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BTL Staff
By | 2005-12-15T09:00:00-05:00 December 15th, 2005|Entertainment|
Just Out

Syriana
From Academy Award-winning writer/director Stephen Gaghan comes this deliberately paced thriller set against the corruption and intrigue of the oil industry. There are multiple storylines, the central and most emotionally resonant ones involving CIA operative Bob Barnes (George Clooney), who finally learns the unsettling truth about his life’s work, and a sellout energy analyst (Matt Damon) who grapples with profiting from his own son’s accidental death. There’s more: corporate lawyers facing moral quagmires, ruthless CEOs, and downtrodden Pakistani teens turning to fundamentalist Islam. The dense layers of storytelling can get tediously heavy at times, and audiences may wonder what the point is beyond knowing that big business is evil. Still, strongly moving performances from Damon and Clooney keep this ponderous political beast from feeling too much like a really depressing global civics lesson.

Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 1 (Clooney produced the gay-themed film “Far from Heaven.” Damon starred in the queer-themed “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” while co-star Jeffrey Wright played gay in “Angels in America,” and co-star William Hurt won an Oscar for playing gay in “Kiss of the Spider Woman”)

Transamerica
Pre-op transsexual Bree (Felicity Huffman) says nothing when teenage hustler Toby (Kevin Zegers) mistakes her for a Christian missionary, only offering him a ride across country. She neglects to mention that she is his biological father, and that she has sought him out at the insistence of her therapist, who refuses to sign off on her sex-reassignment surgery until she faces her past. Writer-director Duncan Tucker’s debut feature explores the relationship of those familial ties that bind in this melodramatic road movie that collapses into soap-opera cliche. At least, he cast well: Zegers is terrific, and Huffman is simply miraculous – a credible transsexual, yes, but much more as she reveals the hurt, loneliness, and longing beneath the surface of repressed Bree’s skin.

Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 6 (Though ultimately more interested in the parent-child relationship, this is also a coming-out movie of sorts, as Bree lives in a self-imposed closet. Director Tucker is gay and previously contributed to “Boys to Men,” an anthology of queer erotic short films. Huffman stars in the queer-friendly “Desperate Housewives,” and real-life transsexual Calpernia Addams – the subject of the Showtime movie “A Soldier’s Girl” – has a small role here.)

Ongoing

Capote
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
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.)

Derailed
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.”)

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.”)

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.”)

Jarhead
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.”)

Just Friends
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.)

Rent
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.)

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.)

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.”)

About the Author:

BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 25th anniversary.