Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For (2014)

Sin City 2Despite attempting to distance himself from his violent past by becoming a private investigator, Dwight (Josh Brolin) is quickly corrupted by Ava (Eva Green), an old flame ostensibly seeking protection, and lured back into darkness. Years later, disorientated by a deadly car crash, Marv (Mickey Rourke) retraces the steps that have lead him into the hills surrounding Sin City, where two frat boys now lie dead. Down below, Johnny (Joseph Gordon Levitt) is on a winning streak at Kadie’s, but when he dares to beat Senator Roarke (Powers Booth) at poker his luck shows signs of running out. In the next room, through a hole in the wall, Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba) is taking aim at the father of the man who once tried to kill her, but who instead took the life of the man she loved (Bruce Willis).

Not so much a sequel as a second anthology featuring interlocking stories set before, during and after the events of the previous film, Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For is often so incoherent that it is able to resurrect characters, recast actors and reprise stories almost at will, usually without anyone noticing. Clive Owen and Michael Clark Duncan are gone — though their characters return (nominally, at least, though it hardly matters if you don’t recognise them) — but Mickey Rourke and Bruce Willis return, despite both of their characters being killed of last time around (the former by virtue of chronology and the latter as an overprotective ghost). Thanks to the nearly ten years between movies, however, you’ve probably forgotten.

Of the myriad new characters, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s gambler is perhaps the most memorable. Starting out as a winner in a city of losers (the closest the film ever comes to breaking the mould), the film delights in his unprecedented run of bad luck at the hands of returning villain Roarke. Also impressive, if only in passing, are Eva Green — an uncannily natural fit for Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s world — and a near-unrecognisable Christopher Lloyd — who makes the most of a brief appearance as a low-budget surgeon-for-hire with a predilection for ice lollies. While Rourke’s Marv — by now officially the face of the franchise — keeps cropping up throughout, to rapidly diminishing effect, the supporting actors are reduced to mere cameos. Blink and you risk missing Juno Temple, Jeremy Piven and, er, Lady Gaga.
If Marv is the figurehead then Dwight is surely the dramatic lead. Unfortunately, Brolin — who replaces Owen — is nowhere near as compelling in the role.  A self-styled private investigator with unresolved and unrequited feelings for Ava, Brolin’s Dwight is the most Sin City character imaginable. He isn’t so much on a downward spiral of self-destruction as caught in a perpetual loop of it. Never the most charismatic screen presence, Brolin is here a crushing bore, and the main reason that the second act — where the majority of his story unfolds — is such a drag; he’s just another tortured schmuck in a city that’s full of them. Rosario Dawson returns as a friendly face, but the chemistry that once existed between the characters is in staggeringly short supply here. Their relationship is even less convincing than Alba and Willis’.
All in all, however, Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For is pretty much on a par with its predecessor. Even after nine years Miller’s visual style still looks remarkably fresh and inventive, and while the use of colour in this one might not be quite as striking it benefits from an impressive 3D conversion. Dramatically, though, the new film is just as inert: with its over-reliance on voice over, homogeneous characters and repetitive storylines, Sin City remains all style and no substance.
3-Stars
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RED 2 (2013)

kinopoisk.ruFrank Moses (Bruce Willis) is retired…again, and is finally enjoying the quiet life with Sarah Ross (Mary Louise-Parker). She’s having a tougher time getting over the excitement of international espionage, however, and is relieved when Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich) shows up with the news that their lives are once again in danger. The CIA have put a hit out on their heads due to the pair’s alleged involvement in operation Nightshade, calling upon contract killers Han Cho-Bai (Lee Byung-hun) and Victoria Winslow (Helen Mirren) to take them out. Following leads attained with the help of Katya (Catherine Zeta-Jones), they head to London to find Dr. Edward Bailey (Anthony Hopkins) and hopefully clear their names.

A modest hit back in 2010, RED adapted Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner’s comic book of the same name for the big screen. Galaxy Quest director Dean Parisot took over from Robert Schwentke for the sequel, with writers Jon and Erich Hoeber returning to pen the script. In addition to reuniting the surviving cast-members from the first film, the sequel adds a number of new actors to the revolving roster of retirees — essentially anyone that hadn’t already been scooped up for The Expendables 3.

