Blog Directory CineVerse: June 2021

CineVerse moderator makes another appearance on Monster Kid Radio

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Your friendly neighborhood CineVerse moderator, Erik Martin, made another guest appearance on a podcast recently. This time, it was a return visit to Monster Kid Radio, a show that celebrates classic horror films of yesteryear. Erik and podcast host Derek Koch engage in a deep discussion of Fritz Lang's timeless masterwork "M," starring Peter Lorre.

To hear this podcast episode, click here.


Speaking the universal language of loss and love

Monday, June 28, 2021

We can usually sniff out cloying, over-dramatized, sentimentalized, and implausible family dynamics in movies pretty easily, as these bad filmmaker habits unfortunately persist. That’s why it’s refreshing to experience a picture like Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, which depicts the universality of navigating troublesome familial terrain with such admirable dexterity. CineVerse had the pleasure of parsing through this film two weeks ago (to listen to a recording of our group discussion, click here), and a précis of our conversation follows.

What did you find revelatory, refreshing, remarkable, or original about The Farewell?

  • It isn’t afraid to tackle a thorny topic like death and family grief with sincerity and realism (evoked from the personal experiences of the director and her grandmother, whose cancer diagnosis was hidden from the grandmother by the director’s extended family) but also with humor and grace. Ponder how, despite being a three-hanky-type movie, there are several comical scenes and funny bits.
    • Movie reviewer James Berardinelli wrote: “It’s probably strange to call a movie about illness and death a ‘feel-good experience,’ but Wang has pitched the film perfectly in this regard. Movies about cancer almost always involve chemotherapy and suffering. Movies about death are often suffused with grief and sorrow. The Farewell eschews those genre tropes and instead focuses on existential issues while being honest about the characters, their situations, and their reality. The end result is life-affirming and the average viewer is likely to leave the film feeling uplifted.”
    • Film critic Christy Lemire wrote” In sharing her story with us, Wang achieves a masterful tonal balance throughout “The Farewell.” She’s made a film about death that’s light on its feet and never mawkish. She’s told a story about cultural clashes without ever leaning on wacky stereotypes or lazy clichés. She finds a variety of moments for her actors to shine within a large ensemble cast. And she’s pulled off one of the most perfect endings you’ll ever see.”
  • The filmmakers don’t seem to have an agenda here; they appear to be telling the story without bias, preachiness, or judgment about whether Eastern values or Western values should take priority; the film isn’t casting aspersions about “sins of the father visited upon his child,” or trying to play into the paradigm that each subsequent generation improves upon the one before it. Even less sympathetic characters like Billi’s mother are given well-rounded treatment (we later see her mother tearing up after they bid farewell to Nai Nai, for instance).
  • There is a possibility that Nai Nai figures out that she has cancer but has decided to not talk about it. Consider that she also obscured the truth about her husband’s terminal cancer from him, and she appears to be sharp and observant.
  • The film opens with an ironic disclaimer: “Based on an actual lie.” These words run contrary to what we have come to expect from films that instead start with the words: “Based on a true story.” By bookending the movie with these words and, at the conclusion, footage of the director’s real-life grandma (who survived her bout with cancer), we benefit from more intimate and honest storytelling, entrusting Lulu Wang and her collaborators to give us some truth about their real-life experiences.

Themes woven into The Farewell

  • Bridging cultural and generational divides. Billi serves as a surrogate for the audience, our guide on this journey between three generations, two cultures (East versus West), and two countries, America and China, which she has both called home at one point. Billi’s return to the homeland of her birth results in culture shock, as she sees how much things have changed in China since she was a child, yet she’s happy to be reuniting with her extended family – although not under the best circumstances.
    • Interestingly, the filmmakers have characters who speak and sing in both Mandarin and English and use Chinese-performed covers of American songs.
  • The morality of whether it’s better to lie and spare someone from worry and suffering or tell them the truth, which they have a right to know. The movie challenges you to ask yourself: What would you do in this situation if you were Billi?
  • Coming to grips with our mortality and the unavoidability of loss and grief.
  • Reconciling the present with the past. Billi is wistful about her childhood memories of her grandmother and living in China. But she has to accept that time has moved on and her grandmother isn’t always going to be there for her.

Similar films

  • Ikiru
  • 50/50
  • Tuesdays With Morrie
  • Terms of Endearment
  • The Bucket List

Other films by Lulu Wang

  • Posthumous


Still Jonesing for adventure 4 decades later

Thursday, June 17, 2021

In Cineversary podcast episode #36, host Erik Martin is joined by James Kendrick, Baylor University film professor and author of Darkness in the Bliss-Out: A Reconsideration of the Films of Steven Spielberg, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the greatest action/adventure movie of all time, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Together, Erik and James explore deep and dark caves, pits, tombs, and catacombs of conversation in their analysis of Raiders, examining why the film is worth celebrating all these years later, its cultural impact and legacy, what we can learn from the film in 2021, and more. 
James Kendrick

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


"Room" for improvement

Monday, June 14, 2021

Widely regarded as one of the biggest cinematic turkeys of all time, Tommy Wiseau’s The Room has become a cult hit and midnight movie favorite over the past several years. Interestingly, it spawned a biopic directed by and starring James Franco called The Disaster Artist that serves as a nice companion piece to The Room and a not-so-distant cousin to Tim Burton’s Ed Wood biopic from 1994.

The CineVerse stalwarts parsed through both of the former films last week and found the exercise a real hoot (to listen to our group discussion, click here), choosing to frame our conversation less around the merits of these two movies and more on the pleasures of “so-bad-they’re good” flicks. Here’s a roundup of some of our talking points.

What was unexpected, surprising, memorable, or distinctive about The Disaster Artist?

