2LDK (2003)

A few years ago I got the chance to see a film called Aragami. Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura, it was an experimental film which only involved two actors, each of whom fought each other to the death for over an hour, and it was an amazing film. I learned that Aragami was made as part of the Duel Project, a challenge issued to two directors by producer Shinya Kawai to see who could make the best film with only two principal actors in a single setting in the span of one week. This film is director Yukihiko Tsutsumi’s response to that challenge, though while this was certainly an ambitious project, it wasn’t as good as Aragami was.

The film’s plot revolves around two actresses, Nozomi and Rana, who share an apartment in Tokyo. They have auditioned for the same role in a movie, and only one of them can land the role. As they wait through the night to find out which one of them got the part, they wind up tormenting each other until they reach breaking point, and then they battle each other to the death.

I liked the idea of the story, but my main issue was with the pacing and the lack of action in the plot. For the first quarter of the film the two characters do nothing but talk, though as the film progresses tensions rise until they reach boiling point. This slow boil approach isn’t too bad, but there are aspects of the film that don’t make sense. For instance, there are a few instances where one of the characters dies, and in the next scene comes back to life. That said, however, I think the conversation scenes were somewhat interesting, in that they flesh out the characters quite well.

The two actresses deliver a rather neat performance. The characters are still rather strange though, but they successfully convey a sort of aggressive rivalry between them, which eventually turns into a creepy relationship between the two, and they really let loose when they’ve reached the inevitable boiling point, and pointing their rage in unexpected directions. In find that their interactions more or less resemble the twisted, next logical step up from an old slapstick comedy show, though here it’s not supposed to be comedic, so it has a decidedly different effect

The atmosphere is fairly sober, or at least it gets this way overtime. The film certainly starts with a light tone that gets more and more grim until the end. More importantly, the fight choreography is convincingly raw, with the two main characters guided only by adrenalin. I was half expecting the two girls to hate each other as soon as they’re eyes locked together, and then they fought each other for an hour with knives or swords. The direction Tsutsumi went with wasn’t a bad one, though it does leave you wondering about a number of questions that remain unanswered. If the Duel Project was a challenge to see which of two directors could make the best film with limited conditions, I’d say Ryuhei Kitamura was definitely the winner.

  • Score: 63%
  • Grade: C

Gypsy 83 (2001)

Poster-gypsy-83I had heard of this film while I was searching high and low for films that explore or at least purport to represent the goth subculture, and this independent coming-of-age drama certainly had a lot of potential. Of course, I retained my scepticism towards the film. After all, from my experience, goths are rarely represented well in the media (most films and TV shows that I know feature goth characters don’t even write them as anything close to normal people), and it turns out that Gypsy 83, for all its alternative posturing, is merely an indie coming-of-age drama with gothic window dressing.

The film revolves around 25-year-old Gypsy Vale, a moody young woman who works at a drive-through photo processing centre (remember when you had to get take your camera to get photos developed?) with a driving obsession with Stevie Nicks. She and her flamboyant goth friend Clive Webb go on a journey from their home in Sandusky, Ohio to New York City to attend the “Night of a Thousand Stevies”, a tribute event in which any Stevie Nicks imitator is allowed to take the stage. Along the way, they work though their issues with identity, abandonment, and come to terms with how they are.

Personally I don’t know why the writers felt that Stevie Nicks was the best choice of a plot device for a movie about goth culture. I’ve looked at a few goth forums, and this subject matter has been put up for debate, but the consensus is that she any has vague connections with the movement. Anyway, the story itself reads like an angsty teen drama, and it gives off the impression that the film’s goth characters live in a state of constant emotional adolescence, which is simply wrong. It appears Todd Stephens (the director) thinks being goth is all about melodrama, and the end result seems like a mixture of teen drama and gay romance, with a particularly unvarnished look at the latter.

As goths, the main characters don’t exactly convince me (though Kett Turton’s character definitely looks the part), but as outsiders in general, the two have very good chemistry. Sure, they can be a bit too melodramatic, but I don’t doubt the sincerity with which their enduring friendship is depicted. The other characters, meanwhile, don’t do very well, and one of the worst is an Amish man who hitches a ride with the main character just to cheat on his wife, though I personally don’t think he’s worse than the film’s frat boys (a typical plot device in films like these).

