Blog Directory CineVerse: September 2019

CineVerse Oct. 23 meeting date moved to Oct. 22

Monday, September 30, 2019

Due to a scheduling conflict at the Oak View Center facility where we meet, we have to swap a date on our October calendar.

Instead of meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 23 as planned, we have to move our date to Tuesday, Oct. 22 (1 day earlier), from 7-10 p.m.

That day, we will conduct our CineVerse meeting in the Board Room (instead of room 12) and watch and discuss, as originally planned, "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974; 83 minutes), directed by Tobe Hooper. Plus: We'll watch the complete video of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” (13 minutes), and a trailer reel preview of our November/December schedule.

Apologies for the required schedule change, which is out of our control.

To view the current CineVerse calendar, click here.


The rotten apple doesn't fall far from the tree

Sunday, September 29, 2019

It's that time of year again, when the leaves start falling, the banshees start wailing, the moon turns red, and Shocktober Theater returns to CineVersary. This year, our Shocktober theme coincides with Cineversary, when we'll celebrate a milestone anniversary of an important horror film.

On October 2, we'll commemorate the 80th anniversary of “Son of Frankenstein” (1939; 100 minutes), directed by Rowland V. Lee. Plus: stick around for an extended excerpt from “Young Frankenstein” (25 minutes), which pays homage to "Son of Frankenstein."


Leaning on the everlasting artistry of "Night of the Hunter"

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Largely ignored in its own time and underappreciated for decades, Charles Laughton's "The Night of the Hunter" is today regarded as one of the great works of cinema – a film that doesn't fit neatly into one particular category, although horror/thriller is often the box it checks among fans and scholars alike. Last evening, CineVerse journeyed up and down the river with John and Pearl and took a closer look at all of the elements that make this movie so memorable, particularly Robert Mitchum's performance as the evil preacher Powell. Here are our conclusions:

What stands out as impressive, unexpected, or revelatory about Night of the Hunter?

  • It blends a variety of cinematic styles and aesthetics. “Deeply embedded into The Night of the Hunter's DNA, the viewer finds: German expressionist director Robert Wiene's hypnotically designed 1920 film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari's graphic, bucolic sets; the Biblical Southern Gothic epic as perfected by Griffith; the family film; the supernatural mystery; noir; melodrama; and serial killer pop art of the '50s,” wrote blogger Matt Mazur.
    • The influence of German expressionism in particular is quite prevalent, as evidenced by the scene of Willa being killed in the bedroom (with stylistic shadows making the room appear like a chapel); the exaggerated shadows Powell casts on walls; the stark silhouette of Powell on horseback; and the hauntingly beautiful underwater body of Willa, appearing to move in slow motion.
  • The tale plays as a kind of Grimm’s fairy tale, and, although Cooper’s character is our voiceover narrator, the primary point of view is through the eyes of the two children; many shots and scenes appear simplistic, exaggerated or distorted because we are meant to see the story through less sophisticated eyes.
    • "It's really a nightmarish sort of Mother Goose tale we were telling," director Charles Laughton said in an interview. "We tried to surround the children with creatures they might have observed, and that might have seemed part of a dream. It was, in a way, a dream for them."
    • Consider that the sets often look artificial, dreamlike, and unrealistic; besides saving the filmmakers money, the advantage of this is that it untethers this world from any particular time or place – giving the movie more of a timeless feel and look.
  • The character of Powell, as expertly personified by Robert Mitchum, stands as one of the most frightening and disturbing in history of cinema. This could be true, despite the fact that he often appears intentionally as cartoonishly monstrous and buffoonish – in keeping with the fact that we are viewing this film through the eyes of child protagonists, who perceive him as a literal monster who grunts, growls and shrieks.
  • Think about how terrifying this villain and the film itself would’ve been to 1950s audiences – especially in its implicit and explicit violence directed at children.
  • The river journey sequence is particularly memorable for its brilliance: the imagery is dreamlike and nightmarish, but also soothing. The animals in the foreground loom large and appear imposing but also seem to be watching them indifferently, suggesting perhaps that nature is a neutral observer in their struggle. Notice, too, how the children on the run and on the water travel from left to right, while Cooper disrupts that pattern by walking from right to left – suggesting that you have to face your fears and break from old habits.
  • Powell’s violent attitude toward female sexuality would’ve likely been controversial in the mid-1950s.

