Sin City: A Dame to Kill For Review – Feelin’ Black, White, & Blue


Directors: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller

Writer: Frank Miller (screenplay & graphic novel)

Stars: Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt

sin-city-2-poster


Release date: August 25th, 2014

Distributors: Dimension Films, Troublemaker Studios

Country: USA

Running time: 102 minutes


3/5

Best part: The dynamic cast.

Worst part: The confusing structure.

Back in the 1990s, one well-known comic-book writer sparked up the perfect concept for a truly unforgettable graphic novel. As a political and social satire, the Sin City series skewers everything our capitalism-run world has, and will ever have, to offer. Amicably, creator Frank Miller didn’t aspire to make millions when it was first released. In fact, if you read anything he’s done, or listen to any of his interviews, his unique viewpoints still stand tall. With that in mind, his recent cinematic endeavours come off as wholly contradictory and hypocritical.

Mickey Rourke and Jessica Alba tearing down Sin City.

Mickey Rourke and Jessica Alba tear down Sin City.

With his latest project, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, he and co-director Robert Rodriguez are simply treading old ground for a quick profit. With this instalment blazing through cinemas, the question Should asked: why is it  coming out nine years after the first one? With the 2005 original breaking the mould for comic-book adaptations, and becoming a critical and commercial surprise hit, why did it take so long? Sure, the 2008 Global Financial Crisis hit several major studios hard. However, that didn’t stop Rodriguez and Miller from crafting mega-flops like The Spirit and the Machete double. Our two pop-culture conquerors built this bewildering comeback effort from the ground up. Developing a powerful concoction of film noir, exaggerated comic-book gloss, and gritty action extravaganza, this rushed return delivers momentous highs and lows. Spreading several stories across this nightmarish ordeal, the hidden ingredients fuel its best moments. Sadly, these ingredients are hard to find. First off, in ‘Just Another Saturday Night’, we see the violent return of hulking badass Marv (Mickey Rourke). With no recollection of his past, Marv tries to figure out how and why he crashed a car before murdering several teenage gangsters. Next up, in ‘The Long Bad Night’, we are introduced to slick poker champ Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Swaggering into Kadie’s Saloon, he hits the slot machines before besting the all-powerful Senator Roark with the cards. Soon after, Johnny is taught one major lesson: don’t mess with a Roark!

Eva Green and Josh Brolin chewing on the scenery AND each other.

Eva Green and Josh Brolin chewing on the scenery AND each other.

These stories, rekindling the original’s invigorating tone and consistent pacing, make for a cracking first third. Throwing old and new characters through this awe-inspiring universe, the opening scenes deliver over-the-top action beats and emotional resonance. In addition, these sequences set up a magnetic mystery-thriller vibe for the narrative to capitalise on. Unfortunately, the middle and final thirds fail to deliver on the first’s promises. The third storyline, ‘A Dame To Kill For’, takes up a significant part of this instalment’s efficient run-time. After Dwight (Josh Brolin) falls for yet another one of Ava Lord(Eva Green)’s tricks, the movie’s gratuitously eyes down the slinky dames and leather-clad hookers of Old Town. With Gail (Rosario Dawson) and Miho (Jamie Chung) leading the charge, the titular storyline becomes a lugubrious mix exposition and tiresome twists. In addition, some sub-plots hinder this vignette’s overarching impact. One story-line, involving a conflict between detectives Mort (Christopher Meloni) and Bob (Jeremy Piven), sucks the tension and gravitas out of this otherwise intriguing narrative. However, the final third’s vignette, ‘Nancy’s Last Dance’, in which Nancy Callaghan (Jessica Alba) – recovering from saviour John Hartigan (Bruce Willis)’s suicide – heads straight for Roark, lacks this series’ coherency, humour, and allure. Relying on kooky comedic moments and tiresome action beats, this storyline is nowhere near as creative as Rodriguez and Miller think it is. Ultimately, our two writer/directors never blend these heavy-handed, sequel/prequel-purposed vignettes together effectively. Thanks to overcooked dialogue, hokey narration, and misogynistic overtones, Miller’s involvement nearly eviscerates this puzzling instalment.

“Sin City’s where you go in with your eyes open, or you don’t come out at all.” (Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Sin City: A Dame to Kill For).

Joseph Gordon-Levitt fuelling the film noir flame.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt fuelling the film noir flame.

Creating ‘The Long Bad Night’ and ‘Nancy’s Last Dance’ specifically for this adaptation, Rodriguez and Miller’s latest effort awkwardly fuses their once-celebrated styles with more-recent ticks. As two great tastes that don’t go together anymore, Miller’s cynical perspective and Rodriguez’ nostalgia-drenched glow never blend. Fortunately, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For clings onto the original’s breathtaking visuals. In fact, Rodriguez’ style pays off throughout. Bolstering their black and white creations, his atmospheric direction delivers several memorable flourishes and captivating compositions. Indeed, his cinematography, editing, and production design choices elevate every sequence. Filling certain frames with smoke, chiaroscuro lighting patterns, kinetic colour splashes, blood splatters, and breasts, his direction bolsters Miller’s nihilistic narrative and abrasive character designs. The action, despite harming the climax, bolsters certain panels and ideas. Above all else, Rodriguez deserves credit for rewarding such respected performers. Credit belongs to this obscene cast for fuelling this belated instalment. Despite the obvious nine-year hiatus, Rourke, Alba, Boothe, and Dawson efficiently sink back into their beloved characters. New cast members including Brolin, Meloni, Piven, and Dennis Haysbert perform adequately despite the challenges involved. However, chewing up the scenery, Gordon-Levitt and Green stand out in valuable roles.

Beneath the wind and rain coursing through Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Rodriguez and Miller languish in its seedy underbelly. Immersing themselves within this world, these writer/directors fail to re-capture the original’s imagination and vigour. Becoming an oppressive parody of original, this instalment comes off like an ageing stripper – once flexible and courageous, now belligerent and unconvincing. However, credit belongs to Rourke, Brolin, Gordon-Levitt, and Green for embracing their surroundings and delivering splendid turns in two-dimensional roles. Clearly, in going by the trailer’s advice, they went in with their eyes open.

Verdict: An enjoyable sequel arriving nine years too late. 

Machete Kills Review – A Bloody Mess


Director: Robert Rodriguez

Writer: Kyle Ward

Stars: Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez, Mel Gibson, Carlos “Charlie Sheen” Estevez


Release date: October 11th, 2013

Distributor: Open Road Films

Country: USA

Running time: 108 minute


 

1½/5

Best part: The energetic performances.

Worst part: Rodriguez’ direction.

Every so often, big-name directors churn out critically and commercially panned movies, and, because they are stuck in the spotlight, they become ridiculed beyond belief. It may not be fair, but it’s inevitable. It proves that even Hollywood’s greatest figures make mistakes. However, I wish to point out a much worse scenario – when an auteur all but gives up on their grand vision. Mexican director Robert Rodriguez (Desperado, From Dusk till Dawn) has fallen into this trap. Judging by his latest action flick, Machete Kills, this director should go back to the drawing board. It has it’s moments, but, sadly, that’s the highest praise I can give it. Unfortunately, this zany homage becomes a schizophrenic miasma of stereotypes, actors collecting pay-checks, and dull sub-plots.

Danny Trejo & Michelle Rodriguez.

Rodriguez’ abhorrent laziness and lack of subtlety stand out in Machete Kills. There are not enough words to describe how schlocky, bland, and convoluted this exploitation flick becomes during its exhaustive 108 minute run-time. Bafflingly, describing this uninspired action flick’s plot requires a lot of energy and patience. Left for dead after a drug bust gone horribly wrong, leading to Sartana Rivera(Jessica Alba)’s murder, Machete (Danny Trejo) must reel from his lover’s death whilst being threatened by Sheriff Doakes (William Sadler). Thankfully, during his execution, he is summoned by US President Rathcock (Carlos Estevez aka Charlie Sheen) to save the USA and Mexico. Teamed up with feisty beauty queen and informant Blanca Vasquez (Amber Heard) and one-eyed senorita Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), Machete tracks down wanted revolutionary Marcos Mendez (Demian Bichir) before he can obliterate Washington DC. However, Mendez’ abduction doesn’t bode well for Mexico’s future. Mendez hurriedly places a $10 million bounty on himself to be saved from his tough-as-nails captor. This sets off a chain reaction, as brothel owner Madame Desdemona (Sofia Vergara), arms dealer Luther Voz (Mel Gibson), and infamous assassin El Camaleon (Lady Gaga, Cuba Gooding jr., Antonio Banderas, Walton Goggins) poke their heads out from the Mexican desert to track down the mysterious anti-hero and his personality-shifting captee. Machete, considered a legendary badass and skilled lover, could use his remarkable talents to decapitate pure evil itself!

