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The Ice Harvest
Wichita lawyer Charlie (John Cusack) and porn merchant Vic (Billy Bob Thornton) embezzle over $2 million from their mobster employer, Bill (Randy Quaid). They plan to flee the next day, but first must endure Christmas Eve as Charlie grows ever more convinced that Bill is on to them. Ads portray this dark comedy as a sort of companion to Thornton’s ribald Yuletide hit, “Bad Santa,” but that master of the profane is barely on screen. Cusack dominates the movie, playing his part with such dull earnestness as to suggest he is not in a comedy at all; indeed, leaden dialogue and uncertain timing bleed most of the humor from this grim, dire enterprise.
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 1 (Cusack starred in the queer-themed “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” while one of the few sympathetic characters in Thornton’s Oscar-winning “Sling Blade” was a gay man. Quaid appears in “Brokeback Mountain,” while co-star Oliver Platt had a role in “Kinsey.”)
In high school, Chris Brander (Ryan Reynolds) was a fat nerd, tormented by jocks. The popular guys were also cruel to Chris’ best friend, Jamie (Amy Smart), for whom he secretly pined. Fast forward 10 years, and Chris is a buff hot-guy with a successful music-industry career. When circumstances force him home for Christmas, he reunites with Jamie to try to woo her at last, but he has turned into the kind of jerk she knows all too well. Predictable wackiness ensues. But this mediocre comedy has a secret weapon – “Scary Movie” franchise regular Anna Faris plays a Paris Hilton-esque bimbo like she’s on a comedic search-and-destroy mission, almost single-handedly taking a forgettable teen-demographic product and infusing it with crazy, snarling life. Watch out for her.
Grade: C+ Kinsey Scale: 1 (There are several instances where Chris is called gay or “homo” by his taunting younger brother. One scene includes a gay couple sharing an affectionate kiss at a weepie movie.)
This rock musical follows the intertwined lives of a group of early 1990s New York bohemians. Filmmaker Mark (Anthony Rapp), musician Roger (Adam Pascal), dancer Mimi (Rosario Dawson), and their artist friends struggle with poverty, artistic repression, addiction, and AIDS, while protecting each other from falling through the cracks of urban life. It’s an admirable picture of friends-as-family, but, culturally speaking, this adaptation of the hit Broadway show is already outdated. Today’s Manhattan has lost the grit it once had, and the “underground” lifestyle the musical celebrates has become mainstream thanks to the Internet. Only the earnestly felt themes of love and friendship survive Chris Columbus’ TV-movie-quality direction; and while those things may be all anyone needs to survive, they’re not enough to make the film feel truly alive.
Grade: C+ Kinsey Scale: 5 (Actor Anthony Rapp, as heterosexual character Mark, is openly gay, and the story is full of queer characters and content.)
Yours, Mine, and Ours
Former high school sweethearts Frank Beardsley (Dennis Quaid), now a Coast Guard admiral, and Helen North (Rene Russo), a free-spirited purse designer, rekindle the flame at their class reunion. Both widowed, he has eight children and she has 10, so it seems natural to combine their broods, to the outrage of their kids. This relentlessly mediocre remake of a 40-year-old family comedy feels just that old, despite attempts to update the material with the addition of ethnically diverse adopted children and references to the Internet. Slapstick antics involving Frank and family pets generate some laughs, but the humor is otherwise weak. And if any one of the button-cute young actors has even a thimbleful of talent, it’s not evident amidst all the shameless mugging.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 1 (One of Helen’s young sons is her chief advisor on the purse line, spinning fashion wisdom that suggests he is ready to join the team of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” To get under Frank’s skin, the older kids dress the two youngest boys as girls. Quaid received the best notices of his career and an Independent Spirit Award for playing the husband who tumbles out of his ’50s closet in “Far from Heaven.”)
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.”)
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.)
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.”)
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.”)
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) spreads evil in wizard-in-training Harry Potter’s (Daniel Radcliffe) nightmares, dreams that may be prophetic. The 14-year-old has little time to consider the matter when he is chosen to compete in the TriWizard Tournament, an enchanted, Olympic-style contest that is fraught with danger. This adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s fourth Potter novel is also the darkest, as director Mike Newell sets an ominous tone from the opening scenes. It is an epic adventure that offers a full immersion into the wizards’ world, with impressive effects, fabulous settings, fantastic creatures, and a brave, heartbreakingly vulnerable hero in young Harry. But the movie’s fidelity to the book is also a liability, as familiarity with the novel is essential to completely grasping the story.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 1 (Among the film’s stars who have appeared in gay films or queer roles are Fiennes, Jason Isaacs, Michael Gambon, Gary Oldman, Maggie Smith, Brendan Gleeson, Miranda Richardson, and Timothy Spall. Screenwriter Steve Kloves scripted “Wonder Boys.”)
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.”)
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.”)
Walk the Line
Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) was country music’s original outlaw, so why does this biopic go down so smoothly? The answer may lie in the fact that it comes posthumously for The Man in Black – a time when goodwill toward his memory is exceptionally strong. Still, it’s full of real-life moments, solid performances (especially from Reese Witherspoon as June Carter), and energy to spare. The story of Cash’s rise and fall and rise again, from black-sheep son to swaggering, renegade country star to amphetamine addict to born-again Christian brims with life and humor, most notably in scenes between Phoenix and Witherspoon. But the rough edges have been sanded down to make the man who sang, “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die,” maybe a little more cuddly than he actually was.
Grade: B+ Kinsey Scale: 1 (Witherspoon has a large gay following, thanks to the “Legally Blonde” franchise and to other films. Shelby Lynne, the Grammy-winning country artist who plays Cash’s mother, has a very devoted lesbian fan base.)