Is Citizen Kane (1941) The Greatest Film of All Time?

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As a lover of film, finally getting around to this classic has been long overdue, due to topping the list of the American Film Institute’s 100 greatest movies, of which I have seen 33 at the time of writing. But despite that list having some questionable choices (M*A*S*H, anyone?), I was still eager to see what the supposedly best film ever made had to offer. Did it deliver and is it worthy of it’s title?

Citizen Kane follows a reporter interviewing numerous people associated with newspaper founder Charles Foster Kane trying to figure out what the meaning of his final words, “Rosebud”, is. As he does so, we learn more about Kane’s rise and fall through the industry, before learning the grand truth behind his last words.

I realize that description of the plot might make it seem like the reporter has a bigger role than he actually does. Most of the film is told in flashbacks, and in massive chunks too, so admittedly it can be quite jarring when you do return to the present day. That can also be taken as a compliment on the movie’s part, as I found myself wrapped up in Charles’ character study and how he was thought of by the people he knew, with plenty of build up made towards the simple final reveal, making for a poignant conclusion.

But a great story doesn’t entirely make a film, as one of the things that makes the art form so great is how the visuals, music, editing and the screenplay come together. In Citizen Kane’s case, it’s much like Lawrence of Arabia and 2001: A Space Odyssey where it feels ahead of it’s time. It boasts impressive film-making that actually utilizes the fact it’s a movie (most other films of that era can feel like filmed plays) and it mostly doesn’t show it’s age, with most of the small issues I have with the movie having nothing to do with it being dated.

I personally wouldn’t rank it as the best film of all time, because that checklist of the visuals, music, editing and screenplay isn’t always done perfectly (the score by the iconic Bernard Herrman doesn’t add much to the film), and things like that random parrot screeching for no reason other than to make sure that the audience is still watching the film now comes off as random and distracting.

Despite that, it’s impact on cinema isn’t to be ignored, and I’m perfectly content with it begin considered the best movie of all time. This is likely to be on the bucket list for many film fans, and for me, there was plenty to appreciate and enjoy, meaning that I found it to be overall great.

 

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Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva (2009): The Best Video Game Movie Ever Made

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With the current slew of video game movies releasing this year, I thought it seemed fitting for me to go on a nostalgia trip and revisit one of the few good film adaptations for a game series, with that franchise being tied with Uncharted as my all time favourite: Professor Layton!

These games, a puzzle series which follows detective Hershel Layton and his young apprentice Luke as they solve numerous mysteries, had a big impact on my life and is part of the reason I’m as big a gamer as I am today. So naturally, I have watched this movie many times, which follows our heroes as they are invited to an Opera starring one of the Professor’s old students, but they soon find themselves (along with every other attendee) in a game of death in which the winner receives eternal life. Layton and his allies have no choice but to play along, but it soon becomes apparent that there’s a terrible truth behind the whole façade…

As soon as the music for the opening kicks in, chills infected my whole body re-watching it earlier today. By far the main thing this film does better than most (if not all) video game adaptations is it maintains the spirit of the source material through it’s presentation. It feels like you’re simply watching an extended cutscene from one of the games (and the plot is even important to the later entries in the series) and as a fan, it’s hard not to be swept away by it.

This is a very exciting adventure, filled to the brim with the series’ trademark charm, enjoyably quirky characters, intriguing mystery, beautiful art style (although analytical me would feel inclined to mention that the CG can be overused at times) and wonderful music, which plays a big part in the story that has all the thrills and emotion you could want from a Professor Layton narrative. The writers even managed to seamlessly blend the puzzles into the plot as well via the game for eternal life, with some very clever solutions.

In my humble opinion, Professor Layton is one of the few games that managed to successfully make the transition from game to movie, and as a fan, I can’t help but love every joyous moment of it, and whenever I hear someone say that “every video game movie is bad”, this film immediately comes to mind as a case against the statement, as it keeps the series’ heart whilst being a very entertaining watch. Though I must say, writing this article has reminded me of a puzzle…

 

Should the Ultimate Edition of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) Have Been the Original Cut?

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To commemorate it’s second anniversary, I re-watched what is in my opinion an under-appreciated gem: Batman V Superman! Due to time constraints, I had to go with the Theatrical Cut, as opposed to the three hour “Ultimate Edition” that I’d seen a few months prior. What really struck me on this viewing was the editing. Before certain moments can happen, the film will cut to black, and (more bizarrely) certain scenes are reshuffled about.

I still enjoyed the movie (the quality of said scenes and the film-making continues to impress me), but for the first time, I started to get why critics annihilated this movie, and began to wonder if Warner Bros did a disservice to the film releasing it in the state it was (which they cut down simply so they could have extra showings, the greedy gits) and whether or not public reception would’ve been improved.

First of all, it flows much better without the frequent cuts to black, and the extra 30 minutes somehow give the film more depth and even change perceptions of entire characters. The best example is given in one shot of Lex Luthor standing atop the helipad where he later confronts Superman whilst the news is heard in the background. With this one scene, his character is given an extra layer by showing him as the puppet master of nearly all the events that happen, and it’s an example of this film’s great visual storytelling.

