Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
An evil scientist (the late, digitized Laurence Olivier) wants to destroy the world, so it’s Joe “Sky Captain” Sullivan (Jude Law) to the rescue. Together with reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Captain Franky Cook (Angelina Jolie,) he battles multiple armies of robots in the search for the man who wants to control the fate of the planet. This is grand-scale silliness, lacking the galloping momentum and excitement of modern retro-classics like “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” but “Sky Captain” still has plenty to recommend it. The old-fashioned, color-tinted, black-and-white look created by using blue-screens and complicated computer tricks makes for a gorgeous eye-candy experience. So does the all-too-brief presence of Jolie as a saucy, in-command military leader whose winking performance is enhanced, not obscured, by a very sexy eye patch.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 2 (Although there’s no queer content, the cast includes the bisexual Jolie – who played gay in “Gia” – and the CGI ghost of the bisexual Olivier. In addition, Law played gay in both “Wilde” and “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” and was the object of Matt Damon’s affection in “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” Paltrow played bisexual in “The Royal Tenenbaums” and cross-dressed in “Shakespeare in Love.”)
Peter Colt (Paul Bettany) is a former tennis champ from England, now fallen in rank and on the verge of retirement. Enter Lizzie Bradbury (Kirsten Dunst,) a young American tennis upstart. Their blooming courtside romance reinvigorates Colt’s life and game as he enters what is to be his final shot at the Wimbledon tournament. Naturally, conflicts arise that could jeopardize their love and their careers, but the lack of real suspense ensures that audiences aren’t on the edge of their seats about the outcome of either. Meanwhile underdeveloped secondary plotlines fill up the empty spaces, and too many supporting characters dilute the punch of what could have been a more focused movie. But in the end, dry British banter and a charming performance from Bettany lifts this love match from mediocrity.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (There are no fictional Billie Jeans, Martinas, or Amelies in sight. Bettany co-starred in 1997’s film adaptation of “Bent.”)
Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid
Scientists embark on a journey deep into Borneo’s jungle in search of the rare blood orchid, believing the flower holds the key to a pharmaceutical fountain of youth. But to reach the bloom, they must endure pouring rain, boating mishaps, paralyzing bug bites, cellular dead zones, and the snakes of the title. It’s mating season, so the super-sized anacondas are extremely peckish and regard the expedition as so much sushi. This lunatic horror-thriller lacks both terror and thrills, but provides unintentional laughs with its ludicrous dialogue, risible characters, and sub-B-movie plot. The acting by the mostly no-name cast is uniformly terrible, save for an adorable trained monkey who emotes far more efficiently than any of the humans. By no stretch is this a good movie, but if viewed as a live-action game to guess who gets eaten next, it mildly amuses.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 0 (There’s no gay or lesbian content of any kind.)
The Brown Bunny
Bud Clay (Vincent Gallo) is a motorcycle racer embarking on a cross-country van ride in search of his ex-girlfriend, Daisy (Chloe Sevigny). As he drives and drives and drives (this movie features long stretches of near-silent, windshield-wiper-punctuated highway driving) Bud dreams of Daisy, but makes pit stops to engage other women along the way: a young convenience store clerk, a prostitute, and Cheryl Tiegs – yes, “that” Cheryl Tiegs. It’s a self-indulgent, intentionally oblique, dialogue-stripped art film, one in which beautiful cinematography is intended to stand in for plot. And when the notorious final sex scene between Gallo and Sevigny unspools, the secrets revealed as the oral sex goes on and on feel more like M. Night Shyamalan trickery than soul-shattering revelation. Silly rabbit.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 2 (There’s nothing gay about this film, but there is that real-time, unsimulated sex scene for those curious as to what Gallo’s erect penis looks like. Sevigny starred in “Boys Don’t Cry” and “If These Walls Could Talk 2,” and also appeared in “Party Monster.” Gallo was a “Hansel and Gretel”-style witch in the little-seen “Freeway 2: Confessions of a Trickbaby.”)
