Blog Directory CineVerse: March 2019

It's Tarantino's world--we just live in it

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Cineversary comes back to our film discussion Group on April 3; that's the date we honor the 25th anniversary of “Pulp Fiction” (1994; 154 minutes), directed by Quentin Tarantino. Note: due to the long runtime of tonight’s movie, our CineVerse meeting will start early, at 6:45 p.m.


No bull, all Bull Durham

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Baseball season is underway, which makes now a perfect time to catch up on some baseball movie staples. One of the best remembered is "Bull Durham," which outshines many of its ilk for several reasons. We counted the ways last night at CineVerse and came away with a winning group dialogue about the movie. Here's our score sheet:

How does Bull Durham defy your expectations or surprise you in any way?

  • It satisfies on different levels and conforms to several subgenres, including the sports/baseball film, the romantic comedy, the teacher/pupil picture, and the coming-of-age movie.
  • As a baseball movie, it may leave viewers unsatisfied; we don’t see game-winning, heart-lifting heroics by the denouement, or some come-from-behind underdog tale, as in “The Natural.”
    • It’s also not sentimental or mawkish, as “Field of Dreams” or “Pride of the Yankees” are accused of being, and it’s not overtly silly like a “Major League” or “Bad News Bears” can be.
    • Instead, it’s a much more adult take on “athletes who play for the love of the game” (according to reviewer James Berardinelli) and the love affairs of the game’s lovers.
    • It also features a lot of privileged “inside baseball” matters that everyday fans don’t often see or hear in a sports movie.
    • “Those who complain that Bull Durham is anti-climactic are missing the point. The qualities that distinguish Bull Durham from so many other baseball movies are its low-key humor (in contrast to the overt jokiness of Major League and The Naked Gun), the smartness of the dialogue (see that above monologues), and its true-to-life depiction of what it's like to be an A-ball player,” wrote Berardinelli.
  • The casting of a 41-year-old Susan Sarandon was an inspired choice. Here’s a rare example of a middle-aged actress serving as the sexy love interest and proving to be quite attractive. Most filmmakers would likely choose someone younger.
    • Her character is also refreshingly different and played against type; she’s essentially a groupie who abandons her object of desire after the baseball season and moves on to a new prospect the following year.
  • This movie also features more sexual dialogue, imagery and situations than you’d likely expect from a film about baseball players.
  • With its street smart, snappy dialogue and sexually-tinged comedy stylings, this interestingly plays as a modern screwball comedy—only one not set in an urban milieu, as usual.
  • “In Bull Durham, Shelton casually refutes the puritanism that governs even classic screwball comedies. These films substituted good dialogue for sex, inadvertently honoring a fraudulent duality between intelligence and sensuality, which our society often assumes to be mutually exclusive. Instead, Shelton serves up sparkling dialogue and then allows us to see the fruits it eventually bears,” wrote Slant reviewer Chuck Bowen.
Themes explored in Bull Durham
  • Experience vs. skill and desire vs. ability. Crash has plenty of the former, while Nuke is graced with the latter but needs some coaching and guidance.
  • Overthinking life can get you in trouble. Consider how, when Nuke or Crash think too much, their performance suffers. This picture suggests that the mind and body often are at odds with each other.
  • Lust and short-term gratification vs. love and commitment. Annie doesn’t anticipate falling for Crash; she sees him, like other men, as a means of sexual gratification and security but doesn’t count on succumbing to love.
  • Sport as Dharma and baseball as religion.
  • The classic love triangle between a woman and two men, who each represent different needs and things to her. Consider, too, how Nuke, another point on the triangle, is manipulated by the other two so that they can send a message to each other.
Other films that Bull Durham makes us think of
  • For the Love of the Game and Tin Cup, also starring Kevin Costner
  • Bang the Drum Slowly
  • Fever Pitch
  • Major League
  • Summer Catch
Other movies directed by Ron Shelton
  • Blaze
  • White Men Can’t Jump
  • Cobb
  • Tin Cup


It's root, root, root for the home team--and for CineVerse

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Opening day in the major leagues is just around the corner. What better way to celebrate than by spotlighting “Bull Durham“ (1988; 108 minutes), directed by Ron Shelton, chosen by Brian Hansen, slated for March 27 at CineVerse.


Walls and bridges

Thursday, March 21, 2019

There just aren't enough quality movies that depict the African American experience, present or past, and that have been viewed and appreciated by audiences of all colors. However, one great example, and a recent one, is "Fences," directed and starring Denzel Washington. In one way, it plays as a different slant on the main protagonist and messages found in "Death of a Salesman"; in other ways, it's revelatory in its dialogue, characterizations and milieu and speaks to us from the past about things that continue to matter now and in the future. At CineVerse last evening, we breached this film's barriers and came away with these observations:

What did you find refreshing, different, unforeseen or satisfying about this film?

  • It’s a rare example of a high-profile mainstream Hollywood film featuring an all-black cast, helmed by a black director, and focused entirely on the African American experience.
    • Interestingly, while the characters occasionally talk about racial inequality and segregation, this film isn't really focused on racism or racial issues.
  • You don’t have to be African American to find truths in its story or appreciate the characters. These are situations, family dynamics, and personalities that many people can relate with and to.
  • This was adapted from a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by August Wilson; adapting a stagy, talky play for the big screen can often be problematic. But arguably the filmmakers pull it off by focusing on the strongly-written characters and dialogue, casting terrific performers, and not trying to be showy or clever with the camera or editing.
    • Film reviewer Odie Henderson wrote: “Since theater is an intimate medium, the general consensus on translating plays to screen is to “open up” the play, which quite often destroys the natural fabric of the work. The masterful thing about Denzel Washington’s direction here is that he doesn’t exactly open up the play. Instead, he opens up the visual frame around the players. He and cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen use the entire screen to occasionally dwarf the characters inside the backyard setting where much of the film takes place. At other times, tight framing gives an air of claustrophobia that’s almost suffocating. Throughout, there’s clear evidence that careful thought has been put into the quiet visual architecture of this film.”
Themes infused in Fences
  • Visiting the sins of the father on the children. To what extent are we destined to repeat the mistakes of our parents or become an unwitting product of our environment?
  • How history shapes our future. Troy wants Cory to avoid the disappointments he encountered as a semi-pro athlete, but Cory’s future shouldn’t necessary be determined by a bygone past. Troy is holding Cory back because he invests too much significance in the past.
  • The challenges of African American manhood. Consider that many blacks suffer childhoods in which one parent—often the father—is missing; Troy lost his mother early on and left his abusive father behind. How will Cory and Lyons fare if and when their father is out of the picture? This movie depicts the coming of age struggles of black males in a difficult economic and social environment.
  • The literal and figurative barriers that either separate or contain us. Think about the building of the fence beyond the family’s backyard and how it impacts their lives and reflects each of their sensibilities; Rose sees the fence as keeping her family intact and safe, but her husband and son are reluctant to build it. The fence and its construction come to symbolize Troy’s dedication and loyalty to their relationship.
  • Baseball as a metaphor for life (three strikes, full count, etc.).
Other movies or works that this film brings to mind
  • The Great Santini
  • This Boy’s Life
  • Ordinary People
  • The Piano Lesson
  • Death of a Salesman
Other films directed by Denzel Washington
  • Antwone Fisher
  • The Great Debaters


Take the red pill and enter The Matrix, 20 years later

Sunday, March 17, 2019

In episode #9 of the Cineversary podcast, host Erik Martin jumps down the rabbit hole with philosophy professor and author William Irwin to explore "The Matrix," which celebrates a 20th birthday this month. They examine 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 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.

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Denzel delivers in front of and behind the camera

On March 20, CineVerse will feature “Fences” (2016; 139 minutes), directed by Denzel Washington, chosen by Jeff Kueltzo.


A good offense is the best defense

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Years before the O.J. Simpson "trial of the century," Claus von Bülow dominated headlines. Convicted for the attempted murder of his wife Sunny, which had left her in a coma, von Bülow makes for a fascinating character study in "Reversal of Fortune," the 1990 legal drama that depicts his forthcoming second trial for the attempted murder and his brilliant defense mounted by Alan Dershowitz. Our CineVerse group reviewed the evidence, parsed the testimony, and reached the following verdicts about this film last night:

What took you by surprise about this film?

  • For such a famous court case, very little of the story or drama occurs within an actual courtroom. Most of the plot and action involves catching us up on the back story and the sleuthing and preparation of Alan Dershowitz and his team.
  • Unlike heavy-handed legal thrillers like A Few Good Men, Presumed Innocent, Witness for the Prosecution, or The Verdict, which can rely on startling twists in the courtroom, surprise witnesses, over-the-top theatrics, and subplots involving attorney protagonists grappling with personal problems, the primary conflict and tension here ride with Dershowitz and his tireless digging into the truth as well as the moral and philosophical questions he forces his young team to ponder. This picture also has a lot more laughs and lightheartedness than the aforementioned movies.
  • This film satisfies on many levels and falls within several subgenres, including courtroom drama, murder mystery, black comedy, and docudrama.
    • “The movie is at once a complex legal drama, a comedy of manners, a sordid peek into the lives of the idle rich, and — finally — a tragedy about the idle rich,“ wrote film critic Owen Gleiberman.
  • Roger Ebert posited that this movie’s strength is its focus on personalities; think about how interesting Claus and Alan are as contrasting characters, and how intriguing Sunny herself is.
  • Interestingly, the tale is narrated by the comatose wife, Sunny. The filmmakers could’ve chosen not to have voiceover narration or could have selected Dershowitz or Claus von Bülow to be the narrator. But the focus is immediately put on the consequences of a possibly criminal act and who’s responsible by having Sunny’s voice lead us through the story.
Themes at work in Reversal of Fortune
  • Appearances can be deceiving. Claus von Bülow may look the guilty part and appear privileged and selfishly motivated, but this movie suggests that it is possible he didn’t try to kill his wife. Likewise, Alan Dershowitz comes across as a nerdy, manic and verbose savant—not a stoic, handsome, enigmatic silent type in the vein of Atticus Finch; yet his intuitive skills and shrewd instincts provide a strong defense for von Bulow.
  • It’s the journey, not the destination, that can be important and satisfying. This is true of the viewer as well as Dershowitz.
    • We never ultimately learn if von Bülow is guilty or innocent, and the case is not neatly resolved by the end of the picture; likewise, Dershowitz doesn’t take the case because he’s convinced of his client’s innocence; instead, he felt it important to tackle crucial moral/legal issues that could have ramifications for later legal cases.
    • Dershowitz’s journey—his team’s investigation of the facts—constitute the heart of this movie.
  • Is it possible to achieve true justice in a flawed but necessary criminal court system? Consider that von Bülow probably wouldn’t have been acquitted if he wasn’t rich and couldn’t afford a great lawyer.
    • Skilled representation is crucial if you want to win a court case. Winning requires talented legal experts—and some luck in terms of finding loopholes, errors by the other team, and compelling witnesses eager to testify for your side.
  • This is also a film about avarice, class, and uppercrust politics.
Movies that Reversal of Fortune brings to mind
  • Jagged Edge
  • Devil’s Knot
  • Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
  • The Verdict
  • Anatomy of a Murder
  • Presumed Innocent
Other films directed by Barbet Schroeder 
  • Barfly
  • Murder by Numbers
  • Our Lady of the Assassins
  • Single White Female


Courtroom cleverness

Sunday, March 10, 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 March 13.


Welcome to the desert of the real

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Few movies over the last two decades are as philosophical and thought-provoking as "The Matrix," released back in 1999. On the surface, it plays as a visually dazzling epic adventure, but beneath the CGI veneer lies a virtual reality noodle bender that encourages watchers to ponder deep questions about the nature of existence and our connection to technology--messages that are more relevant today than 20 years ago. CineVerse examined "The Matrix" in depth last night and discussed the following:

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 has proved to be enormously popular, influential and thought-provoking. It also spawned two sequels.
  • It still matters because it set a new standard—first set by 2001: A Space Odyssey—for films with a dystopian setting and that explore the dangers of artificial intelligence.
  • The special effects still hold up very well, and The Matrix’s myriad philosophical themes keep it evergreen and relevant.
  • The Matrix is also imbued with timeless elements borrowed from fairy tales, religion and philosophy, comic books, and classic science-fiction, that appeal to the child, the geek, and the true believer found within all of us.
In what ways do you think this film was influential on cinema and popular culture or set trends?
  • Its visual effects were groundbreaking, particularly its presentation of bullet time—which is defined as the visual impression of detaching the time and space of a camera (or viewer) from that of its visible subject. The Matrix didn’t invent bullet time, but it perfected this technique, and inspired many later video games and movies to adopt this approach. Examples include 300, Superman Returns, Watchmen, Spider-Man, I Robot, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, V For Vendetta, Kung Fu Panda, and countless others.
  • Its action sequences, fight choreography, and wire fu techniques inspired copycats in subsequent films. “Wire fu” signifies a style of Hong Kong action cinema, popularized in pictures like those directed by John Woo and starring Jet Li, that combines thrilling kung fu moves with wire work involving stunts accented by hidden pulleys and wires. These copycats included Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Charlie’s Angels, X-Men, and Daredevil; these techniques were also lampooned in other movies, like Shrek.
  • It stimulated several subgenres: dystopian films, cyberpunk movies, alternate reality fantasy films, and movies that examine the risks of AI; think of Minority Report, Avatar, Inception, The Maze Runner, The Adjustment Bureau, Limitless, Snowpiercer, Ex Machina, Ready Player One, Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse, and others.
  • The complete Matrix trilogy and its success encouraged Hollywood to make more fantasy, superhero, and action/adventure trilogies.
  • The Matrix also spurred more interest in many philosophical and religious teachings, as it borrows liberally from the works of Jean Baudrillard (author of Simulacra and Simulation); Plato (and his Allegory of the Cave); Immanuel Kant (author of the Critique of Pure Reason); the Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi; Christianity (consider how Neo is a Christ-like messiah figure and Trinity’s name conjures up the Father, Son and Holy Spirit trinity of Christian theology); Buddhism (and its message of living in the now and attaining enlightenment); Gnosticism; and Hinduism.
What’s the moral to the story here? What themes or messages are explored in The Matrix?
  • Freedom vs. fate, and destiny vs. free will. Consider how the world inside the actual matrix is the opposite of free; humans think and live as the machines program them to. Ponder, as well, how the Oracle can predict what’s going to happen, suggesting fate. Yet think about how, despite her saying Neo is not “the one,” he proves to be the one after all. This suggests that his free will and determination overcame fate or destiny, which is why the Oracle couldn’t see it. It’s also possible that she tells Neo he’s not the one as a lie to get Neo to discover his own truth for himself; recall that Neo said earlier that he doesn’t believe in fate.
  • The nature of reality. What is real? Is our life real and authentic or an illusion based on what we’ve constructed and what we perceive to be real? The philosopher Descartes theorized “I think, therefore, I am.” But what if AI has programmed you to think a certain way—do you truly exist unto yourself? What if the world we think is true is a fantasy built to trick us—a “matrix” that we don’t know exists?
  • Awakening from a stupor into a new reality. The character of Neo and his progression symbolizes how we can change our lives and escape our personal prisons and what others expect from us. 
