Blog Directory CineVerse: 2017

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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The hooker with a heart of gold

Sunday, April 23, 2017

"Italian Neorealism Revisited," CineVerse's Quick Theme Quartet for April, concludes on April 26 with “The Nights of Cabiria” (1957; 110 minutes), directed by Federico Fellini.

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New CineVerse schedule available

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Our May/June schedule listing what's on tap for CineVerse and Cineversary is now ready for viewing. To access the new calendar, visit tinyurl.com/cineversemj17.

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No country for old men

If you enjoy films that function as interesting character studies of individuals living realistically in their natural environment, you'd be hard pressed to find a truer example of this form than Vittorio De Sica's 1952 neorealism masterwork "Umberto D." Warning: the plot is thin, the tone is grim, and the pace is slow. But it's about as honest and authentic a movie of its period can be, and that's refreshing. Our CineVerse group came to the following realizations about this picture:

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE PRIMARY THEMES PREVALENT IN UMBERTO D.?
Life is often not fair, and those who often need the most help find the least help.
The struggle to maintain dignity and eke out an existence in a pitiless world where no one seems to care.
Even the most mundane existence devoid of excitement can still have meaning and resonance.
As long as you have at least one other being to love and be needed by, life is worth living.

WHAT DID YOU FIND INTERESTING, UNEXPECTED AND MEMORABLE ABOUT THIS FILM?
It isn’t sentimental, mawkish or emotionally manipulative; ponder, for example, the scene where Umberto looks for his dog at the pound and sees all the confined canines who will likely be euthanized—the filmmakers could have tugged at your heartstrings more here, but they don’t; they simply let the scene play out without manipulation.
It’s a bleak, warts-and-all character study that can be depressing and downbeat. There’s very little humor or comic relief, and few exciting things that happen to this man or his dog.
The lack of sentimentality can actually cause viewers to feel less or no sympathy for Umberto. Consider what reviewer Glenn Erickson wrote: “The story doesn't have cute kids, dreamy lovers, or crime thrills to distract the audience. Instead we get the kind of grinding real-life problems faced by the honest poor. I can see less generous viewers reacting to Umberto's lack of options by deciding that his problems are his own fault. It's true: the average audience will accept social realities in their entertainment, but even an art house crowd wants to be 'entertained'. Umberto D. is an uncompromised neorealist experience.”
It employs real time sequences and depicts banal everyday occurrences—consider the maid’s humdrum morning routine or the old man’s attempts to go to sleep.
It feels documentary like, brutally honest, unscripted, and nontheatrical. This is not a sympathy-soaked melodrama filled with contrived conflict.
Contrary to other neorealist movies, this does not depict the struggles of the working class everyman in or near the prime of his life; Umberto himself is a low-income, forgotten old man who lives a relatively miserable existence. He’s not rebelling against socioeconomic forces or seeking justice—he simply wants to exist alone and in peace.
The key social issues explored in this film are not necessarily economic injustice, man’s inhumanity to his fellow man, and postwar social challenges faced by most people; instead, the struggle here is to thwart shame and maintain dignity and decency in the face of old age.
This neorealism film has a much simpler and straightforward plot. The primary relationship portrayed here is between a man and his dog.
The movie uses a lot of long shots that often show Umberto and his dog from far off, versus medium or close-up shots; the longshot effect evokes a feeling of distance, isolation from others, and loneliness.
According to Roger Ebert: “"Umberto D" tells what could be a formula story, but not in a formula way: Its moments seem generated by what might really happen. A formula film would find a way to manufacture a happy ending, but good fortune will not fall from the sky for Umberto. Perhaps his best luck is simply that he has the inner strength to endure misfortune without losing self-respect. It is said that at one level or another, Chaplin's characters were always asking that we love them. Umberto doesn't care if we love him or not. That is why we love him.”

OTHER MOVIES DIRECTED BY VITTORIO DE SICA:
Shoeshine
Bicycle Thieves
Miracle in Milan
Two Women
Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
Marriage Italian Style

WHAT OTHER FILMS CAN UMBERTO D. MAKE YOU THINK OF?
Ikiru
Wild Strawberries
Un homme et son chien
A Dog Year

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Spotlight on a man and his dog

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Circle April 19 on your calendar--that's the date for “Umberto D” (1952; 89 minutes), directed by Vittorio De Sica, which serves as part 3 of CineVerse's current Quick Theme Quartet on "Italian Neorealism Revisited." Plus: Stick around for a trailer reel preview of the May/June CineVerse schedule.

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Rome is where the heart is...and the heartache

Friday, April 14, 2017

It's for no small reason that director and film historian Martin Scorsese called Rome Open City “the most precious moment of film history.” He and many experts believe this picture infused cinema with a new kind of realism, immediacy and energy that proved to be highly influential on both sides of the Atlantic. This movie is worth studying and appreciating for multiple reasons, including the following discussed by our CineVerse group last night:

WHY DO YOU THINK THIS FILM WAS CONSIDERED SO IMPORTANT, GROUNDBREAKING AND INFLUENTIAL?
It’s credited as pioneering because it’s one of the first Italian movies to portray the hardship Italians suffered during World War II and the German occupation of their country; consider that pictures made earlier in the war were censored and carefully controlled by Mussolini and made the Allied countries look like enemies.
It’s often praised as the first major work of Italian Cinema to be seen and appreciated by international viewers. How many pre-1945 Italian movies can you even name? This is the film that helped put Italian cinema on the map, that laid the path for masters like Luchino Visconti, Vittorio De Sica, Federico Fellini, and Guiseppe De Santis to tread, and that made later works like Bicycle Thieves, Umberto D, and La Strada to be enjoyed by people around the world. 
It looks and feels like a documentary, even though it’s technically scripted and acted; however, what was shot often was improvisational and invented on-the-spot. Keep in mind that it was originally intended to be a documentary about a priest shot by the Nazis for aiding the resistance as well as a documentary about Roman children who resisted the Nazi occupying force. It reenacts the real tale of a woman gunned down by the Germans before the barracks, too. In this way, Rome Open City plays as an innovative hybrid film imbued with realism and authenticity, even though it’s not a true documentary. 
Critic Kenneth Turan delves into this hybrid film theory further. “What makes "Open City" special is that it doesn't follow its own rules. It is both realistic and melodramatic, passionate and dispassionate, using newsreel-style cinematography but unafraid to indulge in big emotions,” he wrote.
Others credit Rossellini with creating a new kind of emotional cinematic experience that immerses the viewer into a fabricated reality that doesn’t appear fabricated. Essayist Stephanie Cotela Tanner wrote: "Rossellini was looking back at events in which he was not officially politically involved and created the illusion that the events were taking place in real time, thus allowing himself and his spectators to become involved. He used film as a mass medium to disseminate to a wider audience information that previous techniques could communicate only to a happy few. The novelty of Open City lies in its transformation of art into information. Rossellini provides the viewer with a real memory of something the viewer has not actually experienced."
It features some Italian actors but mostly nonprofessionals and everyday citizens. Arguably, the city itself is the primary character. Shooting on location in the streets and in actual homes and buildings, not on a studio lot, gives the film an immediacy and credible energy.
It was created outside the context of any studio involvement by independent filmmakers. It was a film made on the fly, by guerilla-style filmmakers who begged, borrowed and stole to get this picture made, literally; the director depleted his savings, bought black market film stock and borrowed short rolls of leftover film when he ran out of film stock; his life was also threatened.
Consider that, contrary to some rumors, the film was shot after the city’s liberation by the Americans in 1944, and not while the Germans were still there; still, the wounds would have been very fresh, and the rubble, destruction and human stress would have been quite evident. It would have taken guts and real bravery to attempt to make this movie in this context, in this setting, so soon after the Nazi occupation of Rome.
Tanner further suggested: "Open City is a testimony because it records on celluloid how Rome looked after World War II, including sites of memorable events. The most notable instance is the field at Forte Bravetta used as the setting for Don Pietro’s execution. It was on this site that several antifascists including Don Guiseppe Morosini, one of the models for Don Pietro’s character, was shot during the occupation. After the Liberation (10 June 1944), various leading Fascists who collaborated and/or carried out acts of repression or torture were also shot at this site. In this way, an otherwise ordinary-looking strip of land serves as a stimulus to collective memory and has an authenticating function in a scene that is in other respects a dramatized reconstruction."
It features “unorthodox approaches to storytelling”, wrote Criterion Collection essayist Irene Bignardi; think about how the tone shifts from comedic to shocking and tragic rather quickly. It also takes the story to the streets and gives us a candid look at the human condition, depicting real people left vulnerable in their own hometown. 
The lively and courageous children who fight back would have inspired the French New Wave, which later invoked the vibrant spirit of youth culture. French New Wave filmmakers would have also admired the resistance of the Italian people, which draws comparisons to the French Resistance.
Interestingly, the filmmakers aren’t afraid to paint some Italians in a bad light, too; consider that those who resist are betrayed by their own countrymen.

OTHER FILMS SIMILAR TO ROME OPEN CITY
Arguably, there are none; this movie is truly one of a kind and hard to compare to any other cinematic work.
However, it does share many commonalities with other contemporary neorealism films like Bicycle Thieves, Bitter Rice, Shoeshine, Miracle in Milan, and Umberto D.
This film is also part of a trio by Rossellini referred to as his War Trilogy; the two later movies are Paisan and Germany, Year Zero.
It also conjures up similarities to The Battle of Algiers
OTHER FILMS BY ROBERTO ROSSELLINI
Stromboli, Journey to Italy, Fear, and Europe ’51, starring his wife Ingrid Bergman
The Flowers of St. Francis
Ways of Love
Escape by Night

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Singin' about a 65th birthday

Monday, April 10, 2017

Cineversary reconvenes at the Oak Lawn Library on April 15 from 1-4 p.m. to celebrate the 65th anniversary of “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952; 103 minutes).

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Visit Rome, circa 1945

Sunday, April 9, 2017

On April 12, CineVerse's current Quick Theme Quartet on "Italian Neorealism Revisited" returns with “Rome, Open City” (1945; 100 minutes), directed by Roberto Rossellini.

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Il postino always rings twice

Thursday, April 6, 2017

It's widely known that Franco filmmakers like Godard and Truffaut loved American pulp fiction and film noir. But long before the French New Wave and its slight tip of the cap to noir influences, the Italians were dabbling in the genre, as evidenced by Luchino Visconti's 1943 classic "Ossession," an early adaptation of James M. Cain's "The Postman Always Rings Twice." Our CineVerse group took a closer look at this picture last evening and came away with these observations:

HOW IS THIS ADAPTATION DIFFERENT FROM AMERICAN VERSIONS OF “THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE”?
The 1946 version with Lana Turner was glossier, and featured more of a true film noir femme fatale who was evil and calculating.
The female lead in this movie, by contrast, is arguably a more sympathetic character who is driven by understandable marital frustration and desperation for her economic and trapped condition. We see her collapse, surrendered, in a kitchen full of dirty dishes and feel for her more than Lana Turner’s femme fatale.
This version “excels in a more taboo realm,” wrote reviewer Gary Morris, who cited the Italian film’s “barren landscapes, driven characters and sexual frankness…and unabashed lust with which Visconti treats the illicit relationship.”
Speaking of the setting, the location is more rural, realistic and believable than in the 1946 version. This is a more bleak and unfertile landscape.
Prostitution is also common in the world these characters inhabit; Giovanna implies that she previously prostituted herself before marriage out of financial pressure, and Gino is enamored with a young harlot later in the film.
This adaptation doesn’t show the murder, nor have a suspenseful buildup to the crime or a carefully planned murder plot. The murder occurs off-screen and is executed seemingly on the spot, at the sudden whims of the secret lovers.
This version also features the suggestion of a gay relationship between Gino and Spagnolo—or at least an unrequited crush on one for the other. “What makes Ossesssione particularly compelling,” wrote blogger Tony D’Ambra, “is a homoerotic strand interwoven with a critique of petit-bourgeois values.
Per Henry Bacon, the director “wanted to convey the internal life of his characters through their behavior and their relationship to the environment, to capture their essence by showing them as an organic part of a certain social reality, which in various ways constantly conditions and guides their behaviors, thoughts and feelings.”
Here, instead of using stylized setups, formalistic framing or clever editing the camera is employed to depict the psychology of the main characters. Consider how the female characters are first introduced and continually photographed in the 1943 vs. 1946 films: the latter uses soft lenses and glamorous lighting; the former doesn’t try to objectify or pretty up the female lead.
There is more of an exploration of class warfare and tension between the social classes in this Italian rendition.

WHAT WOULD HAVE BEEN RISQUE AND CONTROVERSIAL ABOUT THIS FILM FOR 1946?
The sexual subtext: the passionate sudden physical-based romance between the 2 lovers.
Its dark and seedy subject matter and bleak tone: this film was considered provocative and insulting to the Fascist regime, and hence suffered from censorship meddling and distribution hurdles—with prints of the movie seriously edited and even destroyed. Fortunately, the director stashed away a secret negative or it would have been lost forever.
Clara Calamai, who plays Giovanna, had appeared topless in an Italian film a year before this, so she had likely developed a sexy reputation that would have rattled cages.

WHAT THEMES ARE EXAMINED IN “OSSESSIONE”?
Doomed love
The corrupting influence of lust and greed
Shifting loyalties
Betrayal
Paranoia
Ironic fate

OTHER FILMS THAT OSSESSIONE BRINGS TO MIND
Double Indemnity, also involving a plot by lovers to do away with a husband
Body Heat
Other adaptations of Postman: The Last Turning (France, 1939); a remake starring Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange from 1981; and a 1998 Hungarian version titled Passion.

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Film noir meets neorealism

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Once a quarter (every third month) in 2017, CineVerse will explore four movies tied together by a theme, called Quick Theme Quartet. For April, the theme is "Italian Neorealism Revisited," focusing on four important films made in Italy that were part of the neorealism movement. Part 1: “Ossessione” (1943; 140 minutes), directed by Luchino Visconti, scheduled for April 5.

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A middle-age nightmare

Thursday, March 30, 2017

"Still Alice" is a brave but haunting exploration into a vibrant life suddenly interrupted by a very cruel disease: early-onset Alzheimer's. In many ways, it's more terrifying than a modern horror film. But it's also more poignant, human, honest, and life-affirming than the vast majority of big-screen dramas. Our CineVerse group tried to carefully examine this film last evening and came away with the following conclusions:

WHAT IS IRONIC ABOUT ALICE SUCCUMBING TO ALZHEIMER’S?
She’s a busy teacher, mother and member of her community, which requires you to keep track of and remember a lot of things.
She’s a linguistics professor; linguistics is the study of language and articulation of it, but a neurodegenerative disease like Alzheimer’s inhibits the use and articulation of language.
She’s in the prime of her adult life—otherwise healthy and happy at 50; she’s not in her 70s or 80s, which is often when this disease begins to manifest itself.
The neurologist tells Alice that memory goes faster are people who are more educated.
Alice’s disease has robbed herself of the ability to choose whether to live or die – consider that she fumbles and drops the suicide pills, and her careful planning to end her life if things got bad enough is all for naught.

