Knight at the Movies Archives
Yet another lesbian romantic souffle set in Manhattan that fails to rise for long; muscle bound Spartains vs. muscle bound Persians
“Christ was I drunk last night” was the phrase closeted gay men used to say to each other after waking up with one another after
letting their true desires out with the help of the bottle. That’s an apt phrase to describe writer-director Sue Kramer’s feature debut,
Gray Matters. This alcohol fuelled comedy is fun and playful at moments (especially at the outset) but eventually its reliance on
clichéd matters of the heart is about as fresh as that shopworn phrase.
Sam and Gray (dreamy Tom Cavanagh, dreamy Heather Graham) like Will and Grace are as close as pages in a book. They share a
love for dancing, old movies, finish each others sentences at dinner parties, and aren’t the least bit taken aback when strangers
mistake them for a couple madly in love, instead of a brother and sister with shared passions. But the partnership is suddenly
cleaved in two when they encounter the gorgeous Charlie (Bridget Moynahan) in Central Park. In an instant, both realize they’ve
found The One. After a shared dinner in which brother and sister each compete for Charlie’s attention, it becomes clear that Sam
has the upper hand.
With lightning speed, Sam and Charlie are jetting out to Vegas for a quickie wedding. Naturally, Gray goes along and during a last
Girl’s Night Out she and Charlie share a bubble bath (really? Friends do that?), sing “I Will Survive” along with Gloria Gaynor and
drunkenly make out. But there is no sheepish “Christ was I drunk last night” scene for Charlie – who truly, truly loves Tom and this
bittersweet irony puts the double whammy on Gray who was expecting a different fairy tale ending. Now she’s faced with realizing
that she’s gay and that the woman she’s in love with has just married her best friend, her brother.
The road to true love, naturally, will be fraught with pretty much every convention in the Woody Allen relationship playbook – this
being a romantic comedy set in New York. Those movies – which include Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah & Her Sisters and many others
– to be fair, have cast a giant shadow over all the other Manhattan based relationship comedies that have followed (Allen has since
moved on to London leaving the city available for other romantic dreamers but the bar has been set very high).
Kramer has obviously studied Allen’s playbook and the movie is stuffed with dotty eccentrics given odd characteristics – like Gray’s
therapist, played by Sissy Spacek who prefers to have sessions while bowling or rock climbing and Alan Cumming as a poetic,
lovelorn cabdriver besotted with Gray. Though both do their usual excellent work (and Cumming is particularly fine in a very
charming rooftop picnic scene with Graham), the characters stick out like a sore thumb in an already hard to believe premise. Molly
Shannon as Graham’s gossipy co-worker is the only one of Kramer’s concoctions who brings off the eccentric tics of her character
thanks to her crack timing while Cavanagh and Moynahan each bring to their roles a slickness honed through lots of episodic TV
that's winning if not exactly memorable.
But the film’s biggest drawback, other than her character’s predictability, unfortunately, is Graham. She is given seemingly pages of
Kramer’s detailed dialogue to rattle off in an effort to make her seem kooky and lovable. But the actress, poorly directed, gives a
mostly shrill performance done almost entirely with clenched fingers and flailing arms and after awhile you just want Gray to take a
chill pill and for God’s sake, stop kvetching already. Graham is a fine actor, an intelligent one (often overlooked because of her
beauty and luscious physicality) but she has yet to find a role that tops her thrilling and sexy performance in Boogie Nights but
unfortunately this isn’t the one. And it’s not that Graham can’t play comedy – her hilarious work in Steve Martin’s Bowfinger attests to
This bouncy romantic comedy starts high, teeters and though it doesn’t fall completely to earth, never – with the exception of the
Alan Cumming scene – exactly levitates again.
Gerard Butler from Phantom of the Opera leads a muscle bound group of Spartans against a larger number of muscle bound Persians
in the CGI updating on the sword and sandal epic, 300. Review forthcoming. Until then, check out these two stills and see if you
can guess why a gay film reviewer and a gay audience would be interested in seeing this reportedly violent battle epic.
Shades of Gray, Copper and Blood Red:
Expanded Edition of 3-7-07 Windy City Times Knight at the Movies Column*
By Richard Knight, Jr.
