Blog Directory CineVerse: January 2019

Criterion is launching its own streaming channel

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Are you a fan of the Criterion Collection and its awesome library of classic, foreign and independent films and the supplements that accompany them? Those highly collectible DVDs and Blu-rays can be expensive ($40 normally; $20 during rare half-price sales). But soon there will be a way to watch Criterion films for one low monthly price, via its forthcoming Criterion Channel, a new streaming service launching April 8.

Here are details via the notice I just received:

Thematically programmed with special features, the Criterion Channel will offer constantly refreshed selections of Hollywood, international, art-house, and independent movies, plus access to Criterion’s entire streaming library of more than 1,000 important classic and contemporary films from around the world. If you haven’t already signed up to become a Charter Subscriber, now’s the time! And if you are already on the list, it’s time to make your subscription official. Sign up now to lock in an extended 30-day free trial (starting April 8) and reduced pricing for as long as your account stays active. As a Charter Subscriber, you’ll be able to start watching right now with our Movie of the Week series, featuring a new surprise every Wednesday from now until launch.

If you're interested, here's the link to become a charter member and get a 30-day free trial.

And no, they're not paying me to be a shill. I'm simply sharing this news because I'm such a huge fan of Criterion.  


No CineVerse meeting on Jan. 30

Monday, January 28, 2019

CineVerse has been cancelled for Wednesday, Jan. 30; the Oak Lawn Park District will close the building due to the extreme weather expected that evening.

We will reschedule "Reversal of Fortune" for a date in March to be announced soon.

Stay warm and safe!


Courtroom cleverness

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Alan Dershowitz may not be movie star material, but he makes for a riveting and colorful attorney character, as demonstrated in “Reversal of Fortune” (1990; 111 minutes), directed by Barbet Schroeder, chosen by Farrell McNulty, which is slated for CineVerse on Jan. 30.


Bringing back the Rat Pack

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and the rest of the Rat Pack and associated friends decided to make a movie in 1960--one that capitalized on their collective fame and toyed with the public's perception of them as cool cat icons and Las Vegas legends in their own time. The result was "Ocean's 11," a movie that was arguably bettered by its remake 41 years later but which still serves as a fascinating document of an utterly dated era in gender politics. We hashed out this film's merits and misses last night at CineVerse and came away with the following conclusions:


  • Dean Martin and Sammy sing, but not Frank. As the most popular singer among the three, you’d expect a Sinatra song or two.
  • This is a true ensemble character film that, despite top billing for Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, doesn’t showcase them as much as you’d think. Peter Lawford has a stronger role than you’d expect—one that more crucial to the story than most of the others. Meanwhile, Sinatra, Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. don’t have as much screen time as many would anticipate.
  • The story arguably isn’t as important as the event—the bringing together of all these Rat Pack talents in their natural habitat, Las Vegas. 
  • Digital Fix reviewer Raphael Pour-Hashemi wrote: “The plot is secondary to the attitude of the film. This doesn't mean that they are both structurally weak, just that structure isn't the most important item.”
  • The twist ending is cited by many as one they didn’t see coming—an unpredictable denouement that makes the film more memorable.
  • This likely works best when enjoyed and appreciated in proper context: as a time capsule film that captures the Rat Pack and Old Vegas at their height. It serves as a love letter to both that today can be seen as dated.
  • It can come across today as a vanity project—a self-indulgent and somewhat narcissistic vehicle for a group of overprivileged cool cats to make a buck at the box-office. 
  • Detractors argue that there’s no memorable filmmaking here, no relevant themes or evergreen elements that resonate today. 
  • There are also no strong female characters or love interests; Angie Dickinson’s part is minimal and unmemorable.
  • The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
  • The hedonistic playboy lifestyle pays off: boys will be boys and naughty male behavior is entertaining and should be celebrated. Today, that message can appear very outdated in the Me Too era.
  • Filling and fitting assigned roles: consider how every character has a specialty in this ensemble cast, and sometimes those roles can be stereotypical and predictable, such as the token black comic relief sidekick, the ladies man, the vivacious old flame, the inside man, etc.
  • The 2001 remake and its sequels
  • Heist films from the late 1950s and early 1960s, including The Ladykillers, Rififi, The Killing, Odds Against Tomorrow, The League of Gentlemen, Seven Thieves, The Pink Panther, and How to Steal a Million
  • The Sting
  • The Italian Job
  • The Thomas Crown Affair
  • The Great Escape
  • All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
  • The Front Page (1931)
  • Of Mice and Men (1939)
  • The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)
  • Mutiny on the Bounty (1962)


Everybody's talkin' at me...including Cineversary

Sunday, January 20, 2019

For episode #7 of the Cineversary podcast, we take a walk on the wild side to New York City in the late 1960s, a town where street hustlers and sex workers find both refuge and rejection--as evidenced in the film "Midnight Cowboy," which celebrates a 50th anniversary in 2019. Host Erik Martin interviews Niles Schwartz, a movie reviewer for Slant Magazine and co-founder of the Minneapolis/St. Paul Cinephile Society. Together, they examine why "Midnight Cowboy" 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 hear 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, like us on Facebook at, and email show comments or suggestions to


When the Rat Pack conquered Hollywood

Circle January 23 on your calendar; that's the date CineVerse will spotlight “Ocean’s 11” (1960; 127 minutes), directed by Lewis Milestone, chosen by Jim Doherty.


A long time ago, in a Japan far, far away...

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Akira Kurosawa's "The Hidden Fortress" has been re-examined and reappraised by film critics, scholars and historians over the past several years and is now determined to be a classic among Kurosawa's canon. That's a big step up from the dismissals the film received from plenty of reviewers and serious cinephiles back when it was released--many of whom categorized this outing as escapist entertainment of a lesser sort from the filmmaker, from whom they'd come to expect such masterpieces as "Rashomon," "Ikiru," and "The Seven Samurai." Viewing it fresh in 2019, we had a near consensus among our CineVerse members last night: this is a great work worthy of appreciation. Among the discussed reasons why are the following:

  • The story involves a ragtag band of heroes, rogues and comic relief underlings who try to protect and rescue a princess from evil forces.
  • General Rokurota is like Luke Skywalker/Ben Kenobi, and Tahei and Mataschichi are like Han Solo/Chewbacca (in their greediness) as well as R2D2/C3PO.
  • Keith Phipps of The Dissolve wrote: “Like The Hidden Fortress, Star Wars begins as a story told from the point of view its universe’s lowliest characters, who double as guides for what might otherwise be a confusing world.”
  • There are epic swordplay, spear, and bow and arrow battles, just as Star Wars has lightsaber and laser gun battles.
  • Both films use wipes as transitions between scenes.
  • It was his first film shot in widescreen, using TohoScope, comparable to Hollywood’s CinemaScope; consider that widescreen epics were in high demand among westerners in the 1950s.
  • It’s been called one of Kurosawa’s most stylized films, due to its meticulously framed compositions, memorable cinematic action, abundance of fast pans, eccentric angles, use of montage, and other visual traits.
    • According to Criterion Collection essayist Armond White, “Kurosawa offers a kinetic surprise in the way much of the action moves from the back of the image to the foreground, or from the top of the frame to the bottom. No other filmmaker since early D. W. Griffith or Fritz Lang in the ’20s has used the screen so dynamically. This new (TohoScope) format put special emphasis on the long exterior shot as adventure fans know, but what is less commonly recognized is the dynamism it afforded the close-up. Kurosawa’s use of a telephoto lens gave close imagery unusual density, as when Rokurota and Princess Yuki cast their gaze on the Hayakawa plains. Quick editing of fast-moving action across the vast frame—as when Rokurota fights four soldiers, charging through the landscape back to their headquarters—makes for unusually dazzling cinema.”
    • The compositions are particularly creative, especially now that Kurosawa had the widescreen format to play with. reviewer Dr. Svet Atanasov wrote: “Another interesting aspect of the film's visual style is the optimization of the available image space. To be perfectly clear, the positioning of the different characters inside the image frame is consistently very precise. There are many examples throughout the film where the camera appears to be following one character but actually observes closely two, three or even a whole group of characters as they interact with each other (see the long duel sequence). Additionally, there are sequences where the movement of different characters which the audience cannot immediately see is anticipated. For example, in the very beginning of the film for a short period of time only Tahei and Matakishi can see the fleeing samurai. In this sequence all of the important movement begins behind the camera and yet Kurosawa still places the audience right in the middle of the action.”
  • It’s arguably Kurosawa’s funniest picture; this director was not known for broad comedy in his films—he was known more for his rousing period films and action epics as well as morality tales.
  • It introduced a kind of female character that was rare for Japanese cinema at the time: Yuki isn’t a helpless, demure love interest or a femme fatale who leads men into danger; instead, she is “stripped of sexuality” and “arguably symptomatic of the changing gender roles of postwar Japan. Women’s liberation was received with deep ambivalence after the American occupation, as it reeked of Western values. In The Hidden Fortress, we see a new woman of the 1950s, echoing the great western roles of Joan Crawford and Barbara Stanwyck, but even more powerful than they, and far more independent, if somewhat less seductive,” wrote Criterion Collection essayist Catherine Russell.
  • Appearances can be deceiving: each of the major characters defies audience expectations in some way.
  • We are pawns in the game of life and vulnerable to our “own animal instincts”, White wrote.
  • A heroic quest can bring out the best in and change those involved: consider how, by the end of the story, the princess becomes aware of the problems of the lower class and the peasants and two bandits become aware that their avarice was “a misguided attempt to upset the social order,” Russell wrote.
  • Star Wars: A New Hope
  • Classic westerns including Stagecoach, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and The Wild Bunch
  • Princess Mononoke by Hayao Miyazaki
  • The Prince and the Pauper
  • Rashomon
  • Ikiru
  • The Seven Samurai
  • Throne of Blood
  • Yojimbo
  • High and Low
  • Red Beard
  • Ran


