Monday, August 25, 2014


I work on a specialty team called TLC, an acronym for The Learning Center.   We love brains and specialize in improving them, (though our team theme is zombies so attempting to eat them is also a threat.)   One thing which is specific to my new circle is the Alignment.   It's a weekly meeting where we argue with each other about how a form is interpreted.  It's always polite but passionate, and after everyone has had their say a vote is taken.   Majority rules and the conclusion is entered into a spreadsheet known as the Alignment Tracker-- which functions a lot like past court cases function for lawyers.   If there's ever a question you check the Alignment Tracker first, and then you ask someone.

Movie night has recently started up with some TLC friends.  Ian mentioned that there was some debate by film critics about whether or not CITIZEN KANE or TOKYO STORY was the greatest movie -- EVER.

Obviously an Alignment was desperately needed.

We watched CITIZEN KANE and TOKYO STORY and then gave both movies a "resting period" of at least 1 week so we had time to think and re-evaluate the impact both films had.  The official Alignment was yesterday.  It involved a form and lots of discussion.  One of the things discussed was the form itself so future Alignments will use an updated version.   (Image of the form used has been attached to the end of this review.)

Basically, we are all huge nerds and enjoyed ourselves immensely.  

Anyway, I wanted to review these films because they are both really interesting.  Consider this review a judicial opinion of the case and the results of our decision will be seen at the end.


TOKYO STORY, when you read the summary, sounds kind of boring. The synopsis of the film tells you what happens but it's like saying a flower is about plant reproduction - technically true but nowhere near the full story.  TOKYO STORY is beautiful and slow and quiet and heartbreaking.   There are no villains, no bad guys determined to be bad guys, just people being human and bumping into each other.

One of the most interesting things about this film is the way it immediately sets it's pace.  It does this with filming technique.   The camera almost never moves.  Instead everything is shot at about 3' off the ground, exactly at kneeling eye-height were you to be present, and simply blinks on and off between scenes.   Each shot is a tableau, an intricate diorama, with multiple levels and lines and frames and spaces.  Look at them for a moment:

There is depth and lighting and focus and placement and all sorts of cool things happening.  However, they happen quietly and without fuss.  You, the viewer, are simply there as a witness and as you watch what this family says (and doesn't say) you can see generational disconnect, bruised expectations, and broken hearts.   There is also charity and kindness, love and old friends.

TOKYO STORY is a masterful work of art, complex with layers and symbolism. But the best thing about TOKYO STORY is that it can be enjoyed without paying attention to any of the intricacies.  The best symphonies can be appreciated without knowing about symphonic structure and key changes.   The best movies connect us with our shared humanity without the viewer knowing anything about film making at all.


"The people will believe what I tell them to believe."

CITIZEN KANE is about tricks and expectations.   It was made by a master trickster, Orson Welles, who at an early age discovered that people will believe (and act on) whatever media or "authority" dictates, even if it is clearly impossible.   I believe that Welles plays with this idea from multiple angles throughout CITIZEN KANE and, really, for the rest of his career.

The title character in CITIZEN KANE is Charles Foster Kane, who inherits a fortune as a child and becomes a newspaper mogul.  Most of the story was based on William Randolph Hearst, an extremely powerful newspaper man at the time the film was made.   There is a lot written about this connection, and the outrage from the imitation, but I don't think this knowledge adds to the film in any way.   The main character in CITIZEN KANE is actually the media.   The work of journalists, both in newspaper and film, is what drives the conflict of the film and fails to resolve that same conflict.

"Not nearly enough minds messed with today."

Money is earned, relationships are broken, and life decisions are made based on what is in the newspaper.  Everyone in the movie is driven by what "people" think or will say, by how famous or infamous an action will make them.  Every person you see is actually presenting themselves for public view by speaking to a media representative.   When Kane's mother sends him back east for an education at an early age, her actions are driven by the desire to have hm be acceptable in the opinion of the "right people".  All the women in Kane's life after this point are symbols.   The politically connected wife, the talented mistress, the nameless show girls, their most important function is to be visible symbols of success.

"Hey fellas!  This IS what you do with showgirls, right?"
The media, feeling entitled to know everything about everybody, wants to know more about Charles Foster Kane after his death.   After all, Kane had everything a man should want, right?  He was wealthy, educated, worked to protect the less privileged, had a successful business, beautiful wives, political power, a mansion, and a lot of rare art.  Kane did everything he was supposed to do, right?  He was generous to his friends, merciless to his enemies, stoic in his defeats, stubborn when facing adversity, and passionate about his life's work.    How did this man, who did everything he was supposed to do, decline?  And, more importantly, how could he have any mysteries at all?

