Blog Directory CineVerse: February 2013

Looking at the world through Rose-colored glasses

Thursday, February 28, 2013

It could have been an epic biopic on the life and death of Janis Joplin, but instead, it was....an epic biopic on the life and death of a fictional singer inspired by Janis Joplin. We're talking about "The Rose," of course, which CineVerse examined last evening. Among the discussion points explored:

WHAT ARE THIS FILM’S GREATEST STRENGTHS?
·       Bette Midler in the title role, who has a superb voice, energetic magnestism and believable character; it’s hard to envision anyone else playing this part
·       The strong supporting cast, including Frederic Forrest (nominated for an Oscar), Harry Dean Stanton and Barry Primus
·       The concert sequences, which are well staged, filmed and performed
·       The arc of the character’s journey from weariness to love to weariness to death
·       The film aims for realism and depicting the joys and sorrows of this tragic character in a non-glamorous, warts-and-all approach
·       Excellent cinematography by master of light Vilmos Zsigmond, who stresses darkness in the environments and at the concerts, externalizing the performer’s inner darknesses
·       It doesn’t attempt to be a complete soup to nuts “biopic”; instead of depicting Rose’s entire life, from childhood to the present, it paints an impressionistic picture with the last period of her life

WHAT ARE THIS FILM’S FLAWS?
·       It’s slightly dated in its look, dialogue, references and social milieu (definitely entrenched as a relic of the 1970s), although it’s message is timeless
·       The narrative is loosely structured, seemingly strung together awkwardly by a series of strong concert performances
·       There seems to be an over-reliance on close-ups, which can be a sign of lazy filmmaking
·       There are a lot of clich├ęs indigenous to rock and roll and high profile artists/performers that we’ve seen in other pictures; how many times have we seen the strung-out, substance-addicted star character, whose story always ends tragically?

OTHER FILMS THAT “THE ROSE” BRINGS TO MIND:
·       A Star is Born
·       Tender Mercies
·       Almost Famous
·       Funny Girl

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Some say love...it is a movie

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Don't foget to stop and smell the roses sometime--in fact, make plans to do exactly that on February 27 when CineVerse unveils “The Rose” (1979; 125 minutes), directed by Mark Rydell, chosen by Jeanne Johnson.

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March/April 2013 CineVerse schedule posted

Friday, February 22, 2013

Eager to learn what we'll be screening and talking about in CineVerse over the next couple months? The March/April 2013 schedule is now ready for viewing. Visit http://sdrv.ms/WfkjVZ to access it.

Note to those who received a paper schedule last Wednesday: The movies originally slated for March 13 and April 10 on that sheet have been swapped due to a scheduling conflict. Please discard that paper schedule handed to you and use refer to the new, updated schedule found at http://sdrv.ms/WfkjVZ. 

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Stripping off the veneer of the Maltese Falcon

Thursday, February 21, 2013

It's always a treat to watch Bogey on a big screen without commercial interruptions. Such was the case yesterday when CineVerse featured "The Maltese Falcon," which prompted an in-depth group dialogue about the 1941 film noir classic. Much of what was conversed is summarized below.

WHAT MAKES THIS FILM MEMORABLE AND STAND THE TEST OF TIME 70 PLUS YEARS LATER?
· The steely charisma and distinctive acting style of Bogart, who commands every scene and demands your attention
· The curious assortment of characters in the story, as well as the outstanding casting of excellent character actors, especially Sidney Greenstreet and Caspar Gutman, but even the lesser parts, like Ward Bond as the cop and Elisha Cook Jr. as Wilmer
· The economy of direction: John Huston makes so much out of so little; this was a lower-budget production primarily shot in only a few rooms, and lacking a clear plot and action scenes; he creates magic with dialogue, tight editing, crafty angles and camera movement, and top notch performances; collectively, these elements create a film that moves deftly, with no fat or frivolous scenes, that feels perhaps too short instead of too long
· Interestingly, it’s the movie’s style, not its story, that propels it forward; it’s story is less about plot than character, as evidenced by the use of a McGuffin device (the black bird, which advances the story, but doesn’t really have any true significance); also, usually a “talky” picture is an inferior one, as film is a visual medium that relies on images more than words; but “talky” works perfectly here.

