Friday, January 28, 2011

The Stranger

The Stranger is a noir directed by and starring Orson Welles. This is a very important point to make, because Orson Welles' Noirs are not your typical noirs, which for The Stranger are both it's high point and downfall.

The plot: The Stranger is about a former Nazi, Professor Charles Rankin(Orson Welles) posing as a college professor when a war times criminal detective(Edward G Robinson) comes to town looking for him. Rankin has taken a wife and integrated himself into the small town. The biggest mystery here is what are the lengths to which he'll go to not be found out?

Since this is an Orson Welles Noir, a few things are a given: Big production values, great cinematography, great acting, and Orson steels the spotlight. It' similar to Hughes movie, if Hughes stared and had all the best lines. The Stranger is no different. The production values are great and the camera pans and dollies off the ground like no one's business. But while there are quite a few nice shots here, it's nothing compared to Welles other works such as A Touch of Evil or Citizen Kane.

The whole movie centers on what Rankin will do, meaning Welles gets most of the spotlight. Not that he didn't give a great intense performance, I just find it a shame because I was looking forward to seeing Edward G. Robinson let loose. It might have been the pacing or the fact that I already knew who the main villain was, and therefore who gets his comeuppance at the end(and man does Welles ever like his death scenes), but I just found it so hard to get through this. I didn't know exactly how it would end, but I just didn't find it suspenseful somehow. Even with it's dramatic music.

And gosh, what dramatic music it was! If you are into suspenseful dramatic movies in Noir movies like me, this will be high point for you. There was one scene in which Welles is patting the ground with a shovel, which could have been a very low, downplayed scene. Instead, CRAZY MUSIC! WHAT'S GOING ON! I HOPE SOMEONE DOESN'T FIND HIM DIGGING IN THE DIRT!

I found it more suspenseful in the beginning, right after someone had just committed a murder. It left me wondering if anyone's going to find the body or who's going to find out Rankin's real identity. But in the third act when literally everyone knows who the professor really is and there's still half an hour left, the rest of the movie feels so drawn out. And then the ending seems strangely happy with church belles and a smiling Edward G Robinson even after all the dramatic and trauma inducing events going on.

I wasn't really satisfied with this one. I couldn't wait for it to be over with. Sure it's got some nice shots and Orson Welles does a great Orson Welles impersonation, but I wouldn't say it's essential to your Noir library. I'd give it a 52 out of 85.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Racket

Robert Ryan with Technical Pen and Robert Mitchum with a Brush Pen

The Racket! Brought to you by HOWARD HUGHES.

Yes, that Howard Hughes.

This was a great movie with outstanding acting and production values. The only part I was really let down was it's story, which may be because I was expecting a Noir(and Gosh I love Noir), but instead it was more of a gangster flick.

The Set-up: There's a big crime syndicate in town headed by "The Old man" with one of the major players being Nick Scanlon(Robert Ryan). The police get Captain Thomas McQuigg(Robert Mitchum), the only honest cop left on the force, to take Scanlon and the man down. Also, there's a dame(Lizabeth Scott) because, you know, whatever. Movies gotta have dames!

Everything about the production of this movie was fantastic. I was first intrigued when I read and saw this one scene (which may be my favorite scene in the entire movie). If you're really into the nuts and bolts of movies and you know what Mise-en-scène is, you'll love this movie. The cinematography is amazing, and they set up shots beautifully. Watch that one clip above, you'll see the camera pan in and out seamlessly while characters step into shots and all the characters magically have enough room on screen! There's not one overlapping body there. It really feels like they actually put thought into how EVERYTHING would be set up instead of just throwing actors on screen and hoping it pans out well.

The acting in this is top notch, especially when the Robert's Ryan and Mitchum go at one another. Mitchum plays the cool collected police captain delivering glared silence as if they were catchy one-liners. And Robert Ryan (who should be in ever Noir movie EVER because he's such a badass. He's the Clive Owen of his time) makes a great villain as intense, cocky, and downright violent.

I haven't seen a lot of Howard Hughes films, but I suppose this is the way he makes them, top-notch. Also there were lots of shootouts, and a house exploded! I did not see that coming for a movie this old(Imagine the audience back then! Imagine to be the Michael Bay of your day.

I should mention about the music that...there was none. At least 80% of the movie was without music. There's a song in the middle sung by the main girl(which I'm guessing they shoehorned in there just for the audience or for the actress's contract) and some light tragic music when one of the main good guys died, but all the dramatic music you're used to hearing was absent. I honestly rather enjoyed that. It made room for the acting. Sorry composers.

The only real problem I had was with the story. It was very straight forward good guys vs. bad guys. You knew which side everyone was on, and you knew who was going to get the girl and who was going to get major comeuppance. Watching Noir, I'm used to shady characters whom you don't know who's side their on, crazy plot twists, fallen heroes and thugs with hearts of gold. None here. Good guys are good, bad guys are bad. Not that the characters didn't have character, you just knew whose team everyone was on.

Oh and here's a plot twist: The major good guys are all married! Gasp! No love interest to fawn over for two thirds of the movie?! Scandalous!

