Blog Directory CineVerse: 2009

CineVerse in the news again

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Our film group recently got a nice write-up in the Southwest News Herald newspaper, compliments of writer Michele Beattie, published last week. If you'd like to read this article, which explains more about CineVerse and what we do, click here to download/open it.

While some of the facts in the story were a little bit off, Michele did a nice job and we greatly appreciate her interest in our group. Hope it leads to more film lovers discovering CineVerse in 2010 and beyond!


An American institution ages gracefully

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

It's a Wonderful Life continues to delight new generations

by Erik J. Martin

(Note: this is part 4 of a 4-part weekly series that began on Dec. 9.)

Before his passing in 1991, if you had the opportunity to ask "It's a Wonderful Life" director Frank Capra to sum up the secret to his film's success, he might have given you this answer:

"It's a movie about a small town guy who thinks he is a failure and wishes he had never been born," Capra once said. "He's supposed to learn that he was not a failure, that he fitted into the scheme of life...I think that a lot of people everywhere will be able to associate themselves with the character and will perhaps feel a lot better for having known him. People are seeking spiritual guidance and moral reassurance..and if the movies can't supply this, they will be serving no worthwhile purpose."

Ingredients for a winning recipe

Then again, maybe the magic behind the movie is its wistfulness, its power to invoke hometown nostalgia, its sense of close-knit community and simple human values--all of which are becoming ignored concepts today in our ultra-urbanized societies (ask yourself: could a Bedford Falls' ever exist again on earth?).

Or possibly it's the element of quality in the film's production. It is, after all, a superbly crafted picture in its method of acting, direction and technical innovation. Perhaps it is Stewart himself who commands the picture, with his unique behavioral acting style. His charming mannerisms, tripping speech patterns, articulated facial expressions and innocent, lanky-frame create an unforgettable image of an irreplaceable George Bailey. The romantic tension he builds while "falling in love" with Donna Reed's character is spellbinding, and I think it remains an eternal source of wonder for new and old audiences alike.

As for the kindling that helped it combust anew into a fiery film fan movement in the 1970s, there is also, one could argue, a correlation between some of "It's a Wonderful Life's" (IAWL) thematic values to popular movies in the late '70s. IAWL in itself is a basic parable, pitting a force for good (George) against a force for evil (Potter)--the classic confrontation. George loses in the end, yet wins a personal victory.

This was a dominant ideology of movies at this time: "Rocky" (1976), "Coming Home" (1978), and "Breaking Away" (1979) reflect personal triumphs in the midst of failures, while blockbusters like "Star Wars" (1977), and "Superman" (1978) intimated themes of good versus evil. These programmed values in '70s films could have very well made IAWL more digestible to the public, helping advance its success.

An annual tradition
And what about today? What sustains the film's longevity in fact, I believe, is the established ritualistic tradition it has become. You must either be a cave dweller or movie hater to have not heard of the film by now. For the rest of us who tune in or press play faithfully every Yuletide season, it has become sheer necessity: we need to feel those goosebumps all over again when Capra brings the house down with his pass-the-kleenex climax. Stewart and Capra, who in 1946 knew it was the best picture they'd done or probably ever would do, couldn't be happier. "It's part of the annual ritual now," said Stewart, a few years back. "That means a great deal to me, and I know it means an awful lot to Capra, because he says it's his favorite, too."

Yet, the film's amazing rejuvenation over the past 30-plus years has been both a blessing and a curse. In 1986, IAWL fell victim to the colorization process, via Hal Roach Studios, a move that has drawn the ire of critics, purists and filmlovers everywhere. As a further exploitation of the movie, composers have been trying to turn IALW into a musical for decades. Finally, old-fashioned greed has put the clamps on Capra’s classic, perhaps for good. Republic Pictures was able to reassert exclusive rights to IAWL in 1994, and made a long-term deal with NBC, which now has exclusive broadcast reigns on the film. Paramount acquired the home video rights a few years ago, and currently offers DVD and Blu-Ray versions of the movie, each featuring the original black-and-white version as well as a colorized version of the film.

Thanks to its continued popularity on television and home video, "It's a Wonderful Life" fans will always be free as an angel to relish their favorite movie whenever want. Thanks for the wings, George (and a wonderful marriage too)!


CineVerse movie field trip set for Dec. 30

Monday, December 28, 2009

On Wednesday, Dec. 30, our CineVerse group will meet at the AMC Loews Crestwood 18 theater at 13221 Rivercrest Dr. in Crestwood, Ill. to view "Up in the Air" starring George Clooney (for more details about this movie, visit here: The showtime is at 7:20 p.m., so let's try to meet in the lobby in front of the ticket booth at 7 p.m. to ensure that we all get tickets and seats together. Anyone is welcome to join us, so if you'd like to bring a friend or family member, feel free.

FYI: "Up in the Air" runs about 109 minutes, which means we should get out of the theater probably around 9:20 or so (factoring in pre-movie trailers). Tickets are $10 each ($9 for seniors). If you have any questions, e-mail Erik the moderator at


New schedule posted

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The January-February 2010 CineVerse schedule is ready for viewing! Click here to check it out.

Please note that if your name is listed and you know you cannot attend that particular date, let me know ASAP so that we can try to reschedule it or swap the date with someone else. With this in mind, this new 2-month calendar is subject to change, although "Platoon" on Jan. 6 is a certainty.

Looking forward to a new year of fantastic films and fine conversation. Make plans to join us plenty in 2010!


A phoenix rises from the ashes

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Tracing the amazing resurgence of "It's a Wonderful Life" over the last 30 years

by Erik J. Martin

(Note: This is part 3 of a 4-part weekly series; part 4 will post next Wednesday.)

After decades of, for the most part, audience indifference and lack of recognition, "It's a Wonderful Life" (IAWL) came back into the public consciousness with a vengeance. Capra became slowly aware of this phenomenon throughout the fifties and sixties, when more and more grateful letters from fans began pouring in.

Soon thousands of people were writing him on a variety of subjects--some inquiring about inconsistencies in the film (like Potter not being punished at the end for keeping the $8,000), some interpreting what the film meant to them, and even more expressing extreme heartfelt appreciation for so inspirational and transcendent a movie. He tried to respond personally to all their letters at first, but eventually found it impossible due to the overwhelming amount of messages he would receive, whereby Capra decided to simply store away his IAWL letters in a huge file.

A new life on the small screen

However, by 1974 the mild renewed success of IAWL had bottomed out, and it appeared that the movie was headed for occasional late-late show runs among other "B" fare forgotten pictures, thanks to its new public domain status. But becoming a non-property--although it spelled the end of TV royalties for Capra (almost) forever--did not detract in any way from its identity. Instead, it freed IAWL from the confines of economic exploitation by its previous owners and make possible another more positive kind of economic utilization--free use by television stations--which led to mass public exposure.

Now IAWL was earning its deserved audience via free (and soon cable) TV. The nationwide marketing of the film by commercial stations had its greedy financial motivations, of course, but the picture was quickly garnering cultural identification with its newfound audience, who were beginning to grow accustomed to it as an annual holiday offering. Indeed, IAWL was making everybody happy: the TV stations were making money off its ratings, Frank Capra--though robbed of any profit capacity--was starting to feel proud all over again, and the public had found itself a favorite--one good enough to be ranked among other perennial American classics like "The Wizard of Oz" and "The Sound of Music."

The resurgence was underway, and what had begun as a cult-following in the mid-seventies escalated into a widespread cultural phenomenon by 1980. Millions of Americans were cherishing IAWL and countless others were discovering it for the first time. It had become by far the best-loved Christmas movie, topping all other major holiday standards like "White Christmas", "Miracle on 34th Street," and any of the five adaptations of "A Christmas Carol" in ratings and popularity polls (although the former two, along with IAWL, are the three Christmas films most often aired on TV, according to a survey of national TV logs taken in the '80s).

The rejuvenation of Capra's movie inspired an ABC TV remake in 1977 called "It Happened One Christmas", starring Orson Welles and Marlo Thomas, surprisingly, in the George Bailey role. This color recreation with a feminist tone was a weak attempt, trying to evoke the emotional impact of the original amidst a contemporary setting, but never living up to the spirit of its predecessor. Nevertheless, the TV clone generated further interest in the original, and seemed to bestow a subtle reverence and respect onto IAWL--paying it a sort of broadcast "homage" in an updated form.

Reasons for the rejuvenation
These were the obvious factors involved in IAWL's ascendancy--logical reasons accounting for its attainment as a seasonal, cultural institution. On the surface, it would appear that the film's newfound charisma and irrefutable power had simple economic explanations--television could show it forever without paying a penny, public familiarity, and fondness in turn, grew due to its broadcasted repetition. A more thorough analysis into ideological speculations reveals so much more, however. People had to identify with the film's explicit and implicit content and incorporate its meaning into their lives somehow, to accept the picture as readily as they did. The phenomenon is arguably more a product of the seventies viewer than the movie itself.

Consider: Unlike the post-war conditions of the forties when the economy boomed and an exhausted public sought to escape from their negative memory of the war by looking for entertainment that would make them laugh, the seventies were a time of distress and isolation. Society, in the midst of whopping inflation, political dishonesty and ever-changing lifestyles and artistic and cultural expressions, was constantly searching for meaning. With the country suffering from a recession and society becoming desensitized to basic human values through exposure to violence and dishonesty in the media and in television, the individual began to question his own self-worth. People needed to hold onto something, and with friction existing within the traditional family system, there seemed very little salvation out there.

A film like IAWL came along just at the right time, helping to inspire a great number of Americans, and challenging them to reevaluate their own self-worth. The film's message, after all, propagates this: George Bailey reconsiders his existence and recognizes its priceless personal value, for all its failures and simplicities. A meaning-starved public could incorporate this then and apply it to their everyday lives, reinvigorating an optimistic consciousness.

This is not to say that IAWL singlehandedly changed the lackadaisical spirit of recession-ridden, Vietnam-embittered America's. But it did offer its viewer a refreshing, alternative and novel philosophy in such value-deflated times. The story's moral was taken to heart not because it was an escapist alternative but because it was both a realistic and applicable human truth. IAWL teaches us that dreams don't always come true, but these unfulfilled dreams are better than the kind that turn into haunting nightmares. George never leaves Bedford Falls or travels to Europe, but he recognizes the important role he has played in other people's lives and thus comes appreciate his self-meaning. Perhaps its '70s audience could collectively acknowledge this message--at least better than the audience of the '40s.

Next week: An American institution ages gracefully


Dec. 23 and 30 meetings are cancelled

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Our Dec. 23 and Dec. 30 CineVerse meetings are cancelled due to the Oak View Center building needing to close early.

CineVerse will reconvene on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2010 at our normal 7 p.m. time with "Platoon." The January/February CineVerse schedule will soon be posted to this site for downloading; it will include "True Grit," which was slated for Dec. 30. However, we will not be rescheduling the two versions of "A Christmas Carol" (maybe we can revisit these next year).

Sorry for the sudden cancellations. Happy Holidays, and hope to see you at our CineVerse meetings in 2010!


Turn on the red light...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Looking for more illumination about what you saw yesterday in "Raise the Red Lantern"? Click here to view/download our CineVerse Reflections handout on the film, and click here to listen to a recorded podcast of our group discussion.


From sizzle to fizzle at the box office

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Why audiences were indifferent to "It's a Wonderful Life" in 1946

by Erik J. Martin

(Note: This is part 2 in a 4-part weekly series; part 3 will publish next Wednesday.)

Production for "It's a Wonderful Life" went smoothly for the most part, except for going over budget an extra $1.5 million (mostly due to Capra's insistence that the film be shot in sequence). The director felt confident, however, that IAWL would be the biggest box-office smash of 1947, as well as a complete critical success. The general release was set for January 30, 1947.

Suddenly, a serious problem arose. RKO, Liberty's official distributor, couldn't process Technicolor prints of their swashbuckler movie "Sinbad the Sailor" quickly enough for its scheduled Christmas release. Capra was informed that his film would have to be moved up for a Christmas Eve opening in 50 nationwide theaters to fill the gap. Labs worked round the clock to process prints of IAWL, barely finishing in time. But there were possible advantages to this move: it qualified IAWL for the 1946 Oscar races, as opposed to 1947; and it, being a Christmas movie at heart, would appeal to audiences as a seasonably-festive film.

A not so wonderful debut
However, several prominent factors surfaced that inhibited the movie's success. First, the film was marketed not as a Christmas picture, but rather as a romantic comedy, very similar to Capra's goofball comedies of the thirties. The lobby posters showcased Jimmy Stewart lifting up Donna Reed next to the captions, "It's a powerful love story", and "James Stewart..America's favorite feller.” There was no mention of the "man overcoming the odds" theme that the movie propagated, nor any serious or somber aspects whatsoever. Then there was the presence of a terrible snowstorm that chilled the eastern United States, plummeting ticket sales. The reviews of the film were mixed, although on the average positive, giving indications that most people liked the movie, some loved it, and others despised it. The latter critics struck IAWL a crippling blow, disheartening Capra's optimism.

Finally, and most importantly, the post-war audience of 1946 was simply not receptive to its implicit content. Americans, enjoying their holiday season in the first full year of peace, could have been disenchanted by the bleak, film noir-ish elements of IAWL. They simply were not ready for its theme depicting salvation preceded by a "dark night of the soul.” America's wanted escape pictures: westerns, intense realistic dramas, light comedies. Stewart recounts, "It took awhile for the country to sort of quiet down. Then we could start to think about family and community and responsibility.”

Capra's vision of the world had changed upon his return from the war to a more pessimistic, painful sensibility. He wanted to project some of these feelings onto the screen, and yet overcome these bleak themes with expressive optimism, humor and sentimentality--investing unlimited faith in the human spirit. The public, however, didn't seem to empathize with this antipodal struggle of the common man and his way of life. These were depression-era ideologies of reassurance to a beleaguered, individually-oriented public. But it was now post WWII, where group unity seemed to be the order of society and the economy was back on its feet. Depression-era consciousness where the individual questioned his own significance (as George Bailey does) was a thing of the past--better forgotten.

"Best" beats "Wonderful"
On the other hand, having been through an atrocious war, the public and critics alike craved a degree of credibility in Hollywood pictures--to put a name on it, realism. Probably for this reason was "The Best Years of Our Lives" IAWL's fiercest competitor, so overwhelmingly embraced by moviegoers and critics. True, it was in the same bleak vein as IAWL with its darker elements, but it was a film that didn't attempt to "rescue" the viewer from its pessimism with what might have been perceived as prudish optimism, or sappy sentimentality.

Not surprisingly, "Best Years" was one of ‘47's biggest box-office winners, and a shoe-in for the Academy Awards. It stole away every nominated category from IAWL, plunging Capra into the furthest pits of frustration over his much-toiled project. Indeed, "Best Years" seemed to swipe virtually everything away--it even beat IAWL's release by one month. Being a very controversial and thus talked-about movie, it commanded nearly all the attention (even gossip) that IAWL might have received. Ironically, it was a William Wyler film--Capra's partner at Liberty and one of his dearest friends (although it wasn't a Liberty film).

The final dagger came at the close of 1947 as the gross receipts were tallied: after a $2.7 million investment, IAWL lost more than $525,000. Liberty Films was liquidated as a result some two years later. Capra, formerly the proud papa of what he considered a landmark motion picture achievement, abandoned all admiration, conversation and loyalty he had previously invested in his brainchild. As far as he was concerned, he had shelved IAWL forever.

Assessing damage control

The initial failure of IAWL can reasonably be summed up by the master himself: "To stay in have to make pictures with universal appeal,” Capra said. “Unless a picture has tremendous initial impact upon the public, it quickly passes from the first run to lesser homes and exhausts its money potential. If it starts out slowly, its run is taken off at the end of the week...that's one of the big troubles. Pictures aren't given a chance to find their audience.”

But not everything was gloom and doom, and IAWL was far from an all-out loser. Capra was awarded the Hollywood Foreign Correspondent Association's "Golden Globe" award for best director of 1947 and IAWL was voted one of the ten best films of the year by the National Board of Review. It was nominated for five prestigious Oscars, and it had received critical acclaim by the majority of its reviewers (In December of 1946, Time and Life magazines covered the movie extensively in pictures and positive words, and Newsweek even put the film on its cover).

Furthermore, by 1954, RKO (Liberty's repossessor) announced an accumulated profit of over $3 million for IAWL. It was finally making some money, as it would continue to do when marketed for commercial television in the fifties and sixties by its numerous future owners (RKO sold IAWL to Paramount, who later dished it off to M & A Alexander Productions).

The film even enjoyed a short-lived popular recovery around Christmas seasons in the 1950s and 1960s, thanks to annual viewings on television (it was, assumedly, probably shown only once on a single network each time of the year, thereby garnering only limited exposure).

Finally, in 1974, all passion for the film had fizzled out, and the economic market of TV could no longer be tapped. Republic Pictures didn't bother to renew its copyright on its critical 28th birthday (the year in which a work must be renewed, under the old 1909 law). IAWL entered the world of public domain, very unsure of itself and its future. Little did anyone know the incredible success this celluloid Lazarus would begin to enjoy after thirty years of relative public disregard. 

Next week: A phoenix rises from the ashes 


Get to know "Julie & Julia"

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Whet your appetite for great entertainment by catching "Julie & Julia," the 2009 film starring Meryl Streep as chef Julia Child, to be shown Thursday, Dec. 17 at 2 p.m. and repeated at 6:30 p.m. at the Oak Lawn Library in the lower level meeting room. Admission is free (first come, first seated).


The "Red Lantern" burns bright

Friday, December 11, 2009

If you enjoyed the martial arts magic and mystical Asian sensibilities of "Hero," "House of Flying Daggers" and "Curse of the Golden Flower", you won't want to miss "Raise the Red Lantern"--although it's decidedly a much different kind of movie than those aforementioned. "Lantern" is up next on our CineVerse calendar, slated for Dec. 16. 

For more details about this movie, visit here.


What ELSE lies beneath?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Did "What Lies Beneath" send a chill up your spine? Want to learn more about this scare-fest? Click here to read a CineVerse Reflections handout on the movie and click here to listen to a recorded podcast of our post-screening discussion.


No film is a failure that has friends

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Why "It's a Wonderful Life" is a perennial classic

by Erik J. Martin

(Note: This is part 1 of a 4-part series to publish over 4 weeks; part 2 will post next Wednesday.)

The first time I saw "It's a Wonderful Life" was in 1979, when it was played uninterrupted on local public television. I was just a 12-year old kid sprawled out in front of the living room TV, mesmerized--Christmas tree glistening off to the right and powderflake snow wafting down outside the front window as George Bailey stood grinning like a gingerbread man while his friends and family sang a heartwarming “Auld Ang Syne.”

Over 30 years later, I can easily say I’ve seen the movie over 40 times. The film has so touched my life that I even proposed to my then girlfriend during a Christmastime viewing in 1993. (Needless to say, she accepted: After watching George and Mary fall in love in one of the silver screen’s classic romances, how could she say no, I reasoned.)

Today, more than 60 years after its original release, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is as rich and golden a viewer’s experience as it’s ever been. For all its would-be "sentimental hogwash,” the movie has captured a world audience unlike any other film to date. It's ever-increasing charisma is undeniable, its acting and production standards impeccable, and its reflection of wholesome, simple human values is timeless. 

Yet, amazingly, this unanimous cinematic classic experienced a rocky history, failing to enchant its audience upon its inception in 1946 and reaping miserable profits. Considering its dismal initial impact in the post-war 1940s, it is amazing to consider the incredible shared cultural phenomenon it has become today. “It’s a Wonderful Life” is truly the definitive film phoenix risen from the ashes.

What if Abraham Lincoln had never been born? Philip Van Doren Stern, an established author of the post WWI literary world, was shaving the morning of Lincoln's birthday, 1938, when that sudden thought struck him. He developed the concept, imagining what the world would be like for an ordinary man if we wished he'd never been born. Stern dismissed the idea for a while, but went back five years later, developing it into a story entitled, "The Greatest Gift", which he sent out to over 200 people as Christmas card substitutes in 1943.

The author's agent received a copy and was so impressed that he convinced Cary Grant's agent to purchase the story for $10,000. The property changed hands with over 10 different people (including Howard Hughes) until it finally came into the possession of Frank Capra--director extraordinaire of the '30s with already four academy awards to his name. Capra was so charmed by the story that he immediately decided to turn it into a full-length motion picture, under his production and direction. It would, in fact, be the first project attempted by his newly created company, Liberty Films, formed in collaboration with William Wyler, George Stevens and Samuel Briskin--three other celebrated directors of their time.

The ultra-perfectionist Capra, however, was not satisfied with the troublesome script for his movie, which was renamed "It's a Wonderful Life" (referred to as IAWL, henceforth), so he assigned famous husband and wife screenwriters Albert Hackett and Francis Goodrich the job of entirely reworking the script--even penning a bit of it himself.

A filmmaker's unique vision
Capra re-envisioned his story not as a Christmas yarn, but as a story intended for any time of year. He wasn't intimidated by the tale's dark implications of suicide and despair. He saw the potential for transcendence and inspiration, and the depiction of abundant human emotion. Capra was already well-skilled in this art by virtue of his previous sentimental works like “Meet John Doe,” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

From the start, there was only one actor who could fill the "small town-everyman" shoes of George Bailey for Capra, and that was Jimmy Stewart. A proven winner for the director in the thirties, Stewart was more than eager to work with Capra on their first commercial post-war film for each of them. Tedious scrutiny went into the selection of the rest of the cast. Capra wanted, above all, colorful characters and recognizable personalities, so he picked a rich stock of excellent character actors. He wasn't afraid to cast actors against type, or to sign personable black actors, either.

Capra's work ethic was rigorous and gruelling. He engrossed himself entirely in IAWL only four months after returning from active duty in World War II as a filmmaker, compiling a top-notch crew and affixing a 90 day shooting schedule on a budget of over $2 million.

From the beginning, Capra conceived IAWL as his masterwork. "I thought it was the greatest film I ever made. Better yet, I thought it was the greatest film anybody ever made," Capra states in his autobiography. "It wasn't made for the oh-so bored critics or the oh-so jaded literati. It was my kind of film for my kind of people.”

As an immigrant child, Capra was impressed by common, everyday people whose lives he so grew to appreciate that his ambition was to someday project them onto the screen. His greatest talent rested in his power to represent the ordinary man's strength to face apparently insurmountable evil, thereby benefitting his fellow man. Capra realized this power early in his career, when he decided to create films that would exhilarate the depressed spirits of the American public, inspired personally by his dramatic recovery from a serious illness.

"Improving the individual and bringing a more hopeful outlook on life to him is the only way you can improve the nation and ultimately the world,” thought Capra. It was 1946, and both he and his fellow Americans were numb to the events of the war. IAWL seemed like the perfect cinematic salve.

Next week: Sizzle turns to fizzle at the box office


Do you dare uncover "What Lies Beneath"?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Halloween may be long gone, but a good suspense thriller knows no season.

Make plans to join CineVerse on Dec. 9 for "What Lies Beneath," starring Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer, directed by Robert ("Forrest Gump") Zemeckis. For more info on this flick, click here.


Miracle of a movie

Friday, December 4, 2009

For many, the quintessential Christmas film is Miracle on 34th Street

by Erik J. Martin

“Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to. Don't you see? It's not just Kris that's on trial, it's everything he stands for. It's kindness and joy and love and all the other intangibles.”—Fred Gailey (played by John Payne).

Like Santa Claus himself, the film “Miracle on 34th Street” seems to defy age as a Christmastime classic. Since 1947, it has been delighting audiences of all ages and winning over new generations of viewers, many of whom consider it every bit the equal to “It’s a Wonderful Life” as the ultimate yuletide flick.

Directed by George Seaton for 20th Century Fox, “Miracle” was a box-office winner thanks to a heartwarming script, seasonally sweet music scored by Cyril J. Mockridge, and an impeccable cast that includes Edmund Gwenn as the quintessential yet-to-be-topped Kris Kringle, Maureen O’Hara as Doris Walker, a very young Natalie Wood as her idealistic daughter Susan Walker, and John Payne as lawyer Fred Gailey.

Originally titled “The Big Heart,” “Miracle,” written by Valentine Davies, tells the story of a Macy’s store Santa Claus who converts the customers into believers of St. Nick and the altruistic Christmas spirit. Convincing the skeptical Doris and her daughter Susan, however, isn’t so easy, especially when he is put on trial to settle once and for all whether or not he is the real Kris Kringle.

In the end, the film’s moral shines through in Doris’ self-learned advice she imparts to Susan: “If things don’t turn out just the way you want the first time, you still have to believe.”

Interestingly, Maureen O’Hara was ultimately forced into her role as Doris against her will, as the Irish actress had just returned to the Emerald Isle before being recalled back to America for the film. After reading the script for “Miracle,” however, her resentment changed to excitement.

Even though the picture is set during the Christmas season, 20th Century Fox studio head Darryl F. Zanuck insisted that it be released in May. His argument? Summertime brought in bigger movie crowds. Consequently, the studio raced against the clock to promote “Miracle,” all the while trying to keep secret the fact that it was a Yuletide film.

“Miracle” won Oscars for best supporting actor (Gwenn), best writing: original story and screenplay (Davies/Seaton), and the film was nominated for best picture. Its lasting appeal was demonstrated by two remakes, a 1973 made-for-TV movie, and a 1994 feature film starring Richard Attenborough as Santa.

The original, meanwhile, like “It’s a Wonderful Life”, continues to be re-run ad nauseam on TV and cable every holiday season, including a colorized version.

Here’s a bit of “Miracle” trivia: Amazingly, Oscar-nominated actor Cecil Kellaway was first offered the role of Kris Kringle, but declined, saying “Americans don’t go for whimsey.” Fifty-eight later, “Miracle on 34th Street” continues to prove him wrong.


More on "Marty"

Thursday, December 3, 2009

If "Marty" made your day, you can read up more on this Academy Award-winning film from 1955 in our Reflections handout by clicking here

To listen to a podcast recording of our CineVerse group discussion of this movie, click here


Tis the season for a new poll

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A new month brings a new CineVerse poll. In keeping with the spirit of the season, our new poll asks the colossal question, "What is the greatest Christmas movie of all time?" Be sure to vote (the poll can be found on our home page in the left sidebar).

By the way, here are the results to November CineVerse poll, which asked, "What is the greatest war movie of all time?": Bridge on the River Kwai garnered the most votes (42%), followed by Apocalypse Now (28%) and Schindler's List and Full Metal Jacket bringing up the rear (with 14% apiece).


"Shop Around the Corner" is right around the corner...

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Get in the holiday spirit with a great classic film set at Christmastime starring James Stewart, in "Shop Around the Corner," to be shown on Wednesday, Dec. 2 at 10 a.m. at the Oak Lawn library in the lower level meeting room. Admission is free (first come, first seated).


Meet Marty

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Long before "McHale's Navy" set sail on TV, there was "Marty," featuring a young, cherub-faced Ernest Borgnine in a role that would earn him Oscar gold for best actor.

Make a date to meet "Marty," due up next in our CineVerse calendar, set for Dec. 2.


Loved "Lebowski"? Read on, achievers...

Thursday, November 26, 2009

If you found "The Big Lebowski" just a bit intriguing and want to learn more about the themes and psychological layers buried underneath the surface, I recommend you read our "Reflections" handout on the movie by clicking here

If you missed our CineVerse discussion of the film and want to hear what all the fuss was about, you can listen live to our recorded podcast or download it here.


No, it's not a dream, it's Disney's "Sleeping Beauty"

Monday, November 23, 2009

Pinch yourself--it's not a dream. The Oak Lawn Library will be hosting a free public screening of Disney's animated masterpiece "Sleeping Beauty" (1959) on Friday, November 27 at 2 p.m.

Parents and grown-up animation lovers, you have no excuse not to attend this event, as Friday is the day after Thanksgiving and most likely you're off work anyway. 

So grab the young'ns or the young at heart and check out this classic cartoon fare, which this year celebrates its 50th anniversary, in which a snubbed malevolent fairy casts a curse on a princess that only a prince can break, with the help of three good fairies. The color, craftsmanship and level of detail imbued in this feature is absolutely amazing. Rated: G. 75 min.


The Dude abides

Friday, November 20, 2009

If you've never had the discreet pleasure of meeting The Dude, Walter, Donnie, or any of the other ragtag band of misfits on parade in The Coen Brothers' exquisitely oddball "The Big Lebowski"--or if it's been awhile since you had--you are cordially invited to join us on November 25 for the aforementioned feature. 

Make it a point to join us on Thanksgiving Eve (remember, you don't have to work the next day!); be aware, however, that we will start the flick promptly at 7 p.m., as we have to vacate the building by 9:45 p.m. 

Also, as is our Thanksgiving Eve tradition, CineVerse members are welcome to join us for an after-discussion excursion at 10 p.m. at Huck Finn Donuts at 10501 S. Cicero (just down the street), where we can wax poetically about our favorite movies, sip on hot java and prepare our waistlines for turkey day.


Back to Bombay

Thursday, November 19, 2009

If you enjoyed our discussion on "Salaam Bombay," you can read more about this powerful picture by clicking here to download a Reflections handout.

If you missed our gabfest go-round, click here to listen to the podcast.


Podcast blast from the past

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Two years ago this week, CineVerse was immersed in the world of filmmaker genius Buster Keaton, having dissected his comic masterpiece of the silent screen "The General." 

Our group conversation was quite lively and enlightening. If you'd like to hear a recorded podcast of that discussion, click here.


My Life as a Dog coming to St. Xavier

Saturday, November 14, 2009

On Thurs. Nov. 19 at 7 p.m. "My Life as a Dog" (directed by Lasse Hallstrom, 1985) will be screened as part of the St. Xavier University Film Series.

"My Life as a Dog" tells the story of Ingemar, a working-class twelve-year old who is sent to live with his uncle in a country village when his mother falls ill. Ingemar finds refuge from his misfortunes and unexpected adventure with the help of the town's eccentrics. This beautiful film about a young boy trying to cope with loss and life won awards at film festivals around the world.

The screening takes place in McGuire Hall, and admission and parking are free.


Learn more about Scarlett and Rhett

Friday, November 13, 2009

If you enjoyed our discussion of "Gone With the Wind" this past Wednesday, I encourage you to read more on the film by downloading our Reflections handout, which includes articles, essays and critiques. Click here for the handout.

Additionally, if you weren't able to join us and would like to hear the discussion, click here to give an ear to the podcast. Enjoy!


Before there was Slumdog Millionaire...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Twenty years before "Slumdog Millionaire," audiences worldwide were awed by the stark depiction of children living on the streets of Mumbai, India in Mira Nair's unforgettable "Salaam Bombay!"

CineVerse invites you to join us on November 18 for this World Cinema Wednesday special.


Under the radar flick pick: "Still Crazy"

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

by Erik J. Martin

What do you get when you cross the moxie of “The Full Monty” with the charisma of “The Commitments”? Meet Strange Fruit, a 1970s British pop band that has reunited with the hopes of making a comeback.

Not quite a “This is Spinal Tap” for the ’90s, “Still Crazy” peels back the glossy layers of stardom to reveal the true natures of a ragtag group of aging rockers. It’s played by a stellar English cast that includes “The Crying Game’s” Stephen Rea, Billy Connolly, Jimmy Nail and Juliet Aubrey.

Though it’s not a documentary, “Still Crazy,” guided capably by director Brian Gibson (“What’s Love Got to Do With It”) and written by Dick Clement and Ian La Franias (the team that wrote “The Commitments”), plays well as an entertaining mock rock-bio, much like “Velvet Goldmine” headed by Ewan McGregor.

If faux rock documentaries like the aforementioned are your cup of tea, consider also renting “The Rutles” (a ka “All You Need is Cash”), the irreverently hilarious Beatles spoof created by the Monty Python troupe.


Oak Lawn Library hits a bullseye with "Robin Hood"

Monday, November 9, 2009

Errol Flynn fans rejoice: The Oak Lawn Library will be hosting a free public screening of "The Adventures of Robin Hood on Wednesday, November 11 at 2 p.m.

No, this isn't the lame Kevin Kostner outing from the 1990s, or the weak Disney adaptation from the seventies. It's the timeless Technicolor wonder from 1938.

When Prince John and the Norman Lords begin oppressing the Saxon masses in King Richard's absence, a Saxon lord fights back as the outlaw leader of a rebel guerrilla army. This classic film starring Errol Flynn won three Academy Awards. Rated: PG for adventure violence. 102 min.


The Wind is at your back...

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Frankly my dear, we DO give a damn...about watching part 2 of "Gone With the Wind," scheduled for November 11. 

Following the movie, we'll have an in-depth discussion about the picture. Make plans to join us if you can!


Suggested remake: The Incredible Shrinking Man 2010

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

by Erik J. Martin

CineVerse dares to ask the question, “what if…”

What if they attempted a modern-day remake of “The Incredible Shrinking Man,” the fondly remembered 1957 science-fiction classic based on Richard Matheson's novel? Here are my recommendations (with tongue planted firmly in cheek):

Dream Director: Joe Dante (Gremlins, Innerspace, Small Soldiers)

Dream cast: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (as Scott Carey), Rachel McAdams (as Melinda Carey), Danny DeVito (as Dr. Arthur Bramson)

The Pitch: What happens when you throw “Twins” and “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” in a blender on reverse? You get the irony of manly man Dwayne Johnson as a personal fitness trainer who is exposed to gamma rays and suddenly finds himself small enough to fit in wee wife Rachel McAdams’ hand. (Arnold Schwarzenegger would be an ideal first choice for the title role, but he’s a little busy bailing out the world’s sixth largest economy in California in his role as “The Governator” right now.)

Though the original film took itself pretty seriously, the now-comy concept would have to be played largely for yuks in a 2010 remake. (Although the filmmakers would have to be careful not to repeat the mistakes ofJoel Schumacher's directorial debut, 1981's “The Incredible Shrinking Woman,” a "comedy" remake with only a few very small laughs.) Audiences would bust a gut seeing the man-who-would-be-the-Scorpion King sleeping in his daughter's doll house and playing straight-man to DeVito's "Now you know how I feel" one-liners. Plus, the Rock’s close encounters with giant spiders, blenders, lawn mowers and other household dangers would be a great excuse for some cutting-edge FX.

Director Dante knows how to mix shrinking FX and comedy: His 1987 “Fantastic Voyage” sendup “Innerspace” was one of his better films, as was “Small Soldiers.” If Dante's not available, the studio could always turn to Joe Johnston (“Jumanji,” “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”). Johnston also brings a light touch to FX-heavy fare and has the kind of box-office track record (as long as you overlook “The Rocketeer”) that could help convince Johnson and DeVito to sign on, and he’s about to earn a lot more box office cache with the 2010 release of “The Wolfman” remake he’s directing.

Deal closer: Thanks to Eddie Murphy, Hollywood has a new E-Z bake remake recipe: Take one property with name recognition and family appeal (such as “The Nutty Professor” or “Doctor Dolittle”), add tons of special effects and humor, mix liberally with fart jokes and a somewhat past-his­prime star and voila, you've got a hit. The kiddie appeal gives the film even stronger legs on video as well as added merchandising momentum. In fact, the product placements and tie-ins could make or break the deal. A realistic “Incredible Shrinking Man” would require a truly bloated budget, but if the studio could convince The Rock to sign on for points in box-office, video and merchandising, the final pricetag could be held to a doable $100 million.

Bottom line: Admit it: You’d pay $10 at your local cardboard-thin-walled multiplex to watch this with a bunch of hooting kids. Sure you would.


More about the monsters

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

If you enjoyed last week's discussion of "Dracula" and "The Mummy," feel free to take a bite out of the Reflections document I created for both movies. You can download this document, which contains critiques, essays and analysis on both films, by clicking here.


War is hell--but the movies are pretty good

Sunday, November 1, 2009

With a new month comes a new CineVerse poll, this time asking the question, "what is the greatest war movie?" Cast your vote in the left hand sidebar on our home page anytime in November.

As for the winner of the CineVerse "scariest film of all time" poll, it was no contest; Linda Blair continues to make people's heads spin in fear, as evidenced by "The Exorcist" winning in a landslide and capturing 50% of the vote. The runner up was "Night of the Living Dead" (16%); "Psycho," "Silence of the Lambs," "Jaws" and "The Shining" each garnered one vote apiece.


Color me Scarlett

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The winds of winter are right around the corner, but they're no match for the lasting power of "Gone With the Wind," which celebrates its 70th anniversary this year. 

Join CineVerse for part 1 of this timeless cinematic spectacle on November 4, followed by part 2 on November 11 (with a full discussion to follow on that date).


Why old monsters never die

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

by Erik J. Martin

Old monsters never die, and they don't exactly fade away, either. Instead, they're reborn in fresh new takes on the horror genre that pay homage to the classic creatures and indelible demons of pop cultures past, a la contemporary fright films like "Twilight" and small scream TV series like "True Blood."

When I interviewed him a few years ago before his death, Forrest J Ackerman, the renowned horror historian and former editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, said that he believed many modern movies and TV shows pay a respectful homage to classic horror monsters and myths.

“It’s nice to see the legacy of pioneers like Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi kept alive in contemporary horror movies and television programs,” Ackerman said.

James E. Gunn, Emeritus Professor of English and Director of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas, told me that “almost every other kind of fiction is based on the notion that people earn their fates. What’s horrible about horror is that people often do not deserve the bad things that happen to them.”

Gunn argued that exposing viewers to timeless horror references—however subtle—in modern entertainment helps promote the classics of literature and film and form a more close-knit fan community.

“It tends to give viewers a kind of feeling of belonging, of being in the cognoscenti when they recognize something referenced” on their favorite TV show or new movie, Gunn said. “They feel as if their show is paying tribute to their knowledge of the horror genre. When a teenage viewer doesn’t ‘get it,’ they say, ‘gee, I’d better get with it and brush up on my horror history.’”

Why does the vampire mythos continue to be so popular, as evidenced by the strong following for modern horror series on television like "The Vampire Diaries"?

“A mummy or a werewolf are typically unpleasant, menacing characters,” said Ackerman. “A vampire, on the other hand, can be a more handsome, realistic creature that appeals to our humanistic, sympathetic side.”

Ackerman added that he does not worry about batminded burnout.

“There’s been a bit too much focus on vampires in the past few years in movies, books and television, and I fear that we may be getting burned out as a culture on vampires,” Ackerman says. “Being more of a purist of the classics, I also feel that they’re taking a bit too much liberty with the original Dracula archetype in some of these new creations. For example, vampires can get around by day now in some of these stories. But then again, they can’t have these vampires keep doing the same things over and over again. You have to add something new to the mythology.”

Ackerman, like most fans, believes that the undead, as well as their millennium-proof monster brethren, will never rest.

“I think classic monsters like vampires, werewolves, mummies and the like will stand the test of time,” Ackerman said. “I never saw the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde character become forgotten. And Frankenstein, Dracula and the mummy have been brought back to life more times than you can count.”

Gunn agrees that these frightmare forerunners have staying power that will defy age.

“The reason characters like Dracula and the Wolfman have lasted this long is they are archetypal—they deal with certain basic human concerns. It isn’t that we’re afraid of turning into werewolves, it’s that we have these repressed feelings within us that we don’t often let out,” Gunn said.


Hire a Carpenter this Halloween

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

You can't beat Bernard Herrmann's haunting score for "Psycho." Or Jerry Goldsmith's Oscar-winning soundtrack for "The Omen."

But if you’re throwing a monster mash bash this weekend–or even if you just feel like getting creeped out wearing headphones alone in a dark room--the ultimate Eve of All Hallows soundtrack is the music for John Carpenter’s 1978 horror classic “Halloween," currently available in a 20th anniversary edition compact disc (click here for details).

Written and remastered by Carpenter himself, this CD of instrumental music from the film is packed with bone-chilling cuts, including, of course, the piano-and-synthesizer title theme that plays as the elevator music to so many of our nightmares. 

Also thrown in are spooky dialogue bits from the movie, featuring the voices of Jamie Lee Curtis and the late Donald Pleasance. Talk about your music to soothe the savage beast.


Join the Chicago Indie Film Meetup Group

Monday, October 26, 2009

One of our new members was kind enough to pass on information about another film club that meets regularly to view and discuss films--independent films, that is.  It's called the Chicago Indie Film Meetup Group, and it convenes on the north side of Chicago.

According to its website, "The Chicago Indie Film Group typically meets the 2nd Tuesday of each month at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema. We meet as a group, then split up into smaller groups to see several films based on the interests of those who attend. Afterward we retire to a local eatery to grab a bite or drink, discuss the films we saw, and socialize."

To join this group or for more info, visit:


Hitchcock and Halloween: A match made in movie heaven

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Just in time for Halloween, the Oak Lawn Library will be hosting a free public screening of Alfred Hitchcock's "Strangers on a Train" (1951), scheduled for Thursday, October 29 at 2 p.m. and then repeated at 7 p.m. 

No, it's not a horror film, but it is a fascinating study in cinematic suspense that will keep you riveted and thoroughly entertained. Rated: PG for some violence and tension. 101 min.


Check out our November/December schedule

Friday, October 23, 2009

The CineVerse schedule for November/December has been created. Click here to view it. 

We'll have a nice smattering of different genres, eras and filmmakers to enjoy over the last two months of the year, so make plans to join us!


Let the write one in

Thursday, October 22, 2009

If you enjoyed our examination of "Let the Right One In" yesterday, or if you want to learn more, you can read the Reflections handout I created on the movie by clicking here. It contains erudite articles, essays and reviews about the picture. 

And for those who couldn't join us last evening, you can listen to a recorded podcast file of our discussion by clicking here.


Shocktober Theater x 2

Ever wonder what "Dracula" and "The Mummy" have in common? Actually, more than you think. 

See for yourself when you join us for our Shocktober Theater grand finale, a double-feature starring Bela Lugosi in the former and Boris Karloff in the latter, scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 28.


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