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By |2008-09-18T09:00:00-04:00September 18th, 2008|Uncategorized|
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Burn After Reading

Middle-aged gym employee Linda (Frances McDormand) laments about getting the money together to pay for plastic surgery. When a janitor finds a computer disc with top-secret intelligence information on it, Linda and her dim co-worker Chad (Brad Pitt) decide to blackmail ex-CIA man Osborne Cox (John Malkovich). He’s got problems of his own, having been kicked out of the house by his uptight wife Katie (Tilda Swinton), who’s having an affair with Treasury agent Harry (George Clooney), who’s having a clandestine Internet romance with…Linda. Despite all the farcical set-ups and complications, “Burn After Reading” doesn’t deliver the laughs. The Coen brothers don’t seem to be sure if they’re making a comedy or a spy movie, and they end up with neither. C-

Kinsey Scale: 1 (Swinton was the muse for gay director Derek Jarman and has played numerous queer and/or androgynous characters in films like “Constantine” and “Orlando.” McDormand had a hot, bisexual threesome in “Laurel Canyon.” Malkovich recently starred as a gay man pretending to be a world-famous filmmaker in “Call Me Kubrick.”)

Righteous Kill

Turk (Robert De Niro) and Rooster (Al Pacino) are longtime partners on the NYPD who wind up investigating a rash of serial killings. All of the victims are rapists, pimps, killers, gay-bashers, and other lowlifes, so the cops on the case begin to suspect that one of their own is the killer. Could it be either of our elderly stars? Or perhaps the (relatively) young guns played by Donnie Wahlberg or John Leguizamo? The cast is A-list, but they’re all phoning it in with a script that barely deserves them. But even wasting their time with weak material, De Niro and Pacino are still loads of fun, and their banter gives occasional life to the movie. For the most part, though, it’s 103 minutes best watched on cable on a boring Sunday afternoon. C

Kinsey Scale: 1.5 (De Niro played opposite a cross-dressing Philip Seymour Hoffman in the disappointing drag comedy “Flawless.” Pacino starred in the infamous classic “Cruising,” as a cop hunting down a killer in New York’s leather community, and had a transsexual lover in “Dog Day Afternoon”; he also played Roy Cohn in HBO’s “Angels in America.” Co-star Carla Gugino played a lesbian cop in “Sin City,” and Leguizamo played a drag queen in “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar.”)

The Women

When fashion designer Mary Haines (Meg Ryan) learns about her husband’s mistress, it blows her marriage apart. But it’s only after her best friend Sylvia Fowler (Annette Bening) betrays her that Mary’s heart really breaks, roiling their tight-knit circle of friends. Writer/director Diane English’s television roots definitely show in this wretched update of Claire Booth Luce’s 1936 play (and George Cukor’s subsequent classic movie), as she declaws a story famous for its catty humor, replacing that with gooey sentimentality and sitcom jokes. What ought to be an acidly witty celebration of female friendship instead stands as a witless homage to vacuous, rabidly consumeristic womanhood. The all-female cast is awesome, but the film traps its thoroughbred ensemble in a banal, painfully unfunny comedy. D

Kinsey Scale: 2 (Jada Pinkett Smith plays the lesbian in the circle of friends, a fact constantly emphasized as if she is some kind of exotic creature or perhaps a space alien.
Earlier in her career, Smith co-starred in the thriller “Set It Off.” Bening was in “Running with Scissors” and “American Beauty.” Among the co-stars, Debra Messing found her greatest success on “Will & Grace”; Carrie Fisher appeared in “Soapdish”; Debi Mazar guested on “Ugly Betty” and had a part in “Be Cool”; and Candice Bergen made her film debut playing the lesbian friend in “The Group,” and later took part in “Sex and the City” and “Miss Congeniality.”)

