June 19, 2006
NEW THIS WEEK:
A Prairie Home Companion
Folksy G.K. (Garrison Keillor) hosts another episode of the radio show A Prairie Home Companion with special guests: singing sisters Yolanda (Meryl Streep) and Rhonda Johnson (Lily Tomlin) and cowboy duo Dusty (Woody Harrelson) and Lefty (John C. Reilly). But beneath the convivial atmosphere, tension mounts with the certainty that this is PHC‘s final show. Director Robert Altman teams with screenwriter Keillor to create this kaleidoscopic, congenial take on the beloved National Public Radio series. Longtime fans will cherish this behind-the-scenes glimpse, shot on PHC‘s real-life stage and featuring many of the show’s regulars. Harrelson and Reilly are hilariously coarse, Keillor is dryly witty and a tad aloof, and Streep and Tomlin steal the movie as the sibling chanteuses who love to spin their memories into stories.
Kinsey Scale: 2 (Several of Altman’s films, including Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, Dr. T and the Women, and Gosford Park, have featured queer characters. Tomlin is openly lesbian and has a number of gay-themed projects on her resume. Among the film’s stars with queer credits are Streep, Harrelson, Reilly, Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Kline, Maya Rudolph, Marylouise Burke, and Allen Garfield.)
Arrogant race car Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) lands in jail in tiny Radiator Springs. Sentenced to repave the highway, the lonely roadster begins to warm to the townsfolk, including cute Porsche Sally Carrera (Bonnie Hunt) and Doc Hudson (Paul Newman), a suspiciously speedy 1951 Hudson Hornet. But the novelty of friendship may not be enough to compete with the lure of fame awaiting Lightning at California’s Piston Cup race. Set along old Route 66, Pixar’s latest animated adventure offers astonishing southwestern landscapes and a big heart that beats with the piston-propelled rhythm of an internal combustion engine. The cars themselves are a little bland, but the voices are pitch-perfect and the vistas breathtaking in this funny, moving family film and loving homage to America’s Mother Road.
Kinsey Scale: 1.5 (Wilson played a metrosexual male model in Zoolander and has starred in several vaguely homoerotic buddy pictures, including last year’s smash The Wedding Crashers. Newman has had his share of homoerotic roles as well, appearing in the Gore Vidal adaptation The Left Handed Gun and Hud. He also had a long association with Tennessee Williams, starring in the writer’s work on stage and screen, including as the closeted Brick in the bowdlerized 1958 film adaptation of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Co-stars with queer credits include Hunt, Tony Shalhoub, Paul Dooley, Katherine Helmond, John Ratzenberger, Jeremy Piven, Richard Kind, and Edie McClurg.)
The Heart of the Game
This documentary-that-plays-like-fiction details the evolution of Seattle’s Roosevelt Roughriders girls’ basketball team, their devoted coach Bill Resler, a group of aggressive and aggressively talented young girl-jocks, and a prodigy named Darnellia Russell, whose bright future as a basketball star nearly comes to an end when she becomes pregnant and loses her eligibility to play. What happens next is the stuff of TV movies – if only it weren’t all true. As the first feature by director Ward Serrill, its shaggy-dog production values run the risk of being unfavorably compared to the acclaimed 1990s basketball doc Hoop Dreams, but that would be unfair. The film is hopeful and moving, winning on its own heartfelt terms, eventually overcoming its technical shortcomings with true human emotion.
Kinsey Scale: 1 (No mention of the undercurrent of lesbianism in women’s sports, but then that’s not the point of the film, so it’s not missed. There is, however, some very interesting female basketball coach hair-styling – read: extreme mullets – going on.)
Six-year-old Damien ( Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) is the son of Satan. He barely speaks, but he knows how to glare demonically. His human parents (Julia Stiles, Liev Schrieber) are unaware of this, even as bizarre tragedies and mysterious deaths surround Damien’s every move. Enter a literal Nanny from Hell (Mia Farrow), who helps orchestrate Damien’s silent-but-deadly antics, and the pair seems like an unstoppable force in this remake of the 1976 original. Another unstoppable force is this movie’s unintentional humor. Not up to the task of being genuinely scary, it succeeds only as histrionic horror camp (with some gruesome gore thrown in to appease its target audience) and as a strange bedfellow to The Da Vinci Code‘s Catholic-bashing. And for true horror fans, that’s just not evil enough.
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Schrieber played a drag queen in the ’90s comedy Mixed Nuts. Co-star David Thewlis played the poet Verlaine in Total Eclipse.)
ALSO IN THEATERS:
An Inconvenient Truth
When Vice President Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the controversial 2000 presidential election, he did not retreat from public life, but instead went on tour. He hit the lecture circuit, delivering a slideshow on global warming and its disastrous, potentially apocalyptic effects. Filmmaker Davis Guggenheim melds large chunks of Gore’s road show with biographical snippets that reveal the roots of the man’s passionate commitment. Perhaps what is most surprising in this straightforward documentary is that the politician with a reputation for being stiff and long-winded comes across as neither. Far from dry, Gore’s presentation is lively, engaging, and witty. Even though the situation he describes is dire, he remains upbeat and assured in his conviction that solutions exist to turn it around.
Kinsey Scale: 0 (Nothing queer here.)
Brooke (Jennifer Aniston) and Gary (Vince Vaughn) are breaking up. Unfortunately, they co-own their very valuable apartment, and neither wants to be the first to move out. So they stay and torment one another with dirty dishes, disinterest, and dates with other people, missing each other more and more with every passing day. It’s not as predictable as you may think, and it’s got more than its share of funny lines, but what’s missing is a sense of ingenuity, a novel approach to the death of romance. Worse, the scenes between Vaughn and his favorite on-screen mate,Swingers star Jon Favreau, constantly threaten to turn the movie into the story of their hilarious friendship, rather than one about a couple on the rocks.
Kinsey Scale: 2 (There are two hilarious gay supporting characters played by Justin Long and John Michael Higgins, and queer director Peyton Reed is at the reins. Co-star Joey Lauren Adams played a lesbian in Chasing Amy, while co-star Judy Davis was in the lesbian-themed Gaudi Afternoon and Serving in Silence, and played gay icon Judy Garland in Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows: .)
The Da Vinci Code
Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), an expert in decoding symbols, finds himself caught up in a murder mystery. After a man is killed inside the Louvre museum and clues are discovered in Da Vinci’s paintings, Langdon and French cryptologist Sophie Leveu (Audrey Tautou) follow the puzzling trail that leads to a secret religious society connected to the Catholic Church. As the mystery is slowly decoded, they learn that the answer lies in a secret that could destroy Christianity entirely. And “slow” is the operative word here. This 150-minute film plods along like a thorough but not-all-that-enthusiastic detective. And as it nears its fairly predictable climax, the script retreats and attempts to placate those audience members who might find the fictional conspiracy theory offensive, losing the courage of its convictions with a misguided attempt to be all things to all people.
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Tom Hanks played a gay man in Philadelphia and made a name for himself early in his career dressing in drag on the sitcom Bosom Buddies. Co-star Ian McKellen is openly gay and has played gay characters in several films. Co-star Alfred Molina played gay in Prick Up Your Ears.)
Just My Luck
Manhattan account executive Ashley Albright (Lindsay Lohan) leads such a charmed existence that every situation magically turns to her advantage. But fortune deserts her when she kisses sad sack Jake (Chris Pine) at a party. Ashley’s life becomes a disaster. She can reclaim her good luck with another smooch – but she has to find the guy first. This anemic romantic comedy plays like a sitcom, which would not be a bad thing if director Donald Petrie had succeeded in his obvious aim to mold the auburn-tressed Lohan after another famous redhead, Lucille Ball. But Lohan is no Lucy; she possesses neither a gift for slapstick nor comic timing. Instead, she comes across exactly as what she is: an awkward teenager in way over her head.
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Pine guest-starred on Six Feet Under, while co-star Missi Pyle had roles in Trick and As Good As It Gets, and co-star Tovah Feldshuh appeared in Citizen Cohn and Kissing Jessica Stein.)
Shoe manufacturer Charlie Price (Joel Edgerton) is on the verge of shuttering his failing factory when a chance encounter with drag chanteuse Lola (Chiwetel Ejiofor) inspires him to give the business another chance. Though it scandalizes his homophobic staff, Charlie intends to save their jobs by hiring Lola as a consultant and creating a line of sexy stilettos designed specifically for men. Humor, romance, and sentimentality blend uneasily in this feel-good British comedy. The factory workers are mostly stereotypes, and a climactic, ill-conceived argument between Charlie and Lola nearly derails the entire movie. But Lola’s cabaret act more than balances out those weaknesses. Ejiofor is simply incandescent as he combines sensuality, soul, and sass in what ought to be a star-making performance.
Kinsey Scale: 4 (Part of the film takes place in the gay nightclub where Lola performs, and an entire troupe of drag queens are on hand for a Milan fashion show. The movie also uses the factory workers’ homophobia to drive home a lesson about tolerance and acceptance, but it is so reticent on the subject of Lola’s own sex life that it could use that lesson itself. Ejiofor previously appeared in Spike Lee’s lesbian drama, She Hate Me. Co-star Linda Bassett had a role in the The Hours.)
Mission: Impossible III
Secret agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is on the most dangerous assignment of his life: to track down the sadistic arms dealer (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who has kidnapped Hunt’s new wife (Michelle Monaghan). Thanks to direction and a script co-written by popular TV creator J.J. Abrams ( Felicity, Alias, Lost), the series finally gets what it needs: the inclusion of a real-world sense of humor and a narrative life for Hunt outside of perilous stunts and stuff being blown up. So yes, that makes this the best of the three action films so far. But then there’s Tom Cruise, who has always come off as a cold, detached action hero, whose alienating presence can drain all the blood from the screen. And no amount of adorable wedding sequences or appearances by quirky comic Brit actors like Simon Pegg ( Shaun of the Dead) can warm it up.
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Hoffman has played gay several times, winning an Oscar for his portrayal of the title character in Capote. Several co-stars have also played gay or bisexual characters: Ving Rhames in Holiday Heart, Billy Crudup in Stage Beauty, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers in Velvet Goldmine.)
Over the Hedge
Rascally raccoon RJ (voice of Bruce Willis) has one week to replace Vincent the bear’s (Nick Nolte) destroyed stash of junk food or it’s curtains. The ring-tailed creature cons a group of foraging animals – including Verne (Garry Shandling), a suspicious turtle; Hammy (Steve Carell), a dim-witted squirrel; and Ozzie (William Shatner), a fearful opossum – into helping him raid suburban kitchens, putting them in jeopardy when the exterminator comes to call. This lively animated feature scores exceptionally well-cast voices, effervescent songs, and a script full of both verbal and visual wit. The animals are adorable, even the homicidal bear, who will captivate the kids. But the movie’s real charm lies in its deft satire of suburbia and the less savory aspects of human eating habits.
Kinsey Scale: 1.5 (Nolte played bisexual writer Neal Cassady in Heart Beat and has starred in a couple of Merchant/Ivory Films, while Carell played Uncle Arthur in Bewitched. Co-stars with queer credits include Wanda Sykes, Catherine O’Hara, and Allison Janney.)
Dan Millman (Scott Mechlowicz) is a talented young college gymnast on his way to Olympic gold. Disabled by a serious leg injury, he fights back with the help of a strangely magnetic and mysterious older man (Nick Nolte). The wise and benevolent mentor helps the young man find inner strength and peace, even near-magical physical healing for his shattered leg. In other words, it’s a load of nonsense – heavy-handed, silly, and ponderously directed, just asking to be mocked. The film is made more unsettling by the fact that convicted child molester Victor Salva directed it, and its subject matter – the older mentor with special awareness guiding the (smoking hot) younger man to true wisdom – is textbook pedophilic thinking. Avoid at all costs.
Kinsey Scale: 1 (No overt queer content, but the camera loves the bodies of the cast of almost-always-shirtless and muscular young men – a lot.)
A New Year’s celebration comes to an abrupt halt on the luxury liner Poseidon when a rogue wave swamps the ship, capsizing it. While most passengers elect to await rescue in the grand ballroom, former New York mayor Robert Ramsey (Kurt Russell) and gambler Dylan Johns (Josh Lucas) head a group of 10 people determined to escape the sinking vessel. Excellent special effects and Wolfgang Petersen’s brisk direction keep this disaster drama afloat in the face of its sometimes-laughable implausibility. Characters are tissue-thin; the women, in particular, are portrayed as little more than passive, panicked window dressing. Despite that, Petersen creates genuine tension as the survivors make their way through the bowels of the ship, danger and the threat of death lurking at every turn.
Kinsey Scale: 2 (Among the survivors is Richard Dreyfuss as a heartbroken gay man who changes his mind about committing suicide when the wave hits, opting for heroics instead. Lucas played a queer character in the thriller The Deep End; co-star Mia Maestro had a role in Frida; and co-star Freddy Rodriguez was a regular on Six Feet Under.)
Bob Munro (Robin Williams) suffers from both job and family anxieties. His employer is trying to phase him out of the company, and his wife (Cheryl Hines) and kids are living separate lives, no matter that they’re all under the same roof. His solution? Rent the ugliest RV available and take them on a family togetherness road trip. If you’ve seen National Lampoon’s Vacation, then you know what happens next. This is the kinder, gentler, family-film version of that irreverent ’80s comedy. And while it lacks the bite of its predecessor, the script is sharper and more sarcastically funny than anyone probably expected it to be. Adding to its appeal is a drastically toned-down Robin Williams, whose unhinged riffing can grow tiresome very quickly. Here, he’s funny without resorting to his usual manic antics, and that’s the nicest surprise of all.
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Williams played gay in The Birdcage, did drag in Mrs. Doubtfire, and had a cameo in To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar)
On Sept. 11, 2001, passengers on United’s New York-to-San Francisco flight 93 are unaware that three other planes have already been hijacked with deadly consequences, when their own comes under attack by al Qaeda extremists. While chaos reigns in air-control towers and the military debates rules of engagement, the flight’s passengers stage a desperate rebellion. Paul Greengrass’ documentary-style, near-real-time theoretical re-creation of what happened during that doomed flight is powerful, necessarily moving, and deeply cynical. It offers no new information and no perspective; instead it promotes fear more effectively than any terror alert, as it wallows in images of panic and death. Ultimately, Greengrass, like the 9/11 hijackers, exploits United 93’s passengers for his own ends.
Kinsey Scale: 2 (Greengrass does little to differentiate one passenger from another, not even using names. But look closely at the young man in the rugby shirt and baseball cap – that is Mark Bingham, a gay man.)
X-Men: The Last Stand
It’s Magneto (Ian McKellen) versus Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) as the mutants take sides in a battle over a “cure” for mutations in this third X-Men installment. As science finds a solution for the genetic differences and super-powers associated with being a mutant, factions of the X-Men find themselves locked in a war with “homo sapiens” and within their own ranks. It’s a fun ride – the fight sequences in particular are spectacular – with enough nods to X-Men lore to satisfy the comic book’s devoted fan base. And for those who’ve never seen the previous chapters or turned a single page of the original Marvel comic, the movie is a relatively easy-to-follow primer on all things “X.”
Kinsey Scale: 3 (Technically, there is no gay content in the film. However, the character of The Beast – played here by Kelsey Grammer – is gay in the comic book. Meanwhile, the entire story can be read as an allegory about gay persecution and efforts to “cure” people who don’t view themselves as sick. McKellen is openly gay and has played gay in films several times, while Jackman portrayed Peter Allen on Broadway in The Boy from Oz. Co-star Patrick Stewart played gay in Jeffrey.)