Film Review: Sin City (2005)

Also known as: Frank Miller’s Sin City
Release Date: March 28th, 2005 (Mann National Theater premiere)
Directed by: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez
Based on: Sin City by Frank Miller
Music by: John Debney, Graeme Revell, Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Jessica Alba, Benicio del Toro, Brittany Murphy, Clive Owen, Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, Elijah Wood, Alexis Bledel, Powers Boothe, Rosario Dawson, Michael Clarke Duncan, Carla Gugino, Josh Hartnett, Rutger Hauer, Jaime King, Michael Madsen, Nick Offerman, Marley Shelton, Nick Stahl, Tommy Flanagan, Devon Aoki, Rick Gomez, Frank Miller (cameo), Robert Rodriguez (cameo)

Troublemaker Studios, Dimension Films, Miramax, 124 Minutes, 147 Minutes (unrated recut)

Review:

“Most people think Marv is crazy. He just had the rotten luck of being born in the wrong century. He’d be right at home on some ancient battlefield swinging an axe into somebody’s face. Or in a Roman arena, taking his sword to other gladiators like him. They woulda tossed him girls like Nancy back then.” – Dwight

When Sin City came out, it was a bit of a phenomenon. Well, at least with fans of comic books and especially those who love the work of Frank Miller.

I haven’t watched this in a really long time and I wanted to revisit it after spending a lot of time delving into classic film-noir, which this picture takes some major visual cues from. Well, the original comic this was based on used a lot of noir visual flair, so it was only natural that this film adaptation followed suit.

As an overall cohesive story, the film doesn’t work that well. I get that it is a linked anthology with overlapping characters but it feels like it is just running all over the place. Frankly, this would work better as a television show where all of these characters could be better developed and jumping around with the narrative would just seem more organic.

This is still a cool movie with cool characters but sometimes they feel more like caricatures of pulp comic and noir archetypes. There isn’t really any time to get to know anyone beyond what’s on the immediate surface. Nancy and Hartigan are the only characters with any sort of meaningful backstory and even then, it is pretty skeletal and doesn’t have the meat it needs to really connect in an emotional way.

The film is highly stylized and while it looks cool, it almost works against it, as the grit and violence almost becomes too comic book-y. But this is supposed to be the comic stories coming to life and it represents that with its visual style. And I like the visual style but this is still a live action motion picture and it sort of forgets that.

I’m not saying it can’t have immense and incredible style but it needs to have a better balance between what would exist on a black and white comic book page and what works best for the medium of film. Being that this is the first film to sort of use this visual technique, I think people looked past its faults. I also think that once it was done here, the initial surprise and awe was gone, which is why no one cared much when the sequel came out and why the visual flare didn’t work to hide the faults of Frank Miller’s very similar film, The Spirit.

Additionally, sometimes the comic book elements seem very heavy handed and forced. The scene where Marv escapes the SWAT team may work in the comics but it felt bizarre and goofy in the movie. It would have been more effective if it was toned down and reworked, as opposed to Miller and Rodriguez trying to copy the comic panel by panel. This never works well, which was also why 2009’s The Watchmen had a lot of problems. Personally, I’d rather just stick to the comics if the filmmakers want to just recreate everything panel to shot.

Another problem with directly adapting comics is that the dialogue that works in one medium sometimes sounds terrible in another. Some lines when delivered on screen were cringe worthy moments. Still, I mostly liked everyone’s performance in this despite the sometimes questionable direction and script.

Sin City didn’t blow my mind like it did when I first saw it thirteen years ago. That’s fine. It is still pretty damn good and enjoyable but at first glance, way back in the day, I probably would have given this a nine out of ten rating. But at its core, it just isn’t that good of a film, even if it caused me to fanboy out in 2005.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For and The Spirit.

