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By | 2017-10-31T17:27:19-04:00 October 31st, 2017|Entertainment|
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Doubt

Certain that Father Flynn’s (Philip Seymour Hoffman) liberal attitudes mask some major transgression, Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) is determined to rid her parish of the popular priest. When Sister James (Amy Adams) witnesses a seemingly furtive exchange between Flynn and an altar boy, it’s all the confirmation Sister Aloysius needs to confront the man. John Patrick Shanley adapts his own Pulitzer Prize-winning play, and does a marvelous job of opening up the drama and recreating a wintry New York City circa 1964. The three leads are terrific as they hash out the moral implications of Sister Aloysius’ accusations, but a poignant Viola Davis as the boy’s mother steals the movie as she makes plain the danger her gay son faces in a closeted, homophobic era. A

Kinsey Scale: 3 (In keeping with the era, the words “gay,” “homosexual,” and “pedophilia” are never uttered when Sister Aloysius starts making accusations about Father Flynn. Despite that ’60s era reticence, there is no mistaking what anyone is talking about. Hoffman won an Oscar for playing the titular gay writer in “Capote,” and also appeared in “Boogie Nights,” “Flawless,” and” Strangers with Candy.” Streep has appeared in a number of films with gay themes or characters, most notably “Angels in America” and “The Hours.” Adams had roles in Charles Busch’s “Psycho Beach Party” and in “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.”)

Seven Pounds

Ben Thomas (Will Smith) is an IRS agent with so many secrets that to explain even one of them in a review would result in an avalanche of spoilers. It’s sufficient to know that his secrets drive him to embark on an exceptionally elaborate scheme to change the lives of seven strangers for the better, in particular a young, dying artist named Emily (Rosario Dawson). That the plot exists in a space that allows Smith’s character to go about his cryptic business unquestioned isn’t the point. The “fun” in this self-serious bit of Oscar bait is in figuring out his mystery and seeing how his various plans come together. And though Smith is obviously shooting for an acting nomination, Dawson’s effortless charm is enough to engage the audience and keep her leading man from straining too hard; you never knew seven pounds of something could be so heavy. B-

Kinsey Scale: 1 (Smith played gay in “Six Degrees of Separation,” and Dawson starred in the film version of the gay-themed “Rent.” Co-star Woody Harrelson played gay in “The Walker,” and had a recurring role on “Will & Grace.”)

The Tale of Despereaux

Despereaux (voice of Matthew Broderick) is a brave little mouse living in a king’s castle. Banished for his un-mouselike behavior, he befriends both a rat (Dustin Hoffman) and a princess (Emma Watson) before having to put his innate bravery to use when the kingdom needs saving. And in a world of brash, sarcastic, CG-animated, talking-animal movies, the gentle charms of this one far outweigh the problem of occasionally ponderous storytelling. If anything, the change of pace (this mouse is more like the literate Belle of “Beauty and The Beast” than the manic creatures of “Madagascar”) and the beautiful, old-world-painting quality of the animation are refreshing and will be surprisingly pleasing to both kids and parents. It’s no “Ratatouille,” but it’s still entirely warm and satisfying. B+

Kinsey Scale: 1 (The large, all-star voice cast includes a number of actors who’ve played gay characters or have starred in gay-themed films, such as Broderick, Hoffman, Tracey Ullman, Kevin Kline, and Stanley Tucci.)

Yes Man

Carl (Jim Carrey), still nursing his wounds from a breakup three years after the fact, hating his job, and withdrawn from his friends, stumbles into a self-help seminar where he learns a new philosophy: say “yes” to everything. When he decides to try this approach, he finds a new girlfriend (Zooey Deschanel), a social life, and job satisfaction. Of course, there are unexpected unpleasant surprises as well. If not, there wouldn’t be much of a movie here, just a lot of small happy endings. Now, does Jim Carrey act as though he were flying solo and overdo it sometimes? Yes. Is the story completely predictable? Yes. But is the seemingly unflappable Deschanel charming enough to counteract Carrey’s occasionally shopworn antics and a script bubbling over with romantic comedy cliches? Yes. And will you laugh in spite of it all? Yes. B-

Kinsey Scale: 1 (Co-star Terence Stamp played gay in “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.” Co-star Fionnula Flanagan appeared in “Transamerica.”)

ALSO IN THEATERS

Australia

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-

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.

The Day the Earth Stood Still

In this reworking of the classic 1950s sci-fi film, an alien named Klaatu (Keanu Reeves) comes to Earth to warn of impending disaster. But this time the disaster isn’t nuclear, it’s environmental, and it’s going to happen soon. Only scientist Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) will listen to Klaatu’s warning (even with a huge, military-disarming, defense robot by his side, no one believes this guy), and it’s a race against time to save the planet from certain destruction via a swarm of matter-devouring insects. Sound dumb? It is – a dopey, pointless remake of a film that didn’t need a makeover. Also sound entertaining? It’s that too, more or less. Just turn off your inner critic and watch the bugs do their digital-effects-generated thing. C-

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

Frost/Nixon

English talk show host David Frost (Michael Sheen) and disgraced ex-president Richard M. Nixon (Frank Langella) bring separate agendas to a series of interviews in 1977. Frost hopes to re-ignite a floundering career by coaxing Nixon into making admissions about the Watergate scandal, while Nixon seeks to restore his tarnished reputation. The performances are everything in this sleek adaptation of Peter Morgan’s play. Oliver Platt and Sam Rockwell as Frost’s research team and Kevin Bacon as Nixon’s aide offer formidable support, but this is Sheen and Langella’s show. Each delivers a tour de force performance, with Langella particularly stunning in his portrayal of a venal man done in by his own ambition. The drama flags somewhat in the middle, but roars back for an exhilarating climax. A-

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+

Milk

After moving to San Francisco’s Castro District in 1972, Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) finds his true calling in gay activism and politics. He wins a seat on the city’s Board of Supervisors in 1977, allying himself with Mayor George Moscone (Victor Garber), but evokes rage in homophobic supervisor Dan White (Josh Brolin). Thirty years after White’s assassination of Milk and Moscone, Gus Van Sant offers a warmhearted, moving biopic of the ebullient gay rights pioneer. A buoyant, charismatic Penn heads up a peerless cast and delivers a career-best performance in a riveting, atmospheric drama that emphasizes both the public politician who led the fight to beat back an initiative that would have barred gay teachers from California classrooms, and the private man and his romantic travails. A

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+

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

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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.