Blog Directory CineVerse: June 2014

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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Eyes wide open: Taking a closer look at "A Clockwork Orange"

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Few movies have the power to both captivate and disgust like Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange," ranked as one of the most controversial and disturbing films ever made. CineVerse took an unblinking look at this disquieting picture and came away with these observations:

WHAT WOULD HAVE MADE THIS FILM CONTROVERSIAL AS WELL AS GROUNDBREAKING IN 1971?
·       It pushes the envelope almost as far as it can go for the times in terms of graphic and disturbing violence and imagery, especially its rape scenes.
·       It stylizes the violence and often presents it from Alex’s point of view and in an erotic way that can be both titillating and repulsive; the danger is that, as writer Bradley Tuck said in his essay on the film, “the stylistic devices of the film that show that Alex enjoys his violence have the effect of shielding the audience from the inherent brutality of Alex’s actions.” In other words, this film arguably glorifies the brutality and violence we see; this argument lends credence that it can have a dangerous effect on viewers, as evidenced by copycat crimes that occurred after it was released in Britain.
·       The home invasion rape scene is particularly controversial because it comes across as both abhorrent and erotic—the woman is a stereotypically attractive one who demonstrates little resistance and whose muffled cries could be interpreted as pleasurable or arousing to males. However, this is the one scene where we see how Alex is turned on by the violence and pain he is inflicting, which is repulsive to many viewers, and we see the pain felt by the victims of this crime, too.
·       This is a very dark, pessimistic film that ends with a disturbing full circle journey for its protagonist; in the novel, Alex matures and grows out of being a criminal; in the film, it ends suggesting that he’s ready to commit more mayhem and revel in the pleasure of it.
·       It’s also unsettling that the director manipulates us into identifying with this monstrous criminal Alex in the film’s second half; while Alex disgusts us early on, the violence and psychological conditioning he endures later makes him a sympathetic figure.
·       The way that Kubrick marries beautiful classic music with images of extreme brutality and ugliness is a complete 180 degrees from what he showed us in 2001: A Space Odyssey. This juxtaposition of artistic beauty with repulsive inhumanity would have been pioneering for an early 1970s movie. The majestic classical music has a tendency to make a disgustingly violent scene more tolerable, because the music is calming and stirring; this marriage of pleasant classical music with unpleasant imagery can also evoke a reaction of irony and humor in the viewer.
·       The visuals in this film are quite striking and memorable. Kubrick employs slow motion, fast motion, rapid-style dream montages (where we see him fantasizing he’s a vampire juxtaposed to explosions), handheld camera shots, extreme low-angle shots of faces looming above, and other techniques to create a unique visual palette and editing style.
·       This is a sci-fi movie, but not necessarily detached from any particular time like 2001: A Space Odyssey was; instead, it’s meant to depict an ugly dystopia that could have occurred following the psychedelic/free love/counterculture period of the late 1960s in which social freedoms are intact, but at a terrible cost (yes, society can express itself artistically, sexually and via drugs, but its citizens, particularly women and the elderly, are not safe). This futuristic society is plagued by violence, drugs, law-braking, political corruption, depravity, and sexism, according to Tuck.
·       The slang vernacular used by the street thugs is a curious mix of Russian and English, creating a whole new, inventive vocabulary.
·       Additionally, women are depicted as passive objects of male aggressive fantasies throughout this film: from the plastic, nubile statues in the milk bar to the paintings of women being fetishized and objectified to the real rape and assault victims themselves. Milk, which traditionally symbolizes nurturing and comfort, is here a hallucinogenic that inspires violence. Sex has also ceased to be an act of love and is instead an expression of violence and dominance over the submissive.
·       Also, much of the violence is choreographed in an artistic, almost balletic way: consider how Alex sings and dances before he rapes the wife of the author, or how the two rival gangs jump and acrobatically move before and during fighting.

