Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Citizen Kane (1941, Movie Review)

       Every once in a while, there’s a movie that re-shapes the way we view art, and in the world of Hollywood cinema, there’s countless visionary masterminds that would helm unforgettable film projects  that reshaped the way we view movies. Filmmakers like Stanly Kubrick, Steven Spielberg and James Cameron have all left an eternal mark on filmmaking, and have turned out some of cinema’s most legendary motion pictures. However, before any of them took the spot light, there was a young filmmaker named Orson Wells who was one of the very first to change the way we look at movies. His 1941 classic titled “Citizen Kane” is often regarded as one of the greatest movies of all time, if not the greatest movie of all time. Now of course people can have their own point of view on a film, but whether you think it’s a masterpiece or not, one thing is certain, this was a huge game changer, and it revolutionized the world of movie making in a way that phew other movies did before.

       Here’s the premise in a nutshell, Charles Foster Kane was one of the wealthiest and most powerful newspaper tycoons of the time, but be was also a man surrounded in mystery and intrigue. Then on his death bed, his final spoken words get the attention of a news reporter who believes that his final word might give some insight on what kind of man Charles Kane really was. So the young news reporter goes around interviewing different people that had an impact on Kane’s life, and gradually we see the full story of Mr. Kane unfold from the perspective of these various people. It’s a fascinating character study as we witness the rise and fall of this publishing tycoon. At first he comes off like an idealistic social service man with great ambitions, but gradually he evolves into a ruthless miser who pursues power. Pretty soon, we see his real miserable self that didn’t disserve the amount of praise and attention he had previously achieved.  

      Orson Welles plays Mr. Kane and he does a respectable job in the role, and I always love a story of one man’s deterioration from point A to point B. It actually gets to a point where Mr. Kane doesn’t even seem to know what he wants, he just does things to prove he has power. Why spend a fortune on building a giant castle and fill it with a huge collection of statues, because he can, and he wants nothing more than the whole world to love and admire him for his accomplishments. Without spoiling too much, we learn that his final spoken words represent his biggest and deepest regret, something that was taken from him way too soon, and he was never able to recover from it.

     The story when laid out on paper may sound very direct, and maybe even a touch average. However, the reason this film was such a big deal wasn’t just for the story alone, it’s was for how artistically the story was told and conveyed. Seriously, no other film at the time had such an artistic and crafty direction. The people who knew Kane always regarded him as someone larger than life, so when Kane is on screen, it’s often in the style of a low angle shot, making his presence come off as large, abusive and commanding. There’s also a heavy use of shadows, gothic angles and a really heavy atmosphere, much like a film noir. I always liked to believe that the heavy shadows were symbolic for the darkness on the horizon. Case in point, there’s a scene when Mr. Kane gives a big election speech in which he’s in the spot light, this is his shining moment, but the audience and everyone around him are shrouded in darkness. Then in the following scene, we see something really serious affect Kane, and change the way we perceive him throughout the rest of the film. It’s in this scene that it’s Kane who’s entirely in the shadows, while everyone around him is bathed in light. 

      That’s the beauty of this film, its overall look and direction could have easily been written off as style over substance, but on the contrary, this style is part of the dramatic story telling. Here’s another example of the film’s artistic quality being used to tell the story and convey the drama. When Kane first married, he and his with were very close, as emphasized through a small dinner table that keeps them sitting very close to one another. But over the course of many years, we see that table grow longer and longer, establishing that Kane and his wife are drifting farther and farther apart. This is only one example, the film really is chock full of subtle visuals that convey an important aspect of the story. Even by today’s standards, every shot in this movie is unbelievable to look at. I’m really glad this came out in the 40’s because I couldn’t imagine this film conveying the same effect if it was in color. It really has to be seen in Black and White, and the heavy shadows just add to the cob wonder that the film has to offer.  

     Another innovative technique this film conveyed was multiple narrators. Rather than have a linier back-story from one perspective, we see how he’s perceived from the points of view from several people, and as such the overall look and tone of the character changes with each flashback. This movie also incorporated a fake news real, which was unheard of at the time. Most of Kane’s story is given to us in the begging though a long news real that chronicles his life, a trend that many other films would attempt to replicate. Symbolism is also incorporated through jigsaw puzzles, as the news reporter is trying to piece together Kane's story, the people in Kane's life are trying to understand him, and to emphasize this, we commonly see the characters trying to piece together huge jigsaw puzzles.     

