Tag Archives: crime

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

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With Marvel and DC comics competing with movie renditions of graphic novels, it’s easy to forget that there are more than two publishers. Dark Horse is responsible for bringing Frank Miller’s Sin City series into print and in 2005, the a few of the stories were brought to the big screen. The movie was received well enough to merit a sequel almost 9 years later. A Dame to Kill For brought back several familiar faces such as Jessica Alba, Bruce Willis and Mickey Rourke to reprise their roles but also brought in new actors. The nice thing about Sin City 2 was that Frank Miller was able to write new stories exclusively for the movie so fans of the graphic novel would be able to watch something fresh.

Just like the first Sin City, A Dame to Kill for was split into a few segments with the main story in the middle. The visual black and white style from the first movie was kept for the sequel although there was a lot more use of “highlighted” colors in this one. For the most part, the movie stayed true to its printed origins. Although it was a nice touch for those that had actually read the stories and recognized the panels from the graphic novels, it turned into a problem in some instances.

Because the movie is split into segments that contain distinct and sometimes exclusive characters, the following overview will also be split into segments.

JUST ANOTHER SATURDAY NIGHT

The opening segment of A Dame to Kill For and presumable a small setup to show moviegoers what they were in for. In this story Marv (Mickey Rourke) wakes from a car crash to find the bodies of several young men around him. Due to a certain condition that he has, he isn’t able to recall what events led to him and he begins to retrace his steps.

Just like in the first Sin City movie Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller don’t skimp out on the violence of this segment. The fights that ensue as Marv tries to recall his memory are done fairly well although a little confusing. It’s a nice taste of what A Dame to Kill For is going to bring but it’s far from being engaging. Mickey Rourke, just like in the first movie, does an excellent job at playing Marv throughout the entirety of the movie. The real problem that arises from this segment is the whole “recalling” portion of the movie. Marv spends a nice chunk of time remembering what happened through the use of voice over narration and despite the nice little effects used to sort of ease the viewer, it was pretty boring to watch.

A DAME TO KILL FOR

The main story in this movie was dedicated to this one. Personally, when I read this graphic novel I wasn’t to impressed with the story. Dwight McCarthy (Josh Brolin) is a private detective who gets an unexpected plea from help from his ex lover Ava Lord (Eva Green). She coaxes Dwight to help her escape from her crazy husband Damian Lord (Marton Csokas) but before he can help he also has to get through Damian’s monstrous chauffeur Manute (Dennis Haysbert) as well as some police officers that are caught by Ava Lord’s seduction.

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Clive Owen (left) and Josh Brolin (right) next to the novel’s rendition of Dwight

Due to the nature of the timeline of Dwight’s character, Josh Brolin was brought on board to replace Clive Owen.  In the graphic novel it is explained that McCarthy had to go through some reconstructive facial surgeries so it makes sense as to why Brolin was cast instead. His performance as Dwight wasn’t bad at all although it still bothers me that they didn’t bring in Clive Owen to play as McCarthy after the surgeries. Without that little detail it’s tough to even relate the characters from both movies let alone realize that they’re the same exact character. Eva Green also had a wonderful performance although her costume designs also helped sell the sleazy and manipulative Ava Lord. Despite this Eva Green might not have been the best actress for the role. She was certainly eye catching but there are several other actresses that might have fit the character a lot better. Manute is another major character in the Sin City universe and due to the death of Michael Clarke Duncan, Dennis Haysbert was brought on board to replace him. His acting was a little flat but Manute is a character that is better off being seen than heard and Haysbert didn’t do too bad.

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Manute: Michael Clarke Duncan (left), Dennis Haysbert (right)

Overall, A Dame to Kill For followed the graphic novel almost perfectly and that’s part of the why it wasn’t as interesting as it ought to have been. In comic book panels there are certain things that an author can get away with, one of these is when a character talks or thinks to himself. In this portion of the movie there was a lot of voice over narration that considerably slowed down the movie. Sure it was in the comic books but these voice over narrations were long enough to drag the viewer at out of the story. At one point it felt like I was just watching an audio book. The action that eventually took place on screen ended up being pretty campy (good for some people, bad for others). For a story line that was supposed to be the largest chunk of the movie, A Dame to Kill For was surprisingly underwhelming.

THE LONG BAD NIGHT

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The Long Bad Night is about a Johnny, a cocky and extremely lucky gambler, (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who walks into the infamous Basin City in order to beat Senator Roark (Powers Booth) at a game of cards. When the Johnny humiliates Roark in front of his colleagues, he doesn’t take to kindly toward the young gambler and teaches him that trying to beat a Roark at his own game is dangerous.