WHAT IS THE MORAL TO THIS STORY? WHAT IS A CLOCKWORK ORANGE TRYING TO SAY THEMATICALLY?
·       It asks a fundamental question: What is more dangerous—freedom of choice, or safety and order in society? The former produces violent individuals; the latter can create a totalitarian society where the people, even its bad apples, are controlled and have their freedoms taken away.
·       Human nature is inherently capable of both good and evil: consider how we see that Alex has the capacity to be reformed (although not of his own free will) and how we sympathize with him later; yet, we see that he’s likely to return to his deviant ways. Kubrick is insinuating here that evil and destructive tendencies are an essential component of our humanity and part of what makes us alive. Consider how energetic, vibrant and “alive” Alex and his droogs are when they are up to no good. It can be argued that this movie suggests that some humans are so difficult to understand because they’re capable of both good and evil—two natures which are essential to the condition of being “human”.
·       Art has the capacity for both evil and good, and it both expresses and drives human impulses; case in point: Beethoven wrote his 9th Symphony because he wanted to convey the unlimited potential of human goodness as opposed to its corruption and wickedness. But Alex is inspired to act violently when he hears this music; it’s his fuel and his muse to commit crimes.

OTHER FILMS OR BOOKS THAT THIS MOVIE BRINGS TO MIND
·       Taxi Driver (Travis Bickle commits violent acts that are later, ironically, celebrated by the press; only once you think he’s back to normal, he appears unhinged and ready to commit more violence at the very end)
·       1984
·       Brazil

OTHER FILMS DIRECTED BY STANLEY KUBRICK
·       Paths of Glory
·       Spartacus
·       Lolita
·       Dr. Strangelove
·       2001: A Space Odyssey
·       The Shining
·       Full Metal Jacket
·       Eyes Wide Shut

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CineVerse July-August schedule posted

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The CineVerse calendar for July/August is now ready for viewing by visiting http://1drv.ms/1lQByg7 (you can also access it in the linkbar on our web page at www.cineversegroup.blogspot.com).

Note that two dates published in an earlier version of the paper schedule have been swapped: "On the Waterfront" is now slated for July 2, while "Hopscotch" is scheduled for July 23. Make plans to join us this summer for some word-worthy and thought-provoking films!

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Ultraviolence revisited

Sunday, June 22, 2014

On June 25, CineVerse will return to its current monthly series, Pushing Boundaries: Films that Challenged the Censors and Created Controversial but Important Works of Art. Part 4, a Bit of the Old Ultraviolence, will explore“A Clockwork Orange” (1971; 136 minutes), directed by Stanley Kubrick.

Warning to sensitive viewers: This film features extreme graphic violence and disturbing content.

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Still purring after all these years

Thursday, June 19, 2014


On Wednesday, CineVerse peeked inside the bedroom of Brick and Maggie for an intimate examination of Tennessee Williams' sexually amped play adapted for the big screen in 1958. Here's what we concluded:

WHAT SURPRISES YOU ABOUT THIS FILM, PARTICULARLY WHEN YOU CONSIDER ITS YEAR OF RELEASE (1958)?
It hints at controversial subtexts, including repressed homosexuality, sexual frustration, alcoholism, cancer (not named, but insinuated; cancer was a word almost never mentioned in films before the 1960s), and infidelity (possibly between Brick and Skipper, and/or between Maggie and Skipper).
The alluring sexuality of Elizabeth Taylor on display: she is scantily clad throughout many shots, and her unrequited sexual pining for Brick makes her even more appealing to male viewers fantasizing about taking Brick’s place.
The dynamic acting range of Burl Ives, known more as a singer, who steals the scenes he’s in and has arguably the best dialogue written for him.
The dramatically charged story, which grabs our attention—despite lack of plot and the fact that the story takes place entirely within Big Daddy’s mansion in a very stagey setting. Why is it riveting? It benefits from:
o emotionally deep personalities
o strong character development
o erotic undertones
o excellent dialogue
o A list casting, particularly the pairing of attractive sex symbols of the time like Taylor and Newman; also consider that Taylor was grieving over the sudden death of her third husband at the time, which colors her performance.  

