Blog Directory CineVerse

If you screen it, they will come...

Sunday, July 27, 2014

We're heading into the home stretch of the baseball season, which makes it the perfect time to explore “Field of Dreams ” (1989; 107 minutes), directed by Phil Alden Robinson, chosen by Len Gornik, slated for July 30.

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Move over James Bond--and make way for Miles Kendig

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The challenge: Create an intriguing and crowd-pleasing spy thriller at a time when James Bond flicks dominated that subgenre, and add in healthy doses of comedy anchored by an unflappable performance by the least likely ladies man thespian in Hollywood, Walter Matthau. The end result: "Hopscotch," a film that doesn't fail to entertain 34 years after its initial release. Here is the CineVerse breakdown on this easily overlooked little gem from 1980:

HOW IS HOPSCOTCH DIFFERENT FROM OTHER SPY THRILLERS, ESPECIALLY FOR ITS TIME PERIOD (1980)?
·       The tone here is more comedic and lighthearted, with its share of slapstick, than the James Bond thrillers of the day as well as the dark, brooding, pessimistic pictures of the 1970s that attempted to expose tales of government spying, cover-ups and conspiracies.
o   What keeps the tone light? Three “Ms”:
1.     Matthau—this is ideal casting, as his mannerisms, gestures and facial expressions bring a smile to your face;
2.     Mozart—the soundtrack is replete with pleasant, whimsical classical and operatic music by the master composer;
3.     Myerson—Ned Beatty plays a good villain/antagonist here, almost a caricatured parody of blustery, conservative, profane Americans who is easy to root against.
·       As writer Bruce Eder put it: “In the wake of the Watergate scandal and the discovery that U.S. presidents had employed the CIA to further their own political ends, espionage movies had taken a humorless turn. The moviegoing public, no longer enamored of spies, turned its attention to cautionary tales of governmental duplicity. Gone were capers on the order of Our Man Flint (1966) and Caprice (1967); in their place were violent, cynical, and paranoia-laced thrillers in the manner of Alan J. Pakula’s The Parallax View (1974), Sidney Pollack’s Three Days of the Condor (1975), and John Schlesinger’s Marathon Man (1976).” Other examples from the 1970s were “Capricorn One” and “The Conversation.”
·       Miles is a spy protagonist who is unlike most agents we’re familiar with in the movies, especially James Bond:
o   He doesn’t carry a gun.
o   He doesn’t try to bed down and get naked with every woman he encounters.
o   He isn’t your typical handsome, rugged leading man.
·       Interestingly, there are no deaths, sex scenes, car chases (although there is an aircraft chase), or fight sequences in the film. How does it keep our attention, then?
o   With a well-cast group of characters
o   With clever banter and believable chemistry between Matthau and Jackson
o   With ample joviality and laughs, refreshing for an espionage/spy film.
·       The film proved topical in that it’s plot—about a former CIA agent publishing a memoir—actually came true; a series of books were written by previous agency insiders, including Frank Snepps’ “Decent Interval” and Victor Marchetti’s “The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence.” Snepp also appeared on 60 Minutes a year prior to this film and fought a legal battle that found its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

WHAT ARE SOME PRIMARY THEMES EXAMINED IN THIS FILM?
·       Film reviewer Jack Sommersby wrote: “it's about the necessity of humor to keep one's sanity while working in a madhouse like the CIA.”
·       The creativity, ingenuity and resilience of a determined individual against a bureaucratic organization or formidable group.
·       Thinking for yourself instead of being an order taker and follower.
·       The game of life is like a chess match in which you have to anticipate your opponent’s future moves to win or, in this case, survive and thrive.

THIS FILM HAS A MACGUFFIN (A RELATIVELY INSIGNIFICANT OBJECT OR EVENT THAT SERVES AS A CATALYST TO SET THE ACTION IN MOTION), MUCH LIKE MANY HITCHCOCK PICTURES. WHAT IS THE MACGUFFIN IN “HOPSCOTCH”?
·       The tell-all memoir chapters written by Kendig.

HOW COULD THIS FILM HAVE BEEN IMPROVED, IN ANY WAY?
·       It could have provided more screen time for Glenda Jackson’s character and woven her part more into the machinations of the plot; as it is, she’s little more than an attractive occasional counterpoint to Matthau.
·       It could have built more tension and intrigue around and interesting segues between all the territories the character jet sets off to, which includes Munich, Salzburg, and Washington.
·       Perhaps it could have infused a bit more sex appeal, violence, and fast-paced action to appeal to fans of typical spy films.

WHAT FILMS ARE YOU REMINDED OF AFTER WATCHING “HOPSCOTCH”?
·       Catch Me If You Can
·       Charade
·       Mr. & Mrs. Smith
·       True Lies

OTHER FILMS DIRECTED BY RONALD NEAME
·       Scrooge
·       The Poseidon Adventure
·       The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie 

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Spy vs. spy

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Walter Matthau learns to play a high-stake game of “Hopscotch” in the 1980 film of the same name  (106 minutes) directed by Ronald Neame. That's the next flick on the agenda for CineVerse, chosen by Rose Krc and scheduled for July 23.

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Jesus enters the Twilight Zone

Thursday, July 17, 2014

What if Jesus had simply wanted to be an everyday Joe, get married, raise a family, and live a quiet, normal life? That question and others are examined in Martin Scorsese's firebrand film "The Last Temptation of Christ," which plays out somewhat similarly to the plots in "It's a Wonderful Life" and Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" in that the main protagonist is shown, with the help of a guardian angel, a vision of how life could have been different in an alternate reality. Here is what our film discussion group concluded about this polarizing picture:

IN WHAT WAYS IS THIS FILM DIFFERENT FROM OTHER MOVIES DEPICTING THE LIFE AND WORKS OF CHRIST?
·       It presents alternative views and takes on passages from the Bible, as well as depictions of actions and events not mentioned in the Bible, including Jesus making crosses for the Romans, a past relationship with Mary Magdalene, a close friendship with Judas, and, of course, the sequence near the end where he controversially has visions on the cross of leading a normal life.
·       It presents a very different personification of Jesus than we’re used to: this Jesus expresses fear and doubt, laughs, dances, and asks God for help and assurance.
·       It casts several instantly recognizable actors in prominent parts, often playing them against type, including Harvey Keitel as Judas and David Bowie as Pilate.
·       Unlike glossy Hollywood adaptations that came before it like “King of Kings” and “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” this film “strips away the veneer of theatrical and filmic glamour that has become associated with the Passion Play,” wrote critic Glenn Erickson. This Jesus is not completely flawless or flawless looking, and there is more violence and realism imbued in this production.
·       As critic Janet Maslin put it: “(Scorsese) has elected to shun the conventions of Biblical cinema, underscore the contemporary implications of Mr. Kazantzakis's story, create a heightened historical context for Jesus' teachings and emphasize the visceral aspects of his experience as well.”
·       In other words, instead of depicting Jesus as an otherworldly, supernatural deity, the filmmakers examine Christ’s identity as a real human being as well as a divine being; if he’s human, he has to have doubts, flaws and temptations. And if he’s human, we can also relate to him and understand him better.

MANY RELIGIOUS ZEALOTS AND CHRISTIAN FUNDAMENTALISTS PROTESTED AGAINST THE MAKING AND DISTRIBUTING OF THIS FILM, CALLING IT “BLASPHEMOUS,” “DANGEROUS” AND MORALLY OFFENSIVE”. WHAT ARGUMENT CAN ADMIRERS OF THIS FILM MUSTER TO DEFEND IT FROM NAYSAYERS?
·       It employs a written disclaimer right up front that this story is not based on the Gospels;  instead, it’s a fictional adaptation of Jesus’ life by author Nikos Kazantzakis.
·       Just as there are four different Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—that each tell at least a slightly different story about Jesus, this movie attempts to tell a different story about Christ.
·       The filmmakers involved included a Roman Catholic (Martin Scorsese) who explored many of the same themes of guilt, sin, faith, sacrifice, and redemption in previous films (including “Raging Bull,” “Taxi Driver” and “Mean Streets”; a Greek Orthodox (Kazantzakis); and a Calvinist (screenwriter Paul Schrader).
·       The “temptation” hallucination Jesus envisions on the cross is revealed to be a plot of Satan’s to entice him at his weakest moment. He awakens from the temptation to find himself right back on the cross, which shows that what we saw in his hallucination did not happen.
·       The depiction of sexual relations with Mary Magdalene is handled artfully; as Roger Ebert wrote: “This scene is shot with such restraint and tact that it does not qualify in any way as a "sex scene," but instead is simply an illustration of marriage and the creation of children. Those offended by the film object to the very notion that Jesus could have, or even imagine having, sexual intercourse. But of course Christianity teaches that the union of man and wife is one of the fundamental reasons God created human beings, and to imagine that the son of God, as a man, could not encompass such thoughts within his intelligence is itself a kind of insult. Was he less than the rest of us? Was he not fully man?”

DOES THIS FILM REMIND YOU OF ANY OTHER PREVIOUS WORKS OF LITERATURE OR CINEMA?
·       Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”
·       “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and “A Christmas Carol"
·       Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “The Gospel According to St. Matthew,” which also takes a low-budget, down-to-earth view of Christ
·       “The Passion of Joan of Arc” by Carl Theodor Dreyer
·       “Diary of a Country Priest” by Robert Bresson
·       “Roberto Rossellini’s “The Flowers of St. Francis”

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Scorsese upsets the religious applecart

Sunday, July 13, 2014

On July 16, CineVerse will revisit its current monthly series, Pushing Boundaries: films that challenged the censors and created controversial but important works of cinematic art. Part 5: Sacrilege and scandal. “The Last Temptation of Christ” (1988; 164 minutes), directed by Martin Scorsese.

Note: due to the long runtime of the film, CineVerse will start promptly at 6:45 p.m. and conclude at 10:15 p.m. this evening to allow enough time for discussion.

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Animation comes of age

Thursday, July 10, 2014

"Mary and Max," the quirky and surprisingly dark animated comedy explored at CineVerse yesterday, was a revelation for adults tired of typical animated fare geared toward kids and families. Here's a summary of what we observed:

IN WHAT WAYS IS “MARY AND MAX” DIFFERENT AND DISTINCTIVE FROM OTHER ANIMATED MOVIES YOU’VE SEEN?
·       It’s decidedly more adult and mature in its characters, themes, subject matter, language, content and style. This is a film that delves into autism, suicide, psychiatry, homosexuality, alcoholism, humping dogs, agoraphobia and other matters.
·       The look (and, correspondingly, the world view) is dark, primarily monochromatic in light shades of black and white, and sporting a grungy, used looking palette.
o   Movie reviewer Clark Douglas wrote: “Whereas most animated films are charming and cheerful, this one is dark and gloomy. While most animated films have a vibrant color palette, this one is so overcast that it's a shock when any color at all comes through. These choices are fine, as they suit the film and its tone.”
o   Adam Elliot commented in an interview that “there were no straight lines, every prop had to look like it had been dropped once, every prop had to look like it had bought at an op shop and then everything had to be grunged up and aged.”
o   This film thwarts our expectations of what a claymation movie should look and feel like; previous claymation features like Wallace and Gromit are cute, benign and charming; this one is the opposite, although it does tug on the heartstrings when it needs to.
·       There are no stock characters, stereotypical personalities, or “life-affirming” agendas here. Consider that Max is a lonely, Jewish New Yorker with Asberger’s syndrome, while Mary is an isolated child from Australia who’s looking for a random pen pal—she’s a character who later practices psychiatry and attempts suicide. These are oddball, quirky, idiosyncratic characters whose actions and thoughts are not easy to predict, which offers a refreshing change of pace for viewers.
·       The story and situations continue to defy expectations. Think about the fact that Mary and Max never actually meet in person, although we totally expect them to by the end of the picture.
·       Additionally, the comedy is often crude and rude, with plenty of jokes related to farting, peeing, bowel movements, and copulating. You get a level of this in many animated movies today, but not to this degree.