Having seen Gordon-Levitt in movies like (500) Days of Summer or comedies such as That 70’s Show, its tough to picture him in a movie like Sin City but he pulls it off extremely well. Roles like this one make me believe that Gordon-Levitt is one of the most versatile actors in Hollywood as of now. Powers Booth who reprises his role as Senator Roark also does a terrific job at portraying one of the most feared and respected men in Basin City. The tense moments that these two have on screen coupled with the peculiar story easily make this the best part of Sin City 2 despite the fact that there’s very limited violence in comparison with the rest of the film. If that wasn’t enough it was also entertaining to see Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future, Roger Rabbit) have a small part as well as a surprisingly well executed cameo from Lady Gaga.

NANCY’S LAST DANCE

Yet another original story by Frank Miller that gives some closure to the story of Nancy Callahan. Years after the suicide of John Hartigan (Bruce Willis), Nancy (Jessica Alba) tries her best to get over his death and deal with her depression. She decides that her best bet to get over Hartigan’s death is to kill Senator Roark (Powers Booth).

Nancy’s Last Dance might just be the second strongest story in the whole film. As a fan of the graphic novel, I was excited to finally get an ending to Nancy’s story in Sin City. I haven’t seen all of Jessica Alba’s movies but from what I can gather, this might have been one of her better acting performances. Her desperation and depression come across clearly and the build up to a showdown with Roark is engaging enough to keep the viewer’s attention. There were some strange things in this segment such as the whole ghost thing (Sixth Sense anyone?) but overall it was decent enough of a story that included minimal voice over narration.

Nancy Callahan and Marv

Nancy Callahan and Marv

One of the first rules of screenwriting that are taught is to never use voice over narration. Many successful movies have ignored this rule without much backlash but unfortunately Sin City 2 is not one of those examples. The movie overall is passable. Fans of the graphic novel may appreciate the new stories but the VO narration seems like overkill throughout many parts of the movie and frankly, it makes it a chore to watch. Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller did a great job with the first Sin City but the sequel seemed to be missing a lot of the gruesome story and brutal action that made the first one so good. Every actor did a good job at playing their role but it still felt like the casting of the new characters left a lot to be desired.

TL;DR: There are very few reasons to watch this on the big screen (i.e. Jessica Alba, The Long Bad Night). With the side stories being a lot more entertaining than the main one, its hard to imagine that we’ll be getting another Sin City movie any time soon.

Rock-It Raccoon Rating: 5.5/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 45%

IMDB: 7.2/10

MetaCritic: 45/100

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Taxi Driver (1976)

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Taxi Driver tells the story of Travis Bickle(Robert De Niro), a Vietnam War veteran who is trying to live his life in the city. When he gets a job as a cab driver in New York he begins to form the idea that there needs to be someone who will rid the streets of malicious people. As he continues to isolate himself from others, he begins to make a plan to do something about the criminals on the streets. His main concern is freeing 12-year old Iris (Jodie Foster) from prostitution.

The story has a slow pacing but it is not without its purpose. Throughout the entire film, Martin Scorsese does an excellent job at portraying what Bickle’s life is like. In the beginning of the movie, Travis is shown to be very introverted and a seemingly nice guy. As the story continues to show his life, it becomes more and more obvious that this is a man who is alone in the world with only his dark thoughts to keep him company. Taxi Driver explores the gray areas of morals and the fine lines that exists between hero and criminal. This is not a story of a hero rising up to the challenge of fighting crime, it’s a snapshot of a man’s struggle with loneliness and descent into insanity.

A taxi cab, wandering eyes, and people walking around in the street. This is how the director decides to open his film. Everything about this small opening, music included, tells the audience right away that the main character is a lone wanderer. One of the things that makes this movie so great is how the movie is able to tell the story of the protagonist without the help of dialogue. The slow music, the shots of Travis Bickle walking on the street alone in New York City, or even just the way his one room apartment is shown as he sits down to write in his journal. All of these things convey the sense that the person we are seeing on screen is a lonely individual.

Scorsese’s directing plays a big part in telling the story of Travis but it simply would not be the same without De Niro’s performance as the ex-marine. De Niro’s portrayal of the lone Travis Bickle is flawless. It is a challenge for anyone to try and show what a character is feeling with limited dialogue and De Niro makes it look easy. The way he tells his jokes and carries himself makes the audience grow a genuine like for his character. The likeable persona that De Niro portrays makes his on screen transformation into a vigilante even more shocking. Two other actors that also play an important part of this movie are Jodie Foster and Harvey Keitel. At only 12 years old, Jodie Foster plays the role of a underage prostitute and manages to reinforce the tone of the film. Harvey Keitel on the other hand puts on the role of the smooth talking pimp. Along with the rest of the cast, these 3 actors put on the memorable performance that make Taxi Driver such a unique film.

Taxi Driver is a phenomenal film that showcases Martin Scorsese’s phenomenal directing as well as Robert De Niro’s acting talent. The film itself may just be the best cross section of a character that has ever been done on screen. Little things such as the camera movements or small pieces of dialogue serve to show the viewer how everything looks through Travis’ eyes. The character development is not the only thing that makes Taxi Driver unique. It’s not often that a movie shows the rough side of a city like New York. The film does an excellent job of showing how dangerous the city can be during the night. This view of the city along with the violence of the film is one of the reasons crime movies became so popular in the United States. Scorsese’s Taxi Driver is not only one of the best movies of the 70’s it is an important part of American Cinema.

