Gay politician, drug abuser and a Western from Down Under

The movies selected for review are the choice of the reviewer. Depending on your source for DVDs, they may or may not be available that particular week, so you may want to clip the SOFA CINEMA column for future reference. Suggestions for DVD titles are welcome. Enjoy the movies.



Rated R

Beginning with the first words of dialogue, you forget Sean Penn is in "Milk." He succeeds in transforming himself (with a little help of a new hairline and dental prosthetics) into Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to political office in the United States, in 1977.

Gus Van Sant wove the story line of Milk's political career with threads of his personal life. The time line is held together with Milk dictating his last will and testament into a tape recorder at his kitchen table.

It's always tricky to tell a story based on truth where the ending already is known, so rather than tiptoe around the facts, Van Sant opens with footage of Diane Feinstein, then councilwoman of San Francisco, announcing the killing of Mayor George Moscone and

Milk by Councilman Dan White.

Milk's approach to politics and to life is through education and understanding, so he tried to work with White. White (Josh Brolin) is an integral part of the movie but not really the "bad guy."

The forces fighting against Milk and his cause are prejudice and hate, misunderstanding and ignorance - forces still present today. If movies have a higher purpose than entertainment, it is to reveal truths, to educate and enlighten. Sean Penn and Gus Van Sant raised "Milk" to that higher level. Don't miss it.

"Rachel Getting Married"

Rated R

The logical career move for Anne Hathaway after box office successes like "The Princess Diaries," "The Devil Wears Prada" and "Get Smart" was "Rachel Getting Married."

Her work in this serious independent feature was recognized with an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress and rightly so. The attention Hathaway garnered for portraying a drug addict constantly in and out of rehab who must endure the family tensions of her sister Rachel's wedding is worthwhile.

Watching "Rachel Getting Married" for any other reason is not.

Directed by Jonathan Demme and scripted by Jenny Lumet

(daughter of Sidney Lumet, legendary director of more than 40 features including "Dog Day Afternoon"), one would have high hopes for a good movie.

Alas, good movie genes are not necessarily inherited and "Rachel Getting Married" consists of irritating dialogue and even more irritating direction. Perhaps the constant camera motion was supposed to reinforce Rachel's nervous trepidation coming home but it only succeeded to a nausea similar to small craft in 10-foot swells.

Rosemarie DeWitt as Rachel's "good" sister delivers an excellent performance, and Debra Winger appears all too briefly as the girls' mother.

Other than seeing Hathaway hone her acting chops, the only

reason to see "Rachel Getting Married" is to remind you that at least your wedding wasn't quite this traumatic.


Rated PG-13

"Australia" is a throwback to the bigger-than-life Westerns of the 1950s with a slight twist.

Instead of riding through Monument Valley, the cattle are being driven from the outback. Instead of Native Americans riding pintos bareback, there are Aborigines on "walkabouts," and instead of Maureen O'Hara and John Wayne, Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman team up.

Writer/director Baz Luhrmann filmed his epic on location and explores the rugged Australian outback during the late 1930s. Elaborate costumes, expansive cattle drives, blazing battle scenes are woven into a love story.

The twist is that the "love story" revolves around Lady Sarah Ashley (Kidman) and Drover (Jackman) AND Lady Sarah and Nullah (Brandon Walters), a young boy living on her ranch. The child, son of an Aboriginal worker, is unacknowledged by his father, Fletcher, the Aussie ranch manager.

"Australia" confronts "classism" and racism on an intimate scale as well as good vs. evil (with the onset of World War II) on a grand scale, but mostly it's old-fashioned Hollywood escapism.

Luhrmann is an excellent storyteller and director. Exceptional performances by his cast, particularly Kidman, keep the audience's attention even with the plot's predictability.

Young Walters is innocence and wisdom personified, and it's difficult to imagine "Australia" without him.

The more than 21/2 hours of cinematic escapism are enhanced by cinematographer David Hirschfelder and film scorer Mandy Walker.

"Australia" - nothing like a good Western!

Rebecca Redshaw worked in the film industry in Los Angeles for 25 years. She can be reached at

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