Blog Directory CineVerse: 2019

Enjoy a sub with Russian dressing

Sunday, December 8, 2019

On Dec. 11, you're invited to join CineVerse in “The Hunt for Red October” (1990; 135 minutes), directed by John McTiernan, chosen by Don McGoldrick. BYOP (bring your own periscope).

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The apocalypse under a microscope

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Disaster films and paranoia thrillers were all the rage in the 1970s. An early example of this trend was Robert Wise's "The Andromeda Strain," based on Michael Crichton's novel and released in 1971--a movie that puts more of an emphasis on "science" than "fiction." Here's a summary of our CineVerse group discussion last night about the film.

What did you find notable, curious, unanticipated, or surprising about The Andromeda Strain? 

  • Amazingly, this was and is rated G, despite the frightening plot and subject matter, a brief bit of nudity, and dark, pessimistic sci-fi/horror elements.
  • Unlike other sci-fi horror movies, the enemy or threat isn’t a monster, beast, or tangible force; it’s a practically invisible organism that infects. That means that much of the story and action involves human beings talking, planning, and reacting.
    • Bluray.com reviewer Michael Reuben wrote: “What distinguishes Andromeda from so many science fiction films is that, until the last ten minutes or so…the film is almost entirely exposition. The adversary in Andromeda is microscopic, and the film consists of scientists and doctors talking, debating, arguing, running tests and experiments, working giant remote arms behind hermetically sealed glass panels, studying readouts on antique monitors and printouts from teletypes.”
  • Like 2001: A Space Odyssey, the picture features no major movie stars, the actors aren’t very emotive or expressive, and the film has a documentary-like feel to it thanks to its focus on real science and accurate scientific details. In fact, the story seems more focused on and reverent to science and technology than human beings.
    • As Rueben put it, “it’s a serious attempt at intelligent science fiction.”
  • It’s an early example of a movie to employ sophisticated-for-its-time computerized photographic visual effects, thanks in large part to the work of effects master Douglas Trumbull.
  • Interestingly, the filmmakers use split screen, also called a split diopter, to visually tell the story.
  • The Andromeda Strain provided a rare example of a female scientist who isn’t featured for mere sex appeal. Dr. Ruth Leavitt, played by Kate Reid, plays a role that normally went to a man in films before this one.
  • Despite growing mistrust at this time in government and the military, we see the scientific community work in successful tandem with the military in this film.

Themes woven into The Andromeda Strain

  • There are two dichotomous and divergent messages here: the dangers of technology run amok, and the need for humans to turn to technology for solutions to serious problems.
  • Dehumanization as a consequence of scientific advancement
  • Technological breakdown and human error
  • The random, entropic, and unpredictable nature of the universe

Other movies that this one reminds us of

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • THX 1138
  • Silent Running
  • Zardoz
  • Outbreak
  • 1950s and 1960s horror and sci-fi films like Them!, Kronos, GOG, Invaders From Mars, The Quatermass Xperminent, Quatermass 2, and Quatermass and the Pit, and Planet of the Apes

Other films directed by Robert Wise

  • Curse of the Cat People
  • The Body Snatcher
  • The Day the Earth Stood Still
  • The Haunting
  • West Side Story
  • The Sound of Music
  • Star Trek: The Motion Picture

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Is this the most adult G-rated film ever?

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Decades before Michael Crichton conjured up his bestselling tale of dinosaurs run amok in modern times, he envision an apocalyptic outbreak of extrerrestria origin, as depicted in “The Andromeda Strain” (1971; 131 minutes), directed by Robert Wise, chosen by Jim Krabec, and slated for CineVerse on Dec. 4. 

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Don't be a turkey--stay home on Nov. 27

Sunday, November 24, 2019

There will be no CineVerse meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 27 due to the Thanksgiving holiday. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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Luck be a lady tonight

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Over the last 20 years, Toni Collette has proven herself to be an actress of the first order, as evidenced by her finely honed performances in several films, including "The Sixth Sense," "Muriel's Wedding," "Little Miss Sunshine," "Japanese Story," and "Hereditary." And she certainly doesn't fail to impress in "Lucky Them," a clever and comedic romantic drama from 2013 that invokes the spirit of "High Fidelity." We decided to spin this record last night at CineVerse; here are our takeaways:

What was different, surprising, satisfying, or even curious about “Lucky Them,” beyond what you expected?

  • Ellie isn’t the stereotypical female lead you often see in a romcom. She doesn’t appear emotionally needy, and she seems to be sexually satisfied on her own terms. She’s a 40-something woman without children or a boyfriend/spouse, making for an interesting character study.
    • Reviewer John Fink wrote: “Ellie is not an easy character to like, or even love — far from the manic pixie dream girl, she’s a whiskey-drinking, one-night stand-having woman who is comfortable in this lifestyle. She’s not on the verge of self-destruction because she’s been at it for so long and has made a career and lifestyle of it.”
  • This is a different type of road movie, one in which there is a quest – Ellie finding and writing about her old boyfriend – but one in which the destination is less important than the journey and the characters who tag along. There are also alternate routes taken and forks in the road that the audience may not necessarily expect.
  • The setting – Seattle – serves as a kind of character in itself. We are shown an overcast, dank environment, not a warm and sunny locale; this seems to mirror the emotional frame of mind and disposition of Ellie.
  • This is a picture less reliant on plot and story than on proper casting, quality performances, and sharp writing and dialogue.
  • Lucky Them also explores the mysteries of attraction, especially from the point of view of women. Consider that Ellie has three possible love interests, each of whom is sharply contrasted from the other: Charlie, a wealthy and eccentric documentarian; Lucas, a rags to riches musician; and Matthew, her enigmatic white whale of a former boyfriend/artist.

Themes built into Lucky Them

  • Finding closure and resolution in an unresolved relationship
  • The dangers of living in the past and being emotionally frozen in time
  • The benefits of age, wisdom, and maturity in navigating romantic relationships
  • The pros and cons of maneuvering through middle-age while unmarried and childless
  • Luck, chance, and seemingly small incidental events and situations can significantly change the course of your life.
  • The extent to which someone can survive and thrive on their own without romantic love. Consider the film’s title, “Lucky Them”; later in the movie, we hear an explanation about a small African primate, that they” don’t want love – they just want to be left alone.” Ellie thinks she’s one of these creatures, too; but it’s more likely that she needs love and companionship—more than she thinks she does.

Similar films that spring to mind

  • High Fidelity
  • Almost Famous
  • Singles
  • Safety Not Guaranteed
  • The Third Man

Other movies directed by Megan Griffiths

  • Eden
  • The Off Hours
  • The Night Stalker

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Lucky Them? How about lucky you

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Romantic drama is on tap at CineVerse on November 20, when we'll screen and discuss “Lucky Them” (2013; 97 minutes), directed by Megan Griffiths, chosen by Tess Stanisha.

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Successfully navigating "Mulholland Drive"

Thursday, November 14, 2019


Since its release in 2001, David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive" has intrigued viewers and critics alike--a film that seemingly defies interpretation and logical comprehension yet proves immensely thought-provoking to those who choose to go down the director's dark rabbit hole. Last evening at CineVerse, our group attempted to make some sense of the blue Pandora's box that is "Mulholland Drive." Here are the main takeaways:

What did you find different, disturbing, surprising, or revelatory about Mulholland Drive?

  • This is a particularly difficult film to decipher. Interpretations can be highly subjective. Director David Lynch refuses to explain its meanings or messages.
  • It requires active participation by the viewer. If you’re hoping for an entertaining popcorn movie that doesn’t involve much thought and which resolves itself by the conclusion, you will likely be disappointed. This can be a frustrating and perplexing experience for many and an intriguing and eye-opening experience for others who enjoy trying to solve puzzles and mysteries.
  • The narrative structure is nonlinear, featuring tangential subplots and smaller characters that don’t necessarily mesh with the main story.
  • The visuals, narrative, characters, and situations have a surreal dream logic to them. This picture has been described as what it feels like to experience a fever dream or hallucination.
  • It’s a movie that rewards repeat viewings. As clues to the mysteries become more evident, the narrative structure can appear more comprehensible, and the fine details come into greater focus.

Themes grafted into Mulholland Drive

  • The dangers of living in an idealized past while ignoring the present, wallowing in nostalgia, and fantasizing excessively about better times. Doing so can create a circular cycle of futility in which you keep repeating the same mistakes without learning from them and progressing.
    • Consider how the story seems stuck in a never-ending loop: Diane appears to be a down on her luck actress, jilted by her lover Camilla, an in-demand thespian who has fallen in love with someone else. Jealous and hurt, Diane arranges to have Camilla successfully killed by a hit man. Feeling guilty about this and depressed about how her life has turned out, Diane chooses to commit suicide. But just before she dies, Diane has a prolonged fantasy or death dream in which she imagines a more preferred path her life could have taken – one in which she, renamed as Betty, is discovered and appreciated as a naturally talented actress. In this alternate reality fantasy, Diane as Betty meets a beautiful stranger suffering amnesia (she takes the name of Rita, but it’s really Camilla, who has survived the car crash the hit man planned for her in real life). Betty befriends and falls in love with Rita as the two attempt to break through Rita’s amnesia. But as Betty and Rita get closer to the truth and try to “unlock” the mysteries (including the identity of a dead woman [Diane] they discover and a blue box that suddenly appears, compatible with a blue key Rita possesses), Diane both dies and suddenly wakes up from this dream within a dream. Then, everything gets repeated over again: She hires the hit man, commits suicide, and experiences the death dream/fantasy. This is the prevailing popular theory that explains the narrative, but it’s not necessarily a definitive one.
    • We see symbols of a bygone era, as evidenced by the jitterbug dancing, hot rod vintage cars, 1950s style pop songs and singing styles, Nancy Drew-like sleuthing, the reference to the Winkies from The Wizard of Oz, etc.
    • Essayist Clint Stivers wrote: “David Lynch reminds his viewers that we, just like Diane Selwyn, live in a world that has become so cruel and arbitrary that it requires us to create mental fantasies in order to help us construct some sense of identity and unity, yet he…emphasizes the illusory nature of the hope that such fantasies can completely detach us from that world. We need to escape from conflicts, and like Diane, we use memories and the past in creative, fantasmatic ways to try to do so. Lynch is not telling us to abandon the pleasure that we take in escaping, but he wants us to be wary. He doesn’t want us to stop remembering or looking to the past for potential images of worlds that we hope will provide us with a solution to the problems of the present – he himself has done exactly that – but he doesn’t think it is possible to completely inhabit lost worlds or to use them to totally block out the difficulties and obstacles that our world presents us with. Lynch is telling us to use the past imaginatively and advocates a kind of film that encourages viewers to keep one foot in the fantasy world and one foot in the world of the real.”
    • Criterion Collection essayist Dennis Lim wrote: “By applying a fractured nightmare logic to its nominal reality (less “realistic” than the preceding wish-fulfilling fantasy), Mulholland Dr. emphasizes the role of fantasy in giving a cohesive shape to our experiences.”
  • Life can be cruel, unfair, and arbitrary, as has often been experienced by aspiring actors who head to Hollywood with dreams of making it big only to be rejected, ignored, or disillusioned. Even those with real talents can be denied a fair shot due to a rigged, profit-driven system run by shadowy powerful forces who impose their will on underlings.
    • Think about how the strange visit to Club Silencio reinforces this notion. We see the emcee explain how everything we see and hear is an illusion, a “recording” or “tape,” which is also true of films. We witness an immensely gifted artist sing like an angel, but collapse from apparent strain and frustration, only to hear her voice continue singing after her mouth stops moving and she is dragged away. This suggests that event talented actors and artists are often unappreciated, ignored, expendable, or taken for granted by the “men behind the curtain,” the powers that control a place like Hollywood. We view Betty and Rita crying and being moved by both the talent they’ve just experienced and the sadness behind the truth that the artist is treated as a disposable commodity used to entertain the masses in an artificial environment.
  • Hollywood is a dream factory that creates illusions in the form of movies – works that should not be relied upon as reflective of reality.
    • Stivers also wrote: “Since we are forced to see the first portion of Mulholland Drive as a fantasy narrative, we can consider that entire segment as a metaphor for mainstream Hollywood cinema. When we look at it from that perspective, we can see what Lynch is asking us to do. He wants us to realize that the fantasy worlds that Hollywood films present us with offer a certain degree of wish fulfillment and escape by presenting us with comforting images of nostalgic ideal worlds and values.”
  • Life is not a movie you have control over, and you should not try to cast yourself and those you love in different roles to escape who you and they really are. Diane attempts this to break from the anguish and suffering she’s feeling, but soon learns it’s a futile exercise.

Other films similar to Mulholland Drive

  • Sunset Boulevard
  • Vertigo
  • Persona
  • Last Year At Marienbad
  • Films that play with linear structure and deviate from traditional narrative storytelling, including L'Avventura, The Double Life of Veronique, Pulp Fiction, Memento, and Donnie Darko
  • Film noir movies that involve mystery, murder, betrayal, femme fatales, and dark, pessimistic themes

Other works directed by David Lynch

  • Eraserhead
  • The Elephant Man
  • Blue Velvet
  • Wild at Heart
  • Twin Peaks
  • Lost Highway
  • The Straight Story

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That was then, this is noir

Monday, November 11, 2019

For Cineversary podcast episode #17, host Erik Martin welcomes guest Eddie Muller, host of Turner Classic Movies' Noir Alley, founder and president of the Film Noir Foundation, and author of several books including Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir. Erik and Eddie commemorate the 75th anniversary of one of the all-time great noir films "Double Indemnity," and investigate why this masterwork 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.

Eddie Muller

To listen to this episode, click the "play button" on the embedded streaming player below. Or, you can stream, download or subscribe to the Cineversary podcast using Google PodcastsGoogle Play MusicApple PodcastsiTunesAnchorBreakerCastboxOvercastPocket CastsPodBeanRadioPublicSpotifyStitcher, and TuneIn.

Learn more about the Cineversary podcast at tinyurl.com/cineversarypodcast and email show comments or suggestions to cineversegroup@gmail.com.

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Get Lynched

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Mark November 13 on your calendar. That's when your mind will melt from the mad genius and mystery of “Mulholland Drive” (2001; 147 minutes), directed by David Lynch, chosen by Farrell McNulty. Note: Due to this film’s long runtime, we will start CineVerse 15 minutes early, at 6:45 p.m. tonight.

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Straight down the line: Analyzing "Double Indemnity"

Thursday, November 7, 2019

"They don't make 'em like that anymore" is an overused phrase used to view many films through the biased prism of nostalgia--a cliche that can be as nonconstructive as it is unoriginal. Yet, though an overstatement, it can be an accurate one. And it certainly applies to Billy Wilder's "Double Indemnity," a stylized noir masterwork that gave rise to a host of imitators in the years after its 1944 release. CineVerse honored this movie's 75th birthday yesterday with a lengthy discussion that covered the following points:

Why is Double Indemnity worth celebrating 75 years later? How has it stood the test of time, and why does it still matter?

  • It’s worth celebrating because it’s arguably the finest example of noir ever made, with an unsurpassed pedigree when you consider the collaborators—James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, and Billy Wilder, two of the finest scribes of pulp and the hardboiled school and quite possibly the best noir director, combined with an unimpeachable cast, including Barbara Stanwyck and Edward G. Robinson, both of whom have rarely been better.
  • It’s earned its diamond anniversary accolades by virtue of being so classically representational of the classic noir period between 1941 and 1958; it wasn’t the first noir, but it established and perfected the genre, creating a template for so many others to follow.
  • It’s also worthy of our attention and praise 75 years later because, although we know how it’s going to end right from the start, it’s the journey of these two doomed souls that proves so captivating. Yes, this is a gripping and virtually airtight yarn that proves decidedly satiating, with fascinating twists and turns along the way; but the payoff is more in the behaviors and tension felt between Neff and Dietrichson.
  • Plus, this is chock full of crackling hardboiled dialogue that is so savory and satisfying.

