Blog Directory CineVerse: 2017

Living in the "Past"

Sunday, August 20, 2017

One of the all-time great film noir movies makes its way to CineVerse on August 23: “Out of the Past” (1947; 97 minutes), directed by Jacques Tourneur, chosen by Danealle Kueltzo. Plus: Stick around for a trailer reel preview of the September/October CineVerse schedule.

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"I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you."

Thursday, August 17, 2017

With a movie as monothematic as "Taken," the filmmakers can cut right to the chase--literally (after a brief setup and introduction of characters, that is). And that's to the advantage of a picture like this, which draws its irrefutable strength from the protagonist's resolute purpose and thirst for vengeance. Here we have 91 minutes of no-bullshit, balls-to-the-wall urgency that any viewer with a pulse can relate to--the kidnapping of a loved one and the race against time to retrieve her before the unthinkable happens. Here are the major takeaways from our group discussion on "Taken":

WHAT DID YOU FIND INTERESTING, MEMORABLE AND DIFFERENT ABOUT TAKEN, PARTICULARLY COMPARED TO OTHER ACTION THRILLERS?
  • It grips you with its emotional pull and sentimentality right away, making Mills a sympathetic figure and this a very black-and-white, good guy vs. bad guys story. With nothing to cloud our moral judgement or rooting interest, it’s easier to just enjoy the thrill ride and focus on the protagonist’s modus operandi.
  • Despite being a predictable film in which we know ahead of time that the daughter is going to be kidnapped and the father is going to kick some ass in getting her back, it does a masterful job of keeping us in suspense, tightening the knot, and keeping us emotionally invested.
  • Liam Neeson really looks this part; it’s important that we believe he’s physically and emotionally capable of taking on the villains here; while some action scenes are implausible (like taking on 6 guys at once), Neeson has an imposing physicality and steely determination in his face—coupled with a “hangdog Irish mug that makes both the innocence of (his) love and its fierceness intensely believable,” wrote Salon critic Stephanie Zacharek.
  • The runtime is relatively brief (91 minutes); this is a lean, mean fighting machine of a motion picture with no fat to trim, no superfluous scenes, no subplots that are romantic or otherwise, no unnecessary exposition and backstory to linger on for long.
  • Unlike James Bond films and other slick modern action thrillers, this movie is not really about gadgets and technology, although cell phones and surveillance equipment are important tools for Mills.
“TAKEN” BELONGS TO A SUBGENRE CALLED THE VIGILANTE FILM. WHAT ARE SOME HALLMARKS AND TRAITS OF MANY VIGILANTE PICTURES, AND CAN NAME ANY OTHER VIGILANTE FILMS?
  • Vigilante films usually feature a sole hero or anti-hero who decides to take the law into his or her own hands—wandering outside the boundaries of the law and normal conventions and living by their own moral code.
  • Vigilante films almost always depict graphic onscreen violence or suggest abhorrent off-screen violence; the instigating violence is typically the catalyst that sets the protagonist in motion (e.g., rape, torture, and/or killing of a loved one).
  • As the film progresses, typically the level of violence increases, with each instance sometimes topping the last in terms of disturbance value, brutality, gore and mercilessness.
  • To be crowd-pleasing, satisfying wish fulfilment pictures, vigilante movies have to fulfill the audience’s wish: that is, for the hero or anti-hero to get revenge and take out the antagonists with extreme prejudice and often creative punishment that can serve as poetic justice.
  • Early examples include Dirty Harry, Billy Jack, Death Wish and its sequels, Straw Dogs, and Walking Tall. More recent examples include Law Abiding Citizen, Django Unchained, and A Man Apart.
OTHER MOVIES THAT REMIND US OF TAKEN:
  • The Bourne film series
  • Man on Fire
  • Ransom
  • Snitch
  • Not Without My Daughter
  • The Man From Nowhere
  • Leon: The Professional

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Lawbreaking lovers on the run

Monday, August 14, 2017

Make plans to attend Cineversary on August 17 from 6-8:45 p.m. at the Oak Lawn Library, when we'll celebrate the 50th anniversary of “Bonnie and Clyde” (1967; 111 minutes).

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Hell hath no fury like a father scorned

Sunday, August 13, 2017

You don't want to piss off Liam Neeson. Why? See for yourself on August 16, when CineVerse views and discusses “Taken” (1986; 96 minutes), directed by Tom Moore, chosen by Jeff Kueltzo.

Plus: Movie trivia game for a chance to win DVD movie prizes, from 7-7:45 p.m.

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A glimmer of civilization in the barbaric slaughterhouse we know as humanity

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Few films move with such boundless and kinetic energy and frenetic momentum as Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel," which takes audiences on a journey across four different eras and several colorful boundaries in Eastern Europe--a journey propelled by richly drawn characters spun from fertile imaginations. There's a lot to digest upon initial viewing, but here are some of the key takeaways discussed at last evening's CineVerse group meeting:

WHAT IS INTERESTING, UNIQUE AND UNEXPECTED ABOUT THIS FILM?
  • It tells a story within a story within a story within a story—essentially using a flashback within a flashback within a flashback, like a set of Russian dolls. Thus, the narrative is epic in scope in terms of its time periods, settings, and characters.
  • Despite it being set in the 1930s, 1960s and 1980s, it’s meant to be resonant and impactful for modern audiences, with the visitor to the grave (happening in current times) standing as a surrogate for the audience as well as possibly a surviving descendant of Agatha (she resembles her for a reason), who had died in that long ago war.
  • It shifts between different aspect ratios and color palettes. 
    • We see classic 1.35:1 Academy framing in the 1930s sequences, which is the era when movies actually used that aspect ratio; later settings are featured in wider frames. The former depicts actors in tighter compositions, suggesting more unity, closeness and camaraderie; the latter depicts actors often set further apart at opposite ends of the frame, insinuating emotional distance, alienation and colder detachment.
    • It employs a bright, saturated pastel color palette within the hotel—suggesting artistry, vibrancy, whimsy and life—but a drab monochromatic scheme when our heroes are on the run, implying that fun and freedom are threatened. 
  • Gustave is a fully realized and colorful personality, yet a walking contradiction. Consider New York Times critic A.O. Scott’s description of him: “Gustave is both courtier and sovereign, a devoted servant to the guests and the capricious, mostly benevolent ruler of the staff. He corrects their slightest lapses of deportment and lectures them endlessly at mealtimes. He is a lover of poetry and also of the elderly women who summon him to their suites, and maybe of a few men as well. Somehow, he is both an ascetic and a sensualist, highly disciplined and completely irresponsible. A thoroughly ridiculous man and at the same time “a glimmer of civilization in the barbaric slaughterhouse we know as humanity.”
  • The bright pastel colors, stylized characterizations and physical traits of some of the players, and artificial facades suggest that this is a kind of fairy tale facsimile of the real world.
WHY DO THE FILMMAKERS CHOOSE FICTIONAL FORCES AND IMAGINARY COUNTRIES? INSTEAD OF HUNGARY OR CZECHOSLOVAKIA, WE GET ZUBROWKA; INSTEAD OF NAZIS OR THE SS WE GET THE ZZ.
  • They likely wanted this to be more of an allegorical tale or fable without burdening the audience with the baggage of real World War II events and tragedies, even though this is undoubtedly meant to represent 1930s Eastern Europe; 
  • This is meant to serve as a cautionary tale about the oppression of people by a totalitarian regime; the results are the same—good people died because of racial hatred, greed, and unchecked power.
  • Essentially, this is a film about the Holocaust, an extremely disturbing and depressing period in history that is difficult to depict onscreen; Anderson and company choose to tell a more lighthearted, comedic tale about the forces driving and effects of the Holocaust without giving us the gruesome details.
  • Writer Norman Eisen with The Atlantic suggests that the “characters are a warm tribute to the three main populations targeted by the Nazis. M. Gustave…is openly bisexual (thousands of men arrested after being condemned as homosexuals were estimated to have died in concentration camps). Zero…is a refugee whose family was slaughtered in their village, standing in for the Roma and other “non-Aryan” ethnic minorities the Holocaust also targeted. The two men are aided throughout by a Jewish lawyer.”
  • Eisen further posited that: “Talking about the most serious subjects with the help of comedy is a long European tradition running from Aristophanes to Voltaire to Jonathan Swift to Austrian writer Stefan Zweig, whose works were a principal influence of the film. That tradition was particularly strong in the real-life Zubrowka, Czechoslovakia, where Jaroslav Hasek’s The Good Soldier Schweik sent up militarism, Franz Kafka’s novels and stories mocked bureaucracy, and Havel’s comic plays helped bring down Communism. These artists recognized that profound issues deserve to be looked at through every single human lens, and no issue is perhaps more profound than the Holocaust, its causes and consequences.”
  • The tone in this film is predominantly comic and ironic, yet there is an undercurrent of darkness and foreboding, accentuated by sudden acts of violence, that can make you feel quite unsettled. 
WHAT THEMES, MESSAGES AND MORALS ARE EXPLORED IN THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL?
  • Grace under pressure, and maintaining dignity and civility in a time of barbarism and hatred. Consider that Gustave puts on airs about being witty, urbane and well-versed, but when faced with the true horrors of what’s happening around him often succumbs to base profanity.
  • Our duty to remember and honor the past, especially those who suffered and died so that we can enjoy the freedoms we have today.
  • Even the most oppressed and disadvantaged can survive and thrive; think about Zero and how his name is fitting. 
  • The pain and longing of a love interrupted.
  • The priceless virtues of tolerance, kindness and compassion can save lives and inspire others.
  • Nostalgia for a bygone time when manners, intentions, craftsmanship and brotherly love mattered. “Times have changed,” as the older Zero says.
  • Fantasy and illusion, as evidenced by the pink and pastel colors, the shots of the fake façade mountain/hotel, the drawn-on mustache, doors that open by themselves, a hitman with teeth like a werewolf, a birthmark in the shape of Mexico, and a jailbreak that’s far too easy.
WHAT OTHER FILMS COME TO MIND AFTER VIEWING THIS ONE?
  • The sophisticated but brave comedies of Ernst Lubitsch, including two that dared poke fun of totalitarian regimes, Ninotchka and To Be or Not to Be.
  • Charles Chaplin’s The Great Dictator
  • Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful
  • Many Hitchcock films, including Torn Curtain, North by Northwest and Vertigo.

