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New Podcast! The Escapist Movie Podcast – “Paddington 2 is Objectively Better Than Citizen Kane”

The Escapist have launched a movie podcast, and I was thrilled to join Jack Packard for the fourteenth episode of the year, for a discussion that covered The Mitchells vs. The Machines, Paddington, Paddington 2, Citizen Kane and the entire point of criticism. So, you know, nothing too big or broad.

You can listen to back episodes of the podcast here, click the link below or even listen directly.

214. Citizen Kane – Christmas 2020 (#97)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Niall Murphy, The 250 is a weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released Saturdays at 6pm GMT.

So this week, Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane.

Following the death of Charles Foster Kane, reports of the magnate’s final word slip out to the press. Trying to parse a portrait of the public figure’s life and times, a reporter attempts to discern the meaning of the word, “Rosebud.”

At time of recording, it was ranked 97th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: Mank

There’s something vaguely reassuring about Mank.

The most obviously and immediately striking aspect of David Fincher’s biopic is how consciously the film is steeped in a very particular time and place. Mank plays out against the backdrop of the thirties and forties, following screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as he is inspired to develop (and as he actually writes) Citizen Kane. So much of the film deliberately evokes the period; numerous inside jokes and cameos from key Hollywood figures, the stark black-and-white cinematography from Erik Messerschmidt, the way Fincher even frames shots to evoke the period.

However, all of these period elements are juxtaposed with a broader sense of modernity and timelessness. Mank is shot in the same black-and-white style as Citizen Kane, but in a modern aspect ratio. The film features cigarette burns and other markers of classic cinema, but was shot entirely digitally. The film even offers an almost parodic old-fashioned happy ending for most of the major characters, but while telling a story that simply would not have been possible within that studio system.

The result is a movie that celebrates Hollywood without venerating it. Indeed, what distinguishes Mank from many other “films about films” like The Artist or Hugo is the way in which it tempers its nostalgia. Mank doesn’t necessarily long for the past in the way that most Hollywood productions about Hollywood do. This ambivalence to nostalgia is not cynicism or futurism, but a tacit acknowledgement that the past is still present. Mankiewicz might be rubbing shoulder with the players of another era, but the rules remain largely the same.

Indeed, the real joy of Mank is not found its glorification of Hollywood titans or the products of the studio system, but in its celebration of the “supporting players.” The story of the “organ grinder’s monkey” is discussed repeatedly, often as a metaphor for power a hierarchy. Instead, Mank seems to suggest that the relationship is symbiotic. There’s something striking in a movie from a director as venerated as David Fincher that is so openly critical of the various myths of Hollywood like the auteur theory and its cousin “the great man” theory of history.

Mank is the story of a little man, one repeatedly framed as “the court jester” and who does little to push back on that characterisation. As one might expect for a movie about Citizen KaneKing Lear is a frequent point of reference. If so, Mank suggests that the fool has the best view of all.

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The Death of the Author: The Impact of Off-Screen Behaviour on On-Screen Antics…

The rather convolutedly-titled Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho will be arriving soon, the director’s Vertigo was recently named by Sight & Sound as the best film of all time and the British Film Institute is running a season of the director’s films. (There’s even a nice blu ray box set being released in October.) However, this focus on Alfred Hitchcock has, naturally, brought some focus on to the less pleasant aspects of his character. October, for example, will also see HBO airing The Girl, a documentary exploring his relationship with Tippi Hedren. She has some choice words on his character.

“I think he was an extremely sad character,” she said during a panel discussion of HBO’s upcoming The Girl, which recounts her troubled relationship with the director. “We are dealing with a brain here that was an unusual genius, and evil, and deviant, almost to the point of dangerous, because of the effect that he could have on people that were totally unsuspecting.”

Of course, such accusations and allegations are by no means new, but it does raise an interesting question about those masters of cinema. Even for those of us who resist the supermarket tabloid gossip about engagements and break-ups and cute-sounding-couple-nicknames, is it ever possible to divorce filmmaking from the person either in front or behind the camera?

