Uptight Harvard med-school grad Sam (Christian Bale) brings his equally uptight girlfriend, Alex (Kate Beckinsale), home to Los Angeles during his summer internship, where they think they’ll have his unconventional mom Jane’s house up in leafy Laurel Canyon all to themselves. But Jane (Frances McDormand) is producing a record for her bad-boy Brit lover (Alessandro Nivola), so the whole group has to co-exist uncomfortably in the searing L.A. heat. Things get tense when Alex becomes fascinated with Jane’s artistic lifestyle, and even more tense when she realizes the bisexual Jane has other talents besides producing albums. Meanwhile Sam is facing his own temptations, thanks to a seductive co-worker (Natascha McElhone). Sexy, thoughtful, and incredibly well-acted, the film takes what could very easily have been a one-dimensional look at a mother-son relationship and gives it both heart and soul.
Grade: A- Kinsey Scale: 6 (The openly lesbian Cholodenko first made gay waves with her super-sexy 1998 film debut, “High Art.” The seduction of Miss Priss Beckinsale by the earth goddess McDormand couldn’t get much hotter. There’s a very steamy threeway during an evening swim, in which Nivola bares his lovely bum as the two women get sapphic. Bale played probing journalist Arthur Stuart in “Velvet Goldmine,” while Beckinsale made a name for herself in the campy and gay-friendly “Cold Comfort Farm.” Oscar-winning McDormand has played gay several times, including in “The Butcher’s Wife,” as a struggling lesbian shoe salesperson.)
Horror icon David Cronenberg once again spins a frightening yarn, this time tackling the terror of schizophrenia. Prematurely released from a residential psychiatric hospital, Spider (Ralph Fiennes) lands in an austere East London halfway house run by the stern Mrs. Wilkinson (Lynn Redgrave). Both guided and hindered by memory, Spider trespasses on the row house of his youth, where as a boy (Bradley Hall) his shifting perceptions of his alluring mum (Miranda Richardson), adulterous dad (Gabriel Byrne), and a cheeky prostitute from the nearby pub ended in tragedy. Only Fiennes could craft indecipherable Cockney mumblings – as suggested in the brilliant screenplay Patrick McGrath adapted from his own novel – into an Oscar-worthy performance of mental illness. This haunting, compassionate film shocks on its way both into and out of a beautiful mind.
Grade: A- Kinsey Scale: 2 (Count Laszlo de Almasy, whom Fiennes portrayed to heterosexual perfection in “The English Patient,” was, in fact, gay. Cronenberg directed William Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch” and “M. Butterfly,” about a diplomat and his cross-dressing lover. Twice Oscar-nominated Richardson played an IRA thug in “The Crying Game,” and in “The Hours” was Bloomsburian Vanessa Bell. Redgrave starred as a lesbian in the TV movie of Rita Mae Brown’s “My Two Loves”; here, as Mrs. Wilkinson, she strikingly resembles the housekeeper she played opposite Ian McKellen in “Gods and Monsters.”)
Cradle 2 the Grave
Martial arts dynamo Jet Li teams with rapper DMX in this exceptionally convoluted urban kung fu caper. Li, whose dramatic range consists of exactly one facial expression, plays Su, a Taiwanese government agent looking for the precious “black diamonds” recently pilfered by professional thief Tony (DMX) and now in the hands of a powerful crime lord. When a brutal arms dealer subsequently kidnaps Tony’s daughter, he grudgingly joins forces with Su to track her – and the jewels – down. Those looking for competent storytelling will want to steer clear of this flick, but anyone seeking an intense adrenaline rush shouldn’t be disappointed. As proven by the frenzy of fights and fireworks on display, with a big enough budget, filmmakers can make even the worst script look good onscreen. In the end, though, it’s nothing more than cinematic bling-bling.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Early on, a run-in with a gay security guard during a heist results in an impromptu homo impersonation by a jewel thief. But after that, the action is strictly hetero.)
All the Real Girls
Unfolding in languid, episodic scenes that feel startlingly real, this poignant film examines the thrill of first love and the tangle of emotions that often accompanies it. At the center of the story is 22-year-old Paul (Paul Schneider), an unambitious mechanic in a small rural town, whose pattern of casual sexual conquests is disrupted when he falls for Noel (Zooey Deschanel). Suddenly aware how his actions have hurt women in the past, he struggles to make sure he doesn’t ruin things with his new girlfriend. Even harder, he attempts to prove to his skeptical friends and family that, for once, his feelings are genuine. It’s not surprising this film won a Special Prize for Emotional Truth at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival; by eschewing typical love story cliches, it offers an excruciatingly authentic portrait of a very complex emotion.
Grade: A- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Schneider’s a real cutie patootie, but the love here is strictly heterosexual. Patricia Clarkson, who plays Paul’s mom, was a drugged-out lesbian in “High Art” and a gossipy neighbor in queer director Todd Haynes’ “Far from Heaven.”)
Bringing Down the House
In this over-the-top film about the hazards of Internet dating, uptight lawyer Peter (Steve Martin) ventures online in search of a refined woman to help him get over his ex-wife (Jean Smart). Believing he’s found just the person in Charlene (Queen Latifah), he arranges a face-to-face, only to discover she’s actually a sassy prison escapee looking for representation, not romance. With Charlene’s mere presence causing chaos for Peter both at home and at work, he reluctantly agrees to help the vociferous homegirl, who returns the favor by taking some of the starch out of Peter’s buttoned-up life. Nothing unexpected comes from this odd-couple pairing, but it’s highly amusing nonetheless, thanks largely to Latifah’s unrestrained performance and hilarious supporting turns from Eugene Levy, Joan Plowright, and Betty White.
Grade: B+ Kinsey Scale: 3 (Latifah, Oscar-nominated for her role as butch prison matron Mama Morton in “Chicago,” played the militant lesbian ringleader of a group of female bank robbers in “Set It Off.” Martin appeared in TV’s “And the Band Played On” and was a woman in a man’s body in “All of Me.” Levy was in the homo-tinged ensemble comedies “Best in Show” and “Waiting for Guffman.” Smart was in the long-running TV gay fave “Designing Women,” while White appeared in the similarly beloved “The Golden Girls.” Missi Pyle, seen here as Peter’s gold-digging ex-sister-in-law, was in the gay romantic comedy “Trick.”)
Bob Fosse’s shrewd satire of crime as entertainment makes a stunning transition from the stage to the multiplex in a big-screen version overflowing with razzle-dazzle. Director-choreographer Rob Marshall doesn’t attempt to reinvent the movie-musical genre; instead, he wisely allows the cunning story and sizzling score to thrill viewers. When mousy chorine Roxy (Renee Zellweger) lands in the slammer for killing her boyfriend, she sees an opportunity to finally make it as a vaudeville star, much to the chagrin of the reigning cellblock celebrity, Velma (Catherine Zeta-Jones). The breathtaking musical numbers, which take place in Roxy’s imagination, seamlessly juxtapose the stark reality of prison life with the vivid theatricality of Prohibition-era jazz halls. Both leading ladies deliver outstanding performances, but, with a deliciously smarmy turn as sleazy lawyer Billy Flynn, it’s Richard Gere who repeatedly stops the show.
Grade: A Kinsey Scale: 3 (Singing, dancing, showtunes … there’s nothing quite as gay as an old-fashioned musical. This one was produced by openly gay duo Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, who brought us “Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows.” Several cast members have appeared in gay-themed projects, including Gere, Christine Baranski, John C. Reilly, Queen Latifah, Taye Diggs, and the original Velma, Chita Rivera, who turns up here in a brief cameo.)
