Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014) is the sequel to the critically acclaimed Sin City (2005). It’s written by Frank Miller, writer of the graphic novels, and c0-directed by Robert Rodriguez. It mostly depicts the story from the second book in the series, A Dame to Kill For.

I’m just going to say it: I liked it more than the first…as far as the stories go. I felt like the stories in the sequel were more engaging and interesting that in the first film. Perhaps I had a hard time accepting Marv (Mickey Rourke) in The Hard Goodbye, where he goes absolutely berserk for vengeance after only one night with a woman. Though, while I loved returning to the black-and-white city with accents of color exploding from the screen, the cinematography doesn’t beat the first film. So both films have their strengths and their weaknesses. I will say that I’m somewhat shocked that this film is receiving such lackluster reviews and low turnout — I enjoyed watching it!

Mostly because of Eva Green, who plays the titled dame to kill for. Manute (Dennis Haysbert) calls Green’s character, Ava Lord, a goddess, and that she is. She’s almost otherworldly, portraying at various moments, and sometimes simultaneously, innocence, sex appeal, lust, power, and poise. She commands the screen just as she commands the men she seduces throughout the film. She enters the film in a ice blue coat and blood red lips. Blue, the lesser used color in the Sin City films, tends to represent a character who has another side to her/him. She walks into the film as a damsel in distress, using her subtle smirks and gorgeous eyes to convince Dwight (this time played by Josh Brolin) that she’s in mortal danger from her husband, Damien (Marton Csokas). Once Dwight comes to her rescue, she flips the switch and attempts to shoot him dead — the moment when her eyes ignite green, like burning wildfire, blazing savagely like her plan for wealth and power. I cannot sing Green’s praises enough; she dominates the screen with both her physical beauty and her emotional manipulation. My one complaint in the entire story is how quickly and easily Ava was finished off. I feel like the entire film could have been devoted to that one story and her sinister side could have been thoroughly developed.

Johnny’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) story also kept me engaged. He’s a young and cocky gambler, who never loses. JGL plays the part as lithely as he shuffles a deck of cards. My favorite part of the story is that even after he’s beat up severely, terrorized, and given a second chance to escape with his life, he takes a dollar from the charitable waitress at a diner (Lady Gaga) and he goes back to challenge Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) at Poker Night again. He says that even if he’s killed, he’s defeated Roark twice and has shown without a hint of a doubt that he is better than him — and that story will haunt him even after the senator is dead. That’s how Johnny achieves his vengeance, a long-lasting blow to Roark’s legacy and reputation.

Even Nancy’s (Jessica Alba) story kept me glued to the screen. I was curious to see what she was going to do to get out of her drunken funk after Hartigan’s (Bruce Willis) death in Sin City. She goes to a dark place, hacking off her hair and cutting up her face to look almost zombie-like. After going to the shooting range every night before work, she finally takes a life (and many, many more) to finally avenge the death of a loved one. I found it interesting to see the drastic transformation from the little girl at the beginning of Sin City, traumatized to see her hero cop shot in front of her, to grow up into a beautiful young woman who still idolizes the man who saved her life, to become the empty shell of a human being who has no goal in life but revenge. It’s a stark metamorphosis.

The film starts with a bang, and it ends with a bang. In my book, nothing that can beat the prologue to Sin City, the iconic introduction to a world springing to life from the pages of the comic books — nothing except the sultry and elegant Eva Green. The stories kept me engaged, and while the look of the film doesn’t jump off the screen like the original film, it’s still vivid and lush and a joy to experience. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For welcomes back Rourke, Willis, Alba, Boothe, Rosario Dawson, and Jaime King and introduces Sin City newcomers Green, Gordon-Levitt, Brolin, Heysbert,  Csokas, Christopher Meloni, Jeremy Priven, Jamie Chung, Julia Garner, and Christopher Lloyd. 


Sin City

Sin City (2005) is an American action thriller film directed by Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez (with a special guest director credit for Quentin Tarantino), based on Miller’s graphic novels of the same name. It takes place in the fictional Basin City and follows three story lines derived from three books in Miller’s original graphic novel series: The Hard GoodbyeThe Big Fat Kill, and The Yellow Bastard. The intro is based on the short story “The Customer is Always Right” — which was shot before filming began to show Miller that the movie could be made faithfully to the graphic novels.

The film is gorgeous from the very beginning. A bawdy saxophone solo sets the tone for the two glamorous figures on a balcony in the heart of a grand city. The woman has red lips and a red dress, visually popping out of the greyscale backdrop. The scene is accompanied by a classic film noir voice-over. It’s a beautiful introduction to a visually stunning film.

The film is drenched in shadows, a visual metaphor to the darkness found in all the characters. There are times when color shines out of the dark background. Red is the most prominent color that appears in Sin City. Red represents a few ideas: lust and passion, like the red heart-shaped bed where Marv (Mickey Rourke) and Goldie (Jaime King) share an intimate night together;  bravado, like the red converse shoes worn by Dwight (Clive Owen) who embarks on a mission with a self-assured manner; and mortality, evidenced by all the blood splattered throughout the film. Red bursts through black-and-white easily, which makes its use very powerful. It’s striking — and the ideas it represents are striking as well. Yellow is another color that is used in the film. It’s primary use is innocence and purity, as Goldie’s hair is always illuminated in yellow. Marv is on a mission to avenge her death, and her yellow hair marks her like a halo of an angel. Blue is an interestingly used color. Light blue is used on two objects, Jackie Boy’s (Benicio del Toro) car and Becky’s (Alexis Bledel) eyes. Bledel naturally has beautiful blue eyes, and that reason alone may have contributed to using the color in the film, but these two characters have something in common: they are both two-sided characters. Jackie Boy is introduced as Shellie’s (Brittany Murphy) abusive ex-boyfriend. He rides through the Old Town and heckles at Becky and the other prostitutes. He seems like scum, until his police badge is found and he’s identified as the hero cop Jack Rafferty. Becky, on the other hand, is introduced as one of the more innocent of the prostitutes. She wears immense earrings with peace signs and exudes the aura of the innocent southern girl, but when things get serious in Old Town, she turns on her prostitute pack and calls in Manute (Michael Clarke Duncan), the mob enforcer. Blue represents that these two characters are not exactly who they seem to be. Color plays a crucial part in the film, both aesthetically and metaphorically.

The storyline covers three different stories, the first book-ending the other two. There are no direct relationships between the stories, just a couple of overlaps in characters. There is one setting, Kadie’s Bar, where all the major characters appear at least once. That setting provides some continuity for the city as a whole and the similarities in the characters that all frequent this one bar.

A highly stylized graphic novel series, Sin City provides some challenges to filming in that same style. Rodriguez and Miller showed that a similar stylized film, with exaggerated shadows and light accents, was entirely possible. Graphic novels provide incredible illustrations, with many larger than life shots and angles. Many times, direct translations are quite impossible, but the film’s storyboard was almost entirely made up of illustrations from the graphic novel. The action in the film switches frames very much like that in comic books. It makes for a very stylized yet breathtaking film experience. Many of the angles filmed are unconventional and unusual for film, but with the high definition digital equipment used to shoot the movie, it all comes across as adeptly artistic.

Sin City stars Bruce WillisJessica Alba, Elijah Wood, Rosario Dawson, Benicio del Toro, Brittany Murphy, Clive Owen, and Mickey Rourke. The sequel, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, comes to theatres on August 22, 2014.

Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) is an American superhero film released by Marvel as part of its Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It’s directed by James Gunn and written by Gunn and Nicole PerlmanGuardians of the Galaxy takes place in a different galaxy altogether than the rest of the MCU films, introducing a more fantastical side of Marvel comic books and featuring an exciting and fresh new team of superheroes.

Guardians stars Chris Pratt as Peter Quill AKA Star-Lord, the rebellious bad-boy space pirate. He’s the only character in the film from Terra, who has a homey and charming quality we can all relate to — many times embodied by the 1970s and 80s music he listens to on his Walkman. It both reminds Quill of Earth and his roots as well as reminds the audience of Earth in a galaxy filled with unfamiliar worlds and peoples. Pratt has made quite the ascension to stardom. He consistently knocks it out of the park on NBC’s Parks and Recreation as the lovable but oftentimes clueless Andy Dwyer, yet he’s also been in a couple Oscar-nominated films like Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty and Spike Jonze’s Her. He’s an incredible actor, who has yet to be adequately recognized, in my opinion, for his flawless performance in Parks and Rec, but his charisma and finesse is finally getting acclaim in Guardians. He plays the rugged, rule-breaking smuggler that we can’t help but love. He mixes up a delightful cocktail of humor and badassery into his performance as he stumbles his way throughout the galaxy. He kicks ass and dances with proportionate ease. He’s stated that Han Solo and Marty McFly were inspirations for his portrayal, but there is a lot of Captain Malcolm Reynolds, played by Nathan Fillion in Firefly, in Peter Quill, too — evidenced by his affinity towards guns and brown coats.

Zoë Saldana plays Gamora, the lethal adopted daughter of super villain Thanos (an uncredited performance by James Brolin). Saldana is firmly established in the science-fiction film genre, with roles in James Cameron’s Avatar and the rebooted Star Trek films. She champions strong female roles in a genre that’s very male-centric. She is a raised and trained assassin, but she also has a strong sense of righteousness. Saldana’s performance weaves together the hard and cold nature of a killer with the shy receptivity for goodness, which blossoms along with her friendship with Quill.

The rest of the Guardians are an eclectic and dynamic mix: Drax (Dave Bautista) the insanely ripped and heavily tattooed prisoner who takes things absolutely literally; Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper and acting contributed by Gunn’s brother Sean Gunn) the genetically engineered and talking raccoon bounty hunter; and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) the nurturing yet lethal tree-like humanoid (AKA the Ent) who can only say “I am Groot”. There characters are absolutely amazing and bring such spirit to the film. The combination of all these characters make for an unusual fellowship, but out of it burgeons friendship and many, many laughs.

The universe of Guardians is colorful — both in its visuals as well as with its characterizations. It’s a marvel (no pun intended) to experience a world bursting with color — from nebulae-backdropped space battles to the Infinity Stone erupting in amethyst power, and from brightly tinted skin to effervescent worlds saturated in color. It’s beautiful to watch, comparable to the visually striking Pandora in Cameron’s Avatar. One of my favorite scenes is when Groot produces the fireflies to light up the darkness. The music and visuals intertwine so seamlessly to produce a tender moment in a mostly active and funny film.

Groot, while not “vocabulistically” gifted, is the heart of Guardians. While the rest of the team has baggage and motives, he’s mostly innocent and tags along with Rocket. He also contributes to a visual motif throughout the film. The Infinity Stone resides in the orb throughout the entire film. While ornately forged, the orb houses a tool of great power, a fossil of great creation but a threat of total destruction. The sphere shape in the film begins to signify that ominous doom, destruction in a pretty package. After Quill has seemingly killed Ronan (Lee Pace), the great monolith of a ship is tumbling out of the sky. Groot envelops the Guardians in a sphere of branches and leaves. He becomes an orb of warm natural beauty and heart, in an age of rigid technology and industry. While crudely made, his orb encircles friendship and righteousness, an inspiring icon in the face of death.

Guardians of the Galaxy provides an exciting and refreshing introduction to a new world of superheroes. Bringing together an incredibly talented cast, sharp and amusing writing, striking visuals, and engaging characters, Guardians is a completely entertaining experience. Can anyone really turn down an intergalactic ride with the lovable and hunky Chris Pratt?


What If

What If (2013) is an Irish-Canadian romantic comedy directed by Michael Dowse and written Elan MastaiThe film is based off the play Cigars and Toothpaste by T. J. Dawe  and Michael Rinaldi. The film held its world premiere in 2013 at the Toronto International Film Festival. What If (originally released as The F Word) follows the story of cynical yet romantic Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) and quirky and elusive Chantry (Zoe Kazan).

Wallace has had his heart broken, and after abandoning medical school and his future career when his last relationship ends, he attempts to retreat from a social life by mostly staying at home, sometimes climbing up to the rooftop to motivate himself to delete messages and contacts from his phone. He finally goes out to a party with his college roommate Allan (Adam Driver) and meets his cousin Chantry as he sculpts a cynical love poem with some refrigerator magnets. Witty banter instantly ensues between the two — the quickest way to show chemistry on-screen. Wallace probably thinks the night is too good to be true, and he couldn’t be more right when Chantry gives him her number while dropping the bomb that she has a boyfriend.

The film builds from that moment, as Wallace attempts to be purely a friend to Chantry. They clearly have a loaded friendship, always e-mailing, establishing inside jokes from the get-go (chiefly the strange fascination with Fool’s Gold sandwiches), having meals together, and general hanging out constantly. While Chantry doesn’t yet realize that Wallace has feelings for her or that their friendship is a little more than friendship is, everyone else can, including Chantry’s boyfriend Ben (Rafe Spall), who immediately confronts him about any lewd intentions he may have for Chantry.

Wallace, ever the nice guy, makes every effort to be a good friend to Chantry, but he’s so conflicted about if or how he should express his feelings to her. He’s constantly getting questionable advice from his best friend, who is the one who actually has the “successful” relationship. Radcliffe’s performance is enunciated yet charismatic. He speaks quite deliberately, which, at times, distracts from the scene, but the manner in which is speaks is a facet of his overall eagerness and passion in acting. He’s charismatic and committed the entire time to Wallace’s cheeky yet deflated character, who uses his intelligence and humor to hide how much he hates his loneliness.

Kazan plays the quirky and effervescent Chantry. She, like the animated reflection of herself that flies throughout the film, is gliding through the world without a destination. When life starts demanding for her to make tough choices, she genuinely has a hard time centering herself and making a decision. Kazan portrays Chantry as a florid young woman, with a sharp mind, a gorgeous yet homey look, and a sweet and sincere personality. She was very much the embodiment of one of my good friends, which was pretty weird yet completely convincing as an actual character.

While following many of the romantic comedy standards, What If deviates from the run-down rom-com with its peculiar humor and sweet roots. Wallace is a good guy to his foundation. He may not be the most outgoing or striking man in the room, but he’s the sweetest — and that makes for an unconventional leading man. What If is an artsy film that ultimately shows the development of Chantry, the girl who thinks she’s flying freely through life only to realize that she’s stuck. Maneuvering through a myriad of tough choices, she realizes what it means to be free and what to let go to achieve that.

What If comes to American theaters on August 8th, 2014.