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Non-Review Review: Half Moon Street

I do feel a little pang of sorrow that Half Moon Street opens with the “RKO” branding. RKO was the studio that gave us Citizen Kane and King Kong, so it’s just a bit disheartening to see the studio branding a half-hearted thriller that seems to exist only to show as much of Sigourney Weaver naked as humanly possible. Don’t get me wrong, of course, I’m not a prude. I have no problem with the notion of an “erotic thriller”, were it well handled. However, Half Moon Street is just a disjointed poorly-conceived mess featuring two leads who seem to give up on the movie about half-way through. It’s not as if there isn’t fertile ground for a gripping espionage thriller here, it’s more that the script by Edward Behr and Bob Swaim is so lifeless (and Bob Swaim’s direction so lethargic) that there’s absolutely no reason to care at all about anything that unfolds throughout the series of insanely massive coincidences that drive the plot.

“Okay… try to look inconspicuous…”

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My Best of 2011: The Artist, Tempering Nostalgia & Truly Accessible “True Art”…

It’s that time of the year. To celebrate 2011, and the countdown to 2012, I’m going to count down my own twelve favourite films of the year, one a day until New Year’s Eve. I’m also going to talk a bit about how or why I chose them, and perhaps what makes this list “my” best of 2011, rather than any list claiming to be objective.

The Artist is number three. Check out my original review here.

Spend a bit of time discussing film with people, and you’ll discover that a lot of prejudices exist about certain types of films and their audiences. For example, you’ll discover that some people cling to the believe that any film made on a budget of over six figures and released in the middle of summer is a brain-dead offense to the senses. On the other end of the scale, you’ll find those who protest that any narratively challenging or otherwise unconventional film is “pretentious” or “inaccessible.” These views don’t represent the majority opinion, but you’ll stumble across them if you converse about film enough. Thankfully, at least, The Artist puts paid to the idea that a black-and-white silent film is inherently “inaccessible.”

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Vault-emort: Harry Potter and the Disney Vault: Won’t Somebody Think of the Children?

I’ve known about the “Disney Vault” ever since I started buying DVDs, well over a decade ago. It’s the reason why you can’t simply go into a movie shop and ask for a copy of every Disney movie, as the company regulates the titles coming in and out of release on various home entertainment platforms at any given moment, giving consumers only the smallest window of opportunity to pick up a given childhood classic before snatching it away for another six or seven years. While I have some serious problems with the practice, it’s a shrewd economic move, and I always wondered why Disney were the only studio to really do it.

Well, Warner Brothers recently announced that they’d be doing something similar, pulling the theatrical versions of the Harry Potter films from DVD and blu ray on the 29th December 2011. That leaves movie fans with only forty-eight days in which to pick up their copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II. I suppose this sort of development was inevitable, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Will a lot of film fans feel a bit hallowed by the news?

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A Gilda Caged: Thoughts on the Movies We Label “Classic”…

I had the pleasure, a while back, of attending a screening of Gilda being hosted by the Irish Film Institute. The black-and-white forties noir-tinted thriller is somewhat warmly regarded among film historians, and one of those movies you label as a “classic” without any real hesitation. However, as I emerged from the cinema, I found myself wondering how such a film would be received were it released today. I honestly wonder what we would make of these “classics” if they didn’t have the word “classic” to hide behind.

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Cinematic Nostalgia: Old Films on the Big Screen…

Jameson, the wonderful people behind the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival and the Jameson Cult Film Club are planning on launching their own film blog this week. It’ll be well worth a look and, based on their passion for good cinema, it’s sure to be wonderful. Anyway, as part of the launch, I was delighted to be invited along to a screening of Chinatown with a few other Irish film bloggers. Hosted in a lovely little cinema, I have to admit that there was just something incredible about watching a classic film I had only ever seen on television projected on to a big screen like (I suppose) it had always been intended to be shown. Given how much any love affair with cinema draws on classics from eras long gone, I have to admit that I was genuinely blown away by the chance to see such a classic film on such a big screen.

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Non-Review Review: Fahrenheit 451

It always struck me as strange that there should be such a fuss about adapting Fahrenheit 451. After all, a book about how great books are, and how they are inherently superior to anything that any other media can offer (film and television included) seems a strange choice of subject matter for a big-budget science fiction film. Still, Francois Truffaut’s 1966 adaptation isn’t all bad… just a little strange.

Book 'em, boys...

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