Blinded by toxic waste when he was a boy, lawyer Matt Murdock (Ben Affleck) now puts his radioactivally enhanced remaining senses to use every night as Daredevil, a vigilante crime fighter in a red leather suit. This surprisingly joyless action flick has him wooing Elektra (Jennifer Garner), a hyper-defensive martial-arts expert, while squaring off against the psychotic Bullseye (Colin Farrell) and Kingpin (Michael Clarke Duncan), the city’s reigning crime boss. Numerous repetitive fight sequences, coming at breakneck speed and full of “Matrix”-style effects, murky lighting, and pounding metal, fail to fill in the script’s Grand Canyon-sized plot holes. Moreover, Affleck’s uncharismatic superhero has to be the most wooden one to ever traipse across the silver screen.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 2 (Affleck, seen shirtless more than once, clearly worked out for the role; too bad his leather suit is so unflatteringly baggy. Previously, he appeared in the queer-themed “Chasing Amy” and in gay director Gus Van Sant’s “Good Will Hunting.” Duncan played a character named “Gay Virgin” in the sketch-comedy film “The Underground Comedy Movie,” while sex-symbol sensation Farrell was in gay director Joel Schumacher’s “Tigerland.”)
How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
Inspired by a co-worker’s bad luck with men, how-to columnist Andie (Kate Hudson) decides to write an article on common relationship-ending mistakes women make. As research, she seduces Benjamin (Matthew McConaughey), then uses a slew of off-putting tactics to try to get him to dump her within 10 days. Trouble is, Benjamin’s out to prove to his colleagues that he can make a woman fall in love with him in the same amount of time. Unintentionally – and hilariously – thwarting each other’s efforts at every turn, the two somehow manage to fall in love. Buoyed by breezy, heartfelt performances and tremendous onscreen chemistry between Hudson and McConaughey, this film is a terrific example of how to make people laugh.
Grade: B+ Kinsey Scale: 2 (Benjamin and Andie visit a couples therapist, who suggests Benjamin might prefer men. Hudson locked lips with Liv Tyler as a bi-curious bride-to-be in “Dr. T & the Women,” while McConaughey’s early films included out screenwriter Don Roos’ “Boys on the Side” and queer director Joel Schumacher’s “A Time to Kill.”)
The Jungle Book 2
Sequelizing “The Jungle Book” was barely a necessity, but Disney has done it anyway, fashioning a perfunctory follow-up that rehashes the story instead of expanding it. Restless in civilization, jungle-boy Mowgli (voiced by Haley Joel Osment) heads back into the woods to boogie some more with his old pal Baloo (John Goodman). There, he once again matches wits with his nemesis, the nefarious tiger Shere Khan. More than 30 years have passed since the jazzy original film’s release; today, the beatnik-inspired dialogue and swing-influenced score feel exceedingly dated and contrived. This is especially true of a quartet of vultures clearly fashioned after the Beatles, a reference unlikely to be appreciated by a generation less familiar with “Hey Jude” than “Hey Arnold!”
Grade: C+ Kinsey Scale: 1 (Goodman played a gay man on TV’s short-lived “Normal, Ohio.”)
The Life of David Gale
Formerly a spokesman for an anti-death-penalty organization, David Gale (Kevin Spacey) now sits on death row himself, convicted of murdering his best friend and fellow activist, Constance (Laura Linney). Four days before his scheduled execution, Gale grants an interview to Bitsey (Kate Winslet), a hard-nosed reporter who’s convinced he’s guilty even before meeting him. But as Gale recounts his story in extended flashbacks, Bitsey starts to second-guess herself, and before long, she’s conducting an investigation of her own to prove his innocence. With its weighty themes of sacrifice and redemption, this moralistic sermon on the evils of capital punishment appears initially to be a thought-provoking political thriller. But it’s really just a run-of-the-mill potboiler, and one that takes an especially long time to get rolling.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 3 (There’s nothing “Oz”-like going on in this Texas prison. Spacey’s character resisted the unwanted sexual advances of his closeted neighbor in “American Beauty,” which was written by openly gay screenwriter Alan Ball. Winslet was a homicidal lesbian in “Heavenly Creatures” and the young bisexual Iris Murdoch in “Iris.” Linney starred in TV’s “Tales of the City” series and in the HBO adaptation of the Matthew Shepard-themed “The Laramie Project.” Gabriel Mann, seen here as Bitsey’s indefatigable intern, appeared in the gay-themed films “High Art,” “I Shot Andy Warhol”, and “Stonewall.”)
