March 13, 2009 in Features

Penn portrayal anchors ‘Milk’

By The Spokesman-Review
Associated Press photo

ORG XMIT: NYET377 **FOR USE AS DESIRED** In this image released by Focus Features, Sean Penn portrays gay rights activist Harvey Milk in a scene from in a scene from, “Milk.” The film was nominated for an Academy Award for best picture, Thursday, Jan. 22, 2009. The 81st Oscars will be presented Feb. 22 in a ceremony airing on ABC from Hollywood’s Kodak Theatre. (AP Photo/Focus Features, Phil Bray) ** NO SALES **
(Full-size photo)



Sean Penn won his second Best Actor Oscar for portraying Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California. Milk’s work was cut short by troubled Dan White (Josh Brolin), but director Gus Van Sant – working from Dustin Lance Black’s Oscar-winning screenplay – tries to capture Milk the man, with many of his faults, instead of merely the symbol. In the end, Penn’s performance most powerfully anchors Van Sant’s look at Milk’s life and times. DVD, which is available in Blu-ray, includes making-of featurettes, deleted scenes. (2:08; rated R for brief violence, language, some sexual content)



British preschool teacher Poppy (Sally Hawkins) is an unusual creation, even for writer-director Mike Leigh (“Life Is Sweet,” “Secrets and Lies”). She’s full of energy and unremitting optimism, even in the face of situations that would cow Oprah. But there’s plenty of depth there for those willing to dig below the surface. Hawkins won a deserved Golden Globe for her performance. DVD includes commentary by Leigh and Hawkins, making-of featurettes. (1:58; rated R for language)

‘Rachel Getting Married’


Director Jonathan Demme (“The Silence of the Lambs,” “Philadelphia”) returns to his art-house roots to tell this story of family dysfunction and the enduring, if sometimes indefinable, nature of hope. Anne Hathaway, who was justifiably nominated for a Best Actress Oscar, shows real acting skill as the drug-addicted sister whose self-obsession threatens to overwhelm the wedding of her sister (Rosemarie DeWitt). DVD, which is available on Blu-ray, includes cast and crew commentaries, making-of featurettes, deleted scenes. (1:53; rated R for language and brief sexuality)

‘Cadillac Records’


Though he changes history to suit his purposes, writer-director Darnell Martin deserves credit for putting the music of such Chicago-based luminaries as Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright), Etta James (Beyoncé Knowles) and Chuck Berry (Mos Def) at the center of this underachieving biopic. The problem involves Leonard Chess, the character portrayed by Adrien Brody, who comes across as something of a cipher. DVD, which is available on Blu-ray, includes commentary by writer-director Martin, making-of featurettes, deleted scenes. (1:48; rated R for pervasive language, sexuality)

‘Let the Right One In’


Though it minimizes the subplot regarding pedophilia that Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist put in his book, “Let the Right One In” (the title of which comes from a Morrissey song) is an intriguing take on the vampire movie. Twelve-year-old Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) is a school outcast, unliked and bullied, who develops a friendship with his strange little neighbor, Eli (Lina Leandersson). The only problem is that Eli is, well, a bloodsucker. The movie proved a hit at February’s Spokane International Film Festival. DVD includes making-of featurettes, deleted scenes. (1:44. rated R for mature themes, language, violence)

‘Synecdoche, New York’


Screenwriter Charlie Kauffman (“Adaptation,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) doesn’t write easy movies. Here, directing his own script, he follows a troubled stage director (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who, after being dumped by his wife, wins a MacArthur “Genius” Grant. He then spends the next couple of decades mounting a production based on his own life – which then becomes his actual life. Frustrating, intriguing, brilliant and depressing, this film is for the fan of inventive cinema only. DVD, which is available on Blu-ray, includes making-of featurettes. (2:04; rated R for language, sexual content/nudity)

‘Role Models’


Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott team up as two guys who, to avoid going to jail, must do community service as mentors to two troubled kids. A formulaic feel-good climax spoils this distinctly non-PC laugh-fest. DVD, which is available in Blu-ray, includes cast and crew commentary, deleted scenes, blooper reel. (1:39; rated R for crude and sexual content, nudity, strong language)

Also available: “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” “Dark Reel,” “Pinocchio: 70th Anniversary Platinum Edition,” “Saturday Morning,” “Transporter 3.”

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