January 29, 2007
NEW THIS WEEK:
The Dead Girl
The murder of prostitute Krista (Brittany Murphy) sends ripples through the lives of various women, from the browbeaten caretaker (Toni Collette) who finds the body, to a graduate student (Rose Byrne) who thinks the victim might be her long-lost missing sister, to the victim's mother (Marcia Gay Harden), to the killer's wife (Mary Beth Hurt). Meanwhile, Krista's friend and occasional lover, Rosetta (Kerry Washington), was clearly the troubled young woman's most consistent source of support and affection. Writer-director Karen Moncrieff revels in working-class blankness in the film's dialogue and its look, but the individual performances - Mary Steenburgen and Piper Laurie also co-star - are all terrific. It's just a pity that all these strong vignettes don't add up to all that much of a movie.
Kinsey Scale: 2 (Krista and Rosetta have the film's most loving relationship. Murphy's prior experience playing a lesbian was as Reese Witherspoon's cellmate in _Freeway_, while Washington appeared in Spike Lee's _She Hate Me_. Collette, Hurt, and co-stars Josh Brolin, Bruce Davison, and James Franco all have queer credits. Harden was in the original Broadway cast of _Angels in America_.)
Blue-blood preppy art student Edie Sedgwick (Sienna Miller) moves to Manhattan in the 1960s and gets swept into the vortex of artist Andy Warhol (Guy Pearce), who turns her into a model, celebutante, and all-around It Girl. But Andy becomes jealous when Edie gets involved with earnest folk singer Billy Quinn (a lawyer-mandated renaming of Bob Dylan, ludicrously portrayed by that white-bread Jedi, Hayden Christensen), and Edie gets dumped from Warhol's inner circle. She spirals downward and faces her deep, dark secret of sexual abuse - the same deep, dark secret that many troubled characters in American cinema have confessed to over the last decade - before dying. Sedgwick's glossy and tragic life has spawned two interesting books, both of which are far more worth your time than this two-dimensional, inane film.
Kinsey Scale: 2 (The film makes only the slightest reference to Warhol's homosexuality or the rampant queerness of his Factory denizens. Pearce first drew attention in the United States for his portrayal of a bitchy gay Australian drag queen in _The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert_. Co-stars with queer credits are Shawn Hatosy, who appears as Sedgwick's college boyfriend, and Illeana Douglas, who has a cameo as _Vogue_ editor Diana Vreeland.)
College students Grace (Sophia Bush) and Jim (Zachary Knighton) make the fatal mistake of picking up a psycho hitchhiker who calls himself John Ryder (Sean Bean) but who's really more of a supernatural entity, able to locate his prey with alarming skill every single time they wriggle out of his clutches. From that first roadside bit of bad judgment, it's a cat-and-mouse game of survival for 90 surprisingly suspenseful minutes that will have audiences shouting escape advice to the victims on-screen. A remake of the 1986 cult horror favorite starring Rutger Hauer and C. Thomas Howell, this version, with its female protagonist, loses the odd homoerotic tension of the male-stalker-hunts-male-victim original. But its competent descent into straightforward, uncomplicated fear makes it a cut above most modern horror remakes.
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Bean starred in the late gay director Derek Jarman's films _War Requiem_ and _Caravaggio_.)
ALSO IN THEATERS:
In an attempt to collect on a debt and get back at rival Jake (Ben Foster), drug dealer Johnny Truelove (Emile Hirsch) kidnaps Jake's naive teenage brother, Zack (Anton Yelchin). Over the course of a Palm Springs weekend, Johnny's right-hand man Frankie (Justin Timberlake) shows the kid a good time, but Johnny's realization that kidnapping charges could result in hard time makes Jake a liability. Based on a true story, this seedy thriller scores with pungent dialogue, sharp characterizations, and the young ensemble's sensational performances. Writer/director Nick Cassavetes' attention to detail pays off in this unforgettable portrait of a deluded adolescent universe in which morals, conscience, and common sense are cast aside in favor of loyalty among friends and unquestioning obedience to the impetuous Johnny.
Kinsey Scale: 3 (The homoeroticism is thick in the relationship between Johnny and his gang, and becomes explicit in the character of Elvis - played by Shawn Hatosy - who the others taunt for supposedly being in love with Johnny. Hirsch was a gay teenager in _The Mudge Boy_ and shared a homoerotic bond with his best friend in _Imaginary Heroes_. Foster appeared in _The Laramie Project_, _The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things_, and _Six Feet Under_. Hatosy starred in _The Borstal Boy_ and _Soldier's Girl_, and guested on _Six Feet Under_. Co-star Sharon Stone played a bisexual murderer in _Basic Instinct_ and _Basic Instinct 2_, and guest-starred on _Will & Grace_. Co-star Alex Kingston appeared in _Carrington_. Co-star Lukas Haas played a queer hustler in _Johns_ and appeared in Gus Van Sant's _Last Days_.)
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_.)
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_.)
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_.)
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_.)
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_.)
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_.)
Stomp the Yard
Still smarting over his brother's murder, DJ (Columbus Short) leaves L.A. for Atlanta's Truth University. The scholarship student feels out of place among his more well-heeled classmates at the historic black college until his growing attachment to comely co-ed April (Meagan Good) and his involvement with the Theta Nu Theta fraternity and its stepping team ease his transition into college life. The graceful, athletic, occasionally gravity-defying stepping - derived from an African dance and a kind of dance/gymnastics hybrid - is far more compelling than the predictable coming-of-age story, which blends romance with backstage drama as the Thetas prepare to compete for the national stepping championship. But those stepping scenes ultimately prove less than enjoyable, thanks to the frenzied, headache-inducing editing.
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Though there is no queer content at all, save one tossed-off remark, there is plenty of male bonding over dance - so much so that April seems nearly superfluous. Good appeared in Angela Robinson's comedy _D.E.B.S._.)