One of this reviewer’s frequent gripes concerning comic-books-turned-movies is that for all their anti-hero posturing, they’re always about black-and-white characters. The spandex-wearing good guys, no matter how dark and scowling, are all good. The bad guys, no matter how buttoned-down and coiffed, are all bad. Eventually — usually after the death of the hero’s girlfriend, or dog, or faith — the good guys and the bad guys finally cross swords, and the bad guys get the customary, old-school beatdown.
With “Sin City,” however, you get a different vision of the comic book world, one that delivers an experience much closer to what’s on the page than any PG-13 fanboy-driven morality play ever could. Not only does “Sin City” look incredible — a black-and-white landscape swimming with phantom colors and impossible, cartoonish lights and darks — it stands out in terms of theme as well. Here, the good guys are losers, freaks, cop killers, murderers and prostitutes. The bad guys are bad only because they’ve crossed one of Sin City’s rather nebulous moral boundaries: cannibalism, faithlessness, snitchery, the lust for political power, hiding behind a powerful relative, or being a crooked cop. Our heroes rip people’s genitalia off, shoot others in the groin and drive hatchets between the legs of their enemies with glee (this is a movie that’s strangely obsessed with the male equipment; particularly the loss thereof) while their victims’ blood splatters across the screen in great torrents of Wite-Out.
It makes for a strange sort of upside down place where you never really know if you should cheer for these characters or recoil from them (you’d surely do the latter if you met any of these folks in a dark alley). In that way, it cleanly encapsulates the tone and feel of the Frank Miller comics the movie is based on. The bottom line is, if you’re a fan of the edgiest forms of comic book art, you’ll love this film. If not, you might want to bring an air-sickness bag.
Here, Miller and co-director Robert Rodriguez present a series of interconnected stories, populated by a cast of seedy characters. In one, the killer prostitutes from Sin City’s “Old Town” execute an abusive policeman, threatening to bring down a long-standing truce between working girls and the cops. In another, a detective with a heart condition (Bruce Willis) saves a young girl from the serial-killer son of an all-powerful state senator. And while I never thought I’d use the words “Mickey Rourke” and “favorite” in the same sentence, my favorite of the stories features Mickey Rourke as a hulking loner who sets out on a trail of revenge after a hooker who befriended him is killed.
While some of the hard-boiled dialogue in “Sin City” is downright cringe-worthy, for the most part it’s an earnest effort by Rodriguez — obviously a fan, and all but obsessed with keeping the spirit of the source material alive during the transplant from page to screen. With a look that will surely spawn a half-dozen lackluster imitations on big screen and small, “Sin City” is the comic-book fan’s comic book movie. It’s violent, brutal, morally ambiguous, probably sexist, and downright nasty in places. Considering the comic book that spawned it, however, everyone involved can take that as a compliment.
— By David Koon
The upside of good actors
Despite its apparent inability to handle such vital elements as coherent plot or proper storytelling, “The Upside of Anger,” written and directed by Mike Binder, manages to survive through the saving graces of Hollywood veterans Kevin Costner and Joan Allen.
The anger referred to in the title belongs to Terry (Allen) and is held against her husband, whose sudden disappearance changes this confident, attractive woman into the bitter shell left behind. Just in time, one of her husband’s friends, Denny Davies (Costner), a retired baseball pro, stops by to witness the transformation and quickly sees his opportunity to catch his foot in the door just as it’s being slammed in his face.
Costner is constantly pigeon-holed as either the charming heart-throb from the ol’ west or the major league baseball ace -– see “Bull Durham,” “Field of Dreams” and “For Love of the Game” for examples of this. This particular performance, however, makes great use of all the better affectations of Costner’s persona and allows him to mix his sordid humor with the directness that complements his more manly characteristics.
Denny is a sluggish drunk with a whimsical approach to his ever-diminishing life, whose job on a call-in radio show constantly forces him to relive his World Series glory days. So when Terry saunters into his life during her emotional breakdown, he finds some relief with his new-found “drinking buddy” and her four daughters, whose stressful, “very female” atmosphere provides some distraction from his otherwise dull life.
As for Allen, the character of Terry is nothing new for her, either, but the chemistry she provides proves essential to salvaging the story’s serious flaws.
Binder ties the film’s themes together by the narration of Terry’s youngest daughter “Popeye” (Evan Rachel Wood), who at age 15 is sporadically editing a documentary on the universal balance between love and hate -– a lofty matter for such a young mind, as her family periodically points out.
But the thing is, the film proves despite itself that the story was better kept observing the frustrated love of an adult life, rather than the adolescent wisdom of one of the film’s peripheral characters.
For all the glib ambitions Binder makes with the film, the only thing that rescues it is the well-rehearsed talent of its two lead actors, which next time around he may not be so fortunate to have.
— By Dustin Allen