Director: David Fincher

Cast: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Taraji P. Henson, Tilda Swinton

The Buzz: Nominated in Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Visual Effects, Best Make-up, Best Original Score, Best Costume Design and Best Art Direction categories (phew!)

The Run: Won National Board of Review Award for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay

Fast-Food Cassavetes

Life is still the same Box of Chocolates!

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a phenomenal idea. One that could have eternally made us rave about the magic of cinema. Only if Eric Roth had realized what the idea of a man who ages in reverse means. Only if he had not been so straight faced and stiff about it all. Man, why don’t they leave these things to Tim Burton?

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a great joke. A joke that could have generated an endless series of gags and surprises. Instead, Fincher goes in for the kitsch. Look, we have a man who ages in reverse. Quite extraordinary indeed. I hear that in Scott Fitzgerald’s short story, the lead character never learns of his plight and that he ages both mentally and physically in reverse. But in Roth’s version, Benjamin ages backwards physically and forward mentally. Also he becomes perfectly aware of the ramifications of his plight as he grows up. Great move by Roth I must admit. But it is never capitalized upon at all. I mean, there is no conflict between contradicting states of growth. Benjamin could have been replaced by a normal character (a la Forrest Gump) and the script wouldn’t have to change much at all. As a result the film becomes nothing more than a coming of age (or going!) tale of a normal mind. The physical state of Benjamin Button is never seems to be a concern for anyone in the film except the CG department.

Hollywood seems to have perfected the craft of storytelling without even letting the storylines catch up. Yes, Benjamin Button is eye-popping all the way, gorgeously designed and fantastically executed. But all this is like those high profile food items – mouth-watering when looked at, but never ever filling. I would have wanted to love the film. Only if the film hadn’t taken itself too seriously, sigh.

George Lucas: “This ain’t gonna be easy”
Steven Spielberg: “Not as easy as it used to be”

Lucas and Spielberg are at it again. After the intensely dramatic Munich, Spielberg freaks out and does what he does best – getting people on their feet. I don’t know why he chose Indiana Jones for that. Probably, he didn’t want to bring in aging sharks or senile aliens. Surprisingly (and commendably), he has banked on Harrison Ford once more to deliver. Does Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull (2008) live up to the expectations set by its first three installments? Yes and No.

Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal SkullSpielberg has chosen a very simple plot in order to not distract the audience. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) escapes from of group of commies led by Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) who are in search of an artifact. Removed from his college for getting involved with the communists, Dr. Jones is called for action by Mutt (ShiaLaBeouf) , the godson of Prof. Oxley (John Hurt), a long time friend. Henry informs him that his mother Mary Williams (Karen Allen) and Prof. Oxley have been kidnapped in South America while in the hunt for a so-called crystal skull. It his up to Jones to hunt for the skull and return it to its proper place. In the journey, he finds that there are others vying for the skull too and discovers his true relationship with his family and friends.

The film promises enough twists and turns required for a franchise such as Indiana Jones till the central act after which the plot takes a back seat and action takes the driver’s (literally!). The last act succumbs to predictability and acts as nothing more than fillers. The characteristic wry wit of Indy is still intact and is charming as ever. There are numerous references to earlier Spielberg films as well. The chaotic party in 1941, the terrorizing truck shots of Duel, shots similar to the massacre the Omaha beach landing in Saving Private Ryan, the famous rear-view shot in Jurassic Park, the best moments of its prequels and even a few beings that look like the grown up versions of E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial!

Expecting a 65-year old Indy to be weaker than his former self is nothing but normal. More of brain work is expected from him during perilous situations. Even Indy expects that early on. But his vulnerability stops there and it seems that no one cares that he is fit to receive pension. Indy seems to go on and on like a 30 year old. Hats off to Harrison Ford for performing those larger than life stunts with the same vigour as he did in the opening installment. Only he could have pulled this off without shattering the audience’s perception of Indiana Jones. Cate Blanchett’s character, Irina Spalko is reminiscent of Yuri of Command & Conquer: Red Alert game. With her cold witch-like eyes, Blanchett is the perfect foil as the megalomaniac Russian scientist. But the character neither has the depth to suit such a performance nor poses any threat to the juggernaut of the protagonist. It was disappointing to see George McHale (Ray Winstone), Indy’s friend, portrayed as a thorough stereotype that one expects only in bottom-of-the-barrel movies such as The Mummy and the like.

Hands down, Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull has the best action sequences filmed in recent times. The stunts and the choreography have quality written all over. The production design has deliberately (and effectively) retained the look and feel of the post-war cold era. Spielberg regular Janusz Kaminski , who gave us a glimpse of hell in Saving Private Ryan sizzles in the action sequences. His cinematography has given the director the best possible output for his effort . A definite Academy Award nomination. The other regulars Michael Kahn and John Williams maintain the pace and excitement to support his work.

In this age of special effects, it seems easy to churn out a high-octane action flick and Steven Spielberg knows it by heart. He has put forth his trump card (Indy, of course) into the game. But has relied on it too much that he has neglected the finer aspects of plot and characterization. It is compensated by the other side of the balance with spectacular action and stunt sequences that characterize Indy. But the bottom line is: ” It’s Indiana Jones and what else do you want? Go to the theaters now“.

Verdict: