Blog Directory CineVerse: June 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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