Blog Directory CineVerse: April 2022

This "Hitch-Hiker" gets a thumbs-up

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Albeit a bit brief in runtime, The Hitch-Hiker (1953) doesn’t come up short in the suspense department, thanks to deft direction by Ida Lupino and the fact that the gist of the narrative is derived from a true-crime tale. The CineVerse bunch enjoyed examining this movie last week, and the highlights of our discussion are encapsulated below (to listen to a recording of our group chat, click here).

What did you find different, unexpected, surprising, or memorable about The Hitch-Hiker?

  • It’s directed by a woman: Ida Lupino, a prolific and widely respected Hollywood actress who started her own independent production company with her husband and went on to direct numerous feature films and episodes of television series. Lupino is credited as the only woman who helmed a classic film noir and is one of the rare examples of a female director, period.
  • This story is loosely based on the true-life crime spree of William Cook, who, as a hitchhiker, murdered many people, including a family with three children. Lupino and company wanted to make a straightforward adaptation of Cook’s exploits, but the Production Code Administration would not allow that, fearing that a reenactment would glamorize Cook.
  • The Hitch-Hiker is rare for this era in that it uses authentic Hispanic actors and gives major significance to the Mexican police as being instrumental in capturing Myers and freeing his captives.
  • Most of the scenes occur within the vehicle driven by Roy and Gil – creating a claustrophobic milieu in which the viewer can palpably feel the tension and inescapable closeness of the killer.
  • Also, unlike many previous noir pictures, this story is not set in a dark urban jungle like New York City or Los Angeles. Instead, most of the scenes occur in broad daylight and are shot on location in desert locales and wilderness settings. This lends the movie a documentary-like authenticity, which is helped by including scenes involving American and Mexican law enforcement authorities collaborating to track down Myers.
  • Considering the merging of these elements, The Hitch-Hiker plays as a pseudo-noir true crime police procedural with an infusion of neorealism.
  •  The early 1950s, which is when this movie was released, was known for social problem films like this one.

Major themes

  • Dissolution with the American dream and the unfulfillment of the promise of a better postwar life for many Americans. Roy and Gil are trying to escape the pressures and monotony of everyday married life and enjoy a masculine fishing adventure in which they may indulge in a few immoral vices in Mexicali. Myers represents the postwar male who has completely abandoned the American dream, using cold-blooded violence to achieve his ends while indulging in senseless sociopathic killing.
    • Deep Focus Review writer Brian Eggert wrote: “(Lupino’s) distinct perspective, which neither aligns with the typical studio outlook nor a decidedly feminist one, turns The Hitch-Hiker into a film that characterizes the social oppression of postwar America on the individual… The Hitch-Hiker, most of all, uncovers her interest in the idyllic American Dream as a crumbling fa├žade, behind which the individual is suppressed…. Like his country, Myers tries to veil his insecurities and cruelty with macho violence. Lupino critiques his brand of masculinity, which feeds on the postwar American Dream by killing it. But she also questions another kind of man, represented by Myers’ captives, who quietly suffers under punishing, existentially stifling conditions.”
    • Eggert further wrote: “The Hitch-Hiker remains distinct as a film of 1953 because it challenges social conventions, not the least of which is the masculine ideal—a form of feminist perspective that many of Lupino’s critics would either overlook or altogether dismiss…The Hitch-Hiker subverts the American Dream by uncovering the ugly reality underneath in the same manner as Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and Orson Welles’ The Stranger (1946). She destabilizes the American family by suggesting Collins and Bowen, two otherwise loyal husbands, need to escape their wives for a sordid trip to Mexico. She questions the romantic pastime of hitchhiking by exposing the real-life killer who used America’s highways as his hunting grounds. And she shows the American police as disorganized and not always capable of catching the bad guy. Telling this story from a woman’s perspective in the 1950s, Lupino herself elevates the film’s brutal worldview by being an example of domestic nonconformity.”
  • Trust and loyalty
  • Grace under pressure. Gil and Roy survive because, for the most part, they maintain their composure, avoid the impulse to act rashly, and leave clues behind that ultimately lead the authorities to them and their abductor.

