Saul Naumann (Richard Gere) is a religion professor whose wife (Juliette Binoche) is undergoing an emotional breakdown. To distance himself, he becomes immersed in his spelling-bee-champ daughter’s (Flora Cross) progress to the national championship, ignoring his other child (Max Minghella). Add to this dysfunction Saul’s obsession with mystical Judaism, his son’s defection to a cult, and his daughter’s spooky ability to communicate directly with what may be God, and you have the makings of a most unusual family drama, one that surprises and intrigues at every strange turn it makes. Anchored by strong performances, especially newcomer Cross, whose spelling talent is visually conveyed with a series of special-effects-generated fantasy sequences, this is unlike any mainstream film released yet this year, and one worth taking the chance on.
Grade: A- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Director Scott McGehee is gay, and Richard Gere co-starred in “Chicago” and “And The Band Played On.”)
In a seedy Chicago hotel room, assault and robbery interrupt adman Charles Schine’s (Clive Owen) extramarital affair with financial adviser Lucinda Harris (Jennifer Aniston). But the couple’s ordeal is only beginning as their assailant, Philippe Laroche (Vincent Cassel), begins a campaign of terror and blackmail. This crime thriller looks sleek, but runs off the rails almost immediately. Perennial girl-next-door Aniston is miscast as a bewitching seductress; Owen’s performance is so perfunctory that he seems to be constantly stifling a yawn; and Cassel is simply cartoonish. The story is a slapdash affair, full of unlikely developments, including a “surprise” twist that a 5-year-old could anticipate. And Mikael Hafstrom’s direction is hopelessly inept, especially in a brutally violent climax that plays out as unintentional comedy.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Aniston starred in the queer-themed romantic comedy “The Object of My Affection,” while Owen starred in “Bent” and Cassel in “Irreversible.” Co-star Melissa George appeared in “Mulholland Drive,” and co-star Giancarlo Esposito had a role in “Pinero.”)
Get Rich or Die Tryin’
Marcus (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) grows up fast in Queens, N.Y., earning a good living selling drugs. But when a rival shoots him nine times shortly after his son is born, he rethinks his priorities, setting his sights on rap stardom. This drama, loosely based on its star’s own life, soft pedals Marcus’ criminal career, presenting him as a good man in dire circumstances. Even the soundtrack is comparatively tame, eschewing 50 Cent’s usual sexist, violent, materialistic themes. It all adds up to a highly sanitized portrait of a troubled (if extremely lucrative) life, all rough edges sanded away. That might make it a more palatable movie for a mass audience, but it also renders both the singer and his story bland and predictable.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 1 (In real life, 50 Cent’s mother was bisexual, and he says he has no problem with lesbians; but when it comes to gay men, he is truculently homophobic in interviews and in his lyrics. Director Jim Sheridan’s most recent film, “In America,” included a subplot involving an AIDS-afflicted and probably gay neighbor, while co-star Terrence Howard appeared in the queer drama “Johns,” and co-star Viola Davis had a role in Todd Haynes’ “Far from Heaven.”)
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.)
Chicken Little (Zach Braff) becomes the town joke and an embarrassment to his father, Buck Cluck (Garry Marshall), when he erroneously announces the sky is falling. So no one takes him seriously a year later when he reports an alien invasion, leaving it up to the plucky poultry and his fellow misfits to save the world. There is charm to spare in this lighthearted Disney family comedy, thanks to a large assortment of adorable cartoon critters and the vocal talents behind them. Braff and Marshall are particularly endearing as the once-close boy and his dad, who just don’t communicate anymore. The movie drags a bit in spots, but a sprinkling of sharp satire amidst the broad humor ensures plenty of laughs for kids and grownups alike.
Grade: B+ Kinsey Scale: 1 (Marshall played the homophobic father of a gay son in “The Twilight of the Golds.” Co-stars Patrick Stewart, Steve Zahn, Amy Sedaris, Wallace Shawn, Joan Cusack, and Fred Willard have all appeared in queer-themed projects.)
Cale Crane (Dakota Fanning) is a little girl whose distant father (Kurt Russell) owns a Kentucky horse farm that is slowly going bankrupt from lack of horses. When they find themselves nursing a wounded female racehorse back to health, Cale dreams of seeing it race again someday. As the horse heals, so does the relationship between father and daughter. In fact, the final climactic Breeder’s Cup race is played for less impact than the scenes of bonding between parent and child – so much so that the predictable outcome of the movie is made almost irrelevant. It’s a serious, stealth film about human relationships couched in the language of a kids’ movie about an adorable girl and her horse, and for that it should be recognized for the sweetly gentle accomplishment it is.
Grade: A Kinsey Scale: 1 (Co-star Freddy Rodriguez was a regular on the series “Six Feet Under.”)
The Dying Gaul
Robert (Peter Sarsgaard) has finally sold a script after years of struggling as a screenwriter. In exchange for his million-dollar payday, his screenplay – an AIDS-themed love story between two men – must be made heterosexual. He goes along with that and also manages to become sexually involved with his bisexual producer, Jeffrey (Campbell Scott). When Jeffrey’s wife, Elaine (Patricia Clarkson), learns of the affair, she stalks Robert online with tragic results. It’s an unsettling premise, one that critiques the way films are sanitized for mainstream acceptance and explores the ways in which even “good” people can sink into betrayal and hypocrisy. And if there’s no positive gay role model here it’s because characters in gay movies aren’t allowed to be genuine, sometimes despicable, people in the first place. Real life – and, thankfully, this movie – is messier.
Grade: B+ Kinsey Scale: 6 (The film was written and directed by gay filmmaker Craig Lucas, who wrote “Longtime Companion” and “Prelude to a Kiss.” Scott played gay in “Longtime Companion”; Sarsgaard played gay in “Kinsey” and co-starred in “Boys Don’t Cry.” Clarkson was a recurring character on the gay-themed series “Six Feet Under.”)
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.”)
It’s 1991, and Anthony Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal) is stationed in Iraq, waiting for something to happen during Operation Desert Storm. He’s been trained as a sniper, and he wants to test his newly honed skills – to kill something, anything, really. So he waits. As does his low-energy sniper buddy Troy (Peter Sarsgaard) and their gung-ho sergeant (Jamie Foxx). That idle sitting around, expecting a ground war that never comes, is what creates the tension in this film. By turns funny, brooding, and unsettling, full of ironic references to other war films, it’s an unconventional look at what happens to soldiers primed with battle foreplay but never given the opportunity to transform themselves into the heroes they’ve been promised they’d become.
Grade: B+ Kinsey Scale: 2 (It’s a contemporary war movie, so naturally there are negative references to homosexuality, but also one strangely surprising and funny scene in which the soldiers, just to cause trouble for a visiting camera crew, simulate a gay orgy under the desert sun. Meanwhile, the very worked-out Gyllenhaal is undressed quite a bit. Sarsgaard has played gay in “Kinsey” and in the current film “The Dying Gaul,” and was one of the killers in “Boys Don’t Cry.” Gyllenhaal appears as a gay cowboy in “Brokeback Mountain.”)
The Legend of Zorro
Elena de la Vega (Catherine Zeta-Jones) suddenly divorces her husband, Alejandro (Antonio Banderas), ostensibly because he refuses to give up his Zorro alter ego for the sake of their young son, Joaquin (Adrian Alonso). But when a criminal conspiracy threatens California’s impending statehood, even she has to admit that it is time for Alejandro to don his mask. The combustible chemistry between Zeta-Jones and Banderas adds sizzle to this action-packed family swashbuckler. Sadly, they enjoy few scenes together, as Elena’s new life pairs her with smarmy aristocrat Armand (Rufus Sewell). In addition, the focus too often shifts from the parents to little Joaquin – an unfortunate development, given that Alonso is one of those child actors only a stage mother could love.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 1 (Banderas owes his career to queer director Pedro Almodovar, who cast him in five films and made him an international star. Sewell appeared in the gay dramas “Carrington” and “A Man of No Importance,” while co-star Michael Emerson had roles in “Straight-Jacket” and “The Laramie Project.”)
For the women working in a Minnesota iron mine, it is the abuse by their male colleagues, not the backbreaking labor, that poses the biggest challenge. When management ignores complaints about the harassment from single mom Josey Aimes (Charlize Theron), she turns to lawyer Bill White (Woody Harrelson), who files an unprecedented class-action lawsuit. Not a cliche goes unturned in this condescending, utterly formulaic melodrama. A talented cast includes four Oscar winners, but their gifts are wasted on ridiculously one-dimensional characters. All are crude stereotypes – except for virtuous Josey, who is so saintly that she really ought to wear a halo. Based on an actual case, what could have been a compelling legal drama is instead nothing more than a high-toned, manipulative soap opera.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 1 (Theron won her Oscar playing lesbian serial killer Aileen Wuornos in “Monster,” and was bisexual in “Head in the Clouds,” while Harrelson had a recurring role on “Will & Grace” and a part in Spike Lee’s “She Hate Me.” Other cast members with queer credits include Michelle Monaghan, Frances McDormand, Richard Jenkins, Sean Bean, Jeremy Renner, Sissy Spacek, and Chris Mulkey.)
Thirty-seven-year-old divorcee Rafi (Uma Thurman) meets David (Bryan Greenberg), and they begin dating. When she learns he’s only 23, she’s concerned about the age difference, but continues seeing him. Then she discovers he’s the son of her therapist (Meryl Streep), and the situation gets more complicated. Layer on Mom’s disapproval of David dating Rafi – not because of her age, but because she’s not Jewish – and you have a variation on “Monster-in-Law” waiting to happen. Thank goodness, then, that instead of that film’s ridiculous histrionics and absence of genuine human behavior, what “Prime” offers is a grown-up comedy of manners rooted in people’s real lives. Streep is responsible for the film’s funniest moments, and she delivers them consistently, making this sophisticated comedy an unexpected treat for adults of any age.
Grade: B+ Kinsey Scale: 2 (There are a few minor gay characters, friends of Rafi. They don’t have much to do but be visibly queer and dress in odd clothing. Streep has played lesbian characters in several films. Thurman starred in Gus Van Sant’s “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.”)
The Weather Man
For Chicago weatherman Dave Spritz (Nicolas Cage), all forecasts point to a raging squall ahead. His midlife crisis is kicking in, compounded by his feeling like a failure in comparison to his Pulitzer Prize-winning father, Robert (Michael Caine). Then there’s Robert’s sudden illness, ex-wife Noreen’s (Hope Davis) impending remarriage, and trouble with his two adolescent kids. Caine’s tender performance is the sole highlight of this excruciating, tasteless drama, while Cage sleepwalks through the role of the terminally self-involved TV star. Dave is whiny and often despicable, but he is far less offensive than the constant barrage of product placements, the tight shots of women’s (clothed) vaginas, and the film’s token gay character – a pedophile (Gil Bellows) trying to seduce Dave’s teenage son (Nicholas Hoult).
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 2 (In addition to the movie’s minor and insulting queer content, Caine played a flamboyant gay beauty-pageant consultant in “Miss Congeniality.”)
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.”)