  • James Franco directed this film and stars opposite his brother Dave (who plays Greg). In fact, James Franco has helmed 16 other features and short films.
  • There are many cameos, celebrity appearances, and big names in small parts within The Disaster Artist, including by Seth Rogan, Judd Apatow, Kristen Bell, Lizzy Caplan, Adam Scott, J.J. Abrams, Bryan Cranston, Sharon Stone, Melanie Griffith, and Bob Odenkirk.
  • Interestingly, the film provides a prologue (of real filmmakers and actors talking about The Room) and an epilogue (shot-for-shot comparisons of The Room vs. The Disaster Artist).
  • This was not an unauthorized biopic. Wiseau himself approved of this movie.
  • While most of this film depicts the actual making of The Room and constitutes much of the comedy of The Disaster Artist, the heart of this picture is the relationship explored between Tommy and Greg and the extent to which their success and happiness or lack thereof are intertwined.
  • This is another modern example of a meta film (a film about a film).

Similar films

  • Ed Wood
  • Bowfinger
  • Living in Oblivion
  • Dolemite Is My Name
  • The Producers
  • Best F(R)Iends


The wheel deal

Monday, June 7, 2021

Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves never ages, never overstays its welcome, never fails to hit a bullseye in the center of the chest. These qualities are a testament to the unimpeachable quality of a film consistently voted one of the very finest ever made, one ripe for rediscovery every few years.

Our CineVerse group gripped the handlebars and took a ride on this 73-year-old movie last week, and we found that it was just like riding a bike—you simply don’t forget how to enjoy a timeless classic. An outline of our discussion points is found below (to listen to a recording of our group discussion, click here; to listen to a Cineversary podcast episode celebrating this picture’s 70th birthday, click here).

What did you find interesting, memorable, distinctive, or different about Bicycle Thieves?

  • There is not much action or plot: This is a very simple but effective narrative that evokes a strong emotional reaction in viewers primarily from its visual poetry and nonverbal storytelling.
  • The actors playing the father and son, as well as nearly everyone else in the cast, are not professionals—these are just everyday people. Yet, marvel at how expressive their faces are and how natural their acting—or nonacting, in this case—is.
  • The character of the stalwart and compassionate Bruno, the son, and what we see him observe and react to, is what helps lend the film extra power and resonance.
  • The picture attempts to make a political statement—that we should be more concerned with our fellow man and that a fairer political system should exist that provides greater opportunities to everyday people. Yet the film is not so much about the hardships of poverty or the quest to reclaim a stolen bike but rather the relationship between a father and his boy.
    • Ultimately, Bicycle Thieves succeeds and impacts us so strongly because we identify and sympathize with Antonio and Bruno, even though they don’t overemote or speechify. We see them as they truly are, and it is their behavior and unspoken actions that inform us about them. Antonio is taken down a peg in front of his son, which is heartbreaking and universally appreciated, regardless of the time, place, or ethnicity.

What elements of Italian neorealism are prevalent in Bicycle Thieves?

  • Like earlier films in the Italian neorealism subgenre, this picture is shot in near documentary style, on location and often using nonfactors/nonprofessionals.
  • The subjects are typically working-class people and the impoverished.
  • The messages of neorealism films are often bleak, realistic, and plausibly pessimistic—without any sentimentalizing, glossy coating, or tacked-on happy endings. These films don’t give us black and white, good vs. evil tropes: even the young bicycle thief himself is depicted as the victim of poverty and a corrupt, unjust, and misery-inducing political system, and his family defends him.
  • There is a deliberate focus away from big-name stars, complex psychological themes and issues, and intricate plots and action.
  • This film attempts to depict true poverty and economic hardship as it really was in one city at a given time in history: postwar Rome in 1948, which had been physically and economically decimated following the war.
  • Bicycle Thieves is consistent and believable in its approach to realism: There is no contrived happy ending or resolution, and bad things happen to good people. What a great gift that is—the truth.
  • To put the film in proper context, consider that Americans didn’t often get to view pictures about poor people in this clear and close a focus before; even films made during and set in the Great Depression often softened the blow when impoverished characters were showcased, and almost always a happy denouement was included.
    • Charles Burnett, essayist for the Criterion Collection version of this film, wrote: “I was moved by how ordinary people were able to express so much humanity. The story achieved in very simple terms what I was looking to do in film: humanize those watching. (It) has the quality and intention of a documentary. It is totally unromantic. The characters are just ordinary people, and the film gives the impression you are watching life unfold before you. It is entertaining, but that is not the goal. Its goal is to make audiences aware of a particular social condition that needs a political solution. It is clear that it was made as a tool for change.”

What themes or messages are explored in Bicycle Thieves?

  • The power of family unity and love over materialism, capitalism, and suffering.
  • The search for hope and faith (not necessarily religious faith, but perhaps faith in humanity) in a world that seems faithless; consider that Antonio is hunting for a Fides bicycle, with the word “Fides” meaning “faith” in Italian.
  • Social conscience: It’s our duty as neighbors, acquaintances, citizens, and even bystanders to help our fellow human, regardless of his or her social stature.
  • Class struggle: This is a film about the division and disparity among social classes. We are shown how the working poor and bourgeois coexist.

Similar films

  • The Grapes of Wrath
  • Rome, Open City
  • Germany Year Zero
  • Furrows
  • Pather Pachali
  • Nights of Cabiria
  • The 400 Blows
  • Films with cities featured as a major character, including Wings of Desire and Berlin: Symphony of a Great City
  • Children of Heaven
  • Rockers
  • Pee Wee’s Big Adventure
  • Children of Heaven
  • Life is Beautiful
  • Beijing Bicycle
  • Kid With a Bike

Other works by De Sica

  • Shoeshine
  • Umberto D
  • The Earrings of Madame de…
  • Two Women


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