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Sex For The Holidays 

Plus new films from Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler and Brad Pitt

Before the orgasm, there was the gall wasp.Alfred C. Kinsey, a professor at Indiana University, spent approximately two decades collect-ing and labeling over a million of these insects before his attention turned to a subject intrinsically more interesting to the common man (and woman): human sexuality. His controversial methods and conclusions formed the basis for his 1948 bestseller Sexual Behavior In the Human Male, and the ramifications of his groundbreaking work are still being felt -- and refuted -- today.

Kinsey, then, is an exploration of the life and times of this complex individual, a man whose outrageous career choices were often at odds with the rather square nature by which he presented himself. The rumors surrounding Kinsey -- some truthful (his bisexuality), some nonsensical (the notion that he was a Communist trying to undermine American decency by talking about s-e-x), some still being debated today (did his extensive data involving children indicate he was a pedophile or merely a neutral gatherer of others' immoral activities?) -- made him a constant target of the religious right, who, as the past presidential campaign once again confirmed, are only satisfied when all Americans are ideologically marching lockstep to their own narrow-minded principles. Kinsey therefore emerges not only as a movie about another time but as a movie of our time, a reminder that progress can be made only when someone's willing to step up to the plate and challenge conformity and complacency.

During those years in the late 30s and 40s, Alfred Kinsey (marvelously played by Liam Neeson) had plenty to challenge. Convinced of the need for sex education that's informative and accurate -- as opposed to the fire-and-brimstone tirades of a repressed colleague (Tim Curry) -- Kinsey opts to teach a sex ed class, but soon finds that he doesn't have answers for many of his students' questions. A sexual novice himself -- he's a virgin when he marries student Clara McMillen (Laura Linney, matching her costar step for step) -- he then assembles a research team and begins collecting valuable data regarding all forms of human sexuality. He interviews college students, invades the suburbs, scouts the gay bars, and even enters into a homosexual romance with one of his assistants (Peter Sarsgaard). But Kinsey's research comes at a price, particularly in the way this difficult man subjugates his emotions and empathy for others in pursuit of his science.

Kinsey makes no apologies for its subject's often infuriating behavior -- in that manner, it has much in common with writer-director Bill Condon's previous feature Gods and Monsters, which presented Frankenstein director James Whale as tragically flawed yet allowed us a look at those personal demons that all too often defined his very being. Kinsey, sharply scripted and packed with powerhouse performances (look for John Lithgow packing a punch as Alfred's Bible-thumping dad), likewise pulls back the covers with similar aplomb, exposing its subject even as it hopes to reveal some naked truths about ourselves.

The press material for the new film Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events boasts that the literary franchise from which it was adapted featured "the first books to knock the Harry Potter series off the top of the New York Times children's bestseller list." It's only fitting, then, that Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures have chosen this property to compete with the Harry Potter movies for the loose change of impressionable young filmgoers eager to invest in a similar vein of benign doom 'n' gloom. Yet the motion picture that emerges never feels like much more than a pale imitation of the Harry Potter legend, and the incessant mugging of its featured player proves to be an added hindrance.Jim Carrey has shrewdly been mixing up his career choices, offering award-flirting turns in movies like Man On the Moon and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind while placating the masses with his perfected shtick in such titles as Bruce Almighty and Liar Liar. Yet even in his broadest work, it's difficult to see the gears in motion -- his comedic instincts are so fine-tuned, he morphs into his personas with amazing ease. Not so in this new picture. As Count Olof, a villainous actor who seeks to inherit a fortune by knocking off three intelligent orphans (Liam Aiken, Emily Browning, and Kara and Shelby Hoffman alternating as baby Sunny), Carrey delivers a disappointing performance, the sort of calculated turn we had come to routinely expect from Robin Williams until his recent dramatic awakening. Even in the lambasted How the Grinch Stole Christmas, there was a through line to Carrey's character, resulting in one of the actor's most diabolically satisfying portrayals. In Lemony Snicket, no similar game plan exists -- it's merely an excuse to watch Carrey ham it up in various guises, and the showboating grows tiresome before long.

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