Friday, January 30, 2009

Week of January 30 to Feb. 5 (Mann)

What’s On At the Tropic
By Phil Mann

The MILKman cometh! Starring Sean Penn, MILK is the story of former San Francisco City Supervisor and long-time gay rights activist Harvey Milk. Everyone knows the outlines of the story by now, how Milk ran for Supervisor three-times, eventually became (in 1977) the first openly gay man elected to significant public office, and then was assassinated within the year.

Like all biopics it has both the strength of a famous underlying story and the problem that the outcome is known and foregone. Faced with this challenge, Penn and director Gus Van Sant (Drugstore Cowboy, To Die For, Good Will Hunting) have hit a home run. Vant Sant tested his skills with a biographical story in Last Days, a thinly disguised story of Kurt Cobain. But that was a slow, off-kilter kind of tone poem in keeping with its subject. In MILK, where the hero is solid, grounded and straightforward (though not straight), Van Sant has shifted appropriately. Nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay, and Best Actor, this is a blockbuster movie.

It’s Penn’s fifth Best Actor nomination. His last major role was also as a politician, Willie Stark, the Huey Long-like hero in the remake of All the King’s Men. He didn’t quite pull off that earlier role, because we couldn’t help comparing him to Broderick Crawford in original. Crawford was Huey Long, so much so that it’s difficult to think of him as a historical figure apart from that actor. But now in MILK Penn has put his stamp on a character so completely it’s difficult to think of anyone else playing the Harvey Milk role.

MILK is history, but it’s also a tense and exciting story with great characters. Josh Brolin, playing the assassin Dan White, is up for an Oscar as Supporting Actor. Diego Luna (Michael Jackson in Mr. Lonely) suffers here as Harvey Milk’s boy-toy lover, and Emile Hirsch (who was the lost soul in Into the Wild) finds his place as a community organizer. The whole cast is fabulous. It’s one of this season’s don’t miss movies.

As usual, the Tropic rounds out its program with some alternative entertainment. This week it’s topped by the Australian Film Showcase, a collection of three prize-winning new Aussie films.
-- Showing on Friday through Sunday is THE HOME SONG STORIES starring the well-known Asian actress Joan Chen (Twin Peaks; Judge Dredd; Lust, Caution). Chen plays a singer who emigrates from Shanghai to Melbourne to marry an Australian sailor only to have the relationship unravel. The story is told through the eyes of her ten-year old son. Winner of eight Australian Oscars.
-- On Monday and Tuesday it’ll be KENNY, a huge popular hit down under about a big, cleverly quipping, deliverer of porti-potties. (Think John Goodman.)
-- The series ends on Wednesday and Thursday with UNFINISHED SKY, a drama set on an outback farm. The lonely and isolated farmer is stunned when a bruised and bloodied Afghani woman staggers onto his property. As he helps her, the story emerges. A touching love story, nominated for the Australian Oscar.

If you’re a film festival lover, make it your week to see all three.

You might also squeeze in time to see the Orson Welles' 1946 film THE STRANGER in the classic series on Monday at 8:00. And this is the week for the monthly TUESDAYS WITH ART series, showing two movies about the life of Dutch artist Theo Jansen, with follow-up discussion. That’s Tuesday at 5:30. Add the opera with the Salzburg Festival presentation of Otello on Wednesday at 7:00 and you might as well take up residence at the Tropic.

Catch a second viewing of SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE while you’re twiddling your thumbs. Last chance for that hit because THE READER is lined up next week.

Full schedules and info at Comments to
[from Key West, the newspaper -]

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