Beyond the Sea
The short life of singer Bobby Darin (Kevin Spacey), who died of a heart attack in his late 30s, is reverently recounted here in a way that only musicals can get away with: memories come alive as characters break into song; the lead omnisciently narrates his own story; and issues of biographical detail are subservient to artistic license – something that co-producer, co-screenwriter, director, and star Kevin Spacey has plenty of in reserve. The basic facts are all here: Darin’s sickly childhood and salvation through music, his perfectionism, and his tempestuous marriage to Sandra Dee (Kate Bosworth). At first glance, it’s an ambitious, somewhat strange, and almost admirable stab at livening up the stodgy biopic formula. But Spacey’s control over the project feels more than a little like vanity and less like committed storytelling, and that nagging thorn bloodies this otherwise satisfying valentine to a performer who was silenced too soon.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (An odd reference to Rock Hudson is made by Greta Scacchi, who plays Sandra Dee’s mother – she’s against Dee marrying Darin, and tells the girl to pursue Hudson instead. Given the media speculation and Spacey’s public denials regarding his own sexual orientation, this moment feels especially weird. Co-star John Goodman was a regular on the queer-friendly sitcom “Roseanne” and played a gay man on the short-lived sitcom “Normal, Ohio.”)
When teenage Doris’ (Kyla Pratt) tears drop into her TV set, 1970s cartoon hero Fat Albert (Kenan Thompson) senses her distress. He and his pals magically spring from their show to mount a mission to help her recover her self-esteem. There’s a bonus for Albert when he falls for Doris’ pretty foster sister, Lauri (Dania Ramirez), undaunted by the fact that he’ll soon have to return to his animated world. This latest live-action adaptation of a cartoon wrings laughs from the gang’s fish-out-of-water reactions to real life in the 21st century, as they discover hip-hop, laptops, and video games. The amiable ensemble mostly succeeds in enlivening even the dead spots in what is essentially a padded-out sitcom episode, albeit one with a positive message of acceptance and self-empowerment.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 1 (Ramirez appeared in Spike Lee’s lesbian-themed drama, “She Hate Me.”)
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
Jacques Cousteau-esque documentarian Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) is out to find and kill the shark that ate his best friend (Seymour Cassel). Along his vengeful way, Zissou bonds with a pilot (Owen Wilson) who may or may not be his son, and the two fight for the love of a pregnant reporter (Cate Blanchett). But the movie itself should have fought a little harder for its audience’s devotion. There are certainly bright spots here: Wes Anderson movies have a distinct visual style that is always a pleasure to behold; their attention to detail – from the set decoration to the fonts on Team Zissou’s hats and Speedos – is a treat. Also, Willem Dafoe garners some laughs as Zissou’s German sidekick. Yet the script and direction veer in tone and are both too distant and cool to create the sort of lasting affection earned by other Anderson characters, such as “Rushmore”‘s Max Fischer or the tragicomic family in “The Royal Tenenbaums” – which makes this movie all the more disappointing.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 1 (Jeff Goldblum co-stars as the bisexual ex-husband of Murray’s estranged wife, played by Angelica Huston. Murray starred in “Ed Wood” as a pre-op transsexual and in 1984’s film adaptation of M. Somerset Maugham’s “The Razor’s Edge.” Wilson was in the goofy and mildly homoerotic “Starsky & Hutch,” while Huston co-starred in “And the Band Played On.” And in a queer bit of set decoration, Goldblum’s character’s Italian villa is Gore Vidal’s real-life Italian villa.)
Meet the Fockers
Before ex-CIA agent Jack Byrnes (Robert DeNiro) will allow nurse Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) to marry his daughter, he insists on meeting Greg’s parents. A weekend visit to the Fockers’ Florida home jeopardizes the wedding when Jack discovers that matriarch Roz (Barbra Streisand) is a sex therapist, dad Bernie (Dustin Hoffman) is an ultra-liberal househusband, and Greg himself may be keeping a big secret. This sequel to the popular “Meet the Parents” starts off dismally as Greg and Jack’s contentious relationship plays like a tired, one-note joke. But once Streisand and Hoffman enter the fray to steal the movie away from their co-stars, the movie brightens considerably. The two are hilarious and simply adorable together, injecting warmth and fresh humor in this otherwise tepid comedy.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Hoffman, De Niro, and co-star Blythe Danner have all appeared in gay-themed films. Stiller and co-star Owen Wilson played metrosexuals in “Zoolander.” And Streisand is, well, Streisand.)
Million Dollar Baby
When 31-year-old boxer wanna-be Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) blows into his gym, down-on-his-luck fight manager Frank Dunn (Clint Eastwood) wants nothing to do with her. Not only is she female, she’s too old to contend for a title. But once she finally wears him down and he takes her under his wing, the two begin a remarkable Cinderella run that transforms both their lives. Paul Haggis’ screenplay is loaded with stereotypes, cliches, and bald emotional manipulation, yet despite these faults, the drama flirts with magnificence. Credit goes to sensational turns by Swank and Eastwood and to Eastwood’s flawless direction as he uses action to illuminate character, expertly staging Maggie’s bouts and their aftermaths so that each deepens the heartfelt relationship between these damaged individuals.
Grade: A- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Eastwood directed the gay-themed “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” while Swank took home a Best Actress Oscar for her role as transsexual Brandon Teena in “Boys Don’t Cry.” Co-stars Anthony Mackie and Margo Martindale have both appeared in queer-themed films.)
The Phantom of the Opera
The Phantom (Gerard Butler), a musical genius who hides his facial disfigurement with a mask, terrorizes the Paris Opera House in order to advance the career of an unwitting young singer named Christine (Emmy Rossum), whom he loves from afar. Meanwhile Christine’s rise in the opera company becomes complicated when she falls in love with Raoul (Patrick Wilson), and romantic tragedy ensues. It’s a story that’s been told so often that the appeal isn’t in wondering how it will all turn out, but in its lowest-common-denominator melodrama. This earnest, ornate, old-fashioned movie, full of inexplicably popular – and terrible – songs, will most likely resonate with audiences who can’t get enough of the long-running stage musical on which it’s based. Although emotionally bland, stiffly acted and directed, and overly long, “Phantom” is a spectacle, lavish and loud.
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 2 (There’s queer involvement both in front of and behind the camera. Directed by openly gay Joel Schumacher, who more or less outed his star Butler earlier this year, the film also stars openly gay Brit actor Simon Callow. Rossum made her film debut in the lesbian-themed drama “Songcatcher,” and co-star Wilson played gay in HBO’s “Angels in America.”)
Even though he’s a paranoid obsessive-compulsive, Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) revolutionizes commercial aviation and conquers Hollywood when he pours his inherited wealth into producing movies while bedding such stars as Katharine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett) and Ava Gardner (Kate Beckinsale). Martin Scorsese’s latest epic is an opulent, eye-popping spectacle: individual scenes dazzle; production design and costuming are spectacular; and the cast is gorgeous, starting with DiCaprio. But nothing in the actor’s callow performance suggests Hughes’ genius or explains what these powerful, sexy women saw in such a socially crude, tortured soul. Nor is Hughes’ story particularly compelling; while the drama amply displays Scorsese’s ardor for filmmaking, it never adequately explains Hughes’ own passions or the roots of his neurotic behavior.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Though the Hughes-produced western “The Outlaw” was controversial in its time for its homoerotic content, Scorsese chooses to focus solely on that film’s other area of contention – Jane Russell’s breasts. DiCaprio played gay poet Arthur Rimbaud in “Total Eclipse.” Co-stars Blanchett, Beckinsale, Jude Law, John C. Reilly, Ian Holm, Alan Alda, and Willem Dafoe have all appeared in queer-themed films.)
