Blog Directory CineVerse: January 2016

Enjoy your stay at the Best Western

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Ask many fans to name their favorite western and it's a sure bet that “The Searchers” (1956; 119 minutes), directed by John Ford, would be a contender for the crown. Join CineVerse on February 3 as the Our Favorite Film series marches on with Jim Doherty's pick.

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Punch-drunk love for a classic film

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Yes, the obligatory training montage it introduced has become cliche in sports movies. Absolutely, the main theme has become co-opted as the aural wallpaper for gym rats everywhere. And sure, it spawned nearly as many sequels as slasher horror icons Jason and Freddy did. But there's no denying how utterly emotionally infectious the first "Rocky" film is, even 40 years following its theatrical debut. How do we love "Rocky" after all these years? Let us count the ways in the form of a proper film analysis:


WHY DO YOU THINK THIS FILM WAS SO IMMENSELY POPULAR WHEN IT WAS RELEASED IN 1976?
At its core, Rocky is a love story and a tale about a man trying to earn self-respect and dignity.
Among its themes: Cinderella, the underdog, the comeback kid, the ugly duckling—especially recognizing the ugly duckling/underdog in a fellow human being. Consider how Rocky identifies Adrian’s beauty despite the glasses and shyness, how Adrian recognizes the tenderness and caring behind Rocky’s burly exterior, and how Creed sees the potential within everyman boxer Rocky to exploit American values and appeal to fans. 
The film isn’t a rags-to-riches story about a nobody who beats the best in the ring. It’s an allegory for life: that it’s more important to go the distance and take the punches. That, and get the girl at the end.
It’s a knockout story that derives strength not from its threadbare plot, but from its finely detailed portraits of City of Brotherly Love losers. 
The main musical theme is indelibly marked in our cultural consciousness as an instant, rousing, motivational anthem
Before Rocky, 1970s cinema was steeped in pessimism and a dark, sobering gestalt that reflected the times (after all, this was the era of Watergate, Vietnam and the suppression of the counterculture). 
  • Rocky, with its stirring soundtrack and inspirational message, completely altered that mood and replaced the anti-hero with the hero. 
  • The two blockbuster films of the 1970s that are often credited with forever changing Hollywood—many say for the worse—are Jaws (1975) and Star Wars (1977). 
  • Sandwiched between them was Rocky, which, arguably, was just as influential when you consider the subgenre of sports movies and flicks about underdogs that gushed forth in its wake. 
  • It made $225 million on a $1 million production budget; Rocky has the seventh highest return on investment of any movie ever created.
HOW IS ROCKY DIFFERENT FROM OTHER SPORTS AND BOXING FILMS AS WELL AS THE ROCKY SEQUELS THAT FOLLOWED?
Rocky does not win the fight at the end, which left many viewers confused in 1976 and beyond. And to me, that’s a dead-on right denouement. 
There are technically only two boxing fights: at the beginning and at the end
Holds up surprisingly well upon repeat viewings because it dwells so long on simple, imperfect, tender, slice of life moments—like when Adrian (played by the never-better Talia Shire) allows Rocky to take off her glasses, revealing her deep brown eyes.
Depicts imperfect lives, ugly landscapes and awkward situations: by contrast, the Rocky sequels are very clich├ęd, over-produced and stylized, predictable, schmaltzy patriotism, and filled with stereotypes
Interesting in that the supposed villain, Apollo Creed, is actually quite a smart, admirable personality who’s hard to hate; here’s a strong African American character who has achieved power, wealth, fame and adulation, and exemplifies the best in his sport by the time of America’s bicentennial 
Yes, it’s technically a boxing movie, and it’s bookended as such, with a bout in the beginning and the main event at the end. But it’s neither a sports flick nor a pugilistic drama in the formalistic sense.

WHAT IS YOUR FEELING ON THE FILM’S CASTING? WHAT DID YOU THINK OF STALLONE’S PERFORMANCE?
There were many film critics—including Roger Ebert—who drew comparisons to Brando upon seeing Rocky in its initial release. 
Stallone plays big palooka Rocky Balboa with a rugged warmth and uncommon tenderness that hits you like a sucker punch. 
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that it’s a character he carefully developed from a script he penned himself.
The four main leads are each quite good, although it’s easy to see how their characters get worn out quickly in hindsight after you’ve watched the sequels

FILMS THAT MAY HAVE INSPIRED ROCKY:
o Marty
o On the Waterfront
o The Champ
o Champion
o Requiem for a Heavyweight

OTHER FILMS BY JOHN G. AVILDSEN
o Save the Tiger (with Jack Lemmon)
o The original Karate Kid trilogy
o Lean on Me

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A film that goes the distance

Sunday, January 24, 2016

It was bound to happen: that underdog epic “Rocky” (1976; 119 minutes), directed by John G. Avildsen, would inevitably make a CineVerse Our Favorite Films series lists. On January 27, learn why Bob Johnson chose it tops among his faves. 

