Blog Directory CineVerse: July 2018

Like father, like daugther - part 2

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Our Fonda Family Foursome Quick Theme Quartet concludes on August 1 with a focus on Bridget Fonda, Peter's daughter, in “Singles” (1992; 99 minutes), directed by Cameron Crowe.

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A honey of a performance

Thursday, July 26, 2018

By the 1990s, actor Peter Fonda had been written off by many as a washed-up thespian who never lived up to the promise of his earlier roles, including that of Captain America in "Easy Rider." But Fonda pulled off one of the great comeback stories in Hollywood history by appearing in "Ulee's Gold" in 1997 and impressing many with his depiction of a Vietnam vet trying to keep his extended family together, earning an Oscar nomination in the process. CineVerse delved deeper into this underdog drama and came away with the following conclusions:

WHAT TOOK YOU BY SURPRISE ABOUT ULEE’S GOLD OR LEFT A MEMORABLE IMPRESSION?

  • Peter Fonda’s portrayal is revelatory; here’s an actor, previously with a spotty resume, known for his early biker pictures and appearing in cheesy action thrillers and low-budget losers like Futureworld; Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry; Race With the Devil; and High-Ballin. But Fonda proves that he’s a grade A-caliber actor with his quiet, nuanced performance. He creates a remarkable character in Ulysses Jackson. 
    • Reviewer Walter Addegio wrote: “Ulee's Gold certainly alludes to his countercultural past, but it's a major and unexpected step forward for the actor. His Ulee walks with the step of a man who's labored hard and endured much; he's unsmiling and untalkative, but there's more to him than the taciturn loner of Hollywood Westerns, noirs and cop dramas. He's seen horrors without exploding or succumbing to bitterness. He has a righteous streak, but it seems well earned. He may have retreated deeply within himself, but he responds immediately and in proper degree to a threat to those he loves - his luckless, self-destructive, innocent family. He's a man with an unfailing instinct for what's right.” 
  • A major subplot involves a potentially violent conflict between Ulee and his son’s criminal accomplices; to the film’s credit, it doesn’t succumb to a cliché, predictable resolution that calls for action or feats of physical heroism. Instead, we see the conflict played out more internally, with the protagonist making a difficult but realistic choice that may seem anticlimactic yet in keeping with this movie’s reliance on characters motivating the story over action. 
  • Despite the heavy tones at work—Ulee’s suffering and loss, the threat to the family, the concern over his granddaughter—there is hope at work in this story, as evidenced by the budding relationship between Ulee and his neighbor nurse and the reunion between his daughter-and-law and her daughters. 
  • There’s a technical “hook” that also pulls us in: Ulee’s chosen profession. Most viewers probably don’t know what’s involved in beekeeping, and this film gives us a privileged look inside that vocation. 
WHAT THEMES ARE PREVALENT IN ULEE’S GOLD?
  • Family comes first, despite differences and disagreements. 
  • Patience and hard work leads to rewards, like the honey rewarded to a beekeeper. 
  • A family, like a hive, requires nurturing and tender care. 
  • Redemption and reunification are possible, at any age. 
  • Being haunted by the scars of the past: Ulee is a Vietnam veteran who survived that brutal war only to discover years later that he’s in a different kind of war—an emotional one for the survival of his family. 
  • Staying the course and keeping on the path. Consider the many behind-the-wheel driving shots pointing at the open road ahead, and how Ulee nearly falls asleep in one scene, threatening to veer off the road, but not before he wakens and corrects his driving. 
MOVIES THAT ULEE’S GOLD MAKES US THINK OF:
  • Gran Torino 
  • Nobody’s Fool 
OTHER FILMS DIRECTED BY VICTOR NUNEZ:
  • Gal Young’Un 
  • A Flash of Green 
  • Ruby in Paradise

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The apple doesn't fall Fonda from the tree

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Come to CineVerse on July 25 for part 3 of our Quick Theme Quartet, which spotlights Peter Fonda in “Ulee’s Gold” (1997; 113 minutes), directed by Victor Nunez. Plus: we'll screen the “Metzengerstein” segment from “Spirits of the Dead” (1968), starring Jane and Peter Fonda

