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: Nighthawks (1981)

Also known as: Attacks, Hawks (working titles)
Release Date: April 10th, 1981
Directed by: Bruce Malmuth
Written by: David Shaber, Paul Sylbert
Music by: Keith Emerson
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Billy Dee Williams, Rutger Hauer, Joe Spinell, Lindsay Wagner, Nigel Davenport, Persis Khambatta

Martin Poll Productions, The Production Company, Universal Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

“Oh, for Christ’s sake, DaSilva! Come off this cop on the beat mentality! Your wife left you for it! Wasn’t that enough!” – Peter Hartman

I wish I would have found this movie when I was younger in the ’80s but it eluded me until I saw it on television in the late ’90s. I liked it for its roughness and for the fact that Sylvester Stallone, Billy Dee Williams and Rutger Hauer where in a movie together. However, discovering it in my late teen years allowed me to not fall victim to the nostalgia bug.

Still, I really like this movie for what it is. It’s a no frills, straight up, badass cop hunting a badass psycho movie. It benefits from the urban grittiness, its testosterone heavy stars and Stallone’s friggin’ beard!

In the film, Stallone and Williams are cops. They deal with the scum of the Earth and have to do some serious dirt in an effort to keep the streets clean. They are then recruited into an anti-terror task force by their superior, played by Stallone’s buddy Joe Spinell, and a British terror expert, played by Nigel Davenport. Their purpose is to track down international terrorist “Wulfgar”, played by Rutger Hauer.

The film isn’t exceptional and the plot isn’t unique or surprising in any way. It plays like a standard angry cop hunting mad man picture but I do get pulled into the film’s visual aesthetic. There’s nothing unusual or unique about the visual style, it is actually pretty pedestrian, but the urban nighttime scenes just have this sort of majestic allure about them. The nightclub scene is especially enthralling. Granted, I feel like all of this was unintentional and it was the locations that just came alive on their own without any extra flourish. It felt magical in the same way The Warriors does regardless of that film’s unique fashion sense.

Nighthawks is a raw and intense film. Plus, seeing Stallone face-off with Hauer with Williams thrown into the mix is exciting stuff for anyone who grew up loving these guys throughout the ’80s. And again… Stallone’s friggin’ beard, man!

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Stallone’s Cobra and Schwarzenegger’s Red Heat. If you want to see more of Hauer in a similar type of role, check out Blade Runner and The Hitcher.

Film Review: The Hitcher (1986)

Release Date: January 17th, 1986 (Victoria, Texas premiere)
Directed by: Robert Harmon
Written by: Eric Red
Music by: Mark Isham
Cast: Rutger Hauer, C. Thomas Howell, Jeffrey DeMunn, Jennifer Jason Leigh

HBO Pictures, Silver Screen Partners, TriStar Pictures, 97 Minutes

Review:

“[Picking up the hitchhiker] My mother told me to never do this.” – Jim Halsey

I’ve been on this Rutger Hauer kick, lately. Maybe it’s because I watched Blade Runner for the 214th time a week ago and then introduced a friend to Hobo With a Shotgun, a few days later. I don’t know, but it made me want to go back and re-experience The Hitcher, as it’s been quite a long while since I’ve seen it.

The plot to this is real simple, C. Thomas Howell’s Jim picks up a hitchhiker (Hauer) in the Texas desert. Immediately, it is apparent that this stranger is a psycho. Things escalate and Jim actually knocks the hitchhiker out of his moving vehicle. The rest of the film is about the hitchhiker hunting him and going on a violent killing spree where he is framing Jim for the crimes. It’s a psychotic game of cat and mouse and in certain ways, reminds me of Steven Spielberg’s Duel. Except Duel was a TV movie and very tame compared to the level of violence the Rutger Hauer character brings to this film.

The movie also stars Jennifer Jason Leigh, a pretty backwoods waitress that gets caught up in the proceedings because she fancies Jim, and Jeffrey DeMunn, as the only reasonable cop in the entire movie.

