(Alliance Atlantis, 2005) D: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller w/ Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis. Rating: NNN
Sin City's mix of high style and brutal action plays just fine on the small screen thanks to the film's remarkable fidelity to Frank Miller's original graphic novels. Like them, it offers an unbroken string of iconic images shot in stark black-and-white with occasional touches of colour, mostly blood red. Frame by frame, the movie looks as much like the comic book as is humanly possible.
It's really the only way to do the story. Miller's vision pushes film noir's bleak world of hard-edged corruption and doom so far into the abyss that anything resembling naturalism would turn it to parody. Only a comic book character can get away with lines like "You'd have to check her pulse to notice those perfect breasts of hers aren't moving."
That character is Marv. (Think Mike Hammer as played by Conan the Barbarian on steroids.) He's killing his way to the truth behind a prostitute murder. On the same evening, two other men are meeting their fates. Honest cop Hartigan (Bruce Willis) must again save little Nancy, now a grown-up pole dancer (Jessica Alba) from a sadistic killer, and Dwight (Clive Owen) risks everything to save a band of independent streetwalkers from a mob takeover.
This sounds like testosterone fantasy all the way, and mostly it is. But that old film noir standby, the female villain, is completely absent. The one prostitute who betrays her comrades is a minor character and presented as weak and naive, not evil.
Performances might not seem to be an issue when everyone's an icon and/or buried under a ton of latex. But some of these, notably Mickey Rourke as Marv, are note-perfect evocations of Miller's world. By contrast, Rosario Dawson, leader of the streetwalkers, just doesn't sound quite like the sadistic Valkyrie she's supposed to be.
Amazon.ca lists this at $27.27, a hefty price for a bare-bones edition whose only extra is an eight-minute publicity short. It might be worth waiting for the special edition that's sure to come along in six months or so. Robert Rodriguez is an informative and playful commentator who understands the value of bonus material.
EXTRAS Publicity interviews with director and cast. Wide-screen. English, French soundtracks. English, Spanish subtitles.
(Anchor Bay, 1996) created by David Greenwalt, John McNamara, w/ Adrian Pasdar. Rating: NNNN
Here's a smart, sharp television series that the Fox Network chickened out on after only four episodes. It's easy to see why: the lead is a psychopath who fucks his step-mother and murders his father, and that's just the pilot.
Junior acquisitions VP Jim Profit will stop at nothing to rise in the corporate ranks. Blackmail, murder, theft, forgery - his crimes are endless. He likes to befriend someone, find a weakness and exploit it. And he tells us about it as he goes. Nothing like making the audience complicit in your crimes.
This makes for good character-driven drama, slightly larger than life, with tight, twisting plots and a thriller structure with deadpan farcical overtones. It also makes for highly engaging moral ambiguity, since Profit most often merely brings out what's already present in his victims and clearly derives no pleasure from crime or anything else.
Adrian Pasdar is terrific as Profit, all watchful stillness and a chameleon ability to fake any emotion necessary in a split second. But he's merely at the centre of an outstanding cast playing terrific roles. Everybody in the show is smart - no dramatic thrill in manipulating people too dumb to fight back. The women are particularly outstanding, with nuanced readings of complex, evolving roles. Lisa Blount (An Officer And A Gentleman) tops the list as Profit's scheming pansexual trailer-trash step-mother, but all the women are magnetic.
The model, of course, is Richard III, as Pasdar and show creators David Greenwalt and John McNamara point out on their funny and highly informative commentaries on the two-hour pilot and three of the seven one-hour episodes. Despite Richard's enduring popularity, it's rare to see a villain take centre stage. If you like the idea, check out House Of Cards (BBC/WB, 1990), a brilliant 1990 miniseries that's readily available.
It's equally rare to see the psychopath depicted in the media as anything but a drooling serial killer, but the research says they're far more ordinary than that. Check out The Sociopath Next Door (Broadway Books, 2005) by psychiatrist Martha Stout for a readable and chilling overview.
EXTRAS Commentary on pilot and three episodes, retrospective making-of interviews with cast and creators, booklet. Full-frame. No subtitles.
Born Into Brothels
(ThinkFilm, 2004) D: Zana Briski, Ross Kauffman. Rating: NNN
Photographer Zana Briski had been living in a brothel in Calcutta's red light district, documenting the residents' lives and teaching the children photography, for at least two years when she put this film together.
The children's photographs make up much of the movie. These kids are all very talented, composing colourful portraits, cityscapes and near-abstract studies of line and shape like pros. Despite a future in prostitution, the lively and likeable 10-year-olds are apparently happy.
Briski and Ross Kauffman let the contrast between beauty and poverty speak for itself. Most of the film focuses on photographic excursions and play. We get the children's world as they and the filmmakers see it, rather than anthropologizing by outsiders.
Briski attempts to get the children into schools, despite an uncooperative bureaucracy that stigmatizes them. This process gives some sense of the bigger picture, but its inherent drama goes unmilked.
Appeals for pity and charity likewise remain tacit. Though it's clear where the filmmakers' sympathies lie, they're honest documentarians and give us plenty of space to think and feel for ourselves.
EXTRAS Wide-screen. English/Hindi with English subtitles.
The Brown Bunny
(Sony, 2003) D: Vincent Gallo, w/ Gallo, Chloë Sevigny. Rating: N
The lame excuse for this feature unfolds in the last 10 minutes, when motorcycle racer Clay (Vincent Gallo) finally gets together with the ex live-in lover (Chloë Sevigny) he's been moping over throughout the movie. She gives him a blow job, we find out why they broke up, and there's a twist in the tale.
It's not a bad twist, but it doesn't justify 80 endless minutes of ill-shot highway footage and Gallo's sad face set to mediocre wistful music. Nor does it justify the occasional drama-free moments with other characters whose only function is to let us know he's looking for the girl.
It doesn't justify the blow job either, which is hardcore. If you've never seen or participated in such a thing, this may be a reason to watch the last 10 minutes. Otherwise, skip it.
Extras Wide-screen. No subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, August 23
(MGM, 2005) Queen Latifah heads a lively comedy with a good cast that includes Alicia Silverstone and Kevin Bacon.
Boudu Saved From Drowning
(Criterion/Morningstar, 1932) Jean Renoir's classic black comedy.
A Lot Like Love
(Disney, 2005) Amanda Peet and Ashton Kutcher play in a likeable romantic comedy.
(New Yorker, 1967) Jean-Luc Godard turns political and cinematic revolutionary.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb