Friday, September 26, 2014

So You Won't Have To: Sin City - A Dame to Kill For

 So far this year, the Cap'n hasn't had to write a "So You Won't Have To" review, which is honestly preferable on my end. Don't get me wrong: I don't mind biting the bullet for you folks every now and then, but any year I can go nine months into without seeing a movie bad enough to merit a SYWHT is a good year. Also, I've been trying to avoid those unless it's bundled into a Bad Movie Night or a Summer Fest. It's better for everybody, it seems.

 But once and awhile my curiosity gets the better of me, or opportunity permits me to watch something I had decided probably wasn't a good idea to see, and as a result I'm going to satisfy your morbid curiosity about former filmmaker Robert Rodriguez. At this point I can't even call him a director, because if what he's doing in Machete Kills and Sin City: A Dame to Kill for qualifies as "directing," then I need to rethink my stance on the quality of Asylum productions. I really don't know what happened to this guy, because the Cap'n was a fan of Rodriguez deep into his career. I'll still defend El Mariachi, Desperado, The Faculty, From Dusk Till Dawn, and the first two Spy Kids movies. I think Spy Kids 3-D and Once Upon a Time in Mexico have problems, but I still enjoy them. Planet Terror and Machete are a heaping help of down and dirty fun.

 Somewhere along the line he got too comfortable with the freedom of shooting digitally, and the ease with which he can put together a movie is working against him. Rodriguez's films are starting to look cheaper, sloppier, and his "freedoms" have become his weaknesses. Sin City had a lot of these problems, but because Rodriguez was working so hard to replicate the iconic imagery of Frank Miller's comics (with Miller along to co-direct) that you could maybe forgive a shoddy looking CGI shot. Well, for an hour at least - Sin City was too long, the stories to condensed, and the movie too faithful to the source material to really be interesting. I haven't been that disinterested in an adaptation since Watchmen, and the individual, uncut stories only work a little better.

 For 9 years, Rodriguez and Miller hinted that they were planning on adapting A Dame to Kill For - one of my favorite Sin City stories - as a sequel, but they kept putting it off to make garbage like The Spirit or Spy Kids 4*. All the while, my enjoyment of Rodriguez films continued to drop off, so while there was some hope when he and Miller decided to actually make A Dame to Kill For, Machete Kills seriously hobbled my expectations. Even with my hopes in check, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For managed to disappoint.

 Let's start with something you might have noticed from the trailers (if you watched them) and were wondering: no, there's no reason that Joseph Gordon-Levitt's new character has anything to do with A Dame to Kill For, or Powers Boothe as Senator Roark, or Bruce Willis' extended cameo as ghost Hartigan (yes, ghost Hartigan). While they could have easily just made A Dame to Kill For the entire film, Rodriguez and Miller again decided to cram in other stories as "filler," to pad out the 94 minute running time. Two of them add nothing to the Sin City universe at all, and the last one seems to contradict the first movie (if not, by extension, the comics) altogether.

 I don't want to spend more time on this than necessary, so let's just say that the Marv-centric "Just Another Saturday Night" was unnecessary, too short, and doesn't set the tone in the same way that "Keep the Customer Satisfied" did in the first film. Since I'm guessing that's what it was intended to do, even after nine years, it fails to remind us why we're here to watch a Sin City movie. It isn't as clear here as it is in "Nancy's Last Dance," but Mickey Rourke's Marv makeup looks horrible. I'm not quite sure why, but I'll chalk it up to the lighting, or digital after-the-fact "lighting," because Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger don't usually provide such lousy prosthetics.

 The second (and, I guess, fourth) segment is "The Long, Bad Night," a never published Sin City story by Miller, focused on card shark Johnny (Gordon-Levitt), who runs afoul of Senator Roark (Boothe), perhaps by design. The story has no payoff to speak of, particularly when you factor in the last segment, which undoes everything significant about Johnny's plan, but if you want to see Christopher Lloyd and Lady Gaga in semi-useless cameos, I guess this scratches your itch. It has some of the worst use of a green screen set (where only the door is real) I think I can remember, and we haven't even made it to the ubiquitous use of terrible green screen yet.

 "A Dame to Kill For" at least gave me some hope with the inclusion of Eva Green as Ava Lord and Josh Brolin as the pre-surgery version of Dwight, but those hopes were quickly dashed by the overall execution of the story. Maybe it's just how cheap everything looks, or how playing it "hard boiled" somehow translates to everyone snarling or sneering, which makes a two dimensional comic strip one dimensional on the big screen. It's laughable how bad everyone is, and Green is actually perfectly suited to play Ava Lord, but comes of terribly under the "just go for it" direction of Rodriguez and Miller.

 Brolin might have been all right, but the inexplicable decision to keep him, post surgery, and not bring back Clive Owen was a horrible idea. Rodriguez has no excuse, as Machete Kills was filled with actors who came in as they were available (which, admittedly, led to its "piecemeal" execution), and Sin City famously features a conversation between Mickey Rourke and Rutger Hauer that was filmed weeks apart. Putting Josh Brolin in a "Clive Owen Wig" and giving him a few prosthetics to make him look slightly different (honestly, I couldn't tell until the close-up) doesn't cut it. Unless Clive Owen flat out refused to be involved with the film (and he didn't - he was shooting The Knick), Rodriguez could have figured out something.