This movie almost feels like a horror movie but is really just a very effective thriller. However, as a kid, I was more scared of villains in films like this and Sly Stallone’s Cobra than monsters like Freddy or Jason. These types of psychos were real and existed in the world that I actually lived in.

The Hitcher is an intense movie and that might be an understatement. It kicks off with a severe level of discomfort in the opening scene and never gives you a break. It is 90-plus minutes of a young man being hunted and mentally tortured while he is also trying to outwit the predator.

Films like this are hard to come by nowadays. At least, these types of films with this level of quality. For something that wasn’t wholly original and on the surface, pretty derivative, The Hitcher grabs onto your throat like a choke hold and doesn’t release its grip. Even after the credits role, you still can’t breathe.

This film does exactly what it sets out to do and it does it damn well.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Ida Lupino’s 1953 film The Hitch-Hiker, Steven Spielberg’s Duel, this film’s sequel The Hitcher II: I’ve Been Waiting and its remake from 2007. The sequel and the remake don’t have quite the same quality though.

 

Film Review: Hobo With a Shotgun (2011)

Release Date: January 21st, 2011 (Sundance)
Directed by: Jason Eisener
Written by: John Davies, Jason Eisener
Music by: Alexander Rosborough
Cast: Rutger Hauer, Molly Dunsworth, Brian Downey, Gregory Smith, Nick Bateman

Rhombus Media, Whizbang Films, Yer Dead Productions, Alliance Films, Magnet Releasing, 86 Minutes

Review:

“There’s something else about bears not many people know. If a bear gets hooked on the taste of human blood, it becomes a man-killer. He’ll go on a rampage and has to be destroyed. And that’s why you should never hug a bear.” – Hobo

Back when Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse came out, they held a contest for fans to make their own fake grindhouse style trailers, as an interactive marketing campaign to help promote the film. Jason Eisener won the contest with his trailer for Hobo With a Shotgun. In certain parts of Canada, Eisener’s trailer was featured with screenings of the film. This eventually lead to him making a real film from the fake trailer, similar to what Robert Rodriguez did with his fake trailer for Machete.

Before this, Eisener’s only directing experience was his short film about murderous Christmas trees called Treevenge.

This motion picture is just as unique as its backstory.

Hobo With a Shotgun is an ultraviolent spectacle that is reminiscent of the old school grindhouse films that inspired it but at the same time, it is truly its own thing.

Somehow, Eisener got Rutger Hauer to star in this thing and his presence gives it a sort of legitimacy and gravitas that it wouldn’t have had otherwise. Sure, this is low budget and has cheap practical effects but so did the movies it was an homage to. But this isn’t a straight homage, it is a film with its own style that successfully taps into different realms and different genres while still feeling like a cohesive body of work.

The story is very simple, a hobo comes to town on a train. He is immediately disgusted by the culture he encounters in this new place. It doesn’t take long before he decides to pick up a shotgun and go banana sandwich on the scumbags that shit on everything good and decent. He befriends a sweet and pretty cute hooker, who starts as a damsel in distress but winds up being a total badass herself.

The thing about this film, is that it isn’t just violent. It crosses a lot of lines but in a fantastic way. There is a scene where children on a school bus get cooked alive by a psycho with a flamethrower, there are guns held to babies faces, pedophiles dressed as Santa, rapey cops, ice skates used in creative and deadly ways, a giant octopus creature, a totally f’n awesome duo of armored biker mercenaries and about a dozen other things I’m not going to list out. As shocking as a lot of the things in the movie are, you are still surprised by them and their overabundance sort of makes light of it all, as this film’s setting turns into an over the top, insane world where nothing is actually shocking and the psychos are incredibly innovative and ingenious.

If you are easily offended or can’t take violence, steer absolutely clear of this picture. If you have a strong appreciation for the art and style of grindhouse pictures, this will not disappoint you and it will probably impress you. There is a certain level of artistic merit to violent filth and this movie is a prime example of the beauty of gore used intelligently and creatively, as opposed to gore just for the sake of gore.

Hobo With a Shotgun is an absurdist’s wet dream. Well, an absurdist who doesn’t mind blood, guts and shotgun blasts.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Other modern grindhouse and retro films: Planet TerrorDeath ProofTurbo KidKung Fury, etc. Also, Jason Eisener’s short film Treevenge.

Film Review: Blade Runner (1982)

Release Date: June 25th, 1982
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: Hampton Fancher, David Peoples
Based on: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
Music by: Vangelis
Cast: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, M. Emmet Walsh, Daryl Hannah, William Sanderson, Brion James, Joe Turkel, Joanna Cassidy, James Hong

The Ladd Company, Shaw Brothers, Blade Runner Partnership, Warner Bros., 113 Minutes (original workprint), 116 Minutes (original US theatrical), 117 Minutes (international theatrical), 114 Minutes (US television broadcast), 116 Minutes (The Director’s Cut), 117 Minutes (The Final Cut)  

Review:

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time… like tears in rain… Time to die.” – Roy Batty

Blade Runner is a classic but I think my appreciation of it is different than that of most. While I see a lot of weaknesses and flaws with it, which I’ll explain, the pros most certainly outweigh the cons by a tremendous amount.

For me, Blade Runner is an incredibly slow paced film. Not a lot really happens in it. You quickly understand the setup and the hunt that is taking place, as well as the fact that the main character, Deckard, is falling in love with the very thing he is hunting. There are a lot of layers here that could be explored in more depth but everything is just sort of presented on the surface and not explored beyond a sort of subtle emotional response to the proceedings. You never really know what Deckard is thinking but the film also works in that regard, even if I feel that it makes it hard to align your emotions with the characters’.

Blade Runner is a very topical film. What I mean by that is that there are all these beautiful and mysterious things in the forefront but the substance of what is really behind it all isn’t greatly explored or understood. You have some clues with the conversations Deckard has with Rachael and Batty but most of the characters feel as soulless as the Replicants were intended to be. I don’t blame the acting, which is superb, I blame the ambiguous way that the film was written, as it leaves you perplexed and with more questions than answers, really. And frankly, it is hard to care about those questions without the emotional investment in the characters living in this world.

Speaking of which, Ridley Scott created such a cool and stunning world that I wanted to know more about it. I truly wanted to experience and live in it, alongside these characters, but it is hard to do that when everything feels so cold, emotionless and distant. But this also begs the question, which people have been asking for decades, is Deckard also a Replicant and if so, is that what the tone of the film is very blatantly implying? I would have to say yes but I guess that question won’t truly be answered until this film’s sequel finally comes out later this year, a 35 year wait since this picture came out.

As I already pointed out, the film takes place in an incredible looking world. While it is the Los Angeles of the future, two years from now to be exact, it is a cold, dark and dreary place highlighted by flaming industrial smokestacks and neon signs. Scott made his future Los Angeles look otherworldly and menacing, tapping into the fears of where we could find ourselves in a world that further urbanizes itself, where we are all living in dark metropolises blanketed by dark smoky skies.

The music of the film, created by Vangelis, is absolutely perfect. It is one of the best scores ever produced for a film and its magnificence will be hard to top in the upcoming sequel. The end titles song of the film is one of my favorite pieces of music ever created.

The film is very loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? In reality, it just shares a few concepts and ideas and Blade Runner is really its own thing, where Dick’s novel was more or less the kernel of an idea that Hampton Fancher and David Peoples turned into this tech-noir tale. Honestly, someone could do a true adaptation of the novel and no one would probably pick up on it being the same material. But Philip K. Dick is one of my favorite authors of all-time and anything inspired by his work will get my attention. But I probably wouldn’t have found his work as early as I did in life, had it not been for this movie and really, this film is what gave his work notoriety, after his death.

