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Milk

In a structured society there are always role models to whom people gather.  Becoming a focal point for various causes, these anointed icons have had the ability to galvanise debate.  Such was Harvey Milk, who in 1970’s San Francisco, became the first openly gay elected official in U.S. politics.  That his short career was felled by an assassin’s gun proved no impediment to his lasting influence.
Moving to San Francisco with his partner Scott (James Franco), Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) opened a camera store on Castro Street.  Gradually becoming a meeting place for its local gay populace, Harvey listened to tales of violence and legally sanctioned intimidation with revulsion.  Determined to fight for the rights of this unfairly marginalised group, his activism led him to become the country’s first openly gay politician.  Moving from the bigotry of the streets to the machinations of council, his stoic conviction against the tide of hate within its chambers created a legacy even he could never have envisioned.
Crafting a solid career on the fringes of Hollywood, director Gus Van Sant finally bites the apple of commercial film-making to great effect.  Although following the standard biopic formula, he ensures his characters rise above its clichés.  Perhaps presented a little too much of a white knight, Harvey Milk’s general ethos of creating hope for his friends comes across effectively.  While it’s never possible to project a true depiction of any individual, it manages to convey the use of his elected powers and the personal hardships such responsibility entailed.
What Van Sant cleverly does is to fully immerse the viewer into Milk’s world.  Using archival footage, he instantly conjures up the mood of the era and of the many battles that had to be fought.  Most potent are the rantings from extreme evangelists who, via these old films, are damned by their ignorant statements. The excellent performances are topped by a bravura turn from Penn who deserves the accolades of his many recent acting nominations.  His scenes with Franco also powerfully express the enduring partnership that can be found in any relationship.  Josh Brolin as Milk’s political nemesis gives a finely balanced rendition of someone trapped by his own beliefs.
Milk is a very interesting snapshot of a time where the gay rights movement finally found their voice.  With Milk’s presence and untimely demise, it was able to continue to agitate for change against those who were reluctant to accept the basic rights such changes would deliver. 
Rating out of 10:  8 

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

There is always a cause for concern whenever a star and director depart a popular franchise.  The possibility that the next sequel will suffer from their absence increases as the production team scramble to cover the loss.  A good way to overcome this has been utilising the growing trend towards prequels, where the same characters can be portrayed by younger actors.  Where some continuations have been absolute shockers, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans reasonably keeps its head above water with the third entry successfully maintaining the series’ darkly gothic style.
The centuries old war between the Lycan werewolves and Vampiric Death Dealers finally reveal its genesis.  After saving Lucian (Michael Sheen) during infancy, this human/wolf hybrid gives evil vampire king Viktor (Bill Nighy) an idea.  Using the child as a basis for a bloodthirsty wolf army, he sees his chance to fully control his dark realm.  Seeing the needless slavery and slaughter of his kind, the now grown Lucians’s leadership qualities emerge with as much ferocity as his hatred for Viktor.  Helped by the king’s rebellious daughter Sonja (Rhona Mitra), Lucian aims to set free his brethren and rise against their ghoulish masters.
Although usual heroine Kate Beckinsale is sorely missed, the frenetic visual panache offered still packs a punch.  This is mostly due to series’ editor Patrick Tatopoulos whose promotion to director ensures the pacing and story remains consistent.  The almost Shakespearean tragedy awaiting Viktor as he deals with his daughter and his deceitful underlings adds texture to Nighy’s villain.  Working well opposite fellow English actor Sheen, the two make the most of their strong roles, with Sheen able to convey his character’s reluctance in proclaiming his heroic mantle.
A reason why the film isn’t quite as good as its predecessors is due to its rather simple script.  Where the first films had a very complex back-story, the screenplay here suffers in comparison.  Latching onto an ongoing chase/capture formula, events tend to get a little monotonous before picking up for a suitably bloodthirsty finale.  The sensory visuals are of a high standard, although cleverly the eternal night the characters live in also provides an ample excuse to hide any shoddy special effects work!   
Certainly the least of the trilogy, Underworld 3 isn’t as bad as it could have been.  Adding plenty of relevant information to its mythology, this entry has several excitingly staged sequences and decent acting to warrant attention.
Rating out of 10:  6