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The African Alamo

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Now over 50 years old, "Zulu" can feel a bit dated as both an historical epic and a war film, especially in its one-sided narrative construct that gives us the British perspective without much of a counterpoint from the other side of the battlefield. Nevertheless, the movie tightens the knot effectively by building suspense in the first half and fatiguing the viewer with its unending onslaught of combat, bloodshed and death. Among the observations our CineVerse group offered on this film are the following:

REGARDLESS OF THE FILM’S HISTORICAL ACCURACY, IS THE MOVIE RACIALLY INSENSITIVE TOWARD THE NATIVE AFRICANS, OR DOES IT GIVE CREDENCE TO BOTH SIDES IN THE CONFLICT?
It shows the native customs and traditions of the Zulu people early on, including topless females, much like a National Geographic magazine piece; this demonstrates at least an attempt to be objective and sensitive.
The movie does a decent job of contrasting the Zulu system of command with the British military system and the traditions that each share, like tribal chants vs. barked out orders, and a trading of songs across the battlefield
However, you could make a case that the picture later characterizes the Zulus as raving, dehumanized villains who are appear to be “coming to get the white man.” The dark-skinned warriors also often seem to fall and die easily like so many tin soldiers. They seem to suffer so many losses in terms of sheer body count, that it’s easy to get desensitized by the death and violence depicted on screen.
We are never given any explanation for why the Zulus attack the British outpost or any reason to sympathize with the Zulus. Arguably, an opportunity is missed here to show point of view from the opposite side – what the Zulu tribal leaders and their warriors are thinking, strategizing, and feeling. Many war films show both sides and contrast the viewpoint of the faction we may be rooting for with a perspective of their enemy, often resulting in a deeper, more enriching narrative.
History tells us that British colonialism and their efforts to invade and colonize African countries and the government-supported system of apartheid obviously angered and emboldened natives like the Zulus to fight back and defend their territories.

IS THIS AN ANTI-WAR FILM SHOWING THE HORRORS OF BATTLE, OR TO THE CONTRARY DOES IT GLORIFY WAR?
While the body counts are high among the Zulus, we don’t see much raw carnage, blood and guts and graphic violence, which would obviously occur in a real battle.
The film’s theme seems to focus on the importance of bravery in battle and standing firm against insurmountable odds.
This almost serves as a British soldier recruitment film, because we see military ingenuity and strategy at its best with very few relative casualties on the British side.

HOW WOULD THIS MOVIE HAVE BEEN A BOLD, DARING PICTURE FOR 1964 AUDIENCES?
In America, this was a tense period between whites and blacks preceding the Civil Rights Acts and the marches and assassinations to follow.

HOW DO YOU THINK A NATIVE AFRICAN OR EVEN AN AFRICAN AMERICAN WOULD VIEW THIS FILM TODAY?
It could really anger them, or possibly it could be viewed as a curiosity piece showing how popular culture bends the historical truth.

WHEN THE NAMES OF THE BRITISH DEAD ARE READ ALOUD AT THE CONCLUSION, WHAT DO YOU FEEL?
Arguably, there is not enough character development to feel true loss or sympathy.

WHILE “ZULU” IS OFTEN CLASSIFIED AS A WAR MOVIE, DOES IT REMIND YOU OF ANY OTHER FILM GENRES OR PARTICULAR FILMS?
The Western: cowboys or the cavalry vs. Indians;
“Bridge of the River Kwai”: Proper British soldiers outnumbered and doing their duty, performing bravely in the face of extreme odds.
“The Naked Prey”

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Sixties cinema under siege

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Make plans to attend CineVerse on January 20 for “Zulu” (1964; 138 minutes), directed by Cy Endfield, chosen by David Ries, another in our continuing series of Our Favorite Films.

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Stranger danger demystified

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The seeds for Hitchcock's genius are in full germination in only his third picture, "The Lodger," a silent foray into suspense that reveals much about the master's tastes and tendencies. After putting on our detective hats and watching the film, here are the clues we uncovered:

THE LODGER WAS INNOVATIVE AND PIONEERING IN MANY WAYS, PARTICULARLY IN HOW IT WAS THE FIRST HITCHCOCK FILM TO INTRODUCE MANY OF HIS SIGNATURE ELEMENTS. WHAT “FIRSTS” FOR HITCHCOCK CAN YOU IDENTIFY?

