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‘Birdman’ Movie Review: Michael Keaton, Director Inarritu Take Film To New Heights

‘Birdman’ Movie Review: Michael Keaton, Director Inarritu Take Film To New Heights

‘Birdman’ Review: Keaton, Director Inarritu Take Film To New Heights

Birdman is not a movie that will sit well with everyone. Few films do. What Birdman is, however, is a thought-provoking, superbly acted, well-written and expertly directed piece of independent cinema that is a shoo-in for multiple nominations come Oscar season. It is a potentially game changing work that demands to be seen.

Birdman stars Michael Keaton as a washed up former Hollywood star trying to re-ignite his past success in a more respected medium on the New York stage. He plays Riggan Thomson, a man who will star in a play he writes and directs. His attempt to capture glory at St.James Theater on Broadway will be met with incredible amounts of skepticism and criticism, both internal and external. Riggan battles personal and professional problems throughout – a pregnant girlfriend, a reformed druggie daughter (Emma Stone), his ex-wife and co-stars (including a return to form from Edward Norton) to name a few. How can Riggan pull it off?

The story serves only as a backdrop to several more thought provoking themes on celebrity, artistic criticism, social media, typecasting and the fickle changing of a public’s tastes, to name a mere few in truth. There are so many questions asked and observations made in the film, with plenty of name-dropping to go around, that one can’t help but delight in it all. The inner-workings of theater and play performance are on display as well as politics and relationships not seen while the “show must go on.” It’s remarkably heady stuff.

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Michael Keaton’s Riggan is hounded by his (alter) ego, Birdman.

The true groundbreaking portion of the film is laid out by director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Babel, 21 Grams and Amores Perros). Known for his Spanish-language works with interweaving storylines, here he manages the same feat while providing the illusion of one single shot throughout. No scene cuts or jumps from inside a car to a restaurant. Ever. Birdman is presented as if it’s done in a single take and while the film can be claustrophobic at times, that’s partially the point. It’s a marvel that will undoubtedly reap the appropriate rewards and depending on the financial success of the film, raises the bar for directors everywhere.

Keaton is excellent, though the same can really be said about the entire cast. I can see up to 4 or 5 acting nominations coming in various slots here and would be shocked if there aren’t at least 2-3 with Norton, Keaton and one of the female so-stars (Naomi Watts or Stone). Top notch acting, writing and directing in a singular piece; it’s how movies should be far more often. This may be the film that started a revolution in filmmaking, though I somehow suspect that a paying public and conservative Hollywood will not take the bait over time. Still, it’s an achievement that will not go unnoticed by film aficionados and Birdman deserves all the props it is all but certain to receive. At one point, a foreign journalist lauds Riggan for possibly doing Birdman 4, after watching this, if it was based on this film, you may indeed want that to happen. Birdman is my film of the year to this point and I highly doubt it will come to the ground based on the level it is soaring at for me.

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Retrospective Look: Oscar-Winning ’12 Years A Slave’ Review

Retrospective Look: Oscar-Winning ’12 Years A Slave’ Review

Retrospective Look: ’12 Years A Slave’ Movie Review

Steve McQueen’s Oscar winning 12 Years A Slave is based on a book by former slave Solomon Northrup, which is based on events in his life. The piece takes place from 1841-53. Northrup is a free black man who is kidnapped and sold into slavery for, as the title suggests, 12 long and torturous years. The film is an unflinching piece of art sparing the audience of little notions of the grotesque nature of slavery in the time period, while amazingly only hinting at the despicable acts that were committed to slaves over time.

Solomon is captured by two travelling artists who use him for his considerable musical skills for a week, give him money, get him drunk and after nurturing him through throwing up say “there is nothing more we can do for him.” The multi-weighted meaning of this line suggests that he will soon become a slave, the captors having done their part to give him a good time, use him and provide comfort for him in his debauched state, meanwhile he leaves a family of three and life of freedom behind.

As Northrup, Chiwetel Ejiofor was certainly deserving of his nominations as he carries nearly every scene of the film. You can see his posture and demeanor change from tall standing free man to a slouching whipping boy for plantation owners. His resolve is reflected in his eyes, which McQueen fortunately captures often enough to stir us beyond the chilling events of the story.

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There are no false notes from the Oscar-nominated Ejiofor. Great work.

Brad Pitt, smartly cast as a Canadian man rather than American, with different notions of what laws and being a man mean, offers a pivotal cog in Solomon’s life. Paul Giammatti (slave trader), Paul Dano (the pitch perfect slave runner – a man with a face born to do this type of piece sadly), Michael K. Williams (miniscule slave role for talented actor) and Michael Fassbender (as a drunk, maniacal plantation owner) all help round out the ensemble. That goes without mentioning Oscar-winning Lupita Nyong’o as Patsey, a talented cotton picker who serves as a sexual haven and routine torture victim in the film. (Note: She was excellent though doesn’t have a huge role, but is given the type of character that awards voters love to root for). This is top-flight casting for a film of this caliber.

McQueen, who helmed the critical import darling Hunger and the top-notch sexual addiction piece Shame, departs a bit from his past efforts to make something oddly at once more commercially acceptable while still being within his zone of boundary pushing. It’s a worthy addition to his expanding oeuvre. 12 Years A Slave takes no prisoners and should be commended for showing us the wretched past of our history in America. It’s a maddening and challenging film and essentially a must-see.

 

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Spike Jonze’s Award Winning ‘Her’: 2013’s Best Film – A Retrospective Review

Spike Jonze’s Award Winning ‘Her’: 2013’s Best Film – A Retrospective Review

Her: 2013’s Best Film – A Retrospective Review

Ed. Note: Film was seen months ago so this is going based off of memory 

What will love look like in the future? How will human interactions change with the increasing emphasis on computer interfacing in the digital age? These are just some of the basic questions asked in Spike Jonze’s Her, which is my pick for the best film of 2013.

Her stars perhaps the best actor working today in Joaquin Phoenix, as Theodore, a man who works at an agency that scripts letters. Theodore’s thoughtful words for others; love letters, letters of sorrow, letters to express longing, all serve as a backdrop for his own desires. He is a top writer who receives praise for his skills at the company. In his private life, Theodore is coming off a marriage that didn’t work with his divorce (to wife played by Rooney Mara) being finalized. His spirit exudes loneliness and isolation, until he installs a new computer operating system.

His new OS, as it’s referred to, is capable of interacting on a very human level. Once installed, the OS, who’s voice is captured and rapturously portrayed by Scarlett Johannson, learns about Theodore through his computer files and soon becomes his best friend and more. Their relationship takes on great depths and levels of interactivity far beyond what one could ever expect. Or is that true?

Jo Pho in Her

Jonze’s foresight of the seemingly near future asks many questions about how people interact with technology. If you look closely enough, he also hints at some answers. Our increasing use of social media and decreasing interest in face to face contact is leading us down a potentially difficult, dire and challenging path. Jonze shows how technology and our use of it may change and affect us going forward from bizarre but hilarious video games to even love making. The growing power of Theodore’s OS and his reliance on and closeness of “their” relationship is so real and vivid, it can’t help but win audiences over.

Those in denial about the way technology shapes our lives both positively and negatively may have a harder time connecting with this deeply satisfying piece. Pitch perfect performances by Phoenix – and amazingly Johannson, who rightfully should have been considered for end of year awards – only deepen the connection. Jonze’s futuristic and beautiful vision of LA (the epicenter of filmmaking and place where I reside) excites and intrigues. Don’t miss Her, it’s a film that’s funny, moving and thought-proving – what more can one ask for in a film?

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The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo 2009 vs. 2011 Movie Review and Comparison

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo 2009 vs. 2011 Movie Review and Comparison

First off, if you have yet to read Stieg Larsson’s best-selling novel The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, that’s fine, because I haven’t read the book either. That being said, obviously my lack of knowledge of the book plays a role in how I viewed the presentation of both David Fincher’s new movie and the original 2009 Swedish version of the film with the same name.

