Blog Directory CineVerse: 2019

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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A river runs through CineVerse

Sunday, September 1, 2019

On September 4, CineVerse will features “A River Runs Through It” (1992; 124 minutes), directed by Robert Redford, chosen by Judy Quenzel. 

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The snobs vs. the slobs, explained

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Searching for meaning in "Caddyshack" is a little like trying to find the answers to deep existential questions on the back of a cereal box. But look harder and you'll actually find themes and merits buried not so deep below the surface in Harold Ramis' 1980 comedy classic. Our CineVerse group dug a few shallow gopher tunnels last night and extracted the following:

What makes Caddyshack such a memorable and beloved comedy?

  • It has infinitely quotable lines, including “Na-na-na-na-na-na-na”; “So I got that going for me. Which is nice”; “Be the ball.” “Whoa, did somebody step on a duck?” “How about a Fresca?”; “Now I know why tigers eat their young”; “Thank you very little”; “Cinderella story. Outta nowhere”; and “It’s in the hole.”
  • It combines winning elements from many different film comedy subgenres, including:
    • the screwball comedy, in which the idle rich get their comeuppance;
    • slapstick, involving exaggerated physical or clumsy actions and humorously embarrassing events;
    • farce, as exemplified by using a gopher puppet and the Busby Berkeley-inspired swimming pool dance;
    • parody/satire, demonstrated by mimicking the Jaws attack in the water, using music from the Ten Commandments when the bishop is golfing in the storm, and seeming to spoof The Shining’s break-through-the-bathroom door moment;
    • gross-out humor, demonstrated by the Baby Ruth gag, vomit-in-the-car joke, betting on booger eating, etc.; and
    • anarchistic comedy, in the vein of the Marx Brothers.
  • In fact, the secret to this film’s success is that it’s a modern attempt at a Marx Brothers movie, with Rodney Dangerfield’s wisecracking anti-establishment character standing in for Groucho; Chevy Chase’s ladies’ man and piano-playing character representing Chico; Bill Murray’s slapstick-centric goofball character who gets most of the big laughs invoking Harpo; and Ted Knight and his ilk serving as the stuffed shirt conservative types (such as the kind played by Sig Ruman) whom the Marx Brothers always get the best of.
  • This movie stands out today as politically incorrect, irreverent, and an attention-getting product of its times—the early 1980s, when grown-up comedies weren’t afraid to, for example, show nudity and sexist situations, ample drug and alcohol use, and crude humor primarily geared toward male viewers. Today, we still have gross-out crude humor, but with fewer boobs and objectification of women more equal opportunities for male and female funny characters.

Themes at play in Caddyshack include:

  • Class and social warfare. We have the underdogs vs. the establishment; the snobs vs. the slobs, which was the film’s tagline; the working class vs. the WASPs; and Catholics (like Danny’s big family) vs. Protestants (Bushwood’s elite members).
  • The usurping of the old establishment by a new irreverent order
    • Jim Windolf, writer for The Observer, wrote: “…the baby boom’s ferocious need to overturn the World War II generation, a need that came under the heading of defying convention or shocking the bourgeoisie or, simply, rebellion. Again and again, Mr. Ramis set up straitlaced institutions (the Omega Theta Pi fraternity in Animal House ; the country club in Caddyshack ; the U.S. Army in Stripes ; the American family in National Lampoon’s Vacation ; bureaucrats and librarians in Ghostbusters ) and then put Bill Murray or Chevy Chase or John Belushi into Establishment-trampling mode. They spoke in a jivey, irony-laden language that the audience understood, but the old-guard villains didn’t.”
    • Director Harold Ramis said in an interview: ““When we were working on Caddyshack , (cowriter) Doug Kenney said he always wanted to do a kind of really smart adult Disney movie–as American as Disney films, but really embodying all our values. And Caddyshack clearly had a big social message–you know, the outsiders and the wackos are the good guys.”
  • Adopting a Zen Buddhism approach to life, as demonstrated in Ty’s advice to “be the ball,” and determine your own destiny.

Works inspired by Caddyshack or that come to mind after watching it:

  • Golf Balls
  • Dorf
  • Happy Gilmore
  • Who’s Your Caddy?
  • Other gross-out comedies like Animal House, There’s Something About Mary, Kingpin, Dumb and Dumber, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Austin Powers, and others

Other films made by Harold Ramis

  • National Lampoon’s Vacation (director)
  • Groundhog Day (writer/director)
  • Analyze This and Analyze That (writer/director)
  • National Lampoon’s Animal House (writer)
  • Stripes (writer)
  • Ghostbusters (writer)
  • Back to School (writer)

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The September/October lineup is live

CineVerse has a lot of great films--and discussions about them--slated for September and October. For proof, and to view the next two-month calendar, click here.

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It's never too late for a round of summertime golf

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Circle August 28 on your calendar: That's the date your funnybone gets a workout with the help of “Caddyshack” (1980; 98 minutes), directed by Ivan Reitman, chosen by Bob Johnson.

Plus: We’ll watch a trailer reel of films to be featured in September and October.

