Crude Macedonian King Philip (Val Kilmer) and smothering Olympias (Angelina Jolie) raise their son, Alexander (Colin Farrell), to follow in the footsteps of the Greek gods. When he inherits his father’s throne, Alexander takes those lessons to heart and builds an empire. Oliver Stone’s handsome but turgid epic is a complete disaster, with ineptly staged battles, ludicrous dialogue, and a clash of accents and acting styles. Alexander speechifies so much that he seems intent on boring his enemies to death, and the movie can never decide if he’s a tragic hero, a conflicted mama’s boy, or a wigged-out megalomaniac. It doesn’t help that Farrell’s attitude and hair extensions suggest a pompous, 21st-century rock star rather than a fourth-century-B.C. conqueror of the known world.
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 3 (Stone shies away from exploring Alexander’s sexuality completely, reducing his passionate lifelong affair with boyhood friend Hephaistion – played by Jared Leto – to the occasional chaste hug and lots of longing glances. Alexander does share one hot kiss with the eunuch Bagoas, whom he later invites into his bed. Farrell played much more erotic scenes as a bisexual in the recent drama “A Home at the End of the World.” Co-stars Christopher Plummer and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, as well as openly bisexual Jolie, have all appeared in gay-themed films. Previous Stone films with queer subplots are the similarly bowdlerized “Midnight Express” and “JFK.”)
Christmas with the Kranks
When the Kranks (Tim Allen, Jamie Lee Curtis) learn that their adult daughter, Blair (Julie Gonzalo), won’t be home for Christmas, they decide to skip the holidays and secretly take a cruise. This angers their tightly knit neighborhood of holiday busybodies, who take personal offense at the Kranks’ lack of decorations and holiday spirit. When a last-minute change of plans sends Blair home, both parents fly into a clock-beating tizzy to make Christmas happen without the kid’s knowledge. The plot makes no rational sense, and consists mostly of a series of painful slapstick moments involving fights over ham, falling down on ice, and freezing the neighbor’s cat. So beware – it’s a feel-good family film that could make even the nicest viewer “kranky.”
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 0 (No gay content, but co-star Patrick Breen plays the gay nanny on the TV series “Kevin Hill.”)
After the Sunset
Max (Pierce Brosnan) and Lola (Salma Hayek) are master thieves who like to steal expensive diamonds. After their final big heist, during which they are nearly captured by FBI guy Stan (Woody Harrelson), they retire to the islands and spend a lot of time getting undressed for each other. Then, coaxed into one last job, the pair once again run into Stan, who’s finally caught up with them, determined to bag his prey. This is a heist movie that wants to be sexy, sleek, and sophisticated, but ends up uninspired, overlong, lazily plotted, and dull. Director Brett Ratner doesn’t care about making his thieves roguishly likable or human; their bland moves are stolen without inspiration from the history of cinematic capers. It’s more than just disappointing that two sexy leads can’t create any sort of screen sizzle – it’s something approaching criminal.
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 1 (There’s unexplained homosexual panic in a couple of scenes between Harrelson and Brosnan, who wind up sleeping in the same bed and, in another scene, have to – ew! – apply sunscreen to each other. It’s all played for laughs, but the inept storytelling makes it impossible to determine what’s really being laughed at – the characters’ own stupid homophobia or homosexuality itself. Meanwhile, Hayek – who played bisexual artist Frida Kahlo in “Frida” – should turn more than a few lesbian heads with her heaving cleavage, which threatens to burst out of her bra at every turn. Troy Garrity (“A Soldier’s Girl”) has a small part as a somewhat gay-acting bartender.)
By day, Alfie (Jude Law) chauffeurs Manhattan’s elite, but by night he “is” the elite – a sought-after bachelor whose many conquests include a wealthy older woman (Susan Sarandon) and his best friend’s girlfriend (Nia Long). Alfie pleads his case directly to the camera, insisting that he’s living the high life despite evidence to the contrary. This remake of the iconic ’60s comedy-drama is at its best during these intimate confessionals, as the beautiful, vacuous Alfie proves a charming, if self-deceiving raconteur. Attempts to update the story with such modern additions as erectile dysfunction can’t obscure the fact that this tale of a lascivious Lothario seems antique in our post-“Sex and the City” world, in which few women still see themselves as men’s passive playthings.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (With his attention to dress and grooming, this Alfie is definitely a metrosexual. Law played gay characters in “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” and “Wilde,” and was the object of Matt Damon’s desire in “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” Sarandon starred in queer favorites “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and “Thelma and Louise.” Co-star Gedde Watanabe has a recurring role as a gay nurse on E.R., while co-star Dick LaTessa won a Tony for his performance in “Hairspray” and co-starred in the AIDS drama “The Event.”)
Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason
Perky Bridget Jones (Renee Zellweger) has long been one of love’s losers, but she’s finally found her soul mate in staid but sexy lawyer Mark Darcy (Colin Firth). That is, if her jealousy over his comely new colleague, Rebecca (Jacinda Barrett), doesn’t tear them apart and send Bridget back into the arms of her womanizing ex-beau, Daniel (Hugh Grant). This sequel begins six weeks after the popular “Bridget Jones’s Diary” ended and simply recycles much of the original’s plot, throwing in a cocaine bust and an unrequited crush for fresh color. The game cast charms, which makes the long stretches of tedium bearable, but there’s still plenty of time to ponder why this shallow, date- and weight-obsessed ditz should be a heroine for our age.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 2 (Bridget has a new admirer in a fetching lesbian, and she still counts among her Greek chorus of friends an apparently neutered gay man. Firth, Grant, and co-star Gemma Jones have all appeared in queer-themed movies.)
Playwright J.M. Barrie (Johnny Depp), seeking inspiration to cure his writing slump, befriends a sickly widow (Kate Winslet) and her four grieving children. As they get to know each other, Barrie and the boys invent games revolving around pirates and other adventures. Flashy fantasy sequences take the audience into Barrie’s mind as he imagines these scenarios, all of which are eventually incorporated into his most famous play, “Peter Pan.” The film is meant to uplift by showing the transforming power of imagination and friendship. But in spite of Depp’s solid, subdued performance, the movie seems to force strong emotions rather than just let them happen. Emotional scenarios and their outcomes are set up early on and delivered later with a precision that eliminates the need for any audience investment – ironic for a film about the human need for imagination.
Grade: C+ Kinsey Scale: 1 (Depp played gay in “Before Night Falls” and starred in the John Waters film “Cry-Baby.” Winslet played an obsessive teenage lesbian in “Heavenly Creatures” and starred as the young, bisexual Iris Murdoch in “Iris.” Co-star Radha Mitchell played a lesbian in “High Art,” and Dustin Hoffman starred in the gender-bending “Tootsie.”)
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.”)
Too many lawsuits spell the end of superheroes, exiling Bob Parr (Craig T. Nelson), aka Mr. Incredible, and wife Helen (Holly Hunter), aka Elastigirl, to life in the suburbs, where Bob works in insurance while Helen raises the kids. Frustrated by his empty life, Bob happily dons his old tights when a mysterious stranger seeks his services, and soon the whole family is pulled into the adventure. This frequently hilarious Disney/Pixar cartoon is best in its first half, where it gleefully lampoons pop culture and frivolous lawsuits, before it settles into a so-so James Bond-type parody. With plenty of gunplay and explosions, this is a family comedy with an edge that never quite conceals its conservative message trumpeting traditional nuclear family values.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 1 (On the small screen, Hunter played Billie Jean King in “When Billie Beat Bobbie” and Norma McCorvey in “Roe v. Wade.” Co-star Wallace Shawn appeared in the gay drama “Prick Up Your Ears,” while co-star Jason Lee was in the straight man’s lesbian-fantasy drama “Chasing Amy.”)
Having grown up in a sexually repressed household, Alfred Kinsey (Liam Neeson) is clueless in his approach to intercourse on his wedding night with his beloved Clara (Laura Linney). Inspired by his own initial difficulties, this anthropologist of gull-wing wasps goes on to undertake the first major study of American sexuality, revelatory findings that still reverberate today. This engrossing, literate biopic tracks Kinsey’s personal life and professional growth, offering a window into his research methods and the controversy that nearly destroyed him. This is that rare film that satisfies as drama, history lesson, and romance, as writer/director Bill Condon artfully re-creates an era and its mindset. The performances are nothing short of magnificent, led by Neeson’s indelible turn as the naively determined researcher.
Grade: A Kinsey Scale: 4 (The film explores Kinsey’s bisexuality, offers a glimpse at World War II-era gay Chicago, and features a heartfelt testimonial from a gay character to Kinsey thanking him for his life-altering research. Condon is openly gay and previously made the queer-themed “Gods and Monsters,” and worked on the screenplay for “Chicago.” Supporting actors with gay material on their resumes include Lynn Redgrave, Peter Sarsgaard, Tim Curry, John Lithgow, Dylan Baker, Veronica Cartwright, and Kathleen Chalfant.)
