08 January 2007

moral courage?

Trust has nothing to do with moral courage. It occurs when we have nowhere else to turn, when we reach the end of our need to control.
- Rodney Smith, "Lessons from the Dying"

I think our eyes occasionally read and interpret what we expect to read, rather than what is actually there. For example, this quote--for me--makes trust look like a last resort. When I first read the second sentence, my mind definitely saw, It occurs when we have nowhere else to run, when we reach the end of our rope. I apparently link trust with desperation. And words beginning with the letter 'r'.

That notion really has nothing to do with the rest of my entry; it was just a personal conclusion based on a muddled morning contemplation. However, this act of contemplation took place post-tea and post-coffee; so it cannot be entirely debunked.


I received three movies on Friday afternoon and enjoyed them all to varying degrees.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang - Petty thief Harry Lockart (Robert Downey Jr.) gets caught up in a murder investigation in this action-packed comedy. Posing as an actor, Harry heads to Los Angeles for an unlikely audition and finds an authentic acting coach in detective Perry Van Shrike (Val Kilmer). But the bright lights of Hollywood fade when a murder takes place and Harry, Perry and Harry's high school dream girl (Michelle Monaghan) become part of the investigation.

Robert Downey Jr. seems very much at home in this role--and it's kind of the way I'd imagine him being in reality. That could be entirely off the mark, but his lines just felt direct from the source and, well, right. That being said, and given the understanding that Robert Downey Jr. is damn near perfect in this part, I honestly think that Val Kilmer manages to steal the show as "Gay Perry"--a fact that shouldn't surprise me after his audience-winning performance in Tombstone--since they have given him some of the best lines in the movie.

Perry: Why in pluperfect hell did you pee on the corpse?

And, then ...

Perry: Look up idiot in the dictionary. You know what you'll find?
Harry: A picture of me?
Perry: No! The definition of idiot. Which you fucking are!

And then there was this:

Perry: Go. Sleep badly. Any questions, hesitate to call.
Harry: Bad.
Perry: Excuse me?
Harry: Sleep bad. Otherwise it makes it seem like the mechanism that allows you to sleep...
Perry: What, fuckhead? Badly's an adverb. Who taught you grammar? Get out. Vanish.

Character Perry is so intelligent and snarky, he's almost immediately endeared to me above the rest; it helps that he's being played by Val Kilmer, but it's really just a bonus. Suffice to say, this film has some excellent dialog, and the plot is wonderfully winding. It has to be one of the more satisfying movies I've watched in a while, probably partly because a lot of the conversations remind me of things I or friends have said before. If you haven't seen it, you should. *****

Key Largo - As a hurricane wreaks havoc outside, Army veteran Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bogart), Nora Temple (Lauren Bacall) and her invalid father-in-law face a worse storm inside the Temples' tumbledown Florida hotel. Frank stopped by merely to pay his respects to war-widow Nora, only to find the hotel commandeered by exiled gangster Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson) and his band of goons. Will the war-weary Frank step up to the plate to save the Temples?

Yes, of course, he will. When Bogart is the good guy, he's terribly self-sacrificing. The only thing I was unclear about with this film was whether his character would live or die in the end. A big to-do is made about McCloud's friendship with Temple's son, and Temple's bravery and self-sacrifice in the war--all leading up to McCloud's need to put out his own neck. So I wondered if this, too, would lead to death.

The acting is very good, on all accounts; but having seen so many films along this bent, the story feels lacking. I expected more violence, or at least more tension; but I'm not sure what the rules of censorship were like in 1948, so perhaps this was as far as they could take anything. Or maybe the writer or the director placed their own censorship on what they felt they should show.

Rocco is supposed to be domestically violent with his mistress, but the most the audience ever actually sees is some verbal abuse--verbal abuse that probably wouldn't mean as much to the woman, were she sober enough to brush it off. Granted, the audience does see Rocco shoot a policeman; but there's very little blood, and the camera doesn't dwell on the body for long. Rocco is slimy, yes, and brutal; I just don't think we get enough visual impressions about the fact.

At the time of its cinematic release, I'm sure that parents would not have felt okay in bringing their young along to see this movie, but by modern standards it's fairly family-friendly and, yes, predictable. Were it not for the quality of the actors involved, I would give it a lower score. ***

Impromptu - Nineteenth century feminist author George Sand (Judy Davis), as famous for her cigar-smoking and pants-wearing as she was for her writing, is at the center of this literary drama. Although she's fallen for composer Frederic Chopin (Hugh Grant), a number of obstacles stand in their way -- rivals, former lovers … even duels! This film was nominated for a New York Film Critics Circle Award and an Independent Spirit Award.

I think I added this to my queue based on the involvement of Julian Sands, but he's not a major character; actually, all characters play second fiddle to George Sand (Judy Davis)--even Frederic Chopin (Hugh Grant).

Foolishly longing for art's influence in her circle, the Duchess D'Antan (Emma Thompson) invites a group of artists to her estate for a fortnight, and Sand invites herself along in hopes of trailing after Chopin--not that the Duchess seems to mind, finding the impertinence more amusing than troubling. It's a recipe for battling eccentricities--and trouble--that eventually turns on the Duchess in an evening's entertainment produced by Alfred De Musset (Mandy Patinkin), the sole purpose of which is to ridicule the host and hostess.

Franz Liszt: [as God] Hurry, Noah, to the Ark, and fill it with two each of the creatures of land, sea, and air.
George Sand: [as Noëtte] Lord, we have no need for animals - art alone will save the world. Let's see, we'll need two of everything: two poets, two painters, two musicians...
Franz Liszt: [as God] Impossible, they will not come. Your conversation is not witty and you have no ideals.
George Sand: [as Noëtte] Ha ha, true, but we shall also give them free food and lodging for forty days and forty nights. Now, we shall also need two playwrights, two composers, two makers of velvet flowers...

Chopin, responsible for composing and playing its music, stops the play once he realizes its nature; for though the Duchess is generally vapid, it is fairly nasty payback for her generosity. As one of the other characters remarks at some point, Chopin is the girl of the relationship between him and Sand--kinder, frailer, better-mannered.

The cast is superb and the relationships feel possible and true--and truth is one of the more difficult things to get at in a period drama. ****

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