Although profitable, the first film wasn’t particularly well-received by critics. It was strange enough to set it apart from most mainstream action fare, but for the most part the lacklustre script prevented it from making much of a lasting impression. The Hoebers’ screenplay for the sequel is only slightly more satisfying, unfortunately, though the change in direction and increasingly formidable cast are able to elevate the film into something substantially more entertaining.

Unlike The Expendables, RED has (with the exception of Willis) filled its ranks with aging actors rather than over the hill action stars, and the results are characters that you can’t help but care about. Louise-Parker is as likeable as ever as Sarah Ross, whether she’s filling the hole in her life with crisps or seething with envy at Zeta-Jones’ femme fatale. Malkovich and Mirren, meanwhile, are clearly relishing the chance to play completely OTT, the former once again chewing the scenery as a (justifiably) paranoid schizophrenic while the latter defrosts a couple of corpses for a improvised cover-up.

If there’s a problem onscreen its that RED 2 is simply too fond of its characters to cast any of them as a straight villain. Byung Hun Lee is impossibly cool as the industry’s number one assassin, and Jones is suitably sultry as a tricksy double-agent, but for the most part the film forfeits antagonist duties to some guy from Desperate Housewives and a conveyor-belt of walking cadavers. Every moment in the hero’s camp is an utter delight, but until well into the third act the film lacks an antagonist capable of standing in their way.

Once again, then, the script might struggle to give any identifiable shape to the shenanigans, but in the hands of Malkovich or Louise-Parker it’s never anything less than amusing. There’s a party atmosphere to RED 2 that’s incredibly infectious, and if you have even half as much fun as everyone onscreen seems to be then you’re in for a very good time indeed.

3.5-Stars

G. I. Joe: Retaliation (2013)

G. I. Joe 2When the G. I. Joes are framed for killing Pakistan’s president and stealing it’s nuclear warheads, Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson) must lead the remaining agents in a mission to unmask the real Cobra culprits and clear their names. While Roadblock, Flint (D.J. Cotrona) and Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) set off to recruit reinforcements in the form of General Joseph Colton (Bruce Willis), Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and Jinx (Elodie Yung) journey to the Himalayas where they hope to capture and interrogate Storm Shadow (Lee Byung-hun) to uncover Cobra Commander’s true plans. Read more of this post

A Good Day To Die Hard (2013)

A Good Day To Die HardOn a visit to Russia to track down his wayward son, John McClane (Bruce Willis) becomes embroiled in a plot involving terrorists, weapons of mass destruction AND nukes. Accidentally foiling a C.I.A plot being headed by Jack McClane (Jai Courtney), the two are forced to work together in order to save whistle-blower Yuri Komarov (Sebastian Koch) from corrupt official Viktor Chagarin (Sergei Kolesnikov). When both parties are double-crossed by Komarov’s daughter, however, the McClanes find themselves fighting to keep weapons-grade uranium out of enemy hands. Read more of this post

Looper (2012)

In the year 2072, time-travel is being used by a criminal organization spearheaded by The Rainmaker to send targets 30 years into the past so that they can be disposed of by specially trained ‘loopers’. Noting an increase in the number of ex-loopers being sent back to be killed by their younger selves — their loops closed, Joseph “Joe” Simmons (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) soon finds himself pointing a blunderbus at his 55-year-old self (Bruce Willis). Knocked unconscious during a moment’s hesitation, Joe is forced to flee from his employers while he attempts to finish the job. Discerning the older Joe’s intent, he travels to an old farm house owned by Sara (Emily Blunt) and her son Cid (Pierce Gagnon) in an attempt to intercept his escaped prey. Read more of this post

The Expendables 2 (2012)

Tasked with retrieving a piece of tech from a downed plane, Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), Hale Caeser (Terry Crews), Toll Road (Randy Couture) and newcomers Bill the Kid (Liam Hemsworth) and Maggie Yan (Nan Yu) are ambushed at the crash site and their prize stolen by Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Va Damme). With one of their number down, The Expendables track Vilain with the help of Church (Bruce Willis), Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Brooker (Chuck Norris) to an abandoned Soviet Union mine, and try to stop him before he can escape with his pay-load of weapons-grade plutonium. Read more of this post

Lay The Favorite (2012)

Air-headed “kid” Beth Raymer (Rebecca Hall, 30) is tired of stripping for men in trailers at gunpoint and aims to turn her fortunes around by moving to Las Vagas to become a cocktail waitress. Headhunted whilst trying to gamble with a coin-drop arcade machine, Beth starts working for professional betting man Dink Heimowitz (Bruce Willis) where she demonstrates an affinity with numbers and the ability to reorder the constituent letters of even the biggest words into alphabetical order.

