Exorcist: The Beginning
Plagued by the atrocities he witnessed during World War II, Father Lankester Merrin (Stellan Skarsgard) long ago lost his faith. He rediscovers God on a visit to a Kenyan archaeological dig, but only after he senses the devil’s presence as he witnesses rampaging hyenas, horrific violence, and a possessed child. Ham-fisted director Renny Harlin commits a mortal sin in delivering this dead-on-arrival prequel to 1973’s horror classic, “The Exorcist.” The handsome production design, Oscar-winning cinematographer Vittorio Storaro’s luminous images, and Skarsgard’s sympathetic performance are wasted on this dreck that substitutes mindless gore and pointless action for genuine chills and a compelling story. One wonders if Harlin even appreciates the irony in his creation of such a soul-deadening exercise built around questions of belief.
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 0 (There’s no queer content to speak of.)
In a dystopian tomorrow, a Seattle-based investigator (Tim Robbins) travels to Shanghai to expose a forger. But instead of apprehending his suspect, Maria (Samantha Morton), he sleeps with her, an affair made more reckless by the fact that they share a genetic link, which means intercourse between them is strictly illegal. In creating a world where manmade viruses cause empathy or selective amnesia and where people’s movements are strictly monitored, director Michael Winterbottom presents a chilling sci-fi vision, made more so by his rendering of a future that looks exactly like our present. It’s a fascinating premise, but the script so overflows with ideas that the tale eventually lapses into incoherence – a failure made more glaring by the unbelievable passion of the cold, chemistry-free leads.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Winterbottom and screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce previously collaborated on the lesbian serial killer thriller “Butterfly Kiss.” Robbins won an Oscar for his portrayal of a sexually confused abuse survivor in “Mystic River.”)
Without a Paddle
Tom (Dax Shepard), Jerry (Matthew Lillard), and Dan (Seth Green) are three 20-something buddies who decide to go off on a treasure-hunting river expedition to honor the memory of a recently deceased friend. The movie then attempts to be “meaningful,” with the trio having to learn life lessons to create “closure” instead of participating in tasteless, raunchy, testosterone-addled humor or moments of PG-13 horniness with busty, tree-hugging, wood nymphs. Too bad, because this pale imitation of “Up the Creek” could have been funny. Instead, the whole film seems to be afraid of its own potential for masculine obnoxiousness. It even misuses the stunt-casting of “Deliverance” icon Burt Reynolds, begging the question of how much failure filmmakers can pack into one bad comedy. The answer: a lot.
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 2 (Homosexual panic is always fun to watch, especially when the panic-stricken straight men are huddling together for warmth while wearing nothing but their underwear. Jerry even says he’d rather die than do such a thing – but eventually he does, and becomes the one that creates a moment of sexual arousal among the guys. There’s also the requisite suggestion of girl-on-girl action. Green played James St. James in “Party Monster,” and Lillard co-starred in John Waters’ “Serial Mom.”)
A Home at the End of the World
High-school friends Bobby (Colin Farrell) and Jonathan (Dallas Roberts) reunite in Manhattan five years after the intensity of a brief sexual relationship between them drove them apart. When bisexual Bobby falls in love with their roommate, Clare (Robin Wright Penn), the trio’s sexual tension threatens to create a new rift, but the orphaned Bobby is determined to keep his self-created family together. Written by “The Hours” novelist Michael Cunningham, this moving drama focuses on character and emotional resonance over action, gaining an epic sweep from its time frame set between 1967 and the AIDS-ravaged early ’80s. The slow pace pays off as director Michael Mayer allows the moments to stretch, deepening this portrait of a relationship and adding a layer of suspense.
Grade: A- Kinsey Scale: 4 (The movie is frank but discreet in limning the affair between Bobby and Jonathan, and Farrell’s full-frontal nude scene has been cut. Both Cunningham and Mayer are gay. Roberts played queer in an off-Broadway revival of Lanford Wilson’s “Burn This,” while co-star Wendy Crewson appeared in “The Matthew Shepard Story.”)
The Bourne Supremacy
Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) thought he’d left his old life as a skilled assassin behind. But then he’s found by Russian criminals, framed with a crime he didn’t commit, and forced back into action. Add to his headache a CIA chief (Joan Allen) one step behind him and nightmares of memories he can’t quite piece together from a life he no longer remembers. There’s plenty of globetrotting location scenery to enjoy and the even more enjoyable sight of a grim, anxious Damon forgetting that he’s a movie star for a moment and really investing himself in Bourne, a hunted man who becomes the hunter himself. This still-chilly bit of post-Cold War espionage is made fresh with violent, seizure-inducing camera work and a death-defying car chase that will leave audiences breathless. It’s that rare summer thing: a sequel that matches its original, and an action-thriller that doesn’t leave viewers feeling empty.
Grade: A Kinsey Scale: 1 (There’s no gay content, but some cast members have been in gay-themed films and/or films by gay directors. Damon starred in Gus Van Sant’s “Good Will Hunting” and as the sexually ambiguous title character in “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” Co-star Brian Cox played a gay pedophile in the indie film “L.I.E.,” while co-star Gabriel Mann had small roles in “I Shot Andy Warhol” and “Stonewall.”)
Mild-mannered L.A. cab driver Max (Jamie Foxx) picks up slickly dressed, gray-haired Vincent (Tom Cruise) in his cab and winds up being kidnapped by the contract killer and forced to drive from hit to hit in this tense, elegantly directed thriller from Michael Mann (“The Insider,” “Heat”). While there’s nothing new happening here, Mann uses the cat-and-mouse formula well by shrinking its physical scope (imagine the cat swatting that doomed mouse inside a car for two hours) and playing his actors against type. The normally funny Foxx is deadly serious and conflicted, while the often irritatingly heroic Cruise gets to be an evil, murderous machine. The audience gets a nearly flawless, nerve-wracked bit of escapist fun.
Grade: A Kinsey Scale: 1 (Neither Foxx nor Cruise have played gay, but supporting cast member Jada Pinkett-Smith starred in the lesbian-inclusive crime drama “Set It Off”; co-star Irma P. Hall appeared in “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”; and co-star Javier Bardem played gay in “Before Night Falls,” as well as appearing in Pedro Almodovar’s “Live Flesh” and “High Heels.”)
In 2035 Chicago, luddite detective Del Spooner (Will Smith) harbors a paranoid fear of the robots everyone else has come to depend on. When he suspects that one of them murdered scientist Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell), his superiors consider the theory a fantasy until marauding machines threaten the city. With the volatile cop battling robots at every opportunity, this thriller – loosely based on Isaac Asimov stories – emphasizes action over sci-fi. Purists may scoff at that, while everyone else will be shocked by truly wretched special effects that reduce Smith’s muscular antics to cartoon mayhem, destroy any semblance of suspense, and create unintentional laughs by rendering the supposedly fearsome robots so poorly that they are about as formidable as Casper the Friendly Ghost.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Though there is no pressing reason for Smith to get naked, he shows off his buff body in an early shower scene. Additionally, the actor played gay in “Six Degrees of Separation.” Cromwell appeared in HBO’s “Angels in America.”)
Little Black Book
Stacy (Brittany Murphy), an associate producer on an exploitation-reality show, has doubts about boyfriend Derek’s (Ron Livingston) level of commitment. Searching through his Palm Pilot she uncovers, to her surprise, old relationships with strings still attached. Complicating matters is her own tendency toward deception, a trait aggravated by her co-worker Barb (Holly Hunter), until her lies spin out of control. Also out of control is the script, which doesn’t know if it wants to be a crowd-pleasing romantic comedy or a somewhat comedic drama about betrayal and stooping to conquer. Good performances from Murphy and Hunter make for interesting watching, but in the end they’re both trapped, trying to save a movie from a disastrous momentum they didn’t create and can’t stop.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Murphy played a lesbian in “Freeway” and the TV movie “Common Ground.” Hunter played Billie Jean King in the TV movie “When Billie Beat Bobby,” and her characters in “Living Out Loud” and “Crash” flirted with lesbianism. Co-star Kathy Bates was also in “Fried Green Tomatoes,” and Ron Livingston was a regular on the gay-adjacent “Sex and the City.” )
The Manchurian Candidate
Nightmares of bizarre wartime mind-control experiments plague Gulf War veteran Bennett Marco (Denzel Washington), who becomes increasingly convinced the dreams are real. When fellow vet Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber), an amiable congressman under the thumb of his powerful mother (Meryl Streep), becomes a vice-presidential nominee, Marco races to prove his suspicions before the brainwashed candidate can assume his position a heartbeat away from the presidency. Based on a Cold War-era novel (which was also made into a 1962 movie), this paranoid thriller adds to today’s political discourse as it transforms the villains from Communists into Halliburton-like corporate titans. Director Jonathan Demme ignores gaping holes in the plot as he effectively ratchets the level of suspense, but the talented cast is wasted on characters that operate as little more than pieces on a chessboard.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Washington previously worked with Demme on the AIDS drama “Philadelphia,” while both Streep and co-star Jeffrey Wright appeared in HBO’s “Angels in America.”)
The Princess Diaries 2
The sequel to the popular 2001 family comedy begins with the elevation of Princess Mia (Anne Hathaway) to Genovia’s queen being thwarted by an obscure law that decrees only a married woman can rule. Given 30 days to find a husband, Mia settles for an arranged marriage with Andrew (Callum Blue), only to realize that she’s falling in love with dishy Sir Nicholas (Chris Pine) – the man who would usurp her throne. This empty-headed, predictable romantic comedy is plumped like a sausage with pointless filler – an all-princess slumber party, for example – in director Garry Marshall’s desperate attempt to bolster a wafer-thin story. The production is handsome and so is the bland, personality-free cast, but pretty pictures and people do little to alleviate the tedium of this royal bore.
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 1 (One of Mia’s rejected suitors is gay, as is her hairdresser, played in stereotypically flaming fashion by Larry Miller. Co-stars Julie Andrews, Heather Matarazzo, and Kathleen Marshall have all appeared in queer-themed projects.)
She Hate Me
Jack Armstrong (Anthony Mackie) has a plateful of trouble. He’s a corporate whistle-blower who’s just been fired and is being hounded by the Feds; his parents never stop fighting; and his lesbian ex-girlfriend, Fatima (Kerry Washington), and her partner both want him to impregnate them. Soon afterward, Fatima begins a side business in which Jack acts as sperm donor to a group of upwardly mobile lesbians at $10,000 a pop. Like Jack, director Spike Lee has trouble, too – only his is of the filmmaking variety. Lee is a scattershot director, juggling storylines and writing ranting, polemical dialogue that could only work in his own heavily stylized movies. And when his chaos works, as in “Do the Right Thing,” it can be brilliant. But when it doesn’t, as in this film, it’s a big, if well-intentioned, mess.
Grade: C+ Kinsey Scale: 5 (There’s pervasive lesbian content, but lesbian viewers may find it problematic that every lesbian character in the film feels the need to actually engage in passionate sex with Jack in order to conceive a baby. Turkey basters are mentioned but not taken seriously. Otherwise, it’s clear that Lee is trying to fuse the straight male perception of hot, lipstick lesbians with a more feminist perspective. It works occasionally. Mackie also appears in the upcoming gay-themed film “Brother to Brother.”)
Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) has mixed feelings about being Spider-Man. He also has a full plate of trouble. His erstwhile girlfriend (Kirsten Dunst) may marry a man she doesn’t love; his best friend (James Franco) wants to kill Spider-Man to avenge his own father’s death; his beloved aunt is bankrupt; and, worst of all, Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina) wants to destroy New York. Director Sam Raimi balances these stories and keeps breathing life and humor into a sequel-ready franchise that could, in less caring hands, simply become an assembly line of big-budget blockbusters, all sensation and no emotional weight. This Spider-Man, however, is a complicated superhero, a beleaguered, sometimes weak Everyman who happens to be able to save the lives of people in out-of-control speeding trains with his super-strong sticky web. And he’s just what the summer movie schedule needs.
Grade: A- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Molina starred as Joe Orton’s lover in “Prick Up Your Ears,” while Franco played James Dean in the TV biopic of the same name. “Queer as Folk”‘s Hal Sparks – comic-book nerd Michael Novotny – appears in a cameo role.)
For the inhabitants of a rural village surrounded by woods, living in fear of the monstrous forest creatures that lurk all around them is a daily fact of life. And when it seems that the creatures are tired of an established “truce,” and a young blind girl (Bryce Dallas Howard) enters those woods to save another villager’s life, fear threatens to shatter their collective idyllic existence. To give away more details of this film’s plot would, similarly, destroy readers’ enjoyment of the carefully constructed mystery. But know that writer/director M. Night Shyamalan has created yet another odd cinematic world in which nothing is quite what it seems, surprises live around every corner, and things that go bump in the night may be harmless – or, then again, may destroy you.
Grade: B+ Kinsey Scale: (No queer content. Cast members include William Hurt, who won an Oscar for playing gay in “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” out lesbian actor Cherry Jones, Michael Pitt from “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” and lesbian fave Sigourney Weaver, who appeared in “Jeffrey.”)