HOW WAS THE MALTESE FALCON THE FIRST OF ITS KIND IN MANY WAYS?
· It’s credited as being the first true film noir in that it incorporates many of the hallmark elements of noir style: a gritty urban crime story, a shady antihero lead, a femme fatale leading men to danger, high contrast lighting (dark shadows contrasting with lighter elements in the same frame)
· It’s the first movie directed by John Huston, who, along with a few other peers, became the first of a new breed of writer-director talents, including Orson Welles, Preston Sturges, and Billy Wilder
· It made a bona fide star out of Bogart, who had been previously delegated to bad-guy bit roles primarily in B movies
· It was the first pairing of Bogart, Greenstreet and Lorre, who would go on to appear together in several other films (Lorre and Greenstreet teamed up for 10 total films)
· It set the template for the private eye detective movie, establishing an antihero lead who engages in questionable acts of morality/immorality and who knows at least as much information if not more than the audience

HOW WOULD THE MALTESE FALCON HAVE BEEN CONTROVERSIAL AND EYE-OPENING FOR ITS TIME (1941)?
· Sam Spade is not your typical protagonist who can claim moral authority; he is a shady character who isn’t afraid to lie, connive and use people, and he gets away with this behavior; this was somewhat different for an investigator character up to this point
· The film hints at many sexual deviancies: Spade is having an affair with his dead partner’s wife; Spade is sleeping with his client Brigid; Cairo is an obviously gay and effeminate character; Gutman is suggested as having a relationship with Wilmer and Cairo; Cairo carries a phallic symbol cane that he caresses creepily and puts near his mouth
· The movie dispenses with fluff, glamor and sympathy: the characters aren’t glamorized; there are no tacked on comic relief scenes or musical interludes, which were still popular at this time; we aren’t given any backstory about Spade that demands our sympathy

THE NAMES OF THE CHARACTERS IN THIS MOVIE ARE ACTUALLY QUITE REVEALING. CAN YOU GIVE EXAMPLES?
· Sam Spade: a man who can call a spade a spade and isn’t afraid to bury his partner while also sleeping with the widow
· Wonderly: A combination of wonderful and lay; notice, by the way, how Astor’s character is engaged in scenes that suggest prison: she wears striped pajamas, the Venetian blinds cast bars of light and shadow across her path, the furniture in the room is striped, and the bars on the elevator cage cross her face like the bars of jail cell.
· Brigid: just a consonant away from “frigid”
· Gutman: the perfect name for an obese person gluttonous with greed
· Dundy: a name that connotes “dunderhead” or “dunce”
· Wilmer: easily mistaken for “Wilma” and a moniker that connotes lack of masculinity
· Cairo: an exotic, mysterious word, conjuring up images of foreign lands

OTHER FILMS BY JOHN HUSTON
· Treasure of the Sierra Madre*
· Key Largo
· The Asphalt Jungle
· The African Queen
· Moby Dick*
· The Misfits*
· The Man Who Would Be King*
· Prizzi’s Honor
· The Dead

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Don't forget to vote!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Don't miss your chance to vote in the latest CineVerse poll, which asks the question: Which 2012 Oscar-nominated film deserves the best picture Academy Award? The poll closes on Feb. 28, and remember that the Academy Awards are held Feb. 24. You can vote by going to our home page and visiting the left sidebar.

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The stuff that dreams are made of

Witness the steely charisma of Humphrey Bogart and the masterful direction of John Huston when CineVerse explores “The Maltese Falcon” (1941; 100 minutes), chosen by Norm Omiecinski, on Feb. 20.

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A different kind of romance

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Last evening, CineVerse peeled back the petals on a fragrant but thorny flower called "I Am Love," an enigmatic arthouse picture from Italy starring Tilda Swinton. Here's a summary of what was discussed:

HOW WAS THIS FILM DIFFERENT THAN WHAT YOU EXPECTED? WHAT WAS REFRESHING, UNIQUE AND DISTINCTIVE ABOUT I AM LOVE?

·       The plot is not very substantial; instead of a focus on narrative structure and storyline, there’s more of a focus on sensory stimulation, esthetics, emotional context and visuals
·       The score can feel bombastic and emotionally overwhelming, but arguably it informs each scene and telegraphs how we should feel about what we see
·       The film is erotically daring: Tilda Swinton isn’t afraid to reveal her body in a very candid way, and the lovemaking scenes are passionate, raw and sensually charged
·       The cinematography is colorful, lush, intentionally overexposed to give a tinge of radiance and resonance
·       There are 5 languages spoken: Italian, Russian, English, Spanish and Arabic
·       Interesting juxtaposition of images: editing together shots of lovemaking interspersed with shots of leaves, insects, etc., as if suggesting a communal experience with nature; also, consider the scene where e Emma is eating, and we get sudden odd close-ups of her food and how it’s being eaten, almost as if indulging in a delectable meal is an orgasmic experience
·       The world around them seems to be mirroring the characters’ emotional state: the outdoor lovemaking depicts insects and flowers that also seem to be celebrating; when they’re sad, it rains; a tragedy seems to provoke flowers to fade
·       The picture pays special attention to color, and color is given emotional and thematic significance: according to one writer, “the autumnal tones are frequently used to underline connections between characters; Emma and her daughter each wear colors previously worn by the other; Ida the housekeeper pours orange juice that matches her shirt; even the leaves on the plant are the precise shade of green to compliment the walls and furniture (in the Recchi family home)”
  