Themes imbued into this film include

  • The timeless struggle between good and evil, love and hate, innocence and corruption, children versus adults, paternal authoritarianism versus maternal compassion and forgiveness; Powell and Cooper stand on opposite sides of this spectrum and battle for the lives and souls of the two children.
  • The innate innocence of children
  • The dangers of overzealous religious fundamentalism and old-time religion run amok
  • “A child-like vision of the confusing and contradictory nature of sex and the trap inherent in denying it or burying it under false religiosity,” according to Rob Nixon and Jeff Stafford of Turner Classic Movies. Consider how Willa is easily manipulated by the preacher’s twisted sexual morality.
  • Redemption, specifically how Ruby is redeemed by the end of the film from an endangered sheep to a loyal member of the flock.

Films that remind us of Night of the Hunter

  • German Expressionism classics like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Nosferatu, and The Last Laugh
  • The silent film works of director D.W. Griffith, who often cast Lillian Gish in his pictures
  • Cape Fear
  • M
  • Whistle Down the Wind
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Elmer Gantry
  • Do the Right Thing 
  • No Country for Old Men


Love and hate wrestle for your soul on Sept. 25

Sunday, September 22, 2019

It's been called a visual poem, a haunting lullaby, a frightful fable, and even a downright terrifying horror movie. Whatever you call it, “Night of the Hunter” (1955; 93 minutes), directed by Charles Laughton, chosen by Eric Peterson, is on the schedule at CineVerse for Sept. 25.


Matthew makes his mark

Thursday, September 19, 2019

The year 2012 was a pretty strong one for movies: Consider that "Lincoln," "Argo," "Django Unchained," "Zero Dark Thirty," "Moonrise Kingdom," and "Silver Linings Playbook" were all released in that memorable year. But another quality flick from 2012 that often gets lost in the shuffle is "Mud," a quality coming-of-age film starring Matthew McConaughey. Yesterday at CineVerse, we stepped into the "Mud" to uncover its truths. Here's what we found:

What did you find unexpected, intriguing, or refreshing about Mud?

  • It arguably stands as Matthew McConaughey’s breakout and best film – one that establishes him as more than a pretty face or character actor and as a legit acting force.
  • It gives us a privileged insight into the world of adolescents; this is really more the story of Ellis than Mud.
  • The child performances are very good; the casting of Ty Sheridan and Jacob Lofland is inspired.
  • The film balances a nifty plot with well-developed characters, believable dialogue, and impressive performances – making for a well-rounded movie.

What themes are suggested in Mud?

  • Coming-of-age: At its heart, this is really the story of Ellis and the beginning of his maturation from childhood to adulthood, and how he idolizes Mud – especially Mud’s lessons to learn about women.
  • The disconnect between men and women. This film insinuates that men, often driven by aggressive instincts, misunderstand and fail to communicate effectively with women.
    • Slant magazine reviewer Chuck Bowen wrote: “This yearning for understanding between the genders informs the entire film. Mud and his father figure, Tom Blankenship, are literally adrift at the end of the film, unable to reconcile themselves with women and life in general as they exist in reality.”
    • “(Mud is) an extremely sophisticated and progressive examination on how adolescent masculinity is defined by often contradictory cultural attitudes toward femininity,” wrote blogger Thomas Caldwell.
  • No man is an island. Mud exiles himself in hiding on an island, but knows that he cannot stay there forever – just as he cannot isolate himself forever from the sins of his past or the need for his girlfriend’s love.
  • Christ-like martyrdom. Mud (who has a cross symbol built into his boot print) stands as a kind of Jesus figure in the film – a savior of sorts for Ellis and Neckbone, who become his disciples – and Mud sacrifices himself at the end for the benefit of Ellis.
  • Fatherless children: the importance of having a father figure in your life.

How do the names of some of these characters inform us about what they represent?

  • Mud – connotes a person whose hands get dirty, and who is unpopular or in disgrace; a median point between the land in the water
  • Ellis – makes us think of, perhaps, Ellis Island, where immigrants and refugees turn for asylum and citizenship
  • Juniper – conjures up associations with a beautiful and aromatic tree; a wonder of nature
  • Blankenship – boat and ship imagery abounds in this film, and the viewer associates ships with refuge, shelter, and escape. Blankenship sounds like a “blank ship”, a cipher for a mysterious guardian angel of sorts
  • Carver – a violent sounding name fitting for a violent man
  • May Pearl – Suggests a jewel or treasure of a female who is in the spring of her life
  • Other films and works of literature that we think of after watching “Mud”
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Great Expectations, and ET: The Extra-Terrestrial – three classic stories wherein a boy helps and learns from a fugitive from the law
  • The Place Beyond the Pines
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Whistle Down the Wind
  • Sling Blade

Other films directed by Jeff Nichols

  • Shotgun Stories
  • Take Shelter
  • Midnight Special Loving


Happy birthday, Mr. Smith: You're now an octogenarian

Sunday, September 15, 2019

For Cineversary podcast episode #15, host Erik Martin is joined by San Francisco State University film professor Joseph McBride, author of "Frankly: Unmasking Frank Capra" and "Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success." Together, they dive deep into Capra's "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," marking an 80th birthday this fall, and explore 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


Here's Mud in your eye

Matthew McConaughey flaunts his underrated acting chops in “Mud” (2012; 130 minutes), directed by Jeff Nichols, chosen by Dave Ries, slated for CineVerse on Sept. 18.


Your CineVerse moderator joins the "Jerks" for "Jaws"

Friday, September 13, 2019

CineVerse moderator Erik Martin has made another appearance on "The Classic Film Jerks" podcast, hosted by Michael DiGiovanni and Andrew Bloom. For the show's September episode, the trio discusses Steven Spielberg's 1975 masterwork "Jaws" and have a few laughs while dishing insights and opinions on the film.

To listen to the episode, click on the player below or visit


Capitol ideas

Thursday, September 12, 2019

"They don't make 'em like that anymore' is certainly a cliche that can be applied to Frank Capra's 1939 standout "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," a picture that can still deliver an emotional wallop and utterly impress with its performances and craftsmanship. We feted this 80-year-old national treasure last evening at CineVerse, giving it the full "Cineversary" treatment. Here's a roundup of that 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 matters because, even though it can play as overly sentimental, corny, naïve, or wildly outdated, it was made with true heart, sincerity, and genuine good intentions by Frank Capra and company. This genuineness and honesty of emotion are felt in virtually every frame.
  • It matters because it’s one of the very few American films that feels unabashedly patriotic – a political movie that isn’t cynical, snarky or ironic. This is the textbook definition of a feel-good picture, one that put you through the emotional ringer and makes its protagonist particularly suffer in order to achieve those good feelings honestly.
  • It has stood the test of time based on the bravura performance of James Stewart, the sheer star power of its knockout extended cast, the strong female lead courtesy of Jean Arthur, the emotionally propagandistic power of Capra’s visuals and montages, and the fact that it’s one of the extremely rare movies that shows how our system of government and the passing of laws works – a system that has pretty much remained unchanged.
  • It also remains timeless because it refuses to date itself; Smith’s home state is not named, we hear no mention of Republicans or Democrats, there are no scatological references to the impending second world war, the rise of Nazi-ism, the recent Great Depression, or other political or sociocultural events or issues.
  • Mr. Smith continues to resonate because 21st-century viewers know how corrupt the world can be today; nowadays we constantly hear about dishonest, self-serving, unethical politicians and leaders. Many of us want to believe that each of us can exercise political power, stand up against political injustices, and effect change – even if merely at the ballot box or by writing a letter or demonstrating. Jefferson Smith continues to stand as the patron saint of the idealistic Everyman and Everywoman.

In what ways do you think this film was influential on cinema and popular culture or set trends?