"I'm pretty sure his name is Kane."
Kane, as we see, is not just a mystery to the media, but to everyone in his life and even to himself.  The tragedy is seeing how expectations keep people apart from each other and from their own hearts.   The trick that Welles plays on everyone is how everything is in plain sight but our own expectations (of the media, the movies) keeps us from seeing the truth.

CITIZEN KANE is also a beautifully photographed movie.  It is definitely worth watching just to see the shots.  My absolutely favorite image is when Susan Kane (who follows the archetype of all movie Susans - she's the girl everyone wants who ends up being awful) debuts on the opera stage.

I myself am a Susan who has been in operas and this shot captures the essential loneliness and terror that comes moments before a performance begins.  It's beautiful and the single moment I related to the most.

CITIZEN KANE is a well-made and complex.   It absolutely is a contender for the best movie ever made.


After a lot of deliberation, the scores were this:

2-1 in favor of TOKYO STORY.   You had a good run, CITIZEN KANE, but you weren't quite universal enough.   The scoring form (Version 1.0) is below.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

TMNT (I don't care what you think, it gets a 9)

Okay, let's just get it out there.  I loved this movie.   It had big explosions, a ton of CGI, Michael Bay for a producer and I loved it anyway.   Do the turtles now have weird faces?

Yes.  Because blending a human face with a turtle face isn't stomach-turning at all.

Did they paint Megan Fox in Michael-Bay-Thinks-Girls-Are-This-Color makeup?

OF COURSE they did!   This scene is the only time in the movie April wears virulent pink lipstick.  It's also the only time she faints.  (Because women faint ALL THE TIME.)

Does Shredder have a RIDICULOUS number of swords sticking out of his arms?

Well, duh!  Who doesn't need a fan of seven swords on each forearm?  It's the latest in deadly scary ninja fashion!

Is Leonardo the leader just because he has a good jawline and a katana? (And because Splinter said so?)

Yup.  Whatever Splinter says, man.  Also Leo's breastplate seems to be made from rawhide dog chews.  Mikey must have told him it looked totally radical.

Does this movie have a million ways to sell merchandise?

Aw yeah it does!   And the pizza was DELICIOUS!

Does the movie have a theme song covered by an acapella group?

Absolutely.  How is this even a question?

All of these things in no way deter my affection for the film.  I know the critics hate TMNT and I don't care.  I recognize the toysploitation machine is simply churning out movies for money and I don't care.  Megan Fox is boring and I still don't care.   TMNT is FUN.  It's silly and amazing and has cool sound.   Shredder is actually scary powerful, Splinter is sweetly awesome, and the first explosion didn't happen until we were an hour into the movie. (I actually checked my watch.)

As far as I am concerned, these four mutated dysmorphic reptiles are bulletproof -- both to the flying lead of Foot soldiers and to the opinions of everyone on Reddit.  TMNT is everything a big fun summer movie should be.

Sunday, August 03, 2014


Things I Learned by Watching GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY:

1. There are a surprising number of white people running things in the Galaxy.
Most of them have questionable hair.

2. Everyone speaks English

Though some of them have a MUCH classier accent than you.

3. Idyllic societies still have broken prison systems.

Just like us!

4. Double "A" batteries are refreshingly universal and pretty easy to find galaxy-wide

"Gotta have my tunes, man."

5. There is an appalling amount of biological experimentation done.

Nebula here was made a cyborg after years of torture and experimentation.  She's psychotic but SUPER pretty so we know she's a total sucess!

6.  I can only assume this genetic experimentation is the reason all the men in the galaxy are thick

Tree-trunks for legs - LITERALLY

7. And all the women are thin.

I hope she has titanium bones because if she ever lands on a high-grav planet, she'll crumple like aluminum foil.

8. No matter how cool they look, guns never seem to fix the problem

Unless the problem is not looking cool.   Then this gun totally has you covered!

9. Everyone needs a Groot.

You would never need to decorate for a party again!

10.  Everyone always wants someone to pass them the ball.

"I have the ball!"

"Nope!  It's mine now!"

11.  And, lastly, the one great universal truth is this:

There is no purer expression of love in the galaxy than a mix tape.