Director: Armando Iannucci
Starring: Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jeffrey Tambor, Michael Palin, Jason Isaacs, Andrea Riseborough, Rupert Friend, Adrian McLoughlin, Olga Kurylenko, Dermot Crowley, Paul Whitehouse, Paul Chahidi, Paddy Considine
It has been said that comedy is tragedy plus time. With The Death of Stalin, Armando Iannucci, the creator of Veep and The Thick of It, really puts that idea to the test by bringing his brand of acerbic political satire to the darkness of Stalin’s Soviet Union.
In the years after the Great Terror, the Soviet citizenry and politicians alike live in a constant state of fear of their leader, Josef Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin). But on the evening of 28th February, 1953, the dictator suffers a stroke and collapses alone in his office. The guards outside the door hear him fall but are too terrified to risk interrupting. When his body is discovered the next morning the Council of Ministers convene, but the fear and paranoia remains so strong that none are willing to be the first to acknowledge he has died lest it be interpreted as wishful thinking, nor make any decisive plans lest it be seen as opportunism. 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: Stuart Beattie
Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Bill Nighy, Miranda Otto, Yvonne Strahovski, Jai Courtney
Mary Shelley could never have seen this coming when she created one of the horror genre’s iconic characters back in 1818. In I, Frankenstein her creature becomes the latest classic to be reimagined for the screen via the graphic novel.
Having lived in secrecy for 200 years, Frankenstein’s monster, here named Adam, finds himself in the middle of a centuries old battle between demons and gargoyles. When a demon is killed its soul descends to hell and it can only return to Earth if it can find a living body without a soul. So Naberius, the leader of the demons, sees in Adam the secret to reanimating corpses into soulless vessels, and therefore the key to a potentially limitless army.
I, Frankenstein is the latest idea from the mind of Kevin Grevioux, the co-creator of the Underworld. That reasonably successful action/fantasy franchise concerned the ongoing war between vampires and werewolves, so I, Frankenstein is not so much a new idea as a variation on a theme. Between its effects heavy battle scenes, the movie labours through some truly ridiculous dialogue. At times this is the result of some poor writing, but largely it is because the premise of this film is such utter nonsense that when characters are forced to verbalise it they can’t help but sound ridiculous. And therein lies I, Frankenstein’s biggest problem. The film contains no acknowledgement of its ludicrousness, and therefore there is no sense of fun, humour or satire. Instead it takes itself far too seriously and it simply cannot afford to.
Turning Frankenstein’s monster into an action hero requires a stark reimaging of the famous character, so Aaron Eckhart’s monster bears little resemblance to Boris Karloff’s iconic lumbering giant. Eckhart has got himself in impressive shape for the role, so impressive in fact that in one scene in which he removes his shirt the creature even attracts a lustful double-take from Terra, the respected electrophysiologist who had been working for Naberius before she discovered his true identity. This version of the monster also does significantly more talking than any we’ve seen before. It might have made for a more interesting, if less action-packed, film if the monster was more traditional – a helpless innocent caught in the centre of this ongoing battle rather than a bad-ass butt-kicking machine.
The film closes with a voiceover from the creature in which he promises to go on fighting demons and protecting mankind, clearly setting itself up for a franchise. Fortunately I doubt we’ll ever see it. I, Frankenstein is an early contender for worst movie of the year.
Review by Duncan McLean