My buddy Yac and I took in a free showing of
the upcoming drama "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" on Thursday
night. The buzz around this film is legit, but Yac and I both
agreed on one thing for the first time in a long time:
This movie is really fucking
long...ironic, given that it is based on a short story.
Directed by David Fincher, "The Curious Case
of Benjamin Button" adds to an already impressive list of thrillers,
including "Se7en", "The Game" and
not to mention everyone's favorite cult classic, "Fight Club."
He brings back frequent star Brad Pitt to play Benjamin, a man with
an interesting dilemma--he is aging backwards, so at birth, he is
the size of a baby but with the health issues of a 90-year-old
man...this leads his father (Jason Flemyng) to desert Benjamin the
day he is born. Over the course of his life, Benjamin will be
raised in New Orleans by a house servant named Queenie (Taraji P.
"Hustle & Flow"), sent off to work on a tugboat, suffer the loss
of dozens of childhood friends--he grows up in a senior-citizens
home where his mother works--while growing younger in body
throughout his life, fall in love with a girl who he met at the
home, Daisy (later played by Cate Blanchett), meet a world-class
swimmer (Tilda Swinton), rediscover his father later in life and
inherit a fortune, only to give it all away and live all over the
"Button" is an incredibly vast production.
At times, it is true greatness, the likes of which you HAVE seen
before when it comes to Fincher. It also falls prey to
literally the exact same thing that plagued his last and maybe most
"Zodiac", because there is easily 45 minutes to an hour of extra
film here. I mean, it's not even close--there is a moment in
"Button" where it does appear the film could end. And, not
only does the film not end, it goes off on a path that gives us
literally nothing to augment the story for the final 20-30 minutes.
In addition, the filmmakers chose to tell this story by using a
present-tense narration by Daisy's daughter (played by Julia Ormond)
while Daisy is dying in a New Orleans hospital in 2004 as Katrina is
playing out in real time. This also adds unnecessarily to the
film's girth and even now, I don't know how much was
added--dramatically speaking--by telling the story in this way.
(Certainly, if this was based on a short story by F. Scott
Fitzgerald, it's safe to say the Katrina angle was NOT in the
I do know what was added: time.
And, at two hours and 50 minutes (Yac and I stayed through the end
credits because there was a long line getting out of the theater),
"Button" is a long sit through what is a well-told, thoughtful,
incredibly-well-performed but often slow production. Twice, I
heard someone nearby wake up from a nap...one guy was even doing the
backwards-nodding-of-the-head thing when he woke up from a quiet
snore. This is important because you should know that I am in
support of long films if it tells an engaging story. "JFK" was
over three hours long and I had no problems with it; "Pulp Fiction"
is two-and-a-half hours but I watch that one all the time in reruns.
Time is only an issue when you've got nothing going on, and in
"Button", it has a pretty nice run of interesting bits through the
100-minute mark but then slowly, slowly kills you.
All of that being said, the praise this film
will get is legit. Pitt shines as the lead here, although part
of that is the suppression of any emotion by his character; I don't
think his Benjamin has a single scene where he either laughs hard,
cries, yells, runs, or does anything involving emotion. This,
in part, will lead to people, you know, falling asleep in the
theater. Our lead is the straight man to a number of other
great characters. Swinton is once again fantastic, and Henson
plays an almost-stereotyped caricature to perfection, the
down-South-black-woman-with-twang. You half-expect her to have
a scene where she says "Well, shucks, Miss Johnson!!" while kicking
her heels together in the air, but it never happens. I thought
Flemyng was great in his brief scenes, and nearly all of Benjamin's
encounters over his long life are well-performed by bit players.
But, as she almost always is, Blanchett is
the film's great star. Yac and I also agreed on this--neither
one of us thinks of Cate Blanchett as a "hottie", but in "Button",
she is that hottie. Wow! Some of that is the makeup
department, but most of that is Blanchett...playing a ballet dancer
who eventually retires to a life of dance instruction, Blanchett's
performance will nearly guarantee an Oscar nomination and it will
once again confirm her status as a top-five female performer in the
current film landscape. I don't know if I think she was ever
better in anything she has done in her already great career, and is
the great takeaway from this movie.
"Button" is a good movie, despite time and a
couple other issues I had (namely, the lack of explanation of
Benjamin's fantasy condition, and the death sequence of Queenie).
I think I saw enough to make me feel like the Academy will probably
nominate this for a Best Picture nod, but I personally didn't feel
the movie was on that level. Then again, films this year have
across the board been less-than-good in 2008, and that might open
the door for great things when the Oscars are handed out in
February. No matter what, make sure you hit the bathroom
before watching this movie...I was in the theater for three hours
and we didn't even get previews.
Rating: $9.50 Show
Comments? Drop me a line at
Bellview Rating System:
"Opening Weekend": This is
the highest rating a movie can receive. Reserved for movies that
exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development,
setting...or Salma Hayek. Not necessarily in that order.
"$X.XX Show": This price
changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently,
it is the $9.50 Show. While not technically perfect, this is a
movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.
"Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca",
but you'll have a great time watching. The $9.50 Show won't win any
Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see
"Matinee": An average movie
that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.
Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about
yourself. A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave
the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that
Lakers game last night?"
"Rental": This rating
indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your
friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one." Mostly forgettable, you
couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to
watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the
video store was out of copies of "Ronin." If you can, see this
movie for free. This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a
"Hard Vice": This rating is
the bottom of the barrel. A movie that only six other human beings
have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen. A Shannon
Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every
one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a
movie. Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or
"Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this
movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!
(Warning: strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard