12 Years a Slave

February 9, 2014 by  
Filed under Movies

“I don’t want to survive. I want to live.” Those are words spoken by our film’s protagonist, Solomon Northup (Chiwitel Ejiofor) who was a real historical black free man kidnapped and sold into slavery. The film “12 Years a Slave” depicts his journey into that world, and his hope that he can return to his family. He is an accomplished fiddler and carpenter, and has a wife and two children and lives in New York. He is approached by two seemingly harmless men to join their “circus” as a featured musician. But we all know where this is going–he is given too much wine after celebrating a successful tour, and wakes up in a cell in chains.

What follows is a very emotional story, anchored by one of the strongest performances of the year by Chiwitel Ejiofor; however, some of the film’s weak points distract from what could have been an even more powerful film. Northup is given a new name upon capture, Platt, and told he is a “runaway from Georgia”. His first experience as a slave is on a slave ship heading down to Louisiana, and witnesses some of the real brutalities of slavery immediately. He is sold by an indifferent slaver (played by Paul Giamatti) to a rather nice plantation owner, William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch). But one of Ford’s carpenters, John Tibeats (Paul Dano), wants to make life a living hell for slaves (as if life weren’t hard enough). This is where the film is weak, and I’m a bit disappointed in Paul Dano for choosing such a caricature role. It’s easy to play the hilljack Southern racist who mugs the screen by licking his chops at any chance to yell out racial epithets and use a whip. I think we get that these people existed…but this character could’ve been played by anyone and been just as shallow and useless as an ancillary background role. Northup doesn’t back down, however, and when he fights back, he is hunted by Tibeats and even strung up, about to be lynched. Tibeats and his crew are fired by the overseer, who leaves Northup hanging, although the rope hasn’t been fully discharged, so he still can hardly breathe and dangles helplessly as a slew of people come out and do their normal routines as if nothing is happening to him. This is one of the better scenes in the film because it’s a continuous shot that continues to unfold and pretty much symbolizes what we thought of slavery and blacks at the time.

Ford is unable to protect Northup and so he sells him to another plantation owner who is far more cruel (of course) and pretty much insane. Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) is the new owner, who runs a strict cotton plantation, and treats his slaves as if they were animals–except one slave girl named Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) for whom Epps has obvious feelings for, and is resented by his wife (Sarah Paulson). While Epps is another white guy with a whip, Fassbender brings another dimension to the character, showing him to be more of a controlled coward than just your average racist. He is consumed with wanting power, but is powerless when it comes to his wife, and he does whatever she tells him to do. She is hard to figure out–but she isn’t exactly high on the slaves, either. In a way Epps’ character reminds me of Ralph Fiennes’ Amon Goeth in “Schindler’s List” (although I think that character was better written). Epps also has a strange ritual in the evenings, to order his slaves to dance to happy music with him. Since Northup can play the fiddle, he is spared the dancing, but still has to watch it. Patsey is the most skilled picker on the plantation, bringing in over 500 pounds daily, but deep down she is consumed with wanting to be set free from the plantation, even if it means leaving the physical earth completely. At one point she asks Northup to end her life, to which he cannot bring himself to do.

Eventually a white criminal joins the group of slaves and Northup sees this as an opportunity to get out; but he is betrayed by the man and has to talk his way out of giving a letter to the man that would have reached New York, and notified his family of his predicament. Epps believes Northup’s story that the man wasn’t to be trusted anyway and just wanted to become an overseer, and this was just a tactic of his to manipulate the situation. But later, another white character is introduced–a Canadian carpenter and friendly to slaves, Samuel Bass (Brad Pitt). Bass is a bit of an arbitrary character, seemingly on brought to screen for exposition and being preachy–another weakness of the script. Pitt is a fine actor but it seems like his presence in this film was screaming “I produced this, so I’m going to put myself in the film as the most sympathetic white character.” Northup again has to try and trust this man, knowing what he is risking. But to the audience, it’s pretty obvious what will happen.

