3-D ‘Sin City: A Dame to Kill For’ entertains, despite a so-so story and one-dimensional characters

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For/2014/Miramax Films/102 min.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For,” with its bold visuals based on Frank Miller’s graphic novels, is a slick 3-D homage to black-and-white cinematography. The snazzy images of Miller’s film (he wrote and co-directed with Robert Rodriguez) are its chief virtue.

Eva Green is superb as the Dame.

Eva Green is superb as the Dame.

In this follow-up to 2005’s “Sin City” (which Miller and Rodriguez directed with Quentin Tarantino), viewers are plunged into a perilous urban universe. Created with truly spectacular special effects and animation, it’s a sleazy, dazzling, self-contained world of inky black, shocks of bright white, stunning shades of gray and pops of color.

Unfortunately, Miller and Rodriguez devote much less effort to the story – an episodic tale of temptation, lust, murder, betrayal, revenge and vigilante justice. The stellar cast – including Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis and Eva Green as the title’s Dame, nail their parts but leave you wanting more. Since only a few of the characters move from one story to the next, there aren’t enough opportunities for these great actors to spark some chemistry and play off one another.

Does the fact that the story is mined from graphic novels mean we shouldn’t expect any depth, nuance or surprise? The narratives are underdeveloped and unsatisfying to a point that suggests laziness. (Why don’t we forget about that dialogue and just add another shot of Eva’s luscious body? Or have Jessica gyrate some more. Who’s gonna complain, right?)

Presumably, the filmmakers made an effort to portray a passel of kick-ass femmes fatales, but it felt like mere window dressing. Why, for example, does Jessica Alba’s character need to mutilate herself before going into battle? In the end, these women have very little power.

This Dame is fast, fierce and entertaining, but she’s no femme fatale in my book.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” opens today.

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Dita Von Teese and Strip Strip Hooray! return to Los Angeles

Dita Von Teese

Dita Von Teese and Burlesque: Strip Strip Hooray! return to the West Coast, starting in Los Angeles on Friday, May 11, at the House of Blues. The 90-minute revue also features MC Murray Hill and burlesque acts Dirty Martini, Catherine D’Lish, Selene Luna, Monsieur Romeo, Lada and Perle Noire.

Other stops on the tour include San Diego, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland and Orange County. I went to her show last year and it’s terrific. Dita and I chatted via email last year; you can read my interview here and see a preview of the show here.

Additionally, on May 1, Dita launched her signature fragrance at Liberty of London and hosted a dinner at the Arts Club where she celebrated with guests, including Christian Louboutin, Roland Mouret and Jenny Packham.

The Dita Von Teese fragrance recently won the award for Best Lifestyle Fragrance at the German Fragrance Foundation‘s Duftstar awards. Her fragrance was up against fellow nominees Christina Aguilera, Bruce Willis and S Oliver.

Watch Dita on CNN’s “Quest Means Business” here:

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Paris, ‘Pulp Fiction,’ the proper way to approach Tarantino

Pulp Fiction/1994/Miramax Films/154 min.

My upcoming trip to Paris (I leave tomorrow) triggered the memory of that great scene in “Pulp Fiction” where two hit men chat about a quarter-pounder with cheese (Royale with cheese) in Paris so I decided to run this review in honor of my trip. For the next two weeks, my posts will slow down a bit as I spend time with a lovely friend and soak in the atmosphere of this ravishingly beautiful city.

Quentin Tarantino at the Cannes film fest in 2008.

Several years ago, at the Cannes Film Fest, I saw Quentin Tarantino rushing down the Croisette but I froze and didn’t approach him to say how much I liked his work. (He was helming the jury that year.) As I stood there, regretting that I’d missed the chance, two English guys walked up and asked me if I was lost. I filled them in; they said I was quite right to have refrained.

But then two Italian men joined us and told me I was crazy not to have said hello. “Maybe he’ll show up at the Ritz,” one of them said, gesturing toward the hotel. “Why don’t we have a glass of champagne there and see if perhaps he arrives?”

As tempting as that sounded, I’d already agreed to meet people at the cheap and cheerful Le Petite Carlton, where the casual, sometimes-raucous crowd spreads out into the street, people bum Marlboros and Gitanes, beer is served in tacky plastic cups and a little kitchen churns out thin-crust pizza well into the early morning hours. Another missed opportunity! ;)

So if by some odd chance, on this trip, I happen to see Tarantino on the Champs Elysee or some charming Italian men invite me to cocktails at the Ritz, I’ll know what to do!

John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson in "Pulp Fiction."

“Pulp Fiction” is a neo noir of audacious originality, comic brilliance and exquisite craftsmanship. It was one of the most important films of the 1990s. Like his previous film, 1992’s “Reservoir Dogs,” it’s a crime movie that deals with bad guys doing bad stuff – in “Dogs” it’s a robbery gone wrong. In “Pulp Fiction” we’re immersed in three separate but interwoven stories about two chatty hit men, a corrupt boxer who defies a mob boss, and a grunge version of Bonnie and Clyde.

Tarantino tells us the stories out of order, bookended by the scruffy lover bandits (Tim Roth as Pumpkin and Amanda Plummer as Honey Bunny) who hold up an LA coffee shop. Bruce Willis plays Butch the boxer who pulls a double-cross. John Travolta made a stunning comeback as sexy smart-ass Vincent Vega and Samuel L. Jackson dazzles as Jules Winnfield, an armchair philosopher packing heat.

As Vincent and Jules discuss fast food, foot massages and Fate, Vincent is assigned an extra job from brawny bossman Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames): to take Mrs. Wallace (Uma Thurman) aka Mia out on the town. A headturner with jet-black hair, Louise Brooks bangs, wide blue eyes and long legs, Mia gets what Mia wants. Topping the list are milkshakes, drugs and dancing. Make that dancing with Travolta, mmm.

There is much to love about this film, particularly the highly original characters and crackling dialogue, which includes one-liners, retro slang, debates over points of logic and lengthy tangents of trivia. The dialogue seems to emerge organically from the characters and random chitchat punctuates major dramatic moments.

Actors talk with their back to the camera and sometimes put the imminent action on hold so they can wind up their conversation. Even though Pumpkin and Honey Bunny probably get the least amount of screen time, through their dialogue, we see several layers of their partnership, both tough and tender. [Read more...]

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Quick hit: ‘Pulp Fiction’

Pulp Fiction/1994/Miramax Films/154 min.

One of the great loves of my life is Quentin Tarantino’s imagination and the bizarre people dwelling there. In “Pulp Fiction,” we meet a pair of hit men with a gift for gab, a boxer who refuses to throw a fight, and two adorable armed robbers named Pumpkin and Honey Bunny. John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman and Bruce Willis star. Tarantino and partner Roger Avary won the Oscar for best original screenplay.

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