Eva Green

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

As I type this review, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is limping towards a sixth place showing at the box office. However, if you glance at IMDb.com, you’ll find that it has a respectable average user rating of 7.2. Count me among the IMDb tribe, as I found the movie to be just as visually stunning as its unique predecessor. Director Robert Rodriguez (Machete Kills) and Troublemaker Studios reunite the likes of Mickey Rourke (The Courier) and Rosario Dawson (The Captive), while adding newcomers Eva Green (300: Rise of an Empire) and Josh Brolin (Oldboy) to another hard-boiled tale from the back alleys of Basin City.

The movie opens against the familiar black & white backdrop we experienced in part 1. Recall that Bruce Willis’ character tangled with Senator Roark and his demented pedophile son, and that he ended up killing the younger Roark. In the sequel, Roark Sr. remains a corrupt senator, just as vicious as before. He crosses paths with a young gambler named Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Don Jon), and when the cocky upstart bests him in a game of poker, Roark erupts in violence. This is just a small slice of life in Sin City, and it prepares the viewer for what’s to come.

Familiar characters Marv (Rourke) and Nancy (Jessica Alba, Little Fockers) collide at the hole-in-the-wall bar where Nancy performs nightly on stage. It’s the perfect seedy setting for the cast of characters in this dark underworld. We’re introduced to Dwight (Brolin), a private eye with a tortured past – just like nearly every other man in Sin City. Dwight is beguiled by ex-lover Ava Lorde (Green), a “dame to kill for.” His resolve crumbles, despite feeble attempts to resist her advances. The female characters in Sin City reminded me of a line from The Godfather: they’re more dangerous than shotguns.

As the tale unfolds, the characters have distinct yet overlapping storylines. The atmospheric tone and the cinematography were amazing. Cigarette smoke wafted through the air and lingered like smog, while splashes of color punctuated the otherwise monochromatic landscape. I saw the movie in 3D, and for once it was used effectively, as Frank Miller’s graphic novel sprang to life. I loved the gravelly narration, as both Dwight and Marv brought us into their world. Some viewers may not like the stereotypical portrayals of men as burly brutes or women as vampy but vulnerable vixens, but what other inhabitants would you expect in a place called Sin City?

If you enjoyed the first Sin City, you will probably think this one is even better; I did. The movie was a visual feast, if nothing else – and I found it supremely entertaining. My sole criticism is that each vignette ended in somewhat silly fashion, as the characters met their respective fates. This movie isn’t for everyone, but I sure enjoyed it. I normally give letter grades, but it’s more accurate if I just say this was 8/10 for me.

300: Rise of An Empire

I’ve commented numerous times that Hollywood studios love a sequel, whether it’s warranted or not. For example, bad sequels typically involve a re-tread of the original, a la The Hangover 2. Which leads me to 300: Rise of An Empire. 2006’s 300 was an exhilarating depiction of the Battle of Thermopylae, replete with amazing imagery and strong performances. One would think a sequel would logically pick up where the original left off, but the makers of 300: Rise of An Empire had something different in mind, much to my disappointment.

Writer Zack Snyder (Man of Steel) uses this sequel to tell a parallel storyline overlapping the same time period as the original movie. This seems like a cumbersome storytelling technique, but there was potential for it to be interesting. Snyder reveals Xerxes’ (Rodrigo Santoro, The Last Stand)backstory, providing a glimpse of him before he became the ruthless villain who mercilessly defeated Leonidas. Xerxes’ father Darius was king of Persia, decimating Greek troops through relentless warfare. During one fateful battle, he was killed by the bow of Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton, Gangster Squad), a fearless Athenian determined to unite all of Greece. Upon witnessing his father’s demise, Xerxes became hell-bent on exacting revenge upon Themistocles and any city-state that threatened Persia.

Enter Artemisia (Eva Green, Casino Royale), a fierce Persian warrior who harbors a venomous hatred for Greece. It was Greeks who raped and pillaged her childhood home, viciously marring her childhood and deeply sowing a seed of revenge that would come to define her. Left for dead, she was taken in by an older Persian warrior who trained her in battle. She displayed a natural ferocity and skill, becoming a formidable fighter. By the time she came of age, Artemisia had earned the favor of ill-fated King Darius. She was placed in command of the Persian army, though she served at Xerxes’ pleasure.

The movie is told largely from Themistocles’ perspective, as he tries to defeat Persia with the help of Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey, The Purge), Leonidas’ widow. She is reluctant to provide Spartan soldiers for battle, though Themistocles must amass a sizeable army to compete with the Persians. Eventually she lends the manpower, and Themistocles leads the charge against Persia, not to avenge Leonidas, but to unite Greece in defeat of a common enemy.

I don’t know how or why Zack Snyder allowed such a decline in quality between the original 300 and this sequel, but most aspects of the movie, which I viewed in 3D, disappointed me. The special effects were visually entertaining, but they became trite and felt gimmicky after a while. For example, it’s fine to use slow-mo effects to add emphasis, but overuse of the technique lessens the impact and the device becomes trite. The adversarial positioning of Themistocles and Artemisia was effective from a character standpoint, and they had excellent chemistry. One particular scene where they engaged in a rough romp was awkwardly entertaining, but ultimately the movie was not satisfying. Don’t waste your time. Grade: C