Sin City 2: Was it worth the wait?

Momentum is a funny thing. When graphic novelist Frank Miller first teamed up with filmmaker Robert Rodriguez in 2005, the result was Sin City. Filmed mostly on green screen, it was a dark, dirty neo-noir delight. Fit to burst with swooning dames, femme fatales and bad ass guys. Critically and commercially it was a success. And it felt fresh.

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What I’m getting at here is that it’s taken almost ten years to bring us the sequel. In general, Hollywood rarely lets this happen. If they’ve got a good thing going, they keep it going. However, Rodriguez operates somewhat apart from the Hollywood machine and, as such, it’s taken nigh on a decade for the pieces to fall into place and for Sin City 2 to hit the big screen.

The question is, did they lose momentum? Is it possible to recapture the gritty feel of the original? Will Miller and Rodriguez strike noir gold again? The answer, typically, is yes and no. Momentum has been lost, there’s no denying it. Had this film come out 2 or 3 years after the first one we’d probably feel rather differently. It might be looked on more favourably.

Sin City 2 Lady Gaga

The problem is that, since the release of the first film it’s taken on a bit of a cult status. A status which has grown with each passing year. Perhaps this second film will take on a similar status, but I rather doubt it.

As per the first film, A Dame To Kill For is divided into three stories. The main story – and film’s title – focuses on Dwight McCarthy (played by Clive Owen in the first film and Josh Brolin here) and his love-hate relationship with the ultimate femme fatale, Ava Lord (Eva Green).

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Angelina Jolie was originally meant to be the dame, but it didn’t work out. Perhaps for the best as Green was born to play Ava Lord. She’s pretty much been doing this sort of role most of her career anyway – and it’s not a stretch to picture her as a woman that can drive guys crazy. Seduction incarnate indeed.

Brolin does well picking up the mantle from Clive Owen. His Dwight perhaps more animalistic, less measured and more of a brute. I’m not sure he fits into Miller’s world as well as Owen did, but that’s a minor point.

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The second story – newly written by Miller for the film – follows Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a cocky gambler on a revenge tale of sorts. He fitted well into this world as a character and Gordon-Levitt’s performance was convincing. You’d almost wish he’d somehow featured in the first film as I’d have liked to have seen more of him.

The final story picks up after events of the first film and follows everyone’s favourite stripper, Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba). When the only man she ever loved (Hartigan, played by Bruce Willis) took his own life, Nancy fell to pieces and vowed revenge on the man responsible, corrupt Senator Roark (Powers Boothe on fine, evil form).

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For those characters that continued from the first film, Nancy has changed the most and it’s nice to see Alba have more of a role to sink her teeth into. Although in some ways it’s sad as her character was really the only pure soul in the first tale and, in this story, Basin City has finallly gotten to her. She played the part well though.

As a film, this doesn’t have the impact of the original from a storytelling point of view. The three stories don’t overlap as well as the original, nor are they as emotionally affecting. That said, as a sequel it’s a good addition and should have been made. The other characters returning – particularly Mickey Rourke’s Marv – feel like they’ve not been away at all and the actors looked like they were having a ball.

In general it’s been worth the wait. It won’t grab you as much as the original but it’s a worthy effort. Two is plenty though Mr Miller and Mr Rodriguez, we don’t need a trilogy.

Surprising and defining roles of Bruce Willis

Addressing an injustice. A commanding and perhaps overblown way to start a piece which discusses why I think old Bruce has had a raw deal when it comes to how we perceive his filmography.

Despite most of us thinking action is his genre of choice – the Die Hard franchise being the obvious reference point – I think his best work is much more varied. Let’s look at some of the more intriguing characters that I’d argue have more effectively shaped his career:

  • Death Becomes Her (1992) – Ernest Menville
    Let’s face it, this film was largely a slugging match between Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn with Willis stuck in the middle. Although his character Ernest did, in some ways, hold the film together in an unhinged yet compelling way.Pulp Fiction Bruce Willis
  • Pulp Fiction (1994) – Butch Coolidge
    Career defining? Most definitely. To be honest, all the actors in this film walked away with their cool-o-meter firmly cranked to the max. Indeed, Bruce’s Butch had some standout scenes and lines; from Marsellus Wallace and the Gold Watch to ‘Zed’s dead baby, Zed’s dead.’TwelveMonkeys
  • Twelve Monkeys (1995) – James Cole
    In terms of off-the-rails performances he’s overshadowed by Brad Pitt, yet Willis puts in a commanding performance as a man whose life – and by extension his sanity – is in a constant loop. Whilst Terry Gilliam pulled the strings, Bruce deftly brought the character to life. Eminently watchable.
  • sin-city-sin-city-31200684-470-351Sin City (2005) – Hartigan
    Having been relatively quiet since the mid ’90s, this little film noir reignited the fire in old Bruce again, pushing his cool-o-meter back up to Pulp Fiction levels. A sublime portrayal of a washed up cop, fighting to save the most pure character in Frank Miller’s dark, gritty tale – Jessica Alba’s skinny little Nancy Callahan.
  • Moonrise Kingdom (2012) – Captain Sharp
    Bruce the action star in a Wes Anderson film? Surely not. Despite the part not being extensive, his character firmly earns a place on this list: a lonely, depressed police Captain, sharing some rather tender scenes with one of the film’s main characters, a young boy in love. Whilst Willis does cool well, he does flawed far better.

Best twenty films of 2012

It’s been an epic year for films across a variety of genres. This list reflects my taste in films so I hope you enjoy. Sorry Twilight, you didn’t make the cut!

  • Skyfall
    skyfall-craigStrangely there are people who don’t like this film and say it’s not classic Bond. I think it’s the closest to Fleming’s Bond since Connery. To celebrate 50 years of Bond, the dream team of Mendes, Craig, Bardem and Dench pulled out the stops to make this film truly special.
  • Argo
    Can’t believe people still give Affleck a hard time for his early career. How many decent films does he need to direct before people will admit he’s a real talent? First Gone Baby Gone and The Town and now this. A proper, intelligent thriller.
  • Moonrise Kingdom
    This film is a great companion piece for The Life Aquatic, my favourite from Wes Anderson. As always, a great cast: Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Ed Norton. Although focus is on the two, young actors who confidently carry the story. A sweet and quirky tale.
  • Looper
    Rian Johnson and Gordon-Levitt are fast becoming a match made in heaven. First Brick and now this time-travelling sci-fi tale of assassins. This film had an interesting mix of futuristic and retro, plus it marked Gordon-Levitt out as a leading man in the making.
  • Silver Linings Playbook
    SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOKForget Hunger Games, this ranks as my favourite Jennifer Lawrence film, just edging Winter’s Bone. She has great chemistry with Bradley Cooper, both of them playing flawed characters in this acerbic, edgy and alternative type of rom-com. Highly recommended.
  • Chronicle
    Earlier this year this film was released and flew somewhat under the radar. Shown in found footage style, the best way to describe the first half is Jackass with telekinetic powers. It then goes darker as it builds to an epic finale. Thoroughly deserving of a place on this list.
  • Dark Knight Rises
    The final instalment of Christopher Nolan’s game-changing bat franchise. Tom Hardy as Bane, Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, Gordon-Levitt as Boy Wonder in the making. This was an emotional, visceral ending to the best set of Batman films of all time.
  • Avengers Assemble
    Despite my last comment regarding Batman, Marvel Studios has firmly staked its claim as the lighter, more upbeat side of the superhero world. Joss Whedon pulling off an incredible trick to balance a film with a host of big characters, letting them all shine equally.
  • Ted
    ted
    Macfarlane knows his comedy. This film was his vision and really paid off. From script and direction through to mo-cap acting, he was the driving force. Mila Kunis and Mark Wahlberg added their dramatic and comedy talent to make this one of the funniest films of the year.
  • Life of Pi  
    Ang Lee’s tale of a young boy shipwrecked at sea with a Bengal tiger called Richard Parker is a visual masterpiece. Taken from a Booker prize-winner novel, it makes you question the nature of belief and how you perceive the world. An uplifting and life-affirming tale.
  • The Raid: Redemption
    Combine the talents of a Welsh Director and up-and-coming action star in Iko Uwais and you get an unexpected, kick-ass treat. Introducing us to pencak silat, an Indonesian form of dance and self defence, it’s breathtaking to watch when used to beat up bad guys.
  • The Hobbit
    Peter Jackson has worked wonders yet again. The dwarves are great and Martin Freeman is the perfect Bilbo. His ‘riddles in the dark’ scene with Gollum is brilliantly scripted. If you’re even a fleeting fantasy fan you won’t want to miss this exhilarating tale.
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
    beasts
    Critically well received, this fantasy film has drawn comparisons with Pan’s Labyrinth and is well worth seeing. It tells the tale of six-year-old girl Hushpuppy who, when looking after her ill and hot-tempered father, must learn the ways of courage and love.
  • Rust and Bone
    It’s no secret I’m a big fan of Marion Cotillard – there’s a permanent picture of her on my blog. Here she beautifully plays a killer whale trainer who forms an unlikely romance with a bouncer. Jacques Audiard directs this passionate and moving love story.
  • The Master
    Possibly a career-best film from Paul Thomas Anderson and performance from Joaquin Phoenix? Ultimately, this film is about the fascinating interplay between war veteran Freddie (Phoenix) and movement leader Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman).
  • Seven Psychopaths
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    From the Director of darkly comic film In Bruges, this tale of kidnapped dogs and gangsters is hilariously scripted and brilliantly acted. With a cast including Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell, Colin Farrell and Woody Harrelson.
  • End of Watch
    Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena put in the hours with cops on the beat in South Central LA to form a real bond prior to filming. The results paid off, as this thriller cop movie has real believability and chemistry between the two leads.
  • Magic Mike
    Ladies of Tampa‘, croons Matthew McConaughey, before he smashes his guitar and strips in front of a horde of screaming ladies. This film, though, belongs to Channing Tatum. Before acting he was a stripper – this film gives an intriguing glimpse of life back stage in that world.
  • The Grey
    It’s Liam Neeson, he’s cold, he’s angry, wolves are trying to kill him. In a minute he’s going to get really mad – what’s not to like? This bleak adventure sees a bunch of oil workers stranded in the Alaskan wilderness after a plane crash – in the middle of a wolf kill zone.
  • 21 Jump Street
    21 jump street
    Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill team up in this cop buddy comedy remake. Tatum is – surprisingly – very funny, with great comic timing. Jokes are often set up and don’t pan out how you might expect, which is a good thing. Also, Johnny Depp has an outstanding cameo.

