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.
The best player in the World for movie trailers, Hollywood interviews and movie clips.
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.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
It’s been a long time coming - and a few miscellaneous human lives sacrificed — to get Russell Edgington (Denis O’Hare) back to his original glory, but he’s back and in full effect. Just last week, we left him with his hand wrapped around a stake piercing Roman’s (Chris Meloni) heart. But his 3,000 years and menacing manner shouldn’t fool you. Russell is still a full-fledged character with goals and feelings — even if some of those feelings involve getting sexually aroused by feeding on humans - just ask O’Hare, who took time out of his rehearsal schedule for Sondheim in the Park’s Into the Woods in which he plays opposite “the salty little thing” Amy Adams, to talk True Blood with Hollywood.com.
“He just kind of wants to be left alone,” reasons O’Hare. He says his character isn’t just a blanket villain — there’s depth there. And as we witnessed last week, Russell isn’t about to get involved in this vampire bi-partisan battle. He’s just out for blood and lust - you know, the usual “funtime” activities. “Russell will stick around until he’s not having fun, and then he’ll split,” O’Hare adds.
But while he’s having fun, will he find time to mend his broken heart? Back in Season 3, Eric (Alexander Skarsgard) killed Russell’s live-in boyfriend and lovable character Talbot, but it’s been over a year, it’s time for the oldest vampire around to let go and move on. And it truly is. “We shot a flirtation,” says O’Hare. “By episode seven or eight you’ll see. It’s an affair, and we all know the character.” Could it be the former reverend, current vampire PR wiz Steve Newland (Michael McMillian) that manages to tame Russell’s wild heart in the wake of Jason’s (Ryan Kwanten)? O’Hare wouldn’t say, but we’ve got a hunch we could be on the right path.
He was a little more forthcoming regarding Russell’s relationship with Eric. “He and Eric have always had an odd relationship,” says O’Hare. And it seems their ideas are more in line than Eric might like to admit. During “Hopeless” Eric tells Roman he’s not on his side or the side of the Sanguinistas, he’s a “pacifist.” Likewise, Russell tells Roman that he thinks both sides of the Mainstream/Sanguista divide are hypocrites - he just drinks blood because he loves it. After the Authority has but Eric through the ringer, and he’s witnessed so much double-crossing between the two sides - including whoever facilitated Russell’s Houdini act - perhaps their mutual hate of the faux-righteous battle will serve as some middle ground.
And while the potential thawing of Eric’s icy view towards Russell is an interesting thought, the fate of Roman is a little more pressing. At the end of “Hopeless” Russell’s iStake malfunctions and he overtakes Roman in order to shove a stake in his heart, but Roman doesn’t explode the way every other staked vampire has in the history of this show - he simply turns grey. Could that mean he makes it?
Well, that’s not so clear. “Roman was so ancient and so powerful,” explains O’Hare. But we weren’t the only ones confused upon first seeing the scene. “I remember reading it and going ‘So what’s the deal? Is he dead? I stake him? But, really, you’ll just have to wait until Sunday,” he teases. Either way, Roman’s could-be demise is unprecedented on the series.
O’Hare left us with that looming question before delving back into New York rehearsals, the tease has already done its worst. Sunday’s answer to the Roman cliffhanger and Russell’s next big move cannot come soon enough.
True Blood airs Sunday night at 9 PM ET on HBO and Into The Woods starts July 23 in New York’s Central Park.
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler.
True Blood Recap: Russell Edgington Forever
True Blood Recap: Step Right Up For the Surplus of Supernaturals
Kristen Bauer van Straten Teases Pam’s Future with Eric and Tara — EXCLUSIVE
Russell Edgington Returns
In This Means War – a stylish action/rom-com hybrid from director McG – Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) and Chris Pine (Star Trek) star as CIA operatives whose close friendship is strained by the fires of romantic rivalry. Best pals FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) are equally accomplished at the spy game but their fortunes diverge dramatically in the dating realm: FDR (so nicknamed for his obvious resemblance to our 32nd president) is a smooth-talking player with an endless string of conquests while Tuck is a straight-laced introvert whose love life has stalled since his divorce. Enter Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) a pretty plucky consumer-products evaluator who piques both their interests in separate unrelated encounters. Tuck meets her via an online-dating site FDR at a video-rental store. (That Lauren is tech-savvy enough to date online but still rents movies in video stores is either a testament to her fascinating mix of contradictions or more likely an example of lazy screenwriting.)
When Tuck and FDR realize they’re pursuing the same girl it sparks their respective competitive natures and they decide to make a friendly game of it. But what begins as a good-natured rivalry swiftly devolves into romantic bloodsport with both men using the vast array of espionage tools at their disposal – from digital surveillance to poison darts – to gain an edge in the battle for Lauren’s affections. If her constitutional rights happen to be violated repeatedly in the process then so be it.
Lauren for her part remains oblivious to the clandestine machinations of her dueling suitors and happily basks in the sudden attention from two gorgeous men. Herein we find the Reese Witherspoon Dilemma: While certainly desirable Lauren is far from the irresistible Helen of Troy type that would inspire the likes of Tuck and FDR to risk their friendship their careers and potential incarceration for. At several points in This Means War I found myself wondering if there were no other peppy blondes in Los Angeles (where the film is primarily set) for these men to pursue. Then again this is a film that wishes us to believe that Tom Hardy would have trouble finding a date so perhaps plausibility is not its strong point.
When Lauren needs advice she looks to her boozy foul-mouthed best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler). Essentially an extension of Handler’s talk-show persona – an acquired taste if there ever was one – Trish’s dialogue consists almost exclusively of filthy one-liners delivered in rapid-fire succession. Handler does have some choice lines – indeed they’re practically the centerpiece of This Means War’s ad campaign – but the film derives the bulk of its humor from the outrageous lengths Tuck and FDR go to sabotage each others’ efforts a raucous game of spy-versus-spy that carries the film long after Handler’s shtick has grown stale.
Business occasionally intrudes upon matters in the guise of Heinrich (Til Schweiger) a Teutonic arms dealer bent on revenge for the death of his brother. The subplot is largely an afterthought existing primarily as a means to provide third-act fireworks – and to allow McGenius an outlet for his ADD-inspired aesthetic proclivities. The film’s action scenes are edited in such a manic quick-cut fashion that they become almost laughably incoherent. In fairness to McG he does stage a rather marvelous sequence in the middle of the film in which Tuck and FDR surreptitiously skulk about Lauren's apartment unaware of each other's presence carefully avoiding detection by Lauren who grooves absentmindedly to Montel Jordan's "This Is How We Do It." The whole scene unfolds in one continuous take – or is at least craftily constructed to appear as such – captured by one very agile steadicam operator.
Whatever his flaws as a director McG is at least smart enough to know how much a witty script and appealing leads can compensate for a film’s structural and logical deficiencies. He proved as much with Charlie’s Angels a film that enjoys a permanent spot on many a critic’s Guilty Pleasures list and does so again with This Means War. The film coasts on the chemistry of its three co-stars and only runs into trouble when the time comes to resolve its romantic competition which by the end has driven its male protagonists to engage in all manner of underhanded and duplicitous activities. This Means War being a commercial film – and likely an expensive one at that – Witherspoon's heroine is mandated to make a choice and McG all but sidesteps the whole thorny matter of Tuck and FDR’s unwavering dishonesty not to mention their craven disregard for her privacy. (They regularly eavesdrop on her activities.) For all their obvious charms the truth is that neither deserves Lauren – or anything other than a lengthy jail sentence for that matter.
Follow Thomas Leupp on Twitter.
Follow Hollywood.com on Twitter.