Similar works

  • Detour
  • Shadow of a Doubt
  • Thought Stranger
  • While the City Sleeps
  • Touch of Evil
  • Kansas City Confidential
  • 3:10 to Yuma

Other works directed by Ida Lupino

  • Not Wanted!
  • Never Fear
  • Outrage
  • Hard, Fast and Beautiful
  • The Bigamist
  • The Trouble With Angels
  • Episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone, and Have Gun Will Travel

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Kirsten's got the doomsday blues

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Part somber meditation on the lingering effects of depression and anxiety, part fear-inducing futuristic tale, Danish director Lars von Trier’s Melancholia boasts a sparkling cast that includes Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg, memorable performances, and unique visual flourishes that will intrigue your imagination long after the picture ends. We gave this movie the CineVerse treatment last week and came to the following observations and conclusions (to hear a recording of our group chat, click here).

What was it about this movie that you found distinctive, unexpected, interesting, or curious?

  • It’s technically a science-fiction film and an apocalyptic story, but it doesn’t abide by the same tropes and conventions of so many other disaster/sci-fi movies. There is no focus on modern technology, the role of the government or the media, or characters outside of this extended family and the wedding guests. The filmmakers refreshingly choose not to lather on showy special effects depicting mass destruction. Likewise, it isn’t scientifically realistic in portraying how a rogue planet would approach Earth or cause destruction.
    • However, the threat and situation are real – this is not meant to be some allegorical facsimile. In this narrative, there is a wayward planet genuinely speeding toward Earth that will bring about our destruction.
    • The prologue visually depicts the collision of this planet – Melancholia – with Earth; there is no doubt about how this story will end, which makes us focus more on how this doomsday event will affect the main characters.
    • Lars von Trier said in an interview: “In a James Bond movie, we expect the hero to survive. It can get exciting nonetheless. And some things may be thrilling precisely because we know what's going to happen, but not how they will happen. In Melancholia, it's interesting to see how the characters we follow react as the planet approaches Earth."
  • Because Justine acts so strangely and she and other characters are difficult to like and embrace, it can be challenging for viewers to warm up to this film and tolerate an extended wedding sequence in which awkwardness, uncomfortable situations, and strange behaviors happen.
    • However, both Justine and her sister Claire may be unreliable narrators; while we follow their points of view throughout two chapters, consider that what we see could be subjective perceptions that are psychologically skewed and perhaps should not be taken literally.

Major themes

  • Depression and anxiety and their effects upon thoughts and actions.
    • This movie was inspired by a depressive episode experienced by von Trier. An analyst told him that depressed individuals often respond more calmly under pressure than others, as they anticipate that negative things will likely occur.
    • Justine embodies depression. Ponder how debilitated, lethargic, and apathetic she appears during her wedding reception and in the immediate days after, at which time it’s assumed that the approaching Melancholia has not yet been determined to be a lethal threat to our planet. But once it has, Justine acts more normally and complacently, suggesting that she is at peace with Earth’s impending doom.
    • Film Quarterly writer Rob White wrote: “I think of Melancholia as an exploration of something I want to call ‘objective depression,’ where the pathology is reflected in the world and the world in the pathology: the depressive’s feeling that nothing matters, that we’re all doomed anyway is turned into brute fact… Justine is able to turn her subjectivity inside out because she can relate far better to a destructive planet than she can her husband or family: Is the “moral” of the film that the female depressive is a menace because she is unmoored and unstable, and resilient to the charms of the male universe? Casting Kirsten Dunst, a kind of cinematic American sweetheart, as the ‘objective depressive,’ is inspired: Dunst’s face, so sweet when she’s being ‘good,’ becomes so savage and so petulant when her mood turns sour.”
    • Claire, on the other hand, exemplifies anxiety. Consider how unnerved she becomes in the latter part of the story and how she craves assurance and comfort from her husband.
  • Nihilism and the belief that life is ultimately meaningless.
    • Justine subscribes to this tenet and demonstrates, in her erratic and unconventional behavior, that trying to live up to others’ expectations and abide by society’s codes, standards, and mores is pointless. Recall how she rejects her sister’s request for a ceremonial farewell on her terrace before Melancholia crashes into Earth and how Justine keeps people waiting during the wedding reception.
    • Film Quarterly writer Nina Power wrote: “Justine has two modes of nihilism: aggressive and passive, in that order. The former sees her question the ‘usual’ structures: marriage, work, family responsibility. The latter sees her reconciled (albeit with a snarl) to the imminent destruction of the planet. These nihilisms can be seen as models of knowledge far more apt than the neurotic position held by Claire, or the economic–rational mode represented by John (”you have to trust the scientists”)... Justine is far ‘saner’ than the rest of her family.”
  • Family ties and familial dynamics. Justine and Claire seem to be opposite in personality and demeanor. Still, interestingly, Claire arguably becomes the less psychologically grounded of the two by the end of the story, while Justine seems to be calm and centered. Also, contemplate how Justine, Claire, and their mother are susceptible to depression, anxiety, and/or erratic psychological behavior.

Similar works

  • Last Year at Marienbad
  • Persona
  • Another Earth
  • Stalker
  • The Turin Horse
  • Don’t Look Up
  • Tree of Life
  • When Worlds Collide
  • Masterpiece paintings, including Ophelia by Millais

Other films by Lars von Trier

  • Breaking the Waves
  • Antichrist
  • Nymphomaniac
  • The House That Jack Built

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Cineversary podcast sends 70th birthday wishes to Singin' in the Rain

Thursday, April 14, 2022

In Cineversary podcast episode #46, host Erik Martin honors the 70th birthday of what most regard as the finest Hollywood musical of them all, Singin’ in the Rain, directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen. Joining Erik for this installment is Turner Classic Movies host Alicia Malone, author of the newly released book Girls on Film: Lessons From a Life of Watching Women in Movies. Erik and Alicia examine how Singin’ in the Rain remains a bona fide classic 70 years later, why it still matters, its cultural impact and legacy, and what we can learn from all this genius singing and dancing today. Erik also chats with Brian Eggert, a film critic, essayist, and owner of DeepFocusReview.com, about Kelly’s unique approach to dancing on film.
Alicia Malone and Brian Eggert


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 wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple PodcastsCastbox, Stitcher, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts, PodBean, RadioPublic, and Overcast.

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

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Leech lessons

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

When a foreign film earns the Best Picture Academy Award (the first and only time that’s ever happened) and enjoys high critical and commercial success, it must be something special. And Bong Joon-ho’s 2019 modern masterwork Parasite certainly is, providing a delicious narrative that intersects several genres and a thoroughly satisfying layer of subtext that will keep you thinking and theorizing about the film for days. Last week, our task as CineVerse investigators was to perform a filmic autopsy on this picture and identify precisely what makes it so infectiously entertaining and thought-provoking. An encapsulation of our discussion follows below (to listen to a recording of it, click here).

What did you find different, unexpected, surprising, memorable, or satisfying about Parasite?

It’s a combination of many different genres: it’s a heist movie, a horror movie (considering the violence and talk of ghosts), a black comedy, a suspense thriller, and a social satire. It also plays with genre tropes and conventions, such as substituting bombs and weapons for, respectively, cell phones that can send incriminating videos and peaches that can overwhelm a target.
Tonally, Parasite oscillates between comedy and knuckle-biting conflict. The extremely violent final 15 minutes feel much more shocking because we’ve been conditioned into funny mode for most of the movie.
The film is replete with symmetries and ironies. Consider how there are two sets of families of four, each with a husband, wife, daughter, and son, and two very different domiciles. The ironies include the son being seriously injured by the scholar’s stone he had been clinging to, the fact that the toilet in their lower-level home is on a higher plane than they are, how the father and his family have to crawl out of the Park house like cockroaches, and how the Kim family is more intelligent than the Park family even though they are less prosperous/fortunate.

