Monthly Archives: February 2012

Late to the Oscars! A review of Citizen Kane

poster for Citizen Kane

Citizen Kane

[Editor’s note: In the month of February I am reviewing several Oscar-nominated and Oscar-winning movies that I haven’t seen.

Citizen Kane (1941) was nominated for:

It was widely thought the film would win most of the awards it was nominated for, but it only won the Best Writing (Original Screenplay) Oscar.]

Prologue by Ian T. McFarland:

Citizen Kane is not the best movie of all time.

The American Film Institute would disagree, having placed it in the top spot in both its original and redo on the 100 Best Movies of All Time list.  And the general zeitgeist of film criticism would be on the same page – how many times do you hear the phrase, “It’s not Citizen Kane, but. . .” when describing an average movie?  (The answer is too often.)  But, at least as far as my opinion is concerned, Citizen Kane is far from the greatest thing ever.

There.  Now that we have that out of the way, you can appreciate Citizen Kane for what it is – a great movie that is eclipsed by its importance.

Orson Welles isn’t remembered all that kindly anymore, so it may be a surprise to find that he was considered the next big thing in the world of theatre when he was barely older than a teenager.  At the age of twenty-five (twenty-five!), Hollywood co-opted him in a deal that gave him complete artistic freedom – something that even today’s A-List directors like David Fincher and Christopher Nolan could never get from a studio.  The result was Citizen Kane – his first movie, and a liberatingly different take on what the medium of cinema was capable of.

Coming out of a Hollywood system that churned out product like Grade B meat, here was a film that used the camera like a paint brush instead of a documenting tool. The film didn’t just look good, the cinematography was real artwork. But at the center of Kane is, well, Kane – an unconventional protagonist that isn’t particularly likable or even all that moral. None of that matters, though – what makes the film is the enigma of the character, not just what Rosebud was, but what it meant to him.

These ingredients make for a great film, but more importantly they were ingredients that were never used so radically before. Citizen Kane isn’t the greatest movie of all time, but could well be the most important.

LTTM review:

Phew. I couldn’t have asked for a better review from Ian for several reasons, mostly that it takes the pressure off of me.

My excuse for missing more recent classics like Wayne’s World and Big Lebowski, even Top Gun, has been my family. We rarely went to the movie theatre growing up, so what we watched on the weekends was whatever my dad brought home from Video Library (RIP). He loves old movies, so that’s what we watched. Why haven’t I seen Citizen Kane, one of the most famous “old movies” of ever ever ever? I’d like to blame my parents for this atrocity, but I’ve been out on my own for nine years and I need to be accountable for my poor life decisions. In addition to my love for movies made before 1980, I have visited the Hearst Castle and obsessively read Hearst biographies for months after my trip. What is wrong with me? Why have I avoided this for so long?

Truthfully, it goes back to what I’ve said before about hype. With the #1 ranking on the AFI list and repeated acclaim from every ill-informed and pretentious film student (why I will probably never watch 400 Blows), I anticipated being disappointed and knew my expectations would never be met.

In a way, I was right. Citizen Kane is not the greatest film I’ve ever seen. But I feel like my skepticism led me to be more realistic and I ended up enjoying the movie a lot more that I thought I would.

Citizen Kane is not without its flaws.  Aside from Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten (who has always been a favorite of mine, thanks to his role in Shadow of a Doubt), I thought the acting was atrocious. I tend to harp on female actors but I am not sure I’ve seen a female performance worse than the one by the actress who played Susan Alexander (and maybe that was done on purpose, since she was panned for her terrible operatic acting). Also, I suppose that the makeup in the movie was “ahead of its time,” but I couldn’t help but get flashbacks of the terrible makeup on Leonardo DiCaprio in J. Edgar. Ick.

