After seeing only five movies in 2008 up until last Wednesday, I've seen three more in the past week: Milk, Doubt, and Frost/Nixon.
So, as described here I saw and really liked Milk. I've been thinking about it ever since, which is one of the real hallmarks of a good movie, I think. It's been bringing to mind time I spent in San Francisco during the 1980s, shortly after the events portrayed in the film.
I was working for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York then and working on a Federal Reserve system-wide project based in San Francisco, which took me there several times a year for a few years. I remember talking to a (straight) colleague at the SF Fed, and just marveling at how far ahead the SF gay community was of the community in NYC at that time. They were better organized, had achieved more politically, culturally. There was more to do; they had a gay community center before we did, a gay parents' organization. I said to my colleague, "I'm sure that there's a higher percentage of gay people in SF, since it's kind of known as a gay mecca, but there are more gay men and lesbians in New York City than there are people in San Francisco. Why can't we do what they do?"
She replied that in SF the gay community "functions like an ethnic community." It has its own neighborhoods, its own businesses, its own politicians. It forms coalitions with other "ethnic" groups, with labor, with various interests. It's a voting block, too. I think that was very true, and it has become a little more true other places as well, including here, but it really started in San Francisco. And key to functioning that way, which Harvey realized, is being out.
I saw Doubt Saturday night. Three out of four of us who went to it had seen the play, and we all really enjoyed the movie. Sometimes when seeing a movie based on a play I wonder whether the playwright would approve of how his play got "opened up" for film. In this case it's not an issue: the film version was both written and directed by the playwright. The film got mixed reviews - Manohla Dargis in the Times liked it but others felt it didn't translate well to the screen.
Doubt takes place in 1964 and is set in a Catholic school in the Bronx. The principal, Sister Aloysius (played by Meryl Streep), suspects the parish priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman) of sexually molesting one of the eighth grade boys. At first she seems to be completely irrational in her dislike and suspicion but over time doubt creeps in and the viewer is really not sure what happened between Father Flynn and the boy. Brian O'Byrne, who played Father Flynn on Broadway, said in an interview once that he asked everyone who spoke to him about the play whether they believed that Father Flynn was guilty, and that over the course of the whole run it was always 50/50. The play fosters that. It has the kind of ambiguity that doesn't leave you wondering so much as it makes you sure - but the person next to you sure of the opposite conclusion. One of my friends who had gone with us said that when he'd first seen the play he'd been in a group of six, three of whom had had a Catholic school education. The Catholic educated all thought he was guilty, the others thought not.
I love the play and thought all the actors were wonderful in the movie. Meryl Streep's accent was letter perfect, as always. The opening up scenes gave more of a feel of parish life, which I thought added to the texture of the play. And the final line seemed, to me, to mean something entirely different from what it had meant to me in the play, so I really felt like I saw something new in this version.
I never saw the stage version of Frost/Nixon, so I can't compare. I know that Frank Langella and Michael Sheen played the same roles on stage, and that Ron Howard insisted on having them for the movie. I do think they were both brilliant.
The story is, of course, about the series of television interviews that David Frost did with Richard Nixon a few years after his resignation. Nixon's hope was that the interviews would help to rehabilitate his image, by emphasizing his accomplishments over the disgrace of Watergate. And, in fact, part of the contract agreeing to the interviews included a stipulation that only 1/4 of the time could be spent on Watergate.
Frost's goals were quite different. At the time a talk show host and former comedian, his career was at a low point. He used his own money to fund this project in the hope that he could get Nixon to confess to having committed crimes, give him the trial he never had (as one of Frost's advisers suggests in the movie), and get the American television industry to take David Frost seriously as a journalist.
In general, Frost is viewed as having "won." Nixon's ignominy lasted at least through the rest of his life (although his posthumous reputation has been somewhat rehabilitated) and Frost went on to interview all seven presidents serving since 1969, among other accomplishments.
Sheen makes a great Frost, but it's really Langella's Nixon who is the most compelling character on the screen. In spite of the makeup, he doesn't really look like Nixon but he moves like him and sounds like him and has that same weird hunched posture. And he portrays him in all his quirkiness, all his bigotry, all his inability to understand people and at the same time his strengths and his ability to seem presidential and in control. It's a masterful performance.
Like Milk, this film also interweaves real news footage very well into the narrative and gives one the sense of being plunged into a different place and time. I think it's well worth seeing.
So, three good movies and all ones I'm glad I saw on the big screen.
Doran keeps trying to get me to see Slumdog Millionaire. I think there's lots about it I would love, but I'm afraid the violence would be too much for me (I'm a bit of a weenie about violence in movies). A couple of his friends were over the other night and he was trying again to convince me to go and I was resisting again. One of the friends asked, "Well how bad is the violence?"
He said, "Well, some people did walk out during the first torture scene." I told him this was not helping his case.