1971. On one hand, it likely would have appealed to manly men conservative types back in the day, but also to hippies, multicultural-minded moviegoers and liberal-leaning viewers, too. For a film that lacks any type of meaty plot or character development, there was a lot more to talk about with this picture than expected. Here's the thrust of our CineVerse discussion points:

WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE FILM’S TITLE? WHY CALL IT “VANISHING POINT”?
According to essayist Geoff Ward, it could be referring to “the point where the sides of a highway converge at the horizon through the action of perspective—the point towards which Kowalski is always and inevitably heading, where the sightlines converge, itself an illusion.”
It may be referencing the suicidal finale, “the point at which (Kowalski) vanishes from the world.”
It may make us think of how Kowalski reaches a point where he is no longer a person and instead assumes the mantle of a hero or villain, per Ward.
Consider, also that things appear and disappear in the movie, such as the white car that suddenly vanishes after passing the black car early in the movie.

WHAT THEMES COME TO MIND AFTER WATCHING THIS PICTURE?
The anti-hero vs. the Establishment: Kowalski becomes a sympathetic figure because he’s bucking the system and thwarting those who wish to control and curtail him.
The enigma and appeal of the mystery man, the rugged individualist, the romantic loner, the iconoclast: we know very little about Kowalski or what motivates him; indeed, his character and the film beg many unanswered questions, as posed by New York Times writer Rick Lyman: “Are we meant to remember Stanley Kowalski from ‘A Streetcar Named Desire?’ Why is he a pill-popping renegade? What induces him to make a meaningless suicidal bet with a drug dealer to drive his car to San Francisco in an impossibly short time? Why…does he choose to kill himself…rather than knuckle under?’
Crossings and X-factors: Kowalski’s vehicle creates a big “X” in the sand; also, he “crosses the central reservation, the railroad line, the state lines, No Name Creek, and…the line between what the authorities/establishment will and will not tolerate…and the line between optimism of the past and pessimism of the present, and, ultimately, the point of no return at Cisco, where he becomes resigned to his doom, is own personal ‘vanishing point,’” wrote Ward.
Signs: literally, in the form of road signs and visual cultural signifiers like ads, headlines and graffiti. Ward asks us to consider how often we see a “Stop” sign, or what the sign “End speed zone” is suggesting here, and what we’re supposed to think about other visual icons and symbols, like “Coca Cola, Mobil (big business, materialism), police insignia (the establishment, authority), Jesus Saves (religion, dogma), Love (the counter-culture)”...and "Argo’s Car Delivery," which "alludes to the myth of Jason and the Argonauts, the crew of the ship Argo who sailed in search of the Golden Fleece."
Cosmic irony and existential angst. Ward posits that “the movie depicts graphically how the realization of human potential, and the validation of human purpose, are frustrated not only by the very institutions which we create, but also by the very way we think…Kowalski sacrifices himself in order to bring this powerfully to our attention.”
WHAT DID YOU FIND INTERESTING, UNIQUE OR UNEXPECTED ABOUT THIS FILM?
It can be enjoyed on multiple levels: as a straight-up action thriller, as an existential think piece about nonconformity, or as a dated time capsule movie endemic of the counterculture, cult film audience it appealed to.
Unlike other lawbreaking anti-hero characters in cinema, he seems to abide by a moral code: he rebuffs sexual offers from females, he stops and checks to make sure that drivers he leaves behind are not hurt, and he only takes what he needs, suggests Ward.
There’s a recurrent use of crash zooms and rapid focus shifts, a trend many 1970s grindhouse and exploitation films.
The movie features a bed of nearly nonstop music that varies from country to rock to soul.
There’s an awkward and stereotypical scene depicting gay outlaws that can be cringe-worthy today.
While the car chase shots/scenes involved risk and should be appreciated, many expect there to be more stunts, close calls, crashes, pile-ups and death-defying feats of driving, as we often see in other car chase films.
It’s hard not to watch this movie and not think of the O.J. Simpson car chase and the media frenzy that erupted from that event—demonstrating that life can imitate art.

WHAT OTHER MOVIES DOES VANISHING POINT CONJURE UP?
Easy Rider, with its anti-hero, counterculture themes and road movie template
Car chase plot films like Bullitt, Duel, Smokey and the Bandit, Death Proof, and the Fast and Furious series
Copycat pictures from the 1970s such as Crazy Mary, Dirty Larry, Death Race 2000, and Gone in 60 Seconds
Old and modern movies that feature incredible auto chase sequences, like The French Connection, The Rock, and Ronin
Thelma and Louise, which shares a similar tragic but romantic ending
First Blood, another movie in which a Vietnam vet is harassed and chased by authorities, who suffer at the skilled hands of the pursued

OTHER FILMS DIRECTED BY RICHARD C. SARAFIAN
Run Wild, Run Free
Man in the Wilderness
Lolly-Madonna XXX 

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Cut to the chase by attending CineVerse this Wednesday

Sunday, April 30, 2017

On May 3, CineVerse will kick off its new two-month schedule with “Vanishing Point” (1971; 99 minutes), directed by Richard C. Sarafian, chosen by Mike Bochenek.

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The Little Tramp -- with a skirt

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Giuletta Masina acquits herself quite nicely as an outstanding actress in "Nights of Cabiria." Of course, it helps getting direction from your husband, Federico Fellini, perhaps the greatest Italian director of all time. And borrowing physically expressive elements from Charles Chaplin's Little Tramp character doesn't hurt either, especially when playing a spirited young lady of the night with a diminutive stature but a large heart. Masina certainly does much of the heavy lifting in "Cabiria," but the film excels across many levels besides acting. CineVerse tapped into what makes this movie tick last evening and deduced the following:

WHAT IS THIS FILM ABOUT? WHAT THEMES STAND OUT?
Loneliness and isolation contrasted with the need for love and connection: Cabiria is an outcast even among fellow prostitutes; she seeks a loving bond with another human being, but keeps getting betrayed.
Childlike innocence: Cabiria maintains a youthful simplicity and gullibility about her, and her ability to rebound and smile shortly after a serious setback makes her seem like an innocent, resilient child
The quest for redemption, spiritual transcendence and acceptance: Cabiria is “baptized” in a sense by her near-drowning in the river, which sets her on an odyssey-like path toward personal discovery and the pursuit of an answer to the question, “what if I had died”?
The importance of self-reliance and looking inside for strength and wisdom: despite all that happens to her, the last shot we see of Cabiria is her smiling, which indicates that growth, maturity and strength has to come from within; she has faith that she’ll find her way on her own two feet.
Being “at home” with oneself, as symbolized in Cabiria’s house, which is isolated but which she loves.
Living two lives: a life at night when fantastical things happen, and a life in the daytime when the imperfect real world reigns.

WHAT IS INTERESTING AND OFFBEAT ABOUT NIGHTS OF CABIRIA?
It stands as one of the greatest pairings of husband and wife talents in cinema history: Guiletta Masina and her husband, director Fellini, collaborated on five films together; other successful spousal/lover pairs in movie history include D.W. Griffith and Lillian Gish, Ingmar Bergman and Liv Ullman, Woody Allen and Mia Farrow, and Zhang Yimou and Gong Li.
It’s a different kind of Italian neorealism film; like Umberto D, Cabiria struggles to maintain her dignity, yet the ending is not very neorealistic; instead, it’s almost surreal, introducing this band that comes out of nowhere to stir Cabiria out of her sadness. 
o Blogger Aldo Vidali wrote that this film contains neorealism characteristics: "It is Cabiria’s low social status that ensures her repeated disappointment, because the men in her life continually cast her aside in search of their own version of fulfillment. Therefore, Nights of Cabiria does examine social structures, but with an emphasis on their psychological effects. In doing so it uses Cabiria as an example of women’s yearning for commitment in a society that breeds a seemingly unshakable restlessness among men, who are rarely content with their relationships, or are blinded by their pursuit of wealth. Nevertheless, the film does not propose change or impose a moral, rather it attempts to show the mental condition of humanity through the struggles of women.” However, Vidali added, “(Fellini) discarded pragmatic realism in the pursuit of a metaphysical realism that penetrated far deeper into the human condition than the most “real” of traditional Neorealist motion pictures.”
The plot is episodic, seeming to string together vignettes of Cabiria’s experiences from day to day, night to night, and each of these short episodes can stand on their own as self-contained mini movies.
Cabiria is often framed in isolated shots separate from others; she’s also often placed behind gates or barriers, and she wears striped clothing—all of which suggest that she’s a “prisoner” of some kind who is prevented from achieving the happiness, love and connection she seeks.
The ending is ambiguous deliberately. Fellini believed his movies didn’t need “a final scene…my films give the audience a very exact responsibility. For instance, they must decide what Cabiria's end is going to be. Her fate is in the hands of each one of us. If the film has moved us, and troubled us, we must immediately begin to have new relationships with our neighbors. This must start the first time we meet our friends or our wife, since anyone may be a Cabiria."

A FEW NOTES ON FELLINI AND HIS STYLE:
His earlier films had characters and stories based more in reality; as his career progressed, especially after La Dolce Vita, he dabbled more in surreal, abstract and dreamlike themes and images, and Fellini “created” worlds
“The essential subject of Fellini’s films, particularly of the late ones, like Amarcord, is the cinema itself, another world, ephemeral, touching, ineffable, comic and grand” said Sam Rohdie in his Criterion Collection essay on Amarcord
He’s been called one of cinema’s most visually expressive filmmakers, an auteur who prefers to tell stories and relate information with images more than dialogue.
Fellini was fascinated with the strange, and grotesque, with misfits and with pageantry and façade; he often includes scenes of circuses and clowns, as well as town fools and disturbed/insane people in his films.
He’s also one of the most autobiographical of film directors, often basing characters, shots and scenes on himself or something that he experienced or dreamed: 8 ½ is a great example: a film about a filmmaker who is at a loss as to what to make a film about.

NIGHTS OF CABIRIA CAN REMIND US OF THESE OTHER MOVIES:
Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” films like City Lights
Fellini’s La Strada (also starring Masina) and later La Dolce Vita, which also features, according to Ebert, prostitute characters, nightclub scenes with exotic dancers, fake Virgin Mary appearances, musical sequences that occur in outdoor nightclubs, among other things
Other neorealist films such as Miracle in Milan, Umberto D, and Shoeshine
Sweet Charity, a musical adaptation of this story (1969)

OTHER FILMS DIRECTED BY FEDERICO FELLINI
La Strada
La Dolce Vita
Juliette of the Spirits
Fellini Satyricon
Amarcord 

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