Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar), an American living in Japan who finds herself in a house where a long-ago murder-suicide took place, soon begins experiencing horrifying visions. Her fear only increases when police detective Nakagawa (Ryo Ishibashi) explains that, according to legend, the house is cursed and so are all who enter it. “Ju-On,” the popular Japanese horror film series that inspired this Americanized version, is rumored to be truly terrifying; but though this shares the same director, it lacks genuine thrills. Too much exposition bogs down the plot, but more than that, a demon who phones her victims and even rings their doorbells is downright comical. The scares are minimal, but there are plenty of unintentional laughs in this supremely silly shocker wanna-be.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 1 (Gellar starred in the queer-inclusive “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and had a sapphic moment in “Cruel Intentions.” Co-star Grace Zabriskie was in “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues,” while co-star Clea DuVall played a lesbian in “But I’m a Cheerleader.”)
Rich, shallow ad exec Drew Latham (Ben Affleck), dumped by his girlfriend close to the holidays, decides to return to his childhood home and offer the people living there $250,000 to give him the traditional Christmas he’s never known. One problem: the members of the Valco family (James Gandolfini, Catherine O’Hara, Christina Applegate) are in no mood to provide anyone with familial warmth, and their brittle, dark sarcasm mixed with Drew’s stubbornly cheery demands insures a dysfunctional Christmas for everyone. And like the characters, the film itself is of two minds about what kind of holiday movie it wants to be – a sardonic, witty black comedy about people who can’t love, or a fuzzy feel-gooder that forces its characters and the audience into fake heartwarming moments. Fortunately, the genuinely funny moments trump the embarrassing sentiment, making for a mostly satisfying and snarky holiday treat.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (There’s one shot of a snuggling gay couple through an apartment window, and veteran gay character actor Udo Kier – who’s been in everything from “Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein” to “Armageddon” – shows up as an implicitly homosexual Eurotrash photographer. O’Hara appeared in the gay-inclusive comedies “Best in Show” and “Waiting for Guffman,” and Gandolfini played a gay hit man in “The Mexican.”)
A Dirty Shame
A concussion unleashes the erotic fire within formerly repressed convenience store manager Sylvia Stickles (Tracey Ullman), who joins forces with sexual healer Ray-Ray (Johnny Knoxville) to push carnal boundaries. But Sylvia’s mother (Suzanne Shepherd), distressed that her Baltimore neighborhood is suddenly teeming with swingers and queers and bears – oh my! – vows to save the city from sex addiction. Director John Waters’ exuberant catalog of outre sex practices will probably land with the force of an explosion. But the one-time enfant terrible has become a dirty grandpa trying to shock with hoary jokes. The cast is fabulous, the rockabilly soundtrack adds a percussive thrill, but the bathroom humor never rises above the mildly amusing.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 5 (This comedy explores all modes of sexuality – hetero, homo, and bi are only the basic categories. Waters, of course, is one of the pioneers of queer cinema and many of his longtime collaborators – Mink Stole, Mary Vivian Pearce, Jean Hill, Patricia Hearst – appear here. Other cast members with queer film, TV, and theater bona fides include Ullman, Jackie Hoffman, and Selma Blair.)
Grieving mother Telly Peretta (Julianne Moore) can’t let go of the memory of her dead son, an 8-year-old boy who may or may not have ever really existed. It seems that she’s the only person in her circle of friends and family who remembers the child. Just as she meets a neighbor (Dominic West) who also lost a daughter and his own memory of her, the Feds step in to run interference while Telly begins a desperate search to uncover the truth. “Desperate” also describes the script, which takes a compelling idea – governmental conspiracy and mind-control – and negates it with third-act cheesiness and silly sci-fi impossibilities. This paranoid thriller starts out riddled with tension and loses its way completely, insuring that it – like other botched suspense films – will wind up forgotten.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Moore has appeared in two films by gay director Todd Haynes, “Safe” and “Far from Heaven”; played a nominally lesbian character in Gus Van Sant’s “Psycho”; and starred in the lesbian-themed “The Hours.” West had a role in “Chicago,” while Alfre Woodard appeared in the gay-themed Christmas TV movie “Holiday Heart,” and Linus Roache played a gay priest in “Priest.”)
Friday Night Lights
Football is serious business in Odessa, Texas, so the townsfolk let Coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) know that his job depends on his Permian High Panthers winning the state championship. That goal becomes tougher when star running back Boobie Miles (Derek Luke) blows out his knee. This drama is allegedly based on the real-life Panthers’ almost-Cinderella 1988 season, but the characters are stock sports caricatures lost in a field of gridiron cliches. Director Peter Berg tries to add verisimilitude with a documentary shooting style, but his staccato editing leads the film to frequently resemble a commercial for “Monday Night Football.” Hardcore football fans will revel in the on-field action, while everyone else will wonder why anyone should care about Gaines or his team.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 0 (Co-star Connie Britton guest-starred in several episodes of Ellen DeGeneres’ groundbreaking sitcom.)
