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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At the moment there are few greater clichés in the media than the freaking out single woman on the cusp of 30. Of course clichés are clichés for a reason worth exploring even through the lens of just one or two women as in Lola Versus. Unfortunately while the intention behind Lola Versus isn't that we should all be happily married by the age of 30 it still fits into the same rubric of all those "Why You're Not Married" books.
Lola (Greta Gerwig) has a gorgeous fiancé Luke (Joel Kinnaman) and they live in a giant loft together the kind of dreamy NYC real estate that seems to exist primarily in the movies. Just as they're planning their gluten-free wedding cake with a non-GMO rice milk-based frosting Luke dumps her. It's cruelly sudden — although Luke isn't a cruel man. Lola finds little comfort in the acerbic wit of her best friend the eternally single Alice (Zoe Lister-Jones) who is probably delighted to see her perfectly blonde best friend taken down a peg and into the murky world of New York coupling. Lola and Luke share a best friend Henry (Hamish Linklater) a messy-haired rumpled sweetheart who is kind and safe and the inevitable shelter for Lola's fallout. Her parents well-meaning and well-to-do hippie types feed her kombucha and try to figure out their iPads and give her irrelevant advice.
Lola Versus is slippery. Its tone careens between broad TV comedy and earnest dramedy almost as if Alice is in charge of the dirty zingers and Lola's job is to make supposedly introspective statements. Alice's vulgar non-sequiturs are tossed off without much relish and Lola's dialogue comes off too often as expository and plaintive. We don't need Lola to tell Henry "I'm vulnerable I'm not myself I'm easily persuaded" or "I'm slutty but I'm a good person!" (Which is by the way an asinine statement to make. One might even say she's not even that "slutty " she's just making dumb decisions that hurt those around her just as much as she's hurting herself.)
We know that she's a mess — that's the point of the story! It's not so much that a particularly acerbic woman wouldn't say to her best friend "Find your spirit animal and ride it until its d**k falls off " but that she wouldn't say it in the context of this movie. It's from some other movie over there one where everyone is as snarky and bitter as Alice. You can't have your black-hearted comedy and your introspective yoga classes. Is it really a stride forward for feminism that the clueless single woman has taken the place of the stoner man-child in media today? When Lola tells Luke "I'm taken by myself. I've gotta just do me for a while " it's true. But it doesn't sound true and it doesn't feel true.
In one scene Lola stumbles on the sidewalk and falls to the ground. No one asks her if she's okay or needs help; she simply gets up on her own and goes on her way. It's a moment that has happened to so many people. It's humiliating and so very public but of course you just gotta pick yourself up and get where you're going. In this movie it's a head-smackingly obvious metaphor. In one of the biggest missteps of the movie Jay Pharoah plays a bartender that makes the occasional joke while Lola is waiting tables at her mom's restaurant. His big line at the end is "And I'm your friend who's black!" It would have been better to leave his entire character on the cutting room floor than attempt such a half-hearted wink at the audience.
Lister-Jones and director Daryl Wein co-wrote the screenplay for Lola Versus as they did with 2009's Breaking Upwards. Both films deal with the ins and outs of their own romantic relationship in one way or another. Breaking Upwards a micro-budget indie about a rough patch in their relationship was much more successful in tone and direction. Lola Versus has its seeds in Lister-Jones' experience as a single woman in New York and is a little bit farther removed from their experiences. Lola Versus feels like a wasted opportunity. Relatively speaking there are so few movies getting made with a female writer or co-writer that it almost feels like a betrayal to see such a tone-deaf portrayal of women onscreen. What makes it even more disappointing is how smart and likable everyone involved is and knowing that they could have made a better movie.
At some point in the early years of the 21st century a bunch of Hollywood executives must have gotten together and decided that animated films should be made for all audiences. The goal was perhaps to make movies that are simultaneously accessible to the older and younger sets with colorful imagery that one expects from children’s films and two levels of humor: one that’s quite literal and harmless and another that’s somewhat subversive. The criteria has resulted in cross-generational hits like Wall-E and Madagascar and though it’s nice to be able to take my nephew to the movies and be as entertained by cartoon characters as he is I can’t help but wonder what happened to unabashedly innocent animated classics like A Goofy Movie and The Land Before Time?
Disney’s Winnie The Pooh is the answer to the Shrek’s and Hoodwinked!’s of the world: a short sweet simple and lighthearted tale of friendship that doesn’t need pop-culture references or snarky dialogue to put a smile on your face. Directors Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall found some fresh ways to deliver adorable animation while keeping the carefree spirit of A.A. Milne’s source material in tact. Their story isn’t the most original; the first part of the film finds Pooh Piglet Tigger and Owl searching for Eeyore’s tail (a common plot point in the books and past Pooh films) and hits all the predictable notes but the second half mixes things up a bit as the crew searches for a missing Christopher Robin whom they believe has been kidnapped by a forest creature known as the “Backson” (it’s really just the result of the illiterate Owl or is it?).
The beauty of hand-drawn animation all but forgotten until recently is what makes Winnie the Pooh so incredibly magnetic. There’s an inexplicable crispness to the colors and characters that CG just can’t duplicate. It’s a more personal practice for the filmmakers and should provide a refreshing experience for audiences who have become jaded with the pristine presentation of computerized imagery. The film is bookended by brief live-action shots from inside Robin’s room an interesting dynamic that plays up the simplicity of youth ties it to these beloved characters and brings you right back to memories of your own childhood.
