Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the State of Michigan after a plan to kidnap her and other Michigan government officials was thwarted by state and federal law enforcement agencies. She started by saying thank you to law enforcement and FBI agents who participated in stopping this [...]
Under the Tuscan Sun
Frances (Diane Lane), a writer depressed about her recent divorce, takes a vacation in Tuscany, buys a villa on a whim, and dedicates herself to being happier. Following her bliss proves more difficult than she imagined when romance fails to come her way, but she makes do with a cast of lovable locals and her pregnant lesbian best friend, Patti (Sandra Oh). There are sumptuous meals to be eaten, beautiful vistas to be melancholy over, poetry to read with hired bricklayers, Fellini-inspired fountains to wade in, and a hot Italian man (Raoul Bova) to swoon over. In other words, the film has nothing to do with real life. Yet it’s so pretty and charming you won’t care; and Diane Lane, luminous as always, glides through it effortlessly.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 2 (Oh’s funny pregnant lesbian plays an increasingly larger role in the plot as the film progresses, elevating her character from peripheral gal pal to something more significant. “All Over the Guy”‘s Dan Bucatinsky has a small role as a gay tourist.)
Alex (Ben Stiller) and Nancy (Drew Barrymore) buy a beautiful Brooklyn duplex, a building in which the only problem is a very old tenant (Eileen Essell) who sweetly torments the young couple. With each inconvenience, the two grow more and more impatient, until the idea of killing off the old lady becomes the first thing on their “to do” list. This comedy, like other films directed by Danny DeVito (“War of the Roses,” “Throw Mama from the Train”), has a dark, amoral center in which unlikable people stoop to inhuman acts. Unlike those movies, however, this unbearable film doesn’t have one shred of humor. Nor does it have the guts to be as cruel as those earlier films, and it clearly wants to be. In the end, it loses on both counts and cheats the audience of any potentially evil (if vicarious) fun.
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 1 (Barrymore is bisexual, and out actor Harvey Fierstein has a small role as a gay realtor.)
Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is a vampire who hunts werewolves, and she’s very busy. Seems the two monster camps have a blood feud going, and the werewolves are staging an uprising. Meanwhile, human Michael (Scott Speedman) has been attacked by a werewolf and is well on his way to turning into one. There are other “meanwhiles” afoot, too: corruption and courtly backstabbing in the vampire world, and a Romeo and Juliet love affair that tries its best to blossom between the two pretty leads. Sadly, romantic sparks barely fly, the vampires barely bite, the werewolves barely howl, the plot barely makes sense, and the only thing that really commands attention is the production design. It looks like a goth bedtime story come to life, but this disappointing tale of the undead isn’t very lively at all.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 1 (There’s a long list of cinematic examples backing up the idea of vampire- and werewolf-themed films as inherently queer and sexually charged – but not much in this movie to support the tradition.)
Woody Allen has cast Jason Biggs in the neurotic-in-love role he used to write for himself in this tepid comedy. Biggs is Jerry, a Manhattan joke writer trapped in toxic relationships with abrasive manager Harvey (Danny DeVito) and bratty, sex-withholding girlfriend Amanda (Christina Ricci). Further complicating his life is new pal Dobel (Allen), who advises Jerry to dump the both of them. The story is more tedious than amusing, even though Allen’s script is peppered with one-liners. The movie ought to be funny, but that’s only the case when Allen is on-screen – his co-stars lack the timing to put the jokes across. Biggs is badly miscast and Ricci’s self-absorbed, child-woman act is getting awfully tired.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Ricci’s resume is rife with queer-themed projects, including “The Opposite of Sex.” She and co-star Stockard Channing both appeared in “The Laramie Project.”)
Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star
Dickie Roberts (David Spade) was a child star who grew up and lost his job, then his money and fame. Parking cars for a living and playing poker with the likes of Corey Feldman and Danny Bonaduce, Dickie longs for a comeback. To get one, however, he knows he has to relive childhood and learn the lessons Hollywood denied him. He pays a family to adopt him for a month, then moves in and wreaks havoc. Unfortunately, there’s not enough mayhem, and the movie gives Dickie too many lame, heartwarming moments in which to bond with the audience. And this is David Spade, not Lassie – he’s funny throughout, but his persona as a glib, sarcastic jerk is too tough for the movie to penetrate, leaving every unfocused and forced tender moment feeling like a “bad touch.”
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Strangely enough, Spade has never officially played gay; but Dickie makes a throwaway reference to having tried sex with men once to ward off a relentless gay fan/stalker, portrayed by Ian Gomez – who played gay on “Felicity.” Queer fans will love the hordes of grown-up, real-life former child stars who make cameos over the credits.)
The Fighting Temptations
A soundtrack in search of a movie, the sinfully unfunny “Fighting Temptations” will try the soul of anyone wanting more than a collection of rousing gospel numbers. Darrin Hill (Cuba Gooding Jr.) goes home to Georgia to collect an inheritance and discovers there’s a catch: to cash in, he has to direct the local church choir. He recruits a motley crew of singers, from chain-gang inmates to single mom Lilly (Beyonce Knowles), and off they go to win the gospel choir competition. Sadly, the weak romance and prodigal-son redemption plotlines go nowhere slowly, and a cast of incredibly talented singers see their skimpy acting talents aggravated by an inept script and TV-movie-level direction. When there’s music happening it’s heavenly, but when the singing stops, the audience is dragged down to comedy purgatory.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Cuba Gooding Jr. played gay in “As Good As It Gets” and pretended to be gay in the worthless “Boat Trip.” There’s nothing gay-oriented in this movie, though – unless you count the sky-high R&B/gospel diva quotient created by the presence of Beyonce, Melba Moore, Ann Nesby, Faith Evans, Angie Stone, Shirley Caesar, Yolanda Adams, and the group Mary Mary.)
At the Coleman residence, the generation gap is in full swing. Psychologist mom Tess (Jamie Lee Curtis) just doesn’t get her 15-year-old daughter Annabell’s (Lindsay Lohan) punk-rock tastes, while Annabell deeply resents her mother’s upcoming remarriage. During a bitter quarrel, they ingest enchanted fortune cookies and awaken the next morning to discover they’ve switched bodies, leading to possibly life-altering complications as they try to get through the day without anyone discovering their secret. In spite of its 21st-century trappings, this remake of the 1976 Disney family comedy (which starred the young Jodie Foster) retains an old-fashioned air, with cornball humor and some implausible generational misunderstandings. But the broad jokes lead to laughs more often than not, and the movie charms, thanks to the affectionate chemistry between Curtis and Lohan.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 1 (Curtis previously starred in “The Heidi Chronicles,” while co-star Willie Garson appeared in the queer romance “Luster” and plays Carrie’s gay friend Stanford on “Sex and the City.”)
Lost in Translation
While in Tokyo to film a commercial, middle-aged Hollywood star Bob Harris (Bill Murray) strikes up the acquaintance of 20-something fellow American Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson). Though separated by age and social status, the pair bond over the loneliness and alienation they feel as they navigate a culture neither understands. What begins as a temporary relationship to while away the time soon builds into something deeper. Sofia Coppola’s romantic comedy-drama is enchanting when it focuses on the growing intimacy between Bob and Charlotte. In his portrayal of midlife angst, Murray gives one of his finest performances, and his scenes with Johansson are genuinely touching. Unfortunately, Coppola frames her story with a lame satire of the Japanese that is cliched and sometimes racist.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Murray played queer in “Ed Wood” and co-starred in the steamy bisexual thriller “Wild Things.”)
Obsessive-compulsive con man Roy (Nicolas Cage) and his partner, Frank (Sam Rockwell), scam retirees out of their money with bogus water-filtration systems and the promise of prizes that never get delivered. Meanwhile, Roy gets a delivery of his own in the form of a 14-year-old daughter named Angela (Alison Lohman) he never knew he had. In no time at all he’s teaching her the ways of the grift and she’s teaching him to become a better man. But that’s all the plot you get here – to give away the details would be the real crime, as this cleverly scripted movie provides plenty of surprises, cool performances, and more Nic Cage facial tics than you’ll be able to count, all along the way to its twisty ending. See it before someone spoils it for you.
