Friday, December 19, 2008

Making Spirits Bright

In the spirit of the season, I thought I’d tally my favorite Christmas movies and television of all time. For me, specials are an integral part of the holidays, particularly Halloween and Christmas. (Though I’m grooving on A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving more and more these days.) Memories of watching these in years past make me feel like a kid again, and help recapture the magic that’s so easily lost in adult life. (Trust me, after the week I’ve had, I know what I’m talking about!) Here, then, are my most indispensable Christmas treasures…
A Charlie Brown Christmas: Once someone made the mistake of disparaging this special in my presence. I immediately counted off all the reasons that it rocks: it uses real children’s voices; it has a classy jazz score; and it dares to talk about the *religious* aspects of the season. I could also add that it’s unbelievably funny (Snoopy’s animal impressions kill me every time) and heart-warmingly sweet. “It’s not such a bad little tree. All it needs is a little love.” Thanks, Linus.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas: For a beloved children’s book author, Dr. Seuss sure has been crapped on a lot. Don’t even get me started on the garish, irritating big screen version of this story (not to mention the Mike Myers desecration of The Cat & the Hat). But this half hour animated special is pure perfection. Chuck Jones’ legendary visuals and Boris Karloff’s signature voice combine to create an indelible character who’s as believably nasty (“the noise, noise, noise!”) as he is affecting once he makes the decision to save Christmas rather than massacre it. Like Charlie Brown, Grinch is bold enough to attack the rampant consumerism that turns Christmas into little more than a greed fest. Plus, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” is one of the best (unconventional) Christmas songs ever written.
Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer: Call this special corny if you will (and you’re pretty much right), but it still works on many levels. The crude but delightful stop motion animation, inspired songs, and vivid characters add up to a classic of children’s entertainment. Rudolph is an endearingly dorky hero, a “Misfit” who finds a way to put his would-be handicap (i.e. the glowing schnoz) to good use. Really, everything that’s bizarre, cheesy, or flawed about this special is part of what makes it so memorable. For example: what the heck is wrong with the doll on the Island of Misfit Toys? (Nothing as far as I can tell.) How gay is Hermie the elf? (Gotta love the swoop of blond hair.) And, for lack of a better word, why does Santa act like such a… dick in the beginning? Besides being riotously entertaining, Rudolph also boasts as many if not more quotable lines than A Charlie Brown Christmas. “She thinks I’m cuuuuute!” “Herbie doesn’t like to make toys!” And perhaps the most poignant line in the history of anything ever made: “I haven’t any dreams left to dream!” But don’t worry, Dolly: as Clarice the cute doe says, there’s always tomorrow for dreams to come true.
Mickey’s Christmas Carol: I can still remember the first time I saw this. I was at daycare, and I dug it so much that as soon as my dad picked me up, I asked if we could go to the video store so I could rent it and see it again! I’ve never been a big fan of Mickey and the gang per se, but they’re all put to good use here, with a story that works as both kids’ entertainment and a surprisingly thoughtful rendering of the novel. Plus, Goofy as the ghost of Marley is pretty flippin’ funny.
The OC: Josh Schwartz’s much loved soap contributed to the cultural zeitgeist when it popularized Chrismukkah, the interfaith celebration Seth Cohen (Adam Brody) used to bridge his parents’ backgrounds. (It’s the reason this Jewish Christian has held a Chrismukkah party for the past six years.) One of the best annual episodes is “The Chrismukkah That Almost Wasn’t,” which uses the celebration as a backdrop for some earth-shattering Cohen family revelations… but more importantly introduces the “yarmalclaus.” (How much do I love this Santa cap/yarmalca hybrid? I bought one online.) But my all time favorite Chrismukkah episode is the last season’s “The Chrismukk-huh?,” which takes its cue from It’s a Wonderful Life. Ryan (Ben McKenzie) and girlfriend Taylor (Autumn Reeser) fall off a ladder and get knocked out… then imagine themselves in a Ryan-less Orange County. (Unsurprisingly, everything’s different… and bad.) Ryan not only learns how much better he’s made everyone’s lives, but not to blame himself for Marissa’s death and move on—while also reaffirming his newfound affection for Taylor. It’s as fun and fanciful as it is heartwarming.
The Muppet Christmas Carol: Though I enjoy watching all of the entries on this list year after year, there are two I can’t let a Christmas pass without: this 1993 movie and the next film. I’ve always loved the story of A Christmas Carol (naturally—a spooky kid like me prefers *ghosts* in his Christmas fare), and for my money, this is the best and most sumptuous adaptation ever made. Michael Caine makes a terrific Scrooge, with a performance that is fully realized and adult—never mind that his costars happen to be puppets. The songs, by Paul Williams, are nothing short of exceptional (I spent considerable time and effort tracking down the soundtrack last Christmas). The production design and costumes bring Charles Dickens’ world to incredible life. (the Ghost of Christmas Future? Genuinely scary.) And of course the Muppets themselves bring their signature blend of wit and warmth to the proceedings; Gonzo as “Charles Dickens” is a particularly inspired touch.
The Nightmare Before Christmas: Also released in 1993, this Tim Burton classic (directed by animation vet Henry Selick) plays like it was designed with me in mind. After all, what would make a Christmas movie better, in my opinion? A healthy dose of Halloween. Nightmare tells the story of Jack Skellington, the “Pumpkin King” of Halloweentown, who decides to try his bony hand at Christmas… with disastrous results. This macabre musical pays homage to famous forebears like Grinch and Rudolph to render a fantastical world believable. It’s such a joyously weird movie, and yet it works—as cutting edge entertainment and as a very sweet Christmas tale.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Entertaining 'n Green

Last night I saw Shrek: The Musical, the latest in the seemingly endless stream of family-friendly movie adaptations to hit Broadway. While it wouldn't have been my first choice, my office offered us all free tickets, and I'm never one to turn down a trip to the theater. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Shrek is entertaining and smart, although the "music" part of this musical is ironically the weakest. (The show is directed by Jason Moore, with music direction by Tim Weil.) The production hews closely to the film-- and doesn't skimp on fantastical elements like rivers of lava or amorous dragons. It's to the director's credit that the production moves at a brisk pace, despite occasional slow spots, and feels focused and controlled rather than jumbled or chaotic (no easy feat when you're wrangling big costumes, elaborate special effects and sets, and a large cast). Brian D'arcy James stars as the titular ogre, whose solitary existence is disrupted by a sudden influx of fairy tale creatures banned from the Duloc kingdom by Lord Farquad (Christopher Sieber in an outstanding performance). Shrek heads to Duloc to demand he remove the fairy folk from his swamp, and winds up agreeing to rescue the Lord's would be queen, Fiona (stage veteran Sutton Foster) from a dragon guarded tower. Along for the ride is the sassy Donkey (Daniel Breaker), who is as amusingly obnoxious/ingratiating here as he was on screen. It's unfortunate that the music by Tony nominated composer Jeanine Tesori is so forgettable, but the show as a whole isn't lacking in wit or heart. David Lindsay-Abaire's book hits just the right notes of clever, adult-friendly satire and emotional depth, even if the lyrics he contributes are often as mediocre as the notes that accompany them. Still, any show that begins with a line like "This little Piggy needs some Paxil!" deserves our respect. Some may complain, as they did with the movie, that the over-kids'-heads jokes are on the wrong side of edgy, but the children I saw this with seemed totally enthralled. (And why wouldn't they be? Tots today are practically weaned on Shrek.) The show's grandeur and sense of spectacle are just excellent. From puppetry to shifting sets to fabulous costumes, the production provides a massive dose of eye candy without being gaudy. And the whole affair is bolstered by the uniformly good acting: James and the winningly quirky Foster are solid leads, though their supporters truly steal the show. Sieber delivers virtually his entire performance as the diminutive and pompous Farquad *on his knees* , with hilarious spindly legs attached to his costume. (The entertainment value of this transparent and yet effective "illusion" extends to many of the play's tricks; we may see the legs of the man steering the dragon, for