Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For

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DIR: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller • WRI: Elan Mastai • PRO: Sergei Bespalov, Aaron Kaufman, Stephen L’Heureux, Mark C. Manuel, Robert Rodriguez • ED: Robert Rodriguez • DOP: Robert Rodriguez  DES: Caylah Eddleblute Steve Joyner  MUS; Robert Rodriguez, Carl Thiel • Cast: Jessica Alba, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis

Released just under a decade since their first foray into the fully-digital world of Sin City, creator Frank Miller and director Robert Rodriguez continue their buddying up to the realm of neo-noir graphic-filming with a new chapter.  Anticipation was high for this one: with so much time to work on a sequel to such a well-received original, it seemed like the combination of Rodriguez’ dedication to the adaptation and Miller’s stellar source material could do no wrong.

 

Unfortunately for all involved, the length of time between the ground-breaking first and pretty-similar second hasn’t actually helped the cause.  When Sin City burst on the scene in 2005 with all the brilliance of something fresh, it looked and felt like a new era of cinema. Digital filming showed its unique possibilities, and manipulation of colour and bleached setups did the impossible in bringing a graphic novel to full visual realisation onscreen.  Most importantly, the stories, characters and actors were captivating from the get-go.  A Dame to Kill For does suffer somewhat, then, from comparison to the first – a constant challenge for sequels of all types, but perhaps most particularly for movies with a distinctive storytelling technique. All the notes of cheesiness, brutality and hyper-masculinity are in place as before, but somehow it never quite engages.

 

Most of the fault lies with the chosen storylines, but the actors must also take responsibility.  While notables like Jessica Alba (Nancy) and Mickey Rourke (Marv) reprise their roles, it is with visibly less enthusiasm, or perhaps too much awareness of the undercurrent of ‘coolness’ attached to their characters.  Newcomer Joseph Gordon-Levitt promises much, delivers some, but fades into the background far too quickly to really get a grip on him – unfortunate for an actor who generally performs.  Taking over Dwight’s old face is Josh Brolin, whose B-movie credentials should make him a perfect insert for Sin City’s palette.  He gamely attacks the storyline of A Dame to Kill For, battling the raw sexuality of Eva Green’s Ava, but his monotonous narration is probably one of the worst things about the movie.  Surprisingly, this instalment takes the power away from its women and wallows in some pretty boring damsel-in-distress tableaus…Ava is the only female character to really grab the moment and terrorise the screen, which is especially shocking considering Gail (Rosario Dawson) makes an appearance.  One of the finest fighters in Old Town, Gail has always kept the girls safe and police out, but in this story barely touches the significant badassery Sin City originally afforded her.  Even Nancy’s angry transformation comes too little too late, and the intertwining stories do little to alleviate the flat feeling that permeates throughout.

 

Perhaps more thrills might have ensued had the screening been in 3D, as there were certainly scenes that were made specifically to wow the eyes of a 3D viewer, but overall it’s undeniable that A Dame to Kill For repeats the formula of Sin City without recapturing its essence.  Visually conforming to the beauty of the first, it looks great but feels repetitive – despite some brief moments of comedy, and lovingly-portrayed grotesquery, it never quite reclaims the form’s sheer brilliance.  Walk down the right back alley in Sin City and you can find anything…except, it would seem, an original addition to the legacy.

 

Sarah Griffin

16 (See IFCO for details)

102 minutes

Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For is released 25th August

Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For –  Official Website

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Cinema Review: Hitchcock

 

DIR: Sacha Gervasi • WRI: John J. McLaughlin • PRO: Alan Barnette, Joe Medjuck, Tom Pollock , Ivan Reitman, Tom Thayer • DOP: Jeff Cronenweth • ED: Pamela Martin • DES: Judy Becker • CAST: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Toni Collette, Michael Wincott, Jessica Alba, James D’Arcy

The year is 1959 and Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) is the most famous movie director in the world – and he’s also fronting a highly-lucrative TV series too. But he’s getting on, too. Is it time for ‘Hitch’  to call it quits? Hitchcock is defiantly against retirement, and is in fact determined to break the mold on his next project – and the new book Psycho, based on the horrendous killings by cannibal murderer Ed Gein a few years before – seems to be just the thing to make audiences scream.

 

But the studio balks, the journalists are appalled, and the censors don’t like the violence and nudity one little bit. Hitchock discusses it with his ever-supportive power-behind-the-throne wife Alma (Helen Mirren) and they decide to bet the house – literally – on it being a success. Actress Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) is hired, as is twitchy, handsome Anthony Perkins (James D’Arcy), and now all Hitch has to do is to make movie history; on time, on budget, and with a big box office to boot – or it’s curtains.