Overall, there are powerful moments in the film, especially in its climax, and thanks to Ejiofor’s incredible performance, the film works. The other strong points are the soundtrack and the cinematography. There are a lot of shots of trees, seeming to represent constancy, and even when the trees look like they’re dying or somehow suffering, they still stand strong. The backdrops of dusk and dawn show a representation of the passage of time, and how these points of day symbolize death and life. It isn’t just about surviving, as Northup points out, it is about living. This is a part of our history, whether we want to bring ourselves to accept it or not. I think the film could’ve presented a statement in a more clever way at times; but sometimes it needs to be blunt. It’s not a film you would necessarily want to watch over and over again; but for one viewing at least, it is certainly worth the time and will definitely move you.

My rating: :-)

Moneyball

September 26, 2011 by  
Filed under Movies

Out of all of the sports in America, baseball has the most mystique. That’s always been the pull, I think, in its history. Funny game. Can’t figure it out. We try. We’ve been trying for over a century to put a finger on the pulse of the game. But really, with all of its tradition, its pattern behavior, its rock steady consistency, baseball can be all over the place. We try to normalize it by using statistics to define it. Is this guy a good player, or just a good hitter? We use terms like “5-tool” to quantify how good a player can be. Is there any other sport that we do this for? There are specialists in baseball, but they’re not every day players, like in another sport. In basketball, a scoring specialist can still be in your starting five. In football, a guy with velcro hands will most likely be among your starting wide receivers. In baseball, a guy who just steals bases will be a pinch runner. A guy who can hit in a tight spot is your pinch hitter. If you’ve got a guy with a killer curveball, he’s your 8th inning set up guy–or just someone to bring in to get one guy out. Maybe it’s a lefty-lefty matchup.

In “Moneyball”, the GM of the Oakland Athletics, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), along with his numbers-crunching economist, Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), are faced with a very common problem among any team that isn’t the New York Yankees. Beane is given a very small payroll, and his team’s been gutted. It’s 2003, following a disappointing 2002 post season series loss to the Yankees. Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon, and Jason Isringhausen, all blue chip players, are gone. So he’s left to replace these players, which he knows, of course, is impossible. After a dubious meeting with the general manager of the Cleveland Indians to try and re-build his team, he takes notice of a kid that nixes a deal that would send a good prospect to the Oakland A’s. Beane is taken by the kid, a recent Yale grad, who is good with numbers, but isn’t very respected by his bosses. Peter Brand thinks there’s a better way of looking at players–their value, rather than just their name or their hitting ability.

Beane assembles a team of players who don’t even know the position they’re supposed to play (one player is a former catcher who can’t throw anymore, and is expected to play first base). Beane faces opposition from not only his team of scouts, but of his team’s manager as well (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman). He’s taking a big risk by doing something this unconventional, and his team starts off extremely poorly, leading to more criticism from the world of baseball.

He’s also haunted by his own past as a can’t-miss prospect baseball player who was actually considered a “5-tool” player by scouts. He was offered a full scholarship to Stanford, but turns it down in favor of playing in the big leagues for the New York Mets at the young age of 18. What happens in his career isn’t uncommon–he can’t keep up with the game. He eventually is out of the game, and returns as a scout. What’s interesting about Beane is that he’ll look at players the same way he looked at himself. He’s a general manager who was also a former player. He has more of a stake in evaluating the talent of a player, in theory.

Not every move Beane makes works out, and what is very obvious throughout this story is that it’s not all about the wins and losses, although Beane can’t stand to lose. He says nothing matters until you “win the last game of the series”. But what he does is put together a team that finds ways to win because they play a very fundamental game. Nobody steals; everybody is supposed to get on base. It’s small-ball.

