Monday, January 12, 2009

MILK and The White Dog

At the end of an eventful and productive weekend, I'm reunited with Karen and Jasper, and it's time to take stock of exactly what transpired during the 48 hours after getting off work on Friday. By Sunday morning, there were so many stories I wanted to tell, I made a list and turned it over to the preferences of whichever readers happened by during a span of 10 weekend hrs. The response was light, but a good sign that you all have better things to do than read blogs on the weekend. And that's precisely why I didn't take the time to post 9 times in two days. Too busy livin'.

So, according to this makeshift democratic process, a focus group of you all wanted to hear about the movie, "MILK" and to a lesser extent, my drinking/eating experience at The White Dog. Am I overblowing the representativeness of the comments of four readers? Maybe, but I gotta honor the process. Readers' Choice. So here goes...

MILK Makes an Evening Good

Even though I was all set to follow up last weekend's debauchery by painting the town red one way or another, I decided to spend Friday night in relative private. The lone rusty nail that I had at Can Can on my way home from work was a big one. By party time, I was fatigued and cranky and didn't have party plans anyhow. So, I made my way to the Westhampton for the 10pm show.

Everything I'd heard about MILK focused on Sean Penn's performance. Already having seen the famous documentary, and being a pretty big Penn fan, I wasn't going to the movie for an education so much as to see a potential Oscar caliber performance. Within minutes of laying eyes on Penn in his 70's get-up and fay affectation, I was charmed. But what unfolds in MILK is not simply an acting achievement. The film tells a story that depicts an ongoing cultural war in America and cuts through numerous political topics that are integral to our democracy. As an aside, I should mention that I was born in San Francisco in 1974, during the ponytail era of Milk's development. As the movie unfolded, it was funny to think that blocks away, my mom was probably toting me around town, preparing to open a bookstore or start an acting career. The next night, the movie was discussed during my night out, so I'll revisit MILK in that context.

Where Everybody/Nobody Knows Your Name

Saturday night, I had two blogger friends over: Matthew Freeman and Stakolee. It was 9pm or so and two of us hadn't officially eaten dinner. We'd been discussing obscure restaurants that deserved our business but wouldn't be too loud. However, walking distance from Byrd Park narrowed our options to mostly unappealing Main Street and Fan watering holes that would be overrun with 23 year olds making their rounds from Sidewalk to Curbside and all points in between. Then, I recalled a comment I left at Matthew's blog and the guys followed my lead to The White Dog.

Once in a blue moon, I'll duck out for a nightcap, often with grad school homework in hand. The White Dog's secluded sunken basement is the perfect hiding place. Since it's usually late, I found out that they reduce all of their appetizers to $5 a piece during the last hour that the kitchen is open (typically 10-11 on weekends). When we got there, it was 20 minutes to 10pm and the only two of us eating weren't even willing to splurge on their cheapest option: their legendary BIG Salad for $14 without the addition of meat or portabellos. That's right, we were out on the town, not really wanting to pay "out on the town prices."

Luckily, the server said she'd bend the rules and take our order for three $5 appetizers and bring them out at 10pm, when the discount kicked in. Is that a cheapskate anecdote, or what? The highlight were the catfish fingers with creamy jalapeno dip. They are seriously breaded, but expertly fried. When you're drinking beer, that crunch counts for a lot. The bruschetta trio looked like a snack plate I'd make at home and balance on my protruding belly in front of the TV. Three medium sized pieces of french bread toast topped with hummus, artichoke spread, and sundried tomato pesto with feta. The pesto was the only significant flavor among the three. There were also some pickled veggies on the plate, mostly forgettable, except that the carrots were hella spicy and the pitted black olives tasted like canned Richfood brand from the back of my cupboard. Regardless, it was comfort food for me, and I was picking it clean long after the others stopped. Hey, I rode 20 miles on my bike that day. What's your excuse?

The last item was a few crispy fried spring rolls with apricot chutney. The rolls were standard, with crunchy but greasy paper wrappers and sparse and stringy veggies inside. The chutney didn't quite provide the excitement I wanted, but it was sweet and spicy. Again, good with beer. The three of us had five beers and one coffee (for the guy who's regained his edge). As the evening wore on, the place filled up beyond anything I'd seen there before. The proprietor was singing exuberantly along with some Simon and Garfunkle tunes which he'd turned up way too loud. Before you know it, they were lighting a birthday cake and singing Happy Birthday. If that sounds off-putting, you really never know what to expect at The White Dog. And if you're wanting to make sense of my recommendation of the discounted appetizers, that's it right there. I wouldn't be eating them if they weren't $5. They might be worth that. Personally, I can't resist a sale, and I find it kinda rare to order food that isn't a guaranteed rip off. So, proceed to The White Dog and see for yourself. I'm sure I'll be returning.

Back to MILK

Somehow, amidst the clamour, we still managed to talk politics. I was totally distracted by the dessert list, hoping Stakolee would order the bread pudding with bourbon sauce and some other decadent topping (so I could have a bite). It never happened. So, I couldn't resist talking up MILK, since neither of them had seen it. Both Matthew and Stakolee had been advised to see MILK in the theatre rather than waiting for the DVD to come out. I speculated that it was the impressive volume of young men in tight pants that could only be appreciated when larger than life. I mean, is there a better way to showcase either gender than tight pants? Joking aside, I concluded that the movie is just damn deserving of urgency. It's too relevant and too well made by Gus Van Zant for anyone to sit on the fence and risk forgetting about it.

As I was saying earlier, the movie quickly takes you from a character study (and Sean Penn worship) into a profile of a social movement that is still struggling for respect and legitimacy, despite America's promise of equality. Harvey Milk had incredible ambition in fighting back on a national level while running for and holding municipal office. As much as I like social justice themed movies, this one provides more insights per minute that I've seen on screen in a long time. The gay movement of the 70s had many unique characteristics and Van Zant brings those to light often. Activists are pushed to come out to EVERYONE they know as part of their campaign ("they vote two to one for us, if they know one of us"). They had a hard time with those who wanted to enjoy the lifestyle they held dear in San Francisco, but didn't want the trouble of fighting for acceptance and understanding.

As Harvey Milk's numerous campaigns evolve in the film, we're treated to a whole gamut of strategies and maneuvers that I can only compare to The Wire in terms of the stark portrayal of harsh political realities. I feel like we really see how a politician changes in order to win and in order to do his/her job once elected. But Milk shows the rare integrity of continuously operating with an eye on the gay movement and boldly leveraging his strategic/symbolic role in it. When you go see MILK (not "if"), expect an exciting political roller coaster. Expect a love story, where all of Harvey Milk's passions are on display. Expect an education, because the story is rich and it is timely. And expect a tragedy, because you can feel it building from the moment the movie begins.

Need I say more? Go on now and don't eat too many twinkies when you have a bad day. Watch the movie and you'll see what I mean.

1 comment:

  1. Anybody wanna discuss MILK? I just got Never Back Down on Neflix. We could debate that one. How about The White Dog? Are the entrees good? I wouldn't know. I've only had the apps and drinks.


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