With a just-over-an-hour run time Winnie the Pooh is short enough to hold the attention of children but won’t bore the parents who will love the film mainly for nostalgic musings. Still it’s the young’uns who will most enjoy this breezy bright and enchanting film that proves old-school characters can appeal to new moviegoers.
Top Story: CBS Says They Didn't Pay Jackson for Interview
Both CBS and Michael Jackson have denied reports that the network paid the pop singer for his exclusive interview on 60 Minutes. According to Reuters, a New York Times report on Wednesday, based on an anonymous source described as a disgruntled former business associate of Jackson's, said that the network landed the Ed Bradley interview by agreeing to pay $1 million extra to license their previously shelved music special celebrating Jackson's career, which airs Jan. 2. CBS and two of Jackson's closest representatives, however, told Reuters the terms of Jackson's entertainment special and his 60 Minutes interview were negotiated separately. "This was not a package deal," CBS spokesman Chris Ender told Reuters. "These were two parallel projects. They were being developed and worked on independently." Enders did admit, however, that the two projects became "linked" in the aftermath of the allegations against Jackson "when we told Mr. Jackson's representatives that we couldn't broadcast the entertainment special if he wasn't addressing the situation on a CBS News program." Jackson's defense lawyer, Mark Geragos, conceded the prospect of reviving Jackson's music special likely weighed in his decision to go on 60 Minutes, Reuters reports. "I think that's a fair statement," he said when asked if Jackson did the interview to get the special back on CBS.
Rush Guitarist Arrested New Year's Eve
Alex Zivojinovich, the lead guitarist for the rock band Rush and better known by his stage name Alex Lifeson, was arrested Wednesday night for drunken and violent behavior after attacking sheriff's deputies at the Naples, Fla., Ritz-Carlton hotel, AP reports. Deputies said they used a stun gun on Zivojinovich, 50, who faces six charges that include aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer, resisting an officer with violence, and disorderly intoxication after a scuffle broke out when Zivojinovich's son Justin refused to leave the stage. Justin, 33, and his wife Michelle Zivojinovich, 30, were also arrested.
Imbruglia Gets Hitched
Actress-turned-pop singer Natalie Imbruglia, 28, and Daniel Johns, 24, frontman of the Australian band Silverchair, exchanged vows Wednesday in a private ceremony at an exclusive resort on Australia's northeastern coast, The Associated Press reports. It's the first marriage for both.
Screenwriter Dunne Dies
Author-screenwriter John Gregory Dunne, best known for his screen collaborations with wife Joan Didion, including The Panic in Needle Park and the 1976 remake A Star is Born, died Tuesday in Los Angeles after suffering a heart attack, Reuters reports. He was 71.
French Author Says Disney Copied Nemo
Franck Le Calvez, a French children's book author, claims Finding Nemo closely resembles his book Pierrot the Clown Fish, in which his hero, a wide-eyed, orange-striped fish, gets separated from his family, AP reports. In February, a court will hear his case against Disney and Pixar Animation, the French newspaper Le Monde reports. The case is for breach of copyright and trademark, and Le Calvez also wants Nemo merchandise taken off the shelves of French shops.
Norway's Idol Wins World Title
Norway's Pop Idol Kurt Nilsen picked up the World Idol title Thursday, beating 10 other Idol competitors from across the globe including American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson, AP reports. Nilson, a 25-year-old plumber, won the Norwegian version of Pop Idol in May. His single, "She's So High," went straight to No. 1 in the Norwegian singles chart and is the country's biggest-selling single to date.
Irwin Introduces Baby to First Croc Feeding
Animal Planet's wacky Crocodile Hunter host and animal activist Steve Irwin took his infant son to his first crocodile feeding Friday, AP reports, offering a chicken to the snapping croc while holding the baby, Bob, in his other hand. "He's one month old, so it's about time Bob got out there and did his first croc demo," the Australian celebrity told the crowd at the Australian Zoo. Irwin's wife Terri, who gave birth to her second child Dec. 1, also attended the show, billed as the baby's "croc feeding debut."
Willie Nelson To Debut Antiwar Ballad
Country singer Willie Nelson plans to debut his new song, the antiwar ballad "What Ever Happened to Peace on Earth," at a fund-raising concert Saturday for Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich in Austin, Texas. "Now, I haven't played it for Toby (Keith) yet," a laughing Nelson told the Austin American-Statesman on Tuesday. Although the two are close friends, the sentiments of Nelson's song are the polar opposite of Keith's angry-American anthem "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue," with its call to arms. "Toby wrote that song in reaction to 9/11, which was a totally different thing than watching U.S. soldiers die in Iraq," Nelson said. "Toby's said he's not a Republican or a Democrat; he's a Christian. So we're coming from the same place."
Role Call: Mostow Counts Seconds; Woody Allen Robs Pierre
Terminator 3 director Jonathan Mostow has signed to write and direct a remake of John Frankenheimer's film Seconds for Paramount Pictures. According to Variety, the original 1966 film starred John Randolph as an older man who gets a new lease on life with a new face and identity. Even though he's reconstituted in the handsome visage of Rock Hudson, the change brings its own problems. No one has been cast at yet. Seconds becomes the second film by the late Frankenheimer that is being remade by Paramount…Jonathan Demme will direct Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep and Liev Schreiber in The Manchurian Candidate…Director W