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His life changed history. His courage changed lives. In 1977, Harvey Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, becoming the first openly gay man to be voted into public office in America. His victory was not just a victory for gay rights; he forged coalitions across the political spectrum. From senior citizens to union workers, Harvey Milk changed the very nature of what it means to be a fighter for human rights and became, before his untimely death in 1978, a hero for all Americans. Milk charts the last eight years of Harvey Milk's life. While living in New York City, he turns 40. Looking for more purpose, Milk and his lover Scott Smith relocate to San Francisco, where they found a small business, Castro Camera, in the heart of a working-class neighborhood. With his beloved Castro neighborhood and beautiful city empowering him, Milk surprises Scott and himself by becoming an outspoken agent for change. With vitalizing support from Scott and from new friends like young activist Cleve Jones, Milk plunges headfirst into the choppy waters of politics. Bolstering his public profile with humor, Milk's actions speak even louder than his gift-of-gab words. When Milk is elected supervisor for the newly zoned District 5, he tries to coordinate his efforts with those of another newly elected supervisor, Dan White. But as White and Milk's political agendas increasingly diverge, their personal destinies tragically converge. Milk's platform was and is one of hope--a hero's legacy that resonates in the here and now.
For more about Milk and the Milk Blu-ray release, see Milk Blu-ray Review published by Ben Williams on March 12, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Director: Gus Van Sant
Writer: Dustin Lance Black
Starring: Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch, Diego Luna, James Franco, Alison Pill
» See full cast & crew
Milk Blu-ray Review
Sean Penn's latest Oscar-winning performance comes to Blu-ray
Reviewed by Ben Williams, March 12, 2009
Biographical films have a long and varied history among the thousands of movies released each year. Almost every Oscar season brings at least one Biopic to the table that dramatizes a historical figure; the results aren't always accurate or flattering. 2008 saw the release of Milk; an unlikely story that chose to focus on a man of substance, rather than the traditional Hollywood fodder of the rich and famous. Harvey Milk was a pioneer and crusader for gay rights in the United States. His own experiences with discrimination turned this one-time aimless dreamer into a historic figure who changed the landscape of politics and the public's understanding of gay rights issues. Harvey Milk's tireless efforts helped to alter many Americans' perceptions on these issues; he changed the landscape of the debate by elevating gay rights from a mere social issue to that of a true human rights crisis.
Based on the true events leading up to Harvey Milk's (Sean Penn) assassination, Milk follows the titular character as he works his way from outspoken nobody, to the heights of becoming the first openly gay man elected into office in the state of California. Harvey Milk spent the first forty years of his life in a relatively meandering fashion, but experienced a cultural and social awakening upon moving to San Francisco. Milk is depicted in the film during the course of his three runs for public office, culminated by his successful bid as a city supervisor. The story is told in a series of flashbacks as Milk prepares his will; the story focuses on his relationships, activism and his eventual, fatal relationship with fellow city supervisor Dan White (Josh Brolin). The political unrest and massive social change taking place in San Francisco's Castro Street and Haight-Ashbury districts serves as the setting for the film; Milk's influence and powerful personality serve as the catalyst. Unfortunately, as is all to often the case with pioneers of social and political change, Milk ends in tragedy; Harvey Milk's legacy and contributions to equality and human rights, however, remain as powerful today as they were 30 years ago, in a time when his voice helped to serve as a rallying cry across the nation.
The secret to the success of Milk lies in Sean Penn's powerful and completely against-type performance. Penn is almost unrecognizable as the squeaky-voiced, cheerful, yet charismatic Harvey Milk. His recent Academy Award for Best Actor should serve as proof positive that this performance is as outstanding as it is novel. Other unlikely supporting players, James Franco as Milk's lover, Scott Smith; Josh Brolin as the homophobic and deranged city supervisor, Dan White, add to the brilliant ensemble performances that elevate the film from low budget message movie to the heights of groundbreaking and important filmmaking. Regardless, this is, without a doubt, the Sean Penn show; he is in almost every scene and is the absolute focal point of the film.
As a historical picture, Milk succeeds in capturing the essence of the political and social unrest of the mid-1970s. Every street corner is filled with period details; the entire film feels like a time capsule of nostalgia as well as an insider's look into history. It's a captivating experience that, when combined with the large amount of vintage stock footage used in the film, manages to be both convincing and almost documentary-like. Milk succeeds by not attempting to record events in an unbiased manner; the film is not intended to mimic a newscast or feign neutrality. Instead, this is a message movie; one of tragedy and hope that serves as inspiration to those who benefit from Harvey Milk's tireless efforts, as well as a warning to those who dismiss the dangers of the practices of bigotry and hate. Milk is highly recommended.
Milk Blu-ray, Video Quality
Of the many things that Milk is, it's most certainly not demo material on Blu- ray. That's not to say that the film is presented in anything other than a completely faithful and accurate manner, quite the opposite in fact. Milk has made the transition from theaters to the home fully intact, while retaining a well executed filmic quality. The only source of inconsistency in the film comes from its frequent reliance on well-worn stock footage for many establishing shots and montages. These scenes are particularly noticeable, with varying amounts of grain and print damage, when blended with the material shot specifically for the film. Given the need for such footage, it an entirely understandable situation that adds an authentic, dated flair to the movie.
Milk isn't particularly colorful, though occasional warm, vivid hues do sneak in from time to time. Contrast is stable, though not particularly impressive; black levels tend to appear slightly elevated throughout the film, consistent with the period aspect of the film's appearance. There's little depth to the image, and detail remains average for the duration of the film. Ultimately, Milk has an intentionally washed-out and vintage look and feel that this Blu-ray release replicates to perfection. Milk is recommended.
Milk Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Don't expect much from Milk in the sound department. The film is almost entirely dialogue-driven and features very little in the way of surround activity. Universal has given the film their standard 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio treatment; unfortunately, the source material just doesn't do much to excite the aural senses. The only noticeable instances of surround activity come during the film's many crowd scenes. The cacophony of a throng of different voices, shouts and echoes rings out in the rear channels, providing a stark contrast to the remainder of the predominantly front-loaded film.
Dialogue, as is to be expected with a lossless track, is well rendered, intelligible and placed firmly within the center channel. The film's musical score is also nicely placed within the front stereo channels. Beyond that, there's not much more to report on. Milk sounds just like it did theatrically; it's not intended to do anything more than highlight the film's performances.
Milk Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Here's what's included:
- "Hollywood Comes to San Francisco"
- "Remember Harvey"
- "Marching for Equality"
- BD-Live features not yet accessible
Fans intending to dig into the details behind the production of Milk, or even Harvey Milk's own historic life, might be a bit disappointed with what has been made available on this Blu-ray release of the film. Three featurettes are the only bonus features viewers will find on the disc, along with the promise of more features to come via BD-Live. "Hollywood Comes to San Francisco" is a well-polished, behind the scenes documentary that covers production, while featuring a slew of cast and crew interviews. "Remember Harvey" is a truncated overview of Mr. Milk's life; the interviews with his real-life compatriots adds legitimacy to the proceedings. Finally, "Marching for Equality" focuses on the film's protest march scenes, how they were filmed and the filmmaker's desires to stay true to the historical context of the actual events. Fortunately, all three featurettes are presented in high definition; beyond these three items, though; that's all folks!
Milk Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Harvey Milk's historic political career and tragic death makes for a compelling film that is both socially conscious and timely. Director Gus Van Sant has perfectly captured the essence of Mr. Milk's appeal, distilling it into an accessible tragedy that even the most jaded audience member should be able to appreciate. Regardless of one's familiarity with the events that the film depicts, the compelling nature of the film's narrative will likely have viewers running to Wikipedia for more information on this decisive period in America's history. Universal continues their outstanding run of Blu-ray releases by delivering Milk with impressive audio and video that does the film justice. Supplements are lacking, though what has been included is of high quality. Milk remains a story that needed to be told to a large audience. If you missed the film in theaters, now's the perfect time to experience the profound life of Harvey Milk in the highest possible quality. Recommended.
Milk: Other Editions
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Milk Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Today on Blu-ray - March 10th - March 10, 2009
For their second Platinum Blu-ray title, Disney decided to open their vaults and release their second feature-length animated feature 'Pinocchio'. This timeless story of a wooden marionette who, with help from his designated conscience Jiminy Cricket, is tempted ...
• Milk Announced for Blu-ray Release - January 30, 2009
Universal Studios Home Entertainment has announced that they will bring the Oscar-nominated film 'Milk' to Blu-ray on March 10th, day-and-date with the DVD release. Video for this Gus Van Sant film will be presented in 1.85:1 1080p VC-1 accompanied by a 5.1 DTS-HD ...
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