Hot Spanish director Enrique Goded (Fele Martinez) is intrigued when a stranger arrives claiming to be his boyhood friend Ignacio (Gael Garcia Bernal). Enrique is skeptical, but he’s moved enough by the story Ignacio brings him to want to make it his next film. That seems impossible when the two quarrel and Ignacio vanishes, leaving Enrique to solve the puzzle of what really became of his old chum. The brilliant Pedro Almodovar celebrates cinema and skewers the Catholic Church in this exuberant film noir that constantly doubles back on itself, piling on layer after layer of mystery. Martinez is terrific as the conflicted auteur, while Bernal makes a gorgeous “homme fatale.” It all adds up to a heady brew of suspense, black humor, and torrid sex.
Grade: A Kinsey Scale: 6 (This is Almodovar at his most sophisticated, but the film’s tone and some story elements are reminiscent of earlier films such as “Law of Desire” and “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” The ultra-charismatic Bernal makes good on the homoerotic promise he showed in the Mexican coming-of-age drama “Y Tu Mama Tambien.” Martinez and co-star Javier Camara previously worked with Almodovar on “Talk to Her.”)
Vampire-slayer Blade (Wesley Snipes) reluctantly accepts help from his mentor’s daughter, Abigail (Jessica Biel), and her wisecracking pal Hannibal (Ryan Reynolds) when sibling bloodsuckers (Parker Posey and Callum Keith Rennie) summon Dracula (Dominic Purcell) – now known as Drake – to assassinate him. Someone should stick a stake through the heart of the “Blade” series, as this third installment’s attempt to graft humor onto horror fails to re-invigorate the franchise. Even nonstop action can’t prevent “ennui” from seeping in, as the special effects and Snipes’ martial-arts moves have become cliches. Most of the actors seem bored, the ultra-wooden Snipes most of all. The only comic relief is Reynolds, who gets the only decent lines and emerges from this fiasco with his dignity intact.
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 1 (Aside from a couple of gay jokes, the movie completely misses the homoerotic potential of vampire legend. Snipes played gay in “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar.” Posey appeared in queer films “Frisk” and “The Event,” while Rennie was bi-curious in “Last Night.” Co-star Natasha Lyonne played a lesbian in “But I’m a Cheerleader.”)
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.”)
Alice (Natalie Portman) and Dan (Jude Law) and Anna (Julia Roberts) and Larry (Clive Owen) are inextricably linked by a series of chance meetings and clandestine sexual liaisons. The four come together and couple up in as many combinations as heterosexual convention will allow. Then they marry, cheat on each other, keep secrets, divorce, have post-divorce sex, rearrange alliances, and break up all over again in this study of modern straight relationships. The dialogue is sharp and often funny – not to mention frankly sexual – and the performances are solid, as likable movie stars engage in not so likable romantic betrayals. But in the end, there’s nothing to learn from these characters other than how not to have a happy relationship. Meanwhile, some gay audience members are likely to come away from the film even more convinced that straight people are a little crazy.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (There’s a scene in which Dan pretends to be a woman in an Internet chat room and prank-seduces Larry online. Owen appeared in the film version of “Bent,” while Law co-starred in the gay-themed “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and played gay in “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” and “Wilde.”)
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.”)
Flight of the Phoenix
Pilot Frank Towns (Dennis Quaid) and the oil exploration team he is ferrying out of Mongolia crash land in the Gobi Desert during a sandstorm. Miles from civilization, the survivors face certain death unless they can pull together and find a way to repair the crippled aircraft. This formulaic action-adventure “Phoenix” crashes and burns all right, but never rises from the ashes of dumb dialogue, stick-figure characters, and absurd situations that include supposedly desperate, dehydrated people pausing to boogie down to Outkast’s “Hey Ya” (for an iPod product placement). The soundtrack “is” pretty great, the gracefully aging Quaid still has that killer grin and six-pack abs, and the crash is well staged; but those are minor charms in this otherwise tedious exercise.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Quaid played the tortured, closeted husband in gay director Todd Haynes’ “Far from Heaven.”)
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.)
