THURSDAY (1998)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 27 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence, Sexuality, Language and Drug Use

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Directed by: Skip Woods

Written by: Skip Woods

Starring: Thomas Jane, Aaron Eckhart, Paulina Porizkova, James LeGros, Paula Marshall, Michael Jeter, Glenn Plummer, Mickey Rourke, Shawn Michael Howard & Gary Dourdan

THURSDAY is the first film from director/writer Skip Woods, a man who has become slightly notorious for writing a lot of bad movies (HITMAN, SABOTAGE, X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE, etc.). Long before that reputation was born, he cut his teeth on a low-budget 1998 crime-thriller-comedy THURSDAY. To put things in context, the late 90’s and early 2000’s had a surge of Tarantino wannabe films. Some of these efforts were good and others were bad. Though it opens with promise, THURSDAY falls on the bad side of the fence. To be honest, I was pretty excited to watch this film. The trailers had me sold on the idea that maybe Skip Woods made a great movie before slipping into mediocrity. The cast even had a couple of big names (who weren’t huge at the time): Thomas Jane and Aaron Eckhart. A sense of humor mixed with bloodshed made this look like it would be a blast. I couldn’t have been more wrong, because THURSDAY is bland, mistakes ugliness for cleverness, and comes off as a lazy Tarantino imitator.

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Casey Wells (Thomas Jane) is a reformed criminal trying to do his best to stay clean in suburbia. His past comes back to haunt him when former best friend/drug dealer Nick (Aaron Eckhart) pays a visit. Despite outward appearances, Nick’s seemingly friendly visit is not as innocent as it originally seemed, because he stashed a suitcase full of heroin in Casey’s home. Disgusted by his friend’s behavior and determined to stay clean, Casey dumps the drugs down the garbage disposal…just as various menacing people start showing up and asking about Nick’s special package. Casey finds an ordinary Thursday in suburbia beset by gangsters and crooked cops. If Casey wishes to live long enough to see Friday morning, he’ll have to reignite a lifestyle that he tried to leave behind.

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THURSDAY was brimming with potential. The premise had the makings of an entertaining, tense, and funny crime-thriller. The film opens with promise as we get a prologue that showcases Nick and two cohorts attempting to buy coffee at a convenience store…only for the transaction to take a stark bloody turn. It’s a shocking, darkly hilarious opening that promised I would be in for one hell of a ride and then the movie proceeds to go downhill from that point forward. The two biggest reasons for this rapid decline in quality can be attributed to dull writing and bland characters.

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I didn’t care about Casey, even though Thomas Jane seemed to be giving his all to make this reformed thug into a compelling protagonist. We aren’t given many reasons to like him, other than he fell in love with a small-town waitress and inexplicably grew a conscience. The viewer only knows both of those things, because we’re given jarring flashbacks that abruptly come right the hell out of nowhere and pad the running time. Though he’s putting on a smarmy attitude that seems appropriate for the despicable character, Aaron Eckhart’s Nick is noticeably absent for most of the film’s proceedings too. All that leaves the viewer with is Casey and a parade of various thugs marching through his front door.

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To be fair, Paula Porizkova is effective enough as disgusting psycho-bitch Dallas, who tortures Casey in a wholly unexpected way. With better writing, this particular scene could have come off as tense and borderline terrifying…but the way it plays out feels like Skip Woods thought this would be purely shocking for the hell of it. Porizkova still remains far more convincing than James LeGros playing hick hitman Billy Hill (a.k.a. Hillbilly, get it?). Mickey Rourke shows up for a few minutes as an intimidating presence, but receives no satisfying pay-off. Meanwhile, Glenn Plummer is downright embarrassing as a Jamaican hitman/wannabe rapper (providing two of the film’s most annoying plot holes).

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Though it runs under 90 minutes in length, THURSDAY is a chore to sit through and doesn’t even bother to wrap up all of its set-up with a believable finale. When it comes to the film’s final 10 minutes, the viewer is likely to get the impression that Skip Woods simply threw his script at the wall and said “whatever!” The rest of the story isn’t exactly original either though, because nearly every scene seems ripped off from a better movie and potentially great ideas are underdeveloped. Besides the convenience store prologue, the film’s biggest highlight is a social worker coming to the Casey’s house in the middle of bloody chaos. Parts of that sequence struck a solid balance of humor and tension that actually worked. If only the rest of the film had been as clever or well-executed. As it stands, THURSDAY seems to be loved by some viewers for its shock value, but I feel the entire film is a lame Tarantino rip-off that doesn’t hold up on its own merits.