  • It has been cited as one of the first examples of a conspiracy theory film, in which moviegoers are given the notion that there may be powerful machinations influencing the way the country is run; in this case, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington suggests that graft and corruption they be prevalent in the U.S. government.
  • As mentioned, it’s one of the very first examples of a feature film that takes the lid off the Capitol Building and realistically depicts how the federal government functions, looks, and presumably acts.
  • It established James Stewart as an A list breakout star in one of the finest film actors of his or any generation. Without this movie, it’s doubtful that Stewart wins a best picture Oscar the next year or goes on to become the widely beloved Tom Hanks of his day.

What’s the moral to the story here? What themes or messages are explored in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington?

  • David versus Goliath: the struggle of the common man to stand up against oppressive forces and challenge the system to make the world a better place.
  • Lost causes are the only causes worth fighting for. Chock-full of idealism, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington inspires with its underdog story of someone will likely lose in the fight against a powerful political machine, yet doesn’t back down from this seemingly impossible task.
  • Maturation, and transitioning from childhood into adulthood without losing the enthusiasm and idealism of youth. We see how Smith has a boyish innocence and childlike naïveté, and how he is associated with the boys camp and the youngsters who follow and champion him. By the end of the film, Smith outgrows his “aw-shucks” simplicity and immaturity as a politician by choosing to stand up and above those who use to tower above him figuratively and literally: he uses an eloquent adult voice in the last act and filibustering scenes that contrasts with how he spoke and carried himself earlier in the movie. Consider, too, how Capra continually frames Stewart often as lower in stature, subservient, and smaller than his fellow politicians and Taylor throughout the film until he chooses to fight back at the end, when he looms larger in height and respect.
  • Idealism versus cynicism. It’s easy to chuckle at the unintended corniness built into this film, the flag-waving romanticism, and unabashed moral righteousness. It’s easier to gravitate to today’s more widely accepted pessimism, skepticism and sarcasm, which are continually pitted against Smith’s optimism. Yet, it’s hard to be unmoved by Smith’s earnestness and simple values, which make people feel nostalgic for a bygone time and mindset. Fortunately, Smith’s idealism is balanced by the cynicism we see in Clarissa and Diz the reporter. Consider, as well, that the ending is ambiguous-- there is no clear victory, and we don’t know if Taylor is truly defeated.
  • Martyrdom. Smith serves as a somewhat Christ-like figure representing good and righteousness who is politically betrayed and crucified by Payne’s Judas figure.

Who do you think this film appealed to initially when it was released in 1939, and who do you think it appeals to today? 

  • The film struck a chord with audiences in 1939, becoming a box office hit and earning 11 Academy Award nominations – so it likely had very widespread appeal.
  • Today, the movie-watching public is more cynical and arguably smarter. Many may find this picture hopelessly dated and drowning in sentimentality and propaganda. Nevertheless, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington continues to be highly revered, as demonstrated by high marks from fans and critics on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes. It likely speaks more to classic movie buffs, scholars, historians, and the unapologetically patriotic.

What elements from this movie have aged well, and what elements are showing some wrinkles?

  • Showing how the Congressional sausage is made – how legislation works, how the Senate chamber operates, and how a filibuster can be effective in Washington – remains fresh.
  • However, there are some over overdramatic and sappy elements in this movie – such as Smith fainting from fatigue at the end, inspiring Payne to change his mind; socking people in the kisser as comeuppance; Smith witnessing a young boy reciting the Gettysburg address; precocious kids as “Our Gang” type caricatures who run a printing press and try to out-hustle Taylor and the big newspapers – that remind you that this is an 80-year-old film.

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?

  • James Stewart’s performance, arguably his best, and particularly memorable for how it shows a gradual transformation from folksy young innocent to a beaten-down but roused patriot, thanks to Steward’s impeccable ability to display a wide array of believable emotions. We feel what Smith feels, and that’s a testament to the power of Stewart’s acting and Capra’s direction.
  • It’s a movie that makes it feel acceptable to be patriotic. Like Yankee Doodle Dandy, Young Mr. Lincoln, Sergeant York, and a few others from Hollywood’s golden era, this film celebrates Americana in the best that this country has to offer.
  • Another gift that keeps on giving: the stellar extended cast. This is one of the deepest rosters ever assembled, with Jean Arthur, Claude Rains, Edward Arnold, Harry Carey, Thomas Mitchell, Guy Kibbee, Beulah Bondi, Eugene Pallette, H.B. Warner, William Demarest, Porter Hall, and Jack Carson on board.

