In 1977 Harvey Milk (Penn) was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. While this would not normally be an earth-shattering phenomenon in this case Milk became the first out-of-the-closet gay person to win a major public office in the United States -- and was assassinated in 1978 along with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone. Based in part on the Academy Award-winning documentary The Life and Times of Harvey Milk the film focuses on the last decade of his life as he moves from New York at age 40 to San Francisco with lover Scott Smith (James Franco). Using his experience as an entrepreneur as a catalyst he suddenly becomes more politically involved making a couple of runs for office and finally getting elected. With a new lover (Diego Luna) and agenda Milk takes on some major issues -- including lobbying against California’s controversial Prop 6 an initiative to fire gay schoolteachers. But his activities anger another supervisor Dan White (Josh Brolin) and soon their destinies will collide. It’s not an overstatement to say that Sean Penn’s performance here is a revelation. As Harvey Milk he not only perfectly embodies the late politician but exudes a certain kind of warmness and humor we rarely see from the star. His immersion into the persona of Milk is truly remarkable and winning. A large supporting cast includes: standout performances from Franco as Milk’s true love and friend Scott who eventually can’t compete with Harvey’s increasing ambition; Diego Luna hilarious and annoying as Milk’s lover later; and Emile Hirsch as Cleve Jones a young activist and Milk protégé. Brolin as the unlikeable White perfectly captures the frustration and simmering jealousy the man he feels steals his job. It’s a risky role and there is little room for audience empathy but Brolin makes this loser understandable if not acceptable. As the lone woman among the principal players Alison Pill is bright and appealing as Milk’s campaign manager Anne Kronenberg. Gus Van Sant’s odd directorial career encompasses a series of ups and downs with the highlights being Drugstore Cowboy and his Oscar-nominated work on Good Will Hunting. The absolute nadir of Van Sant’s resume is undoubtedly his ill-advised shot-by-shot remake of Hitchcock’s untouchable Psycho. It’s nice to report he’s back in form now with the warm funny and moving Milk a film that doesn’t quite escape the clichés of the biopic genre but still finds its own beats thanks in large part to the piercing performances. Getting such mature and joyful work from Penn a brilliant but distant actor is impressive indeed. He also imbues the movie with a documentary feel appropriate since much of the source material comes from the Oscar-winning docu. Milk paints us a triumphant and inspiring life one that won’t soon be forgotten especially with its parallels to current California circumstances. The state’s recent anti-gay marriage initiative Prop 8 could not have come at a more significant time in making Harvey Milk’s crusade seem more relevant than ever.
Oh cruel technology! With so many remote controls for so many devices Michael Newman (Adam Sandler) always clicks the wrong power button. He’s sick of it. The workaholic is also sick of being too busy to find time for his family. On a late-night trip to Bed Bath & Beyond in search of a universal remote he kills two birds with one stone. After passing the bed section and the bath section Michael reaches the “beyond ” where he meets an eccentric man named Morty (Christopher Walken) who offers a remote to control his life. No more wasting time or missing out--he can fast-forward rewind and pause; his life is his own personal TiVo. It’s all well and good until he abuses the fast-forward button and misses all the beautiful minutiae of life. Before long he’s old sick and alone and realizes--thanks to the rewind button--that he was never there for his family. It’s a simple twist of fate for Michael but it’s neither his only one nor his simplest. With Click some Sandler fans may fear he’s veering towards the Jim Carrey path of gradually more earnest roles. No fear necessary however for this is not Carrey’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (similar as the broad existential strokes may be) and it’s not even Punch-Drunk Love. It’s merely light tear-jerking Sandler-style. He does prove in addition to his beaten-path shtick-y performance that he has some drama in him after all these years--which may or may not foretell more serious roles down the road. But there’s still an abundance of his trademark goofiness to go around. As Sandler’s onscreen wife Kate Beckinsale might go unnoticed if not for her scene-stealing beauty. Her interplay with Sandler is husband-wife cute if nothing else. Consistently funny supporting turns from Walken and David Hasselhoff--as Sandler’s jerk of a boss--provide the usual semi-big names that Sandler movies typically boast. Click is a high-concept film--too bad it’s all “summer-ed” up (or down) because film might be the best medium to explore such a fascinating and potentially deep notion. But this is summertime Sandler after all and who better to keep the serious stuff from getting too serious than Sandler’s pal/collaborator (and director of The Waterboy and The Wedding Singer) Frank Coraci? The director has the Sandler fan base at heart and the result is thus decidedly unsubtle and not always pretty for a movie that should’ve in all honesty gone with more gusto towards the morose undertones the story puts into place--though the director at least didn’t completely steer away from dramatic elements. The usual goods are still here (i.e. fart jokes Sandler’s at times hilarious yapping) but the pivotal flashbacks and life themes feel crammed adding to the movie’s general unevenness. Bruce Almighty writers Steve Koren and Adam O’Keefe add their supernatural twist to straightforward comedy but they fail to produce anything beyond a slightly less-funny Bruce with a side of Multiplicity and Mr. Destiny.
Andrew Largeman (Zach Braff) is an actor in L.A. who has been so out of it lately the only roles he's been scoring are of handicapped people as he says. This is because he has been a walking zombie since he started taking antidepressant and anger-reducing prescription drugs at the age of nine. We watch Andrew slowly come out of his lithium-induced coma on a trip back to his hometown of none other than the Garden State of New Jersey. While the reason for the trip is to attend the funeral of his depressed paraplegic mother "Large " as he's called ends up riding a roller coaster of self-discovery through encounters with old friends and new loves. Mark (Peter Sarsgaard) who appears to be Large's closest buddy is what Dave Matthews would refer to as a "gravedigger " and what the police force would refer to as a "grave robber." Mark's thievish tendencies lead him Large and their friend Sam (Natalie Portman) on a wild goose chase during which time Large opens up to discovering new things thanks to his recent sobriety and the intense connection that he's developed with Sam. The only blemish on this kooky and unique film is its cop-out cheesy ending that carelessly ties together the otherwise exceptional ends of State. But the soundtrack makes up for it.
J.D. trades in his Scrubs for a sweatshirt Natalie Portman and some serious soul-searching. We get to see a whole new side of Braff through his slightly lost character Large--and love every bit of it. The dialogue between Large and Sam is so conversational it hardly feels like you're watching a scripted film. Writer/director/actor Braff's grasp of his character and the movie as a whole shines brilliantly through every last scene. Portman no doubt received first-rate direction evident through her infusion of audacity warmth and quirkiness into her appropriately odd character Sam. She does an excellent job providing the blast of sunshine needed to lighten up Large's previously gloomy existence. Sarsgaard takes control of his character Mark as well as his costars with a Jack Black-like attitude. Despite his mother's constant nagging him to get a job he is a proud stoner slacker--portraying his disreputable hobbies even more pathetically on the big screen than one might imagine. Every character we meet in State has a distinct association with Large allowing Braff's magic to extend to each actor in the film through his unmatched acting and directing skills.
The first time's a charm: Garden State marks Zach Braff's feature writing and directorial debut. Known best as J.D. the leading role on NBC's hit series Scrubs Braff's incontestable moviemaking abilities have been exposed all at once; he apparently connected really well with his costars as they all delivered worthy performances. On the film's official site Portman describes working with Braff as "really open to collaborate efforts." Even in a scene involving the drug ecstasy at a party in which Large is seated in an unchanged position on a couch for the duration of a night the music and camera shots make it one of the most memorable scenes of the film. Clearly Braff is a gifted filmmaker and the impressive State is only the beginning.