In what ways was this picture was influential on cinema and popular culture or set trends?

  • The research suggests that this was one of the first examples of a crime film told in overarching flashback form—wherein we begin at the end and are shown how we arrive there. Couple that with the decision to use voiceover narration and you’ve got a great storytelling structure that many subsequent films noir would copy, including Wilder’s own Sunset Boulevard a few years later.
  • Double Indemnity also made noir a more accepted and respected genre by virtue of it earning strong box office, high critical acclaim, and several Academy Award nominations.
  • Possibly more than any other film before it, Double Indemnity demonstrated how avarice, lust, deceit, sin, and the thrill of attempting the perfect crime could entertain audiences and keep them coming back for more. It helped make salacious subject matter more popular to moviegoers—depicting criminal, cold-blooded and immoral acts with such forthrightness, including murder for profit, infidelity, insurance swindling, the perfect crime, and rotten duplicitous behavior. Somehow, Wilder and company got these ideas past the censors, and then the dam seemed to have burst, with many similar “get away with murder” films to follow, including The Postman Always Rings Twice, Mildred Pierce, Scarlett Street, The Lady From Shanghai, Out of the Past, etcetera.
  • This could be the first instance of a noir that uses Venetian blinds and the suggestive shadows they create, too.

What’s the moral of the story here? What themes, messages, and motifs are explored in Double Indemnity?

  • The fallibility and corruptibility of human beings. This picture serves as a cautionary tale, depicting the ease with which any person can be quickly tempted and tainted under the right circumstances. Consider how quickly Neff—your average everyday insurance salesman, not some two-bit hood, con man, or gangster—agrees to collaborate with Phyllis on this murder scheme—after only three conversations.
  • The inability to escape one’s doomed nature. Neff and Dietrichson seem predestined to conspire and to fail—literally because the movie starts at the end after their plans backfire.
  • The spider woman who preys on weak men easily ensnared in her web. Phyllis Dietrichson is quite possible the queen of femme fatales. She may not be a ravishing siren like some others, and femme fatales in other movies may best her in body count; but she’s portrayed with nuance and icy credibility by one of the best actresses of her generation, given lines of impeccable quality by master wordsmiths, and possessed of an unsurpassed heartlessness and conniving quality that keeps us riveted to her character every time she’s onscreen.
  • The cancer of mistrust. We see how doubt starts to creep into Neff’s eyes and influence his actions. It’s interesting that the murder happens about the film’s midway point, which means that much of the film focuses on growing suspicions and fears—Walter’s apprehension and uncertainties about Phyllis as well as Keys’ skepticism about the insurance claim.
  • The hubris of pride and arrogance. The smug Neff believes his plan is foolproof, and that his insider cleverness demonstrates a superiority over lesser criminals who didn’t get away with their supposedly perfect crimes. But he is undone in the end by what Keyes predicts: that he can’t get off the trolley ride and leave Phyllis behind. Yet even at the very end, he maintains a smug self-satisfaction that he kept Keyes from figuring out that it was his office mate who actually did it.
  • The dangers of veering from the straight and narrow path. It can be assumed that Neff was supposedly a relatively honest salesperson before he is tempted by Phyllis. But he gets off that path and chooses the twisted route of crime, hand in hand with Dietrichson. Ironically, she keeps telling him “it’s you and me, straight down the line.” Only their new course is leading them, as Keyes predicts, straight to the cemetery.
  • The dual natures of men and women. The filmmakers cleverly use chiaroscuro low-key lighting to manifest shadows, including Neff’s shadow and silhouette that seems capable of overtaking him, of pushing him out of the frame—insinuating an irreversible turn to the dark side of his nature. We also get plenty of doppelgangers and twinning in Double Indemnity—like the undefined man on crutches we see at the opening credits who could be Phyllis’ husband or Walter; the contrasting characters of the first and second Mrs. Dietrichson; the two male saps in Walter and Nino Zachetti; and the pairing of Keys and Neff, who exhibit camaraderie and chemistry.

What elements from Double Indemnity have aged well, and what elements are showing some wrinkles?

  • If you want to get unfairly picky, sure—ankle bracelets, angora sweaters, smoking in public buildings and at work, Dictaphones, Chinese checkers, the word “swell,” and perfumed hair, are all ancient relics.
  • Pushing a bit harder, it’s a bit hard to swallow that Mr. Dietrichson’s cause of death is determined to be a broken neck; although we don’t see Walter murder him in the car, it’s assumed that he strangles him to death. How he hid this fact and made it look like death by a broken neck seems far-fetched, something that a savvy detective and insurance investigator would uncover.
  • One the other hand, infidelity, taboo eroticism, murder, and fraud haven’t gone out of style and still make for fine movie fodder.

What is this film’s greatest gift to viewers?

  • Its ability to tell such a compelling story with relatively simple elements. This is a winding, twisty story, although not as convoluted a plot like The Big Sleep. We aren’t shown a sexy, torrid illicit affair with a lot of smoldering kisses and oozing sexual chemistry. Walter doesn’t talk about needing the money to get out of a jam, and he doesn’t’ fantasize about what he’s going to do with the money or the life he and Phyllis will supposedly live together once they’re in the clear. So that begs the question: What is Walter in this for if it’s not for love, sex, or money? Roger Ebert wrote that “both are attracted not so much by the crime as by the thrill of committing it with the other person. Love and money are pretenses.” So instead of being primarily a film about the allure of temptation, it’s arguably more a picture about the three Ds: doom, dread, and deceit. Watching how rapidly Walter and Phyllis’ relationship starts to disintegrate, the brooding paranoia and fear that Neff is engulfed by, the tightening knot twisting around his neck, the ever-encroaching presence of Keys sniffing closer—that’s what makes Double Indemnity special. Watching it, I can’t help but ask myself, “what would I have done in that situation if I were Neff? How could I keep Keys and the police off my back?” I put myself in Walter’s shoes and shudder because I know this guy is screwed, yet I can’t help but sympathize with him and experience his fear and doubt.
  • Making the central emotional relationship not be between Walter and Phyllis but between Walter and Keyes—two men who admire one another professionally and personally. Edward G. Robinson is absolutely dynamite in this supporting role, with fantastic lines and delivery of them, and he’s very convincing as a man who’s impossible to outwit.
  • The visual template it created for noir, with masterful cinematography provided by John Seitz, who creates expressively textured interiors painted with layered shadows and canted beams of light filtered through Venetian blinds. The deliciously dark misc en scene perfectly mirrors the moral darkness that our conniving lovers inhabit.

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A long time ago, in a galaxy noir noir away...

Monday, November 4, 2019

Count on attending CineVerse on Nov. 6, when we'll be wishing a happy 75th birthday (Cineversary style) to arguably the greatest film noir of them all, "Double Indemnity” (1944; 108 minutes), directed by Billy Wilder.

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No CineVerse meeting on Oct. 30

Sunday, October 27, 2019

There will be no CineVerse meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 30. Happy Halloween everyone!


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Born under a bad sign

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

From the moment the crazed hitchhiker smears his blood on the side of their van, the hapless victims-to-be appear doomed to a dark destiny in Tobe Hooper's seminal work of the slasher and hixploitation subgenres, 1974's "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." Indeed, portents of death, carnage, and evil are abundant in this movie, which has been hailed as a masterpiece of true, unadulterated horror. We carved up this classic last night at CineVerse and examined the remains. Here's what we discovered:

How was this 1974 film different and groundbreaking from many horror pictures that came before it?

