An Unfinished Life
Twelve years ago, Jean Gilkyson (Jennifer Lopez) was driving the car when an accident took her husband’s life. Her father-in-law, Einar (Robert Redford), never forgave her. But when she turns up on his doorstep, his 12-year-old granddaughter in tow, both of them on the run from Jean’s abusive boyfriend, he takes her in. Together with Einar’s friend Mitch (Morgan Freeman), they begin to form a makeshift family, and old wounds and grief slowly heal. In fact, everything in this film is slow; and that pace, along with a somber tone, gives it a weight and a sense of its own importance that it doesn’t really deserve. It’s a by-the-numbers, middlebrow retread of a family drama about forgiveness and liberation that doesn’t earn the tears it wants the audience to shed – and that’s something to “really” cry about.
Kinsey Scale: 1 (In one scene, Lopez mistakes Redford and Freeman for lovers. Lopez played gay in “Gigli.” Co-star Camryn Manheim was in “The Laramie Project” and “Jeffrey.”)
The Exorcism of Emily Rose
Rising lawyer Erin Bruner (Laura Linney) takes on a controversial homicide case defending a Catholic priest (Tom Wilkinson) charged with the death of a 19-year-old woman named Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter). The defense? That Emily was not mentally ill and/or epileptic, but was instead possessed by a demon and died as a result. Their difficult task is to prove what can’t be seen, and during the course of the trial, flashbacks tell both possible sides of the creepy story. It’s a somber courtroom drama and a supernatural shockfest wrapped up into one conflicted movie that doesn’t fully succeed in having its devil’s-food cake and eating it, too. But the moments devoted to Emily’s chilling descent into hell provide the kind of effectively unsettling horror that will make audiences sleep with the lights on afterward.
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Jennifer Carpenter was in “D.E.B.S..” Linney starred in “Kinsey,” the “Tales of the City” movies, and “The Laramie Project.” Wilkinson played a transsexual in “Normal,” while co-star Campbell Scott starred in “Longtime Companion.”)
Special Agent Derrick Vann (Samuel L. Jackson) is out to get the criminals who killed his partner. While Vann is setting up an undercover sting, dental-equipment salesman Andy Fidler (Eugene Levy) gets in the way and is involved against his will. From that moment on, there’s no room for serious scrutiny of the plot, because the plot is not important. The “chemistry” between Levy and Jackson, built on the pair behaving as audiences expect them to, is supposed to carry the movie – Jackson is the street tough who barks “Shut yo’ mouth!” to anyone who gets in his way, and Levy is the bumbling nebbish. Neither is forced to do much beyond his usual schtick in this forced, unfunny, predictable, painfully long disaster.
Kinsey Scale: 2 (There are countless moments of homosexual panic in this movie. Jackson recoils from Levy’s touch more than once, and there’s a running gag that involves the two men verbally competing to see which one is truly “The Man” and which one is the other’s “bitch.” The final resolution of the gag involves one of them enduring a cavity search. Co-star Horatio Sanz was in the hideous homo-panic comedy “Boat Trip,” and co-star Anthony Mackie starred in Spike Lee’s lesbian exploitation film, “She Hate Me.”)
A Sound of Thunder
In 2055, tycoon Charles Hatton (Ben Kingsley) capitalizes on new time-travel technology by offering prehistoric hunts. One goes wrong, altering evolution, and it’s up to safari guide Travis Ryer (Edward Burns) to correct the mistake before the entire human race de-evolves. Hatton’s business – a five-minute choreographed expedition that ends each time with the death of the same animal – sounds bogus, but then so is this special-effects-driven movie. The computer-generated effects are amateurish, the dialogue is terrible, and the story is simply laughable. The slumming, scenery-chewing Kingsley is hilarious, but his role is little more than a cameo. A Ray Bradbury short story provided the basis for this sci-fi mess, but something went horribly amiss in its evolution to the big screen.
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Kingsley played a supporting part in James Ivory’s E.M. Forster adaptation “Maurice,” Burns had a recurring role on “Will & Grace,” and co-star Catherine McCormack appeared in the queer-themed “Shadow of the Vampire.”)
