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Pay (some) attention to that film analysis behind the curtain…

Thursday, September 3, 2015

What can possibly be said about the Wizard of Oz that hasn't already been expressed? Actually, plenty, if you give credence to the myriad interpretations, themes, and elements at work that have been suggested by film scholars, critics and fans alike. This 1939 classic is actually chock-full of sub- textual and thematic content worthy of ample discussion. CineVerse attempted exactly that last evening and came away with the following conclusions:


WHY DO YOU THINK THIS FILM IS SO BELOVED AND CHERISHED ACROSS AGE SPANS AND GENERATIONS?
Children and adults alike can appreciate the themes imbued in this movie and the memories it evokes. Consider that The Wizard of Oz is probably the most watched film in history (thanks to its repeated airings over the decades on broadcast television), which means that countless children have seen it and recall it with fondness. They, in turn, pass on the viewing opportunity to their children, and the cycle continues.
The casting is fantastic – Judy Garland exudes a vulnerability and innocence that melts even a steely heart; Ray Bolger is a noodle -like marionette of an actor perfectly embodies the scarecrow; Margaret Hamilton, although little known outside of this film, is the perfect physical personification of a female villain/which; Frank Morgan is wonderful as an addled charlatan with a kind heart.
The songs are also timeless, infinitely hummable and quotable.
There’s something wonderfully transitory about the juxtaposition between the sepia toned black and white book-ended sequences in the Technicolor scenes in between that pop with oversaturated vibrancy. This film would’ve been a revelation to audiences in 1939 who were predominantly fed black and white films by studios and began to discover the magic of Technicolor.
The special-effects are charmingly old-school in an age when it’s easy to get earned out in jaded by overdone CGI and digital effects. The painted cycloramas, wires, simple pyrotechnics, and artificiality of the sets and costumes make for a stagebound but undeniably fun misc-en-scene.
All the characters are sincere; there’s a purity in their drives and motivations that makes the viewer completely believe in whatever factor is compelling them. Dorothy truly wants to get home – pure and simple. No one has any ulterior motives or secondary agendas, which makes it very easy for children to understand and root for these characters.
It’s also terrifyingly memorable to children. Think about all of the visual stimuli at work here that stamp onto the young conscious and unconscious mind, from a terrible tornado to a sadistic ugly which to creepy flying monkeys and angry talking trees to a haunted forest. This, along with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (which also features a gruesome which willing to kill) is among a child’s first exposure to pure evil and terror in a movie. This is a film that isn’t afraid to depict a cruel villain whose modus operandi is to torture and destroy the good guys.

