“Milk” – Susan Granger reviews

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“Have bullhorn, will travel”could have been gay civil rights activist Harvey Milk’s mantra, instead of “I’m Harvey Milk — and I’m here to recruit you.”Whatever the rhetoric, Milk’s message was a simple one of respect, equality and hope.

In 1977, Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, becoming the first openly gay man voted into public office in America. And that ever-present bullhorn – given to him by a member of the Teamsters – was part of his arsenal. But Milk’s struggle began years before in Manhattan where, on the eve of his 40th birthday, he picked up a partner, Scott Smith (James Franco), who helped him evaluate his life. Together, they moved to San Francisco and opened Castro Camera in a working-class neighborhood that soon became a gathering place for the gay community. Recognizing Milk’s charismatic leadership, the Teamsters enlisted his help in their protest against Coors Beer — and Milk earned staunch union support for gay rights, along with a Mayoral ally (Victor Garber), much to the chagrin of fellow supervisor and eventual murderer, Dan White (Josh Brolin).

Written by Dustin Lance Black (“Big Love”) and directed by Gus Van Sant, it’s a socio-political biopic. Using a narrative device, along with black-and-white archival footage of that era, it traces the last eight years of Milk’s life. His proteges — Cleve Jones (Emile Hirsch) and Anne Kronenberg (Alison Pill) — reflect different perspectives. Only Milk’s unstable Mexican lover, Jack Lira (Diego Luna), strikes a distractingly discordant chord.

Ferociously impassioned, Sean Penn brings powerful conviction to the role, embodying Milk with the kind of touching vulnerability and impeccable dignity that deserves Oscar recognition. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Milk” is an intense 9. It’s a must-see performance.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.