Film Friday: ‘The Spirit’ & ‘Curious Case Of Benjamin Button’

by W. Andrew Powell

The Spirit

Gabriel Macht in The Spirit

The year draws to a close, but not before the last, big studio films of the year duke it out for some box office cheer. Marking what I would call the busiest release point of the year, there are no less than seven major films in theatres vying for your attention, including The Spirit, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, Bedtime Stories, and Valkyrie.

The Spirit
Call it my geeky love of anything stylized, but I had big hopes for The Spirit. Directed by comic book creator Frank Miller, the film should have been the iconic movie of the year with Gabriel Macht playing the title role of a crime fighter in the dirty streets of Central City. And yet, what we get is an overly stylized film that looks fantastic, but lacks any of the edge or brilliance of films like 300 or Sin City, both of which are comics originally created by Miller.

Once a cop, but now an unwavering crime fighter with a soft spot for pretty ladies, The Spirit is a mysterious force in Central City. Fighting the evil of the Octopus, played by Samuel L. Jackson, The Spirit works alongside the police, but he also wants to find out how he became this man who can take a gunshot and survive, especially since he remembers coming back from the dead. At the same time, a former friend and would-be heartache known as Sand Saref, played by Eva Mendes, has returned to the city in search of the greatest sparkling treasure ever seen.

Marked by its fun, and beautifully retro style, The Spirit looks perfect. It is a perfectly stylized film in every way, right down to the oddball side-stories and loony characters. The flaw is that, much like a lot of these films, the story is not only thin, it’s uninspiring and empty.

Even indulging in the pretty ladies, and the campy overtones does little to save The Spirit from a director who seems to care a lot more about the look of the film, than any of the content.

The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
Brad Pitt stars in David Fincher’s latest digital extravaganza, with Pitt playing the part of Benjamin Button, a man born 80 years old, who ages backwards. On his path through life, which is marked by strange and unusual circumstances, Benjamin falls for a beautiful dancer named Daisy, played by Cate Blanchett. It’s a romance that will of course be complicated by the simple problem that they are two souls going through life in different directions.

With the many comparisons to Forrest Gump aside, David Fincher’s latest film is being lauded by critics as one of the best films of the year. Written by Forrest Gump scribe Eric Roth, the film is likely a shoe-in for some Oscar attention. It’s also yet another example of Blanchett taking on a beautifully imagined character and breathing life into the role, even as Pitt creates yet another quirky, engaging oddball.

Critics are decidedly positive about Benjamin Button, and there are lots of accolades for the film, but I was especially taken by Rex Reed’s review for the New York Observer. “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a monumental achievement,” Reed wrote, “not only one of the best films of the year, but one of the greatest films ever made.”

Other notable films in theatres…

With actor and producer Tom Cruise pulling out all the stops this month to promote Valkyrie, it was difficult to measure exactly what was getting more attention: the film or the star.

Directed by action junkie Bryan Singer, and starring a powerhouse of actors (including Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, and Tom Wilkinson), Valkyrie is a big World War II thriller about the attempt by German soldiers to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

Critics have been mostly favourable to the historically based film, although there has been criticism of Cruise’s performance. Scott Mendelson of Film Threat was positive in his review though, saying that “Valkyrie is every bit as good as you remember a Tom Cruise movie being, back when you still liked Tom Cruise.”

Bedtime Stories
Walt Disney gives usual potty mouth Adam Sandler the starring role in their big holiday adventure, Bedtime Stories. Sandler plays a regular working man who discovers that the stories he is telling his niece and nephew are actually coming true. Unfortunately, Disney went for eye candy for the young ones, over any real fun with most critics panning the film as cheap gags.

“Some giggles for the kids,” Kat Brown wrote for Empire Magazine, “but otherwise this puts the ho-hum into ho ho ho”

Marley & Me
It may not win any Academy Awards, but Marley & Me has Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston starring as a couple raising a family, along with their sweet, but devilish dog. Bring the tissues though, it’s not all about the giggles in this story based on John Grogan’s famously emotional book.

Todd McCarthy of Variety notes that “This perky, episodic film is as broad and obvious as it could be, but delivers on its own terms thanks to sparky chemistry between its sunny blond stars, Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston, and the unabashed emotion-milking of the final reel.”

Gran Torino
Clint Eastwood stars and directs a film about a prejudiced old man who becomes an icon for the people he seems to hate. When trouble happens in his own front yard, the aging Walt (Eastwood) doesn’t hesitate in dealing with a local gang that is making trouble for the family next door. As the community celebrates him, he will however have to come to grip with the changing world around him, and the threats of the enraged gang.

“Gran Torino is about two things, I believe,” wrote Ebert for the Chicago Sun-Times. “It’s about the belated flowering of a man’s better nature. And it’s about Americans of different races growing more open to one another in the new century.”

The Wrestler
Mickey Rourke plays Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a sad, and cornered man who only knows one thing in life, and that’s the attention of the masses when he’s wrestling. Working other jobs just to pay the bills, Randy has a tough life, made worse by a rocky relationship with his daughter, as he tries to start a relationship with his dear friend Cassidy, played by Marisa Tomei.

“Present in every scene, if not each shot, Rourke gives a tremendously physical performance that The Wrestler essentially exists to document,” wrote J. Hoberman for the Village Voice.

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