Anon (2018): A Concept That Nearly Pays off

        “Anon” is very much a Philip K. Dick book. This was a man who had great sci. fi. ideas but you never cared about his characters in the end. The adaptations I’ve read have always been better in their adaptation (“Minority Report” and “Blade Runner” as prime examples). He just didn’t get people or empathy, and this film has that exact problem. I’ll get more into that later but I think most of the problem lies in execution. This was a Netflix original with a great main cast, but that wasn’t enough to make it anything more than enjoyable.

The film was directed by Andrew Niccol who also wrote the film and was one of the producers. This is really his vision at the end of the day, and it’s a start. I really wish there’d been more though.

The story follows Sal (Clive Owen) a divorcee dealing with feeling for his ex-wife and a mystery of false suicides. This is a future where all memories are recorded and all the past appear as hacked with the only connection being “The Girl” (Amanda Seyfried). From here he must find out who she is as she murders people connected to her past.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The World – A world where your memories are recorded. It is very much “Minority Report” in idea and feels like a Philip K. Dick novel. I like it, he created interesting worlds that would drive anyone to paranoia as it did him, and that is something worth exploring. Who wouldn’t want to revisit their past memories clearly? If you have the good memories of the past, why would you leave that up to a dying mind? This core idea is what makes the film work, and is really the only thing that does. Like a Philip K. Dick novel, the world is far more interesting than how the protagonists are expressed.

The Main Characters – I like Sal and like “The Girl.” Both of them are driven to be better but consumed by past mistakes. They work, it is sad they weren’t in a better story as each of them could have changed this world or themselves in major ways that never happens. Each has charisma that the writer did not fully use. You have divorced Sal and his past trauma and you “The Girl” in deep with a corrupt world that she ends up having little control over. I still found the characters worth at least passively following. I guess, if you need an escape, it is worth it for Clive Owen and Amanda Seyfried.

Okay:

The Plot – The core mystery is alright. “The Girl” hacks peoples minds and makes them kill themselves and wipes all memory of her even being present. Who she is and Sal’s hunting her down with his agency is the premise. Within this Sal is divorced and has a drinking problem. I thought the plot was okay but it needed more. Sal’s trauma should have been explored more and in the end we never get to know “The Girl.” She doesn’t even have a name and even though the things she does are interesting, we never get deeper motivation.

Don’t go into this film expecting great, it isn’t. If you need a quick escape “Anon” might be your jam. The execution isn’t as nearly as good as the premise, but the cinematography and acting is enjoyable and it is a fun world, even though it needed a lot more fleshing out.

Final Score: 7 / 10

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Shoot ‘Em Up (2007): A Dark Comedy Satire of Action Films

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       “Shoot ‘Em Up” is a film that is a lot of fun. When watching it was hard to know what was purposeful satire and what was what the director actually believes, but like “Lucy” it was one of those films that takes you on a ride and doesn’t stop until the end. There aren’t really likable characters in this film and each of them are a different action cliche, but they are each fascinating in their own ways as I would have hated this film if they weren’t actual characters and if the point was only satire. If you can’t tell an interesting story, you at least need enjoyable characters to watch.

     The film was written and directed by Michael Davis and produced by Susan Montford, Don Murphy and Rick Benattar.

      The film involves Mr. Smith (Clive Owen) protecting a baby after he is unable to save the mother was being hunted by a group of mercenaries lead by Hertz (Paul Giamatti) and seeks help from Donna (Monica Bellucci), a prostitute who is the closest thing he has to a friend. Together they must find out who is hunting the baby and why, before they and the child are killed.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography reminded me of Lucy and has a unique color feel to it. It feels vibrant and alive and has a great contrast of dark and light. It fit the feel of the film really well. Peter Pau did a great job on it.

Cliche Awareness – There is a level of cliche awareness in this film, which is why I call it satire. Hertz yells the hero is really good or they really suck at shooting after he’s lost 2 armies of men to Smith. He and who he works for also explain their plan to Smith rather than just killing him and forgetting about the baby as the plot was redundant after Smith killed the Senator.

The Action – The action is really great! It reminded me a Tarantino or Rodriguez film where the color of the blood splatters in such a way as to compliment the colors around. The use of rock and metal worked in this instance too to compliment the action.

Mr. Smith – Clive Owen is good at playing the anti-hero and even though we don’t learn much about him in this besides his eventually carrying about the Kid and Donna is that he like carrots and hates most people and things. In this way he is hilarious as he satires the tough guy macho role that appears in a lot of these flicks.

Hertz -Hertz is a creepy mastermind who is also a family man. We see him making a card for his kid and talking to his wife at multiple times throughout the film. He also is genre savvy and figures out where the hero will be running to next really fast. He’s the creepy average joe and seeing his downfall is rewarding. Giamatti created a great bastard with this guy who can’t see beyond himself, his ego and making his plans work.

Okay: Donna – Monical Bellucci does alright but she isn’t given much to do beyond call Smith out for being an ass and taking care of the baby. I don’t know if Davis knew what to do with her character, but when she does do stuff she is at least compelling. There was so much more they could have done! She could have been his partner and the one making connections on the outside when he went to take out the expendable army of mercenaries.

The Cons: The Writing – Just as I enjoyed the action cliches, there are things that could have been done better. Donna never gets the chance to fight for herself and always has to be protected, and we never learn Smith’s backstory or why Hertz’s wife left him (we have no idea if she knows what he does). So the story felt incomplete and rushed even within the guidelines it followed for itself.

The Other Villains – The Senator and gun manufacturer were two men I cared nothing about. They were blank slates and were empty suits compared to the charisma that Giamatti brought to his role. They weren’t even needed as characters and that brought down the script as they could have just been referenced by Herst but never seen.

Lack of Character Arcs – This is a film where no one really changes. We learn more about them and feelings that they had all along (Donna and Smith) are revealed but we don’t learn anything new. Our characters are exactly the same at the beginning of the film as they are at the end, so nothing has changed beyond them just being out of harms way.

    If you like dark comedies and action films that are mostly focused on action but have enough self awareness to satire themselves, you will probably enjoy this film. It wasn’t a favorite but I won’t deny that I enjoyed the ride. This would be a great film to see with friends who like this genre and with the added addition of drinks would be a really fun time.

Final Score: 7.4 / 10. Enjoyable but not great.

Sin City (2005): The Struggle for Justice in a City with None

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Frank Miller’s Sin City Comic Series is one I have always been meaning to check out. His style is very distinct and he is good at capturing the feel of a dark noir. This was true in The Dark Knight Returns, and definitely true in this film which follows the style of the comics. A big reason that inspired my reviewing of this film, beyond wanting to watch it, is the fact that “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” is coming out and I want to see and review it as well.

The style the film was done in was also like a comic book, beyond the visuals. There is “The Customer is Always Right” Parts 1 and 2, “The Yellow Bastard” Parts 1 and 2, “The Hard Goodbye” and “The Big Fat Kill.” All are loosely connected as you see characters from “The Yellow Bastard” in “The Big Fat Kill” and “The Hard Goodbye” but that is the only connection, each story arc stands on it’s own and reveals a new part of the corruption that is Sin City. A city of corrupt cops, priests, politicians, serial killers and mobsters…with only the heroes of each of the stories to stand against them.

“Sin City” was written, directed and produced by Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez, as well as also produced by Elizabeth Avellan. For the reviews I’ll do each story individually and afterwords a final score at the end, so that all of the anthology is covered.

Also, before I get into the review, I want to say this is some of the best stylized cinematography and directing I’ve seen in a film. Robert Rodriguez did a really good job creating the comic book feel in a movie and using it fully capture the tone and feel of the world.

Here is the assessment of the film:

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“The Customer is Always Right” Parts 1 and 2

“The Customer is Always Right” is how we kick off the anthology as a woman is looking at escaping and the Salesman is there to help. He kisses her and shoots her and talks about how he’ll never know what she was running from.

Part 2 picks up with an injured Becky (who we meet in “The Big Fat Kill”) is talking with her mom but stops when the salesman says her name and offers her a cigarette.

The Pros: I like the mystery behind it and also the stark cruelty of how it sets off the world of Sin City. We never know if the Salesman was paid to kill her or if she meant something different by escape.

Cons: I wanted to know more about the Customer and what her motivations were as well as her connection to the Salesman, since she recognized him when he says her name.

Final Score: 8 / 10

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“The Yellow Bastard” Parts 1 and 2

Part 1 of “The Yellow Bastard” has aging police officer John Hartington (Bruce Willis) doing one last thing before he goes. The corrupt senators son who is a serial killer named Roark Junior (Nick Stahl) from killing a young girl named Nancy Callahan (Mackenzie Vega) when he shoots Roark Junior his partner turns on him (Michael Madsen). Haritagan knocks out his partner Bob and chases after Roark Junior. He manages to reach him and shoots off his ear, hand and genitals before Bob returns and shoots him in the back as sirens arrive.

Part 2 picks up with Hartigan in the hospital being framed by Hartigan for his son’s murders and being beaten until he confesses. He refuses to confess until Roark Junior tricks him by taking one of the letters that Nancy was sending him while in prison, leading him to believe that Nancy is in trouble. He confesses and is released and finds Nancy (Jessica Alba) is now working as a dancer in the bar. The mysterious yellow bastard than arrives on the scene and over the course of the chase and eventual capture of Nancy by him we discover he is Roark Junior who was mutated in the growing back of his ears, hand and genitals. It is here Nancy keeps from screaming which prevents him from killing her and Hartigan arrives and kills him. He than has Nancy leave and kills himself so the corrupt senator Roark will stop hunting Nancy.

Pros: The Acting – Alba, Stahl and Willis do a great job in this. Each of them is so open in their roles (Alba as Nancy who fell in love with the one who saved her, Willis as the bitter cop and Stahl as the serial killer). Each of them is interesting to watch as they drive the plot forward in different ways.

The Story – I liked the story in this one, it was clear and followed the dark theme of Sin City. Hartigan only is able to win by confessing to dark crimes he didn’t commit and in the end has to die anyway to protect the woman he loves. It is also realistic in how Roark Junior becomes more crazy and Nancy becomes a fighter, who is both trained to fight and helps Hartigan take out Roark Junior.

Con: Feels almost too short.

Final Score is 9 / 10

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“The Hard Goodbye”

“The Hard Goodbye” follows the story of Marv (Mickey Rourke) and how Goldy the woman he had a one stand with, was killed the same night. He than goes on a killing spree to find the man who did it. This leads him to get help from his parole officer Lucille (Carla Gugino), whose drugs help stop him from seeing things. Eventually, after questioning he comes to the farm where Kevin (Elijah Wood) the cannibal has captured Lucille and has the heads of his past victims mounted on the wall. He and Lucille escape but Lucille is gunned down on orders from Cardinal Roark (Rutger Hauer). Marv escapes into Old Town and learns the mysterious woman is Wendy. The Prostitutes who run Old Town support Marv once they learn about Kevin and Cardinal Roark. It is than Wendy and Marv go to take out Kevin and finally Roark who says he and Kevin did it to eat away their sins. After he returns, Wendy says that Marv can call her Goldy and is there before the state executes him for the killing of the Cardinal.

Pros: The Tone – This one is the creepiest of them, as Lucille’s hand was eaten in front of her by Kevin and Kevin has long nails that cut. Rutger Hauer is a great baddy too and is completely mad. Marv not being able to escape at the end and Lucille being gunned down by the police when she was an officer herself.

The Story – I like the story, the twist of Wendy being the sister worked well and the depths of the darkness in Sin City where revealed slowly over time so that when Kevin and Cardinal Roark are revealed it has the needed effect.

Okay: The Acting – Not the best acting, Mickey Rourke is good but Wendy isn’t all that memorable and Lucille should have been given more to do. It was hard to gauge her talent in what little time we had with her. Elijah Wood and Rutger Hauer were fantastic as the baddies though, best ones in the film for sure.

Final Score is 9 / 10

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“The Big Fat Kill”

“The Big Fat Kill” begins with Shelley (Brittany Murphey) being harrased by her ex-boyfriend Jackie Boy (Benicio Del Toro) until her new boyfriend Dwight (Clive Owen) water boards him in the toilet. He than sees that they are looking for trouble so follows them to Old Town. It is there they are harassing Becky (Alexis Bledel) until Gail (Rosario Dawson) and her girls arrive on the scene and execute Jackie Boy and his friends before they can hurt Becky. It is here we learn that Dwight and Gail are former lovers. It is here they learn Jackie Boy was a Detective and that this could create war between Old Town and the Police so Dwight goes to leave the body in the Tar Pits but all are attacked by Wallenquist who Becky had gone too for protection. He plans to conquer Old Town so sent his enforcer Manute (Michael Clark Duncan). A standoff happens but ends when Dwight trades Jackie Boy’s head for Gail and armed the head to explode which leads to the mob enforcers getting killed. From here we see Dwight and Gail re-establishing their love affair and love of battle.

Pros: The Acting – This one had the best acting, minus Brittany Murphey. Clive Owen was fantastic in this role, as was Alexis Bledel, Rosario Dawson, Benicio Del Toro and Michael Clark Duncan. We get to know all their characters and can understand their motivations as their is peace in Old Town but it only hangs by a thread. We see the threat of the Mob in the background now too and the Mob knows not to mess with Old Town.

The Tone – At one point Dwight has a conversation with dead Jackie Boy, which establishes the fear factor and the race against time that Dwight is up against. It is creepy and cool, as are the scenes between Manute and Gail.

The Politics – Establishes the power brokers of the Mob, Old Town and the Police and the relationship between the three groups. With the coups and Old Town Prostitutes respecting each others areas and the Mob trying to start a war between them and capture more territory.

The Story – This one had the best of the stories in my opinion, I just wish it had ended differently. It ended with a celebration of slaughter when so much of the story had been introspective. I wish the introspectiveness had not been lost.

Okay: The Ending – The final scene on the battlefield re-establishes Gail and Dwight as a couple but goes on a bit too long. I would have liked them to have some lines to end it. I guess that is why Becky meeting the Salesman happened after, it kept that tone going.

Score is 9.5 / 10

So how does “Sin City” hold up? It is a little long at times, but for exploring the world that is Sin City, it does a fantastic job. We meet the major characters, we get the rules of this world, and most of the characters have complete character arcs (though many of the female character arcs remain incomplete). The Cinematography is also some of the best I have ever seen. After seeing it I am excited for “A Dame to Kill For” as it will help us to understand this world more and re-establish old threats while introducing new. I would say this isn’t for everyone, but if you like stylized dark noirs or mystery anthologies, this is worth checking out. Definitely one of my favorite films after today.

Final Score for the film is 9 / 10. It is solidly really good.