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At the height of the Great Depression, journeyman boxer Jim Braddock (Russell Crowe) re-enters the ring to put food on the table for his wife (Renee Zellweger) and kids. His unexpected win against a legitimate contender begins a fairy-tale run culminating in a heavyweight-title fight against fearsome Max Baer (Craig Bierko). Ron Howard’s biopic is strictly hagiography, as he transforms Braddock into a bland paragon of virtue. Crowe, sporting a bad dye job and an uncertain New Jersey accent, struggles to inject life into a role that he is both too old and too scrawny to play effectively. Although it is a handsomely mounted production, there is a sameness to the overlong boxing sequences that renders them dull, while Braddock’s story becomes mired in pointless and lengthy exposition.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 1 (Crowe played gay in the Aussie comedy “The Sum of Us,” and was suggestively bisexual in “A Beautiful Mind,” also directed by Howard. Bierko appeared in “Johns.”)
Lords of Dogtown
Skateboarding buddies Stacy Peralta (John Robinson), Tony Alva (Victor Rasuk), and Jay (Emile Hirsch) become 1970s sports stars after surf shop owner Skip Engbloom (Heath Ledger) recruits them for team competition that displays their death-defying stunts to maximum advantage. The real Peralta wrote the screenplay for this lackadaisical drama that plays like the home movies he probably wishes he had. Director Catherine Hardwicke mounts some terrific skate and surfing sequences. Her direction is otherwise flabby, as there is a compelling story buried somewhere within Peralta’s shapeless script, but Hardwicke fails to bring it out. Ledger, resembling a stoned Val Kilmer, is amusing, as is Michael Angarano as an accident-prone skater. The rest of the cast is pretty, if colorless, and performances tend toward the wooden.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 1 (Queer actor Alexis Arquette has a cameo role as a transgendered person. Hirsch played a gay teen in “The Mudge Boy” and was “questioning” in “Imaginary Heroes.” Angarano plays Jack’s son on “Will & Grace.” Co-star Johnny Knoxville starred in John Waters’ “A Dirty Shame.” Hardwicke and co-star Nikki Reed’s screenplay for “thirteen” has some lesbian overtones.)
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
When teenage friends Tibby (Amber Tamblyn), Lena (Alexis Bledel), Carmen (America Ferrera), and Bridget (Blake Lively) happen upon a pair of jeans that magically fits all of their bodies, they decide to share the pants over the course of a summer that will see them traveling in different directions. The charmed pants make their way from Greece to Mexico to Washington, D.C., as the girls experience romantic heartaches, familial headaches, and other growing pains. That’s a lot for one movie to juggle, but this one succeeds with unexpected grace, unforced sentimentality, and strong performances from its four lead actors. It wins where other teen movies – notably the pack of shallow “princess” films – lose. And that’s rarer than a pair of perfectly fitting jeans.
Grade: B+ Kinsey Scale: 0 (Absolutely no queer content and no queer-related credits associated with cast or crew.)
While a detective (Don Cheadle) investigates an African-American policeman’s murder at the hands of a white fellow officer, a racist beat patrolman (Matt Dillon) disgusts his liberal partner (Ryan Phillippe) when he humiliates a black TV director (Terrence Howard) and his wife (Thandie Newton) at a traffic stop. Those are just two story threads in this multi-layered, mosaic-like drama that investigates issues of race and class among Los Angelenos. “Million Dollar Baby” scribe Paul Haggis’ script is overly schematic in its dependence on coincidence to move the interlocking stories forward, but his characters are unforgettable, and the situations in which they find themselves are as fresh as today’s headlines. The awesomely talented ensemble is terrific, particularly Cheadle and Dillon as jaded cops who undergo unexpected epiphanies.
Grade: B+ Kinsey Scale: 1 (Haggis could have delved even deeper into society with the addition of gay or lesbian characters, but he limits himself to issues of race and class. Dillon, Phillippe, Howard, and co-stars Jennifer Esposito, Brendan Fraser, and Keith David have all appeared in gay-themed films.)
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
When the earth is destroyed, mild-mannered Englishman Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) and his intergalactic travel-writer pal, Ford Prefect (Mos Def), become galaxy-hopping hitchhikers. Romantic entanglements and life-threatening adventures ensue when they land on a stolen spaceship manned by renegade galaxy president Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell) and the girl Arthur adores, Trillion (Zooey Deschanel). The late Douglas Adams’ cult sci-fi series comes to the big screen in a dazzling display of special effects and animatronics, but it is the amiable cast, witty dialogue, and Alan Rickman’s magnificently crabby tone as the voice of depressed robot Marvin that provide the movie’s chief charms. Purists may balk that the balance has shifted from science fiction to romantic comedy, but the fleshed-out love story is sweetly appealing.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 1 (Gay actor/filmmaker Stephen Fry has a voice-only role. Co-star Anna Chancellor appeared in the lesbian drama “Tipping the Velvet,” while co-star John Malkovich played queer director F.W. Murnau in “Shadow of the Vampire.”)
House of Wax
When twins Carly (Elisha Cuthbert) and Nick (Chad Michael Murray) and a group of friends encounter car trouble en route to a sports event, they wind up in a small, deserted town. However, the town’s wax museum isn’t empty – its residents are also twins, ones who delight in killing stranded motorists and making wax figures out of their corpses. This “re-imagining” of the 1953 Vincent Price film shares practically nothing with its predecessor. For starters, it’s brutally violent, picking off its characters in especially sadistic ways. And the inclusion of do-nothing socialite Paris Hilton in the cast is hilariously distracting – she can’t even run away from psychos convincingly. But the killings are inventive in their nastiness, the blood flows freely, and the wax-melting final moments are a marvel of digital technology. Just don’t go in expecting to be scared.
Grade: C+ Kinsey Scale: 1 (None of the young cast has any queer-related credits, but there are a few innocuous moments of male characters engaging in gay-baiting banter with one another. And lead bad boy Murray winds up shirtless once for no reason related to the movie’s plot.)
United Nations interpreter Silvia Broome (Nicole Kidman) returns to her listening post after business hours and overhears conspirators discussing a plot to assassinate her country’s president. Secret Service agent Tobin Keller (Sean Penn) is assigned to investigate the matter, although he suspects Silvia is either lying or a potential assassin herself. This paranoid thriller suffers from a miscast Kidman and a plot that hinges on too many coincidences, so it is a credit to director Sydney Pollack that he is able to maintain a steady level of suspense despite those distractions. The real reasons to see the film, though, are for the peek it provides into the U.N., and for Penn, who infuses his depressed, skeptical lawman with a kind of wounded grace.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Kidman won her Oscar for playing bisexual writer Virginia Woolf in “The Hours,” while Penn appeared in the queer-themed “Before Night Falls.” Pollack directed and co-starred in “Tootsie,” and currently plays Will’s dad on “Will & Grace.”)
Kicking & Screaming
Klutzy, mild-mannered Phil Weston (Will Ferrell) grew up in the shadow of his athletic, ultra-competitive father, Buck (Robert Duvall), never measuring up to the old man’s high expectations. When Phil becomes a peewee soccer coach, just like pop, it looks like more of the same – until Phil’s lovable losers start to win, and the overcaffeinated, drunk-on-success Phil transforms into an even bigger jerk than his dad. This featherweight comedy begins amiably, but goes off the rails once Phil adopts poor sportsmanship as a winning strategy. A pedestrian script generates more laughs than it ought to, thanks to Ferrell’s gifts for physical comedy and hysterical line readings, and to inspired performances by Duvall and former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka, playing himself as Buck’s truculent neighbor.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Two of the soccer moms are a couple. Ferrell had small parts in” Boat Trip” and the metrosexual comedy “Zoolander.”)
Kingdom of Heaven
Simple French blacksmith Balian (Orlando Bloom) becomes involved in major battles during the 12th-century Crusades. He’s brave but spiritually conflicted, managing along his journey through the ravages of war to reconnect with his long-lost father (Liam Neeson), to romance a princess (Eva Green), and to work his way up the ladder of Roman success and lead the battle for Jerusalem. And while the story is formulaic and the boyish Orlando Bloom lacks the sort of gravitas that Russell Crowe brought to “Gladiator,” “Kingdom” is a staggeringly good-looking epic, one that does its best to be even-handed about religious wars in this cultural moment of religious tension. In fact, for a Hollywood take on the Crusades, its sweep is almost matched by its commitment – more or less – to historical accuracy. Who would have guessed that a holy war could be so much popcorn fun?
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 1 (Bloom’s first screen role was as a rent boy in “Wilde,” Neeson starred in “Kinsey,” and co-star Jeremy Irons starred in the gay drama “Callas Forever” as well as in “M. Butterfly.” Co-star David Thewlis played queer poet Paul Verlaine in “Total Eclipse.”)
A London drug dealer (Daniel Craig) is quitting the business, but before he does, he must facilitate the sale of a stolen shipment of Ecstasy and find the missing daughter of mob kingpin Eddie Temple (Michael Gambon). This nameless antihero considers himself the master of his own fate, but he quickly discovers that he is but a cog in danger of being crushed by the underworld’s vast machine. First-time director Matthew Vaughn demonstrates a keen sense of style and pacing in delivering this taut, witty thriller that draws nifty parallels between the criminal pecking order and England’s class system. His real ace in the hole is the charismatic Craig, whose formidable charm makes the basest act of amorality seem not only reasonable but also desirable.
Grade: B+ Kinsey Scale: 1 (Craig’s breakthrough role was as Francis Bacon’s lover in “Love Is the Devil.” He also appeared in the homoerotic “Enduring Love” and in the West End staging of “Angels in America.” Gambon appeared in the “Angels in America” HBO miniseries and the queer-themed drama “A Man of No Importance.”)
The Longest Yard
After violating his probation for taking part in a point-shaving scheme, NFL quarterback Paul Crewe (Adam Sandler) winds up in a Texas prison. Once inside, he and an inmate known as Caretaker (Chris Rock) recruit other prisoners for a practice game against the prison-guard football team. Crewe sees it as a way to redeem himself; the other inmates just want to pummel the guards. Burt Reynolds appears in this unnecessary but surprisingly faithful and funny remake of the original 1974 film, in which he starred as Crewe. Newcomers like rapper Nelly and wrestler Bill Goldberg round out the ensemble cast. Attempts to satirize media fascination with the exhibition game (ESPN obtains the broadcast rights) fall flat, but that doesn’t get in the way of the overall fun, even if sports movies are last on your “to see” list.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 2 (This movie combines two gay male fantasies – jocks and prison – so it would automatically be homoerotic even without the beefcake presence of Goldberg and Nelly, not to mention wrestler Steve Austin and former NFL player Brian Bosworth. “Saturday Night Live”‘s Tracy Morgan co-stars as a transgendered prisoner, and some innocuous – but still tired – gay prison-sex humor is present, too. “Six Feet Under”‘s James Cromwell co-stars as the warden.)
After rebellious penguins foment an abortive escape attempt, the Central Park Zoo reacts by sending the offending animals to a Kenyan wildlife preserve, but a detour lands them on Madagascar. Marty (Chris Rock), a zebra who has long romanticized the wild, is overjoyed – until he gets a taste for what the wild is really like when his starving lion buddy Alex’s (Ben Stiller) appetite for zebra kicks in. This hilarious cartoon feature scores with eye-popping, state-of-the-art computer animation; a story that satirizes the anthropomorphic cliches associated with both zoo and wild animals; and flurries of smart, pop-culture-inspired jokes. Funniest of all are the supporting characters – hypochondriac giraffe Melman (David Schwimmer), a pair of erudite monkeys, and especially the determined rogue penguins. Pure genius.
Grade: A Kinsey Scale: 1 (When none of the zoo animals eat the native lemurs, the lemur king pronounces them “pansies.” Stiller wrote, directed, and starred in the metrosexual comedy “Zoolander,” while co-star Jada Pinkett-Smith appeared in the lesbian-themed “Set It Off.” Schwimmer’s character Ross on “Friends” had a lesbian ex-wife.)
When aspiring fashion designer Charlie (Jennifer Lopez) falls for handsome Dr. Kevin Fields (Michael Vartan), his rich, controlling mother, Viola (Jane Fonda), takes an instant dislike to her future daughter-in-law. What follows is a slapstick battle between the seasoned veteran and the young upstart. The pair spend the entire film taunting, insulting, tricking, and slapping each other to prove who loves the ineffectual Kevin the most. The borderline misogynist plotline might have been more palatable if only the script were sharper, meaner, funnier, and more meaningful. As it is, Fonda takes the weak material and runs with it, turning in a bitingly funny performance, and leaving a lost-looking Lopez – and the entire rest of the movie, for that matter – in her dust. Of the remaining cast, only Wanda Sykes, as Fonda’s assistant, squeezes any laughs from this dull wedding rehearsal.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 2 (Adam Scott plays Charlie’s gay best friend. Lopez played a wishy-washy lesbian in “Gigli” and starred in “The Wedding Planner,” from gay director Adam Shankman. Fonda starred in the late 1960s camp favorite “Barbarella,” and in the lesbian-suggestive “Julia.” Vartan co-starred in “The Next Best Thing” and “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar.” Gay director Robert Luketic also helmed “Legally Blonde.”)
Star Wars: Episode III – The Revenge of the Sith
Kindly Jedi knight Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) trained his apprentice, Annakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), to be a force for good, only to see his young charge move inexorably toward the dark side. But Skywalker’s transformation into evil Darth Vader will not be complete until he meets his former mentor for one last fiery showdown. George Lucas’ six-part space opera ends in an impressive orgy of the best special effects and CGI that technology has to offer. The acting, even by the normally dependable McGregor, is wooden and the dialogue is moronic, but the spectacle is astounding. The dazzle will no doubt satisfy hardcore fans, but the less devoted may well resent the nagging feeling of being trapped inside a video game.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 1 (McGregor has appeared in both gay and bisexual roles. James Earl Jones – the voice of Darth Vader – appeared on an episode of “Will & Grace,” while Frank Oz – the voice of Yoda – directed “In & Out.”)
Danny (Jet Li) is a slave, a killing machine raised in a cage like a dog, complete with collar. Whenever his loan-shark owner, Bart (Bob Hoskins), removes the collar, it’s Danny’s cue to kick-start the carnage. Danny escapes Bart and is taken in by a kindly blind piano tuner (Morgan Freeman) and his stepdaughter (Kerry Condon), who teach him how to live like a human being – that is, until Bart shows up to claim his property. Although a fascinating premise, it’s completely sunk by an atmosphere of cloying heart-warmth that – while not out of place in a movie about Ya-Ya Sisterhoods – has no business in a film where bad guys are supposed to be getting constantly kicked in the face. Factor in a script full of insipid, self-esteem-boosting dialogue, and you have the film that’s hard to beat for Most Bizarre Bad Movie of 2005.
Grade: F Kinsey Scale: 1 (In 2001’s “The One,” Li played a character who had multiple clones in alternate universes, and who was dismayed to discover that one of those many clones was gay. Hoskins appeared as Geri “Ginger Spice” Halliwell’s disguise in “Spice World.”)