Cowboys Ennis (Heath Ledger) and Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) fall into a passionate affair on Wyoming’s Brokeback Mountain in 1963, retreating back into straight lives at summer’s end. Finding that wives and children are no substitute for the soul mate they found in one another, they reunite in stolen moments over two decades, intent on recapturing the joy of that magical summer. Director Ang Lee has fashioned from Annie Proulx’s intimate short story a poignant and visually stunning epic romance limning a love that somehow survives despite the rigid social convention and internalized homophobia that threaten to smother it. Ledger and Gyllenhaal share a truly combustible chemistry, but it is Ledger’s heartbreaking performance as taciturn, repressed Ennis that transforms this drama from merely good to something great.
Grade: A Kinsey Scale: 6 (Even before this highly touted film hit theaters, conservative organs such as the Drudge Report have been busy trying to deny the existence of gay cowboys, despite the fact that members of Calgary Gay Rodeo Association served as technical advisers and appear in the film’s rodeo scenes. Lee’s breakthrough film in the United States was the queer-themed “The Wedding Banquet,” while co-star Michelle Williams made her name on the queer-friendly “Dawson’s Creek” and appeared in the lesbian comedy “But I’m a Cheerleader.”)
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
Four siblings discover a passage to the magical kingdom of Narnia tucked in the back of a closet. Perpetual winter grips the land ruled by the cruel White Witch (Tilda Swinton), but the children’s visit, coupled with lion king Aslan’s return, holds promise that spring might now arrive. Special effects and hard-charging action scenes trump storytelling in this heavy-handed adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ classic allegory. Swinton is perfect as the ice-hearted enchantress, a shining jewel in a movie that is otherwise mired in mediocrity. The book makes an awkward transformation to screen, providing many unintentional laughs along the way. Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, for example, may be charming on the page, but rendered as talking animated animals on film, they are simply ridiculous.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 1 (Swinton was a close collaborator of the late queer director Derek Jarman and has appeared in many gay-themed films. Co-star Jim Broadbent appeared in “The Crying Game,” while animal characters are voiced by out actor Rupert Everett and “Kinsey” star Liam Neeson.)
Memoirs of a Geisha
In the years before World War II, Sayuri (Ziyi Zhang) is taken from poverty to work as a servant in a geisha house. She grows up there, is taught the life and rules of being a geisha, and eventually becomes the most celebrated and beautiful of them all. She has an intense rivalry with diva-geisha Hatsumomo (Gong Li), but her real downfall might be the forbidden love she feels for a man known as The Chairman (Ken Watanabe). This very old-fashioned movie aims right for the lush “Oriental” middle, which some audiences might find offensive – the dialogue in particular is stilted and strange, full of Hollywood ideas about how Asians speak broken English. But if looking at pretty people in pretty settings – and there is that in abundance – is all you need to be entertained, then this by-the-numbers melodrama will hit the spot.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Gay director Rob Marshall also directed “Chicago.”)
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.”)
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.”)
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.”)
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.)
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”)
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.)
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.”)