Archive for the '2009 Films in Theater' Category

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (2008)

Monday, January 26th, 2009

I planned to skip The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. It looked sappy and sounded far too much like Forrest Gump. Yet when it got a sled-load of Oscar nominations, I thought I’d better pay attention, so I managed to see the last showing of it at the Heights Theater before it moved on. I’m glad I did.

Not that it wasn’t a mixed bag. I loathed the framing story, where a woman on her deathbed is communicating the past to her daughter. Cate Blanchett is covered in so many layers of makeup she might as well be an animatronic doll; the dialogue might have been more intelligible. And the choice of a recurring bird symbol and the setting during Hurricane Katrina felt forced and unpleasant.

Yet I thought it was a good film. It felt old-fashioned in its sweeping, decades-long central story, with its many characters, most of whom were sufficiently well characterized to distinguish them. Taraji P. Henderson, as the woman who finds a strange baby, and Tilda Swinton, as a woman who befriends Benjamin when he leaves home, are both excellent and luminous. Blanchett, though, has a glow and presence only surpassed in her turn as Galadriel in the LoTR trilogy. Her beauty and presence resonate as Daisy, a childhood friend of Benjamin’s.

It’s Pitt, though, whose star blazes the brightest, especially because he’s such a well-known movie star. His backward aging has more meaning, since his image has been so familiar to the public since 1991 and Thelma and Louise. Once he gets to about his real age, in the middle of the film, I was well and truly hooked. And when he got even younger, he so resembled himself from movies I recall like A River Runs Through It and Thelma and Louise that it spooked me, even as it had to spook the other characters in the film. I cried at the end of the central story; even the saccharine ending of the framing story didn’t undo my feeling that seeing Benjamin Button was time well spent.

“Milk” (2008)

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

As part of my pre-Oscar film frenzy, I saw Milk over the weekend. I loved it; I learned from it; I wept. I’ve read movie critics who wonder at the tendency to turn good documentaries into films. Milk is largely based on the highly regarded documentary The Times of Harvey Milk. I think that films, especially well-made and -acted ones like Milk, get a wider release, and are more able to be seen, thus more likely to be seen. They can in turn prompt people to seek out the source material, which I plan to do.

I was amused by this bit of trivia from IMDB:

During a July 2008 interview with the Orange County Register about Pineapple Express (2008), the interviewer told Seth Rogen and James Franco that he prepared for the interview by watching the classic stoner comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) the night before. When he asked Rogen and Franco if they prepared likewise before making Pineapple Express, Franco said he prepared by making out with Spicoli (a reference to his having shot Milk (2008), in which he and Sean Penn play lovers).

“Slumdog Millionaire” (2008)

Saturday, January 10th, 2009

Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire shouldn’t succeed, but it does. It’s structured around a set of coincidences too numerous and too convenient to be believed. It follows a story line so old and predictable it’s mythic. And yet, Slumdog did succeed, for me at least, and very well, at that. A boy from Mumbai India grows up under trying circumstances, and has the chance to succeed when he goes on the game show Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Dev Patel is geeky and charming as the underdog, especially in the laugh-out-loud enjoyable end sequence.

For more on love of Slumdog and moviegoing in general, see Marsha’s fabulous entry at ALoTT5MA.