Blog Directory CineVerse: January 2020

God save the Queen (from power-hungry lackeys)

Thursday, January 30, 2020

If you're looking for a genuinely warts-and-all cinematic portrayal of British royalty without an overreliance on grandiose language, prim decorum, and predictable gender roles and sexual politics, look no further than Yorgos Lanthimos' "The Favourite." Our CineVerse crew took a walk through this castle of nonconformity last night. Here are our takeaways:

How did “The Favourite” defy your assumptions and catch you off guard, and what stood out as impressive or unconventional to you?

  • It’s rare to have a costume period drama based on a monarchy in which three strong women are the dominant characters. There are males in this narrative, but they take a backseat to the power playing among the females who command this tale.
  • It’s also highly unconventional to depict an English queen with eccentric sexual proclivities. While any historians insist that the relationship between Anne and Sarah was platonic, not physical, this “what if” story creates intrigue and deviates from many previous portrayals of British royalty.
  • There’s a lot more aberrant sexuality, profanity, vomiting, and female empowerment depicted here than you’d possibly expect for a film about a British monarch from the 18th Century.
  • There’s an uninteresting political subplot percolating in the background regarding the Whigs vs. the Tories that almost seems inserted merely to draw attention to how much more interesting the main plot between the three female leads is.
  • This director, Yorgos Lanthimos, is a distinctive filmmaker who has a reputation for presenting strange narratives and making curious directorial choices. Here, for example, he employs extreme wide-angle lenses, a fisheye lens, natural light and candlelight instead of artificial illumination, whip pans, an oddly blue birthday cake, women who wear no makeup contrasted with men who wear excessive makeup and grandiose wigs, and monochromatic female costumes worn by Queen Anne’s court that make the characters almost resemble chess pieces.

Themes examined in this film

  • The same compulsions and motivations that drive men apply to females: power, lust, greed, sex, revenge, and cruelty.
  • The female of the species is capable of being more powerful and dangerous than the male. In this story, we see how women rule the roost, call the shots, and command attention and power over male characters, refreshingly.
  • The corruptive and depraving nature of power.
  • The love triangle: This time between three romantically linked women.
  • The power triangle. We see how, at different points in the film, one of these three women wields power or dominance over another. But eventually, that power dynamic shifts, and the more submissive one exerts control. Consider how Sarah appears to have dominance and influence, respectively, over both Abigail and Anne earlier in the film; but by story’s end, the tables have turned. Recall, too, how we see Abigail stepping cruelly on a helpless rabbit—just because she can—and then the Queen metaphorically steps on Abigail by summoning her to kneel down and rub her ailing leg. We see the Queen push down on Abigail’s head, making the girl seem quite like a helpless rabbit herself.
  • The drawbacks of dominion: Anne appears lonely, depressed, alienated and isolated, and devoid of any family, despite being the most powerful and revered person in England. We know that she’s lost 17 children. And the montage imagery we see in the film’s final scene of increasing quantities of rabbits (suggesting their unbridled capacity to breed) seems to mock Anne’s childless state—or at least serve as an ironic visual statement on how utterly alone she truly is.

Similar movies “The Favourite” makes us think of

  • Dangerous Liaisons
  • Cries and Whispers
  • Amadeus
  • Peterloo
  • Marie Antoinette
  • Love & Friendship
  • All About Eve

Other films directed by Yorgos Lanthimos 

  • Dogtooth
  • The Lobster
  • The Killing of a Sacred Deer


CineVerse picks a "Favourite"

Sunday, January 26, 2020

If smart and cinematically stylish costume dramas pique your interest, don't miss CineVerse on January 29, when we pick “The Favourite” (2018; 119 minutes), directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, chosen by Sterling Weston.


Charly that good and plenty film

Thursday, January 23, 2020

"Charly," starring Cliff Robertson in an Academy Award-winning performance, still has a lot to teach us nearly 52 years after its original theatrical release. That's a testament to the evergreen nature of its source material, written originally by Daniel Keyes. We dissected this flick at length last night during our CineVerse meeting. Here are the major conclusions from our not-so-clinical case report:

What struck you as curious, distinctive, remarkable, or problematic about this film?

