Blog Directory CineVerse: November 2020

Painting on a celluloid canvas

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Innovative animation doesn’t start and end with Disney/Pixar. There are many filmmakers who have advanced the art of animation over the decades, with the last 10 years being no exception. For instance, Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Weichman collaborated to direct a visually stunning work that celebrates the life – and probes the death – of genius artist Vincent van Gogh in their 2017 experimental cinematic treatise Loving Vincent. Our CineVerse group studied this work with the enthralled curiosity of an art collector hunting for hidden masterpieces and came away with these conclusions (to listen to a recording of our group discussion, click here):

What struck you as interesting, surprising, novel, or puzzling about this movie?

  • It looks like a living, kinetic work of art, and for good reason: It’s the first completely painted animated feature-length movie, containing over 65,000 frames, each an oil painting on canvas and made employing many of the same techniques that van Gogh used. A total of 125 painters from 20 different countries collaborated on this project, which took more than six years to complete.
  • The artists followed two different styles: a rotoscoping approach in which the actors were filmed and the animation copied their actions – as represented in the black-and-white flashback scenes; and an homage approach that mimics van Gogh’s style, in which his original paintings help inspire a shot or scene.
  • Interestingly, the movie’s characters were all painted by the artist, as demonstrated in the end credits scene that compares the film’s version of the character to the van Gogh original.
  • It’s easy to marvel at the meticulous craftsmanship on display here, although there is a risk that those with less patience or interest in the subject matter may find this animated approach to either be distracting or gimmicky.
  • The performances shine through, despite being rendered by artists. Consider that it would be easy for the actor’s performance to get lost in all that animation. Arguably, the film is helped by the casting, which includes familiar actors like Saoirse Ronan and Chris O’Dowd.
  • While the narrative is propelled by a mystery – what led to Vincent’s death and who is responsible – solving this riddle proves to be less important than discovering the man and the people who knew him.

Themes at play in Loving Vincent

  • The best way to understand an artist is through his or her art.
  • The impossibility of truly knowing someone else. We hear different accounts and opinions of Vincent from the people whose lives he crossed, with some who liked and admired him and others who thought he was wicked or worth ridiculing.
  • The mysteries of the heart: If Vincent was shot and didn’t try to commit suicide, it’s interesting that he would apparently not blame anyone and resign himself to this fate as the best outcome possible under the circumstances.
  • The allure of the quest for knowledge. Roulin is increasingly intrigued by the mysteries behind van Gogh’s death as well as his passions, interests, and motivations. The harder and deeper he looks, the more absorbed and obsessed he becomes.
  • Legacy, and what we leave behind after we die.

Other films we think of after watching Loving Vincent

  • A Scanner Darkly and Waking Life, two innovative animated films by Richard Linklater
  • Citizen Kane, which shares the same narrative structure in which an investigator tries to learn more about a deceased person by interviewing those who knew him
  • Lost For Life, Vincent and Theo, and At Eternity’s Gate – three different van Gogh biopics
  • Frida, based on the life of artist Frida Kahlo
  • Amadeus and Immortal Beloved


Far from phoning it in

Monday, November 23, 2020

It may not be a major Hitchcock work, but Dial M for Murder is a thoroughly fulfilling suspense thriller to most watchers – even those less accustomed to Sir Alfred's penchant for pulse-pounding excitement and intrigue. A fresh watch reveals a precision clockwork-like script that impressively revolves around a minimum of characters and a flair for chromatic stylization. After a healthy discourse on this feature last week, our CineVerse group came to these observations (to hear a recording of that conversation, click here):

How is this film different from or similar to other Hitchcock movies you’ve seen?

  • Like Rope, it’s a film version of a popular stage play that primarily features one interior set, creating a claustrophobic environment for the audience.
  • This was the first film featuring one of Hitchcock’s favorite icy blondes – Grace Kelly, who also appeared in Rear Window and To Catch A Thief.
  • Dial M for Murder represents the one and only time the director attempted a 3D movie. This was an interesting choice or a three-dimensional film, considering how there are so few settings and characters and little opportunity for action, which would seem to limit the effect.
  • This story is not a mystery or whodunit but a supreme study in suspense, in which the audience is given more information than many of the characters and sequences are drawn out and extended for maximum tension. Hitchcock always preferred suspense to shock or mystery.
  • Lead actor Ray Milland exemplifies the clever and amoral Hitchcock villain who exudes debonair sophistication and superior intelligence. Interestingly, he is the lead despite being the antagonist.
  • As with Norman Bates in Psycho, Hitchcock brilliantly manipulates us emotionally by making us identify and empathize with both Tony and his killer-for-hire Swann when their carefully laid plans go awry and disaster looms. It’s easy to put yourself in Tony’s shoes when he realizes that his watch has stopped, the phone booth he needs to use is occupied, and Swann has shockingly been killed.
  • This is a rare example of a Hitchcock picture in which we admire and root for an officer of the law. Chief Inspector Hubbard demonstrates keen insights and shrewd instincts in trying to guess the scheming husband’s moves and motivations and he is capably played by John Williams.
  • While he uses interesting camera angles and points the camera exactly where it needs to be to focus our attention on key details, Hitchcock is, for all intents and purposes, simply shooting a stage play. Further proof that he’s keeping the proceeding simple is the montage we see of Margo on trial and being sentenced – with blank backgrounds surrounding the actors in that montage.
  • This was only Hitchcock’s third color film, but arguably it’s his first strong attempt to use color stylization. Proof of this is his emphasis on strong primary colors, such as red – donned by Margo to convey passion and sexiness when she is shown kissing her secret lover Mark.
  • It can be debated that the true star of this film is the intricate plot – if you can keep up with it. Blogger Tim Brayton wrote that this movie “consists of really just one thing, which is presented in a narrative structure that resembles an essay. First, the concept is explained, then we see the concept put into execution, then we see the concept re-explained, then the concept is deconstructed. It’s about a murder plot… And really nothing else.”

