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We’re off to see the Wizard: An Interview with Mike Jittlov by Kent Hill

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There are relics from the days of VHS that have endured. They ultimately found they’re following on video and developed significant interest to warrant subsequent Director’s Cuts and Special Edition releases on DVD and Blu-ray. Some – but not all. Such is the curious case of The Wizard of Speed and Time.

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Like my friend and talented filmmaker, Wade Copson, put it (and I quote): “Once upon a time, in a Video Store open down the road from our house, I was searching the titles for a movie about people making movies. I stumbled across a VHS with a shiny cover called The Wizard of Speed and Time.”

Just like Wade, I discovered TWOSAT in a similar fashion. There had been a few covers with that reflective material employed to catch the eye – another, off the top of my head, was The Wraith.

 

 

 

But did you know TWOSAT wasn’t supposed to be a feature? Long before Robert Rodriguez was the one man movie-making machine, Mike Jittlov was doing it all. The Wizard was being compiled to be Mike’s show reel, in essence a calling card to display his incredible array of talents and his mastery of each and every facet of film-making.

But like all stories, there’s a villain. In Hollywood those against you for the own financial gain always seem to have a habit of landing on their feet while leaving your dream in tatters. Mike has been fighting against speed and time ever since and is now, at last, in a place where he finds himself still with the will to see The Wizard be restored to the state in which the artist (Jittlov) always intended it to be seen.

It was after Wade asked me one night, some time ago, if I was familiar with TWOSAT. The spark went off in my head; “Could I get in touch with Mike Jittlov?” Firstly because I too am a fan of The Wizard, but also because I thought he would make an incredible guest.

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Ironically the first thing I found online was an interview from a British film website where the journalist, when asked how he had managed to track down Jittlov, simply said, “His phone number is on his website. I waited until the time it suggested was best to call and I phoned him – we ended up talking for an hour.”

“Could be that easy?” So I followed suit. Went to the website (which had not be updated in quite some time by the looks of things), got the number, waited till the time suggested – and made the call. Sure enough, there on the end of the line was Mike Jittlov. He had no interest in being interviewed because of prior misrepresentation, but he agreed to talk to me (and we talked for over an hour). I didn’t pause the recorder – if for any reason it was because this was perhaps the closest I’d ever get to The Wizard – the recording would be a memento.

But Mike did consent to allow me to share this with you fine folks. I have cut parts of the discussion that I feel are too personal to be revealed in this arena, and have kept the film-making side of our chat for your listening pleasure. As a fan first I was extremely nervous and thus mumbled my way through it but, what can I tell you, if you have not seen TWOSAT, get out there. YouTube is your best bet for easy access, though it is a different cut when compared to the VHS edition.

I’ll say it here publicly Wade, you a one lucky boy and I hope in a future episode to record Wade’s tales from meeting with The Wizard himself. Till then I have my experience to share, I still have my copy of the film, and last but not least I have a little prayer – let Mike Jittlov finish his work O Lord, so that the world might at last see The Wizard in all his glory….

 

 

SUPPORT THE RESTORATION OF THE WIZARD’S SOUNDTRACK HERE:

 

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-wizard-of-speed-and-time-soundtrack-on-vinyl#/

Robert Rodriguez’s Machete Kills

If Robert Rodriguez’s Machete cracked a few beers in the grindhouse exploitation cooler, his follow up Machete Kills taps the entire keg and lets it flow for a sequel that although isn’t as focused or on point as the first, blows it out of the water in terms of cameos, star power and sheer bottom feeding genre madness, it’s a hell of a fun time. Danny Trejo did the journeyman tough guy thing in a long stint throughout the 80’s and 90’s, by the time Rodriguez found him for a smaller role in Desperado he was already long overdue for a starring vehicle as far as I’m concerned, which Robert handed to him and then expanded with this balls out sequel that although is still indisputably Danny’s show, is also peppered with a staggering amount of star power and recognizable faces. That’s the thing about Rodriguez, he’s such a talented, hands on enthusiast of a filmmaker that he attracts actors from all walks of industry life to work with him, and his projects come alive. Trejo’s ex federalé super badass Machete is recruited by the president of the United States himself this time, played by Charlie Sheen in exactly the type of portrayal you’d expect. Mel Gibson’s big bad gun runner Luther Voz is stirring up trouble and it’s up to our antihero to stop him, as well as a whole pack of villains, weirdos, corrupt officials and femme fatales. This one sees a lot more characters running about including Sofia Vargera’s Desdemona, a matriarchal shryke of a contract killer whose daughter (Vanessa Hudgens) also figures into the plot while Machete recruits a lethal government agent (Amber Heard) who doubles as beauty queen Miss San Antonio. Michelle Rodriguez and Jessica Alba also return but are sort of swallowed up in the emerging newer elements. The great character actor William Sadler turns up briefly as a Texas Sheriff with a big gun, as do Rodriguez regulars Julio Mechoso, the Avellan twins, Tom Savini, Demian Bichir and Alexa Vega. Perhaps the best element in either Machete film is an elusive, inspired contract killer called The Chameleon who changes their appearance frequently. Not many films can say they hired Antonio Banderas, Cuba Gooding Jr., Walton Goggins and Lady Gaga to all play the same role, but Rodriguez pulls it off and gives each actor something fun to do. I enjoyed this Machete more in the sense that it didn’t try to be socially conscious or inject a political message like the first, this is straight up action pulp the way it should be, and hopefully we will get to see Machete blast off into space soon as the reliably ridiculous meta fake trailer outlines here.

-Nate Hill

Robert Rodriguez’s Machete

Danny Trejo has been acting for so many years that he’s now a totem of the collective action crime genre, and it was only a matter of time before he got a lead role. Thanks to pulp wizard Robert Rodriguez, that lead role came along in the form of Machete, a fake trailer preceding Rodriguez’s contribution to his Grindhouse mashup with pal Quentin Tarantino that was so popular it was only a matter of time before the feature length outing arrived. Well it arrived, and despite being a bit over saturated and too homogenized for its genre inspiration (where was the nudity??), it’s actually a barrel of fun. Rodriguez seems to have attracted Hollywood stars like a magnet since day one, and this one is positively peppered with high profile talent in the kind of roles you’d think they’d never be caught dead in. Trejo is all scowls and moody machismo as Machete, an ex Federalè turned brutal mercenary who seeks vengeance against the ruthless cartel boss responsible for the murder of his family, played of all people by Steven Seagal in the funniest work he’s ever done. There’s also a rigged election subplot stateside in which corrupt, evil senator Robert Deniro schemes all kinds of nasty shit. His lieutenant is played by Jeff Fahey, who was the villain in the fake trailer and expands his sinister presence here. He’s a natural born scene stealer and his businessman/hitman Booth is an especially violent creation, but I suppose if I had Lindsay Lohan for a daughter (she makes a cameo, parodying her own hard partying image) I’d be a tad grumpy too. There’s also Jessica Alba’s Sartana, a sexy female agent who plays both sides and lets the romantic sparks simmer between her and Trejo, until the film pussies out before we get a deserved sex scene. Michelle Rodriguez is a lot of fun as Luz, a revolutionary badass who disguises her operation in a taco truck. The cast is unreal and includes Shea Wigham as Fahey’s exasperated lead assassin, Tom Savini as the world’s most elaborate contract killer, Don Johnson as a racist scumbag southern fried Sheriff and Cheech Marin as Machete’s brother, a catholic priest who isn’t afraid to use a couple holy shotguns to do do the lord’s dirty work. Robert Rodriguez really jumped onboard the grindhouse train after his joint venture with Tarantino, while QT abandoned ship. This flicks is a lot of fun and allows esteemed actors to play in the sandbox with reckless abandon, and most importantly, Danny Trejo to bask in the spotlight after toiling so hard in the supporting ranks for decades. My only complaint is that it’s a bit too tame in the sex department to count as grindhouse fare (all these hot actresses and not a single nipple flourish or bush brandish), but I suppose when Big Hollywood green-lights a gritty fake trailer, you have to somewhat tow the line, even if you are one of Hollywood’s greatest genre magicians. The sight of Trejo ripping out a dude’s intestines and using them to repel down the face of a building is definitely in the spirit of the sort of films that inspired this though. Great stuff.

