Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Movie Review: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez & Frank Miller.   
Written by: Frank Miller based on his graphic novels.
Starring: Mickey Rourke (Marv), Jessica Alba (Nancy), Josh Brolin (Dwight), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Johnny), Rosario Dawson (Gail), Bruce Willis (Hartigan), Eva Green (Ava), Powers Boothe (Senator Roark), Dennis Haysbert (Manute), Ray Liotta (Joey), Christopher Meloni (Mort), Jeremy Piven (Bob), Christopher Lloyd (Kroenig), Jaime King (Goldie / Wendy), Juno Temple (Sally), Stacy Keach (Wallenquist), Marton Csokas (Damien Lord), Jude Ciccolella (Lt. Liebowitz), Jamie Chung (Miho), Julia Garner (Marcie), Lady Gaga (Bertha), Alexa PenaVega (Gilda).

I was a fan of Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s Sin City back in 2005. It felt new and different – and an interesting way to adapt the graphic novels by Miller – which I had bought, and enjoyed leading up to the movie. In the years since, more and more directors have done something similar to what Rodriguez and Miller did in Sin City, with increasingly poor results. I hadn`t thought about Sin City for a while – except for whenever there was an update on the long rumored sequel, that I had believed would never actually be made. When they finally officially announced it, I was still looking forward to the movie. Over the weekend before watching Sin City: A Dame to Kill, I went back and re-read the Miller graphic novels, and re-watched the original movie for the first time in years. While I don’t think either the graphic novels or the original movie are as good as I once did – I think they are both still very good, entertaining and somewhat unique. So despite some rather harsh reviews, I was still looking forward to the sequel. Unfortunately, the sequel doesn’t live up to either the graphic novels or the original movie. There is a numbing sameness to the movie – and everyone seems to be on autopilot.

The movie adapts one of the graphic novels and another of the shorts comics that Miller originally wrote, and then two new stories that were never published as graphic novels. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the two adapted from the original comics are the better of the four segments. The film opens with Just Another Saturday Night, a short, about Mickey Rourke’s brute Marv who discovers he`s been shot, and doesn’t quite remember what happened, so he slowly pieces together what happened. It`s a short, brutal, violent way to start the movie – but it works, for the most part. The other decent segment is the one that gives the movie its title – A Dame to Kill For – where Josh Brolin plays a pre-surgery Dwight (he was played by Clive Owen in the original film, but had gone through extensive plastic surgery, so it makes sense he`s played by a different actor this time). Brolin, unfortunately, is one of those actors on autopilot – he basically looks pissed off the whole segment, as he narrates the story of his old love Ava (Eva Green) coming back into his life, and completely ruining it. Ava is a typical Miller female character – basically a heartless femme fatale who would make Barbara Stanwyck blush – and she spends almost the entire segment naked, or nearly so. But she`s the one actor with a large role in the movie who seems to fully buy in, and she does a great job as a femme fatale. As she did in the unnecessary 300: Rise of an Empire (also affiliated with Miller) this year, she elevates an unnecessary sequel every time she`s onscreen – so much so that she makes almost everyone else in the film look bad.

The two original stories do not really add anything new to Sin City. In one, Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Johnny – a gambler who never loses, who has his sights set on the ever powerful Senator Roark (Powers Boothe). He wants to humiliate Roark, for personal reasons that eventually become clear. Gordon-Levitt is a fine actor, and he has already proven he handle noir dialogue in Brick, but here he is pretty much indistinguishable from the other male heroes in Sin City – who are basically as violent as the male villains, but have some sort of code. The second original story, which is intercut with the Gordon-Levitt segment, is about Nancy (Jessica Alba) – the stripper from the first movie, still in love with Hartigan (Bruce Willis) – the cop who saved her and then committed suicide to protect her (Willis shows up here, as a ghost – and I kept waiting for him to talk to Haley Joel Osment). Nancy has gone on a downward spiral, and also has her sights set on Roark – the man whose son Hartigan had to save her from twice. Alba has never been the best actress, but as in the first film, she`s a hell of a dancer, and she leaves an impression when she`s on stage – when she`s off though, she doesn’t make Nancy`s fall all that convincing – and that`s necessary, since Nancy was always the one ray of hope in the series that had none. Her downfall makes a dark series darker – yet the movie fails to make that hit as hard as it should.

Rodriguez and Miller basically shoot the movie exactly the same way they shot the original Sin City – but this time in 3-D. On the 3-D, I cannot say that I really even noticed it – even the usual complaint I have about 3-D that it makes everything unnecessarily dark, didn’t happen this time, since the majority of the film is in black and white anyway. But I don’t see much of a point in the 3-D either – it may not detract from the film, but it doesn’t add much either. I will say I still do like the overall visual look of Sin City though – with its dark black, bright whites and bold streaks of color. It looks like a film noir on crack, which is what they are going for.

But the visuals cannot save Sin City: A Dame to Kill For from being a rather dull exercise. This is a movie full of beheadings, gunfights, fist fights, a crazy doctor played by Christopher Lloyd, a heavily made up grotesque Stacy Keach and a lot of beautiful naked or nearly naked women – and yet for the most part, I was bored watching film. It doesn’t have the sense of danger the first film had and the series has lost the power to shock and surprise. It isn’t horrible film – but it is an unnecessary one.

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