Speaking of Superman, once he puts on the worst disguise since the rubber glove in The Wrong Trousers and becomes Clark Kent, an entire subplot is added of him investigating Batman (who, if you’ve played the Arkham games, gets some very cool security footage) adding to his motivation and after a discussion with a woman, gives extra meaning to certain decisions in his fight with the Dark Knight. This all might sound like basic stuff, but it really does add a lot to the film, and in many ways, the Theatrical and Extended cut feel almost like two separate movies.

I’ve seen many people say how they couldn’t stand the film originally, but with the Ultimate Edition, grew to love it. As someone who liked the movie from the outset, I’m not too sure I fully see that point, but the Ultimate Edition flows much better, adds more depth to the story (a character who has one scene in the Theatrical Cut is given an entire character arc here) and should Warner Bros have taken a risk and released it as it was, it would’ve felt like more of an event with a three hour run-time (similar to lengthier films like Titanic or Gone with the Wind).

Still, I highly recommend you give the Ultimate Edition a watch, and although I didn’t touch on it here, you might find some more things to appreciate, like the music, cinematography and the previously mentioned visual storytelling.  Maybe you’ll continue to hate it, or if you’re like me, will find some genuinely brilliant things to appreciate.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) – When Style Equals Substance

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Before the words “Mad Max: Fury Road” appear on screen, you’ll have probably figured out what you’re going to think of the movie. It begins with our hero Max (played by classic mumbler Tom Hardy) being captured and then attempting to escape, but as he does so, he gets strange visions of a mysterious girl. Either you think that that was a great way to convey Max’s insanity, or you’ll think it’s an unnesesary in-your-face explosion of editing. I thought the latter.

And the film only gets more insane from there! As it continues to set itself up, my jaw was consistently dropped by some of the crazy (not to mention random and unexplained) sights you see. Weird fat naked ladies having milk pumped from them (no, I’m not making this up), blood being transferred from Max to another character constantly for some reason, a random guitar player exists for no reason and we get even more of that editing I was talking about earlier!

But as the movie starts to settle into itself, it honestly becomes a bit dull. Yes, there’s a crap ton of action throughout and a good chunk of it was done for real, but whilst the film does quite a bit of visual world-building, it forgets to develop interesting characters. As Max tries to escape from this army, he runs into a group of women also trying to evade the enemy. One of the women falls out of the truck they’re driving in and while it’s made out to be a pretty big deal, I couldn’t care less because no personality was given to her before her demise, and most of the other characters have little about them to make us care for them.

The first act of this movie is insane, as we see all sorts of bonkers sights that come off as just crazy with little to no context. Act 2 is calmer but becomes more character driven, though saying it’s even that is a bit of a stretch. The third is actually decent even if it does drag in parts. The whole thing is quite well made, with some good shots with a striking colour scheme, and I appreciate the practicality of the action.

Mad Max: Fury Road can’t decide what it wants to be. It starts as a crazy visual world-building experience, then turns into a slightly character driven road chase (think a big budget Smokey and the Bandit, minus the likeable cast) before becoming a full on film-making spectacle by the end, similar to something like Dunkirk. But where that film succeeded because it was fully about the scope and intensity, Fury Road tries to juggle several styles into one. For many, it really worked (it even got a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars that year) and is now considered one of the best action films of all time, but for me, it wasn’t that lovely a day.

 

 

 

Why Coco (2017) Should Have Gotten a Best Picture Nomination at the Oscars

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The 90th Academy Awards are almost upon us! Over the previous 89, only three animated films have received a nomination for the highest award, Best Picture. Those being Beauty and the Beast in 1991 (losing to Silence of the Lambs), Up in 2009 (The Hurt Locker) and Toy Story 3 in 2010 (The Kings Speech). How I wish I could say it was four movies that received such an honour…

Coco has the Best Animated Feature Oscar, no doubt. Some would say that’s enough, but in my humble opinion (and seeing as I’m writing about it, that automatically makes it the correct one), an animated masterpiece like this deserves more. It follows a pattern seen in many other Disney movies, in which the main character wants something (in this case, it’s young Miguel who has a real passion of music), parent/guardian forbids it (here, his whole family has banned it for generations), he gets said thing (he steals the guitar from his great grandfather) and the rest of the movie follows.

And what follows is a wonderful journey through the Land of the Dead, and one that I went to see twice in cinemas (an honour held only by this and La La Land), and on the second time, I spent the last five minutes in tears. Chances are you’ve heard how this movie has made millions cry, but what makes THAT scene truly beautiful is how I can’t explain what it makes me feel. It’s both sad and uplifting at the same time, and a single scene managing to convey so many emotions at once is a feat that not many live action movies can achieve.

But the ending also works as a satisfying payoff for all these great characters we’ve been watching for the last hour and forty minutes, in which there isn’t a dull moment, thanks to some stunning animation, wonderful music (another snub this movie received is no Best Original Score nod for Michael Giacchino), and the fascinating culture of Mexico presented throughout.

