Blog Directory CineVerse: 2012

Preaching to the choir

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Join CineVerse on January 2 for “Elmer Gantry” (1960; 146 minutes), directed by Richard Brooks, chosen by Joe Valente.

Note: Due to this film's long runtime, we will need to start promptly at 7 p.m. and extend our discussion until as late as 10:10 p.m.

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Only 3 days left to vote!

Friday, December 28, 2012

There are now only 3 days left to vote for your favorite movie decade in CineVerse's current poll (found on the left sidebar of our home page). We need your help, as currently the vote is tied! Be sure to vote before midnight on Jan. 1.

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Christmastime chemistry

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray were paired in four features during their career--the first instance being "Remember the Night," a lesser-known holiday movie from 1940 that CineVerse plucked from the Island of Misfit Toys last evening to unwrap. Read on for highlights of our group discussion.

HOW DOES THIS FILM DEFY YOUR EXPECTATIONS? WHAT IS DIFFERENT ABOUT IT THAN YOU ANTICIPATED, PERHAPS?
·       It doesn’t fall into any one category; it shifts from a comedy, to a noir, to a heartwarming romance, to a bit of a melodramatic tragedy/drama
·       It likewise employs several shifts in tonality that you may not see coming, from funny, to dark, to sweet, to sad. This requires a deft skill as a screenwriter and director, as it’s easy to lose the audience if the tonal shifts don’t work
·       The film actually gets pretty dark, especially for a holiday feature, by depicting Lee’s mother and her rejection of her daughter at, of all times, Christmas; suddenly, we feel sympathy for Lee and perhaps better understand how she turned out the way she did; this is a rare insertion of brooding psychology into a film of this era
·       There is a hard-to-put-your-finger on synergy between Stanwyck and MacMurray, particularly a sexually charged tension and formula that requires Stanwyck to be the dominant one to MacMurray’s more submissive male character; these qualities would get them paired together in 3 subsequent films: Double Indemnity, The Moonlighter, and There’s Always Tomorrow
·       The Christmas-time setting is somewhat incidental, in that it’s really not about Christmas or its true meaning; yet, the setting is also significant in that it serves as a necessary plot device: how can the assistant district attorney possibly be so heartless as to not bail out the shoplifter on Christmas nor take her home for the holidays?
·       Christ’s nativity story is subtly hinted at and echoed in John and Lee and how they end up arriving at his family farm: there’s “no room at the inn” for her at her mother’s house, and now she must journey to a rural setting; there’s even a silly set piece with cows

WHAT DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE ENDING, ISN’T NECESSARILY A HAPPY ONE, BUT YET IS ARGUABLY FITTING UNDER THE CIRCUMSTANCES?
·       In a lesser film with a more hollow story and helmed by less gifted filmmakers, a straightforward happy ending could have been tacked on where Lee is acquitted and she and John live happily ever after from that moment on; this could have been a satisfying conclusion for some, but the way this story and its characters were crafted, wouldn’t have worked
·       Instead, the film requires maturity and patience from the viewer:
o   Romance movies of this time period often preach that love requires sacrifice, but usually on the woman’s part
o   But, as one reviewer put it, “rather than expecting only the woman to sacrifice, it understands both parties must sacrifice and change for their love to work.” John is willing to sacrifice his career for Lee’s love, and Lee is willing to sacrifice her chance at acquittal for living up to the high standards that John deserves and that John’s mother has instilled in her son
o   Thus, the correct ending based on the sacrifices and character evolutions required, calls for honesty to prevail, which means that Lee has to take her medicine voluntarily and rejecting an easy-way-out solution by John
·       Hence, this is a rare Christmas-time film where the characters, as well as the viewers, don’t get immediate gratification and a neatly-tied-up-in-a-bow happy ending; instead, it’s a film about strong heartland family values, redemption, sacrifice, and psychological influences on a person’s character
·       Also, interestingly, the women in John’s life save him from himself—which further underscore the subtle passivity within MacMurray’s characters opposite Stanwyck in their 4 films together