Major themes

  • Class warfare and the social and financial gap between the haves and the have-nots. The title “Parasite” is fitting because both families – the Kims and the Parks – feed and capitalize on the other family as a parasite would.
    • The film depicts the dichotomy between two levels of class, the rich and fortunate versus the struggling lower and middle class, with the former exemplified by a deluxe home where the family lives on the top level and the latter signified by the struggling Kim family who lives in a sub-street level dwelling that gets flooded during the monsoon season and constantly has to descend staircases to reach their true habitats.
  • The promise and the perils of capitalism, which can rely on a symbiosis between a parasite and its host.
    • The film’s title also suggests what Karl Marx believed: “Capital is dead labor which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks."
    • People who live in capitalist societies believe that if they work hard and strive for upward mobility, they will be rewarded monetarily and enjoy a better quality of life among a higher class.
    • The son holds steadfast to a hopeful belief that he can aspire to greater things and that capitalism will reward him; he clings to the scholar’s stone that his friend gave him, who told him it would bring good fortune to his family. His father, however, embodies a harsh truth about capitalism: that most people are cogs in a machine who don’t advance and end up not achieving their dreams, unable to climb up the rungs of the ladder.
    • Forbes writer Travis Bean wrote: “The drive to become part of the higher class can push us to be better, to fully utilize our talents—but it can also persuade us to wear a mask, to pretend we’re something we’re not. We happily give ourselves over and become a cog in the machine because of the future it promises. But in doing that, we could end up sacrificing a part of ourselves…Perhaps the system does drive everybody to try their hardest. But it also leaves so many people in the dust. No matter how hard you try, you’re just part of the pyramid. For capitalism to truly work, there always needs to be somebody standing up at the top—and then the people who want to be up there as well.”
    • Even though the Kims pushed out a previous parasitical family and assumed their jobs, ultimately, Mr. Kim sympathizes with the original housekeeper’s husband, whom Mr. Park finds aromatically offensive; recalling how his boss also commented negatively about his smell, Mr. Kim finally hits a breaking point and, perhaps caught up in the crazed violence around him at the moment, decides to kill Mr. Park – insinuating that the host has finally succumbed to its parasite.

How do you interpret the ending of the movie?

  • We discover that the father has been living secretly in the sub-basement of the Park home and attempting to send Morse code messages to his son. The latter interprets these messages and is encouraged that his father has survived. We hear how the son plans to study hard, get a good job, and eventually earn enough money to purchase the house and free his father from his prison below. That suggests a hopeful conclusion to the story.
  • But that fantasy sequence ends, and we are brought back to the original low-rent apartment where we first saw the family at the movie’s start. The son is sitting in the darkness, reflecting on his hopes for his father. But this suggests that there is little hope he can achieve his dream and be reunited with his father.
  • The director said in an interview: “It’s a surefire kill” in describing the final shot. “Maybe if the movie ended where they hug and fades out, the audience can imagine, ‘Oh, it’s impossible to buy that house,’ but the camera goes down to that half-basement. It’s quite cruel and sad, but I thought it was being real and honest with the audience. You know and I know — we all know that this kid isn’t going to be able to buy that house. I just felt that frankness was right for the film, even though it’s sad.”

Similar works

  • Us
  • The People Under the Stairs
  • Burning
  • The Servant
  • The Ruling Class
  • Society
  • The Rules of the Game
  • The Ladykillers
  • High and Low
  • Squid Game

Other films by Bong Joon-ho

  • Memories of Murder
  • The Host
  • Mother
  • Snowpiercer
  • Okja

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The long shadow of Harvey Weinstein

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Kitty Green’s The Assistant has been credited by some as the first feature-length fiction film that tackles the topic of Me Too and Time’s Up. It’s an unsettling portrayal of life in the trenches for one lowly underling working in the film production business and the extent to which women are subjugated and exploited in this industry. This movie got the full CineVerse treatment last week, which resulted in a lengthy discussion, the highlights of which are included below (to listen to a recording of our group conversation, click here).

