The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

“A Touching Tale That Suspends Reality” 10/10

 

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is the touching tale of Benjamin (Brad Pitt) who is afflicted with a mysterious condition that sees him age in reverse.  As he slowly comes to terms with his condition he is drawn into the life of his childhood friend Daisy (Cate Blanchett) and is forced to face the tough reality of his reversed life.

 

The first thing that struck me about this film was how much the style is like Forrest Gump (1994).  Told as a narrative from an old Daisy and from the perspective of Benjamin the film plods through each and every point of note in Benjamin’s life, broken by moments of narrative reflection from Daisy in the present day much like Forrest sat on the bench outside the bus stop.  Benjamin himself is a sweet and likeable character with a touch of naivety throughout the whole film, in fair contrast with Daisy who is wild and vivacious.  The second thing that struck me was the quality of the make-up used to alter Brad Pitt’s appearance throughout the film – it is only rarely a little too obvious.  This sounds like a fairly trivial point but I actually feel it is one of the key things that makes this film so heartwarming – there is a genuine element to Benjamin’s character that would fall apart if his appearance was obviously fake.  It’s nice to see such a humble performance from Brad Pitt, and a strong performance from Cate Blanchett, another key point in making this film so strong.

 

If you can suspend your ideas of reality for over two and a half hours then you can really get lost in this touching tale of life and death.  I was really swept into the whole film and its bittersweet story.  The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is one that will stick in your mind and in your heart, thoroughly recommended.

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The Green Mile (1999)

“Beautifully Acted and Touching” 9/10

 

The Green Mile looks at life on Death Row, told from the perspective of guard Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks) who recounts, as an old man, his encounter with mysterious prisoner John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan), a convicted child murder who has more to his story than meets the eye, including a very curious ability.

 

This film is such a classic and it’s beautifully acted.  Tom Hanks is an incredible actor and he delivers yet another exceptional performance as the sensitive guard willing to treat his prisoners like people, unlike his colleagues such as the harsh and unforgiving Percy Wetmore (Doug Hutchison).  Michael Clarke Duncan delivers a really touching performance that culminates into an emotional ending that may bring a few tears.  Even the other prisoners, played by Michael Jeter and Sam Rockwell, offer emotive performances with their own descent into madness knowing that they are waiting to die.  The majority of the film is set in either the prison block or the electric chair room, which helps to reinforce the intense feeling of entrapment.

 

The story itself is a little unusual as there is a touch of the supernatural throughout, however it’s surprisingly easy to accept this into the normality of the film.  As you can expect from a film about Death Row it is a little upsetting to watch at times, but it’s mostly a carefully woven story that gently unravels the history of the prisoners and why they are all there, focusing much more on the emotional aspects of such a setting for both the prisoners and the guards, rather than the physicality of it.  I only have one real criticism: it was too long.  At just over three hours long I felt like it was losing its emotional momentum and could have managed without some scenes and been just as, if not more, powerful a film.  Nevertheless don’t be put off by the length, unlike some lengthy films there are no points where you get bored watching it drag on, and even if you feel yourself getting lost towards middle of it, the final third brings you right back into it.

 

The Green Mile is beautifully acted and a really touching classic film.  Despite being a little unnecessarily long it offers a real heartfelt journey and an unusual story that will really evoke some emotion – well worth the three hours of the film!

Midnight in Paris (2011)

“A Beautifully Restless Look at the Human Condition” 10/10

Midnight in Paris tells a beautiful story of restlessness and creativity in life, through the eyes of writer Gil (Owen Wilson) – Bored of current life, Gil finds himself captured by nostalgia on a trip to Paris with his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her family – and every night at midnight he finds himself strangely visiting 1920’s Paris.