      I should note that the film is loosely based on real life publishing tycoons William Randolph Hearst, Samuel Insull and Harold McCormick, who all took some offence to this film. Hearst in particular was so taken back from this film that he refused mention the film in any form or fashion in his newspapers. I personally don’t think that Orson Welle’s had any animosity toured Hearst, he just wanted to tell a captivating tail of a tycoons rise and fall in power, in fact Welles incorporated aspects of his own life and experiences into this film. Never the less, the film was admittedly an initial box office bomb at the time do to its lack of marketing and newspaper headlines, despite strong critical reception. Over the years, it has aged masterfully and gained a reputation as a land mark achievement.

      Now do I personally think this is one of the absolute greatest movies ever made ... no, but it’s undeniably a great movie in its own right, and is deservedly called a classic. People may go into this movie with unreasonably high expectations and then walk away from it saying “that’s it, I expected more”, which can happen when a movie gets such a huge reputation. Weather you think the movie is perfect or not, there’s no denying that this movie revolutionized the art of filming and pioneered new techniques that many future films would draw heavy inspiration from. It looks amazing, it’s an entertaining yet poignant character study, and it’s still very innovative in its story telling. Take that for what it’s worth, and if you have the time, check the movie that many regard as one of the greatest films of all time.

                                  I personally give “Citizen Kane” 4 ½ stars out of 5. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

My Top 10 favorite Bad Guys Turned Good

In movies and TV shows, character development isn’t limited to just the heroes. Villain’s in particular have a tendency to steal the show, but personally my favorite kind of villain is one who goes through a reformation story. One that starts off as evil as can be, then has a change of heart, proving redemption is possible and completes a personal story arch. It’s one of the best feelings that a movie or TV show can convey when we see sworn enemies become close friends, and here are my personal top 10 favorite bad guys turned good.

#10. John Silver from Disney’s “Treasure Planet” 

John Silver from the classic Novel Treasure Island has always been a staple in the line of complex villains, and it this portal from Disney’s adaption that always stuck with me the most. At first he’s just a greedy pirate that’s only concerned with getting treasure, but then he meets our lead hero named Jim Hawkins, and things begin to change. John Silver begins to take the place of a father that was never there for Jim, and even teaches him some good moral values. Then we see John Silver struggling between his obsession of getting his hands on the gold and honestly wanting to help Jim with his personal problems. He see’s in Jim the young man he used to be and genuinely wants to help Jim make a good future for himself instead of wasting it on greed like he has. This makes John Silver a more dimensional character than most of Disney’s classic villain’s and his reformation at the end is about as touching as they get.  

#9 The Grinch from “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” 

He was as cuddly as a cactus, as charming as an eel, and the biggest monster that would stop at nothing to ruin everyone’s favorite holiday, just for the sake of being nasty. Of course he reaches an epiphany in the end and realizes just how wrong he was in judging the holiday and those who celebrate it. Seeing this miserable creature open up to the light of Christmas is simply one of the warmest feel good moments I’ve ever seen any character go through, and it makes him a more then welcome addition for my countdown.  

#8 Doctor Octopus from “Spider-Man 2” 

The Spider-Man series has had several touching tails of hero’s turned good including Harry Osborn’s reformation in “Spider-man 3” and even Venoms reformation in the animated Spider-Man series from the 90’s. But the most touching and memorable in my opinion is that of Doctor Octopus from “Spider-Man 2”. He did all the evil things you’d associate with an super villain, but somewhere deep down is a good scientist with a continence, and one willing to give his own life to save the city from the very dooms day weapon he created. It’s really the subtlety of this villain’s transformation that really gets to me. Before making his big sacrifice play, he and Spider-Man exchange a look which just sums up every “I’m sorry for what I’ve done” and “Thank you for saving me” all at once, and I personally think it’s one of the most powerful moments of the series.    

#7 Megamind from DreamWorks “Megamind” 

He was once a super villain that did every sinister thing a super villain could do, and worse, right down to killing the superhero who protects the city from evil. Once the city belongs to him, he realizes that he losses a part of himself, and when he unintentionally creates a new super villain who's even worse, Megamind has more than a change of heart, he has a serious change of character as he takes the place of a superhero. It’s a change of heart story that’s every bit as touching as it is clever and funny.   

