Bat*21 (1988, Peter Markle)

I only know Jerry Reed from Smokey and the Bandit. He’s a country singer too, but I don’t know anything about that artistic expression. Reed executive produced Bat*21 and it feels like a film an actor would executive produce. It’s padded (when, according to IMDb, the real incident took place over eleven days) and shouldn’t be (the incident in the film takes place over three or four). At some point, the film decides it’s going to be about Gene Hackman realizing what plotting bombing attacks is all about: guys getting blown up. There’s a nice, slow motion shot of some guy getting blown up while Gene Hackman watches, horrified.

The Danny Glover story has no moral, it’s just a good story. He and the rest of the rescue crew try to rescue people. That’s about it. No moral.

At times, Bat*21 almost feels like Die Hard, when the two guys are talking on the radio. But when Bat*21 tries to be sentimental without being schmaltzy, it can’t. At the end of film, in fact, we find out that Danny Glover’s hopes and dreams had been crushed because of prejudice. This realization, of course, has nothing to do with the majority of the film. Or even the end, because it’s all wiped away real quick.

The best performance–Hackman’s on autopilot here and Glover is too for most of it–is a supporting one from Clayton Rohner, who’s gone on to very little. He’s great, I can’t believe he didn’t get picked for something bigger.

It’s not awful. The dialogue is wooden and Peter Markle uses close-ups when he should use long shots and vice versa. The aerial photography is great. The music’s bad. 1980s synthesizers with “Asian-themed” music thrown in. It’s very much made with a mid-to-late 1980s action movie sensibility and it’s not particularly interesting or compelling, but nowhere as bad as it could be.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Peter Markle; screenplay by William C. Anderson and George Gordon, based on the book by Anderson; director of photography, Mark Irwin; edited by Stephen E. Rivkin; music by Christopher Young; production designer, Vincent Cresciman; produced by David Fisher, Gary A. Neill and Michael Balson; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Gene Hackman (Lieut. Col. Iceal Hambleton), Danny Glover (Capt. Bartholomew Clark), Jerry Reed (Col. George Walker), David Marshall Grant (Ross Carver), Clayton Rohner (Sgt. Harley Rumbaugh) and Erich Anderson (Maj. Jake Scott).


The Red Shoes (1948, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger)

Well. What an incredibly unfortunate experience. The Red Shoes contains twenty of the most beautiful minutes ever put on film, the ballet sequence. It’s a visual feast–the film must be awe-inspiring on the big screen. The story, however, is awful. For a film with a fifty-two minute (of 134 minutes) first act, the idea of constructing a metaphor for The Red Shoes, Hans Christian Anderson’s story, amid a film about a production of a ballet of the same story… It’s incredibly unsuccessful. The final act is silly.

With The Tales of Hoffmann, the Archers just made an opera. They made a filmic opera. Maybe they couldn’t get the money to do a filmic ballet, but that’s all they really wanted to do with this film. The “real” moments still retain the surreal filmmaking techniques of the ballet sequence. Given this method, along with Marius Goring’s terrible performance–and utter lack of chemistry with female lead Moira Shearer (who’s passable, but obviously not an actress), the film is tedious at best.

Anton Walbrook is good as the Svengali ballet producer, I suppose, but he’s playing a type, but a character. There are deep character in this film. When, at the fifty-two minute mark, there’s an attempt at adding a layer to The Red Shoes, it’s so out of place you can see it grappling with the film’s existing structure. Amusingly, both Walbrook and Goring are eye-brow actors. Except Goring can’t do it and no one ever told him. In fact, Goring’s doing an Ernest Thesiger imitation (the Bride of Frankenstein mad scientist). In Tales of Hoffmann, someone else did a Thesiger imitation.

The film–for much of it–is incredibly well-made, incredibly beautiful to look at (again, it all comes apart in the third act, even if the Archers thought it was good stuff, it’s hard to package bullshit). It’s also an amazingly influential film. Bob Fosse lifted quite a bit for Cabaret, but the facehugger (!) from Alien is in here too. And Mel Brooks duplicated a scene here in Young Frankenstein–on closer examination, Gene Wilder’s whole performance in that film seems based on Walbrook’s here.

So, for the second time this month, the Archers failed me. Besides Powell’s Peeping Tom, I haven’t seen anything of their 1950s and after work… except They’re a Weird Mob, which was awful. I guess I’m not upset, because most of the film is watchable (if boring), it’s just that the Archers’ films usually are great. I never thought one (or two or three) wouldn’t be just as great.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger; screenplay by Powell and Pressburger, based on the fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson; director of photography, Jack Cardiff; edited by Reginald Mills; music by Brian Easdale; released by Eagle-Lion Distributors.

Starring Anton Walbrook (Boris Lermontov), Marius Goring (Julian Craster), Moira Shearer (Victoria Page), Robert Helpmann (Ivan Boleslawsky), Léonide Massine (Grischa Ljubov), Albert Bassermann (Sergei Ratov), Ludmilla Tchérina (Irina Boronskaja), Esmond Knight (Livingstone ‘Livy’ Montagne), Jean Short (Terry Tyler) and Gordon Littmann (Ike Tanner).


Asako in Ruby Shoes (2000, Lee Je-yong)

I’m a fan of Korean films. My introduction to the industry and my love for it is well documented here at The Stop Button, or at least it will be as soon as I get the archives up and going (next month, hopefully). And I’ve seen some great Korean films. I’ve seen some good ones too, but I have seen a couple great ones. But they were great comedies. These films manage to combine romantic comedy with the human heart in conflict with itself better than any American film has done since… well, I can’t even think of one off the top of my head, but I’ll bet it was in black and white. In other words, as of yesterday, I had never seen a great Korean romantic drama. The ones I had seen, some were good, some were just all right (I’ve yet to turn off a Korean film)….

I made a note to myself at the beginning of Asako in Ruby Shoes: “Films that start with the musical score over the production company logos… it’s a bold move.” Such a movie either signals something awful–bold because it’s obnoxious–or something else. If it weren’t for Asako, I wouldn’t have an example of something else. It means you’re establishing the film with its music before it begins… you’re not giving the viewer a moment outside the context of your film. Its literary equivalent is telling some of your story in the Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data information.

There were moments–about an hour in–when I thought Asako was going to fail. Well, not fail, but slope down and level off at two and a half or three. The film had just moved back to one story-line from another and the intensity lessened. Except–I realized at the end of Asako–Lee knows what he’s doing. I found I was waiting for the end, for example, to see how good he was going to do, not hoping for it not to fail too much. That sensation is exciting, since I don’t have it very often. Maybe with Bringing Out the Dead, since I’d forgotten its ending, I got excited. It doesn’t happen often enough.

It’s hard to describe the film though and it’s a shitty one to write-up in a lot of ways, because there’s no easy way for one to see it. Actually, I suppose you could join Nicheflix or buy it for eight bucks off eBay. There’s a transfer issue with the DVDs though, so you can’t deinterlace it, which is a pain when you’re watching it on a computer, which wants to deinterlace. (Deinterlacing, generally speaking, is a good idea). So I had to go through a whole process to watch this film–and I was only fifteen minutes in when I discovered how to correct the problem–but those first fifteen minutes were amazing. There’s some other film that kept having these wonderful false endings, where each time you expected it and were happy with it, then they kept getting better and better. I can’t remember what it was or when I saw it.

I’m already at the longest post of the year to date and I haven’t said much about the acting. Both the leads are great. Lee Jung-Jae is famous and I’ve seen a bunch of his stuff (though none of it hinted that he could be as good as he is in Asako). Tachibana Misato is apparently not famous and has two films available through Netflix–both are action movies starring Americans who couldn’t get work here anymore–which is too bad, because her performance is probably the better of the two. And he’s real good. They must be good, I hardly ever mention actors who don’t have some marquee value.

If I didn’t have to get up in four or five hours, I’d watch Asako again. It’s that good. (It’s so good I just used ‘that’ in a lousy way, all for emphasis).

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written, directed and edited by Lee Je-yong; director of photography, Hong Gyeong-pyo; music by Cho Sung-woo; produced by Koo Boo-han; released by Cinema Service.

Starring Lee Jung-jae (U-In), Tachibana Misato (Aya), Awata Urara (Rie) and Kim Min-hie (Mia).


Syriana (2005, Stephen Gaghan)

What a sprawling and ambitious film… oh, wait, it’s actually neither. Syriana has a bunch of good performances (Matt Damon being the stand-out lead and Amanda Peet or Alexander Siddig being the supporting, with William Hurt turning in a really nice extended cameo), but with the exception of the Muslim suicide bomber, it’s emotionally empty… soulless. I did have one problem with the suicide bomber–he strikes at target whose destruction would immediately improve the world. That’s not how suicide bombers actually act (the world situation would be a lot different if they did).

Describing the three main, failed plotlines–man has to come to terms with his son’s death, man has to come to terms with his career ending, man has to come to terms with racism–makes Syriana sound rather promising. But Gaghan displays even more disinterest in the human condition than his script for Traffic did. He’s not writing about people brought together by coincidence or passion, these people are all brought together by the situation. Syriana is dramatic fiction. Trying to present it as a multiple camera, pseudo-documentary does disservice to all the good work the actors put in to the film.

The politics Syriana discusses are probably not common knowledge, but a common American isn’t well-informed (or interested). There’s nothing in this film that has been documented, nothing that five minutes of a Noam Chomsky interview wouldn’t elucidate further. It’s political science for people who watch “Friends.” I really didn’t expect much more from the film (or Gaghan), so I’m not disappointed. Seeing the good acting (though Jeffrey Wright was so passive he disappeared and it’s the first bad Christopher Plummer performance I’ve ever seen), particularly Hurt and Peet, was a treat and the film’s only a couple hours long. I just wish I hadn’t had to pee for the second hour.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Stephen Gaghan; screenplay by Gaghan, suggested by a book by Robert Baer; director of photography, Robert Elswit; edited by Tim Squyres; music by Alexandre Desplat; production designer, Dan Weil; produced by Jennifer Fox, Michael Nozik and Georgia Kacandes; released by Warner Bros.

Starring George Clooney (Bob Barnes), Matt Damon (Bryan Woodman), Jeffrey Wright (Bennett Holiday), Chris Cooper (Jimmy Pope), William Hurt (Stan Goff), Mazhar Munir (Wasim Ahmed Khan), Tim Blake Nelson (Danny Dalton), Amanda Peet (Julie Woodman), Christopher Plummer (Dean Whiting), William C. Mitchell (Bennett Holiday Sr.), Shahid Ahmed (Saleem Ahmed Khan) and Alexander Siddig (Prince Nasir Al-Subaai).


Kagemusha (1980, Kurosawa Akira)

When I was a kid, I was always curious about Kagemusha because of the VHS box art. It was a silhouette of the battle armor, giving it a real eerie feel about it. Like it was a sequel or remake of Night of the Demon. Later, I learned it was not a supernatural samurai movie. I started getting into Kurosawa about the same time I discovered aspect ratios and laserdiscs and I never got around to seeing much… Most Kurosawa discs were Criterion and expensive or Fox and expensive. I actually just came across my laserdisc copy of Kagemusha, still in shrink-wrap, which I got on remainder.

It’s an incredibly impersonal film. IMDb confirmed it’s based on historical events, which explains why much of it feels like a history lesson. It’s a long two hours and forty minutes too, but I don’t think anything could actually go. Actually, I think the film would probably benefit from more. There are a handful of human relationships that work in the film–most of them since there are so few–and there are a lot of moments that work. But these moments often interrupt expository scenes and lecture moments.

Kagemusha is still a good film, it’s just not very deep. It was apparent, an hour in, the film could only end one way (and it did). But this realization made the next hour and a half a little labored… Just because we know it can only end one way doesn’t mean the film should treat us like we know it. There’s also an attempt at commentary on warfare that pops up in the third act and, while it could start a different film, it certainly doesn’t rightly end this one. But, it’s still good… it’s just not exciting (it’s no Night of the Demon, for instance).

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Kurosawa Akira; written by Kurosawa and Ide Masato; directors of photography, Saitô Takao and Ueda Masaharu; music by Ikebe Shinichirô; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Nakadai Tatsuya (Takeda Shingen / Kagemusha), Yamazaki Tsutomu (Takeda Nobukado), Hagiwara Kenichi (Takeda Katsuyori), Nezu Jinpachi (Tsuchiya Sohachiro), Otaki Hideji (Yamagata Masakage), Ryu Daisuke (Oda Nobunaga), Yui Masayuki (Tokugawa Ieyasu) and Momoi Kaori (Otsuyanokata).


La Haine (1995, Mathieu Kassovitz)

Someone told me to see La Haine about six years ago. I don’t know why I never got around to it then. Later, in college, I saw some of Kassovitz’s Café au Lait and I remember having some major problems with it. La Haine doesn’t have any major problems, maybe just a significant, minor one, having to do with predictability.

La Haine kept reminding me of Scorsese, but not a film he’d ever made. There’s a Taxi Driver reference that put me in that frame of mind, but the one night pacing of the film reminded me of After Hours. Both films do it well, but have nothing else in common. The acting might be the strongest part of La Haine. I finally understand some of Vincent Cassel’s appeal (he’s really good in this film and I imagine the problem with him in anything else I’ve seen him in is the English). Still, he’s nowhere near as good as Hubert Koundé, who reminds of Sidney Poiter the way Mark Ruffalo reminds of Marlon Brando. The third lead, Saïd Taghmaoui is fine, but he’s the closest thing the film’s got to comic relief (though I kept wondering what I’d seen him in–The Good Thief).

For the majority of the film, Kassovitz doesn’t preach. He has a birds-eye shot moving through the projects that isn’t preachy, he has these lovely unresolved tensions between the three characters–he has a guy seeing a cow–and never gets preachy about it. I don’t even know if the predictability is meant to be preachy, but when you open with a voice over anecdote from one of the characters, there are limits to how much it can matter, how often you can refer to it. The experience of watching the film cannot be summarized into this anecdote… and Kassovitz tries to fit it in and it fails. He went from being gentle to clanking garbage can lids together.

Regardless, it’s an excellent film and it actually has me queuing Café au Lait, which I never thought I’d do….

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Mathieu Kassovitz; director of photography, Pierre Aïm; edited by Kassovitz and Scott Stevenson; music by Assassin; production designer, Giuseppe Ponturo; produced by Christophe Rossignon; released by MKL Distribution.

Starring Vincent Cassel (Vinz), Hubert Koundé (Hubert), Saïd Taghmaoui (Sayid), Karim Belkhadra (Samir) and Edouard Montoute (Darty).


The King and Four Queens (1956, Raoul Walsh)

Clark Gable is an exceptional movie star. I’m not sure how good of an actor he is–his performance in The King and Four Queens is not, for instance, nuanced and textured, but he carries it from the first minute. Movie stars today–the ones who can act–rarely carry their “fluff” roles (I’m thinking of Nicolas Cage in particular). Gable does such a good job carrying the film, entertaining the audience, it’s very easy to overlook all the problems with King and Four Queens.

He’s not alone… both Eleanor Parker and Jo Van Fleet are great too. Van Fleet is given a fuller character to work with but Parker and Gable’s scenes are nice too. Parker holds up against him in these scenes, which are quite good. The film’s pacing is completely off–it’s a small story (and a short film, eighty-two minutes)–mostly because the other three actresses are light. None of them, except maybe Jean Willes, are bad, they just don’t hold up against Gable and Van Fleet. Even so, some of those scenes are very entertaining. On the scene-level, The King and Four Queens has a great script… it’s just in the whole package, there are significant pacing problems.

I know a little about the making of the film–there were significant cut scenes and it’s the only production from Gable’s company, Gabco. Even with the unsatisfying conclusion, it’s an enjoyable experience. I haven’t seen a post-war Gable film since the last time I saw this one (maybe six years ago) and it’s incredible how well he carries the film. The title–probably giving away his role as producer–refers to MGM’s title for Gable in the 1930s, “The King of Hollywood.”

The film comes on TCM every once in a while in a watchable, but visibly unrestored print. This print’s widescreen, however, and I can’t imagine seeing it pan and scan (though I once did). Raoul Walsh likes to move his camera and hold his shots. He’s another of the film’s pleasant surprises.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Raoul Walsh; screenplay by Margaret Fitts and Richard Alan Simmons, based on a story by Fitts; director of photography, Lucien Ballard; edited by Howard Bretherton; music by Alex North; production designer, Wiard Ihnen; produced by David Hempstead; released by United Artists.

Starring Clark Gable (Dan Kehoe), Eleanor Parker (Sabina McDade), Jean Willes (Ruby McDade), Barbara Nichols (Birdie McDade), Sara Shane (Oralie McDade), Roy Roberts (Sheriff Tom Larrabee), Arthur Shields (Padre), Jay C. Flippen (Bartender) and Jo Van Fleet (Ma McDade).



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | Eleanor Parker, Part 2: Technicolor.

The Ice Storm (1997, Ang Lee)

When I was a wee lad, I loved Ang Lee. I loved him only for The Ice Storm, never having seen Sense and Sensibility or his Chinese language films. I avoided Ride With the Devil after the reviews (both professional and from peers) and Hidden Tiger, Crouching Dragon was a truly sleep-inducing experience. I gave up my Lee love after that one, though, and when I came across The Ice Storm on Netflix, I realized I’d forgotten it. I hadn’t forgotten the book, of course, since I started reading Rick Moody about the same time I stopped seeing Ang Lee films. After reading the book, I recognized the differences, but now, watching the movie again, I can’t specifically remember them. The novel is a novel and the film is a film. The Ice Storm is the best example of a great book being adapted into a great film that I can think of….

Maybe what Lee needs is a subject as confining as The Ice Storm. Most of the shots are inside and his work there is amazing. I can’t remember a film where the focus effected me as much as this one. The story moves between 8 characters and–sometimes, not always–Lee uses the focus to signify which character’s POV we’re in. There’s a lot of juxtaposing and rhyming, but the film maintains a lyric sense about it. The music is used in an interesting way, because sometimes it does something, other times it does something similar, but entirely different. Half of the film takes place during the titular ice storm, but the film manages not to de-emphasize the first hour. The pacing makes the second hour feel like a (somewhat longer) third act, which it isn’t.

All of the acting is good, with Jamey Sheridan probably turning in the most unexpectedly excellent performance. Elijah Wood is really good too. But, it’s just such a dreary film, it’s hard enough to experience without talking about. The film–with its sudden exterior shots, just as encroaching and constrictive as its interior ones–is probably drearier than the novel even. There’s maybe five of these exterior shots–wooded path, daytime, but they resonate so strongly. They do work that the written medium cannot do, which is a hell of compliment.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ang Lee; screenplay by James Schamus, based on the novel by Rick Moody; director of photography, Frederick Elmes; edited by Tim Squyres; music by Mychael Danna; production designer, Mark Friedberg; produced by Ted Hope, Schamus and Lee; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Starring Kevin Kline (Ben Hood), Joan Allen (Elena Hood), Sigourney Weaver (Janey Carver), Henry Czerny (George Clair), Tobey Maguire (Paul Hood), Christina Ricci (Wendy Hood), Elijah Wood (Mikey Carver), Adam Hann-Byrd (Sandy Carver), David Krumholtz (Francis Davenport), Jamey Sheridan (Jim Carver) and Katie Holmes (Libbets Casey).


Groundhog Day (1993, Harold Ramis)

Groundhog Day falls under my rewatch category–the films I used to love (or like), but haven’t seen in five or six years. These films are ones that I saw multiple times, back when I used to see things multiple times. I think that practice disappeared when I discovered AMC in 1996 or so.

I was a little worried. I’ve seen Multiplicity, which I never thought was as good, more recently than not and it had me doubting the power of Harold Ramis. I hadn’t checked until now, but Movielens predicts a three and a half for Groundhog Day, which is damn close. Groundhog Day wasn’t just a pleasant surprise, it was a pleasant experience. I could skim over the philosophy of the film, its thesis, but imagine if Frank Capra had made a movie with Humphrey Bogart. It probably would have been close to Groundhog Day (except Bogart would have worked for a newspaper). I’ve never used the term Capraesque and haven’t particularly liked the usage of it I have read, but I think Groundhog Day is definitely Capraesque. I think he would have appreciated its thesis.

The film’s structure kept impressing me and I kept wondering where I was on time–a similar experience to Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. Groundhog Day is particularly nice in its intensity, it never shows or tells too much, just enough to inform the viewer and move the story along. The film’s flow is very important and there are a few mistakes–the most glaring is Chris Elliot’s character becoming a buffoon, which the mean Bill Murray always thought he was anyway. I remembered, watching it, that I’d made that observation before.

Groundhog Day Murray is probably Murray at his best, or near it. While he’s developed into a good dramatic actor, there’s an air of desperation that he hasn’t been able to shake since Rushmore. With the possible exception of The Royal Tenenbaums, it’s impossible to ignore it–it’s a sign on his back that says “I Want an Oscar.” Groundhog Day is before any such aspiration and it’s a sad reminder of how nice it was not to have to see it.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Harold Ramis; screenplay by Danny Rubin and Ramis, based on a story by Rubin; director of photography, John Bailey; edited by Pembroke J. Herring; music by George Fenton; production designer, David Nichols; produced by Trevor Albert and Ramis; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Bill Murray (Phil Connors), Andie MacDowell (Rita), Chris Elliott (Larry), Stephen Tobolowsky (Ned Ryerson), Brian Doyle-Murray (Buster Green), Marita Geraghty (Nancy Taylor), Angela Paton (Mrs. Lancaster), Rick Ducommun (Gus), Rick Overton (Ralph), Robin Duke (Doris, the waitress), Carol Bivins (Anchorwoman) and Willie Garson (Kenny).


Sin City (2005, Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez), the extended version

When Sin City came out in the theater, three people told me to go see it. One of them had an opinion of film I respect, one had an opinion of it I–at the time–had no argument with, and one had an opinion I most definitely did not respect. But I’d read interviews with Robert Rodriguez where he said he intended the films to be viewed as separate stories (much like Pulp Fiction, which is Sin City‘s obvious inspiration–at least in terms of casting). One of the Weinstein Brothers, I believe, convinced Rodriguez the film’s audience were essentially dumb and couldn’t handle the stories separate, so spliced together they went. So I waited for the special edition DVD, which has all three films in their entirety….

Unlike Pulp Fiction, which has three stories and shared characters, Sin City isn’t the same movie from part to part. Rodriguez was never a particularly intelligent filmmaker, something Tarantino always has been. In fact, reading on IMDb that it was Tarantino’s idea for Clive Owen to talk his monologue–truly the best moment in the film–makes a lot of sense now. I thought it was just a moment of the comic book that wasn’t tripe.

I actually have a bunch of notes on Sin City, because some of the acting was so awful I had to make a list. Here’s the list, with some comments.

Elijah Wood. He doesn’t have any lines, but he doesn’t have a bad-ass, or even psycho scare. His casting is a goofy, poor choice. All Sin City proved was that he shouldn’t have made it past child acting, which Ash Wednesday already did.

Rosario Dawson is AWFUL.

So is Rutger Hauer.

So is Jessica Alba (in the cameo during Marv’s story).

Benicio Del Toro was laughingly bad. So was Brittany Murphy, but she was irritating. Watching Del Toro in Sin City is like… try to imagine Robert DeNiro as Robin (as an eleven year-old). It’s embarrassing. The Del Toro/Murphy scene is actually painful. A lot of the acting in Sin City is like it–it’s unbelievable that Rodriguez expects it to be taken seriously and not as a bad imitation of a car commercial.

Alexis Bledel–awful. She might give the worst female performance.

Michael Madsen is astoundingly bad. I always used to–when I was a teenager–confuse him with Tom Sizemore. The difference is not that Sizemore is good (he’s better than good), but that he’s actually capable of acting. Madsen isn’t.

Now, on to the good performances. Anyone turning in a good performance in this film must be amazing. The dialogue is so piss poor, they have to be.

Both Josh Hartnett and Marley Shelton are good in their little intro sequence (Hartnett probably has the easiest time with the narration, because his is the shortest and, therefore, the best).

Mickey Rourke is fantastic, but the makeup is a bad idea. The whole “translation” of the comic book idea is stupid (and certainly testifies to Rodriguez’s inherent limitations). The comic book is not perfect–the writing is occasionally all right, but most of the dialogue and narration is awful. Miller simply isn’t very good, on page or screen. Rourke manages to convey real emotion, even with his face in plastic.

Clive Owen is excellent.

Tommy Flanagan (the guy with the scar) or Nick Stahl give the best performances in the film.

Jaime King is actually all right. Maybe even good.

The Willis narration ruins the sequence, because it doesn’t give him a chance to act. Jessica Alba was nowhere near as bad (just mediocre really) as I was lead to believe, mostly because her character does absolutely nothing. Some of the Willis stuff looks real good, but that narration just kills it. Miller’s narration makes an attempt at Chandler, but it’s a poor one. He misses Chandler’s point. Its characterizations are from a B film noir–a bad one–not Chandler. Not even Hammett. It’s like he’s heard some hackneyed detective narration on a sitcom….

The special effects–the “sets” and “locations”–occasionally work, but they mimic reality, but don’t seem to intend to–so when something is incredibly unreal, it sticks out. Like cars. Amusingly, the visual design (from Miller’s comic) has cops out of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, with full body armor, driving old cop cars to fit in with the 1950s motif.

I actually didn’t dislike Sin City. It’s certainly the best comic book movie in the last few years (since Hellboy, I suppose, then all the way back to Batman Returns or something). It’s just not very good–it’s like Pulp Fiction, but with a bunch of actors from the WB. There’s rarely any real human emotion to it and there’s a constant attempt to be “cool.” Pulp Fiction had some similar aspirations, but it was also about wanting to screw your boss’s wife, which is a layer Sin City doesn’t have. All of its characters, for the “noirish” dialogue (out of the missing Don Knotts adaptation–sorry, translation–of The Big Sleep), all of them talk straight from id. There’s no nuance. But it’s hard to dislike just because it isn’t a real movie. It’s not a serious attempt at anything. American Pie 2 is a more serious study of the human heart in conflict with itself.

Sin City is a comic book movie and I’m using comic book as a pejorative there….

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez; special guest director, Quentin Tarantino; screenplay by Frank Miller, based on his comic book; director of photography, Rodriguez; edited by Rodriguez; music by Rodriguez, John Debney and Graeme Revell; produced by Elizabeth Avellán, Rodriguez and Miller; released by Dimension Films.

Starring Jessica Alba (Nancy), Devon Aoki (Miho), Alexis Bledel (Becky), Powers Boothe (Senator Roark), Rosario Dawson (Gail), Benicio Del Toro (Jackie Boy), Michael Clarke Duncan (Manute), Carla Gugino (Lucille), Josh Hartnett (The Man), Rutger Hauer (Cardinal Roark), Jaime King (Goldie/Wendy), Michael Madsen (Bob), Brittany Murphy (Shellie), Clive Owen (Dwight), Mickey Rourke (Marv), Nick Stahl (Roark Jr./Yellow Bastard), Bruce Willis (Hartigan) and Elijah Wood (Kevin).


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