Friday, 29 August 2014

Sin City: A Dame To Kill For

Welcome To BaSIN City. (An Introduction.)
Back in 2005 I fell in love with Sin City, I'm not sure if it was the unique visual style, the hard as nail characters or the Film Noir-esque of the world but I found myself enthralled and spent the next six months collecting and reading every single instalment of Frank Millers Sin City graphic novels, while recently I have been forced to sell them on (I'm a poor struggling writer) 
I remember each and every issue with a unique clarity unlike any other graphic novel I have ever read.
My favourite Basin City yarn was easily A Dame To Kill For (although Hell And Back was a close second and should we ever get a Sin City 3 [which due to the box office flop this instalment is turning out to be seems somewhat unlikely] I hope to see it adapted).
Now nearly 10 years after the release of the original film Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez have reunited to bring more tales from Basin City to the big screen (You made me wait long enough!) set before, during and after the events of the first film the fractured time-line allows for the return of several characters who were unlucky enough to die during the first movie. 

Spin Us A Yarn. (The Stories.)
The film is comprised of four individual stories with two narratives adapted from previous Sin City comics (Just Another Saturday Night, A Dame To Kill For) and two brand new stories that have been written by Frank Miller solely for the film (The Long Bad Night, Nancy's Last Dance). 
  • Just Another Saturday Night.

Marv (Micky Rourke) awakens in the midst of carnage, surrounded by crashed cars and dead bodies that he is apparently responsible for despite him having no memory of how he got there.

  • The Long Bad Night
Gambler Johnny (Joseph Gordon Levitt) breezes into Basin City and proceeds to win big at poker. Against the wrong man. Who proceeds to make his displeasure known, leaving Johnny swearing revenge.

  • A Dame To Kill For.
In which was Dwight McCarthy (Josh Brolin) (who appears completely different from his appearance in The Big Fat Kill in which he was portrayed by Clive Owen, but that's all part of the story) re encounters his old flame Ava Lord (Eva Green) (a Femme Fatale if there ever was one) who still holds an unhealthy grip on Dwight despite the fact that she dumped in for a wealthy tycoon years early, she now claims that she fears for her life and draws him into a power struggle within the Lord's Empire, but is she as helpless as she appears to be?
  • Nancy's Last Dance. 
Four Years after the events of 'That Yellow Bastard' which saw John Hartigan (Bruce Willis) take his own life in order to keep Nancy (Jessica Alba) safe from Senator Roarke's retaliation for Hartigan murdering his only son, Nancy struggles to cope with life without Hartigan and begins plotting retribution against the Senator.

The film follows the narrative structure of the first instalment with three main story lines, one of which is broken into two parts and an additional shorter narrative to open the movie, an issue the reuse of this structure raises is that while the 'That Yellow Bastard' story line from the 2005 original was separated into two parts it had no connections or ties to the other yarns and a large time jump between Part I & II meaning the break in the story represented the jump in years as Hartigan faces the cost of 'doing the right thing' this also allowed both parts to stand alone from the rest of tales happening around it, 
whereas splitting 'The Long Bad Night' into two parts despite there being no time jump at all between part I and II and it having close ties to the 'Nancy's Last Dance' story (such as reappearing characters) blurs the lines between the two stories causing the four story structure to lose some of its potency.

The film is also able to make good use of its running time making time for all four narratives in a way that prevents any of them seeming underutilised or underfed, While Nancy's Last Dance receives arguably the least set up all of the story's required development was pre-established back in That Yellow Bastard.

Blood Red. (Visuals.)
Another thing the original film did fanatically was to present audiences with images ripped straight from the pages (The Rooftop Kiss with the lady in red, Hartigan's angina attack, Marv's walk through the rain,) shots mirroring the composition of their paper-based counterparts, unfortunately 'Dame' has significantly less of these moments than its predecessor while this could be due to the fact that two of the four stories were written specifically for the film (meaning that the images never existed to adapt in the first place) even A Dame To Kill For and Just Another Saturday Night seem to feature these comic book moments less prominently which is disappointing as it was the striking images that caused an appreciation of the series in the first place.
Which is not to say that the visuals fail to impressive but back in 2005 at the time of its release Sin City's visual style was unique and new but since then audiences have been treated to a series of films such as 300, 300: Rise Of An Empire and The Spirit that seem to utilise their own graphic visual styles so it falls to the films big comic book moments to make it really stand apart from the rest and these are less prevalent here.

But once again the use of colourisation to punctuate a single coloured item amongst the black and white neo-noir atmosphere of the rest of the shot continues to work incredibly well, be it the colour of blood, a character's features (eyes, hair or lip stick), an outfit or in a specific case an entire character (in order to differentiate the twins Goldie and Wendy (Jaime King) one is portrayed in black and white while the other is shown in colour). It's this unique and dramatic visual style that gives Sin City a look entirely its own

No Saints Just Sinners. (The Cast.)
(Do you think any 'normal people' live in Basin City? 
Struggling single mothers? Office workers? Janitors? Teachers?
That sort of thing?)

The film is an ensemble cast with many actors and actors returning to the same roles they played nine years ago including Micky Rourke, Bruce Willis, Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Powers Boothe, Jaime Kingnaturally the cast is far too large to mention everyone who contributes to making Basin City feel like a thriving metropolis 
but If the original Sin City film had a standout character (and trust me it did) it was undoubtedly Micky Rourke's Man-Mountain Marv who now returns to a much larger role appearing as a main character in three of the standalone stories (One of which is Marv centric) and makes a small appearance in the fourth, meaning he appears in all of 'Dames' tales and is just as enjoyable to watch as ever, in fact it's strange just how happy it made me to hear the narration grumpily mutter "When you got a condition, it's bad to forget your medicine" again.

Josh Brolin and Joseph Gordon Levitt are welcome additions to the cast with Levitt playing gambler Johnny with the (perhaps over-) confidence of a man who is so used to winning that as a result fails to appreciate just what beating a man like Senator Roarke could cost him and Brolin taking on the role of pre-Clive Owen Dwight McCarthy as he struggles to keep his personal demons in check as a woman capable of sending him right back to the habits he is desperately trying to overcome breezes back into his life.  (Also Dwight falls. A LOT.)

Powers Boothe's Senator Roarke returns in a more prominent role than his brief appearance (in which his performance describing the nature of power ran off with the scene) in the first film with two of the movies major yarns featuring him as the main antagonist, and the man (or perhaps more likely the actor behind the man) is utterly terrifying, not just in the way he uses his position of power to swat his enemies as easily as swatting a flies but the man himself gives off a menacing presence of the corruption his power has inflicted upon him, a sequence in 'The Long Bad Night' involving nothing but a dark window and Roarke is more than unnerving than most recent horror films
(although I am sad to see his moustache shaved off during the four years That Yellow Bastard and Nancy's Last Dance/The Long Bad Night, it was damn impressive).

Dennis Haysbert steps into the role of Manute (Ava Lord's protector and wearer of a stylish golden eye) which was originally held by Michael Clarke Duncan who sadly passed away between films. Haysbert, however, does an excellent job of reprising the role and I barely noticed the change in actors at all.
Another character portrayed by a new actor/actress is Ninja/assassin Miho this time played by actress Jamie Chung as Devon Aoki who portrayed her in the original was experiencing her second pregnancy during filming

Christopher Lloyd joyfully makes an appearance as unlicensed Doctor Emmett Brown Kroenig who shoots heroin before attending to his patients with a 'the more you pay the better quality of your service' type service. 
Mob-Boss Wallenquist (Stacey Keach) also appears briefly simultaneously fulfilling a minor role in A Dame To Kill For, adding some depth the background of a The Big Fat Kill (that is set to occur after A Dame To Kill For) and laying the foundation for his appearance in Hell and Back (Even though that story may never make it to screen.)

The Women of Sin City come off significantly worse than the male characters with 97% (estimated) playing either strippers of prostitutes (Eva Green's Ava Lord and Lady Gaga's waitress seemingly the only two exceptions) who manipulate men through sex of their desire to protect them into doing their bidding.

Bond manipulator Eva Green stars as Ava Lord the afore mentioned Dame delivering a fine performance as the scheming Femme Fatale playing the role true to the source material as she adapts to each of her male victims individual desires, I only wish that the film made a greater attempt to disguise her manipulative ways into a greater reveal.

Nancy (Jessica Alba) is allowed to take centre stage (that's not a stripper pun) this time around with an entire narrative devoted to her character even if she spends most of it coming across as an emotional wreck spiralling towards self-destruction over the loss of a man she barely even knew it is still nice for the character to get a little more chance to develop beyond just dancing in the background of other character's scenes.

Haunting Hartigan. (Bruce Willis's Appearance in Nancy's Story Line)
While it's true that saying that Sin City is not true to real life is like saying that the Titanic suffered badly from damp (kind of a understatement) the (let's call them) elaborations are usually for the sake of stylised visuals, while the conclusion of the haunting Hartigan story-line (I won't reveal exactly what happens, but it was a tad surprising) despite being a very cool sequence puts 'Dame' into a whole new world of implausibility (his post death appearance isn't the result of a guilt addled or derange mind? He really is a ghost? Do ghost exist in the world of Sin City? Am I reading too much into this?), when Jackie Boy's head began having a conversation with Dwight back in The Big Fat Kill it was because Dwight was legitimately disturbed as the stress of the situation weighed on his mind, here it seems that Hartigan may actually be a ghost (very Sixth Sense) still it's a cool moment, and a surprising ending for the story-line (if not a little confusing). 

Violence Solves Everything. (The Action.)
While the films violence starts out delightfully gory and continues that way throughout it begins to lose its impact over the course of the film, it is thankfully saved from becoming monotonous by several impressive moments such as Marv pulling off several impressive kills including one that wouldn't be out of place in 'Game Of Thrones (you know the one I mean - Splat.), a awesome duel wielding (he has nothing on Koba) shotgun onslaught, more Miho madness, Johnny's shadow beating down a goon and the fight between Marv and Manute which having read the comic I had been ridiculously looking forward too didn't disappoint as the two went at one another like two heavyweights on pay-per-view.

The Hard Goodbye. (Conclusion.)
So our second (and quite possibly last) visit into Sin City was a successful one while sporting a few minor flaws (continuity between Nancy's Last Dance and The Hard Goodbye is a little fuzzy, and I would have ended Johnny's story a little differently) and not as innovative or shocking as its predecessor Dame is a welcome return to the lives of the inhabitants of BaSIN City and the unique visuals of their world, the first film was truly a graphic novel brought to life and its sequel does everything in its power to live up to that title; expanding on characters and stories seemingly only touched upon by the original in hopes of adding more depth to their world.
As provocative, visceral and violent as the first batch of tales from the world I first fell in love with I only wish they hadn't made me wait almost a decade for the second. 

And now I will begin my campaign to ensure that the film is financially successful enough that we will get to see a Sin City 3, and after I pull off that miracle, maybe I'll go punch out God.

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