Asian-flavored high adventure

Sunday, January 13, 2019

It's been cited as a major influence on "Star Wars" and one of director Akira Kurosawa's best. · Make plans to join CineVerse on January 16 for a World Cinema Wednesday special from Japan: “The Hidden Fortress” (1958; 139 minutes), chosen by Dave Ries.


Take a walk on the wild side

Thursday, January 10, 2019

If you're a classic film lover, here's a hard truth that proves you're getting older: "Midnight Cowboy" turns 50 in 2019. Yes, the film ranked #43 on the American Film Institute's list of the top 100 American movies was released half a century ago (officially this May). To help celebrate, we poured on the "Cineversary" glaze last night at CineVerse and talked about ways this film has remained relevant over five decades. Here's a recap:

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 a time capsule film that captures a specific place and time: New York City in the late 1960s, a city that is much different now, but which is depicted in a way that is fascinating 50 years later for what it represented: a soulless, dog-eat-dog metropolis where starry-eyed dreamers and the na├»ve learn that the American dream is a fantasy. 
  • It still matters, primarily, because of the fine direction by John Schlesinger, and memorable acting performances by Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight, and the boundaries that it broke at the time, making it a pioneering movie that helped forever change American cinema. 
  • It has stood the test of time because it’s a timeless tale: one about the shattering of illusions related to the American dream; a story about two friends trying to survive in a harsh environment designed to destroy them; and a narrative about desperation and redemption. 
In what ways do you think this film was influential on cinema and popular culture or set trends?
  • Midnight Cowboy was extremely important as a film that helped break down the walls of censorship and offer adult content that was more realistic and graphic. 
  • It, along with contemporary films like “Bonnie and Clyde,” “The Graduate,” and, from the same year, “The Wild Bunch” and “Easy Rider,” ushered in a near era of the young Hollywood maverick filmmaker, concurrently at a time when the old Hollywood studio system had collapsed. 
  • As film critic Michael Wilmington wrote: “With its prestigious literary source, raw realism, nudity, profanity, onscreen (if discreetly staged) sex acts, near-documentary looks at Manhattan high and low life, plus a raft of cinematic tricks (flashbacks, fantasies, videos, shifts from monochrome to color) rifled from all the '60s arthouse hits of Italy and the French and Czech New Waves—"Midnight Cowboy" was an unabashed American art film…It was also a howitzer blast right through the remnants of the old Hollywood Production Code, which once forbade even inferences to deviant or extra-marital sex. One by one, the movie seemed to shoot down taboos with effortless abandon, but not just for shock value.” 
What’s the moral to the story here? What themes or messages are explored in (movie name)?
  • What does it mean to be a man? Joe is enraptured by a stereotype of male masculinity—that of the rugged, strong and macho cowboy, an archetypal character created by the movies that probably never existed. 
  • Living a life of illusion or fantasy. Both Joe and Ratso believe they are good at what they do—respectively, being a male gigolo and symbol of attractive masculinity and being a smart and successful pimp and street hustler. The truth is that they are both terrible at their chosen pursuits. 
  • The myth of the American dream. Joe thinks he can score big by playing the part of a cowboy stud in New York City; Ratso believes sunny Florida to be the land of milk and honey. Both are disappointed. 
  • The power of friendship, and how losing a friend can leave a hole in your life. This film is a “buddy picture” and a profile of two oddball characters whose friendship helps fill the emptiness in each of their lives. Consider how Joe loses his first friend in traumatic fashion—a girlfriend—which helps prompt him to leave Texas. Then, think about how the prospect of losing another friend—Ratso—serves as the catalyst for him leaving New York. 
