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Tuesday, April 19, 2005

More From Mr. Dinosaur Mahaffey

Letters Have No Arms presents a review from the keyboard of Mr. Dinosaur Mahaffey...

Frank Miller's Sin City (official title)

Believe me, I share(d) your reservations about the recently released movie version of "Sin City." The Tarantino insufferable hepster-doofus connection, the CGI thing, the foregrounded artistic self-consciousness tribute to noir pov,  the graphic novel connection when graphic novels and the particular author for this one, Frank Miller, are so 1987, Bruce Willis, Bruce Willis bound and naked, Bruce Willis macking with the scrumptlicious NINETEEN YEAR-OLD Jessica Alba (not nearly enough half-naked whip dancing from her in the movie) . . .etc.

However, it turns out that "Sin City" is the greatest movie ever made so far this year. Despite the unavoidable specter of the "heroic" Willis character sucking face w/ the teenage Ms. Alba--far more horrifying than the movie's multiple shootings, stabbings, decapitations, dismemberments, rapes, cannibalism--the movie is about as perfect as it gets as it races helter skelter--like the best punk rock music--to its inevitable nihilistic conclusion.

To be honest I didn't "like" the movie as I sat watching it, cringing as, for instance, a character gets castrated FOR THE SECOND TIME or at the whole look-at-this-ain't-we-cool-to-have-done-this aspect of the Sin City's b&w (w/ pretentious coloring of key artifacts and/or bodily fluids for the symbolically impaired) retro, outre look. In fact, I felt a little queasy at "Sin City"'s conclusion and couldn't wait to talk to my fellow viewers about how pretentious it was, how pointlessly violent it was, how it's a bad idea in any context to have people gaze at a nude & wriggly Bruce Willis  . . .but then . . .

I  began to recall in chunks of memory of increasing proportion  the first--and maybe only--time my life was changed by a movie. I snuck into see "Bonnie and Clyde" while in college. We crashed the joint after the movie had started and when I scuttled to my seat in the middle of a semi-crowded theater, I was greeted by one of the movie's many "realistic" scenes--which basically translates to great gouts of blood spewing from "real" people while they screamed holy hell in a crowded '20s jalopy and banjo music played over top of it all. I was at once horrified and mesmerized.  Up til this night I had seen plenty of "movie violence" but "Bonnie and Clyde" was a movie about real violence, the violence of the Civil Rights struggle, of Vietnam, of America's cities burning . . .Not specifically the "same thing" but the effects were the same. I'd never seen a movie before (and few since) where I was made to feel as if I'd actually been shot. Ultimately, it's as simple (and intense and complex) as that. When I left the theater that night it seemed as if the world had somehow titled on its axis, that my equilibrium was out of whack (not necessarily a bad thing).

Almost 40 years from B&C's release date and these are different times Jim. FCC fines for curse words, a huge furor over Janet Jackson's booby at the S. Bowl, people taking seriously the preposterous argument that video games, comics, movies, rap music, fill-in-the-blank with today's spotlighted pop culture pariah, can be the SOLE CAUSE for people to kill, maim, torture . . .And along comes "Sin City" to render a giant FUCK YOU to these censorious forces of darkness. So now I LOVE the movie if for no other reason than that, its transcendant (above co-director Robert Rodriguez'  [Miller got a nominative director credit apparently just to further piss off the Hollywood est.] ultra-forced hey-look-I'm-an-outsider-stance,etc. as well as the aforementioned forces of d.) ability to wave a giant middle finger at our national government, our cowering mass media, our acquiescent entertaiment industry, especially the craven bottom liners who make movies these days, to be able to scream, "Hey look here's how we do it and you can too. And if you don't like it, 'KISS MY DICK.'" Before I chop it off. Again.

Moving from the specific to the general back to the specific in terms of my understanding and appreciation of "Sin City" I then realized that there's not a wasted second in the movie, that it careens at breakneck speed--again just like that gooood got damn punk rock-- and that despite its mainly stoopid, comic book dialogue, it really says something important about how "free" America might actually be. And--in terms of America's freedom--I should say now that not all of the movie's specific dialogue is stoopid, as when one character tells another:  "Lying is powerful. There's power in lying." or something along those lines. And although the movie is overwrought (in a good way) in almost every respect the BAD--censorious and hypocritical force of d. FAMILY--the Rourke's--in terms of pure venality, skeleton in the closetism, horrid machinations for their own self-preservation, furtherance of stature, etc. could be almost any prestigious American family of the last 50 years, Carnegie, Hearst, Bush, Kennedy, and so on.

The particulars of "Sin City" are these:  There are four loosely connected crime (pedophelia, murder, murder, pedophelia) stories, w/ the last one containing a flashback/wraparound set in a hyper-real future urban nightmare. "Sin City" is relentlessly self-referential, each "frame" filled with hints, clues, etc. to help the viewer make more meaning from it. You gotta pay attention if you want to "get" it.

The acting--from Willis, Clive Owen, Benecio Del Torio, Nick Stahl, Elijah Wood, Rosario Dawson, Alba, Powers Booth, Rutger Hauer,  is highly stylized and mannered, with Stahl (as the Roarke family ur-pervert) and Wood (as the Roarke family's formidable and silent cannibalistic hit man) especially creeptifying. I'm trying to think of a point of reference for the scene where Wood's character is chained to a tree and ea--ah never mind, don't want to give too much away.

 The women characters are by and large meat objects (at first glance anyways) dressed for the next DETAILS magazine cover. On second thought though . . .escpecially if your second thought focuses on what's-her-name, the little sylph flying around, weilding the twin samurai swords that she uses to, among gruesome delights, turn the Del Torio character's head into a Pez Dispenser. The violence is w/ out abatement and offered as nothing more than visceral and endless and pointless.  Be sure all the popcorn is gone before Willis begins punching out a character who "bleeds" rivers of yellow bug goop on to the screen.

Oh yeah, and Mickey Rourke is stupendously great in "Sin City", giving rich, human dimension to his essentially serial-killing (but with a heart of gold that even lesbians can appreciate) character Marv despite being burdened w/ what looks to be a ten thousand dollar prosthetic head. And when's the last time--if ever--you could say that about a flick?

Let's just hope "Sin City"'s a portent for the future of movies. But we all know it's not.

I had the sad misfortune of having to watch the "Jennifer Garner Vehicle" "Elektra" a few days after viewing "Sin City" which made me appreciate the latter all the more. "Elektra" is a typical 2005 "action-adventure" w/  lethargically stylized "action" and very little "adventure" unless your sense of that is to be caught on the tilt-a-whirl that won't stop at some backwater carny. You know and I know that we can expect much more "Elektra" and much less "Sin City" in our multi-plexes if American pop POP POP (emphasis on popular) culture continues its swirl around the toilet bowl.

As P.T. Barnum or H.L. Mencken or Michael Bay or some fuckin' body once said, "Give the suckers what they want" ("Elektra") as opposed to what they need ("Sin City" and much more of it). Sorry but I can't get past the temporary euphoria of thinking about millions having seen  a chunk of pop culture like "Sin City" that is truly subversive. But if you're now interested, hurry--"Sin City" had a precipitous b.o. drop between weeks one and two which typically sound the death knell for most movies in wide release. I didn't check specifically but I'm sure a sodden, lethargic wide-release mess like "Elektra" probably found its legs & made money hand over fist for its gutless perpetrators. So it goes.

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