Grade: D+

MAN ON FIRE (2004)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hour 26 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language and Strong Violence

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Directed by: Tony Scott

Written by: Brian Helgeland

(based on the novel MAN ON FIRE by A. J. Quinnell)

Starring: Denzel Washington, Dakota Fanning, Radha Mitchell, Marc Anthony, Christopher Walken, Giancarlo Giannini, Rachel Ticotin, Jesus Ochoa, Mickey Rourke & Roberto Sosa

The second adaptation of A.J. Quinnell’s novel of the same name, MAN ON FIRE is a movie that sounds like your average action flick on paper. You’d be mistaken though, because the film is actually an intense thriller with a heavy dose of humanity injected into it. Directed in flashy style by Tony Scott and maintaining a somber tone throughout, MAN ON FIRE is a special kind of revenge thriller that came out during a time when revenge thrillers were Hollywood’s latest fad (THE PUNISHER, WALKING TALL, both KILL BILL films, and a ton of low-rent action flicks). MAN ON FIRE may be far from perfect or amazing, but it’s a solid thriller and contains one of Denzel Washington’s best performances.

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John Creasy (Denzel Washington) is a washed-up former CIA officer and Marine. Deeply depressed by his dark past, Creasy spends his days drinking himself to death and waiting for the sweet embrace of death to arrive. His life changes in Mexico City, when he’s hired by a rich family as a discount bodyguard. His charge is their nine-year-old daughter, Pita (Dakota Fanning). Though rough-around-the-edges Creasy is not looking to make friends, he soon develops a strong bond with Pita. The two get along famously as he helps her with school and competitive swimming, while she gives him a reason to live again. Their friendship comes to an abrupt end when Pita is kidnapped and Creasy is shot multiple times. Instead of taking time to heal, the rage-filled Creasy executes a chaotic revenge against all those who were remotely involved in Pita’s kidnapping…which takes him into some very dark places.

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Instead of shooting in a traditional, steady format, director Tony Scott opts for frenetic cinematography in MAN ON FIRE (which also springs up in the Tony Scott’s later work). While the quick editing and flashes occasionally become detrimental and hinder a few potentially great scenes, this stylish approach is more effective than I initially expected it to be. MAN ON FIRE could have easily been a cheap, low-rent 80’s action flick (and actually was exactly that in 1987) in other hands. Scott’s style, Denzel Washington’s performance, and Brian Helgeland’s screenplay all add deeper layers to the film. Creasy isn’t simply getting revenge for the sake of showing intense on-screen violence. Instead, we frequently see Pita in the background and flash across his mind as a constant reminder for his motivations. As a result, we support his grisly mission whole-heartedly. These touches add an appropriately somber tone to a film that contains lots of gruesome torture, firefights, and explosions.

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Washington plays the sullen Creasy in a way where I felt that I instantly knew this character…even before some exposition is delivered about his violent past. Washington’s body language and subdued line delivery clue us into the idea that Creasy is a severely damaged individual who’s worthy of sympathy…especially when his sole reason for living is stolen. Dakota Fanning plays Pita as a precocious, but likable, kid who has more knowledge about how corrupt her surroundings are than most other nine-year-olds. The convincing chemistry between Fanning and Washington is undeniable as their emerging friendship develops naturally…and makes the last 90 minutes of the film into an almost cathartic experience as Creasy inflicts brutal retribution upon everyone involved in Pita’s kidnapping.

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On the supporting side of things, Christopher Walken shows up as Creasy’s former colleague turned friend. Though his character only exists to occasionally spout exposition, Walken does the most he can with the part. Another character who serves as a one-note plot device is Lisa Ramos (Pita’s mother), played Radha Mitchell. Ironically, two seemingly minor characters who are initially set up as obvious plot devices evolve into something more as Rachel Ticotin (playing a journalist with connections) and Giancarlo Giannini (playing an honest AFI agent) receive their own subplot that weaves in and out of Creasy’s main storyline. I won’t say much about the villains as their performances are brief, but they do receive satisfying comeuppances as Washington’s Creasy begins to catch and punish them. One interrogation scene involving a creative use of C-4 is especially cringe-inducing.

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Narratively speaking, MAN ON FIRE feels far more like an adrenaline-filled mystery than a simple action flick. Creasy might be all about revenge, but he has to discover what happened in order to get that revenge. I have a big problem with the film though as a major plot twist is given away in the first ten minutes. Though some could argue that this early reveal adds extra suspense, I felt it compromised an otherwise effective surprise. For all my complaints (bland side characters, flashy quick editing, and a twist spoiled early on), MAN ON FIRE still gripped me from beginning to end. Denzel Washington is undeniably great as the somber, reserved Creasy. MAN ON FIRE puts a refreshingly emotional and believable human spin on an action formula that’s been used hundreds of times.

Grade: B

GET CARTER (2000)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 42 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Violence, Language, some Sexuality and Drug Content

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Directed by: Stephen Kay

Written by: David McKenna

(based on the novel JACK’S RETURN HOME by Ted Lewis)

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Miranda Richardson, Rachael Leigh Cook, Alan Cumming, Mickey Rourke, John C. McGinley, Michael Caine & Rhona Mitra

Though it eventually went on to win critical acclaim, 1971’s GET CARTER wasn’t originally well-received upon release. Due to marketing blunders and a studio that seemingly didn’t care, the Michael Caine revenge-thriller wound up sinking into obscurity in the USA. Two decades passed and the film gained a cult following behind it, eventually re-entering the cinematic scene during the 90’s. Where there’s popularity (no matter how niche it is), there will be a studio exec waiting to cash in on that craze. I present to you the 2000 remake of GET CARTER. This was a cooler, more hip and edgier take on the material…at least, that’s what one studio exec would have you believe. Though it’s watchable and does try to tell its story in a slightly different manner, this remake of GET CARTER ultimately feels like a bit of watered-down bore.

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Jack Carter is mob enforcer in Las Vegas (as opposed to London). When his brother winds up dead in an apparent drunk driving accident, Jack returns to his home in Seattle (as opposed to Newcastle). Something surrounding his brother’s death doesn’t seem right, so Jack goes sniffing around the darker corners of the city for answers. While on his quest for the truth, Jack bonds with his young niece and discovers a conspiracy involving a porn kingpin and a computer genius…that could be linked to his brother’s suspicious untimely demise.

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Credit where credit is due, 2000’s GET CARTER does try to tell its story in a different way. Those new spins on the material don’t quite work out, because the movie still finds itself clinging to the original to move the plot forward. However, this inferior remake is still watchable…even if it’s poorly made. Sylvester Stallone is certainly not the actor that Michael Caine is, so he plays his usual tough guy role here. Stallone aside, every other character has been slightly shaken up. The innkeeper is now Jack’s sister-in-law. Jack’s sister has now become Jack’s niece. The shady businessman has transformed into a computer geek (played in not so intimidating fashion by Alan Cumming). Then there’s Mickey Rourke as the porn kingpin who’s pretty much the same scumbag as the original character, but with a website and CD’s. While the original GET CARTER had bad guys and worse guys, this new version has been painted with a good vs. evil brush. Jack Carter wasn’t someone who you could completely root for in the original, but he’s pretty much a generic action hero in this reboot. As you might imagine, this lessens the moral ambiguity that made the original so haunting and special.

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On the technical side of things, GET CARTER feels like it’s trying way too hard to be hip and cool. For crying out loud, this new Jack Carter wears cufflinks with his initials on them. The film is over stylized to the breaking point. There are lots of useless lens flares, fast editing, quick cutting and slow motion. The movie speaks for itself in a scene where Jack makes a horrifying discovery. The original let the scene quietly play out and all the emotions break across Michael Caine’s face. This remake doesn’t give us much a glimpse of Stallone’s face in that moment that isn’t in double vision or with the camera spinning upside down. Those technical touches are supposed to portray the emotion, instead of the actor. If you’re wanted an MTV action-packed thrill-ride the first time around, then this 2000 reboot also tries to throw in lots of pointless action scenes that exist for the sake of having a chase or fight sequence. To top it all off, the stunning, depressing conclusion that so perfectly closed out the original has been replaced with a forced, uplifting Hollywoodized hodge-podge of an ending.

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I had kept my hopes at a reasonable level for this remake and was still let down. I should have taken the techno-reboot of the original’s theme as a warning. Though this new version of GET CARTER may have tried to do things differently, but none of it fully works. I did somewhat enjoy one sub-plot, but it’s only purpose was to add in pointless action scenes that never amount to anything by the ending. Michael Caine shows up in a side role as if to give his approval for this remake and that’s sort of neat, but again, it all amounts to nothing. All this dumbed down remake accomplishes is showing how vastly superior the 1971 original really was. I think I’ll let Michael Caine’s final line in this remake sum everything up. He’s walking away from Sylvester Stallone and says “I’m not turning around.” You should take his advice and just walk past this remake of GET CARTER on the DVD shelf at your local store.

