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Along Came Polly
Hidebound risk analyst Reuben (Ben Stiller) discovers that there is no insurance against heartbreak when his bride, Lisa (Debra Messing), leaves him for her scuba instructor (Hank Azaria) on their honeymoon. When Polly (Jennifer Aniston), a free-spirited former classmate, breezes back into Reuben’s life with all the subtlety of a hurricane, she upends his sterile world and melts his heart. Stiller’s sober goofiness contrasts well with Aniston’s warm earthiness, but these amiable performers are let down by a trite script that relies on flatulence, vomit, irritable bowel syndrome, and a blind ferret’s tendency to ram into walls for its humor. A roguish Bryan Brown as a base-jumping, shark-diving millionaire seeking life insurance provides this sophomoric comedy with one of its few bright spots.
Grade: C Kinsey Report: 1 (One of Polly’s friends is gay. Stiller, Messing, Azaria, Aniston, and co-star Philip Seymour Hoffman are all veterans of queer-themed projects.)
Nathan Lane proves he’s a star in any species in this Disney children’s cartoon about a dog that yearns to be a boy. Walking on two legs and wearing human clothes, Spot/Scott (Lane) already passes with everyone but his master, Leonard (Shaun Flemming), but that’s not good enough for the little canine. When he hears about the species-bending experiments of mad Dr. Krank (Kelsey Grammer), Spot heads to Florida to complete his transformation, only to discover that mutation may extract too high a price. Crudely animated with a dime-thin story that barely fills 68 minutes, the film makes up for these shortcomings with bouncy, Broadway-style production numbers, plenty of witty asides, and a bevy of top-flight vocal talent led by the magnificent Lane.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 2 (Spot’s trans-species wishes can be read a substitute for transgender feelings in humans. In addition to queer star Lane, the cast also includes such veterans of gay-themed projects as Wallace Shawn, Jerry Stiller, David Ogden Stiers, Megan Mullally, and everyone’s favorite Pee-wee, Paul Reubens.)
My Baby’s Daddy
Lonnie (Eddie Griffin), G (Anthony Anderson), and Dominic (Michael Imperioli) are the kind of men who need to grow up. So when their respective girlfriends all turn up pregnant at the same time, the three fathers get a crash course in responsibility. As the characters struggle with wacky parenting mishaps, the audience is transported back in time to “Three Men and a Baby,” a studiously unfunny film in its own right, but one that looks like a comedic gem in comparison to this. Diaper poop humor is the common denominator here, along with offensive Asian stereotypes and creepy, “Look Who’s Talking”-esque breast-feeding commentaries from the computer-generated mouths of the babies. This movie is so brutally tedious, especially when it tries to get heartwarming near the end, that 90 minutes of actually changing diapers would be more entertaining.
Grade: D- Kinsey Scale: 2 (Directed by lesbian filmmaker Cheryl Dunye, whose work until now has been of a much higher quality, the film tries to balance its stupidity and Asian-taunting script with a sprinkling of gay and lesbian window dressing: Imperioli’s “baby’s mama” turns out to be a lesbian in a plot afterthought, and there’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shot of a lesbian couple and a gay male couple in two different parenting classes, both of which are taught by “Strangers With Candy”‘s Amy Sedaris. Also, “Kids in the Hall” alum Scott Thompson appears as a drugstore checkout clerk.)
William Bloom (Billy Crudup) has spent his entire adult life running from his father, Edward (Albert Finney), and the old man’s fanciful yarns of adventure, circus feats, and daring deeds. When he finds out that his dad is dying, William returns home to try to separate fact from fiction in a last-ditch attempt at reconciliation. While some of the fantasy sequences are witty and colorful, director Tim Burton’s attempt at blending whimsy with domestic drama mostly grates. Finney’s Edward comes across as a blowhard endlessly repeating the same stories, while Crudup’s frigid performance renders William a heartless bore. As young Edward, the normally charismatic Ewan McGregor tries in vain to breathe life into a tissue-thin role, but comes across as little more than a cartoon.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 1 (Finney and McGregor have both played queer characters, while Burton directed the 1993 camp classic, “Ed Wood.” Co-star Steve Buscemi’s breakthrough role was in the pioneering AIDS drama “Parting Glances.”)
Middle-aged housewives cause a ruckus when they pose nude for a calendar in this warm, fact-based British comedy. Acerbic Chris (Helen Mirren) devises the calendar as a means for the women’s group of her village to raise funds for a memorial to her best friend Annie’s (Julie Walters) husband. But events – and Chris’ ego – careen out of control when the press picks up the story, threatening lifelong friendships and even Chris’ marriage. Though the humor grows overly broad in the film’s last act, this is, for the most part, a gentle tale enriched by sharply drawn characters and a first-rate ensemble cast spearheaded by the always luminous Mirren. Unabashedly sentimental, the film evokes tears honestly with its clear-eyed approach to the thorny subject of aging.
