The Human Stain
Classics professor Dr. Coleman Silk (Anthony Hopkins) has more than his share of complicated problems. He’s been fired from his teaching job for racism, he’s recently widowed, and he’s become involved with a university janitor (Nicole Kidman) with a dangerous ex-husband (Ed Harris). Meanwhile, a long-kept secret of Silk’s begins to resurface, one he’s spent his life maintaining, but that could help as well as hurt him. Strangely, it’s the subplot secret that plays least effectively in this well-made, elegant, but emotionally distant film. Questions raised are never sufficiently answered, and the characters’ actions (despite fine performances from Hopkins, Kidman, and Harris) are never fully explained – almost as if too much information is packed into one film. Although polished to a glow of Academy Award importance, it feels incomplete just the same.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (There’s an interesting, somewhat homoerotic moment in which Hopkins’ character engages in a dance with a writer friend, played by Gary Sinise, that can only be described as romantic. Kidman won an Oscar for portraying Virginia Woolf in “The Hours,” and Harris got a nomination for playing a gay man in the same film.)
Die, Mommie, Die
In this black-comic homage to Hollywood melodrama, Beverly Hills housewife and has-been singer Angela Arden (Charles Busch, who also wrote the screenplay) depends on boy-toy lover Tony (Jason Priestley) to take her mind off her troubles with her cruel husband, producer Sol Sussman (Philip Baker Hall), contemptuous daughter Edith (Natasha Lyonne), and slutty son Lance (Stark Sands). It’s just too bad that Tony has a hidden agenda, as well as a yen for Edith “and” Lance. Director Mark Rucker’s debut effort offers gorgeous eye candy as he effortlessly recreates mid-1960s Los Angeles. The ensemble is excellent, and Busch is radiant as the brittle but vulnerable chanteuse. The film’s real star is Busch’s script, which is chock-full of hilarious one-liners, yet still somehow moving.
Grade: A Kinsey Scale: 6 (Yet another exercise in perfect camp from Busch – the brilliant mind behind “Psycho Beach Party” – the film boasts characters of every sexual persuasion, a gay lead, and a gay director. Lyonne has played lesbians in “But I’m a Cheerleader” and “Party Monster,” while Priestley was the object of queer affection in “Love and Death on Long Island.” Co-star Frances Conroy is a regular on “Six Feet Under.”)
In the Cut
Frannie Thorstin (Meg Ryan) is a writing professor whose world suddenly becomes filled with possibly treacherous men. There’s a killer loose, who may or may not be her ex (Kevin Bacon), her student (Sharrieff Pugh), or the detective on the case (Mark Ruffalo). All of them are vaguely menacing, but it’s not clear if any of them mean her or her sister (Jennifer Jason Leigh) actual harm. The movie is being sold as an “erotic thriller,” but the real story in this latest offering from acclaimed director Jane Campion is of women dealing with the unspoken physical and emotional threats of everyday life. Ryan is excellent (and cast “way” against type) as the woman threatened by, yet also somehow attracted to, potential danger. If you venture into this dark, brooding, sometimes gruesome film, you’ll forget she ever played “cute.”
Grade: A- Kinsey Scale: 1 (There’s no overtly queer content here, but Ruffalo’s fellow detective, played by Nick Damici, spews antigay venom in one scene, only to be called a homophobe by Ryan. Bacon played gay in “JFK” and had a guest spot on “Will & Grace.”)
Sarah Jordan (Angelina Jolie) is an American living in London in 1984. At a charity ball, she witnesses an angry demonstration by crusading doctor Nick Callahan (Clive Owen), a relief worker in Ethiopia, and she is moved to uproot herself from a loveless marriage and become a volunteer there, too. Sarah and Nick become romantically involved, spending the next couple of decades working in various war-torn countries and not aging much. They don’t seem to love each other much either, which is just one of the numerous problems with this movie. It’s also plagued by slow pacing and indecision on the script’s part as to whether it should be an earnest drama about people committed to justice or a soap opera about pretty people getting it on against the backdrop of human suffering. And in the end the movie is just as dull as it is pretty to look at.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Openly bisexual Jolie played lesbian onscreen in “Gia.” Linus Roache, seen here as Jolie’s husband, was the conflicted gay priest in “Priest,” while Clive Owen starred in the film adaptation of the play “Bent.”)