I watched the Oscar nominees revealed live (yes, I got to witness the pain that was Tiffany Hadish attempting to pronounce “Kaluuya”), and I remember thinking how great it would be if Coco got to join the ranks of those three previously mentioned animated movies. But it was not meant to be, though it deals with mature themes of family, death and leaving behind a legacy in a way that can be enjoyed by any one.

This film is a masterpiece (and that’s not a word I use lightly), and it absolutely should have received a nomination for Best Picture for all the reasons I’ve brought up, and so much more that I haven’t touched on. But nomination or no nomination, this is still a wonderful movie that, much like Miguel’s ancestors, will be remembered for a long time to come.

The Castle of Cagliostro (1979): Miyazaki’s Film Debut, But Not His Career Definer

 

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Directorial debuts typically set the stage for a directors work, so with the legendary Hayao Miyazaki’s first film, you’d expect something fantastical with bizarre creatures and imaginative worlds. But from the opening of The Castle of Cagliostro, which sees two thieves escaping a casino with counterfeit money whilst the police’s cars explode and break apart behind them, I quickly realized that Miyazaki’s first outing on the big screen was a world away from what was to come for his career.

Miyazaki’s career began with him directing a few episodes of the anime “Lupin the III” before he was tasked with bringing that show to cinemas with his first feature film, The Castle of Cagliostro, which follows the characters from the show in a surprisingly convoluted plot that’s pretty hard to explain, so all I’ll say is that these two thieves attempt to infiltrate the castle to find it’s hidden treasure whilst trying to outrun a persistent detective and the castle guards.

Clocking in at 100 minutes, the film gets plenty done in that time frame, with an unpredictable plot that kept me engaged, some fun action sequences and likeable characters. It’s origin as a TV show is clear, with sudden scene transitions and brief little bursts of music to begin a new scene making me imagine adverts playing in between, and certain characters that have little development were clearly established long before the film was made. It’s a solid movie in it’s own right, but having seen a good chunk of Miyazaki’s future work, it was more fascinating to watch than it was entertaining.

There’s little here that feels like a Hayao Miyazaki film. It has a James Bond vibe with plenty of borderline slapstick humour, the soundtrack ranges from smooth jazz to something that sounds like something out of a 70’s – 80’s TV show, and at times, it can sound like unused music for a Sonic game. The castle itself and the surrounding ruins do have a Ghibli-esque feel to them, and there’s little parts here and there that could possibly have had an influence on Miyazaki’s later films, but for the most part, this is an entirely different film when compared to what was to come in Miyazaki’s career.

The Castle of Cagliostro is a perfectly entertaining movie on it’s own, nothing great, but a fun watch regardless, but going in expecting to see how Miyazaki’s career blossomed from there and how he took from it in his later films, I came out having gotten the complete opposite. If you’re familiar with many of Studio Ghibli’s film, check it out, and see how the company’s iconic director began his career with a title unlike any other in his filmography.

 

 

Big Hero 6 (2014) Film Review

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Back when the Oscars started to hand out the award for Best Animated Feature, it went to films from Studio Ghibli, Dreamworks, even Aardman got into the mix. Nowadays, it’s typically either from Disney and Pixar, and in 2014, the fantastic Lego Movie didn’t even get a nomination! Instead, the winner was Big Hero 6, from, you guessed it, Disney.

Our hero is Hiro (the most on the nose protagonist name ever, I know) Hamada, a young lad who’s interest goes from illegal bot fighting to going to his brother, Tadashi’s university. His amazing invention gets him in, but soon after, the uni catches fire and Tadashi (rather stupidly) goes in to save the guy who invented bot fighting, and surprise surprise, a family member dies in a Disney movie. In other news, water is wet.

One of Tadashi’s creations is Baymax, a robot to help those in pain. Hiro finds him and soon after, discovers a mysterious man in a mask is using his invention from earlier for evil. Hiro, Baymax and some of Tadashi’s uni friends become superheroes to try and discover who lies under the mask.

Unlike a lot of other Disney films, they actually do develop some chemistry between Hiro and Tadashi before he gets killed off, which makes the pay off all the more effective. And even the most stone hearted couldn’t fall in love with Baymax, who never strays from his robotic roots, which makes for some very funny moments. When the movie is about these three characters, it truly shines.

When it gets to the actual superhero stuff, however, it comes off as a bit gimmicky. That’s not to say it’s bad, there’s a decent twist near the end, but after the great material with Tadashi’s death, it feels like “here’s the part where we have to sell toys!” On top of that, most of the side characters aren’t that interesting. They’re likeable, but they don’t leave a lasting impression like the brothers and Baymax do.

Despite the aforementioned issues, the pros definitely outweigh the cons here. If it was all about the superhero aspect, The Lego Movie would’ve been snubbed big time, but when I think back to the brother’s chemistry and the relationship between Hiro and Baymax, I can see why the Oscars went for this one. Indeed, I was satisfied with my care.