#6 Apollo Creed from the “Rocky series” 

In the beginning Apollo was just an ego driven celebrity that just wanted fame, attention and the chance to humiliate his boxing rival Rocky Balboa. However, over the course of the series, Apollo has more than a change of attitude, he actually begins to respect Rocky so much that he becomes the boxer’s new instructor, personal continence and lifelong friend. It’s one of the most touching and downright cheerful tails of enemy turned ally, and more then fitting for this countdown. 


#5 Scrooge from “A Christmas Carol” 

No matter which version you go by, the story of Ebenezer Scrooge is one of the most enduring and downright heartwarming redemption tails of all time. This grumpy old miser just couldn’t get into the spirit of the holiday and made sure that everyone was just as miserable as her was. Through some serious soul searching from his past, present and future he was finally able to let the warmth of the holiday touch his soul, and everyone turned out better for it. It’s such a timeless tail, with a rich message and one of the most famous literary characters of all time.

#4 Magneto from the “X-Men Franchise” 

Villains don’t get any better than Magneto, he’s a formidable opponent with an awesome power but beyond all of that, this is a very special kind of villain that honestly believes he’s doing the right thing and that these are the actions that all his fellow mutants should be doing. It doesn’t justify what he does but it makes you except the fact that there are no limits to the things he can do, get away with and why he doses them. However, he’s also one of the phew villains who doesn’t hate his adversaries, in fact it tares him up inside to go to war against some of his closest friends. So when he finally abides by the rules of “if you can’t beat them join them”, it makes for a very special reunion between long lost friends. The resent movie “X-Men: Days of future Past” is the perfect example of how whiling he was to follow the X-Men and their cause just to be there at the side of his closest friend Professor X. In both the animated TV series and many of the comics, Magneto has been depicted as taking over leadership of the X-Men after the fall of Professor X, just to ensure the his friends legacy and goals didn’t die with him. 

#3 The T-800 Terminator from the “Terminator Franchise” 

One of cinemas most legendary villains turned hero comes in the form of a robotic assassin with a strong sense of humanity. In the original, the T-800 had one mission in life, and that was to mercilessly kill anyone that was a threat to his future in which robots dominated the world. But then in the sequel, this violent cyborg discovered the value of human life, become a father figure to the young boy he was supposed to kill, and in the tradition of any hero, he valiantly gives up his life for the good of all man kind ... now that’s what you call a bad guy turned good.   

#2 Darth Vader from the “Star Wars” franchise 

Like I even need to go into much detail about Darth Vader. For three movies strait, he was the galaxy’s greatest threat, then turned a new leaf and ultimately saved the whole universe at large while sacrificing his own life in the process. His transformation from good to evil is still one of the greatest story arc’s in film history, and one that still touches audiences on a deep and meaningful level. I really don’t think I need to say any more, I mean come on ... it’s Darth Vader.  

Before I reveal my Number 1 pick, here are my Honorable mentions ... 

Quicksilver & Scarlet Witch from "Avengers: Age of Ultron"
Diago from "Ice Age"
Terra from "Teen Titans
Snape from "The Harry Potter series
Fletcher Reed from "Liar Liar"

Now I could have easily put either Darth Vader, Magneto or the Terminator in the #1 spot, as their all disserving of it, but that would have also been really predictable, so I’m giving the honorable #1 spot to a lesser known character who deserves the honor just as much as any of the previous characters, and here he is ...  

#1 Prince Zuko from “Avatar the Last Air Bender” 

 Taking the top spot on my list is one of my favorite animated characters of all time, from one of the greatest TV shows of all time. Prince Zuko is the main antagonist of the first season of “Avatar: The Last Air Bender”, and was a bad as they got as he pursued the shows hero’s in an effort to hunt down and kill “The Chosen One”. His soul reasoning is to restore his honor after a mistake that forced him to be exiled from his family. While I’ve seen tragic villains before, there’s so much more substance and intrigue that goes into this character. He dose bad things but with honorable intentions instead of greed, and throughout the show we see him go through some huge changes. In season two he becomes an anti hero who just needs to find his place in the world while also battling his personal demons that corrupt his soul. Then in season 3 he becomes a hero who gradually gains friendship among our hero’s. Watching this banished prince go from menacing villain, to anti hero, to champion has been an awesome experience, and I just loved watching him slowly gain acceptance and friendship among the shows team of protagonists. It’s one of the shows biggest highlights, and one of the most captivating stories of evil turned good I’ve ever seen.