Commentary on Movies and TV by Brian Holcomb

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Got Milk?

I really couldn't help myself with an entry title as lame as that. But it's sort of fitting since Gus Van Sant's Milk is almost as lame as that joke. Despite the expectedly great performance by Sean Penn(who seemed at times to be channeling a 40 year old Jeff Spicoli) and equally fine work by the incredibly busy Josh Brolin, Diego Luna, and most surprisingly James Franco, Milk is a strangely passionless and by the numbers biopic. This is the kind of movie that people with no real sense of taste think is a Great American film, much like that forgettable Ron Howard movie A Beautiful Mind. It's heart is in the right place, it caters to universal feelings of injustice and presents a character who is fighting the good fight against said injustice. It spends 2 plus hours merely presenting Harvey Milk's campaign-we get speech after speech scored by Danny Elfman's mournful violins-without giving us Harvey Milk's heart and soul. The best scenes in the movie are those between James Franco and Penn as the two actors come the closest to shattering the glass wall that Van Sant wants to enclose the movie within. It's really only in these scenes that we get a sense of why Harvey was such a special person to so many people. Van Sant has been developing a stylistic tic in his last few movies-Gerry,Last Days, and Elephant-in which the drama is presented in as de-dramatized a way as possible, often being filmed from objective distances and keeping any kind of cinematic manipulation at bay. Basically, the anti-thesis of what makes cinema a worthwhile artform. It makes me wish that Bryan Singer could've made his version instead, The Mayor of Castro Street. Maybe he could still make it, you know, "once more with feeling!"

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