Frank Miller's SIN CITY (2005)
BASIN CITY BLUES
I think it all started with the comic book art explosion of the late 60’s and early 70’s. Comic book illustrators were “real” artists, who created actual paintings for their paperback covers, and graphics magazine covers and posters—as well as creating striking new techniques that turned graphic arts on its head within the comic books themselves. The comics artists of the 30’s and 40’s [not counting Hal Foster and Burne Hogarth] were not challenged to draw beyond the simplistic, even the lame. The “tame” illustrators of the 50’s began to give way to a team, a horde of dynamic talented artists. Men like Jack Kirby, Frank Frazetta, Neal Adams, Jim Steranko, Barry Smith, and Bernie Wrightson suddenly were drawing comic books like no one had ever seen before—or even dreamed of. The rectangle of the comic book page was no longer static and boring-- where one could find six to eight evenly spaced panels with artwork squeezed into each one. No, for these new artists, that page became the artist’s palette, and incredible art literally leaped off the page, or spread out and covered two pages—or in some cases folded out to three pages like a Playboy centerfold—crammed with so much detail that it was like studying a Renaissance engraving—one could spend ten minutes just scanning a double page layout, marveling at the perspective and richness. These artists really understood anatomy, and these super heroes flexed and jumped and punched their way through their tales almost like they were in 3-D, and they could draw cityscapes and landscapes and cars and military machines and futuristic weaponry all impeccably—like commercial Art, not comic book sketching.
In the late 1970’s, enter the young Turk—Frank Miller. He studied these master artists, and he agreed with their new and dynamic approaches—and he could write too. His first major job was at Dell, or Gold Key comics, drawing a TWILIGHT ZONE in 1978. He drew with style, energy, and power—and very soon he created his own unique view of the graphics world. He began his own experiments with the multi-paneled page, splashing the action in every direction, like he had explosives in his pencil; cutting across the frames like the lines weren’t there. It reminds me of those artists that create three or four paintings that are all portions of one big scene—that can be spread across a room, letting your eye connect them.
Miller had learned from the likes of Neal Adams to do careful background research—so he began to fill sketchbooks with drawings of New York City. He helped to inaugurate the adult graphics phenomenon—larger formats, better paper, brighter inks, coupled to R-rated writing. This format was not completely “new”. There were AMAZING TALES and WEIRD TALES, with Frazetta covers, and much of their content was gruesome and quite adult, but they were considered “underground art”. Now it became mainstream and Frank Miller was ready to leap astride it like a young bull rider.
His first big job at Marvel was drawing PETER PARKER (#27-#28), in which the character of Daredevil was featured. He took over as the primary artist on DAREDEVIL in 1977. Working for DC, he created a very dark version of BATMAN. His depiction of WOLVERINE for Marvel, became the prototype for the character later fleshed out by Hugh Jackman in Bryan Singer’s X-MEN films. Miller also created RONIN, an ultra violent comic. He began to do a lot of work for Dark Horse graphic comics.
The latest box office clout and success of SIN CITY is similar to the furor created for Todd McFarlane’s mysterious comic creation, SPAWN—and the interesting film made from it in 1997. A very dark and violent film, adapting his style to the screen, it featured an almost unrecognizable John Leguizamo being sensational as the Killer Klown. I used to collect comic books in the early 70’s. A friend of mine one day just handed me a few dozen Marvel comics, and when I read them the artists and the artwork blew me away. These were certainly not my father’s comic books. I ended up with a modest collection—about 10,000 of them over several years. But I found myself being too analytical about them—being more a custodian, broker, and financial consultant. I understood the market like a dealer. I was buying them, and putting them in plastic bags, faster than I could read them. Some of them, the #1 issues, had to be bagged immediately and could not be opened or read or soiled. One day I came to my senses, and carried the whole collection down to a dealer I knew and sold him the whole thing. I guess I tend to be somewhat obsessive about my interests and my collections. My 1500 square feet of basement presently covered with shelves holding my 12,000 VHS and DVD collection is testament to that.
When one opens the first page of a comic book, and looks at the title page, you notice that there is a “penciler”—who is the primary artist who did the original pencil drawings of the comic page panels. Then there is the “inker”—who traces the pencil lines in bold dark black ink, often adding a few flourishes of his own. When Neal Adams would ink over Gil Kane, for instance, on GREEN LANTERN or GREEN ARROW—the artwork began to look more like Adams than Kane. Next up would be the “colorist”—who decided what tints all the elements of the drawings would have. Lastly, there is the “writer”, and his or her job was daunting in terms of writing for several dozen titles every month—keeping up on the particular comic’s history and particular cast of villains and heroes. Some of the beauty of the larger formatted graphic novels was found in the lovely shiny high quality paper and the brightness of the deeper ink colors. Frank Miller often uses his wife—artist Lynn Varley, as his colorist. She works primarily in watercolors.
Reading the best of the graphic novels and comics—especially the French ones—was like breaking a movie down into dramatic still shots. The two mediums begged to meld with each other. But in the past the film adaptations of comic books have been unimaginative and sophomoric. In the 30’s we watched Buster Crabbe bring to life FLASH GORDON and BUCK ROGERS in those cheesy serials. In the 40’s and 50’s we were presented with serials of BATMAN and CAPTAIN MARVEL, and of course we had the hapless George Reeves in his padded suit on the SUPERMAN television series. Everyone enjoyed the “camp” qualities of it all—raved at the silliness, poorly written scripts, and bad acting. In the 70’s, everyone tuned in to watch the idiotic adventures of Adam West as BATMAN—pow, bang, sock, boom! Poor Peter Parker made it into several poorly produced, poorly written, wretchedly acted televison movies about SPIDER MAN—as did CAPTAIN AMERICA. First Cathy Lee Crosby and then Lynda Carter made a sexy WONDER WOMAN—but no one took comics very seriously. Even the Incredible HULK made it through a couple of seasons on TV, where the skinny Bill Bixby got to morph into the raging Lou Ferrigno several times each episode.
By the late 70’s, though, Hollywood was hiring Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman to appear with newcomer Christopher Reeve to kick off the new SUPERMAN film series—with good special effects—“You will believe that a man can fly!”— with music by John Williams. Then Tim Burton stunned the world in 1989 with his BATMAN, giving Jack Nicholson a chance to stretch his comedic muscles. We are in the era of Comic Book Movies now. X-MEN (2000) and its sequel—SPIDER MAN (2002) and its sequel—the CGI HULK (2003)—the fairly well done DAREDEVIL (2003) with Ben Affleck in red leather, and Colin Farrell chewing up the scenery—which spawned this year’s ELECTRA with Jennifer Garner—and of course the silly campy CAT WOMAN featuring the luscious Halle Berry making Julie Newmar look like Margaret Hamiltion. Coming out soon will be Marvel’s THE FANTASTIC FOUR, with Michael Chiklis, of THE SHIELD TV series, playing “The Thing”.
When Frank Miller talks about what has influenced his art, he mentions Frazetta, Kirby, Steranko, and Neal Adams—as well as several European artists like Moebius, Guido, and Crepax. He also has been a martial arts film buff, and he always refers to the Kenji Misumi samurai film series, LONE WOLF AND CUB, written by Goseki Kojimus, and starring the formidable Tomisaburo Wakayama. He probably would add that he liked Wakayama’s brother, Shintaro Katsu from the ZATOICHI: Blind Swordsman film series, and the Hanto “the Razor” Itami movies. He also gravitated toward the 40’s and 50’s detective/private eye pulp fiction of Mickey Spillane, Jim Thompson, Raymond Chandler, and Dashell Hammett—and the long string of Noir films that were based on the novels by these writers.
Miller was also attracted to the Japanese Yukuza gangster films, and he read a lot of the Japanese “manga”. Manga is a gargantuan industry in Japan. They take their comics and graphic novels very seriously. It has been estimated that Japan is the “comic” capital of the entire world. They publish 13 weekly manga magazines, 10 bi-weeklies, and 20 monthlies. On any given day there are at least ten new manga magazines on the newsstands—some of them boasting a circulation of one million copies per issue. The Japanese spend billions on their daily dose of manga. Go to Amazon.com to Books, and type in “Japanese Manga”, and it delivers up 2,656 hits.
Miller is considered a bit of a loose cannon in the industry—who tends to be very outspoken. In that sense, he and Robert Rodriguez are very similar—a pair of talented mavericks toiling outside the conventions and politics of their genres. Miller saw what happened to his fellow Marvel artists, Steve Dillon and Jimmy Palmiotti, with their comic book creation, THE PUNISHER. It was adapted to the screen in 2004, starring Thomas Jane and John Travolta—and it was a snore fest. So Miller was understandably gun-shy about allowing any of his graphics creations to make it to Hollywood.
In the world of comic books and graphics there is a kind of language used for the writing—a dialogue that falls leagues short of literature. Writing for the comics is always subservient to the artwork. Listening to the dialogue in SIN CITY, a kind of Basin- speak—was kind of painful. It was lewd, crude, tough talk and it was growled and spat out by its protagonists. Yet within the confines of this newest genre—it seemed to work. I happen to appreciate good writing for films. I loved, for instance, SIDEWAYS (2004), and in part because of the sparkling dialogue and the good writing. Even the Viscount of Violence, Quentin Tarantino, called “Q” by his friends, tends to be much more into imagery than words. The dialogue in his many films has tended to be a bit clunky and off center. His love of older classic films, and the martial arts films of the East—reprocessed through his unique perspective—seems to be what makes some of his films resonate with audiences.
So the brilliant and abrasive Frank Miller had to be courted by Robert Rodriguez. Initially he was not convinced—not even amused at the notion that a “good movie” could be made out of his graphic novels. Then Rodriguez had a brainstorm. He felt that Miller’s graphics could not be “adapted” to film—rather they would have to be “translated” to the screen. The director got busy. He hired Josh Harnett, and they filmed some footage—what later would become the prologue before the credits for SIN CITY—based on a Miller short story, THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT. He used actress Marley Shelton too, and with that five minutes of digital footage—it was not really film—he approached Frank Miller again.
Rodriguez said to Miller,” Here, look at this would you? This is the way I want to shoot your novels—in black and white like a Noir film—with the odd splash of primary color. If you like it, then we can move forward with the project. If not—then you will have a marvelous little film clip to show to your friends.”
Frank Miller loved it. He had never seen anything like it. Neither have we. Roger Ebert wrote,” This is a black and white world [black as hell and white as heaven—every brick standing out proudly in the spill of the glare from the sputtering street lights—with shadows so dark, so deep—that beasts could emerge from them without warning.], where it is always night, and the rain falls hard—all B&W, except for blood, which is red [or white], eyes which are green [or blue], hair which is blond—and the Yellow Bastard.” Miller signed on immediately. He even appeared in the movie as the priest in the Marv tale.
Robert Rodriguez went on to show the clip to every prospective actor or actress that he wanted to cast. Benicio Del Toro, I have read, couldn’t get on the phone fast enough after the viewed the clip. He was, however, not the first choice to play Jackie Boy. Johnny Depp had been offered the role, but at some point had turned it down. Christopher Walken, Willem Dafoe, Michael Douglas, and Steve Buschemi all turned down roles in the movie. Leonardo Di Caprio was up for Roark Jr., and when he backed out, the role went to Nick Stahl.
Rodriguez is a good friend with George Lucas, and it was Lucas who convinced him to move away from the reality of “film”, and begin to work with the highly sophisticated digital cameras. Rodriguez agreed and he shot the last SPY KIDS digitally. In the opening credits of SIN CITY, it announces SHOT & CUT—Robert Rodriguez. There is no mention of cinematographer or editor. He has a reputation for being a one-man production crew. He is now using, according to one source, the new Sony high definition HFC-950 cameras. He is no longer working with film as a medium at all. It may even be a misnomer to call this movie a “film”. Lucas & Rodriguez have been cajoling Tarantino, endeavoring to wean him off celluloid dependence. As it turned out, “Q” directed one scene in SIN CITY—the scene in the car with Dwight and Jackie Boy, or at least the talking head of Jackie Boy, on route to the tar pits. Originally, Tarantino wanted to shoot in a real car. But without a breakaway prop car on a gimble trailer, he could not get the shots he wanted. Finally, he gave in and shot the scene with both actors sitting in front of the green screen.
Actually this digital process, coupled to CGI, can, and probably is, revolutionizing Art Direction. Why construct million dollar sets when one can create just as much opulence with a computer generated image? Sometimes there can be a downside though—the eye of the viewer sees vast panoramas, but not “fine” detail. This was certainly the problem with the last STAR WARS. A few years ago I began to appreciate this process while comparing Sci-Fi TV series. STAR TREK: The Next Generation used models for all the effects, and for any one episode the F/X costs were a million bucks. On a competing network, BABYLON FIVE used early CGI effects, and they were much more colorful, imaginative, and detailed, and they produced them on a very modest budget.
Using CGI and live actors is not something totally new, obviously, but Rodriguez has found a way to create a perfect synthesis between the graphic comic novels and film Noir. If they had only tried that on THE PUNISHER it might not have been such a box office flop. Certainly live actors and CGI do not always mix well—going back to the Ray Harryhausen stop-action figures inserted after the actors were already filmed. Recently Jude Law and Gwyenth Paltrow looked pretty bored, listless, and ridiculous cavorting around in front of a green screen, that later had some fine CGI effects added in the tedious and stillborn SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW (2004).
Roger Ebert wrote further,” The look and the language of the film owes a lot to the hard-boiled pulp novels of the 50’s. This is a city where the streets are always wet, the cars are all ragtops, and everybody smokes. The “period” of the film is timeless—modern skylines—cars from the 30’s and 50’s racing rims against modern Jaguars and Ferraris—where everybody wears leather and swirling trench coats or G-strings and fishnet stockings.”
Robert Rodriguez is only 37 years old. Since 1991 he has directed 12 movies and 7 VG games. He is a dynamo of energy and an extremely talented filmmaker. He usually writes and edits his films—he did this one. His film “studio” is in a building across from his house. He refuses to work anywhere else. He usually puts together the producing team. In this instance, I have read, it was only his friendship with Harvey and Bob Weinstein, from MIRAMAX, that made this production possible. He worked as a “crewmember” on both KILL BILLS. He has been the primary cinematographer on 8 of his films—including this one. He has been the music composer on 9 of his films. He is also an actor, does special effects, sound, production design, and second-unit directing.