Unfortunately Rosebud’s identity is one of the worst kept secrets in cinema history, a la Keyser Söze (I still haven’t seen that movie), but I found the plot very interesting and well-developed (and I expected to be very bored). The structure of the film– beginning with Kane’s death, the news reels and the journalist’s initial investigation into “Rosebud,” followed primarily by flashbacks– was extremely entertaining. This same plot executed in a more linear fashion would have made for a very boring movie. I also loved the cinematography– particularly the highlights of Xanadu, portrayed as an almost haunted and evil mansion. And overall, I thought Orson Welles did a tremendous job. He really has the most soothing voice, doesn’t he? I would never have freaked out at his radio narration of War of the Worlds because his voice would have put me to sleep (in a good way). I don’t know if I’ve been heavily influenced by Welles’s age and theatrical accomplishments, but I thought his acting and directing was superb.

Face palm moment: I’ve never seen Orson Welles in anything, nor have I heard the War of the Worlds recording. I’m not sure that this warrants a face palm. Maybe it does.

Favorite part: See below.

The “I missed that in pop culture trivia” moment: I feel like THE ABSOLUTE WORST for not knowing this GIF came from Citizen Kane. I’m terrible.


Regrettable tardiness scale (out of 10): 7/10. I suppose my review is more harsh than I really felt. I enjoyed the movie quite a bit, but definitely disagree with the #1 ranking it regularly receives. My BFF Roger Ebert has Citizen Kane ranked as #14 on his official “top movies” list and I’d agree more with that ranking.


Late to the Oscars! A review of Rocky

[Editor’s note: In the month of February I am reviewing several Oscar-nominated and Oscar-winning movies that I haven’t seen. Rocky received ten nominations in nine categories in 1976 and won three:

Prologue by Jason:

If I asked you to tell me the first thing you think of when you think of Rocky, I’m willing to bet that you’d talk about boxing, at least, or sports in the broader sense. And I think that’d be a shame, because Rocky is much different from every sequel that followed and had quite a bit more to the story than the gloves. It’s understandable, because everyone else talks about Rocky that way; my friend Andy can’t think about Rocky without thinking about Rocky IV and Dolph Lundgren’s thighs. To be fair, that scene with Drago using the leg weight machine is definitely the best leg-weight-machine-scene in cinema history, but the script was written by a 5-year-old with crayons.

Truth is, Rocky is basically a love story about a boxer with some good boxing scenes thrown in. A large portion of this movie is focused on the awkward, sad, pathetic romance brewing between two complete losers who end up together because there’s no one else that will date them. Undoubtedly, no one likes to think about their love blossoming because 1976 Sly Stallone isn’t making any panties wet enough to drown a toddler in. Except for Adrian’s panties, I guess, which probably had little pictures of animals on them, or maybe were those solid gray Hanes panties that Women’s Studies majors wear. Anyway, even the original theatre poster supports the point that Stallone wrote this movie with love in his heart. I’m sure you know he wrote the script, but I’m not sure I believe it. I kinda think he had a Matt Damon to his Ben Affleck, but Sly locked him in a basement for the past three decades to guard copies of The Lords of Flatbush.

Sure, “Yo Adrian! I did it!” comes to your mind when you think of Rocky. Many of the memorable scenes from Rocky aren’t the love story scenes, though. Running up the stairs, training sessions with Mick, and the fight. I think those have probably stuck with people the most. The fight scene is actually inspired by a famous fight between Muhammad Ali and Chuck Wepner, in which Wepner goes 15 rounds to surprise everyone before getting TKO’d by Ali, and it really is a fantastic end to the movie. Carl Weathers as Apollo is the perfect complement to Rocky in one of his earliest roles, before he really shines in Predator. And I loved the build up to the final scene with the training segments and the every-man persona that Stallone gives the character. It always makes Rocky out to be an underdog toward the end of the film, and it almost feels like a realistic portrayal. But the rest of the Rocky movies after this one are boxing movies with terrible non-boxing back stories, and this is the only one you should see if you can only see one.

I’m only surprised Laura hasn’t seen it because she has a thing for black guys that look like Carl Weathers.

LTTM review:

For the record, Jason, I was a strategic communications major but there’s something to be said about a nice, gray pair of Hanes. They are comfortable and I can buy, like, fifty of them at Target for $1.