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A five-star hotel deserves a five-star movie

Sunday, August 6, 2017

On August 9, CineVerse will conclude its summer Quick Theme Quartet (Go Wes Young Man: 4 Films by Wes Anderson) with Part 4: “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014; 99 minutes), directed by Wes Anderson. Plus: we'll watch 2 interviews with Anderson about the making of the film (10 minutes).

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No CineVerse meeting on July 26 or August 2

Sunday, July 23, 2017

CineVerse will not meet on July 26 or August 2. Our film discussion group will reconvene on August 9. 

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Fall in love with New Penzance Island

Sunday, July 16, 2017

July 19: GO WES YOUNG MAN: 4 FILMS BY WES ANDERSON. Part 3: “Moonrise Kingdom” (2012; 94 minutes), directed by Wes Anderson. Plus: Interviews with and short vignettes about Wes Anderson (26 minutes)

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Clever-as-a-fox filmmaking

Thursday, July 13, 2017

"The Fantastic Mr. Fox" is far from the conventional family-friendly fare that passes for animated entertainment these days at the cinema. It's grounded in old school sensibilities in many ways, including its tedious stop motion animation style, storytelling craft (staying true to Roald Dahl's original tale), and eclectic art direction that harkens to a bygone time despite its seemingly contemporary setting. Despite its relatively short run time (87 minutes), this picture left us with a lot to talk about. Here are our group discussion highlights:

WHAT DID YOU FIND INTERESTING, DIFFERENT AND UNEXPECTED ABOUT THIS FILM, ESPECIALLY AS A FULLY ANIMATED MOVIE?
  • This looks and feels meticulously hand-crafted and old-school; it does not employ CGI, motion capture or state-of-the-art digital technology, nor traditional cel “cartoon” animation. This is stop-motion animation, which is done sparingly nowadays because it takes a very long time. This says a lot about the filmmakers’ commitment and tendencies.
  • Unlike most animated films shot at 24 frames per second, this was shot at 12 frames per second, giving the characters’ movements a jerky, idiosyncratic appearance that creates a unique charm and kinetic reality.
  • It’s highly detailed; every character and object that fills the frame looks intricately crafted, textured, organic, “lived-in” and realistic for the fantasy world they inhabit. From the way the fox fur moves to the intricate décor in Mr. Fox’s home, attention to detail was crucial here. As in many Anderson films, which “are living tributes to the analogue age” according to New Yorker reviewer Richard Brody, this movie features archaic technology devices like the typewriter, model train set, transistor radio,  and Dictaphone.
  • Additionally, the voice actors were not recorded in some traditional, sterile closed studio environment, but were actually recorded out in the field, on actual farms and outdoors, with the actors moving their bodies to mimic the movements of the characters on the script pages.
  • Often, characters are kept eerily still; this is contrary to today’s typical trend in animation where even characters in the background or periphery are meant to move slightly, blink or continue to look and act real.
  • It’s quite adult for being a family movie that was marketed to children. Characters and animals are killed (like the rat and the chickens), blood is spilled, the humans smoke, adults swear (using “cuss” as a substitute for other profanities), grownup words like “crème brulee” are used that kids won’t understand, and themes skew toward the adult mindset.
  • It has both English and American vibes to it; it’s set in the English countryside, yet voiced primarily by American actors and featuring mostly American music.
  • Fox and his wife have marital problems that are more sophisticated and adult than you’d expect for a family film like this.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE KEY THEMES EXPLORED IN “THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX”?
  • The mid-life crisis. Fox has had to change his old wild ways to provide for his family, calm his wife, and be a respectable member of his community; yet, he’s feeling the itch and nostalgia to pull off another caper, to be freewheeling and daring.
  • The risk of obsolescence and being antiquated. Fox is living in a world where the chicken stealers are an endangered breed, and he chooses a profession that could also face extinction: writing for a newspaper.
  • Arguably, Fox is not trying to live in the past—he’s trying to avoid the future. “Fox’s decision to relive a past season of his life by going back to stealing chickens is more about ignoring the next season than it is about embracing the past one,” wrote blogger Kia Rahnama.
  • The conflict between being civilized and cultured and being true to your nature. Fox is an urbane, articulate and philosophical figure who wears human-like clothes and waxes poetically, but at heart he’s still a wild animal who devours his meals with messy abandon and feels most alive with a chicken in his mouth. Consider, too, that Fox chooses to steal because it’s his forte that he loves, not because he’s starving or desperate.
  • Feelings of pre-adolescent inadequacy. Fox’s son feels pressure to live up to the perfection of Kristofferson, earn his dad’s respect, and stand out as an athlete.
  • The thrill of taking risks and flying in the face of danger with style, guts, wit and panache.
  • The dichotomous and contradictory conundrum of remaining wild and free and choosing to be tamed. 
  • “The man without a country”; being forced to continually move and live on the run.
WHAT’S THE SIGNIFICANCE OF WOLF-SIGHTING SCENE NEAR THE END OF THE PICTURE?
  • The film shows the characters passing through many seasons. Yet, he’s getting older and heading into the winter of his existence.
  • Fox sees the wolf off in the distance, inhabiting a cold, wintry environment that stands in stark contrast to the autumn in the foreground. In this way, the wolf “becomes the ideal image of surviving winter, the next season of Fox’s life,” Rahnama suggested.
  • Encountering the wolf has changed Fox. The next column he writes states “I am not the Fox I used to be. Not by choice.” He’s accepted that he’s getting older and that he can’t change that fact. In the last shot, we see Fox and his loved ones dancing together, indicating that he’s happy and content with his life.
WHAT OTHER MOVIES COME TO MIND AFTER WATCHING THIS ONE?
  • Other animated movies that appeal more to adults than kids, like Yellow Submarine, The Triplets of Belleville, Fantastic Planet, and Princess Mononoke
  • Scenes from classic films, including Citizen Kane (both Kane and Bean ravage and upend a room out of anger), High Noon, The Great Escape, Fanny and Alexander, West Side Story, Apocalypse Now, Easy Rider, and Ocean’s Eleven

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A fantastic flick about a fantastic fox

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Circle July 12 on your calendar; that's the date that our quick theme quartet, 4 Films by Wes Anderson, returns to CineVerse with Part 2: “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009; 87 minutes), directed by Wes Anderson. Plus: We'll watch the making of Fantastic Mr. Fox (32 minutes).

