Penn milks it for all he’s worth
Sean Penn won the Best Actor gong for his touching portrayal of gay activist Harvey Milk but it’s director Gus Van Sant who is the real star of Milk. The screenplay unfolds beautifully in a series of flashbacks and vignettes. That’s not to say that Penn isn’t at his very best here – he brings warmth and humour to Milk’s long-running fight to dismantle barriers on his way to becoming the first gay man to win a US election. Josh Brolin also turns in a powerful performance as Dan White - Milk’s notorious nemesis.
Also on a mission to make a difference is Will Smith in Seven Pounds – a tale of a man racked by guilt who looks for redemption by attempting to transform the lives of seven strangers. However, this is Will Smith we’re talking about, so it’s understandable that he gets a little side-tracked along the way by love. Keep the tissues handy as this is one for the sentimentalists. Feel-good fare.
The Women is a remake of the old George Cukor movie which, despite a stellar cast – Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Eva Mendes, Bette Midler and Debra Messing are all involved – doesn’t really recapture the spirit of the original. Here a subdued Meg Ryan finds her marriage in trouble amid lots of chit-chat with her high society pals. Most of the comic moments arrive during Midler’s cameo.
War of the Words
In the summer of 1977, a series of televised interviews between David Frost and Richard Nixon attracted the largest audience for a news programme in the history of American TV. More than 45 million viewers, hungry for a glimpse into the mind of their disgraced former commander-in-chief and anxious for him to acknowledge the abuses of power that led to his resignation, sat transfixed as Nixon and Frost sparred in a riveting verbal boxing match over the course of four evenings.
Decades later, Academy Award-winning filmmaker Ron Howard, the director of A Beautiful Mind and Apollo 13, decided to bring to the screen Frost/Nixon - playwright and screenwriter Peter Morgan’s electrifying dramatisation of the battle.
Of his excitement for the material, Howard explains, “While these interviews were watched by millions of people all over the world, the real drama of this event was a dynamic between the two men that very few people understood. It was a battle of wits in which each man was fighting for his professional life and only one could walk away the winner. It came down to the evasive skills of Nixon versus Frost’s ability to get people to talk to him”.
The fact that it was written for the stage didn’t bother Howard, as he was certain Morgan’s story could be translated into a different medium. He reflects, “I wasn’t as worried about opening it up visually as I was about making it ring true and exist in a world that we relate to. What Peter Morgan gave us, first in his play and then in his screenplay,” commends Howard, “is rich and dimensional. It’s funny, it’s smart, but ultimately it’s suspenseful and very intense”.
Most surprised at the translation of his words was Morgan. The playwright says, “I love how Ron managed to take some challenging, adult material and made it accessible. He has the ability to democratise a story that could otherwise have been too complex and make it into something you really want to see on screen. And I very much wanted that. I did not want this to remain a sort of artsy-fartsy, rarefied piece”.
For the younger ones
The Derby Stallion
A touching drama with High School Musical star Zac Efron – who doesn’t know where his life is going until a horse makes a decisive intervention.
All the Garfield gang are back in their second feature-length outing. Voiced by cartoon vocal actor extraordinaire Frank Welker and written by Garfield creator Jim Davis.
Anna Faris is a feisty sorority leader who focuses her talents on transforming her charges into boy magnets. Philosophically dubious but fun.
If you see one film this week
Ralph Fiennes smoulders his way through a revived romance in post-WWII Germany in this tale of truth and reconciliation. Kate Winslet deservedly claimed the Best Actress Oscar.
Drop into your local Xtra-vision store or go online to make your selection at xtravision.ie