Friday, February 28, 2014

Why I Don’t Like Citizen Kane (Even Though I know It’s Brilliant)

Citizen Kane is considered the one of the most important movies and one of the best movies of all time.  When I first saw it as a young teenager, I thought it was a way too depressing movie and forgot about it, other wondering why everyone thought it was so great.  Then I saw it was on the syllabus for my Film Studies 1940 to the Present class at NC State.  I wanted to reconsider Citizen Kane with new eyes.  I wanted to look at it with a more critical lens than before.  So here’s what I found out:

One of the reasons Citizen Kane is so brilliant is that every single flashback is different from the previous one.  The reporter goes to various people to find the secret of Charles Foster Kane’s last word, “rosebud,” and every single person tells a different version of how they related Charles Kane.  Some, in the early interviews, viewed Kane for favorably but some in the later viewed Kane more negatively.  But throughout, the impression of Kane changes with who is telling the story.  His former best friend has a different story to tell than his second ex-wife. 

The other reason Citizen Kane was brilliant: it was a technical achievement as well.  Citizen Kane used a method called Deep Focus, where, instead of the background or foreground being blurry, the background, mid-ground, and foreground were all in focus.  Thus, every single area of the screen can be important.  Also, instead of quick takes between people, there are long takes, without cutting – which enabled the viewer to take the environment more carefully as well as the subject.  Also, instead of keeping the same lighting throughout, there is harsh lighting and more shadows as Kane grows older.  What all of this shows is a master of technique to use the elements of the camera as part of the story, rather than as an unobtrusive observer. 

So the story broke the system: it didn’t follow the technical rules or the old narrative rules.  It told its own story according to its own rules.  By any account, it should be considered brilliant.  And it is: however, it is the subject matter that I still don’t like: Citizen Kane is like the anti-Christmas Carol: Kane dies alone, rich in physical wealth but emotionally bankrupt.  Throughout the entire film, he serves himself and this pushes away anyone who ever cared about him: his friends, his two wives, and others who care about him.  In the end, no one really knows him, but all it was filtered through the fact that Kane served only himself.  Kane collected statues towards the end of his life, leading my professor to speculate that he had statues because they were lifeless and he could control them.  This was because he tried to control people he was close to but he was unsuccessful. 

Get the picture?  Citizen Kane is an extremely depressing film about a wealthy man who dies alone.  Narratively and technically brilliant, but not really a movie I’d want to watch again, given the subject matter.  The technique could be used for any idea, but it’s used for one that leaves you feeling empty rather than uplifted.  Citizen Kane may be a great movie, but it’s not one I’d want to watch again. 


What do you think?  Do you think the narrative and technical achievements override any feelings about the story itself?  Using the same elements that Orson Wells used, what type of story would you tell?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Romance is for Other People Tidbit #9

Hello Everyone!   Here is the next tidbit for Romance is for Other People:

9.  The title is a quote from the novel.

Tune in next Wednesday for the next tidbit! Here are the last 8 tidbits:
1. I am releasing a novel in 2014
2. The title is Romance is for Other People
3. There are four main characters
4. The first main character is Chris, male, 14 years old.
5. The second main character is Lydia, female, 14 years old
6. The third main character is Jeremy, male, 16 years old.
7. The fourth main character is Amanda, female, 16 years old.
8.  The format is first person, split between the four main characters.

Friday, February 21, 2014

5 Bollywood Movies set Wholly or in Part outside India

Most Bollywood movies seem to be insular.  Most of them focus exclusively on Indian places and characters, never reaching beyond the border of the country. Not that this is a bad thing, and many are well made.  It is fascinating, however, when a film goes beyond India’s borders, revealing India’s relationship with the outside world, including the US.  These five films are pretty good examples of what to expect in a Bollywood film: romance plots, obligatory dance sequences, comedy scenes and melodramatic acting.

