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December 8, 2006
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Volume 34
Issue 49
 
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December 11, 2006

NEW THIS WEEK:

The Nativity Story

Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes) is impregnated immaculately and has to head to Bethlehem with Joseph (Oscar Isaac). There's a lack of inn space, and Jesus is born in a stable. Meanwhile, it's difficult to know if this straight-faced, literal take on the Nativity story is subtextually meant to be something more (it's directed by _Thirteen_'s Catherine Hardwicke), or if, in fact, it's just supposed to be a straight-faced, literal take on the Nativity story. The execution suggests the latter, and without any controversy (a factor in _The Passion of the Christ_'s huge box-office take), the movie's audience is going to be limited to devoutly religious people who want to feel like they're in Sunday School.

Grade: C+
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Hardwicke's _Thirteen_ featured mildly homoerotic moments.)

Turistas

Brother-and-sister tourists Alex (Josh Duhamel) and Pru (Melissa George) - along with a small band of fellow Northern-hemisphere backpackers who just want to party and wear as little clothing as possible - find themselves stranded in Brazil after a robbery. Worse, they're also being stalked by a mercenary team of black-market organ harvesters. What follows is gory, trashy, lurid, and at times visually incoherent (for example, a battle in the Brazilian rain forest at night and another in a pitch-black underwater cave - neither of which can be understood until a character turns on a flashlight), but at least it's never dull. And while that's not enough to make a good movie, it'll be enough for audiences who just want to see people get hacked to pieces.

Grade: C-
Kinsey Scale: 1 (George had a small part in _Mulholland Drive_. Co-star Olivia Wilde played Mischa Barton's love interest on _The O.C._)

 

ALSO IN THEATERS:

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan journalist Borat Sagdiyev (Sacha Baron Cohen) - that nation's "sixth most famous man" - travels across the United States to learn about America, but his adventures mostly involve embarrassing the natives he's duped into showing him around. "Duped" because, of course, Borat is one of the characters created by comedian Baron Cohen for _Da Ali G Show_. While Borat is a racist, sexist, homophobic twit who hilariously mangles the English language - he describes sex as "making sexy-time" - the real joke in this satirical _Candid Camera_-style "documentary" is on the Yanks, who are unfailingly polite in the face of Borat's weirdness, and ignorant enough about Kazakhstan to take his blatherings at face value. Their discomfort and Baron Cohen's brilliant adherence to character result in one of the year's funniest movies.

Grade: A
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Borat is all about making sexy-time with the ladies, but he does wear one of the craziest thongs you've ever seen; he also wrestles naked with his producer. Another of Baron Cohen's _Da Ali G Show_ creations is gay fashionista Bruno. Baron Cohen also played the gay NASCAR driver in _Talladega Nights_.)

 

Casino Royale

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.

Grade: A-
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_.)

 

Deck the Halls

Suburban optometrist Steve Finch (Matthew Broderick) loves Christmas, but his Yuletide spirit deflates when his new neighbor, Buddy Hall (Danny DeVito), becomes determined to decorate his house with so many lights that it can be seen from space. Squabbling over Buddy's display turns into an all-out war that threatens to ruin not just the holiday, but the men's marriages. There is not an original scene in this formulaic, completely predictable family comedy, which further suffers from uneven pacing and dead spots that bring the action to a grinding halt. Nevertheless, it has a few funny moments, thanks to the actors' energetic performances and DeVito's truculent charm. Most enchanting of all is the dazzling, if garish, light show that graces the Halls' home, the movie's true star.

Grade: C
Kinsey Scale: 1 (There is no real queer content, although Steve goes into a panic when he discovers that the town's otherwise straight sheriff is a transvestite. Broderick's queer credits include roles in _The Producers_, _Strangers with Candy_, and _Torch Song Trilogy_. Co-star Kristin Davis was _Sex and the City_'s Charlotte and guest-starred on _Will & Grace_. Co-star Kristin Chenoweth's queer-themed projects have included _Running with Scissors_.)

