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By |2008-12-11T09:00:00-05:00December 11th, 2008|Entertainment|

Cadillac Records
The likes of blues guitarist Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright) and rocker Chuck Berry (Mos Def) find stardom at Chicago-based Chess Records, while label founder Leonard Chess (Adrien Brody) fulfills his dreams. But success for all of them comes at a price in personal upheaval and tragedy. What should be a compelling historical drama never rises above the level of soap opera as writer/director Darnell Martin crams too many personalities into an underwritten, wafer-thin story. Only Waters and Berry come completely alive, as sharp turns from Wright and Def transcend their undernourished characters. Beyonce Knowles in the role of singer Etta James, Wright, and Def offer the best reasons to see the movie, with smoking musical performances that stand in marked contrast to the anemic narrative.

Grade: C
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Wright played Belize in “Angels in America,” both on stage and in the HBO version. Brody played a gay man in “The Last Time I Committed Suicide” and a dancer in a gay bar in “Summer of Sam.” Co-star Eamonn Walker was a regular on “Oz.”)


With World War II looming, imperious Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) arrives in Australia to corral her errant husband, only to find him dead and their cattle ranch failing. To save the business, she recruits roughhewn cowpoke Drover (Hugh Jackman) to help her drive the stock to the beef-hungry British navy in Darwin. That thrilling cattle drive is a highlight in this visually stunning, overblown epic that mixes and matches a dizzying array of genres. Western, romance, war, even broad comedy all figure into the blend, along with a political drama wrapped around mixed-race aboriginal child Nullah (Brandon Walters) that is as condescending as it is well-intentioned. Kidman and Jackman share excellent chemistry that is utterly sabotaged by this overlong, cliched, mess of a movie. C-

In 1928 Pasadena, Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie) returns home to find her 9-year-old son Walter missing. Months later, LAPD police captain J.J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan) announces that the child has been found – only Christine insists the boy is not Walter. Jones refuses to reopen Walter’s case and starts a vicious campaign against Christine when she raises a public fuss. Director Clint Eastwood has done a masterful job in re-creating the era, from Christine’s Marcel wave to telephone operators on roller skates. Some risible dialogue aside, Eastwood has created an effective, affecting drama that is part suspenseful thriller, part tearjerker. And he has handed Jolie quite a gift with her best role since her Oscar-winning turn in “Girl, Interrupted” – as the grieving but determined mother, she is absolutely stunning. A-

Four Christmases
Brad (Vince Vaughn) and Kate (Reese Witherspoon) are a fun-loving couple whose greatest pleasure at Christmas is to ignore their awful families and go vacation at various tropical resorts. But when weather grounds their flight, they decide to visit each of their divorced parents, one by one. What ensues is supposed to be comedy but merely serves as a reminder that sometimes, rotten families simply shouldn’t come together, no matter what holiday it happens to be. This being Hollywood, however, this particular rotten batch of relatives winds up softening and learning lessons about love and Christmas and all that other fake Santa nonsense. Do yourself a favor and watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” instead. At least that one’s hokey and adorable instead of grating and obnoxious. D

High School Musical 3: Senior Year
Troy Bolton (Zac Efron) and his girlfriend Gabriella Montez (Vanessa Hudgens) are about to graduate from East High, but they’ve got conflicts. Troy doesn’t know if he wants to play college basketball or to pursue a singing-and-dancing scholarship at Julliard, while Gabriella is torn between academics and starring in the senior show with Troy. And if those sound like the same conflicts in the original “High School Musical,” that’s because they are. From the plot to the familiar-sounding songs, everything in this big-screen sequel to the popular Disney Channel movies feels like a retread of what came before. Even drag queen icon Sharpay Evans (Ashley Tisdale) feels neutered and tamped-down in this disappointing threequel. If the earlier movies were pure cotton candy, this one’s a stale, hard Skittle. C