WHY IS THE FILM TITLED “STILL ALICE”?
It could be a declarative statement, as if to say that she’s “still Alice, still herself, despite having serious memory issues.
Or, it could be more of a questioning title, as if to say, “is she still Alice if she can’t remember her identity and the memories and details that sum up who she is?”
The word “still” can also suggest lack of movement, immobility, growing stagnant, and remaining stationery while life moves on around you.
It suggests several themes and questions, such as do we lose our identity and sense of self when we forget who we are and the people that love us? Are we ever truly forgotten, so long as we are remembered and cherished by our loved ones?

WHAT ARE THE DIFFICULTIES THAT COME WITH TRYING TO MAKE A FILM ON THIS SUBJECT?
First, Alice is succumbing to early-onset Alzheimer’s, not late-onset Alzheimer’s; the latter would require an older character/actor and probably depict a more depressing and debilitating condition. The filmmakers want to approach this topic with honesty and realism, but they have to be careful not to pour on the depressing details too far. By having the affliction happen to an otherwise healthy, vibrant, intelligent and attractive 50-year-old, they keep us from losing interest and keep the character from losing too much dignity.
To be respectful and honest about the subject matter, you have to treat it seriously. That means very little opportunity for humor, distraction or redemption. This is a degenerative and irreversible disease that is as terrifying as it is shattering.
The other challenge is avoiding overt sentimentality and mawkishness. It’s easy to try to manipulate the viewer into tears if you want to lay it on thick here. To the filmmakers’ credit, they don’t indulge in melancholy melodrama, poor on the syrupy score, or milk scenes for extra teardrops (case in point: the scene where Alice and her husband reveals the disease to their children could have been more drawn out and emotionally devastating).
This film also has to serve as a kind of public service to the viewer, because it’s one of the first of its kind that broaches the subject of early onset Alzheimer’s disease; hence, there’s a responsibility here to broaden awareness about this malady and treat the topic with truth and verisimilitude.
Most importantly, this is not a commercially appealing film for the masses – it’s going to be downright difficult to get butts in the seats for a somber, depressing movie like this.

SOME CRITICS HAVE NOTED THAT JULIANNE MOORE GIVES A MORE SUBTLE, MINIMALIST PERFORMANCE THAN ONE MIGHT EXPECT FOR THIS ROLE. IF YOU AGREE, WHY WAS ADOPTING A SIMPLER, MORE RESTRAINED APPROACH TO THE ROLE THE RIGHT CHOICE?
Alzheimer’s doesn’t “happen” overnight; gradual changes and losses of memory occur over time, and each realization of a new change or memory loss by the sufferer, even if it’s a small one, probably feels devastating.
Hence, Moore leaned away from an over-the-top, overplayed performance because she wanted the viewer to pay attention to even the slightest, most subtle differences they notice in her personality and her environment. This acting approach forces us to pay closer attention and look for clues and instigators that tell us she’s been affected by the disease.
According to critic Mark Jackson, “Moore’s is an understated, minimalist performance, and the tiny increments by which the disease encroaches are slightly reminiscent of the horror genre, where the specter in the background flits by so quickly it almost goes undetected, except that you know you saw something, and that’s slightly hair-raising. These “What did I just see?” moments unsettle because one senses that’s how it would realistically go down."

OTHER REVIEWERS HAVE POSITED THAT THE MOVIE MAY SUFFER FROM FOCUSING TOO MUCH ON ALICE AND PERHAPS NOT ENOUGH ON HER SUPPORTING CAST FAMILY. DO YOU AGREE OR DISAGREE?
On one hand, the filmmakers may feel a responsibility to represent the personal, devastating experiences of the sufferer, letting us live vicariously through Alice to better understand what it’s like to have this disease. In her Film Comment essay, Molly Haskell said “It’s the intent of this moving film to capture something that for obvious reasons is rarely attempted in memoir or movie, i.e., the experience of the deadly disease from the perspective of the sufferer rather than the caregivers.”
On the other hand, perhaps it’s a missed opportunity that we aren’t shown more of the husband’s and daughters’ perspectives and how this disease affects them. Blogger Courtney Small felt this way, writing: “…the film lacks that extra dramatic punch to truly make it soar. This is especially evident in how underutilized the supporting cast is. It is understandable that Glatzer and Westmoreland would give Moore plenty of room to develop the nuances of her character, but it is a shame that the likes of Baldwin and Stewart were not given meatier roles to chew on.”
Arguably, her husband seems a tad too perfect – in real life, there may be a lot more conflict felt and expressed by the significant other.

