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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Theatrics slapstick and cheer are cinematic qualities you rarely find outside the realm of animation. Disney perfected it with their pantheon of cartoon classics mixing music humor spectacle and light-hearted drama that swept up children while still capturing the imaginations and hearts of their parents. But these days even reinterpretations of fairy tales get the gritty make-over leaving little room for silliness and unfiltered glee. Emerging through that dark cloud is Mirror Mirror a film that achieves every bit of imagination crafted by its two-dimensional predecessors and then some. Under the eye of master visualist Tarsem Singh (The Fall Immortals) Mirror Mirror's heightened realism imbues it with the power to pull off anything — and the movie never skimps on the anything.
Like its animated counterparts Mirror Mirror stays faithful to its source material but twists it just enough to feel unique. When Snow White (Lily Collins) was a little girl her father the King ventured into a nearby dark forest to do battle with an evil creature and was never seen or heard from again. The kingdom was inherited by The Queen (Julia Roberts) Snow's evil stepmother and the fair-skinned beauty lived locked up in the castle until her 18th birthday. Grown up and tired of her wicked parental substitute White sneaks out of the castle to the village for the first time. There she witnesses the economic horrors The Queen has imposed upon the people of her land all to fuel her expensive beautification. Along the way Snow also meets Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) who is suffering from his own money troubles — mainly being robbed by a band of stilt-wearing dwarves. When the Queen catches wind of the secret excursion she casts Snow out of the castle to be murdered by her assistant Brighton (Nathan Lane).
Fairy tales take flack for rejecting the idea of women being capable but even with its flighty presentation and dedication to the old school Disney method Mirror Mirror empowers its Snow White in a genuine way thanks to Collins' snappy charming performance. After being set free by Brighton Snow crosses paths with the thieving dwarves and quickly takes a role on their pilfering team (which she helps turn in to a Robin Hooding business). Tarsem wisely mines a spectrum of personalities out of the seven dwarves instead of simply playing them for one note comedy. Sure there's plenty of slapstick and pun humor (purposefully and wonderfully corny) but each member of the septet stands out as a warm compassionate companion to Snow even in the fantasy world.
Mirror Mirror is richly designed and executed in true Tarsem-fashion with breathtaking costumes (everything from ball gowns to the dwarf expando-stilts to ridiculous pirate ship hats with working canons) whimsical sets and a pitch-perfect score by Disney-mainstay Alan Menken. The world is a storybook and even its monsters look like illustrations rather than photo-real creations. But what makes it all click is the actors. Collins holds her own against the legendary Julia Roberts who relishes in the fun she's having playing someone despicable. She delivers every word with playful bite and her rapport with Lane is off-the-wall fun. Armie Hammer riffs on his own Prince Charming physique as Alcott. The only real misgiving of the film is the undercooked relationship between him and Snow. We know they'll get together but the journey's half the fun and Mirror Mirror serves that portion undercooked.
Children will swoon for Mirror Mirror but there's plenty here for adults — dialogue peppered with sharp wisecracks and a visual style ripped from an elegant tapestry. The movie wears its heart on its sleeve and rarely do we get a picture where both the heart and the sleeve feel truly magical.
This weekend at the box office, moviegoers finally got to work out their frustrations.
As expected, the new comedy Anger Management beat the daylights out of the competition with a whooping $44.5 million,* making it the highest opener of 2003 (topping Daredevil, which opened in February with $40.3 million).
"The comedy genre this year is just incapable of burning out," Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office tracker Exhibitor Relations told the Associated Press. "People are looking to blow off steam. What better way than seeing a movie that combines Jack Nicholson and Adam Sandler?"
And Management was apparently all moviegoers wanted to see this weekend, as the rest of the list paled miserably in comparison. Last week's top dog Phone Booth, came in at No.2 with a measly $7.5 million, while the teenybopper What a Girl Wants took third with $6.7 million.
Rounding out the Top Five were the enduring comedy Bringing Down the House, which held the fourth spot with $4.6 million and the cop drama A Man Apart, which came in a No. 5 with $4.4 million. Horror newcomer House of 1,000 Corpses opened in seventh place with $3.4 million in limited theaters.
Even with Management's huge numbers, this weekend's box office only jumped five percent from last weekend. Still, the film helped revive a four-week slump, which is a good sign that things may finally be picking up.
THE TOP TEN
Sony Pictures' PG-13 Anger Management screamed its way to the top with an ESTIMATED $44.5 million in 3,551 theaters ($12,532 per theater).
The film's strong opening makes it the best April opener of all time, beating out The Scorpion King, which opened in 2002 at $36 million. It's also the best opening film for both its stars Jack Nicholson and Adam Sandler. Nicholson's best opening to date had been Batman, which hit theaters in 1989 and took in $40.5 million its first weekend, while Sandler's 1999 Big Daddy was his biggest at $41.5 million.
Management follows the exploits of a mild-mannered man who is mistakenly ordered into an anger management program to battle his inner demons--but it turns out the only real demon in his life is his unorthodox therapist.
