Citizen Kane

August 5, 2022

Internet Movie Database Movie Reviews

The life of a rich and famous man told in flashbacks by a reporter who is trying to figure out the meaning of Kane’s last word: Rosebud.

So this movie came out in 1941, flopped, was hidden in the RKO vaults in embarrassment, and got boo’d at the Academy Awards for that year every time it won…nine times, that was. And yet it’s one of the most famous, studied, and talked about films of all time. It wasn’t until it was rereleased in the 1950s that people said, wait a minute, look at that camerawork! And history was made. Just goes to show how public opinion can change.

My experience of this movie is exactly the same: when I saw it as a young Otter, I thought it was kind of stupid. I didn’t know anything about cinematography or William Randolph Hearst or the times, and just didn’t get it.

Then on one of our Saturday Zoom movie nights, Mr. Otter, CoyoteRambles and I watched Mank, which was very good, and I said, if you guys don’t mind seeing Citizen Kane yet again, I would love to give it a rewatch when it’s my turn to pick. And so we did.

And like Americans of the 1950s and later, this time I got it.

It’s a good movie, a good story, Welles is awesome, and the cinematography, especially the camera angles and the light, is really amazing.

Small quibble: there is a librarian in this movie, and she’s a stereotypical dragonish book guardian who doesn’t want anyone touching her hoard…meh.

So much has been written about this movie and it’s so ingrained in our pop culture that I really don’t have much else to say about it…my readers (bless them) have probably seen it more times than I have.

But I’m glad to join the group of Kane supporters. Thanks for waiting, everyone.


Rebecca

August 5, 2022

Internet Movie Database Movie Reviews

From the novel of the same name by Daphne DuMaurier

A new bride has to deal with everyone’s memories of her husband’s previous (dead)(perfect) wife.

So it was 2020, and everyone was in lockdown. Mr. Otter and I were still having fun watching movies and TV series that we hadn’t seen, either ever or for a long time, but we also decided it was time for him to start reading aloud to me, which we both used to enjoy very much when we made time for it. This was one of the first books he read, and it was so good that he read for four or five hours straight at the end because neither of us could wait.

Then we had to see the movie…which was pretty good.

SPOILERS AHEAD (BOOK AND MOVIE)

Well, probably more than pretty good…the cast (Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, Judith Anderson) were excellent, especially Anderson as the incredibly annoying and creepy Mrs. Danvers. The look of it and the cinematography are also excellent.

The problem that I had with this movie is basically that it’s not nearly as good as the book…which is often my problem with movies. This was good, but not nearly as detailed or atmospheric. Joan Fontaine’s character is so much more self-possessed and confidant than the character in the book, and her relationship with Maxim is much more of a love match; in the book, she is a shy and mousy girl, and is never sure where she stands with him, or indeed why he married her. Maxim in the movie has episodes of anger but is much more involved in his new marriage than he was.

Mrs. Danvers, however, is pretty much the same in both versions!

The biggest changes are at the end; because of the Hays Code (murder always has to be punished) Maxim watches Rebecca fall and hit her head and die; in the book, he shoots her and hides the body. At the end of the book, the current Mrs. DeWinter (who, by the way, has no name in the book and narrates the whole story) and Maxim are driving home and find Manderley in flames, and the implication is that Mrs. Danvers has burned the place down and herself with it; in the movie, Maxim is coming home from London, finds the house ablaze and rescues everyone but Mrs. Danvers.

That was a little too much rewriting for me…the movie was fine, but seriously? Read the book, it was amazing.


Mank

August 5, 2022

Internet Movie Database Movie Reviews

Herman J. Mankiewicz is trying to finish the screenplay of Citizen Kane and has 2 months to do it.

So it was 2020, and like everyone else we were locked up at home. We had started a Saturday Zoom movie night with CoyoteRambles, and alternated choosing movies, and (being a classic movie buff and cinematography blogger) he picked this one.

Now, Mr. Otter and I have been Netflix subscribers from the beginning, back when you could only get DVDs in the mail…we have watched a bunch of tv series on Netflix…but this was the point when we realized that not only do Netflix and Amazon make movies, they make GOOD movies! And our lives were forever changed.

But I digress.

I have never liked the movie Citizen Kane. I watched it once as a young Otter and thought it was kinda stupid…but I do like stuff about early Hollywood, so I was totally down for this.

And it was excellent, even though I found a lot of discussion online about this movie not being historically accurate-evidently there are voluminous records of Welles’ writing the Kane script from the 250 page tome he received from Mankiewicz, rather than M whipping the whole thing into shape himself; they share the Best Screenplay Oscar that came of their collaboration. Aside from that, though, this is an amazing movie.

Gary Oldman plays the eponymous title character (I do love that word. Eponymous. Eponymous. Eponymous.) in his usual brilliant style; his Mank is bitter, alcoholic and acerbic. He sees everything going on around him through a dark lens, and there’s plenty to see. Upton Sinclair is running for Governor in California as a socialist, the Great Depression is in full swing, William Randolph Hearst owns most of the newspapers in the country (which means he owns the press, and can print or not print what he wants, in a time when everyone got their information from newspapers.)

And aside from politics, it’s 1930s Hollywood, and there’s plenty going on there too, especially with Marion Davies, Hearst’s mistress, wanting to be a star and him doing his best to make her one.

This movie was a joy to watch, not only for its view of the time, not only for how well written and acted it is, but also for how beautifully it was filmed. It isn’t just an excellent movie, it’s GORGEOUS.

If you haven’t seen it, seriously, watch it now, you won’t be sorry.


Thir13en Ghosts (2011)

August 5, 2022

Internet Movie Database Movie Reviews

A remake of the 1960 Castle film of the same name (without the cutesy leet numerals)

This is recognizeably the same movie as the original: impoverished family inherits houseful of ghosts, moves in, ghosts are inimical, uh oh, family triumphs, bad guys Pay the Price.

The new screenplay ups the ante by 1. making the old haunted house a wierd glass construct with mazelike walls that move around, and have wierd glowing writing on them, and 2. turning said construct into a machine that will End The World if the evil plan succeeds.

Otherwise, it’s pretty much the same. The ghosts are scarier and more inventive, there’s a lot more blood and violence, and it’s not as well written as the older movie (and when it’s not as well written as a Castle film, well, that’s saying something right there…)

As silly as it is, the older one works better…but don’t take my word for it, have fun watching them yourselves!


13 Ghosts (1960)

August 5, 2022

Internet Movie Database Movie Reviews

A family moves into a haunted house holding the eponymous 13 ghosts.

It was Zoom Movie Night, and CoyoteRambles picked this one from the dim mists of his childhood. I gave my usual caveat about leaving if it got oogy…but this was typical sixties fluff.

The only actors I had really heard of in this movie were Martin Milner and Margaret Hamilton…this being a Castle production, I’m amazed it had anyone recognizable in it…

There’s really not much to this one; the family moves in, they have special glasses to see the ghosts (the family members know it’s haunted when they move in, but they’re desperate for a place to live.) One of the kids finds a ouija board and of course it Tells Them Things They Do Not Want To Know…and then they put it away and don’t use it again. If I were in a house full of beings I couldn’t communicate with, and something showed up that let me do that, I’d be using the heck out of it! but of course it’s a 60s scare film, doing sensible things is not in the script.

Which, by the way, was written by Robb White, one of my favorite teen writers.

Anyway. The ghosts are double exposures, and not very scary, and the big reveal/death scene is more amusing than alarming, and of course all is resolved satisfactorily, the family goes away and at the end there is a ‘For Sale’ sign on the house.

Silly fluff, kind of fun if you like this sort of thing.


Hammett

August 4, 2022

Internet Movie Database Movie Reviews

From the novel of the same name by Joe Gores

Mystery writer Dashiell Hammett gets involved with a mystery…

And, well, that’s about all there is to say.

It was Saturday Zoom movie night with Mr. Otter and CoyoteRambles. CR loves noir films and had picked this one.

It was pretty good, for something as self-indulgent as making up a story with a real author as main character (I know, people do it all the time, just not one of my favorite themes). The mystery was fine, as were the actors…the acting and tone of the movie was kind of uneven, and it just didn’t grab me…although I didn’t figure out the ending way ahead of time, which was a nice surprise. Evidently the production was fraught, and a lot of film ended up on the cutting room floor.

Bonus points: in this story, Hammett is helped by his neighbor, a LIBRARIAN.


