Blog Directory CineVerse: September 2017

Life, death, and everything in between (plus a few oddball diversions along the way)

Thursday, September 28, 2017

If you're seeking sobering philosophical answers to the most important existential questions, you may not want to ask the Monty Python troupe. Then again, this silly and sardonic sextet may have actually figured out what it's all about – the meaning of life, that is. For proof, look to their film of the same name, which we explored yesterday at CineVerse. Although we may not have uncovered the answers to the mysteries of life, death and the afterlife, we did uncover answers that may help you appreciate this movie. For example:


  • It begins with a strange mini-movie prologue that doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the film but which fits within the Python tradition of non sequitur absurdist humor.
  • It’s not a straightforward narrative with set characters, settings and situations like the Python troupe’s previous Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Life of Brian. Instead, serves as a series of unrelated and seemingly random sketches about life and death.
  • It isn’t afraid to be disturbing, provocative, divisive, grotesque, crass, obnoxious, and immaturely titillating. It attacks many sacred cows and institutions, including Catholicism, Protestantism, patriotism, government, education, fear of death, and others.
  • Consider the lengths it goes to to lampoon and make us laugh – depicting an extended and disgusting vomiting session by morbidly obese man, naked women serving as a harbinger of death, singing a farcical song about the religiously inspired choice of not using contraceptives, satirizing the teaching of sex education, and more.
  • Arguably, it’s not as funny as the group’s previous works; but it seems to be tackling the deepest and most serious issues and has the benefit of what appears to be a larger budget and higher production values in which to demonstrate its zany brand of comedy.
  • Interestingly, the film does ask deep, serious philosophical questions that prove rhetorical: why are we here, what is it all about, where do we go when we die, etc. Using the pretext of comedy and silliness, the Pythons force us to ask similar questions about our own mortality and reasons for being. Blogger Phil Reed said the film presents “big ideas explored in small (and often irrelevant) ways.”
  • Reed suggested that the ridiculous nature of the movie and its characters “takes us off our guard. After all, a film that intends to discuss a topic as wide and ineffable as the meaning of existence can't be taken too seriously if the question is posed by a fish with John Cleese's head on it. It makes the audience more receptive to the idea that a satisfactory answer to The Ultimate Question might not be reached after all. But more importantly, it allows the Pythons to slip a genuine stab at the meaning of life into the film without actually having it held up and dissected by viewers at all.”
  • It ends by fulfilling the promise it made at the beginning that everything you wanted to know about life and existence will be explained; ironically, however, this explanation is quickly rattled off by a talking head who reads a bit of prepared copy for a few seconds – making the ultimate explanation for the meaning of life quite anticlimactic and relatively insignificant.
  • The randomness, unfairness and possible pointlessness of life: “Triumph and tragedy alternate throughout the film, but there is always a steady magnetic return to the middle ground of life's tedium and banality, such as when trench warfare takes a back seat to a birthday celebration, or an exploding restaurant patron gives way to an after-hours cigarette break,” posited Reed.
  • Different levels of life and reality. Reed also believes that there are three parallel levels of reality within the film, starting with the lowest level, “in which the characters do not know they are characters and don’t realize they are in a film or even that there is a film to be in,” he wrote. The top level, represented by the fish – which “not only start off the film, but they appear to be above the middle of the film as well, as they are able to watch and comment on it when it’s over,” Reed noted. And us in the middle.
  • The fat man seen also plays with levels in the form of a hierarchical social structure and pecking order, according to Reed. At the top of Reed’s ladder here is Mr. Creosote, who is catered to by the maître d’ and other servants within the restaurants on a lower level. At the bottom of this ladder is Maria, the cleaning woman, and the fish in this scene. By causing Mr. Creosote to blowup, the maître d’ puts himself at the top of the ladder and also elevates the stature of the cleaning lady.
  • The viewer as the central character in the movie they are viewing. Reed writes that, often, “the camera is operating from a first-person perspective. Characters address you, apologize to you, invite you to follow them, and become frustrated with you. It is for your benefit that they are having these discussions, and they sincerely want you to benefit from them, becoming upset when you walk out of the restaurant, or frustrated when you don't seem to have learned anything from their own personal philosophies.”
  • Zulu
  • The Seventh Seal
  • Oliver!
  • Stand by Me


Everything you always wanted to know about life (and Monty Python's take on it)

Sunday, September 24, 2017

CineVerse is proud to present a modern comedy masterpiece on September 27 with “Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life” (1983; 107 minutes), directed by Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam, chosen by Jim Krabec


"You may think you know what you're dealing with, but believe me, you don't."

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Boasting an airtight knockout script, A-list actors, and whip smart direction from a European filmmaker who had a great nose for American film noir, "Chinatown" stands as one of the seminal motion pictures of the 1970s – or of any era, for that matter. Like a tightly wound onion, the film has layers of meaning and substance that can be peeled away and savored by those willing to delve into the labyrinth. Here are some of the major talking points we discussed at last evening's CineVerse meeting:


  • The American dream usurped: there’s so much corruption in this setting that it undercuts the vision of the American dream that anyone can rise up from nothing and make their own barren land a fertile one of opportunity. Consider that Cross pilfers from these dreamers and steals their land and water. Noah Cross can be seen as a destructive variation on the story of America’s founding fathers.
  • The futility of good intentions and the common man against the forces of evil: the corruption and corrosion inherent in L.A., as exemplified by Cross and his cronies, prevents Jake and the police from affecting any change or protecting the innocent. Mulwray’s dam ends up killing people, the police end up killing Evelyn, Evelyn herself loses in the end and her daughter returns to her father/grandfather.
    • Gittes himself brings about the final catastrophe and his own fate.
  • Ignorance and illusion: Jake demonstrates how clueless he truly is, with his good intentions and lack of knowledge about the true corruption around him resulting in the inadvertent death of a girl he may love. 
    • Ponder how Jake misidentifies many clues and people, such as his not recognizing Detective Loach as the person who instructs him to visit Ida Sessions’ house, leading to Evelyn’s demise. 
    • He constructs explanations based on unreliable, limited information he has gathered, and consequently worsens situations when he trusts his distorted reality (i.e., in trying to help Evelyn, he leads her father directly to her).3 With this victory of corruption (Cross) and the vulnerability of the flawed protagonist as climaxing themes, we see an ideological updating of the noir thesis of fate.
    • By unraveling the mystery, Gittes has allowed evil to triumph: Evelyn is killed and Cross gets away with the murders as well as the custody of his daughter.
  • Duality, what William Galperin calls a “bifocal vision” of intermittent opposites: Evelyn is both a sister and a daughter to Kathryn. Lt. Escobar has a ‘summer cold.’ Water is abundant, yet there is a drought, and Cross’s justification for his manipulation of the water is explained to be “for the future”, which he won’t live to enjoy anyway. Gittes is an investigator, yet he is blind to the ‘real picture.’ Saltwater is both a life essence for fish but deadly to vegetation; “bad for the glass”: Cross’ water is both bad for the grass and bad for the glass, namely Gittes’ ability to see the truth.
  • A perversion of Biblical stories: The drought in Los Angeles is transformed into a spiritual thirst or dryness, with the malevolent Noah Cross seen as a biblical perversion of his first name. Not only has he drowned his son-in-law, but he has ‘repopulated the earth’ in a sense with the impregnation of his daughter, Evelyn, and in an ironic way, though he is secretly diverting water away from thirsty L.A., he is helping to nourish the valley so that a ‘new city’--a new Eden--will grow in the future. 
  • The dangers of voyeurism and invasion of privacy:
    • The film opens with a client looking at photographs of his wife in bed with another man taken by Gittes. He snaps photos of Hollis Mulwray with another woman together, which inadvertently get published and create a scandal. His telephoto lens and binoculars are used in other scenes, to spy on Evelyn or Hollis from afar.
    • Gittes’ spectatorship and curiosity leads him into deeper, more politically corruptive scandals, pulling him even further away from the urban setting (indicative of a usual noir backdrop) and further inward psychologically, toward the center of the real immorality and back to the ghosts in his mind.