Both films plots center around a murder mystery that happened 40 years ago. One which has haunted Henrik Vanger, uncle of Harriet Vanger, who disappeared during a parade and was never to be seen again. So, Henrik hires the good but troubled journalist Mikael Blomkvist to assist with researching Harriet’s death, since he has not stopped thinking about it and looking into it for four decades.

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Fincher's "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" star Rooney Mara.

While there is obviously more to the plot – such as the titular girl with the dragon tattoo, a computer hacker who comes to aid Blomkvist in his unraveling of the mystery – and the large and powerful Vanger family, which is loaded with distrust and possibly tons of secrets, I’d rather focus on how the films are presented and compare them, versus what happens in the film. That being said, this will be a spoiler filled post I am sure.

Both film versions present the material similarly early on, however, Fincher’s version lends more depth to the character of Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) and his sexual relationship with his editor (Robin Wright-Penn). The original version leaves this to be highly-implied and not nearly as easy to decipher.

Both films treat Blomkvist as a reporter scorned, but in the Swedish version, Blomkvist has a 6-month jail stint hanging over his head, which he eventually serves. This does not happen in Fincher’s film. Also, Lisbeth Salander, the afore-mentioned tattooed girl, has a troubled past in both. She is much more silent in the original film, with a bit more depth and expression of character in Fincher’s film. This is to be expected I think, due to audience discrepancies with the way we accept material.

The settings are similar, both snow-filled in northern Stockholm, but Fincher’s has the slick feel of modern money, IKEA smooth furniture, while the original film places a little more emphasis on old-school money. The cottage where Blomkvist stays is more in the open in the first film, where in Fincher’s the cottage is “guarded” in a sense by Henrik’s mansion.

The 2009 original Swedish version of "Dragon Tattoo."

The original 2009 Swedish version of "Dragon Tattoo".

Both films treat the violence appropriately, gruesome in some respects, perhaps a bit more gratuitous in Fincher’s film. Salander’s relationship with Blomkvist, a key component of the film, is where the films differ primarily, in my view. What made Fincher’s film so strong, is the change that Rooney Mara’s Lisbeth displayed and her desire to become close with Blomkvist. The ending in that film, though slightly predictable, is gut-wrenching. In the Swedish version, Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) desires Noomi Rapace’s Salander more, and she is more passive and distant with their interactions, despite the physical relationship. In essence, in Fincher’s film, she wanted him but couldn’t have him, and in the Swedish version, it was the opposite.

Both films end similarly in terms of other plot points, with Salander looting money, but in the Swedish version she is off on her own and in Fincher’s film, heartbreak prevails. Despite very similar run times, I felt the Fincher film had more characterization and depth overall. Both films are effective and well done, but in my mind, Fincher’s was the film of the year in 2011, from what I saw, while the Swedish film is essentially just a solid thriller.

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Inception Movie Review

Inception Movie Review

Inception is an amazing movie.  There is no sense in moving forward with a full review without first getting that out of the way.  Christopher Nolan and his team, with a cast that is led by the sterling Leonardo DiCaprio, have made a complex, innovative, and compelling film that will be talked about for years to come, let alone is an early awards season favorite.  It is likely the best film that I have seen in the last five years and perhaps longer.  Yes, it is that good.

Now that the superlatives are out of the way, let me tell you a bit about the film that has been hyped on the internet for at least a year.  Inception is a difficult film to define, which will leave you questioning the events you have seen from start to finish.  The idea of inception, is the concept of planting an idea in someone’s mind, in order to make that idea a reality within the individual.  It may sound complex, and it is, but it also is very compelling.

In the film, DiCaprio’s Dom Cobb is a master at entering people’s dream states and stealing their ideas for various uses.  Cobb has a team of rogues that include Arthur (the continually maturing Joseph Gordon Levitt of 500 Days of Summer fame), Tom Hardy’s (Bronson and RocknRolla) impersonator Eames and the rookie architect Ariadne (Juno’s Ellen Page).  The team’s members are all capable of interacting with one another within a dream state.