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60 years is a long time to be that angry

Thursday, July 6, 2017

On July 10, Cineversary returns to the Oak Lawn Library, this time on a weeknight from 6:30-8:45 p.m. We'll celebrate the 60th anniversary of “12 Angry Men” (1957; 96 minutes).

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Tale of a deadbeat dad who makes good--Wes Anderson style

To some extent, all families are dysfunctional and chaotic. But the clan depicted in Wes Anderson's "The Royal Tennenbaums" certainly creates a new template for the flawed family in the 21st century--a precocious tribe that tells a cautionary tale about the dangers of resentment and the virtues of forgiveness and acceptance. "Tennenbaums" is chock full of substance, visually, thematically, symbolically and otherwise. Consider the following highlights of our CineVerse group discussion on this picture:


WHAT THEMES ARE AT PLAY IN THE ROYAL TENNENBAUMS?
  • Loss and redemption: the rise, fall, and rise of a prominent family. 
  • A patriarch who’s primarily responsible for his family dysfunctionality and eventual functionality.
  • The redemption of a familial outcast and pariah who, despite his less advantageous socioeconomic condition, seems the happiest and most grounded of all his family. Criterion Collection essayist Kent Jones posited that “each (Anderson) film is centered around a character from a little lower on the economic ladder, whose aspiration to be part of the exclusive milieu dovetails with an undercurrent of mourning and a longing for family.”
  • “The thorny individualist who must eventually learn that his choices, like it or not, affect others—sometimes profoundly and not always for the best,” suggests reviewer Jaime N. Christley; this is a recurrent theme in many of Anderson’s works.
  • Love and sincerity can bind a family that’s drifted apart back together again. Consider that only when Royal stops lying and is honest, generous and complimentary does the family reunite and harmonize again.
  • Life is like a big, sprawling novel filled with interesting characters and marked by different chapters. Consider that the film employs a framing device of the voiceover “reading” of a novel, chopped up into different chapters about the Tennenbaum family.
WHAT DID YOU FIND INTERESTING ABOUT THE COLORS, COMPOSITIONS, ART DIRECTION AND CAMERA STYLE?
  • Anderson often lingers longer than most directors on a shot, letting the scene breathe and showing us actions and reactions by the characters without cutting back and forth as much.
  • He uses a lot of warm colors and reds in this film—with red signifying anger (Chas’ tracksuit), energy and power (the fire engine), royalty (the wall paint color of the Tennenbaum house), and violence (Richie’s blood).
  • Anderson is well known for framing symmetrical compositions, with one or more characters perfectly centered within the frame; it’s been theorized that this underscores the characters’ penchant for structure and order, despite the fact that their lives are usually disordered and chaotic. 
  • Every set appears carefully curated with finely detailed visuals, including hand-picked décor, costumes and accoutrement that are significant to the filmmakers. 
  • Nearly every shot look painterly, neatly composed, and worthy of a still image that could be framed and cherished in a gallery.
THIS FILM FEATURES AMPLE ANIMAL IMAGERY. WHAT ANIMALS ARE ASSOCIATED WITH THE FOLLOWING CHARACTERS AND WHY?
  • Royal: a boar; there’s a boar’s head hanging in the home that falls down when Royal is booted out by Etheline
  • Chas and his kids: mice and dogs; the mice make us think of three blind mice scampering around aimlessly, despite Chas’ fastidiousness; and it’s interesting that Chas isn’t able to reconcile with his father and his family until after his beagle is killed and Royal gives Chas a Dalmatian firehouse dog—with spots similar to the mice he owned.
  • Richie: a falcon; like the falcon he sets free, Richie tries to take wing and escape via a sea voyage and, later, suicide.
  • Margot: zebras; she plays a zebra in the play she wrote, her room’s wallpaper is replete with zebras, and she and Richie rest beneath a zebra at the museum. Blogger Kevin Lee wrote: the black and white stripes of the zebra correspond to the black and white spots of Chas’ Dalmatian mice. Maybe because Royal views both Chas and Margot as second rate to his favorite, Richie.”
  • Henry: a “grizzly bear.”
  • Eli: he holds dangerous snakes in a magazine cover photo and sits under a mounted bull’s head; he’s a cowboy who acts more like a wild stallion, according to Kevin Lee.
ANDERSON WAS INFLUENCED BY CHARLES SCHULZ’ PEANUTS COMIC STRIP. CAN YOU CITE ANY EXAMPLES OF THIS INFLUENCE IN THIS MOVIE?
  • Like many of the Peanuts characters, some of the Tennenbaums consistently wear the same costume, like Chas’ red tracksuit, Margo’s fur wardrobe, Richie’s headband, Henry’s blue blazer, and Raleigh’s corduroy brown blazer.
  • We hear “Christmas Time Is Here,” from “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” during a scene.
  • Chas has a pet beagle; Snoopy is a beagle.
  • “Like Schulz, (Anderson) isn’t afraid to dangle his characters over the edge of the abyss, even if he’s unwilling to let them go,” wrote The Dissolve’s Keith Phipps.
THIS MOVIE CAN BRING OTHER FILMS TO MIND, SUCH AS: 
  • The Magnificent Ambersons
  • Little Miss Sunshine
  • Amelie—another movie with bold, interesting colors and compositions
  • Napoleon Dynamite: quirky characters 

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Meet the Royal family

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Once a quarter (every third month) in 2017, CineVerse will explore four movies tied together by a theme, which we call a Quick Theme Quartet. Our third quartet will focus on four works by a prominent auteur of the 21st century, Wes Anderson. Part 1, slated for July 5, is “The Royal Tennenbaums” (2001; 110 minutes), directed by Wes Anderson. Plus: we’ll view a trailer reel of Anderson’s movies.


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Getting a read on "RED"

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Sometimes it's best not to try to overanalyze certain films, especially those aiming for popular escapist entertainment of the summer blockbuster sort. Still, it was fun to dissect "RED," a fitting viewing and discussion for an early summer CineVerse meeting. Here are the thoughts and insights we came up with on this film:

WHAT THEMES ARE AT WORK IN “RED”?
“Getting the band back together”
A leopard cannot change its spots
Age and wisdom before youth, and “our generation is better than your generation”
Life is an endlessly fun vacation (as exemplified by the postcards that frame different segments in the movie)

TO THOSE VIEWERS WHO WOULD DISMISS THIS FILM AS DERIVATIVE, PREDICTABLE ESCAPIST ENTERTAINMENT, WHAT’S THE DEFENSE AND COUNTERPOINT?
RED boasts a strong cast of Oscar-nominated A-list actors, each of which are not just painting by numbers and cashing a paycheck.
Aside from Bruce Willis, most of these actors/characters are not your typical action/adventure stars—they skew much older and run the risk of looking ridiculous; in other words, this film is brave enough to cast against type and defy age expectations. It subverts the traditional action/adventure paradigm by appealing to Baby Boomers and presenting Boomer actors doing things normally reserved for much younger and more attractive actors.
o Critic James Berardinelli wrote: “There's no need to feel guilty about praising such an inherently silly motion picture. Like The Expendables, this is fast-paced, high octane entertainment for the AARP crowd. It never takes itself too seriously, which is a good thing because it's a stretch to imagine some of these actors doing the stuff they're called upon to do.”
The tone and approach here, then, is irony: placing old fogies in young action hero shoes and milking the comedic opportunities therein while also motivating us to root for demographic underdogs. Because of these ironic sensibilities, it’s hard to criticize the picture.
The heroes actually suffer wounds and fatalities. They are not impervious to danger and death.
This film does not take itself too seriously, nor should audiences; it is unashamedly a balls-to-the-wall, over-the-top big budget summer action popcorn blockbuster that is somewhat immune to serious film analysis. It’s not trying to be deep, moving, resonant or thematically meaningful.
It’s also based on a graphic novel/comic book, which gives it street cred and pop culture cache in an age when many high profile action films are sourced from similar pulpy texts.