 

Deja Vu

ATF agent Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington) must travel back in time to prevent a terrorist incident. Meanwhile, he's also trying to save the life of a woman (Paula Patton) who may or may not be indirectly connected with the terrorists. Washington has played a self-important pill so often lately - _Man on Fire_, _John Q._ - that it's genuinely exciting to see him have fun on screen again in this admittedly silly action-adventure. The time-travel sequences feel like a theme-park attraction, and there's a "we're-tired-of-feeling-helpless-about-terrorism" undercurrent to the proceedings, but the movie winds up being an entertaining night at the movies - even by Jerry "let's blow stuff up" Bruckheimer standards.

Grade: B-
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Washington played the homophobic lawyer in _Philadelphia_. Co-star Val Kilmer played gay in _Kiss Kiss Bang Bang_ and starred in the gay-subtext-heavy action epics _Top Gun_ and _Batman Forever_.)

 

Flushed Away

Upper-crust pet mouse Roddy (Hugh Jackman) wants nothing to do with the community of sewer-dwelling rodents he encounters after he is flushed down the toilet. That begins to change when he meets lovely boat captain Rita (Kate Winslet), but with mad crime boss Toad (Ian McKellen) after them, there is little time for romance. This lively animated family film's charms begin with the cast's appealing vocal performances, cute animals that will entrance kids, and smart humor geared to amuse grownups. Furthering its appeal is witty, computer-generated imagery, particularly the rodents' underground world that re-creates London's Piccadilly Circus in trash. And while slugs may not sound as if they would make engaging cartoon animals, rendered here as a kind of absurd Greek chorus, they are irresistible.

Grade: A
Kinsey Scale: 1 (There's no queer content, but McKellen is openly gay and has starred in multiple gay projects; Jackman won a Tony for his role as queer singer/songwriter Peter Allen in _The Boy from Oz_; and Winslet's breakthrough role was in the sapphic _Heavenly Creatures_. Co-star Bill Nighy appeared in the homoerotic _Enduring Love_.)

 

The Fountain

Hugh Jackman plays incarnations of the same man over a millennium in this epic drama. Sixteenth-century conquistador Tomas scours Central America seeking the Fountain of Youth; present-day medical researcher Tom seeks a cure for his wife Izzi's (Rachel Weisz) terminal cancer; and 26th-century astronaut Tom accompanies the Tree of Life to a far-off nebula to re-enact an ancient Mayan myth regarding the origins of life. Darren Aronofsky's handsome and sweeping meditation on love and mortality suffers from a few silly moments, particularly in the overly New Age and simplistic futuristic sequences. But Clint Mansell's shimmering, atmospheric score and Jackman's committed performance lend the film needed ballast. Especially moving is the present-day story, as Jackman touchingly portrays a grief-stricken man refusing to accept the inevitability of death.

Grade: B
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Aronofsky hired Jackman for this film after catching his Tony-winning performance as queer singer/songwriter Peter Allen in _The Boy from Oz_. Weisz had a small role in _Bent_. Co-star Mark Margolis has several queer credits, including roles in _I Shot Andy Warhol_ and _Flawless_.)

 

Happy Feet

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.

Grade: C+
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.)

 

The Queen

Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren) has always been a very British icon of decorum, subtlety, and privacy. But when Princess Diana dies in a car accident, that royal decorum doesn't play well with a grieving British public. Writer-director Stephen Frears brilliantly captures the turmoil of the week following Diana's tragic death, and how newly elected prime minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) helped coax a reluctant monarch into publicly acknowledging a loss that was devastating not only to her grandchildren but to her people. Even if you think royalty is a useless tradition of a bygone age, Mirren's performance makes Elizabeth a three-dimensional person, beset by her lifelong duties and obligations. _The Queen_ offers a fascinating backstage look at public figures facing a key moment in contemporary history.

Grade: A
Kinsey Scale: 1.5 (Princess Diana was beloved by many gay people for her AIDS activism. Frears directed the queer classics _My Beautiful Laundrette_ and _Prick Up Your Ears_. Mirren had a lesbian affair with Kyra Sedgwick in _Losing Chase_ and appeared in the pansexual extravaganza _Caligula_. Co-stars Sylvia Syms, who plays the Queen Mother, starred opposite Dirk Bogarde in _Victim_ (1961) - one of the very first feature films to feature homosexuality in a sympathetic light - and James Cromwell (as Prince Philip) was Roy Cohn's doctor in the miniseries _Angels in America_.)

