Blog Directory CineVerse: August 2019

The snobs vs. the slobs, explained

Thursday, August 29, 2019

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

What makes Caddyshack such a memorable and beloved comedy?

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

Themes at play in Caddyshack include:

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

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

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

Other films made by Harold Ramis

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


The September/October lineup is live

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


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

Sunday, August 25, 2019

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

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


Celebrate...with extreme prejudice

Cineversary podcast episode #14 is here. This time, host Erik Martin speaks with Jason Henderson, host of the Castle of Horror podcast and author of the Young Captain Nemo book series. Together, they examine Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 epic “Apocalypse Now,” which celebrates a 40th birthday this month, and discuss why the movie is worth celebrating four decades later, its cultural impact and legacy, what we can learn from the picture today, how it has (and hasn't) stood the test of time, and more.

To listen to this episode, click the "play button" on the embedded streaming player below. Or, you can stream, download or subscribe to the Cineversary podcast using Apple Podcasts, iTunes, Anchor, Breaker, Castbox, Google Podcasts, Google Play Music, Overcast, Pocket Casts, PodBean, RadioPublic, Spotify, Stitcher, and TuneIn.

Learn more about the Cineversary podcast at and email show comments or suggestions to


Shot with a diamond bullet

Thursday, August 22, 2019

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

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


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

Sunday, August 18, 2019

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


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

Sunday, August 11, 2019

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


No CineVerse meeting on August 7

Sunday, August 4, 2019

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


The "Knight" is darkest just before the dawn

Friday, August 2, 2019

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

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

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

Themes examined in The Dark Knight

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

Other similar films

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

Oher films directed by Christopher Nolan

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


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