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: The Avengers (2012)

Release Date: April 11th, 2012 (El Capitan Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Joss Whedon
Written by: Joss Whedon, Zak Penn
Based on: The Avengers by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Paul Bettany (voice), Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgård, Samuel L. Jackson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Powers Boothe, Jenny Agutter, Harry Dean Stanton, Ashley Johnson

Marvel Studios, Paramount, Walt Disney Studios, 143 Minutes, 173 Minutes (extended cut)

Review:

“The Tesseract has awakened. It is on a little world. A human world. They would wield its power, but our ally knows its workings as they never will. He is ready to lead. And our force, our Chitauri, will follow. The world will be his. The universe yours. And the humans, what can they do but burn?” – The Other

There was a time when this was the big culmination of all of Marvel’s achievements in their cinematic universe. I don’t think any of us realized how small the universe was then. It felt grand but now, in 2018, things have grown to a monstrous size, to the point where it’s hard to imagine how the upcoming Avengers movie is even going to work. I mean, this had six heroes in it, plus a few more characters. The next Avengers movie has to balance roughly sixty characters. It’s gotten insane.

Anyway, this was the first time we saw a big group of these characters crossover.

In this film, we see Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, Chris Evans’ Captain America, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, Mark Ruffalo replacing Ed Norton as Hulk, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye. We also get Sam Jackson returning as Nick Fury, Clark Gregg as Phil Coulson and Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill, all important SHIELD characters and support for the Avengers team.

On the villain side, Tom Hiddleston returns as Loki and he has an army of Chitauri aliens gifted to him by The Other, who is a minion of Thanos.

The story does a decent job of uniting these heroes against a common and very large threat. The first act of the film is very good and I enjoyed it. The final act is also better than decent, even if the aliens are generic and unexciting. The middle act is what really soured me on this picture and it brings down all of the other parts that are actually good.

The middle of the film is pretty much just the heroes hanging out and gabbing on the SHIELD Helicarrier. Some shit pops off and we get to see the Avengers go into action… to fix a damaged propeller. The fact that a gazillion dollar SHIELD helicarrier doesn’t have some sort of emergency protocol for a failed or destroyed propeller is a gross mismanagement of government funds. You’re going to build a vehicle that costs more than the entire GDP of most countries and you don’t have emergency parachutes or balloons to guide the vehicle down to Earth? Good thing Iron Man was there to fly in circles and Captain America knew how to flip a switch.

Joss Whedon helmed this picture though and I’ve never been a fan, even though he is like Jesus to nerds. Does he know how to handle an ensemble cast? For the most part, but his experience is mostly in the realm of cheesy teen TV drama or the severely overrated Firefly.

While the last act of the film gets things back on track and exciting, I hate the Chitauri aliens. They’re drab, boring and ride around on some flying Sea-Doos shooting shit lasers. Then there are the giant flying worm creatures that didn’t do a damn thing other than chase Iron Man and crash into shit. What were they supposed to be doing? Couldn’t they have had aliens on their armored hulls and been more like weaponized battleships? Kinda like living Star Destroyers? I mean, a six year-old could have made them more interesting. In the end, the aliens should have been the Skrulls or even the Kree. I know that Marvel lost the movie right to the Skrulls, at least at the time, but damn, give us something more imaginative and cool.

The Avengers has its problems and I’m spending more time pointing them out than anything else but it is still an enjoyable film. It’s not as good as the best solo hero movies but it is hard to balance an ensemble and to focus on developing and enriching characters when there are so many. But that’s why the solo films are better movies, as these big team-up pictures are just spectacles or special events, the Royal Rumble of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

But making this work was a giant undertaking and a tough challenge. It’s more positive than negative and the real highlight is seeing these characters exist in the same space at the same time.

Plus, it has Harry Dean Stanton in it.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: The other Phase One films from the Marvel Cinematic UniverseIron Man 1 and 2The Incredible HulkThor and Captain America: The First Avenger.

TV Review: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013- )

Original Run: September 24th, 2013 – present
Created by: Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Bear McCreary
Cast: Clark Gregg, Ming-Na Wen, Brett Dalton, Chloe Bennet, Iain De Caestecker, Elizabeth Henstridge, Nick Blood, Adrianne Palicki, Henry Simmons, Luke Mitchell, John Hannah, B.J. Britt, Mallory Jansen, Ruth Negga, Adrian Pasdar, Kyle MacLachlan, Powers Boothe, Mark Dacascos, Blair Underwood, Constance Zimmer, Patton Oswalt, Bill Paxton

ABC Studios, Marvel, Mutant Enemy Productions, Walt Disney, 88 Episodes (so far), 41-44 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*written in 2015.

I remember watching the pilot to Marvel’s Agent’s of S.H.I.E.L.D. when it premiered and I wasn’t a fan of it. I immediately lost interest but as that first season rolled on, I started to hear good things. When the series entered into the phase of setting up Captain America: The Winter Solider, people couldn’t stop talking about it.

So once the first series came to an end, I binge watched it. I have now also watched season two in its entirety.

One thing I can say about this show is that it took about half a season to find its footing but even then, it is pretty inconsistent.

The show has high points and it has some very low points. If you are a fan of Joss Whedon’s style, you will probably love the show. I’m not a Whedon fan however and I find the style to be superfluous, predictable, forced and tedious at times.

The characters are likable enough but no one stands out. You don’t truly care for any of them and as great as Phil Coulson was in the movies that came out before this series, in the show he just becomes an uninteresting one-dimensional character. In fact, each episode almost serves as a way to forcibly remind the audience of how cool Coulson is supposed to be.

Most of this show just rides on by and none of it feels as important as the producers and many of its fans make it out to be. I get that it is used as a vehicle to develop more background to the plot of upcoming Marvel films but in that it falls victim to itself and feels more like a show on rails than something free to go its own way. It gets distracted from dealing with its own separate narrative, as it is forced to tie into the plots of the films. While that worked well the first time around with Captain America: The Winter Soldier it didn’t work so well with Avengers: Age of Ultron.

The second season was pretty uninteresting and the highlight of the series was the last third of the first season, which dealt with the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the aftermath of that. While the show is now establishing the mythos of the Inhumans, who will be getting their own Marvel movie several years from now, the plot and the execution hasn’t been as cutting edge and exciting as the showrunners have anticipated.

This isn’t a bad show, there are things I like and I will continue to keep watching in an effort to watch the Marvel Cinematic Universe continue to unfold but I would almost rather binge watch the seasons after they end than force myself to sit down and watch this religiously every Tuesday night at 9 p.m.

At its very best, this show has had great moments. I just hope that there are more of those in the future and less filler and drawn out plots that could be dealt with much quicker. I also hope that at some point Patton Oswald becomes a full-time cast member because his contribution to this show is the best thing about it. I also hope we haven’t seen the last of Kyle MacLachlan’s Mr. Hyde, as he was the highlight of season two.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has promise and potential and if it fulfills that, it could become a stellar show. As of right now, it falls below its superior sister show Agent Carter and it can’t hold a candle to CW’s The Flash or Netflix’s Daredevil.

Update:

I have now gotten through four seasons of this show. Season three was really slow and just a bore overall. However, season four introduced Ghost Rider to the Marvel cinematic mythos and things really got interesting. Season four was broken into three parts, where the middle bit wasn’t interesting but the end caps were stellar. In fact, the last third of season four, titled Agents of Hydra, was the absolute high point of this show and you actually discover that you care about these characters more than you realize. If the momentum can continue on from the last portion of the fourth season, then this show could be one of the best on television. Unfortunately, it has a long history of inconsistency.