Scene 19 – Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is a film that does about what you’d expect from a sequel that finally hits theaters almost ten years after its predecessor,  it gives the audience more of the same in terms of style and characters, but  not a whole lot more to be honest . Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller return to co-writing and directing duties, bring the same visually stunning style that made the first movie  so resonate with audiences and fans.

The sequel takes ironically enough takes place in the same world; Sin City,  and once again tells its eerie noir vignettes through multiple character point-of-views full of its signature gratuitous violence, over-the-top vulgarity, and the black and white comic book panel style interspersed with dramatic splashes of color for effect.

Much of the original cast returns as well, and thankfully the nine years since the original Sin City have been kind to those actors…well the CG has been kind and done wonders for Mickey Rourke, who returns as the fan favorite Marv. Marv is just as insane and unpredictable as he was the first time around as he bashes skulls and swigs whiskey in his unusual but entertainingly written way.

Jessica Alba is given much more to do this time around as her character Nancy finally lets Sin City and the loss of Hartigan (Bruce Willis) corrupt her. It can be a bit confusing as to when the stories in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For do actually take place, as this particular story takes place after the first film, but other segments/characters, including a pre-gold eye Manute (Dennis Haysbert replacing the late Michael Clark Duncan), take place notably before the events of Sin City.

The notable new cast are actually a nice switch-up, and add the few factors of the film that somewhat outdo the original Sin City. Josh Brolin was born to play a character in these films with his square jaw and lined face, and he takes the focus of the movie, playing the dangerously smitten Dwight. Dwight can’t say no to his ex-lover Eva (played conveniently by Eva Green)…and to blame him who could, considering she is naked for pretty much the entirety of her scenes.

Eva Green yet again steals every scene, just as she did in 300: Rise of an Empire, and looks stunning with the black-and-white contrast mixed with her red lips and green eyes. This style of cinematography suits her down to the ground and she is clearly going through one of the most productive parts of her career, playing outlandish, strong and not always virtuous characters.

Another welcomed addition is Joseph Gordon Levitt, who brings one of the more noir-ish storylines as Johnny, a poker player that’s on a roll with revenge on his mind….if that doesn’t sound like a line from a movie poster I don know what does! His clash with the returning Powers Boothe as Senator Roark ends up being one of my favorite portions of the film, as it is so suited to the noir style.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For suffers from many of the same problems that the first film had, namely a severe imbalance in the quality in effects and artistic values. Some scenes, such as a sequence that sees Marv beat up the bad guys from the point-of-view of the camera following him through windows in a mansion, almost Hulk-esque,  are brilliantly directed by Rodriguez. Then on the other hand  we have scenes like one with Marv and Nancy on motorcycles, which look so fake and poor that it’s almost laughable. I know Rodriguez is a director that likes to walk the line in terms of his vision and how he goes about achieving it, but its scenes like this that take away a lot of the artistic argument for these films.

Another point I had are the stories, or their extremities rather, as the stories/characters get so excessive or extreme, just for sake of being shocking, and end up ultimately feeling fake.…again this could be analysing  Sin City as a fiction movie rather the a comic adaptation movie. They, as in comic book adaptations,  are speaking to the raging hormone fanboy audience that prefers something more colorful to usual language, saying that is not that there isn’t a place for this type of storytelling, but it will certainly take down an otherwise intelligently original film.

Fans of the original film will find Sin City: A Dame to Kill For satisfying to those same distinct tastes for stylized violence and larger-than-life quirky characters. But even with some exciting new additions to the cast, the film never goes beyond the trappings of the original film and rarely, if ever, does anything better.


Scene 16 – Watchmen

This weeks movies we delve into the comic universe that is Watchmen. Personally speaking Watchmen, along with a lot of Frank Milller’s work grabbed my attention. This was mainly due to the roughness or the characters, worlds, and plots etc etc…just check out the Batman: The Killing Joke, written by nine time Eisner Award winner for best writer, Alan Moore….who also wrote Watchmen.

Firstly, a little bit about the graphic novel itself. In the mid-1980s, revered comic-book writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons got together to collaborate on a graphic novel called Watchmen, which became an instant phenomenon with comic book fans; selling in the millions, inspiring countless imitators and establishing the graphic novel as a legitimate literary form.…wining the first Eisner Award.  So almost as soon as it was published, movie studios lined up with their chequebooks out, only to shuffle quietly away once they had actually read the thing.  It was a vast, meta-textual post-modern story about a group of ‘damaged’ people pretending to be superheroes, set in an alternative 1984 universe, where Nixon is still president…which is scary enough as is,  and nuclear war looms on the horizon. The book was deemed ‘unfilmable’ for over twenty years by movie exec’s. That was, until Zack Snyder took the reins, having proved he could handle this sort of material with his frame-by-frame adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300….but lets not mention his later ‘I’ll take the reins’ movie..Man of Steel…but lets never talk about that!

Snyder delivers a beautifully opening montage credit sequence that sets out the breathtaking visual scheme and establishes an alternate historical context, while also showing the brutal murder of The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a retired super hero…in one of my favourite opening sequences, that relays and depicts comic books panels through film so well. The story picks up with a cursory police investigation that goes nowhere, so it falls on Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), a masked vigilante and our gravel-voiced narrator, to find out who killed his former colleague. Having reconnected with his now-outlawed crime-fighting group, Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson), Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), Silk Spectre (Malin Ackerman) and the only true ‘super-powered’ hero, the atomically-mutated Dr Manhattan (Billy Crudup). Rorschach uncovers a vast conspiracy to kill off all the remaining superheroes in an effort to provoke a nuclear war.

Snyder’s take on the book runs a lengthy two hours and forty minutes,  but accurately follows the complicated contours of the source novel it has to be said,  gracefully portraying the mechanisms that builds its multi-layered philosophical core.…ie, keeping the mad comic book nerds happy. Watchmen the movie is  visually dazzling…quite the mouthful. Snyder uses Gibbons’ original panels as a storyboard and somehow connects the narrative as accurately as graphic novel to motion picture has been, having seeing a series of disastrous adaptations with League of Extraordinary Gentlemen being as low as it got. Between these poor adaptations and Moore general perception of the film industry, Moore now refuses to take a screen credits and wants no involvement in the scripts. Gibbons is a supremely talented artist but Moore is the storytelling genius and Watchmen is probably his masterpiece.

One thing that does bother me with this whole fascination or trend of turning comic book/graphic novels into movies is the transparence between the written work and the scripts…Artistic liberties, is what some people call it.  I feel the same about these ‘based of a true story’ movies…how much is actually based? He had the same colour jumper…I think that counts. It leads to instances like Christopher Nolan’s staggeringly successful Dark Knight , which offered a simple binary relationship between order and chaos, good and evil, while Watchmen presents a vast spectrum of moral positions and character perspectives….and kinda goes under the radar. Watchmen asks ‘why people want to be heroes in the first place?’, ‘what drives ordinary men and women to fight crime?’ and ‘whether or not they are suited to the task of delivering justice?’ It doesn’t sugar coat the fact that they are human,  exploring both their good and bad sides, their altered-egos, their private and public lives. We see their memories and dreams. The third act does counter all this being based primarily on Mars, and containing far to much of Dr. Manhattan…if you know what I mean.

The novel is constructed like a Tamagotchi, a recurring symbol, delicately establishing and expanding ones-self into seeing the world in numerous different ways, and in turn helping them to figure themselves out….ok well not a Tamagotchi, but it my world that ranks pretty high. This is the ultimate self goal in every self-help book and isn’t really possible in cinema, which unfolds at a set rate, twenty-four frames a second, and abhors eternally parallel narratives. You cannot flick back through the pages of a movie if you miss something or fail to make a connection. You have to get it the first time…unless you rematch and so on.

Snyder’s version grinds through the gears of the story as he directs slow-motion fight scenes combined with intellectual tussles. He stages the major incidents of the book with a perfectionist eye for detail, guided by his own fanboy reverence and a team of special-effects imagineers. And I think it is his fanboy-isim that is the glue for his page for page graphic-storyboard, that’s inventive and attractive, that comes together in a satisfyingly-nerdy way. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t read the novel, as is the brilliance of Alan Moore’s writing, which transfers seamlessly to film, all you need is one nerdy fanboy and a few hundred-million dollars.

To conclude, Watchmen is a noir-influenced crime drama, set in a fascinating alternative history of America. At its core is the value of heroism portrayed in a blood-soaked giallo-horror. It is as close an adaptation of the original novel as it could possibly be, which to any fanboy or comic book fan is all that can be asked for, depicting a sense of existential malaise and a fear of the future. Having made minor adjustments to the ending…minor as in Christopher Nolan’s Batman has only and man dressed in a suit, a cave and an old butler; you can tell wants to punch the head of Christian Bale in, in common with the original novels. Don’t get me wrong, I really like the Batman movies, it’s that personal quarrel I have with ‘Artistic liberties’ that I mentioned earlier. Anyway, so in order to maintain some sense of realism, Snyder makes what some may say mistake, myself included, of allowing his anti-heroes take on some of the characteristics of the supermen the original story is attempting to subvert. Regardless, Watchmen is for fans of the novel; an essential film, to others; a brave, bold and beautiful comic sci-fi.

Scene 15 – John Wick

This weeks movie sees me delve into another with a simple plot….coincidence, or have movies take this up as a trend? I mean it is a recession and all that…but I digress. The simple plot resulting in a simple goal that I am referring to is John Wick, which sees Keanu Reeves return for his lasted martial art – shoot’em up – everything goes kablamo film.

The plot goes like this, Keanu Reeves’ character, John Wick, is mourning the death of his recently deceased wife. After the funeral, John gets a delivery of a puppy, a parting gift from his dead wife to help him move on….this hits you right on the cry-meter for sure! So John and his new furry pal get acquainted, only to encounter the son of a Russian mob boss Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen), after he shoots his mouth off thinking Wick doesn’t speak Russian…Wick is so intense I wouldn’t have been surprised if he spoke Klingon! This altercation results in Iosef and his cronies breaking into Wick’s house, thrashing it, stealing his car and,look away now…..killing his puppy… Mother F@$%er!!!

Now I know what you are thinking…Goddamit Stephen, way to spoil the movie. Well I didn’t really… cause it literally happens within the first 15 minutes or its all in the trailer. So really…you should blame the trailer! When Iosef shows the car to John Leguizamo’s character Aurelio in his garage, he instantly recognises it and tells him to get the hell out…cue the wrestler The Undertakers entrance music, ’Are you scared?…He’s here!’.

The rest of the movie sees John Wick seeking gory vengeance in a take-no-prisoner style that Reeves made famous in The Matrix. It is really a 80/90’s film made with a present day budget and advanced martial arts skills. It isn’t really trying to teach you anything, then again…what action movie is? The action scenes in this film are immense. The last time I really felt like that during an action movie was with Tony Jaa in Ong Bak. Jaa really brought action sequences to a new level in 2003 with its release, and its a pity that he is forced to resort to cameo role in movies like Furious 7 to be seen on-screen.

The movie delivers an interesting look into the world of modern-day mobsters and hitmen, as you get see that they have their own languages, rules and codes. This is portrayed in some very witty dialogue, however it does fall short at times…but who watches an action movie for dialogue. Then they’re moments such as when Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist) tells his son of Wick’s nickname ’The Boogeyman’, saying, “John wasn’t exactly the boogeyman. He’s the one you sent to kill the fucking boogeyman”. That quote sums up John Wick’s mindset throughout the movie, with a fighting style so ruthless, he simple kills each threat as quickly as possible and moves on. This comes as no surprise with the two directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, Stahelski himself doubling for Reeves in The Matrix movies, delivering loads of authentically choreographed action, featuring some of their signature ‘gun-fu’ moves along the way.

As I said in the beginning John Wick sees the return of Keanu Reeves, which I for one and happy about. I mean..for all the action stars who have already returned, producing some second if not third-rate piles of nonsense …que all the Expendables franchise, and pretty much every Stallone movie post Rocky. I would much rather it to be good guy Keanu Reeves, and by good guy I mean google, ’Keanu Reeves on a train’.  With the same hand I can say, ‘Sure, not all Stallone/Arne movies are bad’…and that is true. Same goes for Reeves, but at least with him I know he is acting. He may not deliver, or maybe the script doesn’t…but at least you know who he is, he is a guy who lives in a not too luxurious home, takes the train, and acts…he doesn’t own his own army tank or isn’t made of plastic; trying to hold on to his youth, instead of actually looking like that rack of meat he was hitting in that famous movie he was once in. That’s not Keanu Reeves, he keeps himself to himself, lives how he wants to, acts in a different variety of roles…although some aren’t as great as others..sorry champ. He doesn’t hang on to what he did, he just keeps doing what he does, the way he wants to…and if you googled what I asked you to earlier, you’ll know he is an absolute Gent too…and for me that is as badass as they come.

To concluded, John Wick is a fantastic action movie. Now to use a phrase I seem to use a lot throughout these blogs…’It may not be perfect’…but is sure does deliver! And that’s without mentioning some of the amazing supporting cast and cameos throughout featuring the likes of Willem Dafoe, Adrianne Palicki,Bridget Moynahan, Lance Reddick and the legendary Ian Mc Shane. Don’t expect the plot to blow you away, just let the action.