Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #600
Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 Robert Rodriguez “End Titles”
 The Servants “Cells”
 Fluke “Absurd”
 Icky Blossoms “Babes”
 The Glitchmob “Can’t Kill Us”
The name Frank Miller should be more than familiar with any fans of graphic novels amongst us. Alas I must come clean from the get-go here as my fascination for film from such an early age prevented me from exploring pretty much every other avenue of entertainment available and this kind of stylized pulp fiction regrettably passed me by. That said, I’m fully aware of what an enigma this man is and, the fact that he has scooped every major comic book industry award during his long and distinguished career, suggests that the whole world is privy to his brilliance. With a royal flush résumé that boasts the likes of The Dark Knight Returns, Daredevil, Wolverine, Ronin, and 300 amongst countless others, it’s no surprise that Miller was inducted into the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame in 2015 and nobody could argue that this accolade wasn’t thoroughly deserved.
When he set out to create Sin City in 1991, he was mindful of how American comics tended to be too long-winded, and their Japanese counterparts, too barren. Thus he decided to infuse the best elements of both and fashion himself a hybrid. This instantly struck a chord with its target demographic, thanks to his experimental approach that defied certain comic book conventions and drew heavily from film noir. Using stark colors sparingly to alert his readership to certain characters or objects and metaphors and similes to lend his fiction a distinctly pulpy feel, this series went on to run for almost a decade, picking up all manner of decorations along the way. It seemed obvious that one day this would translate to the silver screen although it would take a brave soldier to attempt such.
Step up American filmmaker Robert Rodriguez, who had proved with such genre Goliaths as Desperado and From Dusk till Dawn that he had some game and, as a self-confessed long-time Sin City junkie, was eager to attach himself to the project. Indeed, he was so enthusiastic about taking the reins that he shot a “proof of concept” adaptation of one of its stories and promptly won his hard target over. Naturally Miller was wary of his vision being compromised so the pair went into cahoots to thrash out a fitting translation with Rodriguez’s pal, Quentin Tarantino, chipping in with a guest contribution. When you consider its R-rating, the fact that the film snagged over $150 million in box-office revenue (almost four times its original outlay) speaks volumes for just how well this film was received, earning a Palme d’Or nomination in the process. I’d say that’s a job well done wouldn’t you?
Anyhoots, in my infinite wisdom, I’ve decided to tackle this particular appraisal as a double-header. You see, while its 2014 sequel, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, came under fire from many critics and failed to replicate the success of its illustrious forerunner, the personnel was largely the same and it offered further insight into the rich universe that Miller had crafted. Having recently viewed both films back-to-back, I feel perfectly poised to offer my take on how well they fare up to double-pronged scrutiny and, in true method fashion, have my Oxford shirt, tie, dress slacks, and trench coat at the ready, so what better time to head off to this murky metropolis and prove to my friends that I’m worth a damn? Sometimes that means dying, sometimes it means killing a whole lot of people. On this occasion, it means keeping my head down and praying that a stray bullet doesn’t find me out.
Number of Views: Three
Release Date: April 1, 2005 (United States)
Sub-Genre: Neo-Noir Crime Anthology
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 124 minutes
Director: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino (special guest director)
Producers: Elizabeth Avellan, Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez
Screenplay: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez
Special Effects: Greg Nicotero, Shannon Shea
Cinematography: Robert Rodriguez
Score: John Debney, Graeme Revell, Robert Rodriguez
Editing: Robert Rodriguez
Studios: Troublemaker Studios, Dimension Films
Distributor: Miramax Films
Stars: Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen, Jessica Alba, Benicio del Toro, Brittany Murphy, Elijah Wood, Rosario Dawson, Devon Aoki, Alexis Bledel, Powers Boothe, Michael Clarke Duncan, Jaime King, Michael Madsen, Rick Gomez, Carla Gugino, Josh Hartnett, Rutger Hauer, Nick Offerman, Marley Shelton, Nick Stahl
“When it comes to reassuring a traumatized 19-year-old, I’m about as expert as a palsy victim doing brain surgery with a pipe wrench”
So let’s start with John Hartigan (Bruce Willis) shall we? I ask that you keep my presence on the lay-low as I forgot to call him in advance so we could coordinate our wardrobes and have turned up wearing the exact same clobber. One word that springs to mind when talking about this weathered gumshoe is unselfish as he puts the fate of his fellow citizens above his own and his safety and reputation barely figure into his priority list. Perhaps this has something to do with the crippling angina he is afflicted with and that would also explain the other of his primary characteristics. Cranky seems to be not putting a fine enough point on it and this grizzled veteran also answers by impassive and deeply cynical. Of course, until which time as his dodgy ticker finally gives out, there are crimes to be solved and crooks to be filled with lead. It just so happens that one soon-to-be jaundiced fuck in particular is really making his dick and balls itch this night.
“A little old for my taste, but I can forgive that just this once!”
That yellow bastard is Roark Junior (an almost unrecognizable Nick Stahl), whose claim to shame aside from serial killing is to prey on young girls and “persuade” them into calling him daddy. Speaking of which, this noxious wretch is an even more slippery customer given the immunity provided by his very own pops Senator Roark (Powers Boothe). Not only is his father single-handedly responsible for Basin City’s corrupt legal system, but he also has it in for Hartigan and it would be fair to say that the intense hatred is mutual. I’d like to say that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree but that wouldn’t account for the number of bruises this fruit picked up as it rolled off slyly into the shadows. The amount of fucks that John gives about the world of pain heading his way is nominal as he’ll simply guzzle some meds and grimace through it. Besides, with Junior’s freshest quarry, 11-year-old Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba should she reach age alive), in clear and present danger, he has all the motivation he needs to muscle in.
“The night’s as hot as hell. It’s a lousy room in a lousy part of a lousy town – I’m staring at a goddess. She’s telling me she wants me. I’m not going to waste one more minute wondering how I’ve gotten this lucky. She smells like angels ought to smell, the perfect woman… the Goddess. Goldie. She says her name is Goldie”
Meanwhile, over in the red-light district, Marv (Mickey Rourke) has just woken up from his slumber and, wouldn’t you know it, his dick and balls are itching too. That said, there ain’t a lotion on the market to cure this particular irritation as 7-foot man mountain Marv possesses a set of facial coordinates akin to a recently erupted volcano. Sporting a flat top buzzcut, nose like a shark’s fin, jutting chin and shoulders broad enough to fracture a door frame every time he enters the room, he is practically Conan The Barbarian in a trench coat and combat boots, and can back up his overbearing appearance with switchblade sharp instincts and a pair of fists most gibbons would die for. This dude can scrap. Moreover, his tolerance for pain is simply off-the-chart, and it would take more than a small army to cut this hardheaded heavy down to size.
“That there is one damn fine coat you’re wearin’”
The downside to all this brute strength is that Marv has a tendency to get a little discombobulated from time to time. His cross to bear for being such a hunk of immovable mutton is short-term memory loss and the hallucinations ain’t no picnic either. However, one thing he’s not confused about in the slightest is his personal code of ethics and, should someone be foolish enough to break his strict rules of conduct, then it’s time to put some heads to bed and Marv has no intention of reading them a bedtime story. He’s done that already this evening and his dame of choice, Goldie (Jaime King), failed to reemerge from her catnap. Smelling frame-up like armpit stink in a straitjacket, Marv is forced to flee the authorities but not before vowing to gain bloody revenge on whomever is responsible for his fair lady’s eternal slumber. Dick move guys. Dick fucking move.
“The Fire, baby. It’ll burn us both. It’ll kill us both. There’s no place in this world for our kind of fire. My warrior woman. My Valkyrie. You’ll always be mine. Always… and never”
Things aren’t going a whole lot more agreeably for Dwight McCarthy (Clive Owen), who is up to his red Converse sneakers in trouble and strife after allowing his long history of reckless behavior to get the better of him. This wouldn’t have happened if Jackie Boy (Benicio del Toro) and his hoons hadn’t weaseled into the apartment of his girlfriend Shellie (Brittany Murphy) and made shit personal. The problem is that Det. Lt. Jack “Jackie Boy” Rafferty isn’t the kind of decorated officer you can make disappear without inciting a shit storm and, by heading straight over to Old Town to inform his former lover Gail (Rosario Dawson) and her associates of the predicament, he unwittingly leads Jackie Boy directly into the hornet’s nest. Old Town may be strictly off-limits to flatfoots but, should blue blood be spilled on their turf, then the ripples could be positively tidal.
“Those boys in that Chrysler are one mistake away from seeing what Miho can do, and she’s been aching for some practice”
Damsels in distress then right? Yeah, like fuck they are. The Girls of Old Town are a law unto themselves, a gargantuan full-breasted war Trojan overspilling with estrogen and to be taken lightly at your own peril. Take Miho (Devon Aoki) for example. Clad in a customized black kimono, this badass Japanese assassin doesn’t take at all kindly to racial slurs and if her manji-shaped shuriken or longbow don’t make origami of your ass, then her katana sword and kusarigama sickle damn sure will. Dwight has every reason to feel exempt from hardship but that doesn’t make him correct as disposing of a stiff in a festering cess pit like Sin City is inevitably going to draw the very worst kind of attention. Provoking the wrathful long arm of the law is one thing but, once the mob throw their chips into the game, all Dwight can do is wish upon a star for a kindly flop or else, wind up just another choked joker.
Have I not mentioned Kevin (Elijah Wood) yet? Well ain’t I just the dick with ears. My apologies Kev but to be fair, you could have piped up at any time during proceedings instead of standing there in the shadows wearing that gormless grin and generally looking like you have hankering designs on my kidneys. My bad, it appears that words aren’t necessarily Kevin’s forte, and instead, his strength lies in his mad martial arts skills and cannibalistic tendencies. Tracking this muted madman down to the family farmhouse where he resides isn’t the issue. What is cause for concern is the basement cum execution chamber where he mounts his wide array of hunting trophies. This may be splendid news if you’re an elk, but it’s not so for any human garbage that wanders foolishly into his settlement as it’s hunting season all year round for Kevin and he’s got one helluva appetite for one so quick on his feet. Indeed if Marv could burn calories like this inhuman stain then perhaps he wouldn’t splinter so many door frames.
Don’t get me started on the other similarly providential pawns on exhibit here as the cast read like a who’s who of… well… who’s who. If I’ve been doing my salesman’s patter correctly up until this point, then you should have a reasonable idea of the kind of esteem that I hold Sin City in, and for anyone still in the dark, it’s downright phenomenal and a triumph with regards to both style and substance. Shot almost entirely in monochrome so sharp and defined that it would give Charlie Chaplin cataracts, it’s the splashes of vivid color – bright red lipstick, the yellow hue of an utter bastard – that provide the icing on the cake as they’re present as more than simple optical confectionery and highlight objects of interest and imminent danger when it approaches. In addition, while not overly familiar with Miller’s source fiction, I think it would be fair to say that it walks, talks, shifts gears, and bleeds brilliance in the same manner.
“I can only express puzzlement, which borders on alarm”
Indeed, I could rattle on ’til first light about any number of other factors that make Sin City such a vibrant hell hole to hang out in. However, I’m only too mindful of just how dangerous this place gets after dark and don’t relish the prospect of getting caught up in the crossfire once shit hits the fan as I can hear it ominously oscillating at this very moment. With its sequel still to muddle through and time a wasting, I really should slide back into the cozy confines of the silvery shadows. However, before I do, it appears there is a dame here that may need my urgent assistance and I couldn’t possibly leave a lady waiting. I should aim careful, and look the devil in the eye. After all, the customer is always right, right?
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Let’s take a look at the checklist – castration, torture, cold-blooded murder, molestation, misogyny, heads splitting wide open like overripe cantaloupes – all are present, correct and abundant in this sprawling metropolis where anything goes. Don’t be fooled by the slightly cartoonish approach to depicting the bloodshed as Sin City could never be accused of not packing a punch in this department. As for the dames, well it’s tough to know where the hell to begin so I shall leave it until my closing gallery at the foot of this page to vocalize on my behalf. One thing’s for sure, skinny little Nancy Callahan. She grew up. She filled out. Cold shower. It helps.
