Blog Directory CineVerse

...and they lived happily ever after

Friday, February 24, 2017

It's not easy to follow on the heels of established fantasy film blockbusters like the "Lord of the Rings," "Harry Potter," and "Pirates of the Caribbean" films. But "Stardust," an overlooked but satisfying little pixie of a picture from 2007, acquits itself well as a standalone example of how Hollywood fantasy doesn't require a multi-part franchise to capture the imagination. Following are the key discussion points of our recent CineVerse chat on this movie:

WHAT SURPRISED YOU ABOUT “STARDUST” THAT YOU PERHAPS DIDN’T EXPECT?
It’s marketed as a family-friendly fairy tale fantasy, but actually has some mature elements in it, including PG-13 violence and horror. This makes sense, considering that the source material upon which it is based came from a 1999 novel by Neil Gaiman, known for blending fantasy and horror.
Yet, unlike the Middle Earth and Harry Potter films, some critics contend that “Stardust” is more of an old school fantasy film. Reviewer James Berardinelli wrote: "The success of the Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter movies have elevated fantasy from a niche film genre into the mainstream, but Stardust is a little of a throwback to how fantasy movies used to be before the emergence of the multi-part epic serials. It's a lighter, simpler sort of tale. Despite just cracking the two-hour barrier, the film is paced and edited in such a way that the story always seems to be moving forward and there is no sense of drag or a letdown."
Indeed, the film earns points among many viewers for being relatively shorter, simpler, and standalone than multi-part fantasy epics that play out their tale over three or more films.
In contrast to those aforementioned fantasy epics, this film isn’t bloated with special effects or necessarily trying to wow you with off-the-charts visuals; instead, it relies on genre and storybook conventions and a formulaic but fresh narrative to keep our attention.
It casts Robert DeNiro in a curiously written role: that of a gay swashbuckling space pirate, and the actor gives an exaggerated, flamboyant performance you won’t forget.
Michelle Pfeiffer has been credited as well cast—against type—in portraying the witch.

FILMS THAT “STARDUST” REMINDS US OF
Shakespeare’s Macbeth
The Princess Bride
The Neverending Story
The Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, and Pirates of the Caribbean movies
The fantasy films of Terry Gilliam, including Time Bandits and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
Golden Compass
The Witches
The TV show “Once”
Shrek

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Make time for modern movie magic

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Join CineVerse on February 22 for “Stardust” (2007; 127 minutes), directed by Matthew Vaughn, chosen by Jeanne Johnson.

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Take a peek at March/April CineVerse schedule

Admit it: You're just itching to know what CineVerse has on tap for March and April 2017. Scratch that itch by checkout out our newly posted calendar by visiting tinyurl.com/marchaprilcineverse.

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A revolutionary wannabe making a movie in his own mind

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Jean-Luc Godard's "Masculin Feminin" can be a puzzlingly complex and frustrating watch for American viewers 50-plus years removed from the French New Wave style of filmmaking, which this movie firmly embraces. But if you try to put yourself in the shoes of the French youth culture in the throes of the sexual revolution and politically turbulent times of the 1960s, this picture may make more sense. Here are the conclusions we drew after watching and discussing this movie:

