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The Lord of The Rings: The Return of the King
Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) reach the end of their journey in this, the final and best installment of the trilogy. The story? It’s a long, complicated one, but, in a sentence, two little hobbits are sent on a mission to save the world from the terrible, destructive power of The Ring. In this chapter, their attempt to destroy it at Mount Doom is the catalyst for a gigantic battle between Good and Evil for the future of Middle Earth – a fight in which the spectacular special effects never crowd out the heart-wrenching emotional climax. It’s a perfectly balanced epic, one that will thrill you for its entire 200-minute running time. So take an afternoon off, settle in, and enjoy this holiday treat.
Grade: A+ Kinsey Scale: 2 (Sir Ian McKellen plays Gandalf, and fellow cast members Liv Tyler and Hugo Weaving have played gay. However, the gayest thing about this trilogy has been the ongoing subtext of a deep love affair between hobbits Frodo and Sam. No, it’s not queer in any explicit way, but the intimacy they share is so strong that in any other film it would find its denouement in a climactic kiss.)
Mona Lisa Smile
Art history professor Katherine Watson (Julia Roberts) lands the job of her dreams when posh Wellesley College hires her for the 1953-54 school year. But she quickly finds that the college is little more than a finishing school for pampered girls who aspire solely to marriage and motherhood. Katherine creates a scandal when she tries to motivate her students to want more, with a curriculum mixing modern art and feminism. Though the feminist angle does offer something new to a genre that is usually set in boys’ schools, this wan drama suffers from both over-familiarity and predictability. Roberts is too dour a presence to be convincing as anyone’s inspiration, but her younger co-stars are a lively bunch, particularly Maggie Gyllenhaal as a free-spirited bohemian.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Juliet Stevenson has a small role as the school nurse, a lesbian whose sexuality is accepted as a matter of fact. Co-star Marcia Gay Harden appeared in the queer romantic comedy “Gaudi Afternoon” and played Harper Pitt, the wife of a gay man, in Broadway’s “Angels in America.” Co-star Kirsten Dunst’s breakthrough role was in the homoerotic “Interview with a Vampire.”)
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.”)
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.”)
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.”)
Aspiring dancer/choreographer Honey Daniels (Jessica Alba) appears to be on the fast track to stardom when her moves come to the attention of hot hip-hop video director Michael Ellis (David Moscow). With her new success, Honey plans to put something back into the community by opening a dance studio to give local kids an alternative to gang life, a project that is imperiled by the backstabbing Michael. No cliche is left unturned in this well-meaning but vapid inspirational drama that features ho-hum choreography and real-life hip-hop artists Missy Elliott, Tweet, and Ginuwine. Honey’s perky personality is as flawless as her bodacious body, leaving no room for conflict or surprise, and rendering this already by-the-numbers story that much more predictable.
Grade: C Kinsey Report: 1 (In a tiny acknowledgment that gays are an integral part of the dance world, Honey and Michael attend a benefit for AIDS charity Broadway Cares.)
The Last Samurai
Alcoholic Civil War veteran Woodrow Algren (Tom Cruise) is recruited by the emperor of Japan to train his troops. Crushing the old-fashioned samurai warriors and modernizing Japan is the goal, but the troops have other plans. They capture Algren, teaching him their code and fighting skills. Because this is a Tom Cruise-as-hero movie, you know what happens next: Hero joins their side, becomes the best samurai ever, and fights bravely in a thrilling battle in the final act. All the while, Hero’s hair remains perfectly styled, and every close-up makes him look like the most serious – and seriously handsome – samurai around. The movie never lets you forget you’re looking at Tom Cruise; and it’s that self-important preening that sabotages this otherwise entertaining epic.
Grade: C+ Kinsey Scale: 1 (Director Edward Zwick was partially responsible for a somewhat landmark moment in ’80s television: He was co-creator of “thirtysomething,” which featured a famous two-gay-men-in-bed episode. Writer John Logan is openly gay. Cruise has yet to play gay, only coming close when Alan Cumming cruised him in “Eyes Wide Shut.”)
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.”)
Something’s Gotta Give
When Erica Barry (Diane Keaton) meets Harry Langer (Jack Nicholson), it’s because he’s dating her daughter (Amanda Peet). Their instant dislike of one another is tested when Harry suffers a heart attack and is confined to Erica’s home. They warm up to each other, eventually falling into something resembling love, but there are complications, like a young doctor (Keanu Reeves) with a crush on Erica, Erica’s various neuroses, and Harry’s inability to be monogamous. The movie’s own complications cause it to stumble as well: Its supporting characters (Jon Favreau and Frances McDormand) are never fleshed out, and the leads sometimes flirt with unfunny, sitcom-esque behavior. Still, it’s a mature, adult comedy, Nicholson’s usual smarminess isn’t indulged, and Keaton hasn’t been this much fun to watch in years.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 1 (Nicholson took care of a gay man’s dog in “As Good As It Gets,” while McDormand starred in “Laurel Canyon,” from lesbian director Lisa Cholodenko. Reeves played a bisexual hustler in “My Own Private Idaho “and had a small role in the queer-themed “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.”)
Stuck on You
In this ungainly blend of Hollywood satire and quirky comedy, conjoined twins Walt (Greg Kinnear) and Bob Tenor (Matt Damon) head west so that Walt can pursue his dreams of stardom. Producers initially slam their doors at the sight of the pair, but success beckons when Cher handpicks Walt to be her co-star on a new TV series. The singer-actress hilariously sends up her diva persona, playing herself as the ultimate narcissist; she is well-matched by Seymour Cassel as a geriatric agent stuck in the ’50s. Sadly, the movie focuses more on the brothers, and while Kinnear and Damon are appealing, the Siamese twin jokes quickly wear thin. At nearly two hours, the movie stretches a sitcom-length idea way past its breaking point.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 2 (The movie is peppered with queer jokes. Kinnear received an Oscar nomination for his performance as the gay neighbor in “As Good As It Gets,” Damon played the bisexual title character in “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” and queer icon Cher played a lesbian in “Silkwood.” Both Damon and Cher have done guest turns on “Will & Grace.”)