Blog Directory CineVerse: 2017

The most fun you'll ever have...being scared

Sunday, October 22, 2017

CineVerse's Shocktober Theater and our current Quick Theme Quartet concludes on October 25 with “Creepshow” (1982; 120 minutes), directed by George Romero. Plus: the “Meet Sam” episode from “Trick ’r Treat” (2007; 21 minutes)

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Far out tales from the Far East

Thursday, October 19, 2017

It doesn't boast much action. Its pace may be glacier slow for many Westerners. And many would scoff at categorizing it as a "horror film." But Masaki Kobayashi's "Kwaidan" is still considered one of the greatest of all horror anthology movies. On the strength of its unforgettable visuals alone, here is a picture that can leave a memorably macabre imprint and implant an unshakable feeling of foreboding doom and dread. After discussing the movie last evening during our CineVerse meetings, here were the major takeaways we concluded:

WHAT LEFT A STRONG IMPRESSION ON YOU ABOUT THIS FILM?

  • The stylized and artificial sets and colors; the filmmakers seem to be purposely trying to avoid realism and instead portray an exaggerated, expressionistic simulation of reality in which visuals and sound are hyperbolic manifestations of a particular character’s mindset or experience.
  • The craftsmanship evident is meticulous; this was the most costly Japanese movie to date; it was photographed nearly completely on hand-painted sets within a giant airplane hangar, providing a needed sense of vast scope that enabled the use of extreme widescreen (2.35:1) to portray extra wide compositions.
  • The soundtrack abandons traditional over-dramatic horror/mystery music, instead relying on outlandish instruments and objects to generate unsettling noises and music. Essayist Gwendolyn Foster wrote: “Toru Takemitsu’s bold and modern soundtrack, which deftly avoids the clichés of conventional film music…uses expressionist sounds, and bizarre instrumentation interspersed with sections of uneasy quiet and deliberately disarms the spectator, while simultaneously weaving a spell that draws the viewer further into Kobayashi’s colourful and highly stylized realm.”
  • The horror isn’t violent, graphic or traditionally shocking. Instead, it evokes an eerie, otherworldly atmosphere and a milieu in which the characters seem to be drifting between two states—the real world and the supernatural world, which often blend together. Foster further suggested: “Kwaidan is a film of nuance and restraint, despite the excesses of sound design and wildly stylized visuals. Kobayashi’s misc en scene is deliberate and proceeds with the assurance of dream-like logic, or the lack thereof. Kwaidan is a psychological horror film for those who are seeking an utterly immersive experience, in which the viewer is gradually seduced by the deeply saturated colour, the expressiveness of the seemingly vast hand built studio sets, and the sheer time factor. In its visual and thematic structure, Kwaidan is ultimately an expressionist fairy tale for adults, in which all is artifice, and yet at the same time mesmerizingly real.”
  • The film feels decidedly Eastern in its sensibilities, yet comprehensible to Westerners. Consider that the source material comes from Japanese folk tales reinterpreted by a westerner—Lafcaido Hearn, an Irish-Greek writer who lived in Japan—and was inspired by woodblock printmaking of the 17th century Edo period and Kabuki theater. Yet, the stories would fit right in with western-style anthology horror and thriller texts like The Twilight Zone.
WHAT THEMES ARE EVIDENT IN KWAIDAN?
  • Cosmic karma: how breaking your promise can come back to haunt you.
  • The dangers of venturing beyond the normal limits of safe reality. Criterion Collection essayist Geoffrey O’Brien wrote: “These are not tales that point to any obvious moral other than the danger of venturing, deliberately or by accident, beyond the invisible barriers that mark the limits of the human world. What lies beyond those barriers is the domain of supernatural terror, but it is also the domain of art. In Kwaidan, beauty is not decoration but a direct link to unknown and perilous realms.”
  • The terrifyingly cold and vast emptiness of the universe. “The three main stories of Kwaidan offer no escape. The gorgeousness of their painted skies and otherworldly color schemes, the transparent unreality of everything we see, all the bravura touches of stylization, only emphasize that one may travel to the farthest reaches of the imagination only to find at last a great and terrifying void,” noted O’Brien.
  • “Hauntedness as a state of Japanese existence,” according to Slant Magazine’s Carson Lund. “. Kobayashi’s gambit is to contextualize these hauntings in political terms, as reflections of deep-seated anxieties within Japan as a result of its strict moral codes…(the film) seems as much a cautionary message to Japanese audiences on the danger of following the mistakes of history.”
OTHER WORKS DIRECTED BY MASAKI KOBAYASHI:
  • Black River
  • The Human Condition I, II, and III
  • Harakiri
FILMS THAT KWAIDAN REMINDS US OF:
  • Suspiria, with its lavish and exaggerated color
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining, two Kubrick films that share a sense of cold, expansive and hermetic space

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A stir-fried helping of tasty Asian horror

Sunday, October 15, 2017

On October 18, three themes converge on CineVerse: World Cinema Wednesday, Shocktober Theater, and Quick Theme Quartet. Join us for “The Black Hair” and “The Woman of the Snow” episodes from “Kwaidan” (1964; 83 minutes), directed by Masaki Kobayashi. Plus: the “Nightmare at 20,000 feet” episode from “Twilight Zone: The Movie” (1983; 30 minutes) and a trailer reel preview of the November/December CineVerse schedule

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Terror times three

Thursday, October 12, 2017

It's not often you see Boris Karloff in a color horror film – especially one with garish hues and exaggerated chromatic tones like "Black Sabbath," perhaps director Mario Bava's finest hour (or should we say 90 minutes). If the funky colors – which predate the psychedelic era – and atmospheric lighting don't leave an impression, other unsettling visuals probably will. For a roundup of our CineVerse discussion points from last evening, read on.

WHAT STRUCK YOU AS DISTINCTIVE, UNEXPECTED OR RARE ABOUT THIS MOVIE?

  • The color photography and lighting design is especially memorable; we see deep and sometimes exaggerated colors that catch the eye. “Favoring bright primary hues, sets are bathed in washes of color that can only be called hallucinatory. Electric greens and crimson reds, steely blues and deep purples give the screen depth and character,” wrote reviewer Glenn Erickson.
  • Often, there are long stretches of little to no dialogue, allowing the story to unfold via pure visuals, unnerving sound effects, and strength of performance by the actor. Consider the last nine minutes of the third story, “A Drop of Water.”
  • Arguably, each story improves upon its predecessor, resulting in a film that gets better as it progresses. This is often true of horror anthology movies, which commonly save the best episodes for the conclusion.
  • This film presents a vampire tale that goes against the grain: introducing to many the disturbing concept of the “wurdulak,” an undead fiend that feasts on the blood of its loved ones.
  • The epilogue peels back the curtains on movie magic and shows us how the sausage is made in a humorous way.
  • This movie was memorable enough to inspire a major heavy metal band to name itself after it: Black Sabbath. 
  • The film stands as another example of giallo — “a lurid, colorful, perverse and blood-drenched brand of Italian horror”, as described by New York Times writer Andy Webster.
WHAT THEMES RUN AS UNDERCURRENTS IN ONE OR MORE OF THESE THREE EPISODES?
  • A person being alienated from their own home and attacked from within a would-be safe sanctuary; consider that two of the three stories occur completely or primarily inside a small apartment, with a female being besieged by a real or supernatural force.
  • The sins of greed and lust do not go unpunished: the nurse’s avarice and the prostitute’s seedy profession come back to haunt them.
  • Family ties can bind – An adherence to traditional family values and patriarchal respect can ironically destroy the entire clan. Erickson wrote: “the idea that family is a weakness against supernatural evil goes against conventional horror tradition, and is all the more disturbing for it.”
  • Revenge of the dead upon the living.
  • Personal and psychological horror can be more terrifying than a physical or supernatural manifestation. Director Mario Bava was once quoted as saying: “If I could, I would only tell these stories. What interests me is the fear experienced by a person alone in their room. It is then that everything around him starts to move menacingly around, and we realize that the only true 'monsters' are the ones we carry in ourselves. Alas, the marketplace demands terrible papier-mâché creatures, or the vampire with his sharp fangs, rising from his casket!"
WHAT OTHER FILMS, TELEVISION SHOWS, OR WORKS OF LITERATURE COME TO MIND AFTER WATCHING BLACK SABBATH?
  • Thriller, a TV show hosted by Boris Karloff
  • The Hammer horror films of the late 50s/early 60s, with their saturated colors, Gothic sets and costumes, and amped up sex and violence
  • Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart
OTHER FILMS DIRECTED BY MARIO BAVA:
  • Black Sunday (also known as The Mask of Satan)
  • The Evil Eye
  • Five Dolls for an August Moon

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Cat scratch fever

Monday, October 9, 2017

You won't want to miss Cineversary on Thursday, October 12, at the Oak Lawn Library, from 6:30-8:45 p.m.. That's when we'll celebrate the 75th anniversary of “Cat People” (1942; 73 minutes), directed by Jacques Tourneur

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A movie so scary it inspired the name of the first heavy metal band

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Shocktober Theater and our current Quick Theme Quartet returns to CineVerse on October 11 with “Black Sabbath” (1963; 92 minutes), directed by Mario Bava. Plus: the “…And All Through the House” episode of “Tales From the Crypt” (1972; 11 minutes), and the “Amelia” episode from “Trilogy of Terror” (1975; 24 minutes)

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Tea, crumpets and ghost stories

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The granddaddy of all anthology horror films is arguably "Dead of Night," a lesser-known and rarely seen outing from Britain released in 1945. Martin Scorsese ranked this picture among his 11 scariest horror films of all time, and it places high on other reputable lists as well. Creaky in some spots, excessively padded in others, and certainly tame by today's Tinseltown terror standards, this film nonetheless gets under your skin – if you give it a chance. Among the major discussion topics at last evening's CineVerse meeting are the following:

WHAT DID YOU FIND CURIOUS, SURPRISING OR OUT OF THE ORDINARY ABOUT THIS FILM?

  • It varies in tone and style – some of the episodes are scarier than others, while at least one is downright humorous and may not fit tonally with the rest of the picture (the ghost golfing vignette). Interestingly, each story was helmed by a different director – with four in total. Arguably, that helps distinguish each episode from one another in terms of visuals, pacing, themes, and overall feel.
  • Anthology films in general can be risky: just as one bad apple can spoil the barrel, one lesser episode in an anthology can sour the rest of the movie for the audience. Then again, word-of-mouth about only one or two good episodes in an otherwise mediocre anthology horror film can be enough to keep it alive and resonant.
  • It’s surprisingly creepy and effective as a good horror movie, despite being released overseas in the mid-1940s. Remember that Britain was not known for horror pictures – in fact, between 1942 in 1945, the government barred the import and viewing of all H-rated pictures (meaning H for horror), likely due to the brutality of World War II and to keep morale and spirits up at home.
  • Dead of Night carries on the tradition of the classic English ghost story; it feels very British, yet appeals to Americans because we have an affinity for the English ghost story and famous writers of this genre, including Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, Oscar Wilde, M.R. James, Henry James, and Algernon Blackwood.
  • It features a compelling circular wraparound story that serves as a framing device . The epilogue provides a twist ending that makes the viewer feel unsettled and helps the overall film resonate more with viewers.
  • This film apparently inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho; consider that Psycho uses mirrors in several scenes to depict a split personality or some off-screen menace that could come into view at any moment. Psycho also ends with a psychotic individual in custody and overwhelmed by the dominant side of his split personality – similar to Maxwell being capped in a sanitarium and talking in his ventriloquist dummy voice.
  • Speaking of Hitchcock, this movie brings back three memorable actors from the master of suspense’s last great film made in Britain: The Lady Vanishes – Michael Redgrave, and Naunton Wayne as Caldicott and Basil Radford as Charters; the latter two characters became a popular duo who starred in their own films after The Lady Vanishes, and the actors reappear here as similar characters.
  • Apparently, the film also influenced the Big Bang Theory. Writer Jez Connelly wrote: “Astronomer Royal Sir Fred Hoyle and his Cambridge colleagues Hermann Bondi and Thomas Gold were inspired by a viewing of Dead of Night when formulating their pre-Big Bang ‘Steady State’ theory of the Cosmos. ‘My God! It’s a cosmology. Maybe there’s something in this cyclical cosmology’ wrote Hoyle in his diary after witnessing the film’s famously elliptical narrative, and so was born a theory explaining life, the Universe and everything based on a horror film about one man’s never-ending nightmare.”
  • Lastly, this film is memorable for attempting something rare, especially for an older film: allowing the twist to play out while the end credits roll. That’s risky, considering that some viewers may walk out or turn off the movie as soon as they see the first credit text appear.
MANY CONSIDER THE VENTRILOQUIST DUMMY FINALE EPISODE TO BE THE FILM’S STRONGEST CHAPTER. IF YOU AGREE, WHY DO YOU BELIEVE THIS IS SO?
  • Perhaps it’s because, among all the tales told in Dead of Night, it allows for either a psychological or supernatural reading; in other words, it’s the most ambiguous and subjective. There’s a suggestion here that Hugo is really alive and autonomous; it’s also quite possible that Max is deranged and suffering from a split-personality disorder, only imagining that his dummy is alive.
  • Consider that this may have been the first instance of ventriloquist dummy horror in film; many imitators have followed, including Magic, Dead Silence, and Devil Doll. Prior to this film, ventriloquist dummies like Edgar Bergen’s Charlie McCarthy were considered cute, comedic and harmless. This story helped introduce the creepy notion that dolls can be possessed by supernatural forces and should not be trusted. That’s a formula that’s worked countless times in pop culture, from the Twilight Zone’s Talking Tina to Chucky to Annabelle.
  • This vignette also features an A-list British actor for the time, Michael Redgrave, who gives an outstanding performance – probably the best in the movie.
  • There are also fascinating psycho-sexual dynamics at work in this story, as Max seems to be involved in a strange love triangle with Hugo and his rival Klee. 
WHAT OTHER FILMS COME TO MIND AFTER VIEWING THIS MOVIE?
  • The Topper films 
  • Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors
  • Tales from the Crypt, the Vault of Horror, and Asylum – all anthology horror films by Amicus Studios
  • Hitchcock’s Psycho, Vertigo and The Lady Vanishes

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The English know how to tell a pretty good ghost story, too

Sunday, October 1, 2017

On October 4, Shocktober Theater returns to CineVerse, this time in the guise of a Quick Theme Quartet we call "A Fearsome Foursome of Anthology Horror." Once a quarter (every third month), CineVerse will explore four movies tied together by a theme. Our fourth quartet will focus on four horror anthology films (featuring separate scary stories within one movie). Part 1: “Dead of Night” (1945; 103 minutes), directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, et al. Plus: the “Morella” episode from “Tales of Terror” (1962; 22 minutes)

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Life, death, and everything in between (plus a few oddball diversions along the way)

Thursday, September 28, 2017

If you're seeking sobering philosophical answers to the most important existential questions, you may not want to ask the Monty Python troupe. Then again, this silly and sardonic sextet may have actually figured out what it's all about – the meaning of life, that is. For proof, look to their film of the same name, which we explored yesterday at CineVerse. Although we may not have uncovered the answers to the mysteries of life, death and the afterlife, we did uncover answers that may help you appreciate this movie. For example:

WHAT DID YOU FIND SURPRISING, UNPREDICTABLE, UNEXPECTEDLY FUNNY, OR EVEN CONTROVERSIAL ABOUT THIS MOVIE?

  • It begins with a strange mini-movie prologue that doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the film but which fits within the Python tradition of non sequitur absurdist humor.
  • It’s not a straightforward narrative with set characters, settings and situations like the Python troupe’s previous Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Life of Brian. Instead, serves as a series of unrelated and seemingly random sketches about life and death.
  • It isn’t afraid to be disturbing, provocative, divisive, grotesque, crass, obnoxious, and immaturely titillating. It attacks many sacred cows and institutions, including Catholicism, Protestantism, patriotism, government, education, fear of death, and others.
  • Consider the lengths it goes to to lampoon and make us laugh – depicting an extended and disgusting vomiting session by morbidly obese man, naked women serving as a harbinger of death, singing a farcical song about the religiously inspired choice of not using contraceptives, satirizing the teaching of sex education, and more.
  • Arguably, it’s not as funny as the group’s previous works; but it seems to be tackling the deepest and most serious issues and has the benefit of what appears to be a larger budget and higher production values in which to demonstrate its zany brand of comedy.
  • Interestingly, the film does ask deep, serious philosophical questions that prove rhetorical: why are we here, what is it all about, where do we go when we die, etc. Using the pretext of comedy and silliness, the Pythons force us to ask similar questions about our own mortality and reasons for being. Blogger Phil Reed said the film presents “big ideas explored in small (and often irrelevant) ways.”
  • Reed suggested that the ridiculous nature of the movie and its characters “takes us off our guard. After all, a film that intends to discuss a topic as wide and ineffable as the meaning of existence can't be taken too seriously if the question is posed by a fish with John Cleese's head on it. It makes the audience more receptive to the idea that a satisfactory answer to The Ultimate Question might not be reached after all. But more importantly, it allows the Pythons to slip a genuine stab at the meaning of life into the film without actually having it held up and dissected by viewers at all.”
  • It ends by fulfilling the promise it made at the beginning that everything you wanted to know about life and existence will be explained; ironically, however, this explanation is quickly rattled off by a talking head who reads a bit of prepared copy for a few seconds – making the ultimate explanation for the meaning of life quite anticlimactic and relatively insignificant.
WHAT THEMES ARE EXPLORED IN THIS PICTURE?
  • The randomness, unfairness and possible pointlessness of life: “Triumph and tragedy alternate throughout the film, but there is always a steady magnetic return to the middle ground of life's tedium and banality, such as when trench warfare takes a back seat to a birthday celebration, or an exploding restaurant patron gives way to an after-hours cigarette break,” posited Reed.
  • Different levels of life and reality. Reed also believes that there are three parallel levels of reality within the film, starting with the lowest level, “in which the characters do not know they are characters and don’t realize they are in a film or even that there is a film to be in,” he wrote. The top level, represented by the fish – which “not only start off the film, but they appear to be above the middle of the film as well, as they are able to watch and comment on it when it’s over,” Reed noted. And us in the middle.
  • The fat man seen also plays with levels in the form of a hierarchical social structure and pecking order, according to Reed. At the top of Reed’s ladder here is Mr. Creosote, who is catered to by the maître d’ and other servants within the restaurants on a lower level. At the bottom of this ladder is Maria, the cleaning woman, and the fish in this scene. By causing Mr. Creosote to blowup, the maître d’ puts himself at the top of the ladder and also elevates the stature of the cleaning lady.
  • The viewer as the central character in the movie they are viewing. Reed writes that, often, “the camera is operating from a first-person perspective. Characters address you, apologize to you, invite you to follow them, and become frustrated with you. It is for your benefit that they are having these discussions, and they sincerely want you to benefit from them, becoming upset when you walk out of the restaurant, or frustrated when you don't seem to have learned anything from their own personal philosophies.”
DOES THIS MOVIE REMIND YOU OF ANY OTHERS?
  • Zulu
  • The Seventh Seal
  • Oliver!
  • Stand by Me

