Citizen Kane (1941)

Plot: Charles Foster Kane has died, and his final word was “Rosebud.” Everyone clamors to know if this word held the key to understanding the former media-mogul-turned-recluse. So we get a series of flashbacks that explain Kane’s life.

Best Moment: I mean, with Gregg Toland as cinematographer, the entire movie is a best moment. There’s not a frame that doesn’t appear to be shot and lit with painstaking thought and detail. There’s a reason why Citizen Kane repeatedly shows up as the best film ever made. It really is a piece of art.

Worst Moment: Every single time I watch this movie, I fall asleep, and that includes the time that I took a small group of students to the local non-profit cinema for a free screening. I don’t know what it is about this movie that puts me to sleep, but it doesn’t matter where I see it or whether I feel rested: this film is chloroform to me at any given moment.

Epiphanies: For all the hand-wringing and pearl-clutching we all do about “journalists these days” or “capitalism is destroying our democracy” or any number of connections between media, politics, and everyday life, we sure have short memories. Perhaps this is also part of what makes the film so good–its themes are timeless.

Fun Facts: This film was edited by Robert Wise, who 20 years later would direct West Side Story and The Sound of Music. Also, spoiler, if you didn’t know, Rosebud was his childhood sled. And if you haven’t seen Season 5, Episode 4 of The Simpsons, well, it’s a direct parody of Citizen Kane. Worth your time.

Recommendation: See it. Every time I watch it, I am blown away by the precision of every shot and that alone is worth your time, even if you fall asleep at some point.

Winter Break Movie Roundup

So I watched a lot of movies over break, and on Wednesday, I return to the Warner Bros. project I started last summer. But before then, I thought I’d give some quick reviews of movies I saw over break.

A Star is Born: I did not think Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga could do better than Judy Garland. And yet…I daresay this version is my favorite of them all.

Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse:  DELIGHTFUL. I grinned the entire length of the film. Hands down, my favorite Spider-Man movie ever.

Mary Poppins Returns: Good enough, given the pressure on Rob Marshall, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and of course Emily Blunt. I liked it for what it was, and I’m glad I saw it, but I don’t foresee an addition to my personal film library with this one.

Second Act: I really liked this one, and mad props to the marketing team here because there’s a MAJOR twist that was absent from all trailers (though I guessed it about 10 minutes before the reveal). Nice feel-good film.

Hearts Beat Loud: This one was on Hulu, one that I wanted to see over the summer but ran out of time. Nice coming-of-age story that is not only about a child coming of age, but also her father. Great music.

Juliet, Naked: I loved this book, and it had been long enough since I’d read it that I couldn’t remember any disappointing “Hey, that’s not how it happened” moments. I got to enjoy the film and story for the medium it was, and I liked it.

Minding the Gap: This is a documentary that I’d wanted to see at Film Streams but never got to. It’s on Hulu, and I thought it was going to be about skateboarding. And maybe that was the filmmaker’s initial intention, but it ended up being a harrowing commentary on poverty, abuse, and toxic masculinity, and when the credits rolled, my first thought was that every teacher needs to see this film.

Dumplin’: On Netflix. See it. Now. It is charming, has a great message, and might make you cry at least twice.

Harry Potter, 1-5: While I was calendaring January for all my classes I teach, I needed a marathon of some sorts, so I went with HP. Which was great until I got to Order of the Phoenix and Dolores Umbridge showed up. Her character and Hogwarts rules were just not fictional enough for me given the current political and educational climate. Plus I’m hyper-sensitive to the whole idea of evil grabbing any toehold in the world right now, so I quit those movies.

Hunger Games, 90 minutes of Catching Fire: TNT had a marathon one of the days of break, and I’d not seen these since I saw them in theaters, so I gave it a shot. How in the world these movies got PG-13 ratings is evidence of what we value as a society. You might notice there’s some R-rated films on my list here, and each one of them it’s because they crossed the f-word threshold of two. Not nudity, not gratuitous sex, a four-letter word, and definitely not two-plus hours of adults manipulating children to kill other children. I gave up halfway through Catching Fire because I could not take the violence anymore. Which makes the next marathon a bit ironic, I’m aware.

Mission: Impossible, 1-6: Okay, so what makes this violence different? First, it’s blowing stuff up and Tom Cruise finding new ways to break his bones. There’s not a high body count. Second, it’s not children killing other children. I know, I’m being choosy with what I tolerate when it comes to violence in my movies, but the MI movies are just over-the-top enough that it doesn’t seem real. Anyway. Tom Cruise is a national treasure, ages so very well, and what I loved most, watching these back to back, was to see the subtle non-verbals he used with each subsequent movie to communicate he knew he was probably a bit too old to be doing what he’s doing. But he’s Tom Cruise, so he’s gonna do it anyway. Très fun.

