January 11, 2009

REVIEWS: Benjamin Button, and some Cholera

By sheer coincidence, I've watched two movies throughout the weekend that seemed to have several things in common. They're both adaptations, they both use flashbacks to tell the narrative, they both look really good aesthetically, they both involve some sense of time and space, but most of all, they both have the same theme of ethereal love.

Just like Romeo and Juliet before them, these two movies tackle the kind of love that can last forever, but do they fare very well? I mean, despite all these similarities, these 2 can also be considered polar opposites. Why? Find out below.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Warner Bros. Pictures, Paramount Pictures
Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton

It's ironic to see a commercial for Pond's Age Miracle cream right before a movie with a premise like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button starts to roll.

If you haven't heard, let me tell you about the star-studded shenanigans of Brad Pitt and company in this movie directed by acclaimed 'Fight Club' (which also stars Pitt) director David Fincher and written (or adapted, since this was originally a short story) by no less than Eric Roth and his box of chocolates (figure that out for yourself).

The film starts out after World War I. Everyone's rejoicing and really, 'it was a great time to be born', and as luck would have it our protaganist is born, albeit in 'unusual circumstances'.

By chance the baby was not really much of a baby- more of an octogenarian on his way to the grave- so naturally he looked like hell, thus causing panic in his father, forcing him to run and leave him right on the doorstep of a black landlady- not that race has anything to do with the movie- and she decides that since he's still a creation of God, she would raise him.

Along the way he meets Daisy, and they fall in love. When their ages meet, they marry, and... any further would spoil the whole movie.

So where do I begin... We went in and the theater was packed to the sides but luckily there was little noise. My assessment? The audience got sucked into the movie. Heck I got sucked in. Brad Pitt comes off as surprisingly endearing that it's hard not to get into the movie. Same would go for Cate Blanchett who's always a charm to see on screen (and rather phenomenal), with special mention going to Tilda Swinton who plays it simple in her brief role.

The other real catalyst of the movie's inmersiveness is pretty much the curiosity one would have due to its intriguing premise. Its marketing apparently banks on it too with the trailer making you extremely intrigued and the posters made oh-so simple yet somewhat mysterious using an inverted version of the title.

To pull off a movie like this, meticulous direction and technical brillance is needed. And boy, there is a lot of attention to detail and a great use of prosthetics and special effects that adds a lot to the experience. Aesthetically, it's awesome and you should seriously make an effort to see the movie on a theater or at least on Blu-ray with an HD projector and 7.1 surround sound. It's that nice. Every single technical aspect is nailed, the scenarios look extremely nice, and the make-up is startlingly convincing. Additionally, Fincher manages to get aforementioned wondrous performances from its star-studded cast while making an effort to also make it feel human.

Honestly, he is pretty successful in that regard. You'll feel Benjamin's hesitation and childlike curiousity in his dealings with the concepts of life and death as he grows younger, and then there's Daisy who you'll root for in the latter part of the movie.

There's a condition if you're already itching to watch this, and it concerns time. The movie is epic, clocking in at 2 hours 30 minutes, so make sure you have the time. Ironically, the movie is based from a short story, and even more ironic is that some events in Benjamin's life feel as if it merely drifted through, while other unnecessary ones somehow drag. This is probably the movie's only fault, but once you're sucked into the movie, you'll never get out.

The way the narrative unfolds is notably unique compared to movies of late. People say it's reminiscent to that of Forrest Gump's, but I'll let that issue hang until I get to actually watch that one. Personally, it reminds me more of Titanic's way of telling the story so basically, it's a flashback that also alternates with the current time. The difference here is that the segments that depict the present time are also entertaining, simply because it makes the story a lot more three-dimensional instead of serving as filler (like in Phantom of the Opera). You'll know what I'm saying if you've watched it.

Despite all the heavy drama, there's also abundant humor. I mean, who knew that an anecdote about thunderstrikes could make such a nice running gag?

Plus, there's some interpretation to be had with the movie as there are some symbolic moments in there- the clock, the sunset, the characters, any of those could have a deeper meaning lying within, and it could probably take a second viewing.

Personally, I think you should watch this and in a theater. It somehow works like a fairy tale but it's also grounded in reality- Yeah, that's about accurate for me- and it's just amazing. Not perfect, but still really good.

Rating: 9.2/10

Love In The Time of Cholera
Javier Bardem, Benjamin Bratt

Some filmmakers become liberal with an adapted story, some filmmakers get away with an entirely new version of a story using only its basic premise, and some filmmakers simply misinterpret the source material a movie is based from.

Even though I only used the critique of someone else to make the above introduction, the movie I'm going to review still pretty much sucks in several levels, and that movie is Love In The Time of Cholera.

It basically chronicles the escapades of its 2 central characters named... Uhhh... I forgot. Damn it, I think the guy was called Fernando (Javier Bardem) and the girl... uhhh... Ms. Little Mood Swing. Anyway, those two initially were to be married but her father refused and later she marries a doctor played by Benjamin Bratt. Fernando, becomes heartbroken and waits several decades to get back with Ms. Mood Swing.

Sigh, this is a movie I want to hate with a passion. Bad acting, ridiculous script, and bad casting gift-wrapped nicely with a great aesthetic and cinematography is simply the formula for this literal- if you excuse the term and language as there is no better nor fitting alternative for it- f**kfest. Seriously, Javier Bardem's character Fernando is too unbelievably sexy for women and it just seems as if half the movie is composed of sex scenes. In short, he's a man-whore.

And as if that wasn't unbelievable enough, Javier's character is just creepy. He stalks Ms. Mood Swing all the time, he thinks about her all the time, he counts the number of women he has slept with just to know how much he can resist temptation (and the number isn't pretty, and his whore-ness seems hereditary too), and... damn it, it's JAVIER BARDEM. Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men. He looks more like a villain and could switch places with Ms. Mood Swing's father anytime because the guy (the guy who plays Ms. Mood Swing's father) looks as old as his damn daughter!

Ms. Mood Swing is also not without stupid quirks. For one thing, she first denies Fernando's hand in marriage years after their vow and engagement, and after her husband dies, she first denies Fernando, and suddenly we're shown her uncensored torso in bed with Fernando. AHHHHH MY EYES!

To be honest, when you put some things in consideration, the movie's not THAT bad. It has some moments, and the ending is just iconic and jaw-droppingly beautiful. You'll feel sort of sorry for a few characters, too.

But ultimately, it's a severe case of style over substance. Plus, it's obviously forgettable. If you're the type who watches a film adaptation of a novel before reading it, just don't watch this. Otherwise, err... give it a rent. Perhaps the visuals will sweep you away and you'll enjoy this crap. Regardless, it'll give you a terrible impression of legendary Gael Garcia Marquez's bestseller of the same title.

Rating: 3.5/10

P.S., if there are typos or grammatical errors, I'm sorry because I just typed these on the way home on my iPod touch.

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