Grade: B+ Kinsey Scale: 1 (Mirren co-starred in “Caligula,” while Walters appeared in the queer-themed “Prick Up Your Ears.”)
First Daughter Anna Foster (Mandy Moore), whose Secret Service code name is “Liberty,” tires of being under surveillance 24 hours a day. Much like Audrey Hepburn’s oppressed princess in “Roman Holiday,” Anna takes a powder and runs off to a series of European countries with the adorably cute Ben (Matthew Goode) in tow. Little does she know he’s a Secret Service agent assigned to give her a longer leash than she’s used to – as long as it’s not “too” long. Culturally stereotyped Europeans, Berlin’s Love Parade – sans Ecstasy, of course – and romance await the pretty pair. But all that awaits the audience is two hours of the usually likable Moore being reduced to a whiny brat on a boring Eurail pass backpack tour.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 1 (Goode has more than a few moments of near-nudity, including some serious boxer-brief basket scenes. For an actor who resembles a Bel Ami model more than most Bel Ami models, this makes for interesting viewing. As for Moore, her nudity is merely suggested, and even then appears to have been performed by a body double. The movie also introduces audiences to the term “chicky-buffer,” a girl who hugs two guys at the same time but prevents the (presumably hetero) men from touching each other. Finally, co-star Jeremy Piven was a regular on the sitcom “Ellen.”)
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.)
Australian geologist Sandy Edwards (Toni Collette) is given the thankless task of chaperoning visiting Japanese businessman Tachibana Hiromitsu (Gotaro Tsunashima). She dislikes him immensely. He holds most women in contempt. And then they get lost in the desert. What follows is something that’s been done before: the-unlikely-pair-falling-in-love story. But this version of that well-worn tale is different. The story has been stripped down to its barest elements (like the title itself), and plot seems to have been discarded, requiring that the viewer pay attention to small gestures, glances, and bits of seemingly disconnected dialogue to connect the lovers. To do so is to be rewarded with not just a great performance by Collette in an essentially two-character film, but also with an emotionally satisfying anti-romantic romance.
Grade: B+ Kinsey Scale: 2 (Nothing queer transpires here, but director Sue Brooks is a lesbian, and Collette has appeared in films with queer themes, like “The Hours,” in which she kisses Julianne Moore, and “Velvet Goldmine,” in which almost all the characters are bisexual.)
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.)
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.”)
Aileen Wuornos took the lives of seven men in the late 1980s while she drifted through Florida working as a highway prostitute. At first she murdered in self- defense, but, as she continued, she killed simply because of her increasing derangement. Her disturbing story highlights the plight of women who live in continuously violent situations. As Wuornos, Charlize Theron is impressive, attacking the role with an intensity she’s yet to display in the terrible movies in which she’s been cast. Christina Ricci is equally affecting as Selby Wall, Wuornos’ lover, her naivete in stark contrast to Wuornos’ darkness. But in spite of the memorable acting, the movie’s tone is wildly uneven, the script and direction making this little more than a very gruesome TV movie. Theron’s performance deserves better.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 6 (This fictionalized account suggests that Wuornos wasn’t strictly a lesbian, but simply responded to Selby’s affection. Whatever the facts of Wuornos’ identity, her sexual relationship with Selby is a central component of the film’s plot. Ricci has appeared in queer-themed films like “The Opposite of Sex,” “All Over the Guy,” and “The Laramie Project.”)
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.)
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.”)
Biker Cary Ford (Martin Henderson), in a ridiculous red leather get-up that he never takes off, gets framed for murder by evil, drug-dealing rival bikers. To clear his name, Ford does a lot of dangerous bike stunts and outruns the bad guys, the FBI, and yet another rival biker gang, led by the snarling Trey (Ice Cube). Meanwhile, Ford’s tough, mechanic ex-girlfriend Shane (Monet Mazur) gets enlisted to help out and flip her hair around. You get roaring bikes, ass-kicking violence, impossible stunts, explosions, and hot, sweating, pouty young actors who spit out their lines in a way that suggests that someone just out of the camera’s range is constantly poking them with a cattle prod. As a screaming piece of junk-culture product, it’s wildly successful, deliriously stupid, and nearly perfect.
Grade: B+ Kinsey Scale: 1 (Aside from camp value – and no, camp’s not dead, it’s just got a rap-metal soundtrack now – there’s no gay content, and only one suggestion of gay male homoeroticism, when one biker says to another who needs to share his bike seat, “I always knew you had a thing for me.” There are, however, some moments of anonymous girl-on-girl grinding, as extras in short-shorts and halters rub up against each other for biker-background atmosphere. And then there’s the presence of Max Beesley, as one of the bad bikers, who played Mariah Carey’s boyfriend in “Glitter,” an honorary gay film if there ever was one.)