Some films generate buzz way before the nominations are even announced and Milk was definitely one of them. Even now, after the award season has passed for 2008 crop of films, checking in on Milk’s achievements is still extraordinary. Going onto IMDb, the awards list, summarized in one line is simply jawdropping: “Won 2 Oscars. Another 26 wins & 44 nominations.” You don’t see many films that can boast those kind of numbers and after seeing Milk, it’s easy to see how and why the film performed as well as it did critically. While it hasn’t raked in the cash (it made back its budget, but only another $8 million on top of that), Milk has more than made up for it in awards and by the time the film reaches store shelves, the buzz caused by Sean Penn’s Oscar win will no doubt move more than a few copies.
Based on the powerful and inspirational true story, Harvey Milk – a true man of the people – was a fighter for human rights and a hero for all Americans. Oscar ® winner Sean Penn (Mystic River) and an all-star cast including Josh Brolin (W, No Country for Old Men), Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild), Diego Luna (Y tu mama tambien) and James Franco (Spiderman trilogy) star in this remarkable and triumphant story of an ordinary man whose life changed history and whose courage changed lives.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about this film is its cast. They don’t even mention the other actors much in the TV promos, but Milk really is a fantastic ensemble cast. Especially surprising was Hirsch and Brolin, who really took up a lot more screen time that I originally imagined. Hell, Hirsch was basically Milk’s second-in-command by the end of the film and the final sequence that closed the film was nothing short of breathtaking.
Quite honestly I’m more shocked that I hadn’t heard more about Harvey Milk. Granted, he’s not someone you find in text books, but the whole prospect of being the first openly gay politician and the lengths he went to to get to that position…I’m just really quite surprised more hasn’t been made public about him. Sure the information is out there when you go to look, but prior to this film’s release, I honestly don’t remember the mention of Harvey Milk’s name when discussions on gay rights would crop up on news sites.
But that’s what films of this caliber do—they open your eyes to a world that you may not have previously known and now future generations will have a film that summarizes perfectly the struggles that the gay community faced in the 70s (not that there still aren’t issues today, but I’d say it’s a lot better than it was). It’s also easy to draw comparisons between other suppressed minorities and the gay community after watching this film, although I honestly and truly hope we aren’t deluged with Milk-inspired stories, as it would only serve to cheapen the message that the film put out.
Even as inspiring and moving as this film was (I still can’t get that final shot of the members marching through the streets, holding candles), I feel I have to mention Sean Penn. Of course he won the Oscar for this film and he definitely deserved it, but…I really just still don’t like the man. He can be charming and humorous on many occasions, but there’s just something about him I genuinely don’t like. So to be able to watch Milk and be able to ignore my dislike of the man (and I still can’t peg what it is I don’t like about him)…it’s truly a fantastic thing.
Milk is really an eye-opening movie if you weren’t aware of the movement in the 1970s that sparked so much debate. To think that after forty years the gay community is still fighting for equal rights…well it’s kind of ridiculous and sad when you think about it. It is truly amazing how stubborn we Americans can be at times when accepting change, but hey, that’s a whole other topic altogether (and one I don’t really want to get into on a movie review website).
Overall Milk is a fantastic and inspiring movie to behold and easily comes Highly Recommended. Granted it’s not surprising to give an acclaimed film such high praise, but while it may be a bit overblown in terms of the music (though Danny Elfman did do a superb job with it) and cinematography accolades, it’s really the story that’s almost a required history lesson.
Man, that cover art is sure plastered with text, isn’t it? That’s the first thing I thought when seeing the covert art and then getting the actual copy of it was even worse as there were stickers on the outside on top of the text. Still, it’s easy to see why they’re loading it up with praise—as I mentioned before it didn’t exactly make a whole bunch of cash for Universal, so hyping up the release of it a bit more will only help it move off the shelf. On top of that the cover really isn’t so bad once you get used to it and it’s rather pleasing to the eye with that specific shade of blue that was used. There’s no slipcover and the only insert inside is the usual Universal Blu-ray advertisement, so there’s not much to get caught up in here. Menus are the usual blade system as well.
The video, a VC-1 encoded effort, is flawless for the newly shot material, but the wealth of ancient news footage is often an eye sore. There’s VCR scan lines, general distortion and an all-around muddling of footage, but it’s the historical footage that makes the films so engaging to begin with and considering it is like 480i source material upscaled to 1080p, I guess it could look a lot worse. For the new material, however, the image is crystal clear with nary a frame that’s out of place. Night sequences are deep and black while daytime sequences are crystal clear. The accompanying DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix is equally as impressive as, although the film is predominantly dialogue driven and in the front channels, the crowd sequences really envelop the room with the surround output. The subwoofer doesn’t get a whole lot of usage either, but when it kicks on, you notice it.
The extras for this release are few. Without a commentary in sight, the entire array of extras is included in a trio of featurettes. The first Remembering Harvey (13:21) takes a look at the man himself, while Hollywood Comes to San Francisco (14:32) summarizes the making of the film. Marching for Equality (7:58) wraps up the extras with a discussion on those who were there not only for the films recreation of the march sequences, but also for the original marches as well. Oddly enough the press release for the film lists deleted scenes, but I can’t find them anywhere.
And…yup, that’s it. There was mention of deleted scenes in the press release but I can’t find them on the set so I’m not sure what happened to them. In addition, there’s some BD-Live functionality such as sending clips to your friends, but…really? Is a serious and historical drama like this the type of film to share clips with? Just seems to cheapen the whole thing somehow.
In any case, the Blu-ray certainly looks and sounds great and for those who want to own it…you won’t be disappointed. As is the release comes Recommended, but keep in mind that, as with a lot of drama’s, this is likely one you’ll either only watch once, so whether you’ll want to put this in your collection is up for debate. But, again, like a lot of great dramas, it is worth that one viewing.
Milk arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on March 10th.