What about you? See any good movies over the break?

After This…

How many times in my life have I said “after this…” then I would be able to do the things I’ve always wanted?

I set goals, I long for change, yet the day-to-day spirals beyond my control. The lie I tell myself, the lie we all tell ourselves at one point or another, is “after this…then I’ll be able to do that.”

As if life will somehow slow down or stop entirely, allowing us to engage in a Thoreau-like existence of meditation and self-improvement in wood cabin, off the grid, away from society.

I caught myself thinking “after this…” today, as I once again face down three months of rehearsals and individual practice time for the musical, while still teaching, while overseeing a student news organization and co-managing sports broadcasts, while still serving at church, while still maintaining relationships.

“After March,” I caught myself thinking. As if March and the end of the musical didn’t signal a chain of interviewing journalists for next year’s staffs, or commence soccer and baseball broadcasts, or who knows what else. Life won’t get easier in March. Or April. Or May.

Even in the summer, though I’m not tied to as strict a schedule, the days and weeks somehow fill and I catch myself saying “after summer…”

I’m sure life has been like this for a while now, a constant stream of responsibilities and personal pursuits, at times quarreling for my attention because I say to one, “After this…” and ignore the other. For some reason—age? experience? necessity?—I’m grasping more fully the reality that “after this…” doesn’t exist.

Each year as people start making and sharing resolutions, whether it’s setting SMART goals or selecting a word to live by or scribbling a bucket list of longed-for accomplishments, I am tempted to join in. As if “after December 31” will signal a complete change of character and I’ll be wealthier, thinner, smarter, more productive, or less single in 365 days.

Instead, I’m shifting my paradigm in 2019: eradicating the trap of “after this…”

I need to embrace the 14-hour days as evidence I am physically and mentally healthy enough to handle that kind of load. I need to look at my calendar objectively, and find the pockets of time that appear—and then fill those pockets with endeavors that don’t include time-wasting vortices. I need to say yes a bit more often to friends and family, to view that time spent as energizing (because it almost always is).

“After this…”, I’ve learned, is a surefire way to collect a few regrets. So if you are also feeling the pull to start something new, as many do with the advent of a new year, I have two suggestions:

  1. Do things.
  2. Don’t wait until January 1.

The Philadelphia Story (1940)

Plot: Tracy Lord is getting married to George Kittredge, someone way beneath her social station, and Spy Magazine wants all the scoops. So Spy sends writer Mike Connor (Mike is short for Macaulay, decades before any Culkins slapped their own faces), and photographer Elizabeth Imbrie to capture the festivities. Tracy’s ex-husband C.K. Dexter Haven escorts the pair as a Spy liaison (and low-key blackmailer), and in the course of about 24 hours, the three Spy employees manage to unravel the pending nuptials.

Best Moment: When Mike and Liz first show up, Tracy and her little sister Dinah put on the show of shows for them. It is hilarious. Dinah literally performs–walking on her pointe slippers, speaking French, and ending with a vocal performance while she plays the piano. Pretty much anytime Dinah opens her mouth, I’m a fan.

Worst Moment: In the opening scene of the film, Tracy is chasing Dexter out of the house, throwing things at his feet, breaking one of his golf clubs. In return. Dexter shoves Tracy through the doorway back into the house. I know I’ve seen this movie before, but I don’t remember that opening scene. It jarred me on this viewing, especially having been shoved through a doorway by someone much bigger than me.

Epiphanies: My unpopular opinion: I don’t like this movie. I find Tracy insufferable. I don’t think it’s romantic (Rotten Tomatoes ranks it as the 3rd best Romantic Comedy of all time). I find Dexter incredibly presumptuous to think Tracy would want to remarry him mere hours after breaking off the engagement to George.

If anything, this film reminds me of this quote from Mindy Kaling:

“I simply regard romantic comedies as a subgenre of sci-fi, in which the world created therein has different rules than my regular human world.”

And maybe I just wasn’t in the mood for a rom-com-sci-fi flick when I popped this one in the DVD player. It’s not exactly the time of year when I’m feeling particularly hopeful about anything related to relationships, so I fully admit I was not in a good headspace while watching.

Recommendation: Well, it is on the National Film Registry and it is on AFI’s list of the 100 greatest films of all time, and if the only Jimmy Stewart film you’ve seen is “It’s A Wonderful Life,” then you owe it to yourself to see him play a completely different character from George Bailey. Plus, Stewart won the Academy Award that year for Best Supporting Actor, so it’s worth your time just for him.