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From the DVD Shelf: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, and Valkyrie

I know some people who can’t stand to see a movie a second time — they think “been there, done that, I’d rather see something new.”  I certainly don’t have anything against seeing something new, but I’m also someone who loves seeing movies for a second time — and, if it’s a good movie, seeing it many more times after that!  (I’m the same way with books, comic books, etc. — I love re-reading stories that I enjoyed multiple times.)

I find that my feelings upon watching a film for a second time often vary wildly from the experience of seeing it originally.  I can absorb the film without all the baggage of hype, my anticipation, etc.  I can also more accurately judge the movie for what it is, rather than what I had hoped it would be or was expecting it would be.

During September I had a chance to take a second look at three films that I really enjoyed during last year’s Oscar rush of films (in late December 2008).  Did my feelings about them change, for better or for worse, upon a second viewing?  Read on!

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button — read my original review here.  Benjamin Button was one of my very favorite movies from last year (it ranked as no. 6 on my list of my favorite films from 2008) and, if anything, I was even more in awe of it the second time around.  The film is magnificent.  It is one of those special collaborations where every single element works just perfectly, from the gorgeous sets and costumes, to the jaw-dropping visual effects (that create fully-realized environments from France to Russia to a tug-boat in the middle of the Pacific, not to mention the completely convincing creation and de-aging of Benjamin Button himself that is as wonderful a combination of makeup, prosthetics, and incredible CGI as I have ever seen), to the wonderful performances by Brad Pitt (who proves in every film he’s in why he is so deserving of his movie-star fame), Cate Blanchett, and a wonderful array of other talented actors.  Director David Fincher (Fight Club, Zodiac) knows how to incorporate cutting-edge visual effects into a film without ever letting those effects overpower the film, and he knows how to tell a deeply emotional tale without ever veering into schmaltz.  As I said: magnificent.  (I also had the fun of watching this film on Blu-Ray, and let me say that my jaw was on the floor at the clarity of the images, the colors, everything.  As the enclosed booklet notes, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was created in the digital realm without ever being output to a film element and transferred,” and as such, it looks absolutely astounding on Blu-Ray.)

Frost/Nixon — read my original review here.  This was another of my favorite films from 2008 (it ranked as no. 9 on my list of my favorite films from 2008), and, as with Benjamin Button, it’s a film that I think I enjoyed even more on a second viewing.  Although the film looks great, its success rests not on any visual flourishes or special effects, but rather solely upon the great performances of the assembled actors.  This is a drama in the best sense of the word — most of the film is just conversation, even before we get to the centerpiece conversation of David Frost’s historic interview with Richard M. Nixon.  As such, this is a film that could very very easily be dreadfully boring.  Instead, it positively crackles with energy.  Michael Sheen and Frank Langella are absolutely dynamite as Frost and Nixon, and they’re surrounded by a wonderful ensemble that includes Matthew Macfadyen (Tom Quinn from MI-5, Mr, Darcy in Pride & Prejudice), Oliver Platt (who has had so many great roles, but he’ll always be White House Counsel Oliver Babish to me), Sam Rockwell (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Heist, Galaxy Quest), Kevin Bacon (Apollo 13, Mystic River, and a million other films), Rebecca Hall (Vicky Christina Barcelona, The Prestige), and Toby Jones (who played Truman Capote in Infamous).  My good friends over at The Informed Voter (an excellent political blog that you really need to check out) recently commented that “after watching Frost/Nixon on dvd the other night we were both left feeling, if not sympathetic, certainly a bit sad for Richard Nixon. This is possibly the highest compliment we can pay Ron Howard (director) and Frank Langella (Nixon): viewer empathy for a man who played an instrumental role in botching Vietnam (and Cambodia) policy and who disgraced the Presidency like no other, well, that is an accomplishment.”  Couldn’t agree more!

Valkyrie — read my original review here.  Critics weren’t very kind to Bryan Singer’s film upon its release, although I quite enjoyed it.  Perhaps the key to my enjoyment was that I saw it as a gripping heist film, rather than a deep WWII drama.  I still enjoyed it upon a second viewing, although since I already knew how every beat played out, I found myself a little less enthralled.  Despite that, I remain of the opinion that it’s a fine film.  Say what you will about him, Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, X-Men, Superman Returns) is a terrific director, and the film is filled with a lot of fun visual flourishes.  (A lot of credit for this must also go to Mr. Singer’s regular collaborator, editor extraordinaire John Ottman.)  It also has a ridiculously amazing cast that includes  Kenneth Branagh (Dead Again, Othello, Hamlet) , Bill Nighy (Love Actually, Hot Fuzz, Pirates of the Caribbean II & III), Tom Wilkinson (In the Bedroom, Batman Begins, Michael Clayton), Thomas Kretschmann (Peter Jackson’s King Kong), Eddie Izzard (“cake or death?”), and Terence “kneel before Zod” Stamp.  Then there is Tom Cruise.  I can’t quite heap the praise on his performance that I did for Brad Pitt in Benjamin Button, but Cruise does a fine job here and certainly isn’t nearly as terrible as everyone has been saying.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

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