Domino Harvey (Keira Knightley) has issues. She’s fashion model and the child of a well-known actor, raised with money, privilege, and stunning looks. So what does she do? Chuck it all to become a bounty hunter. Now lest this sound like something only Hollywood could cook up, understand that Domino Harvey was a real person, daughter of British actor Laurence Harvey (“The Manchurian Candidate”). This movie, however, is a highly fictionalized and flat-out bizarre take on the woman’s life. Heavy with characters but unconcerned with their development, and shot by a shaky camera focused intently on the ugliest moments, the film makes little sense, even as the plot keeps on loudly banging like a hyperactive snare drum. And strangely, that’s what makes it all so trashily entertaining – it’s the film equivalent of watching a crazy person just to see what they’ll do next.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Not that it’s ever discussed in the film, but the real-life Domino Harvey, now deceased, was of mysterious sexual orientation, said to have been lesbian, bisexual, or heterosexual, depending on who was doing the reporting. Knightley starred in “Bend It Like Beckham.” Co-star Mickey Rourke played gay in the indie prison drama “Animal Factory,” while co-star Mena Suvari appeared in “American Beauty” and played a lesbian on “Six Feet Under.”)
Faltering shoe designer Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) receives a double shock when he loses his job and his father on the same day. He travels to Elizabethtown, Ky., to arrange his father’s funeral, discovering family he barely knew he had and romance when he meets perky stewardess Claire (Kirsten Dunst). Writer-director Cameron Crowe aims to make a profound statement on life, loss, and love with this woeful comedy-drama, but only succeeds in creating an epic snore. Not a single scene or character rings true, and his attempt to impose a mood with an endless array of bad rock songs is a dismal failure. While Bloom and Dunst are both quite fetching, there is little heat and zero chemistry between bland Drew and ditzy Claire.
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 1 (Bloom appeared in “Wilde,” while co-star Alec Baldwin had a recurring role on “Will & Grace.” Loudon Wainwright III, father of queer singer Rufus Wainwright, plays Drew’s uncle.)
Where the Truth Lies
Lanny Morris (Kevin Bacon) and Vince Collins (Colin Firth) were the biggest nightclub act of the ’50s, until scandal ended their partnership. Fifteen years later, journalist Karen O’Connor (Alison Lohman) rattles some long-buried skeletons when she interviews Collins for a book, determined to expose his secrets and find out what really happened with Collins, Morris, and the girl found dead in their suite. Atom Egoyan’s sun-drenched noir is a handsome production that benefits from Bacon and Firth’s fabulous performances, particularly in the hammy nightclub scenes. An overreliance on exposition and a ridiculous denouement mar this adaptation of Rupert Holmes’ novel, but Egoyan’s worst mistake was casting Lohman. With her baby-doll voice and vacant eyes, she simply never convinces as an ambitious journalist capable of challenging powerful men.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 3 (There are pronounced homoerotic undertones to the Morris-Collins partnership; the MPAA bestowed an NC-17 rating based on one brief queer scene; and the movie’s hottest scene takes place between Karen and another woman. Many of Egoyan’s films have included gay characters or themes. Bacon was a flamboyant hustler in “JFK,” while Firth had roles in “Another Country” and “Apartment Zero.” Co-star Don McKellar played queer characters in “Exotica” and “The Event.”)
Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
Loopy inventor Wallace (the voice of Peter Sallis) and his smarter-than-his-owner dog companion, Gromit, are on the trail of a mystery: Who or what is destroying local gardens, and how will this all affect the annual vegetable-growing contest in their village? When it’s discovered that a giant were-rabbit is responsible, the duo fights to stop the creature in time for the contest. In the midst of all this delightful silliness, a romance buds between Wallace and Lady Campanula Tottington (Helena Bonham Carter), and a lot of adorable little bunnies steal the show. Best of all, this animated feature has wit, visual sophistication, and charm, and will endear itself to both young and old in equal measure. Even carnivores will have a good time.
Grade: A Kinsey Scale: 1 (There’s an odd moment of almost-gayness when some flower-growing “pansy spray” is accidentally used on a character, but it’s not intended to offend. Bonham Carter appeared in several films by gay creative team Merchant-Ivory.)
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.)
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.”)
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.”)
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.”)
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.”)
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.)
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.”)