Tech (Anthony Mackie) is a promising young basketball player who hopes his skill on the basketball court will get him out of the ‘hood. He goes off to visit a college with med-school-bound best pal Noah (Wesley Jonathan), but the two run afoul of wickedness and temptation ranging from a slutty golddigger (Eva Pigford, of “America’s Next Top Model” fame) to an evil sports promoter (Wayne Brady). That kind of casting might lead you to believe that this is a sketch from the lost season of “Chapelle’s Show,” but no, we’re supposed to take the ridiculous melodrama totally seriously. This dopey, low-budget sudser breaks out every cliche except the violin-playing boxer raising money to get an operation for his blind sister. Stay home and watch ESPN instead.
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Mackie played a gay college student in the queer-film-fest fave “Brother to Brother,” and he impregnated a lot of lesbians in Spike Lee’s “She Hate Me.” Another Spike Lee vet in the cast is Kristen Wilson, who appeared in the director’s gay-inclusive “Get on the Bus.” Pigford is a gay icon thanks to her victory on Cycle 3 of “ANTM.”)
This new Lassie adventure reaches back to the past, to the original 1943 film, “Lassie Come Home,” and to the 1940 book that inspired it. When the Carracloughs (Samantha Morton, John Lynch, Jonathan Mason) need money for food, they’re forced to sell their beloved dog, Lassie. But Lassie bristles at the cruel treatment delivered by her new keepers and escapes, enduring hardships and near-death scenarios on her journey home, which will make less hardy kids (and adults) in the audience gasp in terror. It’s a throwback to older child-centric films where harsh reality often reared its head as a matter of course (think “Old Yeller” instead of “Garfield”). But the happy ending is just around the corner, and the dignified nature of the proceedings makes it both satisfying cinema and tear-wrenching entertainment.
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Lynch appeared in Derek Jarman’s “Edward II,” co-star Peter O’Toole played historically queer figure T.E. Lawrence in “Lawrence of Arabia,” and Lassie, a female dog, is always played by a male. The original “Lassie Come Home” starred a young Roddy McDowell.)
The Wicker Man
When his ex-fiancee, Willow (Kate Beahan), begs him to help find her missing daughter, California cop Edward Malus (Nicolas Cage) heads for her home on a private Puget Sound island. There, he discovers an odd matriarchal society offended by his ham-fisted investigation. What is supposed to be an eerie thriller (a remake of a 1973 film of the same name) is instead another exercise in blatant misogyny for writer/director Neil LaBute. In an otherwise muddled scenario lacking all logic, apprehensive scorn for women is the one crystal-clear element. But while LaBute’s motivation might have been to put women in what he sees as their place, it is Cage who ultimately suffers, ironically stranded in the thankless role of a blundering hysteric.
Kinsey Scale: 1 (While the women in the movie profess to see men only as a means of procreation and a source of manual labor, there is no hint that they have any attraction for each other. Co-star Francis Conroy was a regular on “Six Feet Under” and appeared in Charles Busch’s “Die, Mommie, Die!.” “Happy Endings”‘ closet case, Jason Ritter, and “James Dean” star James Franco appear in cameo roles. LaBute has directed several films with lesbian characters or situations, most recently “Possession.”)
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When high school senior Bartleby (Justin Long) can’t get into a single university, he and his friends create a fake college (South Harmon Institute of Technology – careful with that acronym) to fool their parents. But before they know it, the ruse involves leasing a building, hosting a student body, and even creating a curriculum – albeit one heavy on courses like “Walking Around and Thinking About Things.” A charming and breezy throwback to such ’80s collegiate slobs-versus-snobs comedies as “Revenge of the Nerds” and “Up the Creek,” “Accepted” gets by on goodwill, goofy energy, and sparkling performances, particularly from Long and Jonah Hill as Bartleby’s chubby sidekick. “Accepted” is no classic, but it takes smarts to make a movie this dumb be this entertaining.
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Long played Jennifer Aniston’s gay gallery assistant in “The Break-Up” and co-starred in lesbian director Angela Robinson’s “Herbie: Fully Loaded.” Maria Thayer – who plays a type-A personality named Rory who doesn’t get into Yale, a shout-out to “Gilmore Girls” – is also the object of Amy Sedaris’ affection in the movie “Strangers with Candy.”)