WHAT IS THIS FILM ABOUT? WHAT MESSAGES ARE THE FILMMAKERS TRYING TO SUGGEST HERE?
The fleeting and fickle nature of youth and young adulthood, as well as the vibrancy and energy of youth culture
The schism and battle between the sexes and who each gender has difficulty understanding the other
Conversations as a form of courtship and foreplay, with males trying more aggressively to “penetrate” into a female’s space and females parrying, deflecting and playing a little harder to get.
Trying to make sense of a politically volatile and rapidly changing world in the form of a simple romantic story imbued with sexual politics.
The changing nature of sexual politics and assumptions of gender power: Stephanie Zacharek of Salon wrote: “on the surface it seems Godard is asking us to join in ridiculing (Catherine), (but) in the end it’s Paul’s vulnerability and naiveté that are exposed. In another scene, Paul looks on with feigned indifference as Catherine plays with a toy guillotine, lopping the head off a tiny man with blasé amusement — you couldn’t ask for a more blatant metaphor for the skewed balance of sexual power between men and women.
“The Children of Marx and Coca Cola.” Pauline Kael wrote: “The theme is the fresh beauty of youth amidst the flimsiness of Pop culture and Pop politics. The boy is full of doubts and questions, but a Pop revolutionary; the girl is a yé-yé singer making her way.”
The allure and danger of pop culture and consumerism: “Godard considers pop culture a dangerous American export and he questions the political apathy of images and music that don't incite people to revolution,” wrote Ed Gonzales of Slant Magazine.
o Madeleine is associated with this pop culture/consumerism, while Paul is a stand-in for the communist-leaning/revolution-inspiring director; yet, “she is less a slave to her pop-cultural consciousness than Paul is to his communist agenda. Godard understands that music…implies Madeleine's freedom of expression, but this is an implication that Paul fails to gauge. Is it possible that Godard recognizes a little bit of himself in Paul, a man whose active proletariat consciousness gets in way of his having fun?" Gonzales noted.
Roger Ebert said the joke at the center of this movie “is that its young French characters were fascinated by America, and its young American audiences were fascinated by them.”
This film is essentially a time capsule movie that reflects the spirit of the times: the fast and freewheeling 1960s; consider how sexually candid the men and women speak and how this depicts a flashpoint in quickly changing sexual politics.
Life as a movie – Paul talks about how the movies he and his girlfriend went to were getting old and predictable, much as life gets stale sometimes.
WHAT MAKES MASCULIN FEMININ DIFFERENT FROM OTHER MOVIES YOU’VE SEEN?
o It feels like a zeitgeist movie of its times that is fresh, spontaneous and unscripted; in fact, Godard lacked a shooting script and turned to a handwritten notebook he wrote ideas in.
o It employs non-linear style of storytelling, unconventional editing techniques, and a non-traditional sound design, all hallmarks of the French New Wave.
o It looks and feels natural and realistic, shot in documentary-like fashion with diegetic light and sound, talking about real people and events of the era. The movie employs long, extended takes and plays out like a series of interviews between a man and a woman.
o Separated into 15 chapters, it can look and feel fragmented and constructed of loosely interconnected vignettes.
o Paul is an unreliable narrator, in that we see him witness multiple acts of random and sudden violence that don’t seem to have much effect on him – as if suggesting that this wannabe revolutionary is fantasizing about the violence that accompanies political upheaval and revolution; it’s doubtful that these shootings and stabbings he observes are literally happening. It’s more plausible to think that he’s imagining them, just as it’s possible that he doesn’t die by the end of the film, but is simply imagining how the women in his life would react to news of his death. Consider what he hears when he walks into his girlfriend’s recording studio – Madeleine is supposed to be an up-and-coming international pop singing sensation, but in the studio she doesn’t sound like a very good singer, suggesting that this is a subjective observation from Paul’s point of view and an indication that he’s unhappy with her fascination with pop culture and commercialism.
OTHER FILMS BY JEAN-LUC GODARD
Breathless
Contempt
Band of Outsiders
Weekend
A Married Woman
Sympathy for the Devil
Alphaville
Made in U.S.A.

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CineVerse moderator makes guest appearance on Classic Film Jerks podcast

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Erik Martin, your friendly neighborhood CineVerse moderator, was invited to appear as a guest on the latest free podcast by the Classic Film Jerks, hosted by movie fans Michael DiGiovanni and Andrew Bloom. Each month, Michael and Andrew discuss a different classic movie they've never seen before and determine if, indeed, it is a classic or not, using a lot of humor to make their case.

For February, the podcast spotlight shone on the Marx Brothers' "Duck Soup," one of Erik's favorite films. To listen to the episode, click on the image below or visit tinyurl.com/ducksoupjerks.

I highly recommend you subscribe to their free monthly podcast via iTunes or Stitcher or access past episodes on demand at stitcher.com/podcast/atomic-geeks/classic-film-jerks. Highly entertaining stuff.

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Oscar-worthy Woody -- 4 decades later

Monday, February 13, 2017

Mark your calendar for Saturday, February 18, when Cineversary returns to the Oak Lawn Library from 1-4 p.m. This time around, we'll be celebrating the 40th anniversary of “Annie Hall” (1977; 93 minutes).