I Heart Huckabees
Existentialist detectives Bernard (Dustin Hoffman) and Vivian (Lily Tomlin) believe everything is connected. Their former pupil, Caterine (Isabelle Huppert), has gone nihilist, stressing the cruel randomness of life. These high-minded gumshoes and their opposing doctrines compete for the souls of environmental activist Albert (Jason Schwartzman), department-store executive Brad (Jude Law), spokesmodel Dawn (Naomi Watts), and fireman Tommy (Mark Wahlberg). Luckily, a philosophy degree is not required to appreciate the absurdity of this screwball comedy with a brain. The cast clearly relishes the opportunity to perfect their pratfalls while spitting out sparkling one-liners. Hoffman and Tomlin are particularly charming as the cheerful shamuses who never give up on a client. Rarely have serious questions of being and nothingness been rendered this silly or this fun.
Grade: B+ Kinsey Scale: 1 (Tomlin is openly gay, and she, Huppert, Hoffman, Wahlberg, Law, and Watts have all appeared in queer-themed films.)
Firefighter Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix) has fallen and can’t get up. As he lies on the cement floor of a burning warehouse, trapped by the flames, his life literally passes before his eyes in this sentimental drama in which easy emotions are tapped at regular intervals. Flashbacks tell the 10-year story of Jack’s experience as a rookie in a company with a stoic yet kind and wise chief (John Travolta); they also reveal details of his marriage, children, injuries, doubts, and close calls with death. In the end, the audience is left with a simplistic account of heroism instead of a complex view of human reality. The movie is well-meaning and inoffensive enough, and the fiery action sequences are palm-sweat-inducing; but the bland attempts to lionize all firefighters as noble gods make for a film that never reaches the top rungs.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (A gay prank is played on one of the firefighters, but any possible homophobic edges have been sanded off, in keeping with the middle-of-the-road nature of the film. Phoenix worked with gay director Gus Van Sant on “To Die For.”)
Raise Your Voice
For Terri Fletcher (Hilary Duff), being blonde and cute just isn’t enough – she needs to sing. But when she’s accepted for summer placement at a prestigious music conservatory, her overprotective father (David Keith) denies her permission to go. Does that stop her? No way. With a little scheming help from an understanding mom (Rita Wilson) and her free-spirited aunt (Rebecca DeMornay), Terri runs off to L.A. to express herself creatively. The 90 minutes of this movie are as sunny, wholesome, and smoothly predictable as a glass of full-fat milk – it turns out Terri’s a musical genius “and” a diplomat, smoothing grumpy Dad’s ruffled feathers with a well-placed tear or two. But bemoaning its obviousness is useless, since preteen girls – the target audience – will thrill to their heroine’s pluck and welcome every calculated plot twist like it’s never been done before. Like, ever.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (If there are gay students in this summer conservatory, the audience never meets them, so the film is absent any queer content. Duff worked with gay director Jim Fall (“Trick”) on “The Lizzie McGuire Movie.” Co-star John Corbett was a regular on HBO’s queer-inclusive “Sex and the City,” while Wilson co-produced the gay-themed “Connie & Carla” as well as appearing in Gus Van Sant’s “Psycho.”)
Shall We Dance?
John Clark (Richard Gere), a suburban guy facing a midlife crisis, stumbles into a ballroom dance studio after cruising its beautiful dance instructor (Jennifer Lopez) from his window on the commuter train. He begins lessons, but not an affair, still keeping his dancing life a secret from his loving wife (Susan Sarandon). When ballroom competition calls, however, the truth is revealed, and the rest of the story is exactly the sort of affirmation of middle-aged love and family life one might expect from a movie in which the home furnishings are as polished and attractive as the lead actors. Yes, it’s dopey and predictable, and neither the performances nor the dancing are going to set anyone’s world on fire. But the movie effectively hits all the old-fashioned marks that undemanding, crowd-pleasing romances are supposed to, without tripping over its own feet too much.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Bobby Cannavale plays a closeted dance stud who talks a little too much about how straight he is. Gere played gay in “And the Band Played On,” and has appeared in queer-inclusive films like “Chicago,” “Dr. T & the Women,” and “American Gigolo.” Sarandon famously made love with Catherine Deneuve in “The Hunger,” and appeared in queer audience favorites “Thelma & Louise” and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Lopez played a team-switching lesbian in “Gigli” and guest-starred on “Will & Grace.”)
Great white mobster Don Lino (Robert DeNiro) sends his sons out into the ocean so that older son Frankie (Michael Imperioli) can teach timid Lenny (Jack Black) how to be a proper shark. But an anchor lands on Frankie’s head, leaving Lenny too fearful to go home, while opportunistic fish Oscar (Will Smith) becomes a local hero by claiming to have slain the shark. This pallid cartoon’s idea of being clever is to re-create Times Square on the ocean floor, but the animation is just so-so, with only Don Lino, Lenny, and puffer fish Sykes (Martin Scorsese) having any personality. Aquatic creatures spouting old movie cliches is amusing for about five minutes, and the story is so thin as to be practically nonexistent.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 2 (Lenny’s situation could be a gay metaphor – he lives in the closet, afraid to reveal to his family that he’s a vegetarian, and he cross-dresses as a dolphin. Smith, Imperioli, and bisexual co-star Angelina Jolie have all appeared in queer-themed films.)