Blade Runner is not a film for everyone. In fact, when I have shown it to people over the years, I’ve gotten more negative or baffled responses than I have positive ones. I think it is a film that works for those who already know it or who grew up in a time when it was well-known. There was nothing like it at the time but there was a lot like it after it made its impact on pop culture. I don’t think that The Terminator would have been quite the same film had Blade Runner not come out two years before it.

It will be interesting to see where a sequel can go and what it answers and how. But we’ve got a month or so to wait for that. But it’s already been over 35 years, so what’s a month?

Film Review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

Release Date: July 17th, 2017 (TCL Chinese Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Luc Besson
Written by: Luc Besson
Based on: Valérian and Laureline by Pierre Christin, Jean-Claude Mézières
Music by: Alexandre Desplat
Cast: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Kris Wu, Rutger Hauer

EuropaCorp, Fundamental Films, BNP Paribas Fortis Film Finance, Universum Film, Gulf Film, River Road Entertainment, Belga Films, STX Entertainment, 137 Minutes

Review:

“I didn’t come here to get a makeover.” – Laureline

Going into this, I had no expectations either way. Part of me wanted this to be a true spiritual successor to Luc Besson’s classic The Fifth Element, which is twenty years old this year. Another part of me sort of expected this to follow the trend of Besson’s modern work, which has been hit or miss but mostly miss. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is both of these things.

Is it on the level of The Fifth Element? No. But it does channel that film in its subject matter, visual flair, bizarreness and creativity.

The film starts out strong and really gets you into the spirit of what it’s trying to do. Unfortunately, once the main actors show up, it takes you out of the picture. I don’t necessarily blame them but the quirky dialogue that they had to work with was pretty awful. They also completely lacked chemistry and just looked like two fish out of water when they were forced together. It was like watching two young kids trying to be witty and cool while trying to be into each other but you knew they were probably just dating because of social pressure from kids cooler than them.

I’m not sure why but Dane DeHaan just doesn’t do anything for me. People seem to love this guy but I don’t get it. Most of the time, he talks like he is trying to channel some sort of cool inner bad ass but it just sounds like a teenager trying to act tough. His voice sounds like it isn’t even confident in its delivery. It’s like he’s a weakling playing the part of a bad ass and that he’s terrified that he’ll be exposed at any second for not being a cool tough guy. It brings me back to when he played Harry Osborn a.k.a. the Green Goblin in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, I kind of just want to smack him and tell him to go to his room. And if you want to compare this to The Fifth Element, he doesn’t have a tenth of the presence or personality of Bruce Willis.

Cara Delevingne is better than DeHaan in this but she still needs more experience before taking over the reigns of a film. However, my favorite part of this movie was when DeHaan was briefly taken out of the picture and Delevingne took over in an effort to find him and rescue him. I’d actually prefer her in a solo film, to be completely honest.

The biggest problem with this movie is not the acting, dialogue or the directing. What killed this movie for me is that it seems like a collage of really cool visual shit mixed up in a nonsensical way. The story was all over the place and just seemed like it was there to string together a bunch of random scenes that would have worked better as shorts or music videos. The plot was confusing and hard to follow throughout most of the picture. When you get to the end, there is a lot of over-explanation as to what is going on in an attempt to make sense out of the two hour mess before the big climax.

Valerian is absolutely beautiful and imaginative but that is all it is. It is a film that showcases so much potential but fails to do anything with it. It was poorly written, poorly directed, poorly acted and poorly executed. Even Clive Owen and his iron gravitas could not save the picture.

And ultimately, the best thing about the movie is the opening sequence which features humans and aliens coming together over generations, set to the tune of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”.

I also find it odd that this film completely whitewashes the Avatar aliens and no one cares.

LOVE-TESTER