Rockit Raccoon Rating: 9.5/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 98%

IMDB: 8.4/10

MetaCritic: 93%

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American Hustle (2013)

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American Hustle follows the story of Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) and Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). The two work as con artists until they are caught by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). DiMaso makes a deal with Irving and Sydney that involves them helping him arrest corrupt politicians and possibly members of the mafia.

David O. Russell’s film features an impressive amount of talent which is not limited to Bale, Cooper, and Adams. Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Peña, and even Louis C.K. make an appearance. Being a very character driven movie, input to each actor’s role was necessary. Having gained about 40 pounds,  Christian Bale once again surprised the audience with one of his famous body transformations. The performances that Russell managed to get from each actor were good for the most part and some of them are going to be memorable for a while. Who is seriously going to forget seeing Jennifer Lawrence as a Jersey housewife or Michael Peña as Mexican playing an Arab? One of the things about the film that did end up bothering me was that there was more than one scene in the movie that seemed to drag on too long. I understand that some scenes were completely improvised which in turn showcased each actor but there were times when characters were on screen long after they had played their part in the story.

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Christian Bale gained weight for the role as Irving

The movie is definitely a character driven movie. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with the story which is solid and even gives the audience a few surprises and pieces of comedy here and there. Russell also gives us a clear look at styles and cultures in the 70’s and constantly reminds the audience of this.

Despite the showcase of talent from the cast of American Hustle, there are lots of things that I found wrong with it. The main culprit is the pacing of the film. Russell had a decent plot to start off with and talented actors but overindulging them with improv seemed to slow down and kill some of the story. Despite the problems that the characters got themselves into, there seemed to be very little suspense within the film itself. The other thing about Hustle was the fact that there were more than a few characters that seemed one dimensional and the fact that they got a lot of screen time made it seem as if the director was forcing the audience to like them.

American Hustle is by no means a bad movie but it did lose my attention multiple times throughout. By the time I finished watching it, it felt like the movie had no real pay off. David O. Russell certainly made the movie seem interesting but at the end of the day, it seemed to lack substance.  The best way to describe this movie would be to compare it to a bag of chips. Everything about the packaging seems as if it’ll be a good buy but once you open it you realize that there’s more air inside than actual food. Slow pacing and scenes that dragged on robbed the story of the potential suspense that every crime movie should have. American Hustle has its moments of brilliance but without the actors attached, it might have been just another bust.

TL;DR: Unless you’re a fan of an “actor’s” movie, just wait for the DVD release to watch it.

Rockit Raccoon Rating: 7/10

Rotten Tomatoes: 93%

IMDB: 7.7/10

Metascore: 90/100

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Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels

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Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) is Guy Ritchie’s first feature film (as both writer and director). For people who aren’t familiar with the name, Guy Ritchie is the man responsible for directing the Sherlock Holmes films of 2008 and 2011. This film is also Jason Statham’s film debut. Unlike most of his other films however, Statham doesn’t play a martial arts expert.

The film itself follows a pretty big cast of characters that include four friends, thugs, a group of weed growers, loan sharks, and debt collectors. A high-stakes poker game hosted by “Hatchet” Harry (P. H. Moriarty) – the owner of a porn shop – triggers several events. After losing £500,000 in the poker game, four friends are forced to find a way to pay back the money to “Hatchet” Harry in a week before he sends out his debt collector, Big Chris (Vinnie Jones), to cut of their fingers. On their quest to gather the money, the group of friends will cross paths with a sociopath, a traffic cop, weed, antique guns, and more than a few crimes.

The plot of the film starts off in a very chaotic manner because of all the ongoing stories. As the movie progresses, all of these stories will collide and blend in a very nice manner. The humor scattered throughout the story keep it from turning into a dull crime film. It is also worth noting that although Lock, Stock… doesn’t have a lot of eccentric characters or superstar actors, this actually helps everything move forward more naturally and lets all of the character arcs play off of each other without staying on one person or group of people for too long. The grainy look of the film, whether it is done on purpose or not, also compliments the content of the flick.

Overall, a great first feature film for writer/director Guy Ritchie. It’s very tough not to compare it to Ritchie’s next film, Snatch. (2000), but if you haven’t seen Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, you’re missing out. The extreme violence, dark humor, and non-linear plot that mirrors Quentin Tarantino’s style, make this a very enjoyable movie.

Rockit Raccoon Rating: 7

Rotten Tomatoes: 76%

IMDB: 8.2/10

Metascore: 66/100

WARNING: If you’re not familiar with British Cinema or have trouble deciphering what people are saying, it would be well advised to watch this movie with subtitles.

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