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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Review: ...and a Dame Who Kills

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Review: …and a Dame Who Kills

Comics icon Frank Miller and director Robert Rodriguez return nine years after their first trip to Sin City, a four-story compendium outing that had Quentin Tarantino as guest director and Frank Miller in a cameo, as a priest. It was a highly unlikely partnership. Their association began when Miller got a call from Robert Rodriguez (Spy Kids 1 and 2, Desperado). Rodriguez made him a simple offer: Come to Texas for a day. If you like what you see, we'll make a deal. If not, the short film is yours to keep. Miller accepted and flew to Austin. Josh Hartnett and Marley Shelton performed a scene, as he watched. When Miller saw the results, he was impresses. Rodriguez offered Miller the chance to co-direct the film with him. That did the trick. The film went on to become a worldwide hit. Come 2014, they are back, minus Tarantino, but with a heavy cast, and this one is called Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.

If you haven’t met some of the characters, meet them now. If you have, meet them again.

·         Marv (Mickey Rourke) is the man with the giant face and almost superhuman strength. He is also able to command forces around to do as he pleases.

·         Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba) is a pole-dancer/stripper (we do not see much of her body in the Indian release version) at Kadie’s joint, who has not got over the suicide of her life-saver, John Hartigan.

·         John Hartigan (Bruce Willis) is a dead cop, who appears as a ghost and talks to Nancy and explains to her why he committed suicide.

·         Senator Roark (Powers Boothe), the overlord of Sin City, usually plays poker in the backroom of Kadie's with his associates, including a crooked cop. He kills anyone who wins against him.

·         Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is his ‘illegitimate’ son who has probably inherited his father’s winning genes (gambler’s luck) and wants to confront him at his own game in his own den.

·         Marcie (Julia Garner) is a stripper who takes a fancy to Johnny, and vice versa.

·         Dwight McCarthy (!) (Josh Brolin) offers his services as a spy/private detective, takes compromising pictures of victims and sells them to his clients.

·         Ava Lord (Eva Green) is Dwight’s beloved but is now married to a billionaire, who, she says, abuses her. (From foreign accounts, there is generous skin show by Green, which has met with a red signal in India, and been deleted).

·         Manute (Dennis Haysbert) is a black hulk, with incredible strength, and a maniacal mission to guard and protect Ava.

·         Mort (Christopher Meloni) and his partner Bob (Jeremy Piven) are policemen investigating a ghastly crime at the Lords’ mansion.

·         Herr Wallenquist (Stacy Keach Jr.) is the most grotesque looking mobster in the film.

·         Dr. Kroenig (Christopher Lloyd) is a doctor with a menu card, who operates on his patients without anaesthesia, if they do not have the money to pay for it.

·         Bertha (Lady Gaga) is a waitress, fully-clothed, in a cameo, who has a heart of gold.

Experimenting with style, technique and technology is the hall-mark of films like Dick Tracy and Sin City. Founded on straight story elements, such films push the boundaries of VFX, colour, camera angles, make-up, graphic violence, sex and depravation. We have all of that here, in very good measure. Though it is an occupational hazard for the producers, I think viewers and some of my esteemed reviewers tend to constantly compare the elements of one film of the genre with the other, more so when it is a sequel or a franchise. Not having seen the 2005 venture, I could enjoy the film better as an entity and was happy to find it working on many levels. But there are several shortcomings too.

Bruce Willis is dignified, but wasted (as a ghost). Though the need to gain self-respect might be the motivation for Joseph Gordon-Levitt, his character is far from convincing, especially his ability to win at all forms of gambling every time. It is unclear whether Mickey Rourke possesses divine powers, is invincible or partly ‘vincible’. Jessica Alba’s dance routine gets tiresome after the third repetition. In any case, her persistence as a dancer, working in the same place that is the daily haunt of her hunter, is illogical. Julia Garner’s role too is contrived, leading to some of the goriest moments in the film. The presence of Powers Boothe (whose reminds you of Henry Fonda) at her house at the very moment when Gordon Levitt goes there is height of co-incidence. Your heart goes out to Josh Brolin, who loves a Dame to Kill For. Eva Green is convincing, both as the pure white dream-woman and a scheming vixen. Dennis Haybert is a massive opponent to both Josh Brolin and Mickey Rourke. Watch out for some real ‘graphic’ violence when he is on screen. Christopher Meloni and Jeremy Piven are quite credible as the policemen. With just one scene, that too in a Frankenstein/Mr. Hyde kind of face, there is little to say about Stacy Keach Jr. You don’t know whether Christopher Lloyd’s is a pound-of-flesh kind of role or a trope for black comedy. Ray Liotta’s one scene is strong. And that’s all he has. Gaga as a waitress? Lady, you’ve got to be kidding.

Stunning, surrealistic visuals greet you in the beginning, but the narrative fails to explain them convincingly. Maybe it is meant as a stand-alone prelude. Blending into graphics from live action is used diligently, and works almost every-time it is done. The black-and-white frames, with only selected elements and faces/hair/clothes colored, is a good technique, but probably overdone in the end. A sense of catharsis pervades the mayhem, and the VFX often serve as a tool for Bertolt (dramatist) Brechtian distancing.

Robert Rodriguez has had a good run, while Frank Miller (see below) has seen some rough years recently. With such a name-heavy ensemble cast on board, and with so many 3D/VFX films being churned out, maybe audiences would have expected more. Was it a good idea to make a ‘sequel’? Well, if a comic series runs for 10 years (1991-2000), it surely can spawn two films. India’s Prime Focus has done the VFX and 3D, most of it at its home ground, Mumbai.

Lastly, besides 3D glasses, it might be a good idea to carry and extra pair of eyes into the cinema-hall.

Rating: ***


Prime Focus World

Prime Focus World (PFW) has done the 3D and VFX for Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. This is the same Indian company that worked on Clash of the Titans remake, and found its work panned. Their 3D effort was even nominated in a special Razzie category in 2010: Worst Eye-Gouging Mis-Use of 3D. Luckily for them, Avatar: The Last Airbender won. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, had completed filming in late 2012. For a year after that, the film looked for a VFX company who would do the effects not for money, but in exchange for a share in the profit. PFW decided to jump in. PFW started work on the film in September 2013, with almost 2,300 shots to complete, in eight months. For reasons unknown, that eight months time-slab became five. PFW divided work between its locations worldwide, and Mumbai had to do almost 1,800 of the 2,282 shots in the film. Even though Rodriguez and PFW are generally happy with the outcome, the success of the film means a lot to both. Perhaps more to PFW, which has been struggling financially.

Frank Miller

57 year-old Miller was born in Maryland. In 1979, he landed a job as the regular penciler of Daredevil, and soon began writing the series, making him a true rarity in the world of superhero comics: an artist who was also allowed to script. By the dawn of the '80s, Daredevil's crisp dialogue and inventive, cinematic cartooning had sent sales soaring and turned Miller into an industry star. His most rewarded work was during 1991-99. His accomplishments in the film industry include: Sin City 1-3, 300, Elektra, Rats: A Sin City Yarn, Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot, RoboCop 2-3, and RoboCop vs. the Terminator. Also, though he received no direct credit for it, Batman Begins is widely acknowledged to be based upon his vision of the character, especially as seen in Batman: Year One. Likewise, his earlier work, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, is seen as having influenced the 1989 Batman film. He also appeared in the films Sin City-1, Daredevil, RoboCop and Jugular Wine: A Vampire Odyssey.

When Ronin was released in the summer of 1983, the critical reception was glowing. Published in 1986, The Dark Knight became a pop culture phenomenon, clearly inspiring Tim Burton's 1989 Batman. He worked on the scripts of two RoboCop sequels--but the films flopped. In 1990, he lost control of his script for RoboCop 2, and was less than pleased with the on-screen result. Darren Aronofsky worked with Miller on adapting both Ronin and Batman: Year One. Miller had been hired in 2008 to make a film of Will Eisner's '40s vigilante comic The Spirit. When it was released, Miller's solo debut as a director was ravaged by critics and had disappointing box office collections. Then, in September 2011, Miller finally published Holy Terror, the graphic novel that had been brewing for ten years. Holy Terror failed miserably. The reviews, and the response from fans, were very harsh indeed.

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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