Sin City Double Film Review

Preface

Noir films have always been a genre that I’ve loved. From movies like The Third Man to Double Indemnity and The Big Sleep, I can’t get enough of the hard-nosed detectives, femme fatales and beautiful black and white contrasts. While there have been several films of recent time to try and capitalise on the noir form, I think there has only been a few to properly do it justice, harkening back to the classical days. Two of those films are, Sin City and it’s sequel A Dame To Kill For.

Review

Sin City

Sin City stars Bruce Willis, Jessica Alba, Mickey Rourke, Rosario Dawson and Clive Owen and is directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller, with Quentin Tarantino guest directing. The film follows several characters from different stories of Frank Miller’s Sin City series.

The cast list is one of the film’s strongest points. Playing along with the previously mentioned are stars such as Benicio Del Toro, Powers Boothe, Michael Clark Duncan, Brittany Murphy, Elijah Wood and Josh Hartnett. Every actor and actress is giving everything they’ve got on-screen, obviously reveling in the noir feel of the film.

I managed to read a few of the Sin City books before this review, and from what I’ve seen, there are several panels that have been directly lifted from Miller’s books and put in the film, giving the sense of the comics coming alive. The film hardly had any built sets, instead using large expanses of green screen to fill in the background of Basin City. Filmed in colour and retrofitted into high contrast black and white, it’s a marvel of cinematic engineering and wizardry and the film looks so much better for it. There are small inflections of colour, such as character’s irises, police sirens and lipstick, making the sometimes juvenile storytelling a lot classier than it should be.

Sin City takes an anthology approach to storytelling, similar to Miller’s original books. The film takes several stories such as The Big Fat Kill, The Hard Goodbye and That Yellow Bastard and juggles between them, each one linked with the other through characters and their actions. All stories are filled with sex, nudity, bloody violence and gore and a healthy amount of swearing, marking out Sin City as not one for the faint of heart. Some stories are better than others (I’m in the minority that doesn’t like That Yellow Bastard) but all give us fun characters and action-packed sequences.

In summary, a beautiful tour into debauchery and deceit, even if some characters are reprehensible. Why can’t all comic book films look this good?

Score: 8/10 This is cinema as art.

Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For

A Dame To Kill For stars many of the same cast, with new additions of Eva Green, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Josh Brolin, Christopher Lloyd, Stacy Keach, Ray Liotta and Lady Gaga with Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller returning as directors.

Just like the original film, A Dame To Kill For takes several of Miller’s stories such as A Dame To Kill For and smaller sections of Booze, Broads And Bullets. Two new stories, The Long Bad Night and Nancy’s Last Dance were created exclusively for the film, both written by Miller. This marks a problem for the film, as the stories here take place during, before and after the stories in the first film, and even ret-conning a few of them. It’s sometimes confusing, but if you just go with it then you’ll still find enjoyment.

Eva Green absolutely nails it as the title character, Ava Lord. Green plays the femme fatale perfectly, capturing the style of iconic ladies such as Rita Heyworth or Lauren Bacall. Her and Josh Brolin’s chemistry pays dividends, as you totally buy that Brolin’s character Dwight would throw his entire life into jeopardy for one more night of passion with her. Joseph Gordon Levitt also does a good job as Johnny, an original character for the film as a kid gambler who gets in over his head when he cons the powerful members of Basin City out of their money. His story, The Long Bad Night, feels a lot more like a classical noir story, as it doesn’t feature any of Miller’s monster-men or scantily-dressed strippers.

My main problem with A Dame To Kill For though is that it spreads itself too thin. After the first segment of The Long Bad Night and the standout story of A Dame To Kill For, the film seems to lose a lot of its pace with the second part of The Long Bad Night and Nancy’s Last Dance. The last two stories feel very repetitive as we see Johnny playing cards against the same characters and Marv helping someone storm a mansion for the second time during the run time. There are also many subplots during the bigger stories and many side-characters who don’t add much to the film apart from another big name to the list of great actors.

In summary, A Dame To Kill For isn’t as good as its predecessor, but still has some new stories and characters to pull you back into the world of Sin City.

Score: 7/10 Watch for Eva Green’s standout performance.

Bridge Of Spies Review

Steven Spielberg is hands down one of the greatest working directors in the world. Known as the Master of Dreams, Spielberg’s films often work over generations of movie-goers, speaking to something in every single member of the audience. Does his new film, Bridge Of Spies, have the same viewer-spanning watch-ability as his others?

Bridge Of Spies stars Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Austin Stowell, Jesse Plemons and Mikhail Gorevoy and is directed by Steven Spielberg. The film follows the real life story of James Donovan (Hanks) who is tasked with negotiating an exchange of spies from both sides during the height of the Cold War.

It wasn’t going to be too much of an ask that the acting be great, and each actor duly deserves the praise. Tom Hanks plays the usual “super-dad” role that he is known for, as well as showing a rugged toughness in some scenes that hasn’t been seen from him since Road To Perdition. His interactions with Mark Rylance are very well written and performed, even if Rylance’s accent hops all about the British Isles, before heading over to Eastern Europe.