 

The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause

Santa Claus - aka Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) - is expecting his first child with the new Mrs. Claus (Elizabeth Mitchell), and the whole family gathers for the blessed event, including Scott's son, his first wife, and his new in-laws (Ann-Margret, Alan Arkin). But like all holiday get-togethers, this one has its share of complications, most notably the appearance of Jack Frost (Martin Short), who wants to elbow Santa out of the way and make Christmas his own. While this holiday series has suffered from the law of diminishing comic and heart-warmth returns - David Krumholz's Head Elf from previous installments is sorely missed - _The Santa Clause 3_ retains enough of the first two films' charm to make it worth taking the kids when your feet need a rest after a full day of shopping.

Grade: B-
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Director Michael Lembeck was also behind the drag-queen farce _Connie and Carla_. Short played flamboyantly queeny characters in _The Big Picture_ and the _Father of the Bride_ movies. Ann-Margret played the mother of a gay man in the landmark TV movie _Our Sons_, while Arkin co-starred in _Little Miss Sunshine_ and played Grace's dad on _Will & Grace_.)

 

Stranger Than Fiction

Novelist Kay Eiffel's (Emma Thompson) latest work chronicles the life of shy IRS agent Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) as he falls in love with rebellious baker Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal). As Kay ponders her book's ending, the very real Harold begins to hear her voice narrating his every move and determines to discover the identity of the mysterious storyteller who seems to be deciding his fate. An abundance of charm and great, good humor are this gentle, surreal comedy's chief assets. The entire cast is flat-out wonderful, particularly Ferrell. Normally so boisterous in his movies, he is sensational here, cast against type as the introverted, awkward, _quiet_ Harold. The ending is a little weak, but until that point, this is a comedy that fires on all cylinders.

Grade: A-
Kinsey Scale: 1.5 (Ferrell starred in _The Producers_ and the metrosexual comedy _Zoolander_. Among Thompson's queer credits are roles in _Angels in America_ and _Carrington_. Gyllenhaal worked with John Waters in _Cecil B. Demented_ and appeared in Don Roos' queer romantic comedy _Happy Endings_. Co-star Queen Latifah played a lesbian in _Set It Off_ and received an Oscar nomination for her role in the queer-friendly _Chicago_. Gay actor Tom Hulce has a small role.)

 

Tenacious D in: The Pick of Destiny

JB (Jack Black) and KG (Kyle Gass) meet on Venice Beach and decide they want to rock. In order to fulfill their ambitions, they must travel to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to find a legendary guitar pick, the Pick of Destiny. And that's pretty much it, although this kooky road-trip comedy offers enough interesting adjuncts to the thin plot to keep you laughing. There's JB's mushroom trip, where he goes flying with Sasquatch (John C. Reilly) and imagines himself as a Bigfoot Baby. Amy Poehler briefly steals the movie as a hard-bitten, no-nonsense truck-stop waitress. The whole Tenacious D concept - nerdy guys play metal songs on acoustic guitars - can be flimsy, but if you like watching Black spaz out, and you've always wanted to see a movie with a Dio cameo, then you won't be disappointed.

Grade: B
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Black and Gass played gay ventriloquists in _Cradle Will Rock_, and here they sing a fairly homoerotic ditty called "Dude, I Totally Miss You.")

 

 

Deck the Halls

 

Suburban optometrist Steve Finch (Matthew Broderick) loves Christmas, but his Yuletide spirit deflates when his new neighbor, Buddy Hall (Danny DeVito), becomes determined to decorate his house with so many lights that it can be seen from space. Squabbling over Buddy's display turns into an all-out war that threatens to ruin not just the holiday, but the men's marriages. There is not an original scene in this formulaic, completely predictable family comedy, which further suffers from uneven pacing and dead spots that bring the action to a grinding halt. Nevertheless, it has a few funny moments, thanks to the actors' energetic performances and DeVito's truculent charm. Most enchanting of all is the dazzling, if garish, light show that graces the Halls' home, the movie's true star.

 

Grade: C

Kinsey Scale: 1 (There is no real queer content, although Steve goes into a panic when he discovers that the town's otherwise straight sheriff is a transvestite. Broderick's queer credits include roles in _The Producers_, _Strangers with Candy_, and _Torch Song Trilogy_. Co-star Kristin Davis was _Sex and the City_'s Charlotte and guest-starred on _Will & Grace_. Co-star Kristin Chenoweth's queer-themed projects have included _Running with Scissors_.)