instance, but we hardly care, and these behind-the-scenes peeks only add to the joy of the experience.) Even ignoring the physical exhaustion Sieber must go through, his portrayal is simply terrific. He's funny, filled with bluster and personality, and even vulnerable (the writers add a clever back-story that explains the villain's motivation). Meanwhile, Breaker accomplishes the not-easy feat of making Donkey (so memorably voiced by Eddie Murphy in the film) his own: amusing and energetic without seeming annoying. Avenue Q originator John Tartaglia is also in the cast, essaying Pinocchio, the Magic Mirror, and (as puppeteer) the Dragon, but his in-the-flesh-portrayal of the wooden boy is maybe too derivative of Mad TV's fey man-child Stuart. Still, the fairy folk are always a kick to watch, and deliver the closest thing to a gay pride anthem one could imagine in a children's musical, "Freak Flag." (The kiddies may have questions about what the Big Bad Wolf means by "cross-dressing.") By the end, we've been consistently amused and even touched by the story. I won't be running out to buy the cast recording, but I was impressed by the overall production. It's commercial, to be sure, but well produced enough to engage kids and avoid nauseating their parents.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Best. Episode. Ever.

Okay, maybe that's a bit of a hyperbole, but this week's Gossip Girl was damned good. And not just because it was all about Chuck. And Chuck and Blair. But also because we finally learned-- oh wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. It's the aftermath of Bart's death, and Lily is understandably freaked. Not only is her bitchy mom Cici back in town for the funeral, but she's racked with guilt considering she was about to break up with her husband when he got killed. Rufus knows this, as the two share a brief interlude in Central Park. (I'm such a dork for thinking this, but I kept wondering if they were under the same arch from Cloverfield.) He tells her that he's there for her, and will wait "as long as it takes this time, be it six months or six years." Of course, knowing these two and their inescapable attraction, it's doubtful it'll be six episodes before they're all over each other. Cici spots the pair leaving together and smirks knowingly. (We later found out that she deliberately followed her daughter. Speaking from experience, when moms get nosy it just never ends well.) Lily tells Rufus she has yet to listen to a voice mail from Bart, but insists she'll do it on her own. She stops outside the park to do so, which in my opinion is ill advised. I mean, if my dead husband had left me a potentially bitter message, I sure as shit wouldn't listen to it in public. Then again, considering her kids know something's up with her, I guess she wants to avoid their prying eyes. Poor Lily. She hears Bart coldly declaring that he wants to talk to her "not about how my wife is making a fool of me with her old lover . . . I know why you were in that sanitarium." (Again with the "sanitarium." Seriously, was she a knife wielding killer in a Shatner mask, or what?) Meanwhile, Chuck's been AWOL-- all anyone knows is that he's been getting food delivered to his room at the hotel, so he's still alive-- and when we see him he's got tousled hair and an even more intense than usual expression. He's at a shady bar meeting dad's old PI, who claims he's going to sell the file on Lily to the highest bidder. Cut to the church for the funeral, where Dan and Rat Boy (aka Aaron) have an extraordinarily cunty exchange on the front steps. "Surrena's on her way," Dan announces. "I just got the same message," Aaron says. "I got it first," Dan shoots back. "I don't have good reception here," Aaron counters. (Comparing cell service instead of pistols, are we, boys? Seriously, they were this close to "my dad can beat up your dad." Although, frankly, Rufus could probably take Wallace Shawn's adorable but diminutive Cyrus. But I digress.) Eric asks Jenny if she's seen Jonathan, his ex boyfriend. "No, are you guys back together?" she asks. "No, but I thought he might want to be here," Eric says vaguely. Umm... okay. I'm cool with Eric's story lines not being front and center, but could they at least make sense? Sometimes I feel like he's on his own, separate show, and we're just catching glimpses and having to piece it together. Maybe he should get that rumored spin-off. Anyway, drama ensues when Chuck arrives, schnockered out of his mind, with Nate and Blair helping him out of the limo. It only gets worse when Chuck spots Dan and screams at him that he has no business at the funeral, because Rufus is responsible for Bart's death. Dan naturally has no clue what that's about, but he agrees to leave and keep the peace, even though Serena protests that she wants him there. "It's okay, let him go," Aaron says helpfully. (Sure it's okay with you, you little greaser. Blech. I fucking hate Aaron. Anyway.) Lily tries to reason with Chuck, but he calls her a "whore" and skulks off. (*Day-um!*) She protests that he should be "with his family" and he responds, "I have no family." Clearly the kid's hurting, and Lily, Serena, et al's feelings are not high on his list of priorities. Back at the apartment, Chuck's still storming around and avoiding offers of help, i.e. Blair suggesting he eat something. Nate tells Blair "You're really good with him," but she tries to downplay it. Meanwhile, Cici spots Chuck stomping up the stairs and decides there's more going on than meets the eye. She urges Lily to confront him about "what he knows"; Lily reluctantly agrees. She finds Chuck ransacking Bart's office and assures him that he's well provided for in the will. He declares that it's the file on Lily he's after, but of course it's long gone now. And his bitter declarations that Lily's to blame for Bart's demise lead her to slap him across the face. (Although, it was kind of a weak slap. Sort of a let-down, not gonna lie.) Meanwhile, Cyrus is so inspired by all the funereal sentiments on life's preciousness that he insists he and Eleanor marry the very next day. Blair is predictably aghast, but manages to go along with it in support of her mom. There's also an all-too-brief interlude in which Jonathan surfaces, much to Eric's delight. (Again, explanations, please. Why'd they break up in the first place? And didn't Bart imply the kid was screwing his coach or something? Give me some closure, Gossip Girl!) Chuck rushes out following his confrontation with Lily, and none of the kids can stop him. "I already lost my stepfather; I don't want to lose my brother, too," Eric says sweetly. "When are you going to figure out that we are *not* related?" Chuck asks coldly. The look on Eric's face is totally heartbreaking. (I loved the budding brotherly relationship between Chuck and Eric; I bet it will be patched up within a couple of episodes. If there's one thing Josh "The OC" Schwartz loves, it's surrogate brothers.) Out on the street, Blair insists that Chuck either stay or let her come along. "You're not my girlfriend," Chuck snaps, and Blair makes a heartfelt speech about how they're not a conventional couple but "We're Blair and Chuck, Chuck and Blair." And she finally utters the words, "I love you." Chuck simply says that that's too bad, hops in the limo, and leaves. BIG moment for those two, though! (Last week I complained that I wanted to see their storyline advance, and this week I got my wish.) At Eleanor and Cyrus' small and private wedding, held at their apartment, Blair arrives in a tizzy because of the encounter with Chuck. She tells Cyrus that she made a fool of herself and that "only a masochist could love such a narcissist." (Ah, Blair, always with the vocab words.) Cyrus hugs and comforts her, and also declares "I love you." (Seriously, this episode could be really sweet. I'm surprised I didn't cry.) The actual ceremony is very cute to watch, especially since it involves a Rabbi. (What? I'm Jewish. I love that stuff.) Rat Boy asks Serena if she'd like to go to Buenos Aires with him for the holidays. He alludes to her feelings for Dan, which she predictably attempts to downplay. But sure enough, she's soon telling Dan about the development, and he asks her, "Do you want me to ask you to stay?" (I thought of Dawson's Creek and Pacey painting the big "ASK ME TO STAY" wall for Joey. But Serena wouldn't do something like that; imagine what paint could do to her clothes!) Serena hints at their potential reunion, but Dan manages to bow out in the lamest way possible: by saying he got THE WRONG MUFFIN from the shop and has to go back. You read that right: the wrong muffin. WTF? Dan, are you trying to be a douche? I mean, really. At least lie convincingly, preferably in a way that doesn't involve muffins. Of course, a chat with Jenny-- who, btw, made the dress for Eleanor's wedding in a cute make-nice gesture-- convinces him he's being a moron and he rushes to Serena's to