The Shower Scene
During a break in the high stakes poker game at the Casino Royale, James Bond and his companion Vesper Lynd are attacked in the stairwell by a pair of African terrorists/freedom fighters, one brandishing a machete. In one of the film’s many expertly executed action scenes Bond manages to dispatch with both men after a multi-story struggle. He conceals the bodies, cleans himself up and returns to the card game. At the next break – which, if consistent with the last, is four hours later – he returns to his suite. Continue reading
Directors: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez
Starring: Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Eva Green, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Dennis Haysbert, Rosario Dawson, Powers Booth, Bruce Willis
Released in 2005, Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City was a critical and popular hit, with its stylised violence and heightened neo-noir aesthetic. Pioneering in its use of green screen technology and digital settings, Sin City was among the first films which actively sought to reflect rather than disguise its graphic novel origins. Almost immediately there was talk of multiple sequels being in the pipeline with a number of big name stars supposedly attached. Yet somehow it has taken nine years for a follow up, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, to hit the screens. Unfortunately, it has not been worth the wait.
As with the first film, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is made up of interwoven but unconnected episodes. Entering into the shady world of Basin City, we jump from one protagonist to another. In “Just Another Saturday Night,” Marv struggles to remember a violent encounter with a group of frat boys which has, unsurprisingly, ended in carnage. “The Long, Bad Night” sees a cocky young gambler arriving in town to play some poker, with a view to taking down the big fish, Senator Rourke. In “A Dame to Kill For,” private investigator Dwight is manipulated by an old flame, Ava Lord, into committing a murder. While “Nancy’s Last Dance” reintroduces stripper Nancy Callahan, wallowing in grief and despair four years after the suicide of her saviour John Hartigan and determined to have her revenge.
Like its predecessor, the strength of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For lies in its visuals. The aesthetic, featuring high contrast black and white with splashes of colour, is still very striking and the incorporation of 3D only helps to immerse you into this comic book world. That said, striking visuals can only carry a film so far. They have to be in support of an engaging story and characters, and that is where Sin City: A Dame to Kill For falls short. Despite the new narratives and the introduction of new characters the film doesn’t manage to go anywhere new. It feels like a movie made up of deleted scenes from the original. So where the first Sin City felt exciting and fresh, this sequel gets old very quickly. When a movie feels longer than its 100 minute runtime, it is never a good sign.
As funny as it sounds given its aesthetic, Rodriguez and Miller’s film is crying out for some light and shade. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For entirely one note. There is no modulation of tone. Eventually the brutal violence and misogyny blurs together into an indeterminate mess. Bruce Willis’s character, Hartigan, served an important function in the first film. He was its hero and evidence of hope and morality in an immoral world. While Willis appears sporadically in the sequel as a ghost watching over Nancy, no character takes up this function. So we are presented with a world devoid of any sort of hope. Without even a glimmer of hope, we don’t engage as fully with the despair.
Returning to this world after nine years, it is challenging to draw connections between the original film and the sequel. This is partly the result of a number of roles being recast – Josh Brolin replaces Clive Owen, Dennis Haysbert replaces the late Michael Clarke Duncan, Jeremy Piven replaces Michael Madsen – but also the result of some confusing chronology. Some of the episodes obviously follow on from the events of the first film while others are prequels and there is no clear differentiation between them.
Frank Miller imagined Basin City as a man’s world and as a result the representation of women in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is at best questionable, at worst downright misogynistic. Every female character is either a prostitute or a stripper, a femme fatale or a temptress. The filmmakers argue that they present strong female characters, assumedly on the grounds that some of them commit acts of violence rather than just being victims, but even these warrior women are presented as male fantasies for consumption by a male audience. You will lose count of the number of times a female character is introduced into a scene with a leering close up of her backside. The only female character with any real agency in the story is Ava Lord, who is brilliantly portrayed as the classic noir femme fatale by Eva Green (though more frequently nude than a classical Hollywood character would ever have been). But even in this case her power comes from her ability to manipulate men to do things for her rather than her ability to do anything for herself.
Nowhere is the film’s failure to match the nuance and subtlety of classic film noir as evident as in its faux-hard-boiled narration. First person narration, one of the hallmarks of film noir, is stretched to breaking point here. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For descends into a competition between gruff and growly men trying to out-husky-voice each other. The characters seemingly narrating every thought that goes through their head, leaving no room for subtext. Thankfully it eventually passes through being insufferable and just becomes white noise. It also serves as evidence that just because a line might work on the comic book page doesn’t mean it will translate to the screen.
With nothing new to say, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is little more than a pale imitation of its predecessor and were it not for an engaging performance from Eva Green it would hardly have been worth returning to after nine years.
Review by Duncan McLean
Have you seen Sin City: A Dame to Kill For? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.
Director: Tim Burton
Starring: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green, Helena Bonham Carter, Chloe Grace Moretz
I was once a big Tim Burton fan and still have a soft spot for him in my heart, but I must admit that in recent years I approach every new Burton film with a great deal of cautiousness. Despite being one of the best known directors in Hollywood today, Tim Burton hasn’t quite been on song in the last decade. After making some really original and brilliant movies in the 1990s (Edward Scissorhands, Batman, Ed Wood), in recent years his movies tend to have underwhelmed. Movies like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland didn’t really need to be seen because they were exactly what you imagined when you first read that Tim Burton was going to make them. There wasn’t a surprise. While Dark Shadows doesn’t really see Burton breaking any new ground – which will be fine by his many fans, but frustrating to those growing tired of the usual Burton/Depp shtick – it does prove to be a bit of a return to form.
An adaptation of a cult 1960s supernatural soap opera, Dark Shadows is the latest in the line of recent Burton adaptations and re-imaginings following on from Alice in Wonderland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Sweeney Todd. The film follows the story of Barnabas Collins, a vampire whom having been buried alive for almost 200 years is dug up in 1972 and sets about trying to restore his family’s seafood business to its former glory after it has been run into the ground by business rival Angelique, who also happens to be the witch who turned Barnabas into a vampire.
Burton and Depp were both great fans of the series in their youth, so unlike some of the other adaptations which feel like they’ve just applied the Tim Burton formula to a pre-existing story, in this case the affection they clearly have for the source material really comes across. The contrast between the garish sights and sounds of the 1970s and the more gothic elements of the story really plays to Burton’s style, which has always been a mix of gothic and kitsch. Depp plays Barnabas as an old-fashioned, Romantic-era vampire, and much comedy is drawn from Barnabas struggling to get his head around 1970s culture. Dark Shadows is easily Burton’s funniest film since Ed Wood, possibly ever.
For someone who was getting used to being disappointed with Tim Burton’s films, Dark Shadows was a pleasant surprise. This is not Tim Burton at his absolute best, but it is as close as he’s been for a number of years.
Rating – ★★★★
Review by Duncan McLean