December 11, 2008 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

Biopics are a funny thing. Sometimes they work, and when they do, they often feel like flashes in a pan and rarely stay in your memory bank. I wondered why I have forgotten most of even recent pictures that were well done, such as “Ray” and “Walk the Line”, and I think I understand why. When I watched both of those movies, all it made me want to do was listen to their music. Unfortunately it’s just not possible to give a life story of someone so dynamic and powerful only a two or two and a half hour snapshot.

“Milk” is the latest in this genre, and again, it is a very well made picture. It actually has stuck with me longer than the other two biopics I just mentioned, in fact. I was impressed that Gus Van Sant could get out of the doldrums of “Elephant” and rediscover his masterful director abilities that he displayed in “Good Will Hunting” and “My Own Private Idaho”. I was also immensely impressed with Sean Penn’s brilliant portrayal of the charismatic, and important civil rights champion, Harvey Milk, on the Board of Supervisors of San Francisco, tragically assassinated along with Mayor George Moscone. Now, obviously because this film revolves around homosexuals and homosexual lifestyles, it was easy for the film to devolve into some kind of ad campaign for gays, or some other agenda that would’ve actually taken away from Milk’s real purpose.

But the film does not ever do that. It is cleverly quiet in its depiction of gays, and honest. Sure, you have the “drag queen” stereotypes–I mean, this was San Francisco in the 70’s after all. But the characters that are involved with the main story are not caricatures. They’re very smart and endearing people who help Harvey Milk go from being an unknown gay activist into one of the most prominent voices in California history. And his message was simple: You’ve got to give them hope.

The film opens with Milk recording a will, “in the event” of his death by assassination, and Milk recalls his days in New York of being a nobody, turning 40 and “not accomplishing anything” he’s proud of, and moving to San Francisco to start a store, and becoming a very important figure in The Castro, San Francisco. His rise is a slow one. He’s openly gay, and especially at that time with how much intolerance there was of homosexuality, he had no chance to win anybody over in public office.

But Milk wasn’t stupid. He played the political game and actually began running competently against his competition, and finally wins a spot on the Supervisors Board in San Francisco. He also meets a fateful friend who becomes foe, in Dan White, a stark contrast in personality, and in lifestyle.

Dan White is played very well by Josh Brolin, who has just come off a great performance of George W. Bush in “W.”, and delivers another one here. White is a jealous, meek, and frightened man who sees Milk as a threat after Milk doesn’t play ball with him on a few issues. The strength of these two performances lends so much creedence to what the film is about, as well: fear. Milk is unafraid, but he’s not flawless. But his flaws do not define him as a person, like they do with White. White promotes the picture of the “American family”, and yet he becomes the largest hypocrite when it comes to this.

There are a lot of scenes of footage of Anita Bryant, who was severely opposed to gays and gay rights, and pushed for Proposition 6, which would take more rights away from gays (including jobs in schools, if they are teachers, etc.) and this becomes a focal point in the film.

The ending of the film is quite touching, and because Van Sant and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black do such a good job giving Harvey Milk fair screen time, along with his friends and colleagues, that you really understand how important what he did was. And I think, ultimately, that’s all this film is trying to do. There’s no big agenda here. Milk is hardly mentioned when civil rights are brought up, and he is an important part of our growing more and more of social tolerance which unfortunately, still doesn’t exist the way it should–nor will it, probably ever.

But the film gets the job done very well, and even if you forget most of it like I’ve forgotten most of “Walk the Line” and whatnot, at least you remember who Harvey Milk is. And that’s why the film worked. Perhaps it’s a testament to the other characters in this film as well, and–it’s all about the movement. Not just the man. All in all, even if it’s a snapshot, it’s a snapshot that needed to be taken.

My rating: :smile:

Zero Day

October 14, 2008 by  
Filed under Home Video

This is a very haunting film. It was done a few years after Columbine and is almost a replica of the “basement tapes” by Dylan and Eric, and the resemblances are purposeful and very well done. The two actors playing the kids are extremely believable, with one caveat–the blond haired kid does look a little too pretty to be considered “an outcast”.

The entire movie is shot in the same style of the “basement tapes”; it’s all “footage”. You’d think that would get old after, say, a half hour, and I seriously thought it was going to switch to a more narrative style after the first ten minutes. But once you start to get to know the kids more, you kind of forget that you’re watching a movie, and you’d think you were just watching home movies of these kids.

