The Virtues of 'Sin City'

Now in theaters: "Sin City," "The Upside of Anger" and "Beauty Shop."

Sin City

"Sin City" oscillates between graphic violence that's not for everyone and graphic violence that's not for anyone. But in between, this is some of the most amazing filmmaking this year -- and some of the most important. Film noir has never been darker; a graphic novel has never been more graphic.

The entire film is shot in black and white, with only splashes of color and, almost everything you see, besides the actors, is pure CGI. Director Robert Rodriguez said if he'd used real props and real sets, he couldn't get them to look that boldly black and white with such contrast.

Bruce Willis, who found his "Pulp Fiction" chops, plays a good cop chasing a bad senator's kid who's after Jessica Alba.

I talked to Alba about shooting that way -- with no set, maybe one other actor, maybe none -- and she said she liked it. It's more challenging, "like doing theater," she said.

Rated R, it's not for everyone. Certainly not for kids. Grade: A

The Upside of Anger

It's hard to find something good to say about a movie when a dissolve from summer to fall is the best way they can find to show the passage of time. And it's even harder when the writer/director/producer puts himself in the movie in a part the movie would be better without.

Still, "The Upside of Anger" has two great things going for it: Kevin Costner -- who hasn't been this good in years -- and Joan Allen, always an Oscar-caliber actress and finally given an Oscar-caliber role.

This is the kind of movie Hollywood doesn't make anymore -- a low-budget, actual drama -- for audiences Hollywood doesn't care about anymore -- intelligent, grown-up, discerning audiences like us. Grade: B

Beauty Shop

Welcome to Queen Latifah's "Beauty Shop" -- a spin-off more than a sequel to the buzz-cut success of the "Barbershop" franchise. This sort of comedy comes from throwing different folks together in situations. On TV, it's called a sitcom.

Like TV, the laughs here come from over-the-top caricatures and mild double entendres. The success depends more on us liking the actors than the characters they play.

Luckily, with the royal Queen Latifah, they've got a winner. She's funny and warm, like spending time with family. There's even a little romance. Long live the Queen. Grade: C+