The sin of rep­e­ti­tion

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews - David Strat­ton

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (MA15+) Na­tional re­lease The In­fi­nite Man (MA15+) Limited re­lease The Maze Run­ner (M) Na­tional re­lease

FOR fans of comic books and graphic nov­els, Frank Miller is some­thing of a su­per­star, not least for his Sin City se­ries, a strik­ingly de­signed pas­tiche of 1940s film noir, heav­ily in­flu­enced by Ray­mond Chandler and other writ­ers of the pe­riod, that he be­gan in 1991. In 2005, Miller co-di­rected, with multi-tal­ented Robert Ro­driguez, a well-re­ceived film based on three of the sto­ries and ti­tled, sim­ply, Sin City. Nine years later Miller, Ro­driguez and sev­eral mem­bers of the orig­i­nal cast have re­turned for

a be­lated se­quel that, although it en­com­passes four sto­ries in con­trast to the orig­i­nal’s three, is about 20 min­utes shorter.

Once again, the en­tire film was filmed in a stu­dio against a green screen; once again some of the char­ac­ters, like Mickey Rourke’s hulk­ing Marv, have un­der­gone such dras­tic makeup that they’re vir­tu­ally un­recog­nis­able; and once again there’s a high level of ex­treme vi­o­lence. So de­spite the gap of almost a decade be­tween the two films, they could be shown to­gether as one long fea­ture and you’d hardly no­tice the dif­fer­ence, ex­cept that the character of Dwight, once played by Clive Owen, is now played by Josh Brolin.

The films stick very closely to the look of the orig­i­nal comic books, which were used as sto­ry­boards dur­ing pro­duc­tion. The images are in stark black and white, with blotches of colour (of­ten red for blood or yel­low for the hair of the lat­est femme fa­tale to crop up); the hard-boiled narration and di­a­logue is right out of Chandler on a bad day. There are some startling mo­ments: a side­ways shot of Eva Green, naked, div­ing into a swimming pool uses a mir­ror ef­fect with un­can­nily beau­ti­ful re­sults. Fans will thrill to the ac­cu­racy with which Ro­driguez (once again cred­ited as hav­ing “shot and cut” the film, as well as hav­ing con­trib­uted to the mu­sic score) and Miller have trans­posed the ma­te­rial from page to screen.

Yet the film isn’t as im­pres­sive as its pre­de­ces­sor be­cause, de­spite its shorter run­ning time, it seems repet­i­tive. There are too many bru­tal beat­ings, in­clud­ing eye goug­ing; too many un­trust­wor­thy fe­male char­ac­ters; too many killings. Re­turn­ing as Roark, the cor­rupt politi­cian, Pow­ers Boothe gives per­haps the best per­for­mance in a film where act­ing doesn’t count for

Sin City

The Maze Run­ner, much. Brolin and Joseph Gor­don-Le­vitt por­tray fall guys with what charm they can muster un­der bat­tered facades. Green oozes sex, and is rarely clothed, as a ma­nip­u­la­tive and lethal wife, while Jessica Alba takes cen­tre stage in the fourth story.

There’s a bleak beauty to all of this, but also there’s a re­liance on stereo­types, male and fe­male, that, while they come di­rectly from the source ma­te­rial, are start­ing to be­come ir­ri­tat­ing. Per­haps that’s why the film has so far not been as suc­cess­ful as its pre­de­ces­sor.

is a clev­erly con­structed and well-acted Aus­tralian sci-fi drama about a lovesick fel­low who in­vents a time ma­chine so that he can have a sec­ond chance to win over the girl he loves. Work­ing with the most ba­sic in­gre­di­ents — three ac­tors, a sin­gle lo­ca­tion — writered­i­tor-di­rec­tor Hugh Sul­li­van has fash­ioned an in­ge­nious film although by its very na­ture and de­sign it be­comes repet­i­tive the longer it plays.

