Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a chance to see three new movies. One was well done, one was superb, and one was drawn out and depressing.
I can’t objectively critique the film Doubt since as I watched it I constantly compared it to the Broadway play. While most of the major lines seemed the same, the movie was able to “fill out” a lot of the scenes in a way that plays can’t, providing subtlety (or in some circumstances blatancy) to the unresolved questions of the main characters’ personalities and actions. Streep and Hoffman were both excellent in their parts (no surprise there!). Streep’s portrayal of Sister Aloysius has both more depth (thanks to extra scenes where we see Streep caring for another nun going blind and leading the sisters in a discussion around the dinner table) and less depth (the very last line that Aloysius utters is spoken much more emotionally—and ergo much less effectively—by Streep, who plays Aloysius as the typical stereotypical nun) than the Sister Aloysius we met when Cherry Jones portrayed her on stage. And I suppose that technically the ‘doubt’ that was left unresolved in the play about what kind of person Father Flynn really is was still unresolved in the film, though the background scenes—the reactions of the boys waiting to go into the classroom to Father Flynn, the face of Donald as he responds to Father Flynn’s comments, homilies, and comforts, and the interchanges in the gym between the boys and the priest—tip the scales more heavily in one direction than the play did. So, while I think I preferred the play to the movie, the film version was still well worth seeing.
Milk is the best biopic I’ve seen in years, or perhaps ever. While I remember a bit of the news around Harvey Milk’s election and then death—especially the Twinkie defense that we studied in law school (though I don’t remember any implications then that White himself might have been gay)—I’d never known a lot of the details about his life and role in politics. The film sets the stage for Milk’s story with actual footage of raids on gay clubs taken in the 60s and 70s works well, drawing viewers in. Sean Penn is amazing in the lead role and probably deserves an Academy Award for his portrayal. Throughout the movie, I was reminded of how much things have changed, e.g. almost all the folks speaking for gay rights then were men. But I was also painfully aware as the film proceeded that, compared with the civil rights victories of women, African-Americans, and Latinos since the 70s, there’s been hardly any movement in civil rights for gays and lesbians.
I’d wondered, each time I saw the trailers, why more of a storyline wasn’t presented for Seven Pounds. Having seen it, I now know why. Had the plot been revealed in previews or trailers, I doubt anyone would have actually gone to see it. Will Smith is his usual self, playing a typical Will Smith type role. I felt like we were seeing another more depressed, less truly heroic version of the character in I Am Legend. Fairly early in the film, when the jelly fish is set up in his hotel room, the sad direction that the story is going to go is clear and you just sit there waiting for the whole thing to happen and be over with. Even the ethical issues that I’d guess those responsible for the film were trying to raise don’t even make the wait for the end worth it. I just kept thinking “I wonder if should go to get more popcorn” so that the two hours sitting there weren’t a total waste.