Sin City 2: So who’s the dame?

jessica alba

Imagine the scenario. It’s been seven years since the first Sin City and the wheels are finally in motion for the follow up, however Rodriguez’s patience is wearing thin. Word is that cameras started rolling a few days ago, yet there are still parts to be cast. Myself – like many fans – were probably wondering why it’s taken seven years.

I suppose Miller’s failure with The Spirit meant he had to ‘take a break’ for a few years, at least until a studio were willing to back him again. I’m not sure I entirely buy that as sole reason for delay. Rodriguez directed the original and I’m sure he’ll be directing this one, particularly since his Barbarella remake stalled. Miller’s role has always been the script and – to a degree – the casting. So who knows why it’s taken this long. Best not dwell, let’s look at the story.

a dame to kill forA dame worth killing for
In terms of plot, the story takes place after the death of Hartigan but before some of the events of the first film. The story focuses on Dwight, who takes revenge on a woman who betrayed him, Ava Lord, the Dame.

At the same time, Nancy is trying to come to terms with the death of Hartigan (Bruce Willis), the man who saved her from Yellow Bastard in the first film.

In terms of script Miller has not been idle. He’s spent time ensuring there are no loose plot strands and that both films will mesh together effectively. With William Monahan, Oscar winning script-writer for The Departed, assisting on the final draft.

Last call for casting
Goldie (Jaime King) is on board and we’ve got a new deadly, little Miho (Jamie Chung). This is encouraging as Miho is meant to have a bigger part in A Dame to Kill For and Jamie Chung (Sucker Punch) is a bit of an up-and-coming actress.

jessica albaUsual suspects are all back: Marv (Mickey Rourke), skinny little Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba), Bob (Michael Madsen), Gail (Rosario Dawson), and of course Dwight (Clive Owen). Dwight’s character undergoes facial surgery in this storyline, so it’s possible there will be another actor playing Dwight pre-surgery.

Sadly, actors Michael Clarke Duncan and Brittany Murphy passed away in the seven years between these two films. Their characters, Manute and Shellie, will have to be replaced and have yet to be cast.

So who will play Ava Lord?
Rodriguez and Miller’s original choice Angelina Jolie – whom I’ve spoken about in the past – is out of the picture, tied up with Disney’s Maleficent. She’s clearly going to be brilliant in that, but it is a kid’s film. She was born to play the ultimate femme fatale.

As a fan of Angie I reserve the right to act like a toddler and stamp my foot and demand she quits and heads straight to Rodriguez’s studio in Texas. Sadly it’s not going to happen.

Sin City 2She smells like angels ought to smell
Actresses that have their names in the hat to play Ava Lord include Salma Hayek, Rose McGowan and Rachel Weisz. For me, the latter is the most interesting. She’s never really played a full-on, seductive temptress but I think she’d be outstanding. Salma Hayek would slip pretty effortlessly into the role – anyone that’s seen her snake dance in Dusk Till Dawn would agree.

However, I have a feeling the role will go to Rose McGowan. For me, she’s the biggest unknown in terms of whether she’ll excel as Ava Lord. Whoever it ends up being, I’m sure they’ll be a revelation. We just need to wait 11 months to find out!

Looper review: Bruce Willis and Blunderbuses!

Initially I had read various reviews before seeing Looper – a bad idea, but there you go. So I went to see this film with relatively high hopes for a high-concept time travel film, which is what you get. Except it isn’t, not exactly.

To explain, just before seeing it I was having dinner near the cinema and got talking to the waiter. I mentioned I was going to see a film, ‘Oh, what are you going to see?’ he asked. “Looper” I replied. ‘I’ve seen it’ he said, ‘it’s not what I expected’.

gordon-levitt bruce willisWith that I left the restaurant a little puzzled. It was not the first time someone had said something similar. So I made my way to the cinema a little apprehensive, but still open-minded and ready for a good film. I was hoping for time travel, big guns, assassins, explosions, double crossing, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis facing off against each other and ultimately teaming up to defeat a common enemy.

Now you do get a lot of these elements, but not in the way you might think. Remember this is from the same Director that gave us Brick, so I should have been prepared for something a little left-field, not your obvious tone and style. I think, like a lot of high-concept films, this will require a second viewing to fully appreciate it.

In terms of the film’s big draw, the marketing types would like you to focus on Willis (established actor) facing off against his younger self, Gordon-Levitt (up and coming actor). However I felt the Director was slightly playing a trick on the audience and this film was really about a character called the Rainmaker.

Let’s set the scene. Gordon-Levitt is a ‘looper’, an assassin who kills people sent back in time, as it’s somewhat hard to commit murder in the future. Easier to send bodies back and have loopers dispose of them. As this is highly illegal loopers have a short life span, in that their employers look to send them back to be killed by their younger selves when they’ve outlived their usefulness. This is called ‘closing your loop’.

Where it all begins..
Now the story kicks off when Bruce is sent back for his loop to be closed, but evades assassination as he’s got his own agenda. He plans to whack his future boss – the mysterious Rainmaker – who happens to be a child in Gordon-Levitt’s time.

looper farmHis younger self feels killing children who may or may not become future crime lords is a little excessive, so sets out to stop him and protect the kid. Now, for me, that’s what this film is about, however it takes a while to get there.

All the high-concept time travel stuff has to be set up first, Gordon-Levitt’s world, how he goes about his job, his older self and his motivation for coming back in time. As a result, I felt all the key stuff comes in the third act – with a slightly sagging middle in terms of pace, when Gordon-Levitt meets Emily Blunt’s character. No reflection on Ms Blunt, I think she’s great.

That said, the ‘sagging’ section is just slower in pace but does contain a lot of plot revelations and key scenes. To be honest, I’ve found writing this piece quite hard without giving too much away. Much like a scene in the film in a diner where Willis and Gordon-Levitt face off against each – reminiscent of Michael Mann’s Heat – and Willis remarks on how too much discussion of time travel will only end with them making straw diagrams and getting a headache.

Let’s just sum up. I did like this film and want to see it again – if only to get my head around it. I feel maybe Bruce’s character could have had more back-story, so we sympathise more with his reasons for coming back to the past. Perhaps Rian Johnson’s script could have been more brutal in early scenes to save time and move things along quicker.

All in all though, a really interesting film and concept and worth seeing. Just don’t expect your average high-octane, pump the action up to 10 and keep it there, type film. It’s more considered and ultimately better for it.

To finish, here’s some artwork by an illustrator from Uruguay I’d like to share. Until next time…