Blog Directory CineVerse: February 2019

Surviving the Day After Yesterday

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Friendship often demands much of two people, as evidenced in Alexander Payne's "Sideways," an hilarious yet poignant exploration of middle class and mid-life ennui and the price paid for addictions. Chock full of messages, this is a picture that, like a fine wine, arguably improves over time and with repeat screenings. Our CineVerse group came away with the following observations:

  • The power of friendship.
  • Addictions and deceptions. Miles is addicted to alcohol, while Jack is addicted to sex. Jack lies about his impending wedding, and Miles lies about his book.
    • Payne seems to be critiquing the middle class here, as evidenced by suggesting Miles is an alcoholic masquerading as a wine connoisseur and that Jack’s fun-loving and impulsive nature is a front for his addiction to sex.
  • Regrets and remorse.
  • Life being like a glass of wine; you could drink it quickly or without regard for its taste, or you could try to savor it and appreciate its fine qualities and flavor. Miles appears to be among the latter, yet also uses wine as a crutch because he’s an alcoholic who needs it.
    • Movies and characters within them, like wine, can also be light or dark in different degrees; ponder how this film works as a comedy, romance, drama, road trip film, and semi-documentary.
  • An aversion toward and loathing of pretension and showiness. Consider how Miles despises wine snobs, the irony being that he’s one himself.
  • Self-loathing and our ability to sabotage our capacity for love. Amazingly, even someone as flawed as Miles is admired by a woman, and yet he can’t let her inside emotionally, at least until the end of the movie.
    • Recall his line, “I prefer the dark,” which could be a revelation that he’s got some dark edges to his personality and psyche that could be off-putting to others.
  • The unpredictable and quirky nature of ordinary everyday middle class people. Miles does and says things we wouldn’t expect (like steal from his mother, clip his toenails, etc.), as does Jack (risk his future marriage on meaningless dalliances); also, the fat woman and her husband suggest a hidden side to America’s heartland.
    • “(Director Alexander Payne) is aiming his lens at the midsection of America, at the intestines of a nation, at unrefined people, gangly, portly, bald and broad-backsided, paunched and frazzled, hair disheveled, emasculated behind the wheels of used cars, decade-plus old Saabs, tiny blue Ford Festivas, Subaru Outbacks, Winnebagos. Regret is perhaps Payne’s greatest theme. The continual human dramedy, the elegiac comedy, a country full of people with limited potential raised to think everyone is special, confined souls struggling to catch a glimpse of light from the slim window in the cells of our everydayness,” wrote Bright Lights Film Journal essayist Sean Hooks.
  • Election
  • About Schmidt
  • The Descendants
  • Nebraska
  • Road trips
  • “Journeys of self-discovery,” as suggested by critic Emmanuelle Levy
  • Seemingly mundane lives and existences that are transformed or redeemed in some way.
  • An off-screen female character who becomes the catalyst for one or more males taking a personal and literal journey, as also seen in The Descendants and About Schmidt.
  • An aversion to “contrivance and to sentimentality,” says Hooks.
  • Sex that is “awkward and unchoreographed, more likely to be debased and banal and utilitarian than transcendent,” Hooks adds.
  • This movie also seems to be making a statement, according to Hooks, about “the decrepitude of age, the commonplace nature of infidelity, the corruption of institutions, and the omnipresence of bureaucracy.”
  • Little Miss Sunshine
  • The Motorcycle Diaries
  • The Darjeeling Limited
  • As Good As It Gets
  • The Brothers McMullen
  • Teenage road trip sex comedies like Road Trip and Spring Break


Fine whine

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Comedy holds court at CineVerse on February 27, when we'll feature “Sideways” (2004; 123 minutes), directed by Alexander Payne, chosen by Jim Krabec.


In spring, a film lover's fancy turns to CineVerse

Friday, February 22, 2019

Hope you haven't made big plans for Wednesday evenings over the next two months. That's because you won't want to miss attending CineVerse in March and April, when we have a stellar lineup of films planned for screening and discussion.

To check out the March/April calendar, just posted, click here.


A high-stakes game of chess on the open sea

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Long before "Das Boot" was universally praised as one of the greatest war pictures ever and became regarded by some as the "Citizen Kane" of the submarine film subgenre, a lesser-remembered outing called "The Enemy Below" was released, back in 1957. It's a movie that holds up well and includes many of the elements that made "Das Boot" great; only here, we have a crosscutting battle of wills that gives equal time to both sides--the Germans in an elusive U-boat, led by a savvy and seasoned commander, and the Americans in their Destroyer, headed by an equally crafty captain. We parsed through the plusses of this film last night at CineVerse. Here are our conclusions:

  • This is almost entirely plot driven. There is very little character development, almost no backstory or subplots, and no romantic love interest.
  • For an action film and a war film, there is actually not as much action as you might expect; there’s more slow-building suspense.
  • The film is surprisingly balanced in presenting two likeable rival commanders. We see that the U boat captain and some of his crew are not fans of Hitler or war, although they’re loyal to their country.
    • Per blogger Christopher Lloyd: “The idea of Americans and German being equally capable of nobility and depravity was still pretty bold in 1957.”
    • Robert Mitchum’s Captain Murrell is a refreshingly calm, cool and collected departure from the stereotypical hardass or unhinged sea captain often depicted in film and literature—the opposite of characters like Captain Bligh, Ahab or Queeg.
  • This is not a jingoistic propaganda war film that’s painted in black and white moral tones and depicting the German enemies as soulless monsters.
    • Like “Das Boot” would later, it “presents the German crew as simply soldiers doing their duty. The sole Nazi officer among the battle-tested men is a joke to the rest of them, spouting Nazi rhetoric but lacking the fortitude to follow through on his grand proclamations. It was a far cry from the patriotic portraits of the 1940s war movies,” wrote Sean Axmaker of Turner Classic Movies.
  • Unfortunately, as was often the case in the 1940s and 1950s, the Germans here speak their dialogue completely in English, despite the fact that the actors playing them are either German or Austrian. On one hand, having them speak in their native German tongue would have made the film more realistic and authentic; on the other hand, it would have required subtitles, which many American audiences dislike, and it would have made the Germans in this movie less sympathetic.
  • The crew of the American Destroyer represents a diverse array of personalities; we see one sailor reading “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” and another thumbing through a comic book.
  • The special effects here are terrific for 1957 and still effective today.
  • He’s smart and cunning and has good instincts.
  • He’s not a fan of Hitler, and he sees no honor in this war he’s fighting. He says “They’ve taken the human out of war,” and “The enemy is part of us—it’s all of man.”
  • He’s not a buttoned-up, high-strung dictator of a naval captain. In fact, he’s literally buttoned down (we see him through most of the movie in an unbuttoned everyman kind of shirt).
  • Von Stolberg is kind to and trusts his crew and is capable of defusing any problem they have.
  • He inspires confidence, even in crew who have lost hope or composure.
  • Von Stolberg is not afraid to get his hands dirty; he’s as quick with a wrench as he is with a command.
  • Das Boot
  • Crimson Tide
  • The Hunt For Red October
  • U-571
  • Hunter Killer
  • Black Sea
  • The Bedford Incident
  • Phantom
  • K19
  • In Enemy Hands
  • The 1966 Star Trek episode "Balance of Terror,"
  • The 1966 Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea episode “Killers of the Deep”
  • A battle of wills or a game of cat and mouse between two opposing captains.
  • Unique submarine sounds like sonar pings and a creaking hull
  • Claustrophobic, vulnerable settings
  • One or more crew members often pushed to the breaking point and dealing with stress
  • Long stretches of quiet as we wait for something to happen or listen along with the crew for signs of The enemy.
  • Exploding depth charges and torpedoes
  • Tilted angles suggesting the ship is leaning one way or another.


If you can't stand the heat, don't listen to this podcast

Sunday, February 17, 2019

For episode #8 of the Cineversary podcast, host Erik Martin wishes a happy 60th birthday to "Some Like It Hot" and is joined by New York University arts professor Laurence Maslon, author of the book "Some Like It Hot: The Official 50th Anniversary Companion." They explore why the film 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 PodcastsiTunesAnchorBreakerCastboxGoogle PodcastsGoogle Play MusicOvercastPocket CastsPodBeanRadioPublicSpotifyStitcher, and TuneIn.

Learn more about the Cineversary podcast at, like us on Facebook at, and email show comments or suggestions to


You sunk my battleship

Don't miss CineVerse on February 20, when we'll screen and discuss “The Enemy Below” (1957; 98 minutes), directed by Dick Powell, chosen by Don McGoldrick, a film about a deadly game of cat and mouse on the high seas during World War II. Plus: Stick around for a trailer reel preview of the March/April 2019 CineVerse schedule.


Gaining insight on Gainsbourg

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Many Americans likely have never even heard of the late French singer Serge Gainsbourg, let alone a 2010 movie made about his life. But this rapscallion creative genius is actually a worthy subject for a biopic because he was so enigmatic, artistically indulgent and alluring to fans and females. Last night, during our CineVerse group discussion of director Joann Sfar's "Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life," we covered the following points:


  • It’s title is a big puzzling: “A heroic life.” You could argue that Gainsbourg was not a “hero,” in the conventional sense of the word, although he was a beloved French singer/celebrity; in fact, he often had a notorious reputation as an unsavory character who would make drunken TV appearances, record naughty songs, and get into trouble.
  • The performers cast to play Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot look and act uncannily like the actual people they are portraying.
  • Serge Gainsbourg was arguably more famous for his controversies and rebellious personality than for his singing talent or musical output; that makes him a curious and fascinating subject for a biopic.
  • This film includes fantasy sequences involving a sports mascot-like figure called the Mug, which many viewers would not have expected. This character is used as a narrative device to help tell Gainsbourg’s internal story—the thoughts and motivations he wrestled with or succumbed to. Problem is, so are so many fantasy scenes that it can sometimes be difficult to tell what’s real and what’s not, as the Mug often remains in the frame after Gainsbourg shifts his attention to a real person counterpart.
  • This isn’t intended to be a soup-to-nuts conventional biopic. It gives us brief vignettes of the singer’s life, with the introduction of a new female partner marking the beginning of a new chapter as he moves from one love interest to the next. It doesn’t linger long an any one period of his life, so that we are shown more of a pastiche representation of his life.
    • Director Joann Sfar was quoted as saying: "It's not the truth about Gainsbourg that interests me, but his lies."
    • Per a review by the BBC, “It could be objected that Gainsbourg is too respectful; to be sure, it skips lightly over the serial womanising and the misogyny, the family breakdowns and heartbreaks, the sleazy feature films, the unsavoury stunts and embarrassingly drunken performances, all too familiar to French television viewers.”
    • That same BBC review added: “By casting his ‘hero’ in a favourable light and steering clear of the squalid, unshaven ‘Gainsbarre’, Sfar reminds fans and newcomers alike why in spite of everything Serge Gainsbourg remains such a national treasure. In conjoining Jewish heritage and classic French chanson, Gainsbourg celebrates the hybridity of contemporary French culture, while its combination of realist narrative and poetic animation make it both a touching biopic and an inspired musical.”
  • The rebel, the anti-hero, and the bad boy often get the respect, fame, fortune, and female adulation that escapes other men. In other words, bad behavior is often rewarded here, and Gainsbourg is allowed to live by a different standard—but that’s because he was regarded as a creative genius.
  • A world of fantasy often provides a respite and sanctuary from the harsh realities of life.
  • The struggle to know oneself and to establish an identity.
Musical celebrity biopics like:
  • Beyond the Sea
  • Selena
  • Bohemian Rhapsody
  • Walk the Line
  • Ray
  • Love & Mercy


Oui oui, mon amour

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Learn what all the fuss was about in France, back when singer Serge Gainsbourg dominated the music scene and the tabloid headlines, by joining CineVerse on February 13 for a World Cinema Wednesday special from France: “Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life” (2010; 130 minutes), directed by Joann Sfar, chosen by Tess Stanisha.


Nobody's perfect...but some films come awfully close

Friday, February 8, 2019

Sex appeal may fade for many by the time they reach age 60, but that's not true of "Some Like It Hot," which, six decades later, still has the power to arouse and entertain with its zesty blend of adult-themed comedy and romance. We examined this movie through our Cineversary lens this week and came away with these conclusions:

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 still highly regarded, ranking as the #1 comedy of all time by the American Film Institute and BBC. 
  • It still matters because it still holds up as funny, because Marilyn Monroe will always be a fascinatingly tragic and sexualized character audiences remain curious about, and because it represents a gathering of great talents (Billy Wilder as a top director, Jack Lemmon as a versatile comedic and dramatic actor, Monroe as the all-time sex symbol). 
  • It’s worth celebrating 60 years later because this was an important domino that helped bring down the Motion Picture Production Code and the longstanding era of censorship. In fact, it was made without the code’s approval. Thanks to this and later films, adult sexuality was given more attention in movies. 
  • Further, it’s considered one of the greatest screenplays of all time that is considered structurally perfect—a story that constantly moves and which has no fat; plus, it has one of the most quoted and memorable lines of all time—“Well, nobody’s perfect.”
In what ways do you think this film was influential on cinema and popular culture or set trends?
  • As stated, thanks to it being extremely popular at the box office and a big hit with critics in 1959, it put pressure on the censors to relax their standards and be more permissive of films that examined sexuality, marriage, gender and adult situations. By the late 1960s, the censorship era was over and we could finally enjoy movies with realistic adult themes, language and situations. 
  • It would certainly have influenced movies about cross-dressing, gender role playing, and drag queen or homosexual characters, including Tootsie, Victor/Victoria, Just One of the Guys, Mrs. Doubtfire, To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, and Connie and Carla. 
What’s the moral to the story here? What themes or messages are explored in Some Like It Hot?
  • Role reversals, play acting, and performance. Consider how several characters have to masquerade as fake personalities, including Jerry and Joe (with Joe acting as three characters: Josephine, Jr., and a millionaire in a wheelchair), Sugar, and even the mobsters. 
  • Life as a lollipop. “The fuzzy end of the lollipop” becomes a metaphor for misfortune and bad luck, while the “sweet end of the lollipop” symbolizes good fortune and the tasty joys of life. Characters often can’t control which end of the lollipop they get, although both Sugar and Joe eventually discover that marrying for love is the sweetest that life can get. 
  • Moving in reverse or heading in the opposite direction. Consider how Joe can only drive the motorboat in reverse, how the elevator suddenly goes back down after going up, how the Joe and Jerry often use the window instead of the door to exit and enter, how a character goes from the sweet end to the fuzzy end of the lollipop, how men are forced to reverse their genders, how Sugar ironically has to try hard to seduce a man, how Joe transitions from lust to love, and how Jerry begins to enjoy being a woman. 
  • Crises and discovery of identity. Dressing up as women gives Joe and Jerry new identities that have practical benefits—such as evading the mob and getting covertly intimate with females—but it also leads to existential quandaries, as evidenced when Jerry first finds it hard to remember he’s a girl then finds it hard to want to go back to being a boy. 
  • Stepping into someone else’s shoes. Joe and Jerry learn, after playing dress up, that being a woman isn’t easy; it can be physically uncomfortable to wear the clothing and emotionally uncomfortable to be the subject of so much unwanted sexual attention. They learn to appreciate the challenges women face. 
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?
  • This picture likely would have been frowned upon in 1959 by families with children in the audience, prudish types, and older viewers. But virtually everyone else—male and female adults alike—probably loved it. The proof is in the box office receipts: it made $40 million on a $2.9 million budget and was the year’s third highest-grossing movie. 
  • Today, this film isn’t regarded as racy or naughty like it probably was 60 years ago. It’s a movie that most children can watch and enjoy with their parents—with the cross-dressing elements likely proving to be funny to kids. In 2005, the British Film Institute placed this film on a list of the 50 movies you should see by the age of 14. 
  • That says the movie has nearly universal appeal today and, while tame and somewhat dated by today’s standards, can still evoke laughs and appreciation for its fantastic screenplay and dialogue. 
What elements from this movie have aged well, and what elements are showing some wrinkles?
  • What has aged well is the gender acceptance and tolerance espoused by the characters and filmmakers. One major moral to the story is that, according to Nicholas Barber with the BBC, “experimenting with a new identity can help you become a better, happier person…and if you’re lucky, you’ll find someone who accepts you for whomever you want to be—perfect or otherwise.” Barber wrote that “the message here is that there is nothing wrong with faking it until you make it…rather than condemning its unscrupulous anti-heroes, it respects them and sympathizes with them in a way which must have seemed radical in 1959, and which seems more radical nearly six decades later.” 
  • This message is underscored in the famous line, “well, nobody’s perfect.” 
  • What’s also relevant is the message, 60 years later, that men often treat women as sex objects and that men can be “rough hairy beasts,” as Lemmon says. Charles Taylor from wrote: “Years ago, I ran across a comment by a feminist film critic who said that “Some Like It Hot” depicted a male world so predatory that the heroes were literally forced to abandon their sexual identities in order to survive. There’s something to it. This comedy of sexual role confusion is, deep down, a joke on the male desire for security, the fantasy of abandoning yourself to the protected and pampered place of women.” 
  • On the other hand, the sexualizing and objectifying of the female characters, and the characterization of Sugar as the classic ditsy blonde bombshell is extremely out of vogue today—this film’s sexual politics and treatment of women is probably looked upon as antiquated and unfortunate by many today. Yet these elements were important to the plot of this movie, and put in the context of its time, work well. 
  • If you want to get nitpicky, “Zowie’ is a pretty antiquated expression. 
What is this film’s greatest gift to viewers?
  • Memorable characters, hilarious screwball comedy, fantastic dialogue and one-liners (providing one of the most quotable lines in cinema history, “Well, nobody’s perfect”), and clever double entendres (like the word virtuoso standing in for virgin, the joke about the one-legged jockey that actually got past the censors, the fuzzy and sweet end of a very phallic lollipop, and the line “we can have it altered” suggesting the removal of Jerry’s genitalia). 
  • It’s a film that mixes several genres, including the screwball comedy, the gangster picture, the musical, and a romance. It offers a little something for everybody. 
  • It boasts one of the great crosscutting sequences in the history of film: when we cut back and forth from Monroe and Curtis getting hot and heavy on the yacht to Lemmon and Joe E. Brown dancing the tango in increasingly hilarious fashion. 
  • Most importantly, you could argue that Some Like It Hot serves up a smorgasbord of amazing talents at the peak of their powers: Billy Wilder at his sauciest, Marilyn Monroe at her sexiest, Jack Lemmon at his funniest, and Tony Curtis in his most versatile role.


Celebrating the sexiest comedy of the 1950s

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Cineversary returns to CineVerse on February 6, when we honor the 60th anniversary of “Some Like It Hot” (1959; 121 minutes), directed by Billy Wilder. 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.


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