THEMES AND SYMBOLS USED IN THIS FILM INCLUDE:
Butterflies and the theme of metamorphosis and rebirth – possibly a rebirth into a whole new but unwanted identity
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Matrix – recall that Lewis Carroll’s titular character is given the choice to eat certain things that make her smaller or bigger (essentially changing her identity), and Neo in The Matrix is given a choice to take the red pill or the blue pill, with one representing the choice to remain in his safe but unsatisfying reality and the other representing the choice to go down the rabbit hole into a whole new realm of existence. Likewise, Alice is faced with the choice of whether or not to take a pill to end her life.
The art of losing, and struggling versus suffering
Home movies: Alice’s memories are played in her mind like home movies

OTHER MOVIES THAT REMIND US OF STILL ALICE
Away From Her
Poetry
The Savages
Aurora Borealis
The Notebook
A Beautiful Mind
Philadelphia

OTHER FILMS CO-DIRECTED BY RICHARD GLATZER AND WASH WESTMORELAND
The Last Robin Hood
Quinceañera
The Fluffer

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Alice through the looking glass

Sunday, March 26, 2017

On March 29, we'll pay tribute to our late CineVerse member Art Myren with his final movie pick, “Still Alice” (2014; 101 minutes), directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland.

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The Eve of destruction

Thursday, March 23, 2017

"All About Eve" is essentially all about bad girls pretending to be good and good girls behaving badly and the boys who adore them. But it's also about power dynamics in relationships, the challenges men and women experience in trying to understand one another, and the damage inflicted by deceit and devious manipulations. Those are among the conclusions reached by our CineVerse group after viewing the movie last evening. Here are some others:

WHY IS THIS FILM STILL MEMORABLE AND ENTERTAINING, EVEN 67 YEARS AFTER ITS THEATRICAL RELEASE?
This has been called a “writer’s picture,” and the sparkling dialogue has often been noted as among the very best in Hollywood history; this screenplay, in fact, ranks number five on the Writers Guild of America’s list of 101 greatest screenplays.
It’s more than just the spoken words that shine, however: All About Eve is also masterfully structured as a story. Blogger Jason Fraley wrote: “All About Eve revolutionized the sort of non-linear, fractured narrative structure to which we’ve become so accustomed. It was one of three phenomenal examples of fractured narratives in 1950, joining Sunset Boulevard and Rashomon… Eve begins with its ending, then loops back around to that same scene at the end. How clever that the scene featured both at the beginning and the end is an award ceremony, where the person giving the acceptance speech may actually be hated by all those she’s then thanking. We dive into this idea in one long extended flashback, where voiceovers from various characters unravel the story in a way that we think we know who we’re rooting for. But by the time the film’s third act arrives, we have totally different sentiments for the film’s characters, and that is the true brilliance of the script. We watch Margot go from snobby heel to sympathetic victim, and Eve from naïve innocent to conniving bitch.”
The screenplay’s structure is also conjoined with the exploration of two character arcs that intersect and diverge: one character is Margot, grappling with feelings of insecurity, aging into obsolescence, and self-doubt as she presumably heads into a downward trajectory; the other is a wolf in sheep’s clothing who is headed in the opposite direction after sleeping and scheming her way to the top.
Interestingly, for a film about actors and theatrical talent, we don’t ever see anybody performing on stage or in front of the camera. Reviewer Glenn Erickson said: “All About Eve cautiously avoids showing anybody performing, and instead uses testimony to describe Margot’s star qualities and Eve’s sensational breakthrough performance.” In other words, what fascinates us is the backstage banter, off-camera jockeying for power, and behind-the-scenes drama.
Cattiness, cynicism, and the conniving, usurping nature of human beings never go out of style. The way that Eve worms her way slyly into the accepting circle of Margot, and the subtle nuances that help her accomplish her scheme, make for intriguing entertainment.
The fact that the film received a record 14 Academy award nominations – winning six, such as Best Picture – has become an oft-quoted footnote in Hollywood history and film fan trivia. Such accolades attract old and new generations to the movie, with many viewers wanting to see what all the fuss was about.
The cast is among the greatest ever assembled for a major motion picture, with many giving arguably career-defining performances, including Bette Davis, Celeste Holm, George Sanders, Thelma Ritter, and Anne Baxter.
While this isn’t an overtly feminist film, there is evidence that suggests female dominance here at a time when women characters were often subjugated in a patriarchal society. Consider that the female characters are given more screen time and significance than their male counterparts. Additionally, “what makes Mankiewicz’s approach gently revolutionary is the female leads’ reluctance to sit back and passively transform from objects of desire into (bluntly) mothers and/or wives,” wrote Slant Magazine reviewer Joseph Jon Lanthier. “Even Eve… sees her attractiveness as means to an end: It’s power, not sex, that she wants. (In) the movie’s climax… Mankiewicz grants them their dreams with surprisingly little patriarchal compromise: Margot escapes the stage’s unforgiving clutches, and Eve wins success at what is, really, a nominal social fee. The refreshing implication is not that women need men to succeed, but that both sexes may need one another to keep their respective evils in check.”