  • It wasn’t a classically constructed horror movie: It lacked the normal tropes, clichés, and expectations of predecessors. There is no brooding music to warn us of what’s to come. There is no sex or nudity. The victims aren’t deserving of punishment due to sexual promiscuity, drug use, horror movie stupidity, or criminal acts. There are no heroes or noble sacrifices—there is only a survivor— and the monsters aren’t vanquished or killed by the conclusion. There is also no comic relief or “winking at the audience.”
  • Instead, this horror is remorseless and lacking any kind of message about morality or redemption. The violence is sudden, random and without warning. Surprisingly, there is very little blood or gore. The camera doesn’t linger on dead bodies or severed body parts. Most of the killing happens quickly and occurs within the first half of the movie.
  • The last third of the film, in which Sally is held captive, psychologically tortured, and escapes, is an exercise in sheer terror.
    • “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is all-out and no holds barred horror, a full-frontal dive into a naked assault on its central character. The half-hour-long attack on Marilyn Burns, which consists of nothing on the soundtrack bar screams and the buzz of a chainsaw, while the camera wildly careers in on extreme close-ups of screaming throats and wide-open eyeballs, has the jagged ripped-open edge of a bad acid trip. You can literally feel Marilyn Burns’s sanity fraying at the assault,” wrote Richard Scheib, reviewer for Moria Reviews.
  • Also, the movie has a raw, documentary-like ragged quality to it, as demonstrated by the shaky camera, gritty film stock, and voiceover opening that claims the events are based on truth.
  • Additionally, this film introduced the notion of power tools used as murderous devices and inspired later horror icons like Michael Myers and Jason Vorhees with its depiction of a large, silent, faceless killer.

Themes at work in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

  • Predetermined cosmic fate: Consider the sunspot footage shown at the opening, the close-ups of the full moon, the group talking about cautionary astrological predictions for the time period, and the radio news broadcasts, which relay almost nothing but bad news and disturbing events.
  • The death of the American dream. 
    • DVD Savant critic Glenn Erickson wrote: “Hooper's movie explained the end of the American Dream: with the closing of the frontier, the pioneers had no place to exercise their skills in conquering nature. Killing and eviscerating animals to survive had satisfied man's feral needs. Modern life deprives 'atavistic frontiersmen' of basic savagery… when corporate consolidation took away hundreds of thousands of jobs, Middle Americans had to take their dreams elsewhere. The days of a paycheck and a new car every five years were over, and some of the dispossessed turned to the Bible or to survivalist anti-government movements. Chain Saw shows one feral family that has regressed to practicing the pioneer skills it knows best: living off the land.”
  • We are living in violent, pessimistic, and disillusioning times. Remember that this film was made near the end of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal. The idealism of the 1960s was long dead. The public felt distrust in political leaders, and the nation felt like a more violent, cruel place.
  • Meat is murder: Killing cows, pigs and other livestock for mass production of food is a cruel business that everyday people don’t want to know the gruesome details about. While animals suffer and die in a commercialized industry of slaughter, we look the other way. Hooper was quoted as saying “it’s a film about meat.”
  • The hidden savagery within man and the dangers of tapping into primal instincts
  • Beware of strangers and their dwellings: This film serves as a kind of modern Hansel and Gretel tale.
  • The usurping of the wholesome nuclear family. Leatherface and his clan represent an affront to our image of a loving and functional family.

Other movies that this film reminds us of

  • Hixploitation, backwoods brutality and primal folk horror films like The Last House on the Left, Straw Dogs, Deliverance, The Town That Dreaded Sundown, The Hills Have Eyes, I Spit on Your Grave, Southern Comfort, and Children of the Corn
  • Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, The Night of the Living Dead, and Duel—all films wherein the violence and attacks are unprovoked, sudden, indiscriminate, and random
  • The Devil’s Rejects
  • Hatchet
  • The Strangers
  • Wrong Turn
  • Wolf Creek

Other films directed by Tobe Hooper

  • Salem’s Lot
  • Poltergeist
  • Invaders From Mars (remake)
  • Lifeforce

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November/December CineVerse schedule is live

We've got a lot of fun, exciting, and seasonal entertainments slated for CineVerse over the next two months. Check out the full November/December CineVerse schedule by clicking here.

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Give to me your leather, take from me my face...

Sunday, October 20, 2019

It's hard going through life with a name like Leatherface; it's even harder when nobody wants to come to your home to celebrate your birthday. CineVerse will make amends from 7-10 p.m. on October 22 (yes, that's a Tuesday night instead of a Wednesday night, due to a scheduling conflict at Oak View Center), when we conclude Shocktober Theater and commemorate the 45th anniversary of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974; 83 minutes), directed by Tobe Hooper. Plus: We'll check out the complete video of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” (13 minutes), and watch a trailer reel preview of our November/December schedule.

Note that "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" is a frightening and and disturbing film. However, be aware that the movie actually shows very little gore or blood; almost all of the violence in the film is suggested and not directly shown (the filmmakers were originally aiming for a PG rating, FYI). This film actually earns an 88% Certified Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is often ranked on many critical lists as one of the top 10 greatest horror films of all time.

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Happy birthday, Freddy

Thursday, October 17, 2019

The boom of slasher horror films in the 1980s, originally fueled by the catastrophic impact of John Carpenter's "Halloween" in 1978, was anchored by the runaway success of the "Nightmare on Elm Street" films featuring Freddy Krueger, which kicked off its franchise in 1984 with the first installment--directed by Wes Craven. Thirty-five years later, CineVerse celebrated this seminal fright flick with a viewing and discussion. Here's our "dream analysis":

What is unique, distinctive, memorable, or unexpected about this film?

  • It re-introduced (nearly 30 years after “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” first explored it) the frightening concept in mainstream cinema of being mortally afraid to sleep and dream—that you were most vulnerable in your unconscious state of slumber. This notion was as terrifying then as it is now, and it gives the film and character of Freddy Krueger a formidable power and uniquely terrifying characteristic compared to previous horror pictures and monsters. Writer/director Wes Craven’s inspiration here was a newspaper article about kids in Taiwan who actually died in their sleep following horrible nightmares.
  • It blurs the line between reality and fantasy, making you unsure which realm you’re seeing and what you can trust. There are scenes where we may believe that a character is awake but is actually dreaming, for example. The ending, in particular, questions everything you’ve watched for the previous 90 minutes—was it all a dream?
    • DVD Savant reviewer Glenn Erickson wrote: “Craven's refreshing Nightmare concept is new territory for the slasher genre. It also does a clever end-run around the issues of credibility and logic. Dreams can be as irrational and inconsistent as they wish, so there is no limit to what Freddy Krueger can and cannot do. Actions, effects, apparent demonic powers can be totally random -- in fact, the more erratic the better. Once asleep, Freddy's victims are at the mercy of a crazy non-logic. Time and place can switch about at will; cause and effect no longer applies…the lack of logic in Freddy's actions only makes him scarier. Freddy gleefully mutilates himself, slicing off his own fingers and gashing his chest to reveal a mass of worms inside. He makes his arms grow twenty feet long for one stalking scene. He can walk through walls and change reality at whim.”
  • Unlike previous slasher films in the horror genre, like “Halloween,” “Friday the 13th,” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” this presented a different kind of iconic horror character: one that could talk, change shape, and wasn’t as physically imposing as Michael Myers or Jason Vorhees.
  • Krueger also doesn’t chew the scenery here and command most of the attention, as he does in the Elm Street sequels; instead, he has less screen time than you may expect and remains more of a background character to the teenage leads. By showing him less and keeping his lines minimal, Freddy is arguably a more effectively frightening boogeyman in this film.
  • For all these reasons, according to Moria Reviews critic Richard Scheib, “A Nightmare on Elm Street may well have been the single most influential horror film of the 1980s. The film spun off a series of sequels – seven at current count (see below) and created a unique new boogie man in the character of Freddy Krueger, who appeared on T-shirts, lunchboxes, model kits, even became a poster pin-up figure. Furthermore, A Nightmare on Elm Street inspired a new genre of horror films that rested in a blurred dividing line between dream and reality and/or featured a boogie man returned from the grave to slice people up. The spawning of the A Nightmare on Elm Street films into a franchise gave New Line Cinema the financial clout to move from a minor studio into a major frontline player throughout the next decade.” Without the box-office receipts from the Freddy franchise in the 1980s and 1990s, New Line would not have made the “Lord of the Rings” films in the 2000s.