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Everything you always wanted to know about life (and Monty Python's take on it)

Sunday, September 24, 2017

CineVerse is proud to present a modern comedy masterpiece on September 27 with “Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life” (1983; 107 minutes), directed by Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam, chosen by Jim Krabec

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"You may think you know what you're dealing with, but believe me, you don't."

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Boasting an airtight knockout script, A-list actors, and whip smart direction from a European filmmaker who had a great nose for American film noir, "Chinatown" stands as one of the seminal motion pictures of the 1970s – or of any era, for that matter. Like a tightly wound onion, the film has layers of meaning and substance that can be peeled away and savored by those willing to delve into the labyrinth. Here are some of the major talking points we discussed at last evening's CineVerse meeting:

THEMES INHERENT IN THIS PICTURE:

  • The American dream usurped: there’s so much corruption in this setting that it undercuts the vision of the American dream that anyone can rise up from nothing and make their own barren land a fertile one of opportunity. Consider that Cross pilfers from these dreamers and steals their land and water. Noah Cross can be seen as a destructive variation on the story of America’s founding fathers.
  • The futility of good intentions and the common man against the forces of evil: the corruption and corrosion inherent in L.A., as exemplified by Cross and his cronies, prevents Jake and the police from affecting any change or protecting the innocent. Mulwray’s dam ends up killing people, the police end up killing Evelyn, Evelyn herself loses in the end and her daughter returns to her father/grandfather.
    • Gittes himself brings about the final catastrophe and his own fate.
  • Ignorance and illusion: Jake demonstrates how clueless he truly is, with his good intentions and lack of knowledge about the true corruption around him resulting in the inadvertent death of a girl he may love. 
    • Ponder how Jake misidentifies many clues and people, such as his not recognizing Detective Loach as the person who instructs him to visit Ida Sessions’ house, leading to Evelyn’s demise. 
    • He constructs explanations based on unreliable, limited information he has gathered, and consequently worsens situations when he trusts his distorted reality (i.e., in trying to help Evelyn, he leads her father directly to her).3 With this victory of corruption (Cross) and the vulnerability of the flawed protagonist as climaxing themes, we see an ideological updating of the noir thesis of fate.
    • By unraveling the mystery, Gittes has allowed evil to triumph: Evelyn is killed and Cross gets away with the murders as well as the custody of his daughter.
  • Duality, what William Galperin calls a “bifocal vision” of intermittent opposites: Evelyn is both a sister and a daughter to Kathryn. Lt. Escobar has a ‘summer cold.’ Water is abundant, yet there is a drought, and Cross’s justification for his manipulation of the water is explained to be “for the future”, which he won’t live to enjoy anyway. Gittes is an investigator, yet he is blind to the ‘real picture.’ Saltwater is both a life essence for fish but deadly to vegetation; “bad for the glass”: Cross’ water is both bad for the grass and bad for the glass, namely Gittes’ ability to see the truth.
  • A perversion of Biblical stories: The drought in Los Angeles is transformed into a spiritual thirst or dryness, with the malevolent Noah Cross seen as a biblical perversion of his first name. Not only has he drowned his son-in-law, but he has ‘repopulated the earth’ in a sense with the impregnation of his daughter, Evelyn, and in an ironic way, though he is secretly diverting water away from thirsty L.A., he is helping to nourish the valley so that a ‘new city’--a new Eden--will grow in the future. 
  • The dangers of voyeurism and invasion of privacy:
    • The film opens with a client looking at photographs of his wife in bed with another man taken by Gittes. He snaps photos of Hollis Mulwray with another woman together, which inadvertently get published and create a scandal. His telephoto lens and binoculars are used in other scenes, to spy on Evelyn or Hollis from afar.
    • Gittes’ spectatorship and curiosity leads him into deeper, more politically corruptive scandals, pulling him even further away from the urban setting (indicative of a usual noir backdrop) and further inward psychologically, toward the center of the real immorality and back to the ghosts in his mind.
    • His voyeurism and his misinterpretation of reality gets Gittes into trouble. His ignoring of “No Trespassing” signs get him a scar on his nose (his eyes are still free, but with a bandage on his nose he can’t ‘sniff out’ things anymore), and later a brutal thrashing from a group of farmers. As a result of his spying, a man’s unfaithful wife ends up with a black eye, and Hollis Mulwray’s widow winds up with no eye (it is literally blasted out of its socket in the final scene).
    • To accentuate the voyeuristic perspective of both Gittes and the viewer (seeing through his eyes), ponder how Polanski often frames Nicholson in profile, off to one side of the screen. This serves more of a function than simply to present a subjective viewpoint --it also depicts Gittes’ impotence (his being ‘boxed in’ a corner in the face of evil or greater numbers), as well as the innate, malignant evil lurking in the corners, just beyond our frame of vision.
    • In this sense, a deep psychological framing is achieved, and a sense of apprehension is evoked with a more menacing off-screen space. Finally, this type of framing, usually involving deep-focus three-shots, shifts power relationships away from the off-sides, ‘cornered’ Gittes to other characters (i.e., the police or the flanking stature of Cross), reaffirming his insinuated helplessness.
  • Guilt and a tortured backstory: think about how many of the personalities in this story have skeletons in their closets or dark secrets that come back to haunt them.
    • Chinatown itself exemplifies his guilt, in that he had years ago been told by a police friend to do as “little as possible” there, after managing to get another mysterious woman “hurt” there (we aren’t told who or how). 
    • Chinatown becomes a world in which the individual becomes helpless against the intriguing mysteries surrounding him, and where moral degeneration and evil abounds to defy the imagination. Fate comes full-circle when Gittes finds himself back in Chinatown, despite his efforts, to repeat his earlier mistake.
THE FILM OFTEN USES FORESHADOWING TO PREDICT WHAT’S LATER GOING TO HAPPEN. CAN YOU PROVIDE EXAMPLES?
  • Recurrent Chinese motifs (ethnic joke, Chinese workers at the Mulwray house, occasional oriental music, the breaking of an Oriental vase, etc.)
  • Earlier in the film, after making love to Evelyn, Gittes notices a flaw in the iris of Evelyn’s eye. Symbolically, the flaw conceals the ‘truth’--and therefore power and knowledge through discovery--from the detective, and serves to mirror his own ‘distorted perspective’ back to him.
  • Evelyn leaning on the steering wheel horn earlier; later, she lies died on the wheel, producing an unending horn.
  • The left lens of Jake’s sunglasses are broken after the orange grove skirmish; later, the left lens is missing from the glasses found in the pond by Jake.
MOTIFS (REPEATED PATTERNS) USED IN THE MOVIE:
  • Masks: The interiors of most rooms in “Chinatown” are graced with venetian blinds on the windows (and the shadows they produce), an evident visual referent to classic noir misc en scene. The blinds become a metaphor for the repetitive motif of masked concealment: Evelyn wears a widow’s veil, a chain link fence surrounds the reservoir, glass bricks separate Gittes from his secretary, even the bandage on his nose becomes a mask.
  • Water: The attempt to control it parallels man’s historical effort to control and regulate a wild, primitive force so that it does not destroy life or prevent it from existing. The detective’s role then is to uncover the ‘secret of the waters’, but the flawed Gittes as gumshoe can neither bring about reform nor curb the violence concerning water: Mulwray is drowned in it and loses a shoe, and he himself is engulfed by it in a culvert and also happens to lose a shoe.
  • Eyes, glasses and reflections: Evelyn’s flawed eye, the glasses found in the water, the eye of the dead fish staring up to Jake from his plate, the reflected image from Jake’s camera and car mirrors, etc.
OTHER FILMS THAT REMIND YOU OF CHINATOWN:
  • Its sequel, The Two Jakes
  • L.A. Confidential
  • The Big Sleep
  • The Conversation
OTHER MAJOR WORKS DIRECTED BY ROMAN POLANSKI
  • Knife in the Water
  • Repulsion
  • Rosemary’s Baby
  • Death and the Maiden
  • The Pianist