THIS PLAY, AND MOVIE, IS RIPE WITH KEY THEMES. CAN YOU IDENTIFY ANY?
Deceit and dishonesty: Maggie and Brick’s relationship suffers from lies, secrets and deceptions. Is Brick telling her the truth about why he drinks and hates his wife? Is she telling him the truth about her relationship with Skipper? Is Big Daddy honest with his family, and vice versa?
Desire: Maggie craves Brick’s physical and emotional affection, but is denied; Brick desires his relationship with Skipper, but his friend is dead; Big Daddy and his wife desire a grandson from Brick and Maggie; Gooper and family desire Big Daddy’s riches and favor.
Relying on a crutch: Brick literally uses a crutch to get around, and he turns to alcohol as a crutch to cope. According to SparkNotes: “(The crutch’s) removal at the hands of Maggie and Big Daddy symbolize Brick's castration, a castration concomitant with the revelation of his unmanly homosexual desires. This crippling of the most masculine of men is crucial to Brick's "sexiness." The crutch's continuous restoration and removal—in a sort of game of "now he has it, now he doesn't"—appeals to the fetishistic one.”
Doubling and mirroring: Brick and Big Daddy mimic each other in that they each have a deep, dark secret (Brick his buried homosexual longing for Skipper, and Big Daddy his hidden terminal illness) that must be revealed and received by each other. Once they have this showdown, their problems can be emotionally resolved because they force each other to confront what is troubling them.
o Why is a showdown between Brick and Big Daddy more necessary than a showdown between Brick and Maggie? Because the two men are the ones most repressing and fantasizing (Brick fantasizing about a Skipper relationship that can never be, Big Daddy fantasizing about Maggie and his son having a son of their own and Brick assuming his rightful heir to the throne role).
The dysfunctional vs. healthy family: This is not a healthy extended family; Big Daddy and Brick suffer from illnesses and disabilities; Brick and Maggie are incompatible, sexless and childless; and Gooper’s family is a grotesque spoof on the ideal American family. Big Daddy and Mama long for Brick and Maggie to harmonize and create the idyllic family that Gooper has denied them. Mama’s comment that when a marriage is on the rocks, the rocks are in the bed, underscores that the solution to everyone’s problem here is for Maggie and Brick to have a healthy sex life; this can’t happen until Brick overcomes his sublimated homosexuality and accompanying guilt, grief over Skipper’s death, and dependence on alcohol to cope. The answer is a come-to-Jesus meeting with Big Daddy and a reconciliation with Maggie, which we know as viewers will lead to sexual reconciliation and, eventually, pregnancy.

HOW ARE THE NAMES SYMBOLIC IN THIS FILM?
Brick = built strong and tough, which is an ironic name considering how this character has to rely on a crutch, doesn’t want to bed with an extremely attractive woman and is dependent on booze. 
Skipper = the captain of Brick’s ship/life, which is now rudderless and adrift following Skipper’s death.
Gooper = a repulsive name for a character heading a repulsive family.
Big Daddy/Big Mama = grandiose and larger-than-life monikers for parents who have large material wealth but small influence on their son, Brick.

WHAT ARE SOME ISSUES THAT THIS FILM GLOSSES OVER OR DOESN’T ADDRESS SUFFICIENTLY?
Due to the censorship of the times, it could not delve as deeply into the implicit homosexual relationship between Skipper and Brick, or the heterosexual infidelity between Maggie and Skipper.
Strangely, Brick doesn’t stumble, stammer or act overtly inebriated the more he drinks, which is not what happens in real life; in fact, he seems to become more attractive and mentally sharp the longer he imbibes.
Big Daddy’s illness is not explained or described.
We’re never clear exactly why Brick has turned to alcohol, hates his wife and refuses to have sex with her, why Skipper committed suicide, or what role Maggie played in that suicide. Character motivations are often unclear here.

OTHER MAJOR PLAYS BY TENNESSEE WILLIAMS
The Glass Menagerie (1944)
A Streetcar Named Desire (1947)
The Rose Tattoo (1951)
Orpheus Descending (1957)
Suddenly, Last Summer (1958)
Sweet Bird of Youth (1959)
The Night of the Iguana (1961)

OTHER FILMS DIRECTED BY RICHARD BROOKS
1955 Blackboard Jungle
1958 The Brothers Karamazov 
1960 Elmer Gantry 
1962 Sweet Bird of Youth 
1965 Lord Jim 
1966 The Professionals 
1967 In Cold Blood 
1977 Looking for Mr. Goodbar 

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Meet Maggie the Cat and Brick the bum-legged drunk

Sunday, June 15, 2014

On June 18, CineVerse will shine the spotlight on “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” (1958; 108 minutes), directed by Richard Brooks, chosen by Dan Quenzel; Plus: catch a preview of the July/August CineVerse schedule.

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Love American (and British) style

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Not every CineVerse foray into film has to be an exploration of artsy, profoundly poetic or heavy dramaramas. Yesterday, our group took a bite of a teeth-rottingly sweet confection called "Love Actually" and came away with these observations:

HOW IS “LOVE ACTUALLY” DIFFERENT FROM YOUR TYPICAL ROMANTIC COMEDY FILM?
·       It has a dizzying array of characters, pairings and relationships to keep track of; this isn’t a simple boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl-back story involving one or two couples, but several couples.
·       Most of the characters intertwine and have story threads that weave together in what is referred to as a “small world syndrome” whereby it just so coincidentally happens that this person you’re watching knows or is related to that other person you’re watching, and their paths will intersect eventually.
·       Its cast boasts an A list of top notch British and American talent, even if they have to divvy up screen time to fit everyone in; the star power of this film alone is enough to warrant serious interest from even casual romcom fans.
·       It explores many different kinds of love, not just romantic/sexual love: this movie also delves into platonic love, unconditional love between parents and children, love between brothers and sisters, unrequited love, puppy love crushes, and love shared by spouses who are far past the fireworks stage. Movie reviewer Amanda DeWees posited that the director “in just one film…can explore many different faces of love, from the unexpected to the predestined, from the premature to the tardy.”
·       You could argue that the film deftly balances between romance and comedy, by not letting the proceedings get too mushy and gushy and also not letting the yuks (which can get rather lewd) crowd out the amorous tone.
·       It also nicely balances two similar but different cultures: English (being that it’s based in and shot on location in Britain and features numerous British actors) and American (consider the pop culture references and not-so-subtle jabs at MTV music videos, Presidents Bush and Clinton amalgamated into Thornton’s character, and others).
·       Additionally, even though it’s set at Christmastime, it transcends any season and can be enjoyed year-round, although the Yuletide setting makes it a bit easier to believe why these characters may be in more of a lovey-dovey kind of mood.

WHAT MEANINGS CAN BE EXTRACTED FROM “LOVE ACTUALLY”?
·       As is referenced in the original song “Love is All Around” by the Troggs (upon which the film’s title is loosely based), we can find love everywhere around us whenever we need it, regardless of how dark and cruel the world and its people are.
·       It’s okay, normal and preferable to be in love and happy; likewise, it’s okay to like romcom chick flicks that preach the same message—even if they appear cloyingly sweet, overly optimistic and sentimental. This film makes no apology for mining all of these qualities and serving as a blissful antidote to cynical, dark, violent, and depressing movies.
·       Love is great in any form—whether it be romantic, sexual, platonic, or unconditional; each is equally powerful and meaningful, mutually beneficial to both people involved, and is as satisfying to give as to get.

HOW WOULD THIS FILM HAVE BEEN CHALLENGING TO WRITE AND DIRECT?
·       It’s difficult to juggle so many characters and keep the audience engaged in every storyline and personality: for one, there are so many names, characters and situations to keep track of; for another, there’s not enough screen time for thorough character development. In fairness, many of these couples/storylines could easily have been spun off into their own unique movies.
·       You’ve got a lot of A-list actors here with big egos to pacify; how do you give each enough speaking lines and screen time to justify their participation in the project?
·       How do you keep such a sprawling, ensemble character piece from languishing on too long? As it stands, it’s 135 minutes, which had to be trimmed down considerably from earlier cuts of the film.