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An acute case of Klute

Thursday, July 19, 2018

The early 1970s were a fertile time for inventive and visionary filmmakers who wanted to capitalize on the loosening of censorship and the spirit of experimentation prevalent in cinema. One director who flourished in this period was Alan J. Pakula, who created a trilogy of paranoia--with Klute, The Parallax View, and All the President's Men--that helped reinvent the thriller and make it relevant for modern audiences who had experienced the defeat of 1960s counterculture radicalism and the rise of political cynicism and mistrust of the government. While Klute isn't focused on the latter, it serves as a fascinating sociocultural statement on gender politics. For proof, here's a recap of our CineVerse group discussion on the movie conducted last night:

WHAT DID YOU FIND DIFFERENT, UNEXPECTED OR SURPRISING ABOUT KLUTE?

  • It begins quite abruptly, with a prologue that eventually segues into the opening credits. 
  • For its time, it took a different slant on prostitutes and their vocation. 
    • According to Blogger Rachael Johnson: “Many Hollywood films have prettified and sanitized prostitution and the stereotype of the whore with a heart of gold is one of the oldest in the business. Klute has a relatively complex take on prostitution. What it shows is that the prostitute remained a scapegoat for society’s sexual hypocrisies in the 1970s- an era of progressive change regarding gender and sexuality. Bree herself is fully aware of the double standards but she does not see herself as a victim. When she claims that she is very much in charge when she tricks on her own terms, the viewer is confronted with the suggestion that there are women who are not victimized by the profession.” 
  • Additionally, the character of Bree is complex and well-rounded yet somewhat enigmatic and unpredictable. We see many layers to her personality, including beauty and ugliness, strength and vulnerability, intelligence and naïveté. 
  • It’s an early example of a “neo-noir”: a contemporary take on the classic film noir thriller/detective story that gained momentum in the early 1970s; it uses classic noir conventions like a femme fatale who leads men into danger, a gritty and dangerous urban environment, visual tricks like canted angles and high-contrast lighting, and more. 
  • The story is most concerned with Bree, yet the film is called “Klute,” after her detective lover. 
    • Per blogger Tim Brayton: “The film may be all about Bree, but it is not a character study, in the classic sense: only in the early going do we get a few quick, detailed sketches about the kind of woman she is at the start. The rest of the story is about what happens to change her; and while that involves a great many things above and beyond John Klute, he is the prime mover for everything that befalls after the first time they meet. So Klute is not the description of the film's content, but its conflict.” 
  • Interestingly, the film doesn’t excel as a mystery or a “who is the killer” kind of story; like Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Klute reveals a major identity to the audience ahead of time so we can focus on the characters and their motivations and anticipate their next moves. 
  • The killer here is a different kind of thriller movie villain; he’s not a psychotic loose cannon who chews the scenery. He’s a rich, respected businessman—the kind of guy who doesn’t need to hire a cheap prostitute and the one you’d least expect to be so obsessed with Bree. 
THEMES EVIDENT IN KLUTE:
  • Voyeurism. Consider how people are spied upon, watched and objectified in the film, particularly women. Recall all the shots of Bree from a distance, as if she’s being watched, often with her standing behind a window or an over-the-shoulder POV shot of Bree. 
  • Surveillance and spying. From the running of tape recorders to viewing through binoculars, characters are watched and trailed, often without their knowledge. 
  • Gender roles, sexual politics, and misogyny. 
    • Blogger Rachael Johnson wrote: “The New York-set neo-noir is both a character-driven study of female identity and sexuality as well as an unsettling portrait of misogyny… It is also an allegory of the female condition in patriarchy. Klute explores the objectification and exploitation of women through the symbolic figure of the prostitute. We are encouraged to see Bree as an embodiment of female sexuality in a hypocritical, sexist society. In this sense, it is actually irrelevant whether she is believable as a call girl. Although drawn as a highly individualistic, complicated character, Bree is manifestly intended to represent universal femininity. It is apparent in an early scene when we see Bree apply for a modeling job. The female applicants are lined up in a row before being openly and cruelly objectified. The way the scene is framed seems to indicate that the aspiring models are treated in a fashion not too dissimilar from women in a brothel.” 
    • In her essay, Karli Lukas wrote: “Klute can be read as an updated exploration of ‘male’ paranoia about women…its championing the feminist cause via the Fonda-as-Bree star vehicle cannot help but simultaneously reveal the noir generic preoccupation with masculine paranoia. In other words, the film’s problematic, neurotic rendition of femininity cannot help but render an equally charged study of threatened masculinity.” 
FILMS THAT FEEL SIMILAR TO KLUTE:
  • Thrillers like The Parallax View and All the President’s Men, which were also directed by Alan J. Pakula, as well as The Conversation 
  • Neo noirs of the 1970s like Night Moves, The Long Goodbye, Farewell, My Lovely, Taxi Driver and Hardcore 
  • 1970s-era movies that depicted New York City as a cesspool of crime and corruption, including Midnight Cowboy, Mean Streets, The French Connection and Taxi Driver 
OTHER MOVIES HELMED BY ALAN J. PAKULA:
  • The Sterile Cuckoo 
  • The Parallax View 
  • All the President's Men 
  • Comes a Horseman 
  • Starting Over 
  • Sophie's Choice

