Blog Directory CineVerse: July 2017

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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