Sin City

Director: Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller (2005)
Starring: Bruce Willis, Jessica Alba, Mickey Rourke
Find it: IMDB

One of the original 'good' comic book movies, coming from a time when most adaptations were Catwoman, Daredevil and Sam Raimi Spider-Men, created when Frank Miller was still a respectable name in comics and before Robert Rodriguez became a parody of himself. With its sequel finally inbound, what better time to pay a return visit to Sin City?

As before, Bruce Willis and Mickey Rourke's stories remain the best, while Clive Owen handles the filler in the middle just fine. It's the sort of movie in which every single man wears a leather trenchcoat, speaks like they've been gargling broken glass and talks... well, just like a Frank Miller character. The women, meanwhile, are either prostitutes, strippers or women of other professions who just so happen to act exactly like prostitutes and strippers. With Clive Owen referring to Rosario Dawson as a 'Valkyrie', hookers dressed like Zorro and half the cast wearing Converse, it's like a fifteen-year old's approximation of 'cool', filtered through Miller, Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

An exercise in reproducing a comic book as faithfully and literally as possible, Sin City is a resounding success. It's aged surprisingly well, and if The Spirit hadn't so completely stunk, I wouldn't have been surprised to see a whole slew of imitators follow it. Willis and Rourke are fantastic as the honest cop and the honorable thug, respectively, while Owen isn't bad as Dwight (to be played by the altogether better Josh Brolin in the sequel), with a whole host of great performances filling out the ranks. Nick Stahl and Elijah Wood are the best of the bunch, although there's something for everyone, from Rosario Dawson to Jessica Alba, Michael Madsen and Benicio Del Toro, to name a few.

Sin City is unashamedly daft, full of men jumping off rooftops like Batman and explosions which merely blow people over rather than, you know, up. Taken seriously, it's quite terrible and probably a little offensive. Viewed in the spirit (pun unintended - that's not an encouragement to watch Frank Miller's awful movie), it's a gleeful embodiment of Frank Miller's work at its gritty, pulped best.


DirectorRobert Schwentke (2013)
StarringRyan Reynolds, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Bacon
Find itIMDB

Men in Black meets Ghostbusters by way of a typical Ryan Reynolds movie. KIA, BCPD officer Nick (Reynolds) is recruited by the RIPD (Rest In Peace Department) to carry on policing from beyond the grave. Tasked with bringing the so-called 'deados' to justice, Nick is teamed with obnoxious cowboy Roy (Bridges) who quickly shows him the ropes. It doesn't take Nick long to get into the swing of things, presumably because he saw Will Smith go through the exact same thing in Men in Black.

On paper, the idea of Jeff Bridges playing a loudmouth cowboy with an ankle fetish and an awesome beard is a great one - the dude abides, after all - but in R.I.P.D, he and his character just come across as extremely grating. It's an odd turn up for the books, to be watching a Ryan Reynolds movie and hating somebody in it who isn't Ryan Reynolds. And yet, that's the case here. The scenes in which Reynolds unloads his frustrations upon Bridge's face are the best in the entire film. 

The rest of it is ruined by an abundance of bad CGI, predictable storytelling and Kevin Bacon not being given nearly enough to do. As big-budget blockbusters go, you could probably do worse (anything with Transformers in the title, for example) but you could do a lot better too. Annoying, unfunny and predictably done, this POS is DOA. FML.

The Sacrament

Director: Ti West (2014)
Starring: AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Gene Jones
Find it: IMDB

I feel as though I like the idea of Ti West more than I do any film the man has ever actually made. Starting his career with the underwhelming House of the Devil and a dud sequel to Cabin Fever, West has done nothing but disappoint this humble horrorhound. Sure, his films are pretty and steeped in love for the genre, but too often they lack a personality of their own - being too beholden to the past and the artifice of horror cinema. In theory, I should adore his filmography. In reality, I am left indifferent to it.

West returns with The Sacrament, a faux-documentary which sees a two-man documentary crew (of real-life team VICE) investigate the initiation of a man's sister into a mysterious cult. Travelling to the camp in an unnamed, very rural country, the three men quickly set about snooping. At first, everything seems idyllic; missing Caroline (Amy Seimetz) is happy and well, the villagers cheerful and friendly. Granted an interview with head honcho 'Father' (a magnetic Gene Jones) the guys are left almost convinced that everything is as Father would have it appear. Almost.

Predictably, affairs take a turn for the worse when a local girl comes begging to the guys for help. From there, a series of massive overreactions leads to exactly the sort of thing one has been expecting all along. Clearly taking its inspiration from the real-life Jonestown Massacre, the ensuing events are not difficult to predict, even if West wholly fails to make any of it feel plausible or justified by the situation and characters. His actors take up much of the slack - most notably Jones, a cross between John Goodman and Michael Parks in Red State. His smooth charisma makes it a little easier to believe that the events of The Sacrament could actually somehow happen. I mean, they really did, in Jonestown, but West isn't good enough to harness that in his storytelling.

The Sacrament is a compelling, oddly watchable toy documentary, made more valuable for its performances and visual flair. It's undeniably overhyped, but it bears investigation, nevertheless. 

Willow Creek

DirectorBobcat Goldthwait (2013)
StarringBryce Johnson, Alexie Gilmore
Find itIMDB

Searching for Bigfoot, an amateur documentary maker and his girlfriend travel to Sasquatch territory, hoping to find evidence of his existence. What they find instead is a host of kooky locals, a tasty-looking burger and all-too-real terror in the woods. It's The Blair Witch Project, but with Bigfoot. Maybe.

While not being massively aware of Bobcat Goldthwait beyond Police Academy (I'm probably too English), I had enjoyed his flawed but entertaining serial killer satire God Bless AmericaHe returns as director with Willow Creek, a found footage style horror film, played straight, for the most part. Buzz for the film had been good, leading me to expect something along the lines of Troll Hunter or VHS: that is, found footage that doesn't make me want to poke my own eyes out with Bigfoot-trodden branches. Alas, I found myself disappointed yet again.

Once more, we're left with a horror film which takes forever to get going and then spends the rest of its time either running around in the pitch darkness or cowering in a tent. Then there's a burst of action five minutes before the 'surprise' ending and why the fuck are they still filming this. It's virtually identical to The Lost Coast Tapes (not that I remember The Lost Coast Tapes) but will do much better thanks to its bigger-name director and nifty camerawork (one lingering static shot is particularly effective). While not bad, Willow Creek resembles at least fifteen other horror films I've seen in the last five years - almost as though Goldthwait wrote the script on tracing paper.

Reading reviews after having watched it, I gradually began to feel out-of-touch, cynical and like I was missing out on something. I feel like I watched a different film to those who raved about Willow Creek, saying things like "move over Godzilla" or "proves that there's life in found footage horror yet". Its climactic scene in the tent is very good and Alexie Gilmore has a wonderfully expressive face for horror films, but I saw nothing else that set Willow Creek apart from the rest. The song which plays over the end credits is the best thing about it.

Willow Creek is a disappointing misstep in an interesting and original directorial career from one of indie cinema's more exciting voices. Thankfully, enough people think that this film is groundbreaking, scary and good that Goldthwait should emerge from it completely unscathed.