John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (Johnny Depp), is a real-life historical figure, a 17th-century poet and party animal who succumbed to syphilis and alcoholism at a young age. His career was one of calculated outrage, as he did his best to offend everyone around him, especially royalty. But this dreary biopic, however artfully composed, is one that simply documents his depressing descent and little else. As Wilmot, Johnny Depp is given the kind of outsider role he inhabits best, and his gruesome on-screen demise must have surely given the actor a perverse thrill in the makeup chair each morning. But there’s little evidence in the script that Wilmot’s life’s work should be remembered as important, much less celebrated, no matter how progressive it was.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 1 (The real Wilmot was reportedly bisexual, but there is no on-screen reference to it. Depp played gay in “Before Night Falls” and was cross-dressing director Ed Wood in “Ed Wood.” Co-star John Malkovich played gay director F.W. Murnau in “Shadow of the Vampire”)
Madea’s Family Reunion
Madea (writer-director Tyler Perry in drag) has even more troubles with her family in this second in a planned series of films about the southern grandma. Her nieces have love woes – one can’t trust men, the other has an abusive fiance – and Madea finds herself saddled with a court-ordered foster child in her home. The solution? Folksy, homespun wisdom doled out in sound bites; loony, ranting comedy monologues; and, when all else fails, physical violence. In fact, by the time the reunion of the title rolls around – with head-scratch-inducing cameos from Cicely Tyson and Maya Angelou – Madea has gone upside the head of most of the people in the film. But she does it in the name of the Lord and common sense, so it’s, you know, cute. To someone, anyway.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 1 (No queer content, but Perry spends much of the film in drag, as he did in “Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” the first film in this series.)
Low-level mobster Joey Gazelle (Paul Walker) is having a bad day. First, he is involved in a shootout that kills several crooked cops. Then neighbor kid Oleg (Cameron Bright) steals a gun used in the confrontation and shoots his stepfather, sending Joey on a race to retrieve it before the police can tie it to the earlier murders. Wayne Kramer (“The Cooler”) wrote and directed this unintentionally funny crime drama, seemingly under the impression that if he just threw enough violence, profanity, and nudity at the screen, no one would notice that the movie is dead on arrival. It is simply absurd, wholly dependent on ludicrous coincidences and the machinations of a dubious hero whose most noticeable character trait is his sheer incompetence.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Co-star Elizabeth Mitchell had a recurring role as a lesbian psychiatrist on “E.R.” and played Angelina Jolie’s lover in “Gia,” while co-star Bruce Altman appeared in “L.I.E.”)
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.”)
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.”)
To save the museum where he works, Ted (voice of Will Ferrell) travels to Africa to bring back an ancient shrine. A little monkey, Curious George, becomes enamored of Ted’s yellow hat and stows away on the ship back to America, where the primate’s antics quickly land Ted in trouble. Margret and H.A. Rey’s classic children’s fable inspired this lifeless feature-length cartoon in which the story focuses not on George, but on boring Ted. Whether Ted keeps his job and wins the heart of fair schoolteacher Maggie (Drew Barrymore) is simply not interesting. The quality of the animation is terrible, and worst of all, the monkey gets a redesign. No longer the Reys’ sweet-featured creature, the new, nearly humanoid model is one ugly animal.
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 1 (Barrymore is openly bisexual and appeared in the lesbian-flavored “Boys on the Side” and “Poison Ivy.” Ferrell co-starred in the gay-themed “The Producers” and the metrosexual comedy “Zoolander.” Co-star Joan Plowright’s queer credits include “Callas Forever” and “Tea with Mussolini.”)
Due to an impending storm, Gerry Shepherd (Paul Walker), a trail guide in the frozen Antarctic, is forced to evacuate the ice station where he works, leaving behind his team of eight loyal sled dogs. When the huge blizzard prohibits a return trip to rescue the animals, they have to survive on their own for months. What follows is two movies in one: the movie in which eight beautiful, heroic dog actors express more love and tenderness than most human thespians can conjure up, and then the movie in which the human characters fail to evoke any such emotion. The latter mars an otherwise stirring update on Disney’s “The Incredible Journey,” but the canine stars are more than able to carry the film home all by themselves.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 0 (No queer content or cast credits.)
Final Destination 3
High school senior Wendy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) joins her friends for a graduation night party at an amusement park, only to watch most of her friends die in a freak roller coaster accident. The ones who survive are stalked by Death – the same unstoppable, invisible supernatural entity from the first two “Final Destination” films, with a wicked sense of humor, plotting intricately detailed demises for teens of all types. Their gory ends become a frenzied game of “How Will It Happen To This One?” Just don’t look for a moral to it all. For fans of gruesome gore, this is simply a fun, imaginative (and wildly bloody) ride. For more genteel viewers, however, it’s probably best to follow Emily Dickinson’s advice and not “stop for Death.”
Grade: B+ Kinsey Scale: 1 (There’s no queer content, but director James Wong helmed the strangely homophobic 2001 Jet Li film “The One.”)
Computer-security specialist Jack Stanfield (Harrison Ford) becomes part of a plot to rob the very bank he’s been hired to protect. Computer-hacking mastermind Bill Cox (Paul Bettany) orchestrates an elaborate plan to force Stanfield to cooperate by stalking and kidnapping the executive’s family. What follows is an increasingly ludicrous series of plot contrivances (a pink iPod Mini that helps the criminals steal $100,000,000 is only the beginning of the silliness) that will elicit laughter from most reasonable, thinking audience members. There are no serious thrills in this “thriller”; it’s just a showcase to remind audiences that Harrison Ford is still an action hero, no matter how old he may be getting. But as a so-bad-it’s-fun 100 minutes, this movie has more than its share of giggle-inducing moments.
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 0 (Bettany co-starred in the screen adaptation of “Bent.”)
Brenda Martin (Julianne Moore) insists that a thief jacked her car with her son inside as she drove through a housing project, but Detective Lorenzo Council (Samuel L. Jackson) is not sure that he believes her. Brenda is white, the project’s residents are black, and Council is in a race to get to the truth before simmering racial tensions detonate. For its first two-thirds, this crime drama emphasizes character over action. Moore is terrific, and Jackson is magnificent as the empathic cop who has seen it all but has not lost touch with humanity. The movie benefits from an authentically gritty urban ambience, but director Joe Roth undercuts that in the unfortunate, badly staged last act, in which all the action-movie cliches explode on screen.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 1 (Moore starred in “The Hours” and has collaborated twice with queer director Todd Haynes on “Safe” and “Far from Heaven.” Co-star Edie Falco had guest roles on gay-themed TV series “Will & Grace” and “Oz”; Ron Eldard played the abusive stepfather in the TV adaptation of lesbian author Dorothy Allison’s “Bastard Out of Carolina”; and Anthony Mackie starred in Spike Lee’s lesbian drama, “She Hate Me.”)
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.)
The Pink Panther
French soccer coach Yves Gluant (Jason Statham) is murdered on the field, and his ring containing the legendary Pink Panther diamond stolen. Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Kevin Kline) promotes bumbling gendarme Jacques Clouseau (Steve Martin) and assigns him to the case to deflect attention from the real investigation that Dreyfus himself is conducting. At least that is the plan. This thin reinvention of a classic ’60s comedy offers an assortment of mild chuckles, one brilliant scene involving a human “trompe d’oeil,” and superb performances from Martin, Kline, and Jean Reno as Clouseau’s partner. The rest of the cast is mostly wooden and too many gags fail, but there are compensations, namely a wonderful animated title sequence and Clive Owen in a cameo as a suave secret agent.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (There is some understated gay panic when Clouseau and his partner have to share a bed. Martin appeared in the AIDS drama “And the Band Played On” and has written gay characters into some of his screenplays, including “L.A. Story” and “Bowfinger.” Kline played queer characters in “De-Lovely” and “In & Out.” Owen appeared in “Bent,” and co-star Henry Czerny had roles in “Further Tales of the City” and the lesbian romance “When Night Is Falling.”)