Paramount Pictures via Everett Collection
Here's a feat: taking what is likely the oldest, most well-known story in the world, and making a retelling feel inventive. Over the course of its two-and-a-half-hour runtime, Darren Aronofsky's Noah takes many forms — Tolkien-esque fantasy, trippy psychological thriller, merciless dissection of the dark points of abject faith — never feeling too rigidly confined to the parameters of the familiar tale that we've all experienced in the form of bedtime stories, religious education lessons, and vegetable-laden cartoons. As many forms as the parable has taken over the past few thousand years, Aronofsky manages to find a few new takes.
The director's thumbprint is branded boldly on Russell Crowe's Noah, a man who begins his journey as a simple pawn of God and evolves into a dimensional human as tortured as Natalie Portman's ballerina or Jared Leto's smack head. Noah's obsession and crisis: his faith. The peak of the righteous descendant of Seth (that's Adam and Eve's third son — the one who didn't die or bash his brother's head in with a rock), Noah is determined to carry out the heavenly mission imparted upon him via ambiguous, psychedelic visions. God wants him to do something — spoilers: build an ark — and he will do it. No matter what.
No matter what it means to his family, to his lineage, to his fellow man, to the world. He's going to do it. No matter what. The depths to which Aronofsky explores this simple concept — the nature of unmitigated devotion — makes what we all knew as a simplistic A-to-B children's story so gripping. While the throughline is not a far cry from the themes explored in his previous works, the application of his Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler, and Black Swan ideas in this movie does not feel like a rehashing. Experiencing such modern, humane ideas in biblical epic is, in fact, a thrill-ride.
Paramount Pictures via Everett Collection
Although Aronofsky accesses some highly guttural stuff inside of his title character, he lets whimsy and imagination take hold of the world outside of him. Jumping headfirst into the fantastical, the director lines his magical realm with rock monsters — "Watcher" angels encased in Earth-anchored prisons as punishment for their betrayal of God — and a variety of fauna that range in innovation from your traditional white dove to some kind of horned, scaled dog bastardization.
But the most winning elements of Noah, and easily the most surprising, come when Aronofsky goes cosmic. He jumps beyond the literal to send us coursing through eons to watch the creation of God's universe, matter exploding from oblivion, a line of creatures evolving (in earnest) into one another as the planet progresses to the point at which we meet our tortured seafarer. Aronofsky's imagination, his aptitude as a cinematic magician, peak (not just in terms of the film, but in terms of his career) in these scenes.
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With all this propped against the stark humanity of his story — not just in terms of Crowe's existential spiral, but in character beats like grandfather Methuselah's relationship with the youngsters, in little Ham's playful teasing of his new rock monster pet — Aronofsky manages something we never could have anticipated from Noah. It's scientific, cathartic, humane. Impressively, this age-old tale, here, is new. And beyond that feat, it's a pretty winning spin.
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It's a good hour into The Wolf of Wall Street, following a deep dive into Jordan Belfort's early days in the stock market game — that being the most appropriate word for it — and festive indulgence in the most carnal manifestations of human desire, that we're hit with the title card, "18 months later..." Here, it is solidified that the years we have spent inside Martin Scorsese's world of toxic capitalism have all been, up to this point, set-up. Fuel. This brief flash of text, the longest instance of silence in the cacophonous sewer system that is Belfort's story, is the first real sign that a fire is coming.
By this time, Scorsese's willful defiance of the "show, don't tell" method has introduced us to every one of the doe-eyed crook's countless vices. He has no qualms stealing from those who can't afford it, lying to those who trust him, cheating on his wife, cramming every substance known to modern science into his bloodstream, and wholeheartedly endorsing (to his adoring audience) all of the above. All the while, we bound between delight and disgust. The delight comes not so much in the material victories of Belfort and his cronies — that has the latter effect, in fact, as every antic is so vividly laced with Sodom-level depravity — but in watching them like zoo animals. In fact, The Wolf of Wall Street's principal undoing might be that it is simply too much fun.
For that, we have to thank Leonardo DiCaprio. DiCaprio had managed terrific performances all his career, but this is one of the first in years to actually surprise us. Opening his tale as an ambitious and firm-shouldered young buck, the likes of which you'd find in any Horatio Algers novel, and devolving into the Financial District's answer to Beetlejuice, the actor exhibits corners of his performing ability that we have always dreamed we'd see. In the months leading up to DiCaprio's turn as the dastardly dandy Calvin Candie in last year's Quentin Tarantino picture Django Unchained, fans anticipated an unprecedented kookiness that never seemed to show. Turns out, DiCaprio was saving that mania for Wolf of Wall Street, in which he lambasts justice and judgment in the form of an elastic child at his most tempered and a rabid kangaroo on those nights of the especially hard partying.
And of course, there's that scene with the Quaaludes. Without giving too much away — although the experience is so visceral that all the contextual spoilers wouldn't rob the scene of its emphatic humor — DiCaprio manages a feat of physical comedy so extensive, demanding, and gutterally f**king hilarious that you'll wonder tearfully what might have been had the rising star shirked Titanic for a career in slapstick. But the surplus joys derived from this scene might, in fact, be Wolf's undoing. In a story that is meant to lather on the horrors inherent in the human's propensity for self-serving greed and gluttony, it can soften the blow when we're allowed to take a break from our disgust to spend a few moments in vivid, unabashed delight. Yes, the scene in question involves drug abuse, intoxicated driving, criminal activity, and a near-death experience. But it's so damn funny that we're kept from toppling down into what might have been the darkest crevasse of the film's story and enduring the pathos that might come with it.
The dilution of Wolf's message comes at the hand of its comedy (with no affair a bigger culprit than the one described above) and its tendency to meander. Although Scorsese works to shove the very idea of "excess" down our throats with seemingly endless scenes of Belfort and his pals harassing flight attendants and dehumanizing little people, the ad nauseum effect doesn't always hit home as powerfully as imagined, instead allowing the viewer to fizzle out from time to time through Wolf's three-hour tour. We're drowned, slowly and steadily, in Belfort's tragic pleasures while, as the "18 months later" interstitial suggests, we keep expecting to combust with them.
It's always a risky endeavor for a film or television show to indict crooked characters not through narrative penalties but through a tacit communication of their behavior or psychology as bad news. The risk comes in the form of audiences challenging artists for letting their villains get off scot-free, or even for glorifying undesirable lifestyles. Ultimately, while Belfort does get some semblance of his comeuppance, he wins in his nefarious game. The Belfort we leave at the end of our journey adheres to the tenets he spouts from the beginning, reveling in a legion of former colleagues beaming at him in collective awe and new students of his self-centric theology zealously eating up his every word in hopes of becoming the very same kind of demigod. To Scorsese, and to any an audience member willing to estrange him or herself from the bounties of wicked humor, this is just the fire we were promised. Belfort's image is ignited by the instances of theft, deceit, betrayal, substance abuse, sexual crime, and a spiralling descent into sub-human madness. But there are a few too many laughs along the way to keep the flames from reaching their full, hottest potential.
But hey, when you're complaining about a movie for being too much fun, you've got a pretty good movie on your hands.
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In many ways Bullet to the Head is as ludicrous as you would expect. A heavily tattooed Sylvester Stallone and Conan beefcake Jason Momoa arm themselves with axes for a fight. Christian Slater's sleazy lawyer character hosts a giant sexy party in his Garden District mansion complete with nude ladies doing the tango and Slater himself wearing a fox mask that's a little too on the nose. There's a corrupt real estate baron from Africa played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje who uses not one but two canes and plans to demolish the "ghetto housing projects" in New Orleans to build sweet new condos or whatever.
And all of the women that appear in the film — all of them that have any lines and plenty that don't say a word — show their breasts at one time or another evenSarah Shahi playing Stallone's daughter Lisa. Stallone's character is nicknamed Jimmy Bobo and he brings his own bottle of bourbon with him when he goes to bars — Bulleit of course.
However unlike more recent action films like Jack Reacher or Stallone's endless Expendables Bullet to the Head is a pleasing solid genre flick. Part of the appeal along with the impressive fight scenes and laughably elaborate set-ups is that the film knows when it's being silly. "What are we f**king Vikings?" Stallone bellows right before he and Momoa come to blows. Slater is a perfectly ratty little lawyer who when tied to a chair and being threatened with bodily harm sneers "There's nothing you can do to men that I haven't done to myself for fun!"