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Celebrate...with extreme prejudice

Cineversary podcast episode #14 is here. This time, host Erik Martin speaks with Jason Henderson, host of the Castle of Horror podcast and author of the Young Captain Nemo book series. Together, they examine Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 epic “Apocalypse Now,” which celebrates a 40th birthday this month, and discuss 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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Shot with a diamond bullet

Thursday, August 22, 2019

In some ways "Apocalypse Now" is an easy film to dissect, as its "war is hell" theme is hard to miss, and the strung-together vignette structure of the story make it play like several mini-movies within one film. But on several other levels, diving deep into Francis Ford Coppola's now 40-year-old work can be a challenging exercise, particularly when parsing through the picture's final act. But if you're willing to burrow deeper, and endure, as the Doors' Jim Morrison sang, "weird scenes inside the gold mine," you can excavate some glimmering truths about this movie. Here are several that we discussed yesterday at CineVerse:

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 it’s an uncompromisingly bleak vision by a master filmmaker—a depiction of war, particularly the Vietnam War, that doesn’t pull any punches, that can be visceral, gritty and disturbingly authentic as well as poetic, artistic, wildly exaggerative and over the top, and formalistic.
  • It’s worth celebrating because this is bravura filmmaking at its most daring and creative. There are no CGO pyrotechnics dazzling us here—those are real helicopters and real explosions; that’s a live animal that gets slaughtered, that’s a real river they’re filming on, and those actors truly are sweating, toiling, expressing fear and anguish. The effort and struggle that went into this movie is right up there for everyone to see and admire; you may not like the story, or some of the characters, or the dark tone, but you can’t help but be absolutely awe-inspired by the incredible sets, the battle choreography, the spot-on editing, the jaw-dropping sound design by Walter Murch, and, above all else, the breathtaking visuals achieved by one of the greatest cinematographers of all time, Vittorio Storaro. Storaro and Murch each deservedly won Academy Awards for their work on this picture.
  • It has stood the test of time because it remains arguably the greatest war film ever made; the Vietnam War may be long gone, but it’s still deeply burrowed in our sociocultural consciousness, in no small part due to the power of this movie, which created iconic and indelible images in our minds that we continue to associate with that war; when people think of the American conflict in Vietnam, many conjure up images from Apocalypse Now. Platoon may be more authentic and true to the grunt’s experiences; The Deer Hunter and Coming Home may have preceded Apocalypse Now by a year, but they’re more concerned with how everyday lives were affected before and after the war; and Full Metal Jacket is a very stylized but bifurcated film that wasn’t necessarily making a statement about the Vietnam War. Apocalypse Now serves as both a movie of its time—when the wounds were still fresh just a few years after America got out of Vietnam—that expresses how horrific that conflict was, as well as a timeless movie about the insanity of war, ANY war.
  • It also matters because it’s a film that probably could no longer be made today—a big budget, high-stakes, guerrilla filmmaking adventure in which one man, Francis Ford Coppola, had to literally risk everything he had to try to achieve his vision. It’s doubtful that any major studio would greenlight a production like this in the present time—a film that demands to be shot on location in dangerous conditions using practical effects and where too many uncertain variables could cause the whole project to come crashing down.
  • Interestingly, Apocalypse Now can be seen as both an antiwar film and one that can serve to glorify and romanticize combat. It straddles that line and doesn’t seem to take a stand either way, letting the viewer come to their own conclusions.
In what ways do you think this film was influential on cinema and popular culture or set trends?
  • This was probably the most graphically violent and distressing war film made up to that time. While The Deer Hunter from 1978 had a few intense sequences, like its Russian Roulette scene, that technically wasn’t a combat scene. Apocalypse Now paved the way for more realism, intense brutality, and morally disturbing scenes and situations in war pictures to follow. Likewise, the high production values, massive set pieces, and epic scope of the film raised the bar, inspiring many subsequent war movies to amp up their visuals and effects.
  • This is also the picture that gave war movies a rock and roll soundtrack. Today, when the Vietnam War is depicted in a film, one or more scenes almost always feature classic rock songs that were endemic to that period. I can’t think of a combat film before Apocalypse Now that features a rock and roll soundtrack.
  • It proved that a violent war movie could also be an arthouse film, an artistic expression of man’s inner darkness that is as philosophical and thought-provoking as it is entertaining as a dark episodic story that satisfies as a battle/adventure movie.
  • Consider how iconic and memorable that Ride of the Valkyries helicopter sequence and Robert Duvall’s “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” quote has become; it has been spoofed and recreated in countless movies and TV shows—from Small Soldiers and The Simpsons to Rango and Jarhead.
What’s the moral to the story here? What themes or messages are explored in Apocalypse Now?
  • The capacity for man to turn to the dark side of his soul. Remember that this screenplay, originally written by John Milius, was loosely based on Joseph Conrad’s story Heart of Darkness, another existential tale that examines how man is capable of abandoning civilization and indulging his primordial instincts and savage nature. The travel up the river and into increasingly dangerous jungle territory itself represents a journey into man’s inner darkness and departure away from reason, order, and sanity. We see that the steadily darkening jungle, as metaphor for humankind’s dark side, can unleash tigers, bullets, arrows, spears, cults and madmen.
  • The insanity and horror of war. The film gives us one example after another of how pointless and futile the Vietnam War was for Americans involved. We see how innocents, like the girl on the boat scurrying to retrieve her puppy, are brutally killed; how the military brass is willing to put many men’s lives in danger and take priority away from other matters simply to assassinate one man who has apparently gone crazy, a man whose instincts about killing suspected spies turned out to be right but who has disobeyed orders. We see how, despite being vastly outmanned and outweaponed, the native enemy on the ground can take out at a couple of helicopters and kill and maim a few soldiers.
  • Western vs. Eastern values. The characters and soldiers in Apocalypse Now are continually reminded of what they’re missing back home: things like pretty girls, rock music, partying, and surfing. They don’t want to be in Vietnam and are eager to get back home. By contrast, the native peoples are embroiled in a long-running civil war and are willing to do whatever it takes to run these invaders out of their country. Kurtz’s speech about the severed inoculated arms of children reinforces how determined the Vietnamese are to thwart their enemies and resist outside influences.
  • The masking of identities. Several characters don war paint and apply camouflage color suggesting that it’s easier to cope with the horrors of war and their missions when hiding behind a mask. We also see how Kurtz remains enshrouded in shadow, with only portions of his face apparent, insinuating that he cannot truly emerge into the light and present his full identity—he has journeyed figuratively too far into the darkness.
Who do you think this film appealed to initially when it was released in 1979, and who do you think it appeals to today? And if that appeal has changed, what does that say about the film’s impact, influence and legacy?
  • Due to its graphic content, adult themes, and reputation as an unsettling war film, it’s possible that Apocalypse Now had a more limited appeal to mature adults and military veterans during its debut. It garnered mixed reviews from critics at the time, which may have hurt its reputation initially.
  • Today, however, it’s regarded as a masterpiece by the vast majority of critics and fans alike and is probably watched by a much wider swath of the population.
What elements from this movie have aged well, and what elements are showing some wrinkles?
  • As a period piece portraying the Vietnam War, it certainly does its job in staying true to its time and place, so it’s hard to identify anything that feels outdated or aged.
  • On the other hand, you could make a case that Apocalypse Now is too one-sided, that it doesn’t really show the suffering and sacrifices made by the Vietnamese people in this conflict. But that would make it a very different story, of course.
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?
  • Apocalypse Now’s greatest gift is its unparalleled craftsmanship and attention to detail. This movie makes you feel like you’re in that boat with Willard and company, sweating on that river, breathing in the secondhand smoke from the marijuana, inhaling that napalm gasoline smell, experiencing the hair on the back of your neck stand up as you sense some unseen danger hidden in the jungle bush about to attack.
  • Another of its greatest gifts is its narrative structure. For the first two acts, it is episodic, which serves, like Homer’s The Odyssey, as a great sprawling journey and quest—although a dark one. We come to care about the members of Willard’s crew and are sickened to see most of them get killed off as the story progresses. Then, amazingly, once they reach Kurtz’s compound, the narrative completely unravels, and we’re left in the dark as to how this story will conclude. Some would say that the way the movie departs that vignette formula, abandons our forward progress up the river, forces us to sit in the dark to listen to Kurtz’s not-so-insane-after-all philosophical musings, and wait patiently to learn what Willard is going to do, muddies up the last act. But without those final scenes, and minus the gravitas of an enshrouded Marlon Brando confronting his assassin, the quest—and the inner conflict it generates—doesn’t mean much. The journey holds the story, but the destination is what truly matters.
  • Even if you don’t care for this film, it’s hard to deny the majesty of its visuals. This is some of the finest cinematography ever featured in a motion picture, with images carved into your consciousness that you can never unsee. The natural and chiaroscuro lighting, depth of field, aviation photography, smoke and fog imagery, and overall look of this picture create an unforgettable impression.
Do you think this movie will still be widely watched and considered relevant in another 40 years? Why or why not?
  • It's likely that Apocalypse Now will only grow in stature, reputation and admiration among serious cinephiles and casual movie fans alike; that’s because it will continue to garner strong word of mouth as one of those “must-see” movies and incite ongoing arguments about what is the greatest war movie of all time.

