Blog Directory CineVerse

Happy birthday, Mr. Smith: You're now an octogenarian

Sunday, September 15, 2019

For Cineversary podcast episode #15, host Erik Martin is joined by San Francisco State University film professor Joseph McBride, author of "Frankly: Unmasking Frank Capra" and "Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success." Together, they dive deep into Capra's "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," marking an 80th birthday this fall, and explore why the movie is worth celebrating four decades later, its cultural impact and legacy, what we can learn from the picture today, how it has (and hasn't) stood the test of time, and more.

To listen to this episode, click the "play button" on the embedded streaming player below. Or, you can stream, download or subscribe to the Cineversary podcast using Apple Podcasts, iTunes, Anchor, Breaker, Castbox, Google Podcasts, Google Play Music, Overcast, Pocket Casts, PodBean, RadioPublic, Spotify, Stitcher, and TuneIn.

Learn more about the Cineversary podcast at tinyurl.com/cineversarypodcast and email show comments or suggestions to cineversegroup@gmail.com.

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Here's Mud in your eye

Matthew McConaughey flaunts his underrated acting chops in “Mud” (2012; 130 minutes), directed by Jeff Nichols, chosen by Dave Ries, slated for CineVerse on Sept. 18.

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Your CineVerse moderator joins the "Jerks" for "Jaws"

Friday, September 13, 2019

CineVerse moderator Erik Martin has made another appearance on "The Classic Film Jerks" podcast, hosted by Michael DiGiovanni and Andrew Bloom. For the show's September episode, the trio discusses Steven Spielberg's 1975 masterwork "Jaws" and have a few laughs while dishing insights and opinions on the film.

To listen to the episode, click on the player below or visit stitcher.com/podcast/atomic-geeks/classic-film-jerks.
 

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Capitol ideas

Thursday, September 12, 2019

"They don't make 'em like that anymore' is certainly a cliche that can be applied to Frank Capra's 1939 standout "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," a picture that can still deliver an emotional wallop and utterly impress with its performances and craftsmanship. We feted this 80-year-old national treasure last evening at CineVerse, giving it the full "Cineversary" treatment. Here's a roundup of that discussion:

Why is this movie worth celebrating all these years later? Why does it still matter, and how has it stood the test of time?

  • It matters because, even though it can play as overly sentimental, corny, naïve, or wildly outdated, it was made with true heart, sincerity, and genuine good intentions by Frank Capra and company. This genuineness and honesty of emotion are felt in virtually every frame.
  • It matters because it’s one of the very few American films that feels unabashedly patriotic – a political movie that isn’t cynical, snarky or ironic. This is the textbook definition of a feel-good picture, one that put you through the emotional ringer and makes its protagonist particularly suffer in order to achieve those good feelings honestly.
  • It has stood the test of time based on the bravura performance of James Stewart, the sheer star power of its knockout extended cast, the strong female lead courtesy of Jean Arthur, the emotionally propagandistic power of Capra’s visuals and montages, and the fact that it’s one of the extremely rare movies that shows how our system of government and the passing of laws works – a system that has pretty much remained unchanged.
  • It also remains timeless because it refuses to date itself; Smith’s home state is not named, we hear no mention of Republicans or Democrats, there are no scatological references to the impending second world war, the rise of Nazi-ism, the recent Great Depression, or other political or sociocultural events or issues.
  • Mr. Smith continues to resonate because 21st-century viewers know how corrupt the world can be today; nowadays we constantly hear about dishonest, self-serving, unethical politicians and leaders. Many of us want to believe that each of us can exercise political power, stand up against political injustices, and effect change – even if merely at the ballot box or by writing a letter or demonstrating. Jefferson Smith continues to stand as the patron saint of the idealistic Everyman and Everywoman.

In what ways do you think this film was influential on cinema and popular culture or set trends?

  • It has been cited as one of the first examples of a conspiracy theory film, in which moviegoers are given the notion that there may be powerful machinations influencing the way the country is run; in this case, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington suggests that graft and corruption they be prevalent in the U.S. government.
  • As mentioned, it’s one of the very first examples of a feature film that takes the lid off the Capitol Building and realistically depicts how the federal government functions, looks, and presumably acts.
  • It established James Stewart as an A list breakout star in one of the finest film actors of his or any generation. Without this movie, it’s doubtful that Stewart wins a best picture Oscar the next year or goes on to become the widely beloved Tom Hanks of his day.