    • In his book, “But What If We’re Wrong: Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past,” Chuck Klosterman astutely wrote: “In some protracted reality, film historians will reinvestigate an extremely commercial action movie made by people who (unbeknownst to the audience) would eventually transition from male to female [Klosterman is referring to the directors, Lana and Lilly Wachowski, who were previously Larry and Andy, two men, when the film was made]. Suddenly, the symbolic meaning of a universe with two worlds—one false and constructed, the other genuine and hidden—takes on an entirely new meaning. The idea of a character choosing between swallowing a blue pill that allows him to remain a false placeholder and a red pill that forces him to confront who he truly is becomes a much different metaphor. Considered from this speculative vantage point, The Matrix may seem like a breakthrough of a far different kind. It would feel more reflective than entertaining, which is precisely why certain things get remembered while certain others get lost.”
  • The relationship between technology and humans. In this film, it’s ironic that the human characters often act more robotic and non-emotive than the Smiths, which seem more capable of creativity, emotional expression and adaptation. There’s a blurring line here between humanity and technology and how each is dependent on the other. Even the way humans talk to other humans in this film implies that they have robotic-like qualities: “He’s a machine,” “you need to unplug,” “Listen to me, Coppertop.”
  • The mind-body connection. Morpheus says that the body cannot live without the mind; we see evidence of this in how, if you die inside the matrix, your real body dies. The mind also cannot live without the body.
  • The power of true love. Trinity’s confession of love for Neo, and her kiss, magically bring him back to life, much like the kiss of the prince does in the classic children’s stories Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs and Sleeping Beauty.
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?
  • Recall that The Matrix received an R rating from the MPAA, so it would have had a more limited audience of adults during its original theatrical release. Those adults were likely predominantly male science-fiction/action/adventure/fantasy fans.
  • Today, however, 20 years later, it’s likely that The Matrix has a much wider appeal and, despite its “R” rating for violence and profanity, is probably considered by parents to be more acceptable to their preadolescent and teenage children. In other words, we’ve become more desensitized to the kind of violence shown in this film, which is probably considered more of a PG-13 kind of movie nowadays; plus, the deeper philosophical and existential questions it forces audiences to ask could motivate parents and adults to allow more kids younger than age 17 to watch it.
  • Additionally, because AI and its threats are increasingly being reported on and depicted in pop culture today, it’s safe to assume that The Matrix is more widely watched and appreciated today by a more diverse array of viewers.
  • What elements from this movie have aged well, and what elements are showing some wrinkles?
  • Arguably, most of the special effects still look fresh and are effectively realistic, and the movie’s sound design remains exceptional.
  • Its cyberpunk esthetics—which feature high- and low-tech elements as well as an overlap between sophisticated technology and what Bruce Sterling described as “the modern pop underground”—still resonate and are being mirrored in other films; contemporary examples that fit within the cyberpunk subgenre, which may have drawn influence from The Matrix, include Blade Runner 2049, Ready Player One, Elysium, Tron: Legacy, and the remakes of Ghost in the Shell and Robocop.
  • Yet, in a world with increasing gun violence, this film’s reliance on high body count artillery, an ample supply of bullets, and innocent bystanders getting shot to pieces can turn some off—particularly in an age where we hear about horrific mass shootings on a regular basis.
What is this film’s greatest gift to viewers?
  • Its greatest gift is that it’s a rare combination of a thrilling science-fiction/action/adventure movie that also makes you think. And think hard and deeply. It has rich text as well as rich subtext, plenty of eye candy and pyrotechnics, as well as themes and messages that linger long in your mind. That’s the mark of a good and memorable film worth celebrating.
Do you think this movie will still be widely watched and considered relevant in another 20 years? Why or why not?
  • Absolutely. Special effects may improve and, by comparison, make this film look more dated in the realm of fantastical visuals. But as AI progresses in the real world, the issues this movie tackles about our dependence on AI and its associated risks will remain relevant, if not somewhat prescient.
  • You could make a case that this movie will remain relevant indefinitely for all the reasons already stated. It serves as a cautionary tale that will never grow old in a world increasingly reliant on technology.


They're watching you...and we'll be watching them on March 6

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Don't miss CineVerse on March 6: That's when Cineversary returns to our film discussion group. 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 March 6, we honor the 20th anniversary of "The Matrix” (1999; 136 minutes), directed by Lana and Lilly Wachowski.


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