NEW AT THE MOVIES: 'Button' tugs heartstrings - The Explorer: El Sol

NEW AT THE MOVIES: 'Button' tugs heartstrings

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Posted: Wednesday, December 31, 2008 12:00 am | Updated: 8:03 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

Rated PG-13 for brief war violence, sexual content, language and smoking. 167 minutes. Three and a half stars out of four.

The special effects are so dazzling, and Pitt’s performance is so gracefully convincing, that you can’t help but be wowed over and over again by “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.’’

Based on an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story about a man who ages in reverse, the film’s just so achingly sad. Pitt, as the title character, is doomed from the start. He can travel the world and live a life that’s adventurous and full, but he can never truly be with the woman he loves, Daisy (Cate Blanchett), whom he meets when she’s just a little girl (played by Elle Fanning) and he’s a boy trapped in an old man’s body.

Born with the looks and decrepitude of an 80-year-old man, Benjamin is left on the doorstep of a New Orleans old-folks home at the end of World War I. Despite the newborn’s startling appearance, the kindly Queenie (a lovely Taraji P. Henson), who works there, feels immediately drawn to him and raises the baby as her own.

He feels comfortable among the home’s residents, even though he’s getting physically younger as they die off one by one.

Benjamin goes to work for a drunk tugboat captain, which takes him to Russia and the film’s most exciting segment. There, he embarks on an unexpected affair with the wealthy wife of a spy. Tilda Swinton brings smarts and smoldering sensuality to the role — she shakes the picture up — but she also helps define Benjamin as he grows, internally, into a young man just beginning to understand his own prowess.

It’s all preparation for Daisy, anyway — for the romance they will fleetingly find in the middle of their lives. Blanchett is fiery as the headstrong ballerina who doesn’t immediately realize she’s ready for Benjamin, but the way she softens toward him gives the film both a zest and a feeling of melancholy — because we know it can’t last.

Daisy has been telling his story, and theirs, through a present-day framing device as she lies dying in a New Orleans hospital bed. Hurricane Katrina is on the way, and she has to tell the tale to her daughter (Julia Ormond) before it’s too late.

But neither Benjamin nor Daisy questions the complexity of their situation: They merely make the most of it, in ways big and small, for as long as they possibly can.

BEDTIME STORIES

Rated PG for some mild rude humor and mild language. 95 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.

Adam Sandler returns to the familiar man-child of yore with “Bedtime Stories,’’ a desperate family-friendly comedy about wild nighttime fantasies that magically come true in broad daylight.

As Skeeter Bronson, the handyman at a boutique Los Angeles hotel, Sandler is doing that same silly, growly voice he uses in his “Hanukkah Song.’’

Forced to look after his young niece Bobbi (Laura Ann Kesling) and nephew Patrick (Jonathan Morgan Heit) for a week while his sister (Courteney Cox) is out of town lining up a new job, Skeeter finds the only way to connect with the kids, and get them to go to sleep, is by telling them bedtime stories.

Soon, Bobbi and Patrick are chiming in with their own ideas about what the tales should include — gum balls falling from the sky, violent midgets, gooey booger monsters — and in no time, those details start creeping into Skeeter’s life. And those surreal occurrences inspire Skeeter as he racks his brain for a design concept for the new hotel his boss is launching.

Russell Brand gets the few seriously funny lines in the script as the hotel’s room service waiter. Richard Griffiths and Guy Pearce are slumming as the hotel’s pompous owner and the suck-up who wants to take over his empire, respectively. And the always lovely Keri Russell goes woefully to waste in the straight-woman role as the kids’ baby sitter and Skeeter’s would-be love interest.

That last part might be the wildest fantasy of all.

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