WHAT MAJOR THEMES ARE EXAMINED IN THIS MOVIE?
Growing up and facing challenges along the way: Dorothy quests for ruby slippers, which are elusive “adult shoes.” She’s forced to confront serious fears, such as surviving a tornado, homesickness and separation from her family, a villain who wants to destroy her and her best friend (Toto), etc.
the yearning for remaining in the comfortable and familiar (home) versus the yearning to explore the big bright world beyond: while the film’s message is “there’s no place like home,” and Dorothy learns to appreciate conservative values like the love, warmth and comfort of family and the familiar, she also has a heck of a lot of fun and adventure on her road to and while in Oz, making several lifelong friends along the way. Perhaps the film is not asking viewers to make a choice between one or the other – possibly it’s saying be content with what you have, but it’s also okay to escape to or fantasize about other places.
Roger Ebert summarizes things well: “For kids of a certain age, home is everything, the center of the world. But over the rainbow, dimly guessed at is the wide earth, fascinating and terrifying. There is a deep fundamental fear that events might conspire to transport the child from the safety of home and strand him far away in a strange land. They’re touching on the key lesson of childhood, which is that someday the child will not be a child, that home will no longer exist, that adults will be no help because now the child is an adult and must face the challenges of life alone. But that you can ask friends to help you. And that even the Wizard of Oz is only human, and has problems of his own.
Ebert continues: "Her friends on the yellow brick road were projections of every child’s secret fears. Are we real? Are we ugly and silly? Are we brave enough? In helping them, Dorothy was helping herself, just as an older child will overcome fears by acting brie before younger one.”
Author Salman Rushdie posited: “The weakness of grown-ups (in the Wizard of Oz) forces children to take control of their own destinies.”
Reviewer Richard Scheib had this theory: “the film/book is about the great American myth of self-actualisation. It is about the allegorical search for courage, intelligence and heart. The ending of the film comes to the sentimentally banal realisation that these are things that lie within one and that all that we need to do is to recognise them. The farm in Kansas is the absolute ideal of home, hearth, purity and a loving family. Part of what makes The Wizard of Oz such a classic is that Dorothy’s desire to return home where life is loving and far more simple is the essence of what traditional Americana venerates – there have been few more pure-hearted and unabashedly sentimental evocations of this on the screen.”
Scheib and others further contend that the movie suggests a cynicism about people in authority: consider how many adults are inadequate, including uncle Henry and auntie Em who are powerless to prevent Miss Gulch from absconding with Toto; the wizard himself, who turns out to be a fake; and the denizens of Emerald City, a gullible lot who believe what they are told. This points to a political statement perhaps that you shouldn’t necessarily trust those in power.
Gender and power dynamics are also at play here. Writer Ilan Shrira offered this reading into the film: “The Wizard of Oz veers from the traditional Hollywood storyline in that there's no male hero. In fact, quite the opposite: the only two figures with any real power are women—Glinda the Good Witch and Miss Gulch/Wicked Witch. The male leads—the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion—play the classic "common man" roles, with little power to control their own destiny. The only other powerful character to emerge is Dorothy. In fact, after the struggle over Toto, the tornado can be understood as the clashing forces between Miss Gulch and the headstrong Dorothy. (It's no coincidence that Dorothy's last name is Gale). When we get to Oz, Glinda, Dorothy, and the Witch are the three powerful figures, while all the men are weak (including the Wizard). Thus, similar to the theme about the inadequacy of adults, we're also getting the message that men's power is illusory, whereas women's power is real.”
Goodness, virtue and resilience are internal qualities, while evil and destruction, the film suggests, comes from external forces (the witch/the tornado).
According to reviewer Glenn Erickson, the film is a decidedly American picture espousing American values: “Dorothy finds friends in Oz, but they all share a crucial American flaw, a theme that runs through our literature: Americans lack a defined sense of identity. Most of us do not trace our bloodlines to revered traditions; we have to create their own self-identity as best we can. We don't want to be pigeonholed but we often feel rootless and question who we are. The Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman and the Lion are very American characters -- all three of them feel like failures for the lack of essential qualities -- that they ironically already possess. They just need validation. Dorothy's love and the Wizard's BS pep talk close the gap -- note the importance of illusion to each individual's self-esteem.”
It’s also been theorized that this movie is a mirror of its time in that it depicts the lingering effects of the Great Depression (the challenging conditions on the Kansas farm) as well as fears of World War II – with the wicked witch of the West standing in for Hitler and the wicked witches of the east and west possibly representing a division between East and West on the European warfront.

OTHER FILMS AND WORKS OF ART THAT THE WIZARD OF OZ REMINDS US OF:
Alice in Wonderland
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
Other Disney films like Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and Sleeping Beauty
Star Wars

OTHER FILMS DIRECTED BY VICTOR FLEMING:
Gone With the Wind
Captains Courageous
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Joan of Arc
Treasure Island

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There's no place like CineVerse

Sunday, August 30, 2015

On September 2, CineVerse will continue its "Our Favorite Films" series with “The Wizard of Oz” (1939; 102 minutes), directed by Victor Fleming, chosen by Carole Bogaard. Plus, stick around for : “The Legacy of Oz,” a brief documentary exploring the cultural impact of this film.

