Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the State of Michigan after a plan to kidnap her and other Michigan government officials was thwarted by state and federal law enforcement agencies. She started by saying thank you to law enforcement and FBI agents who participated in stopping this [...]
Good Night, and Good Luck
At the height of Sen. Joe McCarthy’s 1950s Communist witch-hunts, CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) and his producer, Fred Friendly (George Clooney), decide to take a stand. Network head William Paley (Frank Langella) objects, and advertisers drop the program, but Murrow’s team presses on with a series of reports that expose the Wisconsin pol’s perfidy and record of baseless allegations. Clooney co-wrote and directs this astonishing film that recreates a pivotal moment in American history by seamlessly blending drama with footage of the real-life McCarthy. The performances are indelible, especially that of Strathairn, who perfectly embodies the legendary journalist’s determination and integrity. Smoke-filled, black-and-white images evoke the buttoned-down, postwar era, while Clooney and Grant Heslov’s screenplay subtly underlines the parallels to our own time.
Grade: A Kinsey Scale: 2 (If you listen closely, you can hear Liberace subtly take a step out of the closet as Murrow interviews him about marriage. Clooney executive-produced and co-star Patricia Clarkson appeared in Todd Haynes’ “Far from Heaven.” Co-star Robert Downey Jr. played a gay character in “Wonder Boys,” as did co-star Jeff Daniels in HBO’s “Angels in America.”)
In Her Shoes
Maggie (Cameron Diaz) is a standard-issue party girl who coasts by on her looks. Her sister, Rose (Toni Collette), is successful, career-driven, and somewhat resentful of Maggie’s irresponsible lifestyle and narcissism. Maggie’s destructive behavior leads to a falling-out, and she relocates to a Florida retirement village to live with their long-lost grandmother (Shirley MacLaine). Through this cuter-than-cute plot device, the two sisters finally learn their value to each other. This upscale soap opera wins because of its three strong lead performances (especially MacLaine, who cuts through tedium like a knife), and not because of a two-dimensional script from Susannah Grant or pedestrian direction from the usually reliable Curtis Hanson. You’d be forgiven if you waited for the DVD and bought a new pair of shoes instead.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Collette has a small collection of queer-related credits, from “Connie and Carla” to “The Hours” to “Velvet Goldmine.” MacLaine starred in that queer classic from the bad old days, “The Children’s Hour,” and discussed the role in “The Celluloid Closet.” Hanson also directed “Wonder Boys.”)
Two for the Money
Reformed gambler Walter Abrams (Al Pacino) advises others in how to place their sports bets, and he hedges his own when he hires Brandon Lang (Matthew McConaughey), an ex-gridiron great with an impressive record for picking winners. Lang’s talent for prognostication quickly makes him Abrams’ star tout, until he hits a cold streak and discovers his success has re-ignited his boss’ gambling addiction. Asinine dialogue and a banal, predictable premise sink this overlong drama. The always-entertaining Pacino at least looks like he is having a blast as he offers his wooden co-star a clinic on acting with genuine (if overheated) emotion. But to be fair to McConaughey, he is given little to do other than flash his blinding pearly whites and flex his formidable abs.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Pacino starred in William Friedkin’s notorious queer crime thriller “Cruising” and played the closeted Roy Cohn in “Angels in America.” Co-star Jeremy Piven was a regular on “Ellen.”)
A History of Violence
Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) becomes a reluctant hero when he kills the armed men who invade his small-town Indiana diner. His sudden notoriety brings him to the attention of mobster Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris), who hurls a startling accusation, insisting that Tom is really a vicious rival with whom he has a score to settle. David Cronenberg’s suspenseful, blood-spattered crime drama is an action-packed thriller with an enigma at its center. Is Tom an innocent man wrongly accused, a brutal hoodlum thinly disguised as a law-abiding citizen, or someone who has so thoroughly adopted a good-guy persona that it has actually transformed him? No director has ever demanded as much from Mortensen, who answers with a complex performance that gradually reveals Tom’s true identity.
Grade: A Kinsey Scale: 1 (Queer themes have run through several of Cronenberg’s movies, notably “M. Butterfly,” “Naked Lunch,” and “Crash.” Harris played a gay man in “The Hours,” as did co-star William Hurt in “Kiss of the Spider Woman.”)
Writer Truman Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman) travels to Kansas – accompanied by childhood friend Harper Lee (Catherine Keener) – to pen a magazine article about a family’s murder. Instead, after befriending killers Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.) and Dick Hickock (Mark Pellegrino), he changes the face of literature when he writes “In Cold Blood,” his groundbreaking nonfiction novel about the case. Hoffman is brilliant in this biopic, capturing not only the author’s familiar voice and mannerisms, but also his ever-shifting character. Capote was a complicated man, generous enough to help Smith and Hickock with their appeals, yet so ruthlessly ambitious that he began to anticipate their executions as a way to end his book. The actor’s performance is so persuasive that it is almost possible to ignore the movie’s doddering pace and lack of dramatic tension.
Grade: B+ Kinsey Scale: 4 (Capote was openly gay and the movie touches on both his relationship with partner Jack Dunphy – played by Bruce Greenwood – and the homoerotic nature of his friendship with Smith. Screenwriter Dan Futterman is also an actor with numerous queer credits, including “The Birdcage,” “Urbania,” and a recurring role on “Will & Grace.” Hoffman, Keener, Pellegrino, Greenwood, and co-star Chris Cooper have all appeared in other gay-themed projects.)
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.
Grade: A 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.”)
Murdered on the eve of her wedding, Corpse Bride (Helena Bonham Carter) has moldered in anticipation of a groom ever since. Her wait appears to be over when Victor Van Dort (Johnny Depp) happens by, practicing the vows for his upcoming nuptials. He drops a ring, which falls onto her skeletal finger, binding them together in matrimony – or so she thinks. That master of the macabre, Tim Burton, returns with this lively, musical stop-motion animated feature that combines black comedy with a certain unexpected sweetness. What the trifling story lacks in substance, Burton makes up for with a screen alive with the happy dead. Danny Elfman’s jazz-infused score and outre songs shine in an underworld cabaret where dancing skeletons and singing skulls mount jaunty production numbers.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 1 (Burton and Depp previously collaborated on “Ed Wood,” a biopic of the transvestite director. Depp also played a gay character in “Before Night Falls.” Co-star Albert Finney took the lead in the queer-themed “A Man of No Importance.”)
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.
Grade: B 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.”)
Kyle Pratt (Jodie Foster) boards a plane in Berlin with her young daughter and, midway through the flight, discovers the child has vanished. When Kyle tries to find her, she’s informed that there is no record her daughter ever boarded the plane. Is Kyle mentally unstable? Or are bad people toying with her? That’s the spoiler you won’t be reading here. Kyle enlists the help of an air marshal (Peter Sarsgaard) in what becomes a tense, nail-biting trip through the unfriendly skies. And if ultimately the movie is a meaningless exercise in cheap scares – nothing more than a sleek popcorn thriller that entertainingly aggravates our worst post-9/11 fears – then so be it. Every movie Foster stars in can’t be “The Silence of the Lambs.”
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1(Sarsgaard played queer in “Kinsey,” and also co-starred in “Boys Don’t Cry.”)
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.
Grade: B- 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.)
Into the Blue
When four friends (Paul Walker, Jessica Alba, Scott Caan, Ashley Scott) scuba diving in the Bahamas come across a sunken airplane filled with cocaine, their first impulse is to steer clear of it. But when a local drug lord learns that the group knows where his downed product is, their lives are put in danger. After that, it’s a game of cat-and-mouse as the good guys have to outwit the bad – too bad neither side is playing with a very witty script. This underwater adventure is patched together with the remnants of a hundred other action movies in which the outcome is assured right from the beginning, motivations are clear to the least attentive viewer, and no surprises jump up out of the water to worry anyone’s pretty little head. Meanwhile, its cliches sink it.
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 1 (If nothing else, the movie is a parade of tanned young flesh, both male and female, and will appeal to the prurient interests of any gender or orientation.)