First known use of the Hitchcock MacGuffin, in this case the real Avenger, who motors the plot along but is never actually seen.
Inaugural appearance of the director himself in a brief cameo (he’s sitting at a desk in the newspaper office).
First use of three crucial Hitchcock themes: the accused innocent man on the run and a case of mistaken identity, the blonde heroin, and deviant, fetishistic sexuality.
Possibly the first film in which Hitchcock gave priority to “the emotional realism of the story over and above the empirical realism of plot and setting,” wrote Gary McCarron, who also said: “(Hitchcock’s) attention to the complications of his characters, their puzzlements, ambitions, and occasionally contradictory desires, indicates his interest in using the cinema to evoke powerful, visceral reactions in his audience. And this could best be done by involving the audience in the emotional lives of the characters. One did not want the audience merely to watch actors play at experiencing emotions; one wanted them to live those emotions as though they were real.”
First use of a cinematic doppelganger – a “double”, in this case the lodger and the Avenger.
Initial employment of shared viewer guilt and audience identification with a suspected criminal: the lodger character, whom we don’t know is actually innocent until later in the movie, evokes viewer sympathy with his kindness toward Daisy and pursuit of justice for his sister’s murder.
First instance of suspense scenes that depict something occurring prior to showing the audience who is behind the occurrence/action.
Earliest instance of presenting imperfect, incompetent and untrustworthy detectives and police officers.
First case of the use of an unnamed primary character: the lodger is never named.
Initial suggestion of aberrant and lawbreaking proclivities possibly hidden within each of us, including assumedly innocent characters in the movie.
First employment of visual symbols and motifs meant to signify a theme or pattern inherent in the film; motifs in this movie that are revisited in many later Hitchcock pictures include the triangle, the staircase and the cellar.
First movie in which a man and woman are chained together via handcuffs.
First suspected use of a push-in tracking camera (instead of a traditional zoom in) to underscore highly emotional/dramatic shots.
Possibly the first film in which Hitchcock had each scene sketched out/storyboarded ahead of time, indicating his preference for careful preproduction planning.

WHAT DOES THE TRIANGLE SYMBOL/MOTIF REPRESENT IN THIS MOVIE?
The obvious lover’s triangle – here, embodied by Daisy, the lodger, and Daisy’s boyfriend police officer Joe. She has to choose between an alluring sexual desire for an enigmatic stranger and a safe/conservative romantic interest in Joe. Consider that Daisy’s attraction to the stranger upstairs could be instigated by her cognizance that he may actually be the serial killer.
The lodger’s conflict between choosing between Daisy and finding his sister’s killer: the lodger is one point of the triangle, while the two choices he has to make represent the other two points on the triangle.
Daisy also has to choose between two levels that represent two opposite points on a triangle: the mysterious, sexually alluring and dangerous upstairs level, occupied by the lodger, and the downstairs level, occupied by safe, every day matters and characters; Daisy stands as the movie’s only character who can comfortably transition between either level.

WHAT VISUAL FLOURISHES DOES HITCHCOCK EMPLOY TO TRANSFORM AN OTHERWISE STAGE-BOUND MELODRAMA AND CONVENTIONAL MYSTERY NARRATIVE INTO A VISUALLY EXPRESSIVE CINEMATIC EXPERIENCE THAT DOESN’T NEED WORDS TO TELL ITS TALE?
Shots that reveal how Hitchcock was inspired by German Expressionism, including: use of dramatic shadows and high-contrast lighting; the hand gliding its way down the staircase; the transparent ceiling showing a figure pacing back and forth above; the close-up of the shrieking blonde, with her blonde curls aglow via clever use of backlighting; and the religiously symbolic shots, including a cross shadow on the lodger’s face and his hanging from the gate, the latter suggesting innocent Christ-like suffering.
“The major achievement of The Lodger, one might say, is its remarkable handling of such difficult themes as guilt, innocence, despair, and romance, and the technical virtuosity with which the young director confidently arranged the cinematic exposition of his narrative. Hitchcock transcended the limitations of the theatrical mannerisms of his principal players, and the abstractness of their motives and counter-motives, by using the eye of the camera to peer deeply into their thoughts and feelings. The Lodger explores moral and emotional ambiguity with a candor that impresses and disturbs audiences today,” McCarron also wrote.