Themes at play in “A Nightmare on Elm Street”

  • The line between reality and imagination, between fact and fiction, is thin and mysterious.
  • Taboo behavior has dangerous consequences. This movie continues the slasher film tradition of punishing sexually active teenagers and preserving the “final girl” who outlives her peers by refraining from sex, drugs, and bad choices and demonstrating agency and resourcefulness.
  • The importance of staying awake, literally and figuratively. In this film, the parents appear to be asleep—meaning oblivious to the sins of their past and the dangers their children face—and prefer that blissfully ignorant state; by contrast, the children want to wake up and stay alert. They’re trying to break free from the sins of their parents and be aware of and open to the truth.
  • Overcoming your fears involves facing them head-on. Instead of waiting to become another victim like her friends, Nancy chooses to fight back and try to pull Freddy into her world to properly vanquish him.

Other movies that “A Nightmare on Elm Street” reminds us of

  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers
  • Home Alone
  • Dreamscape
  • Phantasm
  • Carrie (another horror classic with a shocking twist ending)
  • Slasher films like Halloween and Friday the 13th
  • It

Other films directed by Wes Craven

  • Last House on the Left
  • The Hills Have Eyes
  • The Serpent and the Rainbow
  • Scream, Scream 2, and Scream 3

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Believe it or not, Ripley's first film is 40 years old

Monday, October 14, 2019

For Cineversary podcast episode #16, host Erik Martin is joined by not one but two great guests: Mike Muncer, the UK-based film journalist, producer, and host of the Evolution of Horror podcast, as well as Andrea Subissati, the Toronto-based executive editor of Rue Morgue magazine and co-host of the long-running Faculty of Horror podcast. Together, they honor the 40th anniversary of "Alien" and examine why this horror/sci-fi classic 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.

To listen to this episode, click the "play button" on the embedded streaming player below. Or, you can stream, download or subscribe to the Cineversary podcast using Apple Podcasts, iTunes, Anchor, Breaker, Castbox, Google Podcasts, Google Play Music, Overcast, Pocket Casts, PodBean, RadioPublic, Spotify, Stitcher, and TuneIn.

Learn more about the Cineversary podcast at tinyurl.com/cineversarypodcast and email show comments or suggestions to cineversegroup@gmail.com.

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A Nightmare on 110th Street

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Freddy's having a birthday party, and you're invited! On October 16, Shocktober Theater part 3 convenes at Cineversary, when we'll honor the 35th anniversary of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984; 91 minutes), directed by Wes Craven. Plus: Have a few laughs with select Treehouse of Horror segments from “The Simpsons."

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Seeing dead people with 20/20 vision

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Nineteen ninety-nine was a notably strong one for cinema, both at the box office and in terms of critical appraisal. Highlights of that year included "The Matrix," "American Beauty," "Being John Malkovitch," "Magnolia," "Toy Story 2," and "The Insider." It was also the year that "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace" ruled the box-office. But coming in second place in ticket sales was a true underdog that captured the world's attention for a spell: M. Night Shyamalan's "The Sixth Sense." Twenty years later, we analyzed what makes this film so exceptional, especially as a horror film and psychological thriller. Here's a roundup of our CineVerse discussion yesterday:

Why is this movie worth celebrating all these years later? Why does it still matter, and how has it stood the test of time?

  • It’s an intentionally quiet movie that uses silence and subtlety to ratchet up the suspense.
  • It’s an unconventionally intimate movie—the filmmakers keep the camera close to the actors.
  • “The Sixth Sense” combines the best elements of horror, drama, and spirituality—a film that works on all three levels.
  • It doesn’t resort to cheap or quick thrills, jump scares, or grandiose special effects tor CGI o scare you.
  • The roles of Cole and Malcolm are written as very intelligent—the performances avoid sentimental cuteness or silliness, too.
  • Unlike other psychological horror movies, we know that what Cole sees is real, which makes the film more satisfying, less frustrating, and much more terrifying.
  • The richly detailed, brooding, slowly revealing, psychological approach makes it a lot smarter and more effective than a lot of thrillers/horror movies.

In what ways do you think this film was influential on cinema and popular culture or set trends?

  • It made M. Night Shyamalan a household name for a while—a name quickly synonymous with suspense and twist endings; for a short time, Shyamalan was considered an heir apparent to Hitchcock and Spielberg.
  • It made shocking twists hip again. Arguably, movie audiences hadn’t had a major “don’t-tell-anyone” kind of twist ending like this since 1992’s “The Crying Game” or 1995’s “The Usual Suspects.” This yen for twist endings likely inspired subsequent movies to ape that formula, including “Fight Club,” “Memento,” “The Devil’s Backbone,” “The Others,” “The Ring,” “The Prestige,” “Shutter Island,” and “Room 1408.”
  • That surprise twist ending prompted many moviegoers to see the movie multiple times, often to observe how the filmmakers covered their tracks; you pay attention to the details on repeat viewings to make sure the director doesn’t cheat.
  • Like “The Blair Witch Project” that same year, “The Sixth Sense” became a word-of-mouth sensation, a film that people talked about strongly and widely well before social media was around to spread the word, helping the movie earn $673 million worldwide on a budget of only $40 million.

What’s the moral of the story here? What themes or messages are explored in “The Sixth Sense”?

  • The key to existence and fulfillment is communication.
  • We have to confront our fears head-on and not be intimidated by them.
  • We have to pay attention to the small details in life or else we miss the big picture (consider that Malcolm doesn’t realize he’s dead because he overlooks the small things).

What elements from this movie have aged well, and what elements are showing some wrinkles?

  • You could make a case that the twist ending conceit doesn’t hold up well or is now to the movie’s detriment, as virtually everyone knows that (spoiler!) Bruce Willis’ character is a ghost, making the film less shocking or effective.
  • But you could say the same thing about a lot of classic films that employ startling twists, like “Psycho”; we still watch and treasure “Psycho” and this film because they are expertly directed, well-acted, and well written. 

This is a birthday celebration, after all, and birthdays are all about presents. Except it’s the fans who continue to get the gifts. What is this film’s greatest gift to viewers?

  • The casting and performances. 
    • Here, we have an amazingly credible, sensitive, and haunting portrayal by Haley Joel Osment—quite an achievement for an 11-year-old.
    • Bruce Willis is cast against his action hero type; he avoids his cliché smirk and rugged macho tendencies; it’s a subdued, melancholy, quiet role.
    • Toni Collette as Cole’s mom pulls off a great acting stint as a truly caring but smart, insightful American mom, despite the fact that she’s Australian.

Do you think this movie will still be widely watched and considered relevant in another 20 years? Why or why not?

  • While fewer people talk about “The Sixth Sense” today than they did 20 years ago, it’s hard to argue that the film’s power and quality have been diminished over two decades. It was a quality film then and now; hence, it should be revered as such 20 years from this time. 
  • However, because Shyamalan’s reputation and prestige has suffered so much in the last 15 years due to a string of poorly received pictures he directed, and assuming he doesn’t redeem that reputation over the next 20 years, it’s possible that “The Sixth Sense” may not enjoy as classic or venerated a status in the future as it would have if the director was more respected. It’s likely to be considered an anomaly or one-off in a filmography many will dismiss as subpar.

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Celluloid ghosts

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Shocktober Theater and Cineversary coalesce once again at CineVerse on October 9, when we'll celebrate the 20th birthday of one of the all-time great ghost story movies, “The Sixth Sense” (1999; 107 minutes), directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Plus: Enjoy the Three Stooges short film “Spook Louder” (17 minutes).

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Sins of the father visited upon the son

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Many fans and critics regard "Frankenstein" and "Bride of Frankenstein" as the crown jewels in Universal's classic monster cycle that spans approximately 1931 to 1948. But one strong entry in the canon that oven gets overlooked is "Son of Frankenstein" from 1939, which celebrates an 80th anniversary this year. We took this specimen into the CineVerse laboratory last night and documented the following not-so-clinical observations:


What did you find interesting, impressive or even curious about Son of Frankenstein?