Film Review: Next Floor (2008)

Release Date: May 15th, 2008 (Cannes)
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Written by: Jacques Davidts, Phoebe Greenberg
Music by: Warren “Slim” Williams
Cast: Simone Chevalot, Luc-Martial Dagenais, Kenneth Fernandez

Phi, CBC, Canal+, 11 Minutes

Review:

“Next floor.” – Maître D’

Before wowing audiences with SicarioThe Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, Denis Villeneuve made several short films that won him over with producers that would go on to fund his feature length projects. This short film made its debut at Cannes, a real accomplishment for the young director at the time.

This is only 11 minutes long but it makes its point pretty effectively in that time and with almost no dialogue.

I guess the most important thing about this short film is its style and the master craftsmanship behind it. Villeneuve showed that he had great skill, was able to create a well lived in set and had a stupendous eye for cinematography alongside Nicolas Bolduc, who would also go on to carve out a nice career.

The story is about this insane banquet where these fat cat types are violently and quickly scarfing down the strange meat selections of all the weird creatures and big game wheeled out to their large table. Every few minutes (or quicker, actually) the floor breaks and our dinner party falls into the room below. It’s a strange yet interesting idea but there doesn’t seem to be much point to it other than poking fun at gluttony in all of its forms.

There really isn’t much else to the film though. The dinner party goes through a floor, the waiters rush down a flight of stairs, wash, rinse, repeat until the big ending.

Still, the film looks damn good visually but there’s not much more to digest.

It also has what I consider to be a continuity error but I guess the filmmakers could argue that it’s their art. But after the group crashes through the first floor, one of the people looks up revealing that they’ve already been through several floors. The problem with this, is that all the people are very clean when you first see them. As the film progresses beyond the opening moments, they get more and more dirty from the building collapsing under and around them. Where is the dust and drywall from the previous floors before the film starts?

Anyway, that’s just me bitching about a small detail.

This is really just a concept and an idea executed pretty well. It’s not a great idea but it was at least interesting trying to decipher what was happening in the first few minutes.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Denis Villeneuve shorts 120 Seconds to Get Elected and Rated R for Nudity.

TV Review: Doctor Who – The Tenth Doctor Era (2006-2010)

Original Run: April 15th, 2006 – January 1st, 2010
Created by: Sydney Newman, C. E. Webber, Donald Wilson
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Murray Gold
Cast: David Tennant, Billie Piper, Freema Agyeman, John Barrowman, Catherine Tate, Bernard Cribbins, Elisabeth Sladen, John Simm, Kylie Minogue, David Morrissey, Michelle Ryan, Lindsay Duncan, Noel Clarke

BBC, 44 Episodes, 45-72 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

David Tennant is considered by most to be the best Doctor of all-time. He’s my second favorite after Tom Baker but his accolades and admiration are definitely deserved, as he took what Christopher Eccleston walked away from and turned it into something that was very much his and better than anything the franchise had done since the high point of the Tom Baker era, which ended in 1981.

The Tennant era of Who is the best era of the modern incarnation of the franchise. Sure, I love all the Doctors in different ways but this was the real peak for me since the show relaunched in 2005. Russell T. Davies just had a certain magic that Stephen Moffat, who took over with the Matt Smith era, could emulate and build from but had a much harder time at maintaining it and being consistent.

I just love this era of the show. It isn’t perfect, by any means and has a few hiccups, but overall, this was a great thing to experience. For other lovers of this franchise, this span in the show’s history is almost like a love letter to you. It taps into the spirit of the original shows much better than the Eccleston stuff and it brings back some key elements that were missing in the first season, most notably the Master and some of the more famous alien villains.

Furthermore, Tennant has great chemistry with every single person that they paired him with. His relationship with Rose got heavier and more intimate than it did when Eccleston was in the role. His time with Martha was great and you hurt for her and for him, as he continued to mourn the great loss he felt with Rose. The Tennant team up with Catherine Tate as Donna Noble was the best part of the show but once that relationship extends into the Doctor also having a bond with her grandfather, Bernard Cribbins’ Wilfred Mott, it got even better. You also got to see Tennant work well with David Morrissey (the future Governor from The Walking Dead), Kylie Minogue, the former Tom Baker companion Sarah Jane (played by Elisabeth Sladen, once again), Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) and a slew of others. But it’s his chemistry with the John Simm version of the Master that really showcased how good both men are.

I adore the Tennant years on Doctor Who. It is the best run of the modern era… period. Although, Matt Smith’s run after this was pretty darn good too and even if I didn’t like a lot of the Peter Capaldi stuff, I did love Capaldi’s Doctor. But David Tennant’s run will be a near impossible feat to try and top.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: The Ninth and Eleventh Doctors’ runs.

TV Review: Black Books (2000-2004)

Original Run: September 29th, 2000 – April 15th, 2004
Directed by: various
Written by: Dylan Moran, Graham Linehan, Arthur Mathews, Kevin Cecil, Andy Riley
Music by: Jonathan Whitehead
Cast: Dylan Moran, Bill Bailey, Tamsin Greig

Assembly Film and Television, Channel 4, BBC, 18 Episodes, 25 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2014.

It is quite possible that Black Books is my favorite situation comedy of all-time. It is certainly in contention anyway, as it is one of those shows where I can watch any episode at any time and still find it uncontrollably funny. The jokes and gags don’t get old, the camaraderie amongst the cast is iron clad and the tone of the show in how it deals with its subject matter and its use of timing, is impeccable. Very few shows are this well written and have the comedic talent capable of optimizing such great writing, as well as the cast of Black Books.

The plot follows Bernard (played by Dylan Moran) who is a drunk Irishman living in London running a bookshop. With him are his dimwitted but insanely lovable sidekick Manny (played by Bill Bailey) and their neighbor and friend Fran (played by Tamsin Greig). The show, like all sitcoms, follows the cast’s misadventures and misdeeds. In this case, things never seem to end well and the characters are usually their own worst enemies.

The cast plays off of each other so well and in such a way that I would put them head-to-head with any other great sitcom cast and I could guarantee they’d outshine them.

It’s sad that the show only lasted for three series, six episodes each. 18 episodes just isn’t enough but at least those 18 episodes are all quality, unlike American sitcoms that pump out 25 episodes a season, only producing a handful or less that are worthwhile. Regardless, I would love to see this revived for another series or even a proper special to officially close out the show. Yes, it has been ten years since it left the air but all three of these actors still has the talent and the ability to pull it off.

Besides, if you are a fan of the show, how could you not want to see where Bernard, Manny and Fran are ten years later? My prediction, Bernard and Manny are miserable working for some online book retailer and Fran is a cat lady with a failed liver.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: SpacedThe IT Crowd and Green Wing.

Film Review: Cube Zero (2004)

Also known as: Cubeº, Cube Ø
Release Date: October 15th, 2004 (Screamfest)
Directed by: Ernie Barbarash
Written by: Ernie Barbarash
Music by: Norman Orenstein
Cast: Zachary Bennett, David Huband, Stephanie Moore, Michael Riley, Martin Roach

Lions Gate Entertainment, 97 Minutes

Review:

“Do you believe in God? It all hinges on that?” – Eric Wynn

I thought I had seen Cube Zero before but it may have just been in my mind. They sort of all blend together. However, this one was always said to be better than Cube 2: Hypercube but I disagree with the consensus. This is my least favorite Cube movie out of the three.

This film serves as a prequel to the other two, which is sort of cool but at the same time, leaves the interesting reveal at the end of the previous movie completely unresolved. But truthfully, nothing is really resolved with the conclusion of this series. There is some new insight and new clues dropped and I’m okay without having all the answers but it seems like each film after the first just threw shit on a wall, waiting to see what would stick. And furthermore, the director of the first film never returned for any of the sequels and I have to view that original vision as the official and sole body of work in the Cube universe. Everything else is just other people’s attempt at explaining the complex story of another artist.

The Cube movies are similar to the Saw films series, as I just have to ignore the sequels and appreciate the original body of work on its own because every new chapter is a bastardization of the original and only complicates things further than they need to be. They’re just glorified fan fictions, really.

Like the other films int he series, this one has some terrible acting. The bad script doesn’t help the incapable cast either.

