February 25th: Touch of Evil

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Release Date: 1958
Director: Orson Welles
Why I picked this: It’s about time to watch some older movies

It’s one of the last “classic noir” films ever directed, and it sure is a good one. Beginning with a masterfully directed tracking shot following a car and a couple, this classic is instantly memorable for its visuals, dialogue, and use of music. There’s some great directing here, as expected from the man who gave us “Citizen Kane.” Shots are framed very well, with a creative use of shadows to shroud certain characters in mystery. Deep focus is used, putting everything on frame in focus; every shot is densely filled as a result. The dialogue is very intricate and detailed as well. There’s a certain classiness to what many of these characters are saying. I loved moments in which conversations would overlap and characters would talk over each other. All of the conversations in this movie felt organic as a result. One of my favorite aspects of the movie is the use of diegetic sound, specifically the use of music. Songs playing in the background of the scenes perfectly matched the tone of the conversations being held; it really set the tone for these scenes. Songs are constantly playing throughout the movie, but it is seamless and never distracting. There is also a great musical score that fits very well with the music played within the world of the movie. The film’s plot is an interesting one; it takes place at the U.S.-Mexico border, and begins with a car bomb planted on the Mexican side killing the occupants of the car on the U.S side. Most prominently involved in the investigation are drug enforcement official Mike Vargas, played by classic movie actor Charlton Heston, and police captain Hank Quinlan, played by writer/director Orson Welles. As the plot progresses, there becomes a clearer line between the two characters, regarding their motivations and intentions. The U.S.-Mexico border could very well be a metaphor for the line between good and evil. Quinlan comes across as having a philosophy of “the ends justify the means”; upon watching his actions in the film, the title “Touch of Evil” will begin to make more sense. The end result of his actions might not make him look like a bad man, in fact, he has quite a good reputation, but his methods are questionable. The visual atmosphere of the movie creates a shroud of ambiguity. Welles plays Quinlan with an appropriate amount of menace. Vargas is shown to have standards; he has some heroic qualities, but there are moments where he might considered being right on that line between good and evil. Heston’s performance is effective, but not necessarily impressive. I also find it strange that they didn’t have a Hispanic actor play Vargas. The only other performance I really took notice of was Dennis Weaver as a mentally challenged manager of a motel in which Vargas’ wife stays at; he is very good at playing someone who is frantic and confused. This movie has a lot of classic noir elements, such as the use of low angles and an overall cynical tone. The ending did a decent job wrapping the plot up; I found the editing to be a little haphazard at this point, though.

Very well directed with a special attention to dialogue and music; the visuals and themes are very much like those you would find in noir, but Orson Welles himself is really the only impressive main actor.

February 6th: Following

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Release Date: 1998
Director: Christopher Nolan
Why I picked this: It’s the only Nolan film I haven’t seen

The themes of this movie are hard to grasp, but I don’t ever remember encountering a story like this. It is definitely a Chris Nolan film, however. Low budget, shot in black-and-white, and only a mere seventy minutes long, this noir movie follows (no pun intended) a writer who calls himself “Bill,” who follows people, to see who they are, what they do. His reasoning is unclear, but he likes the idea of singling out a person from a crowd; they are not longer simply “part of a crowd,” they are their own person. But he becomes a little too obsessed with one “followee” named Cobb, who takes notice of Bill following him. Cobb tells Bill the nature of his “job,” which is essentially robbery. Sort of taking BIll under his wing, Cobb and Bill break into multiple homes to steal objects; Cobb has a unique philosophy; it’s not for the money, it’s for the adrenaline; he observes the inhabitants, even messing with their personal lives, such as playing undergarments from another robbery into someone’s pants pockets. Bill and Cobb have very interesting motives and reasoning, but like most Nolan films, they explicitly talk about them, not giving the audience a lot of room to think for themselves. The narrative is told in a non-linear fashion, which confused at first, but of course it makes more sense by the end. However, while I enjoyed watching images from earlier in the film begin to make more sense near the end, I don’t feel that the narrative structure necessarily enhanced the story. I enjoyed some of the editing and the framing of shots; the movie clearly wants to notice and make notes of certain elements within the world of the movie. However, the low budget feel was occasionally frustrating, and I don’t feel that the black-and-white look added anything to the visuals. The music by David Julyan is atmospheric, but unmemorable. The actors are all unknowns, but they all do a decent job. Alew Haw as Cobb did a good job; his performance, in my view, had hints of Tyler Durden from “Fight Club,” though Cobb came across as more classy. There is a very Nolan-esque ending, and while it is well-written, I felt that the execution was not as strong given the gravity of the revelation.

Pretty much what you would expect from Nolan in terms of story and visual style, albeit low budget and shorter, which is good or bad depending on your taste.