“RED” HAS BEEN CITED AS PART OF A GEEZER ADVENTURE MOVIE TREND IN RECENT YEARS. WHAT OTHER FILMS BELONG IN THIS CATEGORY, AND WHY DO YOU BELIEVE GEEZER ADVENTURE CINEMA REMAINS POPULAR? 
Other recent geezer adventure flicks include The Expendables, Space Cowboys, The A Team, Road Hogs, The Bucket List, The Last Stand, Grudge Match, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Going in Style, and Bullet to the Head.
These films depicting older actors and aged characters engaging in missions, escapades and close calls normally involving young and athletic personalities are popular because Baby Boomers typically believe they’re never going to die and choose to think and live young. Boomers also love going to the movies and seeing actors from their generation continuing to appear in films.
Blogger Alexander Hulls theorized the following: “America forgot how to make action movies. Where once we had a healthy action genre, now we just have action movies – most of which are superhero flicks or CGI sinkholes. There’s no more good old-fashioned bare-chested, bare-knuckled grit…no new young action stars have come along to replace the old, and the existing ones have faded (Tom Cruise, Will Smith). Now we just get regular actors like Matt Damon and Daniel Craig taking on action movies. That vacuum is precisely why Stallone was able to make The Expendables. He saw an opportunity to leverage the fact that Hollywood wasn’t offering us anything better than the best of the past. The modest but sequel-justifying success of Stallone’s film (and Red) in 2010 helped lay the groundwork for the potential financial viability of the movies we’re getting now. What does well gets made more, and so trends are born with business models founded on giving the people what they want until they don’t want it anymore. So, we’re getting older actors rising or returning to action star prominence. (These films are) a representative assertion that boomers are not useless, dismissible, and ready to make that long journey into night; they’re still capable, functional, and experts at whatever skills they have. That’s exactly why this wave of movies is constructed around narratives that center on these actors being better than their juniors who are ready to push them out of the way and forget them.”

OTHER MOVIES THAT “RED” REMINDS US OF:
The Wild Bunch
Ocean’s Eleven
The Die Hard and James Bond films
Knight and Day
True Lies

OTHER FILMS DIRECTED BY ROBERT SCHWENTKE
Flightplan
The Time Traveler’s Wife
Insurgent 
Allegiant

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CineVerse in full summer blockbuster popcorn mode

Sunday, June 25, 2017

June 28 will be a red letter day for CineVerse--minus the "letter." Join us for “RED” (2010; 111 minutes), directed by Robert Schwentke, chosen by Marce Demski.

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Tackling a tough topic that Hollywood often avoids: suicide

Thursday, June 22, 2017

There's a reason why Hollywood typically stays away from stories about suicide: they're not crowd pleasers and they aren't commercially viable. Those are probably two reasons why "'Night Mother" has flown under the radar these past 30 years--perhaps it wasn't widely seen my audiences nor remembered or talked about much due to its somber themes and downbeat ending. Still, the film can evoke healthy conversation and debate, as evidenced by our CineVerse group discussion last night, the highlights of which follow:

WHAT ESSENTIAL THEMES ARE SUGGESTED IN NIGHT MOTHER?
The ironic lack of communication and inability to understand one another among family members, who are in a position to best understand one another over any outsiders.
o It’s further ironic that Thelma loves to talk, yet has never really talked with substance to her daughter.
It requires a serious/life-threatening event for family members to talk seriously and honestly with one another: consider that these two females learn more about one another in a day than they had living together for years.
A flip of the traditional mother-daughter relationship: Jessie has assumed a more mature and maternal position over her mother, who appears to be in more of a childlike state of existing and communicating. Think about how Thelma loves sweets and watching TV and is more dependent on/subservient to her daughter.
Suicide as an escape and means of freedom from family burdens, loneliness, and forthcoming illness.
Surrogates for love: “Sweets are for (Thelma) a happy substitute for genuine human interaction; they provide Mama with the sensual gratification and the sense of fullness she failed to obtain from her marriage,” wrote Laura Morrow.
The resentment of a child toward her parent.

WHAT DID YOU FIND INTERESTING, UNEXPECTED OR SATISFYING ABOUT THIS FILM?
It’s shot like the simple-to-stage play upon which it’s adapted, in one setting and primarily with only two characters, much like My Dinner with Andre, Sleuth and Moon.
There is no maudlin, overwrought or melodramatic score; we simply hear an acoustic guitar and one violin, and only at the beginning and end, and no sappy strings or sad chorus.
Despite its lack of characters, minimal setting and dearth of plot, the film evokes considerable suspense in viewers who are anxious to learn if the mother will talk her daughter out of suicide by the movie’s conclusion.
The original playwright, Marsha Norman, wrote the screenplay, and the Broadway play’s original director, Tom Moore, helmed this picture; hence, there is a purity of vision and authenticity of adaptation here that cannot be criticized of being adulterated by a third party.
Jessie is very practical, methodical and calm for someone who wants to kill herself. This emphasizes that she’s truly at peace with her decision; she has an answer and rationale for everything and has obviously given serious thought and reflection to this decision and its repercussions.
Arguably, this story works better on a stage than a big screen; some critics contend that the camera work and editing are too jumpy and transitionally jarring between shots, making the case that a more static camera would have been a better idea so that scenes and dialogue can develop more organically without cutting between faces and actions/reactions.
The key to pulling this film off successfully, of course, is spot-on casting; Sissy Spacek and Anne Bancroft are each A-list dramatic actresses, and inherit their respective roles commendably.
The filmmakers don’t try to take any particular stance here for or against suicide; this is not a preachy film with some kind of moralistic message. It simply lets the characters speak for themselves, each with impassioned arguments for their point of view.

OTHER MOVIES THAT REMIND US OF ‘NIGHT MOTHER:
Ordinary People
Crimes of the Heart
The Slender Thread
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
Rails & Ties
Permanent Record

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July/August CineVerse calendar is eyeball-ready

You want to know what's planned for CineVerse in July and August, don't you? Well, your wait is over. To see our brand new two-month calendar, simply visit tinyurl.com/cineverse7817.

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Don't do it, Sissy--you've got so much to live for

Sunday, June 18, 2017

June 21 will be the evening that CineVerse presents “’night Mother” (1986; 96 minutes), directed by Tom Moore, chosen by Pat McMahon. Plus: Stick around for a trailer reel preview of the July/August CineVerse schedule.

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A Maverick heads to the big screen

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Deep, philosophical and thematically resonant "Support Your Local Sheriff" is not. But entertaining and crowd-pleasing it certainly is, and there's no shame in that. This film riffs on virtually every western movie trope you can think of--short of adopting an irreverent fourth wall-breaking "Blazing Saddles" approach--and still manages to leave 'em laughing, despite its predictable plot and pedestrian direction. Here's our CineVerse group's collective take on this late sixties genre comedy:

WHAT CLICHES AND CONVENTIONS OF THE WESTERN GENRE DOES SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF PLAY WITH?
The high noon showdown
The lone brave deadeye pitted against multiple villains
A colorful but dense deputy
A feisty female love interest
Cowardly townspeople
Public brawls and fistfights 
A band of familial bad guys led by an older patriarch
An attempted jailbreak
A shootout finale

THIS FILM BRINGS THESE OTHER MOVIES AND TV SHOWS TO MIND:
Its sequel, Support Your Local Gunfighter
Maverick and The Andy Griffith Show
Skin Game
My Darling Clementine, also starring Walter Brennan
Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Westerns where an outsider or lone protagonist helps to bring law and order to a wild frontier town—including Destry Rides Again, High Noon, Shane, Rango and others 
Paint Your Wagon, Cat Ballou and El Dorado, earlier spoofs of the western genre
Blazing Saddles, a later parody of the western genre

WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE WAS DIFFERENT, UNEXPECTED OR MEMORABLE ABOUT THIS FILM?
The cast is filled with fan favorite character actors and familiar faces, including Jack Elam, Harry Morgan, Walter Brennan, Bruce Dern, Henry Jones, Walter Burke and Willis Bouchey.
It can feel like a made-for-TV movie that draws direct influence from the editing and beats of TV sitcoms and westerns of the time. Roger Ebert, who wasn’t a fan, suggested that this picture “is a textbook example of the evil influence TV has on the movies. It’s essentially a lousy TV situation comedy dragged out to feature length.”

OTHER MOVIES DIRECTED BY BURT KENNEDY
The Train Robbers
The War Wagon
Support Your Local Gunfighter

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Bring your own Reese's Pieces on June 17

Monday, June 12, 2017

Cineversary returns to the Oak Lawn Library on June 17 from 1-4 p.m. with a 35th anniversary celebration of “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” (1982; 115 minutes).

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Support your local film discussion group by attending June 14

Sunday, June 11, 2017

On June 14, “Support Your Local Sheriff” (1969; 92 minutes) will be the main course at CineVerse, directed by Burt Kennedy, chosen by Ken Demski. Plus: Arrive on time to play a movie trivia game for a chance to win DVD movie prizes, from 7-7:45 p.m.

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Hollywood comes to Northern California

Thursday, June 8, 2017


Your friendly neighborhood CineVerse moderator recently took a trip to the San Francisco area and was able to snap a few photos of sites and props that movie lovers would appreciate.

During a drive through Bodega Bay, for example, I checked out the church (St. Theresa's) and school (Potter's Schoolhouse) where scenes from Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" were filmed.

Later on my trip, I dined at Francis Ford Coppola's new restaurant, Rustic, in Geyersville. There, patrons can take a gander at mucho memorabilia, costumes and props from various Coppola flicks, including "Bram Stoker's Dracula," "Apocalypse Now," and "Tucker: The Man and His Dream" (unfortunately, the area with all the Godfather trilogy goodies was off limits when we tried to view).


 

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Escapist entertainment

Ben Affleck's "Argo" works on multiple levels: as a nail-biting political thriller, as a comedic riff on Hollywood sausage-making, as a nostalgic look back at the late 1970s, and as a meta "movie-within-a-movie" statement. The masterful editing done on this picture alone makes it a worthy contender for one of the best films of the last 10 years. Shining a brighter spotlight on this film in a group setting revealed the following observations and insights:

THEMES IMBUED IN ARGO INCLUDE:

The power of storytelling: Affleck said in an interview: “Whether it’s political theater, relating to our children, or trying to get people out of danger…telling stories is incredibly powerful.”
Creativity and imagination can outsmart politics. Affleck also said: “There’s a shot I really like where there’s this firing squad, then you go to this read through, and then there’s a firearm, a rifle, and a camera. Hopefully this is subtle, but that suggests the camera is more powerful than the gun.” IndieWire writer Matt Singer also suggested: “Argo…is a love letter to the literally life-saving power of the movies. In order to succeed, Mendez’s plan requires good old fashion Hollywood magic.”
The simplest plan is not always the most effective. This scheme belongs to the “so crazy it just might work” school of thought.

WHAT DID YOU FIND INTERESTING, UNEXPECTED OR MEMORABLE ABOUT ARGO?
It deliberately evokes the look and feel of the 1970s, especially 1970s cinema, known for its political thrillers. Consider that the movie starts with the old Warner Brothers logo from the 1970s, uses archival news footage and memorable figures of the time (from newscasters like Ted Koppel, Walter Cronkite and Mike Wallace to leaders like the Ayatollah and President Carter), and applies a grain to the patina of the film that also harkens to movies made decades ago . Affleck commented: “I thought it’d be, sort of, a trick of the brain. If you’re looking at a movie that looks like it was made in the 1970s, it’s more easy for the brain to subconsciously accept the events they’re watching are taking place during that period. Now, you can’t do that if you’re doing a movie about the revolutionary war. We had an interesting advantage: the era I was trying to replicate was a really great era for filmmaking. I got to copy these really great filmmakers: Sidney Lumet, Scorsese, and so on.”
Arguably, this picture handled the Iranian hostage crisis era with a delicate hand, being careful not to use stereotypes or clichés of a country that was considered our enemy at that time. Many thought it was unfortunate that there isn’t a significant Iranian character depicted in this movie, although others commented on the fact that there are no disparaging characterizations of Islam. Consider that voiceover narration that starts the film suggests that American doesn’t have clean hands when it comes to the Middle East or the politics it played in that region leading up to Iranian revolution. 
This movie is an espionage thriller, but it doesn’t engage in spry movie clichés and trappings: it lacks explosions, high-tech gadgets and weapons, exchanges of gunfire, and obligatory sex scenes with beautiful women. Instead, the knot is tightened with a palpable sense of foreboding and fear about what could happen to the hideouts.
While Affleck does a commendable job behind the camera, one could make a case that he doesn’t bring anything special to the role of Agent Mendez—that this character could have been played with someone who could have infused the part with more emotion and gravitas.
One writer, David Thomson, posits that Argo is actually a reboot of Casablanca, “where the good guys make their escape, despite the unshaded malice of Colonel Strasser and the Nazis.”
Of course, the movie takes liberties with the facts of this historical event, and has faced criticism “for minimizing the role of the Canadian embassy in the rescue, for falsely showing that the Americans were turned away by the British and New Zealand embassies, and for exaggerating the danger that the group faced during events preceding their escape from the country,” according to Wikipedia. 

MOVIES THAT COME TO MIND AFTER VIEWING ARGO:
1970s political thrillers like The Parallax View, The Anderson Tapes, Day of the Jackal and All the President’s Men, Midnight Express
Munich
Syriana
Zero Dark Thirty

OTHER FILMS DIRECTED BY BEN AFFLECK:
The Town
Live By Night
Gone Baby Gone

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Celebrate Cineverse's 12th birthday with the best picture of '12

Sunday, June 4, 2017

CineVerse will be celebrating its 12th anniversary on June 7 by featuring the best picture Oscar winner of 2012: “Argo” (2012; 120 minutes), directed by Ben Affleck.

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"I see demon people..."

Friday, June 2, 2017

The late Bill Paxton's "Frailty" continues the trend of the sudden twist and unreliable narrator that was all the rage for a few years starting in the mid-1990s--a period marked by twisty movies like "The Usual Suspects," "Seven," "The Sixth Sense" and "Memento." "Frailty" tries to top them by offering at least four major twists that occur before the end of the film. Here's a recap of our group's verbal examination of this picture:

WHAT 4 TWISTS OCCUR BY THE END OF THE FILM?
The son kills the father
The confessor reveals that he’s really the younger son, Adam
The film suggests that Adam has a supernatural gift for identifying demons, if indeed that gift exists
The film suggests that the vicious cycle of violence passed on to the younger generation will continue, as Adam’s wife is expecting a child

WHAT THEMES ARE EXPLORED IN FRAILTY?
Corruption of the innocent
The sins of the father are visited upon the son.
The capacity for good people to do evil things and claim good intentions.
Whom are we to trust? Can we trust ourselves or the people we love? 

WHAT CHOICES DO THE FILMMAKERS MAKE TO HELP CREATE SUSPENSE AND AVOID HORROR MOVIE CLICHES?
The film breeds doubt and uncertainty in the viewer: Is this going to be a supernatural thriller in which the murdered victims actually are demons, and God truly is directing the father to kill? We are left in suspense about this. Consider what Roger Ebert suggests here: “When Dad touches his victims, he has graphic visions of their sins--he can see vividly why they need to be killed. Are these visions accurate? We see them, too, but it's unclear whether through Dad's eyes or the movie's narrator--if that makes a difference. Whether they are objectively true is something I, at least, believe no man can know for sure about another. Not just by touching them, anyway. But the movie contains one shot, sure to be debated, that suggests God's hand really is directing Dad's murders.”
The film ultimately employs a Rashomon-type effect whereby we can’t trust what we’ve seen or heard, and the nature of objective reality is in doubt.
Also, the characters don’t know any more than we do, so we relate better to them and they become more sympathetic.
We can identify with and sympathize with the father: he’s a widower raising two boys, he’s a good father to them, and he isn’t depicted as a monstrous villain—he seems genuine, authentic, rational and honest, but obsessed and possibly mentally disturbed. In many horror films, good people who turn bad often act in very stereotypical fashion: as cartoonishly unhinged and violently insane. We also aren’t given any hints that dad is psychologically deranged—there’s not mention of a previous history of mental illness, for example.
Also, most of the gruesome violence occurs off-screen; yes, we do hear axe hit flesh and bone and see some blood, but there is no gore or gratuitous violence in this movie. That being said, the film does linger on the killings and their effects on the children. Why? “Paxton wants us to feel the moral weight of the murders his character commits, which is probably why he shows those killings to us in such detail, as well as focusing on the boys’ terrified faces as they’re forced to watch or, worse, participate,” noted Salon reviewer Stephanie Zacharek.
Ultimately, what raises this film above a standard horror movie are the moral questions it raises and the battle of faith it depicts between a son and father. 

