Archive for December, 2008


The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: Review

benjamin button When I first saw the trailer for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, I dismissed it immediately.  It seemed hokey: a story about a man who would be born with the qualities of an older human and then regress (or perhaps I should say progress) through his life aging backwards – that is to say, getting younger?  Complete novelty.  I had no intentions of even seeing the movie until it’s DVD release.  I happened to be out with a friend and we decided we had enough time to make one of the showings.  I’m glad that I was wrong about this film – completely wrong.  And I’m a better person for having seen it.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button stars Brad Pitt in the title role, but for me, this was a Brad Pitt unlike I had ever seen before.  I myself had been guilty of dismissing Pitt as a shallow actor who imagined himself to be an “actor’s actor”.  He took me by surprise in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and this film presented Pitt in a completely different way.  While I still feel that Heath Ledger captured my attention by transforming himself more than any other actor so far this year, Brad Pitt made a last minute run at taking that crown. 

It’s difficult to describe the plot without taking away from the enjoyment of actually seeing the film (and so I won’t do that.)  The best way to describe the film will also be one of the films biggest criticisms: “It’s kinda like Forrest Gump”.  I agree that it brings about some of the tender moments that audiences felt while watching Gump.  But for my money, Benjamin Button is much more substantive.  I’ve always taken flack for my opinion that Forrest Gump was an incredibly overrated film.  For me, the 1994 Gump release was memorable for the way that it carried the viewer across a journey spanning several decades, many of which coincide during key events in world history.  But to me Gump always seemed more like an ‘everyman’s epic film’.  The coincidental happenings set against icons that were typical of each era and decade made the film kinda campy.  Benjamin Button is truly epic, and not just because it spans several decades as well.  Where I felt that the character of “Forrest Gump” gets overshadowed by the events of the film, the events in Button act more like they should – a setting or a backdrop for the film and the focus is more more squarely on the characters.  Actually there are many more coincidences that this film has with Forrest Gump: the hometown girl who steals his heart, the charming loving qualities of the lead actor, the ‘fish out of water’ sequences.  Let’s just say that both films have their redeeming qualities.  Yet for me, Button has the soulful substance that will insure that I’ll be watching this film a few times.

OK, I guess I’m obligated to give a bit more about the plot than just to say it was kinda like another film.  As mentioned, a child is born in a state that makes his physical body incredibly old.  He has all of the qualities of an older man.  But strangely as time moves on, his body gets younger at the same rate that a normal human’s body will age.  And the rest of the film reveals the developments of his life: who he meets, who he loves, who affects his life and the lives of those that he affects.  This is a tender film and the best way to appreciate the progression of the story is by watching.

I didn’t realize that one of my favorite directors (David Fincher) directed this film.  Like Danny Boyle, Fincher is truly an incredible director in that his greatness isn’t limited to a particular genre of film.  This film can probably best be described as a family drama, yet it is every bit as engaging and incredible as Fincher’s other more action-driven dramas like Fight Club and Seven.  Another criticism that the film is sure to suffer is for it’s length.  At two hours and forty minutes, it is certainly longer than other films.  But this isn’t your average “opening, plot, conflict, resolve, close”.  This is an epic film and it needs to take it’s time – if for no other reason than to give the proper pacing to allowing the audience to appreciate the physical effects of Benjamin Button’s condition.  And speaking of the condition…

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Hurt – Johnny Cash

Cash Hurt I’ve always been a fan of songs that express a certain degree of regret… (It’s Been Awhile – Staind, Say It Ain’t So – Weezer).  To me, there’s something much more authentic and genuine when artists talk about their shortcomings.  But no song exhibits as epic a moment of reflection on a life less than perfect as when Johnny Cash decided to cover Nine Inch Nail’s Hurt. Trent Renzor himself said in an interview that when he listened to the song, he was moved to tears.  He says that when he heard the song, he realized that “it wasn’t my song anymore.”  (Presumably meaning that Cash gave the song some alternate meaning – not that he ‘took’ the song.)  The original is itself a powerful song, but somehow Cash takes it to a different place.  Trent’s lyrics are a masterpiece. Yet somehow Cash’s interpretation breathes new life into them.  And when you reflect upon the lyrics as they leave Johnny’s mouth, it’s almost as if Trent he wrote them knowing that Cash would sing them one day.

