Saturday, January 31, 2009

2 Bloggers and a Movie...on Benjamin Button

I saw The Curious Case of Benjamin Button two weeks ago, and I've been sitting on this review for just as long. Call it laziness, call it ingenuity, call it me trying to entertain my readers, but I thought the best way to attack this epic was to bring on a second blogger.

So, my guest blogger today is Amy. She rants and raves on a semi-regular basis on her MySpace blog, and she, like me, is a movie freak, er, geek. This whole conversation began with me giving her the first paragraph of what was going to be a run-of-the-mill blog...

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button surprised me a little. I was expecting an engaging story with solid acting, but what I wasn't expecting so much was the beauty of it all. Benjamin Button is not really an epic in the traditional sense, but it is an epic of sorts, and the cinematography owes itself to the slightly grand scale of the story.

AMY: Good call. Epic was the first word that I thought of when I finished also. Everyone had been talking about Australia being the epic movie, but I think Button did a great job nailing that feeling.

FAITH: Totally. I think it was epic like Forrest Gump was epic.

AMY: It's funny that you brought up Forrest Gump, because that is a comparison that I think is haunting Button.

FAITH: Well, it doesn't help that the screenwriter is Eric Roth...who wrote Forrest.

AMY: I should say that while Fincher is one of my favorites, I actually wasn't as excited about Button as I was for, say, Zodiac because of the Forrest Gump comparisons. I was actually surprised by how much I liked it.

FAITH: I thought I'd like it because I'm a huge F. Scott Fitzgerald fan, but I have to agree with you, Zodiac seemed more Fincher-esque.

AMY: Did you expect it to be that funny?

FAITH: Not at all. The first part--when Benjamin's young--is a lot funnier than I thought it'd be!

AMY: Absolutely! That's when I started to like it. I loved that they treated the situation as ridiculous as it felt.

FAITH: So what did you think of the acting?

AMY: I thought Brad Pitt was great, although I would be interested to see how much of that was CGI with just voice over. I thought Cate Blanchett was phenomenal; she should have gotten a nom just for the scene in the dance studio.

FAITH: Well, I personally think Cate Blanchett could read a cereal box and be awesome. I read an article that Brad Pitt actually acted a majority of the movie; they just used CGI to put his face on the other actors. I personally think Taraji P. Henson stole the movie, though.

AMY: OK, that's interesting because she was the only one I thought didn't shine through the role for me. I thought it was kind of a stereotypical, Southern/black/poor… I didn't think it was unique enough to warrant this attention, what did it for you?

FAITH: Well, I don't know if you've seen her in other movies, but she has never shown this much talent in anything else. And (maybe cuz I'm black and Southern) I didn't find it stereotypical at all. She sounded like some of my great aunts!

AMY: Ha! I actually think that's what bugged me a little. I thought it seemed like she watched a bunch of movies like Gone With the Wind and figured that's what Southern black women were like… but you're right, I haven't seen her in any thing else.

FAITH: No, the women in Gone with the Wind were stereotypes. She felt more real to me. I loved her. On a side note, you need to watch Hustle & Flow.

AMY: Agreed. On a different note, I have to ask, what did you think about them setting it smack in the middle of Katrina? Because that was obviously not part of the original story.

FAITH: Pointless. I was waiting for it to have a point. And then nothing!

AMY: Thank you! I didn't get that at all. It seemed like a lame attempt to add emotionally impact that had NO connection.

FAITH: Honestly, I didn't get the point of the movie being a flashback at all. It would've had more impact to have a present-day reveal at the end.

AMY: Well, kinda spoiler for dumb people, were we really not supposed to guess that she is his daughter?
FAITH: I know! I couldn't figure that out. I mean, were we not supposed to figure it out or did we learn it just to see her reaction (which sucked by the way).

AMY: I usually like Julia Ormond, but she was a waste in that role. They should have brought in someone who could do more than look confused.

FAITH: No love for Julia Ormond. I liked her in Sabrina, but that's it.

AMY: About the movie structure, I am usually vehemently anti-narration (being of the show it don't tell it school of thought), but I thought this was a movie did it right. It developed Benjamin and the story in a way I'm not sure they could have done otherwise and gave the movie that epic, lyrical quality.