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"The horror...the horror..." continued

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Make plans to attend CineVerse on August 21, when we'll conclude “Apocalypse Now” (part two; 26 minutes). Plus: We'll watch and discuss “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse” (1991; 96 minutes), directed by Eleanor Coppola, et al., a fascinating documentary on the making of “Apocalypse Now."

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Further proof why Francis Ford Coppola was king of 1970s cinema

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Cineversary comes back to CineVerse on August 14, the night we honor the 40th anniversary of “Apocalypse Now” (1979; 170 minutes), directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Note: Tonight, we will be watching part 1 of “Apocalypse Now Redux,” a longer cut of the film, to conclude next week.

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No CineVerse meeting on August 7

Sunday, August 4, 2019

CineVerse will not meet on August 7. Your friendly neighborhood moderator will return on August 14 refreshed from summer vacation.

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The "Knight" is darkest just before the dawn

Friday, August 2, 2019

Often, the middle chapter of a movie trilogy is the darkest, taking audiences to grim, ominous and dreary places where the characters they fell in love with in the first installment are at greater risk in a more dangerous environment. This tonal shift is evident in middle chapters of memorable genre film series; consider "The Empire Strikes Back," "Godfather Part II," "The Two Towers," "Back to the Future Part II," "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," and "Terminator 2: Judgement Day." And it's certainly true in "The Dark Knight," Christopher Nolan's follow-up to "Batman Begins" and predecessor to "The Dark Knight Rises." There's a heck of a lot going on in this picture beyond the non-stop action. CineVerse took a trip down to the Batcave last night to try to unravel some of the mysteries behind the 2008 blockbuster. Here's what we arrived at:


How did The Dark Knight change expectations for what a superhero action movie can be?

  • The film adopts a dark, pessimistic, and even tragic tone that can make viewers feel uneasy and uncertain. Typically, superhero films follow a standard pattern: good conquers evil, with some serious challenges and sacrifices along the way. Here, although Batman survives, some of his friends do not, and deep moral questions are asked about good and evil, morality, and the unpredictable nature of human beings. This is a dangerous world our characters inhabit, and anything seems possible, even an unhappy ending.
  • The movie asks deeper existential questions about identity, whether Batman is the good guy or bad guy in his own tale, if redemption is possible, how to live with the consequences of your decisions, and when it’s appropriate to take one for the team and play the martyr.
  • This Joker, as personified by Health Ledger, is a complete reinvention of the character, one who seems to have no decided purpose or ambition other than to sow discord and chaos in a random fashion and to present moral quandaries for his enemies. This Joker is not a cartoonish imp with funny lines or scenery-chewing dialogue like the one played by Jack Nicholson or Caesar Romero.
  • The screenplay and characters are quite complex for a film about a comic book hero. The main plot, subplots, twists, and character arcs are not what you’d expect from a Batman movie.
  • The fights, chases, explosions, weapons, and derring-do do not overshadow the main story or its characters. But when there is action, it’s a cut above the ordinary, thanks to solid direction and top-notch special effects.

