December 9, 2014

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (and five of the best films based on graphic novels)
by James
James

by James Forryan

hmv London; 09/12/2014

Bio

"Like the legend of the Phoenix, I've just eaten a whole packet of chocolate HobNobs..." Editor, hmv.com

On its release in 2005, Sin City, based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller, polarised opinion somewhat. Co-directed by Miller and Robert Rodriguez, the film was applauded by fans of the graphic novel for the way in which its dark, neo-noir appearance paid careful homage to the source material, while some critics complained that the result was a film devoid of any human connection.

The latter is an understandable conclusion to those not familiar with Miller's work, but despite the collective shoulder-shrugging the first film induced in some sections of the press, the film was one of the first big-budget productions to utilise digital backlot so extensively, making it a pioneering endeavour and earning the film some devoted fans, a fact illustrated by its very healthy $158m takings at the box office.

Some nine years later, next week (December 15th) sees the release of its sequel, Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, and they haven't messed around too much with the formula. Once again the film is helmed by Rodriguez and Miller and the sequel retains much of the cast from the first instalment, with Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba and Rosario Dawson all reprising their roles, while new additions to the roster include Josh Brolin and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. As with the first film, the narrative is woven together from several Miller stories, intertwining to create a whole and this time focussing on some of Basin City's more notorious inhabitants.

Visually, the two films are very much in the same neo-noir vein and fans of the original won't be disappointed to learn that it's very much 'as you were' here, with the sequel continuing all the things that were good about the first film. If you enjoyed Sin City, we're sure you will find plenty to like about its follow-up, but don't worry if Miller & Rodriguez's films leave you cold; we've picked five other great films based on graphic novels for you to get your teeth into. In the meantime, you can find the trailer for Sin City: A Dame To Kill For below...

Sin City: A Dame To Kill For Official Trailer #1

Watchmen

Watchmen

(2009)

Based on the graphic novel of the same name by writer Alan Moore and illustrator Dave Gibbons (originally published by DC as a 12-part series in 1986-87), the film adaptation was notoriously long in the making thanks to problems getting studios to green light the production, not to mention legal wrangles between Fox and Warner Bros. Over more than two decades, the film went through a series of studios and a list of directors that included Paul Greengrass and Terry Gilliam, before finally ending up back at Warner Bros. with Zack Snyder in the director's chair.

Set in an alternate 1980s where Nixon is still president and the Cold War shows no signs of ending, the story is essentially a murder-mystery based around the killing of The Comedian, one of a group of superheroes named The Minutemen formed during WWII and whose members have now either retired or taken jobs with the government. His killing forces some of them out of retirement when it transpires that they too may be on the hit list.

Moore is famously dismissive of the many film adaptations of his work and Watchmen is no exception, but Gibbons stood behind Snyder's film and you have to hand it to the director - despite the contentious changes to the third act, Snyder managed to produce a film that is very close to the original graphic novel and one that was, despite everything, well worth the wait.

American Splendor

American Splendor

(2003)

Surely one of the most unique entries in the lexicon of graphic novels comes courtesy of Harvey Pekar and his creation, American Splendor. Born in Cleveland in 1939, Pekar was almost in his forties before the first edition of his comic book series – later compiled and released as a graphic novel in 1986 – was published in the late 1970s.

Pekar's story is an unusual one; here was a man with no artistic ability or previous literary experience to speak of, having worked his entire life as a file clerk at a Cleveland hospital, but his love of comic books led him to question why all of their characters had to be so 'unreal'. They all had super powers, or came from another planet. But where were the real characters, and the stories based on the real experiences of ordinary, regular people like him?

His response was to begin writing stories – crudely illustrated with stick figures – based on his own life, where he himself was the protagonist. After a chance meeting at a yard sale with the legendary cartoonist Robert Crumb, the pair bonded over a love of jazz and Crumb agreed to illustrate Pekar's stories for him, as well as introducing him to several other artists who would go on to do the same.

The film is a faithful and charming recreation of Pekar's story, helmed by directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini and starring Paul Giamatti as the grumpy-but-loveable Pekar. Detailing his life from the origins of his comic books to his use of them to document his cancer diagnosis, American Splendor is a thoughtful and heart-warming film that we can't recommend highly enough.

Akira

Akira

(1988)

Fans of Japanese animation studio Manga Entertainment will be no strangers to this film from 1988, adapted from writer-illustrator Katsuhiro Otomo's original manga series by Otomo himself into a film that launched the studio's reputation as the first to successfully bring Japanese anime to Western audiences.

Set in a post-apocalyptic Tokyo in 2019, Akira uses much of the storyline from the original manga, particularly the first half, with the action centred around the exploits of Tetsuo Shima, a teenage member of a biker gang known as the Capsules. Following an accident, Tetsuo is hospitalised and begins to develop psychic abilities such as E.S.P.

Tetsuo hears the story of Akira - another psychic boy whose abilities spiralled out of control, causing the explosion that levelled most of the city – and resolves to rescue him from the underground vault in which he is rumoured to be imprisoned, hoping he can learn about his own powers and how to control them.

A well-established cult favourite, Akira is sure to be a hit with any recent converts to the anime world and is rightly considered a landmark in animated feature film history.

Persepolis

Persepolis

(2007)

Based on the autobiographical novel by Iranian author Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis details her childhood and adolescence growing up in Iran, and her experiences of life in the country before, during and after the Islamic revolution that saw Ayatollah Khomeni rise to power following a coup d'etat against the reigning, pro-Western monarchy in 1979. The story also details life during the war with Iraq in the 1980s.

Co-directed by Satrapi herself along with Vincent Paronnaud, the film adaptation is an animated feature, with the precocious protagonist voiced by French actress Chiara Mastroianni. It's a poignant and often distressing account of a young girl attempting to make sense of the shifting political and social landscape around her, from the introduction of of the hijab to understanding her own family's close relationship with one of the factions fighting for power in the country.

Thought-provoking, educational and insightful, Persepolis can be heavy going, but it's a beautifully animated and lovingly handled story whose political and historical significance make it essential viewing.

Ghost World

Ghost World

(2001)

Daniel Clowes' story of two adolescent teenage girls struggling to find their place in the world first appeared as a serialisation in his comic book Eightball before being published as a graphic novel in 1997. The book's main characters, Enid Coleslaw and Rebecca Doppelmeyer, are recent high school graduates with a cynical outlook on modern life, spending their days hanging around in the faceless diners and shopping malls of their unnamed American home town, criticising and and lambasting everything and everyone around them.

The film adaptation, directed by Terry Zwigoff, stars Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson as the two teenage friends and details their gradual drifting apart as they reach adulthood. When they respond to particularly pathetic-sounding personals ad in their local newspaper as a prank, Enid ends up befriending its author, Seymour (Steve Buscemi) and learning that he's not as pathetic as she imagined, although Rebecca isn't convinced.

As coming-of-age stories go, this is as offbeat a film as you're likely to find, but that doesn't make it any less worth watching and if quirky indie flicks are your thing we'd highly recommend adding Ghost World to your to-do list.