 There are plenty of small parts in A Dame to Kill For, giving Rosario Dawson a chance to come back as Gail, Jaime King to play Goldie and Wendy again, and Jamie Chung to step in as the new Miho. Ray Liotta and Juno Temple set the tone of the segment off in the wrong way where he hysterically overacts, but at least that's something. Christopher Meloni, Martin Csokas, and Jeremy Piven have almost nothing interesting to do with one-note characters, and I didn't even realize Piven was supposed to be playing Michael Madsen's Bob. He makes no impression whatsoever, like Stacy Keach playing a penis head with boils in one scene. Dennis Haysbert admirably steps in for the late Michael Clarke Duncan as Manute, although he lacks the stature to really pull it off, especially against Brolin and Rourke. Also troubling was the fact that I could see the seam of his eye prosthetic on the edge of Haysbert's nose half the time. Are we really sure this movie cost Robert Rodriguez $60 Million dollars?

 Seriously, before I get into "Nancy's Last Dance," which is the "Exhibit A" of what's wrong with A Dame to Kill for, can I mention how cheap everything in this movie looks? Where did the 60 million go, because it wasn't in the CGI rendering of every background. That looks somehow even worse than the last Sin City movie, and that was from 2005. There a moments of almost comically bad green screen work, where (I kid you not) the camera moves to mask the fact that the actors are hanging in the air (static) on wires. I laughed out loud when Nancy (Jessica Alba) and Marv "jump" over a fence, and by that I mean they didn't move at all and the camera panned down to the fake ground they were "landing" on. It's embarrassingly shitty looking; the kind of crap you'd expect from DTV, not a 60 million dollar movie.

 Okay, I've already spent way more time on this piece of crap than I wanted to, but let me finally chase off any die-hard Sin City fans who are mentally attempting to wriggle their way out of this review. Let's talk about "Nancy Last Dance," a newly created piece by Frank Miller designed to give Jessica Alba a showcase and close out A Dame to Kill For. And, in doing so, taking a dump all over "The Hard Goodbye" and "That Yellow Bastard." Right now, I'm going to SPOIL "The Long, Bad, Night," because, who cares? You're never going to see this awful movie, even if you, like me, wanted it not to suck as hard as it does. At the end of "The Long, Bad, Night," Johnny comes back to Senator Roark's back-room card game to beat him (again) just so that "everyone knows I beat you twice. They won't talk about it here, but it'll get out there, and everybody will know." Roark kills his illegitimate son, and goes back to playing.

 Immediately after this happens, "Nancy's Last Dance" starts, which undoes the significance of Johnny's act by jumping forward in time past "That Yellow Bastard" and "A Dame to Kill For" to a seriously broken Nancy. She's a drunken mess, angry at Hartigan for dying and angrier at herself for not shooting Roark when he left Kadie's Bar in "The Long, Bad, Night." She cuts her hair off, mutilates her face with a piece of broken glass, and decides it's time to kill him once and for all. While this is happening, Ghost Hartigan is wandering around, giving us the half-mumbled musings that come from Bruce Willis phoning it in as a favor. But here's where it gets stupid. If you'll remember, Senator Roark is alive when Marv is arrested and executed in "The Hard Goodbye," which is why it makes no sense that the very same Marv helps Nancy break into Roark's house and is just outside the room when Nancy kills Senator Roark. And how does she kill him? Well, he has the edge on her all the way through the scene until Ghost Hartigan appears in a mirror and scares him.

 I'm going to let you digest that for a minute. Take your time.

 Now, this could be filed under "fanboy nitpicking," and I wouldn't blame you if you decided to go that way, but "Nancy's Last Dance" feels like Miller trying as hard as he possibly can to find a way to put Nancy and Marv together in a story we haven't seen that gives some unneeded closure to her story. He does so at the expense of the logic of not only his stories, but of the first movie. I read some forum post about how maybe Marv was supposed to also be a ghost (hence why he couldn't follow Nancy into the room) but there's a lot of Marv interacting with people when Nancy isn't on-camera for it to all "be in her mind," I get the mental break part of it, but the pretzel logic in this segment is pathetic. Coupled with the horrible "action" and really bad looking Marv prosthetics, or the Ghost Hartigan in Nancy's living room that might be impressive if everything but the couch wasn't a green screen shot, it's just the final nail in this movie's coffin.

 Rodriguez killed any interest I had in the Sin City, Machete, and Spy Kids series in the span of three years. That's an impressive feat. For bonus points, I couldn't even finish watching the From Dusk Till Dawn TV show. I think I'm finally, officially, done giving this guy chances. Whatever it was he had, it's gone, and like Kevin Smith, Rodriguez persists in pushing on, pursuing his own stupid interests in as lazy a way as humanly possible. No amount of gratuitous nudity and extreme violence is going to hide the fact that Sin City: A Dame to Kill For looks more like a star-studded fan film than an actual movie. It's not worth my time and it's certainly not worth yours, but I guess I'm glad I saw it So You Won't Have To.

 * I was going to say Shorts, but I didn't want to confuse people who wouldn't know Rodriguez made a dumb kids' movie with the Robert Altman film Short Cuts.

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