Blog Directory CineVerse: November 2010

It may be spelled funny, but it still adds up to great suspense

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Craving a good thriller? Join CineVerse on December 1 to check out "Se7en" (1995; 127 minutes), directed by the David Fincher and starring Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman. But be prepared to give your nerves a serious workout!


Your Pal and mine

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

by Erik J. Martin

(Note: This is part 2 of a 2-part article on pioneering filmmaker/animator George Pal; part 1 published last Wednesday)

Now riding a comet tail of box‑office success to the top, Pal jumped aboard his next, and most ambitious, producing project with all the enthusiasm of a wide‑eyed kid in a candy shop. H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds would be his sci‑fi adaptation extraordinaire, set not in late 19th century England, but in 1950s California, Pal’s home turf. Pal’s vision permeated throughout the 1953 film: instead of being faithful to the book and showing the Martians as 16‑tentacled squid‑like aliens, the creatures were portrayed as two‑legged, leathery black‑skinned mutants who fly sleek, colorful spaceships that spew crimson death rays. One of the film’s most convincing scenes depicts Los Angeles set entirely ablaze, which helped Pal and crew land its third straight special effects Oscar.

War of the Worlds proved to be yet another pioneering triumph for Pal: the first feature film that portrays a full‑scale invasion and destruction of America, a theme that would be revisited again decades later in post‑Pal productions like V, Red Dawn and Independence Day.

War of the Worlds also began a three‑film collaboration with Pal and director Byron Haskin, and gave audiences their first glimpse at Pal himself, with the producer standing in as the character described in the credits as bum #1 listening to the radio.

“War of the Worlds was always my favorite of George’s films,” said Forrest Ackerman, former publisher of Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine, when I interviewed him years back. “I remember seeing a preview of it at Paramount and, by the end of the movie, remembering to breathe. Interestingly, George later said that he wished he would have left it as a period piece.”

Continuing his successful filmic theme of mass destruction to human society, Pal next produced the nature‑against‑man action/adventure flick Naked Jungle (1954), starring Charlton Heston as a plantation owner defending his family and his land from an omnipotent army of flesh‑eating ants.

By the mid‑1950s, the filmmaker was concentrating solely on features, but began encountering more headaches with a studio system that often didn’t let him call the shots. Pal’s next sci‑fi production, Conquest of Space (1955), was plagued by studio interference and, eventually, critical scorn. Conquest tells the story of a mission to Mars with a very tacked‑on Hollywood ending. Rumor has it that Pal was furious at Paramount for tinkering with the film. Perhaps his frustration following Conquest led Pal to push for a chance at directing a full‑length feature, which he realized with Tom Thumb (1958), a movie that combined live actors, animation and puppets. The film, a big box‑office success, netted Pal more Oscar gold for special effects.

H.G. Wells was again given the Pal treatment in 1960's The Time Machine. Brilliant time‑travel sequences and strikingly designed Morlock costumes and effects certainly helped producer/director Pal win his fifth Academy Award for FX. Yet, despite this rocketing success, Ackerman says that Pal stayed down to earth and focused on doing what he did best—making more movies.

“George was a very easygoing guy, not an Erich von Stroheim who enjoyed yelling and screaming on the set,” Ackerman recalled. “As a producer and director, he was actually a pretty quiet person. And a little ahead of his time, too. I remember being on the set for The Time Machine, during the scene where Yvette Mimieux is swimming in the pool. George wanted to film her swimming naked, which of course you couldn’t do then, though it would be nothing to do that today.”

With the onset of the 1960s, Pal’s box‑office magic was starting to lose its power over audiences. He would go on to produce/direct a pair of fantasy flops—Atlantis: The Lost Continent (1961), and The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962)—before conjuring up what would become a bona fide cult classic, 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964), featuring the very unusual casting choice of Tony Randall as the multiple‑personality proprietor of a mystical circus. The final decade of Pal’s career was plagued by growing studio indifference to sci‑fi and fantasy fare. Pal produced two weak final offerings in 1968 and ‘75, The Power and Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze before his death from a heart attack in 1980.

“George had always wanted to remake Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, said Ackerman,” who was asked by Pal’s widow to deliver the eulogy at his friend’s wake. “That was his holy grail. But George’s problem was that the studios never really coughed up enough cash for him to do what he was capable of. Unfortunately, he was always on a tight string.”

Projects pulled from Pal, some yanked at the last moment, others due to lack of studio interest, included Logan’s Run, When the Sleeper Wakes and sequels to When Worlds Collide and The Time Machine.

Some critics argue that while Pal’s movies were packed with lasting, colorful cinematic images, scripts and acting in his films were usually neglected.

Ackerman is quick to dismiss these aspersions. Ask him if today’s sci‑fi film fare can hold a candle to the best of Pal’s work, and Ackerman will tell you it’s a case of the tail wagging the werewolf.

“Special effects are king now, but as far as storytelling, I’m still waiting [for science fiction/horror filmmakers] to get back to the first principles that make a film good,” said Ackerman. “George’s goal was to simply entertain, to tell a great science‑fiction story.”


"Eat Pray Love" coming to Oak Lawn Library

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Oak Lawn Library will be presenting the following film free of charge in its lower level meeting room:

Eat Pray Love (2010) -- Tuesday, November 23 at 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. -- Julia Roberts plays a woman who leaves an unhappy marriage and takes a round-the-world journey to "find herself." Also starring Billy Crudup and Javier Bardem. Rated: PG-13. 133 min.


Lilies of the Field rescheduled for January

Please be aware that CineVerse will not meet on Wednesday, Nov. 24, due to the Oak View Center building closing early. The film slated for that evening, "Lilies of the Field," will be rescheduled for sometime in January (the January/February 2011 CineVerse schedule will be released in mid December).

Additionally, please note that our Dec. 22 and 29 CineVerse dates will also need to be moved due to early building closings on those dates; we will now meet to screen and discuss "White Christmas" on Tuesday, Dec. 21 from 7-10 p.m., and "Adaptation" has been rescheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 28 from 7-10 p.m.

To view an updated Nov/Dec 2010 schedule, click here.

Everyone have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and we will reconvene on Dec. 1 for "Se7en". Hope to see you then!


Our pal, King George

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

King of Classic Celluloid Sci-fi

by Erik J. Martin

(Note: This is part 1 of a 2-part article on George Pal; part 2 will publish next Wednesday)

Long before Lucas, sci‑fi cinema had a Pal in Hollywood. And, by George, coincidence be damned if they didn’t share the same first name.

Like Lucas, George Pal created futuristic film fantasies that defined their generation. And, like Lucas, Pal persisted in his quest to make quality escapist films despite critical barbs and studio naysayers. Indeed, as the man responsible for bringing to life big‑screen science‑fiction classics like The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, When Worlds Collide and The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao, Pal was practically a one‑man sci‑fi film studio throughout the 1950s and early 1960s.

“His legacy leaves behind quite a body of work,” said Forrest J. Ackerman, the former editor/creator of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, of his longtime friend Pal, when I interviewed him years ago. “Someone like Fritz Lang, a genius in his own right, is only remembered for two science‑fiction films: Woman in the Moon and Metropolis. But Pal fans have a vast variety of films to pick from. They’ve stood the test of time quite well. His movies were always out of this world, but George was very down to earth in his depictions of the common man overcoming tremendous odds.”

Which could be a fitting description for Pal himself. The child of a theatrical family, he was born in Cegled, Hungary, in 1908. The young Pal attended the Budapest Academy with aspirations of becoming an architect, but legend has it that a clerical error landed him in illustration classes, where Pal’s true talents emerged. Pal ended up earning his architectural degree, but quickly found that Hungary offered very few jobs for architects. Luckily, Hunnia, a small Hungarian film studio was in need of animation illustrators, and Pal was hired.

His hopes for financial security were dashed, however, when he learned that the new job was an unpaid apprenticeship. Pal’s new bride Zsoka suggested that they migrate to Berlin to find paid work, which Pal did at the famous UFA studio, which produced films for German filmmaking legends like Lang, Ernst Lubitsch and F.W. Murnaugh. After only two months, Pal was supervising all of UFA’s cartoon production. But by 1933, Hitler’s Gestapo began rounding up foreigners throughout Germany, and the Pals were quickly on the move again, this time, for Prague, Czechoslovakia.

There, Pal attempted to launch a one‑man animation studio, but couldn’t locate any of the special cameras he needed to realize his animation dreams. It was then that he decided to chuck the cartoon concept and to use puppets, instead. Pal’s puppets—which he called Puppetoons—were born, and the world of animation would never again be the same.

Though many historians credit John Sutherland with pioneering the technique, some say Pal invented the art of replacement animation (used prominently in films like The Nightmare Before Christmas) in which separate puppets or parts of puppets were crafted to represent each desired action, instead of using the same puppets with hinged or malleable parts. For example, instead of reshaping a pliable puppet head for each changing frame to depict facial expressions, a series of reusable heads would be fashioned, each with a slightly different expression.

Pal’s career as a movie puppetmaster began in Paris, where he and his wife relocated to create a stop‑motion cigarette commercial to be shown in theaters. Not content with the short‑lived success the ad achieved, the Pals picked up and moved yet again, this time to Einhover, Holland, where the animator founded his Dollywood studio, partially financed by an investor who commissioned Pal to make special Puppetoon ads for him. The shorts became so popular that theaters began billing them in the lobby and playing them pro bono.