Set against the romantic backdrop of Paris, the film is visually stunning: Paris itself is a wonder both on screen and in real life and the film manages to capture its natural beauty perfectly without being too cliché. The clash between modern day France and the 20’s setting that Gil visits is wonderful and has a real atmosphere of opportunity and promise, the very things that draw him into the midnight “world” in the first place. Wilson is charming as the lost writer, a refreshing and pensive difference from McAdam’s character who jars against his creative nature, drawing a deeper void between their relationship as their time in Paris progresses. Contrast is used to perfection in this in every way. Wilson’s character meets many literary greats on his midnight journey who help him write his first novel: anyone who’s familiar with the works of writers such as F.Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston) and Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll) will enjoy the many literary references throughout their conversations with Gil.

What really drew me in was the story and its raw examination of the human condition, which in itself is a fascinating topic. It looks at those things that are inherent in each and every person: in this context, curiosity, restlessness, and desire. It doesn’t try to sugar-coat it – Gil is unhappy with life and he doesn’t make any attempt to prevent himself from going in search of a new one (albeit in the past). That’s what makes this film so enjoyable, the relatability of the desire for something better – “the grass is always greener” – and the restlessness that we feel when we’re searching for that something better.

Midnight in Paris is beautiful: the story is captivating and keeps you thinking long after it’s finished. Few films manage such an honest look at the restless nature of humans, let alone done in such an intriguing style as this. Prepare to have your curiosity captured by creativity and the promise of opportunity: it may just make you feel like a midnight stroll.

Avengers Assemble (2012)

“Fast Paced With an Incredible Cast” 10/10

 

The Avengers is an action-packed, superhero-filled film that focuses on the peace-keeping S.H.I.E.L.D agency, bringing together Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), the Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) to create the Avengers. When Earth is threatened by Thor’s brother Loki the Avengers must unite to save the planet from catastrophe.

Full of impressive visuals and action in nearly every scene, this film is fast paced and exciting throughout with plenty to keep you guessing. The final battle is epic in every sense: impressive CGI mixes with the New York skyline as the Avengers lead the fight against evil in a thrilling chase across the city. The story itself pulls in elements from each of the individual Avenger’s stories, in particular Iron Man (2008), Thor (2011) and Captain America (2011) (I may be slightly biased in saying this as they are my favourite Avengers so I notice the references more) and I’d highly recommend watching the individual films, although they are not a necessary prerequisite.

The casting is first class. Each character is a contrast to the next; Downey Jr as the egotistical genius Iron Man; Evans as the charming and heroic old-fashioned Captain America; Hemsworth as the tough, brave demi-god Thor; Johansson as the smart, feisty Black Widow; Ruffalo as the quiet but unstoppable Hulk; and Renner as the quick, deadly Hawkeye. What really makes this story is how all of these characters learn to use each other’s strengths as the plot unfolds, and each is as important to the team as the next when it comes to the crunch. Tom Hiddleston is deviously wicked as Loki, delivering an impressively smooth and convincing performance as the enemy of the story. Samuel L Jackson brings his usual mysterious Nick Fury, providing many unexpected laughs from the delivery of his character’s one-liners. Fans of other Marvel work will recognise supporting characters played by the likes of Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgard and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Avengers Assemble is yet another example of the great work that Marvel can produce, with a fast paced and exciting story that encompasses their best characters. Definitely one to watch, and if you haven’t already seen some of the individual character’s films this film will probably make you want more! There’s only one question that plagues me when I watch this film: would I want to be saved from near death by Iron Man or Captain America? Having seen the incredible new Captain America: The Winter Soldier recently (which I can’t recommend highly enough) I’m going with the Captain for now!

Oz The Great and Powerful (2013)

“A Refreshing Take on a Much-Loved Story” 7/10

 

Oz The Great and Powerful tells the charming tale of the famous Wizard of Oz, Oscar (James Franco), a struggling magician from Kansas who finds himself whisked away to the magical land of Oz and expected to save it from the Wicked Witch. Meeting many magical creatures and a few witches along the way, Oscar must prove himself a worthy magician and defeat evil.