-Nate Hill

“Do we really suck, or is this guy really that good?” : An Interview with Michael Davis by Kent Hill (PART 3)

Shoot 'em Up

I really love this gig. I really do. I’ve had the distinction of being able to converse with many a hero and much admired artist over my time at PTS. There have though, been a few surprises along the way – and this was one of them.

I have long wanted to chat with Michael Davis. Part of it, and I’m sure you’ll agree having seen his films, that here is a man who went from making 100 Women to writing and directing the most-excellent, ballet of bullets that is Shoot ‘em Up. And you just need a few minutes of talking with Michael to understand how this was possible.

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They say Scorsese has a machine-gun-mouth. Well listening to Michael is like standing next to Jesse Ventura firing Ol’ Painless. And – WOW – what a delight, the frenetic and passionate electricity that this man generates in infectious. Michael’s initial overview of the birth of his career is one of the most entertaining I’ve ever heard. From his beginnings as a storyboard artist, to various writing assignments (don’t say Double Dragon out loud), to his eventual directorial debut; it’s a madcap movie marathon coming at you – at high speed!

Our conversation was so enthralling, so engaging, that I would be doing my guest a severe injustice to cut even a moment of it. So I shall be presenting it to you as a trilogy. Each section I promise is as entertaining as the last. So, don’t touch that dial, and prepare yourself to experience the film-making personification of the perfect storm that is . . . Michael Davis . . . . . . PART 3.

FOR THOSE WHO CAME IN LATE :

https://podcastingthemsoftly.com/2018/04/25/do-we-really-suck-or-is-this-guy-really-that-good-an-interview-with-michael-davis-by-kent-hill-part-2/

https://podcastingthemsoftly.com/2018/03/25/do-we-really-suck-or-is-this-guy-really-that-good-an-interview-with-michael-davis-by-kent-hill-part-1/

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“Do we really suck, or is this guy really that good?” : An Interview with Michael Davis by Kent Hill (PART 2)

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I really love this gig. I really do. I’ve had the distinction of being able to converse with many a hero and much admired artist over my time at PTS. There have though, been a few surprises along the way – and this was one of them.

I have long wanted to chat with Michael Davis. Part of it, and I’m sure you’ll agree having seen his films, that here is a man who went from making 100 Women to writing and directing the most-excellent, ballet of bullets that is Shoot ‘em Up. And you just need a few minutes of talking with Michael to understand how this was possible.

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They say Scorsese has a machine-gun-mouth. Well listening to Michael is like standing next to Jesse Ventura firing Ol’ Painless. And – WOW – what a delight, the frenetic and passionate electricity that this man generates in infectious. Michael’s initial overview of the birth of his career is one of the most entertaining I’ve ever heard. From his beginnings as a storyboard artist, to various writing assignments (don’t say Double Dragon out loud), to his eventual directorial debut; it’s a madcap movie marathon coming at you – at high speed!

e73501112002d80ee16c6730f1a665b6

Our conversation was so enthralling, so engaging, that I would be doing my guest a severe injustice to cut even a moment of it. So I shall be presenting it to you as a trilogy. Each section I promise is as entertaining as the last. So, don’t touch that dial, and prepare yourself to experience the film-making personification of the perfect storm that is . . . Michael Davis . . . . . . PART 2.