 

 

Deja Vu

 

ATF agent Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington) must travel back in time to prevent a terrorist incident. Meanwhile, he's also trying to save the life of a woman (Paula Patton) who may or may not be indirectly connected with the terrorists. Washington has played a self-important pill so often lately - _Man on Fire_, _John Q._ - that it's genuinely exciting to see him have fun on screen again in this admittedly silly action-adventure. The time-travel sequences feel like a theme-park attraction, and there's a "we're-tired-of-feeling-helpless-about-terrorism" undercurrent to the proceedings, but the movie winds up being an entertaining night at the movies - even by Jerry "let's blow stuff up" Bruckheimer standards.

 

Grade: B-

Kinsey Scale: 1 (Washington played the homophobic lawyer in _Philadelphia_. Co-star Val Kilmer played gay in _Kiss Kiss Bang Bang_ and starred in the gay-subtext-heavy action epics _Top Gun_ and _Batman Forever_.)

 

 

The Fountain

 

Hugh Jackman plays incarnations of the same man over a millennium in this epic drama. Sixteenth-century conquistador Tomas scours Central America seeking the Fountain of Youth; present-day medical researcher Tom seeks a cure for his wife Izzi's (Rachel Weisz) terminal cancer; and 26th-century astronaut Tom accompanies the Tree of Life to a far-off nebula to re-enact an ancient Mayan myth regarding the origins of life. Darren Aronofsky's handsome and sweeping meditation on love and mortality suffers from a few silly moments, particularly in the overly New Age and simplistic futuristic sequences. But Clint Mansell's shimmering, atmospheric score and Jackman's committed performance lend the film needed ballast. Especially moving is the present-day story, as Jackman touchingly portrays a grief-stricken man refusing to accept the inevitability of death.

 

Grade: B

Kinsey Scale: 1 (Aronofsky hired Jackman for this film after catching his Tony-winning performance as queer singer/songwriter Peter Allen in _The Boy from Oz_. Weisz had a small role in _Bent_. Co-star Mark Margolis has several queer credits, including roles in _I Shot Andy Warhol_ and _Flawless_.)

 

 

Tenacious D in: The Pick of Destiny

 

JB (Jack Black) and KG (Kyle Gass) meet on Venice Beach and decide they want to rock. In order to fulfill their ambitions, they must travel to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to find a legendary guitar pick, the Pick of Destiny. And that's pretty much it, although this kooky road-trip comedy offers enough interesting adjuncts to the thin plot to keep you laughing. There's JB's mushroom trip, where he goes flying with Sasquatch (John C. Reilly) and imagines himself as a Bigfoot Baby. Amy Poehler briefly steals the movie as a hard-bitten, no-nonsense truck-stop waitress. The whole Tenacious D concept - nerdy guys play metal songs on acoustic guitars - can be flimsy, but if you like watching Black spaz out, and you've always wanted to see a movie with a Dio cameo, then you won't be disappointed.

 

Grade: B

Kinsey Scale: 1 (Black and Gass played gay ventriloquists in _Cradle Will Rock_, and here they sing a fairly homoerotic ditty called "Dude, I Totally Miss You.")

 

 

ALSO IN THEATERS:

 

Babel

 

The accidental shooting of an American tourist (Cate Blanchett) in Morocco sets off an international string of events - from her husband's (Brad Pitt) frustration and paranoia, to their maid (Adriana Barrazza) taking their children to Mexico so she can attend her son's wedding, to an investigation into the shooting itself. But how does a deaf Japanese girl (Rinko Kikuchi) fit into it? All will be revealed in this latest from Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu; and if the results aren't up to the standards of his breakout debut, _Amores Perros_, this new movie is at least leaps and bounds above his last dreary-fest, _21 Grams_. Much of _Babel_ clobbers you over the head with its seriousness, but the performances - especially Kikuchi's - will keep you engaged.

