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Knight at the Movies: Rocknrolla; Zack and Miri Make a Porno; The Universe of Keith Haring
by Richard Knight, Jr.
2008-10-29

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Two more movies opening this week—Guy Ritchie's Rocknrolla ( pictured ) and Kevin Smith's Zack and Miri Make a Porno—highlight what I hope is a continuing trend in mainstream releases aimed at straight guy audiences: gay characters afforded not just respect, but understanding, sensitivity and, sometimes, a dash of awe by their straight male counterparts.

Writer-director Guy Ritchie returns to what he does best in Rocknrolla, his third film featuring gangsters, violence, flashy editing tricks, a pulsing soundtrack and nearly indecipherable cockney accents. This time out, he follows a pair of jocular thieves ( 300's Gerard Butler ) who borrow money from a big-time loan shark ( Michael Clayton's Tom Wilkinson ) to fund a real estate deal. But then things go wrong and a complicated plot becomes even more complex when a 'lucky' painting gets stolen from a Russian mob boss whose accountant ( a luscious Thandie Newton ) is arranging for the pair to steal from him. The painting, it turns out, has been stolen by a crackhead rock star named Johnny Quid ( Toby Kebbell ) , who is thought by the public to be dead. A major subplot involves an unrequited crush on Butler by one of the other male characters, who then uses his gay sexuality to get information out of the accountant's gay husband, a fey lawyer with S&M tendencies.

There's a lot more to Ritchie's typical pretzel-twisted plot, which is sometimes so convoluted that not even the narration of Lenny's top henchman ( Mark Strong ) can sort it out—but the characters are all having such violent fun that the audience gets swept along for the ride. The scene in which Butler's male comrade comes out to him is hilarious and touching. Butler's character uses every gay slur in the playbook on hearing the news, but it's feigned disgust, and Ritchie cuts away from the scene just at the point that it seems that something is about to happen between the two. What actually happened then becomes a running joke throughout the movie ( and is hilariously revealed over the credits ) .

Then there's Quid, who is sometimes referred to as Johnny Queer by the others—and it's never quite clear whether Johnny Q, with his six-pack abs and low-rider jeans, is really one of Our Own. In fact, this tough-guy movie is so littered with gay characters and good-natured gay jokes that sexual orientation becomes a non-issue. The straight men splutter, hurl invectives and claim they'd rather be dead than gay, but when it comes down to it no one really seems to care all that much. With such an abundance of gay material and a battery of lingering close-ups of a multiple of spectacular male torsos ( Johnny Q, a persistent Russian hit man, etc. ) , Richie's soon-to-be ex-brother-in-law Christopher Ciccone's claim that he's a homophobe seems suspect. Homophobe or not, this is the movie of a man who certainly appreciates the male form.

Rocknrolla, shot in murky shakes of blue, black and gray, is a lot more fun than its color scheme would suggest ,and a sequel, announced at the credits, is certainly tantalizing. Maybe next time out, Handsome Bob and Johnny Q will find one another and have a go.

There's no need to fantasize when it comes to folks getting it on—gay, straight, trisexual—in writer-director Kevin Smith's very funny comedy Zack and Miri Make a Porno. The movie follows the resolve of the two nearly destitute leading characters ( Seth Rogan and Elizabeth Banks ) , lifelong friends who decide to make the aforesaid porn film to make ends meet. Zack makes this decision after he and Miri attend a high-school reunion. While Miri is drunkenly offering herself to Bobby, the former quarterback ( played by Superman Returns super-hottie and sweet-as-molasses Brandon Routh ) , Zack learns that the quarterback's got a gay lover who is also a successful porn star named Brandon ( Justin Long, famed as the 'Mac guy' in the TV commercials in an over-the-top performance ) . Zack isn't fazed by the couple's sexuality ( after watching the couple bicker he marvels, 'They fight just like real people' ) and decides that he and Miri should follow Brandon's example and get into porn with their own movie. Reluctantly, Miri agrees.

The rest of the movie follows the exploits of the duo as they cast the film with an endearing, ragtag group of sexual amateurs and professionals of multiple persuasions ( including Tracy Lords ) and overcome a series of mishaps and personal missteps on the bumpy road to love and profits. Smith's comedy retains his sure feel for slacker humor, adding plenty of the currently in-vogue gross-out visual yuks into the mix, and there's also a fair amount of heart in the film. Actually, it's this last ingredient that helps elevate the movie from its smarmy trappings. Surprisingly, Zack and Miri Make a Porno turns out to be an extremely rare movie commodity—a romantic comedy for guys.

The Universe of Keith Haring is a long-overdue and vibrant documentary portrait of the '80s pop-art sensation and queer activist who died from AIDS in 1990, robbing the world of his delightful talent and energetic personality. The film includes remembrances from his family, friends and artistic contemporaries such as Yoko Ono, Kenny Scharf, Bill T. Jones and David LaChappelle. Madonna, one of Haring's closest friends, is glaringly omitted from those interviewed although she's seen in vintage footage and photographs. Many of Haring's contemporaries, including the late icons Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol, are also seen in retro footage, often alongside the playful artist. Also, Haring is heard in interview tapes, filling in many of the blanks on his meteoric rise to the top and an all-too-brief career. Best are the many examples of Haring at work, speedily creating his instantly recognizable, densely intertwined cartoon figures that seem even in the old videos ready to leap off the canvas. This is a genial and often moving portrait of both a fallen gay hero and an enormously talented artist. It opens an exclusive run at the Gene Siskel Center Friday, Oct. 31. See www.siskelfilmcenter.com .

Check out reviews and DVD recommendations at www.windycitytimes.com or www.knightatthemovies.com . Readers can leave feedback at the latter Web site.


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