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Aghast at the heroin epidemic sweeping Dublin, intrepid journalist Veronica Guerin (Cate Blanchett) works to expose the machinations of drug kingpin John Gilligan (Gerard McSorley). In the face of constant threats, she perseveres, determined to see Gilligan and his crew behind bars. Based on the true story of the crusading reporter credited with changing Irish drug laws, this drama concentrates on the final months of Guerin’s life in an uneven blend of biopic and thriller. Routine and pedestrian suspense elements render what ought to be a compelling tale banal, but the film’s real problem is with Blanchett’s surprisingly bloodless performance. Although her work is technically flawless, she fails to connect emotionally with the character, and Guerin never seems quite real.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 1 (Blanchett co-starred in the homoerotic thriller “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” Director Joel Schumacher is gay and also helmed the queer-themed “Flawless.”)
Nick Easter (John Cusack) is a juror with an agenda. Along with his scheming partner on the outside, Marlee (Rachel Weisz), he plans to manipulate the outcome of a trial against a gun manufacturer in order to get a big payoff. Standing in his way are a corrupt jury “consultant” (Gene Hackman) and a principled prosecuting attorney (Dustin Hoffman). Standing in the way of this movie being any good are a few other obstacles: Hackman’s penchant for yelling his lines, Hoffman’s constant furrowed-brow mugging, the screenwriter’s insistence that the audience be simultaneously confused and condescended to, and Cusack’s contractual obligation to be shot looking cute in a downpour at least once in every film he makes. Add an ending you can see coming from a hundred paces, and running away sounds like the smart choice.
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 1 (Several cast members have appeared in gay-themed films: Cusack in “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” Hackman in “The Birdcage,” Weisz in “Bent,” and supporting actor Bruce Davison in “Longtime Companion” and “It’s My Party.” And Hoffman, of course, was “Tootsie.”)
Gwyneth Paltrow is Sylvia Plath in this dour biopic about the late poet’s difficult marriage to Ted Hughes (Daniel Craig). To her credit, Paltrow does her best with the material; but for a film about the life of one of the most passionately read poets of the second half of the 20th century, that material is all surface. Very little is learned about the inner demons that led Plath to suicide. She’s rarely shown writing the work she’s best known for creating, and her struggle with mental health comes across as simple petulance and jealousy over Hughes’ real or imagined affairs. Even the art direction – in which Plath seems to move through a never-ending succession of dank, badly lit rooms and cold, muddy fields – is depressing. Her legacy deserves better than this.
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 1 (Paltrow’s Oscar was for the cross-dressing comedy “Shakespeare in Love.” In “The Royal Tenenbaums,” her character flirted with lesbianism; in “Possession,” she discovered that a writer believed to be lesbian was really straight. Co-star – and mother of Paltrow – Blythe Danner played a lesbian in “The Love Letter,” and Daniel Craig played the lover of artist Francis Bacon in “Love Is the Devil.”)
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.)
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.”)
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.”)
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.”)
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.)