Blog Directory CineVerse: May 2015

10 years and still going strong...

Sunday, May 31, 2015

You won't want to miss June 3rd, when CineVerse will hold a special 10th anniversary celebration. All current members are strongly encouraged to attend and partake in three hours of fun and surprises! A large turnout will ensure a more entertaining evening, so don;t miss this one.


In the name of the Father

Thursday, May 28, 2015

"Mass Appeal" is a film that holds up quite well, despite its 31-year vintage, setting, characters and context. A major reason is the evergreen relevance of its themes, issues and ideas. And no, you don't have to be a churchgoing Catholic to appreciate this flick, either. Here is what our CineVerse group concluded about this lesser-known movie:

Unlike so many depictions of priests in the movies from decades earlier, this film tackles real world issues that clergy and parishioners deal with in modern times and shows priests as human beings with flaws, problems, loneliness and temptations like alcohol.
It shows you the private inner workings of the rectory and the real world lives of priests and priests in training.
It has a story and characters that are relevant and interesting, even to non-Catholics and non-religious viewers.
Topics breached in this film include the still controversial matters of female priests, homosexual priests, gay marriage, and even spiritual challenges in a secular world.
o An unnamed blogger at the All Roads Lead to Home blog wrote: “It deals with the issue of spiritual complacency, both on the part of parishioners and priests. Do we say the “right” thing, just to make nice? Do we step outside of our comfort zones enough to truly follow the gospel? Are we too worried about approval to stand for what’s right? Has the modern world numbed us to making Church attendance a social ritual rather than a worship offering?”
However, some critics charge that the film enters into an ideological debate on some of these issues without actually resolving any of them. And the movie's conclusion is open ended without revealing the fates of either Father Farley or Mark.

The importance of popularity, public image and relatability vs. the importance of social honesty, public veracity and open integrity: jelly donuts vs. women in the priesthood.
The child becomes father to the man: Father Farley is assigned to mentor Mark, but Mark ends up teaching and inspiring Father Farley, serving as a catalyst for Farley’s change.
Think for yourself, be inquisitive and don’t be afraid to ask questions: Many Christians are taught to accept church teachings as sacrosanct and not question doctrines and rules, but this film raises many interesting, serious points and debatable matters related to Catholic doctrines.
Anyone is capable of change: Even the by-the-numbers, don’t-rock-the-boat personality of Father Farley, who goes to bat for Mark after he is expelled.
The moral quandary of a priest who needs his flock more than they need him.
Sacrifice and redemption.

It’s still topically relevant in that it brings up issues that are still controversial, such as the church’s stance on female priests, gay marriage, and homosexuality. 
However, it’s arguably difficult to imagine this picture being released for the first time now or being remade today following the pedophile sex abuse scandals of the past 20 years—it would be hard for a remake not to address this black eye of a problem.
Arguably, this is a film without much commercial interest—“mass appeal,” if you will—today; how much bankable box office would it possibly have, especially considering how much participation in Catholicism has declined: Consider that, according to recent data published by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, nationwide, only 24 percent of Catholics go to Mass on an average Sunday, down from 55 percent in 1965; additionally, General Social Survey data in 2012 revealed that 27% of American Catholics called themselves “strong” Catholics, down more than 15 points since the mid-1980s and among the lowest levels seen in the 38 years since strength of religious identity was first measured by the survey.

In the 20s, 30s and 40s, priests were typically shown as sage, benevolent patriarchs who whose moral authority was unimpeachable: consider the priests in Boys Town, Angels With Dirty Faces, and the Bells of St. Mary’s
By the mid 40s and through the 60s, many movie priests suffered doubts, crises of faith or moral dilemmas: case in point, the priests in The Keys of the Kingdom, On the Waterfront, and I Confess.
By the 1970s and 80s, priests were no longer infallible sacred cows; they were capable of failure, sin, and dysfunction: as evidence, think of the clergymen in horror films like The Exorcist, The Omen, and The Amityville Horror, and priests in Monsignor and The Thorn Birds.
In the last 25 years, particularly following the church child sex abuse scandals, many men of the cloth have been portrayed onscreen as predatory, sadistic, and evil. To wit: the priests in The Boys of St. Vincent, Priest, The Magdalene Sisters, The DaVinci Code, Twist of Faith, Deliver Us From Evil, and Doubt.

Educating Rita

Going My Way
Keys of the Kingdom
On the Waterfront
I Confess


Lemmon appeals to the masses

Sunday, May 24, 2015

On May 27, makeplans to attend CineVerse for “Mass Appeal” (1984; 99 minutes), directed by Glenn Jordan, chosen by Pat McMahon.


No CineVerse meeting on May 20

Sunday, May 17, 2015

CineVerse will take a break and not meet on Wednesday, May 20. We will return on May 27th. 


A wolf in monster's clothing

Friday, May 15, 2015

Although it comes camouflaged in all the genre conventions and trappings of a formulaic horror film, "The Grey" is actually quite a philosophical excursion that asks deep existential questions of the viewer. Thematically rich and worthy of repeated viewings, this picture gets to the heart of what it means to be live and die as well as our place in nature. Here's what our CineVerse Group uncovered:

Man’s place in nature. The men can be seen as invaders infringing on the territory of the wolves (nature), who are simply doing what they instinctually know to defend their territory and survive. Reviewer Thomas Caldwell wrote: “The Grey is a critique of American foreign policy and military intervention, with the men from the oil drilling team representing an invading force and the wolves representing local insurgents. The wolves use their knowledge of the environment and the element of surprise to pick the men off one by one, like guerrilla forces who have changed the rules of engagement to compensate for their smaller numbers and inferior weaponry. When Diaz graphically decapitates a wolf and holds its head like a trophy while screaming at the pack, ‘You’re not the animals, we’re the animals!’ he has committed a war crime, making him worse than the enemy he is fighting against.” Director Joe Carnahan further offered: “It’s also man’s intrusion on the natural world and industry, and the fact that we’re always encroaching on this thing (nature).”
The important of maintaining dignity in the face of death and how the way we approach death says a lot about us as human beings.  Think about how the early wolf Ottway shoots dies—simple, peaceful, as part of nature.  Director Joe Carnahan said in an interview: “The very basic thesis is, ‘As important as it is how you live, it’s equally important how you die.’” Additionally, an interviewer posited “whatever these guys thought was going to happen with their death was what happened,” to which Carnahan replied, “That is absolutely a spot-on assessment.”
Fate vs. free will and self determination. Think about how one of Ottway’s group asks: “How could we survive the plane crash if it wasn’t meant to be ordained?” He is met with the response: “Ordained by who? Nah, just blind luck. Fate doesn’t give a fuck.”
Does God exist, and if not, how are we to find and salvation in both life and death? 
o “The Grey” has been called an atheistic, nihilistic, even cynical film, while others consider it very philosophical and spiritual. 
o Consider how Ottway calls out for God’s help, but soon he’s desperate and says “Fine, I’ll do it myself.” Films rarely depict atheism in such a supportive stance—they typically turn to religious beliefs as a source of strength, hope and salvation. 
o Interestingly, Ottway’s faith, if he had any before, isn’t miraculously reinstated by the end of the picture.
o Consider, too, how any characters that had faith or religious beliefs are killed. The lone survivor outlasts them arguably on the merits of his own inner resolve, intelligence, contempt for his situation, and bravery.
o Blogger Derek Murphy suggested: “The atheist, who has lost all faith in life after his wife died and was ready to kill himself just before the crash (symbolically disrupted by a wolf – the same creature who later takes his life?) has no illusions to distract him. He focuses on the here and now. He appreciates the necessity of the fray. Life is a brutish battle. Only the strong survive.”

Perhaps the moral is that life is not simple or easily understood in black and white terms; there are many shades of grey inherent in our existence.
“The Grey” could be referring to the grey wolves or the grey wilderness or Ottway’s “grey matter” in his brain. Wikipedia says grey matter includes regions of the brain involved in muscle control, and sensory perception such as seeing and hearing, memory, emotions, speech, decision making, and self-control.
Just as the color grey is the intermediate shade between black and white, “the Grey” could be the intermediary moral and existential state between good and evil, life and death, or even heaven and hell. 
If you give credence to the latter, perhaps “the Grey” is a kind of purgatory that Ottway must endure—a test he must pass before he can rest in peace. One theory is that he has already died, but he cannot transcend to “heaven” or his soul’s next state of existence until he has proven himself worthy somehow as a survivor, fighter, or resourceful person capable of redemption. Ponder the possibility that Ottway could have actually died several times throughout the film (e.g., when he attempted suicide, during/immediately following the plane crash, etc.), and that what we see in the snowy wilderness is actually him in a kind of purgatory between two worlds.  Isn’t it strange, after all, that Ottway awakens after the plane crash thrown far from the wreckage, alive and in one piece.
Caldwell further posited: “Similar to Captain Willard in Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979), and before that Charles Marlow in Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novel “Heart of Darkness,” Ottway’s physical journey is a metaphorical journey through his own soul. Many of the situations in The Grey suggest elaborate tests designed to assess his faith. Ottway may rage against God’s absence, but the cruel scenarios the men face reflect the constant presence of the insecure God of the Old Testament who constantly needs validation and evidence that his creation believes in him. The film contains symbolic moments such as a leap of faith and a deadly watery baptism, all of which test the resolve of the men and claims the lives of those who fail it. On the other hand, the Old Testament version of a harsh and judgmental God is not too dissimilar to the idea that nature is similarly unforgiving, making the film a series of punishments for the men who had the audacity to think they were the rulers of their domain when they are merely its subjects. Whether the punisher is an indifferent universe or a vengeful God, the men in The Grey suffer for their arrogance.”
Carnahan said in an interview: “It’s the grey area. It’s between life and death, this nebulous thing that you don’t really understand.”

Ottway’s flashback/memory of his wife, which could represent a kind of heaven or serene state of mind/existence—a place he’s now far removed from.
The wolves themselves, which symbolize a force of nature that is neither good nor bad, yet both beautiful and terrifying
Ottway as a Christ-like figure shepherding his flock
Ottway as an Alpha wolf/leader of the pack

John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (1982), which also depicts an extreme survival struggle in the snowy wilderness and gives viewers a bleak, ambiguous ending
“The Edge” (1997)
“Apocalypse Now” (1979) and Joseph Conrad’s story “Heart of Darkness”
Jack London’s “Call of the Wild”
The short story, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”
“Alive” (1993)

“Narc” (2002)
“Smokin’ Aces” (2006)
“The A-Team” (2010)


I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house down...

Sunday, May 10, 2015

On May 13, Join CineVerse for one of the best action survival movies of the last few years: “The Grey” (2011; 117 minutes), directed by Joe Carnahan, chosen by Jeff Kueltzo.


The wonderful "Truth"

Thursday, May 7, 2015

CineVerse's exploration of sophisticated screwball comedies came to a close, bookend-style, with a standout Cary Grant picture: "The Awful Truth," which brings our study full circle, since we began this monthly series in January with Grant's "Holiday." Here's our group's take on this classic comedy:

This is the film that truly gave Cary Grant his famous suave but sometimes silly screen persona and began his reign as the king of screwball comedies.
The subject matter is somewhat controversial for a 1930s Hollywood film: divorce and separation.  While this topic had been tackled before, the degree to which it is jovially and irreverently handled here could have raised a few eyebrows among viewers.
There's a pervasive sexual undercurrent throughout the proceedings here: backspace.  Blogger Richard Cross wrote: " There’s a lot going on under the surface of The Awful Truth, and the film’s sophistication lies in the persistent sexual subtext rather than in the characterisation of Lucy and Jerry. It’s there in the scene in which Lucy tries to prevent Daniel from passing the threshold of her apartment because Jerry is already there, hiding behind the door that seals that threshold, and poking Lucy with a pencil to make her laugh at Daniel’s earnest, but hopelessly sappy, love poem; it’s also there — and less subtly so — in the scene in which Lucy and Jerry are each escorted home on the front of policemen’s motorbikes, and Lucy begins bouncing up and down in order to sound her driver’s horn. It’s a sophisticated subtlety that modern movies lack because they’re no longer constrained by the implacable rules laid down by the 1930s Production Code, which essentially forced writers of that era to dig deep in order to express the sexual element of their stories without falling foul of the censors.”
As zany, madcap, slapstick, farcical, and silly as The Awful Truth can get, at its core it's a sensitive film with humanist sensibilities, one with undeniable depth of emotion, sweetness, and endearing charm.  And consider, for example, how romantic and quiet the end scene is, which underscores the true love and affection shared by the reunited husband and wife.
The film also feels a circular in construction, coming full circle by the end in mirroring the situation that sets the plot in motion: the movie starts with Lucy supposedly having an away from home a fair with Armand, and bands with her having an away from home affair with Jerry.  Also, Jerry and Lucy are paired with romantic opposites they aren't really compatible with, creating a love quadrangle vs. love triangle.
This is also a picture replete with metaphors and motifs, the primary ones being clocks or dials, wind, dogs and cats, music and the ability of music to cause pain (consider how Jerry and Lucy cannot make beautiful music together and are out of harmony, yet they each use music to cause the other discomfort) and doors.  Throughout the film, doors open and close literally and figuratively, suggesting the boundaries or lack of boundaries between lovers.  And
o Reviewer Ed Howard suggested the following: “Doors dictate the film's relationships. Here, the door keeps the two men apart even as it subtly connects Dunne and Grant, especially once Grant starts playfully poking her under her arms, tickling her in order to get her to laugh at Bellamy's earnest love poem. The door defines this romantic triangle and its sexual ground rules: Grant, the current husband not yet divorced, is already inside, while Dunne is trying to keep Bellamy, the interloper from outside, from, ahem, crossing her threshold (a metaphor used even more blatantly (and hilariously) by Hitchcock, in The Trouble With Harry).”
o Howard further posited, about the last scene: “The final door of importance here is, naturally enough, a bedroom door, the final degree of intimacy in the progression from entryway to guest room to boudoir.”
This movie echoes the double standard that women experienced at this time; consider how Lucy has never really cheated on Jerry, although it's possible that Jerry has cheated on her.  The former is explained and Lucy is exonerated, but Jerry's story about his trip to Florida is never fully explained.  Often in Hollywood pictures, women are forced to defend and explain themselves, while the actions of their male counterparts are often brushed under the rug.
The movie often has a loose, improvisational free-spirited feel, which plays into the rumor that director McCarey loved improvisational, impromptu acting and ad libbing; the duet between Bellamy and Dunne was supposedly unscripted.
This is considered among the subgenre of screwball comedies called "comedies of remarriage," in which couples previously married or on the brink of divorce rekindle their romance and matrimonial commitments.

The Philadelphia Story and His Girl Friday, both starring Cary Grant
The Palm Beach Story
The Noel Coward play and film Private Lives
Neil Simon’s Seems Like Old Times
Shakespeare's Much Ado and About Nothing

Duck Soup
Going My Way
The Bells of St. Mary’s
An Affair to Remember
Various shorts featuring Our Gang and several Laurel and Hardy films


Take aim at a quality film

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Don't miss Cinema Chat, the Oak Lawn Public Library's monthly movie screening and discussion event, which, on Saturday, May 9, showcases "American Sniper" (2014, 132 minutes).

This free event starts with a public viewing in the lower level theater at 1 p.m. sharp, following which a group discussion of the film will commence and conclude by 4 p.m. For more info, click here.


A fond farewell to the screwballs

In the finale to our monthly series, Sophisticated Screwballs: Masterful Romantic Comedies from Hollywood's Golden Age, CineVerse spotlights “The Awful Truth” (1937; 91 minutes) on May 6th, directed by Leo McCarey, play a movie trivia gamechosen by Joe Valente. Plus: Movie trivia game prior to the film.


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