WHY IS BILL PAXTON AN IDEAL CASTING CHOICE FOR THE FATHER AND, ARGUABLY, AN IDEAL CHOICE AS DIRECTOR FOR THIS FILM?
Paxton has a believable, sympathetic, earnest face that helps viewers identify with him and buy into his performance.
We also know him primarily for protagonist roles where he usually plays a good-hearted, honest everyman. He brings that baggage with him to this role, and it causes beautiful conflict in us because we want to believe him, or we don’t believe him but still possibly sympathize with him.
“Perhaps only a first-time director, an actor who does not depend on directing for his next job, would have had the nerve to make this movie. It is uncompromised. It follows its logic right down into hell,” wrote Roger Ebert, who gave the film a four-star review.

OTHER FILMS THAT REMIND US OF “FRAILTY”:
Rashomon, another movie that prevents alternate points of view and you can’t trust what you see
The Usual Suspects, which also had a similar twist ending
The Rapture, and Wise Blood, two other pictures about religious fundamentalism
Breaking the Waves, which suggests miracles in vague terms and you can’t necessarily trust what you see
The Prophecy, which also suggests violent angels
The Devil Inside, Fallen, and Identity, also about serial killers and/or demonic possession
Natural Born Killers
The Dead Zone

OTHER PROMINENT FILMS STARRING BILL PAXTON:
A Simple Plan
Apollo 13
Aliens
Titanic
Twister
True Lies

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Bid a fond farewell to Bill Paxton

Sunday, May 28, 2017

On May 31, CineVerse will pay tribute to the late Bill Paxton by presenting “Frailty” (2001; 100 minutes), directed by Bill Paxton, chosen by Brian Hansen.

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An insider's view of 1950s Hollywood

Thursday, May 25, 2017

It doesn't name real names, employ any credible hard-edged cynicism, or show warts-and-all Tinsel Town tawdriness and tribulations. But "The Bad and the Beautiful" also doesn't fail to entertain, despite its punches-pulled MGM pedigree. Observations reached by our CineVerse cadre include:

THEMES AT WORK IN THIS PICTURE:
Dreams unfulfilled or interrupted
The exploitation of fresh, raw talent
According to reviewer Matt Langdon:
o “The cost of putting one’s professional life before personal relationships”
o “The (difficult) choice that must be made between art and life”
o “Is it possible to forgive such heinous flaws” (as exemplified in the character of Shields)
o “Maintaining respect in a brutal business”
The dark side of the dream of fame and fortune: how hubris, profiteering, and sin are endemic to Hollywood
The irony of being beholden to your betrayer

WHAT DID YOU FIND INTERESTING OR UNEXPECTED ABOUT THIS FILM?
It comes on the heels of “Sunset Boulevard,” released two years earlier, and seems to ape some of that movie’s cynicism and thematic content about the dark underbelly of Tinsel Town and the Hollywood dream.
Yet, it doesn’t point its arrows necessarily at the highest honchos on the totem pole; there’s no Louis B. Mayer that gets skewered here. “The highest rank of executive it’s willing to tar and feather is the semi-independent producer. But real studio heads are kept out of the picture,” wrote critic Glenn Erickson, who added: “Shield's career isn't squashed out of jealousy or fear by the higher-ups, Bartlow's talent isn't dissipated in hackwork, and starlet Lorrison's loose morals are attributed to her personal problems, not the studio system that kept starlets as salaried escorts on demand.”
There are not-so-subtle comparisons made between some of its characters and real-life Hollywood personalities of the 1940s/1950s. “Lana Turner's father-obsessed starlet stands in for Diana Barrymore, the Southern writer (Dick Powell) who hates Hollywood and wants to go home is a blatant take on Faulkner, the director (Barry Sullivan) plays Jacques Tourneur to Shields' Val Lewton on a movie called "Attack of the Cat Man"; the Shields character rings a bell…for David O. Selznick,” posited blogger Farran Smith Nehme.
Ironically, it seems to undercut its thematic argument that career accomplishments trump personal relationships. Consider that Shields doesn’t seem to experience a comeuppance, and the people he used and hurt come back to him for the opportunity to make more exploitable art.
The low key, expressive lighting style looks similar to film noir; non-noir dramas at this time utilized this stylistic look to convey dark and serious tones.

OTHER MOVIES THAT THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL MAKES YOU THINK OF:
Sunset Boulevard
A Star is Born
Two Weeks in Another Town
A Life of Her Own
The Barefoot Contessa
The Big Knife
The Carpetbaggers
The Player
Citizen Kane (which also uses flashbacks to tell its story and a high boom shot of technicians high aloft of the stage)
The low-budget but creative B horror pictures by Val Lewton

OTHER FILMS DIRECTED BY VINCENTE MINNELLI:
Meet Me in St. Louis
An American in Paris
The Band Wagon
Gigi
Brigadoon
Lust for Life
Father of the Bride

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It sure beats the good and the ugly

Sunday, May 21, 2017

You won't want to miss CineVerse on May 24, when the spotlight falls on “The Bad and the Beautiful” (1952; 118 minutes), directed by Vincente Minnelli, chosen by Carole Bogaard.

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Film is a state of mind

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Whether you consider it more of a comedy or a drama, it's hard to deny the charms and philosophies at work on Hal Ashby's "Being There," featuring perhaps Peter Sellers' greatest performance. There's a lot of substance packed into this film, and more than meets the eye, as demonstrated by the extensive discussion we enjoyed last evening at CineVerse. Here's a roundup of that group talk:

THEMES EXPLORED IN BEING THERE:
The irony and danger of being a human cipher: 
o A man who is a blank slate and non-entity who seems to stand for and believe in nothing, yet ironically impresses and influences many by virtue of his ambiguity. As put by Criterion Collection essayist Mark Harris, Being There is “the portrait of a man who relates to no one but to whom everyone relates.”
o Harris says the film serves as a cautionary tale, noting that “we invest people with unspeakable power by reinventing them as reflections of our hopes and our vanities, and it is thus terrifyingly possible for us to endow a complete imbecile who watches TV all day with qualities he has never possessed.”
Being cast out of the Garden of Eden: Chance is evicted from his longtime home and is forced to wander, until he is taken in by “Eve.” 
Evolution and exploration: The film uses a disco version of the 2001: A Space Odyssey theme humorously and effectively; the song plays when Chance has to, for the first time, venture out of his cocoon into “outer space” and explore a strange new universe.
Power and privilege is own often unfairly bestowed upon an undeserving but fortunate man who looks the part: Roger Ebert noted: “Because he is a WASP, middle-aged, well-groomed, dressed in tailored suits, and speaks like an educated man, he is automatically presumed to be a person of substance. He is, in fact, socially naïve.” Recall what the housekeeper says about Chance: "Yes, sir, all you've gotta be is white in America, to get whatever you want."
The emperor has no clothes, but this is only recognized by the common man. Consider that street thugs, hired help and other middle- to lower-class people see Chance for what he dimwitted and unworthy of all the attention he’s receiving; but the upper class choose to see things in Chance that aren’t really there, indicating that they are as naïve and gullible as Chance.
Life is a state of mind, and ignorance is bliss: if your mind is relatively blank and carefree, life can appear carefree; Chance appears happy and content, likely because he’s ignorant, childlike and simple-minded.
Unbalanced, one-sided relationships: The characters who interact with and surround Chance grow and evolve or at least demonstrate that they’ve been affected by him; but we never get the sense that Chance grows, evolves, or truly connects with another human being. What’s going on in Chance’s head remains a mystery—the film’s last shot suggests that he remains naïve and oblivious to the world around him.

