Blog Directory CineVerse: 2017

CineVerse in full summer blockbuster popcorn mode

Sunday, June 25, 2017

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

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Tackling a tough topic that Hollywood often avoids: suicide

Thursday, June 22, 2017

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

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

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

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

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July/August CineVerse calendar is eyeball-ready

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

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

Sunday, June 18, 2017

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

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A Maverick heads to the big screen

Thursday, June 15, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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Bring your own Reese's Pieces on June 17

Monday, June 12, 2017

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

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Support your local film discussion group by attending June 14

Sunday, June 11, 2017

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

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Hollywood comes to Northern California

Thursday, June 8, 2017


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

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

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


 

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Escapist entertainment

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

THEMES IMBUED IN ARGO INCLUDE:

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 4, 2017

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

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"I see demon people..."

Friday, June 2, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bid a fond farewell to Bill Paxton

Sunday, May 28, 2017

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

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An insider's view of 1950s Hollywood

Thursday, May 25, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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It sure beats the good and the ugly

Sunday, May 21, 2017

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

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Film is a state of mind

Thursday, May 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 15, 2017

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

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Capitalize on a Sellers market

Sunday, May 14, 2017

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

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From the lost and found department

Thursday, May 11, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From the missing persons file...

Sunday, May 7, 2017

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

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A "Fast and Furious" for the counterculture

Thursday, May 4, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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Cut to the chase by attending CineVerse this Wednesday

Sunday, April 30, 2017

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

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The Little Tramp -- with a skirt

Thursday, April 27, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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