Eventually, Beane’s approach does start to work out, though, and even leads to an historic 20-game winning streak by the A’s that puts them in front of the American League West division. There’s a great sequence in which the clinching game starts off as an 11-0 laugher in the 4th inning that convinces Beane to, for once, actually watch the game. He is never seen watching a game prior to this. What he sees in front of his eyes, though, is what every fan goes through when it comes to jinxes. He watches as the 11-0 lead is bled to the point where the opposing team actually ties the game at 11 all. The manager, who had been opposed to Beane’s approach for most of the season, finally puts in a player that Beane had selected. This is the guy who can’t play first base. All he’s brought in to do is get on base. What he does, however, is hit a home run that wins the game.

In that whole sequence, we see what baseball is, and what effect it has on people like Beane. Everything from curses, miracles, redemption, and just the oddball nature of baseball, is illustrated in that scene. It defines what the movie is about. You can’t control baseball–but you can enjoy the ride, sometimes.

Some criticism of the film’s portrayal of the events may be directed at the fact the A’s did not “win anything” while this philosophy was implemented. While Beane himself wants to win, the movie’s agenda and Beane’s isn’t exactly one in the same. What you see are the good little stories that come out of a team that was predicted to be laughing stock of the league. And who says there can’t be great teams that didn’t win a championship? How about the Bills teams of the early 90’s? The 2001 Seattle Mariners that won 116 games. The ’85 Boston Celtics. Sure, a lot of it comes down to your own perspective. But the point of this movie isn’t about winning; it’s about innovating. It’s about striving to change. Baseball is always going to remain the same; but that doesn’t mean you have to go through the motions. And eventually, change works, as illustrated in the last line of the film displayed on the screen about the Boston Red Sox winning the World Series in 2004.

As much as this movie involves baseball, those who don’t follow the game or care about it could still enjoy this film. There’s a universal human element to it that can be appreciated by anyone who’s had to face adversity in their life…so pretty much anybody could relate to some of the themes. The performances are strong, and the film has some really big laughs that you don’t necessarily have to understand baseball in order to get. It’s a feel-good type of movie but it isn’t manipulative or patronizing. It’s about as natural flowing as a good, clean, non-Joe West umpired game of baseball.

My rating: :D

Kick-Ass

April 22, 2010 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

“With great power, comes great responsibility.” That’s Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben, giving his nephew Peter a little bit of foreshadowing as he emerges as The Amazing Spider-man. True words.

But how about when you have no power? Kick-Ass, also known as David Lizewski (played by English actor Aaron Johnson), asks this question in the film “Kick-Ass”, a non-superhero super-hero movie that works almost as two movies. One, a light hearted comic book movie that features a lot of action, and cartoon violence. The other is a more serious undertone of betrayal, hatred, and exploitation on the part of fathers and their children. Do the two work?

Well, let’s back up for a moment. “Kick-Ass” introduces a super hero idea in which we live in the normal world, and one kid doesn’t understand why there hasn’t been a copy-cat of a comic book super-hero. He invents one that ultimately is named Kick-Ass, and goes to try and save kittens or junkies from being beaten up by a gang of other junkies. When he is incapacitated by one such group, he has lost some feeling in certain parts of his body so he is able to withstand more beatings than the normal human being. In all of the comic book movies I’ve seen, this was the most painfully realistic set up for an origin story I’ve seen. Nothing about military experiments. No explosions in the lab, no radioactive side effects from an arachnid bite. No, this was just a kid who got a little over his head and wound up surviving a stab wound among other injuries.

But, instead of deterring him from fighting crime, it inspires him even more. He is an internet sensation, and he designs a MySpace page (dating the film’s development process, obviously). He gets the attention of two others–a disenchanted father (played by Nicholas Cage) and his daughter, Mindy. He has an idea to showcase her as a superhero as well–but a much more violent one, as Hit Girl. She’s got a mouth that would give Irish Spring and Dove a billion dollar endorsement, and moves that make Cat Woman look like an amateur.