1. Bride and Prejudice: This may not be considered Bollywood as it is almost completely in English and a UK production company produced it.  However, it is set in mostly in India, does feature Bollywood stars and the obligatory dance sequences, so the feeling is of a Bollywood film.  I’m including it because it is the first movie I’d recommend to check out the “Bollywood” style and because there are also scenes in LA as well.  Bride and Prejudice is a loose retelling of Pride and Prejudice with Indian customs and ideals.  Lalita (Elizabeth Bennett in the original) has to deal with a wealthy American named Will Darcy.  At first both find the other repulsive, but as the movie progresses, the two leads see past their first impressions to see each other for who they really are.

2. Kal Ho Naa Ho (Tomorrow May Never Come): In this movie, Naina Kapur is a young college student whose family is struggling with a faltering restaurant in New York City.  She has a best friend in Rohit Patel, who finds her attractive.  Aman Mathur, a man full of life, breezes into the Indian neighborhood where Naina lives and causes positive reactions to the people around him, except for Naina.  He also falls in love with Naina.  However, he harbors a secret: he’s about to die.  Desperate to make Naina happy, he tries to help Rohit win Naina’s heart, which causes all sorts of romantic complications.  Very melodramatic, but nevertheless it’s fun to see a Bollywood Film set in NYC.

3. Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (Straight from the Heart): Nandini, daughter of a wealthy proponent of classical Indian music, takes an immediate dislike to the Indio-Italian young man, Sameer, who is given her room when he is brought to learn the classical Indian music.  But their fights can only last so long as they fall in love.  But her father angrily sends him away because she was arranged to be married to Vanraj.  Feeling she has no choice, she marries Vanraj anyway.  Vanraj sees Nandini’s feelings are for Sameer, so they travel to Italy to find him, and Nandini is so surprisingly touched by his actions she starts to reconsider her feelings toward him.

4. Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (You Don’t Live Twice): Three male friends set out on a road trip to Spain.  Kabir recently became engaged, and tells his reluctant fiancĂ© Natasha that he made a pact with his two friends Imraan and Arjun.  They are all going to participate in three extreme sports, deep sea diving, sky diving, and bull running, which each one of them picked.  Kabir has trouble with his fiancĂ© doubting his loyalty to her, Imraan searches for his biological father in Spain and Arjun falls in love with their beautiful host, Laila.  This one has beautiful visuals of Spain. 

5. Hum Tum (Me & You): Crisscrossing through New York, Amsterdam, Paris, and of course Mumbai, this one focuses on Karan, a cartoonist who has a chance meeting with Rhea on a flight from New Delhi to New York.  Karan relentlessly pursues her during a layover in Amsterdam, but he is unsuccessful and they part ways.  He meets her several more times over the next few years, but every time some complication gets in the way of them pursuing a relationship.  Eventually, after a failed engagement to Mihir (which Karan set up), Rhea realizes her feelings for Karan, and they consummate their relationship.  Karan, feeling guilty for his actions, quickly proposes marriage, but Rhea tells him they shouldn’t rush into marriage for the wrong reasons. 

I’m sure there several more Bollywood movies set partly outside India, this is just a jumping off point for these types of movies.  I don’t recommend watching all five in succession; you might get sick of the genre.  But if you space each movie out a little bit, each one can be a lot of fun to watch.  Have you ever watched a Bollywood movie? What do you think? 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Romance is for Other People Tidbit #8

Hello Everyone!   Here is the next tidbit for Romance is for Other People, and it's a big one:

8.  The format is first person, split between the four main characters.

Tune in next Wednesday for the next tidbit! Here are the last 7 tidbits:
1. I am releasing a novel in 2014
2. The title is Romance is for Other People
3. There are four main characters
4. The first main character is Chris, male, 14 years old.
5. The second main character is Lydia, female, 14 years old
6. The third main character is Jeremy, male, 16 years old.
7. The fourth main character is Amanda, female, 16 years old.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Star Wars & Star Trek: Launcher of a Thousand Novels

The franchises of Star Wars and Star Trek have perhaps the biggest sci-fi/fantasy fandoms of all time.  When most people think of Star Wars, they think of the 2 rounds of trilogies, set in two specific eras (and perhaps the Clone Wars cartoon).  When most people think of Star Trek, they think of the 12 movies and 5 TV series, set in 3 separate eras.  While many franchises have novels (even the CSI franchise has a series of novels), it is the novels for the universes of Star Trek and Star Wars that are still going strong, even years after the original era’s stories have finished.  

