January 15, 2007
NEW THIS WEEK:
Code Name: The Cleaner
Jake Rodgers (Cedric the Entertainer) wakes up in a hotel room to find a dead FBI agent and a briefcase containing $250,000. He also has amnesia, although he is convinced that he is an undercover commando, a conjecture that seems reasonable when beautiful security officer Diane (Nicollette Sheridan) and a host of men with guns pursue him. The humor is overly broad in this lame spy-movie parody that offers only a smattering of laughs. Cedric the Entertainer is a talented comedian, so he has a few funny moments that have little to do with the story. But he is clearly out of his league amidst a terrifically competent cast, and he and love interest Lucy Liu share zero chemistry.
Kinsey Scale: 1.5 (There are a couple of homophobic jokes. Sheridan stars on “Desperate Housewives” and guested on “Will & Grace.” Liu had a role in “Chicago” and played an FBI agent whose interrogation of Keira Knightley’s vixen bounty hunter turns flirtatious in “Domino.” Co-star Callum Keith Rennie guest-starred on “The L Word” and played a gay handyman in queer writer/director Daniel MacIvor’s “Wilby Wonderful.”)
Idealistic rookie English teacher Erin Gruwell (Hilary Swank) takes a job at an uneasily integrated Southern California high school and finds herself saddled with a racially divided, hostile class that her superiors dismiss as hopeless. When she reaches out to her young charges, she surprises everyone – including her students – when they strive to attain the goals she sets for them. Though based on a true story, this well-meaning tearjerker is completely formulaic, filled with cliched dialogue and stick-figure villains in the form of vicious educators and Erin’s jealous husband (Patrick Dempsey). That it manages to tell a compelling tale despite all that is a credit to Swank and her young co-stars, who transcend the hackneyed script with rich, ultimately moving performances.
Kinsey Scale: 1.5 (Swank became a star and won an Oscar when she played transsexual Brandon Teena in “Boys Don’t Cry”; more recently, she played bisexual in “The Black Dahlia.” Dempsey was Will’s closeted sports reporter boyfriend on “Will & Grace.” Co-star John Benjamin Hickey, who is openly gay, appeared in “Love! Valour! Compassion!,” “The Anniversary Party,” and most recently played Truman Capote’s lover in “Infamous”; he also starred in the short-lived TV series “It’s All Relative.”)
ALSO IN THEATERS:
In Sierra Leone, mercenary Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio) and fisherman Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou) reluctantly partner to recover a rare pink diamond. While Archer simply seeks a big score, Vandy needs the cash the stone will bring in order to reunite his family in the war-torn region. Edward Zwick’s lengthy drama is part straightforward action adventure; part heavy-handed civics lesson on the diamond trade’s role in financing African conflicts; and part contrived romance, once Archer meets journalist Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly). Hounsou is moving as a desperate man fighting against the odds, and the drama is powerful when it focuses on Vandy’s situation. But it’s too bad that the film is mostly about Archer; DiCaprio’s performance is weak, and his character is mostly unbelievable.
Kinsey Scale: 1 (DiCaprio played queer poet Arthur Rimbaud in “Total Eclipse.” Connelly won an Oscar for playing the wife of probably bisexual John Nash in “A Beautiful Mind.” Co-star Jimi Mistry appeared in the gay romantic comedy “Touch of Pink.”)
In this rebooting of the series, British military intelligence agent James Bond (Daniel Craig) no sooner earns his double-0 status than he’s in hot pursuit of Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), an accountant to terrorists worldwide. Le Chiffre has lost his investors’ money, but he plans to win it back in a high-stakes poker game – unless Bond can beat him, of course. Craig proves himself to be just about perfect as the latest 007, a cold-blooded tough guy who’s both brutish and sexy. Eva Green makes for one of the more three-dimensional Bond girls – she’s actually disturbed after watching him kill an assailant – and the film is smart enough to fool you into expecting one resolution and then spring another. Bond – and Bond movies – haven’t been this exciting in ages.
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Craig kissed Toby Stephens in “Infamous,” the second of the Truman Capote biopics, while Green was the female corner of a pansexual love triangle in Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Dreamers.” Jeffrey Wright, seen here as one of the poker players, won Tony and Emmy awards for his portrayal of no-nonsense gay nurse Belize in Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America.”)
Young Fern (Dakota Fanning) rescues runt pig Wilber (voice of Dominic Scott Kay), but it’s going to take even greater intervention to save him later, when he’s ready to be turned into bacon. And that’s where spider Charlotte (voice of Julia Roberts) comes in to save the day in this charming adaptation of the classic E.B. White novel. Hollywood hasn’t always done right by White – the 1970s animated feature gave Fern short shrift, while the Stuart Little movies lacked the quiet dignity of the books – but this new version captures the gentle qualities that have made the book perennially popular. Thanks to an all-star voice cast and “Babe”-style computer animation, the film brings White’s beloved animal characters to very realistic life. Kids and adults alike will be won over by the results.
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Steve Buscemi, who voices Templeton the Rat, made a memorable screen debut as a gay rock star with AIDS in Bill Sherwood’s “Parting Glances,” and Robert Redford – Ike the Horse here – played a bisexual movie star married to Natalie Wood in “Inside Daisy Clover.” Oprah Winfrey and Kathy Bates, who both have queer movie credits, also provide voice talent.)
Children of Men
Not a child exists on the planet earth in 2027, 19 years after an epidemic of infertility swept the globe, but a young woman, Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey), in now-fascist England is pregnant. One-time activist Theo (Clive Owen) long ago surrendered to despair, but when his ex-lover Julian (Julianne Moore) asks for his help in smuggling Kee across the country, his passion for engagement re-ignites. Director Alfonso Cuaron has crafted a taut thriller out of P.D. James’ bleak, dystopian novel, as the tension builds inexorably to an action-packed climax. Cuaron has more than suspense or mere entertainment in mind, as he uses the tale’s futuristic trappings to comment on issues of our own times, particularly environmental degradation, the creeping authoritarianism of governments, and the plight of immigrants.
Kinsey Scale: 1.5 (Cuaron made the homoerotic “Y Tu Mama Tambien.” Owen appeared in “Bent.” Moore is a frequent collaborator of queer director Todd Haynes and received an Oscar nomination for her role in his “Far from Heaven,” as well as another for her role in “The Hours.” Co-star Charlie Hunnam starred in the original “Queer as Folk,” while Chiwetel Ejiofor played trans in “Kinky Boots.”)
The Dreamettes, a Detroit trio, seem destined for stardom when up-and-coming record mogul Curtis Taylor Jr. (Jamie Foxx) signs them to his label. Both big-voiced Effie (Jennifer Hudson) and beautiful Deena (Beyonce Knowles) are in love with Curtis, and jealousy threatens to tear the group apart when Curtis promotes Deena to lead vocalist. Twenty-five years after its Broadway debut, this lavish musical explodes on the silver screen in all of its big-haired, ’60s-era glory. The songs are trite and director Bill Condon’s frantic editing deflates the drama’s power, but the gorgeous costumes, superb art direction, and superior acting make up for those sins. Best of all is former “American Idol” contestant Hudson, who emerges as the movie’s true star, thanks to her sensational soulful performance.
Kinsey Scale: 2 (Condon, who wrote the screenplay as well as directs, is gay, as are co-producer David Geffen and composer Henry Krieger. So were original Broadway director Michael Bennett and lyricist Tom Eyen, who also wrote the book of the musical. Condon wrote the screenplay for “Chicago,” won the screenwriting Oscar for his queer drama, “Gods and Monsters,” and made the bi drama “Kinsey.” Co-star Danny Glover appeared in “The Color Purple.”)
The Good German
“New Republic” reporter Jake Geismer (George Clooney) travels to Germany in the waning days of World War II to cover the Potsdam peace conference. While there, he gets caught up in intrigue involving a former lover (Cate Blanchett), a shady Army wheeler-dealer (Tobey Maguire), and the American government’s attempts to smuggle Nazi rocket scientists out of the country before the Russians can get them. It all sounds exciting, but this Steven Soderbergh production is a big snooze, featuring characters you won’t care about. Meanwhile, the cinematography tries for a classic 1940s-noir feel – even the poster is designed to look like the one for “Casablanca” – but does not live up to those heights, making it seem like not only was the plot drained of life, but the movie itself was drained of color.