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events
When the Baudelaire children (Liam Aiken, Emily Browning, Kara and Shelby Hoffman) lose their parents in a fire, they’re sent to live with the evil Count Olaf (Jim Carrey) in a gruesome house where they’re forced to perform endless daunting chores. Meanwhile, the Count spends his time plotting ways to steal the children’s vast fortune, and it’s up to the wise orphans to outsmart him. As the title suggests, nothing nice ever happens to these kids and no good deed goes unpunished in this macabre comedy. And it would be the perfect blackly humorous antidote to the forced cheer of most child-centric movies if only the manic Carrey would turn down the volume of his constant, cartoonish mugging. Yet even his seemingly ceaseless desire to chew up the scenery can’t spoil this visually arresting, darkly fun trip into childhood misery.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 1 (Craig Ferguson of “The Drew Carey Show” appears here as a Person of Indeterminate Gender. Meanwhile, the rest of the supporting cast – including Jude Law, Meryl Streep, Luis Guzman, Jennifer Coolidge, and Jane Adams – has been seen in a variety of queer-themed projects.)
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.”)
Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and the same big cast from “Ocean’s Eleven” embark on another crime spree. This time there are three separate heists and major complications in the form of a revenge-seeking Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia, the man who got robbed the first time around), a Europol agent (Catherine Zeta-Jones) with a past connection to the gang of merry crooks, and a French master thief (Vincent Cassel) toying with them all, seemingly for the sport of it. That’s a lot of directions to move in and a lot of characters to juggle, and while director Steven Soderbergh and his big group of movie stars seem to be having a ball, the finished product lacks some of the focused fizz of its predecessor. That doesn’t mean audiences won’t have a good time: these are attractive, charming people making a movie about nothing more important than how to steal millions – and they look great doing it.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Elliot Gould is back as the potbellied, gold-chain-sporting gay money man, although his queerness isn’t mentioned this time. Cross-dressing comedian Eddie Izzard co-stars, and lesbian actress Cherry Jones turns up in a small, pivotal role. Meanwhile, there are lots of other actors here with lots of gay and gay-related credits on their resumes, including Zeta-Jones, Brad Pitt, Jared Harris, and Matt Damon. Clooney executive-produced Todd Haynes’ “Far from Heaven.” )
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.”)
The Sea Inside
A diving accident that leaves him paralyzed from the neck down sentences seaman Ramon Sampedro (Javier Bardem) to a life confined to his bed – a fate he rejects. He petitions the courts in his native Spain to legalize assisted suicide so that he might bring to a close three decades of suffering. Director Alejandro Amenabar emphasizes Sampedro’s warmth and steely determination as he locates a surprising amount of romance and humor in this fact-based drama. It is a moving story to begin with, but it is made more so by Bardem’s magnetic presence. The athletic 35-year-old absolutely transforms himself to play the immobile, middle-aged Sampedro, using just his voice, facial expressions, and eyes to deliver a thoroughly animated and charismatic performance.
Grade: A Kinsey Scale: 1 (Bardem received an Oscar nomination for playing gay Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas in “Before Night Falls,” and played a queer surgeon in “Second Skin.”)
John Clasky (Adam Sandler) is a master chef with a lot on his plate: a booming restaurant business; a family run by his self-absorbed wife (Tea Leoni); and a live-in Mexican maid (Paz Vega) whose daughter must translate for her. If it sounds like a sitcom, that’s because it’s from James L. Brooks, whose TV past is always present in his films. There’s a lot of plot: the struggles of parenting, the clash of cultures and languages, Latin and Anglo ideas about gender roles, and romantic temptations all crowd the screen. Brooks likes to stuff his movies with ideas and complicated interpersonal relationships – so much so that they often feel rushed and edited for time constraints. Solid performances, more than a few moving and hilarious moments, and a welcome grown-up role for Adam Sandler are cause for celebration, but in the end this is still a somewhat lukewarm dish.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Paz Vega starred in Pedro Almodovar’s “Talk to Her.” Brooks directed “As Good As It Gets,” which featured gay characters played by Greg Kinnear and Cuba Gooding Jr.)
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.”)