The Brothers Grimm
Wilhelm (Matt Damon) and Jacob Grimm (Heath Ledger) earn good coin as con men, roaming the 19th-century German countryside and pretending to vanquish demons. Their stagecraft is impressive, but useless in a confrontation with the ghostly Mirror Queen (Monica Bellucci), yet with the authorities closing in, the siblings have little choice but to enjoin her in battle. Terry Gilliam’s delightfully wacky fantasy allows him free reign to unleash his astonishing imagination as he re-creates scenes from some of the Grimms’ beloved fairy tales – among them “Rapunzel,” “Cinderella,” and “Sleeping Beauty” – while the director’s visual brilliance is well-matched by Ehren Kruger’s witty screenplay. The sense of fun seems to have infected the large ensemble cast who appear to having the time of their lives.
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Damon has worked extensively with queer director Gus Van Sant, and has appeared on an episode of “Will & Grace,” while Bellucci appeared in the lesbian-themed “She Hate Me” and the homophobic revenge drama “Irreversible.” Co-star Jonathan Pryce played gay writer Lytton Strachey in “Carrington” and has inhabited the role of “Cabaret”‘s flamboyant Emcee on stage.)
The Constant Gardener
Stationed in Nairobi, British diplomat Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes) is content to putter in his garden, while his firebrand wife, Tessa (Rachel Weisz), agitates for Kenya’s poor. His complacency shatters when she is murdered, and he plunges into a nightmarish investigation into her death. Based on John LeCarre’s novel, this romantic thriller is as moving as it is suspenseful. Shooting on location in Kenya, director Fernando Meirelles captures the startling contrast between the unimaginable poverty of Nairobi’s ghetto and the posh lives of the diplomatic corps. The story, told in flashback, is an angry indictment of the way governments and multinational corporations exploit the Third World, but the politics never obscure a love story made all the more real by Fiennes and Weisz’s sensational chemistry.
Kinsey Scale: 1 (A plot point revolves around a supporting character who is assumed to be straight, but is later revealed to be gay. Weisz had a small role in the queer WWII drama “Bent.”)
The 40-Year-Old Virgin
Middle-aged stock clerk Andy’s (Steve Carell) work buddies vow to hook him up with a woman after they make the shocking discovery that he has never had sex. There is only one hitch in their plan: They may all be experienced, but they are far bigger idiots than shy, action-figure-collecting Andy is when it comes to the opposite sex. This randy, occasionally uproarious comedy is far sweeter than it has any right to be, thanks to Carell’s amiable presence and a warm performance by Catherine Keener as the girl of Andy’s dreams. But when it comes to his friends, there is a nasty undercurrent of misogyny and homophobia that isn’t just grating and unfunny; it’s a boring, epic slog of cheap jokes and sexual panic.
Kinsey Scale: 2 (When Andy’s friends first realize he’s never slept with a woman, they initially assume he’s gay, and they continually question each other’s sexual orientation. There is also an incident involving a transsexual hooker. Keener was bisexual in “Your Friends and Neighbors,” while supporting players Paul Rudd, Jane Lynch, and Elizabeth Banks have all appeared in queer-themed projects.)
The Mercer brothers (Mark Wahlberg, Tyrese Gibson, Andre Benjamin, Garrett Hedlund) return to their rundown Detroit neighborhood to bury their saintly adoptive mother who was gunned down under mysterious circumstances. Their collective street sense leads them on the trail of a crime boss and the corrupt city officials and police officers that do his bidding. Each step of the way, the four brutish brothers uncover pieces of the puzzle and leave a trail of corpses in their wake. It’s street justice, the unsubtle movie kind that demands unquestioning acceptance and bloodlust-filled cheers from the audience. In other words, if a complex story about how real human beings might grapple with genuine evil is what you’re after, you’re buying a ticket to the wrong movie. Stop asking sissy questions and bring on the revenge!
Kinsey Scale: 1 (In “Boogie Nights,” Wahlberg played a porn star, and the film dealt with minor gay themes. But the real queer interest in this movie is the way director John Singleton – as he does in all his films – includes healthy doses of gay-baiting among his hard-as-nails male characters; every creative way to call a man gay “except” the use of the word “faggot” is employed here.)
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.
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.)
Nervous flyer Lisa Reisert (Rachel McAdams) meets a man named Jackson Rippner (Cillian Murphy) on a flight from Dallas to Miami. It seems like a chance encounter, until he kidnaps her mid-flight, threatening to have her father (Brian Cox) killed if she doesn’t assist in the murder of the director of homeland security (Jack Scalia). In this borderline-schlocky popcorn thriller, director Wes Craven borrows more than a few elements from his own “Scream” franchise to move things along. And while the plot doesn’t really hold up to questioning, sharp performances from McAdams and Murphy keep the tense, claustrophobic action from crashing. Sitting in coach just got a little scarier.
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Cox played a gay pedophile in “L.I.E.” Suzie Plakson, who appears here as a flight attendant, had a recurring role as a lesbian doctor on “Mad About You.”)
The Skeleton Key
Caroline (Kate Hudson), a hospice worker in atmosphere-soaked New Orleans, takes a job in a creaky old house caring for a stroke patient (John Hurt). The old man’s wife (Gena Rowlands) tells Caroline about the scary local “hoodoo” religion, and Caroline eats it up, taking it upon herself to learn more about it and investigate the haunted house’s every groan. Naturally, with each step she takes into the dark, she finds supernatural intrigue, not to mention some skulls and dead animals in jars – standard-issue haunted house artifacts, but they’re all new to her, with each “frightening” discovery punctuated by a thunderclap. This is silly summer-movie slumming, not particularly scary or interesting, and even the surprise ending is by-the-numbers. But it’s fun to look and laugh at. Boo!
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Hudson played a young woman who ditches her fiance for Liv Tyler in “Dr. T and the Women.” Co-star Peter Sarsgaard played gay in “Kinsey” and also co-starred in “Boys Don’t Cry.” Hurt played Quentin Crisp in “The Naked Civil Servant” and also played gay in “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues” and “Love and Death on Long Island.”)
Driver Frank Martin (Jason Statham) promises to keep the 6-year-old son (Hunter Clary) of a wealthy family safe, a vow that’s put to the test when a Eurotrash gang snatches the child. It’s not much of a story, more of a skeleton on which to hang lame pyrotechnics. There is a female assassin who discharges her duties clad only in lingerie, and nearly everyone is both a martial-arts master and an ace marksman. Bones break, bullets fly, stuff explodes, and wrecked cars litter Miami’s streets; and for the cherry on this sundae, there’s a cheesy aerial sequence in which what is obviously a toy plane flies through what looks like a construction-paper sky. Action movies are supposed to get the adrenalin pumping; this one merely kills brain cells.
Kinsey 1: (Co-star Jason Flemyng played the child abuser helping his girlfriend fight her gay ex-husband for custody of their son in “Hollow Reed,” while co-star Matthew Modine appeared in the landmark miniseries “The Band Played On.”)
Tracy Stokes (Nick Cannon) is a streetwise young African-American cop who goes undercover as a student at a posh Los Angeles private school to investigate a murder among snobbish rich kids in this formulaic, unfunny action comedy. Stokes infiltrates the school, getting involved in “white” activities like rugby in that fish-out-water way that’s insulting to people of every race. He also manages to romance a Latina teacher (Roselyn Sanchez) while trying to crack the case. Meanwhile, for a movie about wealth, privilege, and education, the plot relies almost exclusively on gags that reinforce ridiculous racial and socio-economic stereotypes. If only those tired cliches had been turned upside down and explored in a smarter manner, this lazy teenage comedy might have risen above the pack. As it is, “Underclassman” should have been held back.
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Co-star Shawn Ashmore stars in the metaphorically gay “X-Men” movie series.)
Tiny teenage pigeon Valiant (voice of Ewan McGregor) makes up for his diminutive size with courage and heart. In the darkest hours of World War II, he joins the Royal Homing Pigeon Service and soon finds himself behind enemy lines, fighting bloodthirsty Nazi falcons and being entrusted with a message vital to the war effort. This cartoon import, released under the Disney banner as a kids’ movie, lampoons the British reputation for keeping a stiff upper lip, as well as every war film cliche from the past 60 years. Grown-ups, particularly film buffs and Anglophiles, will delight in the satirical humor and witty vocal performances. In contrast, the comedy will sail right over most children’s heads, though many will enjoy the colorful animation and the occasional flatulence joke.
Kinsey Scale: 1 (McGregor and co-stars Tim Curry and John Hurt have all played gay and/or bisexual characters. Co-star Jim Broadbent appeared in “The Crying Game,” while John Cleese had a recurring role on “Will & Grace.”)
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.
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.”)