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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With Thor: The Dark World fresh in our minds, it's difficult to estrange from the similarities in the first trailer for Darren Aronofsky's Noah. We close in on a long-haired, finely chiseled Australian film icon, mid-scene as a mythical figure lamenting the impending global annihilation at the hands of the all-powerful being closest to him. "He's going to destroy the world," says Russell Crowemsworth. But even if the Marvel sequel hadn't just released, we might find this introductory look at the director's Black Swan follow-up to feel just a little too... grand.
What the Biblical tale of Noah's Ark has, intrinsically, is an epic nature: The end of days. The wrath of God. A global flood. A literal boatload of wild animals. And more than any of this in launching Noah to grandeur is the fact that so many of us grew up reveling in its majesty. Through religious schooling or PBS specials, we learned as children that Noah's story was one of the most amazing ever told. And without much cinematic competition for the subject matter, it's not like Aronofsky is working against the tide. With proper visual effects, a Noah movie would feel just as "grand" as we might want it to. That's why we hope that this new trailer is downplaying the element most necessary to make this feature work: the intimacy.
With a story so inherently "big," it would pay for Aronofsky to hone in on the small. The personal conquests of Noah and his family, the torments that lie deeper than the crashing waves. Aronofsky is a filmmaker whose worlds feel gigantic, but whose characters are always sharp and vivid. But Crowe feels buried beneath everything else in this trailer, with his wife and children huddled beside him.
Naturally, the first trailer for a movie like Noah is going to have to opt for the "big." We can't spend our inceptive minutes watching Crowe play All Is Lost (with a much bigger boat) — we need confidence in Aronofsky's ability to get what is arguably the Bible's most famous tale down pat. But we know he'll do the "big" stuff right. Hopefully the next look at this movie will show that he's handling the small stuff just as well.
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For everything 30 Rock does so very right (Liz Lemon's endlessly re-quotable quips) there is something they haven't quite nailed down in their six magnificently off-the-wall seasons on the air: Season finales. Much like the disappointing "Kidney Now!" Season 3 finale, last night's Season 6 ender "What Will Happen to the Gang Next Year?” wasn't everything the show is capable of (especially after having such a stellar season) but that's not to say it's not a total relief they'll back for 13 more episodes for a final Season 7.
Especially now that it seems like Liz's perfect match Criss (sorry, Wesley Snipes) is in it for the long haul. Not only did James Marsden's dreamy character, what with his beautiful lady face and his James Van Der Beek appreciation that doesn't include Dawson's Creek, sell his hot dog van to have extra money for their plant –– er, baby –– but he finally got Liz to stop worrying and not bail on something great. Criss calls Liz out on her s**t, supports her endlessly, and laughs at her stupid jokes. Isn't that what we all want from someone at the end of the day?
Of course, not all seemingly perfect couples have happy endings. Avery's return from North Korea was supposed to be a joyous thing for Jack, but their rampant jealousy and mistrust (Jack kissed her mother, Avery had a secret code affair with co-host-age Scott Scottsman) turned their planned vow renewal into a surprise divorce ceremony. While Kim Jung Il, I mean, uh, just a regular waiter who is definitely not Kim Jung Il, pleaded for 30 Rock writers to pull a Friends or Moonlighting and get Jack and Liz together, I hope this show never breaks with its unconventional convention. Besides, Criss is the right guy for Liz and Julianne Moore's Bahston babe Nancy is meant to balance out Jack.
If the idea of Jack and Liz making a go of it makes you shudder, too, than I can imagine you had an equally averse reaction to watching Kenneth and a homeless Hazel (Kristen Schaal) shack up as roommates and engage in the most uncomfortable televised kiss since this. Thankfully, that wasn't the only side plot during last night's hit-or-miss finale, there was also the gloriously funny story line about Tracy being named Man of the Year by the Aryan Patriot Party thanks to his behavior. Despite the best efforts of Grizz, Dot Com, and Dr. Cornel West (as himself, but mistaken for Questlove by Tracy) to give Tracy a positive black role model, after an epiphany (okay, seeing his reflection in Rosa Parks' dress at a museum) he opts to go the Tyler Perry route instead. I don't wanna wait for 30 Rock's life to be over. I'm in denial that it ever will.
Here are the other best lines and moments from last night's 30 Rock Season 6 finale:
- Pat Kiernan cameo!
