Great Paragraphs: On whether we know each other

Peter Joshua (Cary Grant): Do we know each other?

Reggie Lampert (Audrey Hepburn): Why, do you think we’re going to?

Peter Joshua: How would I know?

Reggie Lampert: Because I already know an awful lot of people, so until one of them dies I couldn’t possibly meet anyone else.

Peter Joshua: Well, if anyone goes on the critical list, let me know.

— “Charade” (1963)

On Movies: ‘Sin City: A Dame To Kill For’ reveals everything we’ve already seen


Sin City: A Dame To Kill For” | Rated R | 1 hour, 42 minutes | DirectorsFrank Miller and Robert Rodriguez | CastMickey RourkeJessica AlbaJosh BrolinJoseph Gordon-LevittRosario DawsonBruce WillisEva GreenPowers Boothe and Dennis Haysbert.

“Sin City: A Dame To Kill For” is beautiful from the stylized hyper-noir aesthetic to the nude breasts of sultry femme fatale played by Eva Green to making it appear as if Bruce Willis still has hair. In fact, from an effects point of view, it may be more beautiful than the original “Sin City” from 2009.

The beauty is worth a lot. It’s fun to look at, whether Jessica Alba’s depressed Nancy is cavorting and boozing at a strip club or Marv (Mickey Rourke) is meting out back-alley justice to boozed up fratboys emulsifying bums in lighter fluid and flames. And the dialogue, for the most part, is snappy and staccato, echoing the best of Spilane, Chandler and Westlake.

But the sense of having already seen this before — and if you saw the first “Sin City,” you truly did — is overwhelming. “A Dame To Kill For” is a sequel without surprises that improves in every aspect of production save perhaps the most important one: story.

A “Sin City” movie can’t be a character study. This is not “True Detective.” These characters are wafer-thin, ghosts of stronger, better-written and more fully realized people from the best of film noir and hardboiled fiction.

“A Dame To Kill For” seems to know this and turns to excessive violence — more decapitations, dismemberments, murders, suicides and gruesome finger breaking. But it seems more like a distraction, a cringe to take your mind off the fact there’s nothing new happening here.

The doomed hubris plays out in long, dull monologues played as narration from the male characters. Life sucks. Then you die. And it’s tough to tell the difference between life and death in a town as lousy as Basin City.

The women do most of their talking in the movie. And for the most part they’re tougher than the men. Green’s Ava manipulates men toward murder with such ease and menacing wimsey, she’s easily the most powerful character in the film. Even with bruisers Marve and Dwight (Josh Brolin) wandering around.

The prostitutes of Old Town are still around with more guns than clothes, fighting off everyone from the cops to mobsters. Rosario Dawson plays Gail, who is in love with Dwight who is in turn in love with Ava. Dawson seems wasted in a role in which she primarily cavorts in bondage fantasy clothes and rescues her man from Ava’s goons.

The best part of “A Dame To Kill For,” as with “Sin City” before it, is that it does not ask you to take it seriously. It presents itself as what it is, a strange mix of post-World War II male fantasy magazines, edgy comic books written by Frank Miller before his descent into hackery and the elegant malevolence of American noir in the 1940s and 50s.

It accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do: titillate, tease and occasionally go “boom.” But while “Sin City” produced “booms” that shoot the room, “A Dame To Kill For” delivers its payload and leaves the audience shrugging, “Are you done?”

Morning Mixtape: Best Robin Williams moments from ‘Good Morning, Vietnam’

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When I was a boy, I wanted to be a radio disc jockey. I wanted to do comedy on the radio and play rock and roll. I was influenced by local personalities such as Dic Youngs, Larry Morgan and Lou Sipolt. But what I really had in mind was the wild riffing done by Robin Williams in the 1987 film “Good Morning, Vietnam.” I had a cassette tape of the soundtrack and repeatedly listened to his comedy bits, hoping to copy his style and wit. I was never fast enough or funny enough or quick enough. But even today, 27 years later, I still listen to Williams’ bits and laugh. He’s gone now, but his gifts keep on giving.

Moments: On Robin Williams and the daily struggle


Robin Williams died Monday. Authorities said took his own life. He was 63.

Williams struggled with alcoholism and other addictions. He also struggled with mental health issues. His publicist told the Los Angeles Times that Williams was suffering from depression in recent weeks. It appears the depression took his life.

robin-williamsI never met Williams. I knew him through his work, which was often terrific. But I feel for him and his family, especially because he carried the burden of depression.

Twice in my 39 years, I’ve been to an emergency room with suicidal thoughts. I could have very easily taken my own life on both occasions. For whatever reason — blind luck or divine inspiration — I reached out for help instead of killing myself.

My late mother struggled with mental health issues in her life. My dad tried to get her help, but he always felt guilty. He grew up on an Iowa farm during the Great Depression and loaded ships as a Navy seaman during World War II. To him, psychiatry was akin to witchcraft and asking a therapist to talk to his wife meant she would be confined to a room with padded walls and straightjackets for the remainder of her days.

I want to believe we as a society are more enlightened about mental health than we were when I was a boy. But I worry that people still think padded asylum cells and violent criminals when mental illness is discussed. We are not far removed from a time when Tom Eagleton was shamed out of being a vice presidential nominee because he sought treatment for depression.

Mental illness is a broad spectrum of ailments, but it is all rooted in one thing: The brain is an organ — just like the heart or liver — and sometimes it malfunctions. In exceptionally rare cases, it means people cannot function at all. But in most mental health cases, the disease is simply something that we live with day to day.

I am diagnosed with persistent depressive disorder and general anxiety disorder. The clinical words simply mean I sometimes get very sad or very scared, sometimes both, for long periods and greater intensities than I find tolerable. I control it with medication and therapy. Most days, that’s enough. But sometimes my brain doesn’t work right.

I get very depressed. I work every idea out to its ultimate outcome, which is usually slow, painful death. I feel disgusting and loathsome, even though I have a wealth of family and friends who would tell and show me otherwise, I am unable to feel anything but misery. Panic attacks feel as if my skin is itching on the inside. Everything is an emergency and I can only focus on negative thoughts.

Sometimes, not often and certainly not every day, those thoughts turn suicidal. I am in pain and the only way I can get out of it is to die. The times that I have seriously considered suicide, I don’t really want to die. I want relief. Of course one can’t feel relief when one is dead. But when your brain isn’t working right, it becomes all too easy to forget that.

Robin Williams apparently lost sight of that sometime Monday. The world lost a great entertainer to a disease that affects about one in 10 Americans, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control.

My second set of parents, the retired east Des Moines hairdresser and printer, would be hesitant about me writing publicly about my mental health problems. They would worry, rightly so, that people would look at me differently or treat me as lesser or perhaps a dangerous nut who will run amok at any moment.

People do react differently to you when you struggle and are open about it. But I talk openly about it amongst my colleagues, on my blog and with my friends, family and sometimes my sources when reporting stories where the revelation is relevant. I talk about it not to brag about it or complain in a “woe is me” kind of way.

I talk about it because mental illnesses are really no different than high blood pressure or diabetes – other health problems that can be fatal. And that’s what suicide really is: the fatal heart attack or liver failure of depression and anxiety.

I talk about it because people who suffer, my fellow travelers, need to know they are not alone. As my friend Bill McClelland, the great St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist, once told me: “We are all walking on the thin ice.”

I talk about it because people need to hear from those of us who suffer from the illness that sometimes it is a daily struggle, but most of the time we survive and even thrive. But it is a scary thing. Because I have been to that place Williams visited, with the instrument of my death in my hand, and thought there was no way out.

I found another way out. Williams didn’t.

That Williams lost his fight and I’m still fighting isn’t a measure of character, strength or determination. My cancer just went into remission. Williams’ got stronger.

Mental illness is often a brutal, cruel fight against your own thoughts. And one gets so tired, so very damned tired.

I don’t have any more answers or magic solutions.

But I have a bit of advice: Put as much kindness into the world as possible.

If one measures kindness by laughs inspired, Williams left one heck of a legacy for us to follow.

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