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: Iron Man 2 (2010)

Release Date: April 26th, 2010 (El Capitan Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Jon Favreau
Written by: Justin Theroux
Based on: Iron Man by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck, Jack Kirby
Music by: John Debney
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Don Cheadle, Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke, Jon Favreau, Paul Bettany (voice), Samuel L. Jackson, Clark Gregg, Leslie Bibb, Gary Shandling, John Slattery, Kate Mara, Olivia Munn (cameo)

Fairview Entertainment, Marvel Studios, Paramount Pictures, 125 Minutes

Review:

“If you try to escape, or play any sort of games with me, I will taze you and watch Supernanny while you drool into the carpet.” – Agent Coulson

I remember that when I first saw Iron Man 2, I was disappointed. I really hadn’t watched it since it came out but it was nice revisiting it and I was surprised to discover that it was better than I remembered it. Maybe it’s because Marvel movies are a dime a dozen now but this had more of a plot and more character development than most of the massive team-up movies we get today.

This film also introduces us to Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, who would become a major player in the Avengers franchise, and it recasts James Rhodes a.k.a. War Machine with Don Cheadle, who brought more charisma than Terrence Howard and also has much more chemistry with Robert Downey Jr. We also get more of Sam Jackson’s Nick Fury, Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson, small roles for John Slattery and Kate Mara, a cameo by Olivia Munn and others, as well as the addition of Gary Shandling and the return of Leslie Bibb.

The main additions to the film are the villains though. We get Sam Rockwell, recent Oscar winner, as Justin Hammer, a rival of Tony Stark. We also get Mickey Rourke as Whiplash, who is a combination of Iron Man villains the Crimson Dynamo and Whiplash. I liked both men in their roles and thought they had a solid chemistry when they shared scenes together. Whiplash’s backstory was interesting and I actually would have liked to have seen him return. Well, I’d like to see Hammer return too and since he doesn’t die, his return isn’t impossible.

The film isn’t as good or as refined as the original but it expands on the Iron Man pocket of the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe that hadn’t reached its apex by 2010. It is a better film than The Incredible Hulk and seeing it now, I like it better than all of the other Phase One Marvel films after the first Iron Man. Although, I am planning to revisit Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger over the next week.

I think that Jon Favreau did a great job directing the first two Iron Man movies. It was a hard task but he accomplished what he set out to do, which was to build a good foundation for the future of the MCU. The entire franchise was born out of Favreau’s vision for Iron Man and I think it was a good vision and a great starting point.

The climax was long but it was much bigger than the simple fight that capped off the first film. Iron Man had his work cut out for him but now having allies made for a much richer finale. I just wish that the actual fight between Iron Man and War Machine against Whiplash wouldn’t have ended so quickly. I felt like Rourke’s character deserved a few more minutes of being a total badass. Then again, he bit off more than he could chew in engaging two men in Iron Man suits.

Iron Man 2 is a better movie than what I thought it was at first glance, back in 2010. Ultimately, it is a fun, larger than life, popcorn flick. It’s a damn good one at that, though. We now live in a world where there’s a half dozen superhero movies per year and that might be a low estimate. Iron Man 2 is better than what has become the standard, as the genre becomes more and more watered down with each comic book movie and television show.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Iron ManIron Man 3Captain America: Civil War.

Film Review: Double Team (1997)

Also known as: The Colony
Release Date: April 4th, 1997
Directed by: Tsui Hark
Written by: Don Jakoby, Paul Mones
Music by: Gary Chang
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dennis Rodman, Paul Freeman, Mickey Rourke

Mandalay Entertainment, Film Workshop, Columbia Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Offense gets the glory.” – Jack Quinn, “But defense wins the game.” – Yaz

This film came out just as Jean-Claude Van Damme was spiraling down into the lowest part of his career. His vehicles kept getting worse thanks to atrocious scripts and low box office turnouts. He’d soon be downgraded to having his films come out as “straight to video” releases where he’d remain until resurrecting his career with JCVD. This probably isn’t the worst film he’s done but it’s certainly pretty well down in the murky barrel.

This was also a starring vehicle for Dennis Rodman, who was a part of the Chicago Bulls second threepeat team when this was made and released. Rodman was a sports celebrity superstar but even his involvement couldn’t elevate this film into anything worthwhile. Granted, two decades later, it has become some weird novelty movie that happens to have Dennis Rodman and Jean-Claude Van Damme in it.

The film also stars Mickey Rourke and Paul Freeman. I feel bad for them being subjected to this massive turd but it’s directed by Tsui Hark, which on paper, makes this lineup of talent seem pretty damn good. Hark, a massive director in Hong Kong, just couldn’t cut the mustard in the United States but that’s probably because he aligned himself with the sinking ship that was Van Damme, as his two American films, both featured the actor. But maybe he was trying to follow John Woo’s lead, as that approach worked for him.

Double Team is a really hard movie to sit through, even at 90 minutes or so. It’s got deplorable editing, a script that would be better used as lining in a chicken coop, a nervous and awkward Dennis Rodman, Van Damme looking bored, Mickey Rourke looking depressed and Paul Freeman just looking around with a face that says, “WTF am I doing here?!”

Dennis Rodman’s acting career never took off and he followed this up with an even worse movie called Simon Sez. Switch out Jean-Claude Van Damme for Dane Cook and you can see how bad that film was.

Double Team is a pretty big offender and should be thrown into movie jail, if such a place exists. As is customary with pictures this bad, it must be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 7 Stool: Watery, no solid pieces. Entirely Liquid.”

Rating: 3/10
Pairs well with: Not much, really… but I’d recommend watching it with Rodman’s other “classic” Simon Sez, if you want to torture yourself.

Film Review: Fade to Black (1980)

Release Date: October 14th, 1980
Directed by: Vernon Zimmerman
Written by: Vernon Zimmerman
Music by: Craig Safan
Cast: Dennis Christopher, Tim Thomerson, Gwynne Gilford, Norman Burton, Linda Kerridge, Morgan Paull, Eve Brent, Mickey Rourke

Compass International, American Cinema Releasing, 102 Minutes

Review:

This was a movie that I was pleasantly surprised by. I honestly didn’t expect much. I thought it would be a typical early 80s slasher picture, which were a dime a dozen. It was a lot more than that though and it also had a lot of character and charm.

Additionally, this has Irwin Yablans name on it as a producer and while he did produce some good stuff, he also gave us those shit sandwiches Laserblast and Parasite. It is hard to forgive films as bad as those two.

The real highlight of this film was the performance by Dennis Christopher. He was really likable, even up to the end, regardless of the fact that he did go on a bit of a killing spree. He seemed like a nice and genuine kid that lost his mind because his mother was horrible and people treated him like dirt. Plus, he was a bit of a social recluse and lived vicariously through movies.

Christopher just did great and put in a strong performance. As the lead character, he stepped out in front of a fairly mediocre script and gave this picture some life that it otherwise wouldn’t have had with a lesser actor or someone not truly embracing the role.

It was actually cool to see a young Mickey Rourke in this too. While he didn’t have a lot of screen time, he made the most out of what he did have.

Linda Kerridge was mesmerizing as the Marilyn Monroe lookalike Marilyn O’Connor. She was the apple of Dennis Christopher’s eye and she did well with the part and the tough task of living up to the iconic comparison.

The premise to Fade to Black is pretty unique for a slasher flick. Our killer, the nice but awkward Eric Binford (Dennis Christopher), gets tired of those who treat him like garbage and loses his mind. He starts picking people off and does so as characters from his favorite movies. At one point he is Dracula, then The Mummy, then Hopalong Cassidy, then James Cagney’s Cody Jarrett from White Heat. His first kill was a reenactment of a scene from the film noir classic Kiss of Death.

Ultimately, this leads to a fantastic showdown between Binford and the Los Angeles Police Department as he stands atop Grauman’s Chinese Theatre wielding a machine gun, quoting James Cagney’s lines from the finale of White Heat.

When Binford is killing or mentally recalling a moment in film, the movie cuts in those famous scenes for reference. The transitions are clunky, surreal and strangely edited but it is effective because of its oddness and disjointed presentation.

Fade to Black is thoroughly enjoyable and it stands out in a subgenre of horror that is incredibly formulaic and cookie cutter. It greatly benefits from the performance of Dennis Christopher and its originality. It is definitely a slasher flick worth its weight in blood.