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The Gospel of Harvey Milk

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You’ll need to have read the book to pick up on all the vibes—the couple is writhing in the throes of intimacy before their intimacy has even been established. The best thing in the movie is Stewart. She was the leggy hobo-camp teen in love with Emile Hirsch in Into the Wild, and she’s better at conveying physical longing than any of the actors playing vampires. She alone suggests how this series was born, in the mind of a young Mormon girl who had to sublimate like mad with thoughts of having her blood sucked. With characters that veer between implosive sexual repression (Twilight) and explosive sexual liberation (Milk), are Mormons the new Catholics?

How can one do justice to Baz Luhrmann’s overripe epic Australia? It’s several types of primitive melodrama—cattle-drive Western, war picture, anti- racist message movie—whirred together, burnished with state-of-the-art CGI, and blessed with dialogue that defies parody. In one scene, the transplanted Englishwoman (Nicole Kidman) gazes moist-eyed on the rough-and-ready cattleman (Hugh Jackman) as he caresses an edgy stallion, and you know her line will be a clever variation on “You really have a gift with horses.” Instead, she says, “You really have a gift with horses.” It’s like that all the way through, down to the Aboriginal sidekick who lectures the hero with “You’re scared a gettin’ your heart hurt like before … without love in your heart you got nothin’.” Jackman has musical-theater chops and knows how to sell material this ham-handed; Kidman isn’t quite as deft. I’ve always admired her gumption in working so hard to overcome a certain temperamental tightness—but that tightness has now spread to her skin. In one scene, she haltingly sings “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to an orphaned half-caste; but watching that big immovable forehead, I thought of another bit from The Wizard of Oz: “Oiiil caaan.”

Milk
Directed by Gus Van Sant.
Focus Features. R.

Twilight
Directed by Catherine Hardwicke.
Summit Entertainment. PG-13.

Australia
Directed by Baz Luhrmann.
Twentieth Century Fox. NR.

E-mail: filmcritic@newyorkmag.com.


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