ALSO IN THEATERS

The Dark Knight

A new arch-villain, The Joker (Heath Ledger), declares murderous war on Gotham City, vowing to terrorize the town until Batman (Christian Bale) surrenders. But the Caped Crusader, driven district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), and police lieutenant James Gordon (Gary Oldman) plan to take down not just the clownish fiend but Gotham’s entire underworld. The late Ledger may be receiving the most buzz for his fierce performance, but the entire cast is excellent, putting heart and humanity into a suspenseful action thriller in which the awesome stunts and special effects might otherwise easily overshadow the characters. This is riveting, uncommonly intelligent summer entertainment that delves deeper into the Batman myth as the Joker’s actions call into question the ethics of Batman’s vigilante justice. A

Death Race

Jensen Ames (Jason Statham) is forced by the warden of a no-rules prison (Joan Allen) into participating in a brutal road race that involves the slaughter of other drivers in order to win. It’s all part of a big conspiracy, but none of that really matters here – if you’ve come to this movie, you’ve come to see bloodshed. And there’s plenty of that, but there’s also plenty of everything wrong: bad acting (even from good-movie veteran Joan Allen), bad script, and bad direction, all of which is – if B-movie mayhem is all that’s required and expected – not entirely necessary anyway. But the laziness of the action sequences and the amped-up killings are the real unforgivable sins in a film that relies on those very qualities to sell itself. Still, a so-bad-it’s-good mindset and a rowdy audience might help alleviate the high-speed tedium. D

Disaster Movie

What do a saber-toothed, gasoline-swilling Amy Winehouse (Nicole Parker); a smart-mouth pregnant teenager name Junie (Crista Flanagan); those cute, singing Chipmunks (now turned rabid); and teen idol Hannah Montana (Flanagan), tragically cut down by an asteroid, all have in common? They are among the characters trapped in this lame, vulgar parody that lampoons a wide array of recent popular culture, from “Cloverfield” to “Juno” to “High School Musical” to Dr. Phil. Remarkable in its total inability to generate laughs, this dire exercise is not a comedy by any stretch of the imagination, but at least there is truth in advertising with the title. Clearly not meant for children, yet completely childish, this is not so much a movie as a complete catastrophe. F

The House Bunny

Shelley (Anna Faris) loves her life at the Playboy Mansion, but she’s unceremoniously asked to move out the day after her 27th birthday. (“That’s 59 in bunny years,” she’s told.) She winds up becoming house mother to the Zetas, the nerdiest sorority on campus, but the frumpy gals are transformed into the hottest chicks around after Shelley whips them through the obligatory shopping and makeover montage. Can they get enough pledges to save the Zeta house from its bitchy rival sorority? Three guesses. In “Lost and Translation” and the “Scary Movie” series, Faris demonstrated herself to be a brilliantly funny actress, but not even she can save this contrived rehash of “Legally Blonde” and “Revenge of the Nerds.” This college comedy will never make the dean’s list. D+

Mamma Mia!

Donna (Meryl Streep) has spent the last 20 years on a Greek isle raising her daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) alone. But on the eve of Sophie’s wedding, the curious bride wants to know the identity of her long-absent father. Enter three of Donna’s former suitors (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard) as wedding guests. But that’s just the anorexically thin plot. The only thing that really matters here is whether or not it’s fun to watch this particular cast sing and dance to ABBA songs. It’s not. With the exception of Streep, whose exuberance is worth the price of admission all by itself, the cast seems uniformly confused as to what sort of movie they’re in. And Brosnan’s singing could peel paint from walls. Bring ear plugs for the moments when Streep’s not belting out a song while bouncing in the air and doing splits. C-

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

Adventurer Rick O’Connell (Brendan Fraser) and his wife Evelyn (Maria Bello) have retired from mummy-chasing and find themselves bored on an expansive English estate. Luckily for them, there’s no shortage of cursed mummies waiting to be awakened – in fact, one happens to get itself discovered by their son (Luke Ford). Toss in Jet Li as the new emperor and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”‘s Michelle Yeoh as the curse-delivering witch and you’d have reason to expect a fun, Indiana Jones-style adventure. No such luck. This third installment of a franchise that was never all that exciting to begin with is even more bland and personality-deficient than the two films that preceded it. No thrills, no chills, a by-the-numbers script, and sub-par computer effects make this a mummy that should have been left sleeping in its tomb. C-

Pineapple Express

Flying high on pot, process server Dale Denton (Seth Rogen) witnesses drug kingpin Ted Jones (Gary Cole) murder a rival and runs to addled drug dealer Saul Silver (James Franco) for help, putting both men in the crosshairs. This lazy stoner comedy milks a very thin idea for all it’s worth and much more. There are a few laughs, but the movie is mostly a dull, overlong slog with a skein of visceral violence that is too ugly and mean-spirited to ever be funny. The only compelling reason to see this uneven mess at all is Franco. The pretty actor, long groomed to be leading man material, turns out to be a natural comedian, gifted with infectious good humor and perfect timing. C-

Save Me

When gay man Mark (Chad Allen) hits the rock bottom of his party-boy lifestyle, his family sends him to Genesis House, where troubled men go to seek “healing” from their sexuality. House leaders Gayle (Judith Light) and her husband Ted (Stephen Lang) want to help others after the death of their gay son, but the couple is forced to deal with their own homophobia when Mark falls in love with one of Genesis House’s most successful “patients” (Robert Gant). While the topic of ex-gay ministries is certainly a hot-button one, “Save Me” tells its story in such a lugubrious way that it drains all passion from the issue. While the movie is to be commended for not demonizing either gays or evangelicals, that doesn’t excuse “Save Me” from being a big, honking bore. C

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

In this animated installment of the now-bloated and boring George Lucas saga, Anakin Skywalker (voiced by Matt Lanter) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (James Arnold Taylor) are pulled away from the titular droids-vs.-clones conflict to go and rescue the kidnapped son of Jabba the Hutt. Along for the ride is Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein), who’s in training to become a Jedi. (With her pouty lips, bare midriff, and sassy mouth, you’d think she was in training to become a Cheetah Girl.) The kidnapping plot winds up being just a small part of the nefarious plans of the evil Count Dooku (Christopher Lee, one of the few actors from the “Star Wars” movies to reprise his role). But “Clone Wars” is so ugly to look at and difficult to pay attention to – even the legendary theme music sounds clunky – you may find yourself missing Jar Jar Binks. D

Traitor

FBI agent Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce) and American bomb expert Samir Horn (Don Cheadle) meet in a Yemeni terrorist camp where Horn is discovered in conference with the jihadists. An embassy bombing sets Clayton on Horn’s trail again, the pursuit becoming urgent with the prediction of an imminent attack on U.S. soil. A sleek, glossy, well-acted production, this paranoid thriller is nevertheless simply dire. By focusing as much on the terrorists as on the FBI agents pursuing them, the movie attempts to present all sides of the story while still offering suspenseful entertainment. But it is overly simplistic, airing out every single war-on-terrorism cliche within a story that is entirely predictable. And the whole enterprise tastelessly exploits post-9/11 fears of another spectacular assault. D

Tropic Thunder

When their prima donna antics threaten his production, director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) drops dimwitted action hero Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller), extreme Method actor Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.), and their co-stars into the Vietnamese jungle. Cockburn intends to shoot his war movie guerrilla-style, but the battles become real when heroin traffickers target the interlopers. The cast is genius, and so is the hilarious stew of slapstick, screwball, dark comedy, and cutting Hollywood satire that aims its barbs at a range of targets, including vapid thespians, venal studio bosses, and the Oscars. Disability rights groups calling for a boycott over the portrayal of one of Speedman’s characters miss the point – the movie isn’t making fun of the developmentally disabled, but of the movie industry’s cavalier ignorance. A

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BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.