 

As we all know, Hitchcock managed to make Psycho the biggest-grossing movie of his career despite all the heavy pressures and problems, and certainly shook things up like he wanted to as well. So it’s a crying shame then that the movie showing that intense period in his life fails on almost every level to do anything but be dramatic and intense.

 

Hitch – a complex and problematic man who often obsessed over his blonde leading ladies – stays virtually unexplored here, and the man himself is probably spinning in his grave to see one of his biggest triumphs – and the players involved – reduced to such clichéd and ham-fisted pap.

 

The blame has to be left at the feet of the director, Sacha Gervasi, whose previous directing credit was a documentary about a washed-up heavy metal band and writing the Steven Spielberg misfire The Terminal (he’s also the father of a daughter with ‘Ginger Spice’ Geri Halliwell).

 

Aside from obvious transitions he offers nothing new here, and with a woefully lazy and shallow script from John J. McLaughlin (credits include Black Swan and 2005 Tommy Lee Jones comedy (!) Man of the House) it’s not hard to see how this cast, which really is to kill for, is almost utterly wasted.

 

Mirren tries very hard to wring some emotion out of the limpest of exposition and on-the-nose dialogue while Michael Wincott is creepy as Ed Gein, but Hopkins, with his purple lips and a chin so fake you can always see the seam, seems to capture nothing of man so apparently cruel but also prone to jokes (his one scene where Hitchcock comes to life, waiting nervously outside the theater at the Psycho premiere) is the only spark that lights.

It’s problematic too that the movie never decides truly what it wants to be: a straight biopic, a comedic look at the world of movies, or a dark horror/drama – the latter especially being a misstep, what with Hitch seeing/dreaming/taking advice from Gein, a kind of ghost in this story, who urges him to follow his… well, urges.

 

So overall it’s a huge disappointment to see one of the most famous auteurs be heralded in a way that neither pays homage to his work, nor himself, nor allows the actors to take on a juicy role, and you wonder how this writer and director were chosen for the movie, when there were surely others who would have wished to pay tribute.

 

You’d probably be better off checking out the BBC/HBO co-production The Girl, which was about the nasty relationship between Hitchcock and Tippi Hendren during the making of his next movie, The Birds. It stars Toby Jones as Hitch, Sienna Miller as Hedren and Imelda Staunton as Alma, and seemed much more prepared to dig deep and look at the real man, not just the sanitized, deadpan TV series presenter.

 

James Bartlett

12A (see IFCO website for details)

98 mins

Hitchcock is released on 8th February 2013

Hitchcock – Official Website

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Machete

Machete

DIR: Ethan Maniquis, Robert Rodriguez • WRI: Robert Rodriguez, Álvaro Rodríguez • PRO: Elizabeth Avellan, Robert Rodriguez, Rick Schwartz • DOP: Peter Jimmy Lindsey • ED: Rebecca Rodriguez, Robert Rodriguez • DES: Christopher Stull • CAST: Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba

Rodriguez’ and Tarantino’s double-hitting Grindhouse experiment was a disappointing non-event, hitting European screens devoid of double-bill, fake trailers, and bereft of that classic B-movie shlock-factor that had enticed critical salivation. Of the two, it was Rodriguez’ Planet Terror that most beguiled, following the old-style formula with zeal. It celebrated hammy acting, gory special effects, buckets of blood, and that certain disregard for moviemaking practices that can only be achieved by one who understands the process completely. Machete is the full-length feature result of the most popular of Rodriguez’ fake trailers attached to his first B-movie venture, and builds on Planet Terror’s beginnings to create a masterpiece of shlock, and a new sub-genre of kicks: the Mexploitation movie.

Much has been made of the politics in the film, with a specially-made teaser trailer released on Ain’t it Cool News condemning the recent Arizonian immigration laws. So, yes, politics are there in the movie, but buried beneath layers of violence, gore, and good old-fashioned revenge-killing nonsense. It follows the Montessori school of teaching: if they’re having fun, they won’t even know they’re learning! Rodriguez is beautifully positioned to co-create a movie of this sort – his style has always been a compendium of quick shots, action sequences, fast edits, and an overarching sense of humour. Being of Mexican heritage, and highly supportive of many projects in Texan/Mexican relations, he is also best placed to bring together a wonderfully over-the-top hyperbolic expansion of the immigration issue in America today.

