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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26

A Style To Kill For

Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Published Tuesday August 19, 11:32 pm
Nine years after the original, the Sin City saga is still utterly unique

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

In the Sin City comic universe, A Dame to Kill For is by far the strongest entry in Frank Miller’s saga. The story distills crime noir to its very essence: Dwight (Josh Brolin), a down-on-his-luck photographer, reconnects with old flame Ava (Eva Green), who left him for a richer man. An exquisite blend of femme fatale and damsel in distress, Ava convinces Dwight that she’s a slave to the twisted desires of her husband and his manservant, and that her days are seriously numbered. Dwight’s still in love with her, so he immediately steps in to help, unaware that Ava’s playing him like a fiddle.

Just like it is in the comics, the tale of Ava and Dwight is the strongest aspect of the film adaptation of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. Although nine years have passed since the original movie (and two of the leads of that film have since died), the spirit is the same: broad, dirty and hardboiled to a fault. No movies have come closer to reproducing the graphic novel experience on film, as blotchy blacks, paper whites and strategically placed hits of colour enhance the proceedings.

Alongside “A Dame to Kill For”, three other tales of betrayal, revenge and senseless violence round out the film. In “Just Another Saturday Night”, chivalrous brute Marv (Mickey Rourke) finds himself surrounded by corpses and unaware of the events that led him there. “The Long Bad Night” features Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a poker prodigy looking for action. Unfortunately for him, the hottest table in town is run by Basin City’s most dangerous man, Senator Roark (Powers Boothe). And “Nancy’s Last Dance” shows an unraveling stripper (Jessica Alba) gathering the courage to avenge her former protector, John Hartigan (Bruce Willis), whose presence still haunts her.

Don’t even try to make sense of the chronology of events. Characters that were supposedly dead in the first movie are back for more, but the general feeling is that this isn’t a prequel: Hartigan and that Yellow Bastard are still very much six feet under, for example. But some other consistency issues are rather distracting: remember the lengths Senator Roark went to to ensure his legacy in the first movie? Yeah, it’s not an issue anymore.

Director Robert Rodríguez, whose stock has fallen after too many flops (Shorts, Grindhouse, two Machetes), remains a stylist rather than a storyteller. The yarn at the centre of it all is impeccably unfurled, but the bookends leave something to be desired. Alba may be deft at pole-dancing but she’s not the strongest performer, so hanging an entire segment on her is a risk that doesn’t pay off. “The Long Bad Night” (developed especially for the film) has a lot of potential, but it’s all squandered by a silly conclusion.

Some of the cast adapts much better to the Sin City mise-en-scene than others. Hard faces like Rourke, Boothe and Josh Brolin (replacing Clive Owen) are perfect for this environment, and the casting of Green as Ava Lord is pure genius. She exudes sensuality and danger, the fundamental qualities of a good femme fatale, and is a perfect match with Brolin — a Bogart and Bacall for ultraviolent times.

Not brilliant, but still absolutely entertaining — and utterly unique.



For a film built on a gimmick (the leading man hides under a massive papier-mâché head the entire time), Frank is surprisingly complex, tackling both the relationship between talent and madness and the difference between overly earnest hipsters and the real thing.

The protagonist and villain of Frank is Jon (Domhall Gleeson, About Time), a part-time musician who believes he’s an artist but is unwilling to leave his office job and live off his electronic piano skills. Luckily for Jon, the Soronprfbs — an alt-rock band that thinks highly of themselves and little of their audience — goes through keyboardists like Spinal Tap goes through drummers.

At the centre of the Soronprfbs is Frank (a remarkable physical performance by Michael Fassbender), a music genius with charisma to boot. Frank is flanked by Theremin player Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who sees Jon as an interloper. Wanting to assert his value, Jon engineers the group’s climb to fame, oblivious to the fact that Frank might not be prepared to deal with the side effects.

Gleeson’s transformation from hapless hipster to cutthroat manager is as much of a feat as turning a guy in a foreboding head into the most alluring singer/songwriter ever. Weirdly, the mask gives Fassbender’s character an otherworldliness it would have been impossible to achieve with an open face.

Written and directed by musicians (Jon Ronson and Lenny Abrahamson), Frank’s portrait of a band on the verge (of either success or an acrimonious break-up) is precise and richly detailed. This is the rare film in which the third act not only doesn’t fall apart, but unveils a new dimension that’s as interesting as the rest of the movie.

For all the serious subjects it touches on (including prefabricated creativity and the weird corners of the imagination), Frank is short on answers. Still, it’s an audacious film that will give you pause.


Night Moves

One of the best directors working in America today, Kelly Reichardt has brought a nouvelle vague sensitivity to independent cinema — and she gets better with every movie. Her dramas (Wendy and Lucy, Meek’s Cutoff) unfold slowly, but without flinching. Reichardt leans towards open endings, but the feeling is generally that things are likely to get worse for her battered protagonists.

Night Moves is Reichardt’s most high-profile effort to date, but she hasn’t changed her style or sensibility a bit — no small feat in the land of selling out.

Dena and Josh (Dakota Fanning and Jesse Eisenberg) are two committed environmentalists disenchanted with the movement’s inefficiency. They get involved with an eco-terrorist (Peter Sarsgaard), who seems more incompetent than they’ve been led to believe. Their first mission is to blow up a hydroelectric dam, supposedly a victimless crime. But when a camper goes missing, the principles that inspired them quickly melt away and paranoia sets in.

Night Moves is a very simple thriller, and the absence of any artificiality is part of its charm (unlike the similarly themed The East). The level of tension Reichardt achieves without special effects, snappy editing or plot twists is remarkable.

Playing against type, Eisenberg and Fanning excel at portraying the granola crowd’s darkest side. Eisenberg, in particular, is very creepy as a sociopathic individual whose involvement with the cause has less to do with concern over the environment, and more with his deep resentment towards mankind.

In spite of the recognizable cast and intriguing premise, Night Moves is generating barely any buzz, which is a shame. But Kelly Reichardt doesn’t make easy movies. Perhaps that’s why they’re so rewarding.

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