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Don't forget it, Jake...it's Chinatown

Sunday, September 17, 2017

On September 20, CineVerse will feature “Chinatown” (1974; 130 minutes), directed by Roman Polanski, chosen by Jim Doherty

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Cinderella and Pygmalion meet 1880s Britain

Thursday, September 14, 2017

David Lean is rightly known for his visionary, sprawling epics. But arguably it's his British films of the 1940s and early 1950s that bring out the best sensibilities in this talented filmmaker. "Hobson's Choice," Lean's underrated effort from 1954, blends the best elements of comedy, drama, and period piece into a highly entertaining tale about a clever daughter turning the tables on her outspoken and irascible father. Our film discussion group came away with many truths after digging deeper into this lesser-known gem, including the following observations:

WHAT’S DATED ABOUT THIS PICTURE AND WHAT’S STILL RELEVANT AND EVERGREEN?
  • There will always be conflicts between parents and their children, and expectations that parents have for their offspring.
  • Yet, the woman’s role in the house and the family have changed dramatically since the setting of this 1880s British story and since 1954, the year the film was made.
    • It’s laughable today to think that a woman unmarried by age 30 would be expected to die an old maid and/or be fated to indentured servitude to her aging parents.
    • Maggie’s character can be seen today as an inspirational feminist trapped back in a time when being so would wholly unacceptable to many in society.
  • The idiom “Hobson’s choice,” which means that there’s really only once choice to make with no alternative, has gone out of style; but the concept of having a lack of options or choosing the least of all evils will never go away.
  • Class struggles and trying to make a living in a challenging capitalist world are themes that resonate today. Yet, in world dominated today by large corporations, the family-owned business is quickly becoming an endangered species.
  • As foreign and passé as many of the character traits, vernaculars and idiosyncrasies exhibited by the film’s main characters may seem nowadays, these characters can still speak to us. Per Criterion Collection essayist Armond White, “As in so many Lean films, the eccentricities displayed by Henry, Maggie, and Will are observed, revealed, and discovered to be timeless human attributes, as in classic British literature. Their comic actions recall the histrionic undercurrents that propel the Dickens melodramas.”
WHAT THEMES ARE AT PLAY IN HOBSON’S CHOICE?
  • A clash of wills: as White wrote: “the father wrestles with his loss of authority, the daughter fights for her individuality, and the workman gains self-esteem and self-determination.”
  • Triangles: a twisted love triangle, represented by the father, the daughter, and the workman—each of which has something to gain and lose. Other triangles: the three sisters, the three grooms, and Willie, Maggie and his old girlfriend.
  • Pygmalion and Cinderella, only inverted: “In fairy tales, the lowly commoner invited to join the royalty is usually a deserving girl who happens to be beautiful as well as virtuous. The Cinderella character in Hobson's Choice is Willie Mossup. His beauty is a commercially viable talent,” wrote film reviewer Glenn Erickson.
  • Great things grow from small: this is a quote in the film from Willie, which summarizes a major message of the picture. Consider how Willie and Maggie start at the bottom of the ladder but by the end of the movie they’re on top and running the shop.
  • The benefits of being a practical fantasist: Blogger Normand Holland posited the following: “Lean’s heroes, like Maggie, are dreamers. Think of Laura Jessup in Brief Encounter, Pip (in Great Expectations), T. E. Lawrence (in Lawrence of Arabia), and Col. Nicholson (in Bridge on the River Kwai)…like Maggie, they may dream of great expectations, but they are pragmatic; they accomplish things; they adjust to realities. The lovers in Brief Encounter know from the outset that their love is impossible, and they accept that.”
  • Comeuppance: Hobson is overdue for a fall.
  • Boots: they symbolize ruggedness, utilitarianism and practicality; they also serve on the lowest level of the body.
  • Levels: the film depicts various levels of architecture, class distinction and rank. Hobson resides in the “upper level” (upstairs), Maggie works on the middle (street) level, and Willie exists on the lower level early in the film. Consider how Willie’s lower-class girlfriend lives on a lower level street; how Hobson falls to a lower level and literally and figuratively “hits bottom” when he falls through the hole, emerging only to be humbled and placed at Willie’s former level—seeing boots at eye level for the first time in the film.
OTHER FILMS BY DAVID LEAN:
  • 1945 Blithe Spirit
  • 1945 Brief Encounter
  • 1946 Great Expectations
  • 1948 Oliver Twist
  • 1957 The Bridge on the River Kwai
  • 1962 Lawrence of Arabia
  • 1965    Doctor Zhivago
  • 1984 A Passage to India

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Gunslinger Eastwood's last stand

Monday, September 11, 2017

On September 14, Cineversary returns to the Oak Lawn Library from 6-8:45 p.m.. We'll be celebrating the 25th anniversary of “Unforgiven” (1992; 131 minutes), directed by Clint Eastwood.

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David Lean--before the epics

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Make plans to join CineVerse on September 13 for an excursion into World Cinema Wednesday and the United Kingdom with “Hobson’s Choice” (1954; 108 minutes), directed by David Lean, chosen by Dave Ries

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Suffering for your art

Thursday, September 7, 2017

You don't have to be a musician, teacher, student or jazz/music lover to appreciate the film "Whiplash" or its powerful message about drive, ambition, obsession and the teacher-pupil relationship. And you certainly don't have to take this film – or its plot – literally. You can simply examine it for the parable it is and the cautionary tale it tells. Our CineVerse group discussion yielded some interesting observations and insights that may help you better understand what's going on here and why this picture is important, including the following:


WHAT’S INTERESTING, DISTINCTIVE OR UNEXPECTED ABOUT THIS FILM THAT YOU FOUND NOTEWORTHY?
  • It’s shot and edited rhythmically like a jazz song.
    • The cuts are meant to convey feeling and emotion and to visually communicate without words. Consider the close-ups of hand motions brushing the girlfriend’s hair around her ear.
    • There’s a rhythmic variety of tracking shots, close-ups, pans and push-ins all used to suggest the growth of Andrew’s talents and desire. Think about how kinetic and fluid the film is from the start – the opening shot tracks down the hallway for us to see Andrew.
  • It’s also shot like a war movie more than a jazz/music movie. This picture is startling in its brutality, sudden violence, blood, profanity and overall tone. Alternatively, it feels more like a sports film, leading up to the big fight or the big game.
  • Consider the harsh extent to which Fletcher is willing to go as a teacher, using verbal and physical abuse and threats to push and punishes students. Fletcher’s character is so powerful and villainous that, on paper, he would seem to completely dominate and upstage anyone else on screen with him.
    • But Andrew’s character is written and played to go toe-to-toe with Fletcher and equally capture our attention. Andrew is not your typical protagonist who is entirely sympathetic and comprehensible. He could be an arrogant, insensitive jerk, and he has qualities that are not so admirable.
    • While the monstrous personality of Fletcher may seem implausible, the movie aims for accuracy by casting a young actor – Miles Teller – who can really drum, as well as real music students and musicians in the classroom and performance scenes.
  • There are multiple climaxes and dénouements to this movie:
    • the festival were Andrew survives the car accident
    • the tenuous reconciliation between former student and teacher in the bar, plus the scene before it where he learned that Fletcher has been fired and Andrew is expelled
    • the JVC Festival conclusion
  • Surprisingly, Andrew is given a love interest, but abandons her fairly early on and she does not return – unlike so many other films of this type.
WHAT MAKES FLETCHER TICK, WHAT MAKES ANDREW TICK, AND WHY DOES ANDREW PUT UP WITH FLETCHER’S ABUSE?
  • Fletcher doesn’t care about properly training and educating students: he wants to mold his own new jazz legend and perpetuate the tall tale about Charlie Parker becoming greater after having a symbol thrown at him. He’s all about upholding his ideals of jazz tradition.
    • He believes you need to suffer for your art and that greatness comes from pushing yourself to the limit.
    • He’s very much like a Marine drill sergeant and Captain Ahab rolled into one – searching for the elusive white whale (next jazz great) and eager to break the spirit and the body of his soldiers to try to shape them into perfect killers.
    • Consider how Fletcher usurps the truth about his student who commits suicide; he creates a myth about an untapped talent cut down too early: this indicates how truly dangerous, warped and evil this man is.
    • Fletcher believes his means to an end are justified – that his tactics and approach are necessary for jazz to survive.
  • Andrew believes he could be the next all-time great jazz drummer, so he subscribes to Fletcher’s philosophy and is willing to endure the punishing tactics.
    • By subscribing, he forms a symbiotic relationship with Fletcher that initiates a cycle of abuse; he becomes reliant on the abuser to follow his masochistic dream.
    • But Andrew is becoming a mini-Fletcher: he abandons his girlfriend; he becomes a jerk to his classmates; he tells his family at the dinner table that talent, fame and legend are more important than living a mediocre life, in a cynical manner like Fletcher; then, he upstages Fletcher at the end as Fletcher tries to do to him.
WHAT MAJOR THEMES ARE EXAMINED IN WHIPLASH?
  • To what extent are you willing to push, sacrifice and compromise yourself for the pursuit of art and excellence? Do the ends justify the means?
  • Obsession, drive and ambition: an obsession with the past and in creating or perpetuating myths and legends is dangerous and misguided. And an obsession with achieving perfection creates a very imperfect human being.
  • The quest for excellence can be lonely and unappreciated.
  • The duality of our nature.
  • Being torn between two father figures: Andrew’s real dad, who was a failed novelist turned English teacher and is a milder, more compassionate person than Fletcher; and Fletcher, a hard-driving, uncompassionate teacher who also apparently failed to make it as a full-time artist.
  • The Faustian gambit: making a pact with the devil.
WHAT OTHER MOVIES COME TO MIND AFTER WATCHING WHIPLASH?
  • The Red Shoes
  • Fame
  • Full Metal Jacket
  • Scorsese films like Raging Bull and Taxi Driver– where the main character pushes away his love interest and enjoys masochism and violence
  • The Piano Teacher
  • Rocky and The Fighter, two sports films depicting the struggles and sacrifices of an underdog athlete
  • Mr. Turner
  • Mr. Holland’s Opus

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Bang the drum quickly

Sunday, September 3, 2017

On September 6, CineVerse will present “Whiplash” (2014; 107 minutes), directed by Damien Chazelle, chosen by Linda Tague. 

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Fable of a benevolent alien

Thursday, August 31, 2017

"E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial" still packs a strong emotional punch 35 years after its release. Director Steven Spielberg focus less on science fiction and more on fairytale fantasy to tell a very personal story from a child's point of view – and that child be any one of us, regardless of age. How do we as viewers love "E.T."? Let us count the ways...

WHAT IS MEMORABLE AND SPECIAL ABOUT E.T., PARTICULARLY AS A SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY FILM?

  • It strikes a chord with the inner child in all of us—the one who experienced loneliness, awkwardness, misunderstanding or alienation when we were young; it’s especially relevant to children of broken homes and divorce, middle children, and kids who grew up in the suburbs, which describes the character of Elliott. 
  • It’s an intimate, emotional movie that Steven Spielberg considered his most personal film. Steven Spielberg said in an interview: “"E.T. was about the divorce of my parents, how I felt after my parents broke up. [It was] the first movie I ever made for myself.”
    • It’s a very emotionally resonant film that requires you to be an actively engaged viewer—it involves your feelings and moves you; films that can evoke a strong emotional reaction in audiences are powerful pictures that tend to be remembered and revisited.
  • It’s a rare science fiction story about aliens that are benevolent; many sci-fi films feature extraterrestrials that are violent and destructive to humans. Here, the message is that strangers from different worlds can and should coexist in peace and find a way to communicate.
  • It features a brilliant, emotional score by composer John Williams that ranks #14 on the AFI’s list of 25 greatest film scores.
  • Some believe E.T. turned aliens into pop culture icons and gave a lovable, memorable face to an alien being that was safe for and acceptable to children.
  • It helped usher in the era of product placement (Reese’s Pieces and Coca-Cola) into the movies, for better or worse.
  • It firmly established Steven Spielberg as the world’s most popular and famous director—a man with the Midas touch after consecutively helming Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and now E.T.
  • This was also nearing the end of the era when audiences showed up in droves, creating extremely long wait times and lines that often stretched around the block. With the proliferation of multiplex theaters later in the 1980s, these ridiculously long lines would subside; but in 1982, chances are that you had to get in a long line and wedge into a packed theater to see E.T.
  • Despite old school special effects limitations of its era, compared to the dazzling computer wizardry of today, E.T.’s effects hold up, especially the animatronic and puppetry work involved in making the alien look realistic and act believably.Disconnection from home and family is not healthy. E.T. needs to go back to his kind and his own world; he is reborn because he has made reconnected with the ones that love him. This suggests that Elliott, too, must find a connection and treasure his life with his family in suburbia, even if he doesn’t always fit in so well and lacks a father. It also underscores how E.T. and Elliott are connected and similar; think about how “E” and “T” are the first and last letters of Elliott’s name.
WHAT IS MEMORABLE AND SPECIAL ABOUT E.T., PARTICULARLY AS A SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY FILM?
  • Seeing life through a child’s eyes. Consider that it adopts the literal as well as emotional viewpoint of a child: the camera is often placed at a child’s level, and the point of view is often Elliott’s or E.T.’s. Consider how the “bad” adults like the man with the keys are often only shown as faceless silhouettes and from the mid-torso down.
  • Christ-like rebirth. This an uplifting story about a helpless creature who’s been abandoned and left behind, is vulnerable, friendly and cuddly, and can work feats of magic; yet, the creature gets sick, dies and is reborn. 
  • The importance of maintaining a sense of wonder and imagination. This picture makes you feel young again and taps into the mysteries and energy of childhood—how cool it is to find something really precious that’s your unique secret, trying to find your place in a world where you don’t feel like you fit in, and being in awe of the marvels and mysteries of the universe.
    • It also speaks to the power that children have to possess a powerful sense of imagination and an awe and reverence for magic, to be resourceful and resilient, to be open and receptive to the idea that aliens, monsters or the supernatural can exist, and to connect and communicate with life and nature in a way that most adults have forgotten or can’t.
    • It references Peter Pan in the film, and often plays on the themes of Pan—that you can fly, have adventures, wish upon a star for a miracle, and defeat the pirates (or, in this case, the adults trying to take E.T. away). . Remember that the “Keys” adult character is like a grownup Elliott or former Peter Pan—he’s been “wishing for this since (he) was 10 years old.” He, too, wants to be a kid again.
  • The importance of tolerance, compassion and understanding. Film journalist John Kenneth Muir wrote: "E.T. purposefully asks audiences to accept that which is alternative or seem different, and judge it not by how it looks. On the contrary, E.T. and Elliott develop a symbiosis, and so come to understand the feelings of one another. No matter how different or alien someone may seem, they possess the same feelings that you do. That too is E.T.'s message."
OTHER FILMS THAT E.T. BRINGS TO MIND:
  • Super 8
  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  • Earth to Echo
  • Lilo and Stitch
  • Peter Pan
  • Snow White and the 7 Dwarves
  • Starman
OTHER FILMS DIRECTED BY STEVEN SPIELBERG
  • Jaws
  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • Jurassic Park
  • Schindler’s List
  • Saving Private Ryan
  • A.I.-Artificial Intelligence
  • Lincoln

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Anniversary for your favorite alien

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Don't miss CineVerse on August 30, when we'll wish a happy 35th anniversary to "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” (1982; 115 minutes), directed by Steven Spielberg, chosen by Bob Johnson.

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Drama, comedy and horror on the menu for CineVerse in September and October

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The September-October 2017 CineVerse schedule is now posted and ready for viewing. Eager to see what's planned for the weeks ahead? Click here for a peek.

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"Past" tense

Many film critics, historians and scholars will point to "Double Indemnity" as the gold standard for classic film noir. While it's hard to argue against that film being the standard bearer for the genre, there's a dark horse candidate that's emerged in recent decades as a possible contender to the crown--Jacques Tourneur's "Out of the Past," which features a femme fatale nearly as cold-blooded and conniving as Phyllis Dietrichson and a less hardboiled anti-hero lead. Consider the following points in the film's favor, as discussed during last night's CineVerse meeting:

HOW IS THIS FILM DIFFERENT AND DISTINCTIVE FROM OTHER FILMS NOIR?
  • Many noirs predominantly feature nighttime scenes in gritty urban jungles using high contrast lighting that create lots of dark shadows; this film features plenty of daytime scenes in bright, sunny settings, including bucolic outdoor locations.
    • According to essayist Gary Morris, “Director Jacques Tourneur follows Hitchcock’s approach in finding terror in the everyday, in this case the majestic backdrops of Lake Tahoe and Puerto Vallarta. This is not to say there aren’t recognizably dark “noir” scenes, but, again as in Hitchcock, the darkness emanates mainly from within the characters. This gives even a scene shot on a bright afternoon at a woodland river an atmosphere of bleakness and horror, when a fishing trip ends in a gruesome murder. It also shows the limits of Jeff’s world. Finished with Kathie, he falls in love with a sweet girl from the town where he’s been hiding, but while most of their scenes together are shot during the day, in natural locations, it’s clear from their nervous, almost desperate exchanges that there are stronger, darker forces that will prevent them ever coming together.”
  • The male lead here is laid back, laconic and low-key in speech, sleepy-eyed and possessing a cool detachment; most noir male leads, which are often private eyes or anti-heroes plotting a crime, are more hardboiled, tougher, sharp-tongued, alert and attentive. Credit Robert Mitchum with infusing a new nonchalant style and attitude to this noir anti-hero archetype.
  • Almost all classic noirs feature characters smoking, but this one seems to be trying to set records for how many coffin nails can be lit up and sucked in a 90-minute flick. Smoking, in fact, becomes a form of jousting. Roger Ebert wrote: “Few movies use smoking as well as this one; in their scenes together, it would be fair to say that Mitchum and Douglas smoke at each other, in a sublimated form of fencing.”
  • The movie uses real locations and natural settings for a more realistic, authentic look.
  • Like many noirs, this one employs a flashback, which occupies nearly half the runtime; what’s interesting about the flashback is that (1) it primarily occurs in broad daylight, and (2) Kathie is depicted as more of “an idealized love object. When the narrative leaves flashback mode, her aura vanishes…Kathie then elicits nothing but contempt from Jeff,” wrote film reviewer Glenn Erickson.
THE CHARACTERS’ NAMES REVEAL INTERESTING THINGS ABOUT THEM. CAN YOU PROVDIE EXAMPLES?
  • Markham suggests a “marked” man who is fated to die.
  • Moffat sounds like “Little Miss Muffet,” who was visited by a spider; Moffat herself becomes a spider woman femme fatale.
  • Whit sounds like “wit,” a man of sharp intellect and facetiousness.
  • Meta has multiple meanings; in ancient Rome, "meta" meant a column or post, or a group of columns or posts, placed at each end of a racetrack to mark the turning places. The character of Meta also appears at and signifies a turning point in this story. Also, "meta" is a prefix designating the meta position in the benzene ring in the world of chemistry; benzene is a toxic compound.
  • Former partner Fisher has a name that makes us think he’s fishing for something or is fishy.
  • Eels speaks for itself: a personality who operates in a slippery underworld who finds himself “underwater” and dead at the heels of Whit and his henchman.
  • Stefanos sounds like Mephistopheles, Mephisto, a demon or evil spirit.
  • “The kid” remains nameless, and is deaf and mute, as if the dealings of these other shady characters have left him speechless and deafened him with their evil intonations; he stands as a silent cypher, merely observing what’s happening, and serves in a way as a surrogate for the audience.
THEMES SUGGESTED IN OUT OF THE PAST INCLUDE:
  • Inability to escape one’s past or one’s fate. The whole story is set in motion by Whit’s henchman finding Jeff and dragging him back to his past.
  • A doomed love triangle: Jeff, Kathie and Whit are all bound together and fated to fall. Arguably, however, this dominant relationship here is between Jeff and Whit, who have in common the same femme fatale woman, scathing hatred for each other, a certain personal code of honor, and a cynical, pessimistic worldview.
  • Fate and doomed destiny: interestingly, Jeff proceeds in getting involved with Kathie and Whit and reinvolving himself with him and her despite being aware that he’s being double-crossed and framed. It suggests that he can’t help himself because of Kathie’s allure.
  • Moral ambiguity: As Ebert posits, “The movie's final scene, between the hometown girl Ann and Jimmy, Jeff's hired kid at the gas station, reflects the moral murkiness of the film with its quiet ambiguity…As Jimmy answers Ann's question, is he telling her what he believes, what he thinks she wants to believe, or what he thinks it will be best for her to believe?”
  • Unanswered questions: Erickson also wrote that the secret of Out of the Past's superior dialogue is that “no question is ever given a straight answer. It's always another question, or a smart remark insinuating something.”
  • The dangerous noir female and what this character personifies. Morris wrote: “(Kathie) embodies postwar fears that women, having contributed mightily to the war effort and moved into “men’s work,” might abandon the domestic sphere entirely, causing all manner of social mayhem. She’s the culmination of the self-consumed, anti-domestic, anti-social female as evoked by Stanwyck in Double Indemnity and Gene Tierney in Leave Her to Heaven, and even the most powerful men around her can’t comprehend or control the violent forces she represents.”
OTHER FILMS THAT REMIND US OF OUT OF THE PAST
  • Its 1984 remake, Against All Odds
  • Gilda
  • The Big Sleep, which also features labyrinth-like double crosses and a complicated plot
  • Angel Face
OTHER FILMS DIRECTED BY JACQUES TOURNEUR
  • Cat People
  • I Walked With a Zombie
  • Curse of the Demon
  • The Comedy of Terrors

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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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