The film looks kind of like a made-for-TV film, but with slightly better production values. One thing that should be of note is that the film used a number of songs by goth artists/bands, from more obscure bands like Claire Voyant and Mechanical Cabaret, to Bauhaus and The Cure, the famous pioneers of gothic rock. One thing that continues to elude me is why they didn’t even consider using music from Christian Death, the legendary deathrock band that basically established the goth scene in America, so even mentioning them would have made the film more believable as a goth film. Instead, the script names a bunch of fictional bands, and while I like the music they used, they probably could have picked a better selection.

Overall, while it is flawed and hard to take seriously, and even though the goth characters were pretty stereotypical, I did kind of enjoy the film, and for better or worse, it’s certainly an unconventional take on a very familiar genre.

  • Score: 67%
  • Grade: C

Escaflowne (2000)

escaflowneNot a day goes by when I don’t think that I haven’t watched enough anime, and so I thought of a number of anime films and series’ I may have wanted to try out, and amongst them was Escaflowne (sometimes billed as Escaflowne: A Girl in Gaia), an anime film I found and became interested in last year. Apparently based on a TV series called Visions of Escaflowne (which I must check out before I croak), I’ve heard that it differs from it in various ways, making it a fairly loose adaptation, but on its own, I’d say it was pretty good, with its engaging story in a well-crafted fantasy world.

The film revolves around Hitomi Kanzaki, a depressed high school girl plagued by unusual dreams that cause her such sorrow that she wants to disappear from the world, and her wish is heard in the alternate world of Gaea by a man named Lord Folken, the leader of the Black Dragon Clan who wishes to conquer Gaea and bring about its destruction. In Gaea, she is the prophesied “Wing Goddess” who will revive the Escaflowne, a doomsday weapon that can either destroy or save Gaea. As she develops a close friendship with the rebel leader Van, she becomes more hopeful, and in overcoming her sorrow, she wishes to save Gaea from being destroyed by the man who brought her there.

The story goes in a somewhat familiar direction, and I don’t like that it meanders a bit during the beginning, but it’s not without its character or charm. It has elements of both traditional fantasy and mecha-oriented sci-fi, with hints of romantic drama throughout. It’s quite an eclectic mix of genres, blended together into a neatly paced 98-minute film. Even if it has its flaws, I definitely enjoyed the story from beginning to end, and chiefly because it was simply an entertaining watch.

It has long been established that English dubs of old anime films tended to be mostly cheesy (that was certainly true in the dub of Vampire Hunter D), but I don’t think that’s a problem in Escaflowne. Judging by the Ocean Studios dub, the acting wasn’t that bad, and I liked the characters quite a bit. The main character didn’t appeal to me much, but the film’s deuteragonist, the rebel leader Van, was a much more striking protagonist, mainly because he shows great power, and like many familiar fantasy heroes, is unafraid to unleash it if he thought he was doing good by it. There are a number of interesting side characters, some of them are part animal (including Merle, a likably eccentric catgirl). However, I felt that Lord Folken was a particularly strong character. In fact, he reminds me of a character I wrote and drew for one of my one fantasy stories.

Though I personally think Escaflowne’s art style is as well-drawn as other anime films and series’ (I’ve seen images of the Escaflowne TV series, and they look quite good compared to this), I still think the film looked good, and it definitely had the mark of an imaginative fantasy film, with fantastical characters, costumes, and locations that appeal to my blatant sensibilities as a fantasy fan, complete with the showdown between two mechas (one of them obviously being Escaflowne, which at some point turns into a dragon). I’ve always held the belief that animation as a medium is an enabler of greater creative freedom, and this film certainly proves that.

Even with its flaws, I can’t really critique Escaflowne that much. After all, I genuinely enjoyed that film, and would certainly be interested in other films like it. I can’t help but think that one day, I may be a connoisseur of films like Escaflowne, as I seem to find them innately appealing, with this film being a good example of why.

  • Score: 75%
  • Grade: B

Kevin and Perry Go Large (2000)

golargeI remember seeing this when I was fifteen years old, and it immediately left a horribly foul taste in my mouth. To be specific, I felt disgusted by the film’s gross obsession with teenage sexuality, along with the main characters being obvious teen stereotypes. Since then, I’ve seen several bad movies, so I would have thought that I’d be used to some of the worst cinema has to offer, but after seeing this again, I can say without a doubt that this is the lowest of the low, worse than anything else I could possibly have seen before.

The whole film revolves around Kevin, a delusional and perverted caricature of a British teenager written and played by a man who, by the time of the film’s release, was nearly forty years old. The problem is that the writers clearly don’t know what they’re doing. They didn’t do any research on what it was actually like being a teenager in the 90’s, going only by what’s popular now, and the end result is probably the ugliest teen movie in history. For starters, the main characters are chavs (you know, the kind of people I loathe with searing disgust), and their whole goal is to be DJ’s and get laid in Ibiza (hint: they do this in the end), and everything between the beginning and end is a horrifying experience that makes you wonder why you even subjected yourself to it in the first place, as I did several times. The main characters are completely unlikable, mainly because they represent some of the worst teenage stereotypes the media could come up with.

I swear that older film writers like Harry Enfield have such contempt for younger generation that they just shove stereotypes down their throats and expect us young people to take it lying down. I bet Mr. Enfield took some sort of sick pleasure in making Kevin and Perry two of the worst characters ever written. The script is just terrible and cringeworthy, and given Enfield’s visibly jaded writing, that would have been enough were it not for the fact that the two “teenagers” are also vile and repulsive creatures. All they ever think about is sex, to the point that in one scene, Kevin is entirely okay with slipping someone the tongue before she could consent. Is that what Mr. Enfield thinks teenage boys are like? If so, someone ought to beat some sense into him, because I’ve just about had it with rich old people thinking they know what young people are like. The other characters are horrible as well, mainly because they’re personality is completely fake.

Of course, this is just one of several reasons why the film’s shallow pretence of satire quickly crumbles, but I suppose the main thing is that the film was pointlessly crass and brutally unfunny. My guess is that they were trying to be crude and offensive just for its own sake, perhaps in an obvious attempt to cash-in on the popularity of gross-out sex comedies, but judging by their failed attempts to get the film rated 12, they did an even poorer job at exploiting the more popular films than the more popular films did at even trying to be funny. Seriously, this is perhaps the flimsiest comedy film I’ve ever seen, and at this point I say comedy very loosely because there’s nothing funny about it at all, not even an accidental joke. In fact, it’s so bad that the writers resort to making an erection joke whenever they have the chance, and the way they do it is somehow even more shameless than the opening of The Dragon Lives Again. To make matters worse, the film also sports terribly cheap production values, and the producers seem to be wantonly spamming club music throughout the whole film. Just because it was the year 2000 doesn’t mean we wanted to hear horrible dance music all the time.

For me, what’s really sad is that this was directed by Ed Bye, the director and producer of the Red Dwarf series. If I’m right, then the director/producer of the Red Dwarf series is partly responsible for what I now believe to be the worst movie ever made. As embarrassing as that must sound for Mr. Bye, that’s nothing compared to everything else that’s horribly putrid about this mess of a movie. With abominable characters, a horribly written plot, awful music, no jokes, and a ton of other details that are best left unspoken, I’m very certain that this bad joke of a film is surely the worst ever made, and whoever made this should probably be embarrassed that they were even involved with it, since they’ve pretty much brought shame to comedy itself.

  • Score: 0%
  • Grade: U

Titan A.E. (2000)

Titan_AE_One_SheetDon Bluth used to be one of the most respected animators in the film industry (and probably still is), where he became famous for his work on many popular Disney films such as The RescuersThe Fox and the Hound and Robin Hood. He then went on to form his own company and direct his own films. This led to one his greatest films, The Secret of NIMH, but unfortunately, it also led to this lazy abomination of a film called Titan A.E., which disappoints in every possible area. Though I doubt you could expect much from a film like this, but believe me, it somehow manages to be even more boring sci-fi fare than it looks.

The premise revolves around an invading race of energy-based aliens called the Drej, who at the start of the film destroy Earth, leaving the surviving humans drifting throughout space and being ridiculed by other races. The rest of the film sees its protagonist Cale Tucker guiding a crew of humans and aliens towards the Titan space station, which was built with the purpose of creating a new planet in the event that Earth was destroyed.

The film’s plot is very standard sci-fi riding on all manner of story clichés, including the obligatory betrayal by a supporting character. It’s the kind of film that tries for space opera territory but runs of fuel right before it could get there. The writers and producers tried whatever they could to keep it afloat, but failed miserably. In this regard, a lot of is to do with the fact that the writers did very little to explain the things that needed to explain it. For example, why do the Drej not want the Titan space station to be found, and why would any human sell out the future of his own kind?

Speaking of that, the characters are so flat and lazily written that not even an star-studded cast could save them. They simply come across to me as cookie-cutter Stargate characters in a movie that’s somehow out of even their league. The acting isn’t even that great to be wholly honest, as if the Hollywood stars they got to work on this film were only in it for the money. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were. The dialogue is also really lazily written, with the Drej suffering from the laziest writing the film has to offer.

As for the visuals, the film’s animation style is a mixture of traditional hand-drawn animation and extensive CGI. The end result definitely looks polished, but a polished turd is still a turd. The film looks like a bigger, shinier version of a Saturday morning cartoon from the 1990’s. At the very least it accomplishes the easy feat of presenting itself better than Heavy Metal 2000 (another animated atrocity from the year 2000), but could somebody tell me why the producers thought that a Don Bluth film needed music from contemporary rock bands? The music is awful, and it reflects badly on the mindset of whoever decided to put it in the film.

To be honest, I think the film might have had some potential, but the producers just squandered it without a care in the world, and the consequences are rather apparent given mixed critical reception and disappointing box office returns (the film made $36.8 million against a $75-90 million budget). It’s also rather telling that after this film was released, Don Bluth never directed another movie, which is such a shame because of what he made before. If the plethora of cheap direct-to-video sequels (made without his involvement) didn’t tarnish his name, then this film surely did. Even if it’s not terribly bad, it’s a creative low point for someone who was clearly a talented visionary in the field of animation.

  • Score: 50%
  • Grade: D

Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Star_Wars_Episode_III_Revenge_of_the_Sith_posterAfter the first film in the prequel trilogy blundered catastrophically, and the second film just barely passed muster, this was the film that did the prequel trilogy justice. Personally, I think this is the only prequel film Star Wars ever needed. I still find it baffling how George Lucas thought to make a whole trilogy of lavishly budgeted yet painfully unnecessary films, when only this final prequel was worth the price.

This film sees a more focused, yet somewhat more complex story take place. It sees Anakin Skywalker grappling with his doubts towards the Jedi Order, and even his trusted mentor as he is guided to the allure of the dark side of the force. Meanwhile, as the Separatists continue to wage war on the Jedi and the Republic, Chancellor Palpatine continues to orchestrate the political disintegration of the republic (a plot that was hinted at in the previous films, but now George Lucas has decided to bring it to the centre of attention), while training Anakin to accept the dark side, leading him to a grim fate.

With this film, the events of the classic trilogy are set into motion, and there are certainly a lot of subtle homages to the first Star Wars films, perhaps because George Lucas thought the link between the two wasn’t clear enough. Understandably, this film had a much darker tone than the two previous films in the trilogy, with an element of tragedy hanging over the later part of the film. However, the film seems to go around presenting Anakin as the evil Luke Skywalker (or Luke’s evil dad if you prefer), and it’s not exactly subtle about it. Anakin went from a semi-obnoxious side character, to a whiny teenage apprentice, and from there to a child-killing nut job who’s a complete slave to his emotions, or rather, the desires instilled in him by Palpatine.

The story was certainly well-told, but the butchered characterization and bad dialogue from the previous film still linger in this film. In fact, I’d say the characterization has gotten worse. I already mentioned in the review for Attack of the Clones that Hayden Christensen was a bad choice for the lead role, and in this film, he’s not much better, though in the last film he gave a rather clinical performance. In this film, he’s trying to be passionate, and often overdoes it. Meanwhile, Padmé’s characterization takes a royal beating as the film focuses on the wifely side of her character. In the previous film, you saw her as a strong-willed, independent woman who could capably take charge while the two Jedi knights bickered. I guess she lost that quality after she married Anakin. Either that, or George Lucas was really bad as writing female characters. In this film, Padmé is portrayed as a loyal, yet pessimistic wife bearing Anakin’s children, and that’s pretty much it. The other characters seem to do far better than them, to the point that, towards the end, it’s the film’s villain that steals the entire show.

While the film struggled in terms of characterization and acting, it still stands tall as a visual spectacle, perhaps the greatest Star Wars spectacle until The Force Awakens arrived. The visuals have definitely improved, with the set-pieces demonstrating great digital craftsmanship. Of course, it does seem as though it’s more CGI than movie, but the CGI was done well. Right from the beginning, the film pursues a more action-oriented direction than its predecessor. The fight scenes here are certainly more energetic than in the previous film, and of course there’s the film’s centrepiece – the climactic final showdown between Anakin and Obi-Wan.

Overall, I’d say that this was definitely the finale that the prequel trilogy deserved, but I still think the whole idea of a prequel trilogy was painfully unnecessary. As good as this film was, the whole trilogy could have been far better if it were a trilogy of totally new films unrelated to Star Wars. Even if a prequel were necessary for the mythology of Star Wars, George Lucas could easily have just made one prequel instead of three. For all the problems of the trilogy as the whole, at least this one well-directed film went out in a blazing spectacle.

  • Score: 78%
  • Grade: B

Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)

Star_Wars_-_Episode_II_Attack_of_the_Clones_(movie_poster)After the astronomical mess that was The Phantom Menace, fans can be thankful that George Lucas awoke to his senses when he made this second entry of the sprawling prequel trilogy. What came of the sudden realization of Lucas’ misdirection was Attack of the Clones, a considerably superior sequel that, while building on the foundations of its predecessor, improves on what went wrong last time. For starters, there’s considerably less politics involved in the plot, which is good because it’s a sign that the prequel trilogy had shifted towards more focused storytelling, or so I hoped.

The film is even longer than its predecessor, which is baffling because I had hoped that this would be more action-oriented (which, to be fair, it was). I guess they decided to replace some of the politics with a lengthy romantic sub-plot revolving around the now teenage Anakin and Padmé. Why we needed to see Anakin try to court Padmé for nearly ten minutes of the film is unclear. Those contrived scenes just seemed to me like an excuse to get Padmé to wear a sexy outfit, even if for a brief moment. It’s bad enough that her character as a whole deteriorates through most of the film (although I have to say, she proves herself to be a capable fighter in the arena scene near the end), but I wish George Lucas didn’t attempt to write romance, because it’s clear that he’s simply awful at it.

Meanwhile, the rest of the story lumbers on, but the events unfolding never seemed boring, or at least not for long. What makes it better is that the worst characters in the previous film have a less prominent role. In fact, Jar-Jar Binks, the most undeniably awful character from the previous film, only appears for a few times. The other characters perform quite well, with the best performance coming from the late Christopher Lee as Count Dooku, who in my opinion makes for a better villain than Darth Maul, who didn’t even do anything until right at the end of the previous film. The cast was mostly well-picked, but the choice of Hayden Christensen as Anakin presents a lot of problems, especially as the film begins the prequel’s habit of putting this poor man’s Mark Hamill at the centre stage. Hayden’s performance as Obi-Wan’s apprentice seems almost completely robotic, and when he tries showing any emotion, he only seems to do worse. Of course, I’m fully aware that he’s trying to play the inexperienced teenage apprentice, but let’s just say that his character begs for a passionate performance, and Hayden simply failed to deliver.