Number of Views: One
Release Date: August 22, 2014 (United States)
Sub-Genre: Neo-Noir Crime Anthology
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 102 minutes
Director: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller
Producers: Robert Rodriguez, Aaron Kaufman, Stephen L’Heureux, Sergei Bespalov, Alexander Rodnyansky, Mark Manuel
Screenplay: Frank Miller
Special Effects: Greg Nicotero, Gino Crognale, John McLeod
Cinematography: Robert Rodriguez
Score: Robert Rodriguez, Carl Thiel
Editing: Robert Rodriguez
Studios: Dimension Films, Aldamisa Entertainment, Demarest Films, Troublemaker Studios, Miramax, Solipsist Films, AR Films
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
Stars: Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis, Eva Green, Powers Boothe, Dennis Haysbert, Ray Liotta, Jaime King, Christopher Lloyd, Jamie Chung, Jeremy Piven, Christopher Meloni, Juno Temple, Stacy Keach, Lady Gaga
“A crazy person would be anyone who believes me. And that would be you”
So what have we got here then? Well I guess it would be rude to keep a lady waiting so, without further ado, let’s check in on our titular dame shall we? Ava Lord (Eva Green) is the kind of chick who can get a guy into all kinds of trouble with a bold, deep red capital T. An expert in the art of manipulation, she uses the tools God gave her and her butter wouldn’t melt facade to reel them in, before spitting them out on the sidewalk the very second she loses interest. Ava is pretty much the epitome of femme fatale and even has herself a mountainous man-slave to tend to her every whim. I wonder what hapless sap she’s running ragged for her own sick amusement at present.
“Never lose control. Never let the monster out”
Well I’ll be damned to the power of two, if it ain’t our old friend Dwight McCarthy (now played by Josh Brolin) and his weaknesses are still precisely the same – booze and women. Having just saved the bacon of endangered young hooker Sally (Juno Temple), he receives a call out of the blue from his former lover Ava and it’s straight back onto the carousel again. Now Dwight’s still reeling after she dumped him four years prior for a wealthy tycoon but that doesn’t stop his dick and balls from acting on his behalf and convincing his sorry ass to wrap itself round her little finger. Naturally she begs forgiveness (but not that hard), naturally he falls for this ruse hook, line and sinker, and after taking an alloy load to the face, naturally he bolts straight down to Old Town for some reconstructive facial surgery. The girls there may be ruthless but a Dwight in need is a fight indeed, naturally.
“See, I told you, I never lose”
With Dwight busy plotting revenge, it seems like the ideal moment to play a few hands of poker over at Kadie’s Saloon and cocksure upstart card shark Johnny (Joseph Gordon Levitt) is already considering going all in. Regrettably for him, the big fish leading this backroom poker game is the untouchable Senator Roark and the stakes are about to raise high enough to give this wet behind the ears wisenheimer a nosebleed. This is where Johnny’s inexperience costs him dearly as the one thing that makes Roark’s blood boil is being beaten in his own backyard, particularly by one boasting such misinformed arrogance. Now Johnny is left holding a bum hand all too literally and would be best advised to get the hell out of Sin City while the going is good. Do you reckon he’s gonna take that shrewd advice? Despite his very best poker face, we all know the answer to that one.
“Metal screams. Something hits me square in the chest. There’s no up or down. I don’t weigh a thing”
So what’s Marv getting up to nowadays anyhoots? Why the long face Marv? I mean, it’s just another Saturday night right? All signs point to affirmative as he is just regaining consciousness after yet another broken sleep and there’s plenty disconcerting about his immediate surroundings. We’re talking several stiffs, one obliterated police car, and not a solitary clue how or why he ended up in this predicament. In such situations, the best course of action is to retrace your steps and, lo-and-behold, this leads him directly back to Kadie’s where an all grown up Nancy Callahan is engaging in all manner of obscene exotic acts with her trademark lasso. Not sure about you Marv but I make it a stellar time to kick back and enjoy the show. After all, it’s not like that cock-blocking Hartigan’s around any more to kick your lumpy rump into touch.
“This rotten town, it swells everybody”
Speaking of Nancy, she may give off the impression of a confident 19-year-old sex bomb but there’s melancholia within and she still hasn’t recovered from having the only man she ever loved snatched from her grasp. Her depression has reached fever pitch and the only emotion stronger right now is the hatred that consumes her, another reason for Roark’s entourage to start looking rather anxiously over their shoulders. After a quick pep talk from the ghost of Willis past, she searches for a shoulder to cry on, and Marv just so happens to have a brace of beauties wedged in the fire exit door as we speak. Chances of romance may be decidedly slim but, one thing is certain, the pair are going to paint the town red (or failing that, a slightly darker shade of monochrome).
“Remember when you did, remember what you did”
By the time we reach the deeply satisfying Nancy’s Last Dance segment of Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, a feeling of vague disappointment may well have sunken in. Make no mistake, it rattles along at a fair clip, and drips just as much neo-noir cool as previously. However, it’s an inescapable fact that the sum of this sequel’s parts amount to less than its predecessor and no amount of glossing over the facts can disguise this. All the signature bells and whistles are here but it’s tough to shake the overriding feeling that it’s less audacious an experience second time around. This has nothing to do with familiarity, more a sense of unfamiliarity as the characters on exhibit here demand our investment slightly less and the emotional connection falls a couple of clicks short of bona fide.
A gallant failure then? Actually no and there are a plethora of reasons still to undertake the return journey with a twitch in your trouser pocket. Black and white it may be for the most part but there is plenty colorful about the countless characters patrolling the fringe. Besides, the Girls of Old Town didn’t let us down and while the personnel may have changed a tad, Gail’s frontal bazookas appear to have had an upgrade and that’s two fairly hefty reasons to be joyous in my book. Meanwhile, every moment that Marv lurches onto the screen, grinding his teeth like a pit bull, is accompanied by a solid gold sense of genuine belonging.
It’s ultimately a question of counting blessings as there are no shortage of them tucked away within its innards, provided you can apply that dash of perspective and accept that 102 minutes in Sin City translates to 102 better spent than practically any other activity you can engage in that won’t land you in tomorrow’s rag. Expecting lightning to strike twice is asking a bit much of Miller and Rodriguez as it’s no small feat getting every domino to fall in your favor not once but twice. However, I’d much rather take every drizzle of sin that this city can bleed onto my neurons to denying myself the divine privilege just to spite my face. Marv would never forgive me if I did.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: In the midnight hour, she cried more of the same and that is darn tooting what she got. More rebels yelling, more goon heads popping, more of Miho’s unique brand of enforcement, more shrapnel spent, and more than enough to justify an R-rating for damned sure. You want to know what else there’s a profusion of? Eva Green that’s who. The first time I watched this front-loaded young siren in Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers, she was displaying an alarming allergy to linen. It would appear that there is no ointment for that particular affliction as the shadows can only dream of obscuring the delights she parades so mischievously. Now if that doesn’t constitute a closing gallery then I’m evidently pissing in the wrong sewer here. Stick don’t split city sinners and I’ll see you back at Kadie’s for a nightcap.
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Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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Rich- another terrific effort! Your review managed to capture the noir ambiance of both films very well. I felt like I was a gritty gumshoe along with you. The first installment of Sin City felt fresh. The characters were well rounded. Rutger Hauer was tremendous & Elijiah Wood played the budding serial killer to perfection. I have adored Powers Boothe since the early 80s when he played the creepy cult leader, Jim Jones. Willis excels at playing stoic, suffering heroes while Mickey Rourke was riding his comeback comet. I have only seen SC2 in a few segments. I will try & catch it from front to back.
Powers Boothe rocks, I remember him in The Emerald Forest and Extreme Prejudice and have always been a fan too. As for Rutger Hauer, well that man just cannot do any wrong in my eyes. So glad you dug the format of my review, wanted to do something a little different from the norm and I’m really pleased you felt the noir vibe. Thank you again Susan for all your kind comments and enthusiasm about what I do.
It’s easy, Rich. You love cinema as much as me. Every time I read your blogs I feel how much you respect the art form. Keep up the outstanding work!