Carlos “Charlie Sheen” Estevez.

Honestly, despite researching this inferior sequel’s numerous arcs and twists, I can’t seem to recall anything about this movie. Rodriguez, convinced he is Mexico’s greatest visionary director, is now playing a one note banjo. This talented yet misguided filmmaker has underwhelmed since his debut feature El Mariachi took the low-budget film-making world by storm. That $7,000 gem placed one man in a frightening situation and pushed him to the edge. Machete Kills, with a budget probably 10 000x that of his first movie, should have relished in its opportunities to enthral filmgoers. Sadly, Rodriguez’ style and attention to detail have steadily declined in quality. Despite Sin City‘s understated success, movies like Spy Kids and Planet Terror failed to impress despite their overwhelming potential. Despite his Mexi-can-do attitude, Rodriguez’ talents are sorely wasted on Machete Kills. Though the original wasn’t exactly high art, it contained the grit and guts needed for this type of nostalgic romp. With Machete spawning from a fake trailer featured in 2007’s Grindhouse flop, Rodriguez’ senseless pride, bloated ego, and misguided optimism have proven costly. With its poor box-office receipts, the Machete series can assuredly be labelled the ‘headless chicken’ of franchises (not too dissimilar to the headless beings scattered throughout Rodriguez’ previous efforts). Surprisingly, Rodriguez had the audacity and guile to credit screenwriter Kyle Ward. Machete Kills, planting an array of exploitation-fantasy tropes into its confused narrative, lacks the punchy dialogue and unique characters Quentin Tarantino can craft from scratch. Jumping from Tex-Mex action flick to sci-fi extravaganza, Rodriguez’ ambitiousness flails as this ode to 70s exploitation cinema fizzles out before the half-way point. His purposefully derivative direction is, in itself, ageing dreadfully. With Rodriguez’s reach exceeding his grasp, Machete Kills proves that Rodriguez’ mid-life crisis is now becoming tiresome.

“I just gotta say that you are one genuine article, Genghis Khan, high-caliber, f*cker-people-upper.” (Voz (Mel Gibson), Machete Kills).

Sofia Vergara.

Rodriguez’ wink-and-nudge visual style, still as pulpy and outrageous as it was in the 90s, rages throughout Machete Kills. Stuck in Tarantino’s shadow, Rodriguez can’t help himself when it comes to filling every frame with gratuitous and wacky imagery. Kicking off Machete Kills with a goofy trailer for the threequel, Machete Kills Again…in Space, he douses the camera in elaborate costumes and unconvincing CGI. Despite the gag casting of Justin Bieber and Leonardo DiCaprio in the fake trailer, it proves the Machete character shouldn’t have left that 2-3 minute marketing realm. Replicating the kooky and laughable visuals reminiscent of direct-to-DVD and 60s sci-fi action flicks, Rodriguez’ kitsch aesthetic has become alarmingly discomforting. Here, the CGI backgrounds, blood splatters, and muzzle flashes overshadow the enjoyable and exhaustive action sequences. Despite consistently delivering his movies on time and under-budget (admittedly, a commendable feat), his style lacks the dynamic punch, satirical edge, and necessary thrills that could’ve made Machete Kills a bonafide hit. Here, tacky settings and cheap practical effects highlight Machete Kills‘ datedness. Fortunately, the bevy of B/C-list actors and Hollywood’s most deplorable celebrities lift the audience’s spirits. Clearly, these actors know more about B-movies than Rodriguez thinks he does. Trejo, a direct-to-DVD king himself, is a wondrous and engaging screen presence. Growling and slashing in every scene, he elevates several sorely unimaginative set-pieces. The titular legendary figure becomes a Mexican Roger-Moore-James-Bond-esque hero. Meanwhile, Vergara, Estevez, Gibson and Heard deliver sumptuous turns in underwhelming roles. Also, in Machete Kills‘ least interesting subplot, the El Camaleon becomes a breeding ground of unique celebrities and outrageous performances.

Unfortunately, Machete Kills‘ few shining moments become bursts of oxygen escaping a overwhelmingly toxic environment. Rodriguez’ penchant for making terrible movies on purpose has turned him into an obsessive and alienating director. Someone should tell Hollywood this ’emperor’ has no clothes.

Verdict: A clumsy and pointless hack-and-slash flick.