They somewhat “team up” when Kick-Ass is asked by The Hot Chick at David’s school, as they have become chums since she thinks he’s her gay BFF, to tell one of her former “clients” at a help clinic to back off of her. When Kick-Ass goes to this guy’s pad, he realizes he really is way in over his head as there are five or six other guys in there and they can easily kill him. But Hit Girl comes in and saves the day, and from there, the other more insidious plot develops.

A drug cartel is being run in the city underground by a powerful “lumber entrepreneur” named Frank D’Amico (played by another English actor, Mark Strong), and his plans are being spoiled by an unidentified “masked man” who has been killing his men. On this night when Kick-Ass is identified as being a part of the scheme (since the “client” was working for him), he is indicted fully by D’Amico, who wants him dead. His son, Chris (played by McLovin, or Christopher Mintz-Plasse), concocts a plan to create his own super hero persona to lure Kick-Ass and let his dad catch him. He wants to “learn about the family business”. His father allows it, and thus creates Red Mist.

When we learn about Mindy’s father’s past, the plot becomes a bit muddled in its purpose. What was once a fun loving, cute, and somewhat realistic approach to what it would be like to be a “real life superhero” becomes a darker, more sardonic tale of revenge and manipulation. Mindy’s Dad, Damon (super hero persona is Big Daddy, and he sports a very funny Adam West impersonation), raises his daughter to be a lethal killer so he can exact revenge on D’Amico for selling him out and causing major family complications. When she is enlisted as Hit Girl, she is more than willing. It’s hard to tell whether it’s just brainwashing and we should dislike Damon; or, we should feel he’s justified. It’s a slippery slope, and one that may be a little too heavy-handed for otherwise such a jovial movie.

The film’s fork in the road occurs when Kick-Ass  and Big Daddy are captured by D’Amico’s men, and there’s a very real danger of them being killed. While David is narrating the film, he reminds us of other endings in which the hero narrates even when he’s not alive. Is it a ruse? Or will this film go that far to prove a point?

The film, from this point, sheds its realistic layer of skin and uncovers what I guess it was going for all along–superhero comic book violence and big explosions.

It’s hard to say whether it’s a total failure. I was, by this time, completely enthralled by the film. I really liked the characters, and I really hated the bad guys. In the climactic ending, it is extremely unrealistic and extremely violent. It bears no resemblance to the sweet and funny movie it started as. But I didn’t dislike how it progressed. If you look at a lot of comic book stories, some of them do resemble normal stories of normal people in fantastic situations. Peter Parker is the perfect example. He is exactly what “Kick-Ass” is emulating, except that Peter Parker *does* possess super powers.

The lesson of the film is certainly muddled because of the bombastic way the film ends. It goes from being about taking responsibility for who you are, the loss of identity, and the exploitation of society, to being about getting revenge and losing yourself in the super hero persona. My feeling is that’s what the filmmakers wanted. They wanted this ultimately to be a sarcastic super hero film that ends like all other super hero movies end. And of course, it ends on a note that leaves it open for a sequel.

I liked this film a lot, and I would love to see a sequel. I’d love to revisit these characters. But I wonder if maybe they were missing something here. It’s hard to feel sorry for Damon, Mindy’s dad, because he’s made her a victim just as much as he made himself. Whether Mindy likes her lifestyle as being a cold-blooded killer or not, she wasn’t really given the choice. It’s a bit dark and moody and out of place in a movie that’s supposed to be mostly for laughs. However, I do find it daring that they chose to make her so young. This is an age when the younger generation has an advantage over the older ones. They have technology, and so many more things at their fingertips. Is it really overexposure and exploiting? Or is it just the way things are now? Every generation takes a few steps back and a few steps forward. The invention of Hit Girl is tricky because I certainly wouldn’t like to see anyone try to mimic her in real life–they’d be killed. But her spirit is nothing to be offended by or be ashamed or afraid of. Her heart is in the right place. I also would hope that David has realized how much his docile and sympathetic father has been so much better for him letting him make his own choices, unlike Chris and Mindy, who have had their destinies and decisions forced upon them by their fathers. I do think the film missed the boat on that revelation.

