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: Die Hard (1988)

Release Date: July 12th, 1988 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: John McTiernan
Written by: Jeb Stuart, Steven E. de Souza
Based on: Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp
Music by: Michael Kamen
Cast: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia, Alexander Godunov, Reginald VelJohnson, Paul Gleason, De’voreaux White, William Atherton, Clarence Gilyard, Hart Bochner, James Shigeta, Al Leong, Robert Davi, Rick Ducommun

Gordon Company, Silver Pictures, 20th Century Fox, 132 Minutes

Review:

“This time John Wayne does not walk off into the sunset with Grace Kelly.” – Hans Gruber, “That was Gary Cooper, asshole.” – John McClane

I ended the year and the holiday season on a bang, as I got to see Die Hard on the big screen. I saw the second and the third ones in the theater but seeing the original on a 3o foot tall screen wasn’t something I got to experience when I was nine years-old in the summer of 1988. I’m glad I got to rectify that injustice, as Die Hard is purely perfection.

Yes, I know that using a word like “perfection” is pretty bold but Die Hard made a bold statement when it came out in a time when the action genre was ruled over by the two kings of the ’80s: Stallone and Schwarzenegger.

Bruce Willis was a nobody in 1988, other than being Cybill Shepherd’s sidekick on TV’s Moonlighting and for playing a good villain in one episode of Miami Vice. This is the film that made him a star and a household name, almost instantly.

This film has a pretty amazing ensemble cast as well. You have two of the ’80s biggest weaselly character actors with Paul Gleason (The Breakfast Club) and William Atherton (Ghostbusters and Real Genius). You have the ’80s and ’90s quintessential lovable cop, Carl Winslow himself, Reginald VelJohnson. You’ve also got Robert Davi as an FBI agent and Al Leong as an evil henchman, which was his modus operandi back in the ’80s.

The two biggest parts, after Willis’ John McClane, are Bonnie Bedelia, as his wife, and Alan Rickman, as the German terrorist Hans Gruber. As great as Rickman always was and even considering his iconic run as Snape in the Harry Potter films, this, to me, was always his greatest role. Having just seen this again, I still feel that this was the greatest and coolest role that Rickman ever had. He played it so well, even with his fairly funny scenes faking an American accent.

While the 1980s gave us the best action movies of all-time, many of them have flaws and a certain level of cheesiness to them, especially now, three decades later. Die Hard, however, still brings it. And while it has its funny lines and moments, they never got cheesy. It all still works and works well. The plot is solid, the action is amazing, well thought out, well executed and there are a lot of layers to the film that all weave together in a sort of brilliant way that you just don’t see in straight up action flicks.

Die Hard is perfect. And the reason why is that it is damn near impossible to pick it apart and to try and figure out a better way to make it work. It doesn’t feel dated and it should when looked at within the context of when it came out and what the standard was at the time. The vast majority of Stallone and Schwarzenegger’s movies feel dated but somehow, Die Hard feels truly timeless. It’s a smarter and better executed film than one would probably assume at first glance. It is greater than the sum of its parts and all the elements of the film come together seamlessly and impeccably.

Film Review: Grindhouse (2007)

While I have seen both Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror and Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof multiple times, I never got to see the full-length version of Grindhouse until now.

When it came out in 2007, only one theater near me carried it and it wasn’t there very long, so I missed it. Also, the films were released separately, as expanded editions, when they hit store shelves. There wasn’t a full version of Grindhouse available after its theatrical run.

When I subscribed to Starz via my Amazon Fire Stick, I saw that the full version of the movie was available and thus, I could finally rectify this cinematic injustice. I’m really glad that I did because these films actually play much better in this format, as double-billed companion pieces to one another.

Plus, I finally got to see the trailers, as a part of this overall experience, even though I have seen them on YouTube multiple times since 2007.

Robert Rodriguez’s trailer for Machete was a highlight of the film and it was so good that it became its own motion picture and then expanded into a franchise. Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Women of the SS trailer was interesting enough, as a trailer, but doesn’t seem like something that will work as a full-length feature. The same can be said for Edgar Wright’s Don’t. Now Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving should be made into a full-length slasher film in the same vein as Machete. Roth has hinted at making it and I hope he eventually does.

This film also spawned a contest for fans to make fake trailers in the grindhouse style. This lead to the full-length feature Hobo With A Shotgun, which was a hell of a lot of fun. I need to re-watch it and review it in the near future.

Moving beyond the fake trailers, we have the two big films that make up the bulk of the Grindhouse experience. So let me get into each film and discuss them on their own.

Planet Terror (2007):

Release Date: April 6th, 2007
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez
Written by: Robert Rodriguez
Music by: Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodriguez, Michael Biehn, Jeff Fahey, Josh Brolin, Marley Shelton, Stacy Ferguson, Bruce Willis, Naveen Andrews, Electra Avellan, Elise Avellan, Quentin Tarantino, Tom  Savini, Michael Parks

Rodriguez International Pictures, Troublemaker Studios, Dimension Films, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Now you’ve got a gal in your wrecked truck with a missing leg? A missing leg that’s now missing?” – Sheriff Hague

Planet Terror has always been my favorite of the two movies in Grindhouse. That still stands, as I love just about everything about it. It may even be my favorite Robert Rodriguez picture but it is a close race between this, From Dusk Till Dawn, Machete and Once Upon A Time In Mexico.

The film is essentially a zombie outbreak movie but it is really gross, even for that genre. People’s faces start bubbling into puss and there is a lot of blood and other strange bodily fluids oozing out of people throughout the movie. There are also lots of severed testicles and a melting penis. It’s a gross movie but it is still well done and it doesn’t overtake the picture making it a mindless gore festival.

Planet Terror has a lot of depth and character development for a movie loaded with a ton of people. Everyone has an interesting story and it is cool seeing it all play out as these people eventually come together in an effort to escape the growing threat of a zombie apocalypse.

It also really fits the old school 1970s exploitation style of horror pictures that populated grindhouse theaters in big cities. The cinematography really captures the right vibe and kudos to the extra graininess and inconsistent look of different shots in the same sequences.

The practical effects also work well in making this film fit the grindhouse mold. Sometimes there is obvious CGI and it is a reminder that this isn’t a true 70s grindhouse picture but it isn’t a distraction and it serves its purpose well enough.

The cast is also phenomenal. I remember that when I first saw this, that I hoped it would open up doors for Freddy Rodriguez. He’s still not anywhere close to being a household name but his character of El Wray should reappear in some way, in some other Rodriguez picture. He’s a guy too cool to just be confined to this one movie.

This is also my favorite thing that Rose McGowan has ever done. Plus you get a very evil Josh Brolin, an enchanting Marley Shelton, a bad ass Michael Biehn, plus Michael Parks, Tom Savini, Bruce Willis, Lost‘s Naveen Andrews and Quentin Tarantino as his most despicable character to date. Jeff Fahey, who is always stellar, really kills it in this movie as J.T. the Texas B-B-Q king. Also, Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas has never looked better.

Planet Terror is unique, even for a film in a tired genre. It takes the zombie formula and ups the ante in every way possible. Rodriguez made a fine picture that should be mentioned alongside other great zombie classics.

Death Proof (2007):

Release Date: April 6th, 2007
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Music by: Rachel Levy, Jack Nitzsche, Mary Ramos
Cast: Kurt Russell, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd, Rose McGowan, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Tracie Thoms, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Zoe Bell, Eli Roth, Quentin Tarantino, Michael Parks, James Parks, Marley Shelton

Troublemaker Studios, Dimension Films, 114 Minutes

Review:

“Because it was a fifty fifty shot on wheter you’d be going left or right. You see we’re both going left. You could have just as easily been going left, too. And if that was the case… It would have been a while before you started getting scared. But since you’re going the other way, I’m afraid you’re gonna have to start getting scared… immediately!” – Stuntman Mike

When I first saw Death Proof, it didn’t resonate with me. I mean, I enjoyed it enough but it just didn’t compare to the work that Quentin Tarantino did before it. I still feel this way but I have more of an appreciation for the film now. Also, seeing it in the Grindhouse format, which is more condensed, serves the film better.

The problem I initially had with the film, and some of Tarantino’s other pictures, is that it is way too talky. Sure, he writes great dialogue but sometimes it can run on for far too long. Death Proof in its longer running time falls victim to this. The condensed Grindhouse version, however, is better balanced.

Another problem with the film, is that many of the characters just aren’t likable. This is especially true for the first group of girls we meet. At least the second group felt more like friends and their conversations came across as more natural and authentic.

Kurt Russell initially knocks it out of the park as the killer driver, Stuntman Mike. However, as the film and his character evolves, he completely loses the cool bad ass shtick and becomes a giant whining weeny. His character transformation isn’t a bad thing, it is just how it is executed that makes it a problem.

The one thing that really makes this a cool picture, however, is the cars and the stunts. Tarantino selected some seriously bad ass automobiles that were homages to films that influenced him. The stunt work and action was amazing and the sequence of the first major accident was shot and executed stupendously.

