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.
What is it about heroes like Hercules that endure? They come and go throughout the years in so many incarnations; transforming with the times while still remaining timeless. And who among you does not long for the power of a God at your fingertips…or to wield ancient and powerful weapons, to strike with the might of great Zeus’s thunderbolts, into the dark hearts of those angry Gods and vengeful outcasts, mythical colossus’s, woken titans….?
This is the cinema of the legendary Son-of-God, and just like peanut butter he comes in oily and dry, crunchy and smooth. From Reeves to The Rock, the man and his name that has ascended to the heavens, where the stars spell out his glory are always adventures worth going the distance for. So when I first saw Kevin Sorbo take up the mantle, here again came a joyous and wonder-dipped slice of a pie that I had not tasted since that marvelous, though short-lived series, Wizards and Warriors. Here we would trek on the heels of the champion of Olympus on a regular basis, through the ancient worlds and ancient wonders, discovering forgotten realms and the magic that dwelt there.
Through the classics to the contemporaries, from the unintentionally funny to the down-right awesome, Hercules put enough of a hit on me, if I were a bear…I might have been launched into orbit…but seriously, I dig the cat enough to want to write my own private blended drink of a tale, that saw the man loose his strength because of his father’s mortal fornications and thus is forced to take on an attacking other-worldly titan…with a shotgun. But…I stress this was not conceived to mock or denigrate the character. It was written with tremendous affection. Because, for my money, a good Hercules story dances that fine line between the wondrous and the wacky…that just below that surface veneer of cinematic insanity there is in fact…brilliance.
So who better to sit down with for a chat with than one of the longest serving performers to ever carry the role through many a legendary journey. Kevin Sorbo would, as the fates would have it, turn out to become a real life Hercules. He is a man who has been on his own private odyssey, and it was by far, more arduous than anything he ever put on screen. Sorbo , however, in a fashion similar to the hero he portrayed, lived to fight another day and has gone on seemingly possessed with God-like strength and determination and has become not only an endearing screen icon, but a prolific producer, writer and director.
When the hour cometh the hero shall be tested, and there, at the glorious moment, in that final stillness be found triumphant or wanting. These are the marks of few, the bold…those that will be marked by the lights of distant stars. So it was cool indeed to chat with the Legendary Hercules. Unfortunately, as I had hoped, I can’t present to recording as, because of a technical issue, it is not of sufficient quality. So I have taken the time to go through and transcribe what remains…though I regret that some has been saved only in my memory. Still…the journey continues…
Ladies and Gentleman, boys and girls of all ages…I give you the mighty, Kevin Sorbo…
KH: You came from Minnesota originally?
KH: What was it, during your early days there, that lead on the crazy adventures you’ve been on ever since?
KS: Well…it probably started when I was this eight year old kid, and my Mom would watch the old matinee movies with Katherine Hepburn and Cary grant…just all the people from the golden age era, and I loved those movies, and I went to the Guthrie Theatre, a famous theatre in Minneapolis, and a lot of Hollywood shows come there, or they start there. Then I remember going to a play in New York, The Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare. Now, I don’t know what they were talking about, I was eleven, but I remember being mesmerized by these actors on stage, and it wasn’t long after that I went to my parent and told them I was going to be an actor. But I was a closet thespian because I was also a jock, and we used to make fun of guys in the theatre being jocks ’cause you know I played American football, baseball, basketball…took up golf…love the game of golf and I still play it to this day…so I didn’t really do anything about the acting till I got through college, feeling that peer pressure…but the seed was planted so…I knew that was the road I was gonna take some day.
KH: See if you can tell me where this line comes from…ready?
KS: (laughter) Okay.
KH: This ain’t Jim Beam!
KS: Arh…I did a Jim Beam commercial back in 1992, down in New Zealand. I get down there and I was in Auckland and got see some of the surrounding beaches and stuff, and thought it would be really cool to come down here to see this country more…of course I got Hercules a year later and I ended up coming back to New Zealand for seven years so…be careful what you wish for (laughter) …no, I love it down there…but that little commercial got me fan mail for like five years…I got more fan mail from that commercial than I did for Hercules. (laughter) But it was interesting they chose do it that spot in new Zealand when there are plenty of places in Texas that would be considered a redneck bar…which they were trying to reproduce. But then the guys from Jim beam told that because of the campaign there sales had gone up 80%, I said you guys owe me a little more more money ’cause I’d rather be paid by percentage…
KH: They thought you’d be happy with a lifetime supply of Jim Beam?
KS: There it is. (laughter)
KH: But we should talk about that briefly because you are a bit of an ANZAC, having spent a number of years in Australia as well as New Zealand, and, as you mentioned in your email prior to our chat…it was like a second home to you…?
KS: I actually was in Australia for two year. Back in 1986…I went to Sydney to shoot a commercial at Bells beach and I ended up staying, and my agent in Los Angeles flipped out, and I said to him, I’ve wanted to come to Australia since I was twelve years old and now I’m here I want to see it. I went to Melbourne as well…I lived at Bondi beach…I’ve been down there for Comic con’s in Brisbane and Townsville, Perth…so I’ve been there a lot and I’m in talks right now with a production company down there to come and shoot another one…so we have a TV series that we could be shooting down there in the future…
KH: Splendid…well done. We’ll it will be nice to have you back…yet again.
