(Netflix Streaming, April 2015) It’s been nine years since the original Sin City, and that’s frankly too long in-between installments. I’m older, wiser and less likely to tolerate the kind of juvenile attitude in which overdone noir can indulge. It really doesn’t help that A Dame to Kill For seems delighted in showcasing brutes and corrupting whatever innocence had escaped the first film intact: Despite toned-down violence (well, ignoring the mid-movie thirty-second marathon of decapitations accompanied by grotesque audible sploshes), it feels like an even more pointless film than the original. It’s not all bad, especially if you can get yourself in a mood receptive to noir style and overdone dialogue: the special effects are well done (albeit inconsistently used), the quasi-parodic script is good for a few laughs and anyone wanting a little bit more of that first film’s style is likely to enjoy it. Director Robert Rodriguez may be repeating himself (it’s about time he directs a film that’s not part of a series), but he’s doing so stylishly. Mickey Rourke seems to have fun playing the brute once again, while Joseph Gordon-Lewitt and Eva Green (in a typical performance, as seductive as she seems insane) are welcome addition to the cast. Plenty of smaller roles are given to big-name actors, leading to a sustained game of spot-the-celebrity. Still, what curdles A Dame to Kill For is the ugly script, which not only has pacing issues but (unlike the original) forgoes the protection of innocence in favor of revenge, revenge and some more revenge: Jessica Alba’s character is corrupted to the point of destruction, more than one sympathetic characters are killed to set up the never-ending avenging and the effect is far more nihilistic than healthy, even for a noir film. (And that’s not even mentioning the troubling glorification of Rourke’s character as an invulnerable killer.) For all of the polish of the film’s style, it doesn’t work if its ideals and plot points leave a sour taste. It’s not a good sign that of the film’s interlocked stories, the worst two are the ones especially written for the sequel. I would still watch A Dame to Kill For again (someday, not any time soon) just to enjoy the visuals and the atmosphere, but I would be wary of recommending it to anyone else, and I sure wish the script had been more upbeat and less self-satisfied by its own pointlessness.
(In theaters, April 2005) For film geeks, any new Robert Rodriguez film is an event in itself, and Sin City is a little bit more than that. A triumph of style in service of substance, Sin City is what you’d get should you decide to film the black gunk left after you’d squeezed all niceness out of the fifty darkest films you can imagine. A pitch-perfect transposition of Frank Miller’s celebrated graphic novels, Sin City breaks new ground in film-making through rapid digital production and a look unlike anything ever seen before. It’s the kind of film that, to a certain public, escapes critical value: Beyond being either good or bad, it’s fascinating to watch and even more interesting to discuss. As it happens, the blacker the better, and so Sin City emerges as one of the movies to watch for 2005’s year-end Top-10. Sure, it doesn’t embrace the clichés of noir as much as it revels in them: It’s unbelievably violent (even to jaded freaks like me), crammed with forced wall-to-wall narration and unrelentingly bleak. This is not a film for everyone, and that’s what makes it so good: In an age where lowest-common-denominator conformity is the way to greater stockholder profits, Sin City takes chances, keeps its budget manageable and reaches its target audience. There’s plenty of things to say about the film’s unrelenting characterization (all men are brutal, all women are, well…), but all of that should be seen through the quasi-satirical max-noir lens of the concept. Simply put, Sin City is meant to be grotesque and unreal. It seems almost retro to speak of performances in such a stylized film, but the impressive ensemble cast would be worth celebrating in any context: Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke and Clive Owen are spectacular as the damaged men telling the stories, but the women also do well, with particular props to Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson and Devon Aoki. All in all, a splendid time at the movies, and a film that gives hope in a wasteland of bland studio products. I already can’t wait for the DVD.