HOW DO YOU INTERPRET THE FINAL SHOT OF CHANCE WALKING ON WATER?
You could take it skeptically—that he is actually walking on a sandbar or hidden pier, which he may or may not be aware of; yet, from an observer’s perspective, it would appear as if Chance is actually able to walk on water and “perform miracles”, just as many who interact with him in the film begin to mistakenly conclude.
Or, you could take it literally, that he is actually walking on water from his perspective. Think about how Chance is so dissociated from reality and so brainwashed by television that perhaps, like the Road Runner who can run off a cliff without falling down, he believes he can truly walk on water because, as blogger Jeff Saporito theorizes, “he doesn’t understand his limitations. It is symbolic of his lack of restrictions…Throughout the picture, all of Chance’s actions stem from the honesty of his ignorance. He goes from a gardener to a confidant of billionaires to a presidential advisor to a presidential candidate himself, all without realizing. Chance walks on water at the end because he doesn’t realize he can’t.”
Or, Chance could represent a Christ-like figure who, like any other human, shouldn’t be able to walk on water, but is a rare breed who has the supernatural power to actually do so. Consider that we know very little about Christ’s background between birth and his emergence as an adult, just as we know almost nothing about Chance.
The fact that multiple interpretations are possible reinforces another of the film’s key themes: the nature of perception, and how we each see what we want to see in a character, which can differ from viewer to viewer. 

OTHER MOVIES THAT BEING THERE MAKES YOU THINK OF:
Screwball comedies like My Man Godfrey
Rain Man and the Laurel and Hardy movies (Chance is kind of like a cross between Dustin Hoffman’s Raymond and Stan Laurel’s quiet, bowler hat-wearing imbecile)
Big
Forrest Gump
2001: A Space Odyssey
Dave

OTHER FILMS DIRECTED BY HAL ASHBY
Harold and Maude
The Last Detail
Shampoo
Bound for Glory
Coming Home

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A not so long time to go, in a library not so far, far away...

Monday, May 15, 2017

On May 20, Cineversary returns to the Oak Lawn Library from 1-4 p.m. This time, we'll celebrate the 40th anniversary of “Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope” (1977; 121 minutes).

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Capitalize on a Sellers market

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Circle May 17 on your calendar: that's when CineVerse will feature “Being There” (1979; 130 minutes), directed by Hal Ashby, chosen by Dan Quenzel.

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From the lost and found department

Thursday, May 11, 2017

David Fincher's "Gone Girl" takes viewers on a tense and uncomfortable ride through the minefield of an unhinged marriage and gets us to the other side in one piece--but without a feeling of safety or closure. Our CineVerse discussion group took a closer look at this work of dark chocolate and arrived at the following observations:

WHAT IS DISTINCTIVE, NOTEWORTHY AND PERHAPS OFF-PUTTING ABOUT GONE GIRL?
There are many shifts in point of view and perspective and several reveals that make our two main characters unreliable narrators: the result is that you don’t know who or what to trust.
There isn’t much subtlety or nuance to this movie; as reviewer Matt Zoller Seitz posits: “the film raises…questions and others, and it answers nearly all of them, often in boldface, all-caps sentences that end with exclamation points.”
Like Hitchcock or De Palma, the filmmakers aren’t concerned with telling a realistic story or unfolding a plausible plot; they want to create a moody atmosphere, unsettling tone and formalistic film.
o These kind of movies are called, according to critic Anne Billson, “preposterous thrillers” wherein “characters and their behavior bear no relation not just to life as we know it, but to any sort of properly structured fiction we may have hitherto encountered." 
o Seitz suggests: “Not a single frame is meant to be taken literally…it’s working through primordial feelings in the manner of a blues song, a pulp thriller, a film noir, or a horror picture.”

WHAT THEMES ARE AT WORK IN GONE GIRL?
How well do you know your partner? There’s a darkness and danger lurking behind every marriage, and even the person you think you love may not be trustworthy. Consider: which characters do you trust in this film? Maybe the sister?
As suggested by New Yorker critic Joshua Rothman, “are there any stories that we can tell ourselves about marriage that ring true?”
The myth of coupledom is oppressive and results in victimization: “marriage and victimhood are inseparable”, theorizes Rothman, who adds that coupledom creates a power relationship wherein one party is more dominant or winning than the other.
The media lies (consider the women’s and men’s magazines that previously employed Amy and Nick), and the media is bloodthirsty, ruthless and easily manipulated.
We live in a vapid, cut-throat, attention-seeking culture.
Dual identities and alter egos

HALLMARKS OF MANY DAVID FINCHER PICTURES:
According to blogger G.S. Perno:
o Dark, labyrinth-like worlds with many corners, twists and sudden turns
o Plot twists and twist endings
o A dark lighting style combined with filtered/overlayed colors and crisp, highly focused cinematography; characters often have shadows obscuring their faces
o Smooth tracking camera shots
o Occasional insertion of single odd frames—almost like a quick subliminal image
o Downbeat, somber endings that often lack closure for characters and/or viewers

OTHER MOVIES THAT REMIND US OF “GONE GIRL”
“Preposterous” thrillers like Vertigo and Dressed to Kill, wherein the plot may not make much sense but the overall mood created is palpable and resonant
Unreliable psychological thrillers like Memento and Mulholland Drive
Prisoners
A Perfect Murder
To Die For
Basic Instinct
The documentary series The Staircase
Laura

OTHER FILMS DIRECTED BY DAVID FINCHER
Se7en
Fight Club
Zodiac
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Social Network
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

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From the missing persons file...

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Join CineVerse on May 10 for “Gone Girl” (2014; 149 minutes), directed by David Fincher, chosen by Tom Nesis. Note: Due to this film’s long runtime, CineVerse may conclude closer to 10:15 tonight.

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A "Fast and Furious" for the counterculture

Thursday, May 4, 2017

There's no cult movie quite like "Vanishing Point," a strange but exhilarating chase flick from 1971. On one hand, it likely would have appealed to manly men conservative types back in the day, but also to hippies, multicultural-minded moviegoers and liberal-leaning viewers, too. For a film that lacks any type of meaty plot or character development, there was a lot more to talk about with this picture than expected. Here's the thrust of our CineVerse discussion points:

WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE FILM’S TITLE? WHY CALL IT “VANISHING POINT”?
According to essayist Geoff Ward, it could be referring to “the point where the sides of a highway converge at the horizon through the action of perspective—the point towards which Kowalski is always and inevitably heading, where the sightlines converge, itself an illusion.”
It may be referencing the suicidal finale, “the point at which (Kowalski) vanishes from the world.”
It may make us think of how Kowalski reaches a point where he is no longer a person and instead assumes the mantle of a hero or villain, per Ward.
Consider, also that things appear and disappear in the movie, such as the white car that suddenly vanishes after passing the black car early in the movie.