Grade: D+

ANIMAL FACTORY (2000)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 34 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Language, Violence and Drug Use

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Directed by: Steve Buscemi

Written by: Edward Bunker & John Steppling

(based on the novel ANIMAL FACTORY by Edward Bunker)

Starring: Willem Dafoe, Edward Furlong, Danny Trejo, John Heard, Mickey Rourke, Tom Arnold, Seymour Cassel, Mark Boone Jr. & Steve Buscemi

I discovered ANIMAL FACTORY while perusing through one of those countless “Best Movies You’ve Never Seen” lists that exist on the internet. This sounded like a really great movie in theory and comments about the film from various people (also including apparent ex-convicts) stated that this was the most realistic look at life in prison ever brought to the screen. If that’s the case, then I’d much rather stick with my SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION and other exaggerated prison films, because this movie isn’t necessarily interesting or well-done.

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Ron Decker has been convicted of drug possession and happened to be sentenced on an election year. This leads to him being sent for a lengthy stay at a harsh prison. Seeing as he’s only 21 years old and has boyish good looks, Ron is a prime target for rapists and violent gang leaders. Life inside the bars gets a lot easier for Ron once he strikes up a friendship with old veteran criminal Earl Copen. Copen has a handle on the whole prison system and is a highly respected leader to most of the inmates. Copen takes Ron under his wing to show him the ropes of daily prison life and, most of all, to help him survive on the inside.

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The cast is probably the first thing that sticks out to anyone about ANIMAL FACTORY and I have to admit that these actors were well-chosen for their parts. Surprisingly, Edward Furlong gives what’s possibly his last decent performance of his career as our protagonist. Willem Dafoe is excellently cast as Copen, who seems to be a bad man with some good left in his heart. Mickey Rourke also pops up as Ron’s transvestite cell mate, but only receives about five total minutes of screen time. Danny Trejo plays every Danny Trejo character ever as Copen’s second-in-command. Though he’s pulling directorial duty behind the camera, Steve Buscemi still finds some time to briefly appear as a parole lawyer.

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The problems with ANIMAL FACTORY come in messy pacing and boring direction. This movie just looks so plain and it’s no wonder why it debuted on television (after a brief festival run). Everything about it from the sets to just the way that scenes are framed looks and feels kind of bland. The plot starts off interestingly enough in Ron’s initial meeting with Copen, but the film picks up two weeks after Ron has been sent to prison. We don’t really experience any of the initial fear of meeting a cell mate and being introduced to the horrible environment. This seems like a development that might have made for a good introduction as opposed to just throwing the viewer two weeks into Ron’s stay. Other plot points are either rushed through far too quickly or focused on entirely too much. I would have liked more time spent on a dread-soaked subplot involving Tom Arnold as a creepy rapist who has his eye on Norton’s character. On the opposite end of the spectrum, far less time should have been dedicated to a super clichéd and overly familiar climax that felt like the ultimate shrug-inducing ending.

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Ultimately, ANIMAL FACTORY suffers from a messy script, bad pacing and boring direction behind the camera. The talented cast lends a lot of the quality to just another otherwise standard, tame prison movie. This really isn’t anything that you haven’t seen before and I can’t recommend it. Stick with SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION for the best prison movie ever made and OZ for a disturbing, dark view on the system. They might not exactly be “realistic,” but they sure aren’t as tedious and overly tame as ANIMAL FACTORY.

Grade: C

KILLSHOT (2009)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Violence, Language and brief Nudity

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Directed by: John Madden

Written by: Hossein Amini

(based on the novel KILLSHOT by Elmore Leonard)

Starring: Thomas Jane, Diane Lane, Mickey Rourke, Joseph Gordon-Levitt & Rosario Dawson

KILLSHOT is yet another victim of the Weinstein Company’s sabotaging of their own projects. This crime thriller was originally supposed to come out in 2006, but was shelved until 2009 due to frequent re-edits and test screenings. I suppose that the director’s cut would be nowhere near a masterpiece, but it could have been a lot better than this final result. One entire plot threat involving a crooked cop played by Johnny Knoxville was removed entirely, though you can look back at the older trailers and spot him in certain scenes. KILLSHOT is not a bad movie by any means, but it’s a decent predictable thriller and it reeks of potential for something more. The studio’s interfering fingerprints are all over this fast-paced simple-plotted crime tale.

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Wayne and Carmen Colson are a recently separated couple on the path to divorce. Both of them wind up in the wrong place at the wrong time and end up in the path of two murderous criminals. This dangerous duo is made up of loose-cannon amateur Richie and the calm hulking hitman Blackbird. Richie and Blackbird begin a game of cat-and-mouse with Wayne and Carmen that spans far longer than a single night. There’s enough time for multiple encounters and even different cities to be used. As Wayne and Carmen begin to fall back in love, Richie and Blackbird have tension brewing between them as they stalk the couple.

