Blog Directory CineVerse: November 2019

Don't be a turkey--stay home on Nov. 27

Sunday, November 24, 2019

There will be no CineVerse meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 27 due to the Thanksgiving holiday. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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Luck be a lady tonight

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Over the last 20 years, Toni Collette has proven herself to be an actress of the first order, as evidenced by her finely honed performances in several films, including "The Sixth Sense," "Muriel's Wedding," "Little Miss Sunshine," "Japanese Story," and "Hereditary." And she certainly doesn't fail to impress in "Lucky Them," a clever and comedic romantic drama from 2013 that invokes the spirit of "High Fidelity." We decided to spin this record last night at CineVerse; here are our takeaways:

What was different, surprising, satisfying, or even curious about “Lucky Them,” beyond what you expected?

  • Ellie isn’t the stereotypical female lead you often see in a romcom. She doesn’t appear emotionally needy, and she seems to be sexually satisfied on her own terms. She’s a 40-something woman without children or a boyfriend/spouse, making for an interesting character study.
    • Reviewer John Fink wrote: “Ellie is not an easy character to like, or even love — far from the manic pixie dream girl, she’s a whiskey-drinking, one-night stand-having woman who is comfortable in this lifestyle. She’s not on the verge of self-destruction because she’s been at it for so long and has made a career and lifestyle of it.”
  • This is a different type of road movie, one in which there is a quest – Ellie finding and writing about her old boyfriend – but one in which the destination is less important than the journey and the characters who tag along. There are also alternate routes taken and forks in the road that the audience may not necessarily expect.
  • The setting – Seattle – serves as a kind of character in itself. We are shown an overcast, dank environment, not a warm and sunny locale; this seems to mirror the emotional frame of mind and disposition of Ellie.
  • This is a picture less reliant on plot and story than on proper casting, quality performances, and sharp writing and dialogue.
  • Lucky Them also explores the mysteries of attraction, especially from the point of view of women. Consider that Ellie has three possible love interests, each of whom is sharply contrasted from the other: Charlie, a wealthy and eccentric documentarian; Lucas, a rags to riches musician; and Matthew, her enigmatic white whale of a former boyfriend/artist.

Themes built into Lucky Them

  • Finding closure and resolution in an unresolved relationship
  • The dangers of living in the past and being emotionally frozen in time
  • The benefits of age, wisdom, and maturity in navigating romantic relationships
  • The pros and cons of maneuvering through middle-age while unmarried and childless
  • Luck, chance, and seemingly small incidental events and situations can significantly change the course of your life.
  • The extent to which someone can survive and thrive on their own without romantic love. Consider the film’s title, “Lucky Them”; later in the movie, we hear an explanation about a small African primate, that they” don’t want love – they just want to be left alone.” Ellie thinks she’s one of these creatures, too; but it’s more likely that she needs love and companionship—more than she thinks she does.

Similar films that spring to mind

  • High Fidelity
  • Almost Famous
  • Singles
  • Safety Not Guaranteed
  • The Third Man

Other movies directed by Megan Griffiths

  • Eden
  • The Off Hours
  • The Night Stalker

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Lucky Them? How about lucky you

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Romantic drama is on tap at CineVerse on November 20, when we'll screen and discuss “Lucky Them” (2013; 97 minutes), directed by Megan Griffiths, chosen by Tess Stanisha.

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Successfully navigating "Mulholland Drive"

Thursday, November 14, 2019


Since its release in 2001, David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive" has intrigued viewers and critics alike--a film that seemingly defies interpretation and logical comprehension yet proves immensely thought-provoking to those who choose to go down the director's dark rabbit hole. Last evening at CineVerse, our group attempted to make some sense of the blue Pandora's box that is "Mulholland Drive." Here are the main takeaways:

What did you find different, disturbing, surprising, or revelatory about Mulholland Drive?

  • This is a particularly difficult film to decipher. Interpretations can be highly subjective. Director David Lynch refuses to explain its meanings or messages.
  • It requires active participation by the viewer. If you’re hoping for an entertaining popcorn movie that doesn’t involve much thought and which resolves itself by the conclusion, you will likely be disappointed. This can be a frustrating and perplexing experience for many and an intriguing and eye-opening experience for others who enjoy trying to solve puzzles and mysteries.
  • The narrative structure is nonlinear, featuring tangential subplots and smaller characters that don’t necessarily mesh with the main story.
  • The visuals, narrative, characters, and situations have a surreal dream logic to them. This picture has been described as what it feels like to experience a fever dream or hallucination.
  • It’s a movie that rewards repeat viewings. As clues to the mysteries become more evident, the narrative structure can appear more comprehensible, and the fine details come into greater focus.

Themes grafted into Mulholland Drive

  • The dangers of living in an idealized past while ignoring the present, wallowing in nostalgia, and fantasizing excessively about better times. Doing so can create a circular cycle of futility in which you keep repeating the same mistakes without learning from them and progressing.
    • Consider how the story seems stuck in a never-ending loop: Diane appears to be a down on her luck actress, jilted by her lover Camilla, an in-demand thespian who has fallen in love with someone else. Jealous and hurt, Diane arranges to have Camilla successfully killed by a hit man. Feeling guilty about this and depressed about how her life has turned out, Diane chooses to commit suicide. But just before she dies, Diane has a prolonged fantasy or death dream in which she imagines a more preferred path her life could have taken – one in which she, renamed as Betty, is discovered and appreciated as a naturally talented actress. In this alternate reality fantasy, Diane as Betty meets a beautiful stranger suffering amnesia (she takes the name of Rita, but it’s really Camilla, who has survived the car crash the hit man planned for her in real life). Betty befriends and falls in love with Rita as the two attempt to break through Rita’s amnesia. But as Betty and Rita get closer to the truth and try to “unlock” the mysteries (including the identity of a dead woman [Diane] they discover and a blue box that suddenly appears, compatible with a blue key Rita possesses), Diane both dies and suddenly wakes up from this dream within a dream. Then, everything gets repeated over again: She hires the hit man, commits suicide, and experiences the death dream/fantasy. This is the prevailing popular theory that explains the narrative, but it’s not necessarily a definitive one.
    • We see symbols of a bygone era, as evidenced by the jitterbug dancing, hot rod vintage cars, 1950s style pop songs and singing styles, Nancy Drew-like sleuthing, the reference to the Winkies from The Wizard of Oz, etc.
    • Essayist Clint Stivers wrote: “David Lynch reminds his viewers that we, just like Diane Selwyn, live in a world that has become so cruel and arbitrary that it requires us to create mental fantasies in order to help us construct some sense of identity and unity, yet he…emphasizes the illusory nature of the hope that such fantasies can completely detach us from that world. We need to escape from conflicts, and like Diane, we use memories and the past in creative, fantasmatic ways to try to do so. Lynch is not telling us to abandon the pleasure that we take in escaping, but he wants us to be wary. He doesn’t want us to stop remembering or looking to the past for potential images of worlds that we hope will provide us with a solution to the problems of the present – he himself has done exactly that – but he doesn’t think it is possible to completely inhabit lost worlds or to use them to totally block out the difficulties and obstacles that our world presents us with. Lynch is telling us to use the past imaginatively and advocates a kind of film that encourages viewers to keep one foot in the fantasy world and one foot in the world of the real.”
    • Criterion Collection essayist Dennis Lim wrote: “By applying a fractured nightmare logic to its nominal reality (less “realistic” than the preceding wish-fulfilling fantasy), Mulholland Dr. emphasizes the role of fantasy in giving a cohesive shape to our experiences.”
  • Life can be cruel, unfair, and arbitrary, as has often been experienced by aspiring actors who head to Hollywood with dreams of making it big only to be rejected, ignored, or disillusioned. Even those with real talents can be denied a fair shot due to a rigged, profit-driven system run by shadowy powerful forces who impose their will on underlings.
    • Think about how the strange visit to Club Silencio reinforces this notion. We see the emcee explain how everything we see and hear is an illusion, a “recording” or “tape,” which is also true of films. We witness an immensely gifted artist sing like an angel, but collapse from apparent strain and frustration, only to hear her voice continue singing after her mouth stops moving and she is dragged away. This suggests that event talented actors and artists are often unappreciated, ignored, expendable, or taken for granted by the “men behind the curtain,” the powers that control a place like Hollywood. We view Betty and Rita crying and being moved by both the talent they’ve just experienced and the sadness behind the truth that the artist is treated as a disposable commodity used to entertain the masses in an artificial environment.
  • Hollywood is a dream factory that creates illusions in the form of movies – works that should not be relied upon as reflective of reality.
    • Stivers also wrote: “Since we are forced to see the first portion of Mulholland Drive as a fantasy narrative, we can consider that entire segment as a metaphor for mainstream Hollywood cinema. When we look at it from that perspective, we can see what Lynch is asking us to do. He wants us to realize that the fantasy worlds that Hollywood films present us with offer a certain degree of wish fulfillment and escape by presenting us with comforting images of nostalgic ideal worlds and values.”
  • Life is not a movie you have control over, and you should not try to cast yourself and those you love in different roles to escape who you and they really are. Diane attempts this to break from the anguish and suffering she’s feeling, but soon learns it’s a futile exercise.

Other films similar to Mulholland Drive

  • Sunset Boulevard
  • Vertigo
  • Persona
  • Last Year At Marienbad
  • Films that play with linear structure and deviate from traditional narrative storytelling, including L'Avventura, The Double Life of Veronique, Pulp Fiction, Memento, and Donnie Darko
  • Film noir movies that involve mystery, murder, betrayal, femme fatales, and dark, pessimistic themes

Other works directed by David Lynch

  • Eraserhead
  • The Elephant Man
  • Blue Velvet
  • Wild at Heart
  • Twin Peaks
  • Lost Highway
  • The Straight Story

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That was then, this is noir

Monday, November 11, 2019

For Cineversary podcast episode #17, host Erik Martin welcomes guest Eddie Muller, host of Turner Classic Movies' Noir Alley, founder and president of the Film Noir Foundation, and author of several books including Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir. Erik and Eddie commemorate the 75th anniversary of one of the all-time great noir films "Double Indemnity," and investigate why this masterwork 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.

Eddie Muller

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 Google PodcastsGoogle Play MusicApple PodcastsiTunesAnchorBreakerCastboxOvercastPocket CastsPodBeanRadioPublicSpotifyStitcher, and TuneIn.

Learn more about the Cineversary podcast at tinyurl.com/cineversarypodcast and email show comments or suggestions to cineversegroup@gmail.com.

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Get Lynched

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Mark November 13 on your calendar. That's when your mind will melt from the mad genius and mystery of “Mulholland Drive” (2001; 147 minutes), directed by David Lynch, chosen by Farrell McNulty. Note: Due to this film’s long runtime, we will start CineVerse 15 minutes early, at 6:45 p.m. tonight.

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Straight down the line: Analyzing "Double Indemnity"

Thursday, November 7, 2019

"They don't make 'em like that anymore" is an overused phrase used to view many films through the biased prism of nostalgia--a cliche that can be as nonconstructive as it is unoriginal. Yet, though an overstatement, it can be an accurate one. And it certainly applies to Billy Wilder's "Double Indemnity," a stylized noir masterwork that gave rise to a host of imitators in the years after its 1944 release. CineVerse honored this movie's 75th birthday yesterday with a lengthy discussion that covered the following points:

Why is Double Indemnity worth celebrating 75 years later? How has it stood the test of time, and why does it still matter?