WHAT IMPORTANT THEMES ARE PROPOSED IN THIS MOVIE?
·       The importance of communication and connection—connecting with another human being, even one who is completely different from you.
·       Disillusionment—ways in which our fantasies and visions about others doesn’t correlate with the real truth.   
·       Identify—ways in which we’re alike and different, capable and disabled, alone and isolated.
·       The rite of passage from childhood to adulthood and the loss of innocence involved.
·       The resiliency of friendship: can Mary and Max’s friendship survive despite distance, dispute and disappointment?
·       Fatalism—consider the reference to “que sera sera, whatever will be, will be”.
·       Human faults and flaws—from anxiety, depression and obesity to disease, disability and death.
·       Finding humor, happiness and meaning in a bleak, challenging world.

FILMS THAT ONE IS REMINDED OF AFTER WATCHING “MARY AND MAX”:
·       Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride in its stylized look and dark design
·       The Triplets of Belleville
·       Modern animated films geared more toward adolescents, such as Coraline and ParaNorman, which deal with more complex psychological and sociological issues
·       About Schmidt, which also featured an older male character who had a child pen pal from another country

OTHER STANDOUT ANIMATED FEATURES FROM 2009:
·       Up
·       The Fantastic Mr. Fox
·       Coraline
·       Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs
·       The Princess and the Frog
·       Ponyo

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Meet "Mary and Max"

Sunday, July 6, 2014

On July 9, World Cinema Wednesday returns to CineVerse, this time with an interesting outing from Australia: “Mary and Max” (2009; 92 minutes), a stop-motion animated feature that has a decidely adult bent, directed by Adam Elliot, chosen by Carole Bogaard. Plus: Watch a great BBC documentary on the art of animation, "From Pencils to Pixels" (2003; 49 minutes), which precedes "Mary and Max."

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Escape from Palookaville

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Few films come as highly praised and audience beloved as "On the Waterfront." Last night, CineVerse met to hold up the magnifying glass on this 60-year-old gem. Here are the facets we observed:

HOW WOULD THIS PICTURE HAVE BEEN EYE-OPENING AND INNOVATIVE FOR 1954?

·       It, along with previous recent movies by Kazan and his Actors Studio thespians like Brando, exemplified a new era of acting that was more emotionally plausible and realistic—a style that is both “physical and introspective and distinctly more nuanced, immediate, unpredictable—more truthful—than most acting that preceded it. It’s the style of poetic realism that informs the great performance,” wrote essayist Michael Almereyda.
·       It woke Americans up to the unfair conditions suffered by longshoremen working on American docks where corrupt leaders and politicians prevent them from earning an honest wage and practice racketeering and extortion; the screenplay is based on a New York Sun series of expose articles that won the Pulitzer Prize for reporting in 1949.
·       Unlike prior films noir, crime thrillers, message pictures and heavy dramas, this one benefitted from hyper-realism in its look and feel: it’s shot in various real locations in and around Hoboken, N.J., including the docks, bars, rooftops, alleys and tenement dwellings; it’s filmed during cold weather, so we actually see the cold vapor breath trails coming from actors’ mouths; it features handheld camera techniques for heightened verite style filmmaking; the nighttime scenes are not day for night but night for night, although expressive horror/noir shadows are often used.
·       It’s also a topical political film that was personally relevant to director Kazan’s life: in 1952, he agreed to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee and name names of friends and colleagues affiliated with the Communist party, an extremely controversial move that haunted Kazan the rest of his life, but that he justified as the right thing to do at the time. He saw himself as personified in the character of Terry, who also has to testify against oppressive forces to do the right thing. It’s debatable how these two things can be equitable, but Kazan nevertheless envisioned himself as a martyr-like outsider who’s forced to make a moral choice, like Terry. Many saw Kazan as ratting on friends who got blacklisted simply because of their political beliefs so that Kazan could continue to work in Hollywood—which he did with much success.

WHAT THEMES ARE DOMINANT IN “ON THE WATERFRONT”?
·       Making the right ethical choice: Terry is caught in the middle between two opposing forces—the morally righteous duo of the priest and Edie on one side, and the cruel, manipulative thugs led by Johnny Friendly on the other. He must decide whether to protect the evil status quo or inform on them to aid the cause of their exploited workers.
·       The corrupting nature of power: Johnny Friendly is depicted as having a tough childhood, but his lust for power has stripped him of any kindness, grace or humility. Even his overlord, Mr. Upstairs, doesn’t hesitate to drop Johnny when Johnny is in trouble.
·       Redemption: this is ultimately the story about a troubled young sinner who has a chance to do the right thing and redeem his self-respect, dignity and soul. This theme ties in nicely with the backstory that Terry was a prizefighter, one who “could have been a contender,” but lost his chance; this represents his second chance, the ability to fight the mob bosses and stand up for the little guy.
·       Sacrifice, martyrdom and faith: Terry must make a sacrifice and risk his life and those around him by choosing to inform on the criminals and trust in the intangible power of faith espoused by Edie and Father Barry (which is in contrast to the very tangible allure of money and power wielded by Friendly). Joey paid the price earlier by being killed after informing, and he serves as a Christ-like figure when we see his body cradled in Edie’s hands. Other religious motifs and imagery are used throughout the film, including the shot of Father Barry ascending from the cargo hold with Dugan’s corpse like he’s rising to heaven, and Charlie’s body hanging slumped and dead on a hook, resembling a dead Christ-like figure.

WHAT SYMBOLS ARE PREVALENT IN THIS MOVIE?
·       The Hudson River, which stands as a demarcation line between the exploited workers and the majestic Manhattan skyline beyond—a line that they cannot cross due to their symbolic slavery.
·       Gloves, which are dropped and/or removed by Edie and Charlie, leaving exposed hands that represent their vulnerability. Terry playing with and putting on Edie’s dropped glove, while a subtle move, indicates an intimate, sexual, harmless as well as aggressive gesture.
·       Pigeons, which are identified with Terry and vice versa—Terry wants to live free and simple like them, but they’re also vulnerable to the hawks he mentions to Edie; Terry can also be viewed as a “stool pigeon” by the mob.
·       Hooks, which are used by the longshoremen in their work but which signify the heavy, dangerous weights that hang over them literally and, in the form of Friendly’s thugs, figuratively. Hooks also play into the talon-like imagery of the hawks that endanger pigeons that Terry mentions.
·       The rooftop, which stands as a sanctuary and retreat from the oppressive world below and a step closer to aspiring to new moral, religious and personal heights that Terry, even subconsciously, yearns for. Joey was a past denizen of the rooftop, and became a victim because of it.

OTHER MOVIES THAT ARE BROUGHT TO MIND:
·       Metropolis
·       Force of Evil
·       Raging Bull
·       To Kill a Mockingbird
·       Gran Torino
·       Hoffa
·       The Yards

OTHER FILMS BY ELIA KAZAN
·       A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
  • A Streetcar Named Desire
  • Viva Zapata!
  • Baby Doll
  • A Face in the Crowd
  • East of Eden
  • Splendor in the Grass
·       Gentleman’s Agreement

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Coulda been a contender? "Waterfront" is nothing less than a champion

Sunday, June 29, 2014

On Juy 2, CineVerse will celebrate the 60th anniversary of “On the Waterfront”(1954; 108 minutes), directed by Elia Kazan, chosen by Joe Valente. Make plans to come see and discuss one of the most acclaimed pictures of all time.

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