THIS FILM WAS DIRECTED BY RICHARD CURTIS, WHO WROTE “FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL,” “NOTTING HILL,” AND “BRIDGET JONES’S DIARY.” WHAT CHARACTERISTICS DOES THIS FILM SHARE WITH THOSE 3?
·       Three of the four star Hugh Grant, a favorite of this filmmaker, and other actors appear in multiple films of his, too.
·       As stated by writer David Edelstein: “(Curtis’) genius…is for thrusting characters into situations in which they feel driven to humiliate themselves. He is the Bard of Embarrassment.”
·       “Curtis is happiest in a universe of sudden extroverts: of men and women who blurt out how they really feel, then freeze in mortification, then stammer on, cursing themselves when it's over for being such asses. Then they go out and make still more embarrassing declarations—which is why we love them, especially when it's all in the name of love.”

DOES LOVE ACTUALLY REMIND YOU OF ANY OTHER FILMS?
·       Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral, and Bridget Jones Diary, all written by this movie’s director, Richard Curtis
·       Many of the movies helmed by Robert Altman that feature ensemble casts, such as Short Cuts, Nashville, Gosford Park, and M.A.S.H.
·       Hannah and Her Sisters, also featuring multiple relationships and concluding on a holiday (Thanksgiving)
·       Lost in Translation, also from 2003, which also spotlights “heartbroken characters unable to get what they want, crippled to voice their desires clearly,” according to critic Brian Orndorf.

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It's Christmas in June

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Christmas may be 6 months away, but it's never too early to watch a fun film set during the Yuletide season. Mark June 11 on your calendar, which is when CineVerse will explore “Love Actually” (2003; 135 minutes), directed by Richard Curtis, chosen by Jeanne Johnson.

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A man for all thirds

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Analyzing Carol Reed's magnificent "The Third Man" is a bit like peeling an onion: you're bound to uncover layer after layer of substance. And such was the case with our film discussion group upon evaluating this timeless picture. Highlights of our dissection are as follows:

WHAT IS NOTABLE ABOUT THIS FILM STYLISTICALLY AND ESTHETICALLY IN REGARDS TO VISUALS, MUSIC AND ATMOSPHERE?
·       It’s offers a very expressive lighting scheme evocative of film noir, featuring high contrast lighting and a exaggerated shadows in a gritty urban environment. It is this lighting style that makes possible arguably the most famous onscreen introduction of a character in motion picture history—the shot when Harry is revealed in the dark doorway.
·       The film puts us off-kilter with canted (tilted) camera angles utilized for many shots.
·       The filmmakers also use wide angle lens distortions and extreme facial close ups to further purport this world of strange, suspicious characters.
·       It’s shot on location in postwar Vienna, which is bombed out, in rubble, and suffering from real decay and corruption; while the actors are obvious, the nonactor native extras lend an air of authenticity to the proceedings.
·       The zither music soundtrack feels jaunty and playful, but also mockingly shrill at times, as if revealing an undercurrent of pessimism, action about to erupt and irony. There is no other orchestral music of any kind—only a zither score played consistently throughout most of the picture.

WHAT THEMATIC ELEMENTS ARE AT PLAY HERE? WHAT ARE THE MESSAGES ESPOUSED BY “THE THIRD MAN”?
·       Moral corruption and moral hypocrisy: Lime personifies the morally reprehensible black market forces that erupted in postwar Europe that unscrupulously profited from other people’s suffering; and yet Lime’s speech about ‘would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever?’ resonates in that period, which followed the mass killing of millions of people via bombings from Axis and Allied forces. As Philip Kerr put it in his Criterion Collection essay, “What’s the difference between what (Lime has) done and what (the warring countries) did?”
·       Anti-American sentiment in Europe following the war: Holly is a symbol of the United States and how our country was perceived in postwar Europe. Consider how foolish, clumsy and na├»ve Holly is; he’s a personage of ridicule who is, as Village Voice critic Steve Hoberman states it, “blamed for a murder, followed in the street, hijacked by a cab driver, and repeatedly rebuffed by Anna (who can never remember his name). Such as the burdens of world leadership.” Hoberman added that the script created a political allegory: pro-British, anti-Soviet, and critical of the U.S.A. Roger Ebert contributed to this theory, saying, “The Third Man'' reflects the optimism of Americans and the bone-weariness of Europe after the war. It's a story about grownups and children: Adults like Calloway, who has seen at first hand the results of Lime's crimes, and children like the trusting Holly, who believes in the simplified good and evil of his Western novels.”
·       The classic love triangle: Holly loves Anna, Anna loves Harry, Harry at one time may have loved Anna but loves himself more. Only the irony is that, in this love triangle, despite Holly doing everything the classic romantic lead should do (fall in love with the woman and try to protect her), she rejects him and holds a torch for a rat—although this rat did save her at one time.
·       Pessimism and cynicism: There is no classic happy love story ending here; there’s only the feeling of postwar disillusionment and weariness, of a fractured existence (exemplified by a city divided into four sections), of hapless victims and seedy opportunists, and of fools like Holly who really have no place in this space.
·       Confused identities: Wrong names and mistaken identities abound in this film (Holly is called Harry, Calloway is called Callaghan, Harry is the third man, etc.).
·       Betrayal: Lime betrays the confidence and love that Holly had placed in his friend; and Holly betrays Harry by leading the police to him and ultimately shooting him dead.

THIS FILM HAS BEEN CONTRASTED WITH AN EARLIER OUTING FROM THE 1940S, “CASABLANCA”. HOW ARE THEY SIMILAR AND DIFFERENT?
·       Both feature a love triangle between a profiteer (Rick/Harry), a beautiful woman with an Eastern European heritage/accent (Ilsa/Anna), and a man who believes he’s doing the noble/right thing (Victor/Holly).
·       Both involve emotionally charged endings where the woman has to decide who to go with; in “The Third Man,” Anna walks past Holly.
·       According to film reviewer Glenn Erickson: “The Third Man shows how the sentiment and ideals of Casablanca have soured in the postwar situation. In Casablanca, the risks taken by Rick, Elsa and Renault are in harmony with the larger drama being played out between the Axis and the Allies. This "ideological security" helps all three of them make painful personal decisions based on faith in a moral cause. By contrast, Martins, Anna and the late Harry Lime of TM drift in a moral limbo where such absolutes no longer exist. The Allies have "won" but Vienna has become a political mire of injustice and conflicting ideologies. The gamblers, black marketeers and corrupt French of Casablanca are closet patriots that spend their leisure time helping refugees and secretly opposing the Nazis. In this postwar Vienna, Harry Lime's gang routinely commits obscene, indefensible crimes. Their profit motive shows no regard for their innocent victims, who are considered expendable "suckers.” The characters of the wartime Casablanca may be confused, but they are ennobled by patriotism and able to make wise decisions. Patriotism is dead in the Viennese ruins of The Third Man. Even the benign characters are too disillusioned to function effectively. Holly waffles and plays at romance like a schoolboy. Anna drifts between bitterness and suicidal despair.”

OTHER FILMS THAT REMIND YOU OF “THE THIRD MAN”
·       Casablanca
·       M
·       Morocco
·       The 39 Steps
·       Mr. Arkadin
·       The Stranger
·       Charade

OTHER FILMS DIRECTED BY CAROL REED
·       Odd Man Out
·       The Fallen Idol
·       Our Man in Havana
·       The Agony and the Ecstasy
·       Oliver!

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Celebrating our 9th with "The 3rd"

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Celebrate CineVerse's 9th anniversary by joining us on June 4 for “The Third Man” (1949; 93 minutes), directed by Carol Reed, chosen by Art Myren; Plus: play movie trivia and win DVD prizes prior to the film.

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