convince her not to go with Aaron. Unbeknowst to him, Serena's had a chat with Lily and, finding that her mom's still in love with Rufus, gives her blessing to proceed. (Having previously cock-blocked her over the whole "I don't want to date my stepbrother" thing.) So when Dan arrives, his overture is promptly rejected, and Serena insists she's going to "try and make it work" with Aaron. (Yeah, good luck with that, honey. I mean, the man uses more product than you do, and still looks gross. Ugh.) Meanwhile, Lily has told Rufus she "doesn't want to wait 6 years" and wants to finally take that trip they were about to go on last season, before Lily decided to put her daughter first. It inspires Rufus to play that one damn song from his old band Lincoln Hawk. (Did they even have any other songs? No wonder they were one of the Top 10 Forgotten Bands of the 90s. They only recorded a single track!) But Cici arrives and finally tells Rufus the Big Secret, insisting that he and Lily won't have a chance if this revelation isn't out in the open. Earlier we saw Chuck confront Lily with it, and she begged him not to tell anyone, and not to "turn your back on the people who care about you." Chuck seemed to take that advice to heart, both by burning the file (we still didn't see what it said) and showing up in Blair's room unannounced. "What are you doing here?" she demands, before hugging him on the bed as the music swells. Very touching moment, though of course Chuck still didn't utter the L word himself. Later we saw them sleeping side by side, fully dressed, which was really touching. Meanwhile, Rufus tells Dan that he and Lily will never be together, and Dan immediately calls Serena... but it's too late. She ignores the call and promises Aaron she'll give them a chance, as they ride off to the airport. Meanwhile, Lily is waiting happily for Rufus at Grand Central (with like four bags, of course, a girl like her doesn't travel light!) but her face falls when she sees his. "Just tell me," he says, "was it a boy or a girl?" Dum dum duuuuum! I was sort of thinking the secret involved a baby. But does anyone really believe this will keep them apart forever? Maybe just long enough for Serena and Dan to make a go of it, which should be shortly after her return plane hits the tarmac. Finally, Blair wakes up to find a note from Chuck: "You deserve so much better than me. Don't come looking for me." Awwww. Gossip Girl says something bitchy (like she always does), and the show ends. Plenty to keep us wondering until the show returns in January. I can't wait to see what happens with Chuck and Blair, especially: this episode set up new and emotionally rich potential for both characters, especially Mr. Bass (who is, as the PI put it, "about to become the richest kid in New York City"). Hurry back, Gossip Girl-- you know we love you!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

How the Ball Bounces

This week's "unmissable" Gossip Girl turned out to be, if not missable, then slightly underwhelming. For one thing, I can't imagine there was a single viewer who hadn't figured out that Bart was going to die at the end, so no surprises there. Not that the hour wasn't entertaining. After all, any episode that features even one scene of Blair and Dorota bantering is worth its weight in gold these days. (The interplay between that duo is quickly becoming a show highlight; "Shouldn't you be polishing something?" was Blair's latest snappish remark.) First things first: Bart. In his final episode, he's trying to make amends for the whole "private investigator" fiasco, claiming that his snooping days are over. Lily isn't convinced, and when she finds out he is, in fact, still seeing his PI, she tells his assistant he's uninvited from the Snowflake Ball. Yes, that's right-- the Snowflake Ball. Now, Josh Schwartz's last show, The OC, had plenty of dumb party names-- "the SnowC," anyone?-- but "the Snowflake Ball"? Really? Gag me. Anyhoo, Bart's uninvited, which gives Lily the perfect chance to cozy up to Rufus (yet again). You just know these two are made for each other, but between the whole Serena/Dan thing (Serena didn't want them to become Greg and Marcia, and who could blame her?) and her marriage to Bart, there have been myriad obstacles in their way. Chuck spots them having an intimate chat, and immediately calls Papa Bass to tell him to get to the ball, pronto. He also confronts Lily and Rufus, and tells Lily to 'splain herself when Bart arrives. (Speaking of Chuck and Bart, I was bemused when Bart angrily told Chuck, "Don't think I don't know who opened that safe [with the dossiers inside]; I know you know the combination." For one thing, if he knew Chuck had the combination, why didn't he change the friggin' lock? And is it really Chuck's fault Lily's pissed at him? The issue is that he had the dossiers made in the first place.) Of course, before Bart can get there-- but not before we see him conversing with the PI in his limo, where it's announced that there's juicy new dirt on Lily-- he has a car accident and dies, as reported by Lily near episode's end. But enough about the grownups-- onto the craaaazy kids! First up: Serena and Dan, another clearly-meant-to-be pair. Aaron's ex Lexie shows up and promptly flummoxes Serena; Serena walks in on Lexie ranking on the photos of her and writing her off as a blond airhead. The three unite with Dan for an awkward walking tour of Brooklyn, where Dan and Lexie hit it off immediately (much to Serena's chagrin). It only gets worse when Aaron lets it slip that Lexie is, as they say, "fast." He couldn't incite Serena's jealousy more if he tried, although he seems utterly oblivious to the effect this casual revelation will have on her. Serena turns to Blair for advice, admitting that she and Aaron haven't done the deed yet; Blair encourages her to do so, while the rest of us scream "No! Who knows what diseases that skanky boy is carrying! You can do so much better, Serena! *SO MUCH BETTER!*" (Okay, maybe that was just me.) At the ball, Serena manages to tell Dan everything she shouldn't, i.e. "your date is gonna try and get into your pants tonight" and "I'm gonna have sex with Aaron myself." When Dan doesn't act horrified, Serena gets all self righteous and says, "I thought sex meant more to you than that." S, ppplease. Like Dan's gonna be horrified that his date puts out; besides, you told him you were doing the nasty yourself with Rat Boy-- er, Aaron! Luckily, Serena comes to her senses and apologizes, and the two agree that their first time was one of the best nights of their lives. Rumor has it they're getting back together this season; it's not hard to imagine based on this episode. Besides, as my roommate commented, they're the heart of the show's franchise-- "they're Tom Brady." Meanwhile, the Jenny/Nate/Vanessa triangle comes to a head. Vanessa admits she stole the letter from Nate and Jenny is understandably pissed. When Blair's trio of ex-Mean Girl BFFs approach Jenny about designing Penelope's dress for the ball, Jenny agrees in exchange for good pay-- and when she lets it slip that Nate and Vanessa are an item, the girls hatch a scheme for revenge. My first thought was pig's blood, but that's not what they have in mind; instead, Jenny presents Vanessa with a dress as a seeming peace offering, only it's undetectably sheer. At the crucial moment, the girls have a spotlight shine on Vanessa, embarrassing her in front of the whole school. Jenny immediately regrets it, having just witnessed Vanessa break things off with Nate in deference to their friendship. Unfortunately, she's too late to stop the stunt, and both Vanessa and Nate give her the cold shoulder. Nate says the feelings he expressed in the letter no longer apply; "You're not the person I thought you were." At least Jenny tells off the girls, whose attempts to intimidate her fall flat; she's no longer the scared little girl in need of approval. In Chuck and Blair land, their storyline was mildly amusing, but didn't really break any new ground. The two make a bet: they'll each select dates for each other. If Chuck likes his, Blair gets his limo for a week; if Blair likes hers, Chuck gets Dorota. (Poor Dorota. Bandied about like a piece of property!) But the two dates, "doppelgangers" for Chuck and Blair, fall for each other and exclude the twosome. Personally, I think they could have gone further with the resemblances; "Chuck 2" didn't even talk through his nose! But anyhow. Blair and Chuck have another one of their "we're made for each other but can't be together for some vague reason" talks and then decide they at least "have tonight" and dance. Yawn. I love them, but at some point they need to stop playing games and actually make another play at a relationship. In any case, nothing earth-shattering really happened besides the announcement of Bart's death. Next week's show, which promises to reveal more "secrets"-- and Lily slapping Chuck!-- should be more interesting.

"You gotta give 'em hope"

Last night I saw Milk, the fantastic new film from Gus Van Sant. Sean Penn stars-- in a buzzy, Oscar-worthy performance-- as Harvey Milk, America's first openly gay man to win public office. Penn shares the screen with a strong ensemble that includes James Franco as Milk's long-suffering lover/campaign manager Scott and Josh Brolin as conflicted politician Dan White (whose resentment of the flamboyant and successful Milk boils over into rage and murder). The standout-- besides Penn-- is Emile Hirsch as colorful, fiercely energetic Cleve Jones, who's brought out of his youthful aimlessness and inspired to become a powerful activist. (Jones went on to create the AIDS Quilt; I was lucky enough to meet the man at a recent New York Times Talk and was in awe of all the history he's lived through-- and influenced.) Hirsch expertly embodies this empowered, plucky queer, to such a degree that I really think he's a young actor to watch. (He already garnered strong notices for his starring role in Penn's film Into the Wild.) The movie starts like a Shakespearean tragedy, immediately establishing that its hero will eventually be assassinated, along with San Francisco mayor George Moscone (Victor Garber). Penn is narrating his life story onto a tape labeled "just in case," well aware that his audacious activism has made him a target. We flash back to 1970, when Milk flirts with a cute young man (Franco) in the subway and the two spend the night together. They eventually move to San Francisco, where Milk opens up a camera shop on Castro Street that quickly becomes a community center. Galvanized by the city's homophobia (police, Milk notes, are none too pleased with the neighborhood's new found status as a gay mecca) and by successful efforts to mobilize gays to boycott hostile businesses, Milk decides to run for office. After a string of failed attempts, he finally wins when district rezoning lets the Castro elect him to the Board of Supervisors by a landslide. The campaigning takes its toll on Milk's relationship, however, and Scott leaves when he tires of playing second fiddle to politics. (He remains a friend and ally, however; the emotional chemistry between the actors is richly drawn, and their intimacy is palpable.) Milk soon finds new love with Jack (Diego Luna), a troubled Spaniard; but he has bigger concerns, like growing animosity with would-be ally, Supervisor White, and the need to defeat Proposition 6, which would block gays from teaching in public schools. (The parallel with this year's Proposition 8 is undeniable, especially when Milk declares anti-6 fliers that don't even mention gays as bloodless and ineffectual; the same criticism was lodged at anti-8 commercials.) Milk is up to these challenges, though, expertly using his charm and innate skill at playing the political game to achieve his ends. Van Sant portrays the events with clarity and real human drama, working from Dustin Lance Black's shrewd and insightful screenplay. At times, the movie can feel a little After-School-Special-ish in its gung-ho approach to activism, but that's a minor quibble for a film so rich and beautiful. Van Sant imbues the film with detail and compassion, and it's a gift to both film buffs and gay youth, who are sure to find inspiration and hope in this tale of a gay man who was determined to destroy the closet and win civil rights by any means necessary. I, for one, feel like getting involved again; Prop 8's passage proved that the battle is far from over. Harvey would be proud.