Fat City

August 4, 2022

Internet Movie Database Movie Reviews

An aging boxer, and a young guy on the way up, both have hopes and dreams that probably won’t come true.

Most of the screen time in this movie is focused on one or the other of the two inner-city boxers- Stacy Keach plays the older man who is still trying to make it big, even though it’s obvious he’s missed his chance and is on the way down…he’s convinced that if he can just win one more match, it’ll solve all his problems, including bringing his wife back. Jeff Bridges is the young guy on the way up who comes to Keach for advice but has obviously surpassed him. The interplay between the two of them, and watching their trajectories, is most of this movie.

Fun fact: Fat City is one of the nicknames of Stockton, California, and this movie was filmed in the downtown area.


Spartacus

August 4, 2022

Internet Movie Database Movie Reviews

From the novel of the same name by Howard Fast

A slave leads an almost successful revolt against the Roman Empire.

I love this movie so much. It’s got a great story, spends a lot of time on the characters (which is kind of hard on the viewer, since this is one of those movies where just about everyone dies), and really lovely cinematogaphy (which is one of the four Oscars this movie won.). Three’s lots of Roman pomp and a pretty darn good scene with the Roman legions deploying for battle. There’s enough action to keep my explodo-loving brain happy, but enough character development to engage me as well.

Aaand…there are so many more things to talk about relating to this movie, I’m just going to hit the high points:

  • As you can see, this is an Otter Family Favorite Movie. Both Mr. Otter and I have seen it many times and love it.
  • The cast is amazing: Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov, and Tony Curtis, to name just a few. Not to mention being directed by Stanley Kubrick, who took over from the original director; evidently the first scene, in the mines, is all that remains of the footage Anhony Mann directed
    .
  • Fun fact: the mine scenes in the beginning were shot in Ryan, a mining area near Dante’s View in Death Valley..
  • This was the movie that finally ended the Hollywood Blacklist, when Kirk Douglas insisted on giving Dalton Trumbo credit for writing it (after being blacklisted, Trumbo had written a ton of movie screenplays, two of which had won Oscars, but all had been credited to pseudonyms)
  • The book was excellent as well, but very differently structured from the movie. Howard Fast, himself a victim of the blacklist, wrote it while serving time in prison for contempt of Congress.
  • There is a scene in the middle of the film that is pretty tame now but at the time was cut for being waaaay too suggestive; when the original version was restored, the film existed but not the soundtrack for that part. Tony Curtis rerecorded his lines, but Olivier was dead, so Anthony Perkins did a really fabulous job of putting his Olivier on.

If you haven’t seen this excellent classic movie, DO IT NOW. Trust the Otter, you won’t regret it.


The Cat From Outer Space

August 4, 2022

Internet Movie Database Movie Reviews

Um, it’s about a cat. From outer space. What did you think?

Seriously, this is basically E.T. but not as annoying. It’s a cheesy 70s movie with an adorable kitty who is trying to get back to his alien planet with the help of kids and a couple of helpful adults, and of course the US Army and Air Force are trying to stop it. Oh, and the cat has a collar that lets it communicate with humans. Typical Disney fluff from the late 70s.

Speaking of that time period, the cast list reads like a Who’s Who of 70s second-tier-but-fun-to-watch actors: Ken Berry, Sandy Duncan, Harry Morgan, Roddy McDowell, McLean Stevenson, and Hans Conreid.

Not a great movie, but it had moments.


Coherence

August 4, 2022

Internet Movie Database Movie Reviews

A group of friends have a dinner party. What could go wrong?

Well, everything, it turns out, in a weird and interesting movie about normal people reacting to a horrific situation.

This was a small independent movie that was indeed released in theaters, although I don’t recall seeing anything about it…but that was the year before I retired, and I was crazy busy, so I could easily have missed it. There is nobody in this movie I have ever heard of, which makes it all the more realistic and compelling, like the viewer really is just watching a dinner party of normal people slowly coming to pieces.

The writing is good, the scenes are tight, and although the ending is sort of open (there is an incident that ends the movie but doesn’t resolve the problem; probably nothing can) it was satisfying.

This is a good movie if you want to think and talk about it afterwards, very enjoyable.

And you’ll notice I didn’t really tell you want happens…that would be a huge spoiler. Watch it for yourself.