WHAT THEMES SURFACE AFTER VIEWING THIS FILM?
There’s a hidden predator in all of us that sometimes surfaces if we are to survive and thrive.
Comeuppance can be karmic and cruel but deliciously ironic, too.
Human beings often wear masks to disguise their real intentions and personalities.
The injustice and unfairness of growing old and being replaced by someone younger.

OTHER FILMS THAT COME TO MIND AFTER WATCHING ALL ABOUT EVE
Sunset Boulevard
Limelight, which also details the fall from popularity of an old-time star
Fedora
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane

OTHER MOVIES DIRECTED BY JOSEPH L MANKIEWICZ
Cleopatra
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir
A Letter to Three Wives
Sleuth
Suddenly, Last Summer
Guys and Dolls

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"Fasten your seatbelts--it's going to be a bumpy ride"

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Mark March 22 on your calendar: that's the date you'll want to join Cineverse for “All About Eve” (1950; 138 minutes), directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, chosen by Larry Leipart.

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Growing up the hard way

Thursday, March 16, 2017

When's the last time a modern motion picture actually made you feel something genuine, actually moved something inside of you--without resorting to shameless schmaltz or formulaic melodrama? Unless you don't have a pulse, it's hard not to be stirred by "Short Term 12," certainly one of the finest films of the last several years and a refreshingly rare look inside the lives of an overlooked subset of our society: abandoned, abused and troubled teenagers and the people entrusted with caring for them. After careful examination, our CineVerse group came to the following conclusions about this movie:

WHAT DID YOU FIND DIFFERENT, UNEXPECTED, SURPRISING OR SATISFYING ABOUT THIS FILM?
It’s brave: it isn’t afraid to show, warts and all, the inner workings of a group home for wayward adolescents and all of the tremendous psychological and emotional problems that can beset this population.
Arguably, it’s one of the greatest films about “social work” that’s ever been made; we often get depictions of psychiatrists and psychologists/therapists in movies, but rarely do we see what supervisors of group homes and social workers have to do. They are operating on the front lines of a psychological battlefield populated by children.
This film is well-balanced totally – it’s sad, funny, uplifting, and suspenseful; it includes just enough mirthful moments to help neutralize a lot of the melancholy and depressing elements, stories and characters. As Katie Walsh from IndieWire wrote: “What could drift into melodrama or sentimentality is always righted by the realistic and delicately varied tone of the film. Real life drags people through a lot of different emotions from moment to moment, and the film captures just that.”
The screenplay is excellent: the dialogue is credible and rich, the characters are deeply layered with understandable motivations and personalities, and the storylines and subplots are arresting. The movie is smartly bookended by two different escape attempts from one of the teens. Walsh further wrote: “The storytelling is deliberately structured, drawing you and instantly to these characters and then allowing their stories to open up like an onion, reveal after reveal leaving the viewer devastated, hopeful, or breathless with suspense… Short Term 12 expresses its serious subject matter in a fresh and authentic manner, never relying on the content itself to keep the viewer’s interest but how it unfolds for the audience, anchored to these characters who we grow to deeply care about.”
The story in the background is the plight and problems of the teens in the group home; but the bigger story in the foreground is the relationship between Grace and Mason, and Grace’s past coming back to haunt her – especially in the context of her care of Jayden, who reminds Grace of herself.

WHAT MAKES THE MOVIE FEEL “REAL” AND AUTHENTIC?
It looks like a documentary. Scenes filmed at the group home were shot at a previous short-stay facility. Director Destin Daniel Cretton based the story on his personal experiences working in a group home for teenagers. Also, research shows that the majority of kids in the movie were cast via open casting calls and most lacked any previous acting experience. It also helps that two of its actors who are now semi-stars – Brie Larson and Keith Stanfield – were relatively unknown when this film was released theatrically. Having fresh young unidentifiable actors appear in your film gives it a blank slate upon which the audience can paint their own picture, without bringing any baggage to the viewing.
Using a handheld, mobile camera, extreme close-ups, and long/unbroken takes lend a vibe of immediacy and verisimilitude to the movie, making viewers feel like they’re getting a rare, privileged, private view inside these lives—like we’re following them around. 
The film has many lingering moments of quietude that force you to pay close attention to the performances and even the smallest of sounds—creating a feeling of greater intimacy.
The score is not syrupy, bombastic, or shamelessly emotionally manipulative. It kind of hangs out subtly in the background to shade our experience and add a tinge of emotional color.
Several characters shed tears, and they absolutely look real and non-contrived—which is a testament to solid acting.

WHAT THEMES ARE EXPLORED IN THIS PICTURE?
Psychological scars run deeper and heal slower than physical wounds.
Even the most troubled child is worthy of redemption and capable of healing.
Suppressing or denying old emotional wounds can come back to haunt you – sometimes these are lifelong struggles that have to continue to be managed.
Even the most challenging jobs and difficult tasks can be extremely rewarding – in this context, supervising and caring for troubled children can be gratifying and fulfilling.
Love and compassion can overcome fear, anger and sadness.
The challenge (and irony of) preparing to bring another child into a world that is already so difficult for children.
Grace under pressure—literally. Grace is bombarded with challenges: the lingering specter of an abusive father, pregnancy, connecting with her boyfriend, managing and coping with troubled teens, etc.