In 1981, as a 12-year old Tejano boy, he sat in a movie theater watching John Carpenter’s ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK—and he decided that he, too, would be a movie director. There were ten kids in his family. His mother would take all the kids regularly to the Olmos Theatre in Austin, Texas, and they watched the Hollywood classics. At 13, shades of Steven Spielberg, he used his family’s super-8mm camera to make “movies”. He has always been a cartoonist and sketch artist—so some of his early film efforts were animated. Then his father gave him a video camera. He gave starring roles to all the kids in the neighborhood. At school, where he was considered a “poor” student, he would turn in movies rather than term papers. At one point while applying for enrollment in the renowned film department of the University of Texas at Austin, his low grades threatened to “keep him out”. He promptly sent him a trilogy of short films called, AUSTIN STORIES. It beat out all the other entries of all the other “top” students.
As a graduate directed study, he presented a film called, BEDHEAD (1991). It went on to win many awards. Then he got married, and decided,” To sell my body to Science”—and he raised 7 thousand dollars. Immediately he rushed off to Mexico with a rag-tag crew and shot EL MARIACHI (1992). He was hoping to sell it to the Spanish video market, and raise enough money to make another film. But somehow MARIACHI found its way to Sundance, where it became an instant success. That film, and his unique way of creating it, made him a legend in the world of independent Ultra-Low Budget cinema. Later he published a book entitled, REBEL WITHOUT A CREW, about the making of MARIACHI. After the Sundance success, Rodriguez snatched a distribution deal with Columbia.
In 1995 he remade “Mariachi” as DESPERADO for a slim 7 million dollars, and he helped launch the American careers of both Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek. Quentin Tarantino became his pal. “Q” appeared as an actor in DESPERADO. Then Tarantino wrote the script and appeared in the Rodriguez film, FROM DUSK TO DAWN (1996)—which launched the screen career of George Clooney. RR became friends with George Lucas, and then there were three—this triumvirate of maverick movie musketeers. In 2001 he resigned from the Writer’s Guild of America. He said,” They have just too many rules, and all they do for you is take your money.” After he courted and won Frank Miller, and he started creating SIN CITY, he decided to honor Miller with a Co-Director’s credit. The Director’s Guild of America told Rodriguez,” No. You can’t do that.” He did it anyway, leading to his resignation from their Guild—joining his fellow defectors—Tarantino and Lucas. This action lead to his subsequent dismissal by Paramount as director of A PRINCESS OF MARS, aka JOHN CARTER OF MARS—to be released in 2006. Resigning from these two powerful unions/guilds would have ruined the careers of most directors. But Robert Rodriguez is not, “most directors”. He sets his own standards, plays by his own rules, and stands by his convictions.
He and his wife, Elizabeth, have four children. His three sons are named Rebel, Racer, and Rocket Rodriguez—too cool. He has the right of “final cut”, and the final approval of all marketing materials. These are ironclad clauses in all of his contracts. His production company is called, TROUBLEMAKER STUDIOS. He wrote two failed scripts for PREDATOR 3. Kevin Smith wanted him to direct DOGMA (1999). It was RR who convinced him to direct it himself. Rodriguez has his own band. It is called, CHINGON (Bad Ass), and he shares several band members with the DEL CASTILLO BAND. One of his many cousins is actor, Danny Trejo, who has appeared in all of his films. RR is also an accomplished chef.
Rodriguez edited SIN CITY “down” to 124 minutes. This meant that a lot of the original plot extant within the Miller stories, THE HARD GOODBYE, THE BIG FAT KILL, and THE YELLOW BASTARD, was left out of this movie. So obstinately, RR shot the novels, “in their entirety”. Tentatively he plans on including them in the extended DVD version release of the film—the two disc Director’s Cut. He is planning a sequel already, wanting to use some of Miller’s other Basin City tales. Johnny Depp has shown some interest in playing Wallace in TO HELL AND BACK. So I guess SIN CITY 2 is in the works. RR already has, within Miller’s drawings, all the storyboards—and he has a tried and true methodology for filming. Perhaps this will lead logically to a trilogy, or a whole new movie series that could stretch out over the next decade, and the next, rivaling that old tired pony James Bond? Sigh—some of us wish.
Roger Ebert felt,” This isn’t an adaptation of a comic book—it’s a comic book brought to life and pumped up with steroids. Miller’s comic book frames functioned essentially as storyboards, which Rodriguez followed with ferocity.
This movie is not about narrative—but about style. It processes Frank Miller’s artwork through computer effects, grotesque make-up, lurid costumes—and dialogue that chops at the language of Noir. Even with all the big stars—we get not as much their presence as their essence. This movie is not about what the characters say, or even what they do—but rather it is about who they are in our wildest dreams.”
Bruce Willis is built-in Box Office. His presence was smart casting. I loved his performance. It was like watching Mitchum, or even Bogart in black and white. Willis now has the screen presence of many of the classic Hollywood heavy-hitters. He played Hartigan—the veteran detective that was breezing through his last day of duty before his retirement—for medical reasons—and he was loose ordinance with a bad ticker. Unafraid, he had decided that he was not going to pass quietly into the shadows. He had the scent of blood in his flaring nostrils as he raced toward danger in his sea green Buick convertible. With his applied facial scars and his excellent hairpiece, he looked very much like the Miller drawings of Hartigan—a painfully honest cop adrift in an ocean of corruption. He was a pariah to the Roark family—with a Cardinal at its head, who managed to get his younger brother elected to the U.S. Senate—and to the Senator’s whelp, his son, Roark Jr.—who was a psychotic pedophilic weasel who was able to murder several little girls and his crimes were always covered up.
This was a strong performance by Willis—mouthing that pulp noir comic book dialogue like it was iambic pentameter. He lived by a masculine code that respected women and children above all things. J. Hoberman, of the VILLAGE VOICE, wrote,” All three stories are predicated on a 12-year old boy’s fantasy about a lone unappreciated betrayed tough guy who has to protect, or avenge, some beautiful and vulnerable little lady—even if she is a kick-ass hooker in full circus regalia.” I liked Willis earlier this season as Jeff Talley in HOSTAGE (2005)—and he is working hard on preparing the “long awaited” DIE HARD 4, due out in 2006—that will probably create more box office stir than say the release of ROCKY 6.
Hartigan; I’m as experienced as a palsy victim giving brain surgery with a pipe wrench.
It’s better to be hated for what you are, than to be loved for what you’re not.
An old man dies. A young woman lives. Fair trade.
That fade out on Willis, after the shoot-out, at the end of the (prologue?)—After his partner Bob has shot him to pieces--obviously Bob was bought by the Roarks— with Hartigan leaning against those wet pilings, up against that massive rough rope—with the weeping traumatized 8-year old Nancy Carrigan hugging him—really was a well done piece of film. Willis has rarely been better.
As good as Bruce Willis was in this movie—he was definitely not the “Star”—he was just the savior of the BO—the “Name”—the actor dude with clout. No, the real star—the bursting heart—the bulging bicep of this movie was the dynamic Mickey Rourke playing Marv—half man/half gorilla—and all sentimental thug. Sporting a thick prosthetic nose and chin, Roarke pulled off an acting tour-de-force. Everyone talks about this role as Roarke’s “comeback”. He never left, of course, just his popularity, his heat, did.
Roger Ebert wrote,” Marv is a hard man on mean streets with a lost lovely in his heart and a gat in his gut.”