Machete follows the trials and tribulations of the titular federale turned renegade, played by Danny Trejo, who illegally enters America following the murder of his wife and daughter at the hands of a Mexican drug lord Torrez, played by the king of overacting, Steven Seagal. Machete is tricked into an assassination attempt on the immigrant-hunting Senator McLaughlin, (the magnificent Robert de Niro) by Jim Fahy’s spindoctoring psychopath, Michael Booth. After a series of double-crosses, he begins a campaign of retribution and sexual encounters (often at the same time), crossing paths with Michelle Rodriguez’ freedom fighter, Lindsay Lohan’s salacious malcontent, Jessica Alba’s immigration officer and Cheech Marin’s homicidal Padre. It’s a recipe for fun, madness and shlock-indulgence.

Perhaps more than anything, Machete can be described as a guilty pleasure. We can appreciate magnificent storytelling, breathtaking cinematography, nuanced acting, devastatingly impressive 3D, and feather-light direction – but it’s best to do so with other movies. If you would like to see Robert de Niro hunting immigrants with a rifle along the Mexican border, Danny Trejo kicking ass and taking names from Mexico to Arizona, Jessica Alba simultaneously enforcing and breaking the law, and Linsday Lohan’s acting ‘skill’ finally finding a place, then this is the movie for you.

Machete is not sophisticated or complicated – it is a return to action filmmaking at its primitive modern inception, when vicarious pleasure could be drawn from high-octane fighting, ridiculously gory death scenes, nonsensical storytelling, over-acted and over-written dialogue, and most of all, lots and lots of violence. For best results, catch it at a cinema packed with people – cheer at the screen, boo the baddies, wolf-whistle the sex scenes, laugh at the cheesy music, and cover your eyes at the copious amounts of machete-induced limb removals. And when it’s all over, joyously celebrate the possibility of Machete Kills and Machete Kills Again!

Sarah Griffin


Rated 18 (see IFCO website for details)

Machete is released on 26th November 2010

Machete – Official Website

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Awake

Awake
Awake

DIR/WRI: Joby Harold • PRO: Jason Kliot, John Penotti, Fisher Stevens, Joana Vicente • DOP: Russell Carpenter • ED: Craig McKay • DES: Dina Goldman • CAST: Hayden Christensen, Jessica Alba, Terrence Howard, Lena Olin

Poor Jessica Alba. It seems no matter how many films she stars in, none of them ever really seem to set the world alight (Sin City perhaps being the only exception). True to this pattern, Awake, the directorial debut of Joby Harold, will fail to do so either. Working on a rather interesting premise – that of patient, Clay Beresford (played by Hayden Christensen), still being awake during an operation, in a state of ‘anesthetic awareness’. The film opens with figures for the numbers of patients who encounter this every year – ‘Every year, one in 700 people wake up during surgery’ – and indeed this is a scary notion for anybody who has had surgery or may need to in the future. Yet, soon into Awake, Harold’s script loses focus and purpose and what started as an interesting examination of an altogether unnerving personal experience turns into a messy, stunted thriller.

While Joby Harold’s script suffers from a lack of direction and proper structure, the characters on show are all so underwritten and two-dimensional that come the film’s not altogether spectacular but somewhat interesting plot twists, the audience will care very little. Christensen, playing the film’s protagonist Clay Berseford, a young billionaire, is rather wooden and that monotone voice of his, so irritating in the Star Wars trilogy, comes back to haunt the viewer once again. His performance seems committed, but the script gives him so little to work with it that it’s no surprise his performance comes off uncommitted. The same goes for the film’s other stars, Jessica Alba as his wife, Sam Lockwood and Terence Howard as his best friend Dr. Jack Harper (Clay clearly doesn’t have many on the basis of their friendship). Awake isn’t terrible yet much of the blame for the film’s faults must lie with director and scriptwriter Harold. The romance between Alba’s character and Christensen’s is stunted and awkward and Lena Olin as Lillith Beresford, Clay’s mother, is perhaps the only person to come out of Awake with their acting credentials improved. Harold abandons what appeared the initial premise of the film, a worrying operation situation, being awake while under the knife, to pursue an ill-thought out thriller of double-crosses and triple-crosses. Unfortunately, many of the twists are signposted in advance and all of the characters suffer from Harold’s lack of directorial focus. In the midst of Awake, a good story was waiting to be told but got muddled as Harold tried to weave a thriller with little or no script. One hopes Christensen, Howard and indeed Alba make better career choices in the future. Too many more of these and they may all fall off the Hollywood radar.

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