Movie Of the Week: The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button (2008)

David Fincher directs Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Tilda Swinton in this fantasy romance where a man ages backwards, geriatric to baby, over the 20th century.

I was dating a girl when The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button came out. And we broke up on the car ride home. The problem wasn’t she hated it and I loved it. The problem was neither of us felt comfortable enough to vocally disagree about the movie. And who can live like that?

This felt like a definite outlier in Fincher’s filmography on release after 16 years of mind fuck thrillers and procedural horrors. It isn’t exactly a soft piece of cinema. The clicking clock of death and the cruel vagaries of fate and time prey on these people like a serial killer or a xenomorph. In fact the old age effect work in the first act often resembles the creepier earlier stages of Alien3’s monster and flesh. But this is, first and foremost, a romance film told in a flow of interlinked short stories. It doesn’t have a traditional structure, more chapters. Each one is slightly imperfect. Button’s doddery old faux-Dickensian childhood is most memorable but has the ropiest FX work. There’s some unsettling uncanny valley moments. A cold romance between Pitt and Swinton in Fifties’ USSR feels completely self contained. It is hard to fully tally the attraction between Blanchett’s Daisy and Pitt’s Benjamin. The script and acting successfully sidesteps the inevitable ickiness yuckiness of a pensioner and a pre-pubescent girl becoming soul mates. Yes… I understand the fairytale aspect of the vibes… Brad Pitt being the most attractive man on Earth helps. It is like watching The Ugly Duckling in a romcom knowing exactly how the swan reveal will eventually play out.

Is there a lot of negativity in the above paragraph? I think Benjamin Button is a project where the inherent flaws make it fascinating. Almost as if Fincher and Pitt signed up at the height of their powers knowing this could be a suicide note. Difficult to realise. Difficult to market. Difficult to dodge the snark of people who live to hate cinema in general. It is admirable that such a bad bet is realised so sumptuously. There’s no resting on laurels here. They wanted to make a Forrest Gump (Eric Roth is a shared screenwriter) without the draw of nostalgia. They wanted to tip toe through history while avoiding all landmark events. This is the world turning, seen at a distance, never better captured than in the Amelie-esque set piece where fate conspires to take Daisy’s dreams away from her. And then a little later, a moment of maturity, rarely achieved in the Hollywood blockbuster – Daisy proclaims she wouldn’t have been a dancer for much longer anyway, her achievement were brief but spectacular. This movie is epic, spectacular but also intimate and pragmatic. It really is a precious wonder from another age of mainstream storytelling.

9

Perfect Double Bill: Interview With The Vampire (1994)

Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog https://cornsyrup.co.uk

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/

First Cow (2019)

Kelly Reichardt directs John Magaro, Orion Lee and Toby Jones in this Western drama where two settlers in Oregon fall into a scheme where they steal milk from the only cow in the region each night.

Kelly Reichardt is one of those directors whom I admire but have yet to see that movie which unlocks their work for me (though I do remember seeing Old Joy when it was first broadcast on UK TV and making a note of it). First Cow comes closest to winning me over so far, I’ve not seen Certain Women yet. It feels like two minor characters from Deadwood have had their fan edit. With all the villains and anti-heroes left abandoned. And to wit, there is a certain degree of Beckett’s Waiting For Godot or Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead to their minor, but focussed deeply on to, story. See also Steptoe & Son and Only Fools & Horses in terms of the relationship dynamic, only set in the “settling” of America. I’m surprised there aren’t more of these pre-Wild West, pioneer stories. There’s something fascinating about the immigrants who claimed America as their own. The people who created this risky dominion were rarely the winners of their previous communities – and that makes for fascinating dramatic possibilities. Reichardt seems attuned to this – her cinema is never overcooked or weighed down by forced complexity. Fable-like. Low key, small scale, convincing in its brevity of detail… you can’t help but be won over by these two ratty hopefuls’ dishonest scheme and mild mannered dreams.

7

Perfect Double Bill: The Revenant (2015)

Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog https://cornsyrup.co.uk

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/

Good Vibrations (2012)

Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn direct Richard Dormer, Jodie Whittaker and Adrian Dunbar in this Northern Irish biopic of Terri Hooley – a non-partisan record shop owner in Belfast who championed punk as an alternative to civil war.

I’d heard good things about this but always misread and prejudged it as a bit preachy. I was wrong. Has a really nice energy to it, a mordant sense of humour and, in the first half, some nifty magical realist flights of fantasy. The excitement and seduction of getting lost in a gig is captured wonderfully a few times. Not many other movies take the time to get that right. Terri Hooley was probably a bit of a prat to work and live with in real life, this biopic all but comes out and says as much, but Richard Dormer delivers a fine, if rare, lead powerhouse of a role. This should’ve made him a star. Obviously the soundtrack is fantastic and Jodie Whittaker also works great on the big screen… now, post Dr Who, the world must be her oyster, surely? There’s a lot to praise here.

7

Perfect Double Bill: High Fidelity (2000)

Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog https://cornsyrup.co.uk

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/

The Parent Trap (1998)

Nancy Meyers directs Lindsay Lohan, Lindsay Lohan and Dennis Quaid in this remake of the 1961 kids comedy where two separated-at-birth twins swap places and try to reunite their estranged parents.

Glossy and indulgent. The wealth porn is galling, it has three scenes for every one that is essential. There’s one sequence set around a hotel elevator that seems to go on longer than the entire original film. Still little Li-Lo has the goods – charm, strong comic timing… even when playing against herself. She single handedly makes this the superior version.

6

Perfect Double Bill: The Parent Trap (1961)

Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog https://cornsyrup.co.uk

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/

The Sinful Nuns Of Saint Valentine (1974)

Sergio Grieco directs Françoise Prévost, Paolo Malco and Jenny Tamburi in this Spanish nunsploitation where a tyrannical abbess gets caught out by the Inquisition.

Looks like a Hammer Horror and the nudity is random and chaotic… in general ugly and one note.

Perfect Double Bill: The Devils (1972)

3

Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog https://cornsyrup.co.uk

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/

Love Is A Dog From Hell (1987)

Dominique Deruddere directs Josse De Pauw, Geert Hunaerts and Michael Pas in this Belgium based translation of a triptych of sex stories following one of Charles Bukowski’s alter egos, Harry Voss, as he goes from pre-pubescent kid to spotty loner virgin.

This feels really familiar – did I watch this late night as a teen on Channel 4? Solid adaptation of Bukowski – cynical, anti-nostalgia. Horny but alienated. The tale of a high school dance which ends with our protagonist taking drastic action to cover his pulsating skin is an unsung iconic sequence of the era – a black mirror image of Eighties teen movies where prom love conquers all. It is on Netflix currently under the title Crazy Love (boring!) so check it out.

7

Perfect Double Bill: Leolo (1992)

Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog https://cornsyrup.co.uk

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/

Maelström (2000)

Denis Villeneuve directs Marie Josée Croze, Jean-Nicolas Verreault and Stephanie Morgenstern in this French Canadian existential drama about a woman who has an abortion – told from the point of view of a mutant fish on a chopping block.

Pretentious but not without its moments. The storytelling happens in little wave like arcs, so you catch up with some characters’ significance a little later, after they make their interruptions on the protagonist’s life. Feels like the overreaching early work of a director feted for bigger things… and that’s exactly how Villeneuve’s career worked out.

6

Perfect Double Bill: August 32nd on Earth (1998)

Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog https://cornsyrup.co.uk

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/

The Slammin’ Salmon (2009)

Kevin Heffernan directs himself, Steve Lemme and Jay Chandrasekhar in this madcap comedy where the waiting staff of a high end fish restaurant need to make 20 grand in one service.

The second funniest Broken Lizard movie. Pretty much every escalating subplot flies high . Michael Clarke Duncan, Cobie Smulders and especially April Bowlby are good supports who get their own laughs. Well worth investing a six pack and a pizza into. “Who is Guy… Meatdrapes?”

8

Perfect Double Bill: Waiting (2005)

Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog https://cornsyrup.co.uk

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/

Bloody New Year (1987)

Norman J. Warren directs Suzy Aitchison, Nikki Brooks and Colin Heywood in this cheap British independent horror that follows five shipwrecked teens on a haunted island who find a hotel trapped in a deadly time warp.

If you can get over the sub Dr Who production values and the sub Grange Hill acting then this has a certain degree of winning chutpaz. It starts with an all action chase around a seaside fun fair which is pleasingly OTT. That sets the tone for the spooky stuff. Pretty much every practical trick shot that can be executed for £50 is bunged in at some point. Walls come alive, mirrors grab you, rotting bodies become possessed. There’s a catchy sprinkling of original revival rock’n’roll songs from a band called Cry No More. It is not a million miles away from 1980s post giallo in terms of tone and ambition. Still, aside from a few key moments, this can often still somehow be boring and incoherent even at a sparse 90 minutes of length. The male characters are particularly unlikeable which really doesn’t help. In fact they are the creepiest things in it.

5

Perfect Double Bill: Fall Break (1984)

Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog https://cornsyrup.co.uk

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)

Timur Bekmambetov directs Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper and Mary Elizabeth Winstead in this period fantasy horror hybrid that retells Abraham Lincoln’s life if he were a vampire hunter.

There’s a good gimmick here but it gets lost in a mess of sloppy CGI and tension-free carnage. I’m not sure if it really must take itself quite so solemnly… adding vampires into the historical mix should in theory negate any overt need for worthiness. Shame as the ensemble is pleasing and the production design is well aged. Maybe if there was a smidge more focus then this would live up to its promise. Benjamin Walker looks as much like a digitally de-aged Liam Neeson as he does Honest Abe.

4

Perfect Double Bill: Pride And Prejudice And Zombies (2016)

Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog https://cornsyrup.co.uk

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/