Themes examined in The Dark Knight

  • Dual identities: Bruce Wayne and Batman, Harvey Dent and Two-Face, the Joker and the abused boy who became him.
  • Becoming more mask than man: The man behind the mask is more Batman than Bruce Wayne, and the death of Rachel makes it easier for him to choose what he believes is his real identity—that of Batman. By the end of the film, we come to believe, as does Bruce, that being Bruce Wayne is more akin to wearing a mask.
  • Order vs. chaos: Batman strives to preserve the former; the Jokes is an agent of the latter.
  • Morality vs. random chance. Batman personifies the former; Two-Face stands for the latter. “The only morality in a cruel world is chance,” he says. Recall, also, how the Joker says “people are only as good as the world allows them to be.”
  • The power of symbols: Bruce and the superhero he embodies are fallible, mortal and corruptible. But the idea and symbol of Batman as, ideally, a force for good, is more powerful. Likewise, Harvey Dent the man is imperfect and, ultimately, flawed; but the white knight district attorney he represented stood as a powerful agent of justice and hope.
  • The dark and unpredictable nature of human beings. The Joker stands as an impulsive, erratic, and capricious agent of evil; it’s virtually impossible to guess his next move. Many also didn’t see Dent’s change of nature coming—his transformation from do-gooder to villain. And the Joker forces two boatloads of citizens to choose whether to be martyrs or survivors, forcing everyday people to make difficult moral decisions and confront dark sides to their natures.
  • Making sacrifices and reaping the consequences of your choices.

Other similar films

  • Batman and Batman Returns by Tim Burton
  • James Bond films, especially Skyfall
  • Star Trek Into Darkness
  • War for the Planet of the Apes

Oher films directed by Christopher Nolan

  • Memento
  • Insomnia
  • Batman Begins
  • The Dark Knight Rises
  • Inception
  • Interstellar
  • Dunkirk

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Can't see the "Forrest" for the Royale with cheese

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Looking back, 1994 was a stellar year for film. Consider some of the best flicks from 25 years ago, including "The Shawshank Redemption," "The Lion King," "Quiz Show," "Hoop Dreams," and "Four Weddings and a Funeral." But film fans often argue that the heavyweights that year were "Pulp Fiction" and "Forrest Gump." The latter earned Oscar gold in the form of the Best Picture winner at the Academy Awards. But the former is regarded by many critics and cinephiles as easily the best movie of 1994--and possibly the 1990s.

Writer Adam Nayman just wrote a fantastic essay on this topic, one that makes a solid case for why "Pulp Fiction" is the much better film--one that changed cinema forever. I highly recommend this read, available here.

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Batman at his best

Sunday, July 28, 2019

It's been hailed as the greatest superhero movie ever made. You be the judge by attending CineVerse on July 31 for “The Dark Knight” (2008; 153 minutes), directed by Christopher Nolan, chosen by Nick Guiffre.

Note: Due to the long runtime of this movie, CineVerse will start 15 minutes earlier, at 6:45 p.m.

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Remembering the whole "Affair"

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Calling "An Affair to Remember" a weepy chick flick does a disservice to a more than serviceable romantic comedy that also happens to be a tearjerker. That's because this picture can arguably appeal to male viewers just as much as female watchers, thanks in large part to a balanced point of view established between the two romantic leads, the spot-on casting of Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, and a steady hand steering the ship in the form of director Leo McCarey. These were among the takeaways from our CineVerse discussion last evening. Other points covered include the following:

What did you find surprising, different or curiously satisfying about An Affair to Remember?

  • This was made by a director known for making audiences laugh, helming several classic comedies. McCarey, who was known for his long two-shot takes and “idiosyncratic, often spontaneous performances,” per critic Emanuel Levy, displays a deft hand at balancing the right lighthearted and bittersweet tones in this film.
    • “McCarey doesn't go for any of the obvious tricks in bringing his lovers together, instead he exercises tremendous restraint. The whole of An Affair to Remember has an air of calm, and in that calm, McCarey is able to foment feelings of desire, longing, and eventually sadness just by letting the actors be themselves. Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr reportedly improvised a lot of their dialogue in the courtship scenes, and it shows. At times, they seem genuinely surprised at the things that come out of each other's mouth, and the natural interchange between the two makes for honest romantic yearning,” wrote film reviewer Jamie S. Rich.
    • The ending is romantic and satisfying, but it’s also tinged with both sadness and sentimentality. According to Slant reviewer John Lingan: “only a person intent on being fed fairy tales would interpret the ending of McCarey’s film as purely glorious or decisively final. Instead, it’s a bittersweet moment: Two people who changed cataclysmically while together, then painfully while apart, are finally reacquainted and given a rare second chance at a relationship. Terry starts the film as a vibrant girl with a potentially disastrous future, yet she ends it bedridden and profoundly happy. McCarey’s brilliance, and his films’ indelible effect, stem from his recognition that true love is a cousin of wisdom. It’s not a peak that you reach; it’s a series of experiences that help make you a better person.”
  • Despite the fact that there are several implausibilities in the story, the heightened melodramatic moments and infectious credibility of the romance arguably make viewers look past any plot holes and far-fetched elements.
  • The production values are lavish and lasting. This film was shot in CinemaScope using DeLuxe Color, meaning we get a very colorful and lush widescreen film—fitting, considering that the 1950s was known for introducing new widescreen techniques like VistaVision and Cinerama and abandoning black and white for color.
  • Stars Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr convey great chemistry and plausibility as romantic love interests. Note that they were allowed to improv some of their lines together, which made their rapport and onscreen romance more believable. This was also not their first or last pairing—they also teamed up for Dream Wife (1953) and The Grass is Greener (1960).
  • There’s a lot more music and singing in this film than you’d expect; in fact, the movie features four songs, including the titular theme that was a giant hit for Vic Damone.

