Must Love Dogs
One ghastly blind date follows another for recently divorced teacher Sarah (Diane Lane) after her busybody sister (Elizabeth Perkins) adds her profile to an Internet matchmaking site. Sarah finally clicks with Web date Jake (John Cusack), only to find another amorous possibility closer to home in Bobby (Dermot Mulroney), a student’s father. Frequent, superfluous detours into the lives of Sarah’s large family only serve to underline how thin the story actually is. Not only that, but the whole enterprise is predictable and overly familiar, little more than a pastiche of seemingly every romantic comedy made in the past 20 years. That the movie manages to provide a pleasant – if ultimately unmemorable – diversion is thanks to the always-radiant Lane and to Cusack’s goofy, awkward charm.
Grade: B- Kinsey: 1 (Much like Lane’s character in “Under the Tuscan Sun”, Sarah’s best friend is queer, this time a gay fellow teacher played by Brad Henke. Cusack starred in “Midnight in Garden of Good and Evil”, while Mulroney had roles in “Longtime Companion” and “Bastard Out of Carolina”. Co-stars Stockard Channing, Christopher Plummer, Ben Shenkman, and Patrick Fabian have all appeared in gay-themed projects.)
There’s a problem with the U.S. Navy’s latest gadget, a stealth drone piloted by a computer. The plane acquires so much knowledge via artificial intelligence that it soon starts thinking for itself and ignoring commands, endangering the lives of the rest of its squadron – elite pilots Ben (Josh Lucas), Kara (Jessica Biel), and Henry (Jamie Foxx) – and behaving so recklessly that it seems bent on starting a world war. Ostensibly an action-adventure movie, this is really little more than a live-action video game with a plot that serves merely as a convenient device to string together airborne dogfights and explosions. The effects, in their vertigo-inducing, thrill-ride way, are impressive, but there is precious little storytelling, the acting is abysmal, and the whole enterprise is soulless.
Grade: D Kinsey Scale: 1 (Lucas has a number of credits in queer-themed projects, including his turn as a gay club owner in “The Deep End”, while Biel co-starred in the omnisexual “The Rules of Attraction”. Director Rob Cohen produced the disco-era musical “Thank God It’s Friday”, for which the late Paul Jabara wrote his classic Oscar-winning tune, “Last Dance.”)
The Bad News Bears
Morris Buttermaker (Billy Bob Thornton) is an alcoholic, washed-out major-league baseball player working as an exterminator and part-time little league coach. His team, The Bears, is a band of misfit kids who can’t play, and have foul mouths and fouler attitudes. Together they go from the laughingstock of the league to a force to be reckoned with, thanks to a couple of young ringers Buttermaker recruits to boost The Bears’ chances at winning. And if it sounds like a familiar kid-oriented sports movie plot, that’s because the 1976 “Bad News Bears” more or less invented the genre. There are plenty of funny moments, thanks to Thornton’s PG-13 revisit of his “Bad Santa” character, but otherwise, this well-intentioned remake has neither the shocking comic bite, the bitterness, nor the oddly moral lesson of the original. Strike three.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Co-star Greg Kinnear was an Oscar nominee for playing a gay man in “As Good It Gets”. Co-star Marcia Gay Harden appeared in the lesbian-themed film “Gaudi Afternoon” and in the Broadway production of “Angels in America”.)
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.)
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore) is a poor boy who dreams of finding a gold ticket in a bar of Wonka chocolate. When he becomes the fifth child in the world to do so, Charlie earns the right to enter Willy Wonka’s (Johnny Depp) factory for a bizarre tour, along with the other four winners, who are all spoiled brats. Once inside, the badly behaved kids are the victims of elaborate, and deserved, comeuppances, while the oddball Wonka looks on, dismissive and amused at the same time. This is a respectful, energetic, and visually spectacular remake, and Depp’s stubbornly bizarre take on the character of Wonka makes Gene Wilder’s 1971 performance seem downright cuddly. That resolute weirdness may unsettle parents, but kids – whose tolerance for the bizarre usually outpaces that of adults – will understand that it’s all part of the strange candy-centric fun.