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Catching a whiff of the French New Wave

Sunday, February 12, 2017

On February 15, World Cinema Wednesday returns to CineVerse with an acclaimed picture from France: “Masculin Féminin” (1966; 103 minutes), directed by Jean-Luc Godard, chosen by Farrell McNulty. Plus: Watch a trailer reel preview of the March/April CineVerse schedule.

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About "About Schmidt"

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Want to see a decidedly different and refreshingly opposite side of Jack Nicholson? Catch "About Schmidt," in which Jack plays a man leading a life of quiet desperation and "without resources," wrote Roger Ebert. Here is our group's take on this film after closer inspection:

WHAT DID YOU FIND DIFFERENT, DISTINCTIVE, UNIQUE OR UNEXPECTED ABOUT THIS PICTURE?
Jack Nicholson here is playing against type: instead of being a rebel, rascal or dramatically complex antihero, he’s playing in unglamorous old man who lacks a strong personality and idiosyncratic characteristics. Nicholson also is portraying a reserved man of subtleties who reacts to others as opposed to a more domineering character who makes others react to him.
We know very little about Schmidt the man, and he seems to be an everyday shlub who missed out on opportunities to do something bigger and better with his life. By watching Schmidt interact with and react to his environment, we slowly got a better idea of what makes him tick and his shortcomings.
This is a motion picture that has the veneer and marketing push of a comedy, but actually is imbued with many tragic and melancholy elements; despite the melancholy, the final scene uplifts the viewer, provides hope, and makes us care about what we just watched for two hours.
Schmidt’s redemption, ultimately, isn’t necessarily a life-changing event or overwhelmingly cathartic dénouement – instead, it’s a small, subtle thing reflected in his reaction to the response letter and drawing from Ndugu. We realize, as he does, that he has had a positive effect – even if it’s a small one – on another life.
This isn’t a showy “pay attention to the director” type of film with bold visual flourishes, daring camera moves, edgy edits or hip stylistic choices; instead, it adopts a simple and straightforward approach that lets Nicholson do the heavy lifting with even the merest of facial expressions and simplest of gestures.
At first glance, it may seem as if the filmmakers are overtly critical of and mercilessly satirizing these characters, as if they were Midwestern stereotypes deserving of mockery: consider how the new son-in-law and his mother are depicted as well as Schmidt himself. But after spending a little time with each of these characters, we realize that they are more well-rounded and well-intentioned than perhaps we first thought.
There isn’t much of a plot here – more of an existential crisis for one primary character that drives the narrative. Writer Leo Biga posited that Schmidt faces 4 major challenges: “struggling to come to terms with the death of his longtime wife; the uneasy gulf between he and his daughter; his dislike of his daughter’s fiancé; and the sense that everything he’s built his life around his somehow false.” Add to that a feeling of emptiness upon being pushed out of his job and reckoning with his legacy, if he even has one to leave behind.

WHAT THEMES ARE EXAMINED IN ABOUT SCHMIDT?
Time is fleeting: we see many close-ups of clocks and references to time and timepieces.
Life’s challenges as plagues upon our existence: consider the address of Schmidt’s childhood residence – 12 Locust Avenue.
Being a beast of burden sent off to the slaughter: recall the restaurant with its images of championship steers covering the walls; the cattle truck that pulls up next to Schmidt on the road; the shots of meat being cut up; the cows shown in the field; the mention of “beef stew” and “cold cuts”; and the oxen figures at the museum.
The harsh reality that comes when you realize that your beliefs and instincts were wrong. Schmidt comes to acknowledge that he took his wife for granted and truly misses her; that he never really understood his daughter, nor can he control her life; and that the work he did for his employer is ultimately dispensable and insignificant.
Dealing with loss. The director was quoted as saying: “What interested me originally was the idea of taking all the man’s institutions away from him. Career. Marriage. Daughter. It’s about him realizing his mistakes and not being able to do anything about them and also seeing his structures stripped away. It’s about subtly learning that everything you believe is wrong – everything. It asks, ‘Who is a man? Who are we, really?’”
Survival of the fittest: recall the placard at the museum, which states that the weak died off while the strong survived; “they were the pioneers.” Schmidt doesn’t feel like he’s made any significant difference in his life, but the truth is that he survived the dying of his spouse. Perhaps he has a chance to be a pioneer of sorts or effect some kind of notable change on others with his remaining years.