Otis (voice of Kevin James) is a cow – OK, technically a bull, but he’s got an udder – who lives to party and joyride. That doesn’t sit well with his dad, Ben (Sam Elliott), who has the responsibility of protecting the barnyard animals from marauding coyotes. But when those coyotes attack and kill Ben – in a sequence that may be too much for younger viewers – Otis has to step up and learn to be a protective adult in order to save his animal pals. This would-be comedy clocks in at just under 90 minutes, but it feels endless, probably because there’s nothing here you haven’t seen before far too many times. Anthropomorphic animals? Check. Pop-culture references? Check. Soon-to-be-dated slang? Check. Celebrity voices (including Wanda Sykes, Danny Glover, and Andie MacDowell)? Check. Worth checking out? Nope.
Kinsey Scale: 1 ( No gay content, but MacDowell starred in the queer-inclusive “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” and gay-favorite Sykes guest-starred on “Will & Grace.”)
At Idlewild, Georgia’s hottest speakeasy – named “Church” – local undertaker Percival (Andre Benjamin) tickles the ivories, and his boyhood friend Rooster (Antwan A. Patton) sings. It is also the place where their lives veer in opposite directions as Percival romances chanteuse Angel (Paula Patton), while Rooster locks horns with psycho gangster Trumpy (Terrence Howard). Benjamin and Antwan Patton are better known as the hip-hop duo OutKast, so it isn’t surprising that the songs in this Depression-era pastiche are anachronistic. That conceit works – musical interludes featuring Hinton Battle’s muscular choreography are spectacular – but the drama never gels. While Benjamin is appealing, he lacks chemistry with his leading lady. His partner Patton fares even worse, coming across as colorless and wooden, and no match for the charismatic Howard.
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Macy Gray as one of the club’s singers leads a chorus line in a sexy, sapphic number. Howard appeared in the queer melodrama “Johns,” Gray had a role in “Domino,” and co-star Cicely Tyson was in Hollywood’s watered-down adaptation of Fannie Flagg’s novel “Fried Green Tomatoes.”)
In 1900 Vienna, the magician Eisenheim (Edward Norton) captures the attention of audiences and the authorities with tricks that seem to defy physics. But his presence in the city turns dangerous for his childhood sweetheart, Princess Sophie (Jessica Biel), when their reunion spurs a dangerous rage in Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell), her fiance. This romantic thriller boasts a handsome cast, luminous cinematography, a delicate Philip Glass score, and the beauty of Prague aptly subbing for turn-of-the-century Vienna. Unfortunately, writer-director Neil Burger fails to deliver any real drama thanks to his own flaccid direction and a derivative story that never quite adds up. Performances are excellent, but it is depressing to see an actor as talented as Sewell reduced to such a cartoon villain.
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Biel was part of “The Rules of Attraction”‘s sexually adventurous ensemble. Sewell was Albert Finney’s secret crush in “A Man of No Importance,” and he co-starred in “Carrington.”)
In the summer of 1976, part-time bartender Vince Papale (Mark Wahlberg) feels as if he is as big a loser as his beloved but floundering Philadelphia Eagles. So when rookie NFL coach Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear) announces open tryouts, scrappy bar league player Papale only reluctantly heeds the call and shocks himself when that audition leads to an invitation to training camp and a chance to make the team. This fact-based Cinderella tale hews closely to the familiar cliches of the inspirational sports drama, but it transcends that hackneyed outline to emerge as far better than average. Wahlberg and Kinnear head an exceptional cast; the on-field action is convincingly bone-jarring; and director Ericson Core does a masterful job in evocatively re-creating the mid-’70s era.
Kinsey Scale: 1 (There is a lot of male bonding, but not a whiff of homoeroticism. Wahlberg starred in “Boogie Nights,” while Kinnear received an Oscar nod for his performance as the gay neighbor in “As Good As It Gets,” and also starred in “Auto Focus,” “The Matador,” and “Little Miss Sunshine.” Co-stars with queer credits include Elizabeth Banks, Kirk Acevedo, Kevin Conway, Michael Nouri, and Paige Turco.)
Little Miss Sunshine
Seven-year-old Olive Hoover (Abigail Breslin) dreams of winning the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant. Her parents, would-be self-help guru father Richard (Greg Kinnear) and mother Cheryl (Toni Collette) load the entire family – including surly teenager Dwayne (Paul Dano), Richard’s heroin-sniffing father (Alan Arkin), and Cheryl’s suicidal, Proust-scholar brother Frank (Steve Carell) – into an ancient VW bus for a two-day trip to Redondo Beach. The dysfunctional Hoovers are nearly as broken down as their faltering van, but part of this fractured family’s charm is the way it comes together in a pinch. The outrageous humor is often pitch black, crowned by a show-stopping beauty-pageant climax, yet the comedy is also sweet and affectionate toward its wounded characters. And the ensemble cast is terrific.
Kinsey Scale: 2 (Frank is gay and smarting over a broken love affair. Kinnear received an Oscar nomination for his role as a gay man in “As Good as It Gets,” and also starred in “Auto Focus” and “The Matador.” Collette’s queer credits include roles in “Velvet Goldmine,” “The Hours,” and “Connie and Carla.” Arkin did a guest shot on “Will & Grace.” Dano appeared in “L.I.E.” Carell channeled queer actor Paul Lynde to play Uncle Arthur in “Bewitched.”)
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.
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.)
Tyler Gage (Channing Tatum) is a hip-hop vandal who gets assigned to community service at a snooty art school. When dance student Nora (Jenna Dewan) catches him busting a move in the parking lot, she corrals him into filling in for her injured partner so she can rehearse for the big senior showcase. Will these kids from the opposite sides of the tracks fall in love? Will Tyler be inspired to make something of his life? Gee, what do “you” think? The bad writing and wooden performances – Tatum is even less charismatic than Josh Hartnett – could be forgiven if the dance sequences were transcendent. But aside from one choreographed nightclub scene, the footwork is as shoddy as the production values. Dancing shouldn’t be this dull.
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Out director Adam Shankman is one of the film’s producers, but he must not have provided any queer notes to director Anne Fletcher, because there are no gay characters on screen. What kind of art-school dance department has an all-hetero student body? )
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
Redneck NASCAR racing champion Ricky Bobby (Will Ferrell) is number one on the circuit and feels invincible, but his confidence is shattered and his career undermined when he finds himself coming in second to Formula One driver Jean Girard (Sacha Baron Cohen). To add insult to injury, Girard is French, queer, and seemingly sophisticated. Ferrell and director Adam McKay penned this good-natured, gleefully dopey twin satire of NASCAR and sports movies with the seemingly sole intention of gathering the cream of comic actors and letting them cut loose. That they do, delivering a symphony of hilarious performances so finely honed that even the lamest jokes work and punch lines deliver a wallop. This is that true cinematic rarity: a dumb comedy that plays it smart.
Kinsey Scale: 3 (This represents a first – a mainstream summer comedy in which a lead character is openly and positively gay with little of the homophobia or panic that normally attends such characters. Ferrell appeared in “The Producers,” “Boat Trip,” and “Zoolander.” Co-star Jane Lynch is openly lesbian and has had a recurring role on “The L Word.” Among co-star John C. Reilly’s queer-interest credits are appearances in “Boogie Nights,” “The Hours,” and “Chicago.” Pat Hingle played J. Edgar Hoover in “Citizen Cohn” and also had a role in “Bastard Out of Carolina,” while Molly Shannon played recurring characters on “Will & Grace” and “Sex and the City.” Andy Richter – who plays Girard’s husband, Gregory – also guested on “Will & Grace.”)
World Trade Center
Port Authority policemen John McLaughlin (Nicolas Cage) and Will Jimeno (Michael Pena) rush to the scene when planes slam into the World Trade Center. But when the towers collapse, leaving them trapped and gravely injured, they need to rescue themselves. Oliver Stone directs this true-life 9/11 drama of courage, survival, and hope with atypical restraint and grace. Scenes of the men’s dire situation in the ruined building alternate with those of their fearful families to provide a microcosm of that horrible day’s events. What is remarkable is that while the early scenes – particularly those that use documentary footage – are disturbing, what emerges is something far more optimistic. Instead of dwelling on terror and tragedy, the movie celebrates the triumph of the human spirit.
Kinsey Scale: 1.5 (Stone previously made “Alexander,” about the bisexual Macedonian king, and “JFK,” in which he posits that a queer businessman was a lead conspirator behind the Kennedy assassination. Pena had a small part in the queer drama “Star Maps.” Among his co-stars, Maria Bello appeared in the homoerotic “Auto Focus”; Patti D’Arbanville made her screen debut in Andy Warhol’s “Flesh”; Maggie Gyllenhaal had a role in “Happy Endings”; Stephen Dorff played tranny superstar Candy Darling in “I Shot Andy Warhol”; and Gyllenhaal, Dorff, and Michael Shannon previously worked together in John Waters’ “Cecil B. DeMented.”)