David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was a triumphant blend of great storytelling and state-of-the-art special effects. Though it fell short last year of winning any acting Oscars, it did take awards for its makeup and cinematography.
The story was loosely based on both a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Andrew Sean Greer’s novel The Confessions of Max Tivoli as it presented the story of a man who aged backwards.
Superbly portrayed by Brad Pitt, Benjamin Button experienced things in reverse, dealing with physical limitations and weaknesses as a boy, then becoming stronger and more athletic, as well as striking and handsome, as the years proceeded.
But the story had some tremendous segments detailing love’s bonds and its problems, as well as the dilemmas faced by someone enjoying a unique experience that cannot be duplicated or fully understood. The film also offered a sweeping view of historic events as seen through Button’s eyes, a thematic approach that mirrored Forrest Gump, something that was only natural since the same person (Eric Roth) worked on both scripts.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: Two-Disc Special Edition (Criterion) will be released Tuesday. There’s also a single-disc and Blu-ray version for those who either want only the basic film or the deluxe video version.
The various extras and features on the bonus disc notwithstanding, the genuine lure of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button remains the outstanding acting, Fincher’s direction, compelling and intelligent use of special effects and the footage of post-Katrina New Orleans that underscores the final segment.
Last Chance Harvey — Despite the predictable nature of Joel Hopkins’ Last Chance Harvey (Anchor Bay), which also will be released Tuesday, it ranked among 2008’s more pleasant surprises. Most of that was due to the on-screen chemistry between Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson.
Hoffman portrayed a jingle composer and pianist who’d once entertained dreams of making it big musically, but now was seeing his life rapidly passing by in a drab fashion. Divorced and now estranged from his daughter, Harvey was still invited to her wedding in England.
A chance meeting with a bureaucratic figure (Thompson) evolves into a new chance at happiness for both parties. But that’s not before a host of unforeseen events, accidents and near disasters, among them the bittersweet reunion between Harvey and his ex-wife (Kathy Baker) and her new husband (James Brolin).
Last Chance Harvey didn’t break any new ground nor try to be anything other than a pleasant, occasionally humorous look at the complications that middle-aged individuals encounter, as well as the necessity for people to often take chances in order to fully enjoy their lives. While the DVD probably won’t be a blockbuster, perhaps it will generate some more attention for a project that was much better than many films with far more publicity, budgets and celebrity firepower.
John Wayne — Turner Classic Movies (TCM) remains a prime spot on cable or satellite for film lovers. Other than some occasional critical retrospectives and specials, they specialize in great movies 24/7, and they offer a fine mix of genres and eras. TCM also periodically releases special boxed sets featuring both top stars and major films. One of their newest is the two-disc set TCM Classic Films Collection: John Wayne Westerns (The Cowboys/Fort Apache/Rio Bravo/The Searchers) (Warner).
Even though The Cowboys is among the more disposable Wayne movies, its presence can’t dim the luster from three magnificent productions. Fort Apache was the first of trilogy of films directed by the great John Ford starring Wayne in the prototype heroic posture, even if this one doesn’t end quite like some others. The 1948 release also has Henry Fonda in one of his least sympathetic roles, though he’s still quite commanding on screen.
Many regard The Searchers as the greatest western ever made, and while that contention is debatable, the movie’s greatness remains intact decades later. It was another Ford movie. Rio Bravo, done three years later, has Wayne heading a cast that also includes Dean Martin, Angie Dickinson, Walter Brennan and Rick (though he was called Ricky then) Nelson.
All these films are shown often on TCM, but this package is a chance for collectors who don’t have them to get them in one reasonably priced set.