Themes crafted into Dial M For Murder

  • Voyeurism. We are given a privileged and intimate view into the private life of a husband-and-wife, including her adulterous affair and his conniving murder plot.
  • Pride comes before the fall. Arguably, Toni’s undoing is his arrogance and prideful conceit; he’s not afraid to cavalierly discuss details of his “perfect crime” with others, including Halliday, Swann, and the police inspector, not hiding his superior attitude.
  • Entrapment. Like a master chess player, Tony concocts a fiendishly brilliant blackmail scheme, an airtight murder plot, and an impressive spontaneous contingency plan on the fly.

Where can Hitchcock be spotted (his clever cameo)?

  • In Toni’s framed photograph, he is seated among the men attending the college reunion.

Other films or works that spring to mind after watching this one

  • Rope
  • A Perfect Murder, one of two remakes of this film
  • Gaslight
  • Knives Out
  • Match Point 
  • Sleuth


Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a fun podcast

Sunday, November 22, 2020

For Cineversary podcast episode #29, host Erik Martin and “All About All About Eve” author 
Sam Staggs crash the Sarah Siddons award ceremony to dish delicious details about “All About Eve,” directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, which celebrates a 70th anniversary this year. Erik and Sam explore why this film is worth commemorating 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. 

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 Apple PodcastsStitcherSpotifyGoogle PodcastsBreakerCastboxPocket CastsPodBeanRadioPublic, and Overcast.

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


No crustaceans were hurt during the discussion of this movie

Monday, November 16, 2020

How can one begin to describe The Lobster, director Yorgos Lanthimos’ absurdist fantastical or futuristic take on romantic coupling in a world gone animal crackers? This is truly a film that has to be seen to be believed – and better understood, for that matter. Our CineVerse group took a stab (away from the eyeballs, rest assured) at appreciating and deciphering this cinematic text last week and came to the following conclusions (to listen to the recording of our group discussion, click here):

What did you find startling, unexpected, or memorable about The Lobster?

  • This depicts a strange dystopian future in which couplehood is valued and even required over being single, which is punished. In this dystopia, human beings hide their emotions and emphasize like-mindedness and similar character traits.
  • This bleak future society offers binary, black-and-white choices without much differentiation or diversity. Everyone wears the same kinds of clothes, practices the same rituals and routines, and strives for normality in a paired or group setting.
  • Yorgos Lanthimos said the movie was influenced by his ruminations on the ways society views romantic couplings as a default state and considers single persons to be questionable or defective. He foresees a dystopia where values, customs, and trivial rules are required at the expense of emotions and individual liberties.
  • “The Lobster deals with extremes of human emotion by factoring most of the emotion out of the equation. Lanthimos wants to isolate human behavior from the feelings that drive it, the better to analyze people’s choices… His aggressively flat performances and spell-it-all-out scripts are distancing, but he operates as though the only way to see a situation’s absurdity is from a distance… This is the stuff of traditional fairytales: magical transformations, arbitrary rules, brought allegory, and the redemptive power of true love. But Lanthimos subverts the entire idea by turning love into a petty, complicated construct, and magic into a grotesque practicality,” wrote The Verge writer Tasha Robinson.
  • This movie seems to be espousing Albert Camus’ three means of coping with life’s absurdities: suicide, which we see one hotel occupant pursue; submission, which David chooses when he decides to pair up with the short-haired woman at the hotel; and rebellion, which is depicted by David running off to join the group of wild loners and, later, breaking free of the loners with the short-sighted woman.

  • · Interestingly, even the loners – who aren’t required to abide by the government’s rules – seem as cold, cruel, and emotionless as the Establishment. This suggests that human beings have been programmed to abide by sociocultural norms of this society, even if they are not enforced.

  • · The film’s conclusion is quite interesting. It is unresolved if David chooses to destroy his eyes or not. But arguably that’s not even the important point here. Of more significance, has David really learned what it truly means to love, and how love involves accepting your partner’s differences and not trying to conform to society’s expectations or rules for romance or love? Would he even be standing in front of the bathroom mirror with a knife if he truly embraced Camus’ idea of rebellion and the freeing notion of nonconformity?

Themes on display and The Lobster

  • Conformity versus nonconformity and the extent to which human beings are willing to surrender feelings, freedom, and personal choice in exchange for social acceptance.
  • What is true love? And is true love even possible in a society that values congruence and discourages isolation?
  • The ridiculous burden society places on us to date and find a significant other or soulmate can result in unhappy and disastrous outcomes.

Other movies and works that The Lobster reminds us of

  • Writings by Franz Kafka, including The Metamorphosis
  • Writings by Albert Camus, including The Stranger
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, which depicts an emotionless dystopia in which free will and choice is illusionary and our destinies are decided prior to birth.
  • Brazil
  • Advocates of “theater of the absurd,” a term first coined by Martin Esslin, a Hungarian dramatist. The theater of the absurd “attacks the comfortable certainties of religious or political orthodoxy… It aims to shock its audience out of complacency, to bring it face-to-face with the harsh facts of the human situation as these writers see it,” wrote Esslin.

Other films by Yorgos Lanthimos

  • Dogtooth
  • Alps
  • The Killing of a Sacred Deer 
  • The Favourite


French (un)dressing

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Avant-garde and New Wave-inspired French films can be challenging for some American audiences to understand and appreciate. But a French sex comedy should translate well on the shores, one would expect. However, Bertrand Blier’s Get Out Your Handkerchiefs, from 1978, has the power to shock and alienate more people today than it did 42 years ago due to its controversial subplot involving a romance between a married woman and an underage boy. Our CineVerse group discussed this angle and others last week, as summarized in the notes below (to listen to a recording of that discussion, click here).

What struck you as unexpected, interesting, or even downright shocking about Get Out Your Handkerchiefs?

  • It’s a rare kind of sex comedy. Here, the husband is willing to be cuckolded and supportive of another man’s intimacy with his wife. Strangers are brought into the couple’s bedroom and allowed to be intimate with a married woman. And a strange bromance develops between two like-minded men who think they can satisfy the same woman.
  • The film is dry and deadpan in its comedic sensibilities, but as a sex farce and social satire it still can conjure big laughs with the right audience.
  • Of course, for many the film stops dead in its tracks once it introduces a significant subplot in which Solange is seduced by and becomes intimate with a 13-year-old boy. For Americans and people in many countries, this crosses a disturbing line that makes it difficult to accept or watch what comes thereafter.
    • Many will consider this a completely inappropriate and unlawful relationship that involves child rape because the boy is of a nonconsensual age. But consider that, at the time this movie was released, there was no age of consent legally specified in France. It wasn’t until 2018 that France set the legal age of consent at 15 years old.
    • So you have to put this film in its proper historical and sociocultural context: This relationship between an adult woman and a 13-year-old boy would not have been as controversial in France in the late 1970s.
    • Yet 42 years later, it stands out like a sore thumb and ages the film considerably.
  • The film is replete with ironies.
    • Ironically, two adult men cannot satisfy Solange, yet she finds happiness and love with a much younger person – a boy whose IQ and emotional maturity are considerably higher than the buffoonish Raoul and Stephane.
    • It’s also ironic that the two men end up forming arguably a stronger bond together, despite being sexual rivals, than the bond between either of them and Solange.
    • Additionally, Raoul appears concerned about his wife’s welfare and happiness yet employs a male patriarchal approach, thinking he can cure her with sex or motherhood.
    • There’s irony in the fact that both men would appear to be sensitive, sophisticated, and intellectual by virtue of their expressed concern over Solange as well as Stephane’s impressive book collection and their love for Mozart. Yet, each is revealed to be a romantic fool.
    • It’s further ironic that, while it may seem to have the veneer of a feminist film, Solange as a character is given little to no agency; she barely speaks, and she seems to exist as a kind of sex object (often appearing naked) and matriarchal figure (knitting and acting subserviently).

Themes at work in this film

  • People aren’t property, and you can’t make someone happy just because you will it.
  • The inherent incompatibility of the sexes and the inability of men to understand women.
  • “Even when he seems to be submissive, (Raoul’s) feeling over Solange’s unhappiness stems from the too-familiar tendency of a man to assume responsibility for his woman’s emotions. Solange’s sadness is not hers to own; it’s a problem that he must have caused and therefore must fix. When a female passerby reprimands him, ‘When women cry, you never understand why,’ he fails to learn a lesson,” wrote blogger David Bax.
  • A bromance may be more satisfying for some than a romance between the opposite sex.
  • The unpredictability of love. Who would’ve thought that Solange would find her supposed ideal match in a teenage boy?

Movies similar to Get Out Your Handkerchiefs

  • Lolita
  • In a Wild Moment
  • Woody Allen films, including Annie Hall and Manhattan, in which the main character often plays a neurotic lover who questions his ability to please women
  • Stella Dallas, which has a similar ending

Other films directed by Bertrand Blier

  • Going Places
  • Buffet Froid
  • Beau Pere
  • Ménage
  • Too Beautiful for You


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