 

Grade: B-

Kinsey Scale: 1 (Gael Garcia Bernal, who plays the maid's brother, kissed another guy in _Y tu mama tambien_ and did even more in out director Pedro Almodovar's _Bad Education_. Pitt starred in the flagrantly homoerotic _Fight Club_ and _Troy_, and played a character who was at least bisexual in _Interview with the Vampire_. Blanchett appeared in the gay-themed _The Talented Mr. Ripley_.)

 

 

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

 

Kazakhstan journalist Borat Sagdiyev (Sacha Baron Cohen) - that nation's "sixth most famous man" - travels across the United States to learn about America, but his adventures mostly involve embarrassing the natives he's duped into showing him around. "Duped" because, of course, Borat is one of the characters created by comedian Baron Cohen for _Da Ali G Show_. While Borat is a racist, sexist, homophobic twit who hilariously mangles the English language - he describes sex as "making sexy-time" - the real joke in this satirical _Candid Camera_-style "documentary" is on the Yanks, who are unfailingly polite in the face of Borat's weirdness, and ignorant enough about Kazakhstan to take his blatherings at face value. Their discomfort and Baron Cohen's brilliant adherence to character result in one of the year's funniest movies.

 

Grade: A

Kinsey Scale: 1 (Borat is all about making sexy-time with the ladies, but he does wear one of the craziest thongs you've ever seen; he also wrestles naked with his producer. Another of Baron Cohen's _Da Ali G Show_ creations is gay fashionista Bruno. Baron Cohen also played the gay NASCAR driver in _Talladega Nights_.)

 

 

Casino Royale

 

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.

 

Grade: A-

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_.)

 

 

The Departed

 

Boston gangster Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) thinks that he has outsmarted the police when he plants his protege Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) among the state troopers' mob detail. But the cops have a mole of their own in Costello associate Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio). When both sides realize they have a "rat" in their midst, Sullivan and Costigan race to cover their tracks before they face extermination. What could have been a lean, suspenseful thriller is a plodding, bloated mess, as director Martin Scorsese mistakenly equates a two-and-a-half-hour running time and flamboyantly high body count with an operatic epic. Nicholson is ludicrously over the top, while Damon and DiCaprio are blandly forgettable. Mark Wahlberg is the saving grace, excellent as Costigan's prickly police handler.

 

Grade: C

Kinsey Scale: 1.5 (Homophobic epithets are the insults of choice among cops and crooks. Nearly everyone in the cast has appeared in queer-themed movies, including Nicholson, Damon, DiCaprio, Wahlberg, and co-star Alec Baldwin. But the most interesting queer credit belongs to co-star Martin Sheen, who played a gay man in the landmark 1972 made-for-TV movie _That Certain Summer_.)

 

 

Flushed Away

 

Upper-crust pet mouse Roddy (Hugh Jackman) wants nothing to do with the community of sewer-dwelling rodents he encounters after he is flushed down the toilet. That begins to change when he meets lovely boat captain Rita (Kate Winslet), but with mad crime boss Toad (Ian McKellen) after them, there is little time for romance. This lively animated family film's charms begin with the cast's appealing vocal performances, cute animals that will entrance kids, and smart humor geared to amuse grownups. Furthering its appeal is witty, computer-generated imagery, particularly the rodents' underground world that re-creates London's Piccadilly Circus in trash. And while slugs may not sound as if they would make engaging cartoon animals, rendered here as a kind of absurd Greek chorus, they are irresistible.

 

Grade: A

Kinsey Scale: 1 (There's no queer content, but McKellen is openly gay and has starred in multiple gay projects; Jackman won a Tony for his role as queer singer/songwriter Peter Allen in _The Boy from Oz_; and Winslet's breakthrough role was in the sapphic _Heavenly Creatures_. Co-star Bill Nighy appeared in the homoerotic _Enduring Love_.)

 

 

Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus

When Lionel Sweeney (Robert Downey Jr.), a fur-covered former sideshow attraction, moves in upstairs, he fascinates repressed, '50s-era housewife Diane Arbus (Nicole Kidman). His charm and warmth soon capture her heart, but more importantly, he introduces her to an underground world of "freaks," which inspires her to start taking pictures. This dull, wholly fictional biography of the celebrated photographer is clearly meant as a tribute. Instead, it comes across as an insult, thanks to the way it takes this extraordinarily talented woman and reduces her to a trembling mouse in need of a man's intervention to find herself and unlock her gift. Downey is excellent as the empathetic, confident Lionel, but Kidman is beyond grating in her fluttery, wispy-voiced portrait of the artist as infantile child-woman.

Grade: C-
Kinsey Scale: 1 (Transsexuals figure in the demimonde that Lionel introduces to Diane. Kidman won an Oscar for playing Virginia Woolf in _The Hours_ and collaborated with queer director Gus Van Sant on _To Die For_. Downey has several queer credits, _Kiss Kiss Bang Bang_ and _Wonder Boys_ among them.)

 

 

Happy Feet

 

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.

 

Grade: C+

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.)

 

 

The Queen

 

Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren) has always been a very British icon of decorum, subtlety, and privacy. But when Princess Diana dies in a car accident, that royal decorum doesn't play well with a grieving British public. Writer-director Stephen Frears brilliantly captures the turmoil of the week following Diana's tragic death, and how newly elected prime minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) helped coax a reluctant monarch into publicly acknowledging a loss that was devastating not only to her grandchildren but to her people. Even if you think royalty is a useless tradition of a bygone age, Mirren's performance makes Elizabeth a three-dimensional person, beset by her lifelong duties and obligations. _The Queen_ offers a fascinating backstage look at public figures facing a key moment in contemporary history.

 

Grade: A

Kinsey Scale: 1.5 (Princess Diana was beloved by many gay people for her AIDS activism. Frears directed the queer classics _My Beautiful Laundrette_ and _Prick Up Your Ears_. Mirren had a lesbian affair with Kyra Sedgwick in _Losing Chase_ and appeared in the pansexual extravaganza _Caligula_. Co-stars Sylvia Syms, who plays the Queen Mother, starred opposite Dirk Bogarde in _Victim_ (1961) - one of the very first feature films to feature homosexuality in a sympathetic light - and James Cromwell (as Prince Philip) was Roy Cohn's doctor in the miniseries _Angels in America_.)

 

 

The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause

 

Santa Claus - aka Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) - is expecting his first child with the new Mrs. Claus (Elizabeth Mitchell), and the whole family gathers for the blessed event, including Scott's son, his first wife, and his new in-laws (Ann-Margret, Alan Arkin). But like all holiday get-togethers, this one has its share of complications, most notably the appearance of Jack Frost (Martin Short), who wants to elbow Santa out of the way and make Christmas his own. While this holiday series has suffered from the law of diminishing comic and heart-warmth returns - David Krumholz's Head Elf from previous installments is sorely missed - _The Santa Clause 3_ retains enough of the first two films' charm to make it worth taking the kids when your feet need a rest after a full day of shopping.

 

Grade: B-

Kinsey Scale: 1 (Director Michael Lembeck was also behind the drag-queen farce _Connie and Carla_. Short played flamboyantly queeny characters in _The Big Picture_ and the _Father of the Bride_ movies. Ann-Margret played the mother of a gay man in the landmark TV movie _Our Sons_, while Arkin co-starred in _Little Miss Sunshine_ and played Grace's dad on _Will & Grace_.)

 

 

Stranger Than Fiction

 

Novelist Kay Eiffel's (Emma Thompson) latest work chronicles the life of shy IRS agent Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) as he falls in love with rebellious baker Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal). As Kay ponders her book's ending, the very real Harold begins to hear her voice narrating his every move and determines to discover the identity of the mysterious storyteller who seems to be deciding his fate. An abundance of charm and great, good humor are this gentle, surreal comedy's chief assets. The entire cast is flat-out wonderful, particularly Ferrell. Normally so boisterous in his movies, he is sensational here, cast against type as the introverted, awkward, _quiet_ Harold. The ending is a little weak, but until that point, this is a comedy that fires on all cylinders.

 

Grade: A-

Kinsey Scale: 1.5 (Ferrell starred in _The Producers_ and the metrosexual comedy _Zoolander_. Among Thompson's queer credits are roles in _Angels in America_ and _Carrington_. Gyllenhaal worked with John Waters in _Cecil B. Demented_ and appeared in Don Roos' queer romantic comedy _Happy Endings_. Co-star Queen Latifah played a lesbian in _Set It Off_ and received an Oscar nomination for her role in the queer-friendly _Chicago_. Gay actor Tom Hulce has a small role.)

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