Blog Directory CineVerse: August 2018

I know all there is to know about the crying game...

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Not many motion pictures take as many left turns as Neal Jordan's "The Crying Game" from 1992, which starts out as a political thriller, shifts into a strange love story, then meshes these two elements into a gripping third act. Of course, there's a shocking twist along the way (SPOILER! Dil, a love interest of the main protagonist, is revealed to be transgender) that created much buzz and controversy 26 years ago. The film still has the power to provoke robust thought and discussion, as shown last night at CineVerse. Here's a summary of our talking points:


  • The film turns in different directions that you don’t see coming. Consider that the first third leads you to believe this will be a gripping political thriller. But after 30 minutes, the focus shifts to more of a mystery/love story. 
  • We come to identify more with a character we didn’t expect we would as the movie progresses. In this way, and others, this film is like Hitchcock’s “Psycho”; recall how in that film, the main character, Marion, was killed halfway through the movie and then we are forced to identify with Norman Bates. 
    • According to Roger Ebert: “Jordan's wonderful film does what Hitchcock's "Psycho" (1960), a very different film, also did: It involves us deeply in its story, and then it reveals that the story is really about something else altogether. We may have been fooled, but so was the hero, and as the plot reveals itself we find ourselves identifying more and more with him.” 
  • The film plays with gender roles and gender expectations in many ways. Think about how the female love interest is actually not the top-billed actress Miranda Richardson – instead, it’s a person who’s either a transvestite or a transgender woman. Ponder, as well, how some characters names are often associated with the opposite gender, like Jude and Jody. 
  • The movie also defies casting expectations. The filmmakers cast a Brit (Miranda Richardson) to portray an Irishwoman and an American (Forest Whitaker) to portray a Brit. 
  • Jaye Davidson, who plays Dil, doesn’t let the character become a stereotype. If you’ve not previously seen the movie or heard anyone talk about it, it’s likely that you, along with the vast majority of folks who first saw the movie in 1992, don’t guess prematurely that Dil is not who she appears to be. 
    • “Jordan never allows Davidson to be portrayed as an absurdist caricature, as characters in cross-dressing films such as Some Like it Hot or Tootsie often are. Davidson may be dark humored, witty and ironic, but never farcical. His inscrutability is convincing enough so the character’s gender shifts (from feminine to masculine then back to feminine) are each persuasive, layering the character’s many dimensions,” wrote essayist Brian Eggert at the Deep Focus Review. 
  • The picture could be seen as a pro-IRA statement, which caused controversy at the time. Director Neil Jordan tried to defuse these criticisms by saying:” “The IRA has done terrible things. But what’s important about the way the film approaches that reality is that they’ve become people they didn’t want to be. That doesn’t mean the cause is wrong.” 
  • People stay true to their natures, as echoed in the story of the scorpion and frog. 
  • Things are not what they seem, people are often not who they appear to be, and life is unpredictable. Recall Dil’s quote: “Funny the way things go, never the way you expect them.” 
  • Love transcends the boundaries of gender, race and politics. 
  • A bizarre love triangle in which one third of the triangle is dead. Triangles are also a motif in the film: Fergus, Dil and Jody; Fergus, Dil and the bartender; Fergus, Dil and her bald boyfriend; Fergus, Jody and Jude; and Fergus, Dil and Jude. 
  • The quest for redemption 
  • While many other films have surprise twists, there are actually very few movies like The Crying Game – which supports the notion that this is a one-of-a-kind original film with few imitators 
  • Vertigo and Psycho 
  • Boys Don’t Cry 
  • The Company of Wolves 
  • Mona Lisa 
  • Interview with the Vampire 
  • Michael Collins 
  • The End of the Affair


Suspense and intrigue from overseas

Sunday, August 26, 2018

World Cinema Wednesday returns to CineVerse with a gem from the United Kingdom on August 29: “The Crying Game” (1992; 112 minutes), directed by Neil Jordan, chosen by Dan Quenzel.


