Trailers: The trailers we saw were ass. Well, the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy "This is a movie trailer" preview invented new kinds of awesome, but other than that, I got, like, The Amityville Horror (which I had just spent the previous night debunking for my sister) and some awful movie with Morgan Freeman, about Jet Li being a dog, or something. Unleashed, that was it. It's a good thing Freeman's had a Teflon career for about fifteen years now, because... ouch. Oh, and Kung Fu Hustle, which was just sort of... weird. I mean, eventually I caught on that it was a spoof, but the trailer itself was cut in a way that left my audience pretty much at sea for the first minute or so. And that was all we got. No Star Wars, no nothin'.
The movie itself:
I walked out not quite knowing what to think. I talked to people who immediately loved it, people who hated it, people who thought it was a waste of time, people who've already seen it three times, and people who... don't quite know what to think. I personally would say that it's worth at least one viewing, if you can handle the sex and/or violence (I could; my sister, who's so "Oh, I've seen everything," couldn't), because it's an extremely groundbreaking film. Here's the best part about that: unlike Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, a similarly CGI movie, the acting is actually good. Point by point:
"The Customer Is Always Right": After seeing some panels from the comics, I was surprised that they went with someone as young as Hartnett, and his whole "The wind rises electric" monologue is pretty heady stuff to start the movie with. "Heady" as in, "I'm not sure he was really experienced enough to pull it off." But the surprise ending of the segment packs enough punch to keep people watching, I think--Sister Girl, who knew nothing about the movie going in, turned to me right after he shot Marley Shelton and hissed, "What?!"
The Hartigan prologue: Y'all, Michael Madsen was awful. I don't know what the problem was, but he could just not deliver the dialogue, for some reason. And he's usually good, which is the weird thing. Bruce Willis was great, and the verbose henchmen were great, and Nick Stahl was creepy even without his yellow on, but... Madsen, yeah. Ouch.
"The Hard Goodbye": It's sad when you're watching a story about a guy who's "so ugly" that even hookers supposedly won't sleep with him, and he actually looks good compared to the real thing. But Rourke is really good, and while some people apparently thought James/Jamie/Jaime/however she spells it to today King was bad, I liked her. I thought the interrogation-of-Marv scene with King and Rosario Dawson was kind of bad, for some reason, but okay. My sister was taken aback by the immediate and fairly graphic sex scene, but I for one appreciated the lack of L-shaped sheets (to steal an Ebertism) on a logical level, if nothing else. My question is simply--whose heart-shaped bed was that supposed to be? Marv's? Goldie's?
P.S. Frodo is dead, and he was killed by a crazy little ninja Charlie Brown. Who apparently beat Harry Potter up for his glasses while he was at it. And then ate him. Between Kevin's big scene and "He made me WAAAAAAATCH!," I started to wonder exactly what I'd gotten myself into. Carla Gugino was kind of awesome, though. Strange little cameo from Rutger Hauer, too.
"The Big Fat Kill": I think this is probably the most enjoyable section, if not the actual best in terms of quality, because, let's face it: the Marv storyline is horrific and the Hartigan storyline is depressing. The Dwight/Gail storyline at least has some fun. Speaking of which, poor Clive Owen--I wish they'd let him just use a very toned-down British accent instead of trying to go completely American, because he couldn't sustain it. Not that I can blame him, because he never got to shut up. That said, of course he got all the best lines in the movie, including but not limited to "I'm the designated driver," "And things were going so well," and that great line about the Pez dispenser. His red Chucks were awesome and his hair had a life of its own. I was pleased, for the most part. I wanted to love Rosario Dawson, and she looked fab, but she seemed to take a while to settle in with the pulp dialogue (see: bad scene with Marv). Still, she was 32 kinds of bad-ass. I actually thought that Brittany Murphy was well cast, but again--the dialogue. "Damn you, you damn fool!" was awful, although, now that I think about it, I'm not sure there's anyone who could have pulled off that line. But she's put in this situation where you're going, "Why the hell are these two men fighting over her when Gail is down the street?" That's why I thought they cast her well--she got across that drama-kitten vibe that I've seen with so many girls like that. So, good in theory; bad in execution. I honestly can't tell if Alexis Bledel was awful or just playing a really annoying character really well, since I've never seen Gilmore Girls, but I'm hearing that she's like that in pretty much every role she's ever done. That don't bode well. As for Benicio Del Toro--I really liked him in Traffic, and I think he was perfect for Jackie Boy, but... maybe he was too good, because I kind of loathed him. As in, the cult of the hotness of Benicio has officially passed me by. I don't know.
The weird thing? The one slam-dunk performance in this whole section was from... the model. Maybe it's because Devon Aoki had no dialogue, but Miho was awesome, and I wasn't expecting that.
Oh, and--Irish mercenaries? Frank Miller, what the hell?
"That Yellow Bastard": I keep forgetting what an underrated actor Bruce Willis is. Everyone I've talked to, without exception, has come out raving about how surprisingly good he is in this movie, and with good reason. I just wished they'd tweaked the dialogue so that he was pushing fifty, or "old enough to be her father," because the whole "There's wrong, and there's wrong, and there's this" ick factor really didn't come across. I mean, if you'd plunked Clint Eastwood down on that couch with Jessica Alba, I would totally see where you were coming from (but please don't get any ideas for a sequel, because--ew). But we're so used to seeing middle-aged action heroes get young babes--hell, I'm pretty sure Bruce Willis is actually dating girls this young in real life--that those lines just don't fly with this particular casting choice, which is otherwise perfect. I was really surprised by Jessica Alba here as well--again, I think it's a case of good casting, because I don't know that she necessarily had to exercise major acting chops or anything; she was just an extremely good combination of innocent and worldly--vulnerable, but not childish. And Nick Stahl, again, was good, although I don't know how much to credit to him and how much to credit to his grotesque makeup job. (Actually, having really enjoyed the first season of Carnivàle, where he was totally different, I'll give him the benefit.) Just... you guys? If there's a bad smell in your car that smells like the bad-smelling bad guy... maybe you should check the car. I'm just saying.
And while I'm thinking about the end of this one, I have to say: that's a remarkable amount of testicular homicide for one movie. I don't know that I've ever seen so many castrations and castration threats in one sitting before. And I mean, hey, I'm a girl, so I wasn't terribly rattled, but--that was all very, very interesting. I'm probably a bad feminist for enjoying this movie as much as I did, but I thought there was a strange chivalrous vein running through the movie--one that characters like Gail even mock. I mean, on one hand, you have hookers who run their own show and keep out "the mob and the pimps and the rapes," but at the same time... they're still selling themselves. On one hand, Dwight's all concerned about the streets running with "blood--women's blood," but at the same time he doesn't trust them to take care of themselves when they clearly can. It's a strange white-knight kind of syndrome, where men want to protect women and value them on certain levels without always respecting them. Anyway, that's enough grad-student speak for tonight. I don't want to get into a huge feminist argument (and in fact, if you try to engage me on this point, I won't answer, because I need to get back to work), but... I'm just saying that it was complex, and therefore interesting. And that I almost think that, instead of having a hate on for women, the movie had a hate on... for men. It's not the kind of thing I'd want to see in the real world, but this is so clearly a film-noir fantasy that I don't mind seeing it play out onscreen. That's what movies are for, right?
To sum up: the biggest problem, most likely, is the writing. At the end of the day, I think the movie would have benefited from a third-party screenwriter--that is, someone to function more like an editor in the process of transferring the stories and the dialogue to the screen. The film-noir patter is great, but it does get overly repetitive--I kept waiting for Dwight to be like, "I love you, Jackie Boy." Dwight's voiceovers in particular are so pulpy and longwinded as to almost sound like parody. And I say this as someone who's actually seen several noirs from the '30s and '40s, and did enjoy the way that mood was handled--replicated and even expanded on--in this movie. I'm just saying, when you're sitting there watching Clive Owen and all you can think is, "CAN'T YOU EVEN SHUT UP WHILE YOU'RE KISSING HERRRRRRR?!," your movie has a problem. Again: don't take it out; just have another screenwriter, one not quite so in love with the material, get in there and do a little tightening. As it stands, I think the movie is a fantastic experiment that came thisclose to being a great film in its own right, and is definitely worth a view on the big screen.