Cheaper by the Dozen
When Tom Baker (Steve Martin) is offered his dream job, coaching his college alma mater’s football team, he and wife Kate (Bonnie Hunt) move their 12 kids to Chicago. Open rebellion breaks out among the couple’s resentful progeny after Kate leaves on a publicity tour to promote her new book. This wretched family comedy relies heavily on vomit jokes, inane slapstick, and the dubious charm of overacting children. Martin and Hunt’s amiable warmth provides scant compensation for a group of petulant adolescents and young moppets who behave so monstrously that they serve as arguments for both strict birth control and corporal punishment. The movie’s central premise – that it is somehow wrong for parents to occasionally satisfy their own needs – is breathtaking in its idiocy.
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 1 (Martin’s romantic competition in “L.A. Story” was a gay man. Co-star Alan Ruck was part of a long-running gay/straight odd couple on “Spin City,” while co-star Richard Jenkins is a regular on “Six Feet Under” and played a queer G-man in “Flirting with Disaster.”)
North Carolina laborer Inman (Jude Law) and minister’s daughter Ada (Nicole Kidman) fall in love but barely have time for a first kiss before the Civil War breaks out. Unable to bear their separation, Inman deserts the Confederacy in order to make a peril-filled journey home to his beloved. Meanwhile, back on Cold Mountain, the now-orphaned Ada struggles to maintain her farm with the help of blunt-spoken hand Ruby (Renee Zellweger). Law and Kidman make a gorgeous couple, and they are well-supported by a large, excellent cast. But this intimate, romantic drama is ill-served by writer/director Anthony Minghella’s tedious attempt at fashioning a sweeping epic, and the lack of political and social implications within a Civil War story renders the film curiously antiseptic.
Grade: B Kinsey Report: 1 (Minghella, Law, Kidman, Zellweger, and co-stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Eileen Atkins, Charlie Hunnam, Jena Malone, and Ethan Suplee have all participated in queer-themed projects.)
Engineer Michael Jennings (Ben Affleck) willingly undergoes memory erasure after each top-secret project, but his latest job turns ugly in this shiny, yet silly “Memento”-like thriller. After working for three years on an assignment, he discovers during his erasing process that he’s volunteered to accept an envelope full of seemingly meaningless objects as payment. Of course, those objects turn out to be clues he must connect in order to save his own life from the corrupt company that now wants him dead. Because Affleck’s character is a genius, there’s no worry that he won’t figure out the puzzle, and the film reassures the audience of this fact at nearly every turn, thus defusing its power to generate excitement. All that’s left are some car chases, which are, much like the plot of the film, forgettable.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Affleck has appeared in two films, “Chasing Amy” and “Gigli,” in which he falls for lesbians. Co-star Uma Thurman played bisexual June Miller in “Henry & June,” and “Six Feet Under”‘s Michael C. Hall has a supporting role as an FBI agent.)
Wendy Darling (newcomer Rachel Hurd-Wood) and her brothers are whisked off to Neverland by Peter Pan (Jeremy Sumpter) and fairy Tink (Ludivine Sagnier) to never grow up and to do battle with Captain Hook (Jason Isaacs). But the emotional pull of the comforts of home and the love of their parents creates a tension the young runaways can’t ignore, and one that could disrupt their perfect life of fun and adventure. This is a fine adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s classic, uniquely British in the manner of the “Harry Potter” films. And though Sumpter is given less to do than Wendy, the kids carry the film admirably, the effects are fun, the adults aren’t footnotes, and the ending is surprisingly moving. It’s a magically entertaining movie – though maybe a little scary for very young ones – and a welcome relief in a family-film landscape littered with cats in hats.
Grade: B+ Kinsey Scale: 1 (Isaacs played gay in the dreadful Charlize Theron/Keanu Reeves movie “Sweet November,” and supporting actor Lynn Redgrave appeared in “Gods and Monsters.” Ludivine Sagnier has starred in three of gay French director Francois Ozon’s films. And though there’s no gay content in the film, the story – with its emasculated pirate obsessed with a beautiful, androgynous boy, as well as the theme of the acceptance of adulthood and its attendant sexuality – could be dissected for its various sexual subtexts, both hetero and homo. Or you could just take the kids, enjoy yourself, and not think about any of that stuff.)
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.”)
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.”)
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.)
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.”)
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.”)
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.”)