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Blanchett played the object of Judi Dench’s affections in “Notes on a Scandal,” and Maguire was memorably bedded by Robert Downey Jr. in “Wonder Boys.”)
The Good Shepherd
Bureaucrat Joseph Wilson (Matt Damon) becomes a key figure in the establishment of the Central Intelligence Agency in the years after World War II, despite the toll that his devotion to duty takes on his wife (Angelina Jolie) and others in his life. While director Robert DeNiro paints his tale on a vast canvas – and makes the movie supremely handsome to look at – “The Good Shepherd” is exceedingly dull. The casting is top-notch – supporting players include Alec Baldwin, William Hurt, John Turturro, and even DeNiro himself; but whose decision was it to cast Jolie as a neglected wife who sits around waiting for her husband to come home? This spy saga is overloaded with intelligence, but could use more liveliness.
Kinsey Scale: 1.5 (A gay spy played by Michael Gambon comes to a bitter end because of his sexual orientation, as Damon’s character stands by and watches. The famously bisexual Jolie played legendary lesbian supermodel Gia Carangi in HBO’s “Gia”; Hurt won an Oscar for his gay turn in “Kiss of the Spider Woman”; Damon played a gay sociopath in “The Talented Mr. Ripley”; Turturro was a gay mobster in “Miller’s Crossing”; and costar Billy Crudup played a cross-dressing theater star in “Stage Beauty.”)
Emperor penguins employ their own unique sound – their heartsong – to attract mates, but young Mumbles (Elijah Wood) was born to dance, not sing, and the other birds ostracize him. But when a fish shortage leads to famine, this spurned outsider holds the key to the colony’s survival. Peppered throughout with bad cover versions of old pop hits, this animated musical fable occasionally plays like an extra-special episode of “American Idol” with penguins. More damaging is the quality of the computer animation, which lends the flightless birds a lifeless appearance. Emphasis on predators will frighten young children, while the icky sentimentality may put off grownups. Only when Mumbles cuts loose with his energetic tap routines (courtesy of motion-captured dance great Savion Glover) does this bird-brained saga soar.
Kinsey Scale: 1 (No queer content, but several of the vocal talents involved have gay and lesbian projects on their resumes, including Robin Williams, Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, and Hugo Weaving.)
L.A.-based movie marketer Amanda (Cameron Diaz) and English wedding columnist Iris (Kate Winslet) swap houses over Christmas. Both women are nursing broken hearts, but despite each vowing to spend a man-free holiday, Amanda falls for Iris’ brother Graham (Jude Law), while Iris warms to Amanda’s friend Miles (Jack Black). Writer-director Nancy Meyers seems intent on taxing the patience of all but the most devoted romantic comedy fans with a thin premise, few laughs, unbelievable situations, an absurd length of well over two hours, and characters that are not always likable. And for a romance, it seems odd that the most satisfying relationship in it isn’t either of the love matches, but instead the touching friendship that Iris forms with elderly screenwriter Arthur (Eli Wallach).
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Winslet’s breakthrough role was as a teenage lesbian in “Heavenly Creatures.” Law had early parts in “Bent” and “Wilde,” and co-starred in the homoerotic “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” Black and co-star Ed Burns both guest-starred on “Will & Grace.” Co-star Rufus Sewell appeared in the queer dramas “Carrington” and “A Man of No Importance.”)
When “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” is published in Victorian England, it is an instant bestseller, to the delight of its author, Beatrix Potter (Renee Zellweger). The book’s success bemuses her snobbish parents, Helen (Barbara Flynn) and Rupert (Bill Patterson), but they are downright scandalized after their spinster daughter takes up with a lowly tradesman – her shy publisher, Norman Warne (Ewan McGregor). This sedate biopic contains relatively few dramatic flourishes, relying instead on the charm of the actors and of Potter’s art to keep things lively. It is a strategy that pays off handsome dividends. Zellweger and McGregor are sweet together, their chemistry at a steady simmer, while short, animated sequences that bring Peter and his animal pals momentarily to life are enchanting.
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Zellweger and McGregor previous co-starred in the Doris Day/Rock Hudson homage, “Down with Love.” McGregor played bisexuals in “The Pillow Book” and “Velvet Goldmine,” while Zellweger starred in “Chicago.”)
