Sin’-ful cinema

Kyle Smith

They live.

Walking to the Century 12 Evanston for the midnight screening of “Sin City” last Thursday, I saw them among me. Packs of nerdish boys in pale blue jeans that didn’t fit, raging frat boys eager for gore and that line in the trailer about “sometimes you have to kill a lot of people,” discerning comic book intellectuals and confused-looking girlfriends, all moved en masse to see the much-hyped movie. Only popular cinema has the power to render people, regardless of coolness, intelligence or hygiene, into pre-programmed zombies ready to rave over something they’ve seen 90 seconds of in a commercial.

“Sin City” is no masterpiece, though in the oeuvre of Robert Rodriguez it stands head-and-shoulders above the rest. And coming after arguably the most embarrassing three months of major releases in years, it is a reminder movies occasionally can be interesting.

The box office top ten reads like a bad stand-up monologue. Ashton Kutcher and Bernie Mac? “Armed and Fabulous?” A Vin Diesel family film about to cross $100 million? “Barbershop” for women, brilliantly titled “Beauty Shop,” is irrevocable proof that studio executives are dumber than the public.

And along comes “Sin City,” with its schizophrenic monochromania, “special guest director,” and oblong narration. There’s more life in any frame of “Sin City” than any other film in major release, excepting those theaters still playing “Million Dollar Baby” — and any surprises there were ruined by people who can’t keep a secret (or confused conservative groups who keep overlooking the fact that Clint Eastwood is possibly Hollywood’s most accomplished Republican).

First as the legendary Texan whose $7,000 film, “El Mariachi,” wowed the 1993 Sundance Film Festival, Rodriguez has brilliantly played up the image of himself as a no-bullshit, no-frills filmmaker. He also has an untapped appeal as one of the most unpretentious directors around, even though wild-eyed proponents of “Sin City” will sing its artistic praises. Rodriguez simply understands the universal awesomeness of a cool camera angle and the fact that red blood against black and white looks sweet. I enjoy Rodriguez because he seems to go to great lengths to remind people that he is nothing but a B-movie filmmaker (see the glorified-Saturday-sitcom “Spy Kids” trilogy or the video store staple “From Dusk Till Dawn”) but still has a remarkable penchant for attracting A-list talent.

Though I’ve only read one comic book in my life (“The Watchmen,” which a trusted friend tells me is “the one”), the experience was much like watching “Sin City.” The film’s framing device — an otherwise unmentioned murder by heartthrob Josh Hartnett — piqued my interest the same way the first panel of “Calvin and Hobbes” sort of makes me smile. Where “Sin City” improves on its “Pulp Fiction” structure is through editing — certain storylines are given more emphasis than others, allowing the city to come alive and let my mind wander like it would over the pages of a book with way too many pictures.

“Sin City” is also the fulfillment of all fanboy dreams — a Las Vegas for bloggers and Magic enthusiasts. See: the film’s most memorable image, a slow tracking shot down a rooftop where leather-clad hookers fire semi-automatic weapons in slow-motion. It’s terrifying how many geek G-spots this scene taps.

Interesting, too, is “Sin City’s” rampant violence. Embodied best by Mickey Rourke’s Marv (seemingly a lost character from “Street Fighter II”), the film’s non-stop gore, decapitation and castrations never cease. Then again, any film that teases testosterone with Jessica Alba, Brittany Murphy, Rosario Dawson and more Jessica Alba has no right to show us Bruce Willis ripping out a yellow man’s penis.

This is what makes “Sin City” fascinating — the fulfillment of desire and the distaste that ensues. The film’s portrayal of women could be considered misogynist or empowering; its violence pointless or ironic. In its hormonal fervor and endorsement of a vengeful kill-all mentality, “Sin City” is an unhappy movie without the numbing obviousness of something like “Requiem for a Dream.” The eye candy is Rodriguez’s work, the uneasiness a product of Frank Miller’s talent.

“Sin City” occasionally feels cheap, especially the scenes in Old Town, where you can practically see the green screen peeling in the background. But Rodriguez makes movies cheap, and they look terrific. Perhaps the casting of B-movie icons (forget Rourke and Michael Madsen, I nearly shed a tear when I learned that, in the world of “Sin City,” Rutger Hauer and Powers Boothe were brothers) is most emblematic of “Sin City’s” crude message — it’s only when you dress ugly people in cool turncoats that people care.4

Communication junior Kyle Smith is the PLAY film columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]

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