Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights
Katey Miller (Romola Garai), forced to move to brink-of-revolution Cuba in 1958 because of her father’s work, is shy and bookish until busboy Javier Suarez (Diego Luna) teaches her the ways of love and dirty dancing. The two engage in a clandestine rehearsal process – and budding romance – in order to enter a dance contest that will help Javier’s family leave Cuba for a better life in the United States. The problem is that the pesky revolution keeps popping up every time they try to shake it on the dance floor. Still, they manage; in fact, the film itself manages to be a giddy good time in spite of a deeply flawed script, uneven performances, a jarring cameo by a gaunt Patrick Swayze, and boldly dumb use of Latin-flavored hip-hop as period music. No matter – just ignore the missteps and let it sweep you off your feet.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Luna starred in the occasionally homoerotic “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” while co-star Sela Ward starred in the lesbian-inclusive “Once & Again.”)
The Passion of the Christ
After months of controversy, Mel Gibson’s retelling of the last 12 hours of the life of Jesus Christ (Jim Caviezel) arrives with all the subtlety of a hammer blow. Gibson displays a connoisseur’s eye for torture in this brutally violent, sometimes stomach-turning affair, with excruciating images ranging from flagellation to nails being driven into flesh. With the emphasis on death rather than resurrection, this is far darker than most biblical dramas, and Gibson’s view of humanity – here in the guise of bloodthirsty Jews and psychopathic Romans – could scarcely be more misanthropic. It is hard to imagine what the apparently devout Gibson was thinking in mounting this handsome, but dismal production, which is not a celebration of Christ’s life, but a numbing dirge.
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 0 (There is no sexual content of any kind – hetero, homo, or otherwise.)
Newly minted San Francisco homicide detective Jessica Shepard (Ashley Judd), an alcoholic with a violent family history and a hair-trigger temper, is shocked to realize that she personally knows the murder victim on her very first case. She quickly becomes both the investigator and chief suspect in a serial-murder case, as more bodies surface, all former sexual conquests of Jessica’s. With a limited number of suspects and sloppy plotting, it is not too hard to figure out who done it in this slick, but inconsequential thriller. An unsympathetic heroine and a lack of chemistry between Judd and love interest Andy Garcia further rob the film of much rooting interest. Some gorgeous waterfront locations and charming sea-lion extras offer minor amusement amidst the flabby suspense.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 1 (Judd shared far more chemistry with Salma Hayek in their hot scenes in “Frida,” while Garcia played gay poet/playwright Federico Garcia Lorca in “The Disappearance of Garcia Lorca.” Co-stars Camryn Manheim and Mark Pellegrino have both appeared in queer-themed films.)
Against the Ropes
Jackie Kallen (Meg Ryan) is stuck in a dead-end job as secretary to an obnoxious boxing promoter (Joe Cortese). Her solution? Get her own boxer (Omar Epps) to manage and nurture. In doing so, she finds fame in a male-dominated field – mostly through using her sexuality as leverage – but learns some tough lessons about integrity along the way. It’s a fascinating story based on real-life events, and Ryan is to be commended for leaving the safety of romantic comedy (much like she did in last year’s box-office flop “In the Cut”). But the film, helmed by co-star and first-time director Charles S. Dutton, sinks under the weight of its accumulated cliches and bad pacing. It coulda been a contender, yet ultimately packs a weak punch.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 1 (Tony Shalhoub, as an even more obnoxious fight promoter, calls two boxers “faggots” in one scene. However, his character is awful to everyone, so it’s more an example of homophobic character development than a homophobic movie.)
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.)
Barbershop 2: Back in Business
Calvin (Ice Cube) and his cutting crew return for this warmly enjoyable sequel, in which the emphasis is less on the plot than on the large cast’s human interaction. This time around, a developer trying to “regentrify” Chicago’s South Side opens a sleek salon – part of a national chain – that threatens to destroy the neighborhood’s independently owned businesses. However, Calvin and his band of stylists aren’t going out without a fight. Again, that’s just the plot; the real reason to see this movie is for the return of “Barbershop”‘s cast, notably Eve and the hilarious Cedric the Entertainer, whose mouthy, politically incorrect charm steals every scene. It’s a funny, welcome return to business as usual.
Grade: B+ Kinsey Scale: 1 (Queen Latifah has a small role as the beauty-shop owner next door – where her spin-off film, “Beauty Shop,” will be based. Troy Garrity, as barber Isaac, starred in the queer-themed “A Soldier’s Girl.”)
The Butterfly Effect
Evan (Ashton Kutcher) has more than a few problems. He has blackouts that eliminate painful memories, but learns that he can control them and then time-travel in order to undo the unpleasant events. Unfortunately, his life has been so chock-full of those ugly scenes (his dad tried to kill him, his neighbor is a pedophile, and his friends are guilty of voluntary manslaughter) that just when he fixes one wrong, more dreadful consequences pop up in its place. In fact, this wacky, terrible, yet never dull movie throws so much violence, abuse, misery, drug addiction, prison sex, amputation, and Kutcher hairstyle-changing at the audience that it becomes giddily laughable the more serious it gets. Feel free to talk back to the screen.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 1 (There are two strange gay moments in this film, one when Kutcher’s horrible childhood friend calls someone a “faggot,” and the other when Kutcher himself, stuck in prison and desperate to be protected, offers oral sex to a pair of neo-Nazis. Yes, really. Kutcher also made out with Seann William Scott in “Dude, Where’s My Car?”)
Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen
After the family of 15-year-old actress wanna-be Lola (Lindsay Lohan) moves from Manhattan to suburban New Jersey, she wins the lead in the school play over Carla (Megan Fox), the most popular girl in school. When Lola lies and claims she’s been invited to a party given by Sidarthur, the girls’ favorite rock band, scheming Carla plots her revenge. This wan teen comedy, the latest cinematic sausage cranked out of the Disney factory, suffers from weak humor, uninspired fantasy sequences, a mediocre and omnipresent soundtrack, and a bland and petulant heroine. Only Adam Garcia, very funny as Sidarthur’s drunken lead singer, Stu, rises above the indifferent material. Alas, his valiant performance amounts to little more than a cameo – pure gold amidst 90 minutes of dross.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Garcia and co-stars Glenne Headly and Carol Kane have all made appearances in queer-themed films.)ÊÊÊ
50 First Dates
Henry (Adam Sandler) is a veterinarian living in Hawaii whose sexual magnetism is so strong he has an endless string of romances with tourists. Then he meets Lucy (Drew Barrymore) and falls for her and her only. The problem? She has short-term memory loss and can’t remember him from day to day, which forces them to meet in that cute movie way again and again for the rest of the film. Think “Groundhog Day.” Then think “Groundhog Day” without the humor. The weakest of weak, unfunny scripts (that includes cute kids, funny animal antics, bodily function slapstick, and cloying, forced heart-warmth) coupled with ham-fisted direction keeps Sandler and Barrymore freeze-dried through the entire film. It’ll be the 50 worst dates of the audience’s life.
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 2 (In addition to the bisexuality of lead Barrymore, this film has several strange instances of thoughtless gay-themed humor. The silliest – and most offensive – involves character actor Lusia Strus as a very masculine bisexual woman whom Henry constantly mistakes for a man. Then there’s the issue of Henry’s sexuality: “King of Queens” star Kevin James makes a split-second cameo as a gay man who has had a romantic dalliance with Sandler. It’s a throwaway gag, but what it really means is that the male lead of this film is bi. Finally, fans of Samwise Gamgee will be happy to know that Sean Astin appears here as Barrymore’s bodybuilding brother, and is frequently shirtless and flexing his pecs. )
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.)
Kurt Russell gives one of the finest performances of his career as Herb Brooks, the hard-driving coach who led the 1980 Team USA hockey team to improbable Olympic glory. It’s a Cinderella story played out against the Cold War, as the young, inexperienced Americans battle the seemingly invincible Soviet team to advance to the gold-medal round. This inspirational sports saga displays unexpected bite and depth as it presents an unvarnished portrait of Brooks as a driven, sometimes slave-driving, control freak whose motivational methods border on the cruel. Twenty-four years ago, Team USA performed one miracle in capturing Olympic gold. By resisting the urge to smooth a complicated man’s rough edges, Russell and this absorbing drama perform another.
Grade: A Kinsey Scale: 1 (Co-star Patricia Clarkson played a lesbian in “High Art” and appeared in the queer-themed “Far from Heaven.” Though presented in a nonsexual context, there’s plenty of intense physical contact among the beautiful boys of Team USA.)
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.”)
A top-of-the-line ensemble cast competes to see who can deliver the most over-the-top performance in this turgid drama about three childhood friends who reunite over a tragedy. When ex-con Jimmy’s (Sean Penn) daughter is murdered, his old pal Sean (Kevin Bacon), now a homicide detective, is called into investigate, while their former playmate Dave (Tim Robbins) – still fighting the demons of childhood sexual abuse – comes under suspicion for the crime. The film starts out promisingly, as director Clint Eastwood eerily limns the events leading to young Dave’s molestation; but it soon loses all suspense and dramatic tension, thanks to its too-slow pacing. Its greatest sins, though, are the contrived, coincidence-dependent plot, cliched dialogue, and ham-fisted performances.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 2 (Bacon, Penn, and co-stars Laura Linney, Marcia Gay Harden, and Tom Guiry have all appeared in gay-themed movies. Eastwood made the queer true-crime drama “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”)
Welcome to Mooseport
When a popular former president, Monroe “Eagle” Cole (Gene Hackman), comes to live in Mooseport, Maine, the residents eagerly ask him to run unopposed for mayor. Then local plumber “Handy” Harrison (Ray Romano) joins the race. What follows is a series of tediously wacky small-town shenanigans, all of which have been done before (and better) on old episodes of “Northern Exposure” and new episodes of “Gilmore Girls.” The two candidates fight for the town, supremacy on the golf course – that’s right, the golf course – and the same woman (Maura Tierney). And while the genial cast tries to inject as much personality as they can into the weak-willed and witless script, the actors are – much like an outgoing president – lame ducks.
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 1 (Co-star Marcia Gay Harden appeared in the little-seen, lesbian-themed film “Gaudi Afternoon” and was in the original cast of the play “Angels in America.” Meanwhile, co-star Christine Baranski has appeared in “Jeffrey” and “The Birdcage,” as well as in queer-adjacent films like “Chicago” and “Marci X.”)
You Got Served
David (Omari Grandberry) and El (Marques Houston) are childhood friends with dreams of making it in the entertainment world. To do so, they engage in weekly street dance “battles” where they regularly mop the floor with the competition. When a rival Orange County dance crew challenges and beats them in a financially draining competition, the local favorites are thrown into dangerous turmoil. Call it “Breakin’ 2004,” if you will. The cast is appealing – featuring members of hip-hop groups IMX and B2K – and the dancing is mind-blowing (and would be more so if the camera would hold still for more than a second at a time during the battle sequences). But the borderline-inept filmmaking (major plot conflicts simply disappear; characters die for no reason) does its best to cripple the talented dancers. The final score: Dance 10, Brains 3.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Lots of shirtless basketball playing happens when the guys aren’t dancing. And it is, for the most part, a male-dominated dance scene here, making the film’s lack of any gay content ring false. Jackee Harry and L’il Kim make cameo appearances.)