Naomi Watts stars in “The Ring Two” © 2005 DreamWorks
Kim Cattrall and Michelle Tractenberg appear together in “Ice Princess.” © 2005 Walt Disney Pictures
Casey (Michelle Trachtenberg) is a high-school science geek and an amateur figure skater. To win a college scholarship, she develops a computer program to help figure skaters use the laws of physics to their competitive advantage, and in the process she becomes even more devoted to the sport. When Casey enters and then places in a novice competition, her strictly academic mother (Joan Cusack) disapproves, and the local ice-rink coach (Kim Cattrall) worries that Casey, with her natural talent, will outshine her own skating daughter (Hayden Panetierre). Thematically, this movie follows similar terrain as 2001’s The Princess Diaries. But where that movie demanded its heroine change her appearance and give up her intellect, this gentler, smarter film allows its princess a personality, an education, and some breathing room. It’s a charming, intelligent family movie for girls, but parents will be happy they saw it as well.
Grade: A- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Director Tim Fywell helmed the gay-themed BBC miniseries Cambridge Spies. Trachtenberg was a regular on the queer-favorite Buffy the Vampire Slayer and also had a recurring role on Six Feet Under. Cusack starred in In & Out. Cattrall was a regular on the gay-adjacent Sex and the City, and her character once had a lesbian affair. Figure skater Brian Boitano makes a cameo appearance.)
Melinda and Melinda
Over dinner at a Manhattan restaurant, two playwrights – one known for tragedy (Larry Pine), the other for comedy (Wallace Shawn) – tell their own takes on the same anecdote. Both stories feature Melinda (Radha Mitchell), who in the tragic version is emotionally unstable and wreaks romantic havoc in the lives of old college friends (Chloe Sevigny and Jonny Lee Miller). In the comic version, Melinda is the wacky downstairs neighbor of a different couple (Will Ferrell and Amanda Peet), and she wreaks romantic havoc of a decidedly lighter sort. The somber drama and sex-panic comedy play out in alternating cuts, and, while the juxtaposition can be jarring, it usually works. Meanwhile, Ferrell gives off great waves of neurosis, Sevigny proves why she’s one of the most interesting young actors working today, and, after a series of flops, director Woody Allen returns to classic form.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 1 (The large ensemble cast has multiple credits in queer and queer-inclusive films, most notably Mitchell, who starred in High Art, and Sevigny, who starred in Boys Don’t Cry, Party Monster, and If These Walls Could Talk 2. Ferrell had a brief cameo as a gay man in Boat Trip.)
The Ring Two
In this sequel to The Ring – about a videotape that kills everyone who watches it – the sole survivors return to face more evil goings-on. Reporter Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) has taken her spooky son Aidan (David Dorfman) and left Seattle, where so much misery befell them in the first film. But ghosts always find a way to haunt those they’ve chosen, and it’s not long before the cursed videotape’s main character – a little dead girl named Samara (Daveigh Chase) – returns to claim Aidan for her own. Audiences used to regular jolts may be disappointed by this moody, creepy second act. The tone, while relentlessly grim, too often lacks the energetic tension required for a “horror” movie determined not to go the obvious route. Still, Watts capably carries the movie, and little Samara remains the stuff of nightmares.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Watts played a bisexual character in Mulholland Drive, and Dorfman appeared in the Don Roos film Bounce. Co-star Elizabeth Perkins was in If These Walls Could Talk 2.)
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.)
Loan-shark-turned-movie-producer Chili Palmer (John Travolta) has grown jaded with the industry and decides to move into the music business. He signs on to manage up-and-coming singer Linda Moon (Christina Milian), only to discover – as he confronts Russian mobsters, corrupt management companies, and gun-wielding gangsta rappers – that this new world is even more cutthroat than his old criminal life. The dialogue isn’t always sharp in this sequel to 1995’s popular Get Shorty, and this crime comedy suffers occasionally from plodding pacing. But individual performances are often hysterical, particularly Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as a gay bodyguard, Vince Vaughn as a jive-talking music-mogul wanna-be, and Outkast’s Andre 3000 as a trigger-happy hip-hop star. Having the biggest blast of all is Travolta as he charismatically reprises one of his signature roles.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 2 (The Rock’s character leans heavily on stereotypes, and many of the characters surrounding him are homophobic and not shy about expressing their sentiments. Director F. Gary Gray previously directed Set It Off. Stars Uma Thurman, Debi Mazar, James Woods, and Seth Green have all appeared in queer-themed films.)
