The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

February 22, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

“Nothing lasts,” he whispers to his lover, played eloquently by Cate Blanchett–Daisy. He’s grown younger at this point, at the point when he should be at middle age, reflecting on life that’s passing him by in backward time.

“Some things last,” she retorts.

Both of what they say is true, and is symbolized by a clock, and a journal. The clock represents something more than telling time. In fact, it tells time in reverse order. It’s created by a man who loses his son in the war, and thinks that by turning back the clocks, we can somehow grasp something again that we didn’t think we could. Maybe our boys won’t go off to war, he says. Maybe everything works out better. Then the man who creates the clock is never seen again.

This is how we open the film, with the elderly, and dying Daisy, telling this story to her daughter, who is by her bedside, listening. It’s 2005, in New Orleans, and the Saints are still playing preseason games–not even knowing they’re going to endure one of their worst seasons in yea–oh, yeah, right…the movie. Oh, so, yes–Hurricane Katrina is taking shape and headed toward New Orleans, providing a nice back drop to the story.

Then, the daughter takes a journal written by a Benjamin Button, and we begin the tale of how a child was born “old”, and “grows younger”. The book is full of various post cards and what not, but the daughter is able to read the passages, aloud, to her mother.

Button’s life begins in 1918, after his mother dies giving birth to him, he is a hideous monster who has all of the physical ailments that an old man would. In fact, the doctors don’t give him much time left to live. The father, who is stricken with grief over the loss of his wife, and is horrified by this monstrosity, drops the baby off on a porch at a house and leaves it. Queenie, a boistrous and vibrant young black woman, finds the baby along with her love interest, Mr. Weathers; and, after deliberation, they keep the baby and raise him.

Benjamin’s beginnings are interesting in that he is surrounded by old people, and he himself is old–but while he has the physical limitations of an old man, he has the curiousity and adventurous spirit of a young boy. He’s sort of in a reverse day care center. He watches his fellow housemates die while he gets younger, and falls in love with a young girl named Daisy, when he’s still old and decrepit. The girl is also taken with him, although it’s odd since she’s so young and he’s so old. But of course, we know they’re actually around the same age spiritually, and they grow a friendship that builds as the two grow older/younger together.

As time passes, Benjamin takes on adventures of his own, leaving the coop and faring off with a drunken captain of a tugboat, Captain Mike, who gets him laid, and drunk, and shows him the world. They go through World War II as part of the navy, once Pearl Harbor is bombed.

Meanwhile, Daisy becomes a famous dancer in New York City–and when the two meet again, they somewhat revisit the love they had for each other. But it’s fleeting, and she is too young to appreciate what he means to her, and goes back to her “life in the fast lane” in New York.

As the film progresses, and Ben gets younger and younger, he sees more and more death and decay rather than a young person would normally see life–with little reflection, and more wide eyed optimism. But nothing is lost on his maturity, and because his body grows stronger and his looks get increasingly nicer, he is able to enjoy some of the perfunctory, meaningless enjoyments of youth. But, as quoted before…nothing lasts.

The pace of the film is very good, with very few patches of “dead time”. The film does have a few moments where I think they take a few liberties with plot elements (I don’t know that we *needed* the daughter to throw a fit about finding out about where she came from; nor did I think it was necessary for the entire sequence-story of Daisy being hit by a car, even though I know it was supporting the theme of the film. Without it I think the film still would’ve worked fine). There are also a few elements of the script that don’t seem to fit thematically, and I think melodrama at times gets in the way of the bigger picture of the story.

Deeper into the film, Benjamin eventually reconnects with his father, and is given his name, “Button”. Some kind of simple metaphor is here, and my guess is that a button is an ordinary thing (i.e. a “button-down kind of life”), and that’s really what Benjamin is. That’s why I like the choosing of the title of this story as “curious” instead of “fantastic” or “extraordinary”.

Later on in life, Benjamin and Daisy have a child together, and that’s when Benjamin knows it’s time to leave for good. He knows Daisy can’t “raise two children”. It’s here when the film gets a bit more literal and less fable-like, but it doesn’t stray too far from its original premise or fantasy. Backward or forward, we enter and leave the world the same way. It’s all about the cycle of life, and the inevitability of death, and even birth.

And birth takes the form of death with Button, who of course leaves the world as a baby, thus completing the cycle of his life. The clock and the book are the two things left, and as Katrina washes away the clock as it’s still ticking, it’s evident why Katrina is used as a motif at.

Nothing lasts, indeed.

But some things do.

My rating: :smile:

Kaiser Chiefs – “Off With Their Heads”

December 17, 2008 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Music

They’re not blazing a trail. They’re not bringing rock and roll to a new level. They’re not even saving it. They just want some tea, and watch some football. And play some music. And they do it well.

Kaiser Chiefs first caught my fancy a few years ago with their fantastic debut “Employment”, which almost played like a greatest hits album. From beginning to end, the album just moved. And grooved. It was only a few years later that they’d be trying to follow that act, and that can be a recipe for disaster. The sophomore jinx is a cliche but it definitely has its victims. Unforunately with “Yours Truly, Angry Mob”, it claimed another. Frenetic, messy, and almost too much energy, as if they were just trying too hard. I’ll admit the album has grown on me, but it was not what I wanted to hear after “Employment”.

It seems like they listened to the criticism of “Angry Mob” and keyed it down a little for their third, and most relaxed effort, “Off With Their Heads”. It doesn’t begin with a hit single, but the first track “Spanish Metal” does offer a hint to what things are to come: this is not a singles album, like “Employment”. But it’s also not a coked up too-much-off-guitar-riff-anthems mix either. It’s an enjoyable album. Weird to say, but it really is quite laid back, and because of that, it doesn’t have too much on it that will get you jumping out of your seat.

But it also won’t have you rolling your eyes, either. It’s got some songs that stand out, like “Never Miss a Beat” (the album’s first single), and “Like it Too Much”. Somewhere around the 6-8 tracks it seems to settle into background music, but it does pick up around “Always Happens Like That” and it ends very nicely with “Remember You’re a Girl”. Some of it has that throwback 60’s or 70’s feel to it, somewhat like “Employment”.

Overall, it’s not going to blow you away. But at least the Chiefs are headed in the right direction. They’re a fun group, and I appreciate their lyrics (“What did you learn at school? / I didn’t go /Why didn’t you go to school? /I don’t know”) and I think I’ve accepted them as my favorite band that’s come out of the 21st century. They remind me of Blur, for sure–I’m not the first one to make that connection (and unlike some, I’m not making it derisively). There’s a playful innocence about them that I like, something very unpretentious which makes it easier to embrace them and their music, rather than say, The White Stripes or The Strokes.

Though they may just be here for a short time, and offer just a mid afternoon snack rather than a three course meal, at least it’s light and digestible. And it tastes pretty good.

My rating: :-)

The Day the Earth Stood Still

December 17, 2008 by  
Filed under Movies

You would think a big budget spectacle like this remake of the 1951 classic would be more fitting to be released in the summer time, when popcorn sci-fi cinema permeates the movie theatres; but I suppose that because this one’s supposed to be “thought-provoking”, it was more suitable at the “thought-provoking” time of year, the winter. I guess we have more time to think now that we can’t go outside and do anything, than we do in the summertime. Unfortunately for this movie, there’s not much thought that’s really being provoked. It’s more like it’s being threatened to stay away.

In the original “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, there is almost a Serling-esque feel to the way the story unravels, and obviously the way it ends, with the choice being left to us whether we want to save ourselves or be destroyed. It’s the misconception of humans that we think that anyone who says “You’re going to be destroyed” by a foreign presence means THEY are the ones who are going to destroy us. It was a very interesting plot–and for its time, it was convincingly executed, special effects wise.

In this modern day remake, we have the gaudy special effects, and the big budget, big screen feel. And this movie fails on every level that the original succeeds on. Well now, that RARELY happens in remakes, huh? What is it about that? Is it just the natural dilution of a remake? Is it just inherent that the remake MUST be devoid of what made the original so good? I didn’t feel that way with the 1978 “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, or “The Thing”, or “Father of the Bridge”, or even Zombie’s “Halloween” (don’t give me that look!). A remake should be an opportunity to take the original and either see it from a different angle, or improve on what may have made the original…dated. I suppose in the case of “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, the special effects. And they didn’t even really do THAT good a job on this remake, either.

The story resembles the original in a way; but it makes a few fatal changes that completely miss the point of the original. Where it gets the story right is in one of the best scenes in the film with John Cleese, playing a Nobel prize winning scientist, Professor Barnhardt, in which he has an engaging dialog with Klaatu about the fact that “it’s only on the precipice of disaster that we change”. That is very true, and it’s something that, had this remake expanded upon, would have made it a slam dunk. Unfortunately the movie gets so caught up in military action, stuff blowing up, and a very melodramatic and tired story between Helen (played as eloquently as possible by Jennifer Connelly) and her stepson Jacob (played by Jaden Smith, son of Will Smith, who seemed more confused by his own presence than anything else) and their struggles to get along. Since Jacob seems to blame her for his dad’s death, whom she’d only married a year or so prior to, this becomes a principle conflict throughout the film. Like in the original, Jacob’s father died in a war. But unlike the original, this movie fails to bring home the point about war and destruction.

If you have seen the original, there are many mentions about wars and the destruction humanity imposes on itself. In this version, it seems like this is more just about Americans, which is questionable since this was a plot that was supposed to be about “mankind”, not just American “mankind”. There are a few shots of “footage” from other countries that are going nuts over the “Alien Invasion”–but it looks like…there’s America, then there’s third world countries. I think Klaatu would be disturbed by the filmmakers of this movie, that we are so conceited.

There’s also more of an environmental angle to this film which doesn’t seem to work. Are we destroying our earth by killing each other in wars, or are we destroying our earth because we’re polluting it? In the first case, what difference does it make whether YOU kill us or WE kill us. In the latter, WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE WHETHER YOU KILL US OR WE KILL US?! It would have nothing to do with us, you would just eradicate us!

Because the movie didn’t work in the big picture, a lot of other things fall apart. What do we know about the father of Jacob, for one thing? What kind of dad was he? What kind of husband was he? If it’s so important, and vital in getting Jacob to trust Helen, shouldn’t we know more about their relationship too? No, instead the movie would rather show military operations and Secretary of Defense shenanigans (Kathy Bates who is the overpowering SOD that again shows our arrogance and whatnot). And some of the movie looked like it was borrowing from “Transformers”.
Another thing that got to me was the product placement. Now I know Hollywood does this often, but man ALIVE this is outrageous. Guess where Klaatu has to meet another “visitor” that’s been living on earth for decades?

No, really, guess.

I’ll give you a hint.

Ba-da-bap-bap-ba.

Oh, and you will definitely know they use LG cell phones; Windows Vista apparently utilizes Star Trek technology; and there is a thirty second sequence that is one big silent car commercial.

It’s just disappointing that this movie did NOT need to be remade, and again, it is frustrating that they missed it by doing exactly what drove Klaatu’s journey in the first place: it’s more about greed and profit than anything else. Now, do I think the original WASN’T made for money? No, but they at least trusted the writers enough to come up with something that would be marketable AND still retained intelligence.

It’s pretty sad when the BEST thing about this movie was Keanu Reeve’s performance. Unfortunately for him, who also worked on screenplay rewrites, the end result was less than stellar.

My rating: :???: