It's been 15 years since Paul Thomas Anderson became a critical darling with the premiere of his sprawling '70s porn epic Boogie Nights. As widely liked as the movie was then, one couldn't have anticipated the quantum leap Anderson's already impressive skills would take over the next decade-and-a-half, as he crafted films as diverse and challenging as Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love and his masterpiece, There Will Be Blood. Put alongside those titles, Boogie Nights stands out as his most conventional movie; it's a straightforward rise-and-fall-and-rise-again Hollywood narrative that just happens to take place in the adult film industry rather than bright lights of the studio world. Seen today, the film is still a lot of fun -- before it goes to some truly dark places in the second half -- packed with great performances (it's still a crime that Burt Reynolds didn't win that Best Supporting Actor statue he was nominated for) and lots of razzle-dazzle filmmaking, but it's also a reminder of how much richer and complex Anderson's pictures have gotten since.
One way that people rob something they fear of its power is by making fun of it. It's the basic tenet of propaganda and political campaigns, and I've always thought it also applied to the MPAA's treatment of nudity in the movies of late. For example, if a man shows his butt, the MPAA rates it PG-13; hell, Rob Schneider has made a career out of showing the place he pulls his movie ideas out of. But show a woman's ass and BAM!! Rated R! My explanation is that you can mine comedic potential from a guy's ass. I mean, it's where farts come from, and farts are funny!
I fully admit that my inner twelve-year-old could not be suppressed when reading about James Franco and Sean Penn's new project Milk. I will even admit that the juvenile and annoying elementary school playground rhyme, "Milk, milk, lemonade, round the corner..." popped into my head at the end of the first sentence and it took me about fifteen seconds to regain my composure. That said, I dare you to remain a grown-up while reading this. I won't say it can't be done, but then, you're probably a better person than me. The news here seems to be not the project itself--a film about politician and activist Harvey Milk (Penn), who in 1977 was the first openly gay American man to be elected to office--but that Penn, who will play Milk, and Franco, who will play one of his lovers, will don prosthetic penises in all their nude scenes. Dude. I can't even type "penis" without tittering. I hope the make-up artist who had to apply the prosthesis has a lot more decorum than I.