In this amiable, but completely forgettable family comedy, 12-year-old Owen (Liam Aiken) wakes up one morning to discover that he can understand what his new dog, Hubble (voiced by Matthew Broderick), is saying. The news isn’t good: Hubble is the advance guard from the Dog Star Sirius, and the Greater Dane (Vanessa Redgrave) is on her way to call all Earth dogs back to the home planet unless Owen can convince her to let them stay. Aiken and the large cast of canines are charming, but the special effects are unimpressive, the derivative story seems cobbled together from every previous talking-animal movie, and the broad, obvious humor is likely to make anyone over the age of 8 want to roll over and play dead.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 2 (This may be the first family movie in which gay people are simply part of the suburban landscape – one of the dogs Owen walks as his part-time job belongs to a gay male couple. Aiken, Broderick, Redgrave, and co-star Molly Shannon have all appeared in queer-themed films.)
In this screwball romance, divorce attorney Miles Massey (George Clooney) falls in love across the conference table with dazzling Marilyn (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Sadly, she is the gold-digging wife of his multimillionaire client, Rex Rexroth (Edward Herrmann), and when Miles fixes it so that she receives no divorce settlement, Marilyn wants Miles’ hide, not his heart. Clooney’s charm, Zeta-Jones’ formidable beauty, and a cast clearly relishing the script’s spirited banter make for a winning formula in this lively comedy. Although Zeta-Jones is too cool a performer to really heat things up with Clooney – Miles enjoys a warmer relationship with best pal Wrigley (Phil Adelstein) – the absence of chemistry proves no drawback in a tale in which the battle of the sexes is so clearly engaged.
Grade: B+ Kinsey Report: 2 (In addition to the homoerotic vibe given off by the Massey/Wrigley friendship, the movie sports one minor queer character. Co-star Richard Jenkins is a regular on “Six Feet Under,” while Herrmann spent a season on “Oz.”)
Kill Bill: Volume 1
An assassin known only as The Bride (Uma Thurman) is brutally attacked on her wedding day by a band of killers (Vivica Fox, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, and Lucy Liu), leaving her in a coma. Upon awakening, she vows revenge on them and their leader, Bill (David Carradine), and travels the world bumping them off and slaughtering anyone else who gets in her way. And slaughter she does, slicing her way through dozens of human obstacles in this hilarious, heavily stylized, insanely violent homage to Asian action films. Director Quentin Tarantino relies on the chopped-up narrative style he employed in “Pulp Fiction” and “Reservoir Dogs” to tell his tale of betrayal and retribution. He also relies on gallons and gallons of fake blood, which spurts wildly from every severed limb on screen, creating a gleeful, giddy, disgusting mess. And guess what? You’ll have to wait for “Volume 2” to see how he cleans it all up.
Grade: A Kinsey Scale: 1 (There’s no queer content of any sort, but the cast has appeared in various films featuring lesbian or gay themes: Thurman in “Henry & June” and the flop “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues”; Hannah in the indie “Speedway Junky”; and Fox in “Set It Off” and “Boat Trip.” Liu co-starred in both campy installments of “Charlie’s Angels.”)
A top-of-the-line ensemble cast competes to see who can deliver the most over-the-top performance in this turgid drama about three childhood friends who reunite over a tragedy. When ex-con Jimmy’s (Sean Penn) daughter is murdered, his old pal Sean (Kevin Bacon), now a homicide detective, is called into investigate, while their former playmate Dave (Tim Robbins) – still fighting the demons of childhood sexual abuse – comes under suspicion for the crime. The film starts out promisingly, as director Clint Eastwood eerily limns the events leading to young Dave’s molestation; but it soon loses all suspense and dramatic tension, thanks to its too-slow pacing. Its greatest sins, though, are the contrived, coincidence-dependent plot, cliched dialogue, and ham-fisted performances.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 2 (Bacon, Penn, and co-stars Laura Linney, Marcia Gay Harden, and Tom Guiry have all appeared in gay-themed movies. Eastwood made the queer true-crime drama “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”)
Out of Time
When his mistress, Anne Merai (Sanaa Lathan), and her husband (Dean Cain) die in a suspicious fire, small-town police chief Matt Lee Whitlock (Denzel Washington) realizes that he is being framed for their murders. Rather than come clean with the detective investigating the case (Eva Mendes), who happens to be his ex-wife, Whitlock goes into overdrive to solve the crime while hiding his involvement with the dead couple. This formulaic thriller lacks surprise and genuine suspense, but director Carl Franklin compensates with a sensual visual style that emphasizes the steamy heat of the Florida setting and the eroticism of Whitlock and Merai’s affair. It’s just too bad that there isn’t an ounce of plausibility in a story that casts the middle-aged Washington as the 32-year-old Lathan’s former high-school sweetheart.
Grade: B Kinsey Report: 1 (Washington co-starred in the landmark AIDS drama, “Philadelphia,” while Cain played gay in the romantic comedy “The Broken Hearts Club.”)
Nick Easter (John Cusack) is a juror with an agenda. Along with his scheming partner on the outside, Marlee (Rachel Weisz), he plans to manipulate the outcome of a trial against a gun manufacturer in order to get a big payoff. Standing in his way are a corrupt jury “consultant” (Gene Hackman) and a principled prosecuting attorney (Dustin Hoffman). Standing in the way of this movie being any good are a few other obstacles: Hackman’s penchant for yelling his lines, Hoffman’s constant furrowed-brow mugging, the screenwriter’s insistence that the audience be simultaneously confused and condescended to, and Cusack’s contractual obligation to be shot looking cute in a downpour at least once in every film he makes. Add an ending you can see coming from a hundred paces, and running away sounds like the smart choice.
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 1 (Several cast members have appeared in gay-themed films: Cusack in “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” Hackman in “The Birdcage,” Weisz in “Bent,” and supporting actor Bruce Davison in “Longtime Companion” and “It’s My Party.” And Hoffman, of course, was “Tootsie.”)
Scary Movie 3
In this third installment of the horror-parody series, Cindy (Anna Faris) and friend Brenda (Regina Hall), now adults, must investigate “Signs”-like crop circles and “The Ring”-esque killer videotapes, and also assist the president (Leslie Nielsen) in preventing an alien invasion. Meanwhile, an Eminem-style rapper (Simon Rex) does a lot of rhyming for no good reason other than that someone thought throwing in an “8 Mile” subplot wouldn’t be too out of place. In fact, there seems to be no good reason for most of the things going on in this dismally low-brow film. There are moments of humor – most of which involve Nielsen’s resurrection of his “Airplane!” character – but otherwise the movie tries too hard for almost no payoff. And if you can believe it, the gags here make the first two movies look witty and sophisticated.
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 1 (There are two slight, throwaway moments of homoeroticism involving a hip-hop promoter, played by Anthony Anderson. But that’s it – there’s nothing resembling the explicit gay content of the first “Scary Movie.” Meanwhile, cast members in cameo roles – like Jeremy Piven and Queen Latifah – have appeared in queer-themed projects, and Rex began his film career in porn videos aimed at gay men.)
School of Rock
Wanna-be rock star Dewey Flynn (Jack Black) hits a stumbling block on the road to success when his band fires him. Forced to find a day job, he steals the identity of his roommate, Ned (Mike White), a substitute teacher, and accepts an assignment at a ritzy private school. Discovering a class of musical prodigies, Dewey tosses out their textbooks and begins grooming the fifth-graders for a star-making battle of the bands. Director Richard Linklater’s spot-on comedy, written by White, simultaneously celebrates and hilariously lampoons rock ‘n’ roll cliches. The kids, real musicians all, are appealing as they embrace their inner AC/DC, while the pugnacious Black is, for once, more endearing than obnoxious. With a thundering, irresistible soundtrack, this is a movie with a genuine rock ‘n’ roll heart.
Grade: A Kinsey Scale: 1 (White was the mind behind queer cult favorite “Chuck & Buck”; in real life, he’s the son of gay activist Mel White. Co-star Joan Cusack appeared in the mainstream gay comedy “In & Out.”)
The Singing Detective
The late Dennis Potter adapted this musical melodrama from his acclaimed TV miniseries about writer Dan Dark (Robert Downey Jr.), a bedridden psoriasis patient driven to bitter despair by the deforming skin disease that afflicts his entire body. To escape his constant pain, he retreats into a fantasy world of hallucination, memory, ’50s pop music, and his own pulp novels. Downey is too young for a role that clearly calls for mature gravity, but this leaden film’s real problems are its shockingly bad cinematography and Keith Gordon’s numbing direction, which transforms Potter’s surreal wit into maudlin, mundane pathos. Only Adrien Brody and Jon Polito as a pair of acerbic, existentialist gunsels save the movie from being a completely flat note.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Downey, Brody, Polito, and co-stars Katie Holmes, Jeremy Northam, and Carla Gugino have all appeared in queer roles or queer-themed films.)
Gwyneth Paltrow is Sylvia Plath in this dour biopic about the late poet’s difficult marriage to Ted Hughes (Daniel Craig). To her credit, Paltrow does her best with the material; but for a film about the life of one of the most passionately read poets of the second half of the 20th century, that material is all surface. Very little is learned about the inner demons that led Plath to suicide. She’s rarely shown writing the work she’s best known for creating, and her struggle with mental health comes across as simple petulance and jealousy over Hughes’ real or imagined affairs. Even the art direction – in which Plath seems to move through a never-ending succession of dank, badly lit rooms and cold, muddy fields – is depressing. Her legacy deserves better than this.
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 1 (Paltrow’s Oscar was for the cross-dressing comedy “Shakespeare in Love.” In “The Royal Tenenbaums,” her character flirted with lesbianism; in “Possession,” she discovered that a writer believed to be lesbian was really straight. Co-star – and mother of Paltrow – Blythe Danner played a lesbian in “The Love Letter,” and Daniel Craig played the lover of artist Francis Bacon in “Love Is the Devil.”)
Under the Tuscan Sun
Frances (Diane Lane), a writer depressed about her recent divorce, takes a vacation in Tuscany, buys a villa on a whim, and dedicates herself to being happier. Following her bliss proves more difficult than she imagined when romance fails to come her way, but she makes do with a cast of lovable locals and her pregnant lesbian best friend, Patti (Sandra Oh). There are sumptuous meals to be eaten, beautiful vistas to be melancholy over, poetry to read with hired bricklayers, Fellini-inspired fountains to wade in, and a hot Italian man (Raoul Bova) to swoon over. In other words, the film has nothing to do with real life. Yet it’s so pretty and charming you won’t care; and Diane Lane, luminous as always, glides through it effortlessly.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 2 (Oh’s funny pregnant lesbian plays an increasingly larger role in the plot as the film progresses, elevating her character from peripheral gal pal to something more significant. “All Over the Guy”‘s Dan Bucatinsky has a small role as a gay tourist.)
Aghast at the heroin epidemic sweeping Dublin, intrepid journalist Veronica Guerin (Cate Blanchett) works to expose the machinations of drug kingpin John Gilligan (Gerard McSorley). In the face of constant threats, she perseveres, determined to see Gilligan and his crew behind bars. Based on the true story of the crusading reporter credited with changing Irish drug laws, this drama concentrates on the final months of Guerin’s life in an uneven blend of biopic and thriller. Routine and pedestrian suspense elements render what ought to be a compelling tale banal, but the film’s real problem is with Blanchett’s surprisingly bloodless performance. Although her work is technically flawless, she fails to connect emotionally with the character, and Guerin never seems quite real.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 1 (Blanchett co-starred in the homoerotic thriller “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” Director Joel Schumacher is gay and also helmed the queer-themed “Flawless.”)