Overall though, this is a good yarn, and it’s fun. Yes it gets a bit heavy handed at times, but I still find it very entertaining–and before you start feeling bad about reveling in Hit Girl’s ability to kill 5 men in less than 1 minute, remember that these are heartless criminals who do nothing for society except have more money than you and make crass remarks about women and double park when they shouldn’t. So really, she did us all a favor.

Take the film as an origin story for a comic book, and there’s not a lot of difference between this and any other comic book movie you’ve seen. And it delivers as well as the best ones out there.

My rating: :-)

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus

January 29, 2010 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

I’m not always sure how to review a Terry Gilliam film. These days, I think it’s safe to say it’s an achievement for him to even get one made anymore. After projects coming together, then falling apart (“The Man Who Killed Don Quixote”, “Good Omens”), and with this one even being in question after the main star had died during production (do I even have to say his name?), the fact that this film is FINISHED can be given a thumb’s up, no? But this is the film critiquing business and I still have a job to do. Even though I’m not paid for it and nobody really reads these anyway. I still believe in myself. So there.

I’d have to start off by saying if you enjoy Gilliam’s earlier works, you will most likely enjoy this. If you’re not a fan, this won’t make you one. It keeps within the visual styles and narrative themes that he and his co-writer Charles McKeown have been making for decades now. In this film, the theme is self-indulgence and selfishness, and it’s presented in a typical, Gilliam way.

The “Imaginarium” is a world beyond a mirror that you can be taken to for a donation, as a traveling “circus” like stage moves about towns, seeking customers. Anton (played by Andrew Garfield) is the attractor. Valentina (Lily Cole) is the beautiful temptress to lure the men. Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) merely sits on the stage in a zen-like way, waiting for those who want to come into his world.

It looks like a cheap parlor trick, but inside the Imaginarium is literally a fantasy world. In it, your wildest dreams come true. But there is a price. Actually, there is a choice. The devil, known as Mr. Nick (Tom Waits), is waiting in the Imaginarium to seduce you as well. As the plot continues you learn that the two of them are battling for souls, as part of a bet that Parnassus made with him long ago.

But Parnassus is not made out to be God, or god-like. He’s a simple man with simple pleasures and simple desires–and he’s an alcoholic. He is accompanied by a dwarf named Percy (Verne Troyer) who tries to keep him in line (“What would I do without you, Percy?” “Get a midget.”) but Parnassus is consumed with himself. He made a deal with the devil that if he doesn’t win, he loses his daughter to him. His daughter, nor Anton, know about this and Anton is in love with her.

The plot thickens when they encounter a hanging man that they bring back to life, who’s revealed as Tony (Heath Ledger, among others). They’re not sure where he’s come from but he bears strange markings on his head, and he’s dressed in a suit. Tony, meanwhile, cannot remember anything, not even his name. Parnassus gets a few tidbits from Mr. Nick (though they’re “enemies”, the two have a relationship) and Parnassus convinces Tony who he is and what he was doing (he was hosting a charity event). But Mr. Nick swears that Tony is “not his”, nor sent by him. Tony feels obligated to pay Parnassus back, so he joins their traveling show and woos women into coming into the mirror. This allows Parnassus to possibly win the bet and get his daughter back. He needs 5 souls.

But problems arise once Tony is sucked into the world himself. He transforms, becomes other manifestations of himself. He grows increasingly selfish about it, and is revealed to be somewhat of a bad person. It is in this world that brings other performances by Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell into the film, as Tony. Each one delivered is a good one, and in some way resemble Ledger’s Tony. This is what saved the film. It would not have been finished without this happening. However, it makes perfect sense in the narrative for it to happen regardless. In fact it strengthens the theme because of how much Tony “changes”.

While I enjoyed the theme and the look of the film, it was actually the performances that I found the strongest element of it. Andrew Garfield is perfect as Anton; Waits is a pure delight to watch, and Ledger & Co. are all entertaining, especially Jude Law.

