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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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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Shorts

Shorts

DIR: Robert Rodriguez • WRI: Robert Rodriguez, Álvaro Rodríguez • PRO: Elizabeth Avellan, Robert Rodriguez • DOP: Robert Rodriguez • ED: Ethan Maniquis Robert Rodriguez • DES: Steve Joyner • CAST: Jon Cryer, William H. Macy, Leslie Mann, James Spader

Robert Rodriguez’ latest directorial effort is yet another hyperactive diversion for kids – after the partially entertaining Spy Kids series and The (Excruciating) Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl – it’s a natural continuation of the deteriorating coherence in this strand of his career. Gone are the days of the shoe-string budget innovation of El mariachi and From Dusk Till Dawn; now Rodriguez seems to be swimming in resources and all out of solid ideas as he alternates between the ultra-violent contrivances of Sin City or the pointedly B-movie Planet Terror – and cashing in on a void in the market of kids movies. His intention seems increasingly to be style over substance, this time plenty of cheap and cheerful effects and a tacky disjointed structure instead of an actual story – all catering to tots with zero attention-spans and a penchant for blatant wish-fulfillment.

Incidentally, the main catalyst for the story is a ‘Rainbow Rock’, a multi-coloured wishing stone designed to realize the desires of anyone whose hands it may fall into – consequently it is utilised to mostly disastrous effects by many a moronic child in the neighbourhood. After an entertaining initial segment, in which a brother and sister challenge each other to an epic staring contest (which lasts not only during breakfast, but throughout the school day and back at home during dinner, even at night as they brush their teeth) – the movie then switches perspective several times in a pattern that feels less like a series of ingeniously interwoven shorts that make up a satisfying whole and more like an excuse to tie together half-baked concepts involving giant booger monsters and CGI crocodiles on their hind legs. Hardly the ‘Pulp Fiction for kids’ Rodriguez himself has pitched it as.

A scene involving a three brothers playing video games on their multiple plasma TVs sees one of the boys standing up in front of the screens announcing, ‘I’m bored of video games’ to which the others respond: ‘We’ve been through this already… there’s nothing else to do.’ It’s that kind of ADD-friendly mentality that this movie seems to represent – even fast-forwarding and rewinding sections of the story to get to the next ludicrous action set-piece. However there are some bright spots amidst the mess of inanity – the mere presence of William H. Macy’s nerdy charm as a mad-cap OCD scientist raising his son on anti-bacterial wipes, and Leslie Mann’s patented glacial blondeness as one half of corporate couple dealing with miscommunication – may be enough to tide over some movie-minded parents – even if both actors are given next to nothing to do and are mostly surrounded by a slew of TV and tween stars.

Unfortunately these turgid tales never develop into anything substantially entertaining, instead culminating in a haphazard climax more likely to leave you non-plussed than thrilled. Ultimately this is a kids movie not aimed at nurturing their imagination or creative potential, nor interested in appealing to parents with more subversive humour or insight, instead reveling in endlessly irritating rivalries between brace-faced pre-teens and misbehaving brothers – it’s a garish pebbledash adventure with zero gravity and a hollow core that may appeal to some children (and not necessarily their most positive compulsions) but is completely disposable for everyone else.

Eoghan McQuinn
(See biog here)

Rated PG (See IFCO website for details)
Shorts is released on 21st August 2009

Shorts – Official Website

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