The problem with the film, being that it is supposed to be a grindhouse throwback, is that it needed more balls-to-the-wall mayhem and less chit chat. The fact that this has a lot more dialogue than Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror but somehow can’t develop characters as well is pretty baffling. Tarantino would just rather focus on cool conversations on subjects that directly interest him than to have any sort of meaningful character development. You just don’t care about these people in the same way you care about those in Planet Terror.

Regardless of my criticisms, I do still like this movie. But to be honest, I still think it is the worst film in Quentin Tarantino’s oeuvre. Granted, that doesn’t mean much, as everything he’s done has been fairly great in some way.

In the end, this is still entertaining as hell and who doesn’t love muscle car chaos and kick ass chicks?

Additional directorial credits:

Robert Rodriguez – Machete trailer
Rob Zombie – Werewolf Women of the SS trailer
Edgar Wright – Don’t trailer
Eli Roth – Thanksgiving trailer

Additional acting credits from the fake trailer segments: Danny Trejo, Nicolas Cage, Sheri Moon Zombie, Cheech Marin, Udo Kier, Tom Towles, Sybil Danning, Bill Moseley, Will Arnett, Nick Frost, Jason Issacs, Simon Pegg, Peter Serafinowicz

Film Review: Split (2016)

Release Date: September 26th, 2016 (Fantastic Fest)
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Written by: M. Night Shyamalan
Music by: West Dylan Thordson
Cast: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Betty Buckley, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, Brad William Henke, M. Night Shyamalan, Bruce Willis (uncredited)

Blinding Edge Pictures, Blumhouse Productions, Universal Pictures, 117 Minutes

Review:

It has been a really long time since I have wanted to see an M. Night Shyamalan movie. When I first caught the trailer for Split, I was very intrigued. Then I saw Shyamalan’s name attached and thought, “Well, this might bring you back to greatness, buddy. Don’t screw it up.” After having seen this, I can say that he certainly didn’t screw it up.

James McAvoy has never put in anything other than great performances. In this film, we get to see McAvoy at his greatest, up to this point in his career. He’s still young and has a lot of years left but McAvoy gave us an Oscar caliber performance. Why he wasn’t nominated for anything is kind of baffling. Maybe it’s because this got a wide release in January of 2017 and he’ll be considered next year. But by that point, he won’t be fresh in the Academy’s minds and they snub lots of great performers every year.

Alongside McAvoy, is Anya Taylor-Joy, a young woman who is becoming quite a good actress. This is the best that I have seen her but now that she is joining the X-Men franchise in next year’s New Mutants, I think she has definitely made her mark and will have a busy career going forward. She certainly deserves it after her performance in Split.

Betty Buckley was superb as the therapist while Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Sula did a good job as the other girls held captive by McAvoy’s multiple personalities.

Brad William Henke stood out as the creeper uncle. I always love Henke’s work but he always gets the hulking creeper roles. I’d like to see him get bigger roles, the guy deserves it.

The film also gives us the obligatory M. Night Shyamalan cameo, as well as a Bruce Willis cameo. The Willis part ties into another great Shyamalan picture and ties these two movies together, as Shyamalan has plans to make a film that is a sequel to Split and that other movie.

Now I don’t want to talk too much about the plot, this isn’t a film that should be spoiled in any way. But I do want to explain why this works so well, as Shyamalan has struggled with narrative in the last decade and a half.

So, the only real spoiler is that Split has no big twist ending. Well, not really. I’ll explain.

It is a good solid story, it has a lot of revelations but none of those typical Shyamalan attempts at dumping the film on its head while screaming, “A-ha! I shocked you! It’s a twist!”

You see, I feel like Shyamalan painted himself into a corner with his famous twist endings. It got to the point where a twist was expected and people spent the whole movie bracing themselves and also, trying to figure it out. Eventually, the twists became really mundane and weren’t all that shocking.

In some films, like The Village, it felt like Shyamalan couldn’t decide what to do. Should the beasts be real or imaginary? What he gave us was a bizarre and awful twist in that regard and then another twist that completely destroyed the film. The twists became messes that ruined otherwise effective pictures.

In Split, the big twist is that there is no twist. And maybe that is Shyamalan’s greatest use of the twist, whether that was his intention or not.

After a slew of films that just didn’t cut the mustard, Shyamalan proved to me and the rest of the film-going masses, that he’s still got it. He may have been lost for too long but he found himself once again. I hope he’s learned from those many mistakes because I want Shyamalan on his A-game. He’s extremely talented on his best days and he’s a director that has shown that he is much better than some of the schlock he’s put out. Split is proof enough that The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable weren’t flukes.