The film bears striking resemblances to earlier Gilliam works as well. I’m not sure if I’d call it a weakness, but it certainly doesn’t possess the uniqueness that some of his older work has. For instance, the “street” scenes with Parnassus are straight out of “The Fisher King” and “12 Monkeys”. The character of Tony is extremely reminiscent of Brad Pitt’s Jeffrey Goines. Parnassus himself reminds me of Baron Munchausen. Some of the disjointed and disorganized dialog and presentations in the Imaginarium are straight out of “Brazil”.

All of that being said, however, the film is fun to watch and I enjoyed it thoroughly. Its climax and ending are very satisfactory, and I left with a smile on my face.

I’m sure this is not the last film we see from Gilliam. But I hope his next venture isn’t as much of a hassle. I won’t hold my breath, though.

My rating: :-)

Inglourious Basterds

August 30, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

It doesn’t take much knowledge on world history to know what really happened in WWII, regarding Adolf Hitler. It’s pretty obvious Quentin Tarantino is trying to give a history lesson with his new film, “Inglourious Basterds”–but he is taking on quite a task: revisionist history for the purpose of Hitler getting his, the way he should have gone out. If you’ve seen “Der Untergang” (“Downfall”), you get a real glimpse of what actually happened to Hitler in his final days (apparently he wasn’t too happy with things the Cubs did in their off season, either). But I won’t compare those two movies, because they’re different films and different forms of fiction. “Inglourious Basterds” is, at its heart, an action/adventure film with a wink and a smile.

If you’ve seen one Tarantino film, you’ve seen them all, in terms of his film style. This film is broken into 5 chapters, and each serves almost as its own separate short film, but it all comes together in the end. This film isn’t broken up in time the way “Pulp Fiction” and “Reservior Dogs” is but the narrative style follows the same pattern. And like all Tarantino films, the characters talk a lot. For me, it’s refreshing to see such energetic and delicious dialog being bounced back and forth, even if the scene is fifteen minutes long–you never feel it in a Tarantino film.

The plot itself follows more than the title suggests: while it does go through the story of the Inglourious Basterds (headed by Lt. Aldo Raine, played by Brad Pitt who you can see has a lot of fun with this role), it also follows a survivor of a Jew Hunter Nazi colonel (played wonderfully by Christoph Waltz, who will certainly be looking at an Oscar nod next season). She escapes a farmhouse that housed her family once they are “snuffed out” by Colonel Landa, but stays in France and runs a cinema that has to play German films. But it’s one German film in particular that the film eventually revolves around. A pesky German private who attempts to woo this girl, named Shosanna (who has changed her name to Emmanuelle  since escaping the farmhouse), had a film made about him when he was a sniper in a bird’s nest and killed hundreds of enemies. His filmmaker? Joseph Goebbels. It also just so happens that this film will be viewed by Adolf Hitler himself.

A plan is hatched by the Basterds to sabotage this film festival, but Shosanna has plans of her own for revenge, and the entire film of “Inglourious Basterds” eventually reveals itself to be, in a sense, a film about revenge and needless violence that serves no purpose but selfish ones. Tarantino takes a very serious situation such as the German Occupation and only lightly touches on the Holocaust, smartly; and, he turns this into somewhat of a charming adventure story. The characters are very well drawn out, and charismatic. Even the scenes of long dialog has context of tension, and build up of suspense. While they may be meandering through meaningless chattering, it eventually culminates in some kind of a shootout or explosive pay off.

The film does offer a few twists in its plot that are interesting, but there were some pay offs I was waiting for that didn’t happen. It wasn’t enough for me to enjoy the film any less, and overall this is Tarantino’s best work since “Pulp Fiction”. The climactic ending is more than worth the price of admission, and the events leading up to it are fun and engaging. There are a few weak performances (sorry, Eli Roth) but for the most part the acting is superb. Pitt offers some laughs, and Christoph Waltz and Melanie Laurent (who plays Shosanna) literally steal scenes.

But the film isn’t all fun and games, and some of the seriousness of what was going on at this time is given its due. The film’s themes of revenge being pointless, to me, are even more effective than in Spielberg’s sprawling but sputtering “Munich”. It clocks in at over two and a half hours, but if you’re a Tarantino fan, or a film fan in general, you will not feel the running time length.

It’s a shame that some of the better movies this summer have come at the end of it, but that’s why we have August I guess. I don’t see the point of August otherwise.

My rating: :D

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:

Burn After Reading

September 15, 2008 by  
Filed under Movies

The Coen brothers never cease to amaze me, and have been two of the most prominent filmmakers this generation. Ever since their breakthrough debut, “Blood Simple”, they’ve not only made some of the most intriguing, intense and deep-thinking films in the last 25 years, but also some of the most gut-busting hilarious comedies as well. It’s hard to believe sometimes that the same guys who made something as devastating as “Miller’s Crossing” or “Fargo” could also make screwball romps like “Raising Arizona” and thoughtful cerebral knee-slappers like “O Brother Where Art Thou?” and “The Big Lebowski”. Well, you can add “Burn After Reading” to their already stunning resumes. Leaning more toward romp than cerebral, “Burn After Reading” is a fast paced, 95 minute treat that snaps, crackles and pops and is welcomed into the post-summer doldrums at the box office. Hard to say how much money it will make, but it is as entertaining as anything I saw during the summer.

The film focuses on a bevy of characters: Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand, as extremely hyper active and positive thinking personal trainers at a gym known as Hard Bodies; George Clooney as a womanizing married man who meets women on the Internet and also maintains a relationship with a mistress played by Tilda Swinton who is married to–and trying to divorce–the main focus of the plot of the film, and one of the funniest roles I’ve seen him play in his career, John Malkovich. Malkovich plays a CIA agent who is let go in the beginning of the film, and decides to make a memoir while he is out of work, while his wife makes the bread working as a pediatrician. The plot thickens when a disc carrying information about Malkovich’s financial files falls into the hands of Pitt and McDormand because the administrative assistant of Swinton’s character’s divorce lawyer accidentally left it last time she was at Hard Bodies. Meanwhile, McDormand’s character, Linda, who is trying to get her insurance company through the gym to pay for 4 separate cosmetic surgeries, decides to blackmail Malkovich’s character, Ozzie Cox, thinking she’s got major classified information about him. Cox, not knowing that his wife is trying to divorce him anyway, has no idea how this disc came about, and doesn’t buy that the blackmailers really have anything on him. Linda tries going to the Russians, and it gets even crazier once she brings Pitt’s character, Chad, deeper into it by making him break into the Cox’s house. Linda is also the next victim of Clooney’s adulterating as she is searching for love on the Internet, and with Clooney being involve with the Cox as well, things get pretty dicey.

That’s just a taste of how involved this plot is. It’s written so well and drawn out so succinctly and logically that you totally believe everything that’s happening. The other thing is, the movie is laced with the theme about trust and how things can get so out of hand so quickly because of ignorance, greed, and ineptness. The Coen brothers treat the script with care and don’t beat you over the head with exposition, nor do they overdo the zaniness. Pitt is very funny as he dances to his kickin’ iPod selections, Clooney is incredibly charming as he deals with some strange paranoias, thinking people are following him all the time, and always making sure after having sex that he can “get a run in”. McDormand is hysterical, and sometimes just her facial reactions to what’s going on make you chuckle. As I said previously, Malkovich is at the top of his game. It’s probably the most vulgar I’ve seen him, and that’s part of why he is so funny in this film.

This movie works on every level and is a very entertaining movie to catch on a lazy Saturday or Sunday. If you’re more into home entertainment, I highly recommend picking up a copy at your local (diminishing) video rental store and grab some popcorn and soda, and settle in.

It’s a fun ride, even if it’s short.

My rating: :smile: