Sin City: A Dame To Kill For (dir. Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller)

Posted: August 27, 2014 in Uncategorized

Professional critics have a big advantage over amateur critics: They get to see films early and before the critical consensus or box office results have passed judgment on the success of failure of a film’s artistry.  I walked into “Sin City: A Dame To Kill For” knowing that it received mixed-to-negative reviews, some from those who praised the original “Sin City” film 9 years ago, and that the film has for all intents and purposes bombed at the box office in relation to its budget and expectations.  This one two punch of bad news can both dissuade a person from seeing a film in the theater, and set a person up to walk into the film thinking it is going to be a disappointment.  This is sad because, quite frankly, this film is one that BEGS to be seen in 3-D, and most people do not have 3-D televisions to replicate this experience in their homes.  The 3-D fad is usually considered to be dying out these days, with audiences fed up with paying extra money for the tickets only to be presented with a film where the 3-D either adds nothing to the experience, or was a shitty post-production conversion that looks shoddy.  Sure, a film like “Dredd” or “Gravity” comes along here or there to remind us that 3-D can be used to heighten the experience of a film, but usually this is not the case.  I remember seeing “Green Lantern” in horrific 3-D with ghosting all over the place. *shudders*

If it weren’t a sequel, and we hadn’t seen the visual style of ADTKF 9 years ago, this film would be hailed for its visionary and, quite frankly, beautiful visuals.  This is a film that can be paused on almost any frame and you’d have something interesting and aesthetically pleasing to look at.  I’m not just saying that because Eva Green spends almost all of her screen time fully nude either.  The 3-D adds an extra layer to this, making us feel like we’re falling into the panels of a hard boiled neo-noir comic book.  If you wanted to watch the film on mute and just enjoy the visuals as a pretty piece of modern art, you could.  It seems critics and audiences have taken such visuals for granted simply because it’s a sequel.  How easily we lose our gratitude.  Considering other films who attempt to do what “Sin City” does, having actors and some props be practical but have nearly all sets be digital, we should not be so quick to dismiss the visual beauty of a film like this just because it’s a sequel.  “300” was ugly and painful to watch, which combined with its morally reprehensible pro-Iraq War message resulted in it being one of the few films I’ve ever given an F to.  “Sucker Punch” was not nearly as ugly all of time (visually, at least.  Its misogyny is another matter), but no film has truly used this production method to create such interesting and evocative images as the “Sin City” films have.  It’s a shame that because critics have grown rigid and audiences got tired of waiting for a sequel that the film now has the stink of failure on it, and it may dissuade fans of the original from enjoying this film that way it was meant to, in 3-D.

There is the question of why this film took almost a decade to be made.  The first “Sin City” was an achievement that captured audiences, impressed critics, and even won a technical award at the Cannes film festival.  So why did director Robert Rodriguez (I know Frank Miller is credited as a director as well, but how much he deserves that credit is arguable) wait so long to make this film?  The box office failure of the film is likely a result of not striking while the iron was hot.  It would be easy to blame Rodriguez, who followed up “Sin City” with some shitty children’s movies (“Sharkboy and Lava Girl”? “Shorts”? Another fucking “Spy Kids” movie?) and a crappy sequel to “Machete”, but he also brought us one half of “Grindhouse”, one of the most fun theater experiences I’ve had in a while, and the first “Machete” which was cheesy fun.  He also had a hand in “Predators”, which did a decent job of getting that franchise back on track after the horrendous “Alien vs. Predator” films.  In interviews, Rodriguez and Frank Miller have blamed the Weinsteins for the delay, and I’m inclined to believe that.  After all, the evil Weinstein brothers are responsible for holding “All The Boys Love Mandy Lane” on a shelf for years, destroying its critical and financial chances to take its rightful place as one of the best horror films of the 2000s.  I have not seen “Snowpiercer” yet, but the buzz is that it’s one of the year’s best films and a great dystopia that would have had a chance at mainstream success, but the Weinsteins wanted to cut the film for US audiences and, when the director wouldn’t budge, they decided to bump the film onto VOD  after a perfunctory limited theatrical release.  Every film buff worth their salt hates the Weinsteins at this point.  Delaying a “Sin City” sequel and dumping it in the late August death slot is just another in a long list of sins the Weinsteins have committed against film.

I’m not saying that ADTKF is a great film being given an undeserved shaft.  The visuals are gorgeous, yes, but the stories this time are not as captivating as those in the first film, and a lot of the violence lacks the same impact they had in that prior film.  That being said, this film is a lot of fun.  Building on how much love audiences have for Marv in the last film, we get much more of him here.  This may also be because Mickey Rourke’s comeback seems to have stalled and he had more time to devote to this project.  That would be a shame, as I was hoping his post-“The Wrestler” popularity would carry him through to more interesting roles befitting of his talent.  Sadly, that seems to have not happened.  Luckily for us, Marv is the same old Marv, busting heads and protecting ladies.  If his story arcs lack the emotion and pathos of his previous outing, at least the poor lug has a lot of fun in this film.

We also go back in time to see what Dwight was up that lead to his facial reconstruction surgery.  Josh Brolin plays him now, replacing Clive Owen.  One of the new films major flaws is when we see Dwight post-surgery, and all the film does is give Brolin the haircut Owen had in the previous film.  It’s laughable that the character (or the filmmakers) think that would help anything.  No matter.  Brolin fits well in the hard-boiled universe, though I did miss Owen’s English accent for the character.  He ends up embroiled in drama with an ex of his, the title dame played by Green.  Green has decided, with the “300” sequel (unseen by me due to my hatred of the first film) and this film to apparently become the next great fantasy girl of comic book geeks.  Unlike, say, Jessica Alba (who is also in this film, and does little more than PG-13 strip routines), Green actually has talent, screen presence, and commands all attention when she’s on camera.  Her character, the femme fatale who fools and entraps all men and uses her sexuality to get ahead without being used BY the sexuality, is the most alive thing on the screen.  Her body, often nude, is a special effect in itself, and she brings this character to life in an electric way that raises the quality of the entire film around her.  Her story forms the center and the bulk of the film, and wisely so.  It’s been a long time since she first graced the screen in “The Dreamers”, another film where she was nude most of the time, and I’m glad that now she is being recognized not just as a screen beauty no one ever doubted she was, but as a strong actress who can portray fierce characters in a way few other modern actresses can.

I’ve always had an issue with Jessica Alba.  I don’t mind that she’s against being nude on camera.  No actress should be required to do anything they aren’t comfortable doing.  What I have a problem with is she tries to have it both ways.  She claims to be against the nudity because she doesn’t want to be seen only as a sex object but as an actress, and yet she doesn’t seem to want to improve her acting ability with lessons to get better roles.  She also almost hypocritically allowed digital nudity to be grafted onto her body for “Machete”.  I’m not sure what difference it makes if the nudity is digital or real on whether you are objectified or not. I think she wants to have it both ways, and without a cogent explanation for it, combined with the holier-than-thou attitude she has toward on screen nudity, it just makes the actress rub me the wrong way. She reprises her role of Nancy from the first film, but she spends 2/3rds of her screen time in this film dancing in various states of undress.  That’s it. When she’s not dancing around half-naked, she’s leading us to the most anti-climactic ending I’ve seen in quite some time.  She does nothing in this film to convince me that she still deserves to be called an actress.

Our last main story involves a new character, Jonny (Joseph Gordon Levitt) who is very lucky at the slots and cards, and who challenges Sen. Roarke (Powers Boothe) to a game of poker. Roarke is the Big Bad of the world of Sin City, seen briefly in the previous film.  Here, he takes center stage as our other main villain, along with Green.  Between Boothe, Dennis Haysbert (replacing the late Michael Clarke Duncan), and Roarke (as in Mickey), we have quite a few awesome voices in this film.  Other actors include Christopher Meloni, Jeremy Piven, Lady Gaga, and Ray Liotta.  Oh, and Bruce Willis found time to drop in for a cameo as the late Hardigan.  The movie has cast to spare.

The weaker stories, the anti-climactic ending, and the REALLY “reconstruction” of the Dwight character are the main deficits to the film.  These are balances out by the basic fun, the strong non-Alba cast, the gorgeous visuals, the unusually spectacular effect that 3-D adds, Eva Green’s commanding performance, and the overall fun going on.  Straddling the line between a B and a B+, I find myself falling over onto the B side.  It’s not quite there to earn a B+, but I have affection for the film.  It’s violent and sexy as hell.  I only wish it had come sooner, and that Rodriguez and Miller would have taken the extra time to punch up the script a bit. B.



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