CineVerse September/October schedule is live

Friday, August 24, 2018

CineVerse has plenty of thrills, chills and entertainment planned for the next two months. For proof, check out the brand-new September/October 2018 schedule, ready for viewing here.


Family is forever – until it's not

Thursday, August 23, 2018

"What to do about mom and dad?" has been an age-old question pondered by countless generations throughout history. For proof, look to Leo McCarey's unexpectedly frank and predominantly non-sentimental take on this timeless sociocultural quandary, "Make Way For Tomorrow," from 1937. Orson Welles once said that this film would "make a stone cry." For some, it was a three-hanky night at CineVerse last evening watching and discussing this picture. Following are the major takeaways from our talk:


  • The ending is shockingly downbeat, startling and unexpected, especially for a movie of this time. And the mood and subject matter of most of the rest of the film is also sad and depressing. 
    • Consider that director Leo McCarey was known for making audiences laugh, helming several classic comedies. 
    • Consider also that this was still the Great Depression, when viewers often flocked to the movie theater to forget their troubles and take refuge in escapist entertainment, like comedies, musicals and romances. 
  • This film forces audiences to confront deep social issues and ask themselves, What do I do in this situation? There are no easy answers. 
    • Consequently, the film bombed at the box office, and McCarey was awarded Best Director not for this movie but for “The Awful Truth” in the same year. 
  • According to Criterion Collection essayist Tag Gallagher, Make Way for Tomorrow has three revolutionary cinematic moments: 
    • The first comes 40 minutes into the movie, when Lucy looks directly into the camera, supposedly at Anita but more importantly at the viewer. Anita stares back. “It’s a collision of eyes, and we’re in the middle. We become the repository of the space (and emotions) they share. Complicit indeed. If we feel tempted to pass judgment on them, we immediately know we can’t. Crosscuts of this sort, 180 degrees, are extremely rare in films… But once we notice and feel, physically feel, their eyes thrusting their souls into our hearts, the movie’s dynamics change from a trip to a torrent.” 
    • The second moment occurs at the 58 minute mark: there is a repeat of 180 degree cuts between characters who stare at the audience. Here, Lucy tells son George, and the viewer, that she wants to live in the old ladies’ home. 
    • The third revolutionary point comes “when Lucy takes charge of Bark…Insistently, she makes the best of the hand she is dealt…In attending to Bark, Lucy makes their last hours joyful and full when they could have been unrelieved agony…With moral command, Lucy accepts the inevitable defeats of life, defeats that are universal. And after Bark is gone, she's shattered, but turns to go her way, alone.” 
  • Many critics and scholars argue that this film doesn’t wallow in melodrama or over-the-top sentimentality. The proof? There is a minimal musical score used; and rarely is music used to emotionally manipulate you and evoke pity. More effective is the use of diegetic music, like the band playing “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” which can elicit sympathy and nostalgia, but at least it’s a song playing credibly in the characters’ background. 
  • Interestingly, there aren’t obvious antagonists in this picture – not even the adult children. Roger Ebert wrote: “None of the children are cruel. They all speak with their parents kindly. There are no villains.” 
    • Recall that Lucy and Bark each have their flaws and aggravating qualities that plausibly motivate the characters around them. We see both sides of the story – the perspective of the elders and the points of view of their children and their peers. 
    • "What’s so powerful about the film is its level gaze. It calmly, almost dispassionately, regards the situation and how it plays out. No spin…The most powerful films often simply show you events without instructing you how to feel about them. It is remarkable that a film this true and unrelenting was made by Hollywood in 1937,” Ebert concluded. 
  • It’s also evident that the age of these elder parents – around 70 years old – was considered ancient by Americans at this time. In fact, the average life expectancy for men and women in 1937 was 58 and 62 years, respectively. Today, two 70-year-olds could very well still be working, active, healthy and relatively productive and remain living independently. 
    • Keep in mind that actress Beulah Bondi was only in her late 40s when this movie was filmed, and actor Victor Moore was merely 60, yet it’s telling that they both looked so much older, not entirely due to movie makeup. 
  • The movie also seems to lightly touch on other social and racial issues of the time – which was a real rarity for a late 1930s movie. 
    • DVD Savant reviewer Glenn Erickson wrote: “McCarey is also sensitive to issues often sentimentalized or ignored in 1930s movies. The Coopers' black maid is an employee with rights and needs of her own. When the Jewish merchant Max pays a visit to his friend Bark's sickbed, Cora slams the door in his face, dismissing his wife's chicken soup in a way that smacks of anti-Semitism.” 
  • Honor they father and mother 
  • The ties that bind – family bonds and their strengths and weaknesses 
  • Unconditional love and making sacrifices for the greater good 
  • Finding meaning and relevance in the waning years of your life 
  • The generation gap and the passing of the torch from parents to children 
  • Facing life’s fears and changes with dignity, hope, bravery and, ultimately, acceptance 
  • Tokyo Story 
  • Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans 
  • I Never Sang for My Father 
  • On Golden Pond 
  • Nothing in Common 
  • Duck Soup 
  • Ruggles of Red Gap 
  • The Awful Truth 
  • Going My Way 
  • The Bells of St. Mary’s 
  • An Affair to Remember 
  • Various shorts featuring Our Gang and several Laurel and Hardy films 


Honor thy father and mother...

Sunday, August 19, 2018

On August 22, CineVerse presents “Make Way For Tomorrow” (1937; 92 minutes), directed by Leo McCarey, chosen by Peggy Quinn. Plus: stick around for a trailer reel preview of the September/October CineVerse schedule.


"We do not wash our own just gets dirtier"

Thursday, August 16, 2018

For further proof that the early 1970s was a fertile period for fresh and creative filmmaking that could conjure up credible stories for adults more firmly entrenched in the real world, consider Sidney Lumet's "Serpico," the 1973 biopic of an honest cop in a cesspool city. What makes "Serpico" so resonant and timeless, despite the passing of 45 years? Consider the evidence discussed during CineVerse yesterday:


  • This is the film that made Al Pacino a top-billed star. Consider that just prior to this, he appeared in The Godfather, but that was an ensemble cast headed by Marlon Brando. 
  • This story relies more on its lead character and his personality than the narrative. Hence, there is a lot of pressure on Pacino to deliver a stellar performance, which he does. 
  • The timing of this movie was opportune: note that the Watergate story was trending at the time Serpico was theatrically released; combine that with the public’s displeasure in our country’s involvement in the Vietnam War and are growing mistrust of government and it’s easy to see how Serpico – a film that explores governmental and bureaucratic corruption – would have been embraced by audiences. 
  • Think about how Frank Serpico – and this film – would have appealed equally to conservatives and liberals; he’s an honest cop trying to uphold law and order, yet he is also an idealist and agent for change, seems to be in tune with hippie culture, and expresses an artistic, philosophical and sensitive side. 
  • The character of Serpico also flies in the face of other police officers depicted on the big screen in the early 1970s, including Popeye Doyle in The French Connection, Harry Callahan in Dirty Harry, Buddy in the Seven-Ups, and other ultra-macho cops of that era. 
    • Pacino plays Serpico with more subtlety, calm and reserve than many of these other characters, which makes the scenes when he boils over with anger all the more memorable because they stand in contrast to the otherwise cool and collected character. 
  • This is based on a true story, and has been hailed as being fairly accurate and authentic to the person and events. In other words, this movie deserves props because the filmmakers could have played loose and fast with the facts, exaggerated Serpico’s character more, and take an artistic license by ratcheting up the violence, sex and action elements. 
    • DVD Savant reviewer Glenn Erickson wrote: “1973 was a key year for cops and crime films of all stripes, with many interesting pictures portraying police and criminal activities using the gritty semi-docu look initiated by William Friedkin’s The French Connection… For a film that one would think the NYPD would never allowed to be made on the city streets, all the settings and precincts look 100% authentic, from the fingerprint and file rooms to the grungy bathrooms. The show has an enormous cast of real -looking faces.” 
    • Reviewer Sean Axmaker wrote: “It helped set the style of American crime dramas in the seventies with (its) gritty look at street-level law enforcement and realistic portrait of procedure and systemic failure and it established Lumet as a director of intelligent, gritty, modern crime dramas. Pacino earned his second Academy Award nomination for Best Actor and Lumet was nominated for Best Director by the Director’s Guild of America. The two reunited for two years later for Dog Day Afternoon (1975), which continued to build on the dynamic sense of character and location and moral confusion first explored in Serpico.” 
