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David Poland

By David Poland

A Ben Button Quickie

I want to see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button again before really digging into it. (Idiots who think that “yay” or “nay” is the same as a review deserve the shallow level of thought they embody.)
That said, what is intensely striking about the film, for me, besides the beautiful imagery and fine performances is that there is virtually no conflict in the entire film.
And I think that is what Fincher is chasing these days, artistically. Zodiac, which had more conflict, was certainly trying for a similarly minimalist aesthetic.
It is not an easy task… to make an epic drama with no central or even much secondary conflict. And I am not really sure whether he made it or not.
What I do know is that Slumdog Millionaire – still anticipating Gran Torino and Seven Pounds – is clearly the frontrunner in the Oscar race right now. In this season of mixed feelings, Ben Button is most likely good enough/big enough to be nominated… but is unlikely to win anything in the top categories.
If there is an Ambiguity Bowl, there will be a fight between Button and Rev Road for a Best Picture nomination, while clearer players like Slumdog, Milk, and Frost/Nixon seem much easier to build constituencies for.
And by the way… this film is NOT Forrest Gump in any real way. Everything that made Gump what it was, whether critics or memory likes it or not, is not in evidence here. And that is schmaltz and a character in the lead who while passive is actually an unstoppable forward moving object who pushes through a lot of real obstacles, which Ben Button never has to do in this film.
More next week, after another look

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29 Responses to “A Ben Button Quickie”

  1. IOIOIOI says:

    Slumdog is going to be lucky to get one nom. Let alone be leading away. This is your Dreamgirls Waterloo. Keep hyping away, but keep it in check. Do you wanna see a magic trick? BAM! There went the other Oscar contenders, and look whose left standing?

  2. “(Idiots who think that “yay” or “nay” is the same as a review deserve the shallow level of thought they embody.)”
    Ass. Spoken like the one who coined the “yay” or “nay” review, by the way, iPhone poster extraordinaire. We just follow your lead, chum. At least try to conceal your misplaced anger at the studio having the gall to not show you the film before you shipped off to Amsterdam.
    Furthermore, I don’t think anyone who said “yay” or “nay” pretended what they wrote was a review. I certainly made it clear in my own assessment that my feelings were complicated and I wanted to see it again.
    You’re a cranky old shit lately, man. I’d get into your feelings on the film and engage in a cordial conversation about it but it’s a bit difficult to dig in when you have a speed bump like that at the top, Dave. Bravo…again.

  3. IO: I think you’re wrong bud and Dave is spot on. This is slowly becoming Slumdog’s to lose.

  4. LexG says:

    Finally went to see the “frontrunner” last night, and want to throw in a few cents:
    It is a rollicking, kinetic ride and the Boyle direction, imagery, soundtrack and montage go a long, long way toward concealing what seem like some fairly obvious storytelling and thematic issues, some small, some so obvious I’m surprised more haven’t acknowledged them.
    In particular, the central romance seems like just so much male-centric idealization and romanticized fantasy–
    I understand the film is from its lead character’s swooning, longing male perspective, but isn’t it a bit of a stretch that the object of his obsession remains pure, in love with him (whom she hasn’t really known since CHILDHOOD), and seemingly prim and proper as a virginal schoolmarm– despite traded on the streets and later being passed around amongst (underdeveloped, broadly rendered) thugs, pimps, and gangsters for what (confusingly) must be at least a decade?
    Kinda convenient that she’s still waiting around to be saved by a dorky guy (who looks and acts 10 years younger than her in the present day bits) that she rolled with at AGE 10.

  5. David Poland says:

    Kris… time to take a car trip and mellow your harsh.
    I will address the rest of your blather privately.

  6. I’m in San Francisco for the weekend. Trying to leave it all behind for a few. But I didn’t come by car. That count?

  7. sloanish says:

    Mumbai: Where the highs are too high and lows are too low. Liked it, and it definitely fits the Oscar profile, but that doesn’t mean it’s great cinema.

  8. T. Holly says:

    Sasha, especially, made me think I’d cry. No such luck; because the movie needs it. Cried at Changeling, but Eastwood missed on Jolie’s makeup; robbed her, good actress hampered by beauty, that she is. Reservation Road is charging strong on the inside rail, Milk on the outside.
    Glad this thanksgiving for Danny, Simon and Freida interviews; am watching

  9. The Pope says:

    Obviously, I have not seen Benjamin Button. However, I am very familiar with the original material on which it is based and it is that (as well as the ads) that leaves me somewhat bemused by David Poland’s comment that “there is virtually no conflict in the entire film.”
    This reminds me of the complaint the MGM executives made when developing “Meet Me in St. Louis.” Where is the villain, they cried in despair. To which Vincente Minnelli replied… “New York is the villain.”
    The villain provides the conflict and in Button, the conflict is age. It is manifest in Benjamin’s very body. His body is in conflict with time. That he is living his life backwards sets him at odds with his own body and he will always lose no matter what.
    “A guy who lives his life backwards” may sound like a high concept pitch, but it is not exactly a mainstream concept.
    That is Fincher’s challenge. So, I do agree with you that Fincher is chasing something very minimalist. So, to return to my initial point, that you say “”there is virtually no conflict in the entire film” leaves me all the more eager to see it.

  10. jeffmcm says:

    Hey Kris, while I agree with you that the ‘speedbump’ seems designed to cut off debate before it could even start. Also, sometimes a one-word review is as valuable as a thousand-worder, depending on the content of those thousand words.

  11. LYT says:

    The Pope — The original short story is a lot more poignant than the movie. And aside from premise, they have very little in common.
    I thought Synecdoche, New York had more to say on the impermanence of life and the fear of aging than anything in Benjamin Button.
    Yes, Benjamin Button must fight the aging process…but (in the movie) he lives a pretty happy life, all things considered, so what’s the problem? We all should be so lucky.

  12. IOIOIOI says:

    Kris: do not be hating on David Poland. He needs a new nickname. This has led to the new unofficial offical contest looking for the next David Poland nickname. If you have any suggestions. Throw them out there. A winnah will be chosen by January 1st, 2009 and used through out the new year.
    That aside; you really have to come to an understanding about me and THINGS. I have a sense of THINGS. My sense of THINGS right now: not going to happen. THINGS can change, but this is why I am still down with the BAT and the Wrestler.
    I also know that DAGTASTIC has a tendency to declare things early on, and they seldom go his way. This is not always the case, but it could be this time.

  13. jeffmcm says:

    My suggestion for a nickname:
    “David Poland”

  14. Rob says:

    I totally agree with Lex on Slumdog Millionaire. It’s energetic and engaging, but that romance is completely bogus and the female lead is barely a character.
    Why can’t Milk be the frontrunner? It’s political and emotional, and is already doing strong business. It’s got a long-admired director who hasn’t been honored that much.
    And a Best Picture win for Milk could serve as makeup sex for the Great Brokeback Best Picture Swindle of 2005.

  15. leahnz says:

    ‘…mellow your harsh’
    lol, david poland
    rob: indeed

  16. Scott Feinberg says:

    I agree with Dave that “Curious” is not gonna win BP… it’s missing a heart and soul. I personally think this thing is gonna come down to “Slumdog,” “Milk” and perhaps something that makes it into the final 5 unexpectedly… think “The Dark Knight,” “WALL-E,” “The Wrestler,” “The Visitor,” that sort of thing. This has not been a conventional year and it will not produce a conventional best picture winner.

  17. bmcintire says:

    Just saw MILK. Loved, loved, loved it. yesterday, I re-watched WALL-E for the first time since its theatrical run. I would be equally happy to see either of these take Best Picture. The rest is noise.

  18. IOIOIOI says:

    The rest is noise? Get out of here. OUT OF HERE! OUT OF HERE!
    Jeff: has anyone ever declared to you that you were “FUN”? I would be willing to bet against that one. Seriously; Poppin’ Fresh Franklin the III is a great nickname for the man formally known as David Poland. That was his print journalism name. NOW HE IS FREE! FREE LIKE A GUNGAN!

  19. jeffmcm says:

    IOI, that would be a most curious declarative statement indeed.

  20. IOIOIOI says:

    Jeff: you are a real up person :D!

  21. LexG says:

    Does anybody get OWNED in Ben Button?
    How can Fincher, a king of ownage, make a movie where nobody gets their fucking ass handed to them?
    This is kind of like when Scorsese made AGE OF INNOCENCE, and all his fans had to work themselves in circles describing just how OF A PIECE it was with his filmography, and blah blah blah, and meanwhile I just wanted to see Scorsese Ownage, not costume shit.
    I AM SURE THIS MOVIE IS GOOD BUT WHEN YOU’RE GOOD AT VIOLENT ACTION AND OWNAGE, you should probably just stick with that, since it’s the only genre that counts.
    The rest, in the words of Phil Anselmo, “is all bullshit.”

  22. jeffmcm says:

    Lex, in your lifetime, have you ever done anything more strenuous, manly, or testosterone-y than jerk off on your couch?

  23. LexG says:

    First off, I’m a GREEN BELT, SON. And I lift a SHITLOAD of fucking weights.
    And I briefly played rhythm guitar in short-lived local Podunk death metal band. And anytime I go to metal shows I’m fucking RUNNING the goddamn pit.

  24. Yeah, and I’m the mother goddess of voodoo.
    I was wrong about you Lex. You can be funny.

  25. leahnz says:

    when i first read that my dyslexic brain thought it said, ‘i’m the GREEN HORNET, SON.’ now that actually would have been funny. if your all pumped up on ‘roids, lex, that might be your problem right there. they do bad things to your willy

  26. jeffmcm says:

    I leave it up to you to decide how much of that is at you and how much of that is with you (hint: much more former than latter).

  27. historylover says:

    God, can people try to be more “leahnz” than “jeffmcm” with LexG? Maybe I’d want to comment more then.
    Can I, with a thin-ish skin, expect to be pounded-on when my attackers have no opinions of their OWN to share?

  28. jeffmcm says:

    Leah’s a saint, admittedly, but I think my response – given Lex’s colossal mountain of bullshit that he’s unloaded here over the last year – is not unreasonable.

  29. LexG says:

    Historylover, post away.
    McDouche likes to run his mouth and makes a career out of nitpicking posts on this blog, but he’s a Jared-from-Subway-looking knobjob who couldn’t back that attitude up in a million years. Plus I might as well put the fucker on payroll, since despite his supposed disdain for everything I write, he inadvertantly serves as some sort of low-rent Jerry Lawler.
    NOTHING he says bothers me in the least, and in fact he serves only to inspire me to post twice as much. Of the Cold Blog Nerd Herd (Jeff, Kami, Bitch Perm, laz), he’s by far the least likely to ever say anything amusing and the most likely to be an insufferable pill in real life. As IO has stated, he seems like the least humorous, enjoyable, or fun person in the entire world.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
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“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

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