After the Sunset
Max (Pierce Brosnan) and Lola (Salma Hayek) are master thieves who like to steal expensive diamonds. After their final big heist, during which they are nearly captured by FBI guy Stan (Woody Harrelson), they retire to the islands and spend a lot of time getting undressed for each other. Then, coaxed into one last job, the pair once again run into Stan, who’s finally caught up with them, determined to bag his prey. This is a heist movie that wants to be sexy, sleek, and sophisticated, but ends up being uninspired, overlong, lazily plotted, and dull. Director Brett Ratner doesn’t care about making his thieves roguishly likable or human; their bland moves are stolen without inspiration from the history of cinematic capers. It’s more than just disappointing that two sexy leads can’t create any sort of screen sizzle – it’s something approaching criminal.
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 1 (There’s unexplained homosexual panic in a couple of scenes between Harrelson and Brosnan, who wind up sleeping in the same bed and, in another scene, have to – ew! – apply sunscreen to each other. It’s all played for laughs, but the inept storytelling makes it impossible to determine what’s really being laughed at – the characters’ own stupid homophobia or homosexuality itself. Meanwhile, Hayek – who played bisexual artist Frida Kahlo in “Frida” – should turn more than a few lesbian heads with her heaving cleavage, which threatens to burst out of her bra at every turn. Troy Garrity (“A Soldier’s Girl”) has a small part as a somewhat gay-acting bartender.)
Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason
Perky Bridget Jones (Renee Zellweger) has long been one of love’s losers, but she’s finally found her soul mate in staid but sexy lawyer Mark Darcy (Colin Firth). That is, if her jealousy over his comely new colleague, Rebecca (Jacinda Barrett), doesn’t tear them apart and send Bridget back into the arms of her womanizing ex-beau, Daniel (Hugh Grant). This sequel begins six weeks after the popular “Bridget Jones’s Diary” ended and simply recycles much of the original’s plot, throwing in a cocaine bust and an unrequited crush for fresh color. The game cast charms, which makes the long stretches of tedium bearable, but there’s still plenty of time to ponder why this shallow, date- and weight-obsessed ditz should be a heroine for our age.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 2 (Bridget has a new admirer in a fetching lesbian, and she still counts among her Greek chorus of friends an apparently neutered gay man. Firth, Grant, and co-star Gemma Jones have all appeared in queer-themed movies.)
Brother to Brother
After Perry (Anthony Mackie), an African-American art student, gets caught in bed with another young man, his parents throw him out. Working at a homeless shelter, he befriends a mysterious elderly man (Roger Robinson), who claims to be Bruce Nugent, a gay artist of the Harlem Renaissance. The movie weaves together their developing friendship with Nugent’s memories of his chosen family, including writers Langston Hughes (Daniel Sunjata) and Wallace Thurman (Ray Ford). The captivating story of Harlem in the ’20s, beautifully filmed in black and white, preoccupies writer/director Rodney Evans and overshadows Perry’s personal struggles, which are never resolved. Also, viewers may find it distracting that Nugent (1906-1987) couldn’t really be alive today. But despite its flaws, the film is a passionate homage to black gay men’s rich artistic heritage.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 6 (Writer/director Evans is gay, and most of the main characters, present and past, are queer and dealing with issues like homophobia and the racism of white gay men. In addition, Mackie co-starred in “She Hate Me,” and Duane Boutte, who plays the young Nugent, appeared in “Stonewall.”)
Having grown up in a sexually repressed household, Alfred Kinsey (Liam Neeson) is clueless in his approach to intercourse on his wedding night with his beloved Clara (Laura Linney). Inspired by his own initial difficulties, this anthropologist of gull-wing wasps goes on to undertake the first major study of American sexuality, revelatory findings that still reverberate today. This engrossing, literate biopic tracks Kinsey’s personal life and professional growth, offering a window into his research methods and the controversy that nearly destroyed him. This is that rare film that satisfies as drama, history lesson, and romance, as writer/director Bill Condon artfully re-creates an era and its mindset. The performances are nothing short of magnificent, led by Neeson’s indelible turn as the naively determined researcher.
Grade: A Kinsey Scale: 4 (The film explores Kinsey’s bisexuality, offers a glimpse at World War II-era gay Chicago, and features a heartfelt testimonial from a gay character to Kinsey thanking him for his life-altering research. Condon is openly gay and previously made the queer-themed “Gods and Monsters,” and worked on the screenplay for “Chicago.” Supporting actors with gay material on their resumes include Lynn Redgrave, Peter Sarsgaard, Tim Curry, John Lithgow, Dylan Baker, Veronica Cartwright, and Kathleen Chalfant.)
The Polar Express
When a nameless young boy (voiced by Daryl Sabara and acted by Tom Hanks in a digital “motion capture” performance) on the verge of chucking his belief in Santa is awakened on Christmas Eve by a huge train that beckons him to hop aboard for adventure, he obeys and embarks on a strangely emotionless odyssey to the North Pole. Visually, his journey is a swirl of computer-generated marvels, but as a story it’s a series of brushes with danger that have very little to do with supporting the film’s thesis – that human beings must love their friends, have courage, and retain their sense of wonder and belief in, well, Santa Claus. Small children will enjoy the movie, and Hanks is impressive as multiple characters, but this holiday treat is more technical achievement than heartwarming tale. And who decided, in a Christmas movie, to make all the elves Jewish?
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 1 (The late gay actor Michael Jeter, to whom the film is dedicated, plays two characters here. Hanks won an Oscar for playing gay in “Philadelphia” and got his start in drag on TV’s “Bosom Buddies.” Peter Scolari, Hanks’ “Buddies” co-star, appears here as “Lonely Boy.”)
By day, Alfie (Jude Law) chauffeurs Manhattan’s elite, but by night he “is” the elite – a sought-after bachelor whose many conquests include a wealthy older woman (Susan Sarandon) and his best friend’s girlfriend (Nia Long). Alfie pleads his case directly to the camera, insisting that he’s living the high life despite evidence to the contrary. This remake of the iconic ’60s comedy-drama is at its best during these intimate confessionals, as the beautiful, vacuous Alfie proves a charming, if self-deceiving raconteur. Attempts to update the story with such modern additions as erectile dysfunction can’t obscure the fact that this tale of a lascivious Lothario seems antique in our post-“Sex and the City” world, in which few women still see themselves as men’s passive playthings.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 1 (With his attention to dress and grooming, this Alfie is definitely a metrosexual. Law played gay characters in “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” and “Wilde,” and was the object of Matt Damon’s desire in “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” Sarandon starred in queer favorites “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and “Thelma and Louise.” Co-star Gedde Watanabe has a recurring role as a gay nurse on E.R., while co-star Dick LaTessa won a Tony for his performance in “Hairspray” and co-starred in the AIDS drama “The Event.”)
Anna (Nicole Kidman) has been widowed 10 years and is preparing to marry a new man (Danny Huston) when a solemn-faced 10-year-old boy arrives at her door, lets himself in, and announces that he is the reincarnation of her dead husband. Anna’s disbelief gives way to reopened grief, curiosity about the boy’s true identity, and aggravated misgivings about her impending nuptials. It’s a ridiculous premise, yet the film successfully avoids becoming a dopey supernatural thriller with its steadily dark, moody tone, starkly colorless cinematography, and a stunning, muted performance by Kidman as a woman spiraling into a “Vertigo”-esque obsession with a preadolescent (but unsettlingly manly) boy. There’s a real-world mystery to be unraveled here, but the answers are less important than the mournful questions the film’s impossible relationship opens in its main character’s life.
Grade: A- Kinsey Scale: 1 (There’s no queer content, but Kidman played Virginia Woolf in the lesbian-themed “The Hours,” and co-star Anne Heche is openly bisexual.)
Friday Night Lights
Football is serious business in Odessa, Texas, so the townsfolk let Coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) know that his job depends on his Permian High Panthers winning the state championship. That goal becomes tougher when star running back Boobie Miles (Derek Luke) blows out his knee. This drama is allegedly based on the real-life Panthers’ almost-Cinderella 1988 season, but the characters are stock sports caricatures lost in a field of gridiron cliches. Director Peter Berg tries to add verisimilitude with a documentary shooting style, but his staccato editing leads the film to frequently resemble a commercial for “Monday Night Football.” Hardcore football fans will revel in the on-field action, while everyone else will wonder why anyone should care about Gaines or his team.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 0 (Co-star Connie Britton guest-starred in several episodes of Ellen DeGeneres’ groundbreaking sitcom.)
Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar), an American living in Japan who finds herself in a house where a long-ago murder-suicide took place, soon begins experiencing horrifying visions. Her fear only increases when police detective Nakagawa (Ryo Ishibashi) explains that, according to legend, the house is cursed and so are all who enter it. “Ju-On,” the popular Japanese horror film series that inspired this Americanized version, is rumored to be truly terrifying; but though this shares the same director, it lacks genuine thrills. Too much exposition bogs down the plot, but more than that, a demon who phones her victims and even rings their doorbells is downright comical. The scares are minimal, but there are plenty of unintentional laughs in this supremely silly shocker wanna-be.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 1 (Gellar starred in the queer-inclusive “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and had a sapphic moment in “Cruel Intentions.” Co-star Grace Zabriskie was in “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues,” while co-star Clea DuVall played a lesbian in “But I’m a Cheerleader.”)
Too many lawsuits spell the end of superheroes, exiling Bob Parr (Craig T. Nelson), aka Mr. Incredible, and wife Helen (Holly Hunter), aka Elastigirl, to life in the suburbs, where Bob works in insurance while Helen raises the kids. Frustrated by his empty life, Bob happily dons his old tights when a mysterious stranger seeks his services, and soon the whole family is pulled into the adventure. This frequently hilarious Disney/Pixar cartoon is best in its first half, where it gleefully lampoons pop culture and frivolous lawsuits, before it settles into a so-so James Bond-type parody. With plenty of gunplay and explosions, this is a family comedy with an edge that never quite conceals its conservative message trumpeting traditional nuclear family values.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 1 (On the small screen, Hunter played Billie Jean King in “When Billie Beat Bobbie” and Norma McCorvey in “Roe v. Wade.” Co-star Wallace Shawn appeared in the gay drama “Prick Up Your Ears,” while co-star Jason Lee was in the straight man’s lesbian-fantasy drama “Chasing Amy.”)
Firefighter Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix) has fallen and can’t get up. As he lies on the cement floor of a burning warehouse, trapped by the flames, his life literally passes before his eyes in this sentimental drama in which easy emotions are tapped at regular intervals. Flashbacks tell the 10-year story of Jack’s experience as a rookie in a company with a stoic yet kind and wise chief (John Travolta); they also reveal details of his marriage, children, injuries, doubts, and close calls with death. In the end, the audience is left with a simplistic account of heroism instead of a complex view of human reality. The movie is well-meaning and inoffensive enough, and the fiery action sequences are palm-sweat-inducing; but the bland attempts to lionize all firefighters as noble gods make for a film that never reaches the top rungs.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (A gay prank is played on one of the firefighters, but any possible homophobic edges have been sanded off, in keeping with the middle-of-the-road nature of the film. Phoenix worked with gay director Gus Van Sant on “To Die For.”)
This epic biopic traces singer Ray Charles’ (Jamie Foxx) life from a childhood of grinding poverty – during which he lost both his younger brother and his sight – to his first two decades of stardom. Screenwriter James L. White and director Taylor Hackford take a warts-and-all approach to Charles’ life, so that while the drama presents the many ways that Charles revolutionized popular music under the shadow of Jim Crow, it also spends an inordinate amount of time on his drug addiction and womanizing. The story occasionally bogs down in a morass of show-biz cliches, but remains a powerful testament to a formidable talent, thanks to Foxx’s transcendent performance, in which he seems to inhabit the singer-musician’s very soul, and a soundtrack resplendent with Charles’ awesome music.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 0 (Co-star Kerry Washington played a lesbian in Spike Lee’s “She Hate Me.”)
Two men, a doctor (Cary Elwes) and a photographer (Leigh Whannell), wake up in a grimy underground restroom, chained to pipes, a dead man lying on the floor between them. A tape recorder in the dead man’s hand explains that the doctor must kill his cell-mate in order to save not only his own life but the lives of his wife (Monica Potter) and child (Makenzie Vega). This grisly, violent film has a few cracks in its armor: bad acting all around, implausible plot mechanics, and dialogue that’s a little too in love with itself. However, it “is” a horror movie, a genre in which these flaws are most often forgiven. And on the other end of the scale is a twisting and turning plot, plus intensely frightening imagery and a no-way-out quality that keeps the gruesome action suspenseful until the last chilling frame. Expect to sleep with the lights on.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (No queer content. Elwes starred in “Another Country” at the outset of his career, and character actor Michael Emerson – who has a small, pivotal role as a hospital employee – was seen in “The Laramie Project.”)
Shall We Dance?
John Clark (Richard Gere), a suburban guy facing a midlife crisis, stumbles into a ballroom dance studio after cruising its beautiful dance instructor (Jennifer Lopez) from his window on the commuter train. He begins lessons, but not an affair, still keeping his dancing life a secret from his loving wife (Susan Sarandon). When ballroom competition calls, however, the truth is revealed, and the rest of the story is exactly the sort of affirmation of middle-aged love and family life one might expect from a movie in which the home furnishings are as polished and attractive as the lead actors. Yes, it’s dopey and predictable, and neither the performances nor the dancing are going to set anyone’s world on fire. But the movie effectively hits all the old-fashioned marks that undemanding, crowd-pleasing romances are supposed to, without tripping over its own feet too much.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Bobby Cannavale plays a closeted dance stud who talks a little too much about how straight he is. Gere played gay in “And the Band Played On,” and has appeared in queer-inclusive films like “Chicago,” “Dr. T & the Women,” and “American Gigolo.” Sarandon famously made love with Catherine Deneuve in “The Hunger,” and appeared in queer audience favorites “Thelma & Louise” and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Lopez played a team-switching lesbian in “Gigli” and guest-starred on “Will & Grace.”)
Great white mobster Don Lino (Robert DeNiro) sends his sons out into the ocean so that older son Frankie (Michael Imperioli) can teach timid Lenny (Jack Black) how to be a proper shark. But an anchor lands on Frankie’s head, leaving Lenny too fearful to go home, while opportunistic fish Oscar (Will Smith) becomes a local hero by claiming to have slain the shark. This pallid cartoon’s idea of being clever is to re-create Times Square on the ocean floor, but the animation is just so-so, with only Don Lino, Lenny, and puffer fish Sykes (Martin Scorsese) having any personality. Aquatic creatures spouting old movie cliches is amusing for about five minutes, and the story is so thin as to be practically nonexistent.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 2 (Lenny’s situation could be a gay metaphor – he lives in the closet, afraid to reveal to his family that he’s a vegetarian, and he cross-dresses as a dolphin. Smith, Imperioli, and bisexual co-star Angelina Jolie have all appeared in queer-themed films.)
Ned Kynaston (Billy Crudup) is the last of the female-impersonating actors during the 17th-century reign of Charles II (Rupert Everett), and Maria Hughes (Claire Danes) is his dresser. Maria’s desire is to act on stage, too, even though women aren’t allowed to. And if that plot is ringing a few “Shakespeare in Love” bells, well, it should. But this clunky bit of revisionist history wants more than love: while depicting Maria’s ascent and Ned’s demise, the movie tries to re-imagine both the history of feminism and the history of theater, to play the entire field of human sexuality, and, most importantly, to give the audience a happy hetero ending. The costumes are great; British character actors in small roles make up the brightest moments; and Crudup is interesting to watch as a fancy lady. But in the end, this “Beauty” is only skin deep.
Grade: C+ Kinsey Scale: 5 (Kynaston’s sexuality is fluid throughout, but his true happiness comes when he finally hooks up with Maria. In real life things do go that way sometimes, but in a film it smells more than a little like moralism and gender rigidity. Ben Chaplin plays Crudup’s lover, and there are flamboyantly gay characters peppered throughout. The out Everett has played gay several times onscreen, and Danes got her start on the TV show “My So-Called Life,” which featured a gay teenage character in its ensemble.)
Rich, shallow ad exec Drew Latham (Ben Affleck), dumped by his girlfriend close to the holidays, decides to return to his childhood home and offer the people living there $250,000 to give him the traditional Christmas he’s never known. One problem: the members of the Valco family (James Gandolfini, Catherine O’Hara, Christina Applegate) are in no mood to provide anyone with familial warmth, and their brittle, dark sarcasm mixed with Drew’s stubbornly cheery demands insures a dysfunctional Christmas for everyone. And like the characters, the film itself is of two minds about what kind of holiday movie it wants to be – a sardonic, witty black comedy about people who can’t love, or a fuzzy feel-gooder that forces its characters and the audience into fake heartwarming moments. Fortunately, the genuinely funny moments trump the embarrassing sentiment, making for a mostly satisfying and snarky holiday treat.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (There’s one shot of a snuggling gay couple through an apartment window, and veteran gay character actor Udo Kier – who’s been in everything from “Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein” to “Armageddon” – shows up as an implicitly homosexual Eurotrash photographer. O’Hara appeared in the gay-inclusive comedies “Best in Show” and “Waiting for Guffman,” and Gandolfini played a gay hit man in “The Mexican.”)
New York police detective Washburn (Jimmy Fallon) loses his driver’s license, so when he gets a report of a bank robbery in progress, he flags down Belle’s (Queen Latifah) tricked-out, turbo-charged taxi. The chase goes awry, putting Belle’s nascent cab-driving career and Washburn’s badge in jeopardy, unless they can somehow catch the thieves. For all the time the characters spend in cars, this stalled comedy goes nowhere fast. Endless car chases, some fine stunt driving, and a handful of carefully choreographed accidents are designed to please NASCAR fans, but the humor falls as flat as a punctured tire. Nonstop cracks about someone’s bad driving simply aren’t funny, although at least they aren’t as tasteless as the jokes about Washburn’s lush of a mother (Ann-Margret).
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 1 (There is a very brief, hot scene of supermodel Giselle Bundchen, one of the bank robbers, giving a very intimate pat-down to her policewoman hostage, played by Jennifer Esposito. Latifah played a lesbian in “Set It Off” and a butch jail matron in “Chicago.”)
Team America: World Police
When terrorists get their hands on weapons of mass destruction, it’s up to a squad of undercover commandos to save the world in this irreverent all-puppet comedy from Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of “South Park.” Following in the footsteps of both the TV series “Thunderbirds” and countless cheesy action movies, this satire of international political crises features puppets blowing things up, being mutilated, having sex, and – in one extended gross-out sequence – vomiting for a really long time. In the process, world leaders and celebrities get skewered, dumb action films get the drubbing they deserve, and neither left nor right political affiliations escape being mocked. It’s laugh-out loud funny, if not up to the level of blisteringly shocking hilarity that was “South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut.” But in these dangerous times, be grateful for what you get.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 3 (The gay jokes don’t stop here, which is typical of Parker and Stone’s take-no-prisoners style. Their version of being gay-friendly involves crude gay sex humor, male puppets performing oral sex on each other, and use of the word “fag.” It’s all meant to be funny, but gay audiences not comfortable with such across-the-board mockery should be forewarned. Gay composer Marc Shaiman – of “Hairspray” and the “South Park” film – wrote several of the musical numbers here, including the “Rent”-inspired parody, “Everyone Has AIDS.”)