THIS FILM DOES HAVE SOME PROBLEMATIC ELEMENTS THAT, ARGUABLY, HAVE NOT STOOD THE TEST OF TIME VERY WELL. CAN YOU NAME A FEW EXAMPLES?
·       There are implausibilities in this story: First, it’s a leap of faith to think that John would bail out Lee, the very woman he’s prosecuting; second, how credible is it that he would agree to drive her home to her mother’s for the holidays? Third, we’re asked to believe that he would then take her home to his family for Christmas after Lee’s mother rejects her
·       John’s need for an African American manservant and the hostile way he treats this servant, who is depicted as a bumbling, ignorant, buffoonish caricature, creates a cringe-worthy situation

OTHER FILMS BY DIRECTOR MITCHELL LEISEN:
·       Easy Living
·       Midnight
·       Hold Back the Dawn
·       Golden Earrings

OTHER FILMS BY DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER PRESTON STURGES
·       The Lady Eve
·       Miracle of Morgan’s Creek
·       Sullivan’s Travels
·       The Great McGinty

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Ghosts of CineVerse's past

Last week, CineVerse dusted off the timeless chestnut that is Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" (the big screen 1951 adaptation, that is) and discussed the elements that make this perhaps the definitive film version of the Christmastime tale. Here are highlights of that discussion.

WHAT MAKES THIS VERSION OF DICKENS’ STORY ON FILM A CUT ABOVE THE REST?
·       It arguably features the finest performance by an actor in the role of Scrooge, as evidenced by his range of emotion expressed and severe degree of transformation exhibited; many fans say that Scrooge’s redemption and transformation is much more believable and uplifting in this version
·       It’s darker and more gothic than its 1938 American predecessor from MGM starring Reginald Owen, which was rather light, frothy and condensed; this isn’t a “feel-good” movie until the end, excluding any appreciation you have for the acting, production values, visuals, etc.
·       It’s a more fully realized and faithful version of Dickens’ text, although it pads on a few extra characters and scenes that aren’t in the book
·       It evokes the dark, gritty, haunting qualities of film noir and horror, gracing the production with more seriousness and unnerving visuals and sounds than many other adaptations; it also “looks the part” in terms of attention to detail and period authenticity regarding costumes, sets, and the look/mood of 1843 England; plus, the black and white cinematography is exceptional, particularly in its use of deep blacks and shadows
·       It’s also firmly a movie of its times and for its times in Britain, where it was made:
o   it echoes some of the social angst experienced in postwar England
o   It comes shortly after David Lean’s popular, effective and successful Dickens’ adaptations of Great Expectations and Oliver Twist, which were also faithful to their source materials
o   According to one reviewer: “Scrooge is also a contemplation on Britain’s place in the world after the war; its social commentary on the welfare state and its utterly terrifying depiction of ignorance and want as two of mankind’s own self-destructive children (as shown in the film) foreshadowing the rights and freedoms being contested in Britain’s House of Parliament at that time, the same year the conservatives defeated the labor party to gain control of government and make sweeping reforms that set the country’s path onto a decidedly different course.”

SURPRISINGLY, THIS MOVIE WAS NOT WELL RECEIVED IN AMERICA AT THE TIME, DESPITE BEING HAILED IN THE UK. WHY DO YOU THINK IT TOOK MANY YEARS FOR THIS PICTURE TO BE APPRECIATED HERE?
·       Perhaps audiences thought it too bleak, depressing, cold and dreary, despite the fact that those are tenets that remain faithful to the tone expressed in Dickens’ story
·       The MGM version was relatively popular in its day in 1938; perhaps American audiences were used to that more over-glitzy, lighthearted, polished production and saw this as a radical departure from that vision
·       This version is much more “British” than the MGM version, especially in accents, casting and sensibilities
 
DOES THIS FILM REMIND YOU OF ANY OTHERS?
·       It’s a Wonderful Life, in that the main protagonists in both films are visited by supernatural beings and shown dark alternate realities to teach them a lesson, and both tales depict a miserly old rich man villain
·       The British anthology horror film “Dead of Night,” which also stars Mervyn Johns and includes a Christmastime tale

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Dec. 26: A night to remember

Sunday, December 23, 2012

CineVerse will conclude its 2012 lineup with another holiday-themed classic movie: “Remember the Night” (1940; 94 minutes), directed by Mitchell Leisen, chosen by Danealle Kueltzo. Plus, stay put after the film concludes for "The Island of Misfit Toys," A trailer reel of classic holiday films that many have forgotten.

