Blog Directory CineVerse

Back in the U.S.S.R.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

CineVerse strolled back to the dawn of the Reagan era with its exploration of "Moscow on the Hudson" last night. While it was fun to see now-dated early 1980s product placements for Sanka coffee and Sergio Valente jeans, the film still possesses a resonance that can be appreciated by today's audiences. Here's what we concluded:

WHAT DID YOU FIND INTERESTING, DIFFERENT OR SURPRISING ABOUT “MOSCOW ON THE HUDSON” THAT PERHAPS YOU DIDN’T ANTICIPATE?
·       The film is replete with racial and ethnic minorities, including an African American friend, an Italian girlfriend, a Cuban lawyer, a Korean taxi driver, a Chinese anchorwoman, etc.
·       Roger Ebert suggested one of this movie’s strengths is: “It’s a comedy that finds most of its laughs in the close observations of human behavior.”
·       Ebert also noted that the picture is “a rarity, a patriotic film that has a liberal, rather than a conservative, heart. It made me feel good to be an American.”
·       They actually have the actors, including Williams, speak in authentic Russian, as opposed to some films where the ethnic types speak in English but we’re supposed to believe they’re talking in their native tongues.
·       This feels like a well-researched movie, and it was: Mazursky and his team prepped for the film by interviewing Russian immigrants about their experiences and by visiting Russia. Mazursky was quoted as saying: "Most Russians are just trying to survive. Yet, all Russians who leave their country leave behind something they treasure and love. It's a terrible conflict for them, so the act of bravery is overwhelming."
·       This is not a gag-a-minute, silly comedy that tries to overexploit Williams’ manic talents; it arguably could be funnier. However, the filmmakers were going for more than big belly laughs here: their aim was to make you think about the immigration experience, which has comedic elements, but is also meant to be dramatic, poignant, and emotional.

WHAT ARE SOME THEMES EXAMINED IN “MOSCOW ON THE HUDSON”?
·       The film posits the question: What does it mean to be an American? After all, no one is truly an original American except for the Native American Indians; the rest of us had ancestors that came from other countries, like Vlad.
·       The U.S., and the world for the matter, is one big melting pot and collective spirit, or at least it should be; New York is a great backdrop in which to play out this multicultural message of positivity.
·       We need to stop taking our liberties, freedoms and American way of life for granted and think about how envied we are by less fortunate foreigners, many of whom are simply looking for the same chances and opportunities and simple joys we are provided.

WHY IS ROBIN WILLIAMS THE RIGHT CASTING CHOICE FOR THE PART OF VLADAMIR?
·       While this isn’t an acting tour de force worthy of an Oscar, it does showcase Williams’ range a bit early in his career as more than a funnyman.
·       He possesses Slavic features, including a very hairy body that is surprisingly fully on display in the lovemaking scene—American audiences typically think of hairy bodies as unattractive and gross, which is why we rarely see them except in gross-out comedies (think Borat). Williams also pulls off the Russian accent pretty well.
·       Vladamir is a likeable character, and Williams, with his infectious energy and enthusiasm, is easy to like, so it’s a good match.

SOME ISSUES VIEWERS MAY HAVE WITH THIS FILM:
·       We don’t see any particular catalyst or trigger point that explains why Vlad suddenly decides to defect; previous to the defection scene in Bloomingdales, we see him try hard to dissuade his circus performer friend from defecting; also, Vlad is depicted as relatively content and accepting of his oppressed and predictable life in Russia. It becomes hard to understand the motivation for his impulsive decision to remain in America.
·       By the time the Russians arrive in New York, it becomes a bit implausible that they’re speaking such fluent English and also talking in English to each other (instead of Russian) when they don’t have to. Small point, but also unrealistic.
·       Vlad appears to become Americanized a bit too quickly to be believed; consider how well he can dance at the discotheque, how fast he learns the lingo, etc.

OTHER FILMS STARRING ROBIN WILLIAMS
·       1980 Popeye
·       1982 The World According to Garp
·       1987 Good Morning Vietnam
·       1989 Dead Poets Society
·       1990 Awakenings
·       1991 The Fisher King
·       1993 Mrs. Doubtfire
·       1997 Good Will Hunting
·       2002 One Hour Photo
·       2002 Insomnia

OTHER FILMS BY DIRECTOR PAUL MAZURSKY, WHO ALSO PASSED AWAY IN 2014
·        1969 Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice
·       1974 Harry and Tonto
·       1978 An Unmarried Woman
·       1986 Down and Out in Beverly Hills
·       1989 Enemies: A Love Story 

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Film rookie Robin plays a Russian

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Make plans to attend CineVerse on September 17, as we pay tribute to the late Robin Williams and celebrate the 30th anniversary of “Moscow on the Hudson” (1984; 115 minutes), directed by Paul Mazursky, chosen by Larry Leipart.

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East meets west, and there's hell to pay

Thursday, September 11, 2014

It may be a simple story, but "Onibaba" has a lot of meat on its bones that can be stripped away to reveal a marrow of truth that can prove quite satisfying to those willing to explore its deeper meanings. Here are the conclusions our CineVerse group reached on this 1964 classic of Japanese cinema:

WHAT DID YOU FIND UNEXPECTED AND MEMORABLE ABOUT “ONIBABA”?
·       The film features a lot of nudity for a 1964 film; Americans wouldn’t have been accustomed to seeing topless women in movies until the late 1960s, after the introduction of the ratings system and the loosening of censorship restrictions.
·       It’s an incredibly simple story, with very few characters, scenes and locations; yet, it’s riveting in its dark, horrific and noir-like atmosphere and its timeless triangular situations involving the two women and one man.
·       Interestingly, the women are not necessarily depicted as more threatening than the amoral and violent males around them. It’s important to remember that they are destitute, impoverished, hungry, and alone, and women are low in social status in this Japanese era. They aren’t even provided names, unlike the men. In other words, although they are cold, cruel and callous, this approach is required to survive in a time when, as a double standard, men are permitted to be hired killers.
·       This film is the antithesis of samurai movies of this era, which celebrated the heroic values and virtues of macho men who went off to battle; as a contrast to honor and virtue, this film spotlights desire, greed and passion.
·       The score is quite radical: the opening number is a jazzy, contemporary tune, but the main music used in the film employs a percussive, discordant, even guttural pattern of drums, simplistic woodwinds, strings, and some instrument or object that mimics the sound of wood snapped in half.
·       The movie adopts elements of film noir, such as the high contrast lighting scheme that produces deep darks and shadows, and the presence of two femme fatales who lead men (samurai) into danger.

HOW IS “ONIBABA” A BLENDING OF ANCIENT AND CONTEMPORARY VALUES, OF OLD AND NEW STORYTELLING, AND OLD AND NEW BELIEFS, ESPECIALLY FOR JAPANESE AUDIENCES IN 1964?
·       It’s adapted from a Buddhist parable intended to encourage females to attend religious services.
·       In this contemporary retelling, however, it becomes a cautionary tale warning of the dangers of consequences of passion, hunger, and desire, especially sexual desire.
·       Reviewer Mike Pinsky further suggests that “Shindo has completely transformed the original folktale from its search for spiritual fulfillment to the satisfaction of very human hungers: survival, companionship, and sexuality. Just as the Hole is not a gateway to some hell (since the hell has already come to Earth), the demon mask is not a gate through which spiritual evil (some "real" demon) might pass, but a marker of the ethical corruption that already surrounds the world like the endless stalks of waving, hissing grass.”
·       The film is topical for the 20th century in its indictment of the devastating effects war has on humanity and civilized values.
·       It could also be considered a criticism of how women are treated as objects in Japanese culture.
·       You could make a case that this story is also a parable about the rape of the natural world and our heartless stripping of earth’s resources (think of how the women kill the men so callously, then strip them clean of anything of value).
·       Additionally, “Onibaba” employs a healthy dose of subjective camera shots (we’re right down at the women’s level, low in the grass and the mud, watching their prey ahead, for instance) as well as visually poetic close-up shots of nature and expressive human faces.

THIS IS A PICTURE REPLETE WITH SYMBOLISM. FOR EXAMPLE, WHAT DO THE MASK, THE HOLE, AND THE GRASS REPRESENT?
·       The mask and what it reveals underneath could be figurative of the mutilation and defacement of the victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, which is what director Kaneto Shindo reportedly revealed. 
·       In a Freudian psychological reading, the hole could signify the danger and mystery of female sexuality to men.
·       In a wider reading, one reviewer said: “as the film progresses, it becomes clear that the hole represents a wider danger for humanity. At various times, people nearly fall into the hole - most notably Hachi, who teeters on the brink of it momentarily, having just been running through the grass in an ecstasy of lust for the younger woman. Various other people fall into it - mostly the unfortunate soldiers who have become the victims of the two predatory women. The hole represents some nemesis or catastrophe that is constantly there for those who are prey to the baser instincts of Man, in the absence of civilization.”
·       You could make a case that the grasses, which ebb and flow in the wind and move randomly and wildly, could stand for the general disorder and unpredictability of nature itself.
·       As posited by Pinsky: “Wounded men in Onibaba fight through a sea of whispering grass, like sharp phalluses, as if masculine power has been turned against them. Speared unseen by feral women, they are stripped of their armor and dumped in a great hole, thus completing the humiliation of their gender.”
·       There are many spaces implying claustrophobia in “Onibaba”: consider the hut the women live in and the cave. The filmmakers want us to feel hedged in and trapped, as the women are trapped in their condition, despite ironically living in the vast expanse of the wild.

OTHER MOVIES AND WORKS OF LITERATURE SIMILAR TO ONIBABA:
·       Japanese “kaidan” ghost story films, such as “Ugetsu” by Kenji Mizoguchi and “Kwaidan”
·       “Woman of the Dunes” and “In the Realm of the Senses,” also both from Japan
·       “Knife in the Water”
·       “Diabolique”
·       The “Twilight Zone” episode “The Masks”
·       Scary fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm
·       “Days of Heaven”, which also features a love triangle and extreme close-ups of tall grasses and shots of nature
·       Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal,” which is also set during a particularly bleak time in human history when death and destruction reigned, and which also includes an ominous omen figure of doom.

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Face to face with fear

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Join CineVerse on on September 10 for the return of World Cinema Wednesday and a specail import from Japan: “Onibaba” (1964; 103 minutes), directed by Kaneto Shindô, chosen by Peggy Quinn, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

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Taking a page from Pat's "Playbook"

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Let's face it: Romcoms often come with a lot of baggage, be it expectations for a storybook romance, desires for female wish fulfillment, or preconceived notions of sexy thespians flirting and bed-hopping. But "Silver Linings Playbook" doesn't exactly play by the book that romantic comedy fans know by heart. Here's what distinguishes this picture above many of its predecessors:

WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERISTICS OF A TYPICAL ROMCOM (ROMANTIC COMEDY)?
·       They almost always demand a happy ending that is almost always delivered; in this sense, they are predictable, schmaltzy, implausible and derivative.
·       They usually involve the meeting of two people who are mutually attracted but who each have personal problems that impede them from fostering a healthy relationship; there are often a series of misunderstandings, bad choices and mistakes that help them improve and develop, and which bring them together by the end of the movie.
·       Romcoms almost always cast attractive, likable actors, and this is no exception.

HOW IS SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK DIFFERENT AND UNEXPECTED, PARTICULARLY AS A ROMANTIC COMEDY?
·       It shifts in tonality and mood throughout the picture: you see moments of comedy, violence, tenderness, darkness, and more.
·       It brings the decidedly sobering topic of mental illness into the romcom formula, which is a risky proposition that can derail lesser pictures into maudlin, over-generalized cliché approaches to psychiatric problems in characters.
·       Salon critic Andrew O’Hehir summarized it nicely: “It’s a rom-com that succeeds in revitalizing that discredited genre where so many others have failed, injecting it with the grit and emotion of realist drama rather than with amped-up whimsy or social satire or montages of people walking on the beach while whiny emo-pop plays on the soundtrack. As he did with the boxing movie in “The Fighter,” Russell proves that you can breathe new life into one of the hoariest forms in the Hollywood lexicon. He takes a movie where everyone in the audience knows how it will end and makes us suspend our disbelief and fall in love all over again.”
·       It’s not overly cute, sentimental or completely predictable like many romcoms.
·       It casts two increasingly popular actors in roles that challenge their typecasting: Bradley Cooper often plays pretty boy characters and in gross out comedies; Jennifer Lawrence has demonstrated more range, but we see a different, more diversified side of her here.
·       Interestingly, many of the characters in this picture have mental challenges: Pat and Tiffany suffer from bipolar disorder; Pat’s dad has OCD and anger issues; Ronnie thinks about suicide, etc.
·       It does a good job of depicting a family near its breaking point and of portraying flawed characters who each seem to have a hangup or disorder.
·       This film turns the gender dynamics around; instead of the man pursuing the woman, it’s the other way around: Tiffany likes Pat and aggressively pursues him.

DOES THIS FILM DO A DISSERVICE TO VIEWERS IN ITS DEPICTION OF MENTAL ILLNESS?
·       This movie has been criticized as whitewashing the issue of a challenging mental issue like bipolar disorder, suggesting perhaps the conservative, faith-based view that mental illness can be managed or overcome through sheer force of will (Pat’s initial attitude). However, we see that he finally does take his medications and sticks to them, and that by the end of the film he’s more balanced and in control of his illness.
·       Psychologists have also complained that the movie wraps up too neatly all the loose ends, insinuating that a dance contest and mutual love can overcome psychological disorders.
·       On the other hand, Dr. Skip Dine Young wrote: “The reason that Silver Linings Playbook is nominated for an Academy Award is not because of its innovative narrative but because of its unusual characters placed in an otherwise cliché narrative. The typical flaw of a rom-com hero is that he is “afraid of commitment” while the heroine is often “too needy.” In this movie, we have a hero who nearly killed a man and a heroine who had sex with everyone in her workplace. These behaviors are a challenge to the comfortable identification that often accompanies “normal” flaws. The movie’s primary virtue lies in how it manages to include such atypical characters in the hopeful dreams of the romantic comedy tradition.”

OTHER MOVIES THAT COME TO MIND AFTER VIEWING “SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK”
·       As Good As It Gets
·       Dirty Dancing
·       Friday Night Lights
·       Benny and Joon

OTHER FILMS DIRECTED BY DAVID O. RUSSELL
·       Three Kings
·       I Heart Huckabees
·       The Fighter
·       American Hustle

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Book your plans for "Playbook"

Sunday, August 31, 2014

On September 3, CineVerse presents a decidedly different kind of romcom: “Silver Linings Playbook” (2012; 122 minutes), directed by David O. Russell, chosen by Danealle Kueltzo.

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Want to scare your kids away from drugs? Show them "Requiem for a Dream"

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Few films pack the power to scare you straight and make you think twice about indulging in the illicits like "Requiem for a Dream," Darren Aronofsky's visceral attack on the senses via cinema. Last night, our CineVerse group performed a toxicology report and deduced that this film tested positive for the following ideas:

WHAT OTHER FILMS DO YOU THINK OF AFTER WATCHING “REQUIEM FOR A DREAM”?
·       Trainspotting
·       The Basketball Diaries
·       Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
·       Spun
·       Pulp Fiction
·       Oslo, August 31st
·       Midnight Cowboy
·       Repulsion
·       Traffic
·       Drugstore Cowboy
·       Blow
·       Leaving Las Vegas
·       Days of Wine and Roses

HOW IS REQUIEM FOR A DREAM DIFFERENT FROM MANY OF THOSE OTHER FILMS, ESPECIALLY THE ONES DEPICTING DRUG USE AND ADDICTION?
·       Unlike some of those aforementioned movies, including Trainspotting, this film has a pointed agenda: to depict drug use and addiction as negative, damaging and dangerous; other movies sometimes glorify drug use and the effects of getting high.
·       This picture is unrelentingly bleak and pessimistic; in fact, it’s more akin to a horror movie than a drama or cautionary tale.
·       This film uses stylistic techniques with camera, editing, sound and music to help tell its story and to create, as phrased by Roger Ebert, “a new urgency to the drug movie by trying to reproduce, through is subjective camera, how his characters feel, or want to feel, or fear to feel.”

ARONOFSKY USES SPECIAL CINEMATIC METHODS TO TRY TO GET YOU TO FEEL AND EXPERIENCE WHAT THE CHARACTERS ARE EXPRERIENCING AND TO PROVIDE A MORE SUBJECTIVE INTERPRETATION. WHAT ARE THE SPECIFIC TECHNIQUES EMPLOYED BY THE FILMMAKER TO HELP TELL THIS STORY AND GET YOUR ATTENTION?
·       Hip-hop montage, as it’s called, which utilizes rapid cuts, similarly to an MTV video or edgy commercial. A typical movie may have 600 cuts; this film has more than 2,000.
·       Consider how the scenes and shots shorten in duration as the movie progresses, so that, near the ending of the film, we get increasingly rapidly juxtaposed shots—the effect of which is to ratchet up the tension and anxiety.
·       Long tracking shots, with the camera sometimes attached to the character so we can see and feel his/her movements and rhythm. In this way, the camera becomes more subjective.
·       Split-screen to juxtapose two or more characters and see how they’re coexisting or contrasting.
·       Time-lapse photography to quickly depict the passing of time
·       Hallucinatory images showcasing distorted visions of reality and disturbing imagery.
·       Alternation between extreme close-ups and extreme distance from the action.
·       Excellent use of sound effects and sound design to exaggerate the hollowness and fear the characters feel; consider the sounds of metal doors closing, an off-the-hook phone, and cash registers ringing.

HOW DO THE FILMMAKERS GET US TO SYMPATHIZE AND CARE FOR THE CHARACTERS, DESPITE THEIR MANY UNREDEEMING QUALITIES?
·       Through use of subjective camera; we see things through the characters eyes and become more complicit in and voyeuristic to their actions and mistakes. We get to step inside their shoes, thanks to the aforementioned techniques used, which makes it easier to root for and/or pity these people.
·       Through the smart casting of Ellyn Burstyn and the writing of her character: she functions as the heart of the movie. While we may be less inclined to empathize with her addicted-from-the-start son and his girlfriend, for example, we see how she starts out as a non-addict and is negatively transformed throughout the picture. She shows how normal people don’t start out like junkies.

WHAT THEMES ARE PUT UNDER THE MICROSCOPE IN REQUIEM FOR A DREAM?
·       Addiction and dependency, not just to drugs, but to material dreams, vanity, television, sex, sugar, and various forms of consumption.
·       How the “American Dream” of happiness is unattainable and impossible to achieve for many, especially when they pursue that dream through the mode of instant gratification.
·       We are each alone and alienated in this world—a world that can be so terrifying as to make us want to return to the womb for comfort and solace (think about the final shots of characters curling up into fetal positions).
·       The eye becomes an important symbol in echoing these themes: we see how a pupil becomes black and dilated when reality is artificially altered; and we also see how the blue color in the iris is a reflection of a blue sky, which suggests an idyllic existence of happiness and a natural state of reality at the same time.
·       Aronofsky was quoted as saying, about this film: “Requiem for a Dream is not about heroin or about drugs…The Harry-Tyrone-Marion story is a very traditional heroin story. But putting it side by side with the Sara story, we suddenly say, 'Oh, my God, what is a drug?' The idea that the same inner monologue goes through a person's head when they're trying to quit drugs, as with cigarettes, as when they're trying to not eat food so they can lose 20 pounds, was really fascinating to me. I thought it was an idea that we hadn't seen on film and I wanted to bring it up on the screen."

OTHER FILMS BY DARREN ARONOFSKY
·       Pi (1998)
·       The Fountain (2006)
·       The Wrestler (2008)
·       Black Swan (2010)
·       Noah (2014)

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Is it a "Dream," or a nightmare?

Sunday, August 24, 2014

On August 27, CineVerse will conclude its current monthly series, Pushing Boundaires: films that challenged the censors and created controversial but important works of cinematic art. Part 6: Sex and drugs and rock n' roll. “Requiem for a Dream” (2000; 102 minutes), directed by Darren Aronofsky.

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Coming soon to a CineVerse theater near you...

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Excited to learn what's on the calendar for CineVerse in September and October? Curious to know what Shocktober Theater films have been slated for the weeks leading up to Halloween? The schedule for the next two months is posted and ready for viewing by visiting http://1drv.ms/1lkq5YP

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