SPOILER ALERT SORTA They kept mentioning, "The old man" who must be the head crime lord honcho, and I kept expecting one of the characters we see to step into the light and reveal, "Don't you get it?! The old man's been dead for years. I am the old man! DUN DUN DUN" But no. We just get a phone cal at the end in which one of the main bad guys supposedly talks to him. Oh well. END SPOILER ALERT SORTA

Also, I felt it strange they kept introducing characters throughout the movie. Not minor characters, major characters. There's a newspaper reporter who's friends with the hardened beat cop that we don't meet until halfway through, yet he plays an intricate part of Nick's downfall. And he's the one who gets the girl! Why didn't we meet him sooner in the movie? I'm not saying it's bad film making, just an interesting choice, very frugal. We don't need him right now, so let's save him for later.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It had great pacing, and there wasn't one part where I was bored or thought was slow. I can't really fault the story for being what it was, just like I can't fault a family movie for not having enough blood. Really it was my expectations that were too in the gutter. I'd give it a solid 14 out of 17. If you're into old movies or you're an artist looking for good cinematography/shots reference, I'd highly recommend picking it up.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Green Hornet

Going into it, I was expecting the worst; half-ass at best. Reading some of the other reviews, I would have thought it wasn't even worth seeing, but honestly I thought it was a lot of fun!

The story: Bret Reid (Seth Rogen), inheriting a surprisingly vast fortune and becomes owner of a newspaper (ok, he's owner of the newspaper, but how could he possibly have THAT kind of mansion? I mean, it's a newspaper! Was this set in 1996?) after his father's untimely death, wants to do something with his life but doesn't know what. Enter Kato(Jay Chou) and his amazing kung-fu and car making abilities! So he decides to use his great wealth and Kato's everything else to become a badass superhero. Antics and car chases ensue.

A lot of people were wondering about the choice of Seth Rogen as the Green Hornet, and I can't help imagine what would have been if they had used more of a straight laced character, but I was still really entertained by Rogen's performance. It was an interesting story choice for a character who's basically Batman but if Robin had all the abilities and Batman just said "I'm Batman!" all the time. Jay Chou did a great job as Kato; He was funny and a great martial artist.

The main baddie(Christoph Waltz) was pretty funny in his own right. He was interesting and fairly believable as a villain whose ruthlessness gets more psychotic over time as his criminal organization gets taken down buy a chubby lovable guy in a green mask. They had some great surprise performances by James Franco and Edward James Olmos, but the real unexpected twist is Cameron Diaz.

I wouldn't be surprised if you didn't know she was in the movie because they barely advertised her at all. I think she might have been in one 2 second scene in the trailer but they were really misusing her star power. She's suposed to be the main girl who comes between Green Hornet and Kato. You have to wonder, if they weren't going to market her, why would they even put her in the movie? They could have just as easily used some pretty unknown. It's weird to think just ten years ago they would have advertised the crap out of her. Hell, half the poster would have been Diazed. But however much they regret using her, she did a stand up job in the part. It wasn't overly sexualized and she doesn't provide the role of "girl who just stands there and looks pretty". Also the end didn't turn out as romantically as I would have guessed, so that's a plus.

The fight scenes and car chases were action packed and great to watch. Whenever they'd get into a fight, Kato would go into "Kato kick-ass" mode(and the Green Hornet would go into "Seth rogen comedy relief" mode). I almost wish they used that strange visual style more throughout the movie, but it was enjoyable while it lasted. And if you're a fan of graphically amazing opening credits, stick til the end because the end credits really shine.

I have to say, for a PG-13 superhero movie based on a pulp icon not scene since the campy "batman shark repellant" days, the actual death toll was pretty huge. Sure there's not a lot of blood, but there's a good 20-30 dead bodies there when you think about it! But Bret and Kato are no goody goody types and I'm pretty happy to see a hero who's not afraid to shed some blood in this day and age.

The story was pretty straight forward, and most of the major plot twists you can see coming a mile away, but it's still an incredibly enjoyably film. I should mention I saw it in 2D, so I can't say anything on how good the 3D transition is. Overall I'd give it a solid 43 out of 54. I'd be willing to see it at least two more times. Recommended for anyone who's a fan of Seth Rogenesque comedy, kung fu action, and crazy car chase shoot outs.

The funnest trailer ever:

Welcome Fellow Movie Lovers!

Welcome to my new movie review blog: Sketched Screenings! I've started this blog because I love movies and writing and sketching and writing about movies and sketching from movies and why the crap don't I just combine them all together?! So here it is, my inaugural run!

Special thanks have to be given to my friend Katherine who helped me with the title. We cant remember who came up with it, but it was born out of our conversation. She has a blog about food and you should go check it out.

I'm not just going to be doing new movies (and considering I'm not a professional movie critic and don't have access to pre-screenings, by the time I review them they won't be new anyways), I'll also be reviewing older movies I just happened to pick up. Fair warning: Expect a looooot of Noir.

I'm not sure how often I'll post, it really depends on how many movies I'll watch, and how busy I am with other art related projects, but I'll try to do one at least once a week. Ish.

If you have any suggestions for movies or my writing, please let me know.

I hope you enjoy reading my reviews as much as I enjoy writing them!