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Introducing the Cineversary podcast

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Many folks forget their wedding anniversary date or spouse's birthday and end up in the doghouse. But it's easy to remember a major milestone date of one of your favorite films: just listen to Cineversary, a new podcast that celebrates an important birthday of a movie classic.

Every month, the show spotlights a different film currently observing a joyous jubilee--everything from a 20th to a 100th anniversary. Host Erik Martin (who serves as moderator of CineVerse, Oak Lawn's weekly film discussion group) interviews film scholars, critics, historians and fans to discuss why each spotlighted movie is worth celebrating all these years later, its cultural impact and legacy, what we can learn from the picture today, how it has stood the test of time, and more.

For its inaugural episode, Cineversary honors 2001: A Space Odyssey, marking its 50th anniversary in 2018. Martin interviewed Barry Vacker, professor of media studies at Temple University and author of the book Specter of the Monolith, which was inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey. In August, Martin will feature a different guest to talk about the 25th anniversary of Groundhog Day.


To hear the July episode in a browser, click here. Cineversary can also be streamed or downloaded using Apple Podcasts, Breaker, Castbox, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Pocket Casts, PodBean, RadioPublic, Spotify, Stitcher, and TuneIn.

For more details on the Cineversary podcast, visit www.facebook.com/cineversarypodcast.

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Like father, like daughter

Henry Fonda wasn't the only superstar in his family. The Oscar-winning patriarch had an acclaimed thespian of a daughter--who won a Best Actress Academy Award for “Klute” (1971; 114 minutes), directed by Alan J. Pakula, which constitutes part 2 of CineVerse's current Quick Theme Quartet: A Fonda Family Foursome. Join us July 18 for this film and discussion.

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Print the legend

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Do filmmakers have a responsibility to follow the facts and maintain historical accuracy when tackling a biopic about a major public or political figure, or can they take dramatic license to tell an entertaining tale--even if it's a "tall" one that seriously stretches the truth? These are questions that arise after watching a film like John Ford's highly acclaimed and venerated "Young Mr. Lincoln" (1939), which spins a fun and gripping yarn but could put off some viewers expecting veracity and a dramatization of well-known events. Here's a roundup of our talking points last evening after discussing this movie with our CineVerse members:

WHAT DID YOU FIND CURIOUS, REFRESHING, NOTEWORTHY OR ENJOYABLE ABOUT THIS PICTURE?