KS: I’m looking forward to it.
KH: Awesome. So, moving right along…are the rumors true, because the internet should always be questioned and never taken for granted, that you were just beat out, by a nose, for Lois and Clark and The X Files?
KS: With the X Files it was more like I was in the final six, not the last three. With playing Superman though, I did test for that. Both Dean and I tested with Teri Hatcher and I go the the part…so I went out, celebrated, next morning I get a phone call and they say, “We’re going with Dean Cain!” So, that’s the nature of the business…but Dean’s a good friend of mine and for him it was meant to be…but…three months later, I got Hercules, so Dean was like, “You got the most watched TV show in the world and I got cancelled after three seasons.” But, it is what it is.
KH: Exactly. But…do you think you would have liked to have played Superman?
KS: Oh I think I would have enjoyed it…but Dean was right for the part…I think was better at the alter ego part of Superman, rather than the actual Superman. Would I have liked it…sure…but I was pretty happy doing Hercules so…
KH: Well Hercules takes up a massive chunk of your early career. You were in New Zealand doing crossovers with Xena…
KS: Xena didn’t exist when we started. We did five two hour movies, and by the end of that season two, they introduced that character not knowing it would become a spin-off, that’s how that came about, and with the son of Hercules in season five, it would be twenty year old Ryan Gosling playing me so…
KH: There you go. But in the midst of all this, the dark clouds of tragedy move in, it was between seasons four and five…you were doing press at the time for KULL the Conqueror and you had a series of four strokes?
KS: An aneurysm went to my left sub clavicle, that effected strength in my shoulders, balance, I was getting bumps and bruises…I loved working with the stunt team down there…so I blew it off. I went back to the States, my doctor found a lump, he thought it might be cancer and wanted to do a biopsy, I had the first stroke and then three on the way to the hospital, it affected things like my speech and took a long time to recover but I wrote a book, True Strength, back in 2012, and it allowed me to do things that I wouldn’t have done like public speaking which I still do on the subject. Of course I did return to Hercules, but it was in a limited capacity and then came Andromeda and that was like the third year of recovery and I was starting to feel recovered.
KH: I was a fan of you as Hercules, but being a life-long aficionado of Robert E. Howard…now…of course Schwarzenegger made Conan his own and brought that character into public consciousness, but Kull never as much, yet, we got a Kull movie…tell us what making that was like?
KS: Well Kull was the last novel Howard wrote before he blew his brains out so….you know….the original script was very dark, though the rewrites didn’t help. Conan was a brooding anti-hero where Kull was more able to articulate his thoughts. And I fought for him to use the battle axe as opposed to a sword…Conan was all about his sword but if you look at the art work inspired by Howard’s books, a majority of his warrior heroes carried axes. We shot for three weeks in Croatia on that movie. There were a lot of people that worked on it that had worked on the Conan films and it was well directed by John Nicolella, who has sadly passed away. It was fun a to a big budget action film…went to the big premiere in DC…it’s always a thrill.
KH: I can only imagine. So lets talk about TV, you’ve had such a variety of roles on the small screen. Andromeda was another big chunk of your career…tells of the journey from sword and sandals, so-to-speak, to the space and far-flung stars?
KS: I always was a big believer in the message Roddenberry was trying to put out there with these stories of humanity no merely being envoys for our race but far-reaching students of the vastness and complexity of our galaxy…but you know…when you spend a big chunk of time on one show and then on another…it still strikes me as delightful that, when I go to conventions, you’ll have your die-hard Hercules and your die-hard Andromeda fans…and never the twain shall meet…but that’s okay…that’s why variety is essential in entertainment…there’s something for everybody.
KH: My sister wanted me to ask you about a film of yours she enjoyed…Never Cry Werewolf?
KS: (laughter) Yeah…that was done up in Toronto and I gotta say that was a blast doing that one. It was one of those cases where….I get so many offers to do parts….and it was a small part, I think they sent me the twenty pages of script that I was in…these independent producers have their stock stable of crew and its a matter of go in and shoot and move on to the next…but I honestly have so many projects of my own, as well, that I’m working on, I have a slate of five films, features…some I’m in some I’m producing, I’m off to do a civil war movie and then after that I’m going to England to film a Charles Dickens adaptation…
KH: Wow….you’re no slouch mate. Don’t let them tell you you’re not on top of your game…and how you do it all is a mystery to me, for sure and certain. But…among your TV credits I know and have seen the episode you did of Murder She Wrote, you’re a part of the glorious group of performers that garnered a guest spot on Murder She Wrote. What was that experience like?
KS: It was a great experience. We shot on the Universal lot and I was able to meet Angela Lansbury and her Husband….and, one thing I found out later is that Angela had apparently been checking me out, to see what kind of a character I was during set-ups before she introduced herself which I thought was sweet and funny, but again I had a great time. Angela is a true professional and a legend, I mean, I saw her again when she was touring around with a theatre production, you know, so many years later…that’s impressive to me.
