George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones fall in love in “Intolerable Cruelty.” © 2003 Universal Pictures.
In this screwball romance, divorce attorney Miles Massey (George Clooney) falls in love across the conference table with dazzling Marilyn (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Sadly, she is the gold-digging wife of his multimillionaire client, Rex Rexroth (Edward Herrmann), and when Miles fixes it so that she receives no divorce settlement, Marilyn wants Miles’ hide, not his heart. Clooney’s charm, Zeta-Jones’ formidable beauty, and a cast clearly relishing the script’s spirited banter make for a winning formula in this lively comedy. Although Zeta-Jones is too cool a performer to really heat things up with Clooney – Miles enjoys a warmer relationship with best pal Wrigley (Phil Adelstein) – the absence of chemistry proves no drawback in a tale in which the battle of the sexes is so clearly engaged.
Grade: B+ Kinsey Report: 2 (In addition to the homoerotic vibe given off by the Massey/Wrigley friendship, the movie sports one minor queer character. Co-star Richard Jenkins is a regular on “Six Feet Under,” while Herrmann spent a season on “Oz.”)
Kill Bill: Volume 1
An assassin known only as The Bride (Uma Thurman) is brutally attacked on her wedding day by a band of killers (Vivica Fox, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, and Lucy Liu), leaving her in a coma. Upon awakening, she vows revenge on them and their leader, Bill (David Carradine), and travels the world bumping them off and slaughtering anyone else who gets in her way. And slaughter she does, slicing her way through dozens of human obstacles in this hilarious, heavily stylized, insanely violent homage to Asian action films. Director Quentin Tarantino relies on the chopped-up narrative style he employed in “Pulp Fiction” and “Reservoir Dogs” to tell his tale of betrayal and retribution. He also relies on gallons and gallons of fake blood, which spurts wildly from every severed limb on screen, creating a gleeful, giddy, disgusting mess. And guess what? You’ll have to wait for “Volume 2” to see how he cleans it all up.
Grade: A Kinsey Scale: 1 (There’s no queer content of any sort, but the cast has appeared in various films featuring lesbian or gay themes: Thurman in “Henry & June” and the flop “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues”; Hannah in the indie “Speedway Junky”; and Fox in “Set It Off” and “Boat Trip.” Liu co-starred in both campy installments of “Charlie’s Angels.”)
A top-of-the-line ensemble cast competes to see who can deliver the most over-the-top performance in this turgid drama about three childhood friends who reunite over a tragedy. When ex-con Jimmy’s (Sean Penn) daughter is murdered, his old pal Sean (Kevin Bacon), now a homicide detective, is called into investigate, while their former playmate Dave (Tim Robbins) – still fighting the demons of childhood sexual abuse – comes under suspicion for the crime. The film starts out promisingly, as director Clint Eastwood eerily limns the events leading to young Dave’s molestation; but it soon loses all suspense and dramatic tension, thanks to its too-slow pacing. Its greatest sins, though, are the contrived, coincidence-dependent plot, cliched dialogue, and ham-fisted performances.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 2 (Bacon, Penn, and co-stars Laura Linney, Marcia Gay Harden, and Tom Guiry have all appeared in gay-themed movies. Eastwood made the queer true-crime drama “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”)
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.)
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.)
In this amiable, but completely forgettable family comedy, 12-year-old Owen (Liam Aiken) wakes up one morning to discover that he can understand what his new dog, Hubble (voiced by Matthew Broderick), is saying. The news isn’t good: Hubble is the advance guard from the Dog Star Sirius, and the Greater Dane (Vanessa Redgrave) is on her way to call all Earth dogs back to the home planet unless Owen can convince her to let them stay. Aiken and the large cast of canines are charming, but the special effects are unimpressive, the derivative story seems cobbled together from every previous talking-animal movie, and the broad, obvious humor is likely to make anyone over the age of 8 want to roll over and play dead.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 2 (This may be the first family movie in which gay people are simply part of the suburban landscape – one of the dogs Owen walks as his part-time job belongs to a gay male couple. Aiken, Broderick, Redgrave, and co-star Molly Shannon have all appeared in queer-themed films.)
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.”)
Out of Time
When his mistress, Anne Merai (Sanaa Lathan), and her husband (Dean Cain) die in a suspicious fire, small-town police chief Matt Lee Whitlock (Denzel Washington) realizes that he is being framed for their murders. Rather than come clean with the detective investigating the case (Eva Mendes), who happens to be his ex-wife, Whitlock goes into overdrive to solve the crime while hiding his involvement with the dead couple. This formulaic thriller lacks surprise and genuine suspense, but director Carl Franklin compensates with a sensual visual style that emphasizes the steamy heat of the Florida setting and the eroticism of Whitlock and Merai’s affair. It’s just too bad that there isn’t an ounce of plausibility in a story that casts the middle-aged Washington as the 32-year-old Lathan’s former high-school sweetheart.
Grade: B Kinsey Report: 1 (Washington co-starred in the landmark AIDS drama, “Philadelphia,” while Cain played gay in the romantic comedy “The Broken Hearts Club.”)
School of Rock
Wanna-be rock star Dewey Flynn (Jack Black) hits a stumbling block on the road to success when his band fires him. Forced to find a day job, he steals the identity of his roommate, Ned (Mike White), a substitute teacher, and accepts an assignment at a ritzy private school. Discovering a class of musical prodigies, Dewey tosses out their textbooks and begins grooming the fifth-graders for a star-making battle of the bands. Director Richard Linklater’s spot-on comedy, written by White, simultaneously celebrates and hilariously lampoons rock ‘n’ roll cliches. The kids, real musicians all, are appealing as they embrace their inner AC/DC, while the pugnacious Black is, for once, more endearing than obnoxious. With a thundering, irresistible soundtrack, this is a movie with a genuine rock ‘n’ roll heart.
Grade: A Kinsey Scale: 1 (White was the mind behind queer cult favorite “Chuck & Buck”; in real life, he’s the son of gay activist Mel White. Co-star Joan Cusack appeared in the mainstream gay comedy “In & Out.”)
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.)
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.)
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.)