UPDATED: "Sin City" responses, reviews…

Keep checking back to this post, and I’ll include some Sin City reviews that are worth reading.

Here’s the first impression of my longtime friend Wayne Proctor, who is a comic book enthusiast and a big fan of Frank Miller. Wayne says the film is faithful to the book … and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Sin City does achieve visual brilliance. It is also as faithful to its material as it can be, like a new edition of the comics being adapted. This has the effect of making one ache to be reading the books over much of the course of the film. It also has a damaging effect on any sense of rhythym the film might achieve; while there are moments where the editing starts to coalesce into a good pace, they are overwhelmed by Rodriguez’s fanatical devotion to the material (or perhaps by the fact that the material’s creator is co-directing at his shoulder).

The brutality is as unrelenting as it is in the books, though here you cannot pause and put the book down, or even take a break between the books: here there is a breathless assault that lasts a long two hours. Because of the flood of blood and human suffering, and without a real arc to support the lack of pacing, the two hours feel very long indeed.

I’m interested to see how folks will react that are not previously familiar with the material (new printings have completely sold out in anticipation of the film’s release). There are so many allusions to character’s backgrounds and characters that appear without any kind of formal introduction, the effect is detrimental. I wonder if viewers will be able to follow a lot of what is going on with the central
characters beyond immediate demands of kill this person, chop that person into pieces, geld the other guy.

On their own, the separate stories stand tall, but heaped together they tend to creak, if only because we viewers never get a moment of relief. This is unfortunate since the stories do not aspire to grandiose levels but are in fact small set pieces populated by simple characters wanting to live simple lives. Think Hobbiton with a red light district.

Though Sin City is being touted as the next Pulp Fiction, and it might very well enjoy the same kind of pop impact, this film is a far cry from Tarantino; the visual flourishes all come from the books, and the stories do not seek any kind of truth beyond the limits of what the human body can endure.

The guy who created -and continues to create- Sin City, Frank Miller, works in a style that can best be described as “camp noir”. He utilises all the sensibility of Chandler with his “knights in dirty armor”, and he surrounds these driven individuals with an absurd universe in which a lot of humor exists. You have to laugh at a guy who from the electric chair, after the switch has been thrown, says, “Is that the best you can do, pansies?” If you can buy into that kind of humor, Sin City is a place for you, in the books at least; in the film, be ready to feel like you’ve been on the electric chair yourself.

David Poland (The Hot Button) and a follow-up in his blog here

Peter Chattaway’s first impressions (FilmChat)

J. Hoberman (Village Voice)

I’m skipping the press screening due to deadlines … and due to an increasing sense that I really don’t need to sit and be visually assaulted with sex and violence for two hours just because “it’s something we’ve never seen before.” If I learn there’s really something worth talking about here, perhaps I’ll go.

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  • Anonymous

    Hi Jeffrey,
    I agree about the bad writing and abrupt conclusien seriously spoiling this. What irritated me was Spielberg trying to be realistic about what would happen in such an event, but not having the nerve to go all the way. I liked the scenes which showed people becoming violent and losing their common sense and morals – even Cruise turns into a killer just like that. I was reminded of Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, which sort of makes the same point, that people will easily forget morals and turn into animals in life-threatening situations. But Boyle dares to take it further (in quite shocking visuals). The strength of that movie, I thought, was that even though there are zombies around, the survivors start killing off each other! In other words: you don’t need zombies (or aliens) to be confronted with evil; it’s inside your own heart. Pretty strong point, also from a theological view, I think (albeit very bleak). I thought Spielberg was about to say something along these lines and actually make some kind of profound statement for once, but then apparently he remembered he was the guy who made ET and Jurrasic Park, and decided to make a point about being a good dad instead. I wish Spielberg would give up the serious pretentions, because apart from obvious opinions (war is bad, slavery is bad), it’s distressing how little he has to say about life.

    Oh, and to join the discussion, I absolutely hated The Terminal. The guy’s from some far off Russian state, so he must be a complete idiot who walks into doors a lot. Although he learns perfect English in about a week. Well, with a funny accent, ’cause we still have to think he’s adorable. Etc. It’s just so insulting to the audience’s intellect.

    Well, that’s my opinion. :)
    Rick de Gier (The Netherlands)

  • Matt Page

    I just can’t seem to get past the idea in my head that WotW is almost certainly just a slight improvement on Independence Day, which was impressive visually at the time, but a load of old crap otherwise, hence I can’t really see a reason to watch it? Am I right?


  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    I *liked* that movie, but the second time I found it far too contrived, sentimental, and full of implausibilities. The way is careened between moments of “hard reality” and fairy-tale whimsy didn’t work for me. Not to mention that Stanley Tucci’s character, like the villain in Shawshank, is too preposterously thick-headed and villainous to fit in that world. (The scenes of him rambling on and on without realizing that Hanks’ character doesn’t speak English simply confound me.)

  • Rob

    What’s with the Terminal hatred? I loved that movie.

  • Rob

    Jeffrey, read your own words:

    “Pokes fun at itself, and then turns on a dime to deliver some profoundly moving scenes near the end. Sure, it’s a hyperviolent revenge flick, but it never puts on airs to be anything more than a genre flick, and it plays that game with groundbreaking style, and a brilliant mix of fusion, homage, and parody.”

    Your thoughts on Kill Bill 2. Hmmm, could have applied to Sin City in my book. :-)

  • Adam Walter

    I haven’t seen the film yet (probably will tomorrow). But the question I have is this: can it really be that much more violent and disturbing than the films of Rodriguez’s “El Mariachi” trilogy?

  • Christian

    Check out David Edelstein’s surprising rave over at Slate.


  • Anders

    Poland, as usual is an interesting read, but I find it hard to be lectured on “style over substance” by a guy who found Man on Fire to be a “good” example of this.

    I enjoyed bits of Man on Fire, but in the end Tony Scott’s films are almost unwatchable due to his “visual stylings”, which usually involve tons of jump cuts, high contrast elements and spinning cameras (see his BMW short “Ride With the Devil” to see how he can take a good idea and ruin it.

    As for blowing off Sin City merely because you don’t want to be “assaulted with sex and violence”: fair enough. I wouldn’t recommend the film to everyone. But at the same time, it’s not because “it’s something we’ve never seen before.” I’ve seen plenty of noir and plenty of Tarantino-esque stuff, but Sin City boils these things down to their elements and I think illuminates some of the things that make noir a popular genre. IIRC, you really liked Sky Captain. I think this film is similar, but instead of old pulp adventures we have a pulp noir.