Sinfully Delicious

'Sin City' straddles reality and comic book fantasy with eloquence, while 'Walk on Water' is flat-out phenomenal

It should come as no surprise that Robert Rodriguez’s production company is called Troublemaker Studios. The director, whose bracing, electrifying style of filmmaking appears to suit just about every genre — from action (Desperado) to horror (From Dusk ’til Dawn) to wholesome family entertainment (Spy Kids), brashly refuses to play by Hollywood’s rules. A true maverick, he’s created his own special effects house (thanks to the bread and butter profits from the Spy Kids trilogy) and has decided, for better or for worse, to do things his way and only his way.

And his way, in the case of Sin City, was to bring on the graphic novel’s author Frank Miller as a co-director, a move that got Rodriguez ousted from the Director’s Guild of America. Would that all directors with such blazing talents stand up to Hollywood. We might actually find ourselves loving movies again.

With its over-the-top ultra-violence and morally depraved undercurrents, Sin City recreates the spirit of Miller’s original works with a rabid faithfulness. It’s not meant for mass consumption. But those who can give themselves over fully to the experience are in for a treat. Yes, it’s far from perfect — it’s a little too long, narratively redundant and, for the most part, emotionally sterile — but Sin City hooks you with style, verve and force of being. It’s impact filmmaking, the kind at which Rodriguez excels.



Hard-boiled: Willis, with Jessica Alba in the background.

Miller’s source material — thick, bold, black-and-white etchings with splashes of color for dramatic flair — has been enhanced by Rodriguez’s decision to go all-digital. The cast performed against green screen and virtually everything — from sets to props to cityscapes — was added later. It’s a new technique that’s growing in popularity in the film world (Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow), but it works only if the material is suited to its specific needs, since it imposes a perceptible layer of artificiality onto the film. Unlike Sky Captain, which attempted to dazzle with giant set pieces, Sin City utilizes the technique more subtly. The CGI work gives Sin City a silvery, black-and-white noir-dense luster. Color is used sparingly, often as a punctuation — a splatter of scarlet blood, the glow of a woman’s emerald eyes. Ultimately, the technique allows Sin City to straddle reality and fantasy with a ripe, richly wrought eloquence.

The narrative is divided into three semi-related stories, all of which contain similar themes of vengeance, in which a central sordid hero figure climbs the rungs of soul-salvation by ridding the aptly named Basin City of its scum. Only Det. Hartigan (Bruce Willis, in clench-jawed serious mode) is too pure for this vice-riddled metropolis, and his story, in which he saves a girl — twice, no less — from the hands of a serial killer, the perverted son of a high-powered politician, has the most resonance.


SIN CITY
Starring Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke
Rated R
126 Minutes
Area Theatres

But it’s the story of Marv, a brick-and-mortar-faced criminal, gloriously portrayed by Mickey Rourke, that’s the most out-and-out fun. In Marv’s efforts to avenge the murder of a prostitute who showed him a night of tenderness, Marv barrels his way through Basin City’s depravity with thundering, non-stop resolve. His tactics are not just violent, they’re creatively violent, and one deeply evil character in particular — Kevin (Elijah Wood, about as far away from the Shire as one can get) — is dispatched in an alarming, grisly manner befitting the old EC horror comics. The movie’s relentless violence is offset by a cartoonish unreality, helping to offset both the ferocity and the abundance.

Sin City shares a close kinship to Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. (In fact, Tarantino “guest directed” a sequence featuring a conversation between Clive Owen and “vocally compromised” Benicio Del Toro that is as funny as it is morbid.) But Rodriguez is a far better director than Tarantino. Where Tarantino sometimes suffers from the directorial equivalent of A.D.D., Rodriguez focuses intently and laser-like on the work at hand, creating an unstoppable momentum. Like Spider-Man‘s Sam Raimi, another wizard of visuals, Rodriguez is a natural for bringing the art of comic books to the screen. And in Frank Miller, he’s found the perfect partner.


The Israeli film, Walk on Water is one of those movies that — I know it’s a cliché, but there is no other way to say it — should not be missed. It’s flat-out phenomenal.

Directed by Eytan Fox, whose last film Yossi and Jagger told the story of two gay Israeli soldiers, Walk on Water deals in part with the notion of Israeli masculinity, as well as with the complex, unresolved feelings that many Israelis still harbor toward Germans.

The story surrounds the attempts of an Israeli government agent — a steely assassin named Eyal (Lior Ashkenazi) — to uncover the whereabouts of Alfred Himmelman, an elderly Nazi war criminal and, as his superior instructs him, to “get him before God does.” Posing as a tour guide, Eyal befriends Himmelman’s granddaughter — who withdrew from her family and moved to Israel to work through her residual guilt over her grandfather’s legacy — and her visiting brother Axel (Knut Berger).


WALK ON WATER
Sarring Lior Ashkenazi, Knut Berger
Not Rated
104 Minutes
Landmark’s E Street Cinema

That’s the basic set-up. The resulting journey, however, is rich, rewarding, and revealing. Fox allows Eyal, who typifies Israeli masculinity in his inability to cry (he has “dry tear ducts”), to gradually soften, a result of his friendship with Axel, who is gay. As the movie’s action shifts to Berlin, the film makes an emotional shift — and the payoff, which comes in the final fifteen minutes, is intensely, emotionally gripping.

Director Fox examines all perspectives, a remarkable feat considering the complexity of the relationships Israel has with its own people as well as the world at large. He doesn’t oversimplify, yet he keeps things simple, propelled by narrative. But Fox’s keener interest lies in unearthing a substance of hope, the kind of hope that arises when ingrained prejudices are put aside, allowing for a fresh start.

Randy Shulman is Metro Weekly's Publisher and Editor-in-Chief. He can be reached at rshulman@metroweekly.com.

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