Blog Directory CineVerse: August 2017

"I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you."

Thursday, August 17, 2017

With a movie as monothematic as "Taken," the filmmakers can cut right to the chase--literally (after a brief setup and introduction of characters, that is). And that's to the advantage of a picture like this, which draws its irrefutable strength from the protagonist's resolute purpose and thirst for vengeance. Here we have 91 minutes of no-bullshit, balls-to-the-wall urgency that any viewer with a pulse can relate to--the kidnapping of a loved one and the race against time to retrieve her before the unthinkable happens. Here are the major takeaways from our group discussion on "Taken":

WHAT DID YOU FIND INTERESTING, MEMORABLE AND DIFFERENT ABOUT TAKEN, PARTICULARLY COMPARED TO OTHER ACTION THRILLERS?
  • It grips you with its emotional pull and sentimentality right away, making Mills a sympathetic figure and this a very black-and-white, good guy vs. bad guys story. With nothing to cloud our moral judgement or rooting interest, it’s easier to just enjoy the thrill ride and focus on the protagonist’s modus operandi.
  • Despite being a predictable film in which we know ahead of time that the daughter is going to be kidnapped and the father is going to kick some ass in getting her back, it does a masterful job of keeping us in suspense, tightening the knot, and keeping us emotionally invested.
  • Liam Neeson really looks this part; it’s important that we believe he’s physically and emotionally capable of taking on the villains here; while some action scenes are implausible (like taking on 6 guys at once), Neeson has an imposing physicality and steely determination in his face—coupled with a “hangdog Irish mug that makes both the innocence of (his) love and its fierceness intensely believable,” wrote Salon critic Stephanie Zacharek.
  • The runtime is relatively brief (91 minutes); this is a lean, mean fighting machine of a motion picture with no fat to trim, no superfluous scenes, no subplots that are romantic or otherwise, no unnecessary exposition and backstory to linger on for long.
  • Unlike James Bond films and other slick modern action thrillers, this movie is not really about gadgets and technology, although cell phones and surveillance equipment are important tools for Mills.
“TAKEN” BELONGS TO A SUBGENRE CALLED THE VIGILANTE FILM. WHAT ARE SOME HALLMARKS AND TRAITS OF MANY VIGILANTE PICTURES, AND CAN NAME ANY OTHER VIGILANTE FILMS?
  • Vigilante films usually feature a sole hero or anti-hero who decides to take the law into his or her own hands—wandering outside the boundaries of the law and normal conventions and living by their own moral code.
  • Vigilante films almost always depict graphic onscreen violence or suggest abhorrent off-screen violence; the instigating violence is typically the catalyst that sets the protagonist in motion (e.g., rape, torture, and/or killing of a loved one).
  • As the film progresses, typically the level of violence increases, with each instance sometimes topping the last in terms of disturbance value, brutality, gore and mercilessness.
  • To be crowd-pleasing, satisfying wish fulfilment pictures, vigilante movies have to fulfill the audience’s wish: that is, for the hero or anti-hero to get revenge and take out the antagonists with extreme prejudice and often creative punishment that can serve as poetic justice.
  • Early examples include Dirty Harry, Billy Jack, Death Wish and its sequels, Straw Dogs, and Walking Tall. More recent examples include Law Abiding Citizen, Django Unchained, and A Man Apart.
OTHER MOVIES THAT REMIND US OF TAKEN:
  • The Bourne film series
  • Man on Fire
  • Ransom
  • Snitch
  • Not Without My Daughter
  • The Man From Nowhere
  • Leon: The Professional

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Lawbreaking lovers on the run

Monday, August 14, 2017

Make plans to attend Cineversary on August 17 from 6-8:45 p.m. at the Oak Lawn Library, when we'll celebrate the 50th anniversary of “Bonnie and Clyde” (1967; 111 minutes).

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Hell hath no fury like a father scorned

Sunday, August 13, 2017

You don't want to piss off Liam Neeson. Why? See for yourself on August 16, when CineVerse views and discusses “Taken” (1986; 96 minutes), directed by Tom Moore, chosen by Jeff Kueltzo.

Plus: Movie trivia game for a chance to win DVD movie prizes, from 7-7:45 p.m.

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A glimmer of civilization in the barbaric slaughterhouse we know as humanity

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Few films move with such boundless and kinetic energy and frenetic momentum as Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel," which takes audiences on a journey across four different eras and several colorful boundaries in Eastern Europe--a journey propelled by richly drawn characters spun from fertile imaginations. There's a lot to digest upon initial viewing, but here are some of the key takeaways discussed at last evening's CineVerse group meeting:

WHAT IS INTERESTING, UNIQUE AND UNEXPECTED ABOUT THIS FILM?
  • It tells a story within a story within a story within a story—essentially using a flashback within a flashback within a flashback, like a set of Russian dolls. Thus, the narrative is epic in scope in terms of its time periods, settings, and characters.
  • Despite it being set in the 1930s, 1960s and 1980s, it’s meant to be resonant and impactful for modern audiences, with the visitor to the grave (happening in current times) standing as a surrogate for the audience as well as possibly a surviving descendant of Agatha (she resembles her for a reason), who had died in that long ago war.
  • It shifts between different aspect ratios and color palettes. 
    • We see classic 1.35:1 Academy framing in the 1930s sequences, which is the era when movies actually used that aspect ratio; later settings are featured in wider frames. The former depicts actors in tighter compositions, suggesting more unity, closeness and camaraderie; the latter depicts actors often set further apart at opposite ends of the frame, insinuating emotional distance, alienation and colder detachment.
    • It employs a bright, saturated pastel color palette within the hotel—suggesting artistry, vibrancy, whimsy and life—but a drab monochromatic scheme when our heroes are on the run, implying that fun and freedom are threatened. 
  • Gustave is a fully realized and colorful personality, yet a walking contradiction. Consider New York Times critic A.O. Scott’s description of him: “Gustave is both courtier and sovereign, a devoted servant to the guests and the capricious, mostly benevolent ruler of the staff. He corrects their slightest lapses of deportment and lectures them endlessly at mealtimes. He is a lover of poetry and also of the elderly women who summon him to their suites, and maybe of a few men as well. Somehow, he is both an ascetic and a sensualist, highly disciplined and completely irresponsible. A thoroughly ridiculous man and at the same time “a glimmer of civilization in the barbaric slaughterhouse we know as humanity.”
  • The bright pastel colors, stylized characterizations and physical traits of some of the players, and artificial facades suggest that this is a kind of fairy tale facsimile of the real world.
WHY DO THE FILMMAKERS CHOOSE FICTIONAL FORCES AND IMAGINARY COUNTRIES? INSTEAD OF HUNGARY OR CZECHOSLOVAKIA, WE GET ZUBROWKA; INSTEAD OF NAZIS OR THE SS WE GET THE ZZ.
  • They likely wanted this to be more of an allegorical tale or fable without burdening the audience with the baggage of real World War II events and tragedies, even though this is undoubtedly meant to represent 1930s Eastern Europe; 
  • This is meant to serve as a cautionary tale about the oppression of people by a totalitarian regime; the results are the same—good people died because of racial hatred, greed, and unchecked power.
  • Essentially, this is a film about the Holocaust, an extremely disturbing and depressing period in history that is difficult to depict onscreen; Anderson and company choose to tell a more lighthearted, comedic tale about the forces driving and effects of the Holocaust without giving us the gruesome details.
  • Writer Norman Eisen with The Atlantic suggests that the “characters are a warm tribute to the three main populations targeted by the Nazis. M. Gustave…is openly bisexual (thousands of men arrested after being condemned as homosexuals were estimated to have died in concentration camps). Zero…is a refugee whose family was slaughtered in their village, standing in for the Roma and other “non-Aryan” ethnic minorities the Holocaust also targeted. The two men are aided throughout by a Jewish lawyer.”
  • Eisen further posited that: “Talking about the most serious subjects with the help of comedy is a long European tradition running from Aristophanes to Voltaire to Jonathan Swift to Austrian writer Stefan Zweig, whose works were a principal influence of the film. That tradition was particularly strong in the real-life Zubrowka, Czechoslovakia, where Jaroslav Hasek’s The Good Soldier Schweik sent up militarism, Franz Kafka’s novels and stories mocked bureaucracy, and Havel’s comic plays helped bring down Communism. These artists recognized that profound issues deserve to be looked at through every single human lens, and no issue is perhaps more profound than the Holocaust, its causes and consequences.”
  • The tone in this film is predominantly comic and ironic, yet there is an undercurrent of darkness and foreboding, accentuated by sudden acts of violence, that can make you feel quite unsettled. 
WHAT THEMES, MESSAGES AND MORALS ARE EXPLORED IN THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL?
  • Grace under pressure, and maintaining dignity and civility in a time of barbarism and hatred. Consider that Gustave puts on airs about being witty, urbane and well-versed, but when faced with the true horrors of what’s happening around him often succumbs to base profanity.
  • Our duty to remember and honor the past, especially those who suffered and died so that we can enjoy the freedoms we have today.
  • Even the most oppressed and disadvantaged can survive and thrive; think about Zero and how his name is fitting. 
  • The pain and longing of a love interrupted.
  • The priceless virtues of tolerance, kindness and compassion can save lives and inspire others.
  • Nostalgia for a bygone time when manners, intentions, craftsmanship and brotherly love mattered. “Times have changed,” as the older Zero says.
  • Fantasy and illusion, as evidenced by the pink and pastel colors, the shots of the fake fa├žade mountain/hotel, the drawn-on mustache, doors that open by themselves, a hitman with teeth like a werewolf, a birthmark in the shape of Mexico, and a jailbreak that’s far too easy.
WHAT OTHER FILMS COME TO MIND AFTER VIEWING THIS ONE?
  • The sophisticated but brave comedies of Ernst Lubitsch, including two that dared poke fun of totalitarian regimes, Ninotchka and To Be or Not to Be.
  • Charles Chaplin’s The Great Dictator
  • Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful
  • Many Hitchcock films, including Torn Curtain, North by Northwest and Vertigo.

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A five-star hotel deserves a five-star movie

Sunday, August 6, 2017

On August 9, CineVerse will conclude its summer Quick Theme Quartet (Go Wes Young Man: 4 Films by Wes Anderson) with Part 4: “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014; 99 minutes), directed by Wes Anderson. Plus: we'll watch 2 interviews with Anderson about the making of the film (10 minutes).

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