Grade: A- Kinsey Scale: 1 (There’s some light, homoerotic teasing of Roy by Frank. Cage is the only actor in the cast to have played gay, in the little-seen indie “Sonny,” in which he was a gay pimp. Some of director Ridley Scott’s earlier movies, like “Thelma and Louise” and “Alien,” are queer cult films.)
Once Upon a Time in Mexico
Wandering guitar-man/vigilante El Mariachi (Antonio Banderas) is recruited by CIA Agent Sands (Johnny Depp) to kill a drug lord (Willem Dafoe) who is in turn attempting to overthrow the president of Mexico. Of course, that’s just what you think is going to happen, until all the deceptions and double crosses kick in. Schlocky, sloppy, and silly, the movie gets bogged down more than once along its epic-western-wannabe way. But none of that matters when Depp brightens up the screen with his trademark weirdness or when bad guys are being hurled through the air in a hail of stylized gunfire and exploding sets. As a piece of junk entertainment, it delivers enough laughs and action to satisfy all but the most demanding moviegoers – in other words, it’s bad filmmaking you can feel good about.
Grade: C+ Kinsey Scale: 1 (Several cast members have played queer before in other films: Banderas in “Philadelphia” and a few times for Pedro Almodovar; Depp in “Before Night Falls”; and co-stars Salma Hayek in “Frida” and “Time Code” and Mickey Rourke in the indie prison drama “Animal Factory.”)
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
Pirate Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and blacksmith son-of-a-pirate Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) are out to stop a ghost ship led by evil Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), whose crew of skeletal scallywags wants to break a curse by using the blood of kidnapped damsel Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley). Sparrow recruits his own pirate gang to fight them, and Elizabeth herself is no shrinking violet, versed in pirate lore and ready to get her hands dirty in battle. The movie is confusing at times, with all the double-crossing going on, and it’s overly long at 130 minutes. But the swashbuckling and yo-ho-ho-ing never let up; visual gags from Disneyland’s ride pop up here and there; the digitally animated skeleton crew is suitably scary; and Depp’s performance in this entertaining summer treat is hilariously, drunkenly weird.
Grade: B+ Kinsey Scale: 1 (There’s precious little rum, sodomy, or lashing going on here, but Bloom and Knightley are both beautiful creatures to watch. Eye-shadowed Depp played a drag queen in “Before Night Falls” and also cross-dressed in “Ed Wood”; his loopy Jack Sparrow pays homage to Marlon Brando’s own swishy performance in “Mutiny on the Bounty.”)
Millionaire Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges) assuages his grief over his son’s death by going into horse racing, acquiring undersized equine Seabiscuit and hiring taciturn trainer Tom Smith (Chris Cooper) and too-tall jockey Red Pollard (Tobey Maguire). When the horse embarks on an unlikely winning streak, he becomes a Depression-era hero. The racing sequences of this film are tense and exciting, and the three leads are sensational playing wounded men seeking redemption. But the fact-based drama suffers from an overstuffed back story, bombastic direction by Gary Ross, and a syrupy score by Randy Newman. There is a great movie here struggling to break free, but it never quite makes it out of the starting gate.
Grade: B- Kinsey Report: 1 (Maguire, Cooper, and co-star William H. Macy have all played gay characters. Bridges cut a comely figure when he donned drag in one of his earliest movies, 1974’s “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.”)
When slatternly single mom Mae (Kyra Sedgwick) drops off her 14-year-old son, Walter (Haley Joel Osment), at his great-uncles’ Texas farm to spend the summer, the irascible geezers initially intimidate the boy. But Hub (Robert Duvall) and Garth (Michael Caine) have big hearts under their gruff exteriors, and they are soon entertaining the boy with tales of their French Foreign Legion days and providing him stability he’s never known before. While this family comedy-drama is unabashedly hokey, shamelessly jerking tears from Walter’s vulnerability, it also provokes lots of laughter with its homespun humor and abundant fantasy sequences. The real reason to see the film, though, is for the gleefully hammy performances of Duvall and Caine, two old pros who appear to be having the time of their lives.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 1 (Caine played gay in “Miss Congeniality.” Sedgwick, along with co-stars Nicky Katt and Josh Lucas, have all appeared in queer-themed films.)