Stallone gets the best lines usually tossed-off phrases like suggesting someone's bullet wounds could be fixed up with "a band-aid and a blow pop " but he's also saddled with some of the worst. His interactions with his reluctant partner a handsome cop named Taylor Kwon (Sung Kang) slow the movie down to a glacier's pace. One might imagine that director Walter Hill is trying to recall the dicey racial tension in the 48 Hrs. movies between Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte but it doesn't translate here at all. Jimmy Bobo's ribbing of Taylor isn't just unfunny it's boring. There's nothing particularly clever about any of the written jokes about tea leaves Confucius samurai and so forth; while Kang's character is supposed to be annoyed by this "banter " it looks like Kang himself isn't all that thrilled.
Bullet to the Head is no masterpiece let's be clear. Plunking down Stallone et al. in New Orleans creates a cognitive dissonance that's laughable at best. Momoa who plays a vicious mercenary looks hilariously out of place in the redneck bar we first see him in; he's really born to play characters like Khal Drago in Game of Thrones where he just has to ride a horse and look like a dangerous-but-sexy warrior. People seem impossible to kill; often it takes you know a bullet to the head to finally keep 'em down. And that daughter of Jimmy's Sarah? She is a tattoo artist with one year of medical school under her belt so she's pretty swell when it comes to basic medical procedures. Like bullet removal.
But let's go back to all those boobies. This is an R-rated movie with plenty of violence and drugs and nudity and that is fine by me. I do not mind looking at good-looking naked people not in the least. When the first character we meet is a prostitute who is merely referred to as a hooker for a good chunk of the movie and that's really one of the only female characters we meet that's a problem. When Lisa's mom is referred to as a dead hooker junky that's a trend.
And when Lisa is lounging in the bathtub and Taylor breaks into her house for well whatever reason he and Jimmy came up with and she runs into him in her living room when she's wearing nothing but a towel and we can see her butt and breasts it makes me scratch my head a little.
Look this is an action movie and one based on a comic book to boot so I'm not expecting Tennessee Williams here but give me a break.
There were probably some women at the Garden District party who were clothed but the great majority of women in the movie are naked and/or referred to as totally disposable which is a frankly sickening trend in an otherwise enjoyable movie. It would have been better to leave all of the female characters on the cutting room floor and be done with it than treat them with such matter-of-fact contempt.
Sadly this gross undercurrent knocks my original star rating down a half.
Bullet to the Head is not a summer blockbuster but it's better than the typical January dregs. Spring can't come soon enough.
It's always good, when you've finished a career-defining role, to take a bit of a left turn on your subsequent projects. And Robert Pattinson is doing just that with the announcement of his newest role in a black comedy thriller.
Hold On To Me will star Carey Mulligan as a woman hell-bent on reuniting with her high school crush after her big city dreams go all wrong. So her and her boyfriend (an unwitting accomplice) kidnap and ransom (and later...bury in a box in the ground?) a wealthy local man in an attempt to get rich quick. Pattinson's character is named Jimmy, and it sounds like he is the high school flame Mulligan hopes to impress.
The film will be directed by James Marsh, was written by Brad Ingelsby, and will be produced by Indian Paintbrush‘s Steven Rales, Mark Roybal, Michael Pruss, and Alexandra Milchan. Todd Field is also set to produce after originally planning to direct but stepping out of that role in order to focus on helming Creed Of Violence. The film was originally titled Nancy and Danny.
Do you think Pattinson can handle a dark, comedic role? Let us know in the comments!
[Photo Credit: WENN]
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Hangover director Todd Phillips, along with Pursuit of Happyness writer Steven Conrad, is developing a biopic about John Belushi. Warner Bros. recently acquired the rights from Belushi’s estate, the Risky Business blog reports.
Conrad is writing with Phillips producing. He has not yet committed to directing. Alexandra Milchan and Bonnie Timmerman are also producing.
The project would be the latest attempt at a full-scale biopic about Belushi, who died of a drug overdose in 1982 at age 33.
Bob Woodward's panned 1985 biography, Wired: The Short Life and Fast Times of John Belushi, was adapted for the screen and saw Belushi's friends and family publicly boycott the film.
It's unclear whether adjacent rights to prominent figures in Belushi's life, such as manager Bernie Brillstein and SNL colleagues Dan Aykroyd, Lorne Michaels and Chevy Chase, have also been acquired by the studio, says BIZ.
As for who could star as Belushi, the blog notes that one actor mentioned as a potential strong fit for the role would be Zach Galifianakis, but he's already 40 years old, as is Jack Black, another possible fit.
The next generation who could possibly pull it off include Jonah Hill (26), Seth Rogen (28), Ethan Suplee (34) and Tyler Labine (32).