As a movie, Sin City is deliriously off-the wall. Its a visual poem the likes of which Ive never seen, and Ive seen a lot of movies, including El Topo and most of Godard. Interestingly, Ive never seen Deep Throat, although I have seen Inside Deep Throat, a new documentary about the porn classic. See below.
Anyway, Sin City director Richard Rodriguez has stated that he wanted the movie to be faithful to the novels, which a huge shudder for the movie biz are drawn in noir-like black and white. He wanted it to be Frank Millers Sin City, not Richard Rodriguezs Sin City. Miller is the presiding creative genius of the graphic novels. In fact, he was given co-director credit on the film, a fact that led to the Directors Guild Of America having a hissy fit and to Rodriguez quitting the Guild.
Yes, yes, lots of digressions here. Okay, the movie is terrific. Isnt that what you wanted to read? Its a hellfire assortment of dazzling images in black and white with smart swatches of vibrant color daubed in as highlights, not unlike your teenagers hair.
Taking his cue from the novels, Rodriguez delivers slash and burn violence, sexual suggestiveness that will curl the toes of every censorious bluenose, and top-notch, sometimes giddy performances from a cast that includes Clive Owen, Bruce Willis, Rutger Hauer, Nick Stahl, Elijah Wood, Brittany Murphy, Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Powers Boothe, Rosario Dawson, Benicio Del Toro, Michael Clarke Duncan, Carla Gugino, Michael Madsen, and Josh Hartnett.
The movie is based on three of Millers books, The Hard Goodbye, The Big Fat Kill, and That Yellow Bastard. The tales are primarily about men avenging the death of a woman theyve enjoyed, loved, worshiped, desired, or with whom theyve been friends or shared a meal. Hookers and strippers abound. Religious psychoses trail like tendrils in a nightmare. Compared to it, Ken Russells Crimes Of Passion looks like an Easter basket. Rodriguez uses available digital technology like a mad scientist uses top-of-the line lab equipment. Costumes and production values are eye-popping. Sin City is a non-stop whirlwind of angst and deliverance. Its crazy and obsessive and as action-packed as any movie could be. Pulp guy Tarantino has even directed a surreal bit within the film. Miller and Rodriguez (who has credit for the screenplay) have taken 1940s noir and given it a contemporary, state-of-the-art spin that will leave you dizzy with glee.
Excuse me while I take a breath.
Also playing around town, or opening, are Off The Map, The Ring Two, Guess Who, Steamboy, Miss Congeniality 2: Armed And Fabulous, and the aforementioned Inside Deep Throat.
Off The Map has been working the festival circuit since it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 22, 2003. Finally getting a well-deserved showcase, the movie is one of those quirky, personal works that big studios run from. Directed by Campbell Scott and written by Joan Ackerman (from her stage play), it stars the incomparable Joan Allen, an even-more-grizzled than usual Sam Elliott, Jim True-Frost, Valentina de Angelis, and Amy Brenneman in a small but pivotal role. Can the high desert of New Mexico be considered pastoral? Or bucolic? Well, it is in this movie. Its about an eleven-year old girl (a flawless de Angelis) who lives with her hippie-ish parents far off the beaten path. Dad (a terrific Elliott) has come down with severe depression and Mom (a glorious Allen) likes to tend the garden in the nude. They are desert rats (in a good way), folks who live without visible means of support in a junk-strewn vista. One day an IRS agent (a sweet and engaging True-Frost) stops in to check on why they havent paid any taxes for years. A gentle sort, he soon finds himself smitten with Mom. The movie tracks from there. Its like a great short story, gleaming with nuance and rich with the kind of character and thematic depth rarely seen in American films. The little girl learns something about life. And isnt that all you need?
The Ring Two is a pale shadow of its predecessor. Do I have to deliver the genealogy again? Lets hope not. The Ring, about a deadly videotape, was terrific. The sequel is like re-seeing a ghost and saying: Naw, not so scary. Naomi Watts reporter moves from Seattle to a small-town in Oregon. The killer tape shows up again. You sit wondering why nobodys aware of DVDs. A classic case of been there, done that.
I was shocked, shocked to hear that they remade the groundbreaking, for its time, Guess Whos Coming To Dinner (with Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, and Sidney Poiter aglow). The new movie is called Guess Who, and this time-around its a white guy wanting to marry a black girl. The director, screenwriter, and feeble cast should be ashamed of themselves. Theyve turned a stylish work into god-awful, unfunny smut. And yes, there are times when the word smut applies. Soiled and dirty, folks, soiled and dirty.
Inside Deep Throat is a documentary about the 1970s hullabaloo surrounding the release of pornographys Citizen Kane, the shocking (for its time) Deep Throat, a cheaply and quickly concocted sex fest about a woman with a clitoris in her throat, thus affording her the opportunity to truly pleasure a man. Nuff said? Maybe not. The film is breezy and informative. You watch realizing that not much has changed. Censors and prudes and prickly prosecutors in the past seem like storm-troopers from a contemporary army of moralistic do-gooders. Then, as now, an assault on free expression is just a way to take peoples minds off the real woes of the world, even if it is porn thats being assaulted. Nobody forces anybody to go to a movie. Educational? You bet.
Steamboy is another Japanese anime success from Katsuhiro Otomo, director of the legendary Akira. Its about a family of nutty inventors in Victorian England who are forced to fend off some greedy corporate types who want to control their steam power invention. Colorful and clever, the movie never rises to the level of Akira, but if anime is your cup-of-tea, go see it.
Now heres a sentence you might never have expected to see. Miss Congeniality 2 is a subversive movie. Its a non-stop collection of gags, both spoken and seen, in which the primary character from Miss Congeniality, a slovenly female FBI agent named Gracie Hart, is again compelled to fight for truth, justice, and the right for women to beat the crap out of each other. The film turns feminism and macho correctness on its head. Eat your heart out Camille Paglia. Equally dangerous to some movie studio bosses - is the fact that this is a very rare case of a woman-driven comedy. The film is all about Sandra Bullock, and thats not a bad thing. Men are about, but none is in a leading role. Bullocks Ms. Hart is willing to get down in the trenches, be a mess, and learn to cope. I laughed and I groaned while watching it. Bullock shares credit with a cast of amiable performers who never get in the way of the fun. This is a star-driven comedy with slapstick the likes of which we rarely see. If the first joke doesnt hit you, just wait a moment. Another one is on the way. The characters are sharply defined, which is also rare. They all have their tics and foibles. Nobody is too soft or sentimental, too rough or rigid. Not the men, and certainly not the women. By Michael Calleri ALT Movie Editor
Theres no doubt in my mind that the opening of Frank Millers Sin City is going to bring out the Beat poet lurking in the hearts of a lot of movie critics. Youre going to read reviews that will embarrass Quentin Tarantino, and thats saying something. As for e. e. cummings, well he is my favorite poet, but his literary art wont stand a chance as reviewers across the country will bend themselves into verbal pretzels trying to be as hip and colorful as they can possibly be. Ive always believed that movie reviews should be straightforward certainly exhibiting some trace of the critics personality (if he or she has one), but Im not sure they should be as semantically aroused as a night with Thomas Pynchon.
If the critique reveals a buffet of humor, all the better. Thats why Anthony Lanes reviews are such a pleasure. Ive been reading his book Nobodys Perfect, which is a collection of his writing, including his pieces on film, and he truly is wickedly, deliciously funny.