By the mid 1930s, Pal’s animated shorts and entertainment films began to catch the eye of America, and soon he had secured lucrative deals with overseas clients. In 1939, the Pals, who were in the States giving a lecture at Columbia University, left their European roots behind forever upon hearing the news that Hitler had invaded Poland. The couple headed for the sunny climes of California, and Pal signed a long‑term contract with Paramount Pictures to produce dozens of non‑advertising Puppetoon shorts.

Soon Pal was collaborating with the best animators in the business, including Gene Warren, Bob Baker, Wah Chang and a burgeoning young talent named Ray Harryhausen, whom Pal hired in the early 1940s. Between 1943‑1944, Paramount’s Puppetoons series was in its full glory, and an average film called for the crafting of 9,000 puppets. Pal’s Puppetoon characters had become a sensation, and the filmmaker was turning into a hot Hollywood commodity.

It wasn’t long before Paramount entrusted Pal to produce a live‑action feature film. It was 1950's Destination Moon, widely considered to be the first sci‑fi movie of the red scare era, when futuristic films, created as a subtle reminder of the threat of global communism and nuclear annihilation and man’s ability to stave off these impending dooms through science and technology, were in full bloom. The film’s story details how a scientist, an engineer and a general persuade rich businessmen to help them defy the government and build a rocketship in a patriotic effort to beat the Russians to the moon. Pal’s successful movie was truly ahead of its time: not only did Destination Moon win an Academy Award for its special effects animation, but the film also anticipates America’s lunar landing by 20 years.

For his next trick, Pal made a catastrophic classic for the ages, When Worlds Collide (1951), which depicts the mayhem that ensues when a wayward planet is found to be on a collision course with Earth and a spaceship is created for a select group to escape in. It, too, landed Pal and his team an Oscar for special effects, thanks in particular to its Armageddon‑ish climax, in which New York is seen being struck by a tidal wave.

Next week: Part 2--War of the Worlds and more


New film column posted

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My next film column for has posted, this time spotlighting "The Band's Visit" and "Lilies of the Field," two films to be shown in the south suburbs over the next few days.

To read the column, click here.


It's not scandalous, it's "Notorious"

Sunday, November 14, 2010

You won't want to miss one of Hitchcock's very best on November 17: "Notorious" (1946; 101 minutes) will be CineVerse's main attraction, featuring standout performances by Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Oak Lawn Library will be presenting the following film free of charge in its lower level meeting room:

Please Give (2010) -- Friday, November 12 at 10 a.m. -- In this quirky comedy, a New York City husband and wife butt heads with the granddaughters of a woman who lives in an apartment that they own. Starring Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt, Rebecca Hall, Amanda Peet and Ann Morgan Guilbert. Rated: R for brief nudity. 90 min.


Taste the "Bitter Rice" at St. Xavier University

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

“Bitter Rice” (1949), directed by Giuseppe De Santis, is one classic foreign flick will not leave a bad taste in your mouth. In fact, it’s quite the savory and rare delicacy, as evidenced by the fact that it’s currently not available on DVD in North America.

Fortunately, St. Xavier University is presenting this film on Thursday, Nov. 11 at 7 p.m. at McGuire Hall absolutely free as part of its 2010-11 film series—the focus of which is on the experience of labor round the world (previous St. Xavier showings this fall included Chaplin’s “Modern Times” and Gregory Nava’s unforgettable “El Norte”).


Second film column published

Monday, November 8, 2010

Erik Martin's second film column for (now officially titled "Not Coming to a Megaplex Near You") has just posted on

This time around, Erik writes about 2 classic films soon to be playing in the area: Bitter Rice and Hitchcock's Notorious.

Click here to read the column.


Come see The Sea Inside

Sunday, November 7, 2010

CineVerse shifts its focus overseas to Spain on November 10 with "The Sea Inside" (2004; 125 minutes), directed by Alejandro Amenabar.

Join us for this introspective and inspirational film about a disabled man, based on a true story.


Polish Film Festival comes to Beverly Arts Center

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Beverly Arts Center in the Beverly neighborhood of Chicago presents a Polish Film Festival, Nov. 10-19. Explore six different films from 2009-2010. Sreenings are $13, students, $12 (with ID) and seniors, $9. Festival passes available at

Established in 1989, the Polish Film Festival in America (PFFA) promotes Polish cinema, screening features, documentaries and shorts to Chicagoland venues.

For more info, visit


The Swimmer is floating your way

Monday, November 1, 2010

It may not feel much like summer, but CineVerse is about to open the pool on one cool movie from the sixties: "The Swimmer" (1968; 95 minutes), directed by Frank Perry and starring Burt Lancaster, will be our featured spotlight on Nov. 3.

Plus, we'll present a trailer tribute to Burt Lancaster prior to the film.


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