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Monday, July 6, 2009

2008 Catch-Up: Frost/Nixon, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Tell No One

Even though we're halfway through 2009, I took the Independence Day weekend to make it through a few notable movies from the past year, two Best Picture nominees and a foreign film that had a large degree of success and good reviews in the States. So without further ado, my much overdo thoughts on......


Ron Howard's Frost/Nixon consists of the story of somewhat "lightweight" interviewer David Frost (Michael Sheen) securing, preparing for, and conducting a television interview with the disgraced ex-President (Frank Langella). A lot worked about this film. It moved quickly and did a good job of portraying the two leads. Frost is a man in a bit over his head who finally finds a way to step up to the plate. Nixon was an undeniably smart man who is also extremely self-delusional. Watching their match-up does provide some nice sparks.

Despite the strengths of the film, I kind of left the film thinking I should have felt more. The Queen, a somewhat similar story also starring Michael Sheen and penned by the same screenwriter (Peter Morgan) went deeper into the dynamics of power and tradition than this film does. Frost/Nixon feels fun, and like it wants to be important, but I'm not really sure that it is that important. Michael Sheen does a very nice job as Frost. I'm a little torn on Langella's performance. He does disappear into his character, but at times I felt it was more of a stunt than a true performance. Overall, it's an entertaining film but not a great one, and certainly didn't deserve it's Best Picture nomination.

Grade: B

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

David Fincher's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a movie of tremendous technical skill, a fascinating premise, and some great scenes. As you probably know, it tells the story of a man who ages backwards (Brad Pitt) and his love for a woman named Daisy (Cate Blanchett). There are definitely some great sequences in the film. I liked Benjamin's early days, where he was taken care of by Queenie (Taraji P. Henson). I also liked his friendship/love affair with a British matron (Tilda Swinton). The ending of the movie was also engaging. It's also put together beautifully by David Fincher in a way that guides you through the many periods of the 20th-century.

From my intro, you were probably waiting for a "but," and here it is. It's not that emotionally engaging. Part of that has to do with Brad Pitt. While moviegoers enjoyed watching him turn beautiful, he never really dug into the character to the extent where I was truly cared about him as a person. The idea of the story is beautiful and sad, but I never quite connected it to the actual human emotions of the characters. It's also flat-out too long. If you're going to make a 2 hour and 40 minute movie, you need to provide more of an emotional hook for the audience.

Despite my qualms, I do recommend the film. The technical skill is something to marvel at, and I've known people who were quite moved by it. It just didn't quite hit me where it could have.

Grade: B

Tell No One

This French thriller was a very enjoyable movie. It concerns a man whose wife is (apparently) abducted and murdered. Eight years later, he gets video and emails saying she is alive. What is happening? How could she have been identified at the morgue and yet still alive?

The movie follows these plot points (and complicates things much further) as it goes along. It's definitely not a lazy movie. It causes the viewer to think and piece things together as they watch it. If the plot twists are implausible (and they are), it's forgivable because the movie is put together in a sparse and non-sensational way. It could be a model for many American films on how to show suspense without talking down to your audience. A fun movie.

Grade: B+

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