*I reviewed Zodiac in this week's WCT column (as promised last week when I posted my critique here at the site) so I thought I'd
give you a second review here.
Okay I saw it. Here we go:
“There’s no room for softness in Sparta” the narrator intones at one point in the FX infused 300, the ultra violent video game
masquerading as a movie. The narrator is either referring to the tradition of Greek men training to become warriors from the
moment they can heft a spear or the much more fun tongue in cheek explanation: the fact that every male in Sparta sports a rock
hard physique topped off by spectacular six pack abs. It’s those abs so vividly sported by the 300 Speedo clad hunky Greeks and
their Persian enemies – led by the bejeweled – and yes – Speedo clad hunky King of Persia, I presume, that had a gaggle of my
gay compatriots begging to be my Plus One at the film critics screening. The time honored tradition of gay men and straight men
both dying to see Hollywood’s latest sword and sandal epic (admittedly for different reasons) has never been more potent than with
If these pictures – everything from the Steve Reeves epics to Troy – can be viewed as homoerotic (and boy can they ever), then 300
sets the bar almost as high as Mt. Olympus. Any further and these guys would penetrate each other with two spears instead of one.
King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) is the typical, tough Spartan who like all his brethren was removed from his mother’s influence at the
age of seven to be raised among other boys. Trained in the “killing arts” to be a soldier first and to put his fellow warriors above all
else the grown Leon strides around wearing copper colored thigh high boots and a copper colored leather codpiece, both set off by
his dark cherry red cape. Afraid of nothing and taking council from none except for his beautiful but fierce wife, queen Gorgo (played
by Imagine Me & You’s lesbian heartthrob Lena Headey), Leonidas quickly dispenses with an emissary from the approaching, massive
Persian army demanding fealty or face destruction.
The oracles demand that Leonidas avoid conflict with the Persians and he’s refused help from Sparta’s army so the headstrong king
lines up 300 of his best buds on his own. Before taking off on his quest for glory, Leon stands naked in the moonlight musing on
his fate, gives Gorgo a quick thrust of his love gun Greek style, and then heads off with his handpicked pals. The manly men head
for a narrow area of Greece near the sea between two cliffs conveniently nicknamed the Hot Gates in order to up their chances of
beating back the approaching enemy. A group of “boy loving” Athenians tag along with the group as they trek toward the Hot
Gates. Upon arrival Leon and his men quickly knock off the Persian scouting party and this so upsets their leader that he arrives to
get a closer look at this defiant hothead.
The arrival of Xerxes the self-proclaimed God (Rodrigo Santoro) of the Persians kicks the movie into hyper homo drive. Standing at
a statuesque eight feet (Julie Brown’s song “I Like ‘Em Big and Stupid” rang through my mind), Xerxes is toted in on a massive
throne by a host of slaves to confront this recalcitrant Spartan. Wearing about as much jewelry, make-up and mascara as Elizabeth
Taylor in Cleopatra, striking a Cher pose, the fey Xerxes in his bejeweled codpiece tells Leon that he’ll get to keep Sparta and have
untold riches and more if only he will bow in submission at his feet. As Xerxes offers this he literally stands behind Leon, massaging
his shoulders and cooing in his ear, his intentions clear. But Leon, apparently a top to the end, demurs and vows to fight on which
he and his men do – in increasingly violent and bloody battles with their enemy.
The source material for the film is based on the comic book by Frank Miller (last year’s Sin City was based on another of his graphic
novels). The violence, not surprisingly, is also that of the comic book variety. Though the movie is chock full of decapitation,
evisceration, hacked off limbs and the like, the computer generated process it utilizes gives this mega gore the veneer of unreality.
Much of the film was shot in front of a green screen in order to incorporate the dazzling visuals and it’s a beautiful, dark looking
movie with copper and blood red the primary colors. But though director Zack Snyder delivers a ravishingly beautiful picture (and one
with its share of subplots that add to the stylish hokum), the real visual splendor remains the magnificent torsos of the movie’s
human inhabitants with Butler (who played the phantom in Phantom of the Opera) and Santoro as his nemesis taking highest honors.
I suppose the highest praise I can offer a film like 300 is to say that I felt like taking a cold shower after seeing it.