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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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Burial At Sea: Part 2 (2014)

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March of 2014 saw the second part of Bioshock Infinite’s downloadable content finally released. Burial At Sea part 2 marks Irrational’s final project and quite possibly, Ken Levine’s farewell to the Bioshock series. Prior to its release, Levine had announced that this installment would feature a more stealth oriented game style instead of the more run and gun gameplay of the main game. Fans eagerly awaited the continuation of the story and hoped that the new style of play would be able to live up to the hype after the disappointingly short campaign of BaS part 1.

The reason the gameplay in this episode of BaS was designed to be different is because the main character you’re playing is Elizabeth. In accordance with this, the team at Irrational made sure that it would be harder for this female lead to blast her way through the level as opposed to Booker. Instead of focusing on running into a room and shooting everyone, the focus of the game shifted to sneaking past enemies. To emphasize this, the sound of footsteps suddenly became an important part of the game. Stepping on things like puddles of water or pieces of glass would alert enemies to your presence while carpets and rugs would muffle the sound. Furthermore, Elizabeth is not able to damage enemies with melee attacks so if she gets spotted by an enemy she is forced to hide instead of trying to go head to head. A mini game for picking locks was also added which made opening doors or deactivating turrets a lot more entertaining.

A great part of what has made the Bioshock so successful is the story. True to its legacy, Burial at Sea part 2 delivers an amazing narrative that gives a satisfying ending to the series as a whole. Despite the massive cliffhanger that the previous chapter left off on, part 2 has the audacity to begin in Paris. The unrealistically happy environment gives the player a sense of dread knowing that things are only going to get worse from here on out. The voice acting talents of Courtnee Draper (Elizabeth) and Troy Baker (Booker) were joined by a lot of the voice actors from the original Bioshock game.

The game was not without its flaws however. There were a few more weapons as well as vigors/plasmids that made the game a lot easier to play. The main offender for this was the Peeping Tom plasmid that allowed the player to go invisible and also gave vision of where enemies were located. If this plasmid is upgraded, it can be used infinitely as long as the character doesn’t move. It seems fair enough but can easily be exploited by alerting enemies to your presence (while cloaked) and knocking them out as soon as they get close. Another little thing that bothered me was that there did not seem to be many sound hazards like broken glass and when these things appeared, they could easily be avoided by going a separate route or jumping onto a ledge.

Burial at Sea part 2 offers a new way to play a Bioshock game but its gameplay is far from amazing. The new mechanics are not too spectacular and the plasmids offer easy ways to be exploited. Despite all of this, the shining brilliance of this DLC comes not only from the narrative but also in exploring some new areas of Rapture as well as getting a glimpse of its history. The Burial at Sea series isn’t a piece of downloadable content that fans of the series would want to have, it’s something they have to have. Not only is this the last piece of content that Irrational will create, it is the conclusive chapter of the Bioshock saga.

TL;DR: Gameplay isn’t too radical but it is a must have for fans of the series.

Rockit Raccoon Rating: 8/10

Game Rankings: 84%

Megacritic: 84/100

 

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Burial At Sea: Part 1

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In March, Irrational Studios released Bioshock Infinite. After it was received with near perfect ratings, Ken Levine announced that there would be some Downloadable Content that would be more intent on being a survival horror as opposed to Infinite. Levine called this DLC a type of “Love letter to fans” and it’s easy to see why. The first trailer revealed characters from Infinite in a rapture setting with a noire motif.

November finally arrived and I downloaded the episode almost immediately for my PS3. The following paragraphs may have light spoilers concerning certain characters but I’ll stay away from important plot points.

The story to Burial at Sea begins right where the trailer shows us. Booker awakes in his office and Elizabeth walks in with a request to find a little girl that was lost. Once you step outside of Booker’s office (which is extremely similar to his office in Infinite) you step into the world of rapture. The thing that lured me into buying this DLC is the fact that you get to see Rapture (the city from the first Bioshock) before the fall. Elizabeth guides you around a segment of the city as you explore a few shops/galleries in Rapture and observe its citizens.

The game really begins when, with the help of a familiar face, you are taken into a department store that Andrew Ryan has sunk and is using as a type of prison. True to the spirit of the original Bioshock, this segment features a lot of survival horror elements. The first thing that caught my eye is the limited amount of ammunition that you start off with. More alarming is the fact that despite the return of the gun wheel of the original Bioshock, the amount of ammo you can carry forces you to try and think of the best way to get past the groups of enemies that come your way.

Enemies in this game mode have also become harder to get past, but this may be due to the difficulty I played in. The AI seems to have improved a bit. Splicers usually come in mobs, they rush you and even try to dodge the projectiles that you shoot at them. Thankfully, there are several ways to take out enemies silently and quickly.

One of the things that I did miss from Bioshock 1 and 2 was the ability to hack turrets and other devices. In the first Bioshock, you had the ability to play a mini game in order to make a turret friendly towards you. Bioshock 2 also kept this ability to hack turrets and other devices. With all of this in mind, I don’t see a reason as to why this is not possible in Burial At Sea.

[LIGHT SPOILERS]

My next complaint has to do with another mechanic of the game. In this case, the use of tears and skyhooks really killed some of the experience for me. The use of skyhooks wasn’t too bad but it seemed like it was only added there to keep true to Infinite’s gameplay. Tears were what bothered me the most. As soon as they were added to the game, I felt as if some of the “survival” elements of the game died a bit.

[END SPOILER]

Gameplay was definitely not a strong point for this game. Elizabeth’s AI seemed to have gotten worse in comparison to Infinite. She would get in the way and even trap you in rooms by standing right in front of the door once in a while (thankfully it didn’t happen too often). To top this all off, it really bothered me that she was constantly seen in the crossfire of splicers without any real consequence. I understand that this was also the case in Infinite but it didn’t seem as obvious.

Visually, I felt that the game seemed polished enough. All of the guns got a nice polish and looked a lot nicer than there Infinite counterparts.The environment of Rapture also looked incredibly nice. Seeing the underwater city before its fall was something that didn’t disappoint and the addition of a few familiar faces was also a nice touch to the narrative. The voice acting of Troy Baker, Courtnee Draper, and a few others did not fail to live up to expectations.

Overall, this DLC wasn’t too astounding and that’s to be expected. With the limited amount of time that Levine and his crew had to work with this, it’s actually understandable as to why this content doesn’t seem as polished as others. They had the task of not only making DLC but rebuilding rapture almost entirely from scratch. The real treat will come when part 2 comes out and the gameplay is changed. Part 1 of BaS was relatively short but it gave Bioshock fans enough of a tease to wait with anticipation for part 2. Although it has a very entertaining story, it is very hit-or-miss for people who loved the Infinite’s story.

TL;DR: A good DLC for fans of the Bioshock series. A little buggy and short but narrative makes up for it. Priced at $15, it gives a good incentive to buy the Season Pass ($20).

Rockit Raccoon Rating: 7.8/10

Metascore: 71/100

Game Informer: 8.00/10

IGN: 7.0/10

GameRankings: 78.25%

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