May 23

“The Normal Heart”: Long-Awaited Adaptation of Larry Kramer’s Play

If you have access to HBO, most advance reviews indicate it’s well worth checking out Sunday night’s premiere of The Normal Heart. David Wiegand, San Francisco Chronicle, says, in fact, there are “millions” of reasons to tune in, including, “because ‘The Normal Heart’ seethes with rage, truth and love in every single performance by an A-list cast. You should watch because Larry Kramer’s play is so much more than an agitprop relic from the early years of AIDS — it is a great play that has become an even greater television film.”

There are those who disagree, however, that the TV adaptation is better than the play. David Hinckley, New York Daily News, for example:

…’The Normal Heart’ is most effective in a good stage production, because it seethes with a visceral anger best felt in the physical presence of the actors.
But this new Ryan Murphy adaptation comes close, thanks in large measure to the fury that Mark Ruffalo gives to lead character Ned Weeks…
Weeks becomes the voice of outrage, demanding friends and foes alike acknowledge the urgency of this plague.

Below Wiegand sets up the TV film’s plot, which is based on Kramer’s real-life experiences in the early 1980’s. He also introduces the main characters played by, in order of their characters’ mentions, Mark Ruffalo, Julia Roberts, and Matt Bomer:

Ned Weeks…is an abrasive activist-slash-writer who tries to rally gay men toward awareness of the growing health crisis and lobbies in vain for the New York Times to give the issue appropriate coverage.
Soon enough, the situation is impossible for gay men to ignore, although the straight world would do its damnedest for several years. When Ned urges sexual abstinence as a way of stopping the spread of the so-called ‘gay cancer,’ he may as well be advocating a mass return to the closet by the entire gay population of New York.
He finds a powerful ally in Dr. Emma Brookner…whose childhood battle with polio has left her in a wheelchair as an adult but has also taught her that health crises demand urgent and focused response.
As Weeks steps up pressure on the Times, he meets a lifestyle writer for the paper named Felix Turner…who becomes his lover.

Critics have praised the cast as a whole, with frequent special mentions of Bomer’s performance. Other cast members include Jonathan Groff, Taylor Kitsch, Jim Parsons, Alfred Molina, Denis O’Hare, and Joe Mantello.

You can watch the trailer below:

SELECTED REVIEWS

David Wiegand, San Francisco Chronicle:

[Murphy’s] film, with an adaptation by Kramer, captures the conflicting attitudes and emotions in the New York gay community as indifference and denial turned to panic, anger and despair, but it also recognizes that ‘The Normal Heart’ tells a human story far beyond both its subject matter and the time in which it is set…

It is emotionally raw, harrowing, and a thing of such singular horrific beauty, it will move you, exhaust you and, almost paradoxically, thrill you at the heights television drama can attain.

Chuck Barney, Mercury News: “What [Murphy] delivers is a film with piercing emotional honesty that feels rough and real, intimate and truly full of heart.”

David Zurawik, Baltimore Sun: “…will keep you up for hours in an emotional churn thinking about life, love, loss, death and politics.”

Dec 19

“How to Survive a Plague”: Silence Equalled Death

Maybe you’ve heard of it; maybe not. It’s currently in theaters, but hardly. However, it recently won Best Documentary from the Boston Society of Film Critics (2012). And How to Survive a Plague is so noteworthy it’s also made it onto film critic Lisa Schwarzbaum‘s (Entertainment Weekly) “10 Best Movies of 2012.”

Directed by David France, How to Survive a Plague tells the story of both ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group), two coalitions responsible back in the day for pushing such organizations as the National Institutes of Health, the FDA, the drug companies, and the general medical establishment to do more regarding AIDS research and treatment.

Watch the trailer before reading on:

The Story Via Review Excerpts

Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: The film “begins in 1987, six years into the AIDS epidemic, when the group Act Up formed in Greenwich Village and proceeded to march on New York’s City Hall in an effort to shame Mayor Ed Koch for his lack of response to what was then known as the ‘gay plague.'”

Sara Stewart, The New York Post:

Featured ACT UP leaders include writer and agitator Larry Kramer; Peter Staley, a former closeted bond trader who went on to become one of the group’s most eloquent spokesmen; and Bob Rafsky, whose angry outburst at a speech by then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton evoked the now-famous phrase ‘I feel your pain.’
Video of protests, strategy meetings and the near-dead is interspersed with TV images of President George H.W. Bush merrily playing golf and Sen. Jesse Helms denouncing the ‘revolting’ victims for not keeping their ‘sodomy’-related problems to themselves. (In one of their more lighthearted actions, the group memorably unfurled a giant condom over Helms’ house.)

Andrew O’Hehir, Salon:

I’d have been happy to live out my life never again seeing the faces of such homophobic and generally hateful goblins as Sen. Jesse Helms and John Cardinal O’Connor, but it’s useful to remember that such people are not deeply buried in the American past and that some are with us today. While ACT UP’s ‘Stop the Church’ protests inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1989 no doubt struck many onlookers as shocking and disrespectful, many of the protesters involved had been raised Catholic and were reacting in outrage against a church that actively scorned them and seemed to delight in their extinction.

By the Ending…

Sara StewartThe New York Post: “France wisely waits until near the end to reveal which ACT UP members are still living, and which are not. ‘How to Survive a Plague,’ while a shaggier-structured documentary than many, is a heart-wrenching portrait of one of the saddest, most heroic chapters in American history.”

Stephen WhittyStar-Ledger: “(M)ostly the film toggles between two emotions – the high of watching brave people go to war, and the low of seeing so many of them fall, as entire communities are destroyed. (‘Will the last person alive in Chelsea,’ one man bitterly jokes, ‘please turn off the lights?’).”

Amy BiancolliSan Francisco Chronicle: “When it’s over, this documentary lingers as a testament to extraordinary human bravery. It stands as one of the most heartbreaking and suspenseful sagas of the year.”