Perpetually rigid, with a vocal delivery that sounds like a lecture even in casual conversation, Liam Neeson's rendition of revolutionary sex researcher Alfred Kinsey is a scientist to the bone. When his research informs him that most men are bi-curious, Kinsey has sex with a man, then tells his wife about it, acting shocked when she is upset by the news. Sexual desire, feels Kinsey, is just a biological impulse, and should be openly discussed and explored, not trussed up in emotional constructs like the institution of marriage. As a professor in the 1930s, Kinsey makes waves with his explicit sexuality classes. Kinsey convincingly argues that its subjects' unflinchingly technical attitude towards sex helped liberate the American people in a time of intense prudishness. Good point, but what's missing is any exploration of why Kinsey is the way he is--we only get the briefest of glimpses into his upbringing at the hands of a puritanical tyrant father (John Lithgow), but never is there an implication that his sex obsession as an adult is somehow related.
This is the way of the Hollywood biopic; leaping frantically from rock to rock along the surface of its chosen figure's life, but never stopping to dig down and see what's underneath. With its star-studded cast (Laura Linney, Peter Sarsgaard, and more) and shimmering production values, Kinsey is a beautiful film--a sweeping portrayal of, if we are to go solely by its depiction, a completely one-dimensional man. JUSTIN WESCOAT SANDERS
Lightning In a Bottle
Opens Fri Nov 26
A concert film documenting last year's "Year of the Blues" celebration at Radio City Music Hall, Lightning In a Bottle's visual scope falls somewhere between a particularly adept collection of award show performances and a late-night PBS special. Featuring a spectrum of performances that ranges the likes of Solomon Burke, Bonnie Raitt, John Fogerty, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, David Johansen, and those shitheads from Aerosmith, Lightning plays out like a DVD extra on Martin Scorsese's The Blues documentary--a lengthy curiosity that seems a little baffling as a theatrical release. Working as an incredibly loose narrative of the Blues' last hundred years, the film assumes a fairly established understanding of the form's history for any sense of relative perspective--without it, the evolution that the performances intend to play out are largely obscured by the more modern performers' skewed representations. There are certainly a number of powerful performances within (Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, David "Honeyboy" Edwards, and Ruth Brown, among them), but for the most part, Lightning in a Bottle represents a Cosby Show-esque reflection of the Blues (hell, Bill even makes an appearance)--a tamed, "sophisticated," and largely neutered depiction of one of music's most riotous forms. It might have been compelling VH1 fare, but at its near two-hour duration, it's gonna take a lot more than B.B. King to keep me from falling asleep in my seat. ZAC PENNINGTON
Hard Goodbyes: My Father
Opens Fri Nov 26
Hard Goodbyes: My Father is a quiet, slow-moving film about a young boy learning to cope with the loss of his father. Set in Athens in 1969, the movie opens with the homecoming of Christos (Stelios Mainas), an unsuccessful television salesman. Though Christos has a turbulent relationship with his wife and older son, he is idolized by his youngest boy, Elias (Yorgos Karayannis). The two share a fascination with outer space, fantasizing about intergalactic travel and planning to watch the moon landing together. But when Christos dies, Elias refuses to accept the loss--maintaining that his father will return for the moon landing as promised, and bolstering his denial with increasingly convoluted rationalizations. While this should be heartbreaking, Karayannis isn't a mature enough actor to give necessary depth to the role of troubled, imaginative Elias. The filmmakers' reliance on long, silent, and supposedly emotional shots feels equally hollow--writer/director Penny Panayotopoulou would have been better served to emphasize the sense of whimsy that is the film's strength. While Hard Goodbyes does have its moments, it invites comparisons to the similarly themed Swedish film My Life as a Dog--and it's pretty safe to say that when facing competition like this, the Swedish shall maintain their chokehold on the mega-popular "young boy dealing with grief via space fantasy" films. ALISON HALLETT