Arts & Entertainment
Originally printed 7/15/2004 (Issue 1229 - Between The Lines News)
When businessman Wayne Hayes (Robert Redford) is kidnapped, his wife, Eileen (Helen Mirren), works frantically with the FBI to secure his release, while Wayne attempts a more personal negotiation with his unpredictable kidnapper (Willem Dafoe). Though physically separated, husband and wife become closer as they both discover surprising revelations about their relationship. This is being sold as a thriller, but suspense takes a backseat to a personal story that mines character for its drama. The performances have to carry the weight of a tale that occasionally turns soporific as the action grinds to a halt. Luckily, the cast is a delight, particularly Redford and Mirren, who are quite moving in their evocation of a love strong enough to transcend the ultimate test.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 1 (Mirren co-starred in the Sapphic romance "Losing Chase", and Dafoe appeared in the homoerotic "Auto Focus". Co-stars Alessandro Nivola and Diana Scarwid have both appeared in queer-themed films.)
Legendary songwriter Cole Porter (Kevin Kline) bedded men, but always returned to the arms of his wife and muse, Linda (Ashley Judd). This biopic unfolds as if it were a Porter musical, offering his career highlights while it limns the offbeat romance between this devoted but turbulent couple. The Porters come across as little more than actors in their own play, and this glossy confection of a movie never actually gets at what motivated Linda to stay in such a heartbreaking, inequitable relationship. Director Irwin Winkler's decision to hire the pop stars of today to sing Porter's songs is also unfortunate. Their mostly mediocre cameo performances are a distraction, making the drama appear to be little more than a feature-length ad for a soundtrack.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 4 (The drama doesn't shy away from Porter's affairs with men, but the emphasis is on his relationship with Linda. Kline previously played gay in "In & Out", while Judd lit up the screen with Salma Hayek in "Frida". Co-stars Jonathan Pryce and James Wilby played queer characters in, respectively, "Carrington" and "Maurice".)
Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) has mixed feelings about being Spider-Man. He also has a full plate of trouble. His erstwhile girlfriend (Kirsten Dunst) may marry a man she doesn't love; his best friend (James Franco) wants to kill Spider-Man to avenge his own father's death; his beloved aunt is bankrupt; and, worst of all, Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina) wants to destroy New York. Director Sam Raimi balances these stories and keeps breathing life and humor into a sequel-ready franchise that could, in less caring hands, simply become an assembly line of big-budget blockbusters, all sensation and no emotional weight. Spider-Man, however, is a complicated superhero - a beleaguered, sometimes weak Everyman who happens to be able to save the lives of people in out-of-control speeding trains with his super-strong sticky web. And he's just what the summer movie schedule needs.
Grade: A- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Molina starred as Joe Orton's lover in "Prick Up Your Ears", while Franco played James Dean in the TV biopic of the same name. "Queer as Folk"'s Hal Sparks - comic-book nerd Michael Novotny - appears in a cameo role.)
Around the World in 80 Days
Wrongly marketed as a Jackie Chan star vehicle, this exceptionally messy and racially offensive ensemble picture - made all the more puzzling by the Hong Kong star's producer status - is that most frightening of horror films: the unfunny comedy. Based loosely on the Jules Verne novel, the plot involves a Victorian-era race around the world led by Phileas Fogg (Steve Coogan), accompanied by his faithful valet, Passepartout (Chan). Their pointless adventures bring them into contact with lots of nonwhite people from other lands, who are seemingly happy to be subjugated by England. Chan shows off some remedial martial-arts moves in between all sorts of gratuitous slapstick violence that plays more as sadistic than as silly. In the end, only young children will find it amusing, while the adults who accompany them may feel as if they've sat in the theater for 80 days.
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 1 (Co-star Jim Broadbent played a gay bartender in "The Crying Game". Kathy Bates, who appears as Queen Victoria, starred in "Fried Green Tomatoes" and has a recurring role on "Six Feet Under".)
The Day After Tomorrow
Climatologist Jack Hall's (Dennis Quaid) dire warnings of a new Ice Age come true as tornados demolish Los Angeles, baseball-size hail rains over Tokyo, and a tsunami swamps Manhattan, all in advance of a mega-storm that will freeze the northern hemisphere. As if worldwide catastrophe weren't enough, Hall also faces the possibility of losing his teenage son, Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal), who's trapped in the New York Public Library. This disaster melodrama rises above its inane plot on the strength of Quaid's roguish charm, an excellent supporting cast, and superior computer-generated special effects, particularly as the twisters lay waste to L.A. But genuine thrills are kept to a minimum, thanks to too many action scenes that amount to little more than people trudging through snow.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 1 (Quaid played the closeted husband in Todd Haynes' "Far from Heaven". Co-stars Ian Holm, Dash Mihok, Sela Ward, Tamlyn Tomita, and Perry King have all appeared in queer-themed projects.)
Unless nice-guy Peter LaFleur (Vince Vaughn) can come up with $50,000 fast, his Average Joe's Gym faces a takeover by slimy Globo Gym CEO White Goodman (Ben Stiller). The amount seems beyond the under-financed LeFleur's reach, until gym rat Gordon (Stephen Root) suggests they enter a national dodgeball tournament that will pit LaFleur's uncoordinated weaklings against Goodman's steroid-pumped elite. This silly slapstick comedy might be the happiest surprise of the summer, as a cast of first-rate clowns clearly revel in the chance to deliver hilarious lines and demonstrate their superior physical-comedy skills. While there's a bit too much of Stiller's by-now-tedious angry-man act, Vaughn and the rest of the Average Joe's crew comprise a team of lovable losers truly worth rooting for.
Grade: B+ Kinsey Scale: 2 (One character is bisexual and - as might be expected in a movie that takes place in the homoerotic world of sports, even if it is dodgeball - there are queer jokes aplenty. Stiller played a metrosexual in "Zoolander" and one-half of the vaguely homoerotic team of "Starsky and Hutch". Vaughn was cross-dressing Norman Bates in the "Psycho" remake. Co-stars Hank Azaria and Jason Bateman have played gay characters.)
Filmmaking provocateur Michael Moore takes aim at the Bush administration with this passionate documentary that begins with the contested 2000 presidential election, jumps to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and then examines the aftermath of those events - from curtailment of civil liberties under the Patriot Act, to our current occupation of Iraq. Moore gathers excerpts from the administration's own sound bites, man-on-the-street interviews, network news clips, and devastating footage from the Iraqi war zone to build his case for American regime change. He paints a devastating portrait of a rogue government - in the pocket of corporate interests - that has taken full advantage of the post-9/11 climate of fear. Moore gives us the very definition of the "ugly American" with this discomforting and unforgettable film.
Grade: A Kinsey Scale: 0 (There is no sexual content of any kind, but the subject matter is vital to every American regardless of orientation.)
Fat, lasagna-loving Garfield (the voice of Bill Murray) is annoyed when his human, Jon (Breckin Meyer), brings home an innocent, not-too-bright dog named Odie. But when Odie is dog-napped, it's Garfield to the rescue. If that sounds like a slim premise, it is - and quite beside the point. The real reason this movie exists is to pump up the revenue stream of a comic-strip character who's seen more popular days, and if audiences are mildly entertained in the process that's just gravy. Thank goodness, then, for Bill Murray, who gives the CGI cat a much-needed shot of new personality. His voice performance is frequently witty and probably largely improvised, bearing more than a passing resemblance to his old "Saturday Night Live" lounge-singer routine. In other words, it's something he can do in his sleep that will keep adults who wind up taking kids to see the movie from dozing off.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (There's a passing, Garfield-delivered reference to "alternative lifestyles" as Odie winds up in a pair of lederhosen. Queer actor Alan Cumming voices a fey cat named Persnikitty, and "Will & Grace"'s Debra Messing voices Garfield's feline girlfriend, Arlene.)
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
In his third year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) learns that Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), an inmate of Azkaban prison for his role in the death of Harry's parents, has escaped and may be coming for Harry next. That's the simple version: the more complicated tale involves shape-shifting animals, mistaken identities, time travel, and a very large teenager-hungry tree. Meanwhile, the kids in the cast are maturing, growing into their roles without a trace of awkwardness. The most important development, though, is the film's running time. Even though the books get longer as the series goes on, this film installment is a little shorter than the first two, thanks to a looser, less slavish devotion to its source; as a result, it plays much more briskly. That may upset literal-minded devotees of the novels, but will delight those who want their movies to actually move.
Grade: A Kinsey Scale: 1 (The large cast has lots of experience in queer-themed projects. Oldman played Joe Orton in "Prick Up Your Ears"; co-star David Thewlis was Paul Verlaine in "Total Eclipse"; Emma Thompson recently appeared in "Angels in America"; and Julie Walters costarred in "Billy Elliot" and the independent films "Sister My Sister" and "Just Like a Woman".)
Octogenarian Noah Calhoun (James Garner) spends his days trying to reach out to his dementia-afflicted wife, Allie (Gena Rowlands), by repeatedly telling her the story of their early life together. That WWII-era romance unfolds as a Romeo-and-Juliet-style tale, as upper-class young Allie's (Rachel McAdams) uptight mother (Joan Allen) tries to keep her daughter away from blue-collar Noah (Ryan Gosling). Garner's moving performance is the best thing about this weepie based on Nicholas Sparks' bestseller, but he's acting in a vacuum opposite Rowlands, whose confusion never registers as authentic. The flashbacks to the couple's youth also come across as false. McAdams and Gosling never connect emotionally; the blandly pretty McAdams offers a petulant, one-note performance, and Gosling's shaggy, anachronistic appearance evokes not the 1940s but the 1960s.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Twenty years ago Garner played sexual panic for laughs when he portrayed a straight mobster who falls for what he thinks is a drag queen in "Victor/Victoria".)
They could have called this delightful sequel "Meet the Parents", if that title hadn't already been taken, because it sums up the plot nicely. Shrek (the voice of Mike Myers) and his new bride, Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz), with Donkey (Eddie Murphy) in tow, visit the land of Far Far Away to show Fiona's parents (Julie Andrews, John Cleese) that she's happily become an ogre in order to marry Shrek. Appalled that his daughter has wed a monster instead of the self-absorbed Prince Charming (Rupert Everett), the king enlists the help of a mean-spirited Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders) in an attempt to steal Fiona back. What follows is witty, sweet, and love-affirming, leaving behind the smutty double entendres and (most of) the low-brow flatulence humor of the original. It's that rarest of sequels - one that's vastly superior to its precursor, and one that will leave you happily ever after.
Grade: A Kinsey Scale: 2 (Although there's no explicitly queer content, it could be argued that the story, with its "love whom you choose" message, is a metaphor for same-sex marriage; in addition, one of Cinderella's ugly stepsisters (voiced by Larry King) is a man in drag. Myers played gay in "54", Andrews starred in "Victor/Victoria", Saunders stars on TV's "Absolutely Fabulous", and Antonio Banderas, who voices Puss-in-Boots, is a veteran of Pedro Almodovar's films and played gay in "Philadelphia". Everett, it goes without saying, is gay full time.)
The Stepford Wives
A fresh start in the suburbs sounds like a wonderful idea to Joanna Eberhart (Nicole Kidman) and husband Walter Kresby (Matthew Broderick) after Joanna loses her high-powered network-TV job. Behind the walls of gated Stepford, Conn., Walter quickly bonds with the local men; but the town's women - perky, submissive, and oddly fond of chintz - repulse Joanna, who becomes downright frightened when, one by one, her new friends mutate into typical Stepford wives. Screenwriter Paul Rudnick's attempt at campy black comedy meets with only partial success. The dialogue is hilarious, and the cast sparkles, particularly Glenn Close as the spookiest of the wives. But an insufferable, tacked-on ending drags on seemingly forever as a 70-minute idea is stretched to a feature-length 90 minutes.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 3 (Conservative Stepford welcomes its Log Cabin brethren, as one gay partner discovers when he, too, transforms into a Stepford "wife." Gay screenwriter Rudnick wrote "Jeffrey" and previously collaborated with "Stepford" director Frank Oz on "In & Out". The cast boasts one genuine queer icon in Bette Midler. Nearly all of the principals - Kidman, Broderick, Close, Roger Bart, Jon Lovitz, David Marshall Grant, Matt Malloy, and Lorri Bagley - have appeared in gay-themed movies or plays. Mike White of "Chuck & Buck" fame has a cameo.)
Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks) lands at Kennedy Airport, only to discover that a coup has struck his homeland, rendering his passport invalid. Since he cannot legally enter the United States, he is temporarily consigned to the airport's international transit lounge. Days stretch into months, but charming Viktor adapts to terminal life, befriending airport habitues and finding romance with flight attendant Amelia (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Director Steven Spielberg delivers a thin fable that wallows in schmaltz and product placement. The characters never register as flesh-and-blood human beings, Hanks and Zeta-Jones lack chemistry, and the film's condescending tone toward naive-but-wise Viktor and the airport's mostly immigrant staff is downright offensive. With Kennedy Airport meticulously recreated inside a soundstage, this is a triumph of production design over character and story.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Hanks first became famous for his cross-dressing role on the sitcom "Bosom Buddies"; he went on to win an Oscar for his portrayal of an AIDS-afflicted gay lawyer in "Philadelphia". Screenwriter Sacha Gervasi previously co-wrote the queer-themed comedy "The Big Tease". Co-star Diego Luna appeared in "Before Night Falls".)
From Jean-Jacques Annaud, director of 1988's highly-praised "The Bear", comes this tale of tiger cubs whose lives take very different turns on the road to freedom in the wild kingdom. When their father is shot by big-game hunter Aiden McRory (Guy Pearce) and their mother is captured, one of the adorable cubs ends up in a circus performing tricks while the other fights for sport in a royal menagerie. Eventually the brothers are reunited and must band together to escape the horrors of life in captivity. When Annaud's cameras are aimed at the beautiful four-legged creatures, the film soars. But unlike "The Bear", this film's plot necessarily includes humans, whose charms are considerably less evident than those of their four-legged co-stars. And when the two-footers dominate the action, the movie becomes a tiger-less tease.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 1 (Pearce starred in "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert".)
To catch a kidnapper, African-American sibling FBI agents Marcus (Marlon Wayans) and Kevin Copeland (Shawn Wayans) must go undercover as two young, white, shallow heiresses. Now, for the sake of argument, pretend for a moment that two men wearing ghostly white latex masks and fake breasts resemble anything more than scary Halloween party-level drag queens. Pretend that they're able to fool every other character in the film into buying that they're the "Wilson" (as in Hilton) sisters, two young women whose looks are, presumably, known to all. Even with that bit of disbelief suspended, this comedy fails because it's simply full of worn-out, race-related humor - white people like fancy piano music! black people like rap! - and nothing else to fill the dead space. Those responsible for this cinematic atrocity shouldn't show their real faces for a while either.
Grade: F Kinsey Scale: 2 (Director Keenen Ivory Wayans helmed "Scary Movie", which featured a gay plot thread involving Shawn Wayans as a sexually ambiguous young man who meets his end after being stabbed in the head with an erect penis. Nothing quite so bawdy or bold happens here. It's a straight drag comedy with the requisite sprinkling of harmless homosexual panic throughout, but it's neither funny nor offensive. Marlon Wayans, on the other hand, co-starred in 1992's decidedly homophobic "Mo' Money".)