  • This outing has a more impressive cast than many of the other classic Universal horror films, including Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, and Lionel Atwell – all known for their work in horror. With the help of this cast, we get a more character-driven story than any of the other monster movies made by Universal.
  • It’s actually the longest film in the Universal horror cycle of the 1930s and 40s, which includes dozens of movies.
  • It rejuvenated the horror genre for Universal, which released its first wave of classic horror pictures between 1931 in 1936, but abandoned them after the studio was sold and diminishing return on profits. This new entry in 1939 marked the second wave of classic Universal horror, which continued through 1948.
  • The art direction and set design are fascinating.
    • Reviewer Nate Yapp wrote: “The stark, oversized sets seem to be an Americanization of the Expressionist tropes of German silent cinema. Shadows pour over everything, imprinting an atmosphere of doom upon the action. The feeling engendered is unnerving because it bears the weight of inevitability.”
  • The characterization of Wolf is thought-provoking as well.
    • Blogger Tim Brayton wrote that Wolf is “a rather deeper and more complex figure than his father; he is not motivated by a God complex, at least not at first, but by the simple wish to live a comfortable life and to make the lives of those around him better. At the same time, he has an understandable desire for people to think of him not as the son of a psychopath, but as the heir to a rich tradition of scientific curiosity. It is worth pointing out that Wolf does not make a monster; he attempts to rehabilitate his father's monster…He is, pure and simple, out to show that world that Heinrich Frankenstein was right.”
  • This is arguably Bela Lugosi’s strongest role and performance, playing a colorful side character who steals a lot of the scenes he is in. Lugosi is unforgettable as Dracula in that earlier movie, but many fans and critics consider his work in this film to be superior.
  • The Frankenstein monster is a more diminished character in this outing, taking a backseat to the battle between Wolf, Ygor, and the police inspector. This was Karloff’s third and last performance as the monster. Here, he is much less sympathetic, relatable, and nuanced. The monster has also mysteriously lost the ability to speak, which he gained in the previous outing, The Bride of Frankenstein.

What themes or major messages can you identify in Son of Frankenstein?

  • The sins of the father visited upon the son
  • The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Consider that this film covers three generations of Frankenstein males – Wolf, Wolf’s deceased father, and Wolf’s son.
  • The inescapability of destiny and fate
  • Scientific overreach and the hubris of man trying to play God
  • Science versus superstition – as exemplified by Wolf and the villagers, respectively
  • A triangle of intrigue – with Wolf (representing science run amok), Ygor (exemplifying irrepressible evil), and the police inspector (characterizing the fragility of man compromised by that science and evil) standing as points on the triangle and the Frankenstein monster between them.

This movie also makes us think of what other films?

  • Young Frankenstein
  • The earlier and later Frankenstein films by Universal
  • The Mummy and The Invisible Man, two other Universal thrillers that share the theme of the dangers of science in man meddling in God’s territory

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CineVerse Oct. 23 meeting date moved to Oct. 22

Monday, September 30, 2019

Due to a scheduling conflict at the Oak View Center facility where we meet, we have to swap a date on our October calendar.

Instead of meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 23 as planned, we have to move our date to Tuesday, Oct. 22 (1 day earlier), from 7-10 p.m.

That day, we will conduct our CineVerse meeting in the Board Room (instead of room 12) and watch and discuss, as originally planned, "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974; 83 minutes), directed by Tobe Hooper. Plus: We'll watch the complete video of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” (13 minutes), and a trailer reel preview of our November/December schedule.

Apologies for the required schedule change, which is out of our control.

To view the current CineVerse calendar, click here.

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The rotten apple doesn't fall far from the tree

Sunday, September 29, 2019

It's that time of year again, when the leaves start falling, the banshees start wailing, the moon turns red, and Shocktober Theater returns to CineVersary. This year, our Shocktober theme coincides with Cineversary, when we'll celebrate a milestone anniversary of an important horror film.

On October 2, we'll commemorate the 80th anniversary of “Son of Frankenstein” (1939; 100 minutes), directed by Rowland V. Lee. Plus: stick around for an extended excerpt from “Young Frankenstein” (25 minutes), which pays homage to "Son of Frankenstein."

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Leaning on the everlasting artistry of "Night of the Hunter"

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Largely ignored in its own time and underappreciated for decades, Charles Laughton's "The Night of the Hunter" is today regarded as one of the great works of cinema – a film that doesn't fit neatly into one particular category, although horror/thriller is often the box it checks among fans and scholars alike. Last evening, CineVerse journeyed up and down the river with John and Pearl and took a closer look at all of the elements that make this movie so memorable, particularly Robert Mitchum's performance as the evil preacher Powell. Here are our conclusions:

What stands out as impressive, unexpected, or revelatory about Night of the Hunter?

  • It blends a variety of cinematic styles and aesthetics. “Deeply embedded into The Night of the Hunter's DNA, the viewer finds: German expressionist director Robert Wiene's hypnotically designed 1920 film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari's graphic, bucolic sets; the Biblical Southern Gothic epic as perfected by Griffith; the family film; the supernatural mystery; noir; melodrama; and serial killer pop art of the '50s,” wrote blogger Matt Mazur.
    • The influence of German expressionism in particular is quite prevalent, as evidenced by the scene of Willa being killed in the bedroom (with stylistic shadows making the room appear like a chapel); the exaggerated shadows Powell casts on walls; the stark silhouette of Powell on horseback; and the hauntingly beautiful underwater body of Willa, appearing to move in slow motion.
  • The tale plays as a kind of Grimm’s fairy tale, and, although Cooper’s character is our voiceover narrator, the primary point of view is through the eyes of the two children; many shots and scenes appear simplistic, exaggerated or distorted because we are meant to see the story through less sophisticated eyes.
    • "It's really a nightmarish sort of Mother Goose tale we were telling," director Charles Laughton said in an interview. "We tried to surround the children with creatures they might have observed, and that might have seemed part of a dream. It was, in a way, a dream for them."
    • Consider that the sets often look artificial, dreamlike, and unrealistic; besides saving the filmmakers money, the advantage of this is that it untethers this world from any particular time or place – giving the movie more of a timeless feel and look.
  • The character of Powell, as expertly personified by Robert Mitchum, stands as one of the most frightening and disturbing in history of cinema. This could be true, despite the fact that he often appears intentionally as cartoonishly monstrous and buffoonish – in keeping with the fact that we are viewing this film through the eyes of child protagonists, who perceive him as a literal monster who grunts, growls and shrieks.
  • Think about how terrifying this villain and the film itself would’ve been to 1950s audiences – especially in its implicit and explicit violence directed at children.
  • The river journey sequence is particularly memorable for its brilliance: the imagery is dreamlike and nightmarish, but also soothing. The animals in the foreground loom large and appear imposing but also seem to be watching them indifferently, suggesting perhaps that nature is a neutral observer in their struggle. Notice, too, how the children on the run and on the water travel from left to right, while Cooper disrupts that pattern by walking from right to left – suggesting that you have to face your fears and break from old habits.
  • Powell’s violent attitude toward female sexuality would’ve likely been controversial in the mid-1950s.

Themes imbued into this film include

  • The timeless struggle between good and evil, love and hate, innocence and corruption, children versus adults, paternal authoritarianism versus maternal compassion and forgiveness; Powell and Cooper stand on opposite sides of this spectrum and battle for the lives and souls of the two children.
  • The innate innocence of children
  • The dangers of overzealous religious fundamentalism and old-time religion run amok
  • “A child-like vision of the confusing and contradictory nature of sex and the trap inherent in denying it or burying it under false religiosity,” according to Rob Nixon and Jeff Stafford of Turner Classic Movies. Consider how Willa is easily manipulated by the preacher’s twisted sexual morality.
  • Redemption, specifically how Ruby is redeemed by the end of the film from an endangered sheep to a loyal member of the flock.

