Monday, April 18, 2005


Weekend Diversions

Friday night, an old roommate and I went to see Sin City.

Almost embarrassed that it has taken me two weeks since it opened to see the flick considering, as mentioned before, I'm a comic-book geek from way back (sorry, Marvel Zombies -- and you know who you
are -- I'm a proud DC fan). Co-Director Frank Miller is, of course, one of the most significant creators of thirty years. In the late-'70s, he resuscitated Marvel's Daredevil -- creating ninja-assassin Elektra in the process. Indeed, the Daredevil-Elektra-Bullseye triangle in Ben Affleck's DD movie comes straight out of Miller's stories, though he certainly can't be blamed for the movie's failed execution ).

In the mid-'80s, he wrote and drew (with artist Klaus Janson)
The Dark Knight Returns for DC, heavily influencing Tim Burton's two "Batman" movies a few years later. Rumor has it that this summer's new Batman Begins will likely borrow some of Miller's themes developed in his Batman: Year One mini-series. He also wrote the script for the underrated Robocop 2 and the, um, less-underrated Robocop 3).

After pretty much abandoning the Big Two comic companies in the '90s, Miller went to independent Dark Horse and created the various Sin City mini-series -- all of which remain in print as single-volume
graphic novels.

The movie, which adapts three of the graphic novels, is excellent -- one of the best I've seen in sometime. It grabs you from the opening frame and holds on for more than two hours afterwards.

It's certainly not for everyone. Its violence, quite intense is literally done quite "artfully." The entire movie is shot primarily black and white, except for dabs of color put in to make dramatic contrasts -- red for a femme fatale's dress here, bright yellow for a profoundly evil villain there. Blood is just about every color but red, which makes the gore a bit easier to take -- though multiple mutilations, stabbings, emasculations, beheadings, etc. make up for that mild saving grace. However, Miller and Robert Rodriguez (of Spy Kids & From Dusk Till Dawn fame)have designed the movie in such a way that some of the most extreme activity is either off-camera or is transformed into a comic-book panel-like silhouette.

And, there are very few heroes in the fictional Basin City -- down-on-his luck cop Hartigan may be the only one. It's definitely not the feel-good flick of the year. However, disturbing as it may be on many levels, it still manages to transcend its more overt nihilistic sensibility.

In many ways, this is the Pulp Fiction of the mid-'00s -- and not just because Rodriguez pal Quentin Tarantino has a "guest director" credit (he oversees a car chase). Like Tarantino before them, Rodriguez and Miller use an updated film noir formula of ethically-challenged/devoid protagonists, gorgeous women (though with Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Jamie King, Carla Gugino and Brittany Murphy, SC's hottie quotient far, uh "out-strips" PF's Uma Thurman) monstrous villains and stylized violence. Each movie is told in a chronologically-haphazard non-linear fashion.

Taking another cue from Tarantino, Rodriguez/Miller also use the film as a vehicle to resuscitate the careers of actors who had been given up for dead critically: In '94, it was John Travolta and Bruce Willis; in 'O5, it's Mickey Rourke and, um, Bruce Willis.

And, yep, there's also the requisite big, bad, bald black man: PF's Ving Rhames vs. SC's Michael Clarke Duncan.
Which raises the question, who will Bruce Willis turn to in 2015-16 to give him yet another career boost?

Saturday, I went to see
Julius Caesar. If you're in New York (or planning on visiting in the next seven weeks -- the limited run ends on June 12), go for Denzel Washington's Brutus, but stay for Eamonn Walker's Marc Antony. Washington, of course, is the main draw and certainly responsible for the more-diverse-than-your-average-Broadway audience. He gives a fine performance, but Walker more than holds his own -- as fans of his conflicted-Muslim leader Kareem Said on HBO's "Oz" would have told you ahead of time.

Oh, keep an eye on Kelly AuCoin who does a nice turn as Octavius. Aside from various theatre productions, you've most likely seen him in sporadic "Law & Order" episodes. That should change after this production. The more politically-avid amongst you (and I figure that more than a few readers are here) might be interested in knowing that Kelly is the son of former Oregon Rep. Les AuCoin.

Speaking of the "L&O" franchise, fans will also recognize the very lovely Tamara Tunie (who portrays the medical examiner on the "SVU" spin-off) as Calpurnia.

Next weekend, I'll be back in Annapolis for the annual St. John's College-U.S. Naval Academy croquet match. If you're in the area, check it out.

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