Chain-smoking, demon-hunting exorcist John Constantine (Keanu Reeves) is a thorn in Satan’s side. He’s especially bothersome to the devil’s CGI-based son, who conspires with the angel Gabriel (Tilda Swinton) to wreak havoc on earth – little demonic messes Constantine has to keep cleaning up. In the meantime, the overworked devil-chaser also becomes involved with a cop (Rachel Weisz) whose twin sister has committed suicide. Confused yet? You will be if you try to follow the big, sinister goings-on in this stylish but merely passably entertaining comic-book adaptation. It’s all incredibly serious and overblown, and full of eye-popping special effects. But the plot is hellishly mixed up, the characters are paper-thin, and the film’s earth, heaven, and hell all seem like places no one would care to visit for very long.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 2 (Reeves played gay-ish in Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho and also appeared in Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. Weisz portrayed a prostitute in Bent, while co-star Djimon Hounsou was in the film version of Sandra Bernhard’s Without You I’m Nothing, and co-star Pruitt Taylor Vince appeared in Monster. Swinton, the lone bright spot in this murky movie, was screen muse to the late queer director Derek Jarman, and appeared in most of his movies. She also starred in the queer-themed films Orlando, Love Is the Devil, and The Deep End.)
Diary of a Mad Black Woman
Helen (Kimberly Elise) is the mad black woman of the title, and with reason – her rich husband has dumped her and kicked her out. Desperate, she returns home to her Aunt Madea (Tyler Perry, in drag) and the lives of her troubled ghetto-bound family. She meets Orlando (Shemar Moore), who’s both too good-looking and too perfect to be true, yet by the rules of this simplistic movie he’s allowed to be both of those things without reservation. In fact, everything about this film is facile, from the heavily Christian message that makes sins like infidelity and drug addiction easily fixed and forgiven, to the lowest-common-denominator sitcom-style humor that pays no mind to complex human behavior. The talented Elise comes out of this mess unsullied; but otherwise, the film is boring and bad enough to make movie-goers mad they spent money on a ticket.
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 1 (Playwright/screenwriter Perry’s in-drag role as Aunt Madea is the only remotely queer content in this film. Elise co-starred in the lesbian-themed Set It Off, and co-star Cicely Tyson appeared in Fried Green Tomatoes.)
Dot the I
Spanish fast-food employee Carmen (Natalia Verbeke) loves idly rich Brit Barnaby (James D’Arcy) and plans to marry him. But one night when Kit (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Carmen are both in a French restaurant, their eyes meet, their lips lock, and the wedding takes a back seat. What happens next involves a bizarre love triangle, stalking, video surveillance, dirty money, assumed identities, and enough silly twists to make a pretzel beg for mercy. Sadly, though, none of the convoluted plotting is even slightly compelling. The characters are attractive action figures tossed around by a script that’s in love with a prank it’s playing on the audience, but not so interested in human beings or their actual lives. Empty fun never felt this barren.
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 1 (Bernal is already a veteran of edgy queer and queer-ish independent film, having starred in Y tu mama tambien and Pedro Almodovar’s Bad Education. D’Arcy had a small role in Wilde.)
Date “doctor” Alex Hitchens (Will Smith) is so good at coaching socially inept men at romance that he is even able to engineer a love match between shy, slovenly accountant Albert (Kevin James) and gorgeous socialite Allegra (Amber Valletta). But when Hitch falls hard for gossip columnist Sara (Eva Mendes) and she shoots him down, he is in need of some counseling himself. This pleasant romantic comedy plays up Smith’s ample charm, along with that of his co-stars, and ensures plenty of laughs with liberal doses of slapstick. It is also a glossy confection that delivers a delicious valentine to New York City, as Hitch and Albert take their dates to such notable addresses as Ellis Island and Madison Square Garden.
Grade: A- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Smith played a gay man in Six Degrees of Separation, while co-star Matt Malloy has appeared in Far from Heaven, The Anniversary Party, and in a recurring role on Six Feet Under.)
A home invasion turns into a hostage situation that spirals out of control when a cop is killed and a hostage turns out to be a mobbed-up accountant with a delivery due to his employers. To ensure they get their property, mobsters kidnap Police Chief Jeff Talley’s (Bruce Willis) family and offer him an ultimatum: help them, or his family dies. This action thriller begins promisingly with a suspenseful sequence that introduces Talley and demonstrates both his steely resolve and sensitivity. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie fails to live up to that bang-up opening. The plot is hackneyed, the characters are a collection of cliches, and director Florent Emilio Siri replaces the film’s initial suspense with mindless violence.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 1 (Co-star Jonathan Tucker played a gay teenager in The Deep End, while co-star Ben Foster appeared in The Laramie Project and has a recurring role on Six Feet Under.)
Amnesiac veteran Jack Starks (Adrien Brody) becomes the victim of a bizarre experiment after he is committed to a hospital for the criminally insane. Straightjacketed and drugged, he hallucinates in a morgue drawer until his visions evolve into time travel that thrusts him 15 years into the future, where he connects with slatternly waitress Jackie (Keira Knightley) and discovers that back in the past he faces mortal danger. This slick drama skips across genres, including sci-fi and romance, but emphasizes suspense as it outlines the peril engulfing Jack. The premise is beyond far-fetched, but John Maybury directs with such panache and the actors perform with such conviction that they transcend all disbelief. And visually this is a stunner, filled with excellent effects and eye-popping cinematography.
Grade: B+ Kinsey Scale: 1 (Maybury is openly gay, was a longtime collaborator of queer provocateur Derek Jarman, and previously made the Francis Bacon biopic Love Is the Devil, which starred Jacket co-star Daniel Craig. Brody, Knightley, and co-stars Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kelly Lynch, and Steven Mackinstosh have all appeared in gay-themed films.)
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.)
Rodney Copperbottom (the voice of Ewan McGregor) is a small-town robot with dreams of going to the big city. Rodney’s a genius inventor, wanting to use his creations to make the world better. But when he arrives, he finds that the city is a harsh place with no room for nice robots. He also discovers that a huge, amoral corporation is out to dominate all of robot life by making the population dependent on its products. To fight the bad business-bots, he enlists the help of new friend and love interest Cappy (Halle Berry), as well as some friendly metal misfits (Robin Williams, Amanda Bynes). And while a happy ending is assured in this family movie, the main draw is the spectacular 3-D animation and the reasonably witty script, both of which keep the moral from going down like sugary medicine.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (In one scene, Williams tosses out an obliquely gay, ad-libbed joke about two male robots bunking together for the night. Otherwise, the huge voice cast – including McGregor, Berry, Williams, Greg Kinnear, Jim Broadbent, and Jennifer Coolidge – has a lot of queer credits on its collective resume.)
The Upside of Anger
Embittered suburbanite Terry Wolfmeyer (Joan Allen) resorts to oceans of vodka to disguise her heartbreak when her husband deserts their family. While this tactic dismays her four daughters, it does nothing to discourage ex-pro baseball player Denny (Kevin Costner) from romantic pursuit of his newly single neighbor. Writer/director Mike Binder’s domestic-drama gem spans three years in Terry’s life as she recovers from her loss and mends her sometimes-fractured relationship with her girls. Allen is terrific as a woman whose brittle surface always seems on the verge of cracking, and Costner, in one of his finest performances, proves to be her perfect match. Binder, who also plays the reptilian boyfriend of one of the daughters, supports his talented ensemble with a script rich in heart, character detail, and caustic humor.
Grade: A- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Allen starred on Broadway in Lanford Wilson’s Burn This, while Costner was in Oliver Stone’s JFK. Co-star Alicia Witt appeared in Cecil B. DeMented.)