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KILLSHOT is a glamorous B-flick. It’s full of dumb decisions (especially in one notable scene when a character is on the phone and could easily tell the person she’s speaking with to call 911, but instead says “I’ll call you back” when she sees the recognizable hitman approaching from a distance). There are also plenty of coincidences that connect everything together in convenient ways. I’m not sure how good Elmore Leonard’s novel is (I’ve heard fantastic things), but this cinematic adaptation strains credibility and logic more than once. What it doesn’t deliver in smart characters, it makes up in some great tension-filled scenes. Threatening conversations, brooding moments of nothing violent really occurring, and a scenes involving shootouts (some of them very one-sided) are executed in capable ways. The plot may be strictly by the numbers, but it’s also so fast-paced that none of the logic gaps or plot holes bothered me too much. I enjoyed this in the same way I might enjoy a silly 80’s or 90’s action thriller. It’s fun while it lasts.

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The cast is a mixed bag. Thomas Jane and Diane Lane are convincing as a troubled couple experiencing marriage problems before the violent chaos even begins breaking out. However, the movie makes the odd decision of focusing far more on Mickey Rourke and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s characters. While I can buy Mickey Rourke as an intimidating cold contract killer, I thought Joseph Gordon-Levitt was way too far over-the-top as Richie. He’s imitating a so-so Southern accent and almost acts like a cartoon character at points. I get that he’s supposed to be a loose-cannon and a psycho, but he’s almost comical at points and that doesn’t seem to have been the intention. Rosario Dawson is given a rather thankless role as Richie’s wife. She has some good bits, but it seems that most of her plotline was trimmed for the scant 95 minute running time. I also wish I had seen the thread with Johnny Knoxville playing a crooked cop, which might have given some more interesting directions to the film. It’s probably too much to hope for a director’s cut with Knoxville’s scenes reinserted into the film and Rosario Dawson taking up more screen time.

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KILLSHOT might have initially been far more than the end product indicates. The heavy studio editing is apparent. The movie rushes by with a fairly predictable plotline. The script also focuses far more on the bad guys than the couple on the run from them. It’s entertaining in the B-movie sense of things. This would be right at home in the mid to late 80’s. It’s a silly little ride that has some unique characters, fun scenes, and didn’t disappoint me in being a good time-killer. It’s far from the best movie of its type, but I enjoyed it for what it was. KILLSHOT is good time for fans of crime thrillers based around cat-and-mouse games, however predictable some of them may be.

Grade: B-

SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 42 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Brutal Stylized Violence throughout, Sexual Content, Nudity, and brief Drug Use

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Directed by: Robert Rodriguez & Frank Miller

Written by: Frank Miller

(based on the SIN CITY graphic novels by Frank Miller)

Starring: Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis, Eva Green, Powers Boothe, Dennis Haysbert, Ray Liotta, Christopher Meloni, Jeremy Piven, Christopher Lloyd, Jamie King, Juno Temple, Marton Csokas, Jamie Chun & Julia Garner

The original SIN CITY was one of my favorite movies during high school and hopes were high that Frank Miller’s amazing crime anthology would play out with the two sequels as a trilogy. Announcements for big name talent (including the original cast and the likes of Johnny Depp) were made and then the much-anticipated sequel was placed in development hell. Almost a full decade later, the second installment has finally been released and it was not worth the ridiculously long wait. Ironically, another Frank Miller sequel released this year bears some strong resemblance to SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR. That film would be 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE. Both sequels are forcibly trying way too hard to duplicate what the filmmakers think fans liked about the originals and neither of them succeed well at it. DAME TO KILL FOR is a mixed bag in every way.

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A DAME TO KILL FOR follows the same format as the original SIN CITY. It’s a crime anthology with four noir tales that have recurring characters and an interlocking timeline. While the first film felt open and vibrant with every single detail being paid close attention to, this sequel feels confined and cheaper in many ways. The production values range from sometimes gorgeous to mostly corny. I don’t mean corny in the sense that things feel too far over-the-top (some intentional cheese works well), but corny in the sense that the world around our actors is fake looking. The visuals of 2005’s SIN CITY hold up well to this day and made me feel like I had entered a dangerous city filled with criminals. DAME TO KILL FOR feels like I’m watching a bunch of actors pretend in front of a green screen with silly looking CGI backgrounds around them. It feels like less attention was being placed on detail and more on pumping this thing out fast, but that’s not the real case because this had a nine-year-long production. The stories are as follows…

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JUST ANOTHER SATURDAY NIGHT: Marv (from HARD GOODBYE in the original) wakes from a drunken stupor surrounded by crashed cars, corpses, and blood. He tries to piece together what happened to put him in this situation from hazy memories. This opener lasts less than 10 minutes and introduces the vibe that things are more forced this time around. Some dark comedy is present and I had fun watching the style in which this tale played out, but the writing was okay at best. Marv’s make-up looks ridiculous on Mickey Rourke this time around and it hurts that he appears during every single story in some way or another. It should have been an early sign for disappointment that the memorable character with the most disturbing tale in the first film was in a campy opener this time around. B-

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THE LONG BAD NIGHT: This first full-blown tale is the best segment in the film and up to the caliber of the original flick. I wouldn’t call it only good, but pretty awesome as a whole. Johnny is a gambler with a superb winning streak who visits Basin City (a.k.a. Sin City, duh) to play the most powerful poker game in town. He finds himself in over his head when he goes up against the corrupt Senator Roark (family member to a twisted priest, a cannibal serial killer, and a yellow-skinned pedophile in the first flick). Roark doesn’t take kindly to losing and Johnny finds himself against odds that he didn’t foresee when he leaves for a night on the town.

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Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a welcome newcomer to the cast as Johnny and Powers Boothe (briefly glimpsed in SIN CITY) takes center stage as the slimy Roark. It’s easy to hate the gambling villain and the story was fairly predictable, but a few twists did take me by surprise. I liked a reveal midway through that wasn’t so much of a shock but a nice direction to take the story. The ending of this tale is fantastic. It’s a poetic conclusion to the best story of the sequel. Also production values felt far better in this single story than they were in the rest of the entire film. A

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A DAME TO KILL FOR: The story is where the ride begins to get really bumpy. Dwight (from BIG FAT KILL in the first film) is a private investigator specializing in incriminating photos. When a femme fatale from his past contacts him about her abusive husband, Dwight becomes infatuated with the sexy Ava Lord and comes to find too late that the situation isn’t as simple as he expected. This tale was as by-the-numbers as one can get. There aren’t any unexpected twists and some lengthy side plot threads go nowhere.

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This also happens to be a tale where two recurring characters from the 2005 film are recast. The hulking bodyguard, Manute, was originally played by Michael Clarke Duncan (who passed away), but Dennis Haysbert doesn’t necessarily do a bad job of filling the part. He’s a hulking baddie who serves his purpose. However, Josh Brolin is terribly cast as Dwight, a role that Clive Owen owned. Brolin has none of the charisma or charm that made the character so damn enjoyable to begin with. Eva Green (who served as the best performer in 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE) bares it all here (literally), but isn’t much of a character. She merely plays out as means to an end. The worst part about this second-to-last tale is that it takes up a majority of the running time, so much so that this sequel is titled after it. C

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NANCY’S LAST DANCE: Picking up shortly after YELLOW BASTARD from the original film, Nancy Callahan is looking to avenge her dead lover/protector John Hartigan. To do this, she hardens herself and aims to kill Senator Roark. Her plan encounters some difficulties along the way. DAME TO KILL FOR commits the worst sin any anthology can by ending on its weakest note. This tale with direct ties to one of the best stories from the first film is dull, sloppy and anti-climactic. It was so bad that I was hoping the movie would just get to the final scene that everyone knew was coming. Nothing more can really be said about this story other than it’s poorly acted, written and played out. D

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To say SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR is underwhelming would be an understatement. The main returning cast members from the original come in Bruce Willis (showing up for an extended cameo), a few side characters (including a gloriously wasted Rosario Dawson as murderous hooker Gale), Mickey Rourke as a silly looking Marv, and Jessica Alba shakily trying to take on a lead role in a dark segment. It speaks volumes that the most interesting character (Dwight) only appears for one segment, while the wooden Nancy is throughout every single one of them. Marv, one of the most colorful characters from the original, is turned into a dull brute and that’s all the personality he’s given. After a nine-year wait, I sat in a theater with about six other people on opening night. When the movie ended, a person behind me exclaimed “That’s it?!?” Those two words are likely to summarize most fans’ responses to SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR, including mine.

