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Welcome to Basin City by FullAuto Written on 17th November 2005

Directed by: Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller.
Cast: Jessica Alba, Devon Aoki, Rosario Dawson, Benicio Del Toro, Michael Clarke Duncan, Josh Hartnett, Rutger Hauer, Jaime King, Michael Madsen, Brittany Murphy, Clive Owen, Mickey Rourke, Nick Stahl, Bruce Willis, Elijah Wood.
Released by: Dimension/Miramax.
Release date: September 26th.
Running time: 119 minutes approx.
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1 (widescreen).
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1/Dolby Surround 2.0
Languages: English, Italian. English and Italian subtitles.

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Call for McClaine? No? Well, too bad.
Walk down the right back alley in Sin City and you can find anything.

Rodriguez found a fucking great film. A trio of tales all set in the big bad Gomorrah of Miller's comics, each one spiralling around a cast of archetypal characters locked onto a collision course by their opposing motivations. The beautiful cinematography opens a dark window onto Sin City, akin to our world as a negative is to colour film. Any colour featured stands out sharply, whether it be crystalline blue or blood red, jungle green or bile yellow. The gritty retro-noirish world is full of savage violence, frank sexuality and humour as black as a smoker's lung. The city itself looms and squats, dark and light alternately, but wherever there is light it is bordered and surrounded by shadow. The weather is nothing but pissing rain for most of the film, easing into a gentle fall of snow for the conclusion, signifying the change from a torrent of uncertain ferocity to something softer, though still cold.

The music is good, sets scene and pace well. It's at its best during the action, Rodriguez obviously has a damn good feel for what's needed. The thing with music and sound effects is that when they're done well, nobody notices, they get taken for granted, the audience is too busy enjoying the synergy. When they're done badly they stick out like a Viagra-invigoured penis extension. But everything is competent at least and only enhances the mood and energy of the film. Thank fuck.

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At Mt. Doom, Frodo lost it big time.
Violence, as we all know, is cool and this film has it by the bloodbucket-load. It pulls out all the stops but doesn't pull its punches. Ears, hands and bollocks are blasted off. Heads are severed and blown up. Bodies are riddled with bullets. Shuriken and swords are stuck into arses. People are tortured with baseball bats, beatings, toilets, whips and roads. Yes. Roads. Believe you me, if you don't wince once during this film then you're a stuck-up film critic or a twat with no empathy. Either way, fuck off. This is a cracking film all round.

How did Rodriguez do this with such an eccentric (some might say unwieldy) cast list? Well, it just so happens each actor fits their character. I wouldn't be surprised if Rodriguez made them read Miller's comics at gunpoint, jamming the muzzle into their ribs with a big smile plastered across his face, whispering "That's right, memorise the dialogue and everybody's happy." through his teeth.

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Marv loved Elastoplasts.
Memorable performances are the rule rather than the exception. Mickey Rourke is the most obvious, playing a larger-than-life character with brutal aplomb, engaged in a primal contest of one-upsmanship that he can't hope to win. Clive Owen does an excellent job, smooth and strong but not very sure, hip-deep in Shit Creek with heavily-armed hookers for company. The lovely Devon Aoki has a nice silent role as a cold killer with an affinity for blades. Benicio Del Toro is great as a greasy leering bully, the type of wanker you love to avoid. Elijah Wood, despite looking all of twelve years old and still wondering when his pubes will break through, actually manages to bring an air of menace to his role. Which is a very impressive accomplishment considering everyone sees him as Frodo Baggins. Quite difficult to act a cannibal role when folk still think you're carrying the One Ring and being followed by a retarded hobbit. Full respec' to you, Frodo. I've heard people whine about Bruce Willis and Michael Madsen being difficult to separate from their on-screen personas, not realising said personas fit their roles perfectly. Can you say 'retards'?

The dialogue is as hardboiled as the characters, each has their own mannerisms and rhythms. Rourke's gravel-throated voiceovers add a tired air of indefatigability to his story, convincing you that he's going to do what needs doing and he's not going to stop doing it until it's got done. Owen's isn't as tough, he has a nice line in biting observation and acidic sarcasm instead, with some square-jawed glee thrown in for good measure. Willis' isn't as good, mainly because the true-grit tone has already been done by Rourke, but the dulcet tones of the Cop That Can't Stop are familiar in their oh-so-manliness and show the character's rigid sense of honour, as opposed to Rourke's haphazard vigiliantism. Anyone who has ever lost a lover will understand Marv's anger. Anyone who has ever had to help a friend out of serious trouble will understand Dwight's anxiety. Anyone who has ever stood up for someone will understand Hartigan's sense of duty. The characters aren't always sympathetic, indeed, the villians tend to be thoroughly evil and deserve what they get without a doubt, which is one of the few shallow points of the film. Most are empathetic though, you can understand how they feel without straining yourself. That is a tribute to Miller's skill at writing and Rodriquez's at film-making.

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Is that a gun or...oh, it is.
The Limited Edition set itself, available only from Amazon, is a good deal for the price. You get the three graphic novels the film is based on and the DVD, in a nice display box (which, if you don't look after it, will most certainly look like shit within a few months as they're too cheap to shell out for good materials). The DVD case is standard size, and the usual shoddy construction (for example, if you press the push-button too hard, it punches out through the cover jacket). The graphic novels are softcover second editions, so those hoping for the original trade paperback covers are shit out of luck. I actually think the new covers are better, but I'm the same sucker who sold his first editions to pay for a new liver so I may just be trying to justify their sale to myself. Hmm.

The DVD itself is pretty good, clear sound and picture, everything we've come to expect from the format. There's fuck all in the way of extras, one small feature that clocks in at less than ten minutes, with some mildly interesting snippets but little else. Hopefully when the Recut edition is released you can stick it in the Limited Edition box, using the usurped standard version as an ersatz coaster or mini-frisbee in a display of unbridled elan. If that's the sort of thing that tinkles your bell.

Altogether a very nice set, not too pricey either. It's true, you know?

Walk down the right back alley in Sin City and you can find anything.


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