Blog Directory CineVerse: December 2015

Feed your inner wookie

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Make no bantha bones about it--Star Wars: A New Hope (1977) was a cinema game changer that, for better or worse, ushered in the modern era of the FX-heavy big blockbuster. But whether you love, hate or are indifferent to George Lucas' original sci-fi/fantasy epic, you have to recognize the importance and impact this film had on movies and popular culture. Here's a CineVerse assessment:

The Flash Gordon film serials of the 1930s, which also used a prologue screen crawl, a princess with hair buns, stories of rebels vs. imperial forces, laser gun battles, and more
Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces, which espouses that all mythology about heroes is actually a symbolic retelling of a fundamental myth concerning the personal development and growth of the individual
Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress, which has a similar story and characters
Westerns like The Searchers and Yojimbo; it’s a science fiction movie, but it has the sensibilities of a western, with rough and tough cowboys like Han Solo, a man in the black hat like Vader, a bar fight like the cantina scene, violence on the homestead like the burning of Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru, etc.
Many costumes and character designs borrowed from The Wizard of Oz, Metropolis, This Island Earth, and other pictures
Gone With the Wind in its epic sweep/look and high production values
Frank Herbert’s Dune series
World War II fighter pilot films like 633 Squadron and The Dam Busters
2001: A Space Odyssey, in its highly detailed shots of spacecraft and outer space
The legends of King Arthur and Beowulf
The spiritual teachings of Taoism, Buddhism, pantheism, and Manichaeism

It revolutionized movie special effects and paved the way for more realistic, impressive digital effects: Lucas’ team employed animation, detailed miniatures, and an innovative system of computer-controlled camera systems utilizing custom processors to create complex composite shots from multiple camera passes, resulting in more sophisticated motion photography that produced realistic looking and fast-moving spaceships.
Lucas achieved his dream of letting the visuals tell the story and creating a visually cinematic universe where the story can be designed to serve the effects instead of vice versa.
Interestingly, Star Wars is not very original; it’s a mash up pastiche that borrows elements from many earlier sources and uses derivative conventions that we’ve seen and read about before; but despite its stilted dialogue and predictable “good conquers evil” outcome, the way it creatively combined these influential elements and produced breathtaking visuals for its time made it unforgettable.
This ushered in the era of the summer blockbuster and the big special effects event movie that was targeted more to younger audiences than solely to adults. The negative repercussions of this included less interest in smaller, lower-budget independent films.
It also indelibly altered the way movies are mass marketed and tied in with merchandising.
Lucas introduced the cinematic concept of a “used future,” where machines, ships, and locales looked worn, dated, and lived in, instead of antiseptically clean and perfect like 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Before Star Wars, films of the 1970s were often bleak, pessimistic, and dark in their world views, characters, situations and look, with antiheroes abounding; consider movies like The Godfather, Dirty Harry, All the President’s Men, Taxi Driver, etc.
Additionally, the film rejuvenated interest in science fiction, which was depicted earlier in the decade in “nihilistic vision(s) of a future that held no hope, with films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Colossus: The Forbin Project, The Andromeda Strain, Westworld, The Terminal Man…and THX 1138. Science fiction went from a vision of an inhospitably alone universe to a thoroughly lived-in one whose inhabitants took the miraculous for granted; production design of the future went from pristine antiscepticism to a lived-in world that was running down at the edges; robots went from dangerous A.I.’s conspiring against humanity to cute anthropomorphic sidekicks that did a Laurel and Hardy routine; aliens were no longer vast, threatening forces from out of a hostile universe but merely ugly mugs in a barroom that humanity had so managed to intermingle with that co-relationship was taken for granted; and spaceflight was less a bold, fearsome breaking of new frontiers than it was something being conducted by kids not unakin to the hot-rodders in Lucas’s American Graffiti,” wrote reviewer Richard Scheib.
Star Wars inspired audiences with a thrilling sense of adventure and wonder, with its throwback sensibilities to the swashbuckling action movie, the shoot-em-out western, the aerial dogfight war film, the damsel-in-distress rescue picture, the fairytale, and the hero’s quest for maturity and personal achievement story.
Roger Ebert wrote: “Star Wars taps the pulp fantasies buried in our memories, and because it's done so brilliantly, it reactivates old thrills, fears, and exhilarations we thought we'd abandoned when we read our last copy of Amazing Stories. The movie works so well for several reasons, and they don't all have to do with the spectacular special effects. The movie relies on the strength of pure narrative, in the most basic storytelling form known to man, the Journey. All of the best tales we remember from our childhoods had to do with heroes setting out to travel down roads filled with danger, and hoping to find treasure or heroism at the journey's end. In "Star Wars," George Lucas takes this simple and powerful framework into outer space, and that is an inspired thing to do.”

The struggle of good versus evil (the light side vs. the dark side of the Force).
The classic journey of the hero driven by a quest for personal growth and the vision of an angel in need (Princess Leia).
The triumph of the underdog against imposing forces (rebels vs. Imperials).
The value of personal sacrifice for the good of others (Ben letting himself be killed).
The redemption of a selfish, materialistic antihero who proves to be a day-saving hero (Han Solo).
Nature is more powerful than technology (consider how Luke uses the Force in his lightsaber training and in blowing up the Death Star).


A long time ago, on a New Year's Eve eve far, far away...

Sunday, December 27, 2015

On December 30, CineVerse has slated part 20 of the Our Favorite Films series, appropriately enough with “Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope” (1977; 121 minutes), directed by George Lucas, chosen by Erik Martin.


Santa kicks CineVerse to the curb

Sunday, December 20, 2015

It's not quite the equivalent of getting coal in your stocking, but CineVerse will take a holiday on Wednesday, Dec. 23; enjoy your week off by spending time with family and friends. We will rekindle our love of movies on Dec. 30 (although that date may have to be rescheduled if the Park District closes the Oak View Center building; stay tuned for details).


Early 2016 forecast calls for classic films

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Curious to learn what CineVerse will be featuring in early 2016? Visit to view the January/February 2016 schedule, now posted. 


...and may all your Christmases be white

Hard to find fault with a holiday mainstay like "White Christmas" (1954), a film that doesn't set out to revolutionize cinema or keep you up late at night pondering the mysteries of life. What it does well, however, is entertain with sheer talent via top-notch singing, dancing and set/costume design. CineVerse pulled this chestnut out of Santa's bag last evening and came away with these impressions:

It's bursting with heavyweight names: performers Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye (respectively, the number 1 and number 3 box office attractions at the time), songwriter extraordinaire Irving Berlin (whose titular theme went on to hold the record as the best-selling single in music history for more than 50 years), and versatile director 
It was also the very first film shot and released in VistaVision, a widescreen format that doubled the surface area of typical 35mm film stock, yielding richer colors, sharper definition and a wider canvas for the action. 
Additionally, it was the the first Paramount movie to feature the famous mountain logo that would become the studio's trademark).
Musical highlights include Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep, Sisters, Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me, and Snow. 
The plot? Irrelevant and as fluffy as a December snowflake, as is the case with many classic Hollywood musicals. 

Yankee Doodle Dandy
Angels with Dirty Faces
Mildred Pierce
The Sea Hawk


Don't let global warming ruin your White Christmas dreams

Sunday, December 13, 2015

On December 16, CineVerse presents part 19 of the Our Favorite Films series with a fitting feature for the holiday season: “White Christmas” (1954; 120 minutes), directed by Michael Curtiz, chosen by Jeanne Johnson. Plus: Stick around for a trailer reel preview of the January/February CineVerse schedule.


Frankly, my dear, we do give a damn...

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Seventy-six years can leave a lot of tarnish on an antique. But while the racially controversial material certainly raises eyebrows today, "Gone With the Wind" still looks and feels fairly fresh--thanks in large part to its stunning Technicolor sheen, masterful compositions and sweeping narrative. Here are the major concepts our CineVerse group came away with after more closely examining GWTW:

The movie depicts a strong-willed female character who, despite her petty and selfish behaviors, embodied the spirit of the underdog and a survivor—especially on the eve of World War II. Not only is Scarlett a free-spirited, independent thinker who perseveres to get her way, but she learns how to use her sex appeal and guiles to achieve her goals; plus, she eventually achieves sexual satisfaction, which was almost never shown in the movies in the Hays code-enforced censorship era of the 1930s. Her ascent to independence influenced other American females who would join the workforce into and after World War II.
o Roger Ebert summarized this concept well: “It was the right film at the right time. Scarlett O'Hara is not a creature of the 1860s but of the 1930s: a free-spirited, willful modern woman. The way was prepared for her by the flappers of Fitzgerald's jazz age, by the bold movie actresses of the period, and by the economic reality of the Depression, which for the first time put lots of women to work outside their homes. Scarlett's lusts and headstrong passions have little to do with myths of delicate Southern flowers, and everything to do with the sex symbols of the movies that shaped her creator, Margaret Mitchell: actresses such as Clara Bow, Jean Harlow, Louise Brooks and Mae West. She was a woman who wanted to control her own sexual adventures, and that is the key element in her appeal. She also sought to control her economic destiny in the years after the South collapsed, first by planting cotton and later by running a successful lumber business. She was the symbol the nation needed as it headed into World War II; the spiritual sister of Rosie the Riveter.”
It was the pinnacle example of a producer being the auteur and enforcing his ultimate vision, despite great odds and exorbitant costs, on a film; starting in the 1940s, directors were given greater credit and stature as being the “authors” of important films. Here, David O. Selznick conquered Hollywood with his unflappable resolve and vision to bring this story to film, despite replacing three directors and several other crew members. After Gone With the Wind, the producer’s creative muscle took a back seat to the rising power of the director.
While it was certainly not the first Technicolor film, it solidified this expensive color process as the crème de la crème look for A-list pristine films.
Gone With the Wind also used plenty of matte painting special effects wherein numerous backgrounds, building exteriors, crowd shots, etc.
Although many consider it shameful in its attempt to sugarcoat history and soften the truth about the treatment of black slaves by Southern whites, the movie actually gives fairly prominent roles to real African Americans, and resulted in the first Academy Award win for an African American (Hattie McDaniel, whose character is able to talk back to her white masters).

Its treatment of black characters and its attempt to revise history before, during and after the Civil War. Nearly all the African American characters are personified as either simple-minded or ignorant or lazy; Prissy lies and acts hysterically; Pork appears lost without someone giving him orders; slaves who opt for freedom are “looked down on, either portrayed as unscrupulous or as gullible pawns of the political parties,” wrote SparkNotes in its dissection of the film.
It tries to glorify this bygone age and equate it to a utopian period and place, sort of like Camelot, as evidenced by its introductory words: “There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called the Old South. Here in this pretty world, Gallantry took its last bow. Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and of Slave. Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered, a Civilization gone with the wind.” Certainly the slaves and their descendents were not and are not wistful of this bygone time.
The whole payoff of the movie is Scarlett earning her comeuppance. The problem is that we have to suffer through 4 hours of her unscrupulous, whiny, conniving, spoiled brat behavior to earn this vindication. To many, she is a character with few redeeming qualities—an irritating, unsympathetic lead whom we are forced to root for/identify with at many points.
Likewise, Ashley can grate on the viewer because he’s actually a wishy washy character who lacks rugged, resolute, manly qualities; it’s hard to see what Scarlett sees in this weak-willed Willy.

Independent thinking and action is the key to survival and success.
Dreams are important, but tangible things can outlast fleeting dreams, as embodied in the terra firma of Tara itself, the land that inspires Scarlett to persevere.
The horrors of war; this is not an epic that tries to glorify the heroism of men in Civil War battles. Instead, we see the wretched suffering wrought by the conflict throughout much of the film’s first half.
The strength, determination and compassion of women can be vastly underrated. It is Scarlett’s will and doggedness that keeps her loved ones alive, and it is Melanie’s love and compassion that sets the moral compass by which many other characters follow.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Birth of a Nation, two silent films that focused on the Old South and also had racist underpinnings

The Wizard of Oz
Red Dust
Treasure Island
Captains Courageous
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Joan of Arc


Catch the last gust before it's gone...

Sunday, December 6, 2015

CineVerse always likes to finish what it's started. So count on attending on December 9 to screen part 2 of “Gone With the Wind” as well as enjoy "The Legend Lives On,” a 33-minute documentary on the legacy of this movie.


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