  • It doesn’t aim for exact historical accuracy. The trial sequence is only loosely based on a real court case Lincoln defended and won, and many other scenes and situations are pure hokum or speculation. 
  • Being freed of trying to do justice to the “Great Emancipator’s” real story, the filmmakers are free to explore mythmaking, play up Americana, and turn Lincoln into a too-good-to-be-true folk hero. 
    • According to DVD Savant reviewer Glenn Erickson: “It doesn't have to deal with the man's legacy or any of the big chapters in his career. It instead looks at what could be called the future president's formative years.” 
  • The film lacks a strong central narrative, instead consisting primarily of three different acts: the man’s humble young beginnings when he was courting Anne Rutledge; his period of growing into a leadership role following Anne’s death; and the trial of two innocent men, with the latter serving as the most focused plot. 
  • Fonda seems, like Daniel Day Lewis in contemporary times, like he was made for the part, and he appears to step into Lincoln’s shoes effortlessly by not being pressured to be perfect and instead imbuing the part with subtlety and restraining any temptations to chew the scenery. 
    • Some have said his performance evokes the folksy mannerisms, speech and personality of Will Rogers, a 1930s humorist who also starred in a handful of Ford films. 
  • This is the product of an extraordinary collection of talents, including master director John Ford, the perfectly cast Fonda, producer Darryl F. Zanuck, screenwriter Lamar Trotti, and composer Alfred Newman. 
    • Criterion Collection essayist Geoffrey O’Brien wrote: “It is a masterpiece of concision in which every element in every shot, every ratio, every movement, every shift of viewpoint seems dense with significance, yet it breathes an air of casual improvisation. While its surfaces paint, with relaxed humor and effortless nostalgic charm, an imaginary antebellum America, it sustains an underlying note of somber apprehension, all the more powerful for being held in check… The film radiates a youthful joy, while at the same time insistently implying that the hero’s destiny—the moment when the weight of history becomes unavoidable—will necessarily mean the loss of all joy.” 
WHAT THEMES STAND OUT IN YOUNG MR. LINCOLN?
  • The power of myth and abiding by the principle of “when the legend becomes fact, print the legend,” as espoused in a later Ford film, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. 
  • The impact of simple but effective words and the ability to speak to people in language they understand. Put another way, words actually speak louder than actions, when they’re delivered by a great orator and man of the people like Lincoln. 
  • Helping our fellow man and looking out for the little people is everyone’s duty. 
  • Fate and destiny: consider that Lincoln trusts in the randomness of a branch falling to determine which path to follow; knowing how he will become a great leader and president, this tall-tale moment feels like it’s been preordained. 
  • Never forget where you came from. Lincoln supposedly remained humble and appreciative of his roots, his stomping grounds, and the common folk who influenced him, and he used his down-home small town charm and native skills—like rail splitting—to win friends and influence people. 
  • Great men and women are often driven to greatness by loss and toil. Lincoln grew up poor, had to work hard, and suffered great heartache when his first love died. 
  • Rivalry and competition: this film plays up the rivalry between Lincoln and Stephen Douglas 
WHAT OTHER FILMS OR WORKS DOES THIS MOVIE REMIND YOU OF?
  • Three other Lincoln biopics: Abraham Lincoln (1930), starring Walter Huston; Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940), starring Raymond Massey, and Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln (2012), starring Daniel Day Lewis 
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, another film featuring a great courtroom drama at its heart and which also has its heroic protagonist defuse a lynching situation with skillful rhetoric. 
  • The Devil and Daniel Webster, another great tall tale kind of movie featuring a venerated politician/lawyer in the title character and a memorable trial. 
OTHER MASTERPIECES BY JOHN FORD:
  • Stagecoach 
  • Drums Along the Mohawk 
  • The Grapes of Wrath 
  • How Green Was My Valley 
  • My Darling Clementine 
  • Fort Apache 
  • She Wore a Yellow Ribbon 
  • Rio Grande 
  • The Quiet Man 
  • Mister Roberts 
  • The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

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The railsplitter grows up

Sunday, July 8, 2018

On July 11, CineVerse introduces a new Quick Theme Quartet. “Quick-theme” months explore movies tied together by a theme. Over the next 4 weeks, CineVerse will present A Fonda Family Foursome: four acclaimed and memorable films each starring a member of the Fonda acting family (an idea suggested by Brian Hansen). Week 1: Henry Fonda in “Young Mr. Lincoln” (1939; 100 minutes), directed by John Ford. Plus: A trailer reel featuring highlights from Henry Fonda’s career.

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No CineVerse meeting on July 4

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Independence Day happens to fall on a Wednesday this year, which means there will be no CineVerse meeting on July 4. Enjoy the holiday!

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