What struck you as memorable, unexpected, impressive, or otherwise about The Assistant?

  • The ending is unresolved and abstruse. Perhaps we expected Jane to take the moral high road and quit, lodge more formal complaints about her boss in-house and to the authorities or the media, or get fired for doing so. Instead, the movie suggests a much more realistic conclusion: The assistant probably ignores the problem henceforth and benefits by moving up the corporate ladder. After all, this is what most workers and enablers do who are privy to unscrupulous acts by their superiors, and this is why many workplace predators get away with it.
  • To the film’s betterment or detriment, most of the scenes shown and events depicted are relatively mundane and unexciting as drivers of the plot. We follow one day in the life of an entry-level worker and witness the minutia and humdrum aspects of her job and the occasional small details that signify much bigger underlying conflicts.
    • Film critic Sheila O’Malley wrote: “So many films over-explain themselves, so many scripts make sure they lead us by the hand, so many films don't trust us as viewers. In Bombshell…Fox News commentator Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) looks right at the camera, telling us how things operated at the network. In the same film, Kate McKinnon's character also has a monologue, looping us into the modus operandi of that hermetically-sealed sick world. These monologues ‘catch us up.’ The Assistant doesn't go that route, and it is a far stronger film for it. Instead, we just hear the whispers, murmurs, snickers; we hear the tail-end of conversations and we put two and two together, just as Jane does. We know that an earring on the floor isn't enough to bring down a bad man. But we also know that Jane senses correctly. Something is very very wrong.”
  • Interestingly, we are never shown the boss in full, or his face, or given his name. This allows us to use our imaginations and project any face and name we choose upon the character. We can deduce that he is a Harvey Weinstein-like figure who is physically unhealthy (a diabetic who needs insulin), tyrannical, and terrifyingly powerful. Before making this film, director Kitty Green carefully interviewed people about the work culture at Miramax, Weinstein’s film production company; the office and the boss are modeled on Miramax.
  • There is very little musical accompaniment. Occasionally, a quiet score will surface to underscore the emotional conflict felt by Jane and us.

Major themes

  • The moral imperative to seek justice for a suspected wrongdoing or crime. Jane strongly suspects that her boss coerces young women to engage in sexual activity in exchange for favors, hirings, and other perks. Her option of immediate recourse is to bring the matter to the attention of human resources, but she quickly learns that they are in the predator’s corner, and she will be punished or fired for lodging a formal complaint.
  • Evil is allowed to persist when good people do nothing. This is primarily a film about the culpability and complicity of enablers who turn a blind eye to higher executives and employers' predatory and manipulative behaviors. At this film production company, Jane may be at the bottom of the hierarchical totem pole, but she feels an obligation to speak up about perceived sexual impropriety. However, she backs off from her complaint when she realizes the price she will have to pay for pursuing justice: being fired and likely blackballed from the film industry.
  • The challenges of being an entry-level worker and a woman in a male-dominated business. The Assistant goes to great length to show us, with even the minutest of details, how soul-sucking, demeaning, and demanding her job is. She’s the first one in and the last one out, often performing duties beyond her pay scale and skill set, such as serving as a housekeeper, interfacing between the boss and his angry wife, and functioning as foul play fixer and arranger.
  • The degree to which you are willing to compromise your principles, integrity, and ethics for career advancement. By the end of the picture, Jane has apparently decided to suck it up and remain silent and continue to work for a despicable boss and a shady company where everyone else is also aware of the dirty deeds being committed by the man in charge. She will likely suffer innumerable indignities, belittlements, beratement, and crises of conscience under his command but probably will eventually become the producer she aspires to be while never being sexually victimized by the boss.
  • Toxic masculinity and unhealthy corporate culture.

Similar works

  • Bombshell
  • Never Rarely Sometimes Always
  • On the Record
  • The Reckoning: Hollywood's Worst Kept Secret
  • Untouchable
  • Oleanna

Other films by Kitty Green

  • Ukraine is Not a Brothel
  • Casting Jon Binet

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