WHAT SHOTS, IMAGES OR VISUAL IDEAS IN “THE LODGER” ARE REPEATED/REVISITED IN LATER HITCHCOCK FILMS?
The undressing and bathtub scene – a sequence reimagined in Psycho
The partners bound together, one or both with handcuffs – The 39 Steps
The long, winding staircase – Notorious and Psycho
The modeling/fashion show – Vertigo
Close-up of a screaming female in danger – Psycho and Frenzy
A lodging gassed with a dark secret – Shadow of a Doubt
Close-up erotic kiss and extreme close-up of a face pre-kiss – Notorious and To Catch a Thief
Ballroom dancing sequence that ends in foul play – The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)
Fetishistic obsession with female hair – Vertigo
Man who could easily have turned out to be the villain but is proved innocent by the end – Suspicion

DO ANY OTHER FILMS REMIND YOU OF THE LODGER?
M (1931)
The Invisible Man (1933)
Gaslight (1940)
The Lodger (1944)
Man in the Attic (1953)

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Our New Year's resolution? Watch more Hitchcock in 2016

Sunday, January 10, 2016

On January 13, CineVerse will introduce an all-new series it calls Hitchcockronology: A Sequential Study of the Master of Suspense. Once a month throughout 2016, CineVerse will examine the artistry, style and themes prevalent in several major works directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starting with early pictures and progressing toward later movies in his filmography. Part 1, slated for January 13, will be “The Lodger” (1927; 68 minutes). Also, we'll screen the documentary “The Master's Touch: Hitchcock's Signature Style,” which cover’s the master's editing techniques, ideas about suspense, theory of the MacGuffin, his use of music, and his love of glamour and Hollywood blondes (58 minutes).

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High time for a timeless film

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Westerns don't come more crowd-pleasing than films like "High Noon," which functions like a psychological thriller packed in a love triangle nestled in a morality play but set in the Old West. The observations about this movie were plentiful in last evening's CineVerse group discussion. Here's a roundup of the salient points made:


HOW IS HIGH NOON A DEPARTURE FROM OTHER EARLY 1950s or PRE 1950s WESTERNS?
There’s very little action until the last 30 minutes.
The story is told and shown virtually in real time (105 minutes of action within an 85 minute movie).
The protagonist is heroic, but realistic (gives up his sheriff duties at the end) and honest (admits to being scared; he’s a reluctant hero).
This was the first major instance of a popular ballad theme song in a western, which was much copied thereafter.
There are a lot of grey areas among loyalties and rightness/wrongness: some townspeople prefer Miller’s lawless ways, others are doubtful of Kane’s motives, others are indecisive.
The climactic gunfight is not very drawn out or stylistically depicted (i.e., multiple angles, slow motion, long shooting exchanges)—instead, it’s quick, dirty and realistic.
The victory feels hollow at the end—Kane gives up the badge and rides off seemingly bitter.
It’s not so much a traditional western as it is a parable or morality play depicting a social problem that transcends any genre

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE MOTIFS, CLICHES AND PREDICTABLE CHARACTERS OR PATTERNS THAT HIGH NOON SHARES WITH NEARLY ALL WESTERN FILMS?
The showdown climax
Good vs. evil: you have a figure representing law, justice and decency vs. immoral killers.
A love story: a pretty girl plays a role in the proceedings.
The hero is imbued with humanity, dignity and pride; he’s clearly the good guy.

HIGH NOON HAS BEEN DESCRIBED AS A MORALITY PLAY ABOUT CHOICES. WHO IN THIS FILM IS FORCED TO MAKE A DIFFICULT CHOICE?
Kane and the townspeople are forced to choose between honor and duty and self-preservation/cowardice.
Amy must choose between standing by her man and her peaceful religious beliefs.
Harvey Pell must choose between ego and friendship.

HOW WAS THE MORALITY PLAY WITHIN HIGH NOON A REFLECTION OF ITS POLITICAL TIMES—THINK EARLY 1950s
The red scare and McCarthy witchunts were going on when many Hollywood players were forced to name names of communist sympathizers—many of those persecuted made the brave choice to fight the persecution and stand ground.
Kramer is “betrayed” or turned on by villagers he thought were friends, just like many who were blacklisted during the HUAC (House Committee on Un-American Activities) period.
“High Noon” is also seen as an allegory of the cold war and U.S. foreign policy during the Korean War (where America went it alone).

WHY IS THE FILM’S THEME SONG OR LEAD BALLAD, DO NOT FORSAKE ME, IMPORTANT TO THE FILM AND TO THE GENRE OF THE WESTERN?
It actually prophesizes what is going to happen—it gives hints as to the struggle to come.
Before High Noon, few dramatic films featured songs sung with lyrics; after High Noon, many did—especially westerns.

OTHER NOTABLE FILMS DIRECTED BY FRED ZINNEMAN
From Here to Eternity
Oklahoma!
A Man for All Seasons
Day of the Jackal
Julia

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Do not forsake me oh my favorite film...

Sunday, January 3, 2016

On January 6, CineVerse's Our Favorite Film series continues with “High Noon” (1952; 85 minutes), directed by Fred Zinnemann, chosen by Jeff Kueltzo; Plus: Stick around for the documentary “Inside High Noon” (50 minutes).

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