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February 5, 2007
NEW THIS WEEK:
Blood and Chocolate
By day, Vivian (Agnes Bruckner) works in a chocolate shop in Bucharest, but by night she runs through the woods, howling at the moon. That’s because she’s a werewolf. When she meets werewolf-researcher Aiden (Hugh Dancy), she realizes that she’s in danger of becoming the next bride of a shape-shifting werewolf pack leader (Olivier Martinez). That means the chase is on in this romantic thriller, one that’s neither thrilling nor all that romantic. Like most werewolf plot lines, what’s really happening is an utterly conventional story of good versus evil, of a woman being forced to choose between a bad boy and Mr. Right. And in the movies, the wild life rarely wins when the sun comes up in the final act.
Kinsey Scale: 0 (No queer content. Martinez starred in the Showtime version of Tennessee Williams’ “The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone.”)
Catch and Release
Gray Wheeler (Jennifer Garner), whose fiance has just died, spends the next several months grieving with her late boyfriend’s buddies (Timothy Olyphant, Kevin Smith, Sam Jaeger). When secrets from the deceased man’s life pop up in the form of a mistress (Juliette Lewis) and a possible son, Gray begins to question all of her relationships and tentatively falls for shallow Fritz (Olyphant). While the movie is being sold as a sweet romantic comedy, it’s really just a mess of tangled storylines that resolve themselves only through laborious script mechanics, shifting and jumping around until nothing makes sense anymore. The movie never knows what it wants to be or where it’s going, failing to catch anything even resembling a clue.
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Garner’s character confesses to a one-night stand with a woman in her past. Olyphant played gay in “The Broken Hearts Club,” while Lewis co-starred in “Gaudi Afternoon.” Smith directed the lesbian-themed comedy “Chasing Amy,” and has included major queer content in virtually all of his directorial efforts.)
The FBI, bounty hunters, and contract killers all converge on Lake Tahoe when word gets out that magician-turned-mobster Buddy “Aces” Israel (Jeremy Piven) is about spill all to the feds. While the G-men are there to protect him, the others want to collect the million-dollar bounty on Israel’s head. Thriller meets black comedy in this ultra-violent hybrid where the body count is high and the brutality is absurd in scenes of overheated mayhem. Piven is surprisingly sympathetic, while Ryan Reynolds and Ray Liotta as the straight-arrow FBI agents are excellent. Everyone else in the large cast struggles to bring dimension to underwritten characters. The soundtrack rocks and the cinematography is gorgeous, but there is precious little substance under the veneer of high style.
Kinsey Scale: 2 (Hit women played by Taraji Henderson and singer Alicia Keys are lovers, while Jason Bateman plays a lawyer with a penchant for cross-dressing. Piven was a regular on “Ellen” and guest starred on “Will & Grace,” as did co-star Andy Garcia. Among the remaining co-stars, Nestor Carbonell was in “The Laramie Project,” Ben Affleck starred in “Chasing Amy,” and Joel Edgerton appeared in “Kinky Boots.”)
ALSO IN THEATERS:
In an attempt to collect on a debt and get back at rival Jake (Ben Foster), drug dealer Johnny Truelove (Emile Hirsch) kidnaps Jake’s naive teenage brother, Zack (Anton Yelchin). Over the course of a Palm Springs weekend, Johnny’s right-hand man Frankie (Justin Timberlake) shows the kid a good time, but Johnny’s realization that kidnapping charges could result in hard time makes Jake a liability. Based on a true story, this seedy thriller scores with pungent dialogue, sharp characterizations, and the young ensemble’s sensational performances. Writer/director Nick Cassavetes’ attention to detail pays off in this unforgettable portrait of a deluded adolescent universe in which morals, conscience, and common sense are cast aside in favor of loyalty among friends and unquestioning obedience to the impetuous Johnny.
Kinsey Scale: 3
Young Fern (Dakota Fanning) rescues runt pig Wilber (voice of Dominic Scott Kay), but it’s going to take even greater intervention to save him later, when he’s ready to be turned into bacon. And that’s where spider Charlotte (voice of Julia Roberts) comes in to save the day in this charming adaptation of the classic E.B. White novel. Hollywood hasn’t always done right by White – the 1970s animated feature gave Fern short shrift, while the Stuart Little movies lacked the quiet dignity of the books – but this new version captures the gentle qualities that have made the book perennially popular. Thanks to an all-star voice cast and “Babe”-style computer animation, the film brings White’s beloved animal characters to very realistic life. Kids and adults alike will be won over by the results.
