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.

Blue Jasmine

Quote of the film: “But that’s all history boys, I met someone, I’m a new person.” — Jasmine

If you know me at all, you’ll know that Cate Blanchett is one of my all-time favorite actors. She is both elegant and raw, beautiful yet cold. When I heard about this film, I was incredibly eager to watch it. Many months past and I’ve finally made it to a Redbox dispenser on a thundersnowy Chicago day. 

Once again, I wasn’t completely sure what exactly I was in for. Redbox labeled Blue Jasmine as a comedy, but I was skeptical. An hour and a half later, I can confirm that genre labels truly have no meaning. While it is a Woody Allen film, Blue Jasmine (2013) hardly ever dips into the comedic side of the spectrum, if at all. It’s a story about Jasmine (Blanchett) and her fall from grace. Jasmine is a woman who has the fortune of meeting the successful, rich businessman who spoils her with wealth, class, and sophistication. She entertains with lavish parties in New York, enjoys the high-life, all while ignoring all the imperfections in her life: her husband’s infidelity, her sister’s disappointment of a life, her husband’s unlawful business affairs — and her increasingly debilitating anxiety.

The film alternates between present-day scenes in San Francisco and flashbacks  of Jasmine’s old life in New York. Towards the beginning, Jasmine comes across as a condescending albeit naive wife of a shady businessman, but as the flashbacks progress, we realize that all her current strife — losing all her wealth and possessions, moving out of her beautiful homes, relocating to San Francisco with her merely ordinary sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) — was caused by her actions. Because of that revelation, the various scenes where Jasmine is talking to herself with a blank stare or talking the ears off innocent bystanders can be seen as a way for her to complain about herself or attempt to find closure with herself. She has a horrible time in San Francisco — trying to remake herself by finding a job, going to school, looking for love — and everything is plagued by her guilt. She ruined her life, her sister’s life, her family’s life, and she has to realize that she can’t fix any of it.

Cate Blanchett’s portrayal of troubled Jasmine is incredible. Her American accent is flawless, and her characteristic voice is a cocktail of deep and robust tones. She makes it so easy to dislike her, with her pretentious speech and body language. What is particularly remarkable about Blanchett’s performance is how quickly she can go from looking beautiful and polished to looking haggard and ugly. She has such a command with her body that she creates many dimensions for Jasmine’s decaying wellbeing.

Jasmine’s delusional revival is summed up by the above quote. She’s met someone, therefore she is a new person. That may have been true when she was a young woman in college, and her future husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) swept her off her feet and transformed her into the elite and ostentatious woman she is today. However, to say that she’s met someone, Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard), a rich and ambitious man, and declare that she’s a new person is irrational. She’s a carbon copy of herself, falling for a man who can sweep her off her feet and give her all the things she loves. Perhaps her downfall is that she is now a woman who loves things and not people.