Marv moved through the dangerous streets of Basin City like a berserk behemoth, which happened to have an intense liking for leather trench coats—other people’s. The stunning Goldie came to him while he was at Kadie’s Bar, and solicited his company. He had enough savvy to realize she wanted his protection. [On the matchbook cover for Kadie’s Bar—the logo is identical to the cover art for Miller’s short story collection, BOOZE, BROADS, & BULLETS.] Goldie provided him with “the night of his life”. They drank too much, procreated too much, and then passed out. Big Marv woke up hurting the next morning. As his eyes cleared he realized that Goldie was stone dead. Some phantom killer had come silently and quickly in the night.
Marv: You had to look closely to notice that her perfect breasts were not moving the way they were supposed to.
Marv: Goldie’s dead, and I’ve been framed for murder. The cops are in on it.
Cop: [knocking hard on the door] Open up! Police!
Marv: I’ll be right out.
[flicks lighter shut—Door is blown off its hinges, taking several cops with it.]
Lucille: Settle down, Marv—take another pill.
Marv: Hey! There is no settling down! This is blood for blood and by the gallons. This is the old days, the bad days, the all or nothing days. They’re back!
Marv: Walk down the right back alley in Sin City, and you can find anything.
Marv: You can’t make an omelet—without killing a few people. Then it came to me like a kick in the nuts. What if I’m wrong? What if I imagined all this? I’ve got a condition. I get confused sometimes. What if I finally turned into what they’ve always said I would turn into? A maniac. A psycho killer.
So Marv had become the Avenger. He would pull the teeth out of the smirk of the whole town to find out who killed his Goldie. Rourke has always had a tremendous physique—but in this movie sometimes it was hard to tell if Marv’s muscles were Mickey’s, or were they a body suit? Rourke found all the lethal power, chaos, and grace of this rampaging thug—and the walk—and the voice. Marv’s voice-overs as part of the narrative were all very effective—pure Chandler—pure Noir.
Rodriguez had all the protagonists “growl” their lines, but Rourke’s character voice seemed perfect for Marv—all bourbon and blow, and cigarettes, and too many hits to the Adam’s apple—reminiscent of the weary patter laid down by Robert Mitchum’s voice-overs in FAREWELL, MY LOVELY (1975). Ebert wrote,” The narration plays like the bubble captions at the top of the comic book frame—setting the stage and expressing a stark existential world view.”
Philip Andre Rourke, Jr. grew up in a tough neighborhood in Miami City, Florida. After high school he took some acting classes from Jay Jenson—who later taught Andy Garcia. Rourke even studied at Lee Strasberg’s Actor’s Studio for a time. As a kid he wanted to be a boxer a lot more than he wanted to be an actor. He trained and fought under the name Philip Rourke. As an amateur, his boxing record was 20-4, with 17 knockouts. At one point he put together a string of 12 consecutive knockouts.
Mickey Rourke has appeared in 52 films since 1979. His career took off like a rocket sled after he played the reckless arsonist in BODY HEAT (1981), and the hapless hairdresser in DINER (1982). He was considered for the role of Alex Foley in BEVERLY HILLS COP in 1984, before it was passed to Sly Stallone, and then rewritten for Eddie Murphy. Rourke was good in Michael Cimino’s YEAR OF THE DRAGON (1985). In 1987 he was in ANGEL HEART and BAR FLY.
But at the apex of his film career, he pulled back, returned to physical training, and returned to Boxing—professionally. He used the name,
“Marielito”. He fought internationally, and his pro-record was a stunning 6-0-2. He sparred with James Toney and Calos Monzon. He fought from 1991-1995. He continued to make a few films during that period as a back up. He was able to retire from boxing undefeated. In 1994, the year before his retirement, he was arrested by the LAPD for spousal abuse. He still owns a gym in West Hollywood called,”Shapiro”.
Actress Kim Basinger called him,” The Human Ashtray”. Press accounts of his erratic behavior and increasingly unkempt appearance did a lot to contribute to the crumbling of his film career. While boxing, he appeared in WHITE SANDS (1992), and he was pretty good in it. He was completely bizarre as Colonel Graff in THE LAST OUTLAW (1994), appearing as a mentally unbalanced Confederate officer leading a band of Comancheros—while sporting shaved eyebrows, penciled in, with eye shadow and mascara—reminding me of how much contempt for the medium was shown by Marlon Brando wearing a dress in THE MISSOURI BREAKS (1976). I liked Rourke as the shyster Jordan in the remake of A MAN ON FIRE (2004) with Denzel Washington.
Clive Owen seemed to be having fun playing the third banana good/bad guy, Dwight. His thick black curls askance, his lean jaw set, a crusader for the “rights” of women, a good Samaritan, a bad boy who had recently resurfaced with a surgically altered “new” more handsome face—he was a man who seemed to know his way around Basin City—and he wasn’t a man to disrespect. Like his two counterparts—Marv & Hartigan—he too would stand up for a dame, and would plunge forward into the fray unfettered by body blows or bullets—hawking spittle into Death’s eye. He really resembled the Frank Miller drawings shown during the opening credits.
Clive Owen, as an actor, is the real deal—classically trained, he studied at RADA [the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts] in London. He has appeared in 44 films since 1988. For the first decade he appeared mostly in theatre and Brit television. In 1997, he had a hit on the London stage with CLOSER. Then he raised a lot of eyebrows playing the homosexual Max, who managed to thrive in a Nazi death camp, in BENT (1997). Hollywood perked up and noticed him after he played Jack Manfred in CROUPIER in 1998. I liked him as the hit man, Will, in the recent I’LL SLEEP WHEN I’M DEAD (2003)—and as the peerless Arthur in KING ARTHUR (2004)—and as Larry, recreating his stage role in CLOSER (2004). He makes a lot of loot these days playing the mysterious “Driver” in all those great BMW commercials—and the buzz is that he is being considered to become the next James Bond.
Dwight: I’m Shellie’s new boyfriend, and I’m out of my mind. You ever so much as talk to Shellie again, you even think her name, and I’ll cut you in ways that’ll make you useless to a woman.
Jackie Boy: You’re making a big mistake, pal. A big mistake.
Dwight: Yeah! You already made a mistake yourself. You didn’t flush.
Dwight: It’s time to prove to your friends that you’re worth a damn. Sometimes that means dying—and sometimes it means killing a whole lot of people.
Dwight: This clown’s out of control. I followed him here to make sure he didn’t hurt any of the girls.
Gail: Us helpless little girls?
Dwight: Get me a car—a hardtop with a decent engine, and make sure it’s got a big trunk.
Young Nick Stahl made some interesting choices playing Roark, Jr/Yellow Bastard. He was all lethal charm as he cooed at little 8-year old Nancy before Hartigan burst in and ruined his party.
Hartigan: Let the girl go!
Roark Jr.: [holding young Nancy] You know who my father is? You can’t do a thing to me, Hartigan!
He lay there on that wet pier with his right hand smashed and his pecker blown off—screaming and laughing—while Hartigan’s partner gone bad, Bob, pumped Willis full of lead—blasting him off his feet, and back onto the roped pilings. [All the signature “white blood” done for the Hartigan and Dwight sequences—balanced out by the “red blood” on the B&W mug of Marv during his tale—was difficult to make look “right”. Stage blood was wrong for the effect. Finally, they found a fluorescent red liquid that would turn white when bathed in a black light.].
Stahl’s transformation to the Yellow Bastard was amazing—body suit or otherwise, it was very effective. All that was left of Junior was his voice—and his original sick hunger for pedophilia and rape and murder. Leonardo Di Caprio didn’t have the stones to play the Yellow Bastard. For the part, Nick Stahl had to wear a ton of make-up and painful prosthetics. Oddly, his make-up had to be “blue”, because the color yellow reacted poorly with the green screen background. So on the set, Stahl was nicknamed “the Blue Bastard”.
Yellow Bastard: You recognize my voice, Hartigan? You recognize my voice you piece of shit cop? I look different but I bet you recognize my voice.
Nick Stahl has had 27 film appearances since 1991. In 1993, when he was only 14 years old, he created a small stir in Mel Gibson’s MAN WITHOUT A FACE. He was one of the nameless troops in THE THIN RED LINE in 1998—but unlike Mickey Rourke who had filmed some scenes that were later deleted—Stahl’s face ended up in the movie. He played John Conner in TERMINATOR 3 (2003). [What the hell ever happened to Edward Furlong, who had played Conner previously?] Presently I am really enjoying Stahl in the demonized bizarre Great Depression HBO series, CARNIVALE—playing the mysterious Ben Hawkins. It has run two seasons, and there are many of us hoping it will get picked up for a third.
Benicio Del Toro played Jackie Boy, the dirty cop, the woman basher—the detective’s badge with a hard-on. Del Toro has played his share of weirdos—but officer Jack Rafferty was so low, so base—that it took a talent like Del Toro’s to sear through the debauchery, malice, and lust—and create the fourth banana—the antagonist for Dwight—another pivotal character in the loosely affiliated triumvirate of tales. Some of his fans call him the Spanish Brad Pitt. Del Toro gives us a very unique presence on the screen—much like Mickey Rourke’s. He appears malevolent, unpredictable, always barely under control—capable of dispassionate or ferocious violence in the flick of an eyelid—and yet behind those great dark eyes of his we can see elements of compassion and even vulnerability. He was born in Puerto Rico.
Benicio has appeared in 27 films since 1988. He debuted in BIG TOP PEE WEE (1988). I remember seeing him on a MIAMI VICE episode in 1987. He had the small part of Miguel in Sean Penn’s THE INDIAN RUNNER (1991), with the young Viggo Mortensen. He came into a little more limelight played a nefarious cop in CHINA MOON (1994), with Ed Harris. He was interesting as Fred in THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995). He gained a lot of weight for, and put a lot of work into playing Dr. Gonzo in Terry Gilliam’s FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS (1998). I liked him a lot as killer Longbaugh in THE WAY OF THE GUN (2000). Then he gained critical acclaim playing Rodriguez in TRAFFIC (2000). In 2003 he played two tortured souls—Jack in 21 GRAMS, and Aaron in THE HUNTED. Coming up later this year he will portray Ernesto “Che” Guevara in CHE.
I was very impressed with Elijah Wood playing Kevin. He never uttered one line of dialogue, and yet his totally psychotic stone killer persona will be permanently etched in my memory. Kevin was a trained martial artist at the peak of his physical strength and stamina—endowed with almost super-human speed—which put him the realm of other comic book super villains—but somehow Wood made it work. He played Kevin as the stoic face of silent death, descending upon you with the speed of a bullet out the end of a barrel, and the raw power of a runaway locomotive—a very formidable adversary. He was the only character that could best Marv in a bare-knuckle match. Marv, after all, was a beast with fists the size of Easter hams, and a chin made of concrete. Kevin could hit a man twice and then kick him in the face before he could blink.
Kevin, like a junior Lecter, was a cannibal. He loved to cook up and eat his victims—and then mount their severed heads on a plaque along a long wall in the hall of death. He seemed like a cross between Jeffrey Dahmer and Jet Li. He kept a dog that was more wolf than canine, and the vicious hound would sit with him waiting patiently for its share of the victim’s sinew and bone. The scene where Marv had finally bested him in a fight, where Kevin was lashed to a fence post—after Marv had sawed his arms and legs off—was the stuff of nightmares. They both sat waiting for the wolf dog. It finally does come and begins immediately chewing and tearing on the exposed flesh of Kevin’s leg stumps. All the while Kevin never uttered a sound—not while his appendages were being hacked and sawed off—and not while his pet calmly was devouring him. Not a cry or a word or even a gurgle—nothing. He just kept staring at Marv with those cold dead calm eyes. He remained mute even as Marv hacked his head from its shoulders. Marv flexed his great brutish shoulders, and shook the blood droplets into a mist—like a dog would the wetness from a rain—and he said, “ There. I got him, Goldie. I got him good.”
That scene alone was a specific solid reason not to bring children to see this movie. Peter Travers, in ROLLING STONE wrote,” Rodriguez has made an “R”-rated movie that no sane person would bring a child near.” Another critic wrote,” A child does not even belong in a building next to a theatre where this movie is showing.” Of course, for most of us—this is our middle-aged, growing up the 50’s, angst and mentality rising to the surface. We forget that children today play X-Box games that are ultra-violent—and most of them by the time they are 9-years old are desensitized to killing, rape, blood, disembowelment, dismemberment, and beheading. These are the same children who surf porno on the Internet, and watch R-rated videos and DVD’s. All this activity is considered “kind of neat”, or “way cool”. It literally takes transporting their young behinds and tangled minds to a place like Iraq—where the bullets are real—the blood is theirs or their buddy’s—and death is permanent—before any semblance of “reality” seeps in.
Elijah Wood was only 8-years old when he appeared in BACK TO THE FUTURE II in 1989. He has been in 37 films since then. He was a heartbreaking little Mike in RADIO FLYER (1992). He was one of the best young actors ever to play, HUCK FINN (1993). He was 16 and growing up in FLIPPER (1996), with Paul Hogan. It is not a state secret that he made screen history playing Frodo in Peter Jackson’s trilogy LOTR (2001-2003). Since then, he has been searching hard for parts to assist him in shedding the shadow of the Hobbit. He was interesting as Sean in Edward Burns’ film, ASH WEDNESDAY (2003). He was very creepy as the would-be lothario, Patrick, in THE ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (2004) . Now I will keep his portrayal of Kevin in Basin City nestled in a place of honor amongst my cherished movie memories.
Two heavyweight actors, Powers Boothe and Rutger Hauer, played the powerful and corrupt Roark brothers—the real movers and shakers of this piece. Their screen time was minimal, but both fine thespians made deep and dark impressions. The Roarks were the kind of villains that considered themselves above the law—untouchable. The older brother was a Cardinal—so powerful and influential that he could have run for President—so divisive that he “arranged” to have his younger brother “elected” to the U.S. Senate.
Powers Boothe played the sneering Senator Roark. He had gone to great lengths to keep Hartigan alive after the incident where the cop had made the Senator’s son into “ a dickless freak!” Boothe played the consummate fully corrupted dangerously powerful “public official”. He used the BC Police like they were his own private Army. He bribed or murdered anyone who disagreed with him—or got in his way. He accepted the labors of Hercules, and spent a bundle to save Roark Junior’s life, and to “refit” him with some form of genital prosthetic. What was created through this tortuous resurrection became the Yellow Bastard—a killing machine that smelled like a corpse that lived on garbage and never bathed.