OTHER FILMS BY ALEXANDER PAYNE
Election
Sideways
The Descendants
Nebraska

THEMES COMMON TO MANY ALEXANDER PAYNE FILMS INCLUDE:
Road trips
“Journeys of self-discovery,” suggests critic Emmanuelle Levy
Seemingly mundane lives and existences that are transformed or redeemed in some way.
An offscreen female character who becomes the catalyst for one or more males taking a personal and literal journey, as in The Descendants, About Schmidt, and Sideways.
Omaha is often the backdrop, as evidenced in Citizen Ruth, Election and this film.

OTHER MOVIES THAT COME TO MIND AFTER WATCHING ABOUT SCHMIDT
The Visitor
The Straight Story
Grand Torino
Wild Strawberries
The social satires films of Preston Sturges, as well as the sentimental redemption stories filmed by Frank Capra

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Farewell to a fellow CineVerse member

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Art Myren, a CineVerse member since November 2011, passed away last month suddenly and unexpectedly. He will be remembered for his undying curiosity about cinema, enthusiasm for watching and exploring movies that challenge our understanding of the world, and insightful observations about films and the lessons we can learn from them. Rest in peace, Art.

Below is a reproduction of Art's biography, originally printed in his church bulletin and shared during his memorial service:


PAUL ARTHUR MYREN July 7, 1934 - January 17, 2017

Art was born to Paul Rheinhold and Ellen Maria (Anderson) Myren who had both immigrated to America from Sweden but met and married in Chicago. Art was baptized and later confirmed in the Englewood Swedish Mission Covenant Church, attended Ruggles Grammar School and Hirsch High School. A February graduate, he spent one semester at Wright Junior College before entering Wheaton College in fall of 1952.

In the spring semester of his freshman year he found Millie Hallett playing ping pong with her college roommate. He offered to play the winner; Millie won and that began a lifetime relationship. (By the way, she beat him in ping pong!) Art majored in geography and was a four-year member of the College Chapel Choir touring many parts of the country. He graduated in January of 1956 and in February he and Millie became engaged. Upon graduation he chose to go to the Naval Officers' Candidate School which he completed in December of 1956. Millie, in the meantime, was living at home pursuing a Masters Degree in English literature at the University of Chicago.

Art was sent to Washington D.C. for a brief time before his assignment to the Naval Intelligence Office in Seattle, Washington. September 28, 1956 was his and Millie's wedding date and on October 1st they loaded their new red Chevrolet station wagon and headed cross country to Seattle. Art had already established himself in the First Covenant Church of Seattle and that became their church home where they were active in choir, youth work and a vital young-marrieds group. They bought their first home and Millie began teaching 8th grade Language Arts and Social Studies in the fall of 1958. With his naval tour of duty finished in 1960 he entered the University of Washington and got his Masters' degree in Urban Planning. In the summer 1962 he and Millie volunteered at the Seattle World's Fair and in the fall moved back to Chicago. Morgan Park Baptist Church became their church home and both have remained active members in a variety of ways.

Daughter Janice Ellen was born January 30, 1963 and son Mark Fraser, August 3, 1966. Art was employed by a private planning firm out of New Jersey with offices in Chicago. His assignments took him into Wisconsin, Ohio and Nebraska. Later he was hired by the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission and worked with many of the Chicago suburbs on issues of zoning, traffic patterns, water problems, etc. When funds for planning dried up he turned to a number of different occupations mainly Chicago convention work and serving as a Chicago city tour guide which he loved.

In retirement he thoroughly enjoyed teaching and taking classes in the Renaissance Academy at Saint Xavier University. He never lost his curiosity about life, nature, people, the world -- you name it. He loved learning through books, movies, lectures and conversations. He loved fixing things, puttering, fleshing out new ideas, boats, swimming, Green Lake, desk work and even ironing. He loved his family-children, and grandchildren: Jan's children, Michael, Jason and Jessica; and Mark's children, Michael, Emily, Ann, and Kevin, He was devoted to his wife, Millie, and supported her career and her calling. He was a man who loved and served his God all his life, and we are better for having loved him and being loved by him.

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