Milk

[Screenshot]I am generally a big fan of gay rights, so between critical acclaim and subject matter, I was primed to like this one. And it did not disappoint. It it basically the Sean Penn show, and Sean Penn displays an intriguingly nuanced personality, blending a political firebrand with a sort of geeky awkwardness which constrains his personal interactions. I can’t say how true he is to the real character on which he’s based, since I’ve not actually done my research on Harvey Milk’s activities and character.

From a plot perspective, which is where this veers into docudrama territory rather than mere gushing over the performances, I was intrigued by the focus on culture-building. Rather than presenting rights as the sole rallying point of the gay community in San Francisco, some good screen time is given to the Castro as a cultural bastion, which I find fascinating: one of the great things about the last few decades, in my opinion, is the mainstreaming of homosexuality to the point that these wellsprings of gay culture pop up in a lot of cities, and have in recent years become commercially popular (Dupont Circle in DC and Hillcrest in San Diego, among others, are crazy-trendy). So the story I focus on here is not so much that of Harvey Milk’s rise to local political power and the defeat of anti-gay-rights legislation, but the rise of the Castro culture as an undeniable part of the San Francisco landscape, and as a haven.

In consideration of its verisimillitude as a historical work, the paucity of lesbians is a bit distressing. I’m assuming this isn’t cowardice on the filmmakers’ part, but simply that lesbians did not play key roles in gay political activism at the time, which wouldn’t surprise me (given how few opportunities women had to operate on the political scene at the time). Anne Kronenberg is included specifically to contextualize this imbalance.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

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Oppenheimer, episodes 1–3

[Screenshot]J. Robert Oppenheimer had a pretty eventful life, and I can dig it. So when I heard about a BBC miniseries featuring Sam Waterston, I figured it had to be pretty good. This series, alas, is not all that good, or at least not at the start. It moves slowly, sometimes painfully so, and the first episode is taken up with mindbogglingly dull details of Oppenheimer’s academic work at Caltech and association with left-wingers. In the second episode it starts to pick up pace but even so doesn’t really seem to hit its stride, and the actors aren’t given much to work with to make it exciting, which is a disappointment. Maybe if there were less Caltech and more Los Alamos, it would’ve pulled me in quicker.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

21

[Screenshot]After reading the book, I kind of had to watch this movie. It is OK in its blandly Hollywood way, I guess. It cuts a lot, and never feels properly intellectual (the characters in Bringing Down the House felt a lot like authentic clever college students; in 21 everyone was trying a bit too hard to be clever). It pushes together a lot of bits which push things over the edge of verisimillitude (the shadowy antagonist in Vegas and the outbreak of violence in Louisiana were both plausible in the book; conflating all of these led to a type which simply doesn’t exist.

The acting was kinda adequate, although I don’t think I’ve ever been in an advanced numerical methods class where everybody sits around stony-faced as a professor explains the Newton-Raphson method, but that’s me nitpicking at the hing here which sounds ridiculous from my specialty. Anyways, the whole thing came across as essentially another summer thriller, which is disappointing: the original story had some life and charm, and this film really didn’t.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.