Other movies that Mr. Smith Goes to Washington reminds us of

  • Bulworth
  • The Candidate
  • The Contender
  • The Seduction of Joe Tynan
  • Lincoln

Other essential films directed by Frank Capra

  • It Happened One Night
  • Mr. Deeds Goes To Town
  • Lost Horizon
  • You Can’t Take It With You
  • Meet John Doe
  • It’s A Wonderful Life


Mr. Smith goes to CineVerse

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Make plans to attend CineVerse on September 11; that's when Cineversary returns. 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 Sept. 11, we honor the 80th anniversary of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (1939; 130 minutes), directed by Frank Capra.


Fishing for answers

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Robert Redford's "A River Runs Through It" is graced with so much visual beauty, courtesy of its Academy Award-winning cinematography, that can be easy to overlook some of the film's other virtues. We attempted to name all that we could last night at CineVerse. Here's our roundup:

What did you find memorable, interesting, or surprising about this film?

  • It’s a throwback picture that harkens back to a bygone, simpler time and style of life. It remains a fairly simple tale that lets the scenery and the actors do most of the heavy lifting. Director Robert Redford also seems to express sentimentality and fondness for this period, setting, and family dynamic, without suggesting many cons or conflicts.
  • It relies significantly on voiceover to tell its story; this can be a help or a hindrance. While it makes for a more accurate adaptation of the novel, too much voiceover narration can tell you things without showing them to you and letting you come to your own conclusions and opinions. When not done properly, it can make a movie less cinematic.
  • This is the first starring role for Brad Pitt; debatably, he does better work later, but it’s interesting to see what he tries to do in this role.
  • The visuals are inspiring, making this film worthy of its win for best cinematography at the Academy Awards.

Themes crafted into A River Runs Through It

  • Fishing as a form of religion and practice of faith. The MacLean men treat their favorite hobby—fly fishing—as a sacred and sacrosanct activity; devoutness and attention to detail in this practice yields the best results and brings you closer to a perfect fisherman, just as devotion to and practicing one’s faith can, presumably, bring you closer to God.
  • The unpredictability and randomness of life. Based on how upright he lives his life, you would expect Norman to be the better fisherman; instead, it is Paul—the brother who strays from the path preferred by his pious father—who excels at fly fishing.
    • Roger Ebert wrote: “Redford and his writer, Richard Friedenberg, understand that most of the events in any life are accidental or arbitrary, especially the crucial ones, and we can exercise little conscious control over our destinies. Instead, they understand that the Reverend Maclean's lessons were about how to behave no matter what life brings; about how to wade into the unpredictable stream and deal with whatever happens with grace, courage and honesty.”
  • Coming of age. This is another timeless take on the transition-into-adulthood and rites-of-passage story.
  • Nature as a bond that brings family together. Here, the river serves as a metaphor for life and how to live it as well as a constant that the brothers and father can always turn to for happiness, sustenance, and communion.
  • Biblical lessons, including the Prodigal Son and Cain and Abel stories. While Paul doesn’t commit evil acts like Cain, he does live a more sinful life than his brother Norman, who stands as a more wholesome contrast.
  • The “brighter a candle burns, the faster it goes out,” wrote Washington Post critic Hal Hinson.

Similar movies that A River Runs Through It reminds you of

  • Legends of the Fall, also starring Brad Pitt
  • A Walk in the Clouds
  • The Cider House Rules
  • Lonesome Dove
  • The Man From Snowy River

Other films directed by Robert Redford

  • Ordinary People
  • The Milagro Beanfield War
  • Quiz Show
  • The Horse Whisperer
  • The Legend of Bagger Vance


A river runs through CineVerse

Sunday, September 1, 2019

On September 4, CineVerse will features “A River Runs Through It” (1992; 124 minutes), directed by Robert Redford, chosen by Judy Quenzel. 


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