America’s founding fathers left behind arcane clues hinting that they had secreted a fabulous treasure. After spending a lifetime searching, Benjamin Gates (Nicolas Cage) is close to discovering the treasure’s location, but first he must stop his rival, Ian Howe (Sean Bean), and save the Declaration of Independence. This woeful excuse for an action-adventure film is even dumber than it sounds, with moronic dialogue, indifferent performances, and an obsession with freemasonry. The screenwriters miss a basic premise of the action movie, which is to cut to the chase, because too much exposition underlines the inanity of the story. And given the nature of the “treasure,” did they really mean to suggest that this nation’s founders were involved in a conspiracy to hide stolen antiquities?
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 1 (Co-stars Jon Voight and Sean Bean both appeared in gay-themed films made by gay directors, respectively, John Schlesinger’s “Midnight Cowboy” and Derek Jarman’s “Caravaggio.”)
The Polar Express
When a nameless young boy (voiced by Daryl Sabara and acted by Tom Hanks in a digital “motion capture” performance) on the verge of chucking his belief in Santa is awakened on Christmas Eve by a huge train that beckons him to hop aboard for adventure, he obeys and embarks on a strangely emotionless odyssey to the North Pole. Visually, his journey is a swirl of computer-generated marvels, but as a story it’s a series of brushes with danger that have very little to do with supporting the film’s thesis – that human beings must love their friends, have courage, and retain their sense of wonder and belief in, well, Santa Claus. Small children will enjoy the movie, and Hanks is impressive as multiple characters, but this holiday treat is more technical achievement than heartwarming tale. And who decided, in a Christmas movie, to make all the elves Jewish?
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 1 (The late gay actor Michael Jeter, to whom the film is dedicated, plays two characters here. Hanks won an Oscar for playing gay in “Philadelphia” and got his start in drag on TV’s “Bosom Buddies.” Peter Scolari, Hanks’ “Buddies” co-star, appears here as “Lonely Boy.”)
This epic biopic traces singer Ray Charles’ (Jamie Foxx) life from a childhood of grinding poverty – during which he lost both his younger brother and his sight – to his first two decades of stardom. Screenwriter James L. White and director Taylor Hackford take a warts-and-all approach to Charles’ life, so that while the drama presents the many ways that Charles revolutionized popular music under the shadow of Jim Crow, it also spends an inordinate amount of time on his drug addiction and womanizing. The story occasionally bogs down in a morass of show-biz cliches, but remains a powerful testament to a formidable talent, thanks to Foxx’s transcendent performance, in which he seems to inhabit the singer-musician’s very soul, and a soundtrack resplendent with Charles’ awesome music.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 0 (Co-star Kerry Washington played a lesbian in Spike Lee’s “She Hate Me.”)
Two men, a doctor (Cary Elwes) and a photographer (Leigh Whannell), wake up in a grimy underground restroom, chained to pipes, a dead man lying on the floor between them. A tape recorder in the dead man’s hand explains that the doctor must kill his cell-mate in order to save not only his own life but the lives of his wife (Monica Potter) and child (Makenzie Vega). This grisly, violent film has a few cracks in its armor: bad acting all around, implausible plot mechanics, and dialogue that’s a little too in love with itself. However, it “is” a horror movie, a genre in which these flaws are most often forgiven. And on the other end of the scale is a twisting and turning plot, plus intensely frightening imagery and a no-way-out quality that keeps the gruesome action suspenseful until the last chilling frame. Expect to sleep with the lights on.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (No queer content. Elwes starred in “Another Country” at the outset of his career, and character actor Michael Emerson – who has a small, pivotal role as a hospital employee – was seen in “The Laramie Project.”)
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.”)
The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie
SpongeBob SquarePants (the voice of Tom Kenny) has a problem. The scheming Plankton (Doug Lawrence) is trying to put the Krusty Krab restaurant out of business, so he steals Neptune’s crown and blames Mr. Krabs for it. Then it’s up to SpongeBob and his best friend, Patrick Starfish (Bill Fagerbakke), to venture out of Bikini Bottom and into Shell City to get the crown back. Naturally, there’s no suspense behind this premise, because it’s bound to turn out happily in the end; but none of that’s really important. SpongeBob has become something of a national symbol for stubborn, childlike innocence, appealing to fans across all demographic lines. The character’s genuine sweetness, plus his simple life and loyalty to his friends, render him almost irresistible. And it doesn’t hurt that his watery world is laugh-out-loud funny, making his journey to the big screen a splashy success.
Grade: A- Kinsey Scale: 1 (SpongeBob and Patrick are more silly-acting than gay-acting, but there are odd moments when things do start looking a little queer – a scene in which Patrick is revealed to be wearing fishnet stockings, for one. But it’s all in good fun, and the subtext is genuinely limited unless you’re desperate to find it everywhere you look. Voice talent Alec Baldwin, as hit man Dennis, was in the TV movie “A Streetcar Named Desire” and in the very gay-subtext-heavy “Prelude to a Kiss.”)