However, this film does have the coolest traps, overall. Being a prequel, this Cube is more simplified in its design and in its lethal trickery.

At first glance, the addition of seeing the world behind the Cube was a welcome change. But in the end, it distracts from the Cube experience itself and just gives us a movie of two halves that are both sort of a mess on their own. Once they mix, the mess gets worse.

I’m not sure why people prefer this one to Cube 2. I mean, neither are great but this one is boring as shit and none of the new stuff is as interesting as just watching the game within the Cube unfold.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: The other two Cube movies.

Film Review: The Descent (2005)

Also known as: The Dark (original script title), Crawlspace (working title)
Release Date: March 11th, 2005 (Brussels International Festival of Fantasy Films)
Directed by: Neil Marshall
Written by: Neil Marshall
Music by: David Julyan
Cast: Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder, MyAnna Buring, Nora-Jane Noone

Celador Films, Northmen Productions, Pathé, Lionsgate, 99 Minutes, 100 Minutes (Original Unrated Cut)

Review:

“The noise she’s making, she’ll bring every one of those things down on her head.” – Rebecca

I’ve been a horror fan my entire life. However, I never felt the urge to see this. It seemed like it would just be about a bunch of thrill seeking women lost in dark claustrophobic caves getting picked off by a bunch of unimaginative inbred mutants that have a taste for people meat.

It is exactly what I thought it would be.

It’s not that the core of the premise is bad, it’s just derivative and been done to death in dozens of different ways. There is nothing about this movie that gives it its own unique twist or makes it different. The only major difference is that they’re all women and they’re in a really tight cave. All the setting says to me is that someone had to come up with a horror movie that cost absolutely nothing to make outside of renting camera and sound equipment and having to buy lunch for a the unknown stars of the picture.

The movie isn’t exciting, it isn’t well thought out, there’s nothing that reels you in and frankly, the boring ass monsters don’t even show up for a really long time. When the big shock of the first monster’s appearance happens, it was a shot that was already in every trailer for this film and thus, already spoiled.

The Descent tries to be suspenseful but it’s attempts just didn’t work. Really, I was more interested in seeing the girls try to work their way out of a cavern that they’re trapped in than watching them have a murder party with the slimy cave dwellers that looked too much like the Flukeman from The X-Files. I’d rather just have a Flukeman movie, that shit would be awesome. Well, maybe not now but if they made it in the ’90s.

This isn’t terrible but it isn’t good or memorable. It’s in this weird boring limbo and I don’t think that I’ll ever be interested in watching it again, let alone its sequel.

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: I would assume The Descent 2 but I’ve never seen it.

Documentary Review: Ken Burns: The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (2009)

Release Date: September 27th, 2009 – October 2nd, 2009
Directed by: Ken Burns
Music by: various

PBS, 720 Minutes (6 episodes)

Review:

*Written in 2015.

After being enthralled by Ken Burns: Baseball, I will watch anything that this guy creates.

The National Parks: America’s Best Idea is a pretty inspiring piece of work and arguably a masterpiece. If you are familiar with Ken Burns’ directing style, you can expect more of the same. However, with the wonderful presentation, the fantastic narration and just the scope and beauty of the subject matter, this documentary is truly a sight to behold and an enchanting foray into almost endless and unfathomable beauty.

For a guy who likes the outdoors much more than the indoors, this motivated me to give an even bigger shit than I do now about conservation and the importance of our parks, not just National but all parks. It also put into perspective how amazing America is as far as natural wonders. In this country, we are literally sitting on a nature goldmine.

This series is broken into six episodes roughly two hours each, give or take a few minutes. Each part goes through different eras of the National Park System from the beginning up to modern times. Each part is thoroughly engaging and packed with more information than anyone could anticipate. Each part is also sprinkled with guest narrations from several recognizable voices, my favorite of all to pop up is Tom Hanks, who presented his lines majestically.

I love this documentary series. Ken Burns really outdid himself and PBS needs to always give him a platform to display his artistic and informative creations.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Other Ken Burns documentary series.