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. 

The Bourne Legacy Review – Spy Slip-up


Director: Tony Gilroy

Writers: Tony Gilroy, Dan Gilroy (screenplay), Robert Ludlum (books)

Stars: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Stacy Keach


Release date: August 10th, 2012

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 135 minutes


2½/5

Best part: Jeremy Renner.

Worst part: The wavering pace.

It’s hard to believe that four years ago Jeremy Renner was a character actor working through small roles, trying desperately to achieve A-list status. His career post-Oscar nomination for The Hurt Locker has deservedly paid off; now with his first blockbuster lead role in action thriller The Bourne Legacy. His talent however far succeeds the material here as this latest instalment in the Bourne franchise is a missed opportunity.

Jeremy Renner.

Continuing the dislodging of covert operations Treadstone and Blackbriar at the conclusion of The Bourne Ultimatum, Jason Bourne’s actions have set off a deadly turn of events for everyone involved in the programs. The CIA however fails to stop Aaron Cross (Renner) from acquiring the strength, agility and intelligence needed to escape his handlers while covering his tracks. His actions collide with Dr. Martha Shearing (Rachel Weisz), a scientist with knowledge of his much needed resources. The unlocking of his genetic biology will hopefully find them an escape from the special forces hunting them across the globe. Along the way, as Cross and Shearing run across the world together, we become trapped the clutches of CIA dark-horse Eric Byer (Edward Norton), US Navy admiral Mark Turso (Stacy Keach), and agency director Ezra Kramer (Scott Glenn).

Rachel Weisz.

This instalment shares many flaws with the similarly underwhelming and overrated original, The Bourne Identity. Tony Gilroy (co-writer of the original trilogy, director of Duplicity and Michael Clayton) replaces action with political intrigue; removing the distinct thrills and tight pacing of The Bourne Supremacy and Ultimatum. The loss of Paul Greengrass’ kinetic, claustrophobic style loses the quick pacing, energetic action-set pieces tension filled story-telling needed for a post-9/11 thrill ride. Legacy is unevenly paced, with a dull narrative and multiple elements unimaginatively taken from previous instalments. The film skirts between reality and implausibility, with tracking from CIA and FBI headquarters stretching credibility and interest, while scarcely providing a threatening antagonist. Action is sparse here, with time spent mostly on the blowout from Jason Bourne’s controversial actions. Unfortunately, this provides nothing but confusing exposition and small appearances from characters important to the original trilogy. It’s an unnecessary instalment, only expanding this universe of covert agents around the globe to a small extent. Knowledge of the previous trilogy is important, with the Bourne scandal uncleanly presented in this story of political betrayal in the face of a post-9/11 media-based democracy.

“Now, I’ve got a plan, and it’s just not that complicated. What I’m going to do is wait for the next person to show up to kill you. Maybe they can help me.” (Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), The Bourne Legacy).

Edward Norton.

Edward Norton.

When the action does kick in, it delivers a much needed boost to Legacy‘s proceedings. the quick cuts, brutal hand-to-hand fight sequences and motorcycle chases, though derivative of previous instalments, establish the importance of this series in the genre. While the science lab shootout is chillingly effective for this gritty survival story. The heavily debated issue was how Renner was going to successfully take over the series without Matt Damon or the titular character. He continues his impressive string of performances here with the same intensity brought to similar roles in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and The Avengers. Having already proven his worth with both action and drama, his dialogue sequences with the likes of Oscar Isaac and Norton, as determined USAF handler Eric Byer, are electric, as his charisma, along with physical presence and agility in his many fist fights and rooftop chases, creates an impressionable lead actor. Rachel Weisz also succeeds as the sympathetic victim and Cross’ contact/aid, thankfully sporting a character with greater depth than the other female characters in this series and providing some much needed emotional force for this toned down instalment.

Undoubtedly, the Bourne franchise set the bar for modern action-thrillers and film franchises. Sadly, however, this series now appears to be cannibalising itself. Despite Gilroy’s efforts, this franchise seems outgunned and outmanned without its titular hero.

Verdict: An occasionally thrilling yet underwhelming fourth instalment.