Blog Directory CineVerse: September 2009

Bring out your "Dead"

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Romero's "Living Dead" changed the horror landscape forever

by Erik J. Martin

Forty-one years ago tomorrow, on October 1, 1968, a low‑budget, grainy black‑and‑white horror film was unleashed upon an unsuspecting public. It was George Romero's all‑time fright fest and cult classic "Night of the Living Dead," and if you went to see it and your skin didn't crawl, you must have been a zombie yourself.

Produced for a laughably low $114,000, NOTLD (a ka Night of the Flesh Eaters) starred a cast of complete unknowns, including Duane Jones as Ben and Judith O'Dea as Barbra. The campy plot is simple, but effective: seven people take refuge inside a farmhouse from a growing army of recently deceased cannibalistic corpses that have risen from their graves via radiation from a fallen satellite. As their barricades weaken and the crisis worsens, the once‑unified group begins to turn on themselves. 

But while perceptive critics were admiring director/writer Romero's social commentary on the dangers of nuclear war, the volatility of the sixties and the tendency for cornered human beings to treat their fellow man like monsters, audiences by the score were screaming their fool heads off and gobbling up tickets to see flesh‑eating zombies gnawing on arms and taking bullets to the forehead.

And why not? They had never before witnessed such graphic depictions of blood, gore and savagery captured onscreen. Because there was no MPAA or ratings board at the time to censor him, Romero went full‑tilt with his shocking imagery and kept it intact despite repeated advice from friends and distributors to take it out. 

The result? Instant controversy and outrage by viewers initially. But word‑of‑mouth helped sell the movie to a young, thrill‑seeking audience, who especially flocked to NOTLD playing at drive‑in theaters so they could partake in a little flesh nibbling of their own.

Like its terrifying title characters, "Living Dead" was truly breaking barriers and shattering old school horror conventions, opening up the floodgates for a host of shockingly new and violent gore and slasher flicks to come. NOTLD spawned four Romero‑helmed sequels (1978's "Dawn of the Dead," 1985's "Day of the Dead," 2005's "Land of the Dead," and 2007's "Diary of the Dead") and countless imitators and parodies, and inspired an indigestibly inferior 1990 remake by filmmaker Tom Savini. It also embedded in our pop‑culture consciousness that immortal line, "They're coming to get you, Barbra..."

A bit of Dead-head trivia: Romero was so short on available actors that he gave bit roles to two of the original $300 investors; and while much of the blood shown in the movie was really chocolate syrup, many scenes actually featured blood and guts provided by another investor‑‑a local butcher. 

Lastly, Farrell, one of our CineVerse members, was nice enough to lend us a framed movie mini-poster of "Night of the Living Dead" that was signed by George Kosana (who played Sherriff McClelland) and which is currently featured in our CineVerse display behind locked glass along the east wing of the building that you can check out. Sherriff McClelland, of course, is responsible for arguably the film's second most unforgettable quote: "Yeah, they're dead. They're all messed up." 


Beware of Kris Pissed-offerson

Thursday, September 24, 2009

If you ever visit Texas, steer clear of Sheriff Charlie Wade--he's one mean hombre with a badge, as played by Kris Kristofferson in John Sayles' "Lone Star," which is the next movie on our CineVerse schedule, slated for September 30.

This brilliant little indy that could, released in 1996, also stars an up and coming Matthew McConaughey and the always spot-on perfect Chris Cooper.

To learn more about "Lone Star," visit here.


When artificial intelligence attacks!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

by Erik J. Martin

As the old adage goes, a little knowledge can be a very dangerous thing.

Science fiction writers like Arthur C. Clarke, who made the rebellious robot "Hal" a household world in his book "The Sentinel" (and Stanley Kubrick’s subsequent film “2001: A Space Odyssey”), have popularized the notion that computers with too much autonomous intelligence turn evil, inevitably betraying and resisting their human masters. 

Megalomaniacal computers have run amuck in movies like “The Matrix” and “The Terminator” and on television on “Star Trek,” “Doctor Who” and “The X-Files."

Now there's a new Bruce Willis flick titled "Surrogates," slated to open this weekend, that depicts a future world in which (according to the "People are living their lives remotely from the safety of their own homes via robotic surrogates -- sexy, physically perfect mechanical representations of themselves." 

Indeed, if science-fiction entertainment has taught us anything, it's that the smarter a machine becomes, the more selfish and, ultimately, evil it grows, as well. So how realistic is this possibility?

"Artificially intelligent software systems don't pose any greater risk of harming humans than standard software systems, which currently control power plants, airplanes, and traffic systems. But we must take care to engineer and deploy all software systems properly," Dr. Marcus A. Maloof, PhD, associate professor, Department of Computer Science, Georgetown University, Washington D.C., told me when I interviewed him a few years back.

In his book “Mind Children: The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence,” Hans Moravec predicted that with the rate that computational power is decreasing in cost and therefore the rate at which computing power will be available, artificial intelligence could reach human equivalence approximately 30 years from now.

Nevertheless, when I asked Dr. Thomas Whalen, a trained experimental psychologist and natural language interface scientist at the Communications Research Centre in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, he offered these reassuring words: "I wouldn't expect the possibility of arti­ficially intelligent computers turning on humans for centuries. Why is there the assumption that humans and robots would compete for the same resources? One must also consider the issue of whether being smarter is more adaptive in Darwinian terms. There are organisms like insects which are increasing in numbers as fast or faster than human­kind. Insects can coexist with people, can't they? Computer brains are simply not pow­erful enough to turn on human beings."

They certainly are, however, in Tom Maddox's universe. Maddox is a former writer on “The X-Files” TV series and author of the science-fiction novel “Halo,” in which a benevolent com­puter system named Adelph acquires consciousness via interaction with humans. Though Maddox acknowledged that the malevolent-computer theme has grown a bit tired over the years, he thinks it is still a powerful means of expressing one of sci­ence fiction's ccntral themes.

"One of the main things science fiction does is express our anxieties about change," Maddox said. "Anything genuinely different is viewed as negative. And most people have superstitious feelings about computers, which are treated as magic machines on television and in movies. Some sci-fi writ­ers aren't interested in writing about AI because they look at it as too magical. When the artificial intelligence is allowed to turn into a god, it becomes uninterest­ing. In reality, I personally don't see com­puters possessing artificial intelligence turning on humans because they're not competing with us for resources. It doesn't need to steal your land or your girlfriend."

So don’t get too freaked out the next time you watch Hal up to his hijinks in “2001: A Space Odyssey” or cringe when Neo gets roughed up by the Smiths in “The Matrix” trilogy. It’s all in good… wait a minute, my computer is n ot l e TTtingggg me f in iShhhhhhh my sEntnce – HELP! THE PCs ARE TAKING OVER! TELL EVERY ONE Y



The Passion of the Brian

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Ready for an irreverent, ribald, risque take on religion? 
Provided your funnybone can stand it, prepare to be Python-ized by joining CineVerse on September 23 for "Monty Python's Life of Brian," directed by Terry Jones and starring those lovably cheeky English loons you know so well from the British TV series (plus a cast of thousands). 

You can learn more about "The Life of Brian" by clicking here.


CineVersary: The Wild Bunch hits middle age

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns that featured “man with no name” Clint Eastwood had style. The John Ford old West epics that starred John “The Duke” Wayne had stories and characters of substance. 

But Sam Peckinpah’s classic 1969 western “The Wild Bunch”--released 40 years ago--tops them all when it comes to pure, pulse-pounding blood and guts.

And there’s plenty of blood spilled and splattered throughout this flick, restored in the 1990s in a bountiful director’s cut that adds several extra minutes to the picture—lending color and texture to the characters and situations.

William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oates and Robert Ryan give outstanding performances as a band of elder outlaws who, knowing their time has passed and they can’t outpace the law forever, aim to go out in a blaze of blood-soaked glory and take a lot of bad hombres with them.
Visually innovative for its unique editing style and slow-motion sequences of ultraviolent gunplay, “The Wild Bunch” is memorable as perhaps the last truly great big-screen western of the 20th Century.

CineVerse discussed "The Wild Bunch" last December and garnered an inspired, shrewd discourse and analysis on this western from members. To hear that discussion, click here. To read more about "The Wild Bunch," check out our "Reflections" handout on the movie by clicking here.


Put "Secondhand Lions" first on your calendar

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Oak Lawn Public Library will be providing a free public screening of "Secondhand Lions" (2003, 109 minutes) on Friday, September 18 at 10 a.m. 

This is a comedy/drama about a shy, young boy who spends the summer with his wealthy, eccentric uncles in Texas during the 1960s. Starring Michael Caine, Robert Duvall and Haley Joel Osmet. Rated: PG for thematic material, language and action violence.


Download movies to your PC... for free

Monday, September 14, 2009

Do you enjoy classic movies, foreign films and enticing independent features? (That's a rhetorical question--of course you do!) 

Well, your local public library is now making it possible to download select cinematic entertainments to your computer for absolutely no charge via a new service called MyLibraryDV.

To learn more about MyLibraryDV and start downloading free movies, click here. For a full list of free movies and other content available for download, visit here.

You'll see that there are five different movie collections to select from: Classics, Independent Films, Foreign Films, Hollywood Favorites & World Cinema, and Sony Pictures Entertainment. Click on the desired collection to reveal browsing options within that collection. In the Hollywood Favorites & World Cinema and Sony Pictures Entertainment collections you have the option to browse by genre, such as Action/Adventure, Drama, Mystery/Thriller, etc. 


St. Xavier explores "film and childhood"

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Here's exciting news about a local film series you may be interested in.

St. Xavier University's Film Series, the second longest running film series in Illinois, presents a collection of movies chosen to fit an annual theme. This year's film series explores "film and Childhood." 

This year, the SXU film series will present a slate of international films that focus on the unique perspective of children in the world. Whether illuminating the individual experience of daily life, loss, change, political turmoil or family relations, these films all share a profound and sensitive understanding of the way children experience the world they find themselves in, and how they make sense of situations that are often beyond their control.

The movie for Thursday, Sept. 17 is "Meet Me in St. Louis" (Vincent Minelli, 1944), held in McGuire Hall from 7-10 p.m.

Telling the story of four sisters in Saint Louis at the turn of the 20th century, director Vincent Minnelli masterfully uses the newly available Technicolor to transform the palette of American musicals. Starring Judy Garland, in one of her favorite roles, along with Margaret O'Brien. Featuring songs including "The Trolley Song" and "Have yourself a merry little Christmas" and other classics of American popular music.

The film series is sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences, the Department of Art and Design and the Illinois Arts Council.

The screenings are free and open to the public. For more information, please contact Alison Fraunhar at or (773) 298-3083.


Watch one for the Gipper

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Long before "Bedtime for Bonzo" and his role as the nation's jelly bean-eating chief executive, Ronald Reagan was heating up the screen opposite Ann Sheridan, Betty Field and Robert Cummings in "Kings Row" (1942), directed by the often underappreciated Sam Wood.

And that's the film on tap for our next CineVerse get-together, scheduled for Wednesday, September 16. You can learn more about "Kings Row" by visiting here.


Still mousing around

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

If you haven't gotten the recent memo from cartoonland, cute and cuddly Disney is buying the testosterone-tinged superhero factory known as Marvel Entertainment for a cool $4 billion. Meaning move over Donald, Goofy, Pluto and your ilk, and make room for the likes of Spider-Man, Hulk, Iron Man, Fantastic Four and countless other muscle-flexing larger-than-life action heroes who will be promoted ad nauseum by the Disney marketing machine in countless movies, commercials and merchandise.

Speaking of the House of Mouse and cartoon characters, the granddaddy of them all is still alive and kicking. He isn't exactly hobbling around with a cane and a bottle of Geritol in his pocket, but Mickey Mouse, the timeless 'toon face of the Disney empire, is now in his eighties, believe it or not.

The world’s most famous mouse was born in 1928 out of the fertile mind of the then 27-year old animator Walt Disney. The year before, Disney’s young studio had created a successful cartoon series featuring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit (whom Mickey would end up resembling), but Disney lost the rights to the character.

Legend has it that Disney and wife Lillian hatched the idea of a cartoon mouse following a business trip from New York back to California that conjured up memories of the field mice Disney remembers roaming in his old Kansas City studio. Walt christened the character “Mortimer,” but Lillian changed it to “Mickey,” and soon Disney and his business partner/animator Ub Iwerks were breathing life into their mouse via primitive sketches.

Originally, Mickey was constructed from two large circles and two smaller circles (circles were found to be easier to animate effectively) and possessed huge black eyes, an oblong snout, two-button shorts and gloveless hands. Over the course of 1928, Mickey’s appearance evolved as he and Minnie Mouse began appearing in animated slapstick comedy shorts like “Plane Crazy” and “Gallopin’ Gaucho,” in which Mickey’s mischievous exploits helped established his personality as Disney’s alter ego and as quite the opposite of the goody-two-shoes Mickey we know and love today.

It wasn’t until the fall of 1928, however, that Mickey truly captured the world’s attention with his appearance in “Steamboat Willie,” the first cartoon to feature a fully synchronized sound track and the mouse’s squeaky falsetto voice–provided by Walt Disney himself for the next 20 years.

By the mid-1930s, Disney’s studio was booming, Donald Duck and Goofy were introduced, and Mickey became a major movie star. The mouse’s image matured with the introduction of gloves, more weight, a shorter, more rounded snout, and larger feet. Mickey abandoned Charlie Chaplin-esque comedy for good by 1940, when he made a cameo with his new human-like eyes as a music conductor and as the sorcerer’s apprentice in the landmark musical film “Fantasia.” His character development was now complete.

Over the course of eight decades, Mickey has appeared in dozens of animated shorts and films, inspired the creation of the Mickey Mouse Club TV show and group chapters across the country, became the mascot for several Disney theme parks worldwide, and went on to sell more merchandise than any other cartoon character in history–prompting the widely-held belief that this is really Mickey’s world. We just live in it.


Blast from the podcast past: "Mr. Hulot's Holiday"

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Ahh, how time flies. Seems like only yesterday our CineVerse group was discussing the classic French comedy "Mr. Hulot's Holiday," helmed by Jacques Tati and released in 1953.

Actually, that discussion was two years ago to this day, and it turned out to be one of our most well-attended and thought-provoking roundtables. Luckily, it was recorded for your enjoyment. Give the podcast a listen here and learn more about the film here.


Did that film intrigue you? Read more about it via "Reflections"

Friday, September 4, 2009

Don't worry, there won't be a quiz...but if you ever want to learn more about any movie we've ever discussed in our Wednesday night film group, I've created a "Reflections" handout for it that you can quickly and easily download here. This link also can always be found at the top of our CineVerse blog page in the blue linkbar under our logo.

That link will take you to a Web page where you'll see a list of files, each named after a film and organized alphabetically. Simply find the title you want, click on it, and choose either "Open" to view it immediately via your Web browser, or "Save As/Download" to save a copy to your computer for accessing whenever you want.

Note that these are Microsoft Word files; if you don't have Microsoft Word or have trouble opening it, try saving the file as a text file that any text/word processing program on your computer should be able to open.
In each Reflections document, I've assembled some of the best reviews, critiques, essays, and encyclopedic entries for that given motion picture that can be found on the Internet. At the end of each reprinted write-up is a link that can take you to the original source material/Web page. 

Most of these writings are quite insightful and in-depth, shedding extra light on themes, symbolism, motifs/patterns and the like that may be found in the film, plus background details on the production, filmmakers, etc. Personally, I find these collected writings indispensable when it comes to preparing for our discussions and formulating questions to pose to the group. 

Keep in mind that I try to bring a handful of "Reflections" paper copies with me to each Wednesday meeting, but I don't have an unlimited supply. So if you've ever missed out on snagging one, here's your chance to obtain it online. Enjoy!


Oui oui mademoiselle

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Cheese isn't the only thing Rochefort is known for in the south of France--there's also the irresistible charms of Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac, who star as two of "The Young Girls of Rochefort," a colorful song-and-dance extravaganza from co-directors Jacques Demy and Agnes Varda released back in 1967.

CineVerse members will get better acquainted with these dainty dishes on Wednesday, September 9, when we watch and then wax poetic about the film. You can learn more about this musical by clicking here.


Big bang theory: How "Star Wars" revived sci-fi in the late 1970s

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

by Erik J. Martin

Thirty or so years ago in a 1970s culture far, far away, the ebbing genre of science fiction was embraced by a new galaxy of viewers--thanks to the unprecedented success of “Star Wars,” first released in 1977.

George Lucas’ intergalactic opus opened the floodgates for a slew of “Obi-wannabees”--films and TV programs featuring space chases, laser

battles with aliens, and metal-suits-and-boots heroes rescuing damsels in distress. Suddenly, the force was with TV programmers and Hollywood movie makers, who yearned to capitalize on the space film craze and, like the mercenary Boba Fett, make a quick buck.

The rash of “Star Wars” clones began on the small screen in the fall of 1977 with “Logan's Run,” a short-lived CBS series based on the 1976 film. Next came “Battlestar Galactica,” ABC’s big budget weekly show that depicted the struggle of a small rebel armada against the might of the evil Cylons (sound familiar?). The program--which launched in 1978 with a $3 million premiere, rumored to be the most expensive premiere in TV history up to that time--starred Lorne Green as Commander Adama, and had at its helm “Star Wars” f/x wizard John Dykstra as co-producer. The series fizzled in late '79, but morphed into "Galactica 1980" for only a handful of episodes the next year. 

And then there was “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century,” starring Gil Gerard as the title character in another ersatz series that debuted on NBC in the fall of '79 and lasted merely a season and a half. Outer space fever even infected the funny bone, with weekly network series like ABC’s “Mork & Mindy” (1978-'82) and NBC’s “Quark” (1978) vying for viewers.

Before long, big budget sci fi features were invading the big screen, too, including “Laserblast” (1978), “The Black Hole” (1979), “Alien” (1979), “Flash Gordon” (1980), "Battle Beyond the Stars" (1980), “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” (1980) and its sequels, "Outland" (1981), "Space Raiders" (1983), “The Last Starfighter” (1984), and many others--most available on DVD. None raked in the same box office bucks or reaped the worldwide appeal enjoyed by “Star Wars,” though the networks and movie studios tried time and again to catch that coveted laser bolt in a bottle.

Nevertheless, the precedent had irrefutably been set--the era of the Hollywood blockbuster, ushered in by “Star Wars,” was here to stay.
Consequently, it’s no surprise that the list of all-time highest grossing films includes sci fi juggernauts like “E.T.” (1982), “Terminator 2” (1991), “Independence Day” (1996), “The Matrix” (1999), and the “Star Wars” sequels and prequels.


  © Blogger template Cumulus by 2008

Back to TOP