The Star Wars novels started in 1978 with Splinter of the Mind’s Eye.  It is set between Star Wars: A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, which was still in production at the time.  It was originally meant as a story for a low-budget sequel to Star Wars if the movie was not a success.  Of course, A New Hope was a huge success, so George Lucas abandoned Splinter of the Mind’s Eye as a movie.  As a result, Splinter became the first part of the now-expansive Expanded Universe, which are all the stories both before and after the official movies.  Then three Han Solo novels were released 1979-80, and in 1983, three Lando Calrissian novels were released, set at around the same time after the events of A New Hope.  Then the novels lay dormant for several years.  But in 1991, Timothy Zahn released the first part of the Thawn trilogy, Heir to the Empire, set 5 years after the events of Return of the Jedi.  A huge success, this would probably be considered the when official start of the Expanded Universe Novels.  During the early to mid 1990s, many novels were set in the post-Jedi era, continuing the story of Luke, Leia, Han and so forth, while introducing new ones.  During and following the prequel episodes, there were novels in three specific eras: the first is a series of books set in between the Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith, much of it during the Clone Wars (between Clones and Sith), the second is set in the far past, during an era called the Old Republic.  Finally, set 40-plus years in the beyond Return of the Jedi, is the New Jedi Order.  With so many ears of books going concurrently, and a new Star Wars movie in 2015, it would be no surprise if there are many more Star Wars novels to come.

The Star Trek novels had a rather interesting beginning.  The very first Star Trek book was released in 1967 and called simply Star Trek, and was a collection of seven early episodes of Star Trek collected together as short stories.  The first fictional story was a children’s novel called Mission to Horatius.  It wasn’t until 1970 that the first novel for adults was released, called, Spock Must Die!  For several years after that, there were no new stories.  Finally in 1976, new Star Trek novels were ready to be released.  The first was actually a collection of short stories, Star Trek: New Voyages, but the second was a novel called Spock, Messiah.  In 1979, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was released, the publisher Pocket Books took over and began a series of novels with the original crew, which is still ongoing, and included novelizations of the movies.  After Star Trek: Next Generation started in 1987, another series, focusing on the Next Generation era, was launched.  Because Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager are all from the same era, many of the novels post-series features all three sets of characters and/or one book in a series would focus on one set and so forth, with much overlap.  The Enterprise series, while not as successful, still has books in the series being released (the most recent being in June of 2013).  There are several series of book set in the universe but not specifically related to a series, the most popular being Star Trek: New Frontier (started in 1997) and Star Trek: Vanguard (started in 2005).  There have not been many new novels based on the world of the new Star Trek movie, other than novelizations of the movies and a young adult Starfleet Academy series, but hopefully in the future the series will be just as robust as the rest of the Star Trek series. 

Perhaps the way to measure a franchise’s success is how many spin-off novels inhabit the world of the franchise.  The novels expand the universe far beyond the original universe’s parameters.  After all, if one were to want to read every single Star Wars related novel, and/or every single Star Trek novel, he or she would be satisfied for a very, very long time. 

Links:

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Romance is for Other People Tidbit #7

Hello everyone!  Here is the second of two tidbits today for Romance is for Other People:

7. The fourth main character is Amanda, female, 16 years old.

Tune in next Wednesday for the next tidbit! Here are the last 6 tidbits:
1. I am releasing a novel in 2014
2. The title is Romance is for Other People
3. There are four main characters
4. The first main character is Chris, male, 14 years old.
5. The second main character is Lydia, female, 14 years old
6. The third main character is Jeremy, male, 16 years old.

Romance is for Other People Tidbit #6

Hello everyone!  Here is the first of two tidbits today for Romance is for Other People:

6. The third main character is Jeremy, male, 16 years old.

I promised I would give two tidbits today if my Facebook fan page reached 100 - it did, so you receive two today! Tune in this afternoon for the next tidbit! Here are the last 5 tidbits:
1. I am releasing a novel in 2014
2. The title is Romance is for Other People
3. There are four main characters
4. The first main character is Chris, male, 14 years old.
5. The second main character is Lydia, female, 14 years old

Friday, February 7, 2014

Why We Love Heartwarming Movies

Heartwarming Movies are among the most predictable genres.  They sometimes get a bad rap by those who do not partake in the genre.  Yes, there are people who look down on those types of feel-good “Hallmark” movies with a passion.  But at the same time, heartwarming movies continue to get made, and people genuinely enjoy them.  For those who love them, they don’t care about the predictable plots and the feel-good endings.  And I must admit even I enjoy them every now and then.  So what’s so great about them?

Many heartwarming stories are about seeing the good side of people.  It’s about misunderstandings being resolvable and even the most hardened person realizing he was wrong.  One of the most recent movies I watched was Uncle Nino.  Uncle Nino is about an Italian-American family living in Chicago who is visited by their Uncle from Italy.  The father, played by Joe Mantegna is predictably ignoring his family for his job, where he is trying to get a big promotion.  The son, played by Trevor Morgan, is emotionally distant from his family and tries to fill the hole with being in a band with some questionable friends.  As happens in these types of movies, the father realizes his problem and stops ignoring his family.  Uncle Nino joins the band with his violin; they improve and win Battle of the Bands.  Yes, it was predictable.  But it also showed that two of the most distant characters can be redeemed.  No one person is beyond redemption, unlike other genres, even romantic films.

Another staple of the heartwarming movie is that no obstacle is insurmountable.  Beyond the Backboard and A Smile as Big as the Moon are two similar true-story teacher movies.  In both of them, the teacher is presented with a unique problem (in Beyond, she has to teach homeless kids at the homeless shelter; in Smile, he has to teach special needs kids how to be astronauts for the Space Camp program).  Typically, there are some obstacles along the way: the parents in Beyond don’t understand, the special needs kids fight amongst themselves in Smile, but in the end, the parents understand and the Special needs gets figure out a way to work together.  The true-story aspect lends authenticity to the plot.  We like it because someone real went into a hard situation and came out of it a better person and made everyone around him (or her) a better person as well.  The obstacles were hard and tough, but that someone overcame them.

Let’s not forget the supposed most important feature of heartwarming movies: the happy ending.  All three movies I mentioned above have a happy ending.  But I would argue different.  While many movies, despite whatever happens in the middle, give us a happy ending while it is seemingly required of heartwarming movies, I am sure that it is not the case for every heartwarming movie.  Perhaps the “dying of cancer” genre ends with the cancer character literally dying of cancer, a genre which sometimes features many heartwarming moments.  Perhaps it’s not as heartwarming because the obstacles are not insurmountable, the person still dies.  And yet, for many of the people around him or her they were touched by that man or woman who died and became better people because of it.  The Ultimate Gift is an example of that genre.  The child who had cancer dies, the main character and her mother became better people because of the little girl in their life. 

What most (but not all) heartwarming movies have in common is a de-emphasis on excessive violence, sexual content and language.  The people work their problems out with their words and actions, not by negative behaviors.  This means that the whole family can watch.  It’s appropriate for any age.  This quality helps market the movies and makes it appealing to those who appreciate family-friendly content.  Most heartwarming movies are not directed specifically at kids, however.  It’s aimed at anyone who appreciates that kind of content.  This is not a bad thing.  While some appreciate the recurring tropes in horror movies, or perhaps the recycling of storylines in the romance genre, there are those (including myself, at times) who appreciate the advantages of the heartwarming movies and the positive impact they bring on the world.  

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Romance is for Other People Tidbit #5

Hi Everyone!  Here is my fifth tidbit for Romance is for Other People:

5. The second main character is Lydia, female, 14 years old

Tune in next Wednesday for the next tidbit! Here are the last 4 tidbits:
1. I am releasing a novel in 2014
2. The title is Romance is for Other People
3. There are four main characters
4. The first main character is Chris, male, 14 years old.