Good acting is one thing, but it can only go so far. Luckily the script is one of Spielberg’s best, managing to create tension just by characters talk to each other over different sides of a table. The Coen Brothers have a credit on the script, and just like a lot of their other penned works, is full of great conversation set-pieces and filled to the brim with dark humour. Several scenes in the film had the screening I was in fill with laughter at some rapid-fire jokes at the Donovan household. This isn’t a sombre Spielberg film in the mould of Schindler’s List, Bridge Of Spies knows when to have its serious discussions and when it can have a bit of a laugh with the audience, with a repeated line by Rylance being an absolute favourite.

While the first half of the film is spent in New York, with the discovery of KGB agent Rudolf Abel (Rylance) the second half and the pulse-pounding finale take place in snow-blinded Berlin. It’s a great setting for any film, let alone a spy thriller, and calls to mind many of the other great spy thrillers of the period. The finale, set on the Glienicke Bridge, is a tense standoff as both parties try and weasel what they want out of the exchange, with a subtle hinted doom for one of the characters.

The soundtrack, by Thomas Newman (of Skyfall/SPECTRE fame) is what makes the film truly great. The inclusion of Newman’s score in specific areas turn good scenes into beautifully atmospheric ones, all it needs is the inclusion of a few bars of music. The soundtrack is heavily inspired by the likes of John Williams and Hans Zimmer, and sounds very much like the latter composer’s Spielberg collaboration, The Pacific. As usual, I’m listening to it as I write the review and I’m still as blown away as I was when I first heard it in the cinema.

My only real bug bears with the film are linked together, and are to do with the story/length. Bridge Of Spies is 141 minutes, and for someone like me who likes films to have a sense of brevity, it’s punishing. There are some scenes that bring up a certain dilemma that is never brought up again, and some scenes that go on for way too long. The story could have been cut down but, as usual for a historical film, scenes were probably kept in to preserve the true events that the film is based on.

In summary, Bridge Of Spies is not only a great Spielberg film, it’s a great spy thriller and character piece. Not all spy films these days have to be about sophisticated suave men (and women) blowing up extravagant villain’s hideaway lairs, Spielberg shows us it can be just as tense and as exciting watching them work together to get their men back home.

Score: 8/10 A soaring soundtrack, amazing actors and full of clever conversations, Spielberg’s done it again.

 

Carol Review

I have been hearing great things about Carol for a while. It’s been bouncing around film festivals for all of 2015, so I was all for watching it when it finally got a cinema release. Let’s have a look at it.

Carol stars Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler and Sarah Paulson and is directed by Todd Haynes. Based on the novel, The Price of Salt, the film follows Carol (Blanchett) and Therese (Mara) who after a chance encounter strike up and adulterous relationship.

I was all for loving Carol, it’s got so much admiration and appreciation from the festival crowd and hordes of critics, but when I finally got down to watching it, I was bored out of my mind. In every film I check my watch at least once, at the beginning to try and gauge at what time the film will end, and then maybe a second time if it drags on a tiny bit. I can’t remember how many times I looked at my watch during Carol, but it was nearly every five minutes.

The performances are alright. Cate Blanchett plays Carol as a sultry older woman, subtly seducing Rooney Mara’s young and innocent Therese with ease, but I can’t tell you anything about her personality at all, she’s a shell of a character. Rooney Mara plays Therese as a shy and awkward girl, but sometimes she falls into being bland and uninterested. For a few frames we see her bawling her eyes out over her being apart from Carol, but other times she’s crying for no logical reason, only that the script called for it. Both actresses look good in 50s glamour fashion and makeup, but apart from that the period setting has no real bearing on the story.

The only really good actor is Kyle Chandler as Carol’s husband, Harge. Chandler plays completely against type as a drunk, angry husband, suspicious of his wife’s constant companionship with Therese. Chandler has always played a “nice guy” character, so it’s good to see him break type.

Many critics have been comparing Carol to 2013’s Blue Is The Warmest Colour, mainly due to the similar narrative of a blossoming lesbian relationship. I have my problems with Blue Is The Warmest Colour, but at least that film was compelling and a great romance film, Carol just potters around trying to compete but can’t deliver. I thought the sex scene in Blue Is The Warmest Colour was crass, but I liked it for is ballsy approach to display it on film. Carol tries to do this as well, but it feels like the film is ashamed to have in it, with it cutting away and clunky editing, leading to a weak climax to the film. All in all Blue Is The Warmest Colour does a much better job at everything Carol was trying to do in terms of a romance film.

The one shining grace I can find in Carol is the score by Cater Burwell. It’s a fantastic string accompaniment, and actually makes the few scenes where it plays quite good. I’m listening to it as I write the review, and it is the best thing of the film. It manages to be forlorn and melancholic, symbolising the almost certainly doomed relationship but also charmingly hopeful that Carol and Therese might be able to live happily ever after once the credits have rolled.

In the end, I was disappointed with Carol. After hearing such rave reviews I was hoping for a stellar love story, but what I got was two characters with hardly any charisma and no audience through-line (none that I could find anyway). But I guess with every other critic putting Carol in their top films of the year, it’s going to find its way to the top of the box office and the Awards season.

Score: 3/10 How did something so lauded have such a negative response with me?