EMMA SEEMS TO BE STUCK BETWEEN HER DAUGHTER AND SON AND FORCED TO DECIDE WHICH ONE TO EMULATE. CAN YOU GIVE EXAMPLES OF THIS THEORY?
·       Her son is idealistic and bound to family and preserving tradition
·       Her daughter is a newly transformed lesbian who isn’t afraid to indulge in her desires and pursue the sensual world
·       Emma must decide which path to follow; it’s obvious which one she chooses first, as she is shown cutting her hair short like her daughter’s and wearing the same colors her daughter does

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THEMES TACKLED IN THIS MOVIE?
·       Free will, self-discovery and the pursuit of pleasure vs. conforming to society’s rules and living up to the expectations of others
·       The potency and undeniable allure of love, which can act like a consuming force of nature
·       The characters almost seem to be puppets of Cupid
·       Family, legacy and the lessons passed on between generations
·       The rewards and consequences of acting on impulse
·       The unpredictability of the human animal

DOES I AM LOVE BRING ANY OTHER FILMS OR WORKS TO MIND?
·       The movies of Luchino Visconti, especially The Leopard, which also deals with a similar family and legacy-type situation
·       The films of Douglas Sirk, which focused on emotional melodramas and women’s issues, such as Magnificent Obsession, Written on the Wind, and All That Heaven Allows
·       The films of Michelangelo Antonioni
·       The visually poetic movies of Terence Malick
·       The book Madame Bovary
·       Hitchcock’s Vertigo in how Emma pursues the object of her obsession

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Who's the finest filmmaker?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


by Erik J. Martin

Here's a question that could make for an interesting future CineVerse poll: Who is the greatest living film director? Here's my two cents on the matter:

In my opinion, no one is ever going to come close to touching the mastery and track record of Hitchcock, who directed more than 50 films, more than a dozen of which are absolute masterpieces. Consider the achievements: “Vertigo,” “Psycho,” “Rear Window,” “North by Northwest,” “Notorious,” “Shadow of a Doubt,” “Strangers on a Train,” “The Birds,” “The 39 Steps,” “Frenzy,” “The Lady Vanishes,” and “Rebecca,” among other top-notch works.

Orson Welles could have very well been the most talented film director in history, but he had creative control taken away from him early in his career and only outputted a handful of cream-of-the-crop works.

Kurosawa is awfully close in my book (with at least 10 perfect films), as is Fritz Lang, to the top of the ranks.

Not to be overlooked is the work of John Ford, an undisputed master with multiple 5-star films, or the oeuvre of John Huston, Frank Capra and Howard Hawks.

Film scholars point to D.W. Griffith as the true pioneer who established the grammar of cinema, but his movies are more like archaic museum pieces that can be admired from a distance but which have not dated well.

Many fans and critics also tip their cap to Kubrick, but in my humble opinion, his films are emotionally cold and somewhat laborious, although anyone who directs “Paths of Glory,” “Dr. Strangelove” and “2001: A Space Odyssey” is no slouch.

But when you consider their body of work, Spielberg and Scorsese are virtually neck and neck as far as all-time classics go and are virtually tied on my list of “greatest living directors”.

Many critics and historians are quick to dismiss Spielberg as a populist artist who ushered in the era of the blockbuster, which signaled the death knell of the silver age of cinema (the 1970s) and set back the independent film movement for years. But how can you argue with the sheer entertainment value and excellence of “Jaws,” “Close Encounters,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “E.T.,” (the first) “Jurassic Park,” “Schindler’s List,” “Saving Private Ryan,” and "Lincoln"? This man knows how to satiate our pleasure zone.

Then again, Scorsese can counter with “Mean Streets,” “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,” “Goodfellas,” “Casino,” “The Departed,” and “Hugo.” Here’s a guy who knows how to depict the grit and allure of the underworld and fascinate us with warped but mesmerizing male characters.