Grade: C+

SIN CITY (2005)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 4 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Sustained Strong Stylized Violence, Nudity and Sexual Content including Dialogue

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Directed by: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez & Quentin Tarantino

Written by: Frank Miller

(based on the SIN CITY graphic novels by Frank Miller)

Starring: Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen, Rosario Dawson, Jessica Alba, Nick Stahl, Josh Hartnett, Powers Boothe, Michael Madsen, Jaime King, Elijah Wood, Rutger Hauer, Benicio Del Toro, Brittany Murphy & Michael Clarke Duncan

With the long-awaited sequel (almost a decade since the first movie) coming right around the corner, the urge hit me to rewatch SIN CITY. To be perfectly honest I haven’t seen this movie in five years, though it was a favorite of mine in high school that I viewed repeatedly. Frank Miller, graphic novelist behind 300, and Robert Rodriguez (along with a brief bit by Tarantino) brought to life the gritty crime stories of Frank Miller in a beautifully made film. This was one of the first films to be constructed in this kind of visual fashion that other movies would use further down the line (e.g. 300 for a good film and THE SPIRIT for a bad one). All the beautiful spectacle in the world cannot save a film that lacks in the writing department, but luckily Frank Miller’s stories are brought to life frame for frame. As in there wasn’t even a full writing credit on this film, because everything was right out of Miller’s books.

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For those who don’t know (a surprisingly large amount out there), SIN CITY is composed of four different crime stories that weave and intersect around each other. Think PULP FICTION loaded with even more over-the-top gratuitous violence that also packs a depressing and dark edge. The main thing I can see turning people off SIN CITY is how damned dark it is. However, some stories inject crazy humor into the mix and go into ridiculous territory that remind the viewer they’re essentially watching a live-action comic book. I’m going to tackle each story individually to address the pros and cons of all four tales, but the movie is absolutely gorgeous to behold. Extreme care and attention to detail was put into every frame to bring Frank Miller’s gritty city landscape to life and the sinful citizens inhabiting it. So without further ado, on to the four stories contained within 2005’s SIN CITY…

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THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT: Serving as an opener and closer to the film, these two brief segments welcome to the viewer to the nasty world of SIN CITY and bid them on their way right before cutting to credits. Josh Hartnett plays a character known only as The Salesman. He woos two different women and harbors a dark agenda. This story lasts under five minutes, but keeps a level of mystery around the Salesman character that makes you want to know more about him. This information is never given and never will be, but Josh Hartnett knocks it out of the park with his charismatic and foreboding performance. The opening bit also serves as a nice introduction to just what kind of tone the entire movie will have. A+

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THE HARD GOODBYE: If there’s a single story that I would point out as my least favorite in SIN CITY, it would be HARD GOODBYE. It’s not as if the story is terrible, because it is actually very creative. It follows Marv, a scarred and thuggish individual. He’s just had the time of his life with Goldie, the one hooker who has ever accepted his love. After waking up from a drunken stupor, Marv finds Goldie murdered in bed with him and he’s framed for the crime. Unfortunately for the corrupt cops and a powerful family, Marv is a lunatic who has no problem with hurting anyone who gets in his way or applying vicious torture techniques in order to get information. Mickey Rourke’s misshapen giant is a gentleman to ladies, but is more than a little eager to get his hands dirty on the male scum of Basin City (a.k.a. Sin City).

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The only flaw I find in HARD GOODBYE is how damned dark and mean-spirited the whole story is. It might seem silly to complain about brutality in a movie called SIN CITY. It’s also worth noting that this film originally received an NC-17 from the MPAA and had to go through some edits in order to secure an R rating. Most of these edits most likely come from HARD GOODBYE as it’s nightmarish at points. Elijah Wood pops in for a memorable role that doesn’t have a single line of dialogue. This story also has the most depressing ending of the bunch. It’s phenomenally made and vicious, but it’s also downright unpleasant at points. As well-made as this film is, I’m glad this story was fired early. A-

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THE BIG FAT KILL: Things go from depressing to really entertaining in this story involving gun-totting prostitutes, a hardened man named Dwight, and quite a lot of gangsters. After kicking his girlfriend’s abusive drunkard of an ex out of her apartment, Dwight is convinced that he’s up to no good and follows him into Old Town. This section of the city is full of hookers who will give you the night of your life if you follow the rules or be the death of you if you try any funny stuff. Murder, chaos, and a race against time to cover up a bad mistake ensues. I don’t want to say too much about this story, because some of the enjoyment comes from how wild things get and the unexpected turns the plot takes. BIG FAT KILL is a nice pick me up from the depressing previous story and packs a lot of absurd humor that makes it the most entertaining segment of the movie. I would even go as far as saying that this is my favorite tale of the four being told. A+

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THAT YELLOW BASTARD: The final story actually begins before HARD GOODBYE and then picks up after BIG FAT KILL. John Hartigan is one of the last honest cops in Sin City. They’re a rare breed, in case you can’t guess from the title nickname of Basin City. Hartigan has been on the trail of a pedophile/child-killer who happens to have powerful connections. John puts a few bullets in the psycho and saves an eight year-old girl named Nancy, but finds himself framed for the crimes. Eight years after being locked up, Hartigan is a free man and tries to protect Nancy from the now yellow-skinned psychopath who wants revenge. The plot of YELLOW BASTARD is predictable, but is very cool to watch unfold to say the least. This is the a more character driven story that is actually given a decent amount of time to make you care about John and Nancy. Sympathizing with them makes everything to come that much more gripping. One of the more grotesque deaths you’ll see in cinema occurs in this story and it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving character. Predictability aside, this story delivers on every level. A+

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SIN CITY works in visually capturing a comic book brought to life, but also has Frank Miller’s stellar writing behind it. Every single actor and actress, including usually less-than-great Jessica Alba, gave exactly what was needed of them in their characters. The biggest strength is that all four stories (despite how short they actually are) could fill a four separate movies worth of material and still be rock solid. Packing them all inside a barely over two hour long running time leaves no room to drag and captured my attention from frame one. There are lots of things to like in SIN CITY. The beautiful visuals are merely icing on the cake as the movie moves from emotional and cold to dark and grim to strangely funny and all around amazing. There was never anything quite like SIN CITY before it came along and even if this ten-year-delayed sequel doesn’t deliver on the promise of delivering more great material, then we’ll always have this perfect noir that stands as a cinematic landmark of sorts.

Grade: A+

IRON MAN 2 (2010)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 5 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Intense Sci-Fi Action and Violence, and Some Language

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Directed by: John Favreau

Written by: Justin Theroux

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Mickey Rourke & Samuel L. Jackson

The first IRON MAN was a competent and enjoyable superhero origin story, even though it fell into some pitfalls of the superhero film. It set up the characters well and got a ton of development out of the way. Of course, since it banked and it was the first in a series of films that set up THE AVENGERS, it was certain that we had not seen the last of Tony Stark or his special suit. Of course, a sequel was in production to further along the blueprint for The Avengers Initiative and this one would be more packed to the gills with action, right? You’d actually be wrong on that second guess. IRON MAN 2, though far from terrible, is just an okay sequel to a good predecessor.

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Since Tony Stark announced that he was Iron Man to the world, he’s become even more of a celebrity figure. The US military wants him to turn over the Iron Man suit to the government because they see it as a possible weapon (both against them and one they could utilize against others). Tony Stark flat-out refuses and incurs the anger of a fellow weapons designer, Justin Hammer. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to everyone, the dangerous Ivan Vanko is plotting a calculated revenge against Stark. Tony Stark’s problems don’t end there though, because the very device that is keeping him alive is also killing him with a toxic presence in his body. Can Tony Stark save himself and the day? Will Justin Hammer and Ivan Vanko succeed in their separate plots to humiliate/kill Iron Man? Will plenty of set up be thrown in for THE AVENGERS? Seeing as this is a superhero movie, you should know the answers to all of the above.

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Robert Downey Jr. hops back into the role of Tony Stark, which fits him like a glove. Gwyneth Paltrow is likable enough, reprising her role as Stark’s significant other. Don Cheadle has come in to play James Rhodes, a role that belonged to Terrence Howard in the previous film, and is fantastic as somewhat of a sidekick to Stark’s superego. Mickey Rourke is great as the insane creepy Russian Ivan Vanko. Sam Rockwell, as good an actor as he is, doesn’t really come off as the intimidating type and I never really saw him as anything other than a whiny loser. This may have been exactly what they were aiming for in his character, but there was potential in this role that never seemed to be fully realized.

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The production values are spectacular, as they should be when one considers the massive budget this film had. I personally enjoyed many of the little nods thrown in that reference THE AVENGERS film and there are winks for fans of the Marvel universe (a Captain America shield here and a Thor hammer there). Samuel L. Jackson goes from brief cameo to full-on supporting character as Nick Fury. These nudges and winks for the fans are fun enough. However, it seems like there’s far too much exposition here and not enough action.

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The story begins with promise and a showdown between Stark and Ivan at a Grand Prix is appropriately exciting. The final 40 minutes are also a rollicking good time. However, it’s the middle section that drags. The final showdown between Tony and Ivan also feels a bit like a boss fight in a video game and ends far too quickly. This should have been the most intense and riveting sequence in the entire film, but it resolves itself in a bit of an anti-climactic way.

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IRON MAN 2 is a fun time. It winds up being on the lower end of the Marvel cinematic universe so far. The predecessor is far better and so is the crossover film between all of the heroes, but this winds up being just an okay sequel to a superior origin story.

Grade: B-

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