  • “Serpico is awash in the grimy reds and browns that so defined the look of lower-budget genre projects from the Seventies. Arthur Ornitz’s cinematography, Charles Bailey’s production design, and Anna Hill Johnstone’s costumes capture the architecture of internal resistance. Pacino exists in their world, donning a beard that encapsulates a certain male aesthetic of the era,” wrote Village Voice critic Nicholas Forster 
  • The movie isn’t specific about place or time – we know that this is New York City, and we know that the real Frank Serpico became a cop in 1959 and was shot in 1971. But this picture resists giving us any definitive timestamps. We pick things up through context and visual cues to know that time has passed and roughly what era is depicted. Note, for examples, that there are no scenes of Serpico moving in his girlfriend, bringing home his new pet bird or mouse, meeting with the New York Times, etc. 
  • We get a good sense of the character’s loneliness and sequestration from his peers because the filmmakers often place him in wide shots that make him appear diminutive to his surroundings; these shots are contrasted with close-up images of other cops and detectives who seem to be “closing in” on Serpico and getting in his face. Viewers can feel the oppression with this tighter framing. 
  • Nice guys often finish last. Serpico loses virtually everything he has—his girlfriends, the respect and trust of his colleagues, his job and nearly his life. 
  • Bucking the establishment 
  • Pioneers and mavericks often pay the heaviest price. 
  • Thinking outside the box and daring to make an unpopular change. 
  • “Outsiders and rebels who were isolated by their principles and took outspoken stands against systems they saw as morally wrong and detrimental to society,” posited Rob Nixon of Turner Classic Movies online, who mentions other Lumet movies that bear this trademark: 12 Angry Men, Network, Prince of the City, and The Verdict. 
  • The French Connection 
  • McQ 
  • Prince of the City 
  • The Untouchables
  • Training Day 
  • The Departed 
  • 12 Angry Men 
  • Long Day’s Journey into Night 
  • The Pawnbroker 
  • Fail Safe 
  • Murder on the Orient Express 
  • Dog Day Afternoon 
  • Network 
  • The Verdict 
  • Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead


Pacino in his prime

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Make plans to attend CineVerse on August 15, when we'll feature “Serpico” (1973; 130 minutes), directed by Sidney Lumet, chosen by Larry Liepart


Relive "Groundhog Day" – without getting stuck in Punxsutawney

For the second episode of my new Cineversary podcast, I honor the silver anniversary of a solid gold film: Groundhog Day, originally released in 1993. Listen as I interview the movie's screenwriter, Danny Rubin, and learn what makes Groundhog Day tick. We discuss why the picture still resonates all these years later, how it inspired a cottage industry of time loop movies, what it was like collaborating with Bill Murray and director Harold Ramis, how this tale was turned into a successful Broadway musical, and more.

You can stream, download or subscribe to the Cineversary podcast by clicking below or using Apple Podcasts, iTunes, Anchor, Breaker, Castbox, Google Podcasts, Google Play Music, Overcast, Pocket Casts, PodBean, RadioPublic, Spotify, Stitcher, or TuneIn.


"We are not things!"

Thursday, August 9, 2018

If your film sensibilities feed on relentless action, grandiose chase sequences, jaw-dropping pyrotechnics and rapid-fire thrills, you can't do much better than "Mad Max: Fury Road." The fourth installment in director George Miller's Mad Max series, this episode benefits from a tight script, tremendous stunt work and visual effects, and breathtaking photography that showcases a painted desert to rival John Ford's beloved Monument Valley. Here are the many reasons why this flick is worth talking about:


  • The titular character may be a male, played by Tom Hardy; but the lead character is arguably Imperator Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron, who gets co-lead billing with Hardy and is equally promoted in the marketing of the film, unlike any previous character in the earlier Mad Max movies. 
  • Max actually plays the role of more of a supporting character than a protagonist who drives the action (New York Times reviewer A.O. Scott calls him “more sidekick than hero”); Furiosa literally drives the action, being that she’s behind the wheel, the mastermind of the escape, and calling most of the shots. 
  • The 5 escaped females are not depicted as one-dimensional characters; while they may be attractive, they each have distinctive personalities and can evoke strong emotional reactions in the viewer. Technically, they may be the MacGuffin of this story, but we get to know and care about them as more than precious cargo. 
  • Consider the resourcefulness and skill of the Vuvalini women of the desert, who seem capable of defending themselves against men. These are very strong female warrior characters. 
  • Slash Film writer Angie Han proposes an interesting theory: “In a typically testosterone-heavy summer movie season, Mad Max: Fury Road stands out for its unapologetic feminist streak. Most obviously, this is manifested in the compelling female characters, and the…radical notion that women are not property. But the film has just as much to say about men — specifically what masculinity is, and what place it has in our society. At the center of the film are two types of masculinity: the toxic, destructive kind represented by Immortan Joe, and the healthy, productive kind represented by Max. The conflict between them drives the movie, and points a way forward for our world…Mad Max: Fury Road offers a road map for the modern man.” 
  • Han and others point to the gender relationships in this film as defying what we typically see in an action/adventure movie: commonly, men come to the rescue of damsels in distress, and often are rewarded with sex. Think of virtually any James Bond film as a template for that expectation. Here, “Max and Nux don’t take charge, and they don’t expect sex or power in return for their services,” Han adds. “It’s a depressingly common trope for white male characters to come charging into a situation they know nothing about, and immediately become the One who can fix everything. (See: The Matrix, The Lego Movie, The Maze Runner, etc.) So it’s refreshing that in Mad Max: Fury Road, Max and Nux realize this isn’t their mission, that they’re there to help instead of lead.” 
  • Ponder that the women in this picture are capable of kicking ass as much as they are capable of being maternal and nurturing. Recall the Vuvalini warrior who wants to plant seeds while also dishing out bullets. 
  • Immortan Joe represents a controlling kind of patriarchy that expects female subjugation and ultimate power and control over both women and men; his character and regime can also be seen as a not-so-thinly veiled critique of radical theocracy and fundamentalist political movements (think of the Taliban) and their oppressive and hypocritical rules—a system where women are property, subjects are expected to martyr themselves for a religious cause, and the bloodline of the tyrants is guaranteed to continue. 
  • The plot is incredibly simple in its linearity—it follows kind of the same trajectory as the chase itself: straight ahead until it makes a U-turn before the end. 
  • The film is free of extraneous subplots, side threads and flashbacks. 
  • It accomplishes so much with pure cinema: letting incredible visuals and sound effects tell the story without unnecessary voiceover, exposition or dialogue. 
  • Supposedly, much of the effects here are practical, real-world effects involving real stunt men and women and minimal CGI, which is kind of amazing considering how stunning the visuals are. 
  • The camera seems to constantly be in motion; when it stops moving, the characters remain kinetic. 
  • It plays out as a futuristic, post-apocalyptic, dystopian western, in the grand tradition of great action/road westerns like Stagecoach. 
  • Stagecoach 
  • Duel 
  • The General by Buster Keaton 
  • The Book of Eli 
  • The Postman 
  • Escape From New York 
  • Mad Max, The Road Warrior, and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome 
  • Babe: Pig in the City 
  • Happy Feet and Happy Feet Two 
  • The Witches of Eastwick 
  • Lorenzo’s Oil


Action to the Max

Sunday, August 5, 2018

CineVerse takes a detour down post-apocalyptic avenue on August 8 with “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015; 120 minutes), directed by George Miller, chosen by Joe Valente.


