Trailer Fix: The Tree of Life (2011)

Ever since I saw the trailer for Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life last week, I have been waiting for it to premiere online. I’ve seen the trailer twice now in theaters and both times it absolutely mesmerized me. (So much so that when a group of teens who had obviously never seen a Malick film before starting laughing at the trailer, I almost turned around to shout at them for ruining the trailer.)

The Tree of Life follows Jack from his 1950s Midwestern childhood through his years as a disillusioned adult and as he attempts to repair his relationship with his father (Brad Pitt). Sean Penn plays Jack as an adult. The trailer highlights Malick’s majestic style and will enthrall you.

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Review: Fair Game (2010)

It is strangely fitting that I saw Fair Game the same day that WikiLeaks released confidential cables to the New York Times and other news organizations. Coincidentally, Fair Game is based on another government scandal: Plamegate.

When career diplomat Joe Wilson spoke out against Bush Administration claims preceding the 2003 invasion of Iraq, officials outed the identity of Wilson’s wife, CIA Agent Valerie Plame, to the media. The leak effectively ended Plame’s career and was seen as a suspicious act condemning Wilson for speaking out. At the time, the story seemed straight out of the movies.

In Fair Game, Plame and Wilson are portrayed by Hollywood heavyweights Naomi Watts and Sean Penn. She is jet-setting across the world while masking her double life by playing coy at dinner parties. He is the renowned public figure trying to balance the family (they have two young children) in face of his wife’s busy and secretive career. She can be distant and aloof. He can be self-righteous. Their marriage is clearly strained.

Here lies the issue with Fair Game.

Director Doug Liman wants this film to be both an engaging biopic and a political thriller that rails against the corrupt Bush Administration. Plenty of found footage montages remind us of those tense days leading up to the Iraq War and who the major players are. Fast-paced, sharp camera work used whenever Valerie is in agent mode, best seen in the opening sequence set in Kuala Lumpur, stylistically screams political thriller. But Fair Game too easily settles into being a domestic drama about two people kind of associated with politics.

Even with the fine acting of Penn and Watts, it is hard to find sympathy for this unraveling marriage put under an inordinate amount of strain because of familial, career, and political pressures. In a story that encompasses so much information, the subtlety needed for Fair Game to be either a finely acted domestic drama or the ferocity to be a truly condemning political drama is lost.

Milk, Take Two

I saw Milk for the second time tonight and it is much better the second time around.

I’ll be the first person to admit that when a movie is receiving Oscar buzz, I almost always have to see it twice. After the first viewing, I’m iffy about the film – I like it and can see why others think it’s great but I’m just not as likely to jump on the Slumdog Millionaire party express. A second viewing really enables me to put aside everything I’ve heard and just watch. This is exactly what I had to do with Milk.

I enjoyed Milk the first time around but seeing it again tonight allowed me to read the true depth of this film.

While I noted the use of archival footage to tell Milk’s story, it did not stand out to me as an exceptional element of the film. Now I see that the archival footage is a crucial part of the story because it tells the history of both San Francisco and the gay rights in a way that just Harvey Milk’s story could not.

James Franco’s performance as Milk’s supportive but unhappy partner stands out more than Josh Brolin’s destructive villian.
I finally understand why Milkhas received so much buzz. Visually, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is stunning but it does not have same passion and insight as Milk. With the Oscar nominations being announced in just THREE days, I certainly hope this fantastic movie fares better with the Academy voters than it did with the HFPA.

Review: Milk (2008)


My name is Harvey Milk and I’m here to recruit you.”
Every year there is at least one biopic that seems to be on every person’s radar. Not that that’s a bad thing. This year’s biopic is Milk, directed by Gus Van Sant.

Milk tells the story of San Francisco city supervisor Harvey Milk. In the 1970s, Milk reinvented himself from a closeted New York City insurance salesman to become the country’s first openly gay politician and the face of the country’s gay rights movement. His life, his political career, and his untimely death have left an unequaled legacy on both gay rights and in American politics.

Harvey Milk is played by Academy Award winner Sean Penn, who once again shows the depth of his talent through this performance. Penn is compelling and never seems as though he is playing a stereotype, which is the greatest risk for an actor playing Milk.

Milk boasts an equally impressive supporting cast. James Franco, Emilie Hirsch, Alison Pill, Joseph Cross, and Diego Luna play Milk’s closest allies. Franco is a silent force as Scott Smith, Milk’s long-suffering partner. But Franco’s quiet yet resonate performance is outshined by Josh Brolin. Brolin’s portrayal of Milk’s fellow city supervisor and eventual assassin, Dan White, is mesmerizing and haunting. Surprisingly, White is a sympathetic villain; his descent into evil is treated fairly by the filmmakers, allowing audiences to draw their own opinions about White.

There is an eerie sensation about Milk. It is the story of a politician who becomes the voice for individual rights while spreading a message of hope and it is a story focused on a gay rights proposition in California. Two stories similar to this played out in the recent election, giving Milk an even more resounding message. In many ways, you are watching a film that is about today as much as it is about the 1970s.

Harvey Milk was a brilliant man and activist. He was funny and flamboyant; tragic and flawed; inspiring and passionate. This film is tells the story of rich and fascinating life by using any method of filmmaking possible to peel off the layers.

By the end of this film, you know Harvey Milk and that is Milk‘s greatest achievement.

Best of 2008: New York Film Critics Circle Awards

The New York Film Critics Circle announced their picks for the best films of 2008 today. Milk was named Best Film and Happy-Go-Lucky, which I haven’t much about, won two awards. The awards season is starting to develop some patterns with Slumdog Millionaire, Frozen River, WallE, Man on Wire, Rachel Getting Married, and Vicky Cristina Barcelona all receiving awards from various critics groups.

Here is the complete list of winners:

Best Film: Milk

Best Director: Mike Leigh, Happy-Go-Lucky

Best Actor: Sean Penn, Milk

Best Actress: Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky

Best Supporting Actor: Josh Brolin, Milk

Best Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Best Screenplay: Jenny Lumet, Rachel Getting Married

Best Animated Film: Wall-E

Best Foreign Film: 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

Best First Film: Courtney Hunt, Frozen River

Best Cinematographer: Anthony Dod Mantle, Slumdog Millionaire

Best Documentary: Man on Wire