After witnessing his parents’ murders, billionaire Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) leaves Gotham City seeking to acquire the means to fight injustice. A vigilante society, the League of Shadows, recruits him as a member, but he rejects their nihilistic approach to crime fighting. Instead, he returns home and dons the bat suit, vowing to clean up Gotham and keep the city safe. Director Christopher Nolan re-invigorates this superhero franchise with a smart hybrid of brooding psychological drama and dazzling adventure, filling the screen with spectacular sets, awesome CGI, fantastic gadgets, and plenty of larger-than-life action sequences. Bale’s sensitive performance and a superior screenplay that emphasizes character and suspense ensure that this drama, so rooted in comic books, never crosses the line to become a live-action cartoon.
Grade: A- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Bale played a queer rock fan in Todd Haynes’ “Velvet Goldmine.” Co-stars Katie Holmes, Liam Neeson, Michael Caine, Linus Roache, Tom Wilkinson, and Gary Oldman have all appeared in gay-themed films.)
The Perfect Man
Life in the Hamilton household is only too predictable: whenever Jean (Heather Locklear) gets dumped, she packs up her two daughters and moves. Desperate to stay in one place, 16-year-old Holly (Hilary Duff) invents an e-mail secret admirer for Jean, using info she’s gleaned about her pal’s Uncle Ben (Chris Noth) and his photo to keep the charade going. The twin premises of this romantic comedy – namely, that single mothers are desperate and a little bit stupid and that it is okay to play what is an essentially cruel practical joke so long as it is well-intentioned – are unsavory in the extreme. That the film manages to overcome much of that and actually generate laughs is a credit to its engaging and amiable cast.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 2 (“Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”‘s Carson Kressley has a small role as a queer bartender who is also looking for the perfect man. Noth co-starred on the gay-friendly “Sex and the City” and played a tranny hooker in “Smithereens.”)
The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3-D
When half-boy/half-fish Shark Boy (Taylor Lautner) and magma-spewing Lava Girl (Taylor Dooley) spirit shy, geeky Max (Cayden Boyd) away to Planet Drool, he realizes that his dream life has become reality. But evil Mr. Electric (George Lopez) is threatening to destroy the kids’ paradise that Max’s mind invented, and only Max has the power to stop him. Director Robert Rodriguez based this family drama on his 7-year-old son’s stories; and while it is admirable that he wants to encourage his child’s imagination, inflicting the results on the general public is incredibly self-indulgent and just plain cruel. The story defines insipid, the characters are noxious stereotypes, the acting is nonexistent, and the bargain-basement CGI and 3-D effects are so badly executed as to be migraine-inducing.
Grade: F Kinsey Scale: 1 (Co-star Kristin Davis starred in the queer-friendly series “Sex and the City,” while co-star David Arquette played a gay hustler in “Johns.”)
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.”)
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.)
Diana (Glenn Close) is an aging actress in an open marriage, and she’s frustrated by that fact. Her photographer daughter, Isabel (Elizabeth Banks), is about to marry lawyer Jonathan (James Marsden), a man with a sexual secret. Entering their lives is Alec (Jesse Bradford), a struggling actor who sets more than a few arcs of self-discovery in motion. And there are even more characters flitting in and out of this two-degrees-of-separation study of modern urban relationship angst, and they exist to underscore the movie’s earnest themes of identity performance (we’re all acting, get it?) and romantic distress. Close’s performance is worth watching, as it’s one of the few three-dimensional characters here. But whether or not you buy into the rest of the goings-on will depend on your tolerance for attractive, white, self-absorbed Manhattanites and their moneyed problems.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 4 (Gay characters’ stories are integral to the plot, even though it’s not a “gay movie.” The film was produced by the gay production team of Ismail Merchant and James Ivory. Close played lesbian military activist Margarethe Cammermeyer in the TV movie “Serving in Silence.” Marsden plays the mutant Cyclops in the queer-analogous “X-Men” movies. Bradford played a male prostitute in “Speedway Junky.” Gay pop singer Rufus Wainwright appears in the film as well.)
Bus driver Ralph Kramden (Cedric the Entertainer) and his pal Ed Norton (Mike Epps) are blue-collar guys constantly plotting – and failing – to get rich quick. Their wives, Alice (Gabrielle Union) and Trixie (Regina Hall), are more pragmatic, losing patience with the men and their inability to think practically. So when an affordable duplex goes on the market, the two couples’ dreams of home-ownership can only be ruined by one thing: Ralph and Ed’s harebrained schemes. This updated version of the classic Jackie Gleason TV show is likewise ruined with its forced sub-sitcom plot contrivances and long stretches of bland unfunny-business. It’s one of the weakest small-to-big screen adaptations ever, and that’s not forgetting the Tom Arnold-starring “McHale’s Navy” movie. Avoid it like an overcrowded bus on a hot summer day.
Grade: D- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Co-star John Leguizamo played a drag queen in “To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything! Julie Newmar.” Character actor Jon Polito, co-starring as a race track boss, played gay in the Coen Brothers movie “The Man Who Wasn’t There.”)
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.)
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.)
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.”)
Mr. & Mrs. Smith
Mr. Smith (Brad Pitt) and Mrs. Smith (Angelina Jolie) are married assassins for rival covert agencies. The catch: Neither one knows the other’s true identity. When the truth comes out and they’re assigned to terminate each other, their strained, chilly marriage becomes a literal battleground. The movie’s gleaming production values and the gorgeous stars’ crackling erotic chemistry softens the ensuing domestic violence – which involves flamethrowers and high-speed, gunplay-riddled car chases, by the way, so any complaints about its possible effect on the real-life social problem of partner abuse are pretty much irrelevant. Add in cartoonish knife-fights, comically brutal martial arts, and sassy dialogue and you’ve got a fast-paced and fun fantasy battle of the sexes where everyone comes out smiling.
Grade: A- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Jolie is openly bisexual and played a lesbian in “Gia.” Pitt starred in the gay-ish “Interview with a Vampire.”)
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.)
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.”)