She’s the Man
When her school drops soccer, Viola (Amanda Bynes) disguises herself as her brother, Sebastian (James Kirk), and makes the team at his boarding school. But she quickly develops a crush on her new teammate (and roommate), Duke (Channing Tatum), who is in love with Olivia (Laura Ramsey), who falls for “Sebastian.” This gender-bending teen comedy may have been inspired by Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” but there are no traces left of the Bard’s wit. Instead, what it offers is a vapid compendium of teen-movie cliches and stereotyped characters. Bynes is a lovely girl, but based on this performance, her acting skills appear to be nonexistent, and when she is in Sebastian mode, she is downright excruciating.
Grade: F Kinsey Scale: 2 (The subtext is frankly homoerotic – or would be if there was anything erotic about the movie; but for all the daisy chains of crushes, it is curiously devoid of heat. Also, Viola’s pal Paul – the character, played by Jonathan Sadowski, who makes her over into Sebastian – seems like he might be gay, but the movie is careful to neuter him. Co-star Alex Breckenridge appeared in the lesbian comedy “D.E.B.S.”)
Thank You for Smoking
Spin doctor Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) relishes his job putting a happy face on Big Tobacco; so shameless is he in downplaying the dangers of cigarettes that not even a cancer victim’s sad testimony can deter him from his mission. But when seductive investigative reporter Heather Holloway (Katie Holmes) loosens his normally guarded tongue, even he can’t spin the resulting expose. Based on Christopher Buckley’s 1994 novel, Jason Reitman’s debut comedy is often very funny as it skewers targets ranging from business to politics to Hollywood, and it benefits from Eckhart’s brilliant performance as the cheerfully conniving Naylor. As sharp as the satire is, it still reeks of must, dated by a tobacco-industry target where spin long ago took a backseat to legal settlements.
Grade: B+ Kinsey Scale: 1 (Eckhart starred in “Your Friends and Neighbors,” which had a lesbian subplot, while Holmes appeared in “Wonder Boys.” Among their co-stars with queer credits, Maria Bello played actor Bob Crane’s wife in the homoerotic “Auto Focus”; David Koechner’s ostensibly straight sports reporter seemed to have a crush on the title character in “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy”; William H. Macy was a gay lawman in “Happy, Texas”; and “Kim Dickens” plays lesbian brothel madam Joanie on “Deadwood.”)
V for Vendetta
V (Hugo Weaving) is a mask-wearing revolutionary hellbent on destroying the religious-fascist state that is England of The Future. By his side is Evey (Natalie Portman), a young woman manipulated into aligning herself with him, eventually becoming his right-hand woman. V is quite the antihero, performing what most people would call despicable, terroristic acts to further his ends. But by the logic of this movie, desperate times call for desperate measures. It’s not a logic that would work well in real life, of course, and the film itself is pompous and boldly silly at times; but it’s that weirdo, gung-ho attitude that carries it and makes it a fun revenge fantasy, whether you truly believe in its message or not.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 3 (There are queer plot threads throughout the film, as part of the religious state’s agenda is the eradication of homosexuals. In addition, many of the cast members – including Weaving, Stephen Rea, and Rupert Graves – have been in queer-themed movies in the past. Co-star Stephen Fry is openly gay, and co-writer Larry Wachowski is, by all accounts, in the process of transitioning to female.)
When best friends Claire (Emma Roberts) and Hailey (Joanna “JoJo” Levesque) discover a mermaid named Aquamarine (Sara Paxton) in their beach club’s swimming pool, their destinies change forever. Hailey, soon to move away for the sake of her mother’s new job, learns that Aqua can grant her wish to stay put – if both Claire and Hailey can introduce her to true terrestrial love with a hunky lifeguard (Jake McDorman). Although not a sophisticated film, it is sweet and well-intentioned; and while some parents may not like the “snare a boyfriend” plot line, the overall moral revolves around commitment and friendship. Much like “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants,” this is a lovable fantasy that young girls will devour wholeheartedly.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 1 (The movie spends more than a little time objectifying blond, cute McDorman, emphasizing his “dreaminess” with lots of slow-motion shots. And there’s a line of dialogue in the film about him being the object of desire for lots of girls and at least a few boys, too.)
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.”)
Dave Chappelle’s Block Party
The title says it all as the comedian invites fans from New York and his Ohio home to a blowout shindig in Brooklyn. Chappelle plays host to an impressive array of hip-hop superstars, including Kanye West, Mos Def, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, The Roots, and a reunited Fugees. The show is awesome, but the action backstage and in rehearsals is even more fun, especially when Mos Def – sitting in on drums – plays straight man to Chappelle in an impromptu stand-up act, to the delight of the backing band. Chappelle fans hoping to see a more extensive comedy act may be disappointed, since he is more emcee than star; but the passionate performances from the all-star lineup will delight urban music buffs.
Grade: B+ Kinsey Scale: 0 (Although not gay, West has publicly called for an end to homophobia among hip-hop performers. Scott briefly performed in a touring company of “Rent.”)
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.)
Failure to Launch
Tripp (Matthew McConaughey) lives at home and lets his parents (Kathy Bates, Terry Bradshaw) cook, clean, and do his laundry while he dates a series of women he has no intention of settling down with. Enter Paula (Sarah Jessica Parker), hired by Mom and Dad to woo Tripp long enough to get him to move out of the house. But what do you know – these two bland, attractive people find themselves falling in love in this safe, predictable, only mildly amusing comedy. It’s the kind of film whose plot wouldn’t even exist if the main characters all sat down and had one simple conversation that included the words, “It’s time for you to move out, son.” But those are the sorts of chats that never happen in movies like this, which substitute wacky schemes, misunderstandings, and slapstick injuries for real human comedy.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Both McConaughey and co-star Bradley Cooper spend some time in the movie shirtless. Parker is an alum of the very gay-friendly “Sex and the City” . Bates co-starred in the somewhat-lesbian-themed “Fried Green Tomatoes” and played a lesbian in “Primary Colors.”)
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.”)
The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things
Jeremiah (Jimmy Bennett; Dylan and Cole Sprouse) is an abused child with a drug-addicted prostitute mother (Asia Argento) who drags him along from one hellish scenario to another in this disturbing film based on the once-thought-to-be-autobiographical short stories of “JT LeRoy,” the pen name of musician Laura Albert. Along the way Jeremiah meets religious zealot family members, various sexual abusers (one played by Marilyn Manson), and a very strange child psychologist (Winona Ryder), as Mom teaches him to eat from garbage cans and dress up in women’s underwear and makeup. The moral? Hell is for children, of course. But while a daring piece of borderline exploitation, the film tends to meander down a series of similarly grimy gutters when it should blast off wildly, like the shocking fiction it’s based on.
Grade: C+ Kinsey Scale: 5 (Multiple cast members – Jeremy Sisto, Michael Pitt, Kip Pardue, and Jeremy Renner – have queer-related film and TV credits. Meanwhile, the story behind the film has been one for the gay history books, as Albert’s nearly decade-long deception – posing as the transgendered former teenage prostitute author – has garnered more press and notoriety than the film itself.)
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.)
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.”)
The Shaggy Dog
Ambitious Los Angeles assistant district attorney Dave Douglas (Tim Allen) suddenly finds himself chasing cats and wagging his tail – the bite from a sheepdog with altered DNA transforms him into a pooch for hours at a stretch, a recurring condition that threatens his job and his marriage. Allen’s talent for slapstick energizes this special-effects-heavy family comedy, which is at its best when the human Douglas adopts the familiar traits of a dog. When an actual canine takes Allen’s place, enabling Douglas to eavesdrop on his wife, Rebecca (Kristin Davis), and two adolescent children, the movie takes an unfortunate, maudlin turn. Douglas’ discovery that his family sees him as neglectful drowns the initial good humor in a sea of soap-opera suds.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Davis starred in the gay friendly “Sex and the City” and had a guest spot on “Will and Grace.” Co-star Robert Downey Jr. played a queer character in “Wonder Boys” and made out with Val Kilmer in “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.” Sean Pyfrom has a recurring role as a gay teen on “Desperate Housewives,” and Philip Baker Hall played the cuckolded husband to Charles Busch’s scheming, faded chanteuse in “Die, Mommie, Die!.”)
An easy assignment escorting jailed grand jury witness Eddie Bunker (Mos Def) to court becomes explosive for burnt-out, alcoholic New York cop Jack Mosley (Bruce Willis) when it turns out Bunker’s testimony will expose corruption in the department. Crooked cops gunning for Bunker expect Mosley’s cooperation, but he isn’t in an agreeable mood.
The pace never slackens in this action/buddy movie hybrid, in spite of the fact that -confined to a 16-block area of clogged Manhattan streets – the ensuing chase is necessarily a slow one. The amiable chemistry between Willis and Def provides a real boost to a rather routine story, but Willis’ empathetic portrayal of this self-loathing, derelict lawman struggling to regain his humanity is the real star of the show.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 0 (There is heavy male bonding going on between Mosley and Bunker, but of a distinctly nonsexual variety.)