Night at the Museum
Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) is a down-on-his-luck divorced dad who gets a job as a night watchman at a natural history museum. On his first night, he learns that the museum is cursed and that everything inside comes to life until the sun rises. His job? Control the chaos and hopefully reverse the curse. Of course, the story is secondary to the wild antics of animated dinosaur bones that want to play fetch, marauding Huns, and a naughty monkey that has it in for Stiller. And if it’s nothing audiences haven’t seen before from movies like “Jurassic Park” and “Jumanji,” it’s still reasonably fun, amiably inoffensive family entertainment for the holidays – no more and no less. Parents, lower your expectations, give in to the kid-centricity, and you’ll be fine.
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Stiller played a metrosexual in “Zoolander.” Co-stars with queer credits include Robin Williams, who starred in “The Birdcage” and “The Night Listener,” and cross-dressed his way through “Mrs. Doubtfire”; and Paul Rudd, who played gay in “The Object of My Affection.”)
Notes on a Scandal
Repressed lesbian schoolteacher Barbara Covett (Judi Dench) sets her sights on new hire Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett). And when Barbara discovers that Sheba is having a sexual affair with a 15-year-old male student, she’s convinced that the power of this knowledge will make the younger woman beholden to her. But nothing runs quite that smoothly in this creepy thriller, which combines “Chuck & Buck” with “The Killing of Sister George,” with perhaps a touch of “The Children’s Hour” and “Up the Down Staircase” thrown in for good measure. Dench’s character won’t top any “positive lesbian role models” lists, but the actress sinks her teeth into this delusional character and makes her a compelling creation. Blanchett and Bill Nighy (as Sheba’s husband) are terrific as usual, but it’s Dench’s show all the way.
Kinsey Scale: 4 (In addition to the lesbian longing, this movie features Dench – who played bisexual writer Iris Murdoch in “Scandal” director Richard Eyre’s “Iris” – as well as Nighy, who appeared in the gay stolen-identity thriller “AKA.” Blanchett won an Oscar for playing Katharine Hepburn in “The Aviator”; but whether or not Hepburn was bisexual depends on which biography you believe.)
The Pursuit of Happyness
Behind on the rent and barely scraping by with 5-year-old son Christopher (Jaden Smith) to support, salesman Chris Gardener (Will Smith) cannot afford to work for free. He accepts an unpaid internship at a brokerage firm anyway, convinced that becoming a stockbroker will ensure a brighter future. This 1980s-era drama is never more than a handsome soap opera, despite a terrific, uncommonly serious turn by the elder Smith. Its message is bizarre, since it suggests that money – and lots of it – really does buy happiness, and, in fact, may be the only real avenue to achieve it. The story only ever satisfies in the intimate, moving moments between father and son, as little Jaden Smith steals every scene from his real-life dad.
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Will Smith played a gay man in “Six Degrees of Separation” and produced the lesbian romantic comedy “Saving Face.” Co-star Thandie Newton appeared in “Interview with a Vampire,” while co-star Kurt Fuller had a recurring role on “Desperate Housewives” and a small part in “Auto Focus.”)
Over-the-hill boxer Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) spends his days missing his late wife, Adrian, and regaling the patrons of his Philadelphia restaurant with stories of his boxing prowess back in the day. But when a computer simulation shows Rocky defeating the current heavyweight champ, Mason “The Line” Dixon (Antonio Taver), it’s time to crank up the training montages as the old slugger decides to go for another 12 rounds. Once Rocky starts running up those stairs – and dealing with the objections of his estranged son (Milo Ventimiglia) – “Rocky Balboa” starts hitting every single note of 1976’s “Rocky” all over again. And if this new movie isn’t as crowd-pleasing as the original, it’s better than that dreadful “Rocky V.” “Rocky Balboa” is no knock-out, but it wins on points.
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Co-star Burt Young played the father of a transgender woman in “Transamerica” and the father of a lesbian in “Kiss the Bride,” while Talia Shire – who surfaces here as the ghost of Rocky’s late wife – was the object of Elizabeth Ashley’s psychotic desire in the lesbian exploitation stinker “Windows.”)