A grungy kind of love

Thursday, August 2, 2018

By the time "Singles" was released in 1992, writer/director Cameron Crowe was riding a hot streak of critical acclaim and public adoration that arguably began with "Say Anything" (1989) and lasted through "Almost Famous" (2000). While "Singles" isn't the best of that lot, it serves as an effective time capsule for the early 1990s and an early example of popular entertainment featuring and targeted toward Generation X. That doesn't mean that older or younger generations won't appreciate or enjoy this movie, however. Below are the reasons why "Singles" still matters, as discussed last night at CineVerse:


  • It’s definitely of a very particular place, time and culture: Generation X in Seattle, 1991. 
    • The Gen X part is important because this was a kind of coming-of-age movie for twentysomethings. 
    • The Seattle part was important because it captures the musical and cultural scene of the Seattle grunge movement right before it became big thanks to breakout bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam—the latter two of which has songs on the film’s soundtrack and musicians starring in this movie. Thus, the film benefited from good timing—it was released after grunge music became mainstream; yet, it was criticized by some for trying to exploit that timing in its marketing and publicity. 
    • It’s also significant that this was the first safe-sex generation; casual sex and free love was definitely out of fashion by this time, and we even see our characters attend a safe-sex party wearing contraceptive-influenced costumes. 
    • Director Cameron Crowe said in an interview: “I liked the idea of working with actors I loved and having it be an ensemble, and just paying tribute to a city and a feeling. I’d seen Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing; I liked the size of his movies and how they were rooted in his experience, his community … how he wanted Brooklyn to be showcased. And I’d always loved [Woody Allen’s] Manhattan so much. So that was the beginning of Singles. It was a chance to show what it’s like when you have a city that you love, and a group of friends who have become your family. There’s a sense of family that disparate single people bring to each other, being in a city that they didn’t want to leave.” 
  • It plays as more of a kind of episodic, sketch comedy/romance film; instead of a straightforward story with clear conflicts and resolutions, we get vignettes primarily involving two main couples. 
    • Roger Ebert wrote: “(Crowe) has adopted a casual sketch style, where scenes are separated by blackouts and the point of each episode is to show some facet of human nature, usually one that makes us squirm. The movie will challenge some audiences simply because it is not a 1-2-3 progression of character and plot. There is no problem at the beginning and no solution at the end; the film is about a life process that is, by its very nature, inconclusive—the search for happiness.” 
    • Keep in mind that this film influenced the creation of the hit TV show “Friends,” which Crowe was asked to help develop but which he declined; 1992 was also the year “Melrose Place,” also featuring young Gen Xers, kicked off. So this film was riding a building wave of movies and TV shows geared to this demographic. 
  • The two main couples we follow represent similars and opposites: Steve and Linda appear to be well-matched young professionals who are right for each other; and Janet and Cliff seem to be less compatible and capable of a less-certain, more tenuous future together. 
  • The film handles serious subject matter—like pregnancy, infidelity, vocational catastrophes—yet maintains a light, casual mood and witty, slice-of-life vibe. The film never gets melodramatic or solemn. 
  • The movie also seems to predict the rise of the reality TV style of filmmaking, in which characters address the camera and provide insights and confessionals; consider that MTV’s “The Real World,” which employs this technique, debuted this same year. 
    • In some ways, the film tries to look like a documentary; ponder the opening credits scene showcasing everyday Seattle couples. 
  • Fear of commitment and settling down. 
  • Coming of age, living on your own for the first time, and finding a partner. 
  • The pros and cons of relationships. 
  • The challenges of romance and intimacy in the new era of safe sex. 
  • Staying true to your roots and avoiding “selling out.” 
  • Manhattan 
  • Clerks 
  • Reality Bites 
  • Empire Records 
  • Airheads 
  • Slacker 
  • Say Anything 
  • Jerry Maguire 
  • Almost Famous 
  • Vanilla Sky


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