For that matter, there’s also Woody Allen, who has probably been the most prolific of all over the last 40 years, and who amassed an output of consistently high-quality features between 1977 and 1992 that ranks among the very finest of that period, including “Annie Hall,” “Manhattan,” “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” “Hannah and Her Sisters,” “Radio Days,” “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” and “Husbands and Wives”. It’s much harder to make people laugh than it is to pull off a good drama, so I have to give the Woodman props here.

Coming close for me are the wonderfully weird creations of the Coen Brothers, who have yielded “Blood Simple,” “Raising Arizona,” “Miller’s Crossing,” “Barton Fink,” “Fargo,” “The Big Lebowski,” and “No Country for Old Men,” among other greats.

Many filmmakers are lucky if they helm only one magnum opus. Arguably, Spielberg has 8, while Scorsese has 6-7, Woody has 5-6, and the Coens have 4-5. In my book, that makes Spielberg the greatest living director.

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A bittersweet Valentine

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Valentine's Day is right around the corner--no better time to celebrate than with a romantic movie from Italy entitled “Io Sono I’amore (I Am Love)” (2009; 120 minutes), directed by Luca Guadagnino. Slated for Feb. 13, this CineVerse movie was chosen by Dave Ries.

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Not just another pretty face

Friday, February 8, 2013

Two days ago, CineVerse screened "Pretty Baby" and engaged in an in-depth group talk about the merits and controversies of the 1978 film. Here are the major discussion points:

WHAT ARE THIS FILM’S GREATEST STRENGTHS?
·       It approaches its controversial subject honestly and without pulling any punches; it doesn’t attempt to titillate or exploit for crass, erotic purposes as, say, a cheap grindhouse flick on the subject of prostitution would
·       The picture is well-cast, with good performances from top-shelf actors, including Susan Sarandon, Brooke Shields, and Keith Carradine
·       It’s beautifully photographed by the great cinematographer Sven Nykvist
·       The period music and score for the movie is emotionally resonant, bittersweet and appropriate

WHAT ARE THIS MOVIE’S GREATEST FLAWS?
·       The fact that it casts a 12-year-old in a role that involves nudity and prurient subject matter; it’s a film that has the potential to make you feel sleazy just for watching it
·       Arguably, it can be difficult to accept the romance/love story between Bellocq and Violet; we get that he wants to save her, but what are his motivations beyond that?

COULD THIS MOVIE BE MADE (OR REMADE FOR THAT MATTER) TODAY?
·       Probably not, as it would be deemed child pornography and possibly not bankable as a box office investment, with the capacity to incite too much controversy and backlash
·       This movie was a product of its times: the cinematically much freer and more independent 1970s, when filmmakers could broach controversial subjects and take chances
·       If it were remade, it would have to cast an older actress to play Violet and probably refrain from having that actress appear nude

WAS HAVING BROOKE SHIELDS APPEAR NUDE AN UNECESSARY MISTAKE, OR WAS IT APPROPRIATE TO DEPICT THE HARSH, UNSETTLING REALISM OF THE TIME, SETTING AND SITUATION?
·       The filmmakers could have simply suggested nudity without actually showing private parts by using careful camera angles
·       However, that wouldn’t have been as disturbing or effective as showing the real 12-year-old actress and what her character was forced to engage in, which was the whole point
·       One side effect of showing a naked 12-year-old actress is that it can detract from appreciating the overall story and message/theme; if you focus too much on the shocking images and circumstances of the film’s casting/shooting, you may miss the whole point.

DID THE DIRECTOR DEMONSTRATE GOOD TASTE OR BAD TASTE IN HIS DEPICTION OF THE NUDITY, SEX, AND CONTROVERSIAL SITUATIONS WITHIN THE BROTHEL?
·       You could argue that he practiced restraint and cautious, careful respect in his choices; his intent was likely not to sexually arouse or satisfy any base desires, but to simply show the truth of what occurred in these brothels at that time and place
·       After all, the film has to be at least somewhat controversial, as befitting its disturbing subject matter, otherwise the message is diluted and softened
·       Then again, ask yourself: could or should a filmmaker get away with showing a nude 12-year-old actress today? Almost certainly no.

OTHER FILMS BY LOUIS MALLE
·       Murmur of the Heart
·       Lacombe, Lucien
·       Atlantic City
·       Au Revoir Les Enfants
·       My Dinner with Andre

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Minor makes a major debut

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Meet Brooke Shields, the young star of "Pretty Baby” (1978; 110 minutes), directed by Louis Malle and chosen by Gail Bingenheimer, which is next up in the CineVerse schedule on Feb. 6.

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