Just Like Heaven
Elizabeth Masterson (Reese Witherspoon) is a young doctor who goes into a coma following a head-on collision with a truck. Stuck between life and death, her spirit decides to inhabit her old apartment, now occupied by widower David Abbott (Mark Ruffalo). They’re an odd couple – she’s fastidious and impatient, he’s a slob – so they bicker. And after the bickering turns to love, they have to figure out a way to save her life. A romantic comedy decidedly heavy on the romance and light on the comedy, this morbidly whimsical “Sleeping Beauty” story is a well-oiled entertainment machine that hits all of its marks with economic precision and an intense eagerness to please its target audience. So if it makes you cry at the end, that doesn’t mean it’s a good movie – it just means the machine works well.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Weirdly enough, this is a movie set in San Francisco that contains not one single peripheral gay character, although the “desperate women” of the city are referenced by a physician played by Ben Shenkman, who starred in HBO’s “Angels in America.” Witherspoon is a favorite of gay men after appearing in films like “Freeway” and “Legally Blonde.”)
Lord of War
Russian-American child of immigrants Yuri Orlov (Nicolas Cage) is a businessman. And his business is death. He sells illegal arms to international interests, and in this pitch-black political satire, he views his job as no more destructive than that of companies that manufacture cars or cigarettes. His younger brother (Jared Leto) tries to join the business, but winds up ruining himself, and his pursuer, a nave Interpol agent (Ethan Hawke), can never quite get his man. It’s a bleak premise, told with a sure but unsettling comic detachment, which could leave war-news-weary audiences searching for a character to root for. In the end, though, Cage’s performance is the best he’s delivered in years, and the film’s message of political hopelessness rings true, though it’s numbingly cold. This film is for hard-nosed realists only.
Grade: B+ Kinsey Scale: 1 (Leto appeared in the unusually homoerotic “Fight Club.” Co-star Ian Holm was in “Naked Lunch,” and co-star Jeffrey Wright played gay in “Angels in America.”)
The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio
When 1950s housewife Evelyn Ryan (Julianne Moore) needs money to pay the bills, the mortgage, the milkman, or the grocer in order to feed and house her 10 children, turning to her alcoholic husband, Kelly (Woody Harrelson), isn’t an option. So the quick-witted would-be journalist sets about the project of winning jingle-writing contests. In this astonishing true story based on the memoir of the same name by Ryan’s daughter Terry, Evelyn manages to support her family on her winnings over the course of nearly two decades. Moore’s gentle, optimistic performance as Ryan is one for Oscar voters to pay attention to, and the movie accomplishes the difficult task of conveying every heartwarming moment without resorting to maudlin manipulation or cheap sentiment. In a sea of movie cynicism, this beautiful valentine to family is a real winner.
Grade: A Kinsey Scale: 2 (The story takes place during lesbian memoirist Terry Ryan’s childhood, so there is no mention of her adult life. Director Jane Anderson is also a lesbian. Julianne Moore has several queer-related credits to her resume.)
When her mentally ill, but brilliant, father Robert (Anthony Hopkins) dies, Catherine (Gwyneth Paltrow), who is similarly gifted, begins to question her own sanity. She isn’t the only one, as her yuppie sister Claire (Hope Davis) and Robert’s student Hal (Jake Gyllenhaal) doubt she wrote the groundbreaking mathematical proof found among Robert’s effects that she claims as her own. Paltrow – who reunites with her “Shakespeare in Love” director, John Madden – gives one of her finest performances yet as a woman trying to move forward while paralyzed by the uncertainty of her genetic legacy. But the drama suffers from Davis’ shrill, one-note performance; the miscasting of the genial, but vapid, Gyllenhaal as an alleged Ph.D.; and a cliched climax better suited to a romantic comedy.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (In addition to her gender-bending role in “Shakespeare in Love,” Paltrow appeared in the homoerotic “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” Hopkins took the lead in three of gay director James Ivory’s films.)
It’s 1978, and X (Bow Wow, who has dropped the “Lil'” prefix), a roller-disco-obsessed kid who’s just lost his mother and whose father is emotionally distant, is the Lil’ Prince of his local roller rink. But when it closes, he and his gang of friends find another on the rich side of town, where snobbish trick skaters blow them out of the water with their moves. And you know what that means: scruffy underachievers have to battle it out in a competition with the fancy-pants kids to see who rules the rink. In other words, if you’re old enough to remember actual 1970s skatesploitation flicks “Skatetown USA” and “Roller Boogie,” you’ll wonder why you should buy a ticket to this movie. But you should: its sweet, genial dopiness is more winning and charming than those two retro-bombs ever were.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Co-star Meagan Good, who plays Bow Wow’s love interest, starred in the lesbian action comedy “D.E.B.S.”)