Dean (Josh McConville) brings Lana (Han­nah Mar­shall) to the same sea­side mo­tel where they en­joyed a won­der­ful time a year be­fore. Since then, we gather, things haven’t been so good be­tween them, and Dean is ob­sessed with recre­at­ing the pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence in ev­ery de­tail. But the mo­tel is derelict and empty (why didn’t Dean book in ad­vance?) and there’s an in­truder out to spoil Dean’s idea of heaven: Terry (Alex Dim­i­tri­ades) is Lana’s ex-boyfriend, and she seems quite pleased to see him.

So the week­end is a dis­as­ter, but Dean doesn’t give up. A year later he’s in­vented a time ma­chine (don’t ask) and sets out to re­play what hap­pened be­fore but to make it work this time. It all gets pretty con­fus­ing when he con­jures up two Lanas and two Deans (and, even­tu­ally, two Ter­rys) and finds him­self jeal­ous of him­self.

Does this make sense? The good news is that Sul­li­van jug­gles a plot fraught with re­lent­less com­plex­i­ties and presents it with such skill. There’s a scene in which one ver­sion of Dean fi­nally achieves ev­ery­thing he wanted with Lana, while another ver­sion of Dean (the real one?) spies on them in an agony of jeal­ousy. But of course the Lana he’s spy­ing on might not be the real Lana at all. It’s fun try­ing to sort all this out in a film that seems to be de­mand­ing more than one view­ing to clar­ify the de­tails, but that’s how cult movies are made and this has “cult movie” writ­ten all over it. Full marks to Sul­li­van and his team for cre­at­ing this bizarre puz­zle of a movie, even though the use of the sin­gle lo­ca­tion and the end­lessly repet­i­tive (with vari­a­tions) plot in­evitably be­comes over-fa­mil­iar as it pro­ceeds. LIKE The Giver last week, is a movie adap­ta­tion of the first in a se­ries of YA (young adult) books about a dystopian fu­ture. This lit­er­ary phe­nom­e­non, with its pas­sion­ate devo­tees, is pro­vid­ing plenty of pre-sold ma­te­rial for Hol­ly­wood, but the more we see of films like The Hunger Games, Di­ver­gent and The Giver the more they start look­ing and sound­ing alike.

The film, like James Dash­ner’s novel, pub­lished in 2009, be­gins when Thomas (Dy­lan O’Brien) finds him­self trapped in some sort of cage in which, ac­com­pa­nied by loud noises, he’s be­ing trans­ported some­where. When he ar­rives in The Glade, he can re­mem­ber noth­ing of his past (at first he can’t even re­mem­ber his name) but he finds him­self among a group of young men of var­i­ous ages (one, Chuck, played by Blake Cooper, a good deal younger) who have be­come rec­on­ciled to be­ing trapped in this mys­te­ri­ous place, sur­rounded by im­pen­e­tra­ble cliffs — im­pen­e­tra­ble ex­cept for the por­tal that opens from time to time and leads to The Maze, where lurk nasty crea­tures known as The Griev­ers that seem like a cross be­tween an oc­to­pus and a taran­tula, with the creature from Alien some­where in their genes.

Thomas is that typ­i­cally Amer­i­can hero who re­fuses to ac­cept the sta­tus quo and who dares to ven­ture into The Maze. The con­fronta­tions that follow are not par­tic­u­larly well han­dled by first-time di­rec­tor Wes Ball, whose com­mit­ment to over-edit­ing leads to con­fu­sion. Nor does the late ar­rival of Teresa (Kaya Scode­lario) add a great deal to the con­ven­tional story, or the even later ap­pear­ance of Pa­tri­cia Clark­son, whose pres­ence is the sub­ject of plot de­vel­op­ments that shouldn’t be re­vealed.

The in­creas­ing same­ness of th­ese films (an evil fu­ture so­ci­ety, a young hero/hero­ine who must both con­front the au­thor­i­ties and es­cape from them) is be­com­ing pretty fa­mil­iar, and since The Maze Run­ner ends with the story un­fin­ished the se­quel can’t be far be­hind. I’m not hold­ing my breath.

Joseph Gor­don-Le­vitt in

above; Dy­lan O’Brien in

be­low

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