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Directed by Gus Van Sant.
Written by Dustin Lance Black.
Starring Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin and James Franco.
Release Year:  2008
Review Date:  12/20/08


Meg and I have been trying to see "Milk" for a couple of weeks now...finally, our run of bad movies seen together has ended!

Even though I will never forgive director Gus Van Sant for the shiterrible, intolerable drama "Gerry", "Milk" gives us more of the man that was so great with movies like "To Die For", "Good Will Hunting" and "Elephant."  Telling the true story of San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk and the last eight years of his life--lover of people (but, sexually, men), gay activist, mayoral hopeful--Van Sant's film revolves mainly around Harvey (Sean Penn) and his team of firebreathing political types; Harvey's last two boyfriends, Scott Smith (James Franco) and Jack Lira (Diego Luna); San Francisco's change in slowly becoming maybe the gay rights capital of the country, starting in the Castro District...and, Dan White (Josh Brolin), another of the city's 11 supervisors who at first tries to ally himself with Milk on the city council before seeing the need to go about business his own special way.

The movie begins with the announcement that Milk and the city's mayor, George Moscone (Victor Garber, Sydney's dad from "Alias"), have been assassinated in 1978, and then we start from 1970 to fill in the blanks.  Mixing a lot of file footage from the time, from TV reports on major news programs to random shots of San Francisco "back in the day", "Milk" has a docudrama feel that works thanks to a ton of great performances that bring it to life.  I'll have a hard time believing anyone will beat Penn this year for an Oscar...the part is rich, the performance is stunning, and maybe the best part of it is Penn's intimacy with his character's movements and emotional connection to the Scott & Jack characters.  There aren't any "Brokeback Mountain" moments in "Milk", but I was really impressed with how sensitive Penn is in this role.  Hugs with his election teams.  Reactions to major tragedies.  Caressing other men in bedroom scenes.  It's the whole package, and the win will be very deserved for one of our best performers.

But, even after Penn, you get a boatload of good stuff.  Franco is great...Luna, even though his character (as written) is annoying, still inhabits the role well.  Emile Hirsch is wearing so much hair as Milk's right-hand political man that he is almost unrecognizable (he played the lead in Penn's "Into the Wild", as well as "Speed Racer"), but he is also fantastic...Brolin has already won the National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actor for "Milk", so that ought to say something.  The film has no major gaps in blahness (even though I was asleep for about 30 seconds during this puppy), it has the ending promised in the intro, and for anyone who has spent significant time in San Francisco (i.e., Meg and I), the film just means more because some of the sights are well-traveled places of the mind.  The film's only major misstep to me was the lack of in-movie character development of the city mayor (played by Garber)...I thought this was worth two or three scenes of his own to more fully round out why he is so in support of Milk's gay initiatives, after seemingly so many other mayors said "No, thanks."

Otherwise, "Milk" is great.  Ahh,'s making the other eleven months of the year somewhat palatable.  SOMEWHAT.

Rating:  Opening Weekend


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09