WHAT THEMES COME TO MIND AFTER WATCHING THIS PICTURE?
The anti-hero vs. the Establishment: Kowalski becomes a sympathetic figure because he’s bucking the system and thwarting those who wish to control and curtail him.
The enigma and appeal of the mystery man, the rugged individualist, the romantic loner, the iconoclast: we know very little about Kowalski or what motivates him; indeed, his character and the film beg many unanswered questions, as posed by New York Times writer Rick Lyman: “Are we meant to remember Stanley Kowalski from ‘A Streetcar Named Desire?’ Why is he a pill-popping renegade? What induces him to make a meaningless suicidal bet with a drug dealer to drive his car to San Francisco in an impossibly short time? Why…does he choose to kill himself…rather than knuckle under?’
Crossings and X-factors: Kowalski’s vehicle creates a big “X” in the sand; also, he “crosses the central reservation, the railroad line, the state lines, No Name Creek, and…the line between what the authorities/establishment will and will not tolerate…and the line between optimism of the past and pessimism of the present, and, ultimately, the point of no return at Cisco, where he becomes resigned to his doom, is own personal ‘vanishing point,’” wrote Ward.
Signs: literally, in the form of road signs and visual cultural signifiers like ads, headlines and graffiti. Ward asks us to consider how often we see a “Stop” sign, or what the sign “End speed zone” is suggesting here, and what we’re supposed to think about other visual icons and symbols, like “Coca Cola, Mobil (big business, materialism), police insignia (the establishment, authority), Jesus Saves (religion, dogma), Love (the counter-culture)”...and "Argo’s Car Delivery," which "alludes to the myth of Jason and the Argonauts, the crew of the ship Argo who sailed in search of the Golden Fleece."
Cosmic irony and existential angst. Ward posits that “the movie depicts graphically how the realization of human potential, and the validation of human purpose, are frustrated not only by the very institutions which we create, but also by the very way we think…Kowalski sacrifices himself in order to bring this powerfully to our attention.”
WHAT DID YOU FIND INTERESTING, UNIQUE OR UNEXPECTED ABOUT THIS FILM?
It can be enjoyed on multiple levels: as a straight-up action thriller, as an existential think piece about nonconformity, or as a dated time capsule movie endemic of the counterculture, cult film audience it appealed to.
Unlike other lawbreaking anti-hero characters in cinema, he seems to abide by a moral code: he rebuffs sexual offers from females, he stops and checks to make sure that drivers he leaves behind are not hurt, and he only takes what he needs, suggests Ward.
There’s a recurrent use of crash zooms and rapid focus shifts, a trend many 1970s grindhouse and exploitation films.
The movie features a bed of nearly nonstop music that varies from country to rock to soul.
There’s an awkward and stereotypical scene depicting gay outlaws that can be cringe-worthy today.
While the car chase shots/scenes involved risk and should be appreciated, many expect there to be more stunts, close calls, crashes, pile-ups and death-defying feats of driving, as we often see in other car chase films.
It’s hard not to watch this movie and not think of the O.J. Simpson car chase and the media frenzy that erupted from that event—demonstrating that life can imitate art.

WHAT OTHER MOVIES DOES VANISHING POINT CONJURE UP?
Easy Rider, with its anti-hero, counterculture themes and road movie template
Car chase plot films like Bullitt, Duel, Smokey and the Bandit, Death Proof, and the Fast and Furious series
Copycat pictures from the 1970s such as Crazy Mary, Dirty Larry, Death Race 2000, and Gone in 60 Seconds
Old and modern movies that feature incredible auto chase sequences, like The French Connection, The Rock, and Ronin
Thelma and Louise, which shares a similar tragic but romantic ending
First Blood, another movie in which a Vietnam vet is harassed and chased by authorities, who suffer at the skilled hands of the pursued

OTHER FILMS DIRECTED BY RICHARD C. SARAFIAN
Run Wild, Run Free
Man in the Wilderness
Lolly-Madonna XXX 

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Cut to the chase by attending CineVerse this Wednesday

Sunday, April 30, 2017

On May 3, CineVerse will kick off its new two-month schedule with “Vanishing Point” (1971; 99 minutes), directed by Richard C. Sarafian, chosen by Mike Bochenek.

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The Little Tramp -- with a skirt

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Giuletta Masina acquits herself quite nicely as an outstanding actress in "Nights of Cabiria." Of course, it helps getting direction from your husband, Federico Fellini, perhaps the greatest Italian director of all time. And borrowing physically expressive elements from Charles Chaplin's Little Tramp character doesn't hurt either, especially when playing a spirited young lady of the night with a diminutive stature but a large heart. Masina certainly does much of the heavy lifting in "Cabiria," but the film excels across many levels besides acting. CineVerse tapped into what makes this movie tick last evening and deduced the following:

WHAT IS THIS FILM ABOUT? WHAT THEMES STAND OUT?
Loneliness and isolation contrasted with the need for love and connection: Cabiria is an outcast even among fellow prostitutes; she seeks a loving bond with another human being, but keeps getting betrayed.
Childlike innocence: Cabiria maintains a youthful simplicity and gullibility about her, and her ability to rebound and smile shortly after a serious setback makes her seem like an innocent, resilient child
The quest for redemption, spiritual transcendence and acceptance: Cabiria is “baptized” in a sense by her near-drowning in the river, which sets her on an odyssey-like path toward personal discovery and the pursuit of an answer to the question, “what if I had died”?
The importance of self-reliance and looking inside for strength and wisdom: despite all that happens to her, the last shot we see of Cabiria is her smiling, which indicates that growth, maturity and strength has to come from within; she has faith that she’ll find her way on her own two feet.
Being “at home” with oneself, as symbolized in Cabiria’s house, which is isolated but which she loves.
Living two lives: a life at night when fantastical things happen, and a life in the daytime when the imperfect real world reigns.

WHAT IS INTERESTING AND OFFBEAT ABOUT NIGHTS OF CABIRIA?
It stands as one of the greatest pairings of husband and wife talents in cinema history: Guiletta Masina and her husband, director Fellini, collaborated on five films together; other successful spousal/lover pairs in movie history include D.W. Griffith and Lillian Gish, Ingmar Bergman and Liv Ullman, Woody Allen and Mia Farrow, and Zhang Yimou and Gong Li.
It’s a different kind of Italian neorealism film; like Umberto D, Cabiria struggles to maintain her dignity, yet the ending is not very neorealistic; instead, it’s almost surreal, introducing this band that comes out of nowhere to stir Cabiria out of her sadness. 
o Blogger Aldo Vidali wrote that this film contains neorealism characteristics: "It is Cabiria’s low social status that ensures her repeated disappointment, because the men in her life continually cast her aside in search of their own version of fulfillment. Therefore, Nights of Cabiria does examine social structures, but with an emphasis on their psychological effects. In doing so it uses Cabiria as an example of women’s yearning for commitment in a society that breeds a seemingly unshakable restlessness among men, who are rarely content with their relationships, or are blinded by their pursuit of wealth. Nevertheless, the film does not propose change or impose a moral, rather it attempts to show the mental condition of humanity through the struggles of women.” However, Vidali added, “(Fellini) discarded pragmatic realism in the pursuit of a metaphysical realism that penetrated far deeper into the human condition than the most “real” of traditional Neorealist motion pictures.”
The plot is episodic, seeming to string together vignettes of Cabiria’s experiences from day to day, night to night, and each of these short episodes can stand on their own as self-contained mini movies.
Cabiria is often framed in isolated shots separate from others; she’s also often placed behind gates or barriers, and she wears striped clothing—all of which suggest that she’s a “prisoner” of some kind who is prevented from achieving the happiness, love and connection she seeks.
The ending is ambiguous deliberately. Fellini believed his movies didn’t need “a final scene…my films give the audience a very exact responsibility. For instance, they must decide what Cabiria's end is going to be. Her fate is in the hands of each one of us. If the film has moved us, and troubled us, we must immediately begin to have new relationships with our neighbors. This must start the first time we meet our friends or our wife, since anyone may be a Cabiria."

A FEW NOTES ON FELLINI AND HIS STYLE:
His earlier films had characters and stories based more in reality; as his career progressed, especially after La Dolce Vita, he dabbled more in surreal, abstract and dreamlike themes and images, and Fellini “created” worlds
“The essential subject of Fellini’s films, particularly of the late ones, like Amarcord, is the cinema itself, another world, ephemeral, touching, ineffable, comic and grand” said Sam Rohdie in his Criterion Collection essay on Amarcord
He’s been called one of cinema’s most visually expressive filmmakers, an auteur who prefers to tell stories and relate information with images more than dialogue.
Fellini was fascinated with the strange, and grotesque, with misfits and with pageantry and façade; he often includes scenes of circuses and clowns, as well as town fools and disturbed/insane people in his films.
He’s also one of the most autobiographical of film directors, often basing characters, shots and scenes on himself or something that he experienced or dreamed: 8 ½ is a great example: a film about a filmmaker who is at a loss as to what to make a film about.

NIGHTS OF CABIRIA CAN REMIND US OF THESE OTHER MOVIES:
Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” films like City Lights
Fellini’s La Strada (also starring Masina) and later La Dolce Vita, which also features, according to Ebert, prostitute characters, nightclub scenes with exotic dancers, fake Virgin Mary appearances, musical sequences that occur in outdoor nightclubs, among other things
Other neorealist films such as Miracle in Milan, Umberto D, and Shoeshine
Sweet Charity, a musical adaptation of this story (1969)

OTHER FILMS DIRECTED BY FEDERICO FELLINI
La Strada
La Dolce Vita
Juliette of the Spirits
Fellini Satyricon
Amarcord 

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