A Good Woman
In society circles of the 1930s, Mrs. Erlynne (Helen Hunt) depends on other women’s husbands to keep her in grand style. Soon after she arrives in Amalfi, she is spotted in frequent company with young Robert Windermere (Mark Umbers), which has his bride, Meg (Scarlett Johansson), and their friends jumping to scandalous conclusions. This stylish update of Oscar Wilde’s delicious comedy of manners (“Lady Windermere’s Fan”) retains much of the playwright’s wit while adding a heady dose of glossy, prewar glamour. Hunt as the enthralling, secretive siren and Tom Wilkinson as her open-minded suitor, Tuppy, are both formidable. The film’s primary weakness lies in the younger members of its cast, Umbers and Johansson, who are both so bland they fade into the background – even when they are in close-up.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 2 (Wilde was, of course, gay. Hunt won an Oscar for her role in the gay-adjacent “As Good as It Gets”; Umbers had a small role in the Francis Bacon biopic “Love Is the Devil”; and Wilkinson has multiple credits in queer-themed films, including “Wilde,” “Priest,” and “Normal.”)
A driven African-American accountant, Kenya (Sanaa Lathan), brushes off landscape architect Brian (Simon Baker) when she meets him on a blind date. A white man is definitely not her idea of Mr. Right. But after she hires him to design her garden, she finds his warmth and charm not so easy to ignore. This pleasant, undemanding romantic comedy hews closely to the genre’s formula, but offers an African-American perspective on love, relationships, and racism rarely seen in these types of movies. It is also sexier than most mainstream rom-coms as first-time director Sanaa Hamri emphasizes Kenya’s growing sensuality under Brian’s seductive spell. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Lathan and Baker are both gorgeous, and so is Blair Underwood, who plays Brian’s rival for Kenya’s affections.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 1 (Baker played a gay actor in “L.A. Confidential,” while co-star Alfre Woodard is a regular on the queer-friendly “Desperate Housewives.”)
Jake Huard (James Franco) is a welder in a shipyard, dreaming of his chance to go to Annapolis and become a naval officer. But once at the school, he struggles to keep up with his classmates, both in military training and academics. His commanding officer (Tyrese Gibson) singles him out for punishment, and his father offers no encouragement. Only by excelling at boxing does Huard find the inner strength to keep going. Unfortunately, audiences looking for vibrant characters and a meaningful, emotionally resonant story will find very little of either of those here. This is a dull, lifeless exercise from start to finish, heavy on plot mechanics and featuring dialogue and performances so stiff they’re almost almost completely lacking in humanity. The result is a gutted, soulless take on “An Officer and a Gentleman.”
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 1 (Franco played bisexual James Dean in a TV movie. Co-star Jordana Brewster appeared in the lesbian-themed “D.E.B.S.”)
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.)
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.”)
Hired to coach the basketball squad at El Paso’s Texas Western, Don Haskins (Josh Lucas) aggressively recruits African-American players. The new policy scandalizes the alumni, but the Cinderella team goes all the way to the 1966 NCAA finals, where Haskins breaks precedent by fielding an all-black team in the championship game. With this fact-based, inspirational drama, first-time director James Gartner and his winning cast capture both the excitement of the game and the gradual bonding of the players into a cohesive unit. It is an admirable effort about a watershed moment in the history of the game, but this latest entry into the increasingly crowded sports genre offers nothing new. Pleasant and occasionally thrilling, it is also completely unexceptional and thoroughly predictable.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Lucas played a gay character in “The Deep End.” Co-star Mehcad Brooks is part of the ensemble on the queer-friendly “Desperate Housewives,” and co-star Jon Voight’s breakthrough role was in the gay-themed drama “Midnight Cowboy.”)
Little Red Riding Hood (the voice of Anne Hathaway) goes to Granny’s (Glenn Close) with her traditional basket of goodies, and crosses paths with the Wolf (Patrick Warburton) and the Woodsman (Jim Belushi), but the similarities to the story everyone knows end there. What follows in this wanna-be hip, “Shrek”-impersonating effort is a he-said, she-said, Wolf-said, Granny-said table-turning on the old fairy tale. Too bad it’s glib, unfunny, and annoying instead of witty, clever, and endearing. Worse, the animation is shoddy and soulless, exactly the opposite of the sterling work of the Pixar crew. Small children may not notice the difference, but their adult chaperones will wish they’d never taken this walk in the woods.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Close played a lesbian in “Serving in Silence: The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story,” and Hathaway co-starred in “Brokeback Mountain.” Queer co-star Andy Dick voices a bunny named Boingo.)
Imagine Me and You
When Rachel (Piper Perabo) meets Luce (Lena Headey), it’s love at first sight. It is also Rachel’s wedding day to Heck (Matthew Goode). As the newlyweds begin their lives together, Rachel and Luce’s feelings for one another grow despite their best efforts to dampen the flame. While the end is never in doubt in this lightly erotic romantic drama, it also offers a novel spin on the genre. Not merely a love story or tale of sexual awakening, the movie also muses on the nature of a promise, as Rachel weighs her wedding vows against her desire for Luce. The blandly handsome Heck barely registers next to vibrant, sensual Luce, but Rachel is not really deciding between them so much as between duty and personal happiness.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 6 (Writer-director Ol Parker offers an optimistic view of a world with little homophobia, and even that melts in the recognition of true love. Co-star Eva Birthistle appeared in the queer-themed “Breakfast on Pluto” and “Borstal Boy.”)
After being told she only has weeks to live, New Orleans clerk Georgia Byrd (Queen Latifah) chucks her job and heads for Europe. At a lavish Czech resort, she charms celebrity chef Didier (Gerard Depardieu) and Louisiana Senator Dillings (Giancarlo Esposito), but arouses the suspicion of crooked retail magnate Matthew Kragen (Timothy Hutton), who finds her too good to be true. It’s easy to see what Didier, Dillings, and hometown honey Sean (LL Cool J) see in Georgia – as embodied by Latifah, she is disarmingly frank and gloriously sensual. She is adorable in this benign screwball comedy where an attractive cast, a gorgeous alpine setting, and the unintended poignancy of a pre-Katrina Big Easy compensate for a tissue-thin story and jokes that fall flat.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 1 (There is one mild lesbian joke. Latifah played a lesbian in “Set It Off” and earned an Oscar nod for her role in “Chicago.” Among her co-stars, many have queer credits, including Depardieu, Esposito, Hutton, Michael Nouri, and Alicia Witt.)
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..”)
Wart-covered Nanny McPhee (Emma Thompson) mysteriously arrives at the door of a widower (Colin Firth) and his seven horribly behaved children. The kids in question regularly conspire to break the will of any nanny their father hires. But McPhee is different – she speaks softly and carries a big stick, the kind that magically brings a logical conclusion to any naughty child’s actions. And over time, as the children learn lessons about common decency, Nanny McPhee’s physical ugliness disappears as well. But will they be able to save their father from a doomed marriage to a wicked stepmother? The answer is simple enough to figure out, but it’s the getting there that’s the fun in this delightfully off-kilter children’s film that grown-ups will enjoy, too.
Grade: A- Kinsey Scale: 2 (Openly gay British actor Sir Derek Jacobi plays one of Firth’s co-workers in a manner that can best be described as “queenly.” He also played Francis Bacon in the gay-themed “Love Is the Devil,” and Alan Turing in “Breaking the Code.” Thompson, Firth, and co-star Imelda Staunton all have gay-themed credits.)