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?

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.

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Plot: Really? You don’t know? I’m not sure it’s my job or place to fill you in on this one.

Best Moment: It hit me upon this particular viewing that when the Fearsome Foursome first appear before the wizard asking for brains, heart, courage, and a ticket home, the task he gives them will accomplish three of the four requests. Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion can’t rescue Dorothy without brains, heart, or courage. When Dorothy is imprisoned and sees Auntie Em looking for her, she realizes the value of home, so in a sense, even Dorothy’s wish is somewhat fulfilled. It just made me think that sometimes we might be wanting a skill or trait and not realize how the tasks set before us actually develop what we want.

Worst Moment: At the end credits when everyone is named, except the Munchkins, who are reduced to “The Singer Midgets.” Oof.

Fun Facts: This was the first time I watched this film from start to finish, and the first time I watched it without commercial interruptions.

I love how this film has manifested in other popular culture texts, but my absolute favorites are these: Harry Connick, Jr. singing “If I Only Had A Brain,” and Scrubs’ 100th episode, directed by Zach Braff.

Recommendation: Oh come on. See it. It’s an American treasure. And then listen to this:

Gone With the Wind (1939)

I’m back with movie reviews this week, and what a movie to make a return with. Four hours of racism, misogyny, more racism, and one of the worst female characters ever to grace the big screen!

Plot: It is April 1861 and life is oh so good for Scarlett O’Hara. All the boys love her, including Ashley Wilkes, but when Scarlett finds out Ashley plans to propose to Melanie Hamilton, Scarlett is incensed that Ashley chose someone other than herself. While the film takes us through the Civil War and Reconstruction, the core plot is really about Scarlett’s inability to let go of the one thing she couldn’t have–even though she married three times (once for spite, once for money, once for love…I think). It’s not until the end of the film that she realizes what a waste her life has been, pining for Ashley, and Scarlett is utterly alone. Her sisters hate her, her parents are dead, her daughter is dead, the only person to be a friend to her is also dead, and her estranged husband leaves her for good. Yet somehow the film has an air of hope at the end.

Best Moment(s): While I find plenty about this film to be problematic, it really is a visually beautiful film to watch. The color had to be stunning to audiences used to mostly black and white films, the score is lush, the costumes almost made me long for late 19th-century fashion to make a comeback. The script itself is decent, but it’s Rhett Butler’s lines that zing nearly every time he opens his mouth. About halfway through the film, I realized the only lines I’d jotted down came from Rhett.

Worst Moment(s): It’s so tough to choose just one here. Is it the villainizing of the North, every time an insert title appeared on screen? Is it Rhett’s implied rape of Scarlett near the end of the film? Is it every single time Scarlett opens her mouth and reveals how truly awful she is? Is it the constant racism, and the appearance of longing for a return to slavery in the opening title? Pick one. It’s bad.

Here’s some alternate titles I thought of:

“Gone With the Wind”
or
“Scarlett O’Hara is the Worst…But Also Not The Worst”
or
“Co-dependent Relationships: A Cautionary Tale”
or
“If The War Won’t Kill You, The Fallout Will”

Rhett Butler’s Best Lines: While “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” is so cemented in our consciousness, people who’ve never seen the movie quote it, Rhett has some amazing lines. Here’s some of my favorites.

  1. With enough courage, you can do without a reputation.
  2. You should be kissed and often and by someone who knows how.
  3. Mr. Wilkes, who is mentally unfaithful to his wife, but can’t bring himself to be technically unfaithful.
  4. In response to Scarlett finally declaring she loves him, he responds, “Well that’s your misfortune.”

Fun Fact: Hattie McDaniel, who played Mammy in the film, won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress that year. The awards ceremony was held in a segregated hotel, and she was not allowed to sit with her castmates for the ceremony. Here’s her acceptance speech:


 

Recommendation: Truly, this is a must-see when it comes to American cinema. I would hope that audiences today would be quite discomfited by the sympathetic portrayal of the South–and that’s something we should all sit with a bit.

For some context, check out this timeline of when Confederate monuments were built. D.W. Griffith’s ode to the South, slavery, and racism “Birth of a Nation” had debuted just 24 years earlier. Take a look at that timeline again. Notice when the biggest surge was in building Confederate monuments. And just 24 years later, we get “Gone With the Wind.”

I know, I know–correlation is not causation. But the media we consume does, in part, construct our world view. My hope is that 2018 viewers of “Gone With The Wind” see just how problematic it is, and are moved to do whatever they can to end racism and injustice in their little corner of the world.

I checked the Googles, and I’m not alone in finding the film problematic. Here’s some additional reading about this film and grappling with its place in our collective history.

From the L.A. Times

From Vulture