With the famous foundation film, The Wizard of Oz (1939) being so popular even today, it’s not surprising that another spin-off has been made, but it does not try to simply redress the old story. Instead, it keeps some of the old characters such as the Good Witch, and tells the story in a completely unseen way, introducing a host of new characters and a completely different angle to the much-loved tale, although the story remains fairly simplistic. The film itself is visually stunning, both in special effects and the colourful fairyland landscape of Oz – it reminds me of a more “tripped out” version of the latest Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) film – which is made even more vibrant by the tasteful black and white of Kansas (a nice homage to The Wizard of Oz). The effects are put to use again in an almost-3D style with many things “popping” out of the screen, which I can imagine children would find thrilling, particularly in 3D.

James Franco is charming as the great Wizard himself, only occasionally toppling over into some cheesy moments when he’s trying to impress the ladies. The three witches Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, and Michelle Williams, all bring strong, feisty characters that give this film its punch; and of course it wouldn’t be Oz without some magical characters such as Finley the flying monkey (voiced by Zack Braff) and the China girl (voiced by Joey King), who add a sweeter dimension to the film that kids will love.

Visually impressive and offering a refreshing take on a much-loved story, Oz The Great and Powerful is a fun family film that all ages can enjoy.

Dorian Gray (2009)

“Picture Perfect” 8/10

I have to admit, I had my doubts about this movie at first. After reading the odd couple of reviews, I wasn’t entirely sure if this film was for me. I am not a fan of horror and, like quite a few people I suspect, was put off slightly by the “horror” classification that most reviews seemed to mention. However, as it turns out, it is not like your conventional thriller.

I enjoyed the book and think that the film compares well, and the story is extremely enjoyable. A young man who trades his soul to the devil in exchange for eternal youth and beauty, after seeing an incredibly lifelike portrait of him, does not seem entirely unrealistic given today’s cult of appearance-obsessed celebrity youth, and in fact most of the film stuck to the realms of reality. Set against a beautiful Victorian style backdrop of London, the film managed to mirror life through a visually delightful time period that managed to modernise itself in its content, and maintained a nice contrast between light and dark throughout.

I was also thoroughly impressed with the casting. Ben Barnes was the perfect choice for Dorian Gray himself, managing the conversion between the innocent young man, to the seductive charmer, to the fear-possessed psychopath effortlessly. Add that to the fact that he is breathtakingly perfect, and even as an audience you begin to be drawn into his youth and extreme beauty. Colin Firth was unlike anything I’ve ever seen him in before, much in contrast with his cheery Mamma Mia (2008) role, as he played Dorian’s enticer, Lord Henry. Harsh and often sexist, he very much had a “Frankenstein’s creator” character, desperately striving to corrupt Dorian’s innocent nature. Ben Chaplain was also good as the creator of Dorian’s special portrait, Basil. And then of course there were Dorian’s two main love interests, Rachel Hurd-Wood and Rebecca Hall, both of their characters bringing contrasting characters to Dorian’s affections.

As for the content of the film, it had what I believe most good films should contain – a shock. And it certainly shocked. It opens with a scene which you are certainly not expecting, but succeeds in capturing your interest for sure. It then falls into a kind of lull as we meet the innocent and gorgeous Ben Barnes, but then hypes up again as we are introduced to rude and obnoxious Colin Firth. The film continues in this fashion for the majority of the time, with a few unexpected shocks along the way as Dorian begins his soul destructing spiral. There is obvious sexual content but It Is certainly not excessive and plenty of mild drug and alcohol abuse too, although again the film does not go overboard with these. Also, there is a reasonable amount of gore, although not enough to spoil your enjoyment of the film, and these moments are also fairly obvious and so the squeamish (including I) can simply close their eyes during these short scenes. The only other thing to mention is the horror which occurs at the end of the film. I personally didn’t watch this bit and would certainly recommend to those who don’t enjoy being scared to not watch it either, as it is apparently rather intense, but again, it is also fairly obvious of when it will occur.

Dorian Gray is a fabulous, fast paced drama-thriller that provokes thought into our own “celebrity” lifestyle and the pressures we put on appearance, as well as a visual description of the price of eternal beauty on the soul. I would definitely recommend this film – it is truly picture perfect.