Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Curious Popularity of Benjamin Button

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Brad Pitt's latest venture, has received 13 Oscar nominations, including Best Adapted Screenplay and of course, Best Picture. I sincerely hope that Slumdog Millionaire, which is a tremendous movie, gets its share of Oscars, but I suspect that in the traditional example of Academy injustice, Ben Button will greedily hoover up the lion's share.

Don't get me wrong. I like David Fincher a lot. I think Brad Pitt is a much better actor than anyone ever gives him credit for. Eric Roth, on the other hand, although he deserves all the credit in the world for being a successful working screenwriter, I could do without.

The movie itself is a dressed-up pastiche of Roth's previous highly overrated Oscar winning work (which also grabbed 13 Academy noms), Forrest Gump. Both movies feature a catalyst protagonist, an unusual figure for whom how he touches others is as or more important than how they touch him. Both feature a doomed love story, and both use the backdrop of history as a character unto itself. Both have characters who seamlessly integrate into the African American community and both have characters that inexplicably feel the need to go out to sea.

The problem with both movies is that all of this fancy dressing is at the expense of character. In Forrest Gump, any characters with more redeeming values than unredeeming ones are simply reactive, just going along with where life takes them and accepting the consequences. In fact, the most noble, proactive character of all is Forrest's mother, who sleeps with the principal rather than let Forrest be ostracized by being taken out of the mainstream education system, but her appearance is farily brief (and in truth, if the highest sign of nobility in a movie is one's willingness to prostitute oneself, that nobility may not merit an abundant amount of praise).

In Benjamin Button, the characters are not irredeemable, but there are no opportunities for them to be redeemed. As passive as Gump's cast, they are simply caught up in the flow of Benjamin's journey through the timestream, hurtling via the force of the tides to their inevitable destruction. Not as frustrating as Gump, but ten times as depressing.

Benjamin Button is based on an extremely clever short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. If you haven't read it, you can read it here, and you should. (Winston Groom's ludicrous "Forrest Gump," on the other hand, should only be read by young children).

Fitzgerald's story works from Mark Twain's premise that God sort of got it all wrong when he made people so that they were young before they could gain the wisdom to fully take advantage of their physical prowess, and then had to decline in old age. That it would be much better to start in decline and grow younger as one gained experiences, then spend one's "golden years" as a happy child. Fitzgerald, in just a few well chosen pages, explores this premise beautifully, with equal parts humor and angst. Roth on the other hand, seems to ignore the premise entirely to focus on a "star cross'd" love story that we've seen many times before.

I'm pretty much disappointed by the Oscars every year and don't expect this year to be any exception. However, if Slumdog can nail a golden statue or two, that along with Heath Ledger's supporting actor win (and he's a lock, make no mistake) will have to be enough.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Historic Day

It is a truly momentous time in American history. A day has come that few alive today thought they would ever see.

Over the last several decades it has been thought impossible. There are too many obstacles, many said. Too many challenges to overcome. It would be a pinnacle too high to ever even realistically consider.

But today, the impossible has become a reality.

The Arizona Cardinals are in the Super Bowl.

Oh yeah...the Obama thing is pretty neat too.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Proportional Response

This morning I was treated to a call in on a C-Span news program by a viewer who likened Israel to China and the Gaza Strip to Tibet. He called for a "proportional response" and he, like another caller who accused the C-Span analyst of "probably being Jewish" were full of spite and vitriol for those who supported the cause of the Israelis.

Listen, it's been said before but I'll say it again. If anything, Israel is Tibet in this scenario. Israel is surrounded on all sides by a united group of nations who have been trying to wipe them out for not years, but centuries. To suggest that Israel, a country that occupies the tiniest strip of land in the region, is comparable to China, which along with Russia controls most of an entire continent and currently has no serious local enemies, is beyond ludicrous.

So is this idea of a "proportional response." Let me repeat what I wrote before. All of the other nations of the region have been trying to defeat Israel for thousands of years. Not get them to concede a little territory, but to completely wipe them off the map. If Israel falters just a little bit, just for a second, they could be entirely destroyed. Furthermore, these attacks that get people up in arms about Israel are ALWAYS, not just sometimes, but ALWAYS initiated by these so called "victims of aggression."

A final thought about proportional response. What do you suppose President Bush would have done had Cuba decided to lob a missile or two into Florida? When Al Qaeda attacked a mere two targets in the United States, this country responded by completely overthrowing two independent foreign governments. I wonder if these Israel naysayers considered that a "proportional response?"

Thursday, January 01, 2009

New Year's Confusion

Happy New Year!

It's a new day dawning, and in honor of that, here's a list of video games that I don't get.

The idea of hunting animals for sport is not for me, although I get it. Without recreational hunters, we probably don't have professional hunters, and I do think that it is natural and healthy for humans to eat meat (in moderation). However, playing an animal hunting video game makes no sense to me. The whole idea of video games is that you can kill PEOPLE with no consequences. To me that seems a lot more fun and challenging than killing a cute animal.


This one really stymies me, for the same reason mentioned above. The reason dudes play paintball is that it is illegal and dangerous for them to shoot at each other with live ammunition. In a video game, nobody can get hurt, so what's the point of using paint? It's like wearing a condom while watching a porn movie.

Suck it up and buy a karaoke machine.


The whole point of poker is that you can win or lose money. Even if you don't want to risk real money you can play free online poker games against real people at an online poker site like PokerStars without putting anything real at risk. Sure, you can pretend to play against your favorite poker celebrities in these games, but play your cards right and you might be able to do that in real life.

Fishing Games

Anything that is boring in real life should not be made into a video game.