April 1, 2005


Sin City (ROGER EBERT, March 30, 2005, Chicago Sun-Times)

This isn't an adaptation of a comic book, it's like a comic book brought to life and pumped with steroids. It contains characters who occupy stories, but to describe the characters and summarize the stories would be like replacing the weather with a weather map.

The movie is not about narrative but about style. It internalizes the harsh world of the Frank Miller "Sin City" comic books and processes it through computer effects, grotesque makeup, lurid costumes and dialogue that chops at the language of noir. The actors are mined for the archetypes they contain; Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Benicio Del Toro, Clive Owen and the others are rotated into a hyperdimension. We get not so much their presence as their essence; the movie is not about what the characters say or what they do, but about who they are in our wildest dreams.

On the movie's Web site, there's a slide show juxtaposing the original drawings of Frank Miller with the actors playing the characters, and then with the actors transported by effects into the visual world of graphic novels. Some of the stills from the film look so much like frames of the comic book as to make no difference. And there's a narration that plays like the captions at the top of the frame, setting the stage and expressing a stark existential world view.

Rodriguez has been aiming toward "Sin City" for years. I remember him leaping out of his chair and bouncing around a hotel room, pantomiming himself filming "Spy Kids 2" with a digital camera and editing it on a computer. The future! he told me. This is the future! You don't wait six hours for a scene to be lighted. You want a light over here, you grab a light and put it over here. You want a nuclear submarine, you make one out of thin air and put your characters into it.

I held back, wondering if perhaps the Spy Kids would have been better served if the films had not been such a manic demonstration of his method. But never mind; the first two "Spy Kids" were exuberant fun ("Spy Kids 3-D" sucked, in great part because of the 3-D). Then came his "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" (2003), and I wrote it was "more interested in the moment, in great shots, in surprises and ironic reversals and closeups of sweaty faces, than in a coherent story." Yes, but it worked.

And now Rodriguez has found narrative discipline in the last place you might expect, by choosing to follow the Miller comic books almost literally.

Bloodsport: The genius of Sin City (David Edelstein, March 31, 2005, Slate)
As a film critic, I have often bemoaned the amorality and opportunism of the vigilante genre, as well as the sadism and righteous torture on display in movies and television in the wake of Sept. 11. From time to time, I have also lamented the explosion of the comic-book superhero genre. With the recent exceptions of Spider-Man 2 and The Incredibles, these cookie-cutter action thrillers have been crafted for a generation weaned on Game Boys. Meanwhile, computerized effects have taken cinema farther and farther from the world that human beings actually inhabit. And now comes cinema's latest devolutionary milestone, Sin City (Miramax), a graphic novel come to life, its sets copied from the page and regenerated in three dimensions inside a computer, and boasting the most relentless display of torture and sadism I've encountered in a mainstream movie.

My reaction to Sin City is easily stated. I loved it. Or, to put it another way, I loved it, I loved it, I loved it. I loved every gorgeous sick disgusting ravishing overbaked blood-spurting artificial frame of it. A tad hypocritical? Yes. But sometimes you think, "Well, I'll just go to hell."

Sin City (Peter T. Chattaway, 04/01/05, Christianity Today)
Between the Spy Kids and El Mariachi franchises—to say nothing of his work on the original From Dusk Till Dawn—Robert Rodriguez has been making live-action cartoons for so long, it was probably only a matter of time before he made a live-action comic book.

Sin City is based on a series of graphic novels (from Dark Horse Comics) written and drawn by Frank Miller, and it is difficult to imagine a director better suited to Miller's pulpy, anarchistic style than Rodriguez. Miller may work on more mainstream titles from time to time—recent comic-book movies like Elektra (based on a character created by Miller) and the upcoming Batman Begins (inspired, in part, by Miller's classic Batman: Year One storyline) definitely bear his imprint—but the independently produced Sin City arguably captures Miller's sleazy, sadomasochistic cynicism in its purest form. There is a wildness, a craziness, to Miller's stories that bleeds—no, sprays—off the page, and whatever else we might say about this film, Rodriguez does capture that element very well. [...]

[T]he world Miller and Rodriguez have created is so bleak and nasty it's difficult to see what lasting value any sort of redemption could have here.

The failure to include a redemptive message completely misapprehends the very noir conventions that they've tried so hard to pay homage to.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 1, 2005 10:50 PM

if the message of a movie is there is no point in trying, then why make the movie in the first place ? every act of creation is a grain of hope added to the pile.

Posted by: cjm at April 2, 2005 10:57 AM

I saw the movie Friday night. Have you seen the movie OJ? I disagree that there is no redemptive message. The Bruce Willis character sacrifices his life and endures great suffering to protect a young, vulnerable girl from being tortured and killed by a madman. The Mickey Rourke character, a two bit criminal, sacrifices his to avenge a murdered woman who showed him kindness. Clive Owens' character is less clearly noble, but fights on the side of a group of prostitutes who are fighting another gang that wants to enslave them. It is a movie that draws a line between good and evil.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at April 3, 2005 11:58 AM

I should have known. There's only One Story.

Posted by: oj at April 3, 2005 12:18 PM

I think Manohla Dargis' complaint in a review of another film
are relevant here:

"...a good if trivial genre movie, no more, no less. There's no denying that Mr. Park is some kind of virtuoso, but so what? So was the last guy who directed a Gap commercial. Cinematic virtuosity for its own sake, particularly as expressed through cinematography -- in loop-the-loop camera work and, increasingly, in computer-assisted ornamentation -- is a modern plague that threatens to bury us in shiny, meaningless movies. Historically speaking, the most interesting thing about "Oldboy" is that like so much "product" now coming out of Hollywood, it is a B movie tricked out as an A movie. Once, a film like this, predicated on extreme violence and staying within the prison house of genre rather than transcending it, would have been shot on cardboard sets with two-bit talent. It would have had its premiere in Times Square.
The fact that "Oldboy" is embraced by some cinephiles is symptomatic of a bankrupt, reductive postmodernism: one that promotes a spurious aesthetic relativism (it's all good) and finds its crudest expression in the hermetically sealed world of fan boys... In this world, aesthetic and moral judgments -- much less philosophical and political inquiries -- are rejected in favor of a vague taxonomy of cool that principally involves ever more florid spectacles of violence. As in, "Wow, he's hammering those dudes with a knife stuck in his back -- cool!" Or, "He's about to drop that guy and his dog from the roof -- way cool!" ...

I think "a modern plague that threatens to bury us in shiny, meaningless movies" says it all.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at April 3, 2005 2:46 PM

: "I want a shot at redemption"

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at April 3, 2005 3:01 PM

The notion of redemption is something that noir films could certainly do without. If you are going to paint an unrelentlingly bleak picture of human existence, you should at least remain consistent.

Bruce Willis' character isn't redeemed. He simply accepts the essential wrongness of his fate with a disturbing passivity. The point in the film is that, just as in life, evil pretty much always wins.

Posted by: bart at April 3, 2005 6:32 PM

The point of classic noir--thanks to the Code--is that it never does.

Posted by: oj at April 3, 2005 6:36 PM

Which is why it is a good thing the Code is gone. Giving people false hope is worse than giving them no hope at all.

Posted by: bart at April 3, 2005 7:10 PM

The hope is real. Evil doesn't work.

Posted by: oj at April 3, 2005 7:15 PM

Nonsense. Why do you think people believe in an afterlife? It gives them hope that there is a better world than this pestilential dung heap we live in now.

In the long-term, evil is the safe bet.

Posted by: bart at April 3, 2005 7:26 PM

Yes, that's the first hour of the movie, then the decent guy gone wrong gets his comeuppance, just like in life.

Posted by: oj at April 3, 2005 9:05 PM