The song seems rather incomplete without watching the video, because it tells such an incredible story.  As you watch all of the accolades – the awards and pictures and statues that are piled up and dusted in the Cash home… and as you watch his older (and presumably wiser) self with clips of Cash as a younger man, it paints a complete picture.  It works on several levels.  Most obviously is the fact that Johnny is reflecting on his life minus the tales of glamour, as his wife June watches on.  (June would pass away in May of 2003 and, like the love story always goes, Johnny would follow her in September.).  But it’s also a cautionary tale.  It’s the wise, old man who takes a moment away from the chess table in the park and decides to impart some words of wisdom to you.  It’s the rock star who’s telling you that now that it’s all said and done, that some of the pain and struggle wasn’t really worth it.  It’s the black sheep of the family exclaiming that although you think he’s just a screw up, that he really wishes he could take back some of the moments of imperfection.

There are so many things about this song that I love.  But what truly brings the song together is the last verse.  As the song is brought to a crescendo, there’s the verse at the end that just doesn’t seem to fit.  It isn’t in line with the structure of the rest of the song.  However, it fits the emotion of the song perfectly.  It’s the final thought of a man reflecting on a life that’s been fun, but that has moments he wishes he could take back.  I recall watching Mickey Mantle at a press conference where he announced that he was dying.  I didn’t grow up a Mickey Mantle fan, but in that moment he earned my undying respect.  As he reflected on his bouts with alcohol that would eventually take his life, he decided to take the opportunity to do something most celebrities would never think of doing – he dispelled the myth of his perfection.  He talked about how all of his fans looked up to him and wanted to be like him.  And he answered them: “Don’t be like me.”  And this song encompasses all of the regret expressed in that moment:  “I will let you down… I will make you hurt… If I could start again… a million miles away… I would keep myself… I would find a way.”

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Shonda Rhimes Must Have It In For Katherine Heigl

One of these people is dead. It’s no secret that Katherine Heigl is as close to Isaiah Washington in terms of her current standing with the Grey’s Anatomy writers.  This isn’t to say that she’s making homophobic comments.  However, Grey’s fans can recall the buzzing that was circulating the set when Isaiah had an altercation or made comments towards T.R. Knight.  That same attention is here again.  I find Katherine (as an actress and as an interview) fascinating.  I guess it’s just something in the way that she responds to questions.  It lets me know that she’d make for an incredibly interesting conversation.  However, it might be that independent and against-the-grain attitude that ends her run on Grey’s.

It’s no secret that she’s very outspoken.  She’s different from most of the ‘Hollywood crowd’.  (She has a backbone.)  When Katherine felt that her character was underutilized last season, she took her name out of the running for an Emmy nomination for Best Actress (despite the fact that she won the award last year.)  A bit risky.  Some may say a bit ungrateful… but one that is undoubtedly the response of a person who considers their craft ‘art’ and isn’t just looking for a check.  She cares about how her character is being portrayed.

In defense of the series creator and lead writer, Shonda Rhimes, it is completely up to her as writer to decide how her on-screen characters are to be developed.  Shonda has gone on record as saying that she has a “Grey’s bible” and that every plotline’s resolution is pretty much ‘laid out’.  And so, perhaps, this was the season to de-emphasize Heigl’s character (Izzie Stevens) and to focus on the development of less prominently featured characters?  Whatever the reason, it’s a bit juvenile to think that someone who has given us as many compelling moments as Rhimes has would de-emphasize a character over a personal dispute.

Or perhaps I have it completely wrong.  Perhaps Katherine doesn’t have an issue with the way she has been used at all.  Maybe she just doesn’t think she herself gave 100% this season and would feel guilty if she won the award?  Or perhaps there is some inside disagreement that is beyond the reach of nagging tabloids.

Whatever the reason, it’s become clear to me this season that Shonda is making an exit for Katherine.

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