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Kinsey

Sex is a sham.
Whatever other conclusion one draws from Kinsey, the new biopic based on Alfred Kinsey’s life, it’s impossible to deny how dull sex can be when egg-headed scientists work it over. The movie is obsessive in its desire to show that sex doesn’t necessarily have to be sexy, and by the time it’s dragged naked into the streets it looks about as interesting as a spreadsheet of the periodic table elements.
This isn’t to say Kinsey isn’t riveting and compelling like a good autopsy, but meat-eating Americans with a wholesome prurient interest in sex should pass up this sometimes-stuffy film. Likewise, children who persist in believing sex to be exciting, naughty and zestful should also be chased away from this movie in the hopes of sustaining their healthy interest in the activity.
We’re talking the survival of the species here people!
Kinsey succeeds as both a biography and an intellectual history, showing how the meaning of sexuality evolved in this century. Kinsey (Liam Neeson) rose from an awkward childhood riddled with sickness and ignorance to be one of the most important thinkers of the 20th century and helped transform the cultural and intellectual atmosphere in America.
Kinsey’s concepts were explosive in an age marked by conformity and stability. His studies of human sexuality in the late 1940s and early 1950s showed that perversity and deviance were not absolute terms – people’s private and interior lives show a startling amount of diversity and difference than what they professed publicly.
The film follows Kinsey through his early academic life, when his obsession was gall wasps, not sex, and shows how his romantic life was troubled because of physical and emotional problems surrounding sex. Kinsey meets his future wife Clara (Laura Linney) while teaching a college class about the gall wasp and decides to propose to her based on her intellectual curiosity and hiking ability.
Kinsey is not a romantic and Neeson plays him aloof and emotionally clumsy, a man more at home categorizing insects that exploring his own deep psychological drives. Science insulates him from experience and he can look at any phenomenon without flinching. An unlike agent of Eros, the scientist reduces sex to a mere behaviors, not a complex interrelation between subjects.
After successfully petitioning for a sex education class – limited to married and engaged graduate students – Kinsey turns to his life’s work: sexuality surveys. Embracing variation and diversity as his credo, he employs a small cadre of assistants who investigate sexual behaviors in public and, eventually, between one another. 
He tests theories of homosexuality using his own body and that of a young bisexual assistant, discussing his sexual preferences without passion or even much interest. The experiments intensify until they end in sort of pornocopia of bodies: Kinsey has sex with his male assistant, who then has sex with his wife before marrying a third woman who is seduced by another married assistant… It isn’t long until the whole gang is bonding over porn clips with all the excitement of a chess team fawning over Vladimir Petrov photos.
Neeson and Linney are excellent as Kinsey and Clara, and the film is particularly poignant when the couple begins to disintegrate under the weight of Kinsey’s sexual manifest destiny that implies every desire should be acted upon. Sex exhausts them the way drugs exhausts a junky: By using them up. On their way toward full exploration of sexuality, they burn up everything they have, including love, passion and intimacy. Without these traits, their marriage looks less like a union of lovers than a pairing of partners for a rote athletic event.
Behind Kinsey’s interest in other people’s sexual lives lies the mechanic heart of a scientist intent on chasing away any mystery in the body. Less a science of sex than sex rendered in scientific terms, his thinking seems vaguely alien, a work of autistic genius lacking clear emotional investment.
The film plays with the discontinuity between domestic bourgeois life and Kinsey’s brand of scientific libertinism. Taking on religious zeal, Neeson’s Kinsey challenges the status quo of the bedroom while retaining the basic form of the nuclear family, with its inherent power dynamics, at home. This leads to comic interchanges between he and his daughters over the dinner table as they discuss masturbation and foreplay, and also reveals the underlying oddness of this nerd’s life, where he’s integrated perversity into a pretty dull middle-class life.
Kinsey takes place in another time and place, where individuals accepted the indispensability of science in our lives. Like other scientist quacks – Timothy Leary comes to mind – Kinsey abused his power and left his field more confused than when he found it. His contributions helped those who were unsatisfied with their sex lives or who felt marginalized, but his methodology and personal history casts a shadow over his work that remains to this day.
Kinsey is a complex examination of the man, the time he lived through, and the ways he changed our cultural landscape, but it leaves sex looking bare and vulnerable. Although it sometimes excuses Kinsey as a man who didn’t understand the implications of his decisions – and glosses over the scientist’s addiction to barbiturates – it also isn’t afraid to revel in ambiguity.
In the end, trying to make sense of sex using a scientific model is like chasing shadows with a spotlight. The more you look, the less you are apt to find.

 
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Meet the Fockers

Hollywood needs a few good editors.
How else can you explain Meet the Fockers, an overblown, bloated collection of noxious fumes weighing in at almost two hours? Cut the first mind-numbingly dull 15 minutes, the atrocious final half hour, and a few scattered unfunny scenes and you have a pretty mediocre hour-long film. A film of this type lasting only 50-odd minutes would be a breath of fresh air and not the traumatic event Meet the Fockers becomes.
Those who loved Meet the Parents will find a lot of similarities in this sequel. Not only have the characters been preserved like pickled eggs, but many of the jokes are so prepackaged that they seem like outtakes from the original film.  But while Meet the Parents was charming, poignant and occasionally even funny, Meet the Fockers is crass, stale and, worst of all, unfunny.
The film opens up two years after the events of Meet the Parents. Pam (Teri Polo) and Greg (Ben Stiller) are ready to take their relationship to the next level and have arranged a meeting between the families to discuss their marriage. They fly out to meet Pam’s parents, Jack Byrnes (Robert DeNiro) and his wife Dina (Blythe Danner), and briskly run through all the gags of the first film: Jack’s obsessive desire to control everything, the cat that uses a toilet, etc… as though they were a shopping list.
The film adds a baby to the mix, thinking that nothing is funnier than a cute kid using sign language to spell out poop. Pam’s sister and husband are away, so Jack is raising their child, which is horrific enough in itself, but is made many times worse when the ex-CIA operative whips out a fake boob to show Greg how he intends to feed the child. He pressures Greg to feel the breast – which oddly enough is an exact duplicate of his daughters – just as Dina and Pam enter.
Yes, it’s that weird in real life too.
Rather than flying to Miami, Jack has decided to drive the family RV. Greg is understandably unnerved about the idea of spending a day in a big black pressure cooker, but the RV is needed later for a comedy bit about a horny dog and a cat that knows how to flush a toilet. The RV also allows the film to drag through a series of mostly flat jokes involving a bus full of exhibitionist cheerleaders and other road trip mishaps. 
Just when you’ve thought the movie would be boring it descends into pure badness. The Fockers are perhaps the best part of this awful little movie. Bernie and Roz Focker (Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand) are lifestyle hippies living like parrot-heads in tropical Miami. They work great as foils to the Byrnes and provide some truly fresh moments to this otherwise drab sequel. The problem is that the film loses control of these characters, allowing them to disintegrate into caricatures of themselves rather than establish dynamic tension.
There’s a good film here about Baby Boomers’ attitudes as they near retirement age. It’s interesting to see a representation of a counterculture couple in their fifties and Hoffman in particular is excellent as a stay-at-home dad. Jack can’t help but come off as petrified in comparison to his eternally young-at-heart hippie peers, but the film never really explores the inherent tension between these characters or examines how 30-something couples must come to grips with these conflicts over the meaning of parenthood.
The filmmakers take the easy route by demonizing straight-lace Jack and treating Bernie as a well-intentioned softie. The open sexuality of the Fockers’ house, where young Greg was pimped out to the babysitter to lose his virginity and Bernie and Roz routinely engage in loud and kinky sex, is represented as harmless, perhaps even helpful to Greg’s development. Red flags should go up when Roz brags that Greg is a thoughtful lover, but the film covers over its tracks with so many bad jokes that most viewers are beaten into submission before they realize they’ve been forced to pick sides.
The genius of Meet the Parents was that it refused to reconcile its conflicts. Jack did not reform himself and Greg could never conform to his father-in-law’s strict code of ethics. Although still largely a yuck-yuck comedy, the film remained complex and nuanced enough to make us understand why the characters were the way they were. Here everything is spelled out and resolved in the worst way possible, like a bad sitcom.
And speaking about bad sitcoms… In the tradition of Three’s Company reruns, the film relies heavily on the comedic power of misunderstandings, and when that doesn’t work introduces some of the unfunniest scenes ever caught on tape.
Unsatisfied with traditional means of surveillance such as bugging teddy bears, Jack eventually injects Greg with truth serum to get him to come clean about a potential illicit affair. Now in my world injecting someone with anything against their will is a invasion of privacy and a criminal act about as funny as watching a date rape on Gilligan’s Island, but Stiller draws the scene out in what is perhaps the greatest awful comedic performance since Joe Dirt.
Not content to force Stiller to eat pie, the film also features shockingly dumb scenes of Streisand riding DeNiro and Hoffman licking whip cream off of Streisand bosom while pretending to be a carpet cleaner. You think you’ve reached the bottom of the toilet bowl when Greg’s baby foreskin ends up in a fondue plate, but haven’t seen nothing yet, and it’s this ever-lowered expectation that seems to set the stage for yet another Meet the whatever movie, due out in 2008.
Meet the Fockers could have been an engaging comedy about inter-family compromise or a funny examination of Baby Boomer parenting techniques played out on Gen-X couples, but it’s instead a big old hairball of a film. Give me a big old black pen and I’ll carve a movie out of this mess, but until then just stay away – you really don’t need to meet the Fockers.

 
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