Directed by Peter Segal, it stars Sandler, Nicholson, Marisa Tomei and John Turturro.
20th Century Fox's R-rated Phone Booth called in at No. 2 with an ESTIMATED $7.5 million, dropping 50 percent from its top spot last week. The thriller about a man trapped in a phone booth by a homicidal sniper played at 2,489 theaters ($3,023 per theater) and its cume is approximately $26.6 million.
Directed by Joel Schumacher, it stars Colin Farrell, Kiefer Sutherland and Forest Whitaker.
Slipping down a spot to third was Warner Bros.' PG-rated What a Girl Wants with an ESTIMATED $6.7 million (-41%) at 2,964 theaters (+ 8 theaters, $2,260 per theater). The Teen Beat comedy, which follows a young American girl who heads to London in hopes of meeting the father she's never known, a high-profile politician, has collected approximately $20.4 million thus far.
Directed by Dennie Gordon, it stars Amanda Bynes, Kelly Preston and Colin Firth.
Proving comedies are indeed the flavor of the year, Buena Vista's PG-13 Bringing Down the House moved up one place to fourth with an ESTIMATED $4.6 million (-45%) at 2,830 theaters (-80 theaters, $1,625 per theater). Now in its sixth week, the laffer's cume is approximately $117.7 million.
Directed by Adam Shankman, it stars Steve Martin and Queen Latifah.
New Line Cinema's R-rated A Man Apart dropped a few notches to fifth place with an ESTIMATED $4.4 million (-60%) at 2,495 theaters (+36 theaters, $1,784 per theater). The cop drama--about a U.S. narcotics officer who takes on a Tijuana drug cartel to get retribution for the murder of his wife--has taken in approximately $18.2 million so far.
Directed by F. Gary Gray, it stars Vin Diesel and Larenz Tate.
DreamWorks' PG-13 Head of State slid from No. 4 to No.6 with an ESTIMATED $4 million (-53%) at 2,256 theaters (+101 theaters, $1,773 per theater). Its cume is approximately $30.9 million.
Directed by and starring Chris Rock, the film also stars Bernie Mac, Lynn Whitfield, Robin Givens and Tamala Jones.
And for those horror fans--Lions Gate's R-rated House of 1,000 Corpses debuted in seventh place with an ESTIMATED $3.4 million at 595 theaters ($5,714 per theater).
Set in the 1970s, the film revolves around two young couples who take a misguided tour onto the back roads of America and are set upon by a bizarre family of psychotics. Murder, cannibalism and satanic rituals are just a few of the thousand horrors that await.
Director by heavy-metal singer Rob Zombie, it stars Karen Black, Michael J. Pollard, Bill Moseley and Chris Hardwick.
*Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.
Miramax Films' PG-13 Chicago held onto eighth place with an ESTIMATED $3.29 million (-36%) at 2,114 theaters (-281 theaters, $1,556 per theater). Now in its 16th week, Miramax's most profitable film has earned approximately $156.9 million.
Directed by Rob Marshall, it stars Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere.
Taking a dive three spots to dig in at No. 9, ,Paramount Pictures' PG-13 The Core shoveled in an ESTIMATED $3.22 million (-48%) at 3,019 theaters ($1,068 per theater). The disaster thriller about saving the Earth by jumpstarting its core has made $25.6 million in three weeks.
Directed by Jon Amiel, it stars Hilary Swank, Aaron Eckhart, Delroy Lindo, Stanley Tucci, D.J. Qualls and Tcheky Karyo.
Also shaving off three spots to claim tenth place was Sony's R-rated Basic, which came in with an ESTIMATED $2.2 million (-59%) at 2,246 theaters (-630 theaters, $980 per theater). Its cume is approximately $23.8 million.
Directed by John McTiernan, it stars John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson and Connie Nielsen.
Guess word of mouth counts for something. The critically acclaimed R-rated independent film Better Luck Tomorrow from Paramount Classics opened in 13 theaters with an ESTIMATED $398,489, averaging a very healthy $30,653 per theater.
The film plays on the story of straight-A, Asian-American teens in Southern California who, bored with their suburban lives, slide into petty crimes that lead to violence.
"These kids could be anybody," Van Toffler, MTV president told AP. "It's silly to underestimate the eclectic moviegoing tastes of our demographic. The cast doesn't have to look or feel like them for them to want to see it."
Directed by Justin Lin, it stars Parry Shen, Jason Tobin, John Cho and Karin Anna Cheung.
The Top 12 films this weekend grossed an ESTIMATED $ 86.9 million, up 5.76 percent from last week when they totaled $82.2 million. The Top 12 were also up 6.30 percent from last year when they totaled $81.7 million.
Last year, Paramount Pictures' R-rated Changing Lanes opened in the top spot with $17.1 million at 2,613 theaters ($6,555 per theaters). The Panic Room came in No.2 with $10.6 million at 3,119 theaters ($3,405 per theater) while Sony's The Sweetest Thing debuted in third with $9.4 million at 2,670 theaters ($3,532 per theater).