Films that remind us of Night of the Hunter

  • German Expressionism classics like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Nosferatu, and The Last Laugh
  • The silent film works of director D.W. Griffith, who often cast Lillian Gish in his pictures
  • Cape Fear
  • M
  • Whistle Down the Wind
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Elmer Gantry
  • Do the Right Thing 
  • No Country for Old Men

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Love and hate wrestle for your soul on Sept. 25

Sunday, September 22, 2019

It's been called a visual poem, a haunting lullaby, a frightful fable, and even a downright terrifying horror movie. Whatever you call it, “Night of the Hunter” (1955; 93 minutes), directed by Charles Laughton, chosen by Eric Peterson, is on the schedule at CineVerse for Sept. 25.

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Matthew makes his mark

Thursday, September 19, 2019

The year 2012 was a pretty strong one for movies: Consider that "Lincoln," "Argo," "Django Unchained," "Zero Dark Thirty," "Moonrise Kingdom," and "Silver Linings Playbook" were all released in that memorable year. But another quality flick from 2012 that often gets lost in the shuffle is "Mud," a quality coming-of-age film starring Matthew McConaughey. Yesterday at CineVerse, we stepped into the "Mud" to uncover its truths. Here's what we found:

What did you find unexpected, intriguing, or refreshing about Mud?

  • It arguably stands as Matthew McConaughey’s breakout and best film – one that establishes him as more than a pretty face or character actor and as a legit acting force.
  • It gives us a privileged insight into the world of adolescents; this is really more the story of Ellis than Mud.
  • The child performances are very good; the casting of Ty Sheridan and Jacob Lofland is inspired.
  • The film balances a nifty plot with well-developed characters, believable dialogue, and impressive performances – making for a well-rounded movie.

What themes are suggested in Mud?

  • Coming-of-age: At its heart, this is really the story of Ellis and the beginning of his maturation from childhood to adulthood, and how he idolizes Mud – especially Mud’s lessons to learn about women.
  • The disconnect between men and women. This film insinuates that men, often driven by aggressive instincts, misunderstand and fail to communicate effectively with women.
    • Slant magazine reviewer Chuck Bowen wrote: “This yearning for understanding between the genders informs the entire film. Mud and his father figure, Tom Blankenship, are literally adrift at the end of the film, unable to reconcile themselves with women and life in general as they exist in reality.”
    • “(Mud is) an extremely sophisticated and progressive examination on how adolescent masculinity is defined by often contradictory cultural attitudes toward femininity,” wrote blogger Thomas Caldwell.
  • No man is an island. Mud exiles himself in hiding on an island, but knows that he cannot stay there forever – just as he cannot isolate himself forever from the sins of his past or the need for his girlfriend’s love.
  • Christ-like martyrdom. Mud (who has a cross symbol built into his boot print) stands as a kind of Jesus figure in the film – a savior of sorts for Ellis and Neckbone, who become his disciples – and Mud sacrifices himself at the end for the benefit of Ellis.
  • Fatherless children: the importance of having a father figure in your life.

How do the names of some of these characters inform us about what they represent?

  • Mud – connotes a person whose hands get dirty, and who is unpopular or in disgrace; a median point between the land in the water
  • Ellis – makes us think of, perhaps, Ellis Island, where immigrants and refugees turn for asylum and citizenship
  • Juniper – conjures up associations with a beautiful and aromatic tree; a wonder of nature
  • Blankenship – boat and ship imagery abounds in this film, and the viewer associates ships with refuge, shelter, and escape. Blankenship sounds like a “blank ship”, a cipher for a mysterious guardian angel of sorts
  • Carver – a violent sounding name fitting for a violent man
  • May Pearl – Suggests a jewel or treasure of a female who is in the spring of her life
  • Other films and works of literature that we think of after watching “Mud”
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Great Expectations, and ET: The Extra-Terrestrial – three classic stories wherein a boy helps and learns from a fugitive from the law
  • The Place Beyond the Pines
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Whistle Down the Wind
  • Sling Blade

Other films directed by Jeff Nichols

  • Shotgun Stories
  • Take Shelter
  • Midnight Special Loving

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Happy birthday, Mr. Smith: You're now an octogenarian

Sunday, September 15, 2019

For Cineversary podcast episode #15, host Erik Martin is joined by San Francisco State University film professor Joseph McBride, author of "Frankly: Unmasking Frank Capra" and "Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success." Together, they dive deep into Capra's "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," marking an 80th birthday this fall, and explore why the movie is worth celebrating four decades later, its cultural impact and legacy, what we can learn from the picture today, how it has (and hasn't) stood the test of time, and more.

To listen to this episode, click the "play button" on the embedded streaming player below. Or, you can stream, download or subscribe to the Cineversary podcast using Apple Podcasts, iTunes, Anchor, Breaker, Castbox, Google Podcasts, Google Play Music, Overcast, Pocket Casts, PodBean, RadioPublic, Spotify, Stitcher, and TuneIn.

Learn more about the Cineversary podcast at tinyurl.com/cineversarypodcast and email show comments or suggestions to cineversegroup@gmail.com.

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Here's Mud in your eye

Matthew McConaughey flaunts his underrated acting chops in “Mud” (2012; 130 minutes), directed by Jeff Nichols, chosen by Dave Ries, slated for CineVerse on Sept. 18.

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Your CineVerse moderator joins the "Jerks" for "Jaws"

Friday, September 13, 2019

CineVerse moderator Erik Martin has made another appearance on "The Classic Film Jerks" podcast, hosted by Michael DiGiovanni and Andrew Bloom. For the show's September episode, the trio discusses Steven Spielberg's 1975 masterwork "Jaws" and have a few laughs while dishing insights and opinions on the film.

To listen to the episode, click on the player below or visit stitcher.com/podcast/atomic-geeks/classic-film-jerks.
 

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Capitol ideas

Thursday, September 12, 2019

"They don't make 'em like that anymore' is certainly a cliche that can be applied to Frank Capra's 1939 standout "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," a picture that can still deliver an emotional wallop and utterly impress with its performances and craftsmanship. We feted this 80-year-old national treasure last evening at CineVerse, giving it the full "Cineversary" treatment. Here's a roundup of that discussion:

Why is this movie worth celebrating all these years later? Why does it still matter, and how has it stood the test of time?

  • It matters because, even though it can play as overly sentimental, corny, naïve, or wildly outdated, it was made with true heart, sincerity, and genuine good intentions by Frank Capra and company. This genuineness and honesty of emotion are felt in virtually every frame.
  • It matters because it’s one of the very few American films that feels unabashedly patriotic – a political movie that isn’t cynical, snarky or ironic. This is the textbook definition of a feel-good picture, one that put you through the emotional ringer and makes its protagonist particularly suffer in order to achieve those good feelings honestly.
  • It has stood the test of time based on the bravura performance of James Stewart, the sheer star power of its knockout extended cast, the strong female lead courtesy of Jean Arthur, the emotionally propagandistic power of Capra’s visuals and montages, and the fact that it’s one of the extremely rare movies that shows how our system of government and the passing of laws works – a system that has pretty much remained unchanged.
  • It also remains timeless because it refuses to date itself; Smith’s home state is not named, we hear no mention of Republicans or Democrats, there are no scatological references to the impending second world war, the rise of Nazi-ism, the recent Great Depression, or other political or sociocultural events or issues.
  • Mr. Smith continues to resonate because 21st-century viewers know how corrupt the world can be today; nowadays we constantly hear about dishonest, self-serving, unethical politicians and leaders. Many of us want to believe that each of us can exercise political power, stand up against political injustices, and effect change – even if merely at the ballot box or by writing a letter or demonstrating. Jefferson Smith continues to stand as the patron saint of the idealistic Everyman and Everywoman.

In what ways do you think this film was influential on cinema and popular culture or set trends?

  • It has been cited as one of the first examples of a conspiracy theory film, in which moviegoers are given the notion that there may be powerful machinations influencing the way the country is run; in this case, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington suggests that graft and corruption they be prevalent in the U.S. government.
  • As mentioned, it’s one of the very first examples of a feature film that takes the lid off the Capitol Building and realistically depicts how the federal government functions, looks, and presumably acts.
  • It established James Stewart as an A list breakout star in one of the finest film actors of his or any generation. Without this movie, it’s doubtful that Stewart wins a best picture Oscar the next year or goes on to become the widely beloved Tom Hanks of his day.