Kinsey Scale: 1
Children of Men
Not a child exists on the planet earth in 2027, 19 years after an epidemic of infertility swept the globe, but a young woman, Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey), in now-fascist England is pregnant. One-time activist Theo (Clive Owen) long ago surrendered to despair, but when his ex-lover Julian (Julianne Moore) asks for his help in smuggling Kee across the country, his passion for engagement re-ignites. Director Alfonso Cuaron has crafted a taut thriller out of P.D. James’ bleak, dystopian novel, as the tension builds inexorably to an action-packed climax. Cuaron has more than suspense or mere entertainment in mind, as he uses the tale’s futuristic trappings to comment on issues of our own times, particularly environmental degradation, the creeping authoritarianism of governments, and the plight of immigrants.
Kinsey Scale: 1.5
The Dead Girl
The murder of prostitute Krista (Brittany Murphy) sends ripples through the lives of various women, from the browbeaten caretaker (Toni Collette) who finds the body, to a graduate student (Rose Byrne) who thinks the victim might be her long-lost missing sister, to the victim’s mother (Marcia Gay Harden), to the killer’s wife (Mary Beth Hurt). Meanwhile, Krista’s friend and occasional lover, Rosetta (Kerry Washington), was clearly the troubled young woman’s most consistent source of support and affection. Writer-director Karen Moncrieff revels in working-class blankness in the film’s dialogue and its look, but the individual performances – Mary Steenburgen and Piper Laurie also co-star – are all terrific. It’s just a pity that all these strong vignettes don’t add up to all that much of a movie.
Kinsey Scale: 2
The Dreamettes, a Detroit trio, seem destined for stardom when up-and-coming record mogul Curtis Taylor Jr. (Jamie Foxx) signs them to his label. Both big-voiced Effie (Jennifer Hudson) and beautiful Deena (Beyonce Knowles) are in love with Curtis, and jealousy threatens to tear the group apart when Curtis promotes Deena to lead vocalist. Twenty-five years after its Broadway debut, this lavish musical explodes on the silver screen in all of its big-haired, ’60s-era glory. The songs are trite and director Bill Condon’s frantic editing deflates the drama’s power, but the gorgeous costumes, superb art direction, and superior acting make up for those sins. Best of all is former “American Idol” contestant Hudson, who emerges as the movie’s true star, thanks to her sensational soulful performance.
Kinsey Scale: 2
Blue-blood preppy art student Edie Sedgwick (Sienna Miller) moves to Manhattan in the 1960s and gets swept into the vortex of artist Andy Warhol (Guy Pearce), who turns her into a model, celebutante, and all-around It Girl. But Andy becomes jealous when Edie gets involved with earnest folk singer Billy Quinn (a lawyer-mandated renaming of Bob Dylan, ludicrously portrayed by that white-bread Jedi, Hayden Christensen), and Edie gets dumped from Warhol’s inner circle. She spirals downward and faces her deep, dark secret of sexual abuse – the same deep, dark secret that many troubled characters in American cinema have confessed to over the last decade – before dying. Sedgwick’s glossy and tragic life has spawned two interesting books, both of which are far more worth your time than this two-dimensional, inane film.
Kinsey Scale: 2
Idealistic rookie English teacher Erin Gruwell (Hilary Swank) takes a job at an uneasily integrated Southern California high school and finds herself saddled with a racially divided, hostile class that her superiors dismiss as hopeless. When she reaches out to her young charges, she surprises everyone – including her students – when they strive to attain the goals she sets for them. Though based on a true story, this well-meaning tearjerker is completely formulaic, filled with cliched dialogue and stick-figure villains in the form of vicious educators and Erin’s jealous husband (Patrick Dempsey). That it manages to tell a compelling tale despite all that is a credit to Swank and her young co-stars, who transcend the hackneyed script with rich, ultimately moving performances.
Kinsey Scale: 1.5
The Good Shepherd
Bureaucrat Joseph Wilson (Matt Damon) becomes a key figure in the establishment of the Central Intelligence Agency in the years after World War II, despite the toll that his devotion to duty takes on his wife (Angelina Jolie) and others in his life. While director Robert DeNiro paints his tale on a vast canvas – and makes the movie supremely handsome to look at – “The Good Shepherd” is exceedingly dull. The casting is top-notch – supporting players include Alec Baldwin, William Hurt, John Turturro, and even DeNiro himself; but whose decision was it to cast Jolie as a neglected wife who sits around waiting for her husband to come home? This spy saga is overloaded with intelligence, but could use more liveliness.
Kinsey Scale: 1.5
College students Grace (Sophia Bush) and Jim (Zachary Knighton) make the fatal mistake of picking up a psycho hitchhiker who calls himself John Ryder (Sean Bean) but who’s really more of a supernatural entity, able to locate his prey with alarming skill every single time they wriggle out of his clutches. From that first roadside bit of bad judgment, it’s a cat-and-mouse game of survival for 90 surprisingly suspenseful minutes that will have audiences shouting escape advice to the victims on-screen. A remake of the 1986 cult horror favorite starring Rutger Hauer and C. Thomas Howell, this version, with its female protagonist, loses the odd homoerotic tension of the male-stalker-hunts-male-victim original. But its competent descent into straightforward, uncomplicated fear makes it a cut above most modern horror remakes.
Kinsey Scale: 1
Night at the Museum
Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) is a down-on-his-luck divorced dad who gets a job as a night watchman at a natural history museum. On his first night, he learns that the museum is cursed and that everything inside comes to life until the sun rises. His job? Control the chaos and hopefully reverse the curse. Of course, the story is secondary to the wild antics of animated dinosaur bones that want to play fetch, marauding Huns, and a naughty monkey that has it in for Stiller. And if it’s nothing audiences haven’t seen before from movies like “Jurassic Park” and “Jumanji,” it’s still reasonably fun, amiably inoffensive family entertainment for the holidays – no more and no less. Parents, lower your expectations, give in to the kid-centricity, and you’ll be fine.
Kinsey Scale: 1
The Pursuit of Happyness
Behind on the rent and barely scraping by with 5-year-old son Christopher (Jaden Smith) to support, salesman Chris Gardener (Will Smith) cannot afford to work for free. He accepts an unpaid internship at a brokerage firm anyway, convinced that becoming a stockbroker will ensure a brighter future. This 1980s-era drama is never more than a handsome soap opera, despite a terrific, uncommonly serious turn by the elder Smith. Its message is bizarre, since it suggests that money – and lots of it – really does buy happiness, and, in fact, may be the only real avenue to achieve it. The story only ever satisfies in the intimate, moving moments between father and son, as little Jaden Smith steals every scene from his real-life dad.
Kinsey Scale: 1
Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren) has always been a very British icon of decorum, subtlety, and privacy. But when Princess Diana dies in a car accident, that royal decorum doesn’t play well with a grieving British public. Writer-director Stephen Frears brilliantly captures the turmoil of the week following Diana’s tragic death, and how newly elected prime minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) helped coax a reluctant monarch into publicly acknowledging a loss that was devastating not only to her grandchildren but to her people. Even if you think royalty is a useless tradition of a bygone age, Mirren’s performance makes Elizabeth a three-dimensional person, beset by her lifelong duties and obligations. “The Queen” offers a fascinating backstage look at public figures facing a key moment in contemporary history.
Kinsey Scale: 1.5
Stomp the Yard
Still smarting over his brother’s murder, DJ (Columbus Short) leaves L.A. for Atlanta’s Truth University. The scholarship student feels out of place among his more well-heeled classmates at the historic black college until his growing attachment to comely co-ed April (Meagan Good) and his involvement with the Theta Nu Theta fraternity and its stepping team ease his transition into college life. The graceful, athletic, occasionally gravity-defying stepping – derived from an African dance and a kind of dance/gymnastics hybrid – is far more compelling than the predictable coming-of-age story, which blends romance with backstage drama as the Thetas prepare to compete for the national stepping championship. But those stepping scenes ultimately prove less than enjoyable, thanks to the frenzied, headache-inducing editing.
Kinsey Scale: 1