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By |2006-07-13T09:00:00-04:00July 13th, 2006|Entertainment|

A Scanner Darkly

Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) is an undercover cop addicted to the drug he’s been assigned to eradicate, a fictional high known as “Substance D.” In his world are two highly verbose junkies (Robert Downey Jr. and Woody Harrelson) and a dealer (Winona Ryder) with whom he becomes involved. This is a visually trippy feature – director Richard Linklater used a process known as “rotoscoping,” in which live action is digitally painted, creating a strange new form of animation. But unlike Linklater’s earlier rotoscoped feature – the deliriously weird and borderline nonsensical “Waking Life” – this movie is flatter and more plot-driven, intent on drawing parallels to the current paranoid political culture of surveillance and fear. The point is clearer this time around, to be sure, but its downbeat energy will probably keep the masses at bay.

Grade: B
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Downey’s haughty, drug-addled character can best be described as “effete,” yet not explicitly gay; the actor has played queer characters in other films. Reeves played a hustler in Gus Van Sant’s “My Own Private Idaho,” and Ryder starred in the gay-favorite cult comedy “Heathers.”)

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

Flamboyant pirate Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) seems destined to spend eternity in spectral servitude on the ocean floor when the monstrous Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) demands that he honor an old agreement. To escape his wretched fate, Sparrow – with help from old friends Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) – must capture Jones’ still-beating heart. The action rarely flags in this violent, swashbuckling adventure comedy that combines epic swordfights, light romance, cannibal hijinks, and ghostly shenanigans. This sequel to the popular “Curse of the Black Pearl” is almost too much of a good thing – it is a “long” two-and-a-half hours – but the infectious enthusiasm of a cast that appears to be having a wonderful time proves irresistible.

Grade: B+
Kinsey Scale: 1.5 (Jack Sparrow is straight, but with his eyeliner, satin, and lace, he is definitely a metrosexual of the high seas. Depp played transvestites in “Ed Wood” and the queer biopic “Before Night Falls,” and had one of his earliest starring movie roles in John Waters’ “Cry-Baby.” Knightley played a lesbian private eye in “Domino” and a teenager whose tomboy nature exposes a mother’s homophobia in “Bend It Like Beckham.” Bloom was a rent boy in “Wilde,” while Nighy appeared in the homoerotic drama “Enduring Love.” Co-stars with queer credits include Jonathan Pryce, Kevin McNally, Tom Hollander, and Geoffrey Rush.)

Strangers with Candy

Jerri Blank (Amy Sedaris) is a 47-year-old high school freshman making a not very earnest attempt to start her life over after years of drug addiction and prison in this anything-goes comedy based on the cult TV show of the same name. The plot of this mock after-school special consists of Jerri trying to earn her catatonic father’s love by winning the science fair, but what the movie’s really about is showcasing Sedaris’ beyond-irreverent brand of humor. Nothing is sacred, and everyone winds up looking utterly ridiculous. Normally this would be a good thing. But the skimpy script wears out its welcome in the second half, leaving Sedaris and co-conspirators Stephen Colbert (“The Colbert Report”) to carry the load. They succeed, but their next effort needs to feel like a movie instead of a sitcom episode stretched to 80 minutes.

Grade: B-
Kinsey Scale: 3 (Jerri is a bisexual character, even though it’s not a gay-themed film; and Sedaris is, of course, the sister of gay humorist David Sedaris. There’s a gay subplot – director Paul Dinello’s character and Colbert’s character are part of a closeted flirtation. Designer Todd Oldham and best-selling gay author David Rakoff make uncredited appearances, and cameos abound from gay-friendly actors, like Philip Seymour Hoffman, Justin Theroux, Matthew Broderick, and Sarah Jessica Parker.)

ALSO IN THEATERS:

The Break-Up

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.

Grade: B-
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: .)

Cars

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.

Grade: A-
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.)

Click

Workaholic architect Michael Newman (Adam Sandler) thinks he has resolved his career-vs.-family conflict when his new universal remote control allows him to manipulate time. But then the device begins fast-forwarding on its own, and he misses out on some of his life’s most significant moments. Predictable and derivative, what begins as a comedy evolves into a mawkish melodrama that delivers a heavy-handed lesson on the importance of putting family first. It is also offensive, thanks to Sandler’s churlish performance, the racist stereotyping of Michael’s Arab and Japanese clients, and the sexist, one-dimensional portrayal of virtually every female character. Only a charming and funny Christopher Walken provides some bright moments as the remote salesman hiding a private agenda.

Grade: C-
Kinsey Scale: 1.5 (Walken boast several queer credits, including “Illuminata,” in which he played a gay theater critic. Co-star Kate Beckinsale worked with gay director John Schlesinger on “Cold Comfort Farm,” and had roles in “Laurel Canyon” and “The Last Days of Disco”; Jennifer Coolidge played a lesbian in “Best in Show,” appeared in the queer comic thriller “Testosterone,” and co-starred in the “Legally Blonde” movies; and David Hasselhoff poked fun at himself for John Waters in “A Dirty Shame.”)

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.

Grade: B-
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.”)

The Devil Wears Prada

Brainy but frumpy Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) hopes to jumpstart a journalism career when she becomes “Runway” magazine editor Miranda Priestly’s (Meryl Streep) assistant. What begins as a crash course in haute couture quickly evolves into an apprenticeship in Hades, as imperious Miranda demands round-the-clock availability from her new lackey. While Hathaway is the nominal star of this witty, if sometimes overly broad satire of high fashion and the workplace, she pales next to the formidable, hilarious Streep. She is a delight to watch, whether playing up Miranda’s catlike glee in toying with her underlings or emphasizing the woman’s instinct for the jugular. Her droll discourse on the place of cerulean blue in the fashion food chain alone is worth the price of admission.

Grade: B+
Kinsey Scale: 2 (The movie never really acknowledges the strong gay presence and influence in fashion, and it is reticent on the sexuality of some characters, notably Miranda’s right-hand man, Nigel – played by Stanley Tucci – who is apparently gay. Streep has been in a number of queer-themed projects, most recently “Angels in America” and “The Hours,” and Hathaway was Jake Gyllenhaal’s unwitting beard in “Brokeback Mountain.” Co-stars with queer credits include Emily Blunt, Tracie Thoms, Simon Baker, Adrian Grenier, Daniel Sunjata, and David Marshall Grant. Director David Frankel helmed six episodes of “Sex and the City.”)

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift

Sean Boswell (Lucas Black) is a teenage troublemaker shipped off to Japan to avoid a stay in juvenile detention. Naturally he falls in with the high-speed racing crowd, a flashily dressed bunch of Japanese kids who “drift” (i.e., drive cars sideways around tight curves) through underground parking garages in illegal races. And when Sean crosses a young racer with ties to organized crime, the superfluous plot threatens to sink what is essentially a movie about driving cars very fast and crashing them in spectacular fashion. It’s never deep, but it’s also never boring, just a loud, good-looking tribute to speed and destruction for audiences unconcerned with having a “meaningful” time at the movies. It’s summer. Why not?

Grade: B
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Steeped in testosterone, this movie can’t help but occasionally fall into the kind of “Top Gun”-esque homoerotic camp that afflicts all films featuring attractive, glowering young men. But otherwise, there’s no specific queer content.)

The Lake House

A lakeside home holds a time-shifting mystery after Kate Forster (Sandra Bullock) moves and leaves a welcoming message for the next tenant. Alex Wyler (Keanu Reeves) finds her missive all right – only he lived in the house before her. The couple communicates through notes left in the mailbox, and they begin to fall in love, but time and circumstance may keep them from ever meeting. Bullock and Reeves are likable actors with terrific chemistry – no small feat when they share few scenes together – and their charisma goes a long way toward making this romantic trifle sizzle. The story is preposterous, the supporting characters are mostly stick figures, and scenes tend to run too long, but the stars are so amiable that it scarcely matters.

Grade: B
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Reeves played a bisexual hustler in Gus Van Sant’s “My Own Private Idaho,” collaborated with the director again in “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues,” and has other gay-themed projects to his credit on both stage and screen. Bullock’s two “Miss Congeniality” movies had queer content. Among co-stars with queer credits are Christopher Plummer, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Dylan Walsh, and Shoreh Aghdashloo.)

Nacho Libre

Nacho (Jack Black) is a cook in a Mexican monastery and helps care for the orphans who live there. But he harbors a secret ambition of becoming a “luchador” – a masked wrestler – a dream he attempts to turn into a reality after he forms a tag team with fierce, rail-thin Esqueleto (Hector Jimenez). This woeful comedy is nearly as flabby as Black’s pitiful pectoral muscles, consisting mainly of flatulence jokes and sight gags involving the woefully out-of-shape Black poured into tights, as he pretends to wrestle a variety of opponents, from dwarfs to bruisers built like cement mixers. The humor is not merely weak; director Jared Hess and his co-screenwriters also overstuff their script with racist stereotypes.

Grade: D
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Black appeared in an episode of “Will & Grace.” Among producer/co-screenwriter Mike White’s queer credits is “Chuck & Buck,” which he co-wrote and starred in. He is also openly bisexual and the son of gay activist minister Mel White.)

Say Uncle

Paul (Peter Paige) is a gay man who loves children. And when his beloved godson moves away, he innocently decides that befriending other children is the way to keep that love in his life. He does this by simply going to a local park and approaching small children – but, naturally, the parents he meets in the process are less than enthusiastic about his presence, going so far as to label him a potential threat to the community. This is a satire about homophobia and the heterosexist response to gay men’s relationships with children, but it fails on multiple levels. It’s neither funny nor smart enough to hit its target, and the main character is so absurdly naive to real-world concerns about child safety – a serious issue that has nothing to do with homophobia – that it’s impossible to take his side or take the film’s agenda seriously.

Grade: C-
Kinsey Scale: 6 (Openly gay actor Paige, who starred on Showtime’s “Queer As Folk,” wrote and directed the film. Co-star Kathy Najimy starred in “If These Walls Could Talk 2.” Co-star Melanie Lynksey appeared in “But I’m a Cheerleader” and played a teenage lesbian in “Heavenly Creatures.”)

Superman Returns

Picking up where “Superman 2” left off, The Man of Steel (Brandon Routh) returns to Earth after a futile attempt to search for the remains of his home planet, Krypton. What he finds back in Metropolis is a rejuvenated, evil-doing Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey). Meanwhile, former love Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) is raising a son with a new man (James Marsden) and giving Superman the cold shoulder. Naturally, this interpersonal drama takes a back seat to saving the world from Luthor’s maniacal schemes, which Superman does with all the heroism, humor, and humanity that’s been missing from so many recent superhero films. It’s a welcome return to the screen for a beloved character, and Bryan Singer’s skilled, affectionate direction keeps the effects and the emotions effortlessly balanced.

Grade: A
Kinsey Scaled: 2 (Where to begin? Director Singer is openly gay; co-star Parker Posey is a Gen X queer screen icon; gay actor Jack Larson – TV’s Jimmy Olsen of the ’50s – plays a bartender; and Ian Roberts, the openly gay Australian rugby star, plays one of Luthor’s henchmen. Spacey has played gay, and rumors about his own sexuality have circled him for years. Then there’s the almost rabid fascination with the sexuality of Superman in recent media reports, sparked by an “Advocate” article that never once presented him as gay. Rest assured, Superman doesn’t play for our team in this film, even if Singer’s camera lingers lovingly on Routh’s superhero-quality physical proportions.)

Waist Deep

O2 (Tyrese Gibson) is a second-strike ex-con trying to make good and raise his young son alone. A car-jacking-turned-kidnapping separates O2 from the boy, and he turns to street hustler Coco (Meagan Good) for help in finding those responsible. A $100,000 ransom turns the pair into a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde as they rob other criminals – and a few banks – in a desperate attempt to save the child’s life. It’s a rough, gritty ride with plenty of humor and thoroughly engaging, if cheap, action thrills. Yet as the movie speeds up and careens toward what seems like its inevitable ending, a maddeningly false move that screams “test audience” pops up and ruins an otherwise satisfying urban thriller. Escape the theater before the last moments and it’ll feel like entertainment money well spent.

Grade: B-
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Good starred in “D.E.B.S.” Co-star Kimora Lee Simmons is the fashion designer of the Baby Phat line and a former judge on “America’s Next Top Model.”)

Wordplay

It’s a documentary about people obsessed with crossword puzzles. And by the looks of it, every smart, funny, accomplished person in public life harbors a fetish for the puzzle in the Sunday edition of the “New York Times.” The film’s main wordplayer, “Times” puzzle editor Will Shortz, created a national championship that attracts hundreds of participants – including a top-ranking gay man – for one frenzied weekend a year, and the 2005 event is chronicled from start to finish with appropriate visual wit and style. Sprinkled liberally through this etymologist’s delight are interviews with puzzle-lovers Jon Stewart, Bill Clinton, the Indigo Girls, Ken Burns, and Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina, all declaring their devotion to the most difficult mind-game around.

Grade: A-
Kinsey Scale: 2 (In addition to a featured interview with the Indigo Girls, the documentary shows the championship-contending gay man from Florida, Trip Payne, at home with his partner. Their relationship is treated matter-of-factly, without comment.)

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.”

Grade: B
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.”)

About the Author:

BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.