  • It’s worth celebrating because it’s arguably the finest example of noir ever made, with an unsurpassed pedigree when you consider the collaborators—James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, and Billy Wilder, two of the finest scribes of pulp and the hardboiled school and quite possibly the best noir director, combined with an unimpeachable cast, including Barbara Stanwyck and Edward G. Robinson, both of whom have rarely been better.
  • It’s earned its diamond anniversary accolades by virtue of being so classically representational of the classic noir period between 1941 and 1958; it wasn’t the first noir, but it established and perfected the genre, creating a template for so many others to follow.
  • It’s also worthy of our attention and praise 75 years later because, although we know how it’s going to end right from the start, it’s the journey of these two doomed souls that proves so captivating. Yes, this is a gripping and virtually airtight yarn that proves decidedly satiating, with fascinating twists and turns along the way; but the payoff is more in the behaviors and tension felt between Neff and Dietrichson.
  • Plus, this is chock full of crackling hardboiled dialogue that is so savory and satisfying.

In what ways was this picture was influential on cinema and popular culture or set trends?

  • The research suggests that this was one of the first examples of a crime film told in overarching flashback form—wherein we begin at the end and are shown how we arrive there. Couple that with the decision to use voiceover narration and you’ve got a great storytelling structure that many subsequent films noir would copy, including Wilder’s own Sunset Boulevard a few years later.
  • Double Indemnity also made noir a more accepted and respected genre by virtue of it earning strong box office, high critical acclaim, and several Academy Award nominations.
  • Possibly more than any other film before it, Double Indemnity demonstrated how avarice, lust, deceit, sin, and the thrill of attempting the perfect crime could entertain audiences and keep them coming back for more. It helped make salacious subject matter more popular to moviegoers—depicting criminal, cold-blooded and immoral acts with such forthrightness, including murder for profit, infidelity, insurance swindling, the perfect crime, and rotten duplicitous behavior. Somehow, Wilder and company got these ideas past the censors, and then the dam seemed to have burst, with many similar “get away with murder” films to follow, including The Postman Always Rings Twice, Mildred Pierce, Scarlett Street, The Lady From Shanghai, Out of the Past, etcetera.
  • This could be the first instance of a noir that uses Venetian blinds and the suggestive shadows they create, too.

What’s the moral of the story here? What themes, messages, and motifs are explored in Double Indemnity?

  • The fallibility and corruptibility of human beings. This picture serves as a cautionary tale, depicting the ease with which any person can be quickly tempted and tainted under the right circumstances. Consider how quickly Neff—your average everyday insurance salesman, not some two-bit hood, con man, or gangster—agrees to collaborate with Phyllis on this murder scheme—after only three conversations.
  • The inability to escape one’s doomed nature. Neff and Dietrichson seem predestined to conspire and to fail—literally because the movie starts at the end after their plans backfire.
  • The spider woman who preys on weak men easily ensnared in her web. Phyllis Dietrichson is quite possible the queen of femme fatales. She may not be a ravishing siren like some others, and femme fatales in other movies may best her in body count; but she’s portrayed with nuance and icy credibility by one of the best actresses of her generation, given lines of impeccable quality by master wordsmiths, and possessed of an unsurpassed heartlessness and conniving quality that keeps us riveted to her character every time she’s onscreen.
  • The cancer of mistrust. We see how doubt starts to creep into Neff’s eyes and influence his actions. It’s interesting that the murder happens about the film’s midway point, which means that much of the film focuses on growing suspicions and fears—Walter’s apprehension and uncertainties about Phyllis as well as Keys’ skepticism about the insurance claim.
  • The hubris of pride and arrogance. The smug Neff believes his plan is foolproof, and that his insider cleverness demonstrates a superiority over lesser criminals who didn’t get away with their supposedly perfect crimes. But he is undone in the end by what Keyes predicts: that he can’t get off the trolley ride and leave Phyllis behind. Yet even at the very end, he maintains a smug self-satisfaction that he kept Keyes from figuring out that it was his office mate who actually did it.
  • The dangers of veering from the straight and narrow path. It can be assumed that Neff was supposedly a relatively honest salesperson before he is tempted by Phyllis. But he gets off that path and chooses the twisted route of crime, hand in hand with Dietrichson. Ironically, she keeps telling him “it’s you and me, straight down the line.” Only their new course is leading them, as Keyes predicts, straight to the cemetery.
  • The dual natures of men and women. The filmmakers cleverly use chiaroscuro low-key lighting to manifest shadows, including Neff’s shadow and silhouette that seems capable of overtaking him, of pushing him out of the frame—insinuating an irreversible turn to the dark side of his nature. We also get plenty of doppelgangers and twinning in Double Indemnity—like the undefined man on crutches we see at the opening credits who could be Phyllis’ husband or Walter; the contrasting characters of the first and second Mrs. Dietrichson; the two male saps in Walter and Nino Zachetti; and the pairing of Keys and Neff, who exhibit camaraderie and chemistry.

What elements from Double Indemnity have aged well, and what elements are showing some wrinkles?

  • If you want to get unfairly picky, sure—ankle bracelets, angora sweaters, smoking in public buildings and at work, Dictaphones, Chinese checkers, the word “swell,” and perfumed hair, are all ancient relics.
  • Pushing a bit harder, it’s a bit hard to swallow that Mr. Dietrichson’s cause of death is determined to be a broken neck; although we don’t see Walter murder him in the car, it’s assumed that he strangles him to death. How he hid this fact and made it look like death by a broken neck seems far-fetched, something that a savvy detective and insurance investigator would uncover.
  • One the other hand, infidelity, taboo eroticism, murder, and fraud haven’t gone out of style and still make for fine movie fodder.

What is this film’s greatest gift to viewers?

  • Its ability to tell such a compelling story with relatively simple elements. This is a winding, twisty story, although not as convoluted a plot like The Big Sleep. We aren’t shown a sexy, torrid illicit affair with a lot of smoldering kisses and oozing sexual chemistry. Walter doesn’t talk about needing the money to get out of a jam, and he doesn’t’ fantasize about what he’s going to do with the money or the life he and Phyllis will supposedly live together once they’re in the clear. So that begs the question: What is Walter in this for if it’s not for love, sex, or money? Roger Ebert wrote that “both are attracted not so much by the crime as by the thrill of committing it with the other person. Love and money are pretenses.” So instead of being primarily a film about the allure of temptation, it’s arguably more a picture about the three Ds: doom, dread, and deceit. Watching how rapidly Walter and Phyllis’ relationship starts to disintegrate, the brooding paranoia and fear that Neff is engulfed by, the tightening knot twisting around his neck, the ever-encroaching presence of Keys sniffing closer—that’s what makes Double Indemnity special. Watching it, I can’t help but ask myself, “what would I have done in that situation if I were Neff? How could I keep Keys and the police off my back?” I put myself in Walter’s shoes and shudder because I know this guy is screwed, yet I can’t help but sympathize with him and experience his fear and doubt.
  • Making the central emotional relationship not be between Walter and Phyllis but between Walter and Keyes—two men who admire one another professionally and personally. Edward G. Robinson is absolutely dynamite in this supporting role, with fantastic lines and delivery of them, and he’s very convincing as a man who’s impossible to outwit.
  • The visual template it created for noir, with masterful cinematography provided by John Seitz, who creates expressively textured interiors painted with layered shadows and canted beams of light filtered through Venetian blinds. The deliciously dark misc en scene perfectly mirrors the moral darkness that our conniving lovers inhabit.

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A long time ago, in a galaxy noir noir away...

Monday, November 4, 2019

Count on attending CineVerse on Nov. 6, when we'll be wishing a happy 75th birthday (Cineversary style) to arguably the greatest film noir of them all, "Double Indemnity” (1944; 108 minutes), directed by Billy Wilder.

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