Grade: A- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Johnny Depp played transvestite director Ed Wood in “Ed Wood” and a transgendered Cuban convict in “Before Night Falls”.)
A cosmic storm alters the DNA of four scientists and their benefactor, Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon). While team leader Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) tries to figure out how to undo the transformations that have rendered them all superpower-endowed mutants, an embittered Von Doom plots to destroy the quartet. This comic-book-inspired summer blockbuster wanna-be can never decide whether it’s an action movie or a melodrama. Adrenalin-pumped, well-staged action sequences – such as one where the Brooklyn Bridge is nearly destroyed – alternate with lame scenes, better suited to a soap opera, of Richards and ex-girlfriend Sue Storm (Jessica Alba) endlessly discussing their feelings. Special effects and mutant makeup are impressive, but the cast – except for the lively McMahon – is more forgettable than fantastic.
Grade: C- Kinsey Scale: 1 (In one scene, Richards extols Von Doom’s virtues to the point where his friend Ben – played by Michael Chiklis – says, “Maybe you should date him then.” Gruffudd appeared in “Wilde”, while co-star Kerry Washington was in Spike Lee’s lesbian-themed drama, “She Hate Me”.)
In this ensemble comedy, the lives of 10 characters – some gay, some straight – intersect. Formerly incestuous stepsiblings Charlie (Steve Coogan) and Mamie (Lisa Kudrow) revisit their past when a young man (Jesse Bradford) arrives with information about the son they gave up for adoption. Meanwhile, Charlie and Mamie are involved in complicated adult relationships – Charlie with a male lover (David Sutcliffe) and Mamie with an opportunistic masseur (Bobby Cannavale). Also in the mix are a free-spirited woman (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who attempts to bed an older man (Tom Arnold) after seducing his gay son (Jason Ritter). What’s it all mean? That life is messy, of course. But then so is this movie, unable to balance the multiple plotlines and characters. What keeps it all afloat is director Don Roos’ bitingly funny dialogue – see it for that alone.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 5 (Gay writer-director Roos’ 1998 debut feature, “The Opposite of Sex”, also explored the lives of an ensemble of gay and straight characters. Kudrow starred in it, as did co-star Johnny Galecki, who played a gay teenager. Kudrow has other queer-related credits, as do co-stars Bradford, Cannavale, Sutcliffe, Arnold, and Laura Dern, some of whom have played gay multiple times.)
Herbie: Fully Loaded
Maggie (Lindsay Lohan) finds a beat-up vintage Volkswagen at a junkyard, unaware that she’s discovered the formerly famous Number 53 Herbie. When the all-but-human auto takes Maggie for a few joyrides, she realizes that she could continue her father’s (Michael Keaton) NASCAR-winning legacy behind Herbie’s wheel. This is a G-rated Disney comedy, so naturally there’s a benign bad guy (Matt Dillon) who’s out to ruin the fun, but who doesn’t stand a chance when faced with the wholesome goodness and mischief that Herbie has up his sleeve, er…exhaust pipe. Lohan may be a tabloid fixture these days, but that won’t matter to the target audience – it’s a sweet, likable family movie the elementary school crowd will adore. And their parents won’t feel run over by it, either.
Grade: B Kinsey Scale: 1 (This is lesbian director Angela Robinson’s second feature. Co-screenwriter Thomas Lennon plays gay police officer Dangle on Comedy Central’s “Reno 911”. Co-star Breckin Meyer was in “54”, and co-star Jill Ritchie was in Robinson’s first feature, “D.E.B.S.”)
In the future, the wealthy insure their health and longevity by purchasing clones. Born fully grown, these replicants are housed until harvested in an underground bunker, deceived into believing that the world outside is uninhabitable. One of them, Lincoln (Ewan McGregor), stumbles onto the truth and makes a run for it, pal Jordan (Scarlett Johansson) in tow. In this era of debate over stem cells and cloning, this sci-fi action thriller begins with an interesting premise and offers a provocative view of coming decades. But once security forces start after the escaped clones, the story quickly devolves into trite chases, explosions, and mayhem. The movie reads like a pro-life, anti-abortion screed, an argument that quickly loses all sense once the body count starts its meteoric rise.
