Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore) is a poor boy who dreams of finding a gold ticket in a bar of Wonka chocolate. When he becomes the fifth child in the world to do so, Charlie earns the right to enter Willy Wonka’s (Johnny Depp) factory for a bizarre tour, along with the other four winners, who are all spoiled brats. Once inside, the badly behaved kids are the victims of elaborate, and deserved, comeuppances, while the oddball Wonka looks on, dismissive and amused at the same time. This is a respectful, energetic, and visually spectacular remake, and Depp’s stubbornly bizarre take on the character of Wonka makes Gene Wilder’s 1971 performance seem downright cuddly. That resolute weirdness may unsettle parents, but kids – whose tolerance for the bizarre usually outpaces that of adults – will understand that it’s all part of the strange candy-centric fun.
Grade: A- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Johnny Depp played transvestite director Ed Wood in “Ed Wood” and a transgendered Cuban convict in “Before Night Falls.”)
In this ensemble comedy, the lives of 10 characters – some gay, some straight – intersect. Formerly incestuous stepsiblings Charlie (Steve Coogan) and Mamie (Lisa Kudrow) revisit their past when a young man (Jesse Bradford) arrives with information about the son they gave up for adoption. Meanwhile, Charlie and Mamie are involved in complicated adult relationships – Charlie with a male lover (David Sutcliffe) and Mamie with an opportunistic masseur (Bobby Cannavale). Also in the mix are a free-spirited woman (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who attempts to bed an older man (Tom Arnold) after seducing his gay son (Jason Ritter). What’s it all mean? That life is messy, of course. But then so is this movie, unable to balance the multiple plotlines and characters. What keeps it all afloat is director Don Roos’ bitingly funny dialogue – see it for that alone.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 5 (Gay writer-director Roos’ 1998 debut feature, “The Opposite of Sex,” also explored the lives of an ensemble of gay and straight characters. Kudrow starred in it, as did co-star Johnny Galecki, who played a gay teenager. Kudrow has other queer-related credits, as do co-stars Bradford, Cannavale, Sutcliffe, Arnold, and Laura Dern, some of whom have played gay multiple times.)
Picking up women at strangers’ weddings is the favorite sport of lifelong pals John (Owen Wilson) and Jeremy (Vince Vaughn). An elaborate set of rules ensures sex with no strings, but John throws out the rulebook when he falls for comely bridesmaid Claire (Rachel McAdams), leaving a steamed Jeremy to fend off the advances of her voracious sister (Isla Fisher) and neurotic brother (Keir O’Donnell). Though it boasts a terrific supporting cast, including Christopher Walken as Claire’s imposing father, this brash, bawdy, quasi-romantic screwball comedy belongs to its stars. Humor that revels in vulgarity and political incorrectness might fall flat in less gifted hands, but Wilson’s dippy, stoner charm combined with Vaughn’s fast-talking, reptilian bonhomie creates an alchemy of hilarity that is impossible to resist.
Grade: B+ Kinsey Scale: 2 (There is a distinct homoerotic vibe between John and Jeremy, which the movie studiously avoids exploring. Among Todd’s crosses to bear is a homophobic grandmother who enjoys baiting her family by railing against both her grandson and Eleanor Roosevelt at dinner. Wilson, Vaughn, and co-star Will Ferrell first appeared together in the metrosexual comedy “Zoolander.” Walken played a gay theater critic in “Illuminata” and also had roles in “The Stepford Wives” and the lesbian-themed “Wild Side.”)
After witnessing his parents’ murders, billionaire Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) leaves Gotham City seeking to acquire the means to fight injustice. A vigilante society, the League of Shadows, recruits him as a member, but he rejects their nihilistic approach to crime fighting. Instead, he returns home and dons the bat suit, vowing to clean up Gotham and keep the city safe. Director Christopher Nolan re-invigorates this superhero franchise with a smart hybrid of brooding psychological drama and dazzling adventure, filling the screen with spectacular sets, awesome CGI, fantastic gadgets, and plenty of larger-than-life action sequences. Bale’s sensitive performance and a superior screenplay that emphasizes character and suspense ensure that this drama, so rooted in comic books, never crosses the line to become a live-action cartoon.
Grade: A- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Bale played a queer rock fan in Todd Haynes’ “Velvet Goldmine.” Co-stars Katie Holmes, Liam Neeson, Michael Caine, Linus Roache, Tom Wilkinson, and Gary Oldman have all appeared in gay-themed films.)
Hollywood has-been Jack Wyatt (Will Ferrell) hopes to rescue his career by starring as the guy who marries a witch in a retooled “Bewitched” sitcom. When he spots Isabel Bigelow (Nicole Kidman) adorably twitching her nose, he thinks he’s found his perfect TV wife, but their relationship turns rocky when he discovers she really is a witch. Director Nora Ephron performs quite a trick with this lame romantic comedy, as she takes funnyman Ferrell and a talented cast of comedians and renders them unfunny. Even more painful is the complete lack of chemistry between the leads and Kidman’s nausea-inducing turn as the baby-voiced, kittenish, and clueless Isabel. With its precious few laughs and complete lack of magic, this movie is hardly bewitching – more like disenchanting.
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 2 (Lesbian actress Agnes Moorehead and gay comedian Paul Lynde appear in clips from the real TV series, a queer favorite. Actor Steve Carell channels Lynde in a fantasy sequence. Kidman, Ferrell, and co-stars Shirley MacLaine, Michael Caine, Stephen Colbert, Richard Kind, and Amy Sedaris have either appeared in queer-themed or queer-friendly projects.)
At the height of the Great Depression, journeyman boxer Jim Braddock (Russell Crowe) re-enters the ring to put food on the table for his wife (Renee Zellweger) and kids. His unexpected win against a legitimate contender begins a fairy-tale run culminating in a heavyweight-title fight against fearsome Max Baer (Craig Bierko). Ron Howard’s biopic is strictly hagiography, as he transforms Braddock into a bland paragon of virtue. Crowe, sporting a bad dye job and an uncertain New Jersey accent, struggles to inject life into a role that he is both too old and too scrawny to play effectively. Although it is a handsomely mounted production, there is a sameness to the overlong boxing sequences that renders them dull, while Braddock’s story becomes mired in pointless and lengthy exposition.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 1 (Crowe played gay in the Aussie comedy “The Sum of Us,” and was suggestively bisexual in “A Beautiful Mind,” also directed by Howard. Bierko appeared in “Johns.”)
A slum apartment on New York’s Roosevelt Island becomes the new home for recently separated Dahlia (Jennifer Connolly) and her young daughter, Ceci (Ariel Gade). The ceiling leaks, faucets spew black sludge, nightmares plague Dahlia, and Ceci’s new invisible friend curiously shares the same name as a missing neighbor. This cheesy horror movie offers few scares, but plenty of unintentional laughs, only partially offset by bright supporting turns from John C. Reilly as a sleazy realtor and Tim Roth as Dahlia’s concerned lawyer. The plot machinations are simply ridiculous, and Roosevelt Island’s concrete canyons may be depressing, but they won’t scare anybody. Connolly’s limp performance ensures that Dahlia is about as compelling as a wet dishrag, while bratty, precocious Gade is one annoying child actor.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 1 (No queer content here at all, but Connolly, Reilly, Roth, and co-stars Dougray Scott, Camryn Manheim, Debra Monk, Linda Emond, and Bill Buell have all appeared in gay-themed films.)
A cosmic storm alters the DNA of four scientists and their benefactor, Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon). While team leader Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) tries to figure out how to undo the transformations that have rendered them all superpower-endowed mutants, an embittered Von Doom plots to destroy the quartet. This comic-book-inspired summer blockbuster wanna-be can never decide whether it’s an action movie or a melodrama. Adrenalin-pumped, well-staged action sequences – such as one where the Brooklyn Bridge is nearly destroyed – alternate with lame scenes, better suited to a soap opera, of Richards and ex-girlfriend Sue Storm (Jessica Alba) endlessly discussing their feelings. Special effects and mutant makeup are impressive, but the cast – except for the lively McMahon – is more forgettable than fantastic.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 1 (In one scene, Richards extols Von Doom’s virtues to the point where his friend Ben – played by Michael Chiklis – says, “Maybe you should date him then.” Gruffudd appeared in “Wilde,” while co-star Kerry Washington was in Spike Lee’s lesbian-themed drama, “She Hate Me.”)
Herbie: Fully Loaded
Maggie (Lindsay Lohan) finds a beat-up vintage Volkswagen at a junkyard, unaware that she’s discovered the formerly famous Number 53 Herbie. When the all-but-human auto takes Maggie for a few joyrides, she realizes that she could continue her father’s (Michael Keaton) NASCAR-winning legacy behind Herbie’s wheel. This is a G-rated Disney comedy, so naturally there’s a benign bad guy (Matt Dillon) who’s out to ruin the fun, but who doesn’t stand a chance when faced with the wholesome goodness and mischief that Herbie has up his sleeve, er…exhaust pipe. Lohan may be a tabloid fixture these days, but that won’t matter to the target audience – it’s a sweet, likable family movie the elementary school crowd will adore. And their parents won’t feel run over by it, either.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 1 (This is lesbian director Angela Robinson’s second feature. Co-screenwriter Thomas Lennon plays gay police officer Dangle on Comedy Central’s “Reno 911.” Co-star Breckin Meyer was in “54,” and co-star Jill Ritchie was in Robinson’s first feature, “D.E.B.S.”)
The Longest Yard
After violating his probation for taking part in a point-shaving scheme, NFL quarterback Paul Crewe (Adam Sandler) winds up in a Texas prison. Once inside, he and an inmate known as Caretaker (Chris Rock) recruit other prisoners for a practice game against the prison-guard football team. Crewe sees it as a way to redeem himself; the other inmates just want to pummel the guards. Burt Reynolds appears in this unnecessary but surprisingly faithful and funny remake of the original 1974 film, in which he starred as Crewe. Newcomers like rapper Nelly and wrestler Bill Goldberg round out the ensemble cast. Attempts to satirize media fascination with the exhibition game (ESPN obtains the broadcast rights) fall flat, but that doesn’t get in the way of the overall fun, even if sports movies are last on your “to see” list.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 2 (This movie combines two gay male fantasies – jocks and prison – so it would automatically be homoerotic even without the beefcake presence of Goldberg and Nelly, not to mention wrestler Steve Austin and former NFL player Brian Bosworth. “Saturday Night Live”‘s Tracy Morgan co-stars as a transgendered prisoner, and some innocuous – but still tired – gay prison-sex humor is present, too. “Six Feet Under”‘s James Cromwell co-stars as the warden.)
After rebellious penguins foment an abortive escape attempt, the Central Park Zoo reacts by sending the offending animals to a Kenyan wildlife preserve, but a detour lands them on Madagascar. Marty (Chris Rock), a zebra who has long romanticized the wild, is overjoyed – until he gets a taste for what the wild is really like when his starving lion buddy Alex’s (Ben Stiller) appetite for zebra kicks in. This hilarious cartoon feature scores with eye-popping, state-of-the-art computer animation; a story that satirizes the anthropomorphic cliches associated with both zoo and wild animals; and flurries of smart, pop-culture-inspired jokes. Funniest of all are the supporting characters – hypochondriac giraffe Melman (David Schwimmer), a pair of erudite monkeys, and especially the determined rogue penguins. Pure genius.
Grade: A Kinsey Scale: 1 (When none of the zoo animals eat the native lemurs, the lemur king pronounces them “pansies.” Stiller wrote, directed, and starred in the metrosexual comedy “Zoolander,” while co-star Jada Pinkett-Smith appeared in the lesbian-themed “Set It Off.” Schwimmer’s character Ross on “Friends” had a lesbian ex-wife.)
March of the Penguins
The penguins of Antarctica are a tough bunch, as evidenced in this gorgeously shot, sometimes majestically moving, and sometimes inappropriately anthropomorphic and melodramatic documentary. Narrated by Morgan Freeman, doing his best Voice of All Wisdom, the story involves the mating rituals and baby-making habits of the birds – with just a touch too much “Circle Of Life” horror when hungry seals make their entrance. But it’s as stunning to look at as the last crowd-pleasing bird doc, “Winged Migration,” and just as emotionally compelling. Penguins, after all, make up in adorability what they lack in flying skills, so audiences will find they’re already on the side of these plucky yet frozen creatures, who maintain a kind of gorgeous dignity even sub-zero temperatures can’t shake.
Grade: A- Kinsey Scale: 1 (The already-documented same-sex mating behavior exhibited by some penguins isn’t gone into here, but the interesting gender-role switch that occurs once eggs are laid is. The male penguin makes the nest and tends to the egg after the female produces it. Meanwhile, she goes off in search of food.)
Mr. & Mrs. Smith
Mr. Smith (Brad Pitt) and Mrs. Smith (Angelina Jolie) are married assassins for rival covert agencies. The catch: Neither one knows the other’s true identity. When the truth comes out and they’re assigned to terminate each other, their strained, chilly marriage becomes a literal battleground. The movie’s gleaming production values and the gorgeous stars’ crackling erotic chemistry softens the ensuing domestic violence – which involves flamethrowers and high-speed, gunplay-riddled car chases, by the way, so any complaints about its possible effect on the real-life social problem of partner abuse are pretty much irrelevant. Add in cartoonish knife-fights, comically brutal martial arts, and sassy dialogue and you’ve got a fast-paced and fun fantasy battle of the sexes where everyone comes out smiling.
Grade: A- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Jolie is openly bisexual and played a lesbian in “Gia.” Pitt starred in the gay-ish “Interview with a Vampire.”)
Roy McCormick (Martin Lawrence) is a college basketball coach with an anger management problem. When he’s fired from his job, his only option is to coach middle school kids. Naturally, this “Bad News Bears” bunch is clumsy and talentless. But with Lawrence’s unorthodox, cranky coaching style and the addition of a talented bruiser of a girl team member, the bumbling squad becomes a well-oiled hoops machine. This family comedy is a ramshackle collection of movie plot references, relying on material lifted from numerous other kid-oriented sports films. It’s a formula that succeeds, if only because there are always new kids born who don’t know they’re being hustled by Hollywood’s plot-recycling program. But that doesn’t make the movie funny, and as comedy it deserves to be benched.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Among the co-stars, Megan Mullally is bisexual and stars on “Will & Grace”; Breckin Meyer was in “54”; and Horatio Sanz had a cameo in “Boat Trip” and regularly impersonates Elton John on “Saturday Night Live.” Comedian Laura Kightlinger appears as a repo woman, but her day job is as consulting producer and writer for “Will & Grace.”)
Star Wars: Episode III – The Revenge of the Sith
Kindly Jedi knight Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) trained his apprentice, Annakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), to be a force for good, only to see his young charge move inexorably toward the dark side. But Skywalker’s transformation into evil Darth Vader will not be complete until he meets his former mentor for one last fiery showdown. George Lucas’ six-part space opera ends in an impressive orgy of the best special effects and CGI that technology has to offer. The acting, even by the normally dependable McGregor, is wooden and the dialogue is moronic, but the spectacle is astounding. The dazzle will no doubt satisfy hardcore fans, but the less devoted may well resent the nagging feeling of being trapped inside a video game.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 1 (McGregor has appeared in both gay and bisexual roles. James Earl Jones – the voice of Darth Vader – appeared on an episode of “Will & Grace,” while Frank Oz – the voice of Yoda – directed “In & Out.”)
War of the Worlds
A sudden, thunder-less lightning storm signals an alien invasion, and giant, roving machines simultaneously emerge from underground, vaporizing or eating everyone in their paths. For divorced dad Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise), the war is personal as he struggles to protect surly teenage son Robbie (Justin Chatwin) and young daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning). Imaginative special effects and John Williams’ thundering score abet director Steven Spielberg in creating a real sense of dread in this loose adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel. Sadly, it all falls apart, thanks to a denouement that’s downright silly and three whiny main characters who invite more derision than sympathy. Spielberg further blows it by directing Fanning to shriek constantly at eardrum-threatening levels – and her shrill voice is far scarier than any man-eating extraterrestrial.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Fanning once played Ellen DeGeneres as a child on “The Ellen Show.” Co-stars Tim Robbins, Miranda Otto, Daniel Franzese, and Rick Gonzalez have all either played gay characters or appeared in queer-themed films. Screenwriter David Koepp co-wrote the homoerotic thriller “Apartment Zero.”)