I have enjoyed Powers Boothe in almost every one of his film roles. He has appeared in 42 films since 1997. His first role was that of a Bolivian bandito, with no lines, getting no credit, in BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID in 1969. I felt ambivalent about his crashing through the SAG picket lines in order to accept his Emmy in 1980 for playing Jim Jones in the TVM, THE GUYANA TRAGEDY. But actually, in retrospect, I respect his decision. His being a maverick and a risk taker, I’m sure he fit right in to the Rogriguez posse. Boothe was excellent in Walter Hills’ SOUTHERN COMFORT in 1981. I really loved him in the SHO cable series, PHILLIP MARLOWE: Private Eye in 1983. He was one of the best things presented in the stylish western, TOMBSTONE (1993), playing Curly Bill Brocious. Recently he almost salvaged the lukewarm mini-series, ATTILA (2001), playing the Roman general, Flavius Aetius. I am currently enjoying him chewing up the scenery as Saloon owner, Cy Tolliver, in the landmark HBO series, DEADWOOD.
Rutger Hauer, he of the blue eyes and peerless diction, played the evil dictator—the pugnacious patriarch, Cardinal Roark—who lived completely sequestered in a cold castle, living atop a tall tower, patrolled and protected by the BC police. Kevin had come to him at some point—and confessed his sordid and murderous sins.
Cardinal Roark: Did you know he had the voice of an angel—and yet he only spoke to me.
Evidently, after Kevin had confessed his deeds in lurid detail, complete with tales of murder, rape, and cannibalism—the Cardinal turned completely to the “dark side”, and embraced his own black nature. He provided Kevin a haven for his lethal love life—the Roark farm. He even joined him sometimes, spreading his wicked hypocritical seed, and sitting with the wolf waiting patiently for the scraps of flesh and bone to feast upon—like the machinations of the very darkest Druid ritual. When big Marv was busy tracking down Goldie’s killer—he had been surprised to hear the Cardinal get fingered.
“Yeah,” one of the whores chirped in,” Them priests fuck like dogs. That sounds right. And you know, don’t you—that Goldie worked the clergy?”
What a wonderful world of the purest putrid darkness Frank Miller has created for our enjoyment. All of the protagonists are murderous beasts with conflicted views of chivalry driving them into divers killing sprees, and the antagonists are all so villainous, so demonic, so despicable—that whatever their fates at the hands of the “heroes”—we find ourselves cheering their demise—even hoping for it.
Rutger Hauer only had one scene in the movie, being roused from his fitful sleep by a raging Marv—being tossed Kevin’s severed head like it was a basketball. With his own head shaved and his face puffy, Hauer gently held up Kevin’s head and played a scene to it like he was Hamlet holding the skull at the grave site—speaking deliberately, slowly, sweetly, and sadly. When Marv pulled out a skinning knife, Roark just shrugged and muttered to what was left of Kevin,
“My dear boy—we will be together soon.”
Many of the characters in SIN CITY courted death like it was a hot date—even in the prologue, actress Mary Shelton seemed to have paid the hit man to kill her. Kevin welcomed death, embraced it—as did Cardinal Roark. Marv, Hartigan, and Dwight faced it bravely without letting its proximity sway them from their tasks. It reminded me a bit of Bruno Ganz playing Hitler in DOWNFALL (2004), deep in the Berlin bunker, planning his upcoming suicide calmly, assuring those people around him that—“ It will be fine. Soon I will have eternal peace.” One would hope Adolf Hitler did not find “peace” on the other side of the veil—nor would Cardinal Roark, or Kevin, or the Yellow Bastard.
Rutger Hauer has been a very busy actor during his career. He has appeared in 96 films since 1969. I first noticed him in 1977 in SOLDIER OF ORANGE. He made his American film debut as the German terrorist in NIGHTHAWKS (1981), with Sylvester Stallone. I will always remember Hauer as the warrior android, Roy Batty, in Ridley Scott’s BLADERUNNER (1982), with Harrison Ford. He was very dashing as Captain Navarre, romancing Michelle Pffeifer in LADYHAWKE in (1985). He was the murderous Ryder [Such a pun!] in THE HITCHER (1986), with C. Thomas Howell—which always brings to mind that Jim Morrison tune by the DOORS. In some ways, he beat CSI to the punch, playing forensics expert Palmer in BONE DADDY in 1998. Later this year he will be featured in BATMAN BEGINS.
Another fine actor with a unique screen persona is Michael Madsen, who played Bob, Hartigan’s sold-out detective partner—bought and paid for with Roark rubles. Madsen, a Tarantino favorite, has the kind of hulking, brooding, weary, and dangerous presence that makes him a natural for any Noir tale. In the 40’s-50’s, as an actor, he would have been delegated to playing only heavies in films. Yet he has the good looks and a real twinkle in his eye that has allowed him to have a varied film career. Never without work, he has appeared in no less than 109 films since 1982. He played Boogie in DINER (1983), and Bump Bailey in THE NATURAL (1984). He broke into the “big time” after playing Vic Vega/Mr. Blond in RESERVOIR DOGS (1992). He claimed in interviews that as an actor he found it difficult to perform that sadistic torture scene with that cop in the warehouse. To alter his possible stereotyping, his next role was that of the compassionate Dad in FREE WILLY (1993), repeating that role in the two sequels. But soon thereafter he played the murderous Rudy in the remake of THE GETAWAY (1994), making us all forget about Al Lettieri’s performance as Rudy in the original Peckinpah film. He was brother Virgil, sporting blond curls, in Kevin Costner’s WYATT EARP (1994). He was tough Eddie in MULHOLLAND FALLS (1996), with Nick Nolte. Recently he played the sad assassin, brother Bud, in Tarantino’s KILL BILL, in Volume I (2003) and in Volume II (2004).
Michael Madsen is a family man. He is the father of five sons. He says that he refuses to watch any of his sisters [Virginia Madsen’s] films, in which she appeared nude. He has worked with John Malkovich in Chicago at the Steppenwolf Theater. He has published four books of poetry, including BEER, BLOOD, & ASHES, and EAT THE WORM. Presently, and typically for him, he has 10 films in pre or post-production. Following is one of Michael Madsen’s poems from his book, BURNING IN PARADISE.
W H I T E H A I R
I figure I got
About 10 years left
To chase away
The old man.
I’ve seen him
Late at night and
In the morning
After too much whiskey.
Maybe its my father
I see or my dead brother.
Each man in his own way
Must do this I guess.
The smart ones anyway.
I can still run faster
Than a speeding bullet
And I know Superman
Had a cigarette
Once in a while.
Josh Harnett played the mysterious hit man—the smooth predator that seemed to specialize in eliminating those customers that paid him to kill themselves. That is the “official” line—and if it were entirely true then why does he appear in that hospital elevator eyeballing the turncoat whore, Becky? She had no clue as to his actual identity.
The Salesman: The wind rises electric. She’s soft and warm and almost weightless. Her perfume is sweet promise that brings tears to my eyes. I tell her that everything will be all right—that I will save her from whatever she’s scared about and take her far, far away. I tell her that I love her.
The silencer makes a whisper of the gunshot. I hold her close until she’s gone. I’ll never know what she was running from. I’ll cash her check in the morning.
Josh Harnett has already appeared in 21 films since 1997. He was Trip in THE VIRGIN SUICIDES (1999). In the year 2001, he played both SSgt. Matt in BLACKHAWK DOWN, and the pilot Danny in PEARL HARBOR, with Matt Affleck. He was K.C. in the disappointing HOLLYWOOD HOMICIDE (2003), with Harrison Ford. Too bad he didn’t have any time to sit on the set of SIN CITY and commiserate with Rutger Hauer about working with Harrison Ford. Harnett shares a birthday with Robin Williams.
