By JOE MORGENSTERN
In 'Kinsey,' Liam Neeson Triumphs
As Pioneering Sex Researcher;
'Neverland' Has Depp, No Depth
November 12, 2004; Page W1
Sex sells, but "Kinsey" doesn't try to sell it, or exploit it, even though the subject at hand is the pioneering -- and still controversial -- sex researcher Alfred Kinsey. This fine, far-ranging film by Bill Condon ("Gods and Monsters") does what Kinsey did -- looks at human sexuality with an amazed appreciation of its centrality in life, and of its endless, sometimes confounding complexity. Liam Neeson's magnificent performance in the title role takes the full measure of a measurer -- Kinsey preferred that plainspoken term to taxonomist -- who was also a scientist, lover, repressed romantic, eager sensualist, angry zealot, heedless apostle and the tortured, bisexual hero of his own turbulent drama.
Kinsey burst upon the American scene in 1948, with the publication of "Sexual Behavior in the Human Male," a scholarly but explicit catalogue, based on extensive interviews, that electrified a public unaccustomed to discussing sex privately, let alone in the countless articles, debates and broadcasts that the book provoked. The movie starts a decade earlier, when Kinsey was absorbed not by the study of human beings but, of all things, by the collection and categorization of gall wasps. That's only one of the contradictions of his life -- his ardent desire, as a young biology teacher, to illuminate nature's diversity, set against his rigid impulse, as a researcher at Indiana University, to reduce sexual behavior and all its attendant longings to manageable statistics.
"Kinsey" does remarkably well as a cultural history of a vanished time (although many debates of that time are still with us today). The script is intelligent to a fault -- with so much ground to cover, it plays every now and then like a textbook -- while the look and feel of the period are evoked eloquently by Frederick Elmes's cinematography and Richard Sherman's production design. But the movie's greatest strength comes from its cast, an ensemble whose excellence attests to Mr. Condon's skill as a director of actors. (That's not a tautology, by the way. Some directors concern themselves mainly with managing traffic.)
Liam Neeson has never had a richer character to play on screen -- including his landmark role in "Schindler's List" -- and has never displayed such formidable energy and virtuosity. His Kinsey is a huge figure, whether in his prime or stooped by defeat and illness. And he's a stirring one, whether railing against his critics, obsessing grimly about his work or, in a shamelessly sentimental but still enjoyable coda, luxuriating in the beauty of a forest with his wife, Clara McMillen, known as Mac. She's played brilliantly by Laura Linney, who makes her less flamboyant role indispensable: Mac is not only Kinsey's rock, but a luminously original woman in her own right. The superb cast includes John Lithgow as Kinsey's lacerating moralist of a father; Peter Sarsgaard as his homosexual research assistant and Tim Curry as the scientist's passionate adversary. Lynn Redgrave, as Kinsey's final interview subject, turns a brief appearance into a small tour de force. Within a much larger one.
"Finding Neverland," which was directed by Marc Foster from a screenplay by David Magee, urges us to Believe. I didn't, and I may not be the only one. Johnny Depp, as the Scottish author J.M. Barrie, looks uncharacteristically uncomfortable, as well he might, in this self-enchanted account of how "Peter Pan" came into being. It's one of those fables of creativity in which certain pieces of an artist's life click together, just like that, into a work of art we know and love.
In this case the pieces come from Barrie's well-documented life with a surrogate family: the widowed Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Kate Winslet), and her four sons. Barrie regales the boys with stories, tricks and games, while they, and their mum, inspire him to write his timeless play. "Finding Neverland" takes liberties with its hero, which is hardly a crime (the real-life Barrie was extremely childlike), but the movie chases after magic with overproduced fantasy sequences, and a feel-good, literalist climax that betrays the very notion of imagination as a force superior to reality. Radha Mitchell, as Barrie's wife, and Julie Christie, as Sylvia's mother, look uncomfortable too. On the other hand, the youngest of the boys is endearing, and the theatrical production of "Peter Pan" is an authentic beauty.
Tenacious B - Kaspi
The Rumplemeister: Of the sugary cracker persuasion - CatherineYVR
"Its sass. I'm sassing you."