Monday, April 04, 2005

Sin City vs. Sin City

I saw Sin City on Sunday, and I have a few thoughts about it. I haven’t totally defined my opinion of it other than to say that it’s a bold new look for cinema. Audiences like it to the tune of $28M domestic box office this weekend.

I saw the movie at Silverlake’s Vista Theater on Sunset Blvd. Gorgeous one-screen palace that harkens back to the old time theaters of my youth (Boy I really sound old don’t I?). The motif of the theater was Egyptian and at any moment I expected to see Boris Karloff as The Mummy come out from behind the thick red velvet curtains. Everyone should see a movie in a venue like this. Classic Hollywood at its finest - Affordable too – only $5 for the movie.

I’ll get to the movie, but first let me talk about the Sin City graphic novels. This is important because the whole “gag” of this movie is the fact that it’s a translation of the graphic novels to the big screen. It’s not an adaptation.

And that’s a good thing and a bad thing.

The GN’s (graphic novels to you civilians) are thick books that Frank Miller has written and drawn taking place in his own film noir corner of the world. It’s a world of trenchcoats and truncheons, t-birds and topless women who’ll shoot your dick off if you cross them. Corruption at every turn. A city where there are no “good guys” just people trying to survive – in other words – Mickey Spillane’s living room. The books are distinctive in that they’re black and white with the occasional splash of red or other color for emphasis. They show Miller’s undying love for crime fiction and film noir.

They came on the heels of his cashing his checks from all the superhero fiction he’d been creating: Daredevil (Elektra), The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Year One and his sci-fi samurai love fest, Ronin. Miller broke off from tradition and struck out to create books, not just comic books. In the process he brought a distinctive perspective on crime fiction.

Okay, now about the movie, I have to say this – it’s just like the books. Exactly. Panel for frame, it’s exactly like the books. Same dialogue. Same design sense. Same voice-over. It’s a graphic novel onscreen.

But it ain’t a movie.

That’s what directors Rodriguez and Miller were going for and they succeeded, but in strictly putting panels onscreen you left out a lot of the things that give a film life. You’ve ignored the grammar of film in favor of the graphic novels’, and in this case the results aren’t one hundred percent positive.

Some of the dialogue is stilted and is meant to be read, not spoken. This is a problem.

Some of the camera angles and wide shots you wish were there to give the story its proper mood and setting – they aren’t there. This is a problem.

Some of the voice-over is overused. This is a problem.

One of the stories used – The Big Fat Kill – has a lot of backstory to it related to another of Miller’s novels. None of this is ever explained. A small problem, but yeah – a problem.

To be sure, there’s a lot that’s good here:

The actors for the most part fall into their roles, with the exception of Mickey Rourke who owns his. He pulled his character on like a second skin and went to town.

Carla Gugino almost made me forget that Jessica Alba was in the movie.


Rosario Dawson ditto.

The black and white works really well and the color is properly used (for the most part – I had a problem with the color in the sequence where Clive Owen and Benicio Del Toro are talking in the car. It was mis/overused).

Many of the angles and visual motifs have never been seen in a film before.

For all the above, good and bad, my hat’s off to Sin City.

Notice I didn’t say movie.


Scott said...

I love the Vista. Just a bit of movie trivia: it was the movie theater where Christian Slater meets Patricia Arquette in TRUE ROMANCE. Because of this, my wife and I saw KILL BILL VOL. 1 there on opening night. Of course the next night, Q.T. showed up in the Pussy Wagon and stayed for all the showings. Just my luck!

Oh, and SIN CITY was awesome! Even though I never read the “GNs”

Tom A. said...

Quick question: How does Jessica Alba have ANY sort of mainstream career?

It's not that she's talentless. She'd probably be great in soft-core fare a la "Embrace of the Vampire," starring Alisa Milano. And I'm sure there's a boxing match somewhere in need of a ring girl. So, misunderstandings like "Is this Round 2 or Round 3?"--she could clear those up lickety-split. But, major studio releases that require actual acting?

And do I understand this correctly, she plays a stripper in "Sin City," yet remains clothed? Was that in the comic? Because as I recall, Miller likes his gun-toting women topless.

Please, Bill, help me make sense of this, so we may then move on to the mystery that is... Brittany Murphy.

CD said...


Boy, you hit the nail right on the head. While I can't really debate whether or not it's a movie (I mean it's still a movie, isn't it?), I can say that you're right about the voice/over and dialogue. I think it would've been evident on day one of filming that the dialogue sounded clumsy and overwritten. I enjoyed every other aspect of the film, but the dialogue kept pulling me out of the movie. I think only Mickey Rourke's Marv achieved the correct vibe.

So while I appreciated that Sin City arrived on screen without any appreciable watering down, the clunky dialogue keeps it from being a great film. IMHO, of course.


Bill Cunningham said...

Tom -- I LIKE Jessica Alba. She has an exotic, yet accessible look to her. That has always sold in Hollywood - going all the way back to Theda Bara. I just don't think she's found the right property or director to get her to act. I'll have to fix that.

CD -- people like this hybrid thing we're seeing on screen. I didn't say I didn't like it either. It's just not a movie. I didn't think it "flowed" from one scene to the next the way I think a movie should. Is it different? Yep. Is it good? Parts of it - yep.
Is it breaking new ground? Yep, that too.

BUT ---

The results speak for themselves - This isn't how comics, books, etc... should be adapted/translated/etc... for the screen. Strict adherence robs you of the opportunities that the film medium provides. If they had loosened up a little I think the "Onscreen GN" would have been better.

Tom A. said...

As I said, she's not talentless.

And if you can convince her to star in "Embrace of the Vampire II: Alisa vs. Alba," I have no doubt you'll break all sorts of boxoffice records.

There you go, your next directing gig.

Bill Cunningham said...

I don't direct anymore. I used to do industrials and commercials, but I'm better now. The medication is doing wonders.

I actually have a project in mind for little Miss Alba (boy, that sounded sinister), and if she's available, she's one of our top choices for a horror project I've written.

geoff said...

"It’s a graphic novel onscreen. But it ain’t a movie."

That's exactly it. Very well said, Bill. (I especially like the part about "ignoring the grammar of film.")