FAITH: Yeah, voice over usually works best in epic movies...and movies starring Morgan Freeman.

AMY: Ha! Well, everything works better with Morgan Freeman.

FAITH: Ha! That should be a commercial.

AMY: Need to get out a tough stain? Try Morgan Freeman. Everything works better with Morgan Freeman!

FAITH: Hehehehehe. You know what didn't work? The "war" scene.

AMY: On the boat?

FAITH: Yeah. OK. Let me restate. It was a fine scene, but it felt out of place.

AMY: I agree, it was neat to watch but I thought it could have been cut to save time and the story would have survived.

FAITH: True. True.

AMY: I got that the whole point of the story is that everyone dies and he has to watch everyone die. I didn't need the boat for that.

FAITH: Quite true. But I think it did show us that people don't just die of old age, but I think why it felt odd was that I just didn't care about the other men on the boat…well, except for the captain.

AMY: That was a great character.

FAITH: Loved him!

AMY: But I did feel like at times it was hammering in the "WE ALL DIE" point a bit much. At least it was in cleaner ways than Seven, so I can't really complain.

FAITH: Yeah, but Seven was awesome...because of Morgan Freeman.

AMY: This might be my time to state that this was one of the most beautiful movies I have seen in years!

FAITH: OK. I am so there with you. Not only was the cinematography GORGEOUS, but Cate and Brad were equally pretty.

AMY: I can't even talk about how beautiful Blanchett was without melting. I wanted to lick the screen (but I have issues). This may be the movie to drives me to invest in a HD player.

FAITH: So true. All those amazing ocean shots...yeah, I may have drooled a little.

AMY: Given that for Cinematography it is up against Dark Knight, who's your pick?

FAITH: Ok...lemme check...Oh yeah, it should win.

AMY: I like how expansive Dark Knight feels, but this movie just felt like “Cinema,” I don't know how else to describe it.

FAITH: That is the perfect word for it. Dark Knight was menacingly beautiful, but it was more about the scene than the scenery. Benjamin was all about the scenery. It was grand and intimate all at the same time.

AMY: As much as I loved watching it, I had moments where I wished the story was as strong as the visuals. I honestly think that about 30 minutes could have been cut to make it tighter.

FAITH: I get lost in the visuals sometimes, so I didn't feel that way. But I'm sure if I watched it again, I'd find myself checking my watch. It was a good movie, but it definitely isn't this fantastic masterpiece everyone's making it out to be. OK. It was a great movie--let me give it the credit it deserves.

AMY: It was great, but I agree. Afterward one of my friends asked me if I now understood why it got the most nominations and I said honestly no. It WAS a great movie, but I do think that there were some things holding it back.

FAITH: Yeah. Julia Ormond for one.

AMY: God yes.

FAITH: Now that I think about it. I kind of didn't care as much about the end of his life. Once he left Daisy, I almost wanted it to skip the montage-y Seven Years in Tibet part.
AMY: Which was evidently directed by Tarsem, so now I get why it looked so different. Not relevant to the story (again, could have been cut to save time), but neat.
FAITH: Neat is a good word for it.

FAITH: So, I'm about to go watch some Super Bowl commercials. Let's wrap this sucker up.

AMY: I think that is all I have.

FAITH: No closing thoughts?

AMY: I did think it was funny that we talked about doing this one and Slumdog Millionaire because I thought that they were the opposites in strengths and weaknesses. This one is beautiful to watch, but lacks a little in story.

FAITH: Hmm...I thought Slumdog was kind of beautiful too. Not nearly AS beautiful, but fun to look at. We'll definitely discuss it next.

AMY: Perfect.

FAITH: Off to half watch football and wholly watch commercials! Later!

AMY: Later gator.

And we're not just teasing you. Amy will be back to discuss Slumdog Millionaire with me, because even though I can't seem to come up with the words to describe how wonderful I thought it was, maybe Amy can help me out.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Two Men and an Interview

Ron Howard isn't the kind of director that people really call "great." He's got some wonderful movies--Apollo 13, Parenthood, Backdraft, Cinderella Man--but most people don't really think of those as Ron Howard movies. I think maybe now we should step up and give Howard some love because Frost/Nixon is another great movie that is intense and lovely to watch. Like most of Howard's movies, this is an actor's movie with engaging scenes and impeccable performances.