Facing eviction from their university-owned residence, Mitch (Luke Wilson), Beanie (Vince Vaughn), and Frank (Will Ferrell) find a legal loophole that allows them to keep their place by starting a fraternity – even though they’re not college students. Before long, they’ve established a veritable Animal House, raising the ire of the malevolent college dean (Jeremy Piven), who vows to put an end to their monkey business. Laughs come only at the expense of taste in this unabashedly lowbrow romp, thanks largely to Ferrell’s nonstop buffoonery and Vaughn’s irrepressible sarcasm. While the antics are unquestionably juvenile, they’re also irresistibly funny. Just be sure to check your brain at the box office when buying your ticket; with a character list that includes “Gang-Bang Guy,” “Naked Woman,” and “K-Y Jelly Girl,” you’re not gonna need it.
Grade: B+ Kinsey Scale: 4 (As in many horndog-male-bonding comedies, homoeroticism abounds. The first joke in the movie includes the word “faggot.” Ferrell, who at one point tongue-kisses Seann William Scott, spends much of his time naked, although the effect is purely comical. Andy Dick appears briefly as the ultra-femme instructor of “The Art of the Blowjob.” Wilson appeared in gay faves “Charlie’s Angels” and “Legally Blonde;” Ferrell was a sensitive cop in “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back;” and Vaughn was the ultimate mama’s boy, Norman Bates, in gay director Gus Van Sant’s remake of “Psycho.” Piven was a regular on the pioneering gay sitcom “Ellen.”)
Recruited into the CIA by an assiduous special agent (Al Pacino), computer whiz James (Colin Farrell) proves himself a natural at the Agency’s secret training camp. There he rises to the top of his class while falling for Layla (Bridget Moynahan), a fellow trainee. But when he’s tapped for a top-secret operation to root out a government mole, James quickly learns the significance of the invaluable spy maxims “trust no one” and “nothing is what it seems.” Innumerable twists keep things interesting throughout, and, thankfully, Pacino’s characteristic grandstanding takes a back seat to Farrell’s riveting performance as a baffled novice forced to improvise at every turn. Nevertheless, the CIA’s touted cooperation with the making of this insider’s look at the spy business often lends it the unfortunate air of a not-so-subtle enlistment campaign.
Grade: B+ Kinsey Scale: 2 (There oughtta be a law against being as sexy as Farrell, whose breakout role was in gay director Joel Schumacher’s “Tigerland.” In “Dog Day Afternoon,” Pacino gave a sympathetic performance as a gay bank robber trying to get money for his lover’s sex-change operation. But his “Cruising,” about an undercover cop posing as a leather daddy to infiltrate the gay S/M subculture, set off loud protests from the queer community.)
Following the surprise success of “Shanghai Noon,” Owen Wilson and Jackie Chan clamber back into the saddle for another go-round as improbable cowboys Roy O’Bannon and Chon Wang, this time trailing the man who killed Chon’s father. The mismatched duo eventually winds up in London, where Chon’s vengeful sister (Fann Wong) is already on the case. Of the countless fight sequences that follow, only two – one that unfolds amid a trove of priceless vases, and another, with umbrellas, set to “Singing in the Rain” – live up to Chan’s reputation for mirthful, imaginative combat. The rest of the action is disappointingly uninspired; add in recycled jokes, Wilson’s standard surfer-doofus persona, and a plot borrowed from Saturday morning cartoons, and you’ve got a ho-hum ride down a well-blazed trail.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 1 (Aside from a quip about “the man who would be queen,” there’s nothing gay going on here. However, Aidan Gillen, who plays a ruthless killer, starred as Stuart in the original British version of “Queer as Folk” and its sequel.)