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.”)
Ned Kynaston (Billy Crudup) is the last of the female-impersonating actors during the 17th-century reign of Charles II (Rupert Everett), and Maria Hughes (Claire Danes) is his dresser. Maria’s desire is to act on stage, too, even though women aren’t allowed to. And if that plot is ringing a few “Shakespeare in Love” bells, well, it should. But this clunky bit of revisionist history wants more than love: while depicting Maria’s ascent and Ned’s demise, the movie tries to re-imagine both the history of feminism and the history of theater, to play the entire field of human sexuality, and, most importantly, to give the audience a happy hetero ending. The costumes are great; British character actors in small roles make up the brightest moments; and Crudup is interesting to watch as a fancy lady. But in the end, this “Beauty” is only skin deep.
Grade: C+ Kinsey Scale: 5 (Kynaston’s sexuality is fluid throughout, but his true happiness comes when he finally hooks up with Maria. In real life things do go that way sometimes, but in a film it smells more than a little like moralism and gender rigidity. Ben Chaplin plays Crudup’s lover, and there are flamboyantly gay characters peppered throughout. The out Everett has played gay several times onscreen, and Danes got her start on the TV show “My So-Called Life,” which featured a gay teenage character in its ensemble.)
With initial production costs of only $218, this documentary memoir recalls director Jonathan Caouette’s troubled childhood in Texas in the 1970s and ’80s. The film opens in the present, with the adult Caouette, now in a gay relationship, learning about the lithium overdose of his mother, Renee. Then, in crazy-quilt fashion, he intercuts old family snapshots with home-movie footage and factual narration to trace Renee’s descent from beautiful child model to institutionalized madwoman, and to recount his own struggles in foster homes and with mental illness. Exceedingly arty and oddly detached, the film at times seems more like an album of horrifying family experiences than a meaningful reflection on surviving insanity and abuse. In the end, many viewers may simply be relieved that their own messed-up families look like the Cleavers by comparison.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 6 (Caouette’s sexual identity is a major theme – “I’ve always been gay,” the young Jonathan states. Indeed, the most riveting scenes are home movies of the prepubescent Caouette – shot by himself – in trailer-trash drag, demonstrating how early “queerness” manifests itself. Producers John Cameron Mitchell and Gus Van Sant round out the gay involvement in this project.)
New York police detective Washburn (Jimmy Fallon) loses his driver’s license, so when he gets a report of a bank robbery in progress, he flags down Belle’s (Queen Latifah) tricked-out, turbo-charged taxi. The chase goes awry, putting Belle’s nascent cab-driving career and Washburn’s badge in jeopardy, unless they can somehow catch the thieves. For all the time the characters spend in cars, this stalled comedy goes nowhere fast. Endless car chases, some fine stunt driving, and a handful of carefully choreographed accidents are designed to please NASCAR fans, but the humor falls as flat as a punctured tire. Nonstop cracks about someone’s bad driving simply aren’t funny, although at least they aren’t as tasteless as the jokes about Washburn’s lush of a mother (Ann-Margret).
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 1 (There is a very brief, hot scene of supermodel Giselle Bundchen, one of the bank robbers, giving a very intimate pat-down to her policewoman hostage, played by Jennifer Esposito. Latifah played a lesbian in “Set It Off” and a butch jail matron in “Chicago.”)
Team America: World Police
When terrorists get their hands on weapons of mass destruction, it’s up to a squad of undercover commandos to save the world in this irreverent all-puppet comedy from Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of “South Park.” Following in the footsteps of both the TV series “Thunderbirds” and countless cheesy action movies, this satire of international political crises features puppets blowing things up, being mutilated, having sex, and – in one extended gross-out sequence – vomiting for a really long time. In the process, world leaders and celebrities get skewered, dumb action films get the drubbing they deserve, and neither left nor right political affiliations escape being mocked. It’s laugh-out loud funny, if not up to the level of blisteringly shocking hilarity that was “South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut.” But in these dangerous times, be grateful for what you get.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 3 (The gay jokes don’t stop here, which is typical of Parker and Stone’s take-no-prisoners style. Their version of being gay-friendly involves crude gay sex humor, male puppets performing oral sex on each other, and use of the word “fag.” It’s all meant to be funny, but gay audiences not comfortable with such across-the-board mockery should be forewarned. Gay composer Marc Shaiman – of “Hairspray” and the “South Park” film – wrote several of the musical numbers here, including the “Rent”-inspired parody, “Everyone Has AIDS.”)