OTHER FILMS THAT REMIND US OF SHORT TERM 12
It’s Kind of a Funny Story
The Spectacular Now
Precious
Girl, Interrupted
Happy-Go-Lucky
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

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Short-term movie, long-term appreciation

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Short Term 12” (2013; 96 minutes), directed by Destin Daniel Cretton and chosen by Janet Pierucci, is slated for March 15 at CineVerse.

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Now that's some sweet swashbuckling

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Years ago, Mel Brooks made another of his famous movie genre spoof films, "Robin Hood: Men in Tights," this time applying the parody spotlight to romantic adventure films – particularly "The Adventures of Robin Hood" from 1938 starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. While Brooks' effort proved to be mediocre at best, the source material on which it was based remains unimpeachable. That's because it's just plain hard to find fault with a fairytale film that mixes elements of colorful superhero bravado with children's storybook charm – a motion picture with an endless supply of kinetic energy, interesting characters, and old school stunts. Consider these finer points about the film, discussed last evening with our CineVerse group:

WHAT IS MEMORABLE, INNOVATIVE, AND IMPRESSIVE ABOUT THIS CINEMATIC ADAPTATION OF ROBIN HOOD?
It was the first English-speaking Robin Hood talkie – previously, there was a silent version from 1922 – and the first created in color.
It was Warner Brothers’ first film shot in the expensive three-strip Technicolor process.
It was the only Robin Hood film version ever nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award.
It marked one of 12 occasions when Flynn was directed by Michael Curtiz and was the fifth of nine films that Flynn would costar in with Olivia de Havilland.
It is considered by many to be not only the greatest Robin Hood story ever filmed, but arguably the finest swashbuckler movie of them all.
It signified a departure for Warner Brothers, known previously for gritty urban crime pictures, social problem films, and Big Apple musicals, and represented their biggest budgeted production up to that point.
Its original music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold ranks number 11 on the American Film Institute’s list of the top 25 greatest film scores.
It proved to be extremely popular with Great Depression-era audiences and seemed to benefit from the opportune time in which it was made; blogger Tim Brayton suggested the following: “There’s little if any chance that this movie could have been made outside of the very small window between 1935 and the outbreak of the Second World War… Later generations of filmmakers would more and more come to privilege realism.”
For as fantastically garish and exaggerated it is in storytelling, characters, colors and pageantry, critics and audiences also appreciated the thrilling stunts and lavish attention to detail – supposedly the actors used unblunted sword points in their dueling and swordplay, and Flynn performed many of his stunts himself.
This is a stellar example of perfect casting: it’s hard to envision anyone else but Flynn playing this role, especially at this time period, and by this time he had been indelibly linked with de Havilland on-screen; consider, too, the embarrassment of riches in the supporting cast – Claude Raines, Basil Rathbone, Patrick Knowles, Alan Hale, and Eugene Pallette.
This is a prime example of a film that benefited greatly from the studio system in the classic Hollywood period, during which studios pumped out masterpieces or near masterpieces in assembly line fashion and tapped a rich vein of in-house and external contract players and resources, many of which they borrowed from other studios. Because studios like Warner Brothers had perfected this craft to a finely tuned but utterly efficient science, they could churn out high-quality product on a regular basis with consistent results.
Roger Ebert theorized that this film is so effective because it keeps things relatively straightforward. He said: “The movie knows when to be simple. And it is the bond between Robin and Marian, after all, that stands at the heart of the movie. The ideal hero must do good, defeat evil, have a good time and win the girl. The Adventures of Robin Hood is like a textbook on how to get that right… Their love scenes, so simple and direct, made me reflect that modern love scenes in action movies are somehow too realistic; they draw too much on psychology and not enough on romance and fable.”
Arguably, this picture contains the greatest and most memorable sword fighting sequence in film history.

OTHER MOVIES THAT REMIND YOU OF THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD
Other film adaptations of the Robin Hood legend, including the 1922 Robin Hood starring Douglas Fairbanks, Robin and Marian starring Sean Connery, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves starring Kevin Costner, and Robin Hood starring Russell Crowe
Other swashbuckling adventures starring Errol Flynn, including Captain Blood and The Sea Hawk
The Prince and the Pauper 
The Mark of Zorro
Ivanhoe
The Star Wars films, with their light saber battles and derring-do adventures

OTHER MOVIES BY DIRECTOR MICHAEL CURTIZ
The Mystery of the Wax Museum
Captain Blood
Angels With Dirty Faces
The Sea Hawk
Casablanca
Yankee Doodle Dandy
Mildred Pierce
Life With Father
White Christmas

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The future meets the past--90 years in the past--at Cineversary

Monday, March 6, 2017

Cineversary, a new once-a-month event on select Saturdays from 1-4 p.m. in the downstairs theater at the Oak Lawn Library that celebrates a milestone anniversary of an artistically, culturally and historically important motion picture, returns on March 11 to celebrate the 90th anniversary of “Metropolis” (1927; 149 minutes). Note: Due to this film’s long runtime, Cineversary will end around 4:20 p.m.

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A swashbuckling Cupid

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Make plans to attend CineVerse on March 8, when we'll feature “The Adventures of Robin Hood” (1938; 102 minutes), directed by Michael Curtiz and William Keighley, chosen by Joe Valente.

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The pluck of the Irish

Thursday, March 2, 2017

It could easily be mistaken for an episode of "Masterpiece Theater" or "PBS Mystery." But "Widow's Peak," a largely overlooked little comedy/drama from the UK that premiered in theaters back in 1994, is certainly more substantial than a made-for-TV standalone period piece. Among the observations our CineVerse group made on this film were the following:

HOW WOULD THIS FILM HAVE BEEN A SURPRISE OR UNEXPECTED TREAT TO 1994 AUDIENCES WHEN IT WAS RELEASED?
It features Mia Farrow in her first role following her separation from Woody Allen; moviegoers were not used to seeing her in a non-Allen film; in fact, this was her first appearance in a movie not directed by Allen since 1984.
Interestingly, Mia’s mother, Maureen O’Sullivan, was originally intended to play the part of Miss O’Hare – which went to her daughter.
The film tries to balance carefully between a murder mystery and comedy while also tapping into uniquely Irish and British sensibilities. This results in a mixed stew of varying tonalities that perhaps keeps the viewer intrigued and curious as to how things will develop.
To Americans watching this back in 1994, or today for that matter, the dialects and dialogue – especially how speech is contrasted among the different widows – is central to the film’s power and allure. Roger Ebert wrote: “It uses understated humor and fluent, witty speech; it’s a delight to listen to, as it gradually reveals how eccentric these apparently respectable people really are... Widow’s Peak is more about sharp-edge humor and barbed tongues and women who maintain a façade of perfect respectability while getting up to all sorts of mischief.”
This picture arguably puts more emphasis on colorful and interesting characters than a crunchy plot; it helps that there is a strong ensemble cast that includes instantly familiar British actors like Joan Plowright, Natasha Richardson, and Jim Broadbent.

THEMES OR MESSAGES SUGGESTED IN THIS FILM:
The dangers and repercussions of keeping secrets
Appearances can be deceiving, and things are not always as they seem
The damage caused by scandal and hearsay
Class warfare
The weight and baggage of reputations

OTHER FILMS AND TELEVISION SHOWS THAT REMIND US OF WIDOW’S PEAK:
Enchanted April
Hear My Song
Waking Devine
The Snapper
The Remains of the Day
Howards End

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Mia Farrow reveals her Widow's Peak

Sunday, February 26, 2017

On March 1, CineVerse will present “Widow’s Peak” (1994; 101 minutes), directed by John Irvin, chosen by Peggy Quinn.

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...and they lived happily ever after

Friday, February 24, 2017

It's not easy to follow on the heels of established fantasy film blockbusters like the "Lord of the Rings," "Harry Potter," and "Pirates of the Caribbean" films. But "Stardust," an overlooked but satisfying little pixie of a picture from 2007, acquits itself well as a standalone example of how Hollywood fantasy doesn't require a multi-part franchise to capture the imagination. Following are the key discussion points of our recent CineVerse chat on this movie:

WHAT SURPRISED YOU ABOUT “STARDUST” THAT YOU PERHAPS DIDN’T EXPECT?
It’s marketed as a family-friendly fairy tale fantasy, but actually has some mature elements in it, including PG-13 violence and horror. This makes sense, considering that the source material upon which it is based came from a 1999 novel by Neil Gaiman, known for blending fantasy and horror.
Yet, unlike the Middle Earth and Harry Potter films, some critics contend that “Stardust” is more of an old school fantasy film. Reviewer James Berardinelli wrote: "The success of the Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter movies have elevated fantasy from a niche film genre into the mainstream, but Stardust is a little of a throwback to how fantasy movies used to be before the emergence of the multi-part epic serials. It's a lighter, simpler sort of tale. Despite just cracking the two-hour barrier, the film is paced and edited in such a way that the story always seems to be moving forward and there is no sense of drag or a letdown."
Indeed, the film earns points among many viewers for being relatively shorter, simpler, and standalone than multi-part fantasy epics that play out their tale over three or more films.
In contrast to those aforementioned fantasy epics, this film isn’t bloated with special effects or necessarily trying to wow you with off-the-charts visuals; instead, it relies on genre and storybook conventions and a formulaic but fresh narrative to keep our attention.
It casts Robert DeNiro in a curiously written role: that of a gay swashbuckling space pirate, and the actor gives an exaggerated, flamboyant performance you won’t forget.
Michelle Pfeiffer has been credited as well cast—against type—in portraying the witch.

FILMS THAT “STARDUST” REMINDS US OF
Shakespeare’s Macbeth
The Princess Bride
The Neverending Story
The Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, and Pirates of the Caribbean movies
The fantasy films of Terry Gilliam, including Time Bandits and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
Golden Compass
The Witches
The TV show “Once”
Shrek

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