Right on the ‘Button’: Brad Pitt’s film pushes cinema to new age

Is David Fincher’s groundbreaking, visually breathtaking “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” a “Forrest Gump” for our times? I hope not, given what a mixed blessing “Forrest Gump” was. The real question is: How do you make a 160-minute meditation on mortality out of a 24-page short story?

Based on a charming, Jazz Age-era fairy tale by F. Scott Fitzgerald (“The Great Gatsby”) that is adapted by screenwriter Eric Roth (“Forrest Gump”), “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” tells the story of a man who is born “old” in New Orleans at the end of World War I and “ages” backward, observing the world over the decades as it whirls in the opposite direction.

At various points in this often lyrical, beautifully shot tale, “Benjamin Button” recalls “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” “The Incredible Shrinking Man” and a “Twilight Zone” episode with a dash of Kurt Vonnegut’s sci-fi whimsy.

After his wealthy father (Jason Flemyng) abandons him, Benjamin (44-year-old Brad Pitt) is adopted by Queenie (Taraji P. Henson, evoking Hattie McDaniel and Butterfly McQueen), a loving earth mother who runs, aptly enough, an old-age home.

There Button mysteriously “youth-enizes,” gaining strength and vigor as those around him grow old and shrivel. As a “child,” Benjamin meets red-headed girl-dancer Daisy. The film is the story of their time-bedeviled love affair.

“Benjamin Button” is certainly a fable for our age-obsessed time. It begins with silent-movie visuals and is framed by scenes in which an aged Daisy (Cate Blanchett) lays dying in a New Orleans hospital bed, while her daughter (Julia Ormond) reads Benjamin’s diary aloud as Hurricane Katrina approaches.

The film is weightily metaphorical (a train station clock that runs backward figures in the story, as do several hummingbirds). But unlike “Forrest Gump,” which was brought to vivid life by Tom Hanks, “Button” lacks the breath of life.

Where Forrest Gump was garrulous and extroverted, spreading his “stupid-is-as-stupid-does” sunshine, Pitt’s Button is recessive and withdrawn, a shadow passing among shadows.

While getting Benjamin a job on a tugboat crew is a good idea because it introduces us to a skipper played by Jared Harris, it’s very reminiscent of a certain shrimp fishery.

Eventually, the film’s premise begins to take on water. The only time “Button” got to me was when we see a startlingly youthful Benjamin aboard a 1950s-vintage Triumph motorcycle, a born-again James Dean, a baby boomer revenant in the flesh and stunning symbol of our generation’s dwindling life expectancy.

The film’s real breakthrough is technological. Using digital and other screen wizardry, Fincher made it possible for Pitt to play a character from withered old age to adolescence. It’s nothing less than the discovery of the cinema’s Fountain of Youth. This “Button” changes everything.

(“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” contains war violence and sexual situations.)

Rated PG-13. At AMC Loews Boston Common, Regal Fenway Stadium and suburban theaters.

The New York Times Co. said Wednesday that advertising revenue dropped 20.9 percent in November from a year ago, as the financial crisis prompted steep declines in classified and national ad spending.

The sharp economic deterioration, which followed the turmoil in the financial markets this September, has exacerbated an already-weak advertising market for newspapers as readers and advertisers have migrated to the Internet.

As part of its efforts to shore up its core assets amid the slump, the Times Co. is actively seeking buyers for its 17.5 percent stake in the holding company of the Boston Red Sox, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. The holding company, New England Sports Ventures, owns the baseball club, Fenway Park and a majority interest in the New England Sports Network.

The Journal cited an estimate by Barclays (nyse: BCS - newspeople ) Capital that the Times Co. stake in the holding company could be worth about $166 million.

Red Sox president Larry Lucchino declined to comment on the Journal report late Wednesday and Times spokesmen were not immediately available.

The Times Co.'s ad revenue, which makes up nearly two-thirds of total revenue, had booked declines of 16.2 percent in October and 14.1 percent in September.

Total revenue from continuing operations fell 13.9 percent last month.

Female bodyguards for Dhoni


Mahendra Singh Dhoni has taken time out from cricket but he still needs protection. In fact, he is being given special protection to keep him safe from his ever growing female fans.

The Jharkhand Police has arranged for female bodyguards for this much sought after cricketer.When Dhoni reached his house in Ranchi last week the Jharkhand Police promptly deployed five female bodyguards outside Dhoni’s house. These armed female guards will escort Dhoni when he moves around his hometown. Clear about their duty, one of the constable said, “Dhoni has a huge number of female fans and we have been appointed to protect him from them”.The Jharkhand Police have deployed these special guards in view of the hysterical reactions with which female fans have greeted Dhoni in recent months. In Kolkata one female fan broke through the security and hugged the Indian ODI captain. To avoid any more embarrassment for Dhoni these female constables will accompany Dhoni where ever he goes including his college in Ranchi.

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