Grade: C Kinsey Scale: 1 (In one scene, someone barges in on McGregor and Steve Buscemi -whose pants are around his ankles – in a men’s room and assumes the pair are lovers. McGregor has played both gay and bisexual; Buscemi starred in the early AIDS drama “Parting Glances” and had a part in “The Laramie Project”. Co-star Sean Bean appeared in Derek Jarman’s “Caravaggio”, while co-star Michael Clarke Duncan was recently part of the “D.E.B.S.” ensemble.)
March of the Penguins
The penguins of Antarctica are a tough bunch, as evidenced in this gorgeously shot, sometimes majestically moving, and sometimes inappropriately anthropomorphic and melodramatic documentary. Narrated by Morgan Freeman, doing his best Voice of All Wisdom, the story involves the mating rituals and baby-making habits of the birds – with just a touch too much “Circle Of Life” horror when hungry seals make their entrance. But it’s as stunning to look at as the last crowd-pleasing bird doc, “Winged Migration”, and just as emotionally compelling. Penguins, after all, make up in adorability what they lack in flying skills, so audiences will find they’re already on the side of these plucky yet frozen creatures, who maintain a kind of gorgeous dignity even sub-zero temperatures can’t shake.
Grade: A- Kinsey Scale: 1 (The already-documented same-sex mating behavior exhibited by some penguins isn’t gone into here, but the interesting gender-role switch that occurs once eggs are laid is. The male penguin makes the nest and tends to the egg after the female produces it. Meanwhile, she goes off in search of food.)
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”.)
War of the Worlds
A sudden, thunder-less lightning storm signals an alien invasion, and giant, roving machines simultaneously emerge from underground, vaporizing or eating everyone in their paths. For divorced dad Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise), the war is personal as he struggles to protect surly teenage son Robbie (Justin Chatwin) and young daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning). Imaginative special effects and John Williams’ thundering score abet director Steven Spielberg in creating a real sense of dread in this loose adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel. Sadly, it all falls apart, thanks to a denouement that’s downright silly and three whiny main characters who invite more derision than sympathy. Spielberg further blows it by directing Fanning to shriek constantly at eardrum-threatening levels – and her shrill voice is far scarier than any man-eating extraterrestrial.
Grade: B- Kinsey Scale: 1 (Fanning once played Ellen DeGeneres as a child on “The Ellen Show”. Co-stars Tim Robbins, Miranda Otto, Daniel Franzese, and Rick Gonzalez have all either played gay characters or appeared in queer-themed films. Screenwriter David Koepp co-wrote the homoerotic thriller “Apartment Zero”.)
Picking up women at strangers’ weddings is the favorite sport of lifelong pals John (Owen Wilson) and Jeremy (Vince Vaughn). An elaborate set of rules ensures sex with no strings, but John throws out the rulebook when he falls for comely bridesmaid Claire (Rachel McAdams), leaving a steamed Jeremy to fend off the advances of her voracious sister (Isla Fisher) and neurotic brother (Keir O’Donnell). Though it boasts a terrific supporting cast, including Christopher Walken as Claire’s imposing father, this brash, bawdy, quasi-romantic screwball comedy belongs to its stars. Humor that revels in vulgarity and political incorrectness might fall flat in less gifted hands, but Wilson’s dippy, stoner charm combined with Vaughn’s fast-talking, reptilian bonhomie creates an alchemy of hilarity that is impossible to resist.
Grade: B+ Kinsey Scale: 2 (There is a distinct homoerotic vibe between John and Jeremy, which the movie studiously avoids exploring. Among Todd’s crosses to bear is a homophobic grandmother who enjoys baiting her family by railing against both her grandson and Eleanor Roosevelt at dinner. Wilson, Vaughn, and co-star Will Ferrell first appeared together in the metrosexual comedy “Zoolander”. Walken played a gay theater critic in “Illuminata” and also had roles in “The Stepford Wives” and the lesbian-themed “Wild Side”.)