Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Get out your trench coats and bondage gear, we're reviewing Sin City: A Dame to Kill For!

Dwight(Josh Brolin) is trying his best to lead a clean life when former lover Ava(Eva Green) walks in and needs his help. Johnny(Joseph Gordon-Levitt) wants to win big at Senator Roark's(Powers Boothe) card game. Nancy(Jessica Alba) wants revenge on Roark for Hartigan's(Bruce Willis) death. You'll find all kinds of stories in Sin City.

This is going to be interesting because I remember loving the first Sin City way back before I became more inclusive and less misogynistic. So now I wonder how the first one holds up. Sin City 2: The Second One represent noir at it's best and worst. It's beautiful, gorgeously composed and shot, has a lot of fun action, and is INCREDIBLY SPECTACULARLY misogynistic. Minor spoilers ahead.

Let's get straight to it. Most of the women here are either sex workers and strippers, damsels in distress, sex objects, raped or sexually assaulted, women in refrigerators, or a combination there of. It's really disgusting and unsettling. Of course this is par for the course for Frank Miller who regularly treats his women poorly and retconned Catwoman to be a sex worker and is generally a disgusting human being. This isn't to slut-shame or put down sex workers either, it's just that when THE OVERWHELMING MAJORITY of your female characters are sex workers, strippers, exotic dancers etc. and they aren't given their own stories/character arcs or made to feel like real humans, and all the male characters regularly call all them bitches, whores and sluts, it is...problematic to say the least.

But hey, that's not ALL the female characters! I did find one woman in the movie after watching it a second time that wasn't a sex worker or raped or murdered horribly! It was Lady Gaga as a waitress! For 2 minutes. And that's it. That's the only one. And I'm pretty sure that goes for both movies. But I mean that's one, right? Progress???

Anyways, I think Sin City 2: The Search for More Misogyny could have gotten more points if they'd treated Nancy's story better. This is the first female centric story and the first woman protagonist to narrate her own adventures in two movies! Except that she doesn't narrate it herself. Sometimes Roark speaks over her(actually coming into her room to threaten her with rape/murder) and sometimes ghost Hartigan comes back. Because heaven forbid a woman be able to narrate her own adventure herself. GEEZ. Have any of the male characters in this movie had someone else help narrate? Have any of the tons of dead female characters come back as ghosts? And it's weak sauce that Nancy has to have Ghost Hartigan appear and save her at the end. I mean, why? Also, Nancy dealing with depression is fine, but her cutting her hair/scaring herself up/hurting herself until she's able to kill? That kind of gives the idea that she has to shed her femininity and beauty before she's badass enough. That's...not cool.

Eva Green is fantastic in this and not afraid to share her bare bod, and I think it's funny that her character seems to be an honest-to-fuck succubus. That's..that's just insane Frank Miller. But it's also contributing to the idea that women are the root of all evil and they use their sexy parts to turn otherwise good tough guys into monsters and murderers. You think, "oh it's just one woman, she's a femme fatale! Woman can be evil characters, right?" Let me tell you that Ava and Dwight's story starts out with Dwight peeping on a guy complaining to his mistress that his wife is going to bleed him dry, and that eventually the mistress will too. Taking all of his good, hardworking money. COINCIDENCE?!

Talking about the movie's various stories, it doesn't work as well as the first. It tries to go for that same split-up bookended stories thing. The problem with that is that A) the only really good story is the main one with Dwight and Ava, and B) it takes place before and after(and during??) the first movie and completely muddles up the continuity. I haven't seen the first in years, but I'm pretty sure characters that should be dead for one story are now strangely alive. It's weird and confusing. I liked Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character but his story goes nowhere. Also, they take everything away from him, and then murder the girl he was spending time with and just met that night. Like, was that necessary? Also, for dramatic effect, they sit in his apartment with dead lady parts in the dark and wait for him to come home. How long do you think they had to wait with those? That must have been very uncomfortable.

While I think Dwight and Ava's story is the best of the bunch, Josh Brolin Dwight is not better than Clive Own Dwight. Having read the story before, I was hoping we'd get some Clive Owen Dwight at the end, but alas, there was none. Speaking of the cast, the main cast is good, but nowhere near as good as the first. Eva Green and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are the standouts, Rosario Dawson was fun, but everyone else of the main cast was just ok. Even Mickey Rourke as Marv didn't seem at his best. A lot of times he looked confused and bewildered, like he didn't' take his medication. Bruce Willis didn't seem like he wanted to be there, and really, he didn't need to. What WAS pretty great were the bit characters. Ray Liotta! Jeremy Piven! Christopher Loyd! Lady Gaga! They all seemed like they were having a lot of fun. And Frank Miller got to have two guest roles. Maybe more? Maybe he was secretly EVERY ROLE?!

Hey, can we talk about the casual racism? Because there's like 20 different major roles in this thing and there's only two black people and one asian person. And the Asian person is a ninja because OF COURSE. The one black guy is a manservant and at one point someone says he's "less than human", which, were there more black people, wouldn't be too problematic, but since he is one of only two I find it SUPER uncomfortable. Sure they're trying to recreate the overly-white comics, but you couldn't try a little bit harder to be diverse? I guess at least Rosario Dawson's Gale is pretty badass.

I saw Sin City 2: A Tale of Two Trench Coats twice, and while the first time I found it long and incredibly offensive, the second time around, I realized there was a lot I actually liked. I still love the overly dramatic graphic style. It looks exactly like a comic book, and if you were just looking at stills, they're gorgeous shots. And I still love their minimalist use of color for storytelling. And if you like over-the-top ridiculous action, there's a lot of that here. Lots of guns and tough guys punching and cracking of bones and Miho zooming through the air slicing 4 duded heads off at once in a super dramatic white bloodsplay. Most of the effects hold up in an over-the-top animated sort of way, but there's spots here and there where the green screen doesn't match up with the acting. And sadly, while there's fun to be had, it's still not as fun as the first. The catchphrase of Sin City was "YEESH" and the catchphrase of Sin City 2: JGL and The No Good Very Bad Day is "Ava. Damn."

The dialogue is not good. It's super cheesy. But some of it is bad cheesy and some of it is so-bad-it's-good cheesy. It tries to feel noiry, but it ends up feeling like noir fan fiction. It's too ridiculous and over the top. If it were a winking parody it might work, but it falls apart when someone says it in complete seriousness. Sometimes...sometimes it works because it's super dramatic and silly and you want it to work, and sometimes it's just dumb. There's stuff like "I was born at night, but not last night." which is great and then there's "Sin City is like a woman or a casino, someone always wins." What does that even mean??

Sin City as a setting doesn't really work because it never feels like a real town. It's always night and always either raining or snowing, it's economy seems to be purely based on gun stores, bars, strip clubs and brothels, and the only clothing stores are ones that sell suits, trench coats, and bondage gear.  Guys can somehow squeeze a man's head so hard it explodes and women can jump 12 feet in the air regardless of training. All the men are old, ugly and tough, and wearing trench coats and all the women are young, pretty, and over- sexualize and scantily clad. It's a made-up world like Harry Potter. It's an adolescent fantasy of what a teenager thinks a noir town should be. It's erotic fiction. And any kind of scrutiny you put to it to make it feel realistic or dramatic falls apart. It's just for people to have fun in that dirty smutty kind of way. Sin City is Fifty Shades of Grey for dudes.

Sin City 2: Women Are All Whores Who Should Die and Other Frank Miller Life Lessons is only really for someone who doesn't want noir so much as an adolescent, simplistic fan-fiction versions of noir. It's a stylistically dramatic noir that's beautiful to look at and can be fun to watch, but it's written like someone who only understands the surface concepts of noir and REALLY hates women. It's...not for everyone.

Also: Rosario Dawson. Damn.

THE GOOD: Great dramatic and cartoony style, cool graphics, fun over-the-top action, great supporting cast, pretty good main story.

THE BAD: SUPER misogynistic, terrible to women, Nancy doesn't get to tell her own story, story structure is confusing and muddled, bookend stories aren't great, cheesy dialogue, casual racism, super violent, not as good as the first.

THE VERDICT: $$ I enjoyed it and thought it was fun, but I also think it's incredibly misogynistic and problematic and that Frank Miller as a person is pretty terrible. AND it's not as good as the first. So yeah, only see this if you want to see smutty offensive noir erotic fiction. Maybe you'll like it if you're into that sort of thing YOU SICKO.

MOVIES LIKE IT: Sin City, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, 2 Days in the Valley, L.A. Confidential, Brick

ONE-SCENE METAPHOR: My favorite scene is when Rosario Dawson is seducing a guy and he rubs the barrel of his gun like a penis. That is Sin City. It's Sin City 2: Fifty Shades of Black and White.

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