Milk

In theaters.

OK, so I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted, but my personal perfect storm of familial, financial, and meteorological stressors (don’t ask) seems to have abated somewhat, so I decided to check out one of the many Academy Award–nominated movies I haven’t seen.

When I was young and foolish and in possession of far too much free time, I made a point of seeing at least four of the five nominees in each major Oscar category, but that’s not going to happen this year. Most of them simply don’t appeal to me. But Milk looked reasonably promising, and I’d become interested in its iconic subject after Sean and I visited San Francisco a year and half ago, so Milk it was.

Biopics are notoriously middlebrow, of course, but screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, director Gus Van Sant, and star Sean Penn manage to avoid many of the clichés and pitfalls of the genre. Most notably, they avoid turning Harvey Milk into a plaster saint. The portrait they create is beautifully messy and textured and vibrant. He’s not perfect, but you can feel why people loved him, why he meant so much to so many.

30 Rock

Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. on HBO. Seven episodes into the third season.

As much as I love Arrested Development, I understand why it never found much of an audience. With long, complicated story arcs and dark, pointed humor—not to mention nine principal characters and more than a dozen frequently recurring characters, many of whom aren’t, technically, all that likeable—the daring sitcom is difficult for casual, uninitiated viewers to “get” immediately. But why is 30 Rock heir to the critically-adored-but-low-rated comedy crown? Why aren’t enough people watching it?

30 Rock is so easy to enjoy. The “plots” are generally a bit beside the point (if you miss an episode, no harm done), the humor is less caustic and more zany, and the small ensemble features riotously funny Alec Baldwin embracing his reincarnation as a comedic character actor as well as the show’s creator, beloved comedy goddess Tina Fey. I know not everyone is as enamored with the neurotic, geeky brunette archetype as, say, Sean is (to my very good fortune—I love you, baby!), but even so, other than Sarah Palin enthusiasts, who doesn’t love Tina Fey?

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

In theaters.

When I first saw the preview for director David Fincher’s new movie, I thought it was an adaptation of The Confessions of Max Tivoli, a novel I read (and disliked) several years ago. Of course, I was wrong about the preview. I learned later that novelist Andrew Sean Greer had lifted his premise from a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and it is that story that is dramatized in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

To be frank, though, I don’t see why Fitzgerald and Greer and Fincher and his screenwriters are all so enamored of the conceit of a person who ages backward, born in the body of a shriveled old man and gradually “growing down,” so to speak, to die as an infant. Beyond the obvious (and depressing) parallels between infancy and old age, I just don’t see what I’m supposed to get out of it.