Having fallen for Dink, however, Beth is soon fired in order to appease the bookie’s jealous wife, Tulip (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Despite his sudden change of heart (he hires and fires her again within the space of 10 minutes, for no reason), she travels to New York City with one-night-stand Jeremy (Joshua Jackson) and quickly sets up shop with a rival sports gambler instead. When a bet goes wrong and threatens to land both of them in prison, they must ask for Dink’s help in order to clear their names and – you’d think – allow them to move on with their lives. This is a joke, right? This has to be a joke.

The basic premise of seminal J-Horror film Ringu is that there exists a movie so horrible, so apparently evil that it curses the viewer, offends nature (well, horses) and kills anyone who watches it almost without exception. In 2012, thanks to previously esteemed director Stephen Frears, you can finally pay to watch that movie.

I like Rebecca Hall. I mean, who wouldn’t? Her charmingly wry, slightly world-weary demeanour has elevated just about every movie she has ever been in (and perhaps even The Town, too), providing a reliably engaging and charismatic entry into the works of Woody Allen and Christopher Nolan. It appears, however, that Hall feels unfairly typecast in the role of a sympathetic, intelligent human being, and has as a result cast herself in the only screwball comedy Anna Faris has ever had the good sense to turn down. In the minutes it takes you to realise that nobody is in on the joke, cosmic though it is in size, Hall re-envisages herself as a woman so unlikeable, so inconsistent, so positively ludicrous that the only thing you can say in the actress’ favour is that she commits entirely – adopting a barmy come-to-bed voice throughout.

Lay the Favorite makes Katherine Heigl misstep One for the Money seem like a genius career move, the sheer misguidedness of Frear’s latest effort – an adaptation of the memoir of the same name, and therefore based on an implausibly true story – proving almost impossible to comprehend. As the stupid – and I mean stupid – plot developments pile up, and Beth Raymer goes from moronic stripper to (as of the end credits) successful writer, it becomes genuinely difficult to imagine how Lay The Favorite could possibly get any worse. Of course, this is precisely the moment at which Vince Vaughn swans onscreen in a bathrobe and makes you wish you’d walked out when you first considered it. By the time Joshua Jackson puts in an appearance and quickly undoes all of the good will afforded to him by Fringe, you will seriously consider never watching a single movie ever again.

By the biggest means of measurement available, however, the worst thing about Lay The Favorite is the truly dreadful script. This is a movie in which people say things like “I know, he’s my first [normal person]” and “you can’t bet sentimentally, you taught me that”; in which there is much talk of logic but little evidence of it in the actions of its characters; and in which, come the final moments, our protagonist chooses not to take her own advice regardless of sense and believability. The script is basically composed of a bunch of people calling each other jinxes, swearing without the necessary conviction and of Beth being fired, rehired and then fired again – all while the stage directions read “stop acting and just chew your hair”. It is usually the case that any attempts to shoehorn the film’s title into a movie feel horribly forced and cringe-inducing. In Lay The Favorite it’s just about the only line that actually works.

Considering the talent involved, both in front and behind the camera, Lay The Favorite really should have no plausible reason to exist. It’s badly written, poorly directed and acted as if by young actors in need of a paycheck before they make it big (if Hall had filmed this twenty years ago and spent the rest of her career trying to bury it, this would almost be excusable). As you might expect, I anticipate Sadako’s call any minute now.

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

When a pair of pre-pubescent pen-pals flee their Khaki Scout cohorts and maladjusted family respectively, Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) head for a distant cove of New Penzance so that they can begin a life together. Their absence does not go unnoticed, however, and soon they have the rest of the island on their tail. As Scout Master Randy Ward (Edward Norton) rallies his troop and Walt (Bill Murray) and Laura Bishop (Frances McDormand) recruit the services of Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), Sam and Suzy find their future together under threat by an inappreciative adult world. Read more of this post