Blog Directory CineVerse: June 2019

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.


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


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.


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, like us on Facebook at, and email show comments or suggestions to 


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.


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


A film that should be on your bucket list

Sunday, June 16, 2019

On June 19, be sure to attend CineVerse and catch “The Bucket List” (2007; 97 minutes), directed by Rob Reiner, chosen by Marce Demske. Plus: Hang around for a trailer reel preview of the July/August 2019 CineVerse schedule.


War is hell. For proof, ask Mr. Lawrence.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

When it comes to movies about prisoners of war, not many are as violent, bleak and realistic as "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence," a hauntingly moving yet disturbing picture based on the novel "The Seed and the Sower," written by Laurens van der Post, a survivor of a Japanese POW camp during World War II. Here's our CineVerse breakdown of this film:

What about this film left an impression on you?

  • It’s geometrically and numerically interesting. The narrative is constructed around a quartet—one Western pair contrasted against an Eastern pair—and also around trio of nested tales. Additionally, the compositions feature a lot of linear geometry, hard lines and symmetrical patterns.
  • The score is memorable and even familiar to those who may not have seen this picture before; interestingly, it was composed by the actor who plays Captain Yonoi, Ryuichi Sakamoto.
  • The casting of David Bowie is a quirky one. On one hand, he would have made this a bigger box-office draw based on his rock superstar popularity at the time (this was 1983, the peak of his fame); on the other, it can be hard to picture the slight and fey Bowie as a battle-tested military commander.
  • Likewise, the filmmakers chose to cast a famous Japanese singer/songwriter in the role of Yonoi, despite the fact that he’d never acted professionally before.
  • It’s curiously multicultural. Ponder that the story was written by a South African who lived long in Britain yet was directed by a Japanese filmmaker.
Themes built into this movie include:
  • Failure to communicate: We have two languages, two cultures, and two sets of men who can’t connect or understand each other.
  • Courage in the face of adversity and despair
  • The senselessness and brutality of war and human conflict
  • A clash of cultures: East vs. West, Axis vs. Allied Forces, brunette vs. blonde.
  • Living by a code: Captain Yonoi prides himself as a follower of Bushido and the way of the samurai, but he is sexually attracted to a foreign man, which is forbidden by his code and culture.
  • The dangers of nationalism and the fate of two fading empires
  • Guilt and remorse
Films that come to mind after viewing Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence
  • Lawrence of Arabia
  • The Bridge on the River Kwai
  • The Long and the Short and the Tall
  • Stalag 17
  • King Rat
  • The Great Raid
  • Unbroken
Other films directed by Nagisa Oshima
  • The Ceremony
  • In the Realm of the Senses
  • Empire of Passion
  • Taboo


Wyatt and Billy may have blown it, but "Easy Rider" doesn't

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

On its impending golden anniversary, "Easy Rider" has the ability to shake off the cobwebs and shine with a luster befitting its age and stature. Yes, it's creaky in parts, and the late 1960s may feel as irrelevant today as the Prohibition era did then. But dare to look deeper and you'll find rivulets of undeniable truth spurting from virtually every seam on this faded denim feature.