The kids’ names are Andre and Cal. Cal is the pretty blond kid who is very quiet, and unassuming. He’s most likely the one based on Dylan because of his soft spoken demeanor and his looks are definitely more reminiscent of Klebold’s. Andre, the Eric Harris character, is the son of a German immigrant father, whom you feel the utmost sympathy for throughout the film because he is so kind and naturally loving toward his son. I also emphasize the word “natural” here. These actors really do come alive as these characters; you don’t feel like you’re watching people act.

The film’s opening credit sequence is a slideshow of the two kids growing up; photos of them as innocent little kids, and growing up to be teenagers. After that, the film goes through somewhat of an introduction to what these kids are about. They call themselves the “Army of Two” and that they’re planning a series of “battles” before “Zero Day”. You don’t know what Zero Day is exactly in the beginning, or what the battles are, but because they start off as innocent as throwing rotten eggs at a bully’s house, you do think that perhaps “Zero Day” might be more of an idealistic “war” rather than an actual attack.

But then you see Andre showing how to make pipe bombs, and how to “shortskirt” a rifle in under a minute, and you get the idea pretty quick that “Zero Day” is, in fact, going to be an attack of major proportions.

Throughout the film, you don’t really get a sense of why these kids want to do what they’re doing. They are just adamant about it. Maybe that was done purposely by the filmmakers. After all, in the “basement tapes”, you get more of a sense of Klebold and Harris’s detachment from reality than you do get a glimpse of their inner turmoil. But I think in the sense of a film, your job as a filmmaker is to make a point about something. Say something about it. And here, it looks like they carelessly left out a very vital part in what they were trying to say: WHY did these kids get drawn into such a blinding rage?

The other thing that you would have a very strong argument against this film is that it does in fact SHOW you how to make bombs and how to make weapons more easily to conceal. Not that this was intended to be a “how to” but I didn’t really like the fact that this movie could be used as a means for copycats to use. I even give Gus Van Sant credit, with his infinitely inferior “Elephant”, that he said he didn’t want any scene that showed the kids obtaining or training with guns so that there wouldn’t be any use for it for anyone.

I said that “Zero Day” was constructed to resemble the Columbine massacre and, as the film goes on, its resemblance grows stronger. There’s even a scene in which Cal goes to the prom, something indicated in the “basement tapes”. Also toward the end, they do give you the meaning of “Zero Day”–it was supposed to be the first day that it was below zero, and the attack would ensue; but because of a banal incident, it was set to a later date, in May. The day before the massacre, they make one final “Good-bye” speech, and again, much like the “basement tapes”, it’s them saying good-bye and telling the camera that NO ONE is to blame but them for this. Their parents didn’t know, the guys they got the guns from didn’t know, there was no one a part of it except the “Army of Two”. Andre also pontificates that they are “setting people free”, and not doing something horrible that people will surely condemn them for. Cal finishes with “We’re all animals.”

And finally, on “Zero Day”, the film does shift its perspective. The two kids leave their camera in the car, and head into the school. The shooting sequences all are captured on surveillance, and the audio is all coming through a 9-1-1 call from one of the students. You can hear the shooters in the background as the 9-1-1 operator pleads with them to get on the line and try to get them to stop what they’re doing. It does get a little annoying to consistently hear, “Andre, pick up. Pick up, Andre” from the operator–however, your attention should be focused more on the shocking footage of the kids shooting and killing innocent teenagers, and I found myself shaking while watching it. It was almost TOO much like watching the Columbine surveillance footage.

The two finally kill themselves, but the scene is much more powerful than I thought it would turn out to be because one of them hesitates, and there is a great moment in which it looks like the two might be captured, or there’s some kind of epiphany they have about what they’ve done–but in the end, the inevitable happens.

The final scene of the film is, to me, a bit unnecessary but I think it’s in there for you to make what you want of it. Overall, I think the message is clear that this film’s approach was to show you as close as possible what happened at Columbine, and the events leading up to it. Somewhat like “Flight 93?, but obviously this is about something very different and it’s tragic and chilling in a different way.

This isn’t a film I’d say is something “important” to watch; but it does deserve some recognition. While I’m still waiting for a film that shows a much broader angle than just focusing on the killers and the killing and gives you an insight into high school life in general and again WHY these kids will be lead to this sort of thing, I think “Zero Day” is an honest effort. Unlike Van Sant’s uber pretentious and empty “Elephant”, “Zero Day” is powerful and intriguing, and the hardest part about it is–you actually like the two kids to a certain point.

Gives you the shivers thinking about it…

My rating: :smile: