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April 04, 2005 - Image 5

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 2005-04-04

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Monday
April4, 2005
arts. michigandaily.com
artspage@michigandaily.com

RT

5A

. ... .............. -

Book tour
combines
nightlife,
readings
By Bernie Nguyen
Daily Books Editor

STARK VISUALS AND VIOLENCE HIGHLIGHT

By Marshall W. Lee
Daily Film Editor

Before you go see "Sin City," whether you're a blog-
happy fanboy or just a regular Joe enticed by the sleek,
staccato action and hyper-stylized violence of the trail-

er, please take a moment to consider
the process of reading a comic. Even
with a truly great graphic novel like
Frank Miller's 1991 magnum opus
that started the whole "Sin City"
franchise, it's essentially an individ-
ual experience, buoyed by art that
sizzles and bursts, manipulated and

Sin City
At Showcase
and Quality 16
Dimension Films

hard-boiled, tough-talking characters: amoral P.I.'s,
gun-toting vamps, crooked cops and cannibals, all
clashing and wheeling on the mean streets and back
alleys of Basin City. Every shot has one of Miller's
inky panels as its genesis, and Rodriguez even scat-
ters a few of the original frames around the open-
ing credits, as if the audience needed these points of
reference to remind them of just how dead-on and
dead-serious his translation aims to be.
The problem, is that accuracy is not the same
thing as quality, and while Miller's gorgeous two-
tone graphics pop on the page, the bulk of his imag-
ery goes flat on the screen. Mostly this is a problem
of pacing. In ink, Miller's extreme-contrast style
evokes, through subtle suggestion, details well-suited
to the contemplative rhythms of reading. The film,
however, jerks its way through space and time by way
of flashy jump-cuts, Rodriguez's stylistic signature,
and the result is a movie that mostly skims across its
story, gleaning only the surface details before rocket-
ing on to the next eye-popping visual.
"Sin City" is divided into three loosely interwo-
ven parts, each adapting a complete story from the
comics. "The Hard Goodbye," without a doubt the
strongest and most fully fleshed-out of the three
sections, is the tale of Marv (Mickey Rourke), a
menacing strong-man seeking revenge for the death
of a kindhearted hooker (Jamie King). "The Big
Fat Kill" follows fugitive Dwight (Clive Owen),

Courtesy of
Dimension
"I don't
care what
you think.
Nelly is
still the
bomb."
MILLER'S DARK TALES
also struggling to protect a dame, this time from a
potential mob war. And finally, "That Yellow Bas-
tard," the story of a world-weary cop (Bruce Wil-
lis) who endures the loss of everything he holds
dear to protect a young exotic dancer (Jessica
Alba) from a senator's sociopath son (Nick Stahl).
Despite the rumbling refrain of the movie's tag-
line ("Walk down the right back alley in Sin City
and you can find anything") smattered about the
film, these three stories are essentially the same,
each a variation on the violent theme that predomi-
nates most of Miller's work, and on the screen their
similarities grow annoyingly repetitive.
This is all the more disheartening for the fact
that parts of "Sin City" are truly fantastic. Sadism,
brutality and misogynistic overtones aside, "The
Hard Goodbye" is an emotive and fully realized
gem buoyed by the wonderfully wrought images of
Mary and an inspired bit of casting that has Elijah
Wood playing a psychopathic, serial-killing can-
nibal. The problem is that the movie doesn't know
what to do with a story this good, and Rourke's
powerful performance gives Marv a certain gravi-
tas that Rodriguez and company obviously weren't
prepared for. The two other stories have flashes of
brilliance scattered about like a splash of blood red
paint over a white background, but for all that, "Sin
City" is never as deep, as thrilling, or even as cool
as it wants us to believe.

Book readings, by their very nature,
project an image of dusty bookstores and
quiet libraries where
only intellectuals
find interest. This First Fiction
stereotype is exactly Tour
what Cindy Dach, At Arbor
an events coordi- Brewing Co.
nator for indepen- Tuesday, April 5
dent bookstores in 7 p.m.
Tempe, Ariz. set out
to change when she organized the First
Fiction Tour three years ago. "I was in
a bar," she said, "listening to a terrible
band and looking at a really crowded
space and thinking 'Ok, what is it? Is it
the fact that we're in a bar, is it the fact
that there's beer here?' And I thought the
problem is that bookstores are amazing
community centers, but they're not these
fun, loud places, and why can't literature
be like that?" This year, the third annual
First Fiction Tour will be traveling to six
cities across America and will be visiting
Ann Arbor on April 5.
Frustrated first-time authors, who are
often given little or no budget for publicity,
have found an ally in Dach, whose enthu-
siasm for literature has provided a venue
where they can get their books into the
public eye. "Authors go through so much
work of writing the book, getting agents
and selling the book," Dach explained.
"They go on these tours and there are hor-
ror stories from so many first time audi-
ences of having no one at their events."
By placing book readings in a lively bar
setting, Dach increased audience size, and
interest. "We didn't invent this ... His-
torically, if you go back to Shakespeare's
time, there were always readings in bars
... In a way I feel like we're going back to
literature at its roots."
For Dach, the tour became less of a

Courtesy of First Fiction Tour
Author Matthew Carnahan will read
as part of the First Fiction Tour.
publicity event and more of a unique
and exciting experience. "The authors
formed support groups for each other,"
she said. "By the last night, the read-
ings were extraordinary and the friend-
ship ... they were like a band." This
camaraderie enhanced the overall
experience of the tour itself. "There's
an ally in the audience listening ...
and it's not about book sales, and that
was something I was just so excited to
see happen." Dach also mentioned the
enthusiasm of the listeners, saying that
she's "gotten e-mails from people who
want to drive from one state to another
... and people who think it's cool to
tour with an author now. The audiences
were really exciting."
Spaces and enthusiasm usually
reserved for bands have become the
new fiction scene. "Reading rates in this
country are dropping drastically," Dach
said. "I sit here and I look at this country
and I think 'What do we think is cool?'
and it scares me. I don't know why
reading isn't cool." With its growing
popularity, the First Fiction Tour could
indeed make books hip again. "This is
where I think it could start changing the
face of literature somehow by saying
'You know, we're going to go do some-
thing good, we're going to read in a bar,
and reading is cool,' " Dach said.
There is an impressive and eclectic
line-up of authors for this year's First
Fiction Tour. Miranda Beverly-Whit-
temore will read from "The Effects of
Light"; Matthew Carnahan from "Ser-
pent Girl"; Marya Hornbacher from
"The Center of Winter"; and Edward
Schwarzchild from "Responsible Men."
Shaman Drum Bookshop is coordinat-
ing the tour's Ann Arbor stop.

controlled by a reader who can choose to linger and
wonder over a single panel or scan through a whole
book in a matter of minutes.
Now consider "Sin City," without a doubt the most
fastidiously accurate comic adaptation ever put to
film. The movie, helmed by Robert Rodriguez (the
"Spy Kids" franchise) with a co-directing credit for
Miller, is an almost perfect replica of the ground-
breaking comic series - from the black-and-white
cinematography punctuated by splashes of color
to the digital sets just this side of surreal - and
in that sense it is an admirable success. The star-
studded cast is an obdurate embodiment of Miller's

Hitler's last days detailed in 'Downfall'

I

By Amanda Andrade
Daily Arts Writer

For 12 days in 1945 Berlin, with the
unrelenting forces of the Soviet army
bearing down on
the crippled Ger- Downfall
man capital, Adolf
Hitler and his clos- At the
est staff remained Michigan Theater
holed up in an Newmarket Films
underground bun-
ker awaiting their final defeat. Explor-
ing these last days in the Nazi regime,
"Downfall" is a chilling and complex
study of human beings capable of
unfathomable evil.
Nazi Germany presents a particu-
larly thorny problem to modern audi-
ences. How do you understand the
genocide, the purposeful and even
systematic eradication of millions of
people? To postulate that these are the
actions of normal human beings driven
to extraordinary circumstances seems to
excuse the deeds. But to assume the Ger-
man nation is comprised of sadists and
lunatics would be hopelessly simplistic.
So it is appropriate that Germany,
the nation that has struggled so much
to come to terms with its past, has pro-
duced this magnificently lucid portrait
of Hitler and Nazi supporters. Not only
is the film laudable for its historical
accuracy, but also for the moral ambigu-

ity of its characters. Taking prodigious
time (the film runs over two and a half
hours) to show the banality of Hitler's
life and the interactions between his
followers, the film is a reminder that
people, and not cartoon supervillains,
crafted the Holocaust.
That's not to say the film humanizes
Nazis completely. Most of them come
off fanatical, and the scene in which
Goebbels stands waiting while his wife
slowly poisons their six children is hor-
rifying. But they're not maniacal. They
eat and drink, worry about their fami-
lies, and have astonishingly strong ties
to the ideals of National Socialism that
extend far beyond race. When most of
them declare a death wish after Hitler's
suicide, their ends feel at once sadly
misguided and coldly well deserved.
The film's greatest trick is making
the audience complicit in the atrocities.
Using a saucer-eyed heroine (Alexan-
dra Maria Lara), Hitler's secretary, as
the most obvious point-of-reference for
the audience, the film forces sympa-
thy for Hitler. It's a trick supported by
Bruno Ganz's portrayal of a frail, ani-
mal-loving old man with shaking hands
and lost dreams. He's almost grandfa-
therly - until he starts spouting hor-
rific racial dogma and condemning his
nation to die with National Socialism.
Only then does the audience remember
that this is Hitler.
The film's power comes from those
moments of haunting realization. There's

a distance one wants to keep from all of
this repulsive evil, but the film doesn't
grant that luxury. "Downfall" certainly
has its problems - it spreads itself very
thin trying to cover too much mate-
rial and it doesn't stir much emotional
involvement. But the acting's inspired,
the cinematography and production
values superb, and the entire film is
among the most thought-provoking and
challenging of the year. In the end, to
deny that Hitler was human is to suggest
that his actions can never be replicated;
"Downfall" is a powerful reminder that
only by understanding history can we
hope to learn from it.
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