  • A journey to redemption: Joe sinks to a new low after resorting to sudden violence with one of his clients, signaling the degree to which his illusions, and the urban jungle, have turned him into a soulless animal capable of violence; yet, by the end of the film, he redeems himself and chooses a path of compassion and dignity by caring for his dying friend and stripping away the artifice of his former life (literally throwing away his cowboy getup). Consider how Joe’s life comes full circle: he starts the movie on a bus ride to what he thinks is the promised land and ends the film on another bus ride toward an unknown future. But perhaps it’s a future unencumbered by the pretense of fantasy and role playing. 
  • Loneliness and alienation. Few films before or since depict with such ruthless, cold realism, the estrangement felt by such a sympathetic main character. 
  • Lack of communication or regard for our fellow man. The lyrics to Nillson’s song speak to the world’s inability for two-way communication (“Everybody's talking at me; I don't hear a word they're saying; Only the echoes of my mind”) and how easily we tune out the world around us. Think, too, about how Ratso is almost hit by a car but insists that the driver pay attention to him. 
Who do you think this film appealed to initially when it was released in (original year), 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?
  • The film would have likely been shocking and rejected by older viewers and those used to traditionally censored content and the kind of entertainment that was popular earlier in the 1960s—big budget musicals like “The Sound of Music,” and “Oliver.” 
  • It’s probable that most who bought a ticket were adults in their 20s, as well as fans of arthouse cinema. 
  • Today, this film likely appeals to fans of classic film, baby boomers, film students, filmmakers, and fans of Dustin Hoffman and/or Jon Voight. 
What elements from this movie have aged well, and what elements are showing some wrinkles?
  • You could argue that some of the scenes—like the Andy Warholesque trippy party Joe and Ratso attend, as well as the avant-garde editing style (consider the quickly alternating shots of Joe walking through Times Square, at night and in color), and the often disturbing flashbacks—are relics and psychedelic trappings of a more experimental time in movies; artifacts of the late 1960s. 
  • What has aged well are the fantastic performances, the gritty, verite-style realism of New York captured on film, and what is communicated between Joe and Ratso without words or unnecessary exposition. 


Mama, don't let your babies grow up to be Midnight Cowboys...

Sunday, January 6, 2019

It has the notorious distinction of being the only X-rated film to with the Academy Award for best picture (although its rating has since been downgraded to a solid "R"). It's ""Midnight Cowboy” (1969; 113 minutes), directed by John Schlesinger, and, considering that it turns 50 years old in 2019, it will receive the full Cineversary treatment at CineVerse on Jan. 9.

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.


Family Classics is back

Friday, January 4, 2019

Remember WGN TV's "Family Classics" show hosted by Frazier Thomas decades ago? The station has brought the show back, with its original theme music and intros/outros and a return of some classic films it had presented on this program in the past--only now it's hosted by Dean Richards.

Your next opportunity to tune into "Family Classics" is right before the big Bears vs. Eagles playoff game on Sunday, Jan. 6, from 2-3:30 p.m., when WGN presents the Marx Brothers' all-time masterpiece"Duck Soup" (still CineVerse moderator Erik Martin's favorite comedy ever). It will be immediately followed by the Marx Brothers' "Horse Feathers," in case you'd rather watch the Marxes play football instead of the Bears.

For full details on the show's revival, as well as other WGN retro moves, click here.

For a full listing of all the movies "Family Classics" has presented in its run since 1962, visit here.


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