You Know How to Whistle, Don't You?

"You know you don't have to act with me, Steve. You don't have to say anything, and you don't have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and... blow." - Lauren Bacall, To Have and Have Not

Friday, May 20, 2005

Very Short Cuts from long ago

The Return of the King - Underwhelming. Green ghost people? Frilly nightshirts and bed-hopping? Come on, PJ.

Master and Commander - Avoided it in theaters because I thought it was just Fat Russell Crowe on a ship for two hours. I was so wrong. Possibly the best film of its year.

The Motorcycle Diaries - Surprisingly engaging. I've now developed a fascination with the mountains of Chile, based on two shots in that movie. I especially appreciated the director's pacing. He let us gradually grow up along with the characters. At the end of two hours, you realize how much the two main characters have changed, but the pace is managed so that they're still the same people. The few "reveals" that point out to Ernesto (Che) and his friend Alberto the desperate lives of their compatriots are handled gracefully. There's very little in-your-face moralizing, which surprised me, since it's about a guy who ended up on the T-shirt of every in-your-face moralizer I went to college with! It fails to fully make the link between Ernesto the doctor who cares passionately for his leprosy patients and Che the guerrilla who instigated armed revolutions, but given the film's many other strengths, that didn't bother me.

Ocean's Twelve - Everyone in it was very pretty. And so very well-dressed. And that's about it.

Closer - You live in London, for God's sake. Quite possibly the coolest city in the world. Make new friends.

Kinsey - Loved it. I wanted to rush off and recommend it to everyone, but fortunately, I stopped myself before calling my parents and telling them to see it. (My parents, who are offended by the splashing about in Much Ado About Nothing, are perhaps not the target audience for this film.) Bill Condon approaches his subject in much the same way as his subject approached his work-- straightforwardly, scientifically, laying it all out there. Condon avoids titillation and shock value, severely playing them down at times. He gives hints that Kinsey was a more difficult figure than the movie shows, addressing, if not completely, many of the actions and attitudes that made him difficult-- a willingness to integrate his theories about sex into his and his colleagues' personal lives, a tenacity that ignored or overran all obstacles, a commitment to objectivity even when interviewing incredibly perverted people, etc-- but Condon also shows what a great debt we owe to Kinsey for getting sex out there in the open. Near the end of the film, an interview subject thanks Kinsey for making her life possible. It could have been mawkish or cloying, but Condon makes it feel well-earned.

Kinsey's also a very pretty movie-- the costumes, sets, scenery are all very pleasant. Some of the early scenes of Kinsey as a boy in the woods reminded me of A River Runs Through It and its depiction of a hazy, beautiful, irretrievable past. Liam Neeson does a great job as Kinsey, and Peter Sarsgaard is brilliant as ever as his chief assistant and sometime lover Clyde Martin. Sarsgaard underplays brilliantly, making his every sentence and quirk of an eyebrow worth catching. But Laura Linney surprised me most. In every other film that she's in, I forget not only that she's in it, but I forget her character. She just doesn't stick to the screen-- her average presence and average characters make me wonder why she's famous. But as Mac, Kinsey's partner in research and marriage, Linney helps us understand what people could love about him, even as we see just how much Mac had to deal with as his wife. Most notably, Linney's completely convincing in her portrayal of a woman who could go from a nervous virgin with a great deal of pain on her wedding night to a completely sexually confident and satisfied woman. We understand Mac's pain when Kinsey sleeps with Martin, but we also understand her when she sleeps with Martin too. I'm pretty sure playing the wife of a genius is harder than playing a genius, on screen as much as in real life.


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