KH: Yes, the lady indeed is an absolute treasure. But, another of your credits I wanted to ask you was advertised at the end of one of my favorite films The Sword and The Sorcerer, but it would take Albert Pyun another 30 years to finally give us Tales of an Ancient Empire?
KS: Well when we filmed initially we only shot part…like fifty percent of the movie so I knew it was going to take time for them to gather the rest of the film, which sometimes happens on independent productions, but I loved the role, I loved the script…but it was the first thing I was ever involved in where they ran out of money and had to shut down at the time. But I can see the ambition and how it was part of a much larger story, on a Lord of the Rings type of canvas, there would have been a bigger world on display had the budget been there, but my character was kind of a shady, jerk, womanizer…which was fun to play. But I know Albert has had a lot of health issues lately…and it’s been a while since we’ve spoken…but he was a great guy…I wish him all the best with the struggles he’s going through, being someone who has had debilitating health issues…I pray for him.
KH: Tell us about your part in The Kings of Mykonos?
KS: Oh that was a great location, shooting on the sunny island of Mykonos. I played this American guy with a bad Italian accent who was very popular with the ladies (laughter)…it was just fun you know…we had a good time…a lot of laughs on the set. I know that film did really well, especially in your and in European regions. It came out on DVD over here, but sadly never got a theatrical release.
KH: I thought you were great in it…you have the comedic touch…which you did get a chance to showcase again in a little film called Meet the Spartans?
KS: I remember I had a meetings, and they were four hours apart in Hollywood, and 300 was screening, so with the time in between meetings, I went to a matinee and I thought, this is the perfect movie to spoof, so eventually when the part came around I jumped at it, playing the lieutenant to King Leonidas. It was great, there was the opportunity to improvise and in some cases they used those takes where we just riffing on each rather than what was scripted…the key to a good a parody is not just poking fun but presenting the futility of the situations sometimes…I know that I sound like a broken record but again…it was a lot of fun to do.
KH: Did you ever consider spoofing Hercules in a similar fashion…’cause got your story. Hercules with a Shotgun. A retired Hercules has been stripped of his God-like strength because Zeus has been kicked out of Olympus by his wife for philandering constantly with mortal woman. Thus the son of Zeus is forced to take on a monstrous titan with nothing but a shotgun?
KS: Hey…get it funded and we’ll talk.
KH: No sweat…I’ll get the money in the bank and have my people call your people.
KS: Well I don’t have an agent any more so just get in touch with me.
KH: No worries…I’ll find someone to pick up the cheque and I’ll give you a bell.
KS: Sounds great.
KH: Well Kevin…been awesome to chat to you mate, I better let you get on ’cause I know the bases are loaded.
KS: Yeah I’m actually off to Oxford on Monday to finish up a documentary so…there’s always something going on. Your listens can of course keep up with it all on my official Facebook page and my official website: http://www.kevinsorbo.net/ , and thank you for the conversation Kent and a big G’day to all the folks there Down Under…a great place on this Earth.
KH: Best wishes with all you got going mate…an maybe we’ll catch you back in this neighborhood some day soon…?
Eva Rojano is not your average RoboCop fan. I remember Mark Hamill’s narration of the TV special SPFX: The Empire Strikes Back, in which he states, and I’m paraphrasing here: “that Star Wars has excited a generation to such an extent that the children who have seen the film are motivated to become doers . . . as well as watchers.
Eva seems to be the modern day personification of this ideology. What began at the tender age of eight, has blossomed into more the obsession. It is now, unbridled creation. Of course with all artists, we find and fixate on books, movies, comics, fine art, music. These, while they may not have planted the seed, are certainly the fertilizer in which the formation and manifestation of dreams thrive.
Eva’s journey through the wilds of the universe which began with the brutal murder of officer Alex J. Murphy and his subsequent, phoenix-like resurrection as RoboCop, has seen her not only receive friendship and guidance for two of the franchises integral staples; in the form of Nancy Allen(eternally the dynamic and resourceful Officer Anne Lewis) and Edward Neumeier(one half of the creative genius writing team that gave rise to a franchise).
Under luminous glow and encouragement, Eva has ascended from her enthusiastic efforts in the production of electrifying art and fan-fiction, directly associated with the Robo-Universe, to a place where she now has the courage, just as all artists who have come before her, to step out from under the wing of the movie that has nurtured her dreams, and into the light that is birth of her own original concept and voice.
This current incarnation of Rojano’s prolific creative output manifests itself as a novel entitled: The Black Butterfly. And I was intrigued as ever to learn the story, the motivation . . . the journey behind what drove this fan among fans to dig below the surface of her own creative crust – unearthing something fresh, unique and touchingly profound.
What was once purely driven by that glorious cinema classic that is part man, part machine, all cop, now transforms into a bold new vision from a creator that has been fostered by the cinematic equivalent of lightning in a bottle – exploding on to the printed page near you…
Those of us who love the movies were bitten by the bug at an early age. Paul M. Sammon is no different, though as he told me, his options regarding entertainment whilst growing up on a military base were limited. If you were athletic there was baseball, if you were a reader there was a library. Then of course there was the cinema.
When you are young there is no such thing as a bad movie. You devour all you can of the sights, the sounds, the sensations that rip through your entire being as screen comes alive and you are transported. At times to far-flung stars, only to be besieged by angry armies of giant bugs or thrust into the midst of a crime wave, surrounded by urban decay only to turn and find yourself staring down the barrel of a gun in the hand of a cyborg police officer who instructs you in no uncertain terms to, “think it over creep.”
Paul M. Sammon has spent over thirty-five years in and around the movie business. His ferocious zeal and meticulous attention to detail have garnered him a reputation. Not merely for his comprehensive and passionate coverage of the films that he admirers but also (and in this I share his passion in equal measure) for the journey that a film must undertake from its inception to its coming soon to a theatre near you.
He has brought his veracious eye for intricacies to many a fine piece that has graced the pages of publications such as The American Cinematographer, Cinefantastique and Cinefex. He has served within the industry as everything from a special effects coordinator to a still photographer. Then of course there are his books; the most memorable of these being Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner. During his time on the production he came to know better the film’s director Ridley Scott, whom he would later serve as biographer.
He has rubbed shoulders with many of Hollywood’s finest talents and been present to document the triumphs and the tragedies that have occurred on the film sets, upon which the lamentable and the legendary have been photographed at twenty-four frames a second.
To converse with Paul was everything I had hoped for and more. His candidness, his cleverness, his unbridled joy for cinema ebbs and flows from his deliciously detailed delivery. But that’s enough from me.
Sit back and enjoy this reminiscence, as a great storyteller reflects on his adventures in the sometimes fun, sometimes fickle but often fascinating land where movies are born, raised and once in a while butchered.
I remember seeing the edgy character posters for Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City hanging on the movie theatre wall when I was younger, having no idea what Sin City was or any knowledge of the books, but thinking they looked incredibly cool and enticing. Then the trailer came out, and it was all I could think, talk or breathe about for months leading up to its release. I was obsessed. When opening weekend arrived I got my dad to take me, and spent two unforgettable hours of cinematic nirvana in a dark auditorium that was packed to the gills with fans old and young alike, each basking in the delectable black, white and colour speckled glow of the piece unfolding in front of us. I had never seen anything like it, and it blew my system into sensory orbit like nothing had before. Around this time I was just discovering a lot of Rodriguez’s and Tarantino’s career, poring over pulp and crime thrillers from all across the decades as my love for cinema expanded, and this was something I just knew would be special as soon as I saw that first provocative teaser poster. The innovation and artistic ambition used by the ever resourceful Rodriguez and his team led to gleaming critical reception, a massive box office hit and one of the most gorgeous pieces of art in the motion picture realm. His decision to simply lift the still frames out of Frank Miller’s graphic novels was something that not every director would be able to go along with, let alone wrap their minds around (director’s are a finicky lot who always have thir own bright ideas, even when the source material is already gold). Rodriguez was so in love with the books that he envisioned them onscreen just the way they were drawn, and that’s pretty much what you get in the film. The pre-credit sequence sets the dark, vibrant, moody and impossibly lurid setting of Basin City, a rotting heap of corruption where almost everyone is either corrupt, sleazy or just outright evil, and even the ones that aren’t deal out some pretty heinous bouts of violence themselves. The prologue involves girl in in a red dress (Marley Shelton) conversing with a mysterious, well dressed man (Josh Hartnett). The scene takes a turn for the dark and tragic, we zoom out as Rodriguez’s self composed gutter lullaby of a score grinds into motion, and the glowering opening credits trundle by, a moment of a pure joy for anyone watching. The film is separated into three central vignettes, each from a different volume of the comics. The first, and strongest, features a sensational Mickey Rourke as Marv, a hulking bruiser built like six linebackers and basically impervious to anything that could kill a human being. After a heavenly night with hooker Goldie (Jaime King), he wakes up to find her lying dead next to him, not a mark on her. This gives his set of talents a purpouse beyond bar fights and roughing up abusive frat boys, and he wages a war of ultraviolence in her name, to his grave if he must. There are some villains in these stories that seem to be dredged up from the very bottom of the last pit of hell, just the worst of humanity’s many deplorable qualities. Marv eventually runs into evil arch bishop Cardinal Roark (a devious Rutger Hauer) and insane cannibal ninja sicko Kevin (Elijah Wood will haunt your nightmares)., on his bloody quest. Rourke’s genius even shines out through 12 pounds of prosthetic makeup slapped all over his mug, and he captures the wayward warrior soul in Marv, a restless anger and old school, Charles Bronson esque charm by way of Frankenstein’s monster. His work is a great way to kick off the first third of the film, and the gravelly narration hits you right in the film noir nostalgia. The second segment is a lot more lively, with far more people running around, sans the melancholy of Rourke’s bit, and instead emblazoned with a war cry of a story starring Clive Owen as Dwight, a hotshot tough guy who gets on the wrong side of seriously scummy dirty cop Jackie Boy (a growling Benicio Del Toro having a ball) who likes to beat up on waitress Shelley (Brittany Murphy). Dwight pursues him to Old Town, a district run by lethal militant prostitutes lead by no nonsense Gail (Rosario Dawson can use that whip and