At its core, the film is about two men trying to be better than they are. David Frost (Michael Sheen) is a famous TV personality who saw the Nixon interviews as a way to get great ratings and catapult his career in the US. Richard Nixon (Frank Langella)...well, we all know about Nixon, so I'm not going to waste your time. These two men, trying to be better than they are, clash like red and orange stripes on a shirt. That's what makes the film so solid--not really the historical significance, but the sheer energy pouring off these men as they sit a few feet from each other trying to make the other man break and admit defeat.

It's been a long time since I've found myself literally on the edge of my seat waiting for a man to ask another man a simple question in a movie, and this year, I get it twice. First with Slumdog Millionaire, and then again with Frost/Nixon. Though, unlike Slumdog, where I really didn't know the outcome, I knew how Frost/Nixon was going to go. It is definitely the beauty of good filmmaking--when you know how things will come out, yet you still find yourself fully invested in the story.

The supporting cast, who are truly that, have no weak spots. To me, Kevin Bacon was the strongest, but Sam Rockwell, Oliver Platt (oh, I love Oliver Platt!) and Matthew MacFadyen definitely stepped up to make their small roles strong ones.

Michael Sheen is outstanding. He plays Frost with equal parts confident playboy and scared schoolboy charm. My favorite scene is not between him and Langella, but with Rockwell, Platt, and MacFadyen. The three men are berating Frost's terrible showing in an interview, but Frost just wants to go out and celebrate his birthday. Watching him struggle with the defeat of the interview process yet still trying to keep on his party face is just incredible acting, plain and simple.

Frank Langella, in my humble opinion, really looks nothing like Richard Nixon. Except in this movie, everything he did--his demeanor, his speech--made him the spitting image of the late president. His entire performance, especially during those infamous uncomfortable close-ups from the interviews, is incredible. Not to take any credit away from Michael Sheen's wonderful turn as David Frost, but Langella blew me out of the water.

Frost/Nixon is intense and truly entertaining. It may not be exactly what you'd call historically accurate, but that may be the appeal. If you want to see the real interviews, they're available for rent or purchase. But if you're looking for something that will keep you engaged and at the edge of your seat, this drama is the way to go. It definitely makes my top ten best movies of the year.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

25 Movies EW Thinks I Should See

I really should be writing an awesome review about Slumdog Millionaire...mainly because I really loved the movie. Secondly, I do believe it is my duty as a film geek and critic to inform everyone about the small movies out there. Unfortunately, I still have yet to put together the proper collection of words to describe the joy I had watching the movie, so I'm sorry. If you haven't gathered, I think everyone should check out Slumdog Millionaire. It's getting awards buzz like crazy, so I'm sure it will be in theatres everywhere soon enough.

But enough of that! This blog is about the little mini-article Entertainment Weekly releases every January telling me (and all the other readers) what movies they should see before the Academy Awards. Last year was just miserable for me; I'd only seen nine. This year is no better (the ones I've seen are in bold), but I have some serious plans for my birthday week, so I will update you on my progress as the month goes by.

  1. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  2. Slumdog Millionaire
  3. Milk
  4. Frost/Nixon
  5. The Dark Knight
  6. Doubt
  7. Revolutionary Road
  8. WALL-E
  9. The Wrestler
  10. Gran Torino
  11. The Reader
  12. Rachel Getting Married
  13. Changeling
  14. Vicky Cristina Barcelona
  15. Tropic Thunder
  16. Happy-Go-Lucky
  17. The Visitor
  18. I've Loved You So Long
  19. Frozen River
  20. Nothing But the Truth
  21. Man on Wire
  22. Synedoche, New York
  23. The Duchess
  24. Defiance
  25. Australia

These are usually done in order of importance, so seeing the first 10 should cover you for the big awards. The writers at Entertainment Weekly are definitely not the end-all, be-all, but they have a great track record. The Oscars air Sunday, February 22, so get crackin'! If you're not so interested in the Oscars, it's at least a good list to add to your Netflix queue.