What’s the moral to the story here? What themes or messages are explored in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington?

  • David versus Goliath: the struggle of the common man to stand up against oppressive forces and challenge the system to make the world a better place.
  • Lost causes are the only causes worth fighting for. Chock-full of idealism, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington inspires with its underdog story of someone will likely lose in the fight against a powerful political machine, yet doesn’t back down from this seemingly impossible task.
  • Maturation, and transitioning from childhood into adulthood without losing the enthusiasm and idealism of youth. We see how Smith has a boyish innocence and childlike naïveté, and how he is associated with the boys camp and the youngsters who follow and champion him. By the end of the film, Smith outgrows his “aw-shucks” simplicity and immaturity as a politician by choosing to stand up and above those who use to tower above him figuratively and literally: he uses an eloquent adult voice in the last act and filibustering scenes that contrasts with how he spoke and carried himself earlier in the movie. Consider, too, how Capra continually frames Stewart often as lower in stature, subservient, and smaller than his fellow politicians and Taylor throughout the film until he chooses to fight back at the end, when he looms larger in height and respect.
  • Idealism versus cynicism. It’s easy to chuckle at the unintended corniness built into this film, the flag-waving romanticism, and unabashed moral righteousness. It’s easier to gravitate to today’s more widely accepted pessimism, skepticism and sarcasm, which are continually pitted against Smith’s optimism. Yet, it’s hard to be unmoved by Smith’s earnestness and simple values, which make people feel nostalgic for a bygone time and mindset. Fortunately, Smith’s idealism is balanced by the cynicism we see in Clarissa and Diz the reporter. Consider, as well, that the ending is ambiguous-- there is no clear victory, and we don’t know if Taylor is truly defeated.
  • Martyrdom. Smith serves as a somewhat Christ-like figure representing good and righteousness who is politically betrayed and crucified by Payne’s Judas figure.

Who do you think this film appealed to initially when it was released in 1939, and who do you think it appeals to today? 

  • The film struck a chord with audiences in 1939, becoming a box office hit and earning 11 Academy Award nominations – so it likely had very widespread appeal.
  • Today, the movie-watching public is more cynical and arguably smarter. Many may find this picture hopelessly dated and drowning in sentimentality and propaganda. Nevertheless, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington continues to be highly revered, as demonstrated by high marks from fans and critics on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes. It likely speaks more to classic movie buffs, scholars, historians, and the unapologetically patriotic.

What elements from this movie have aged well, and what elements are showing some wrinkles?

  • Showing how the Congressional sausage is made – how legislation works, how the Senate chamber operates, and how a filibuster can be effective in Washington – remains fresh.
  • However, there are some over overdramatic and sappy elements in this movie – such as Smith fainting from fatigue at the end, inspiring Payne to change his mind; socking people in the kisser as comeuppance; Smith witnessing a young boy reciting the Gettysburg address; precocious kids as “Our Gang” type caricatures who run a printing press and try to out-hustle Taylor and the big newspapers – that remind you that this is an 80-year-old film.

This is a birthday celebration, after all, and birthdays are all about presents. Except it’s the fans who continue to get the gifts. What is this film’s greatest gift to viewers?

  • James Stewart’s performance, arguably his best, and particularly memorable for how it shows a gradual transformation from folksy young innocent to a beaten-down but roused patriot, thanks to Steward’s impeccable ability to display a wide array of believable emotions. We feel what Smith feels, and that’s a testament to the power of Stewart’s acting and Capra’s direction.
  • It’s a movie that makes it feel acceptable to be patriotic. Like Yankee Doodle Dandy, Young Mr. Lincoln, Sergeant York, and a few others from Hollywood’s golden era, this film celebrates Americana in the best that this country has to offer.
  • Another gift that keeps on giving: the stellar extended cast. This is one of the deepest rosters ever assembled, with Jean Arthur, Claude Rains, Edward Arnold, Harry Carey, Thomas Mitchell, Guy Kibbee, Beulah Bondi, Eugene Pallette, H.B. Warner, William Demarest, Porter Hall, and Jack Carson on board.

Other movies that Mr. Smith Goes to Washington reminds us of

  • Bulworth
  • The Candidate
  • The Contender
  • The Seduction of Joe Tynan
  • Lincoln

Other essential films directed by Frank Capra

  • It Happened One Night
  • Mr. Deeds Goes To Town
  • Lost Horizon
  • You Can’t Take It With You
  • Meet John Doe
  • It’s A Wonderful Life

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Mr. Smith goes to CineVerse

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Make plans to attend CineVerse on September 11; that's when Cineversary returns. Once a month in 2019, we will celebrate a milestone anniversary of a cinematic classic with a special Q&A discussion format unique to our Cineversary series. On Sept. 11, we honor the 80th anniversary of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (1939; 130 minutes), directed by Frank Capra.

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Fishing for answers

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Robert Redford's "A River Runs Through It" is graced with so much visual beauty, courtesy of its Academy Award-winning cinematography, that can be easy to overlook some of the film's other virtues. We attempted to name all that we could last night at CineVerse. Here's our roundup:

What did you find memorable, interesting, or surprising about this film?

  • It’s a throwback picture that harkens back to a bygone, simpler time and style of life. It remains a fairly simple tale that lets the scenery and the actors do most of the heavy lifting. Director Robert Redford also seems to express sentimentality and fondness for this period, setting, and family dynamic, without suggesting many cons or conflicts.
  • It relies significantly on voiceover to tell its story; this can be a help or a hindrance. While it makes for a more accurate adaptation of the novel, too much voiceover narration can tell you things without showing them to you and letting you come to your own conclusions and opinions. When not done properly, it can make a movie less cinematic.
  • This is the first starring role for Brad Pitt; debatably, he does better work later, but it’s interesting to see what he tries to do in this role.
  • The visuals are inspiring, making this film worthy of its win for best cinematography at the Academy Awards.

Themes crafted into A River Runs Through It

  • Fishing as a form of religion and practice of faith. The MacLean men treat their favorite hobby—fly fishing—as a sacred and sacrosanct activity; devoutness and attention to detail in this practice yields the best results and brings you closer to a perfect fisherman, just as devotion to and practicing one’s faith can, presumably, bring you closer to God.
  • The unpredictability and randomness of life. Based on how upright he lives his life, you would expect Norman to be the better fisherman; instead, it is Paul—the brother who strays from the path preferred by his pious father—who excels at fly fishing.
    • Roger Ebert wrote: “Redford and his writer, Richard Friedenberg, understand that most of the events in any life are accidental or arbitrary, especially the crucial ones, and we can exercise little conscious control over our destinies. Instead, they understand that the Reverend Maclean's lessons were about how to behave no matter what life brings; about how to wade into the unpredictable stream and deal with whatever happens with grace, courage and honesty.”
  • Coming of age. This is another timeless take on the transition-into-adulthood and rites-of-passage story.
  • Nature as a bond that brings family together. Here, the river serves as a metaphor for life and how to live it as well as a constant that the brothers and father can always turn to for happiness, sustenance, and communion.
  • Biblical lessons, including the Prodigal Son and Cain and Abel stories. While Paul doesn’t commit evil acts like Cain, he does live a more sinful life than his brother Norman, who stands as a more wholesome contrast.
  • The “brighter a candle burns, the faster it goes out,” wrote Washington Post critic Hal Hinson.

Similar movies that A River Runs Through It reminds you of

  • Legends of the Fall, also starring Brad Pitt
  • A Walk in the Clouds
  • The Cider House Rules
  • Lonesome Dove
  • The Man From Snowy River

Other films directed by Robert Redford

  • Ordinary People
  • The Milagro Beanfield War
  • Quiz Show
  • The Horse Whisperer
  • The Legend of Bagger Vance

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A river runs through CineVerse

Sunday, September 1, 2019

On September 4, CineVerse will features “A River Runs Through It” (1992; 124 minutes), directed by Robert Redford, chosen by Judy Quenzel. 

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The snobs vs. the slobs, explained

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Searching for meaning in "Caddyshack" is a little like trying to find the answers to deep existential questions on the back of a cereal box. But look harder and you'll actually find themes and merits buried not so deep below the surface in Harold Ramis' 1980 comedy classic. Our CineVerse group dug a few shallow gopher tunnels last night and extracted the following:

What makes Caddyshack such a memorable and beloved comedy?

  • It has infinitely quotable lines, including “Na-na-na-na-na-na-na”; “So I got that going for me. Which is nice”; “Be the ball.” “Whoa, did somebody step on a duck?” “How about a Fresca?”; “Now I know why tigers eat their young”; “Thank you very little”; “Cinderella story. Outta nowhere”; and “It’s in the hole.”
  • It combines winning elements from many different film comedy subgenres, including:
    • the screwball comedy, in which the idle rich get their comeuppance;
    • slapstick, involving exaggerated physical or clumsy actions and humorously embarrassing events;
    • farce, as exemplified by using a gopher puppet and the Busby Berkeley-inspired swimming pool dance;
    • parody/satire, demonstrated by mimicking the Jaws attack in the water, using music from the Ten Commandments when the bishop is golfing in the storm, and seeming to spoof The Shining’s break-through-the-bathroom door moment;
    • gross-out humor, demonstrated by the Baby Ruth gag, vomit-in-the-car joke, betting on booger eating, etc.; and
    • anarchistic comedy, in the vein of the Marx Brothers.
  • In fact, the secret to this film’s success is that it’s a modern attempt at a Marx Brothers movie, with Rodney Dangerfield’s wisecracking anti-establishment character standing in for Groucho; Chevy Chase’s ladies’ man and piano-playing character representing Chico; Bill Murray’s slapstick-centric goofball character who gets most of the big laughs invoking Harpo; and Ted Knight and his ilk serving as the stuffed shirt conservative types (such as the kind played by Sig Ruman) whom the Marx Brothers always get the best of.
  • This movie stands out today as politically incorrect, irreverent, and an attention-getting product of its times—the early 1980s, when grown-up comedies weren’t afraid to, for example, show nudity and sexist situations, ample drug and alcohol use, and crude humor primarily geared toward male viewers. Today, we still have gross-out crude humor, but with fewer boobs and objectification of women more equal opportunities for male and female funny characters.

Themes at play in Caddyshack include:

  • Class and social warfare. We have the underdogs vs. the establishment; the snobs vs. the slobs, which was the film’s tagline; the working class vs. the WASPs; and Catholics (like Danny’s big family) vs. Protestants (Bushwood’s elite members).
  • The usurping of the old establishment by a new irreverent order
    • Jim Windolf, writer for The Observer, wrote: “…the baby boom’s ferocious need to overturn the World War II generation, a need that came under the heading of defying convention or shocking the bourgeoisie or, simply, rebellion. Again and again, Mr. Ramis set up straitlaced institutions (the Omega Theta Pi fraternity in Animal House ; the country club in Caddyshack ; the U.S. Army in Stripes ; the American family in National Lampoon’s Vacation ; bureaucrats and librarians in Ghostbusters ) and then put Bill Murray or Chevy Chase or John Belushi into Establishment-trampling mode. They spoke in a jivey, irony-laden language that the audience understood, but the old-guard villains didn’t.”
    • Director Harold Ramis said in an interview: ““When we were working on Caddyshack , (cowriter) Doug Kenney said he always wanted to do a kind of really smart adult Disney movie–as American as Disney films, but really embodying all our values. And Caddyshack clearly had a big social message–you know, the outsiders and the wackos are the good guys.”
  • Adopting a Zen Buddhism approach to life, as demonstrated in Ty’s advice to “be the ball,” and determine your own destiny.

Works inspired by Caddyshack or that come to mind after watching it:

  • Golf Balls
  • Dorf
  • Happy Gilmore
  • Who’s Your Caddy?
  • Other gross-out comedies like Animal House, There’s Something About Mary, Kingpin, Dumb and Dumber, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Austin Powers, and others

Other films made by Harold Ramis

  • National Lampoon’s Vacation (director)
  • Groundhog Day (writer/director)
  • Analyze This and Analyze That (writer/director)
  • National Lampoon’s Animal House (writer)
  • Stripes (writer)
  • Ghostbusters (writer)
  • Back to School (writer)

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The September/October lineup is live

CineVerse has a lot of great films--and discussions about them--slated for September and October. For proof, and to view the next two-month calendar, click here.

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