chain on me anytime). Then everything goes haywire (I won’t say why), and Michael Clarke Duncan gets involved as a weirdly articulate, golden eye sporting otherworldly mercenary named Manute. This middle section is the one that feels most like a comic book, where as the other too have more of a noir flavor, like their old Hollywood roots. The third and most depraved chapter (which is no light statement in this town), sees aging Detective John Hartigan (Bruce Willis) lay his life down in order to protect young Nancy Callahan from a terrifying pedophile child killer (Nick Stahl) who is the spawn of despicable US Senator Roark (Powers Boothe sets up a cameo of the pure evil he would go on to exude with his much larger role in the sequel). Jessica Alba plays the adult version of Nancy, now an exotic dancer and once again in danger from Stahl, who now has some… interesting changes to bis appearance, courtesy of genital mutilation from Hartigan years before. It’s one demented set of stories that would be almost too much to take in the real world, but this is Sin City, a realm that exists in the darkest dreams of Raymond Chandler and his ilk, a seething netherworld of stunningly beautiful women, ghastly corruption and terror, and good deeds that go unheralded in the night, bloody retribution perpetrated by antiheros and tragic scapegoats who know damn well what a pit of hell their town is, and that nobility is but a drop in the bucket of injustice they wade through on their way to violent exodus. The cast list goes on for miles longer than I’ve mentioned so far, but look out for Alexis Bledel, Carla Gugino, Michael Madsen, Jude Ciccollela, Nicky Katt, Nick Offerman, Tommy Flanagan and Devon Aoki as Miho, a deadly little hooker assassin who can turn you into a pez dispenser with her razor sharp katana. The level of violence on display throughout the film is so far over the top that after a while it seems almost Looney Toons in nature. Throats are slashed, heads are removed, testicles are ripped off, skulls are crushed and all manner of maiming and murder inflicted. What made it acceptable with the ever gay MPAA though is the fact that mic of it exists in the black and white mode of visual storytelling, and only a few instances of actual red blood seen. That goes for more than just the violence though in terms of color. Amid the sea of stark black and white there are beautiful hidden gems of colour that you have to train your eye to find. A pair of green eyes, a crimson convertible cadillac, the sickly yellow pallor of Stahl’s mutated skin. That’s but a taste of the patchwork quilt of visual artistry you are treated to here, and has constantly been emulated in either work since, but never quite effectively as here. That’s the idea of it though, a heavily stylized piece of hard boiled neo noir that exists simply to plumb the very depths of darkest genre territory, do justice to Miller’s books with a laundry list of wicked actors, a bonus scene directed by Quentin Tarantino and a story that’s pure noir to its bloodstained bones.
Tough. Muscular. Operatic. The very definition of epic. I remember sitting in the theatre during Zach Snyder’s 300 and being just floored and knocked flat on my ass by the violence, spectacle and music on display, and that was just the first ten minutes. It’s a historical war film unlike any other, and like it’s sister film Sin City, it jumps right off the boldly crafted pages of Frank Miller’s novel with all the movement and spirit of a motion picture, while still retaining the fluidity and distinction of a comic book. The sheer force of it will trample your senses into glorious oblivion, whisking you away for two thunderous hours of sound, fury and unrepentant battle. Like any sensation of the week, it gained haters who claim it isn’t the winner everyone’s says it is, or that it hasn’t stood the test of time. They’re either trying to go against the grain to be the ‘cool minority’, or they’re just negative nitpicking nellies. No matter. In 300’s case, they are resoundingly off key whenever I hear them bash it, and just dead wrong. It has stood the test of time, a process I measure by the ebb and flow of my desire to watch older films again and again. I often revisit this one, and marvel at it anew each time. The story follows the battle of Thermopolye, in which three hundred well trained, ridiculously combat savvy Spartan men faced off against a Persian army numbering near a million, led by their arrogent weirdo of a king, Xerxes (a very scary Rodrigo Santoro). They do this to protect their land and their people, a splinter group of sorts that takes up arms when the Spartan senate refuses to act. The battle is a relentless storm of blood, arrows, decapitated limbs, howling barbarians, wanton carnage and mass slaughter. It doesn’t feel half as savage or heavy as my description sounds though, thanks to the poise and purpouse of the narration penned by Miller, and the extravagant, thought out choreography that includes a whole lot of beautifully satisfying slow motion that has become Snyder’s trademark tool. Love it or hate it, I think it flairs up an action terrifically, especially ones as chaotic and hellbent as these. The Spartans are a wonder to see in action, virile death dealers with a full bore love for the heat of combat and a blatant, cavalier attitude in the very face of death. David Wenham is a force of gravity as Dilios, who provides the rousing narration and kicks ass as Butler’s second in command. Butler makes a commanding Leonidas, his presence everything that you’d want to see in a king, from nobility, to necessary belligerence, to an overwhelming love for his kingdom that is present in every step, every spear throw, every furious war cry. A cheeky Michael Fassbender and Vincent Reagan round out the platoon nicely, and they all have wicked cameraderie that makes their bond in battle stronger. Lena Headey is fiercely attractive and devilishly competent as Queen Gorgo, with a love for Leonidas and their son that cuts through the brutality and gives it purpouse. Dominic West goes against type as Theron, a sniveling, traitorous bitch boy of a Senate member who aims to usurp Sparta and send everything to high hell. The cast goes on with memorable turns from Peter Mensah, Robert Maillet and the legendary Stephen Mchattie. Composer Tyler Bates churns out a score that soars, scorches and bellows forth a primal auditory symphony. This was Snyder first flexing his muscles after his visceral remake of Dawn Of The Dead that barely hinted at the wonders in his career to come. Here he presents a staggering visual aesthetic that he would go on to use in his masterful adaptation of Watchmen, the sadly misunderstood, excellent Sucker Punch, and his DC Comics films which are unbelievable. It all started here with flash and flourish, a jaw dropping sword and sandal typhoon of a film that will give your adrenal gland a workout and your sound system a good old thrashing. In a word: Epic.