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa
When onetime Central Park Zoo residents – lion Alex (voiced by Ben Stiller), zebra Marty (Chris Rock), hippo Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith), and giraffe Melman (David Schwimmer) – try to return to New York City from Madagascar, their flimsily constructed airplane gets them only as far as an animal reserve in Africa. The travel mishap winds up being a good thing, as Alex is reunited with his long-lost parents, Marty gets a peer group, Gloria entertains gentlemen callers, and Melman gets to put his hypochondria to use as a witch doctor. Conniving lion Makunga (Alec Baldwin) tries to take advantage of the situation to crown himself king. Weakly executed, this is an extended cartoon sitcom for children and their exhausted parents, full of done-to-death situations, mirthless dialogue, and slick computer animation, a combo that will entertain easily amused young ones but instigate clock-watching in their parents. D+

Quantum of Solace
Secret agent James Bond (Daniel Craig) discovers that an evil enterprise out to control scarce natural resources is also responsible for his girlfriend’s death. Seeking revenge, he targets the group and its leader Dominic Greene (Matthieu Amalric), going rogue after boss M. (Judi Dench) orders him to stand down. The latest installment in the globetrotting franchise offers Craig’s potent cocktail of robust athleticism, rakish charm, and rugged good looks, but little else. The mediocrity begins with a wafer-thin plot, a bland villain, and boring Bond girls Camille (Olga Kurylenko) and Strawberry Fields (Gemma Arterton) who generate little heat with the spy. Worst of all is director Marc Forster’s frantic editing as he slices and dices action scenes as if they were rock videos, destroying all suspense. C

Role Models
After crashing the company truck, energy-drink shills Danny (Paul Rudd) and Wheeler (Seann William Scott) sign up with a Big Brother-type organization to avoid jail. But successfully completing community service is no sure thing when both are assigned to problem children: Danny with fantasy-role-playing-and-game-obsessed nerd Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), and Wheeler with angry, mistrustful Ronnie (Bobb’e J. Thompson). Raucous and profane, not even the sentimentality that creeps in as the grownups warm to their misfit charges can undercut the essential crudeness of this rude comedy. Sophomoric and sometimes offensive, it is nevertheless one hilarious guilty pleasure, thanks to the stars’ excellent chemistry, jokes that hit more often than miss, recurring gags involving the band KISS, and a climax as action-packed as it is hysterical. B+

The Secret Life of Bees
Unhappy 14-year-old Lily Owens (Dakota Fanning) flees her abusive father (Paul Bettany) and South Carolina hometown with family housekeeper Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson) after the latter tangles with local racists. In nearby Tiburon, the pair finds refuge with beekeeper August Boatwright (Queen Latifah) and her sisters. Set in 1964, this handsome, warmhearted melodrama based on Sue Monk Kidd’s bestseller catalogs the racial injustice boiling over in the wake of the passage of the Civil Rights Act. At the same time, it never loses sight of the human story, as August and her siblings welcome these two damaged souls into their family, and in the process, help heal their psychic wounds. A glorious ensemble of awesome women delivers powerful performances that transcend the tale’s soap opera aspects. B+

Slumdog Millionaire
As he verges on winning the Indian edition of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire,” 18-year-old Jamal (Dev Patel) is accused of cheating, since no one believes an ignorant “slumdog” could possibly know the trivia quiz’s answers. To clear himself, Jamal weaves the tale of his impoverished life and of knowledge gained during a harsh “education” on Mumbai’s streets. Danny Boyle’s virtuoso drama is both intimate and epic, Jamal’s life paralleling the great changes that have transformed Mumbai during India’s economic rise. Patel is terrifically moving and so are the two non-professionals who play Jamal at seven and 12. Gorgeously shot, energetically edited, and graced by a wonderful closing sequence that pays homage to Bollywood cinema, this is a heartwarming, irresistible tale of survival, romance, and transcendence. A

Zack and Miri Make a Porno
When 20-somethings Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) find themselves falling behind on their rent and utility payments, they decide that desperate times call for desperate measures. The two go into the porn business with some seed money from one of Zack’s co-workers, and assemble a small but enthusiastic cast and crew. What the two lifelong platonic friends don’t see coming is that having sex for the first time – in front of a camera, no less – will change their relationship forever. Written and directed by the wonderfully profane Kevin Smith, “Zack and Miri” mines lots of humor from sexuality and the mechanics of naked filmmaking, but there’s a sweet side to the film, too. Rogen and Banks make a lovely couple who travel a very unusual path to romance. A-

About the Author:

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