While Cobb has largely been a stealer of ideas, with the concept of inception, his goal is to plant an strong idea in Robert Fischer’s (Cillian Murphy) mind, as a favor (paid) to billionaire Saito (Ken Watanabe), so that Tom will regain his freedom and be able to return to the United States and see his children.  Cobb has been living on the lam internationally since he was forced from the US upon an accusation that he killed his wife (Marion Cotillard).

Entering the mind is a challenging art as the mind has defense mechanisms built in to defend itself against theft, which is played out in the film in various forms as well.  That is the essential groundwork one can know, in order to grasp the basic principles of what will take place in the movie.  Almost anything else would be considered a spoiler; a slippery slope as it is.  That being said, the journey that Nolan’s Inception takes you on is an incredibly immersing and creative one.

The visual effects are top notch, the creativity involved truly makes a dream world come to life unlike any film I can recall witnessing.  Physics and time rules are tossed out the window (trains travel down the middle of the street, building are bent, gravity shifts – all at a moments notice), and similar to being in a dream, things happen seemingly at random until the “kick”, which is a reference to being jolted awake.

Most everyone knows the feeling of falling from a cliff in their dream and bouncing awake on their bed. Inception takes that fundamental feeling and explains how it happens.

The movie is an incredible thing to witness.  You are taken on a journey across continents, torrential weather changes, shape shifting worlds where houses float and stairs end and begin as you create them in your mind.  Throw that on top of the strong acting and incredible direction.  If you thought The Dark Knight or Memento was Nolan’s strongest point, you can now cast such thoughts aside.

Inception is the clear-cut leader in the awards race for best picture, director and technical achievement at this juncture, if nothing else.  The Oscars, Golden Globes and others will be hard pressed to find a yet to be released film to top it.  A tall statement in July I understand, but one I believe will hold true nevertheless. Inception combines the striking visuals and mind bending concepts of a film like The Matrix, the action of the Bourne trilogy, with the emotional core of a film like Slumdog Millionaire and rolls them into one challenging whole. Inception is a film that demands repeated viewings and philosophical discussions for those truly trying to discern specific answers to it, but even those who leave their minds at the door can enter into a dreamlike state and just take it all in.

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‘Star Trek’ Review

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Thank you J.J. Abrams for not only meeting my expectations with Star Trek, but also surpassing them.  You are now the saving grace behind the franchise and you gave it a much-needed dose of adrenaline.  Through all the years that I’ve liked Star Trek, I’ve never experienced a mass communities excitement over a new film set in that universe.  Usually people would mock it and often associate its fan base with being “nerds” or “dorks.”  Especially in the past seven years, Star Trek was at a low point.  The last film, Star Trek: Nemesis (2002) was the lowest grossing film of the franchise and its last remaining TV Show, “Star Trek: Enterprise” was canceled in 2005. There was little interest by the public and it appeared Star Trek would just be a celebrated franchise of the past.  Thanks to director Abrams, I can now (for the first time) talk about Star Trek with anyone and not feel embarrassed about it.

I loved this movie. Loved it.  I’m perhaps saying this because I’m a huge fan, but anyone will enjoy this.  This Trek takes a different approach, by making the characters more human than before.  Abrams (not a “trekkie,” but actually a Star Wars fan) had the right idea by taking the characters of Kirk, Spock etc. and focusing on their younger lives, before they joined Starfleet.  We are already familiar with these characters and we get a chance to see them when they were young, reckless, inexperienced and only on the verge of greatness.  Of course, how can younger audiences be familiar with these characters when they weren’t exposed to the shows? Easy, Abrams plays it loyal to the original show, but starts from the beginning of everything so we become familiar with the characters at the start of their lives. We all start from the beginning.

