Director Terry Zwigoff delivers a cinematic lump of coal with this lame Yuletide satire. Foul-mouthed, drunken safecracker Willie (Billy Bob Thornton) and diminutive partner Marcus (Tony Cox) pose as a department-store Santa and his elf in order to rob the joint on Christmas Eve. But their plans hit a snag when a store detective (Bernie Mac) becomes suspicious at the same time that a comely barmaid (Lauren Graham) and an 8-year-old misfit (Brett Kelly) threaten to melt Willie’s ice-cold heart. Vulgarity substitutes for wit, and Willie’s insinuation into the child’s household is more creepy than heartwarming. Although Thornton is brilliant as the dissolute faux Kris Kringle, it’s a great performance in service of a cringe-inducing character. Ho-ho-horrible.
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 2 (The movie is heavy on homophobic humor. This was the last movie role for deceased co-star John Ritter, whose character pretended to be gay on the classic sitcom “Three’s Company.” Also, Ritter played a queer character in Thornton’s breakthrough film, “Sling Blade.”)
The Haunted Mansion
When New Orleans real estate agents Jim and Sara Evers (Eddie Murphy, Marsha Thomason) stop by to close the deal on a new listing, they find that the lavish manse has an unusual pest problem – ghosts. Even the homeowner turns out to be the “late” Master Gracey (Nathaniel Parker), who becomes convinced that Sara is his long-lost love reincarnated and determines to win her back. The computer-generated effects are entertaining, Thomason makes a lovely damsel in distress, and Terence Stamp and Wallace Shawn are amusing as otherworldly servants in this latest Disney confection based on a theme-park ride. But the flabby blend of horror, comedy, and romance quickly grows stale, thanks to Murphy’s shameless mugging and a dull, feeble story.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 1 (Stamp’s career includes roles in such queer-flavored films as “Billy Budd,” “Teorema,” and “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” while Shawn appeared in “Prick Up Your Ears.” Co-star Jennifer Tilly steamed up the screen in the lesbian noir “Bound.”)
Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat
While Mom (Kelly Preston) is away, little Sally (Dakota Fanning) and Conrad (Spencer Breslin) have their world invaded by the Cat in the Hat (Mike Myers). It’s all downhill from there. Really downhill. Unlike in the children’s book beloved by millions of people – in which the Cat, while full of id-powered mischief, is still something of a gentleman – this Cat is just a furry Austin Powers by way of the Cowardly Lion. He is flatulent, able to projectile-vomit, gets erections, makes castration jokes, and sets up numerous profane gags (like oral sex with an elephant) that, for the sake of the PG rating, stop short of being spelled out. In other words, he decimates the idea of the “family” film just so he can do unfunny gross-out schtick. The result is utterly toxic.
Grade: F Kinsey Scale: 1 (The Cat does drag in one Carmen Miranda-inspired scene; he also acts stereotypically gay while critiquing some drapes and a woman’s outfit. Myers played Studio 54 owner Steve Rubell in “54,” while supporting player Sean Hayes is Jack on “Will & Grace.”)
When gangly Buddy Elf (Will Ferrell) discovers that the reason he’s never fit in at the North Pole is because he’s really human, he takes off through the Candy Cane forest in search of his real father (James Caan). He’s even more of a fish out of water in Manhattan, where Dad is a shady editor and no one believes in Santa Claus (Ed Asner). This is a real holiday miracle, that rare family film that will charm kids and adults alike. Director Jon Favreau has created a smart, funny film that feels instantly familiar as it pays homage to past Christmas classics while remaining completely fresh. Ferrell emerges a star in a part that plays to his goofy, sweet-natured persona and genius for physical comedy.
Grade: A Kinsey Scale: 1 (Ferrell had a cameo role in “Boat Trip,” while co-star Bob Newhart appeared in “In & Out.”)
After meeting a mysterious, bleeding girl on the road in the middle of a storm, prison psychologist Miranda Grey (Halle Berry) blacks out. Days later she awakens in one of the prison’s cells, accused of the brutal murder of her warden husband (Charles S. Dutton) and seemingly haunted by the bleeding girl’s specter. This wanna-be psychological/supernatural thriller suffers from ridiculous dialogue, a far-fetched story that brings on giggles instead of chills, cheesy special effects, and director Matthieu Kassovitz’s strange belief that blinking fluorescent lights create an ominous mood. What makes the experience truly excruciating, though, is Berry’s histrionic performance, which is pitched at an ear-splitting, hysterical whine for most of the film’s 95 minutes.
Grade: F Kinsey Report: 1 (Co-star Robert Downey Jr. has appeared in gay-themed films, while co-star Penelope Cruz is one of gay director Pedro Almodovar’s muses and starred in the queer-themed “Woman on Top.”)
A mystery writer (Colin Firth) falling in love with his housekeeper (Lucia Moniz), a middle-aged businessman (Alan Rickman) contemplating an affair, and a smitten 11-year-old (Thomas Sangster) turning to his newly widowed stepfather (Liam Neeson) for romantic advice are among the multitude of characters in this sprawling Yuletide romance. The multiple superficial storylines veer wildly between comedy and skin-crawling sentimentality, and never rise above the level of soap opera. Bill Nighy as a bawdy, aging pop star on the comeback trail and Hugh Grant as England’s lovelorn prime minister are hilarious; but, for the most part, a sublime cast is stranded in a series of predictable, one-note roles. To the film’s credit, London has never looked lovelier in its holiday raiment of lights and decorations.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 1 (Though he’s straight, Nighy’s character realizes his only lasting relationship has been with his best friend and manager, making this platonic bond “the love of my life.” Firth, Grant, and co-stars Emma Thompson and Laura Linney have all appeared in queer-themed projects. Writer-director Richard Curtis previously scripted “Four Weddings and a Funeral.”)
Master and Commander: The Far Side of The World
In 1806, during the Napoleonic Wars, Captain Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) and his crew sail the seas in Britain’s HMS Surprise, only to find “themselves” surprised by a sudden attack from a bigger, faster, French ship. In his obsession to go on the offensive and fight back, the otherwise levelheaded captain runs the risk of putting his men in danger. This is no “Pirates of the Caribbean,” but instead a serious, handsome, well-made drama from acclaimed director Peter Weir (“The Truman Show,” “Witness”), with strong direction, a compelling story, and tremendous effects. There’s also a solid cast, including Paul Bettany (who co-starred in “A Beautiful Mind”) as the ship’s doctor; and Crowe gives his strongest, least show-offy performance since “The Insider.”
Grade: A Kinsey Scale: 1 (In odd moments, the close friendship between Crowe’s and Bettany’s characters resembles that of a bickering married couple – but nothing more. Bettany appeared in the screen adaptation of “Bent,” while Crowe played a gay man in “The Sum of Us.” And finally, a caveat for those who saw this film’s trailer and thought, “Yes! Russell Crowe takes off his shirt in this one!” – it’s in the trailer only, just like that flying tire in “Twister.”)
A top-of-the-line ensemble cast competes to see who can deliver the most over-the-top performance in this turgid drama about three childhood friends who reunite over a tragedy. When ex-con Jimmy’s (Sean Penn) daughter is murdered, his old pal Sean (Kevin Bacon), now a homicide detective, is called into investigate, while their former playmate Dave (Tim Robbins) – still fighting the demons of childhood sexual abuse – comes under suspicion for the crime. The film starts out promisingly, as director Clint Eastwood eerily limns the events leading to young Dave’s molestation; but it soon loses all suspense and dramatic tension, thanks to its too-slow pacing. Its greatest sins, though, are the contrived, coincidence-dependent plot, cliched dialogue, and ham-fisted performances.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 2 (Bacon, Penn, and co-stars Laura Linney, Marcia Gay Harden, and Tom Guiry have all appeared in gay-themed movies. Eastwood made the queer true-crime drama “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”)
Nick Easter (John Cusack) is a juror with an agenda. Along with his scheming partner on the outside, Marlee (Rachel Weisz), he plans to manipulate the outcome of a trial against a gun manufacturer in order to get a big payoff. Standing in his way are a corrupt jury “consultant” (Gene Hackman) and a principled prosecuting attorney (Dustin Hoffman). Standing in the way of this movie being any good are a few other obstacles: Hackman’s penchant for yelling his lines, Hoffman’s constant furrowed-brow mugging, the screenwriter’s insistence that the audience be simultaneously confused and condescended to, and Cusack’s contractual obligation to be shot looking cute in a downpour at least once in every film he makes. Add an ending you can see coming from a hundred paces, and running away sounds like the smart choice.
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 1 (Several cast members have appeared in gay-themed films: Cusack in “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” Hackman in “The Birdcage,” Weisz in “Bent,” and supporting actor Bruce Davison in “Longtime Companion” and “It’s My Party.” And Hoffman, of course, was “Tootsie.”)
Scary Movie 3
In this third installment of the horror-parody series, Cindy (Anna Faris) and friend Brenda (Regina Hall), now adults, must investigate “Signs”-like crop circles and “The Ring”-esque killer videotapes, and also assist the president (Leslie Nielsen) in preventing an alien invasion. Meanwhile, an Eminem-style rapper (Simon Rex) does a lot of rhyming for no good reason other than that someone thought throwing in an “8 Mile” subplot wouldn’t be too out of place. In fact, there seems to be no good reason for most of the things going on in this dismally low-brow film. There are moments of humor – most of which involve Nielsen’s resurrection of his “Airplane!” character – but otherwise the movie tries too hard for almost no payoff. And if you can believe it, the gags here make the first two movies look witty and sophisticated.
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 1 (There are two slight, throwaway moments of homoeroticism involving a hip-hop promoter, played by Anthony Anderson. But that’s it – there’s nothing resembling the explicit gay content of the first “Scary Movie.” Meanwhile, cast members in cameo roles – like Jeremy Piven and Queen Latifah – have appeared in queer-themed projects, and Rex began his film career in porn videos aimed at gay men.)
The late Tupac Shakur, one of rap’s most complicated figures, is the subject of this documentary, which is less objective than 2002’s “Biggie and Tupac.” But what the film lacks in perspective it makes up for in intimacy. Compiled from archival concert footage and family photographs, and “narrated” by the man himself (thanks to a voice-over soundtrack cut together from various interviews), it’s a moving portrait. The artist predicts his own death; laughs about a very temporary friendship with Janet Jackson and his dorky, ballet-class-taking teenage years; describes his “thug life” philosophy; and glosses over some of his more violent tendencies. Although sometimes disquieting, the film is as compelling as Tupac himself, and a fitting memorial.
Grade: B+ Kinsey Scale: 1 (A quote from Shakur, describing himself: “When you’re raised by a woman, you’re gonna have some feminine characteristics. You’re gonna think like a woman.” He then goes on to confess his “soft,” introspective nature – something that would be career suicide for a gangsta rapper today – and it’s just one of the many fascinating moments in the film.)
Paul (Sean Penn), a professor needing a heart transplant, receives one when Jack (Benicio Del Toro), a born-again ex-con, accidentally kills the beloved husband and children of housewife Christina (Naomi Watts). Brought together by the tragedy, the three struggle to deal with grief, guilt, and their own mortality in this mostly admirable film. The fractured narrative style forces the audience to connect the dots of time, place, and relationship as the story unfolds fugue-like, past and present overlapping, and seemingly disparate lives ultimately combine to tell one story. Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“Amores Perros”) has great style, but allows easy platitudes like “life goes on” to cheapen the somber questions his characters grapple with. Still, moving, award-worthy performances by Watts, Penn, and Del Toro make the flaws forgivable and the heaviness manageable.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 1 (Watts starred in the lesbian-coded “Mulholland Drive.” Supporting player and budding screen dykon Clea Duvall has played gay a couple times and appeared in queer-themed films. The gayest thing Benicio Del Toro has ever done is appear in Madonna’s “La Isla Bonita” video and in “Big Top Pee-wee.”)