Wednesday, December 3, 2008


(Thanks to our being invited to a special pre-release screening of THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, Needtovent is pleased to bring you this review well in advance of it's Christmas Day opening.)

Here comes Oscar! (And we don't mean Mr. Homolka.)

Needtovent hereby predicts at least a half-dozen Academy Award Nominations for this truly epic motion picture based on a short story by Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald and brought to the big screen by Director David Fincher (SE7EN, FIGHT CLUB) and Screenwriter Eric Roth (FORREST GUMP, WOLFEN, THE HORSE WHISPERER, ALI). With a virtually perfect cast thanks to Laray Mayfield and his associates and the impeccable technical aspects from all departments helping support Fincher's stylistic vision, BENJAMIN BUTTON will soon take its place among the best feature films released since the beginning of this millennium.

That's high praise. High praise, indeed, but it is no exaggeration to say that anyone seeing BENJAMIN BUTTON will surely be haunted by it's dark, but ultimately life-affirming theme for a long, long time to come.

"My name is Benjamin Button, and I was born under unusual circumstances. While everyone else was agin', I was gettin' younger...all alone."

Benjamin Button certainly has a most unusual tale to tell, as it is the unique story of an elderly man who ages backwards. This "Curious Case" begins in the year 1919, on the very evening that The First Great War came to an end, when Little Benjamin's delivery is not only marred by the tragic death of his mother, but he inexplicably exits the womb at the ripe age of 75. Benjamin's father is understandably overcome with both grief and anger, causing him to abandon the newborn child on the steps of a large retirement home. Fortunately, little Benjamin is found by a kind-hearted black woman named Queenie who, as luck would have it, believes she cannot have children of her own, and so she embraces the opportunity to take the abandonded baby in and to give him all the love and attention she can as though he were her very own.

The doctors who examine little Benjamin are all convinced that he has, at most, days to live, but as the days turn to months and the months turn to years young Benjamin finds himself growing in size and health and being accepted by everyone he comes into contact with, especially the retirees living in the home. As Benjamin continues to get younger and wiser he is repeatedly reminded that the most important thing in life is to do what one is meant to do. And so, as Benjamin's travels ultimately take him to such exotic places as Russia and India, it is this philosophy which he embraces at every twist and turn comprising a complicated, but highly fullfilling life.

The stellar cast is headlined by Brad Pitt as Benjamin. His performance is brilliant, as is that of Cate Blanchett as Benjamin's one and only true love, Daisy. Their on-screen chemistry is a joy to watch. Likewise, Tilda Swinton, as Elizabeth Abbott, Julia Ormond, as Caroline, Jarred Harris, as Captain Mike and Taraji P. Henson, as Queenie, all deliver especially winning and memorable performances.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON was shot using a Thompson VIPER FilmStream Camera using Zeiss DigiPrime Lenses. This is a camera package we are not familiar with, however Cinematographer Claudio Miranda has done a fantastic job with this equipment and I cannot help but assume more feature films will be shot with this highly capable combination. The Production Design by Donald Graham Burt also deserves special mention, as does the entire special effects team, but the biggest praise of all must go to the 32-member make-up crew who worked in conjuction with the CG experts responsible for believably aging all of the characters over the course of seven decades. Utilizing state-of-the-art motion capture technology called the "Contour System," the actual faces of Pitt, Blanchett, et al were magically placed on the bodies of age-appropriate actors required for the scene. This all sounds a bit bizarre, draconian even, but the end result is unforgettable -- having the actual face of Brad Pitt, professionally embellished by highly talented make-up artists, appear seamlessly on an infant's body provides a sense of realism that, heretofore, has never been realized.

Of course, no film is perfect, and so we should mention that one Needtovent staffer found herself distracted on at least several occasions by Mr. Pitt's inconsistent New Orleans accent. Also, just how Benjamin came to be a person who ages backwards is never explained, nor do we see very many characters who find this unprecedented state of affairs to be all that surprising. As an audience member one must simply accept what is presented on screen and not dwell on the whys and wherefores. And, lastly, some of the dialogue comes across as simply "too cute" -- given the fact that Eric Roth also wrote the screenplay for FORREST GUMP there was a time or two I thought I might hear something about a box of damn chocolates. Luckily that never happened, nor did any of his "writer's convenience" come across that inherently stilted or corny.

Minor quibbles aside, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON remains a phenominal cinematic achievment, it is a film that is highly entertaining, epic in scope, and blessed with a multitude of technical accomplishments that surely merits a "must see" status in what looks like a very solid Holiday line-up of films. And it has heart. Perhaps Benjamin's final entry in his journal best provides a positive, uplifting lesson we should all come to realize, "And maybe all that matters is no matter if we live our lives backwards or really does not make a difference as long as we lived our lives well."

For anyone with a Timex or a Rolex, whether you are on Greenwich Mean Time or Daylight Savings Time, it doesn't get much better than this.