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Our new leading men

Where are today's cinema hunks? No question about it: creature features.

November 13, 2005|Chris Erskine | Times Staff Writer

LET us first acknowledge that there are no more great leading men, no one who shapes style and sets new standards in lippy, leader-of-the-pack male behavior. McQueen and Brando are long gone. Newman and Eastwood are museum pieces. We're left without male guideposts, the swaggering man's man -- what the new book "The Future of Men" refers to as "uber-sexuals."

Uber-sexuals embrace their masculinity and don't care what other people think. Today they have become as rare as westerns. Instead, moviegoers are left with a bunch of goober-sexuals, movie stars who ought to arrive at their premieres on the short bus. Ashton Kutcher. Adam Sandler. That Deuce Bigalow dude whose name escapes me. Goober-sexuals have their funny moments, sure. But where are our macho heroes? Brad Pitt? Too pretty. Billy Bob Thornton? Too chicken-fried. Russell Crowe? Too Australian. Or is it New Zealand? Who cares?

Into this void steps a new batch of DVD releases. We give you several King Kong movies, one featuring Godzilla, an uber-sexual if there ever was one -- moody, misunderstood, unshaven, all traits we like in our leading men. In fact, till the return of an actual leading man, we are left mostly with critters and creatures, a veritable zoo of entertainers more talented and memorable than their human counterparts.

Indeed, through the end of the year, you will see DVDs about pigeons and ducks, dogs and frogs. Kermit the Frog alone stars in at least three new DVDs. To me, he is essentially an existentialist, a brooding and endearing -- if very green -- Don Quixote.

Then there's the Jurassic Park trilogy and a version of "Old Yeller." Even John Wayne could've picked up a trick or two from those Jurassic set-chewers. Somebody ticking you off? Eat him! He's gone. And sure, Old Yeller was a little warm and fuzzy but, hey, he took a bullet for his family.

Come to think of it, Hollywood has never made enough movies starring dogs, even though they are among our most versatile and beautiful stars. Has anyone ever had better hair than Lassie? (Seriously, dogs need better roles. Last night our waiter was an out-of-work terrier mix named Ethan. Need I say more?)

This new batch of DVDs also includes "March of the Penguins," one of the greatest penguin films ever made, a beautiful epic that follows a group of penguins as it treks across the Antarctic wilderness.

Some audience members merely saw a bunch of birds. I saw hundreds of little Chaplins, waddling from glacier to glacier, like they'd waited too long to find a bathroom. Still, I found their performances nuanced, rich with meaning.

"The makers of this year's slew of phony and contrived romantic comedies should be required to watch 'March of the Penguins' to see just how tender and rare a romance can be -- even if that lesson is taught by a pair of somewhat comical-looking flightless birds," says Salt Lake City critic Jeff Vice.

See? It's not just me. People who actually know film are getting on the critter-and-creature bandwagon. Pretty soon there may be no actors left, and the president of SAG will be some DreamWorks hippopotamus. How amazing that would be, a hippo finally resolving all that silly stuff about better DVD residuals.

But back to "March of the Penguins." Strangely, this movie made me crave Cornish game hen. It also made me want to go play dominoes all night. It was the first movie shot in color that came out black and white. Must've driven the DP crazy.

Which raises the question: If they're nominated for Oscars, these little birds, will they wear tuxes to the ceremony? Wouldn't that be redundant? Maybe a penguin can get by with just a red silk ascot? Or a pair of diamond cuff links?

Or do they go grunge, in jeans and T-shirts? When you're born in black tie, all you can really do is dress down. In the meantime, please note that one new DVD offers fine work from William Shatner, one of the last of the uber-sexuals. In December, you can find him in "Big Bad Mama," a 1974 flick also starring Angie Dickinson, who, if I remember correctly, isn't afraid to have a good time, if you get my drift. In "Big Bad Mama," she's naked as a caramel apple and twice as tan.

She's a true uber-female. We miss them too.

Chris Erskine writes the "Man of the House" column in Thursday's Home section. Contact him at

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