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January/February 2013 schedule posted

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Eager to learn which films are slated for January and February in CineVerse? Our next 2-month schedule is ready for viewing by clicking here or visiting http://sdrv.ms/Tp1BLK.

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Ghosts of Christmas past

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Yes, it's been adapted countless times for the big and small screen, but perhaps no version of Dicken's immortal holiday tale is as finely executed as “A Christmas Carol” (a ka “Scrooge”) (1951; 86 minutes), directed by Brian Desmond Hurst, starring Alastair Sims, chosen by Dan Quenzel, and scheduled for Dec. 19. Plus, stick around after the discussion for a preview of the January/February 2013 CineVerse schedule.

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Scoring "Match Point"

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Yesterday, CineVerse served up a healthy helping of Woody Allen in its final exploration of the filmmaker's work by exploring "Match Point," which provoked an interesting discussion. Here are some of the highlights of what was talked about:



HOW IS MATCH POINT DIFFERENT FROM ALLEN’S PREVIOUS PICTURES?
·       It’s a thriller structured like a dark film noir; Nola is a femme fatale who leads men into danger, just like the great spider women featured in classic films noir of the 1940s-1950s
·       It offers very little comic relief and no romance
·       It does not feature a Woody Allen like character/protagonist who is neurotic
·       It is set in London, not New York
·       It is more sexually charged, erotic, and violent than anything Allen has done previously
·       The characters are morally unattractive, forcing the audience to identify with people who behave badly
·       Allen uses opera arias instead of jazz tunes and American standards

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE IMPORTANT THEMES PLUMBED IN MATCH POINT?
·       The power of fate and chance to impact one’s life, as exemplified in the tennis ball motif—it bounces off the net and randomly lands on one side vs. the other, resulting in victory or defeat
·       The corrupting power of greed and lust, two vices that Chris has to choose between in the forms of his wife and his mistress, respectively
·       Crime is its own consequence: there is no redemption offered by punishment, love or God
·       There is no “right vs. wrong” here, it’s more about Darwinian dynamics and getting away with crime because you can and because it’s convenient; as Ebert said in his review: “Every character is rotten. This is a thriller not about good vs. evil, but about various species of evil engaged in a struggle for survival of the fittest or…the luckiest.”
·       The film asks: is there justice in the universe?
·       The dangers of unscrupulous ambition and indulging in immediate pleasures that can have consequences
 ·       Life is a game, and the main character has to play the game as tennis athlete, husband/social climber, lover/philanderer, and criminal committing the perfect crime

DOES MATCH POINT REMIND YOU OF ANY OTHER FILMS OR WORKS OF ART?
·       Allen’s own previous “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” which depicts a man who has his mistress killed after she theatens to expose their affair to his wife; both films explore the question of crime and punishment
o   However, unlike Crimes and Misdemeanors, Match Point shows the criminal as offensive and opportunistic; the other film’s criminal kills his mistress because she threatens his status quo lifestyle of comfort and respectability, and he is removed from the crime in that his brother takes care of the murder
o   According to one reviewer: “While Judah (criminal in Crimes and Misdemeanors) is a man who is pushed into evil and finds he’s more comfortable there than he thought he would be, Match Point is about a man who never quite leaves the pool.”
·       Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky, in that both main characters are brooding loners who kill, try to hide their crime by staging a robbery, and are toyed with by the detectives.

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Woody volleys back

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Make plans to join CineVerse on December 12 for our final spotlight on Woody Allen, as we feature perhaps the most surprising and refreshingly offbeat work in his filmography: “Match Point” (2005; 124 minutes).

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Make 'em laugh

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Gleason and Carney, Abbott and Costello, Bergen and McCarthy, Bob and Ray...Burns and Matthau? Yes, you can count the latter among the world's great comedy duos solely on the basis of their work in “The Sunshine Boys” (1975; 111 minutes), directed by Herbert Ross, chosen by Brian Hansen, which will be featured Dec. 5 at CineVerse.

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Marching in step with evil

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Last evening, CineVerse took a chilling look at the famous propaganda movie "Triumph of the Will." Here are highlights at our group discussion:



WHAT SURPRISED YOU ABOUT TRIUMPH OF THE WILL? WERE YOU EXPECTING SOMETHING DIFFERENT OF THIS MOVIE?
·       The crowds at the Nuremburg rally are not all comprised of rifle-wielding soldiers; many are simply citizens carrying shovels, for example
·       No one, including Hitler, makes any overt anti-semitic statements
·       The emphasis is on images over ideas, emotion over action; there really isn’t any “plot” or easily followed linear or narrative structure
·       For these and other reasons, the film is actually considered by many to be quite dull and unimaginative
·       Arguably, it’s not even that dangerous of a film to show to new generations, as it’s likely not very manipulative or persuasive if you’re not already a convert to Nazi ideology

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE TECHNIQUES THAT RIEFENSTAHL USES TO MAKE AN EFFECTIVE PROPAGANDA FILM?
·       Long focus lenses to produce a distorted view
·       Moving cameras
·       High angle perspectives from cameras placed very high up
·       Aerial photography
·       Marrying music to the picture in an emotionally effective way, which arguably hadn’t been done to this degree before in film

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THEMES BEING PUSHED UPON THE VIEWER AND THE GERMAN PEOPLE WHO FIRST SAW THIS MOVIE?
·       Religion: Hitler is cast as a messianic deity, a godlike figure who descends from the skies and compares the Nazil party to a holy order
·       Unity and harmony: we see images of uniformity, cleanliness, symmetry, order, perfect alignment
·       Glory and pride: the pride with which the native people worship and adore their leader and love their country, as well as the twisted pride that Hitler espouses, which calls for a purification of the German people which means an extermination of minorities, the sick, frail and feeble.
·       Power: Hitler and his people yearn for the rebirth of Germany as a major world power; we see 700,000 of his worshippers amassed in a mass demonstration of that power

IS THIS FILM A DOCUMENTARY, A PROPAGANDA FILM, OR BOTH?
·       Riefenstahl claims that she was na├»ve about the Nazis when she made it and had no clue as to what Hitler would eventually do; she claims that she was asked to “document” these events as historical events that she didn’t pre-plan or manipulate in any way
·       Yet, there is evidence that film scholars have proposed that some of the footage may have been staged and shot later, after the rallies, and spliced in to look like it was happening live; the massive stadiums were designed to accommodate special cameras
·       It becomes obvious that this movie is evidence of the power of editing: that reconstructing shots and manipulating footage is the key to effective propaganda.
·       As one reviewer stated: this film proves the theory that the most powerful tool of thought control, which is the goal of totalitarian power, is the cinema.
·       It’s almost impossible for a documentary, even a true “fly on the wall” impartially intended one, to be truly objective; every film, even the most neutral documentaries, has an agenda, a point of view, and a tone.

DO YOU THINK THIS FILM IS STILL DANGEROUS? SHOULD IT BE SHOWN IN CLASSROOMS TO AGE-APPROPRIATE CHILDREN? SHOULD IT BE BANNED?

WHAT OTHER MOVIES DOES TRIUMPH OF THE WILL REMIND YOU OF?
·       D.W. Griffith’s infamously racist but cinematically pioneering “Birth of a Nation”
·       The Star Wars films, in their depiction of the evil Empire and its Emperor commanding countless stormtroopers and soldiers
·       The Great Dictator, Chaplin’s parody of Hitler, which actually uses some of this film’s footage
·       “Woodstock”, the acclaimed documentary of the Woodstock rock music festival, another documentary that captures a large mass of followers
·       Busby Berkely musicals, which also choreographed large crowds of people/performers moving in rhythmic unison and creating symmetrical and geometrically balanced shapes and images
·       The films of Sergei Eisenstein, who espoused the socialist and Soviet views of Lenin in a series of propagandistic films like Strike! and Battleship Potemkin

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