In 2005, Robert Rodriguez adapted the comic book Sin City into a film with help from its creator Frank Miller who co-directed it. Convincing the veteran comic book writer/artist to come on board was a smart move on the filmmaker’s part as it assured that Miller’s luridly violent noir tales would be faithfully translated. This was achieved through a then-groundbreaking green screen environment that allowed Rodriguez to place his actors in Miller’s stylish world with a striking look comprised of black and white with strategic splashes of color. This innovative approach attracted a star-studded cast that included Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen and Benicio Del Toro among others. The final result dazzled audiences and was a commercial success.
A sequel seemed inevitable, but instead Rodriguez went on to team up with Quentin Tarantino on the box office misfire that was the Grindhouse double bill (2007) while Miller applied the Sin City aesthetic to a disastrous adaptation of Will Eisner’s comic book The Spirit (2008). Over the years, talk of a sequel surfaced occasionally with the likes of Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie being mentioned in potential leading roles. Nine long years later and the stars (and money) aligned for Rodriguez and Miller to reunite with Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014). The film promptly tanked at the box office and received mixed to negative reviews. What happened? Did Miller and Rodriguez wait too long? A green screen-heavy film is no longer a novelty. Two cast members with characters in the film had passed away and some roles have been recast. The general consensus seems to be that they waited too long to make a sequel and interest in the film had waned.
Some might complain that A Dame to Kill For is just more of the same. As a big fan of the first film this is not necessarily a bad thing. After seeing Sin City, I wanted to see more of Miller’s stories brought to life. In addition to adapting A Dame to Kill For and the short story “Just Another Saturday Night” from the Booze, Broads, & Bullets collection, Miller created two new stories specifically for the film – “The Long Bad Night” and “Nancy’s Last Dance.” By doing this, he has given the fans a real treat by offering two stories where the outcome is not known and introducing new characters into this universe.
In “Just Another Saturday Night,” Marv (Rourke) wakes up amidst a car accident unable to remember how he got there. He proceeds to recall what happened via flashback on a snowy Saturday night. This segment is a nice way to reacquaint us to the brutal yet darkly humorous world of Sin City. “The Long Bad Night” introduces us to Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a confident gambler who decides to take on Senator Roark (Powers Boothe), the most powerful man in the city, in a high-stakes poker game and gets more than he bargained for. It’s a lot of fun to see Joseph Gordon-Levitt square off against Powers Boothe, the former playing a young upstart and the latter an evil, influential man.
The centerpiece of the film is “A Dame to Kill For,” which features Dwight McCarthy (Josh Brolin) as a private investigator taking photographs of a businessman (Ray Liotta) cheating on his wife with a hooker (Juno Temple). When the man tries to kill her, Dwight intervenes. He has a tortured past, which involves keeping his homicidal impulses in check. Afterwards, Dwight gets a call from an ex-lover by the name of Ava Lord (Eva Green), a beautiful woman married to a very rich man. She’s in some kind of trouble and he finds himself drawn into her tangled web yet again. He soon runs afoul of her imposing bodyguard Manute (Dennis Haysbert) who proceeds to work him over. Realizing that he’s out of his depth and bent on rescuing Ava, Dwight enlists Marv’s help, which only complicates things in typical noir fashion.
In “Nancy’s Last Dance,” Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba) is an exotic dancer still haunted by the death of her lover John Hartigan (Bruce Willis) and is obsessed with avenging his death by killing Roark, the man responsible for it. Over time, she’s counseled/haunted by Hartigan’s ghost, which drives her increasingly crazy.
Actors Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Eva Green slip seamlessly into the Sin City world. It helps that they have that old school noir look, especially Brolin with his chiseled tough guy features and gravelly voice – perfect for his character’s voiceover narration. In no time, the actor makes you forget that he plays a character once portrayed by Clive Owen. Gordon-Levitt is excellent as the young newcomer with a secret and manages to elicit sympathy for his ultimately doomed character. Green plays Sin City’s reigning femme fatale. The stunning actress has an alluring, exotic look and can turn a vulnerability on and off at will all the while playing a cold-hearted manipulator of men. Green gives key line deliveries the right venomous spin that makes Ava Lord a fearsome figure in this world.
It’s great to see Mickey Rourke return to the role of Marv, a character he inhabits so well. He brings a world-weary charm and a much-needed dose of dark humor to the film. Powers Boothe, who only had a minor role in the first film, gets a much meatier part in A Dame to Kill For and it’s a lot of fun to see him sink his teeth into such a deliciously evil character. Unfortunately, Jessica Alba is once again miscast as Nancy, the stripper with a heart of gold. While she looks the part, the actress doesn’t have the chops to pull off the tricky evolution of character that goes from sweet girl traumatized by the death of loved one to a revenge-obsessed vigilante. Miller’s stylized dialogue needs to be delivered a certain way. Some actors can pull it off and others can’t. Alba falls into the latter category and it becomes painfully obvious in her segment. Even her dancing is unconvincing.
While it no longer has the technological novelty factor as an incentive (shooting it in 3D really didn’t help either), there is certainly no other film out there that looks like Sin City. There have been a few imitators since, most notably The Spirit and Max Payne (2008), but the look of the film is so specific to its universe that few have dared to emulate it. Rodriguez has said that with the first Sin City he held back somewhat stylistically for fear that it would be too much for audiences. Emboldened by its commercial success, he took the look further and made it even more faithful to Miller’s comic book. So, there are things like Ava being rendered in black and white accentuated with red lips and green eyes, and visual flourishes like Marv recounting past exploits while a tiny car chase revolves around him, or the moody storm clouds that hang heavy in the cemetery where Nancy visits Hartigan’s grave. And why not? It’s not like the characters or the world they inhabit are based on any kind of reality. They exist in a hyper-stylized neo-noir universe drenched in atmosphere.
The dialogue in A Dame to Kill For is riddled with clichés and the characters are drawn from archaic stereotypes, but that’s the point. Miller is paying homage to the Mickey Spillane crimes stories he clearly idolizes. The film immerses itself in noir clichés and wears them proudly like a badge of honor, refusing to make any excuses for trading in them. There’s really nothing more to it than that, which may make the film seem instantly forgettable, but Rodriguez’s film never aspires to be art as it is unrepentedly sexual and violent with very few if any redeeming characters. The first Sin City film came out at the right time and tapped into popular culture zeitgeist. A Dame to Kill For is not so lucky, but you have to give Miller and Rodriguez credit for sticking to their guns and delivering another faithful adaptation of the comic book, which may only appeal to fans and probably won’t convert the uninitiated.
Until recently, most adaptations of independent comic books were far more successful (and by successful I mean faithful to their source material) than long-running mainstream ones from the two largest comic book companies, Marvel and DC. One only has to look at examples, such as Ghost World (2001), American Splendor (2003) and Hellboy (2004) against the failures of Catwoman (2004), Elektra (2004) and Constantine (2005). So, why are the first three films more satisfying triumphs and the last three empty exercises in style? The answer is simple. In the case of the first three movies, the filmmakers wisely allowed the comic book creators direct involvement in the filmmaking process, whether it was working on the screenplay (as with Ghost World and Hellboy) or actually appearing in the movie (American Splendor).
In the past, the comic book creator was, at best, a peripheral presence in the filmmaking process, or not even included at all. With bigger, longer running series, like Spider-Man or Superman, it is much harder to include the creator because there is not just one but many who have worked on the comic book over the years. Where does the filmmaker even start in these cases? To be fair, with Iron Man (2008) began a great run of adaptations of Marvel Comics being successfully translated to the big screen but before it the examples were few and far between.
It only makes sense that if one is going to adapt a comic book into a film that it be faithful in look and tone to its source material. Otherwise, why adapt it in the first place? Of course, there is always the danger of being too faithful to the look of the comic and not being faithful to its content (characterization, story, dialogue, etc.) like Warren Beatty’s take on Dick Tracy (1990) — all style and no substance. It goes without saying that the next logical step would be to include its creator, if possible, in the process so as to achieve the authenticity and integrity of the source material. Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez took this notion to the next level with Sin City (2005) by having its creator Frank Miller co-direct the movie with him. In fact, Rodriguez is so respectful of Miller’s work that he not only has the artist’s name listed first in the directorial credit but also displays his name prominently above the film’s title.
Sin City began as a series of graphic novels created by Miller. They are loving homages to the gritty pulp novels Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane and classic film noirs from the 1940s and 1950s. Miller’s world — the dangerous, crime-infested Basin City — is populated by tough, down-on-their-luck losers who risk it all to save impossibly voluptuous women from corrupt cops and venal men in positions of power through extremely violently means in the hopes of ultimately redeeming themselves. The movie ambitiously consists of three Sin City stories: That Yellow Bastard, The Hard Goodbye, and The Big Fat Kill with the short story, “The Customer is Always Right” acting as a prologue.
In the first story, Hartigan (Bruce Willis), a burnt-out cop with a bum-ticker and on the eve of retirement, is betrayed by his partner (Michael Madsen) after maiming a vicious serial killer (Nick Stahl) of young girls who also happens to be the son of the very power Senator Roark (Powers Boothe). The next tale features a monstrous lug named Marv (Mickey Rourke) who wakes up in bed with a dead prostitute named Goldie (Jaime King) and decides to get revenge on those responsible for killing the only thing that mattered in his miserable life. The final segment focuses on Dwight’s (Clive Owen) attempt to keep the peace in Old City when the prostitutes who run the area unknowingly kill a high profile (and also a sleaze bag) cop named Jack Rafferty (Benicio del Toro) and in the process risk destroying the precarious truce between the cops and the hookers that currently exists.
The three main protagonists are all well cast. Bruce Willis is just the right age to play Hartigan. With the age lines and the graying stubble on his face, he looks the part of a grizzled, world-weary cop with nothing left to lose. Willis has played this role often but never to such an extreme as in this film. Quite simply, Mickey Rourke was born to play Marv. With his own now legendary real life troubles and self-destructive behavior well documented, the veteran actor slips effortlessly into his role as the not-too-bright but with a big heart hero. British thespian Clive Owen is a pleasant surprise as Dwight and is more than capable of convincingly delivering the comic’s tough guy dialogue. As he proved with the underrated I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead (2003), Owen is able to project an intense, fearsome presence.
The larger-than-life villains are also perfectly cast. Nick Stahl exudes deranged sleaze as Roark, Jr. and cranks it up an even scarier notch or two once he undergoes his “transformation” as the Yellow Bastard of his story. Perhaps one of the biggest revelations is the casting of Elijah Wood as the mute cannibal Kevin. Nothing he has done previously will prepare you for the absolutely unsettling creepiness of his character. Finally, Benicio del Toro delivers just the right amount reptilian charm as Jackie-Boy. Not even death stops him from tormenting Dwight and it is obvious that Del Toro is having a blast with this grotesque character.
Miller’s pulp-noir dialogue may seem archaic and silly but it is actually simultaneously paying homage and poking fun at the terse, purple prose of classic noirs and crime novels of the ‘40s and ‘50s. Rourke, Willis and Owen fair the best with this stylized dialogue as they manage to sell it with absolute conviction. It helps that both Rourke and Willis have voices perfectly suited for this kind of material: weathered and worn like they have smoked millions of cigarettes and downed gallons of alcohol over the years.
Of the women in the cast, Jessica Alba is the only real miscast actress. Not only does she not look like her character, Nancy Callahan (who was much more curvy, full-bodied and naked most of the time in the comic) but she does not go all the way with the role and her line readings feel forced and unnatural. Fortunately, Rosario Dawson more than makes up for Alba as Gail, an S&M-clad, heavily-armed prostitute who helps Dwight dispose of Rafferty’s body. She looks the part and inhabits her role with the kind of conviction that Alba lacks.
Finally, somebody has realized that the panels of a comic book are perfect storyboards for a movie adaptation. With Miller’s guidance, Robert Rodriguez has uncannily recreated, in some cases, panel-for-panel, Sin City onto film. He has not only preserved the stylized black and white world with the occasional splash of color from Miller’s comic, but also the gritty, dime-novel love stories that beat at its heart. Fans of the comic will be happy to know that virtually all of the film’s dialogue (including the hard-boiled voiceovers) has been lifted verbatim from the stories and the sometimes gruesome ultraviolence has survived the MPAA intact.
If you think about it, Rodriguez’s career has led him up to this point. With the stylized, over-the-top action of Desperado (1995), the pulp-horror pastiche of From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) and the mock-epic Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003), he has been making comic book-esque movies throughout his career. It was only a matter of time before he adapted an existing one. Cutting his teeth on these action movies has allowed him to perfectly capture the kinetic action of Miller’s comic. Seeing hapless thugs fly through the air at the hands of El Mariachi’s deadly weapons in Desperado foreshadows the cops being propelled through the air when Marv makes his escape in Sin City.
What Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) did for the pulp serials of the 1930s and ‘40s, Sin City does for film noir. There is no question that Sin City resides at the opposite end of the spectrum from Sky Captain. While both feature retro-obsessed CGI-generated worlds, the former looks grungy and lived-in and the latter is pristine and perfect-looking. Sin City is absolutely drenched in the genre’s iconography: hired killers, femme fatales that populate dirty, dangerous city streets on rainy nights. It is the pulp-noir offspring of James Ellroy and Sam Fuller with a splash EC Comics gore. Ultimately, Sin City is a silly and cool ride and one has to admire a studio for having the balls to release a major motion picture done predominantly in black and white with the kind of eccentric characters, crazed violence and specifically-stylized world that screams instant-cult film.