Jessica Martin (Kim Basinger) has been kidnapped, and she doesn’t know why – or where she’s being held. On a smashed-to-bits phone, she manages to wiretap her way into dialing the cellular number of impossibly handsome slacker Ryan (Chris Evans). Together they have to piece together the mystery before his phone signal dies, or else Jessica and her entire family will be killed. What follows is a breathlessly paced and brainlessly plotted thriller that involves corrupt cops, big, bruising kidnappers whom Basinger successfully fights at every turn, and some miraculous cell-phone technology that isn’t available to people who aren’t in the movies. It would all be terrifically tense if it weren’t so stupendously ridiculous. But that dumbness is part of its late-summer appeal; and though it’s as hilariously disposable as, well, a dead cell phone, it’s no less entertaining for it.
Grade: C – Kinsey Scale: 1 (No gay content. Co-star William H. Macy – here playing a helpful cop – portrayed a gay sheriff in “Happy, Texas.” British actor Jason Statham was featured in the lesbian-character-filled horror film “Ghosts of Mars.”)
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.”)
The biggest payday of his life falls into veteran grifter Richard Gaddis’ (John C. Reilly) lap when his former partner, Ochoa (Zitto Kazann,) falls ill at the hotel where Gaddis’ sister (Maggie Gyllenhaal) works. Ochoa had planned to con a wealthy currency collector (Peter Mullan) with an expert forgery, but, too sick to continue, he passes the plan along to Gaddis and young trainee Rodrigo (Diego Luna). This compact neo-noir – a close remake of the recent Argentinean import “Nine Queens” – takes place over 24 hours, making the most of its evocative L.A. locations in a slick game of double- and triple-cross. An excellent ensemble cast clearly revels in this convoluted suspense tale with its grace notes of family dysfunction and revenge.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 1 (Reilly, Luna, and co-star Jonathan Tucker have all appeared in gay-themed films, while Gyllenhaal worked with queer director John Waters on “Cecil B. Demented.”)
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.)
Plucky governess Becky Sharp (Reese Witherspoon) aims to rise above her station in 19th-century England. A marriage to gentleman soldier Rawdon Crawley (James Purefoy) looks profitable, until he’s disinherited for wedding outside his class. The couple’s wealthy neighbor, the Marquess of Steyne (Gabriel Byrne) befriends the young bride, assuring her a place at the pinnacle of society. But the price he demands for his services is more than Becky can pay. Director Mira Nair brings William Makepeace Thackeray’s classic novel to vivid life with a handsome production that casts a keen eye on Becky and her peers’ social shenanigans. The too-modern Witherspoon is miscast, but the rest of the actors are excellent in this epic comedy-drama that scores with witty dialogue and strong, memorable characters.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 1 (Co-star Jonathan Rhys-Meyers played bisexual characters in “Velvet Goldmine” and “Titus,” while Jim Broadbent appeared in “The Crying Game” and Eileen Atkins was in “The Hours” and “The Lost Language of Cranes.” )
When Matthew (Josh Hartnett) catches sight of lost love Lisa (Diane Kruger,) he ditches a business trip to China so that he can hang around Chicago and stalk her. Nothing will derail his obsessive quest, even a dalliance with new acquaintance Alex (Rose Byrne). This romantic mystery suffers from an abundance of stalkers – there are at least three – but that is the least of its problems. With the exception of Matthew’s goofy best friend, Luke (Matthew Lillard,) the characters are repellant; the love story that gradually emerges through flashbacks is beyond dumb; and nothing in Kruger’s banal performance suggests a reason for Matthew’s manic adulation. But the worst is Hartnett, who so lacks charisma that, rather than command the screen, he practically disappears into it.
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 1 (Director Paul McGuigan made the queer-themed “Gangster No. 1,” while Lillard co-starred in John Waters’ “Serial Mom.”
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.”)