What’s the moral to the story here? What themes or messages are explored in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington?

  • David versus Goliath: the struggle of the common man to stand up against oppressive forces and challenge the system to make the world a better place.
  • Lost causes are the only causes worth fighting for. Chock-full of idealism, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington inspires with its underdog story of someone will likely lose in the fight against a powerful political machine, yet doesn’t back down from this seemingly impossible task.
  • Maturation, and transitioning from childhood into adulthood without losing the enthusiasm and idealism of youth. We see how Smith has a boyish innocence and childlike naïveté, and how he is associated with the boys camp and the youngsters who follow and champion him. By the end of the film, Smith outgrows his “aw-shucks” simplicity and immaturity as a politician by choosing to stand up and above those who use to tower above him figuratively and literally: he uses an eloquent adult voice in the last act and filibustering scenes that contrasts with how he spoke and carried himself earlier in the movie. Consider, too, how Capra continually frames Stewart often as lower in stature, subservient, and smaller than his fellow politicians and Taylor throughout the film until he chooses to fight back at the end, when he looms larger in height and respect.
  • Idealism versus cynicism. It’s easy to chuckle at the unintended corniness built into this film, the flag-waving romanticism, and unabashed moral righteousness. It’s easier to gravitate to today’s more widely accepted pessimism, skepticism and sarcasm, which are continually pitted against Smith’s optimism. Yet, it’s hard to be unmoved by Smith’s earnestness and simple values, which make people feel nostalgic for a bygone time and mindset. Fortunately, Smith’s idealism is balanced by the cynicism we see in Clarissa and Diz the reporter. Consider, as well, that the ending is ambiguous-- there is no clear victory, and we don’t know if Taylor is truly defeated.
  • Martyrdom. Smith serves as a somewhat Christ-like figure representing good and righteousness who is politically betrayed and crucified by Payne’s Judas figure.

Who do you think this film appealed to initially when it was released in 1939, and who do you think it appeals to today? 

  • The film struck a chord with audiences in 1939, becoming a box office hit and earning 11 Academy Award nominations – so it likely had very widespread appeal.
  • Today, the movie-watching public is more cynical and arguably smarter. Many may find this picture hopelessly dated and drowning in sentimentality and propaganda. Nevertheless, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington continues to be highly revered, as demonstrated by high marks from fans and critics on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes. It likely speaks more to classic movie buffs, scholars, historians, and the unapologetically patriotic.

What elements from this movie have aged well, and what elements are showing some wrinkles?

  • Showing how the Congressional sausage is made – how legislation works, how the Senate chamber operates, and how a filibuster can be effective in Washington – remains fresh.
  • However, there are some over overdramatic and sappy elements in this movie – such as Smith fainting from fatigue at the end, inspiring Payne to change his mind; socking people in the kisser as comeuppance; Smith witnessing a young boy reciting the Gettysburg address; precocious kids as “Our Gang” type caricatures who run a printing press and try to out-hustle Taylor and the big newspapers – that remind you that this is an 80-year-old film.

This is a birthday celebration, after all, and birthdays are all about presents. Except it’s the fans who continue to get the gifts. What is this film’s greatest gift to viewers?

  • James Stewart’s performance, arguably his best, and particularly memorable for how it shows a gradual transformation from folksy young innocent to a beaten-down but roused patriot, thanks to Steward’s impeccable ability to display a wide array of believable emotions. We feel what Smith feels, and that’s a testament to the power of Stewart’s acting and Capra’s direction.
  • It’s a movie that makes it feel acceptable to be patriotic. Like Yankee Doodle Dandy, Young Mr. Lincoln, Sergeant York, and a few others from Hollywood’s golden era, this film celebrates Americana in the best that this country has to offer.
  • Another gift that keeps on giving: the stellar extended cast. This is one of the deepest rosters ever assembled, with Jean Arthur, Claude Rains, Edward Arnold, Harry Carey, Thomas Mitchell, Guy Kibbee, Beulah Bondi, Eugene Pallette, H.B. Warner, William Demarest, Porter Hall, and Jack Carson on board.

Other movies that Mr. Smith Goes to Washington reminds us of

  • Bulworth
  • The Candidate
  • The Contender
  • The Seduction of Joe Tynan
  • Lincoln

Other essential films directed by Frank Capra

  • It Happened One Night
  • Mr. Deeds Goes To Town
  • Lost Horizon
  • You Can’t Take It With You
  • Meet John Doe
  • It’s A Wonderful Life

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Mr. Smith goes to CineVerse

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Make plans to attend CineVerse on September 11; that's when Cineversary returns. Once a month in 2019, we will celebrate a milestone anniversary of a cinematic classic with a special Q&A discussion format unique to our Cineversary series. On Sept. 11, we honor the 80th anniversary of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (1939; 130 minutes), directed by Frank Capra.

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Fishing for answers

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Robert Redford's "A River Runs Through It" is graced with so much visual beauty, courtesy of its Academy Award-winning cinematography, that can be easy to overlook some of the film's other virtues. We attempted to name all that we could last night at CineVerse. Here's our roundup:

What did you find memorable, interesting, or surprising about this film?

  • It’s a throwback picture that harkens back to a bygone, simpler time and style of life. It remains a fairly simple tale that lets the scenery and the actors do most of the heavy lifting. Director Robert Redford also seems to express sentimentality and fondness for this period, setting, and family dynamic, without suggesting many cons or conflicts.
  • It relies significantly on voiceover to tell its story; this can be a help or a hindrance. While it makes for a more accurate adaptation of the novel, too much voiceover narration can tell you things without showing them to you and letting you come to your own conclusions and opinions. When not done properly, it can make a movie less cinematic.
  • This is the first starring role for Brad Pitt; debatably, he does better work later, but it’s interesting to see what he tries to do in this role.
  • The visuals are inspiring, making this film worthy of its win for best cinematography at the Academy Awards.

Themes crafted into A River Runs Through It

  • Fishing as a form of religion and practice of faith. The MacLean men treat their favorite hobby—fly fishing—as a sacred and sacrosanct activity; devoutness and attention to detail in this practice yields the best results and brings you closer to a perfect fisherman, just as devotion to and practicing one’s faith can, presumably, bring you closer to God.
  • The unpredictability and randomness of life. Based on how upright he lives his life, you would expect Norman to be the better fisherman; instead, it is Paul—the brother who strays from the path preferred by his pious father—who excels at fly fishing.
    • Roger Ebert wrote: “Redford and his writer, Richard Friedenberg, understand that most of the events in any life are accidental or arbitrary, especially the crucial ones, and we can exercise little conscious control over our destinies. Instead, they understand that the Reverend Maclean's lessons were about how to behave no matter what life brings; about how to wade into the unpredictable stream and deal with whatever happens with grace, courage and honesty.”
  • Coming of age. This is another timeless take on the transition-into-adulthood and rites-of-passage story.
  • Nature as a bond that brings family together. Here, the river serves as a metaphor for life and how to live it as well as a constant that the brothers and father can always turn to for happiness, sustenance, and communion.
  • Biblical lessons, including the Prodigal Son and Cain and Abel stories. While Paul doesn’t commit evil acts like Cain, he does live a more sinful life than his brother Norman, who stands as a more wholesome contrast.
  • The “brighter a candle burns, the faster it goes out,” wrote Washington Post critic Hal Hinson.

Similar movies that A River Runs Through It reminds you of

  • Legends of the Fall, also starring Brad Pitt
  • A Walk in the Clouds
  • The Cider House Rules
  • Lonesome Dove
  • The Man From Snowy River

Other films directed by Robert Redford

  • Ordinary People
  • The Milagro Beanfield War
  • Quiz Show
  • The Horse Whisperer
  • The Legend of Bagger Vance

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