Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City: A Dame To Kill For

Trying to produce a successful sequel to a groundbreaking film nearly a decade later is always going to be a hurdle in every way from preserving originality to breaking new ground to keeping the magic alive. Robert Rodriguez faced quite the task in picking up the reins of Sin City: A Dame To Kill so many years after his original film revolutionized aspects of filmmaking, and this was never going to feel as fresh or innovative as the first, but I still love it, it’s still firmly rooted in the gorgeous and terrifying world of ‘hyper-noir’ lifted from the pages of Frank Miller’s comics and the stories here, although quite different from the first, are just as brutal and poetic. However, whether or not you are a fan of this film overall there is one indisputable factor that makes it amazing, perhaps even more so than the first and her name is Eva Fucking Green. Casting Basin City’s scariest, sexiest femme fatale was always going to be a hurdle and I remember everyone from Rachel Weisz to Angelina Jolie being considered. Green is an actress of unreasonable talent, intimidating presence and staggering sex appeal and she is devilishly divine as Ava Lord, the black widow spider in human form, a psychopathic bitch who ruins the lives of anyone who gets close to her, most notably Josh Brolin’s square-jawed incarnation of Dwight. This is the film’s most effective story mostly because of her and because it’s an OG Sin City yarn whereas the other two are brand new material Miller dreamed up for this film. Other vignettes include Joseph Gordon Levitt as a hard luck gambling man looking for retribution and Jessica Alba’s now borderline maniacal Nancy, out for bloodiest revenge against mega-villain Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) for the death of her guardian angel Hartigan (Bruce Willis in ghostly visions). The other strongest point of the film is Boothe, who had one quick but deadly scene in the first film, Rodriguez expands his role into full fledged, cigar chomping, homicidal scene stealing frenzy here and he’s gotta be one of the craziest, over the hill comic book villains ever put to film. I will concede that this film doesn’t have the propulsive, elemental momentum of the first. There’s a staccato, circus sideshow vibe that’s different from the fluidity of the first’s narrative, which was more well oiled than every humming automobile under its hood and had this organic flow that was almost intangible. But the visual beauty, playfulness in colour vs black & white, cheerful brutality and startling nihilism, everything else that made it special are all still at play here and I refuse to see it get written off as some dud sequel, because it’s far better than that. Not to mention that Rodriguez once again assembles an absolute bonkers cast including Mickey Rourke once again playing that big lug Marv, Ray Liotta, Juno Temple, Julia Garner, Dennis Haysbert stepping in for the late Michael Clarke Duncan, Marton Csokas, Rosario Dawson, Christopher Meloni, Jeremy Piven, Jaime King, Alexa Vega, Jamie Chung, Lady Gaga as a friendly truck-stop waitress, Christopher Lloyd as some freaky doctor who can only operate after a shot of smack and Stacy Keach in a bizarre cameo as basically Jabba the Hut in a fancy suit. Try shaking a stick at that lineup. It’s true this doesn’t have the same monochrome lightning in a bottle magic of the first but it’s still more than worth the attention of anyone who enjoys spending time in this world and appreciates gorgeous looking, star studded, unforgiving things dark pulp artistic cinema. Plus it deserves a watch just for Eva Green as probably my favourite femme fatale ever committed to celluloid, she’s that good.

-Nate Hill

SyFy’s Happy!

You hear the expression ‘like nothing else out there’ used a lot these days, but I promise you there *really* is nothing else on TV like SyFy’s Happy!, an hysterically haywire slice of hyper stylized pandemonium that doesn’t so much genre bend as it does take out each genre with a firing squad and gleefully blast a trail wholly it’s own.

Now a disclaimer must be made: this is one fucked up, nightmarish, excessively disturbing, deliberately transgressive piece of madness that marches right into zones that are thoroughly taboo and isn’t afraid to get its hands uncomfortably dirty. However, none of it feels doom, gloom or weighty with the subject matter, this story is set around Christmas and for all the horrific, heinous trappings, there’s a deliriously joyous, madcap feel to it and if you are a fan of extremely dark humour, it’s one of the funniest things to come down the pipeline in a while.

Brought to life by original comic book artist Grant Morrison and filmmaker Brian Taylor (Crank, Gamer, Mom & Dad), this is the oddball tale of NYC ex-cop turned mob hitman Nick Sax (Christopher Meloni), a sad-sack, hedonistic screwball who finds himself on the adventure of a lifetime when the daughter he never knew he had is kidnapped by a meth smoking Yuletide freak show named Very Bad Santa (Joseph Reitman). The girl’s imaginary friend, a animated flying unicorn named Happy (Patton Oswalt) hijacks him into finding her and tackling the deep, scary web of corruption and crime in the city laced with twists, spectacularly violent action sequences, a bang on parody of the Italian American mafia, surprisingly touching character beats, countless film and literary references, sharp, succinct writing and more. Meloni and his rodentia masculinity were born for this role, he’s a cyclone of priceless facial expressions, maniacal physical comedy, growling one liners, cheerful self deprecation and at times is even more animated than the actual cartoon itself, who is gamely voiced by Oswalt as a naive sidekick who eventually finds his footing. Then there’s the villains. Ohhh fuck are there ever some evil bitch ass bottom feeding psychos running about this story. Reitman’s Very Bad Santa is well… bad enough, but then there’s crotchety, old school crime boss ‘Blue’ Scaramucci, played to the grimacing hilt by character actor Ritchie Coster, who has been taking the supporting role digs by storm for years now and really needs his own lead role. Or Patrick Fischler’s Smoothie (you don’t even want to know how he got that name), a deranged mass murdering madman who monologues like there’s no tomorrow and gets sick thrills from inflicting acts I dare not outline here. The eventual main villain is so nasty and perverse I won’t spoil the surprise but what a piece of work. Other brazenly bracing performances come from an unusually subdued Debi Mazar in a cheeky send up of mob divas, Lilli Mirojnick as the intrepid NYPD detective who hassles and helps Nick, Bryce Lorenzo as kidnapped Hailey who proves quite resourceful, Medina Senghore as her dogged mother and Nick’s seething ex wife and uh… Jerry Springer too.

Any review that describes this show won’t do it justice, it’s the kind of thing you just have to see because it doesn’t even sound like it would work on paper. I can’t compare it to anything else as it feels so organic. There’s darkness and horror, but it’s presented in such a way that doesn’t feel overbearing, the vibe is always whip smart, mile a minute jokes and laughter and the relationship between Nick and Happy, one that should feel ludicrous and cartoonish, actually has emotional heft to it and a discernible arc. There’s copious amounts of graphic violence, stabbings, shootings, dismemberment, giant black dildos, menstrual blood used in a marinara sauce (yeccchh), excessive substance abuse, deep seated corruption in law enforcement, children in extreme peril almost every episode and more. Despite all that, it never feels self indulgent or nihilistic; it cares about its characters, the suffering we see in the world and the injustice that goes along with it. Like any all encompassing social commentary, it also sees the bleak, ironic humour that goes hand in hand with all of that. It’s playful, risky, original, stylized to the point of being abstract art at times, gross, terrifying, sad, bizarre, Christmassy, punishingly violent, unique and nothing short of brilliant. Bring on season 2, please.

-Nate Hill

Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys

There are films that sink in almost immediately after the credits roll, others that take some days or months to absorb, and then there are ones like Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys, which in my case has taken the years since I was a kid and first saw it to digest the whole experience. Not to say it’s an especially complex or dense story, I mean it’s twisty enough but can more or less be understood with one viewing if you’re keen. There’s just a certain emotional quality to everything, coupled with the hazy unreliability that Gilliam lays over his lead character’s state of mind, an atmosphere like that of a dream you had last night and are trying to remember right as it slips away, an idea which also literally figures into the plot.

Bruce Willis plays against his tough guy image as James Cole, a shellshocked time traveller sent from a dystopian future back to the 90’s to do some cosmic R&D and figure out how a mysterious super virus wiped out almost all of humanity, forcing the rest into subterranean catacombs. Time travel doesn’t seem to be an exact science for these folks though, as they repeatedly send him to the wrong era after which he’s dumped in a mental hospital where, naturally, no one believes who he really is. Or is he even who he thinks he is? Madeleine Stowe is Kathryn Reilly, the psychiatric anthropologist assigned to his case, and Brad Pitt in one demon of a performance plays terminal odd duck Jeffrey Goines, a man whose lunatic ramblings start to sound eerily on point. The mystery of the virus sort of takes a backseat to Willis’s journey through the past, present, future and all times in between, Gilliam loves taking pause to see how he interacts with the world around him and hold scenes for a while until we get a real sense of world building. The moment James hears music for the first time is a showstopper, and the way Willis handles it is not only one of his finest moments as an actor but also a showcase of the craft in itself. Stowe always radiates fierce beauty and compassion in her work, she’s a grounding force of reason and empathy here, while Pitt takes a hyped up Joker approach to his role that takes you off guard while constantly keeping you in the dark about who he really is, the guy says nothing while blurting out everything. Others dart in and out of their story, with appearances from Christopher Plummer, Frank Gorshin, Joseph McKenna, Jon Seda, Harry O’ Toole, LisaGay Hamilton, Christopher Meloni, Bart the Bear and a super creepy David Morse.

I love this film to bits, I think it’s Gilliam’s best work and is definitely my favourite, there is just so much going on both front n’ centre and in the background. It’s a thrilling adventure story, narratives about time travel are always my bag, but it also looks at Willis’s character from a careful psychological perspective. What would time travel do to someone’s state of mind, and how would they react in the long run. Themes of reality versus dreams and imagination are present, and a gnawing sense that it could all be made up. “Maybe you are just a carpet cleaning company and this is all in my head”, James laments through a payphone that transcends space time barriers. Gilliam certainly likes to play with notions of uncertainty and self doubt when it comes to the Sci-Fi aspects, and he isn’t afraid to boldly place in a hauntingly elliptical ending that doesn’t satisfy or resolve, and if anything lingers in our thoughts for a long while, like that elusive dream I mentioned above. Gilliam almost couldn’t get this film made, there were issues with everything from script to special effects to reported studio interference, but I thank the stars that it all worked out in the end, for it is his masterpiece.

-Nate Hill

Bound: A Review by Nate Hill

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Before the Wachowskis rocketed into the stratosphere of cinema with their big budget world building and brilliant, lofty ideas, they made Bound, a down n’ dirty, kinky little slice of mob pulp that’s as much fun as it is sexy, potent and dangerous. Gina Gershon plays Corky, a hard nosed opportunist with a keen eye for making money and a fondness for beautiful women. Jennifer Tilly is Violet, the bored wife of weaselly gangster Ceasar (a lively Joe Pantoliano), who has just come into a whole wacky of shady cash via his employer Mickey, played by one of the great character actors of his generation, John P. Ryan, who is sadly no longer with us. Ceasar has been given the money to launder, but Violet has other plans that involve double crossing him and making off with it. When she happens to wander into the gay bar that Corky frequents, sparks fly. And I really mean it, for soon enough the two are in bed together for one of the single most hot and heavy sex scenes you will ever see in a film. Seriously, you’ll want to open some windows for this baby. As soon as Corky gets wind of the money, the plot simmers as everyone makes a discreet mad dash for riches and no one is sure who is screwing over who. Gershon is tough, sexy as hell and leaves a faint trace of vulnerability in her excellent performance. Tilly is crafty and secretive, deliberately making people underestimate her until it’s too late. This was Ryan’s last film role, and he makes the most of it as a salty old thug with a dash of class, a touch of kindness and the unnerving tendancy to snap at the drop of a hat. Christopher Meloni is hilariously pathetic as his second in command who irritates everyone around him, especially Ceasar, who has a scary little temper of his own. One senses real danger for our two female leads, because despite the somewhat playful and often satirical tone towards tell gangsters, the Wachowskis have still fashioned them to be formidable and cruel, a wise tonal choice that grounds the viewer and distills geniune suspense. The characters are all brilliantly written and realized, so if you read this review thinking this was a trashy little lowbrow affair, it’s not. It’s It’s a real world tale that just so happens to take place in a lurid part of movie town, and contains one scorcher of a lesbian love affair that is as affecting in dialogue and body language as it is with sex. A special film, and not one to be missed.

Brown’s Requiem: A Review by Nate Hill

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Brown’s Requiem is a neat little slice of Los Angeles film noir in the tradition of L.A. Confidential and Mulholland Falls. It’s based on a book of the same name that’s written by James Ellroy, who actually wrote L.A. Confidential as well, so the crime vibe here is thick, rich and geniune. Michael Rooker is flat out fantastic as Fritz Brown, a world weary, hard bitten private investigator who is hired by a rotund caddie named Fat Dog (Will Sasso) to find his kid sister (Selma Blair) a wayward girl who has apparantly run off with a her sugar daddy, and may be in danger. Brown noses around and before he knows it he’s neck deep in police corruption, violence and murder. It’s convoluted, but film noir always is, and when the plot is left to bake in the California sun, it’s going to be nicely sinewy and labyrinthine to please all the filmgoers put there who fancy themselves gumshoes and like to decipher the happenings along with the protagonist. The trail leads Brown to sinister police captain Cathcart (the late Brion James), brutal thug Richard Ralston (Jack Conley) and many other bottom dwelling nasties. This is a rare lead role for Rooker and he’s riveting, fitting this genre protagonist like a glove. His innate menace and gruff whisper of a voice are put to good use as the hangdog tough guy takes care of business in style. Watch out for Kevin Corrigan, Tobin Bell, Christopher Meloni and a brief but darkly funny cameo from Brad Dourif. Where L.A. Confidential hid it’s grit beneath a sheen of glamour, Brown’s Requiem wears it proudly on its seedy sleeve, a scrappy little cousin to Confidential, and a sturdy little noir mystery boosted by Rooker’s work.