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If I Stay

Sin City: A Dame To Kill For

August 28, 2014

If I Stay (***)

PG-13

Perhaps it’s because I have a sentimental streak running a mile wide within me—I’m the type known to have gotten misty eyed at commercials in my younger days—but television director R.J. Cutler’s feature film debut If I Stay managed to get to this cynical soul. Too tell the truth, the film, squarely aimed at the young adult audience, at times worked me over on an emotional level more so than the other young adult film event of the summer, The Fault in Our Stars. Some of you reading this will surely disagree but, through a combination of star Chloe Grace Moretz’s winning lead performance and the obviously sincere intentions of the filmmakers, I found If I Stay to be one of those late summer gems that managed to catch me off guard and in a good way. Perhaps, too, it’s because of the low expectations I had going into it but I’m glad to have spent the one hundred minutes or so with these characters.

The film does border on cliché during its early scenes and I’ll readily admit that. Mia, the main character in the film seems to have a life that’s so perfect it’s hard to believe.

Chloe Grace Moretz in If I Stay

She’s a talented cellist with a non-irritating and loving younger brother (Jakob Davies), has the hippest and coolest parents (Mireille Enos, Joshua Leonard) around and dates rock star in the making, Adam (Jamie Blackley). I suppose the writers had to paint her life as pure perfection in order to contrast it with the downward spiral that transpires later when she and her family are involved in a horrific accident.

After the accident, Mia finds herself in a sort of purgatory as her physical presence remains on life support and she tries to decide whether to stay or go, hence the film’s title. The structure of the film is set up so that Mia recounts, via flashback, the moments that brought her to this place and that forms the biggest chunk of the film.

One of the things I liked about the film was the fact that music plays such a central role in the lives of the characters. With the exception of the recent film Begin Again, I can’t recall a recent film in which music serves such a central role. Mia plays cello while Adam is a guitarist in a rock band and this leads to conflict for the young lovers. In addition, Mia’s dad gave up his rock career in order to be a more emotionally available father and there’s a subplot dealing with that. There are also multiple references to music throughout the film, particularly a scene where Mia dresses up as Debbie Harry for Halloween and another where Mia’s father tells her younger brother Teddy not to listen to anything Iggy Pop recorded after 1978. These touches made the film a tad more refreshing than most YA films we’re seeing these days and it wasn’t lost on me.

If I Stay won’t make my top ten list at the end of the year, but nonetheless it did affect me in ways I didn’t expect. It’s nice to get a surprise like that every once in awhile at the movies. I’m glad I did. 

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (** ½) R

Much like its predecessor, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For gets off to a rollicking start in its opening moments with wildly inventive visuals and over the top action sequences. The film, along with 2005’s Sin City and co-directed by Robert Rodriguez and comic book artist, Frank Miller, is probably the closest any filmmaking team has actually come to melding comic book sensibilities with real actors and actual locations. The visual palette of the film is such a succulent feast that one easily forgets the thinness of the stories actually being told. Once the visual pyrotechnics begin to wear out their welcome, however, that’s where trouble begins to rear its head.

What’s puzzling to me is why it took Rodriguez and Miller so long to launch a second installment in what could have easily been turned into a successful franchise with new installments appearing every couple of years or so. The material in Miller’s comics certainly warrants it. In the eight years since the first Sin City appeared, two of that film’s cast members (Brittany Murphy, Michael Clarke Duncan) have expired. If that seems like a long time to the patient moviegoer then imagine how long it will seem for the average paying customer whose attention span typically doesn’t go beyond the two year mark. It’s a risky move to wait this long for a second Sin City but that’s another topic.

As for the film itself, there are many returning cast members from the original film whose appearance will surely please those fans.

Even Bruce Willis, who died in the first installment, manages to pop up as a ghost. I know it sounds like a stretch but I wasn’t a distracted by this as I probably should have been.

Eva Green in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Jessica Alba, Roasario Dawson, Mickey Rourke and Powers Booth are a few of the other returning faces.

The film’s structure is very similar to the original as well as it navigates through multiple stories, which are vaguely linked together. There are even a few prequels to some of the stories in the first film thrown into the mix. Marv (Mickey Rourke) is reintroduced in the film’s opening sequence as he doles out justice to a group of punks who should have known better than to tangle with Marv in the first place.

Later, card shark, Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) sticks it to Senator Roarke (the always reliable Powers Booth), who really doesn’t like to lose and makes Johnny pay in more ways than one.

The character of Dwight (Josh Brolin, taking over from Clive Owen) gets suckered in by his old lover (Eva Green, appearing nude onscreen for the second time this year), while stripper Nancy (Jessica Alba) avenges her lover from the previous film (Bruce Willis).

The latest installment of Sin City isn’t going to revolutionize things the way the first film did but one could certainly do worse. My advice is to go in with an open mind and enjoy the film for the visual treats it has to offer.
 

Questions or comments? Write Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.

 

 

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