Themes found in An Affair to Remember

  • The unpredictability and precarious nature of love
  • Good timing is everything in a relationship
  • The repercussions of ignoring your romantic feelings for another
  • Unconditional love and making sacrifices for the greater good
  • Love can happen at any stage of life—even your later years

Other motion pictures this movie makes you think of:

  • Brief Encounter
  • Love Affair, the original this was remade from, also directed by McCarey
  • Love Affair, a 1994 remake
  • Sleepless in Seattle
  • The Shop Around the Corner
  • ‘Til We Meet Again (1940)
  • Mann, a 1999 Bollywood film

Other films directed by Leo McCarey

  • Duck Soup
  • Ruggles of Red Gap
  • The Awful Truth
  • Make Way for Tomorrow
  • Going My Way
  • The Bells of St. Mary’s
  • Various shorts featuring Our Gang and several Laurel and Hardy films

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The story of right hand-left hand--30 years later

Monday, July 22, 2019

For episode #13 of the Cineversary podcast, host Erik Martin welcomes Monica White Ndounou, associate professor of theater at Dartmouth College, to discuss Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing,” which celebrates a 30th birthday this month. Erik and Monica examine why the movie is worth celebrating three 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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Cary + Kerr = fireworks long after July 4

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Romance is in the air at CineVerse on July 24, when we'll spotlight “An Affair to Remember” (1957; 115 minutes), directed by Leo McCarey, chosen by Danealle Kueltzo.

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Insidious abracadabra

Friday, July 19, 2019

Some films linger in your cranium long after the credits have rolled--sometimes for days thereafter. One such motion picture is George Sluizer's "The Vanishing" from 1988, which provides a privileged eerie look inside the lives of two men: one who remains haunted by the shocking disappearance of his girlfriend three years earlier, and the other being the sociopath who abducted her, a clever man who seems to have committed an airtight crime. Our CineVerse group performed an autopsy on this movie on Wednesday; here's what we discovered:

What are this film’s strengths and unique qualities that help it rise above your average thriller? 

  • As in many Hitchcock films, the audience is given a lot more information than the protagonists—including who the perpetrator is and, intimately, how he lives. Contrary to what you’d expect, this helps build suspense, and it also builds intrigue about the villain, causing us to guess what he may do next.
    • Consider that the more we know as viewers, the more unsettling and fearful we become.
    • “'The Vanishing’ is a thriller, but in a different way than most thrillers. It is a thriller about knowledge - about what the characters know about the disappearance, and what they know about themselves,” wrote Roger Ebert.
    • "Films like The Vanishing, Le Boucher, M, The Silence of the Lambs, and Se7en are more fascinating than most thrillers because you get inside the head of the villain, and you try and figure why they do what they do,” per the Classic Art Films blog.
  • While we are given some information, other crucial details are withheld, such as what Raymond the sociopath did to her. This film effectively employs both suspense and surprise; the latter is accomplished by shocking us at moments along the way, most crucially at the conclusion. And cheap jump scares are avoided.
  • It’s fresh and unpredictable in its narrative structure, and it avoids tacking on an upbeat ending. To its credit, while you could make a case that the stark conclusion is inevitable, many viewers don’t see it coming.
  • The villain isn’t a cookie cutter stereotype; he appears normal and harmless and has a wife and children. He has the look and personality of someone you wouldn’t suspect of this crime.

Themes built into The Vanishing

  • Persistence and dogged determination
  • A creepy game of cat and mouse
  • Curiosity killed the cat (or, in this case, the mouse): the dangers of obsession and unquenchable curiosity
  • Fate and destiny
  • The allure of a second chance, reboot, or the possibility of starting over
  • Evil hidden in plain sight; how a villain can blend in and evade suspicion
  • Motifs used in The Vanishing
  • A golden egg; oval shapes
  • Coins
  • Frisbees
  • Crosses
  • Bicycles and the Tour de France

Other works that The Vanishing brings to mind

  • The 19th-century urban legend of the vanishing lady
  • Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes
  • So Long at the Fair
  • And Soon the Darkness
  • Dying Room Only
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock
  • Frantic
  • The 1993 remake also directed by George Sluizer
  • Gone Girl

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Flashback to a flashpoint film

Thursday, July 18, 2019

In many ways, Spike Lee's masterwork "Do the Right Thing" is more meaningful and profound today than when it was released 30 years ago. That observation is a sobering commentary on the fact that, despite progress made, America still suffers from a racial divide. Lee explored these sociocultural rifts in his 1989 film, which CineVerse discussed last week. Here's a recap of the major takeaways from that conversation.

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 it attempts to show how all races are capable of racial intolerance. Consider that the diatribe monologue featuring rants to the camera by people of different races shows impartiality/fairness. We see how both Sal and Mookie, whom some viewers can relate to, sympathize with or understand, are each capable of racist, nonconstructive words and acts.
  • It also matters because it doesn’t give viewers any easy answers or solutions to the problem of bigotry and prejudice.
    • One could argue that there are no good or bad guys; some characters whom you sympathized with do some unsympathetic things (Mookie throwing the garbage can, Sal bashing the radio).
    • Mookie may be the main character, but he is flawed: He’s not a responsible father or boyfriend, and he’s lax in many of his duties on the job.
    • Sal demonstrates kindness and understanding to his black customers, but we see that he can also be gruff, impatient, violent, and bigoted in his words and actions.
    • Even da Mayor, who preaches doing the right thing and deplores the riot, is not perfect; he drinks a lot to escape his pain, and his well-intentioned messages often go ignored.
  • The film attempts to distill themes and situations reductively, condensing them into the space of one day: its primary focus is on race relations, and it doesn’t try to tackle every societal problem, like drugs, poverty, gang violence, etc.
  • On one hand, several of the characters appear to be stereotypes—possessing oversimplified characteristics that are broadly drawn and that conform closely to the idea of a preconceived type. But on the other hand, these sometimes stereotypical characters have nuances and shades of gray that make them more distinctive. For example, Sal shows that he can both tender and kind as well as judgmental and violent.

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

  • This was arguably the most important and most widely reviewed and seen movie by an African American filmmaker to date.
  • It legitimized Spike Lee as a major filmmaking talent, and its box-office success ($37 million earned on a $6 million budget) proved that movies that more realistically depicted the African American experience and made by black filmmakers could be profitable, highly acclaimed and worth greenlighting.
  • It inspired and influenced contemporary African American directors and future generations of black filmmakers; this film paved the way for important works to follow, like Boyz in the Hood, Menace II Society, New Jack City, Friday and its sequels, Poetic Justice, Soul Food, Barbershop, and many others.

What’s the moral to the story here? What themes or messages are explored in “Do the Right Thing”?

  • Racial intolerance and bigotry
  • Violence and police brutality
  • We also get the important presentation of two different quotes at the film’s conclusion; one advocates nonviolence, the other condones violence as a means of self-defense:
    • "Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral. It is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding; it seeks to annihilate rather than to convert. Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love. It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible. It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue. Violence ends by destroying itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers."--Martin Luther King, Jr.
    • "I think there are plenty of good people in America, but there are also plenty of bad people in America and the bad ones are the ones who seem to have all the power and be in these positions to block things that you and I need. Because this is the situation, you and I have to preserve the right to do what is necessary to bring an end to that situation, and it doesn't mean that I advocate violence, but at the same time I am not against using violence in self-defense. I don't even call it violence when it's self- defense, I call it intelligence."--Malcolm X
  • That begs the question: What is the appropriate for society to confront racism—Love, empathy, and pacifism? Violence and whatever means necessary? Cultural segregation?
    • Consider Mookie’s decision to throw the garbage can through his employer’s window. If you don’t feel like his action here was justified, remember that Mookie had just witnessed a black man getting killed by the police; ask yourself, is that more of an outrage than the destruction of property (not to condone the latter)?
    • The killing of Radio Raheem becomes a flashpoint that triggers violence; the people of the neighborhood contribute to the burning and looting of the pizzeria. But consider the repercussions of this act: they will suffer in that one of their favorite destinations will be gone.
  • This film argues that people of all colors and ethnicities need to be accountable for their personal actions.
  • The movie also examines what it means to “be a man.” The need for men take responsibility for their obligations (Mookie needs to be a better father) and the need for males to express (“you da man”), project (Radio Raheem’s defiant attitude) and defend (Vito’s need to stand up to his brother) their masculinity, which often leads to tense confrontations.
  • This film plays like a tragedy from classic literature, with the ending somewhat unresolved and conflicting; the 3 men on the corner serve as the Greek chorus of sorts.

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

  • The movie’s depiction of police brutality and excessive violence toward African Americans by law enforcement remains relevant today, in the wake of many news reports about the police shootings of unarmed and/or innocent black men.
  • Vibe.com pointed highlighted several lessons learned from this movie that resonate today, including the prevalence of sneaker culture, the expansion of gentrification in black neighborhoods, the dichotomy of sports, entertainment, and race, and the intensity of black rage.

What is this film’s greatest gift to viewers?

  • One of its greatest gifts is that it appears to be fair and impartial in its criticism of people and their inclinations toward racism. We see how black, white, Asian, Latino and other ethnic characters in the movie all have the capacity for prejudice and racial insensitivity. Spike Lee doesn’t appear to be judging or favoring one side against the other, and his inclusion of the two opposing quotes at the denouement is proof that the film doesn’t attempt to answer everyone’s questions or present a perfect solution—it’s up to each of us to decide on what the right thing to do is, and how to do it.
  • The movie features fantastic color cinematography and creative filmmaking techniques to imply the sociocultural conflicts going on and paint a picture of a specific place at a specific time: Brooklyn on the hottest day of the year, 1989.
    • Lee uses extreme close-ups of sweaty faces; Brash, bright and hot colors in the costumes, paints, signs, etc.; canted/tilted angles, suggesting an askew universe; low and high camera angles and subjective POV shots to suggest conflict and power shifts: the scene where Buggin Out and Clifton confront each other; and different musical styles, suggesting racial and cultural diversity: you have a powerful rap song, and you have a jazz and classical music mixture score that brings out the varying emotions of the characters.

Do you think this movie will still be widely watched and considered relevant in another 30 years?

  • Probably. It has already grown in stature and become more accepted and revered 30 years after its release. However, one hopes that racial insensitivity and police brutality aren't among the top reasons why it may be relevant or worth revisiting in 2049.
  • Recall that this was a very controversial movie in 1989, with many critics, pundits, and politicians warning at the time that it would incite race riots, looting, burning, and violence. None of those fears materialized.
  • This remains one of the most important films that tackles the theme of bigotry and racial divides, and it will continue to serve an important purpose: to create a conversation and dialogue on these matters and force us to ask ourselves, can we “do the right thing?”

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A bit of cinematic hocus-pocus from The Netherlands

Sunday, July 14, 2019

World Cinema Wednesday makes a comeback at CineVerse on July 17, when we'll feature a film from The Netherlands: “The Vanishing (Spoorloos)” (1988; 106 minutes), directed by George Sluizer, chosen by Janet Pierucci.

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Do the right thing: Attend CineVerse on July 10

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Once a month in 2019, CineVerse will celebrate a milestone anniversary of a cinematic classic with a special Q&A discussion format unique to our Cineversary series. On July 10, we'll celebrate the 30th anniversary of “Do the Right Thing” (1989; 120 minutes), directed by Spike Lee.

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Star spangled Cagney

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Want to feel good about your country on Independence Day? Watch "Yankee Doodle Dandy," arguably the most patriotic film ever released by Hollywood, and an important piece of wartime propaganda to boost morale at home in 1942. Ranked #98 on the American Film Institute's list of top 100 movies, this gem never fails to entertain. We discussed the reasons why last night at CineVerse. Here's a summary of that discussion:

What emerges as different, distinctive, or surprising after watching Yankee Doodle Dandy?

  • James Cagney steals the show in unexpected fashion. Here’s an actor so typecast as Grade A gangster that it’s a revelation to see that he’s multitalented; viewers then and now were and are probably surprised to discover that he can dance and sing. He may not croon as well as Crosby or hoof it as majestically as Astaire (who turned down this role), but he has an energetic dynamism in his dance moves that absolutely rivet our attention. Roger Ebert wrote that “he was such a good actor he could fake it.” Cagney is so invested in this role, and his sheer force of will and enthusiasm command us to keep watching and enjoying.
  • It’s a biopic without much serious conflict or high dramatic tension. This is built to be a feel-good flick that entertains as its first and foremost goal; Yes, George M. Cohan suffers some setbacks along his journey—like getting fired and the death of his father. But the film is imbued with such sheer joy and exuberance, primarily thanks to Cagney’s ebullient performance, that it’s virtually impossible not to feel uplifted and amused.
    • Blogger Tim Brayton wrote: “There's not a cynical bone to be found anywhere in Yankee Doodle Dandy, but there's quite a lot of clear-eyed, unsentimental appreciation for the desperate work done by desperate people to drive the entertainment industry, and that tends to help the gloppy sentimental passages go down easier… as much as it's unmistakably a tribute to the most idealistic version of the United States as a glowing symbol of democracy and prosperity, Yankee Doodle Dandy is maybe even more a tribute to the cutthroat fearlessness of America's vaudeville tradition, positioning the Four Cohans as the best kind of troupers, endlessly plying their trade in crap theaters across the continent according to a robust, unwritten code of ethics.”
  • The songs are familiar and memorable. Cohan really did write some all-time classic numbers that have become embedded in the American fabric—likely more songs than you knew were created by this one man.
Themes crafted into Yankee Doodle Dandy
  • Patriotism: Cohan wrote many songs that have become flag-waving standards meant to inspire Americans in the early part of the 20th century and beyond. His personal story and the lyrics and spirit of his songs capture the essence of American pride and exceptionalism.
  • Success and the American dream: Cohan stands as the perfect embodiment of the American ethos and recipient of the land of opportunity; his is an inspiring story to others about how a hard-working and creative American can help make his country great and vice versa.
  • Strong family values. We see how the Cohan family worked so diligently and often performed best as a well-oiled collective unit. We are shown how George honors, respects and adores his parents and sister, and vice versa.
  • The power of the movies to motivate. Alongside Sergeant York, Casablanca, and a handful of others films released during World War II, this picture roused audiences to support our country in wartime and boosted morale.
Similar films that come to mind
  • The Glenn Miller Story
  • Words and Music (about the songwriting team of Rogers and Hart)
  • Night and Day (about Cole Porter)
  • The Great Ziegfeld (about the famous theater producer)
  • Rhapsody in Blue (about George Gershwin)
Other movies by director Michael Curtiz
  • The Mystery of the Wax Museum
  • Captain Blood
  • The Adventures of Robin Hood
  • Angels With Dirty Faces
  • The Sea Hawk
  • Casablanca
  • Mildred Pierce
  • Life With Father
  • White Christmas

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One dandy of a film just before the 4th

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Don't miss CineVerse on July 3: We'll celebrate Independence Day a day early with “Yankee Doodle Dandy” (1942; 126 minutes), directed by Michael Curtiz, chosen by Jim Doherty.

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Adventure and romance in Africa -- Hollywood style

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Now 68 years old, "The African Queen" is a vessel that shows its age yet still maintains fine form while demonstrating impressive resiliency and strength--thanks in large part to the powerhouse casting of Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn. Our CineVerse group discussed this John Huston-helmed classic last night and drew these conclusions:

What makes this film memorable and a cut above? What elements particularly shine?
  • It’s shot on location in the Belgian Congo, adding to the realism; in 1951, it was extremely rare not to recreate exotic locales within the studio or on a lot. Here, the filmmakers actually travel to Africa and risk the cast and crews to many perils, including stampeding elephants and waterborne illness.
  • The tramp steamer itself and the natural environment become crucial and colorful characters in the film.
  • The film ticks many genre and subgenre boxes: romance, action/adventure, war film, and drama.
  • Humphrey Bogart’s Charlie Allnut continues the Huston tradition of using anti-heroes as one of the main protagonists; consider how Bogart and Huston bring many other anti-heroes to life in films like The Maltese Falcon, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and Key Largo. Allnut’s gruff personality, penchant for booze and smokes, and overall griminess make him a classic anti-hero, although he evolves into a more classic hero/good guy as the movie progresses.
  • The filmmakers used Technicolor cameras, which were difficult to haul and position on a remote shoot on the water; hence, the cameras had to show closer and closer shots of Charlie and Rose—establishing an intimacy with the audience.
  • Bogart and Hepburn represent a colossal coup of casting—two superstars never before paired together—that works wondrously. We believe in their characters’ unexpected romance, one of the greatest in the classic Hollywood era.
  • “Great movie romances aren’t easy to accomplish, and the best ones tend to think outside of the box. Here we have two relatively older people from opposite walks of life falling for each other in a surprisingly short amount of time. It shouldn’t work, but it does. And as time goes on, The African Queen’s many breaks from typical romances only make it seem more modern and fresh,” wrote movie blogger Evan Saathoff.
Themes prevalent in The African Queen
  • Humanism vs. divine intervention. Charlie and Rose demonstrate the amazing capacity for human beings to rise above their flaws and challenges, be resourceful (such as making torpedoes out of spare parts) and solve problems, and draw from inner strengths, yet some of the ways they escape incredible danger seem to almost be deus ex machina-like (such as avoiding death on the rapids, getting unstuck from the mud and weeds, not being hanged or blown up when the torpedoes sink the Louisa, etc.).
  • Nature versus man. Set in an exotic and dangerous locale, with elements, animals and the natural environment representing significant threats to survival, Charlie and Rose have the odds stacked against them. And yet, they are able to hold their own against nature but nearly succumb to the threat posed by other human beings (the Germans).
  • Opposites attract. Charlie is a gritty, worldly man with lots of doubts and pessimism as well as vices (smoking and drinking); Rose is a prim, proper woman of stout religious beliefs whose optimism and determination help them survive and fulfill their mission.
  • True love conquers all. If this sounds like a sappy convention from classic Hollywood movies, it’s because it is; this is a classic Hollywood movie that makes you believe in the power of true love and its ability to overcome obstacles.
  • The doomed quest. As in many films by John Huston (including Moby Dick, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and The Man Who Would Be King), our protagonists are on a bit of a suicide mission—or at least think they are.
Movies similar to The African Queen
  • Jean Renoir’s The River (also from 1951)
  • Heaven Knows, Mr. Alison
  • Rooster Cogburn
  • Australia
  • White Hunter, Black Heart
  • Apocalypse Now (much of the story also takes place on smaller ship)
  • The Empire Strikes Back
Other films directed by John Huston 
  • The Maltese Falcon
  • Treasure of the Sierra Madre
  • Key Largo
  • The Asphalt Jungle
  • The African Queen
  • Moby Dick
  • The Misfits
  • The Man Who Would Be King
  • Prizzi’s Honor
  • The Dead

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Queen for a day

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Circle June 26 on your calendar; that's the date “The African Queen” docks at CineVerse (1951; 105 minutes), directed by John Huston, chosen by Ken Demske.

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Born to be wild about podcasts

In episode #12 of the Cineversary podcast, host Erik Martin is joined by Barna Donovan, professor of communications and media studies at Saint Peter's, the Jesuit College of New Jersey; together, they take a cosmic trip (minus the hallucinogenics) back to 1969 and celebrate the 50th anniversary of "Easy Rider." Erik and Barna examine why the movie is worth celebrating five 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, like us on Facebook at facebook.com/cineversarypodcast, and email show comments or suggestions to cineversegroup@gmail.com. 

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Summertime fun at CineVerse

Thursday, June 20, 2019

The next two months promise thrills, nostalgia, comedy, gripping combat action, and romance at CineVerse, as evidenced by the variety of movies scheduled for July and August.

To view the complete July-August 2019 calendar, click here.

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The old man and the see (it before you die)

If you were only given six to 12 months to live, how would you spend your remaining time? If you're Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, you live it up to the hilt and cross as many things off your bucket list as you can. And that's basically the plot of Rob Reiner's "The Bucket List," which serves as a comedy, drama, road movie, adventure film (of sorts), buddy picture, and philosophical feature all in one. We broke down the film last night at CineVerse and came away with these ideas:

What are this film’s strongest attributes, including elements that may have surprised you?

  • The acting chops and irresistible charisma of Jack Nicholson is fully evident. Even if you didn’t care for this film, it’s hard not to admire Jack and what he brings to the role.
    • You could make a case that Jack is simply playing Jack here: a fabulously rich man who’s had his share of fun and who enjoys living alone yet wants to continue having expensive fun.
  • The camaraderie and chemistry between Nicholson and Morgan Freeman stands out; here are two senior-aged A-list actors who command respect, gravitas and attention and who play off each other nicely.
  • The exotic locales, toys and trips are memorable. This film serves as a wish fulfillment vehicle for viewers who may never get to see or do the things these two older gentlemen experience. We can live vicariously through these characters and, even if we don’t share a terminal illness, can learn a valuable lesson about living life to the fullest.
    • Interestingly, the “bucket list” experiences and vignettes only constitute about a third of the film; the trailer and marketing campaign had many believing that this was going to be a nonstop road picture, sort of a fun action/adventure thrill ride for senior citizens. It is for a while, but not the majority of the movie, which is reserved instead for character development, poignancy and smaller details.
  • The ending, arguably, wraps up nicely and bookends the movie similarly to how it began.
Themes built into The Bucket List
  • You can’t take it with you, so enjoy life and treat yourself now.
  • It’s the little things in life that often mean the most.
  • Coming to grips with one’s own mortality and limitations.
  • Refusing to be defined or constrained by illness or physical limitations.
  • Opposites attract; consider how different Edward and Carter are racially, economically, and otherwise. The latter is married, the former is single, too.
  • Good friendships are priceless.
Other films that The Bucket List brings to mind:
  • Going In Style
  • The Intouchables
  • Last Vegas
  • Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
  • The Magic of Belle Isle
  • 50/50
  • Patch Adams
  • About Schmidt
  • As Good As It Gets
  • Gran Torino
Other films directed by Rob Reiner:
  • This is Spinal Tap
  • Stand By Me
  • The Princess Bride
  • When Harry Met Sally
  • Misery
  • A Few Good Men

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