This is the fourth in the Anti-Monitor series, where it’s believed that some films are best reviewed with the utmost incredulity. This week, Matt Fleming and myself banter back and forth over Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s slightly unwarranted sequel to a movie that came out nearly a decade ago. We discuss the frenetic and over-enthusiastic prowess of Rodriguez as a filmmaker, the eclipsed career of Frank Miller, and sticking a fork in Mickey Rourke. As always, be wary of spoilers throughout, and please enjoy.
DR: So. I did not hate this.
Matt: This is the first movie I’ve seen since Guardians Of The Galaxy that I did not hate. I enjoyed the first foray into Frank Miller’s Sin City, and this was a welcome reentry into that territory, although a bit late and less than perfect.
DR: Far less than perfect. But that’s where we are with Robert Rodriguez these days, isn’t it? The man has an obvious passion for his projects, and an obvious love for the work of Frank Miller, but his execution is almost too enthusiastic. Even when he’s half-directing, Rodriguez’s work reminds me of a nineteen year-old kid who just learned guitar, and he really, really wants to show it off. G, D, C, Em. It would seem easy, but he keeps stuttering at the chords.
Matt: I think he works faster than he thinks, and that’s one reason his movies are so cheap. I love what Rodriguez did to make filmmaking easier and cheaper, and I resent it for what it has become. But between him and Miller (and the countless, thankless FX crew), they did make a nice looking comic book movie.
DR: It looks better than the first Sin City. So much better. I’m grateful for that, especially when you consider the nine years it took for this movie to get made. The technical approach has improved with time. Other things… not so much. Mickey Rourke, anybody?
Matt: Was that Mickey Rourke or Robert Z’Dar with a vocieover? Man, his head (and body) got BIG. The rest of the returning cast still looks great, but ol’ Mick has left his best years behind. Even with the prosthetics and CGI, he looks rough. And isn’t this kind of a prequel? I also didn’t care for much of his performance, as it were. Very little effort, overall. But there seemed to be a lot of contrasting deliveries by the ensemble here; plenty of over and underacting.
DR: When you have Frank Miller dialogue to work with, while Frank Miller himself is directing you, there is no such thing as over or underacting. Everyone performed precisely as they had to: big, broad, and – whoo – boring. This is the second in Rodriguez’s “translations” of the original comic books. We never thought a translation would be taken so literally, but it was. And here again, only with new material. New Frank Miller material. That one statement is enough for me to break into a cold sweat.
Matt: The Joseph Gordon-Levitt bit was new, right?
DR: Yup. And the last bit with Jessica Alba was all new, all now, no wow.
Matt: I disagree. As a non-comic reader, I liked both bits, the JGL one more so.
DR: I just felt that – to give Nancy Callahan some kind of catharsis – was going against the seedy, ink-black nature of Sin City. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s bit I enjoyed, but it was just so short. This movie could have used 100% more of the character. In my mind, Gordon-Levitt and Alba’s characters had the same motivations, and the same end game in mind. Miller should have mixed these two together to get what they were after: revenge. Instead, Miller and Rodriguez keep them apart, and squidge in Mickey Rourke for the final showdown, which makes no narrative sense if we’re counting the first film as canon. We’re doing that, right?
Matt: I think so? What’s canon worth in comics anymore? I think JGL is so charming, his performance so dashing, that the narrative he follows lends some much-needed shock and awe to this sequel. Sure, he and Nancy have the same motives and intents, but seeing the trouble Johnny gets into gave me a good, cold reminder of the universe these characters inhabit. The end bit is over the top, for sure, but at that point I just wanted her to win.
DR: At that point I kind of gave up caring. This is not a horribly long movie – just a hair over two hours – but it felt long. The pacing was all wrong, and it felt soupy – you know what I mean? The Dame To Kill For sequence has the most meat – it certainly takes the longest to get through – but I felt that it could have been been chopped up into two parts and interspersed through Alba and Gordon-Levitt’s scenes. Instead the film feels like it has two prologues, one necessary, one… heh, two long epilogues, and one whole movie right in-between.
Matt: They could have broken this up better, for the sake of the viewer. I kept wondering when and how it would end, until it very obviously ended. As episodic and soap opera-like as this whole endeavor is, it would have been served better as you said. If you’re going to break the narrative apart at all, it should be done a little more sensibly.
DR: Aside from all of that, you have to respect how gung-ho everybody was this time around. In the first movie, there were more than a couple of actors who had zero idea what to do with the material, or the format with which Rodriguez was employing. Now? In 2014? Immersive green-screen sets are old-hat. Every body seemed to really sink their teeth into it. It’s more a credit to the performances than anything else that this movie is at all watchable. And it’s like you said: put Powers Boothe in more movies.
Matt: Powers Boothe killed it hard. I had forgotten how effective a villain he can be, when given the chance. Both he and Eva Green were downright despicable in all the best ways. Everyone seemed to be having fun making a fun movie.
DR: Eva Green is on a roll with the villain roles, and you can tell she loves to work with Frank Miller – the year’s not even done yet and she’s already pulled shifts on two Miller properties, this and 300: Rise Of An Empire. But while she was the only positive thing going for 300, here she’s nearly swallowed whole by Miller’s covetous visuals. Eva Lord – Green’s character in A Dame To Kill For – is a completely thankless role. It’s mean. It’s ugly. But Eva Green’s skill allows her to elevate beyond the lewd compositions. On the comic book page, Miller’s high-contrasting black and whites make gratuitous nudity look graceful and beautiful. On the screen, Miller’s high-contrasting black and whites make gratuitous nudity look like gratuitous nudity. Some things just get lost in the translation. Eva Green is killing it in her role, but Miller can’t take the camera off her tits. It’s distracting, and a bit disgusting.
Matt: As lovely as Green is, it does feel a bit overdone, to say the least. As the actress herself noted, boobs don’t kill people. However, it’s obvious from this edition of Frank Miller’s psyche that he is a bit of a hornball. And also an egotist. Three cameos, Frank? When he and Rodriguez act against each other, however briefly, I laughed audibly. It was fun to get lost in the universe again, even if I knew what to expect, more or less.
DR: It’s a great world. I love the world of Sin City. I’m grateful Miller pulled the plug on the books before they suffered the same fate of his later Batman works. And even though this movie has a lot working against it – we are, after all, in the midst of a late-career Miller and the lazy era of Rodriguez – there are still plenty of things to enjoy. I didn’t hate the Miller cameos. He looked like he was at home in Kadie’s Bar, sitting right next to Marv and swilling booze. Miller’s been around Hollywood for almost thirty years, long enough to know how to act some. I loved his cameo in the first Sin City.
Matt: I just didn’t care to see him pop up three times. He was almost as distracting as the Jim Jarmusch lookalike. That’s what I’ll say about the negatives for this film: they’re distractions. Choppy edits, gratuitous sleaze, that abomination which was apparently a “Steven Tyler song.” When a film takes me out of the comfort zone, it becomes difficult to recover. I never gave up on A Dame to Kill For, but by the end I was awash in the silliness of the endeavor.
DR: That’ all you can do with this movie: acquiesce to it. It’s so loud and angry and dumb, all you can do is allow it to pummel you.
Matt: They made a great looking sequel, but as everyone expects, the delay between the two is going to do this one in, and that’s a shame, because it’s a pretty cool return to Basin City. Because we had two 300s, and countless other stylistic children of Miller/Rodriguez’s visual breakthrough, does that mean we should discount this effort? Other movies bear visual resemblances to predecessors, but we don’t deride them all as staid. I’m afraid that the lack of “wow” is going to keep audiences from seeing what is essentially a good comic book movie for grown-ups.
DR: That’s a good point. In the glut of comic book adaptations, A Dame To Kill For straddles an equilibrium that – in my mind – is bookended by two, separate extremes. On one end, the positive end, we have Alan Moore’s V For Vendetta, where the source material is only a spring board upon which the filmmakers made their own viable, terrific movie. On the other end, the end of the spectrum that indicates a vast, endless chasm of failure, is Alan Moore’s Watchmen, where the source material is literally the movie itself, and all the intent and success of the original comic book is squandered because the filmmakers weren’t creative enough to make it its own entity. Miller and Rodriguez have put out two beautiful looking comic book movies that neither fail nor succeed. They just are. The true nature of a guilty pleasure, I suppose.
Matt: People loved pulp novels, people loved the Sin City series of comics. You don’t need to carry too much guilt to have some visually stunning, albeit campy and sloppy, fun.
ANTI-MONITOR – MATT: With Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, the team of once-lauded visionaries Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez continue their recent period of coasting on previous successes. However, this movie succeeds in spite of the creators, although not as completely as it could. The collective hubris of two also-rans prevents this movie from reaching full potential, but the source material and the actors saves it from irrelevancy. After changing the game nine years ago, Sin City’s challenging and breathtaking visual aesthetic is not as popular or fresh in the minds of moviegoers. A Dame to Kill For should please fans of the first film.
However, the nine-year gap bears many of the film’s faults, such as an overemphasis on sexuality, a departure from structure, and a Mickey Rourke that has passed his revival. The egos of the filmmakers sidetrack the film, they cause it to feel rushed and stilted in equal parts, and through flashes of their former selves, the age and energy of the duo are apparent. Through the campy dialogue, the actors eat digital scenery and most of them seem to enjoy the ride. For fans of the original, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For could be much better and much worse all at once.
ANTI-MONITOR – JARROD: Game performances from Eva Green, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Jessica Alba make Sin City: A Dame To Kill For a morbidly enjoyable movie to behold. It’s visuals are handled with far more sophistication than its predecessor, but the film is still haphazardly put together – a fault that lies solely on the shoulders of Robert Rodriguez, the former maverick filmmaker who “shot and cut” this nine-years-too-late sequel. Frank Miller’s uber-noir has finally met its end, and because the Sin City franchise is a loving tribute to the stronger work of the fabled sequential artist, it’s a fitting one. It goes down, but it goes down willingly.
I’ve been a fan of Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez since I can remember, and as such I’ve suffered their slow, unfortunate decline over more years than I care to mention. If Sin City: A Dame To Kill For succeeded at all, it’s because the film (and the filmmakers) borrow from a time when Frank Miller was still firing on all cylinders. And they do. They mine the rich material for all its worth, and giddily throw everything they have on screen. What’s sad is that neither Rodriguez nor Miller are the artists they used to be, and I can’t help but wonder what might have been if A Dame To Kill For was made in the 90s, when the filmmakers were younger and hungrier. Instead what we get is a bloated, beautiful mess of a movie made by two men basking in their own dwindling reflected glory.
CONSENSUS: Beautiful, angry, loud, and pretty dumb, Sin City: A Dame To Kill For will work for people that appreciate the seamier facets of Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez’s id. For audiences with more delicate sensibilities, the film will bombard, disgust, and confound with its unthethered abandon.
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