{FOR THOSE WHO CAME IN LATE . . . : https://podcastingthemsoftly.com/2018/03/25/do-we-really-suck-or-is-this-guy-really-that-good-an-interview-with-michael-davis-by-kent-hill-part-1/}

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Joe Carnahan’s Stretch

It’s a crying shame that Joe Carnahan’s Stretch got buried with marketing and now no one knows about it, because it’s a pulpy treat that really deserved to be seen on the big screen and given a bit of hooplah pre-release. In the tradition of After Hours, consistently versatile Carnahan whips up a feverish nighttime screwball comedy of errors and bizarro shenanigans that doesn’t quit pummelling the viewer with rapid fire dialogue, hedonistic spectacle and a funhouse of LA weirdos getting up to no good, including a trio of the best celebrity cameos to come around in a long time. Patrick Wilson, who continues to impress, plays a sad sack limo driver who’s life has thrown him nothing but nasty curveballs, but he gets a chance to make bank and retribution in the form of Roger Karos, a deranged billionaire masochist who could unload a monster gratuity on him at the end of the night and clear the guy’s gambling debts. It’s a devil’s proposition and a fool’s errand, and as expected, pretty much everything than can go wrong does go wrong. Karos is played by an incognito and uncredited Chris Pine, and the guy should have gotten as many awards as they could throw at him. It’s a shame he’s in hiding here and no one knows about this performance because it’s a doozy. Pine plays him as a sadistic, scotch guzzling, cocaine hoovering monster who’s certifiably insane, like a smutty LA version of the Joker who’s as likely to shake your hand as set you on fire. Wilson’s Stretch is stuck with this demon, as well as his own, and it’s the night from hell, but nothing but mirth for the audience. Orbiting the two of them are wicked supporting turns from Jessica Alba, James Badge Dale, a maniacal Ed Helms, an unrecognizable Randy Couture as a freaky Slavic limo guru, Brooklyn Decker, and insane turns from Ray Liotta,

David Hasselhoff and Norman Reedus, who play warped versions of themselves. Wilson owns the role like a spitfire, Pine goes absolutely batshit bonkers for his entire screetime, Carnahan writes and directs with sleek, stylistic panache and a flair for realistic dialogue that feels elaborate but never false. I could talk this fucker up all day and type till I get carpel, but I’ll quit here and say just go watch the thing, it’s too good to be as under-seen as it is.

-Nate Hill

Sin City: A Review by Nate Hill 

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.

MACHETE – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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When he made his half of the Grindhouse double bill (2007), Robert Rodriguez also put together a trailer for a film he would like to see. And so, Machete (2010) was born – a Mexploitation action film about an ex-federale who is set-up, double-crossed and left for dead. However, the origins for this project go back even further to 1995 when Rodriguez made Desperado, the second film in his El Mariachi trilogy. It would be the first time (but certainly not the last) he worked with veteran character actor and professional badass Danny Trejo. He’s someone you’ve probably not heard of but have definitely seen. If you need a tough-looking tattooed henchman, he’s your man. While working on Desperado, Rodriguez envisioned Trejo starring in a series of action films as Machete but at that time the director did not have the clout to get someone to bankroll a Latino action film that didn’t feature someone with movie star looks like Antonio Banderas.

Rodriguez never forgot about his pet project and over the years cast Trejo in several of his films. Even though the Grindhouse films were a commercial failure, audiences loved the faux trailer for Machete. Rodriguez managed to convince a Hollywood studio to finance it with a modest budget and used his connections to assemble an impressive cast that included the likes of Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, Steven Seagal, and “introducing” Don Johnson. However, what worked as a movie trailer be too much of a good thing as a feature film?

The prologue sets up everything we need to know about Machete (Trejo) – he’s a badass Mexican federale set-up by his corrupt superior and left for dead by local druglord Torrez (Seagal). It also sets just the right tone as we see Machete hacking and slashing his way through a house of bad guys with bloody abandon. Meanwhile, in the United States, a corrupt, ultra-conservative Texan senator named John McLaughlin (De Niro), campaigns on a platform of preventing illegal immigrants from crossing the border. He even employs a border vigilante group, led by the brutal Von Jackson (Johnson), to enforce his policies.

Sartana Rivera (Alba) is an upstanding Immigrations enforcement officer investigating the problem through legal channels and ends up crossing paths with Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), a no-nonsense taco stand operator who moonlights as a revolutionary operating an underground railroad of sorts for her Mexican brothers and sisters. Machete, now a day laborer (or, at least that’s his cover), is hired by Michael Booth (Jeff Fahey), a local businessman, to kill the Senator for $150,000. Machete is set up, shot and forced to go into hiding. With the help of Rivera and Luz, he plots revenge on the men that betrayed him.

It’s awesome to see Danny Trejo finally get to carry a film for once and play a character that doesn’t get killed off. He brings his customary intensity as the strong, silent man of action and in many respects the film is Rodriguez’s present to the actor as he has him take down tons of bad guys, look cool doing it, and hook up with many of the film’s lovely ladies, including Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba and Lindsay Lohan! Robert De Niro is a lot of fun to watch playing a John McCain meets George W. Bush-esque xenophobic politician. It’s also great to see Steven Seagal as a powerful criminal and Machete’s arch-nemesis, not to mention appearing in a mainstream film that didn’t go straight-to-home video.

Michelle Rodriguez adds another tough chick role to her resume as she portrays the female Mexican equivalent of Che Guevara but with a dash of Snake Plissken. Another fun bit of casting is Lindsay Lohan playing the messed up celebutante child of Booth. She and Rodriguez have some fun riffing on her public persona and kudos to the director for not bowing to peer and public pressure about her party girl reputation and showing that regardless, she still has the acting chops. Rodriguez regulars Tom Savini and Cheech Marin show up in memorable bit parts as a deadly assassin and Machete’s ex-federale now-priest brother.

It’s no secret that Rodriguez is a filmmaker that wears his influences on his sleeve. For example, Desperado was an homage to the Hong Kong action films of John Woo and From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) and Planet Terror (2007) evoked the films of John Carpenter and George Romero. Growing up in the 1980s, Machete is Rodriguez’s love letter to the films produced by Cannon Films during that decade. They were responsible for cranking out an endless stream of generic action films starring the likes of Charles Bronson, Chuck Norris and Michael Dudikoff. In these films, the action stars were often a one-man army capable of wiping out the fighting force of a small country seemingly single-handedly. The same goes for Machete who is an unstoppable killing machine bent on revenge.

Machete is full of outrageous, over-the-top violence and inventively staged action sequences, like one scene where Machete bungee-jumps from one floor of a hospital to another with the aid of an evil henchman’s large intestine. In this respect, the film has the same gonzo, go-for-broke action that Rodriguez orchestrated in the underrated Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003). Living up to his namesake, Machete finds all sorts of ways to kill the bad guys with a vast assortment of sharp weapons. Machete is a lot of fun and never outstays its welcome as Rodriguez knows how to keep things moving so that things never get boring.

michelle-rodriguez-as-luzMachete not only features all kinds of wild action sequences but also has something on its mind, commenting on the rampant immigration problems that continue to plague the states along the United States/Mexico border. Along the way, Rodriguez plays up and makes fun of Latino stereotypes (they are all day laborers and love tricked out cars) only to twist them into a rallying cry, a call for revolution that takes full bloom by the film’s exciting conclusion in a way that has to be seen to be believed. Best of all, Rodriguez has created yet another awesome Latino action hero. Forget Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables (2010), Machete is the real deal and a no-holds-barred love letter to ‘80s action films. As great as it was to see many of the beloved action stars from the ‘80s and 1990s, I felt that Stallone’s film never went far enough. Rodriguez’s film doesn’t have that problem as it gleefully goes all the way with its cartoonish violence.

SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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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.

SIN CITY – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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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.