Blog Directory CineVerse

No CineVerse meeting on March 4

Sunday, March 1, 2015

CineVerse will not meet on Wednesday, March 4. Our film discussion group will reconvene on March 11 with "The Help." Hope to see you there.

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A slap in the "Faces"

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Ever watch a movie that deliberately tries to get under your skin and make you feel downright uncomfortable? It takes a filmmaker with a lot of guts (and ample gumption) to attempt such a feat, considering how unappealing such a picture would likely be commercially. "Faces," by John Cassavetes, could be a textbook example of this kind of film. While it didn't exactly garner a "thumbs-up" consensus from our CineVerse group, it did provoke some cogent analysis and discussion. Here are some of the conclusions we reached about "Faces":

WHAT WOULD HAVE BEEN SURPRISING AND UNEXPECTED ABOUT “FACES” FOR 1968 AUDIENCES?
  • The story/plot is not conventional, like a three-act play: it begins suddenly with a 20-minute scene into which we’re thrust with three characters who aren’t properly introduced; it is after this prologue of sorts that the plot, if there is one, begins.
  • There is a frankness and freshness to the dialogue and situations; keep in mind that this period was a turning point in movies toward more candid sexuality, violence and adult situations. “Faces” gives us realistic conversations, settings and confrontations about real adult issues like having sex, cheating, divorce and more.
  • This is a film that deliberately tries to make you feel uncomfortable and exhausted: The volume is literally and figuratively amped up in this picture: we hear and see a lot of laughing, singing, screaming and emotional confrontation that would have been raw for viewers.
  • The film feels unscripted, improvisational and documentary-like in how the characters are introduced, how the tone and character’s words and actions can suddenly change, how the story unfolds, and how it is filmed (in cinema verite style, using grainy 16 mm black-and-white film, often with a handheld camera, as if we’re a fly on the wall in a very private setting). Yet, amazingly, none of the dialogue or plot was ad libbed: this was a carefully choreographed story with meticulously scripted words.
  • The film’s setups primarily employ tight close-ups: the value of this is that we literally focus on the “faces” of the characters and how they emote, act and react, and we are given an intimate if not smothering, too-close-for-comfort look at their personal business and uncomfortable secrets.
  • The overall vibe and tone of the film is pessimistic and dark, which is risky for filmmakers seeking to attract an audience; also, nothing is neatly resolved by the conclusion, and the characters don’t appear to have grown, matured or learned a lesson; perhaps the insinuation is that, despite the hopelessness of the situation and the world we live in, acknowledging our dissatisfaction and ennui is honest and therapeutic.
  • Cassavetes’ style with actors/characters is quite innovative and unique. Ponder what Slant Magazine writer Jeremiah Kipp wrote of this film: “Cassavetes's characters entertain each other as a way of fending off melancholy, which is why they're often singing, telling stupid jokes, mimicking other people's voices, screaming, giggling, always chattering away, and we get the sense they're terrified to stop because then they'd have to face up to the loneliness of their lives. If they weren't in a constant state of gasbag yammering, I think all of the characters in Faces would overdose on sleeping pills. What's more, for all their avoidance of saying anything of true significance in marathon-style scenes of drinking and sloppy conduct within the confines of their spacious homes (made claustrophobic by having a camera shoved into their pore-riddled faces), they seem aching to express something more, yet when they do, it comes out in all the wrong ways. "You're a whore!" or "I want a divorce!" are typical outbursts, conveyed by Cassavetes's actors through conflict-stretching improvisations.”
  • It’s a film split into two clear halves: we follow Dickie and Jeannie’s tryst primarily throughout the first half; the movie shifts to Maria and Chet’s dalliance; Dickie and Maria are paired up again at the conclusion.

THIS FILM IS CHOCK FULL OF THEMES AND MESSAGES. WHAT ARE SOME OF THEM?
  • We each wear a mask—a false face that we show to others, especially lovers/partners. Eventually, the masks must be removed and we see the real faces underneath, which can be ugly and shocking.
  • The awful despair and depths of a midlife crisis and middle-age conformity and how damaging it can be to a couple and to each individual.
  • Life is often chaotic, vapid, and meaningless
  • How petty and insensitive people will act when they feel threatened or vulnerable—especially men, who can verbalize some very negative messages when they feel emasculated, which other men would have felt at this time, the dawn of the women’s lib movement.
  • How taking a closer, privileged, inside look at the private lives of troubled individuals like these can you feel claustrophobic and disgusted as well as fascinated.
  • As reviewer Bill Gibron wrote: “Faces is about confrontation and openness, about living the life you’ve always imagined versus the situation you’re stuck in.”
  • Gibron also suggests that a major morale to the story is that nothing is quite as it appears to be. Consider that the film opens with a question; we see men sit down to watch a movie in a theater—the word “Faces” appears. Is the movie we’re watching the rest of the way the same movie they see? Is this a movie within a movie
  • The inability of couples to communicate, compromise, nurture and comprehend each other’s feelings
  • Betrayal and infidelity: we see two comparable yet opposite betrayals—Dickie is unfaithful to Maria, while Maria cheats on him later

STUART KLAWANS, IN HIS ESSAY FOR THE CRITERION COLLECTION, POSITS THAT THE FILM CONTAINS UNIQUE MOMENTS OF UNMASKING—SPECIAL TURNING POINTS THAT “STAND OUT FOR THEIR SUDDEN CHANGE IN TONE AND FOR THEIR MOTIVATION”. CAN YOU CITE ANY EXAMPLES OF “UNMASKING”?
  • When Freddie grows jealous of Dickie, he unexpectedly and rudely asks Jeannie to name her price as a prostitute.
  • Suddenly, Dickie boils over bitterly and asks for a divorce after earlier laughing and bantering playfully.
  • One of Jeannie’s male customers without warning shouts out “What the hell do we care about two whores?”
  • Later, Chet suddenly says “I think we’re making fools of ourselves” following a drunken celebration.
  • Chet panics after Maria lies helpless on the floor after overdosing on sleeping pills.

DO ANY OTHER MOVIES COME TO MIND AFTER VIEWING “FACES”?
  • Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

OTHER FILMS DIRECTED BY JOHN CASSAVETES
  • Shadows
  • Husbands
  • Minnie and Moskowitz
  • A Woman Under the Influence
  • The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
  • Gloria
  • Love Streams

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Face to face with Cassavetes

Sunday, February 22, 2015

John Cassavetes is regarded by many as the father of the independent film movement and a visionary who introduced a new brand of rugged, improvisational moviemaking. Get a taste for this artist's unique style by joining CineVerse on February 25 for “Faces” (1968; 130 minutes), directed by Cassavetes, chosen by Farrell McNulty.

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March/April CineVerse calendar is ripe for the picking

Friday, February 20, 2015

Curious to learn which films CineVerse will be exploring in March and April? Your wait is over: Visit http://1drv.ms/17B6KvE to view the next two-month schedule. 

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Planes, trains and 300-foot yachts

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Preston Sturges knew how to subvert and twist the mainstream values and mores of his time by spoofing sacrosanct concepts like the sanctity of marriage and fidelity in his films. An excellent example of this is showcased in "The Palm Beach Story." Here's our CineVerse group's read on this flick:

WHAT WOULD HAVE BEEN RISQUE, OFFBEAT OR REFRESHINGLY DIFFERENT ABOUT “THE PALM BEACH STORY” FOR 1942 AUDIENCES?

  • The sexual subtext: This film is replete with double entendres and hints about sex that only a very clever filmmaker could have possibly gotten past the censors. Consider these examples:
    • the “Wienie King”—who carries a big wad of money in his pocket that symbolizes the phallic power of money and how cash can be a surrogate for sexual potency.
    • “I paid the butcher, the grocer and the drug store,” says Gerry, suggesting a subtext of prostitution.
    • “Just let me catch you on a 300-foot yacht, or even a 200-foot yacht,” says Ben; on a Freudian level, this could be code for warning his wife of having trysts with well-endowed men.
    • “If it’s one thing I like, it’s a woman who can whip up something out of nothing,” says Hackensacker. “”Would you like me to whip up something for you right here at the table?” asks Gerry. “I like a whipping woman, too,” says Hackensacker.
    • Don’t take it so seriously—they want to bake a cake, dear,” says the Princess.
    • “You never think of anything but Topic A, do you?” asks Tom. “Is there anything else?” replies the Princess.
  • This film challenges the concept that money can’t buy you love. It suggests that having money is important for a relationship to function properly.
  • The irreverent approach to the institution of marriage and its casual attitude toward divorce is evident in this story: The picture opens with a strange prologue that would have thrown audiences for a loop:
    • Colbert is in a wedding dress while another woman is bound within a closet
    • a question is posed to the viewer: “And they lived happily ever after. Or did they?” Right up front, this is playing with the convention of the tacked on, obligatory happy ending Hollywood typically gives a film at the conclusion. While most movies of this period end with a wedding, this one starts with a wedding and proceeds to a separation/divorce.
    • Additionally, Gerry’s motivation for wanting a divorce is rather odd; she claims to be an impractical wife for Gerry, as she admits she cannot cook, clean, sew, etc. Sturges is perhaps poking fun at how men view female spouses as utilitarian housekeepers in this time period.
  • This is in the tradition of classic screwball comedies, especially in its depiction of a battle of the sexes and its comedy of remarriage; however, it takes the screwball, now in 1942 near the end of its classic cycle, to another zany extreme with subversive sexual subtexts, false pretenses, mistaken identities, intentional misdirection and fortuitous coincidences. Most of the story is essentially an extended chase.
  • This film was released shortly after our entering into World War II, yet there is no mention of the war; unlike the more serious and often patriotic movies released at this time, this is a refreshing, funny departure from fare of that kind.
  • Mary Astor, a nymphomaniacal side character in this story, was known for having a sexually scandalous recent past—this character pokes fun at her reputation. 

WHAT PROVES TO BE PARTICULARLY DATED AND INSENSITIVE ABOUT “THE PALM BEACH STORY” THAT MIGHT MAKE MODERN AUDIENCES CRINGE?
  • As in several Sturges films and other movies of this era, African Americans are showcased as buffoonish, ignorant butts of the joke, typically employed in some lower-class servant type occupation.
  • The suggestion here is that Colbert, like other women of her time, had to rely primarily on sex appeal and physical beauty to get ahead. 

WHAT THEMES ARE ESPOUSED IN “THE PALM BEACH STORY”?
  • A happy and successful marriage takes a lot more work than many couples anticipate.
  • The institution of marriage may not be that sacrosanct after all.
  • There’s no romance without finance: money helps grease the gears of a successful man-woman relationship.
  • Love is a game of cat and mouse. Here, the mouse is “Tom” and the pussycat is “Gerry”—two names that obviously reference the cartoon characters. Other characters in the film with cartoonish or pet animal names include Toto, Snoodles, and Princess.
  • The danger of building your relationship on a “house of cards” in a manner of speaking: consider how Tom’s airport model features quite flimsy-looking buildings and structures that resemble houses of cards.
  • A healthy sex life is what helps fuel a strong marriage. Think about how Tom doesn’t care about the fact that Gerry cannot cook, sew, clean, etc. Yet, when she sits on his lap, they’re both turned on and their romance is rekindled. This lap-sitting is, in fact, the catalyst that reunites them at the end and changes her mind. Perhaps Sturges is suggesting here that marriage not only requires having some money to grease the wheels, but also maintaining a healthy sex life based on mutual attraction—which flies in the face of traditional romantic notions of the time holding that those who marry are meant to be together no matter what and must love, honor and obey, with women expected to be homemakers/housekeepers. 

DOES THE PALM BEACH STORY REMIND YOU OF ANY OTHER FILMS OR BOOKS?
  • The Philadelphia Story, in that its title is a play off that earlier film
  • “The Marriage of Barillon” by French author of absurdist and farcical plays Georges Feydeau; this story depicts complications that split several married couples, who pair up with new partners prior to reuniting them with their original partners 

OTHER FILMS BY WRITER/DIRECTOR PRESTON STURGES
  • The Great McGinty
  • The Lady Eve
  • Sullivan’s Travels
  • The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek
  • Hail the Conquering Hero
  • Christmas in July

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A screwball from the Sunshine State

Sunday, February 15, 2015

On February 18, our Sophisticated Screwballs series reconvenes with a second installment: This time it's "The Palm Beach Story” (1942; 88 minutes), directed by Preston Sturges. Plus: stick around for a preview of the March/April CineVerse schedule.

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Abolition exposition

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The issue of slavery and its eradiction was certainly not exclusive to America, as evidenced by the carefully constructed film "Amazing Grace," which depicts one man's political struggle to free those in bondage within his native Britain. Here are some conclusions on the movie reached by our CineVerse throng:


WHAT IS DISTINCTIVE, NOTEWORTHY OR DIFFERENT THAN YOU EXPECTED ABOUT “AMAZING GRACE”?
  • As a costume drama and period piece, it seems to represent its subject and setting with precision and accuracy.
  • It tries to be entertaining and versatile tonally instead of being somber, preachy and portentous throughout: consider, for example, how many lighthearted and comedic moments we are given.
  • This picture tackles a very serious subject—slavery—without resorting to sermonizing, excessive emotional manipulation, or terrifying violence. Case in point: they don’t show you slaves being whipped or abused, and they avoid depicting the almost fatal beating that the real Thomas Clarkson endured from ruffians paid to keep him quiet. Instead, they talk about the suffering and show symbols of it (shackles).
  • On the other hand, we are predominantly shown the “great white hope” Caucasian figures that helped fulfill the cause of abolition, at the expense, perhaps, of black characters who were enduring the real struggle and torment.
  • Interestingly, we suddenly hear a short bit of voiceover narration in the middle of the film, but nowhere else. Some would argue this is lazy filmmaking, as it’s not consistently used throughout the movie.
  • This is a curious lovestory subplot: we are not shown the typical courtship kissing/obligatory lovemaking scene. Suddenly, he’s married and his wife is pregnant.
  • It’s a bold attempt to biograph an important historical figure who is not well known on these shores. Granted, director Michael Apted is British, and this is a film made primarily in the U.K., so Wilberforce would be more familiar to the English. However, you don’t need to know much about Wilberforce to appreciate his story—although, as with any biopic, you can’t take this as gospel truth and historical fact.
  • The real Wilberforce and John Newton were extremely religious; but this film arguably plays up their political beliefs more than their spiritual beliefs, focusing more on their social conscience instead of their moral and religious righteousness.
  • The film also doesn’t quite show the warts-and-all Wilberforce: according to Wikipedia: “His underlying conservatism led him to support politically and socially repressive legislation, and resulted in criticism that he was ignoring injustices at home while campaigning for the enslaved abroad.” 

WHAT IS THE MORAL TO THE STORY HERE?
  • David vs. Goliath, or one man’s passion and conviction can help change history: despite extreme odds, Wilberforce helped end slavery in a country where the economy depended upon forced labor and the politically and financially powerful had a vested interest to keep slavery entrenched.
  • Men and women are capable of enlightenment and moral salvation, despite any darkness or previous trespasses. “I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see” are among the lyrics of the titular song, after all.
  • Evil and corruption prevail when good men do nothing: this movie is meant to inspire us and bring out the better angels of our nature.
  • Treating people (slaves) as animals and animals (Wilburforce’s pets) as people.
  • Playing a high-stakes game (cards and politics) and gambling everything on a cause. 

OTHER FILMS THIS ONE REMINDS YOU OF
  • Amistad
  • Lincoln
  • Belle 

OTHER FILMS BY MICHAEL APTED
  • The “Seven Up” series of documentaries tracing the same Brits every 7 years for several films
  • Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980)
  • Gorillas in the Mist (1988)
  • Nell (1994)
  • The World is Not Enough (1999)

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How sweet the sound

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Mark February 11 on your calendar. That's the date when World Cinema Wednesday makes a CineVerse comeback in the form of a United Kingdom treasure entitled “Amazing Grace” (2006; 118 minutes), directed by Michael Apted, chosen by Jeanne Johnson.

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Cinema Chat returns to the Oak Lawn Library

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Oak Lawn Library will host its second Cinema Chat tomorrow, Saturday, Feb. 7 at 1 p.m. Attendees will screen and then discuss the sci-fi action film "I Robot". For full details, visit http://il.evanced.info/oaklawn/lib/eventsignup.asp?ID=6049. (Note: you don't have to register--just show up).

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