Last week, CineVerse took a time machine back to the summer of 1969 to rediscover this relic; what surprised our group was how powerful a testament to a time and generation the film remains. Here's a recap of our 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’s a time capsule of a film that depicts what was in the public consciousness in the late 1960s, a time when the counterculture and the young generation was searching for answers, power and respect. This film spoke to them in ways that no previous movie had because it presented characters and themes that represented their generation and its hopes and dreams. It’s also one of the first examples of a movie catering to audiences who had grown increasingly dissatisfied with and suspicious of the government and the establishment; consider all the cynicism, mistrust and pessimism we see directed toward the police, the military, politicians, and the American dream in subsequent movies, particularly in the early to mid-1970s.
  • Even if it looks and feels dated 50 years later, it serves as a fascinating snapshot of the late 1960s and the lessons we can learn from that era and the people this film mattered to at that time. 
  • This, along with a few predecessors like The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde, helped rewrite the rules of American film by introducing more adult situations, profanity, nudity, and drug use and effectively ending the censorship era. 
  • It’s a wildly experimental film in narrative and editing style; while some of its techniques, like the stagger-ific flash forwarding to future scenes, may no longer be effective or in fashion, this was a completely unique film for its time or any time—not a cookie cutter production that colored within the lines. 
  • Easy Rider also stands as a revisionist western that usurps and updates the classic Hollywood western film; consider how Wyatt and Billy are named after western icons, yet look, act and think so differently from those real-life characters. Instead of riding horses, they drive motorcycles. Also, instead of heading west, they’re travelling east—antithetical to the direction you’d expect in a western heroes. 
In what ways do you think this film was influential on cinema and popular culture or set trends?
  • It became one of the most successful independent films of all time up to that point, earning $60 million worldwide on about a $400,000 budget, proving that movies made outside the control of the major studios and by guerrilla filmmakers could make big money as well as earn critical acclaim. This achievement motivated many other up-and-coming directors and independent filmmakers to pursue their own outside-Hollywood projects.
  • Like The Graduate before it, it features a soundtrack of pop music that was contemporary and popular in its time, eschewing an instrumental original score; today, countless movies follow the same musical formula. 
  • It introduced Jack Nicholson to the masses and made him a star overnight. Nicholson steals every scene he is in and has the best lines of the film. 
  • It was the “first film to show drugs as an accepted part of people’s lives,” according to critic Emanuel Levy. The actors used real drugs in the movie, and the acid trip is considered the first and most authentic use of LSD in a major motion picture. 
What’s the moral to the story here? What themes or messages are explored in Easy Rider?
  • Is it possible to be a truly free American? Wyatt and Billy pride themselves on being untethered nomads who are free to roam and explore where they want, completely off the grid and beholden to no one. But is this ideal hippie lifestyle practical or truly possible? We see how the establishment—in the form of rednecks—doesn’t approve of them and, eventually kills them. Although it may no longer be as dangerous to be like Billy or Wyatt on the road, prejudice, intolerance and generational and political divides still exist and threaten this ideal.
    • Think about the most important lines in the movie, uttered by Nicholson: “They’re not scared of you. They’re scared of what you present to ’em…What you represent to them is freedom.”
    • Consider, too, how Nicholson’s character serves as an intermediary and fulcrum between two diverse sides: the counterculture and the establishment. His character is a mix of both, and it’s fitting that he appears roughly in the middle of the movie.
  • The death of the 1960s ideal. The counterculture and the hippie generation yearned for independence from the establishment and corporate America and the liberty to be able to live their alternative lifestyles and practice free love in peace while expressing themselves without fear of reprisal. But we see how that turns out for Wyatt and Billy.
    • The line “we blew it” also reinforces this. You could interpret this as a confession that Wyatt and Billy have sold out their values and idealism by making the drug score and valuing money and possessions, conforming to a capitalist ethos in that regard while also failing to truly feel free. In a 1995 making-of featurette, Hopper said the film’s main message was that freedom comes with great responsibility; Billy and Wyatt didn’t live up to that responsibility.
    • Or, consider what Criterion Collection essayist Matt Zoller Seitz wrote: “But the line strikes me also as a more personal sort of confession, an admission that they have ultimately succumbed and bought into their own outlaw version of the capitalist rat race—the idea that a man is not a true success unless he has accumulated enough money to stop working and take it easy.”
  • Martyrdom. Wyatt and Billy are, ultimately, counterculture casualties in the culture wars of the late 1960s, and Wyatt in particular is drawn as a kind of Christ-like figure. We see how they enjoy a sort of “last supper” in New Orleans and then have a kind of “Garden of Gethsemane” experience of LSD-induced confusion, suffering and prayer before they are killed. You could interpret the end of the film as decidedly downbeat, making the movie a cautionary tale about the dangers of self-expression and pursuit of individuality in a country that isn’t truly “free.”
    • Levy wrote: “The movie goes to great lengths to celebrate the romantic individualism of the youth movement, but within this celebration there is actually a thoughtful and clever warning. Easy Rider, be it dated, does present the question of whether excessive, irresponsible individualism might have detrimental effects.”
    • Seitz believed that “the film’s piquant final shot—the camera rising away from Wyatt’s shattered, burning bike—suggests a soul’s ascent to heaven. It could represent the death of a man, or of a dream of revolution. But it may also signify the death of a false dream of comfort. Billy and Wyatt were born to be wild, and they died wild; in its twisted way, it’s a happy ending.”
    • Roger Ebert posited: “It is possible to see that Captain America and Billy died not only for our sins, but also for their own.”
  • Being in the right place at the right time.
    • Recall how the commune leader gives Wyatt and Billy a cube of acid that he recommends they quarter it once they get to the right place with the right people; yet, when they choose to consume it with the prostitutes in New Orleans, we see what is depicted as a bad trip, insinuating that this was the wrong time with the wrong people.
    • Earlier, Wyatt throws away his wristwatch, as if suggesting that he will not be bound by the rules and restrictions of time. While we may cheer this rebellious act of nonconformity, we see examples as the movie progresses of how Wyatt and his friends end up in the wrong place at the wrong time, ultimately leading to their deaths. It’s also possible that these men are too far ahead of their time to be accepted, or that it’s impossible not to live a life free of the boundaries of time, schedules and temporal constraints.
    • Characters throughout the film talk about time, delivering lines like “Do your own thing in your own time,” “The time’s running out…” “I’m hip about time.”
Who do you think this film appealed to initially when it was released in 1969, 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?
  • Undoubtedly, in 1969 this feature attracted young adults and teenagers, hippies, college students and liberals, as well as bikers and motorcycle enthusiasts; I recall Dennis Hopper noting in a making-of doc that some people in theaters cheered for the rednecks and the demise of Wyatt and Billy, so it’s likely that many people who weren’t part of or sympathetic to the youth movement or counterculture also went to see this picture.
  • Today, my hunch is this is more of a dated but fascinating relic to newer generations and a much harder sell as a recommendation. While many of its themes remain timeless and resonant, this is definitely a movie anchored in the time it was made and arguably irrelevant and odd to younger viewers who didn’t live through the 1960s and 1970s.
What elements from this movie have aged well, and what elements are showing some wrinkles?
  • Hitchhikers, acid trips, communes, asking people for their zodiac signs—these are fossils of a bygone era.
  • On the other hand, marijuana is a much more tolerated and trusted drug today that is becoming legalized in many states for recreational purposes, so Billy and Wyatt’s pot smoking doesn’t seem as dated or taboo.
  • There remains a great cultural, sociological and political divide in this country, as evidenced by continued racism, intolerance and animosity by many toward people who are different from them. As depicted in Easy Rider, it still feels as if there are two Americas—liberal vs. conservative, blue versus red, socialist vs. capitalist, North or West vs. South, and alternative vs. mainstream.
What is this film’s greatest gift to viewers?
  • Arguably, it’s greatest gift is that the movie serves as a document of a specific time in American history—1969, when our country was terribly divided along generational, racial and political lines. In this way, although the context has changed, it can present relevant messages today, also a time of great schism in our country’s history. The questions it asks, such as “is America truly free,” and “is individuality, personal liberty and autonomy an illusion in a world controlled by corporate greed,” are meaningful today, too.
  • Many contend that Easy Rider’s strongest point is the casting and performance of Jack Nicholson. You could make a case that its greatest gift was the introduction of an acting legend who, at the time, confessed that he was ready to quit acting after toiling in obscurity for so many years; Nicholson demonstrates his great talent for bringing remarkably colorful and likeable characters to life.
  • Remember, too, that Easy Rider made it cool to use pop music as your soundtrack; that’s a gift that keeps on giving.


Christmas comes 6 months early

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Make way for World Cinema Wednesday at CineVerse on June 12, when we'll screen and discuss a co-production from Japan and the United Kingdom: “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” (1983; 123 minutes), directed by Nagisa Ă”shima, chosen by Jane Williams.


Get your motor runnin'...

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Cineversary comes back to CineVerse on June 5, when we honor the 50th anniversary of “Easy Rider” (1969; 96 minutes), directed by Dennis Hopper. Plus: Enjoy Born to Be Wild, a 1995 documentary on the film (30 minutes).


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