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Unlocking the gates to Shawshank

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Some films are just born crowdpleasers. Case in point: The Shawshank Redemption, which is about as good a prison movie as you can get. But this flick uses more than colorful characters, suspenseful situations, and subjective you-are-there point of view to tell a riveting story. Many layers are waiting to be unraveled, which CineVerse attempted to do last night. Here's what we discovered:

HOW IS THIS FILM DIFFERENT FROM OTHER PRISON MOVIES THAT CAME BEFORE IT?
It features a voiceover narration throughout that guides the viewer along, with a likable, homespun voice and vernacular that helps weave a wholly absorbing tale and which creates a more personal, emotional story.
Interestingly, the narrator is arguably not the central character – Red is a third-party witness to the story of Andy Dufresne, the character whom we most identify and sympathize with, especially considering that Andy, we know, is innocent. We get the story from Red’s point of view, which makes it more interesting because Red is more credible as a grizzled, weathered, experienced inmate.
Unlike other films about incarceration, which usually concern themselves from the start with an elaborate escape plan plot, this picture doesn’t try to tip its hat that the later payoff will be an escape; we see many years and even decades go by in which Andy and his friends are imprisoned, presumably without hope. Therefore, the main meat of this story concerns both psychologically and physically coping with an interminable life in prison. There’s enough action and interesting subplots and characters here to make for a fascinating two hours, but, unlike The Great Escape, Papillon, Escape From Alcatraz, or Stalag 17, this film isn’t necessarily tightly woven around a suspenseful plot concerned from the start with escape.
Additionally, although many of those aforementioned prison movies do contain colorful characters, the main and even supporting roles in The Shawshank Redemption are finely chiseled with interesting details and backstories that create a chromatic tapestry of personalities: it could be the film’s greatest strength.
That being said, however, the misdirection employed here that keeps you from prematurely guessing that Andy will eventually escape, and the clever details related to how he does it, make for an incredibly satisfying third act in which the audience feels Andy’s uplifting sense of release, freedom and vindication. This is one of the best revenge/comeuppance films ever made, and you don’t have to have been a former inmate or wrongly accused individual to appreciate these emotions.

HOW ARE ANDY AND RED PERFECTLY JUXTAPOSED CHARACTERS BASED ON THEIR DIFFERENCES?
Andy is white, Red is African-American.
Andy truly is innocent and wrongfully convicted of a crime he didn’t commit, while Red, as crowd-pleasing as he is, is a criminal who knows he has to pay his debt to society (in the original story, he cut the brakes on his wife’s car, leading to her death).
Andy is younger, more sensitive and attuned to cultural sensibilities, more naïve and idealistic, book smart, and hopeful; Red is older, hardened and jaded, street smart, and more pessimistically realistic, which makes him dubious of hope.
Red is a man who can get things in from the outside for others; Andy is a man who can get things out from the inside (his intelligence and hope) for others.
Therein lies the crux of the film’s message: making Red, a doubting Thomas, see the light of hope, as exemplified in his savior, Andy. Andy redeems Red, not by helping him escape from the prison, but by making him believe in a life worth living outside the prison walls.

WHAT’S SIGNIFICANT ABOUT THE FACT THAT THE LAST SCENE TAKES PLACE IN MEXICO BETWEEN JUST THE TWO MAIN CHARACTERS?
The fact that their reunion takes place outside of the boundaries of the familiar (the United States) and within a paradise-like setting is important: it suggests that they’ve graduated to a metaphorical “heaven,” an afterlife-of-sorts on earth far removed from their familiar place of incarceration.
It’s also wise to only show the two of them on the beach, as if this is their own private paradise that they’ve earned.
In the original story, Red is following Andy’s hidden trail and is hopeful that he will rendezvous with his friend eventually some day. This ending was changed for the film because viewers responded more enthusiastically to a visible reunion between the two that was conclusive.

Other films and works directed by Frank Darabont
The Green Mile
The Majestic
The Mist

OTHER NOTABLE FILMS BASED ON STEPHEN KING STORIES
Carrie
The Shining
Misery
Dolores Claiborne
Stand by Me
The Dead Zone
Salem’s Lot
1408

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Either get busy watching Shawshank or get busy dying...

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Our Favorite Films--an ongoing series spotlighting CineVerse members top-ranked movies--returns with Part 9 on August 26 with “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994; 142 minutes), directed by Frank Darabont, chosen by Len Gornik.

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CineVerse September/October schedule ready for viewing

Friday, August 21, 2015

Curious to learn what's on the docket for CineVerse in September and October? Visit http://1drv.ms/1MIM2N3 to access the new calendar for the next two months.

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Time and time again

Thursday, August 20, 2015

For some, it's hard not to be both cynical and sentimental while watching an old-fashioned romantic drama like "Somewhere in Time." The film has obvious appeal to hopeless romantics everywhere, yet can be as repellent as kryptonite is to Superman to others. Still, it represents a fascinating experiment as a pop culture phenomenon and female-friendly cult movie. CineVerse examined the picture last night and came away with these conclusions:


WHAT IS INTERESTING ABOUT THIS FILM AS A CULTURAL PHENOMENON?
It bombed when originally released in theaters in 1980, but it enjoyed a strong second life after a cable company bought the rights to air it and it was later released on home video; repeated viewings generated a strong cult film -like following.
Consider that the movie was released during a period when this type of old-fashioned love stories and romantic dramas were decidedly out of fashion with audiences, as demonstrated by low box office revenue for this genre – yet, its underground appeal made it rise like a phoenix from the ashes.
10 years after its original release, a die-hard fan club was created – one that continues to meet yearly at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, where it was filmed. This same club pressured the powers that be to put Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
It’s also impressive that this film subsequently succeeded in finding an audience, despite the fact that it is actually a science fiction film that vastly differs from other time travel films featuring glitzy special effects and action-packed plots.

HOW IS THIS STORY DIFFERENT FROM OTHER TIME TRAVEL STORIES AND FILMS?
Many other films related to time travel, including the Back to the Future movies, The Time Machine, and others, concern themselves with the technology required to achieve time travel, time paradox problems, and altered destiny possibilities, asking questions like what if someone forever alters the future or the past?
This film, instead, isn’t concerned with technology or metaphysical paradoxes. It’s strictly focused on a love story that spans time and space, without getting bogged down in scientific detail and rational explanations. For some, the film’s deceit that you can go back in time simply by meditating, practicing self-hypnosis, or using your concentrated mind, is a ridiculous notion; but for fans of this film, it’s actually a more romantic, organic explanation.
Blogger John Kenneth Muir wrote: “This film asks us to ponder a love so powerful, so out of the ordinary, that it goes beyond the veil of our reality. This element imbues Somewhere in Time with some sense of the spiritual, of the longing for the impossible in our everyday lives.” Muir also posited: “Stories of the heart are always more difficult to dramatize… And downright chancy. Love is a deeply personal thing, isn’t it? In a motion shared between two – not one easily transmitted between the masses via a technological medium.”

DID THIS MOVIE LEAVE YOU WITH ANY UNANSWERED QUESTIONS OR AMBIGUITIES?
Is it possible that Robinson is a time traveler like Collier?
Where did the gold watch come from?
How is it even remotely possible to travel through time merely via self-hypnosis?

OTHER FILMS OR BOOKS THIS MOVIE REMINDS YOU OF:
Titanic
The Notebook
Time and Again (novel)
The Time Traveler’s Wife
The Two Worlds of Jenny Logan
Peggy Sue Got Married
The Lake House
Time After Time

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Superman meets Back to the Future meets Harlequin romance novels

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Part 8 of CineVerse's Our Favorite Films--an ongoing series spotlighting CineVerse members top-ranked movies--is slated for August 19; “Somewhere in Time” (1980; 103 minutes), directed by Jeannot Szwarco, chosen by Marce Demski. Plus: A trailer reel preview of the September/October CineVerse schedule.

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The Duke meets The Duchess

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The original "True Grit" features a more portly and slightly mellowed John Wayne in his signature rugged individualist type Western role. But the grizzled old veteran is still able to evoke a distinctive and memorable performance as Rooster Cogburn – a man who meets his match in a sprightly tomboy who seeks justice for her father's murder. Observations offered on this film, collected from last evening's CineVerse discussion, include the following:

A MOTIF IS DEFINED AS A DOMINANT THEME OR REPEATED DESIGN OR IMAGE. A GENRE IS DEFINED AS A CATEGORY, TYPE OR CLASS. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE COMMON MOTIFS OF TYPICAL WESTERN GENRE FILMS THAT ARE USED IN TRUE GRIT? FOR EXAMPLE, HORSES ARE A COMMON MOTIF IN TRUE GRIT AND OTHER WESTERNS. CAN YOU GIVE OTHER EXAMPLES?
Homesteader community/frontier town
Gunslingers
Wide open spaces
Desert landscapes
The rough, dirty, darkly clothed and unkempt vs the cleaner, lighter-colored townspeople

HOW DOES ROOSTER COGBURN REPRESENT A SORT OF MYTHIC FIGURE – THE KIND WE’VE SEEN IN OTHER GENRES AND WORKS OF FICTION?
He’s an outsider who wanders into an established town, not exactly trusted on either the good or bad side
He lives by his own code of honor, bravery, dignity, like the samurai and the medieval knights
He isnt’ afraid to take the law into his own hands; he merits own swift vigilante justice
And yet, while he’s rugged and macho, he’s not a sexy, young stud of a gunslinger like we’ve seen in other westerns, and he isn’t self-conscious about his appearance or style

WHAT DOES COGBURN REPRESENT TO THE BAD GUYS?
A caricature of the western hero: a one-eyed fat, old has-been who probably isn’t much of a threat

WHAT DOES COGBURN REPRESENT TO MATTIE?
A father and grandfather figure in one, a bigger than life mythic hero

TRUE GRIT HAS BEEN DESCRIBED AS A FILM THAT ECHOED JOHN WAYNE’S CONSERVATIVE POLITICAL VIEWPOINT. DO YOU SEE ANY EVIDENCE OF THIS IN THE MOVIE?
“You can’t serve papers on a rat”—his form of justice is the way of the gun
The movie seems to favor stricter laws and tougher treatment of criminals

WHAT DOES JOHN WAYNE BRING TO THIS ROLE AND WHY WAS HE ULTIMATELY THE RIGHT CASTING CHOICE?
He’s played other loner, rugged, morally ambiguous heroes in the past, so we’re already emotionally invested in the values and archetypal traits he brings to a western hero character.

1969 WAS A BIG YEAR FOR WESTERNS:

Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid
The Wild Bunch
McKenna’s Gold
Support Your Local Sherrif
Paint Your Wagon

JOHN WAYNE WON THE BEST ACTOR OSCAR FOR THIS ROLE; THE ACADEMY SEEMS TO LIKE TO REWARD ACTORS WHO EITHER SIGNFICANTLY CHANGE THEIR APPEARANCE OR HAVE A DISABILITY OF SOME KIND. CAN YOU NAME SOME EXAMPLES?

DeNiro in Raging Bull (from thin and buff to overweight and washed up)
Daniel Day Lewis, my left foot (cerebral palsy)
Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man (autism)
William Hurt in Kiss of the Spider Woman (flamboyant homosexual)
Charlize Theron in Monster
Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles in Ray and Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman (blind man)
Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump (developmentally disabled)
Jon Voight as a disabled Vietnam Vet in Coming Home
Hillary Swank, masquerading as a boy in Boys don’t cry
Frances McDormand as a pregnant Sherrif in Fargo
Marlee Matlin as a deaf woman in Children of a Lesser God

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The Duke as elder statesman

Sunday, August 9, 2015

On August 12, Our Favorite Films--an ongoing series spotlighting CineVerse members top-ranked movies--reconvenes with Part 7: “True Grit” (1969; 128 minutes), directed by Henry Hathaway, chosen by Ken Demski.

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