So I was never interested in Rocky because I don’t like boxing. I don’t like watching dudes hit each other for hours, I don’t understand the scoring, I’m unimpressed by the silk shorts and Mike Tyson scares me. The sports movies I tend to enjoy are always about teams doing the unexpected, or contain a plot or lesson where the sport is secondary to something much bigger (“hey dad, you wanna have a catch?”). Because Rocky was written by Sly Stallone, and because I assumed he was a brainless meathead, I assumed it wouldn’t be deeper than a boxing match and never cared to watch it.

This movie should require a warning: NOT ABOUT BOXING. If I knew that, I would’ve seen it years ago. And it appears as though everyone who loves this movie knows that it’s not about boxing, so WHY DIDN’T ANYONE TELL ME THAT?

I really loved this movie, and like Jason I have a hard time believing that Stallone actually wrote the screenplay. To me, Rocky is about two things: love, and the underdog. As a closet romantic, I found the love story very sweet– Rocky pursues Adrian although she is very shy and seems uninterested at first, but she can’t help but fall in love with him. She even buys him a dog (Butkus!). I love that sort of thing way more than any modern-day lazy rom com.

It feels like such a cliché to say this, but Rocky’s underdog story completely drew me in. Rocky is a bum, he is totally out of shape, and even though there are people like Mickey who believe Rocky could be an incredible boxer he’s never put in the effort to get there. I love the two different scenes where he climbs the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art: the first scene has a slower, sadder version of Gonna Fly Now and Rocky is completely out of breath when he reaches the top; the second scene has the upbeat, inspiring music playing as Rocky runs quickly up the stairs and pumps his arms victoriously. When I ran my first 5k back in November with Kevin, he told me that he had downloaded the Rocky theme song to listen to as he ran and I admit that I thought it was a little goofy. Now that I’ve seen Rocky, I get it and I’ll be adding it to my 5k soundtrack.

I have to admit that, even though I don’t like boxing, I appreciated the fight scene. It’s disgusting as can be (HE ASKS FOR HIS EYELID TO BE SLICED OPEN, HOLY CRAP) but you can really feel how painful and tiresome the fight is. And even though I feel like I should hate Apollo Creed because he seems to be an egotistical douche, I just can’t. I was a bit surprised that Rocky didn’t win the match because I had always been under the impression that he came out the winner, but the point is that he managed to get through an entire fifteen rounds with the greatest boxer in the world and was the first person to knock down Apollo Creed in this first round in Apollo’s entire career. And by the end of the match, finding his love Adrian was more important than finding out whether or not he won the match (d’awwwww).

I wasn’t as impressed with the supporting characters as I was with Rocky. I liked Adrian and Mickey but I felt like they weren’t as developed as they could have been. Also, I was a little confused by Adrian’s physical features. I had seen the photo of Talia Shire in the red beret (she will always be Connie Corleone to me) but assumed that she had a minor role. For some reason I imagined Adrian was more of a blonde Farrah Fawcett type, and when I expressed that to Kevin he said, “if you thought that, it’s because you don’t understand Rocky.” Well, no. I didn’t– I hadn’t seen the movie yet. Anyway, I feel like an idiot for that one.

Lastly, I assume that Adrian’s attire is based on this 1959 Norman Parkinson photograph:

Adrian versus

Adrian versus Vogue

Face palm moment: I’m not really embarrassed by this, and maybe I should be, but I know Carl Weathers from Arrested Development (“Baby, you got a stew going!”).

Favorite part: I’m a worthless, romantic sap. Do I really have to tell you that my favorite part is at the end of the match when Rocky is yelling for Adrian? Isn’t it obvious? Where are my Kleenex?

The “I missed that in pop culture trivia” moment: Rocky is like most of the other movies I’ve reviewed in that the quotes or moments like Rocky running up the stairs are known to everyone on this planet, even the people who live under rocks much as I did. Therefore, I don’t feel like I missed out on much from a trivia standpoint. But I do understand this commercial a little better:

Regrettable tardiness scale (out of 10): Lord knows I’m a sucker for the underdog. 10/10