When a Starship named the U.S.S Kelvin is investigating a strange black hole, it’s mysteriously attacked by a huge ship coming from the hole.  When the Kelvin asks the mystery ship about the unprovoked attack, they respond by asking the captain, Richard Robau (Faran Tahir), to come aboard.  Robau meets Nero (Eric Bana), a Romulan miner bent on revenge. Robau is unfamiliar with Nero’s questioning and is killed as the Romulan ship continues its attack on the U.S.S. Kelvin. The acting captain, George Kirk, takes control of the Kelvin and orders the evacuation of the ship, including his pregnant wife.  When his son is born during the evacuation, he names him James Tiberius Kirk.  Kirk Sr. collides with the Romulan ship on a suicide mission to give the rest of the crew time to get away.  It’s revealed that the Romulans were accidentally sucked into the black hole while their home world, Romulas, was destroyed by a supernova. The Romulans, who were from the 24th century, realize they’re 154 years in the past and can’t get back. Before the time warp, Nero was seeking revenge on Ambassador Spock (Leonard Nimoy) after he failed to save Romulas.

"Westsiiide...I mean, live long and prosper."

"Westsiiide...I mean, live long and prosper."

Twenty years after the Kelvin attack, an older Kirk (Chris Pine) is convinced by Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) to join Starfleet. Spock (Zachary Quinto) also joins Starfleet because he doesn’t feel fully accepted by the Vulcan culture, since he’s half human. While at Starfleet, Kirk meets and befriends Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban) and Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana).  After beating the impossible Kobayashi Maru test (a Starship bridge simulation test), Kirk is accussed of cheating (which he did) by Spock (who programmed it) and must stand before the Academy to await his punishment.  This is one of the few times where Abrams actually references an older Star Trek movie, which talked about Kirk cheating the Kobayashi Maru in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. During the hearing, Starfleet receives a distress call from Vulcan (Spock’s home world) that they’re under attack from an unknown ship.  Kirk is suspended indefinitely and the rest of the cadets are rushed into action aboard the brand new U.S.S. Enterprise (which hasn’t even had a maiden voyage). Kirk, wanting to get into the action, becomes a fake patient of McCoy’s and he manages to sneak aboard the Enterprise.  While on board, Captain Pike discovers Kirk and promotes him to first officer, since he had a terrific tactical record at the Academy. Spock is also promoted to captain in case something ever happens to Pike.  Kirk recognizes the similarities between the attack of the Kelvin and Vulcan and warns the crew that the Romulans are behind it.  The Enterprise must travel to Vulcan to stop the attack during which Kirk and Spock are uneasy with each other.

Star Trek will certainly rank at No. 2 on my “From First to Worst” list of the Star Trek films.  It is also the first Star Trek movie to features the Romulans as the principal antagonists, despite them being the longest running de facto alien villains of the TV series.  I was really impressed with Eric Bana as Nero. You feel for him, but also hate him at the same time.  Chris Pine is a good Kirk and didn’t do any William Shatner impressions. I can’t say he’s better than Shatner, but we’ll see over time, as he develops the character in future reprisals.  He portrays Kirk on a new level and it’s good to see the character young again, not an overweight captain who wears a “Go Climb a Rock” t-shirt (Star Trek V: The Final Frontier).  Karl Urban is eye-popping as McCoy.  Not only did he quote famous lines like “God damn it Jim,” but he also has the same speech delivery and body mannerisms as the original McCoy, DeForest Kelly. Urban did mimic Kelly, yes, but did it so well that it works in his favor.  He was very funny and definitely one of the brightest parts of the movie.  The best performance, however, goes to Zachary Quinto as Spock.  He looks like a younger Leonard Nimoy reincarnated, but plays it better than Nimoy ever has. Quinto’s Spock is a lot darker and edgier, which easily makes him the most interesting character.  Nimoy returns as an older Spock (Spock Prime) and I got chills when I saw the legendary character return to the big screen.  Nimoy plays Spock as cool and intellectual as ever and I was glad Abrams made him a major character and didn’t reduce him to a stupid cameo. Simon Pegg as Scotty and Anton Yelchin as Chekov also provide the movie with some humor. I did, however, think Zoe Saldana’s portrayal of Uhura is weak, as it’s forced and actually made her come across as a bitch.

The effects are good (provided by Industrial Light and Magic), but the true visuals were the actors.  They made us fall in love with the characters all over again and even improved on some of them, mainly Kirk and Spock. Abrams focuses on the most important element of Star Trek, the characters, and it paid off.  Yes, it’s an action-oriented Star Trek and it has mind-blowing special effects, but it’s the characters that ultimately draw us in.  Once again, thank you J.J. Abrams for making a once proud franchise, proud again.

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‘Rachel Getting Married’ Review

To date, I’ve only attended three weddings in my life. Two of them I was in, but none as the star. All were fairly traditional. Held at churches. Brides wore white. Groomsmen dressed in tuxedoes. As the title would suggest, a wedding takes place at the core of Rachel Getting Married, and exists to drive the surrounding events. Although the wedding was nothing like the others I’ve attended, aside from the lawful union of two people, I feel I can chalk up another tally on my Wedding Attendance Scorecard.

The titular Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) is indeed tying the knot with her fiancé Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe), but she is not the center of attention, as all brides aspire to be. She is upstaged by her sister Kym (Anne Hathaway), who is granted a two-day leave of absence from her long-standing stint in drug rehabilitation, for the sole purpose of attending the wedding. Although Kym is content to keep a lower profile, her family is wound tightly throughout her presence. She makes them stiffen up whenever she enters a room, as there are skeletons in her drug-addled closet.

Regardless of tensions, the show must go on. No one comes between a bride and her wedding, and this is no exception. Kym tries to stay on her best behavior, managing to attend a drug addiction meeting, trying to maintain some semblance on the life she’s known for so long. She makes an acquaintance with a fellow recovering drug addict, who just happens to be Sidney’s best man. They share an intimate moment, and it appears this may be the road the film heads down. However, the focus is never removed from the wedding and how the bond of sisterhood is exhausted during tumultuous times.

Eventually, Kym lashes out in frustration from the constant peering and unease around her. She vies to be the maid-of-honor, wanting the title stripped from Rachel’s best friend. She gives a self-centered toast at the reception dinner, showing a flair for the dramatic, sucking all celebratory good cheer from the room. Those skeletons in the closet reveal themselves in a bout of competitive dishwashing and it’s instantly understood the wariness and unease that surrounds her. Their divorced mother (Debra Winger) appears to be the one individual that can set things straight, but might be the most uncomfortable of all.

If you love something, let it go. Yes, she loves this light.

If you love something, let it go. Yes, she loves this light.

Aside from the downer subject matter of drug rehab and closeted skeletons, the film is actually full of joyous celebration. It is about a wedding after all. In what is supposed to be the happiest day of a couple’s life, the pairing is never discouraged and always positive. The script by first-timer Jenny Lumet (daughter of Sidney) is nothing short of illuminating. It was never in danger of becoming a Hollywood studio picture as it bucks every trend you tried to see coming. It takes a deliberate and methodical pace that invites you to be a fly-on-the-wall throughout its forever-intriguing storyline.

Perfectly married to the script is Jonathan Demme’s expert direction. He employs an ever-roving camera, managing to capture giant scope and miniature detail. He stays with scenes much longer than expected, providing the audience member with the feeling of having been present in the scene. The aforementioned rehearsal dinner sees most, if not all, members of the party stand up and toast the bride and groom, even if they have no other moments throughout. This helps open things up and successfully creates an atmosphere that allows the nuances of the film to flourish. This process is aided by lively music for the duration, making the unique wedding experience that much more.

Of course, the film would ultimately fail those two terrific elements were in not for top-notch acting all-around. Hathaway, looking unglamorous for the first time since pre-transformation in The Princess Diaries, captures the role of her life to-date, with a depth she’s never had a chance to display. Kudos to Demme for immediately thinking of her and helping her inhabit the human tornado. She deserves every acting nomination she’s received for the role, and it’s a shame she hasn’t won to this point. She has successfully transitioned herself from a Disney queen to a tremendous talent, and the roles will be rolling in. Special mentions need to be made for DeWitt, Debra Winger and Bill Irwin, all of whom give award-worthy performances, elevating a great film through terrific chemistry.

Rachel Getting Married was a tremendous experience, from beginning to end. I’ve fallen in love with the movie since seeing it, and I feel it was robbed of more deserved Oscar nominations. No Demme, Lumet, DeWitt or Best Picture nomination leaves the ultimate awards show sorely lacking. The film far outweighs Milk, Frost/Nixon and The Reader, which makes for severe oversight. It’s easily one of my five favorite films of the year, and I hope it gets recognized for being the modern classic it is, as soon as possible.

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The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button Review

The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button Review

A potential Oscar-favorite and one of this year’s most anticipated films, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, is a coming of age/love story that touches all of the right chords.  Button is an orphan, left on a porch by his father (Snatch’s Jason Flemyng) after being born horrifically disfigured with his mother dying during child birth.  Button’s tale is told essentially via flashbacks, through a diary that he himself penned.  Brad Pitt stars, playing the titular lead with a striking innocence that particularly comes across during his youth/old age years.  This is a charming, occasionally funny, and sweeping yarn that is likely to please most audiences.

A black house-aid named Queenie, finds Benjamin on the steps to a halfway house/retirement home, where Button’s life is saved and he is raised amongst the elderly.  Taraji P. Henson (Baby Boy) gives a touching performance as Queenie, the woman who becomes Benjamin’s mother.  While living there, they routinely see people come and go, literally and figuratively.  It’s the relationship that Benjamin forms with Daisy (Cate Blanchett), a young grand-daughter of a woman there, that catapults the film forward.

Button was born "puros viejo."

Button was born"puros viejo."

The tale encompasses Button’s entire life, with some ups and downs, but the clear focus is on what is good and perhaps bittersweet.  The challenges that Button faces are largely over-looked and the viewer gets to experience the kind soul that he is, all the while taking in various parts of New Orleans and in some respects, locations like Paris and Manhattan, through his travels.  Benjamin’s unique journey and desire to fulfill his love is ever-present.  The seizing of opportunity and capitalizing on chance are evident themes.

This movie shares many similarities to past Oscar-winner, Forrest Gump.  The sweet tone of the movie, the longing for a woman who is in-and-out of Benjamin’s life, and the comic-relief in the film, in Jared Harris’ Captain Mike echoing Gary Sinise’s Lt. Dan in Gump, are traits that come to mind.  Through the Captain, Benjamin experiences the world and in many ways is taught how to become a man, even though he has long looked like one.  Benjamin gets to experience the pleasures of a brothel, the sweet elixir of alcohol, and the delights of travel while out at sea.   In Forrest Gump there is a feather that wafts in the wind, a whimsical, if fleeting and magical footnote in the story and with The Curious Case, that presence is a hummingbird.

That David Fincher, the director of notably dark and obsessive films like Se7en, Fight Club and Zodiac, helmed this, makes the achievement all the more astounding.  He lets the story play itself out on screen and rarely do you see hints of the Fincher that we have seen before.  However, it does creep up in a brilliantly shot scene about the passing of seconds in time that lead to chance moments in our life, in this case, as part of Daisy’s story.  Fincher should be on target for some just rewards come awards season.

The technical wizardry behind the film cannot be overlooked.  Pitt’s performance is enhanced as he concocts voice dialogue to match with the figure of his youthful/old man who takes up a large portion of the film’s running time.  Many of those moments are the funniest in the film and seeing Pitt’s face digitally and accurately matched to the other actors who play Benjamin is a real treat.  It’s hard to imagine anyone not appreciating that aspect of the film at the very least.  For what it’s worth, to this juncture, this is the finest film I have seen this year.  A strong recommend for the Holiday season.

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