<preform>Kinsey (15)</br>Tropical Malady (NC)</preform>

I've got the boxes, baby, if you've got the ticks
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The Independent Culture

You expect biopics to be educational, but Kinsey - Bill Condon's portrait of the pioneering sex researcher - will teach you not only about its protagonist's life and the mores of 1940s America, but also a great deal about the habits and habitat of the gall wasp. Alfred Kinsey began his career as an entomologist: the leap to human sexuality came after his study of wasps had led him to extrapolate a rule of existence: "Diversity becomes life's one irreducible fact." Or in human sexual terms - as Sly Stone would later put it - different strokes for different folks.

You expect biopics to be educational, but Kinsey - Bill Condon's portrait of the pioneering sex researcher - will teach you not only about its protagonist's life and the mores of 1940s America, but also a great deal about the habits and habitat of the gall wasp. Alfred Kinsey began his career as an entomologist: the leap to human sexuality came after his study of wasps had led him to extrapolate a rule of existence: "Diversity becomes life's one irreducible fact." Or in human sexual terms - as Sly Stone would later put it - different strokes for different folks.

The film covers Kinsey's rise and abrupt fall, and very nearly suggests that the forces of reaction might just have left him alone if only Cole Porter hadn't brought him to their attention by mentioning him in song. You might think that Kinsey is a picture of the way things once were - of an age when hormonally-anguished adolescents were urged, "Keep your bowels open... Read the Sermon on the Mount." Then you think of the resurgence of America's puritanical right, and Condon's film looks like a very timely, impassioned statement.

The story presents Kinsey (Liam Neeson) as the first beneficiary and catalyst of his researches: a fusty, unworldly scholar, he has an awkward wedding night with the equally outdoorsy and virginal "Mac" (Laura Linney). If only they knew what other people did, she laments. "That's it!" he exclaims, in a distinctly awkward "Eureka!" moment.

Kinsey enthusiastically embarks on a programme of sexual enlightenment that expands into an ambitious research project involving soberly conducted questionnaires and the systematic ticking of boxes; whether this makes Kinsey a scientist, a bureaucrat or still a bug collector at heart is moot.

Condon plays up the humour in Kinsey's mission - the mind boggles at his trip to New York to quiz the entire cast of A Streetcar Named Desire - but avoids the facile fun that a more salaciously hip film would have extracted. Kinsey might have easily been a scientific Boogie Nights or Auto-Focus. Instead, Condon is almost demure about the sexual entanglements engaged in by Kinsey and his researchers: he and Mac both sleep with Clyde Martin (an insinuatingly smooth-jowled Peter Sarsgaard), who seduces his mentor by asking where his sexuality falls on a scale of one to five (three, in case you were wondering).

The film is occasionally too neat: for example, in identifying Kinsey's crusading spirit as revolt against a severe father (John Lithgow), first seen preaching against "the hydra of lust" and its nefarious accomplices (Turkish baths, telephones and the zip fastener).

One of Kinsey's interviewees (William Sadler, arrestingly creepy) unreels a sexual history that startles even the man who thought he'd heard and classified it all; "You're a lot squarer than I thought you'd be," he tells Kinsey. Indeed, the film itself might be squarer than you expect, but squareness is much of the appeal of its leads: Linney's kindly-eyed, patiently no-nonsense Mac, taking a tumble with Clyde, remarks, "You know, I enjoy this tremendously." Leeson plays Kinsey commandingly as a civilised, thoughtful, impassioned man, but also a gauche stick-in-the-mud, somewhat boffinishly autistic. The film might not be quite as incisive or tender as Gods and Monsters, Condon's tighter, vignette-like portrait of the homosexual film director James Whale, a man who might have been happier in post-Kinsey America. But Kinsey is witty and surprising, an honest plea for tolerance, and as much a celebration of the patchwork United States of Libido that Kinsey uncovered as it is a portrait of the man himself.

When it screened in Cannes last year, Tropical Malady, by Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul - "Joe", as he's known on the festival circuit - was widely acclaimed as the great new Asian thing.

Well, I didn't get it then, and on a second viewing, I still don't - although I loved his previous film Blissfully Yours, a dreamily slow anecdote about a sexually eventful picnic. In Tropical Malady, Keng, a soldier (Banlop Lomnoi) and Tong (Sakda Kaewbuadee), a boy from deep country, fall in love after Keng's detachment investigate the presence near Tong's home of a mysterious marauding beast. For the film's first hour, the two young men - gentle, coy and indefatigably grinning, as if at some private cosmic joke - spend time together, playfully touch each other up at the movies and chat with two larky elderly ladies.

The second hour gives us what seems an entirely different film. The same pair (or just the actors?) feature in another story, in which the soldier heads into the forest to pursue a shaman (country boy Tong himself?) who can assume the shape of a tiger. A phantom cow appears, a monkey speaks (in subtitles) and from a sweetly mundane present-day idyll, we've slipped into some ancient mythic era, as if the film has switched not only genre but tense. By the time the dialogue drops out, replaced by crickets and the crackle of undergrowth, a definite narcotic fascination has set in. Weerasethakul may be too enigmatically wayward to be the significant new presence some claim, but you can't help being intrigued. One critic's blurb included in the press notes calls it "Apocalypse Now on Mogadon" (yes, that should pull in the crowds); how about, instead, a gay pantheist Predator? I'm really, really not sure what I make of Tropical Malady but I thought I should tip you off anyway. Go figure. But go.

j.romney@independent.co.uk

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