Michael Clarke Duncan played Manute, the crime lord that deserved several tastes of lead in THE BIG FAT KILL, tale II. There wasn’t much of character development done here. Manute sported a gold prosthetic eye and dressed in a mock military uniform—but in his part of the story, several of his subordinates were much more interesting to watch than he was. Duncan will give five bucks to any of his fans that can say his name correctly upon meeting him.
He has appeared in 36 films since 1995. He had been in 10 of them before he landed his landmark role of John Coffey in THE GREEN MILE (1999). He had appeared as “Bear” in ARMAGEDDON in 1998. He impressed his co-star, Bruce Willis, so much that Willis called director Frank Darabout suggesting Duncan for the role of Coffey. Duncan has appeared in three films now with Bruce Willis. He was Colonel Atarr in Tim Burton’s remake of THE PLANET OF THE APES (2001). He was the desert warrior Balthazar in THE SCORPION KING (2002). It was reported that he accidently hit the Rock in the face during a fight scene. He was Kingpin in DAREDEVIL (2003). He is a huge man—a mass of muscle that would dwarf Mister T—but unfortunately he attended the same acting school at “T”—the streets. He is a very limited performer. To augment his income in the early days he was a bodyguard for Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Jamie Foxx, and LL Cool J.
Robert Rodriguez really went all out when he cast the actresses to play the babes in this movie. He found some of the most beautiful actresses in Hollywood—most of them have been models. They provided the sassy talk and the hard sexy bodies that put the sizzle into this trio of tales. Their nude scenes and skimpy outfits burned their images into our fevered memories.
Jessica Alba played (the older) Nancy Callahan. As Nancy, she exhibited her trademark beauty, vulnerability—and toughness. For the bar dance scenes she had requested a dance coach. Rodriguez told her,” Just listen to the music—and do your thing.” She certainly did that. There are two different one-sheet posters that advertise this movie. There is a group shot on one, with Bruce Willis in the center, which I favor—and on the other we find just Jessica, solo, blond wig windblown, and super sexy body dominating the frame.
As a teenager, she was both an actress and a model. She has had 17 film appearances since 1994. She generated a lot of heat and interest when she played Max Guevara in James Cameron’s TV series, DARK ANGEL (2000). That’s when I took notice of her—and she has not gone unnoticed by the throngs of fans. In 2001, she was #1 on Maxim’s “Hot 100 Babe List”. In 2002, she was voted #4 on the “10 Top Sci-Fi Babes List”. In 2002, she also was voted #12 on STUFF magazine’s “102 Sexiest Women in the World List”. But she is not a dummy. She graduated from high school at age 16. Interestingly she stated for years that she would never strip naked, or go topless for any magazine layout or film role—that she was just too modest. Well, unless I am mistaken—those were her breasts and that was her naked torso on display as Selima in THE SLEEPING DICTIONARY (2003). I suppose it could have been a CGI trick or a body double—but it sure fooled David Gilmour, myself, and both our wives as we watched the film.
The lovely Jamie King played twins Goldie/Wendy. Her blond sultriness and lethal intensity elevated her scenes to pure Noir. Jim Thompson and Mickey Spillane are cheering somewhere. She, too, was a top model at 16. She has appeared in 14 films since 2001. She was one of those fetching nurses in PEARL HARBOR (2001). She was Jade in BULLETPROOF MONKS (2003), and she played Heather in WHITE CHICKS (2004). She is an admitted recovering heroin addict, and in some of her films she has gone by the name, James King.
Rosario Dawson was Gail, the Valkyrian dominatrix and sexy matriarch for Old Town—the tough distaff general of that army—that horde of armed and lethal whores that kept the peace. But as tough as she was—she could still melt like butter on a hot knife when the studley Dwight clenched with her. Her swept-back dyke-do, and her propensity for suddenly producing blazing firearms—made her a very memorable character—several cuts above the gaggle of S&M dollies she ruled over.
She has appeared in 26 films since 1995. She was only 16 years old when she played Ruby in KIDS (1995). She was “discovered” sitting on her front stoop in NYC—and asked is she wanted to be in a movie. She played Maria in Edward Burns’ SIDEWALKS OF NEW YORK in 2001. In 2002, she was Grace in ASH WEDNESDAY, with Elijah Wood—again with and for Edward Burns. She was Laura in MEN IN BLACK II. I liked her as Mariana in THE RUNDOWN (2003), with the Rock and Christopher Walken.
Carla Gugino played Lucille, the compassionate naked lesbian parole officer—that provided Marv with his freedom and his pharmaceuticals. Her several nude scenes were spectacular—she is gorgeous. I have several friends who plan on seeing the film again just for her scenes. She, too, was a model at 15 years old. She has appeared in 34 films since 1989. She was Norma in THIS BOY’S LIFE with Robert De Niro. She was, of course, Mama Ingrid in SPY KIDS (2001), and both sequels—beginning her professional relationship with Robert Rodriguez. In 2003 she had her own television series, KAREN SISCO. She played hooker Betty Dark in Mel Gibson’s remake of THE SINGING DETECTIVE (2003).
Brittany Murphy played Shellie, the very sassy cocktail waitress. Her passion for Dwight, and her bravery as she allowed herself to be punched in the face by Jackie Boy—endeared her to me. She was great to look at—could take a smack—and keep a secret—quite a dame.
Shellie: Shut up and keep your hands to yourself or I’ll cut your little pecker off.
Since 1991, Brittany has had 40 film appearances—most of them being television roles. She was Lisa in the Oprah Winfrey remake of DAVID AND LISA in 1998. She was Alex in 8 MILE (2002). She was set to star in a Biopic of Janis Joplin before the film project was grounded. She won the role, it is rumored, over Courtney Love and Emily Watson.
Alexis Bledel played Becky, the bitch turncoat. Becky hid her prostitute persona from her mother—or claimed she did. She was both cowardly and greedy—the perfect Noir villainess. She, too, was a model from age 8—and has graced the covers of several Teen magazines. She has appeared in 7 films since 2000. She was an extra in RUSHMORE (1998). She was a regular on THE GILMORE GIRLS television series in 2000. I liked her as Winnie in TUCK EVERLASTING (2002) with William Hurt.
And finally, there was the slinky Devon Aoki playing Miho—the ninja princess warrior—the equalizer. Her characterization—complete with samurai and ninja weaponry and lethal moves—tied this tale solidly with Japanese Manga and Anime. As Miho—she was beyond formidable—she was simply unstoppable. She, too, has been modeling since she was 13, and presently is the “face” of Chanel. She has appeared in 4 films since 2003. She was Suki in 2 FAST, 2 FURIOUS (2003).
As much as I liked and enjoyed this film-twice, I feel that I need to challenge Rodriguez as to his odd choice of editing—that muddied up the narrative flow—such as it was. He was working with those three Frank Miller stories—with a snippet of two others—and as far as I am concerned the way he has presented them creates confusion for the viewer. Before the credits, we have what I call the “Teaserlogue”—part of the Miller tale, THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT. This unfolds before the credits, and it sells us with its style.
Then the movie rolls right into what might be called the “Prologue”, with Bruce Willis barreling through darkest night in a big Buick convertible. This tale introduces us to bad Bob, young Nancy, and the dastardly Roark Jr. Later all these wonderful characters would be reconnected in Tale III—THE YELLOW BASTARD. So, the “prologue” apparently predates the other tales by eight years—the time that Hartigan spent rotting his guts out in jail. So in the midst of Tale III—when the stalwart Hartigan has rescued sweet sexy Nancy, and then after unselfishly sending her away—whereupon he committed suicide to protect her from the Roarks—we begin to get a tad confused. After Hartigan gets out of the slammer, and he ends up at Kadie’s bar in search of Nancy,
Hartigan: I’m looking for Nancy Callahan?
Shellie: Eyes to the stage, pilgrim—she’s just warming up.
We get a solid glimpse of several of the other Miller characters that are in the middle of, or even previous to, their own tales. Marv was there, inquiring about Goldie and winking at Nancy. Dwight was there, commenting on Marv, and waiting to make his move on the sultry waitress, Shellie. [When Dwight is staring at Marv, thinking in narration about how that magnificent brute should have been born a thousand years before as a barbarous warrior or glorious gladiator—thinking,” They would have thrown dames like Nancy at him in those days.” This is a brief part of a scene from another Miller short story entitled, A DAME TO KILL. Interestingly, Dwight “thinks” it in Tale III, but he voices it in Tale I, when Marv rampages into Kadie’s. So, actually, he is the only character that makes an appearance in all three tales.] I think I even got a glimpse of Jackie Boy sitting next to Marv at the bar. Later, in Tale III, when the stalwart Hartigan is prowling about the Roark farm in search of TYB—who has snatched Nancy—and he does confront TYB and rescue Nancy—only to send her (unselfishly) away—whereupon he immediately commits suicide to protect Nancy from the wrath of the Roarks—damn, things start to get a tad confusing. While Willis prowled, we got a glimpse of young Kevin in the house—so his story, his encounter with Marv had not occurred yet—even though we had already watched it happen when Marv dispatched him in Tale I: THE HARD GOODBYE.
So my question to RR is,” What were you thinking?” Why did he purposefully put the finish of the Hartigan story on the tail end of the trilogy—splitting it up—sandwiching it around the other two stories as if it belonged there—even though as a pre-event it was illogical to place it following the other events. I don’t think this editing works well. If RR had let us watch THE YELLOW BASTARD straight through, with the fade out on the pier—followed immediately with Hartigan opening his eyes in the hospital being confronted by Senator Roark—there would have been far less confusion.
I would submit that if the movie had proceeded cleanly from prologue to Tales I-III, without chaos and confusion—every event would have played out in semi-linear logical and accurate Basin City time and space. First up, THE YELLOW BASTARD—in its entirety. Following it as Tale II, would be Marv in THE HARD GOODBYE. So that in his timeline, when he showed up at Kadie’s Bar, we would already have been introduced to the place with Hartigan in TYB. In this scene, we could even have had a glimpse of Hartigan passing through, as well as another glimpse of Dwight and Jackie Boy—killing time before it was their turn in Tale III—maybe even in the background we could have had a quick glimpse of TYB. This, clearly, would have made Kadie’s Bar the fulcrum, the vertex, the common ground for all three tales—the pivotal place in the plots—which is what I contend Miller probably intended. Then in Tale II, after Marv killed Kevin—we would already have seen the Roark farm previously, and it would have deepened the wickedness of the place—and cleared up the inconsistencies. TYB was killed before Kevin—both on the Roark farm—so why not present it that way?
Later in Tale II, when Marv carried the unconscious Wendy to Nancy’s apartment—in terms of the timeline, Nancy would have just returned from the Roark farm, having left Hartigan there—and at that point, because she seemed “cheerful”—she was unaware of his suicide. Then, doggone it, that would make Dwight’s tale, THE BIG FAT KILL part III, not part II—and we could have faded out on the triumphant Dwight and Gail after the slaughter of the Manute gang. So that would make the last scene, when Becky meets Hit Man in the elevator—the true and actual epilogue—without the clunky attempt at a transition post TYB as set up presently.
While discussing the film, it has been suggested that I have been much too analytical—that after all these are comic book graphic novel stories only “loosely” affiliated—that characters are killed off, and then pop up again in other comics adventures without explication—obviously if one is referring to any continuing character in a series, this accommodation is not acceptable. I believe Frank Miller does all of his own writing—so there is less reason for misalignment of plot and character. It therefore becomes difficult to determine what Rodriguez had in mind with his specific editing choices. Perhaps he wanted to just “fake out” the audience regarding the demise of Hartigan—and to use his super star Bruce Willis to cap off the movie—or maybe he just liked the idea of splitting the tale of TYB in two—used as book ends for the other tales—to resemble the way Frank Miller tends to split several frames on a page to express the action in a scene—who knows? But I still submit that this exciting and creative movie could have been tighter and less confusing if some other editing choices had been made.
The “look” of the movie was stunning. Roger Ebert wrote further,” This movie could have looked as good as it does and still been a mess
[Remember SKY CAPTAIN] had it not been for the energy of Miller’s storytelling which is not the standard chronological account of events—but more like a tabloid murder scene illuminated by flashbulbs and flashbacks.” Evidently the plot sequencing did not bother Mr. Ebert as much as it bothered me.
Todd McCarthy of VARIETY wrote,” This is a Mickey Spillane fever dream. Rodriguez gave us deep black and white that was digitally Noir—with the occasional slash of bold color. Tough customers doing nasty things to each other in a shimmering monochrome canvas. But for me, the film became simply a live action cartoon, [Oh contrare’—remember the cartoonish live action film, THE VILLIAN, with Kirk Douglas and Arnold Schwartzenegger? Now, that was a silly film.] and it is increasingly limited by its episodical nature, repetitive motifs, monolithic character types, the use of violence to substitute for drama, lack of modulating humor—and virtually identical gravelly voices for all the male characters. It peaks early, after the Mickey Roarke tale—in his screen comeback playing Marv—the half-man, half-beast. Bruce Willis does look the film star of old in B&W.”
Peter Travers of ROLLING STONE wrote,” 3.5 stars! This is a savage, sexy, and ferociously funny translation of Frank Miller’s three stories—but it seems to be too much of a good thing. It does succeed where SKY CAPTAIN failed—and it has its own vitality—but it may be a bit much for Bush-America. Repetition is the villain that finally brings the movie down. At 124 minutes, it is a hard cold relentless assault. It is also something that Hollywood seems to have given up on—a bold uncompromising vision.”
J. Hoberman of the VILLAGE VOICE wrote,” DARK NIGHT RETURNS. Black and white and red all over. This movie, although populated by a gaggle of Hollywood meat puppets—still remains slick and brutal.” Another critic wrote,” Few comic book movies have looked so good on the screen. The X-MEN and SPIDER MAN series have done a marvelous job in melding Hollywood and the Comics—but Robert Rodriguez in SIN CITY elevates it to an art form.”
Roger Ebert, in summation, wrote,” I don’t think SIN CITY really had a “period”, because it doesn’t really tell a story set in time and space. It is a visualization of Pulp Noir imagination—uncompromising and extreme. Yes, and brilliant.”
I can hardly wait for the Director’s cut, the extended version DVD, so that I can see the “rest of the story” for all the tales. Nor can I wait for SIN CITY 2—as I try and imagine what Frank Miller tales he will use—and whether the thinly connected themes will continue—like Old Town, the Roark farm, the warrior hookers, the great cars, the inexorable violence—and the hot babes. So slave away in your “special studio”, Robert Rodriguez—for there are millions of us out here that will gladly fork over our dough to view the continuing saga—the marvelously twisted visions of Frank Miller.
I gave this movie a rating of 4.5 stars
Glenn A. Buttkus (2005)