Are We There Yet?
Nick Persons (Ice Cube) only has eyes for his Lincoln Navigator, until single mom Suzanne Kingston (Nia Long) comes along. Unfortunately for him, her two children only have eyes for their deadbeat dad. So when that deadbeat cancels on a babysitting gig for his out-of-town ex, it’s Ice Cube to the rescue. His mission? To get the kids to their mom by New Year’s Eve. And his only obstacle is their nonstop misbehavior. At every turn, the kids plot to ruin the trip and make their chauffeur’s life a nightmare. And speaking of ruin, unless “Home Alone”-style comic violence perpetrated by bratty kids against a fairly well-meaning adult seems like just the ticket, avoid this humorless, often mean-spirited “family” film. It’s designed to take audiences on a road to nowhere.
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 1 (Long played a lesbian in “The Broken Hearts Club.”)
Assault on Precinct 13
It’s a quiet New Year’s Eve for Sergeant Jake Roenick (Ethan Hawke) and a skeleton crew preparing to shut down Detroit’s decommissioned Precinct 13. But bad weather forces a jail transport bus carrying cop killer Marion Bishop (Laurence Fishburne) to stop in for the night, setting up a bloody showdown between the scarcely manned outpost and Bishop’s murder-minded enemies. This action thriller begins effectively, as it builds a palpable sense of dread leading up to a climax of over-the-top violence. But lame black humor doesn’t so much relieve the tension as offer an unwelcome distraction from the suspense, and there’s no getting past the fact that most of the characters are so underdeveloped that they come across like paper targets in a shooting gallery.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Hawke and co-stars Brian Dennehy, Drea de Matteo, and John Leguizamo have all appeared in gay-themed films.)
The Assassination of Richard Nixon
It’s 1974, and Samuel Bicke (Sean Penn), an emotionally unbalanced office-supply salesman, a lonely and obsessive divorced dad, and a self-described “grain of sand,” is slowly coming undone. His mounting paranoia and frustration with the hand that life has dealt him cause a mental implosion, which sees him attempt to hijack an airplane in order to crash it into the White House. This is a true story, but one that’s been assigned a bigger role in Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Assassins” than in American history, because Bicke was an ineffectual failure before he even began. The film fails on many levels as well, due to its inability to say something larger about the incident or its historical significance. But Penn’s performance is impressive as always, and, as a study of human powerlessness, it’s more effective than Bicke ever was.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Co-star Naomi Watts had a lesbian love scene in “Mulholland Drive,” and co-star Jack Thompson played Russell Crowe’s father in the gay-themed “Sum of Us.”)
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.)
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.”)
The Richmond High Oilers excel only at underachieving, both on the basketball court and in the classroom. Incoming coach Ken Carter (Samuel L. Jackson) engineers a Cinderella season when the team responds to his hardnosed management style. But the dream threatens to unravel when the academic failures of some players lead Carter to bench the entire squad. In spite of the fact that it is based on a true story, there is absolutely nothing new or original in this hackneyed drama. Jackson delivers a charismatic performance, and the basketball scenes are thrilling and effective. Too often, though, the action becomes bogged down in cliched melodramatic subplots that stretch out interminably. Clocking in at over two hours, this hoops tale’s sheer tedium adds up to a flagrant foul.
Grade: C Kinsey: 0 (Movies don’t come any straighter than this. However, co-star Rick Gonzalez did appear in the bi-drama “Laurel Canyon.”)
Merciless assassin Elektra (Jennifer Garner) appears more bothered by a compulsive disorder than by her conscience as she uses her formidable martial-arts skills to dispatch her victims. That changes when she meets Mark Miller (Goran Visnjic) and his 13-year-old daughter, Abby (Kirsten Prout) – their vulnerability re-ignites her protective instincts and long-dormant humanity when she discovers that a gang of killer ninjas is pursuing them. Elektra’s many neuroses are the most interesting feature of this “Daredevil” sequel, which otherwise plays out as a routine, comic-book-inspired action thriller filled with ho-hum, special-effects-driven, entirely predictable fight sequences. Garner is tough and sexy, while Visnjic and Prout are endearing as the endangered family. But the villains are ridiculous cartoons, unintentionally funny rather than menacing.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 2 (A lesbian kiss has deadly consequences when comely ninja Typhoid – played by model Natassia Malthe – locks lips with Elektra. Visnjic co-starred in the gay thriller “The Deep End,” while co-star Terence Stamp debuted in the homoerotic “Billy Budd,” played the bisexual seducer in queer director Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “Teorema,” and portrayed a transsexual in “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.”)
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.”)
In Good Company
Fifty-one-year-old ad executive Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid) faces a demotion when a global conglomerate absorbs his company. Making matters worse, his new boss, Carter Duryea (Topher Grace), is a 26-year-old golden boy with little practical experience. But the two form an unlikely bond, as Dan graciously accepts his diminished position while the emotionally stunted Carter admires the older man’s solid family life and falls for his daughter Alex (Scarlett Johansson). This offbeat hybrid of corporate satire and family drama proves to be a winning combination, scoring points with snappy dialogue, understated humor, and a story that subtly ponders the human cost of doing business. Quaid and Grace are terrific, both funny and touching, as men trying to navigate an ugly situation without losing their souls.
Grade: B+ Kinsey Scale: 1 (Quaid’s performance as the closeted husband in “Far from Heaven” earned him some of the best notices of his career and an Independent Spirit Award. Co-stars Selma Blair, Philip Baker Hall, Clark Gregg, and Malcolm McDowell have all appeared in gay-themed films.)
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.)
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.)
The Merchant of Venice
Based on what some regard as the most anti-Semitic of Shakespeare’s plays, “The Merchant of Venice” is the story of Shylock (Al Pacino), a Jewish moneylender who wishes to exact a literal pound of flesh from borrower Antonio (Jeremy Irons). Antonio has given the loan money to his friend Bassanio (Joseph Fiennes) so that Bassanio can ask for Portia’s (Lynn Collins) hand in marriage. In this gorgeously shot version, which stresses the clash of oppressors and oppressed – with a precredits explanation of 16th-century Christian tyranny over Jews setting the stage – good vs. evil is made much less simple, yet the film still fails to portray Shylock as any less villainous. If audiences can mount that hurdle, then their reward is a handsome, somewhat stiff adaptation, with a rich, award-worthy performance by Pacino, who is by turns appropriately weary, resentful, and vengeful.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 2 (There’s plenty of gay subtext between the characters of Antonio and Bassanio, including a fairly chaste kiss on the lips, suggesting that Antonio’s willingness to sacrifice himself is based on sexual desire. Pacino starred in “Cruising” and played gay politician Roy Cohn in HBO’s “Angels in America.” Irons played gay in “Callas Forever” and “M. Butterfly.” )
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.)
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 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.”)