Thursday, January 22, 2009

Pitt. Blanchett. Button. Period.

Well, everyone's got their predictions about what 2009's going to look like cinematically. The top 420 films you MUST see this year, etc. Me personally, I think it will be a time when Hollywood is going to spend some political capital. Specifically, in the area of wishful thinking. Everyone's Candyman is coming home to roost: people from all walks of life are going to stand in front of their mirrors and say the names of the people they want to work with five times, and that dream person is going to show up and lovingly hack them to pieces. Something like that. If you stand in front of your mirror and say "Tom Sizemore" five times... oh, he'll show up! Might take him a couple days, but he'll be there, asking for work. Less extremely, there are other examples where the suggestion is made, and collaborations ensue, and has since become the stuff of Hollywood folklore. Eddie Murphy once complained that women are too selfish, particularly singling out the Janet Jackson song "What have you done for me lately." And BOOM! Nutty Professor 2 happens. On Night Court, they kept dropping Mel Torme's name, until one day he shows up. George Costanza on Seinfeld keeps wanting to make Ted Danson money, and lo and behold! Who's on Curb your Enthusiasm? Ted Danson! And of course, the most prolific one of all, Adam Sandler's Hanukkah Song mentions Arthur Fonzarelli, and boom! Henry Winkler appears in damn near every movie of his since The Waterboy. We've all got our own examples, so please forgive me if I stole one or two of yours.
There are some near misses of course. Quentin Tarantino famously talks about Madonna's song "Like a Virgin" at the beginning of Reservoir Dogs. Three years later, Madonna appears in the film Four Rooms, but I don't think she was in Quenty's segment. In other song related news, Russell Crowe had a hit song called "I wanna be Marlon Brando", but so far he hasn't retired to an island and put on a bunch of weight that he wasn't able to take right back off.
And then, we come to Fight Club, when Tyler Durden threatens to kill a guy unless he doesn't start becoming a veterinarian. The guy runs away and Tyler yells "Run, Forrest! Run!!" And Brad thought it could never happen to him. But look what happened! Forrest Gump screenwriter Eric Roth, with a little assistance, has concocted the next 3-hour Brad Pitt epic, directed by Fight Club director David Fincher, and I don't know about you but it has kind of that Gump feeling to it. Several reasons which have already been explored to death elsewhere, mostly technical and story arc wise. While Benjamin Button isn't burdened with a lower than average IQ, he doesn't have a particularly remarkable life. Except for the whole Memento-esque twist, of course. There's a lot of ways that it's NOT like Forrest Gump. One which started to bug me after a while was the fact that no one seemed to notice, or care, that there's this strange dude who's aging backwards. Even his father took it all pretty much in stride. Must be that New Orleans voodoo. Or something in the water. Forrest got famous for much less, and was at least a die-hard bootstrapping Capitalist. Imagine the Highlander living a completely sedentary life, yawning as he has to sell the button factory, shrugging as he sells off the love shack that he and Daisy spent so many quality weeks together in. Shrimp were a little more integral to the story than Benjamin Button's button factory is.
So in addition to being a year of cashing in on the power of suggestion, this will be the year when that finite list of the proper memes will finally be hammered out. You know, all those babysitting lessons all movies seem to impart these days. Things like: Life is Short, and We have to make the most with what little time we have left. And we always have a choice. Even though our fate has been pre-determined.
And, of course, the sex. Lots and lots of sex. But when you're a heartthrob like Brad Pitt, people gotta live vicariously through you somehow! I mean, what do we get in Robert Ford? Mary-Louise Parker? I mean, she makes a fine prairie wife and all, and she sells all that weed on Showtime, but there's no action! Give us something for our R rating! And our THREE PLUS HOURS, for God's sake!
But that's the rule now. Did anyone notice there seemed to be a lot of making out in The Aviator? Leo made out with Kate Hepburn, right? Guess I'd better watch it again. Somehow I can't imagine the real Katharine Hepburn doing that in real life.  And of course it's still okay for the dudes to act like man-whores and sleep around a lot. There's the hilarious sequence where Benjy dates a bunch of anonymous partners in a row, suddenly shocked to find themselves in an old folks home. Was this written by Philip Roth? I forget. Meanwhile, every other man Daisy takes after is another dagger plunged into Benjamin Button's heart and given a good hard twist, but like Indiana Jones in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, somehow we know he's going to survive and carry on, because it's a prequel, so they can't kill him off. But I digress.
For some reason when Tilda Swinton said the thing about, "I don't want you to think I'm the kind of woman who walks around in hotel lobbies at 3 in the morning" I thought of the Monty Python sketch where Graham Chapman says "I don't want you to think people in the Wood party are the sort of people who hang upside down in the middle of the earth's crust and say 'Oh bloody heck'." Was I the only one? I thought so. But like F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, there are no Second Acts in American lives. But maybe he'd want to take that back, just as Woody Allen wanted to take back his quote about how 95 percent of it is showing up. Benjamin Button may not have a Second Act, but it sure seems like it.
What did I like about the movie? Well, the old people at the home were nice. A refreshing change from the usual raunchy old people that Adam Sandler tends to find. And of course, the guy who got hit by lightning seven lucky times was a big hit with the audience. Which made the ending feel even more like a betrayal when the seventh and final lightning strike suddenly became a sentimental affair. Yes, whether you're a sea boat captain, a ballet dancer, or you've just been hit by lightning by seven times, it looks even better on Eastman Kodak. (TM) Oops, sorry to spoil the ending. SPOILERS. And of course, the whole Hurricane Katrina angle. Some might call that tasteless, but you're probably a Republican lawmaker who could've done something about it. Besides, it's not as tasteless as the first X-Files movie paying homage to the Oklahoma City bombing. And besides, just like in Eric Roth's The Good Shepherd when a certain piece of paper is set on fire near the end, that flooding basement makes a fine cinematic payoff. Oops, another spoiled ending.
As far as I remember, the acting is top notch. And I should mention that it's an American comeback for Julia Ormond. It's 1995 all over again, and she's once again starring in Sabrina, or close enough to it. As for Cate Blanchett, well, she does her usual exemplary work. The part I think I liked best is when she was in the hospital bed and says to Benjamin Button, "You would have to see me like this." Great line reading. Best LEAD Actress nom time? Could be! Anyway, the film will at least get Oscars for digital effects and probably that Oscar for makeup that Click almost got. Oh yeah, and the lettering of the Russian hotel? Awful. Is there a less romantic font than the overexposed Times New Roman? I think not. Even with Russian lettering.

So keep an eye out, America, because even the people on TV and the silver screen have dreams too, of meeting the people and achieving the goals that have inspired them, and 2009 is the year where it all comes true. The exception, of course, is the creators of South Park. In the South Park movie, for example, the Terrence and Phillip movie opens at #1 with 47 million dollars, if I remember correctly. But that'll never happen for those guys in real life. Even though South Park is now in HD.


-so sayeth the Movie Hooligan

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