At the very least the film is a visual spectacle with very good special effects, which I guess Mr. Lucas can count on with every Star Wars film. More importantly, the film attempts to salvage the prequel trilogy with a more action-oriented approach (in other words, more lightsaber duels), and in that regard, this extra emphasis on action is what saves the film from suffering the same fate as The Phantom Menace. The many well-choreographed fight scenes are really good, and it’s nice to see the Jedi in combat for once. All in all, I’d say that, despite its shortcomings, I found Attack of the Clones quite enjoyable, and I’m thankful that it at least manages to clean up the mess left behind by its messy, overindulgent predecessor.

  • Score: 67%
  • Grade: C

The Golden Compass (2007)

The_Golden_CompassPersonally, I always thought of this film as a dumb, impotent Narnia clone when it was new, and nearly a decade later, it certainly hasn’t aged well at all. I haven’t exactly read the book this is based on, but I’ve heard dozens of complaints saying that the book toned down several of the anti-religious elements of the books in order to avoid angering the Catholics. I can certainly tell that the plot was written very lazily, and it seems that they tried fitting in all manner of plot devices, events and characters in a film that’s clearly too short to handle everything. On top of that, the film is paced in such a manner that it seems as though everything’s being rushed, and it leaves too little time for the characters to develop properly, and bodes just as poorly for the many unanswered questions that the film’s haphazardly written plot leaves behind.

To be completely honest though, the film’s mythology could have been quite interesting, and there might have been some hope for it had the screenwriters made more of an effort, but they settled on a trimmed down, by-the-numbers fantasy flick, and to make matters worse, they deliberately designed the ending so that it could lead on to a sequel, never mind that it would never ever get a sequel, not that such a meagre film deserves one. The characters weren’t overly bad, but they were written in such a way that you can’t really feel for them no matter how hard the actors try to convince us to feel for them. It doesn’t help that there’s no sense of moral ambiguity whatsoever. You can immediately tell who is good and who is evil just by looking at the characters. I could just as easily make the argument that you could tell who the villains were just by looking at the poster. Nothing is left to your imagination, and that I feel is a serious problem, and is not conducive to good fantasy fiction.

To compensate for all that, the film sports some admittedly decent special effects, but worryingly enough, the film is almost all special effects, and so the CGI effectively becomes the producers’ way of overcompensating for a poorly written film that, if were very honest, was simply trying to copy the kind of success that The Lord of the Rings enjoyed years earlier. Of course, the visuals and the special effects are pretty much the only noteworthy thing about the film, and that’s because they’re the only thing the film has to show for itself aside from what I can guess is a bad transition from book to screen.

Clearly they should have put more thought and effort into this film, because if they had, this could have been somewhat better than all the other LoTR clones that had sprung up throughout the 2000’s. Instead, we have a film that is quite slavish in its copying of other fantasy films. Whatever potential the film could have had is ultimately snuffed out by its lack of originality and the laziness of its producers.

  • Score: 46%
  • Grade: D

Waltz with Bashir (2008)

Waltz_with_Bashir_PosterFew other films can claim to be anything like this film, a great experiment in the art of animation. Based on the personal experiences of the director, this film attempts to explore the horrors of being involved in war, but it also does more than that. It shows war from both perspectives, though mainly the perspective of the soldier attempting to regain his memory, delving in the ugly history of the war he was involved in.

The film is an animated documentary, and while certainly not the first film, it’s definitely unique in terms of its style, subject matter, and realism. The director of the film, Ari Folman, served as a soldier in the Israeli Defence Forces in 1982, when he fought during the Lebanon War. For some reason, he has no memory of his experiences of the war, and so he spends the film attempting to uncover his memories of the war though conversation with some old friends, and other Israelis who were present in Beirut at the time. His journey eventually leads him to recall his memories the Sabra and Shatila Massacre, and the reason he forgot them to begin with.

Folman’s journey in the film is a very compelling one, the kind that shows a frank and earthy composure in the dark regions of the film’s subject matter. The interviews are essentially how the plot moves forward, and they were quite fascinating. Thanks to the subtitles, English-language viewers can get a glimpse of the real character that shines through in this film. Of course, as the film goes on, it becomes more about the war than the man who fought in it, and perhaps inevitably so.

The film’s style of animation is perhaps the most striking thing about the film. Some have mistaken it as example of rotoscoping, a technique where animation is drawn over live footage. While there is actual footage at the end of the film (which I assume was put there for dramatic effect), the animators never drew over it. The animation was created almost like a Flash animation, though I believe there is more to it than simply that (having used the software as an iMedia student, I don’t believe Adobe Flash has the right tools to make a feature film). In fact, the film uses classic animation and 3D technologies as well as Flash animation, and these technologies are utilized brilliantly.

The film also displays an incredible degree of realism in terms of both its subject matter and the art style, wherein the characters look a lot like real people. I’ll admit that had the film not been animated in the way that it had been, it might not have been as interesting, but regardless, the end result works very well as a captivating tour de force. Superbly innovative as a documentary, but I like to think of it as more than that. Waltz with Bashir offers what is perhaps one of the most original film experiences in recent history, and one of the most brutally honest films I’ve seen so far.

  • Score: 86%
  • Grade: A

Sin City (2005)

SincitypostercastFor long time, I’ve held a certain interest in the idea of the anthology film. The idea of a film showing several stories tied together by a single premise is a concept I’ve favoured ever since seeing the classic animated sci-fi/fantasy anthology Heavy Metal. Done right, the anthology film can tell stronger stories than a film with a traditionally linear story, and this film definitely nailed it. With the film’s dark, unpretentiously gritty tone and the hard-hitting performance of its characters, the world of Frank Miller’s own comics is viscerally brought to life in a way that hadn’t quite been seen before on screen, or ever will again.

The film is set in Basin City, a fictional city in the American West, where crime, depravity and murder are apparently rampant, but not as much as corruption, which lies at the heart of all three of the film’s main segments (“That Yellow Bastard”, “The Hard Goodbye” and “The Big Fat Kill” respectively). Basin City is apparently run by the corrupt Roark family, who run the city with a tight grip and cover up any criminal activities that indict them in any way.

The film is split into four stories, although two of them are split into two parts across the start and end of the film, making for a total of six segments, the first of which is a proof of concept segment that was made to persuade the writer of the comics to get behind the project. It certainly made for a good way to introduce the film, and one hell of a promotion. The other stories are simply impressive. They evoke a sense of dreary decadence and raw dread in a compelling neo-noir narrative, and one of the tightest of the kind.

Of course, what makes Sin City a great film is its characters – it’s gritty, ugly, mostly amoral characters. The main protagonists – played by Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke and Clive Owen respectively – narrate their own stories, and in a way, they tell you more about the world they live in than anyone else, and they give powerful performances. Bruce Willis’ character is a white knight in a cesspool striving to do the right thing even if it costed his life, Mickey Rourke’s character is a crass street tough who kills his way to avenging the murder of a prostitute he loved, and Clive Owen’s character is an ordinary man caught up in a war between prostitutes and the mob. These characters are the kind that tell their own tale, and it’s hard not to get drawn into their world. The other characters perform their roles brilliantly as well, some less so than others, but I digress.

The film is also famous for its unique style. It looks like a film noir with a distinct graphic novel style, with only occasional use of colour to draw attention to certain characters. The most common colours you’ll find are black, white and grey, and much of the visual effect comes from stark backgrounds and high contrasts. The visuals are very striking indeed, even though the special effects sometimes suffer because of the film’s style. The film is clearly intended to be a graphic novel on screen, almost like a literal transition from page to film, and for a film to pull this off successfully is amazing. It presented a whole new artistic avenue for film as a medium, at least for its time anyway. There would be other films that tried to imitate the style, but none were as successful in its implementation.

Sin City isn’t for the faint-hearted. It can be unsettling for some, but its unique storytelling is more than worth it. It’s one of the few comic book adaptations that successfully balances style with substances. It was striking, it was dark, it was hard-hitting, it was sometimes disturbing, but above all, it was fun.

  • Score: 94%
  • Grade: A