- "Brother" Jason Segel
- Liz's refusal to say the phrase "man cave"
- Liz's montage with her plant baby (Planty!) set to a Randy Newman-like tune about plants
- "Skinny arm havers!"- Liz, to Avery and her mother, followed by a stop, drop, and roll to get out of an awkward encounter
- "Hey, I don't bail! I'm still watching Smash!"- Liz, to Criss
- "Have fun always carrying a light sweater!" - Jenna, to Hazel after she warns her she'll have to move to the Bay Area
- " I get your Yankees tickets on A-Rod bobble head day. And I’m going to throw that thing in front of a train. Go Phillies!”- Liz, showing her hometown pride to Jack
- "Check out Kim Jung Un's pants! Where's the flood?" - Avery, to Scott
- "You know what kind of women in their 40s have never been married, Liz? Uggos, crazies, and bailers. You’re not an uggo. And you’re Haha Crazy, not Oh Boy crazy, which means you bail!" - Criss, to Liz
- "Maggie Smith is a treasure!” - Avery
- "Darth Vader. Ninjas. Some black licorice I tried to make into the shape of my dad.”- Tracy, on his black role models
- "For instance, in Pixar’s upcoming movie about trash, I’m doing the voice of a lazy bottle of grape-flavored soda named Funky Bobo." - Tracy
- "There will never be a president Ashton, or a Dr. Katniss, or a non-sexually confused Lorne.” - Jack
So where does that leave us for the shortened upcoming Season 7? Hopefully with Criss and Liz having a baby, Jack finally getting to run Kabletown, Hazel moving out of New York City for good, Jenna marrying Paul, Tracy dethroning Tyler Perry, and Lutz ... never mind, Lutz is the worst. What are you hoping to see for next season? Did you find the Season 6 finale surprisingly lackluster, too? Sound off in the comments section below.
[Photo credit: NBC]
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The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
The God of Legion secular Hollywood’s latest Biblically-inspired action flick is old-school an angry spiteful Almighty with a penchant for Old Testament theatrics. Fed up with humanity’s decadent warmongering ways He’s decided to pull the plug on the whole crazy experiment and start over from scratch.
Fortunately for us the God of Legion is also a rather lazy fellow. Instead of doing the apocalyptic work himself and wiping us out with a giant flood which worked perfectly well last time He opts to delegate the task to His army of angels — a questionable strategy that starts to fall apart when the archangel charged with leading the planned extermination Michael (Paul Bettany) refuses to comply.
Michael who unlike his boss still harbors affection for our sorry species abandons his post and descends to earth where inside the swollen belly of Charlie (Adrianne Palicki) an unwed mother-to-be working as a waitress in an out-of-the-way diner sits humanity’s lone hope for survival. Why is this particular baby so important? Is it the one destined to lead us to victory over Skynet? Heaven knows — Legion reveals little details its script devoid of actual scripture. What is clear is that God’s celestial hitmen want the kid whacked before it’s born.
But Michael won’t let humanity fall without a fight. Armed with a Waco-sized arsenal of assault weapons he hunkers down with the diner’s patrons a largely superfluous collection of thinly-sketched caricatures from various demographic groups led by Dennis Quaid as the diner’s grizzled owner Tyrese Gibson as a hip-hop hustler and Lucas Black as a simple-minded country boy.
Together they mount a heroic final stand against hordes of angels who’ve taken possession of “weak-willed” humans turning kindly old grandmas and mild-mannered ice cream vendors into snarling ravenous foul-mouthed beasts. They descend upon the ramshackle diner in a series of full-frontal assaults commanded by the archangel Gabriel (Kevin Durand) the George Pickett of End of Days generals.
Beneath its superficial religious facade Legion is really just a run-of-the-mill zombie flick a Biblical I Am Legend. Bettany an actor accustomed to smaller dramatic roles in films like A Beautiful Mind and The Da Vinci Code looks perfectly at ease in his first major action role wielding machine guns and bowie knives with equal aplomb. Conversely first-time director Scott Stewart a former visual effects artist does little to prove himself worthy of such a promotion serving up some impressive CGI work but not much else worthy of note.
Alpine University film student Amy Mayfield (Jennifer Morrison) needs to start her senior project but she's stymied by a case of screenwriter's block. Then a chance encounter with the new campus cop (Loretta Devine the only link to the original "Urban Legend") gives her an idea: She'll make a film about a serial killer who slays college students in ways related to urban legends. Needless to say her cast and crew members (Joseph Lawrence Eva Mendez Jessica Cauffiel) start to disappear in a series of bizarre and mysterious incidents. And yes the killer is the person you would least suspect but only because he/she lacks a plausible motive.
Morrison ("Stir of Echoes") never finds the right mix of vulnerability naïveté and attitude to play the slasher flick damsel-in-distress-turned-heroine. (And she's never in any real peril.) Sorely missing are the outrageous performances that Rebecca Gayheart Danielle Harris and Julian Richings provided in the original "Urban Legend" -- the supporting players shackled to tired Hollywood clichés and a lackluster story never get to exercise their dramatic talents.
Freshman director John Ottman struggles with an already sputtering script by Paul Harris Boardman and Scott Derrickson. Apparently the muse of over-the-top schlock horror blessed the first 15 minutes of the film then succumbed to spontaneous human combustion. With the exception of a mildly amusing "Blair Witch" cinéma-vérité parody the balance of the film generates neither thrill nor swill.