    • His voyeurism and his misinterpretation of reality gets Gittes into trouble. His ignoring of “No Trespassing” signs get him a scar on his nose (his eyes are still free, but with a bandage on his nose he can’t ‘sniff out’ things anymore), and later a brutal thrashing from a group of farmers. As a result of his spying, a man’s unfaithful wife ends up with a black eye, and Hollis Mulwray’s widow winds up with no eye (it is literally blasted out of its socket in the final scene).
    • To accentuate the voyeuristic perspective of both Gittes and the viewer (seeing through his eyes), ponder how Polanski often frames Nicholson in profile, off to one side of the screen. This serves more of a function than simply to present a subjective viewpoint --it also depicts Gittes’ impotence (his being ‘boxed in’ a corner in the face of evil or greater numbers), as well as the innate, malignant evil lurking in the corners, just beyond our frame of vision.
    • In this sense, a deep psychological framing is achieved, and a sense of apprehension is evoked with a more menacing off-screen space. Finally, this type of framing, usually involving deep-focus three-shots, shifts power relationships away from the off-sides, ‘cornered’ Gittes to other characters (i.e., the police or the flanking stature of Cross), reaffirming his insinuated helplessness.
  • Guilt and a tortured backstory: think about how many of the personalities in this story have skeletons in their closets or dark secrets that come back to haunt them.
    • Chinatown itself exemplifies his guilt, in that he had years ago been told by a police friend to do as “little as possible” there, after managing to get another mysterious woman “hurt” there (we aren’t told who or how). 
    • Chinatown becomes a world in which the individual becomes helpless against the intriguing mysteries surrounding him, and where moral degeneration and evil abounds to defy the imagination. Fate comes full-circle when Gittes finds himself back in Chinatown, despite his efforts, to repeat his earlier mistake.
  • Recurrent Chinese motifs (ethnic joke, Chinese workers at the Mulwray house, occasional oriental music, the breaking of an Oriental vase, etc.)
  • Earlier in the film, after making love to Evelyn, Gittes notices a flaw in the iris of Evelyn’s eye. Symbolically, the flaw conceals the ‘truth’--and therefore power and knowledge through discovery--from the detective, and serves to mirror his own ‘distorted perspective’ back to him.
  • Evelyn leaning on the steering wheel horn earlier; later, she lies died on the wheel, producing an unending horn.
  • The left lens of Jake’s sunglasses are broken after the orange grove skirmish; later, the left lens is missing from the glasses found in the pond by Jake.
  • Masks: The interiors of most rooms in “Chinatown” are graced with venetian blinds on the windows (and the shadows they produce), an evident visual referent to classic noir misc en scene. The blinds become a metaphor for the repetitive motif of masked concealment: Evelyn wears a widow’s veil, a chain link fence surrounds the reservoir, glass bricks separate Gittes from his secretary, even the bandage on his nose becomes a mask.
  • Water: The attempt to control it parallels man’s historical effort to control and regulate a wild, primitive force so that it does not destroy life or prevent it from existing. The detective’s role then is to uncover the ‘secret of the waters’, but the flawed Gittes as gumshoe can neither bring about reform nor curb the violence concerning water: Mulwray is drowned in it and loses a shoe, and he himself is engulfed by it in a culvert and also happens to lose a shoe.
  • Eyes, glasses and reflections: Evelyn’s flawed eye, the glasses found in the water, the eye of the dead fish staring up to Jake from his plate, the reflected image from Jake’s camera and car mirrors, etc.
  • Its sequel, The Two Jakes
  • L.A. Confidential
  • The Big Sleep
  • The Conversation
  • Knife in the Water
  • Repulsion
  • Rosemary’s Baby
  • Death and the Maiden
  • The Pianist