  • It can feel like a dated artifact of its era, with its late 1960s aesthetic trappings; yet, it explores themes, ideas, and sociocultural questions that are timeless.
  • Some of the cinema verite stylings (which favors a realistic, almost documentary-like approach) and visual effects are advanced and inventive for their day – such as the use of split-screen as a substitute editing device as well as multi-screen montages. The filmmakers must have been inspired by techniques and approaches used by French new wave directors.
  • This would have been a controversial and somewhat pioneering movie for its time, considering that Hollywood rarely depicted mentally disabled characters or related topics prior to 1968.
  • The choice of composer and score is interesting, as the music is composed by Ravi Shankar, lending the film a curious jazzy and eastern flavor.
  • The film was also a showcase for lead actor Cliff Robertson, perhaps a vastly underrated Hollywood thespian who won the Best Actor Academy Award for this performance.
  • It’s hard to believe that Alice would want to be romantically involved with Charly after he stalks her and attempts to rape her. It’s also implausible that she would say to him, “you think anyone would ever want you, you stupid moron?!”

Themes crafted into Charly

  • The dangers of playing God: The doctors experimenting on Charly are, some will argue, circumventing nature and the will of God by trying to artificially make Charly smarter. A side lesson here is that nature has a way of outsmarting science; there are so many things about this world that we don’t and may never understand.
  • Emotional intelligence doesn’t grow in proportion to intellectual intelligence: We see how, despite being intellectually smarter, Charly struggles socially and emotionally. A human being needs both a head and a heart.
  • Coming to terms with and acknowledging our own mortality and its limitations.
  • A person is more than a sum of their memories and past experiences; a human being is also defined by what he or she is currently experiencing and their capacity for growth and change.
  • We can’t escape our past or our true natures; they will always be a part of who we are.
  • True love is letting go. These are the words Alice speaks to Charly, and they prove to be a foreshadowing statement on what Charly decides to do at the story’s end: let Alice go so that she’s not forced into the role of his sympathizing caretaker.
  • Mentally disabled individuals are worthy of respect, courtesy, and dignity. This movie raises questions about the way disabled people are often regarded and treated.
  • We each have dual sides to our nature and personality.
  • Ignorance is bliss. Consider that, despite being intellectually limited, Charly seems happy and joyful at the beginning and very end of the film. The last shot we see of him, he is playing merrily with children on the playground.

Other movies that come to mind after watching Charly

  • Rain Man
  • I Am Sam
  • Sling Blade
  • Awakenings
  • Still Alice

Other films directed by Ralph Nelson

  • Lilies of the Field
  • Requiem for a Heavyweight
  • Once a Thief


Toasting a film of exceptional vintage

Sunday, January 19, 2020

For Cineversary podcast episode #19, host Erik Martin interviews guest Joseph McBride, film historian, biographer, author, educator, and screenwriter, to celebrate the 80th anniversary of one of the most controversial and socioculturally important films of Hollywood's golden age: "The Grapes of Wrath," directed by John Ford. Together, Erik and Joe explore why this classic 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.
Joseph McBride
To listen to this episode, click here or click the "play" button on the embedded streaming player below. Or, you can stream, download or subscribe to the Cineversary podcast using Google Podcasts, Google Play Music, Apple Podcasts, iTunes, Anchor, Breaker, Castbox, Overcast, Pocket Casts, PodBean, RadioPublic, Spotify, Stitcher, and TuneIn.

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Boost your movie IQ by watching "Charly"

You've got an appointment for an important procedure on January 22 that's free and painless: Simply join CineVerse for a screening and discussion of “Charly” (1968; 115 minutes), directed by Ralph Nelson, chosen by Brian Hansen.


Proof that there's still fuel in the noir tank

Thursday, January 16, 2020

There's no lack of pulse-pounding suspense and gripping action in director Nicolas Winding Refn's stylish heist drama "Drive," but there's certainly a dearth of dialogue and character development--although not necessarily at the film's expense. We got in the passenger seat and took a ride with this picture last evening at CineVerse and came away with these conclusions:

What did you find memorable, surprising, offbeat, or even puzzling about Drive?

  • The casting. Ryan Gosling isn’t your stereotypical action hero type; he has demonstrated tenderness, mystery, nuance, and aloofness in other roles. Here, he plays a silent loner capable of sudden and extreme violence as well as compassion and sensitivity. Albert Brooks is also cast against type: he’s not funny in the least in this role, but it is been suggested that his character is more sympathetic because of the positive and humorous memories we associate with him in other roles.
  • Arguably, there’s style as well as substance. The plot is pulpy and satisfying, but the design, aesthetics, direction, and editing are “cool, distant and riveting,” according to reviewer Randi Cordova. “Refn’s deliberately icy style gives it a sleek, contemporary edge.”
  • The film has a throwback feel to its direction, as well. Village Voice critic J. Hoberman wrote: “Drive is nominally set in the present day, but the 40-year-old director elects to emphasize the retro—or rather, to evoke the period of his adolescence, synthesizing Miami Vice‘s languid dissolves and neon-limned dive bars, Blade Runner‘s nocturnal skylines and floating overhead angles, Top Gun‘s slow dollies, and MTV-friendly lyrical montage interludes…the soundtrack is awash in mournful, exalted, romantic techno-pop.”
  • This picture is exceedingly violent in some scenes, which can surprise many viewers.
  • It plays is a neo noir – a contemporary crime film with stylistic noir elements and conventions, including a femme fatale leads men to danger, a doomed lead antihero character who can’t resist his impulses, sudden violence, underworld figures, and dark external forces.
  • The lead character is never named. He doesn’t talk much. And we only see him kiss Irene once—and the motivation for that could be to distract the hitman in the elevator so that he can engage in a surprise attack. It’s interesting that, for as much as we assume he’s smitten with Irene, he doesn’t flirt, initiate intimacy more, or play the typical male lover type.

Themes at work in Drive

  • What drives and motivates us as human beings? The title of the film as a dual meaning: “Drive” can refer to the lead character’s chosen profession, but can also point to that which makes him tick – the inner drive propelling him forward and influencing his choices.
  • What makes a “real hero,” as the song played in the movie suggests? Blogger Jonathan Lack wrote: “Driver may very well be a hero in the end, because through his violent actions, he frees Irene from her destructive cycle of abuse… In his final moments, he is a real hero, a real human being.”
  • Inescapable fate. Consider how the driver and Irene keep running into each other early on in the film, suggesting that their destinies are linked. Also, ponder how it’s possible that the driver knows his fate is sealed by the end of the story, which is possibly why he agrees to meet with Bernie and put himself in a vulnerable position; sure enough, Bernie stabs him and the driver never returns home to answer Irene’s knock at the door, insinuating that he is doomed to die or that, at least, his best life (with Irene and her son) is over.

Similar films that come to mind

  • The Man With name trilogy
  • Bullitt
  • Thief
  • The Guest
  • Le Samourai
  • Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
  • Baby Driver
  • Taxi Driver
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Other films by Nicholas Winding Refn

  • Pusher
  • Valhalla Rising
  • Bronson


Strap in for action and excitement

Sunday, January 12, 2020

On January 15, you're invited to join Ryan Gosling as a passenger on an exciting “Drive” (2011; 100 minutes), directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, chosen by Jeff Kueltzo.


"I want to remember every minute, always, always to the end of my days.”

Thursday, January 9, 2020

How do we love "Brief Encounter"? Let us count the ways based on our exploration last night at CineVerse, when we took a train ride deep into the heart of frustrated passion with Laura and Alec, the covert lovers at the heart of this film, and celebrated the picture's diamond anniversary.

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 extremely well crafted by two master storytellers – director David Lean and playwright Noel Coward. This was the movie that put Lean on the map as one of the world’s foremost directors and is an early career example of one of his non-epics.
  • Many call this the British “Casablanca”; indeed, both films feature couples who, due to a marital commitment, do not end up together yet love one another.
  • It also still matters because it shows how, with good writing and deft direction, one can depict a cinematic love affair without obligatory sex. This was solidly in the era of strong censorship; therefore, the filmmakers had to be creative and how they presented this relationship to viewers.
  • It helps that it also features a timeless classical piece – Rachmaninoff’s moody Piano Concerto No 2 – as its score. This hauntingly beautiful music aids in making Brief Encounter unforgettable.

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

  • According to Turner Classic Movies, this film was important to the British film industry. “Made on a small scale and without stars, it pointed the way for filmmakers wanting to try new things by showing just how successful a seemingly noncommercial property could be.” The movie was also one of numerous postwar hits that helped demonstrate British movies as financially sustainable in American markets – along with “Blithe Spirit,” “Henry V,” and “The Seventh Veil.”
  • The picture is said to have inspired Billy Wilder to make “The Apartment.”
  • Like Casablanca, Brief Encounter has been countlessly parodied and spoofed – demonstrating its lasting popularity and relevance.
  • This was also the fourth and concluding partnership between Lean and playwright Noel Coward; their previous films were “In Which We Serve,” “This Happy Breed,” and “Blithe Spirit.”
  • Films and stories that may have been inspired by Brief Encounter include “Roman Holiday,” “Before Sunrise,” “The Bridges of Madison County,” “In the Mood For Love,” “Lost in Translation,” and “In the City of Sylvia.”

What’s the moral to the story here? What themes or messages are explored in “Brief Encounter”?

  • Moral obligation and duty. Laura feels guilty for sneaking around and potentially violating her marital oath of fidelity. Consider when this film was released: This was immediate postwar Britain, when many military members would have been returning home to the females they expected to be faithful and waiting.
  • The risks and rewards of temptation in a class-focused society where improprieties are frowned upon and women have very few options once they’ve committed to marriage.
  • Unfulfilled and unconsummated desire and the frustration that follows.
  • The random and happenchance nature of life.
  • Time waits for no one. Throughout the film, the lovers are constantly battling the clock and trying to meet train schedules and keep appointments made. They never seem to have enough time to fully enjoy each other.

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

  • Obviously, society has changed dramatically – not only in the United Kingdom but here in the United States. Today, having an affair that involves sex and which may possibly end in divorce is not considered as serious a moral quandary or irredeemable act. Women feel much freer to explore their secret desires and less bound to sociocultural conventions and expectations.
  • Also, the heavily emotional piano music can play today as over the top, melodramatic, and overtly manipulative.
  • The fact that the couple barely kiss and never engage in sexual activity can seem laughably dated to some modern audiences.
  • On the other hand, the tension and frustration felt by Laura – whose point of view the story is told from – still feels palpable if you put the tale in context. Consider that this character is a married middle-class mother whose husband is sweet and trusting and it’s easier to see how conflicted she would be about cheating while also how frustrated she would be with her decision to not physically consummate the affair.

What is this film’s greatest gift to viewers?

  • The fact that it’s told from a woman’s point of view –  Laura's point of view: a female who has a lot to lose and with whom even male viewers can identify to some extent. On its surface, it looks like a classic chick flick but it arguably appeals to and can be appreciated by male viewers, too.
  • This movie doesn’t attempt to judge or endorse its characters’ actions and choices. We are left to decide on our own what the right thing to do is and if the characters live up to our expectations.
  • This film boils down temptation and attraction to its simplest essentials, without the need to show torrid sexuality, introduce extraneous characters or subplots, or deviate from one character’s point of view. It’s pure, simple, and clean cinematic storytelling.
  • Blogger Carl Wilson wrote: “Brief Encounter is an examination of the social and moral repercussions of falling in love with the wrong ‘right person’. It shows us a paradox of frustration through which romance is a briefly glorious struggle and fulfillment is only fleeting entirely because of belief systems held by other people. While the film is created for the viewing pleasures of the audience, it also endeavors to show us something about our own lives.”
To hear a recording of our CineVerse group discussion of this film, click here.


The encounter may be brief, but the experience will linger long in your cinematic memory

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Once a month in 2020, CineVerse will celebrate a milestone anniversary of a cinematic classic with a special Q&A discussion format.  On January 8, Cineversary and World Cinema Wednesday collide with a special from the United Kingdom, as we honor the 75th anniversary of "Brief Encounter” (1945; 96 minutes), directed by David Lean. Plus:  We'll screen a short documentary on the making of the film (25 minutes).


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