Legendary Venetian lover Giacomo Casanova (Heath Ledger) must marry before a papal inquisition catches up with him and hangs him for fornication. No sooner has he proposed to besotted Victoria (Natalie Dormer) than he falls for sassy feminist Francesca Bruni (Sienna Miller), who is herself engaged to Papprizzio (Oliver Platt), the lard king of Genoa. Lasse Hallstrom’s fluffy romantic comedy is a hoot, a fractured fairytale that piles on false identities, outright lies, and mistaken assumptions. Ledger is a bit young to be playing such a storied figure, but makes up for what he lacks in gravity with immense charm. The entire cast attacks their roles with palpable enthusiasm as Hallstrom offers a vision of 18th-century Venice as a sun-kissed paradise of romance and subversion.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 1 (Ledger’s role as a closeted, taciturn ranch hand in “Brokeback Mountain” has made him a favorite in the upcoming Oscar race. Co-star Jeremy Irons played a gay impresario in “Forever Callas” and starred in the gender-bending drama “M. Butterfly.” Screenwriter Jeffrey Hatcher wrote “Stage Beauty.”)
Paxton (Jay Hernandez) and Josh (Derek Richardson) are two “ugly American” students backpacking through Europe with two goals in mind: getting sex and getting high. While in Amsterdam, they meet a young man who tells them the real action is in an anything-goes youth hostel in Slovakia. But what they find there is a kind of party more gruesome than what they’d bargained for. To tell more about the plot would be to spoil the truly sickening twists that await the viewer of this oddly funny, well-made bit of shock cinema. Just be warned that you might want to come prepared with a cast-iron stomach. It’s a throat-grabbing horror film, one full of brutal torture and gut-wrenching violence. Whether you enjoy this movie depends on your own tolerance for gore.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 2 (There are typical hetero frat boy comments about such-and-such thing being “gay,” and there is a gay character who plays a part in the unfolding horror. To say more would constitute a “spoiler.”)
The White Countess
Widowed White Russian countess Sofia Belinsky (Natasha Richardson) supports her family in 1930s Shanghai by taxi dancing in a sleazy dive. There she meets blind diplomat Todd Jackson (Ralph Fiennes) who needs a hostess for his new nightclub. She agrees to work for him, only to discover that he is even more emotionally damaged than she is. Richardson and Fiennes are gorgeous, but they generate no heat together, and their characters are such dead souls that their growing attachment rings false. This lengthy romantic drama from director James Ivory – his final collaboration with producer and life partner Ismail Merchant – simply never catches fire. It is a visual treat, evoking the glamorous decadence of prewar China, but there is little substance beneath the glossy surface.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 1 (Merchant/Ivory often adapted the work of queer writers, such as E.M. Forrester and Virginia Woolf, and among their films are the gay-themed “Maurice” and “The Bostonians.” Fiennes played legendary queer adventurer T.E. Lawrence in a TV movie, while Richardson starred on stage in “Cabaret.” Co-stars Vanessa Redgrave, Lynn Redgrave, Allan Corduner, and Madeleine Potter have all appeared in gay-themed films.)
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.”)
Cheaper by the Dozen 2
When Tom Baker (Steve Martin) decides to take his plus-sized family on vacation, he runs into his old rival Jimmy Murtaugh (Eugene Levy). The Murtaughs have fewer children – a mere eight compared to the Bakers’ dozen – but they’re more dedicated to dominating everything they touch. And so the competition begins, all the way down to the tiniest of the 20 kids. It’s the kind of movie that will engage elementary-school-aged viewers (people fall down a lot and get involved in other physical mishaps) and won’t raise their parents’ boredom threshold too much. With its slight offering of truly funny moments, this is completely unnecessary viewing for anyone without a very short person in tow who needs 100 minutes of safe entertainment.
Grade: C+ Kinsey Scale: 1 (Martin appeared in “And the Band Played On,” and director Adam Shankman is openly gay.)
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.)
The Family Stone
Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) is going home for the holidays with her fiance, Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney). She’s an uptight city gal with a severe bun and a cell phone that never stops ringing. The Stones, however, are well-to-do bohemian jerks who have forgotten how to be gracious to their houseguests. The movie consists of them exhibiting a bizarre behavioral combo of grooviness and evil, while Meredith comes unglued by it all. No one acts like a recognizable human being, as uncivil Christmas barbs turn to slapstick. Some third-act heart-warmth and tear-tugging cliches are thrown in to salvage the mess, but by then it’s way too late, and the movie has ruined Christmas – not for the characters, though; just for the audience.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 3 (A queer deaf son and his boyfriend are thrown into the mix; their job is to be one-dimensionally gay and adorable. Mulroney appeared in “Longtime Companion,” while Sarah Jessica Parker starred in the gay-favorite series “Sex and the City.” Gay director Thomas Bezucha also directed the far better 2001 movie “Big Eden.”)
Fun with Dick and Jane
In this remake of the 1977 George Segal/Jane Fonda comedy, Dick (Jim Carrey) is a wealthy executive at Globodyne Corporation who loses his job when the CEO (Alec Baldwin) quits, taking 400 million dollars with him and bankrupting the company. Dick and his wife, Jane (Tea Leoni), quickly spend their savings and take up robbery as a way to pay the bills. But anyone who’s expecting piercing socioeconomic critique is advised to look away from the lame pile-up of unfunny gags and unfocused satire. This Bonnie and Clyde are only separated from Dick’s corrupt former boss by the means they use to accomplish the job. Their crimes aren’t about sticking it to The Man, but about making sure they remain pampered, mindlessly consuming suburbanites with a reliable housekeeper. Rooting for them is as pointless as Carrey’s irritating face-making and pratfalls.
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 1 (In one brief scene, Leoni and Carrey cross-dress as Sonny and Cher. In his early career, Carrey played gay characters in sketches on “In Living Color,” and was in the gay-themed TV movie “Doing Time on Maple Drive.” Leoni had a small part in the mildly lesbian-flavored “A League of Their Own.”)
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.”)
Movie director Carl Denham (Jack Black) travels to a remote South Seas island on location to finish the picture he’s making. There he and his crew discover a giant gorilla, in addition to some murderous natives and carnivorous dinosaurs. The big, hairy beast takes a liking to Denham’s lead actress, Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts), and Denham takes a liking to the idea of selling tickets to see the enormous simian he names “Kong,” the consequences only unknown to the youngest viewers of this thoroughly entertaining remake. The three-hour running time may seem off-putting at first, but “Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson packs every minute with momentum and, once on the island, fantastic digitally enhanced adventure. The amazing animated creatures will keep you riveted, and the sad-eyed, love-struck Kong will break your heart.
Grade: A- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Naomi Watts starred as a bisexual actress in “Mulholland Drive.”)
The future looks bright for ex-tennis pro Chris Wilton (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) after his wealthy new friend Tom Hewett’s (Matthew Goode) sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer) falls in love with him. Chris is looking forward to sharing her comfortable life, but sexual obsession threatens to unravel his plans after he falls under the spell of Tom’s seductive fiancee Nola (Scarlett Johansson). That quintessential New Yorker Woody Allen relocates to London for this unusual thriller. With little humor and no character on hand to embody Allen’s neurotic persona, it is a Woody Allen film unlike any other. The emphasis is on psychology, and the plot often threatens to unravel. But Chris is a fascinating piece of work, and his actions are consistently enthralling in Allen’s best film in years.
Grade: B+ Kinsey Scale: 1 (Rhys-Meyers’ has appeared in several gay-themed films, and his breakthrough role was as a bisexual rock star in queer director Todd Haynes’ “Velvet Goldmine.” Co-star Brian Cox had roles in the AIDS drama “The Lost Language of Cranes” and the queer coming-of-age drama “L.I.E..”)
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.”)
In the wake of the slaughter of Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympic games, Mossad agent Avner (Eric Bana) and four other men are recruited to locate and assassinate the men Israel holds responsible for the attack. Except for the drama’s final, misbegotten 15 minutes, director Steven Spielberg eschews his usual sentimentality and heavy-handedness to limn a devastating portrait of good people caught in an impossible situation. To do what their government considers the right thing puts their souls and their sanity at risk, while making them all targets in an ever-escalating, perpetual cycle of violence. There is no black and white in Tony Kushner and Eric Roth’s literate screenplay, only shades of gray awash in blood.
Grade: B+ Kinsey Scale: 1 (Gay playwright Kushner won the Pulitzer Prize for his epic AIDS drama “Angels in America.” Co-star Daniel Craig played painter Francis Bacon’s rough-trade lover in “Love Is the Devil.”)
Faded producer Max Bialystock (Nathan Lane) and accountant Leo Bloom (Matthew Broderick) cook up a recipe for creating a huge Broadway flop so that they can embezzle the excess financing. They secure the rights to “Springtime for Hitler,” a musical valentine to the Fuhrer, and hire tasteless director Roger De Bris (Gary Beach) and his tacky assistant Carmen Ghia (Roger Bart) to stage it. Mel Brooks’ award-winning, record-shattering Broadway musical comedy makes a mostly successful transition to the screen. Not all of the songs work within the context of a movie, and Uma Thurman is miscast as ingenue Ulla. But the rest of the cast in this gorgeous production is in top form; there are plenty of laughs, and best of all, Susan Stroman’s direction emphasizes her glorious choreography.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 3 (Lane and Beach are both openly gay. Ironically, Lane plays one of the few straights in the movie, which boasts a number of queer supporting characters, all stereotypical – but then, all the film’s characters are stereotypes of one sort or another. Lane, Broderick, Beach, Bart, and Thurman have all appeared in other queer-themed projects.)
Rumor Has It
Sarah (Jennifer Aniston) can’t resist looking up business mogul Beau (Kevin Costner) when she discovers that both her grandmother (Shirley MacLaine) and her late mother slept with him, liaisons that served as inspiration for “The Graduate.” She understands the attraction when she meets the still handsome Beau and finds herself smitten, endangering her relationship with fiance Jeff (Mark Ruffalo). Misogyny colors every frame of this repellant romantic comedy, as director Rob Reiner and screenwriter Ted Griffin indulge in character assassination of their own heroine, portraying Sarah as neurotic, flighty, and whiny. There is no heat between Aniston and either man, and precious few laughs overall, save for those provided by old pro MacLaine, whose impeccable timing improves even the most puerile dialogue.
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 1 (There are a couple of mild gay-themed jokes. Aniston fell for a gay man in “The Object of My Affection,” Costner played the district attorney out to prove that the president was done in by killer queers in “JFK,” MacLaine played a teacher rumored to be a lesbian in “The Children’s Hour,” and Ruffalo appeared in “54.” Co-stars Kathy Bates, Richard Jenkins, and Mena Suvari also have queer-themed credits.)
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”)