Don't forget it,'s Chinatown

Sunday, September 17, 2017

On September 20, CineVerse will feature “Chinatown” (1974; 130 minutes), directed by Roman Polanski, chosen by Jim Doherty


Cinderella and Pygmalion meet 1880s Britain

Thursday, September 14, 2017

David Lean is rightly known for his visionary, sprawling epics. But arguably it's his British films of the 1940s and early 1950s that bring out the best sensibilities in this talented filmmaker. "Hobson's Choice," Lean's underrated effort from 1954, blends the best elements of comedy, drama, and period piece into a highly entertaining tale about a clever daughter turning the tables on her outspoken and irascible father. Our film discussion group came away with many truths after digging deeper into this lesser-known gem, including the following observations:

  • There will always be conflicts between parents and their children, and expectations that parents have for their offspring.
  • Yet, the woman’s role in the house and the family have changed dramatically since the setting of this 1880s British story and since 1954, the year the film was made.
    • It’s laughable today to think that a woman unmarried by age 30 would be expected to die an old maid and/or be fated to indentured servitude to her aging parents.
    • Maggie’s character can be seen today as an inspirational feminist trapped back in a time when being so would wholly unacceptable to many in society.
  • The idiom “Hobson’s choice,” which means that there’s really only once choice to make with no alternative, has gone out of style; but the concept of having a lack of options or choosing the least of all evils will never go away.
  • Class struggles and trying to make a living in a challenging capitalist world are themes that resonate today. Yet, in world dominated today by large corporations, the family-owned business is quickly becoming an endangered species.
  • As foreign and passé as many of the character traits, vernaculars and idiosyncrasies exhibited by the film’s main characters may seem nowadays, these characters can still speak to us. Per Criterion Collection essayist Armond White, “As in so many Lean films, the eccentricities displayed by Henry, Maggie, and Will are observed, revealed, and discovered to be timeless human attributes, as in classic British literature. Their comic actions recall the histrionic undercurrents that propel the Dickens melodramas.”
  • A clash of wills: as White wrote: “the father wrestles with his loss of authority, the daughter fights for her individuality, and the workman gains self-esteem and self-determination.”
  • Triangles: a twisted love triangle, represented by the father, the daughter, and the workman—each of which has something to gain and lose. Other triangles: the three sisters, the three grooms, and Willie, Maggie and his old girlfriend.
  • Pygmalion and Cinderella, only inverted: “In fairy tales, the lowly commoner invited to join the royalty is usually a deserving girl who happens to be beautiful as well as virtuous. The Cinderella character in Hobson's Choice is Willie Mossup. His beauty is a commercially viable talent,” wrote film reviewer Glenn Erickson.
  • Great things grow from small: this is a quote in the film from Willie, which summarizes a major message of the picture. Consider how Willie and Maggie start at the bottom of the ladder but by the end of the movie they’re on top and running the shop.
  • The benefits of being a practical fantasist: Blogger Normand Holland posited the following: “Lean’s heroes, like Maggie, are dreamers. Think of Laura Jessup in Brief Encounter, Pip (in Great Expectations), T. E. Lawrence (in Lawrence of Arabia), and Col. Nicholson (in Bridge on the River Kwai)…like Maggie, they may dream of great expectations, but they are pragmatic; they accomplish things; they adjust to realities. The lovers in Brief Encounter know from the outset that their love is impossible, and they accept that.”
  • Comeuppance: Hobson is overdue for a fall.
  • Boots: they symbolize ruggedness, utilitarianism and practicality; they also serve on the lowest level of the body.
  • Levels: the film depicts various levels of architecture, class distinction and rank. Hobson resides in the “upper level” (upstairs), Maggie works on the middle (street) level, and Willie exists on the lower level early in the film. Consider how Willie’s lower-class girlfriend lives on a lower level street; how Hobson falls to a lower level and literally and figuratively “hits bottom” when he falls through the hole, emerging only to be humbled and placed at Willie’s former level—seeing boots at eye level for the first time in the film.
  • 1945 Blithe Spirit
  • 1945 Brief Encounter
  • 1946 Great Expectations
  • 1948 Oliver Twist
  • 1957 The Bridge on the River Kwai
  • 1962 Lawrence of Arabia
  • 1965    Doctor Zhivago
  • 1984 A Passage to India


Gunslinger Eastwood's last stand

Monday, September 11, 2017

On September 14, Cineversary returns to the Oak Lawn Library from 6-8:45 p.m.. We'll be celebrating the 25th anniversary of “Unforgiven” (1992; 131 minutes), directed by Clint Eastwood.


David Lean--before the epics

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Make plans to join CineVerse on September 13 for an excursion into World Cinema Wednesday and the United Kingdom with “Hobson’s Choice” (1954; 108 minutes), directed by David Lean, chosen by Dave Ries


Suffering for your art

Thursday, September 7, 2017

You don't have to be a musician, teacher, student or jazz/music lover to appreciate the film "Whiplash" or its powerful message about drive, ambition, obsession and the teacher-pupil relationship. And you certainly don't have to take this film – or its plot – literally. You can simply examine it for the parable it is and the cautionary tale it tells. Our CineVerse group discussion yielded some interesting observations and insights that may help you better understand what's going on here and why this picture is important, including the following:

  • It’s shot and edited rhythmically like a jazz song.
    • The cuts are meant to convey feeling and emotion and to visually communicate without words. Consider the close-ups of hand motions brushing the girlfriend’s hair around her ear.
    • There’s a rhythmic variety of tracking shots, close-ups, pans and push-ins all used to suggest the growth of Andrew’s talents and desire. Think about how kinetic and fluid the film is from the start – the opening shot tracks down the hallway for us to see Andrew.
  • It’s also shot like a war movie more than a jazz/music movie. This picture is startling in its brutality, sudden violence, blood, profanity and overall tone. Alternatively, it feels more like a sports film, leading up to the big fight or the big game.
  • Consider the harsh extent to which Fletcher is willing to go as a teacher, using verbal and physical abuse and threats to push and punishes students. Fletcher’s character is so powerful and villainous that, on paper, he would seem to completely dominate and upstage anyone else on screen with him.
    • But Andrew’s character is written and played to go toe-to-toe with Fletcher and equally capture our attention. Andrew is not your typical protagonist who is entirely sympathetic and comprehensible. He could be an arrogant, insensitive jerk, and he has qualities that are not so admirable.
    • While the monstrous personality of Fletcher may seem implausible, the movie aims for accuracy by casting a young actor – Miles Teller – who can really drum, as well as real music students and musicians in the classroom and performance scenes.
  • There are multiple climaxes and dénouements to this movie:
    • the festival were Andrew survives the car accident
    • the tenuous reconciliation between former student and teacher in the bar, plus the scene before it where he learned that Fletcher has been fired and Andrew is expelled
    • the JVC Festival conclusion
  • Surprisingly, Andrew is given a love interest, but abandons her fairly early on and she does not return – unlike so many other films of this type.
  • Fletcher doesn’t care about properly training and educating students: he wants to mold his own new jazz legend and perpetuate the tall tale about Charlie Parker becoming greater after having a symbol thrown at him. He’s all about upholding his ideals of jazz tradition.
    • He believes you need to suffer for your art and that greatness comes from pushing yourself to the limit.
    • He’s very much like a Marine drill sergeant and Captain Ahab rolled into one – searching for the elusive white whale (next jazz great) and eager to break the spirit and the body of his soldiers to try to shape them into perfect killers.
    • Consider how Fletcher usurps the truth about his student who commits suicide; he creates a myth about an untapped talent cut down too early: this indicates how truly dangerous, warped and evil this man is.
    • Fletcher believes his means to an end are justified – that his tactics and approach are necessary for jazz to survive.
  • Andrew believes he could be the next all-time great jazz drummer, so he subscribes to Fletcher’s philosophy and is willing to endure the punishing tactics.
    • By subscribing, he forms a symbiotic relationship with Fletcher that initiates a cycle of abuse; he becomes reliant on the abuser to follow his masochistic dream.
    • But Andrew is becoming a mini-Fletcher: he abandons his girlfriend; he becomes a jerk to his classmates; he tells his family at the dinner table that talent, fame and legend are more important than living a mediocre life, in a cynical manner like Fletcher; then, he upstages Fletcher at the end as Fletcher tries to do to him.
  • To what extent are you willing to push, sacrifice and compromise yourself for the pursuit of art and excellence? Do the ends justify the means?
  • Obsession, drive and ambition: an obsession with the past and in creating or perpetuating myths and legends is dangerous and misguided. And an obsession with achieving perfection creates a very imperfect human being.
  • The quest for excellence can be lonely and unappreciated.
  • The duality of our nature.
  • Being torn between two father figures: Andrew’s real dad, who was a failed novelist turned English teacher and is a milder, more compassionate person than Fletcher; and Fletcher, a hard-driving, uncompassionate teacher who also apparently failed to make it as a full-time artist.
  • The Faustian gambit: making a pact with the devil.
  • The Red Shoes
  • Fame
  • Full Metal Jacket
  • Scorsese films like Raging Bull and Taxi Driver– where the main character pushes away his love interest and enjoys masochism and violence
  • The Piano Teacher
  • Rocky and The Fighter, two sports films depicting the struggles and sacrifices of an underdog athlete
  • Mr. Turner
  • Mr. Holland’s Opus


Bang the drum quickly

Sunday, September 3, 2017

On September 6, CineVerse will present “Whiplash” (2014; 107 minutes), directed by Damien Chazelle, chosen by Linda Tague. 


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