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
Did Hollywood have anything to do with the emergence of the Occupy Wall Street movement? The whole thing seems a little bit convenient. Last month saw the behind-the-meltdown docudrama Margin Call and the sci-fi metaphor In Time. Now we have Tower Heist a comedy that pits the blue collar staff of the Trump Tower against a thieving Bernie Madoff-esque tenant. The movie's an Ocean's 11 for the 99% with a sense of timeliness that makes the simple plotting and wisecracking that much more effective.
Ben Stiller stars as Josh Kovacs overseer of all the goings-on at the Tower. He wakes up before dawn and heads home after sunset spending his day catering to the occupants of the ritzy apartment complex and managing his eclectic crew—including former Burger King cook Enrique (Michael Peña) Jamaican maid Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe) and his slacker brother-in-law Charlie (Casey Affleck). The crew's greatest concern is multi-billionaire Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda) the penthouse resident Tower board member and thanks to attention paid trusted friend of Josh.
Trusted...until the FBI busts Shaw for stealing millions including the Tower employees' pensions.
Like all good tower heists Josh's titular harebrained scheme is prompted by a drunken night out with lead investigator Claire (Téa Leoni) who tips the irked manager off to Shaw's hidden stash: a possible eight-figure sum hidden somewhere in his apartment. In pursuing the American dream of revenge Josh recruits his slighted co-workers along with distraught former-millionaire Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick) and Josh's childhood friend-turned-thief Slide (Eddie Murphy). Together the motley crew concocts a plan to retrieve what's rightfully theirs—all while sinking Shaw in the process.
Tower Heist isn't as slick or intricate as the Ocean movies but its straightforward take on the crime genre is strengthened by Stiller Murphy and the rest of the cast's ability to inject ridiculous humor into sympathetic characters. When Josh realizes his decade spent commanding the operations of the Tower were for naught he wigs out marching up to the top floor to beat the crap out of Shaw's priceless convertible (it was owned by Steve McQueen in case you were wondering why anyone would keep an antique car on the top floor of a building). Not entirely realistic but relatable which sums up every over-the-top satisfying scenario these characters find themselves throughout the film.
Most importantly Tower Heist delivers on the funny. Playing the straight man is an art and Stiller's one of the masters (although you'd never know it from his Night at the Museum shtick or wackier roles like Zoolander) riffing off his co-stars while giving them ample time to be complete weirdos. The movie is being touted as a comeback for Murphy but he wisely steps into a supporting role delivering on his character's manic charm while never trying to steal the spotlight. The one who really steals the show is Broderick whose clueless neurotic Fitzhugh can't help relapsing mid-heist into memories of luxurious trips to Greece.
Credit goes to director Brett Ratner who cranked out three Rush Hour movies and an X-Men threequel while never really nailing down what it takes to make a group dynamic work. Here he pulls it off finding the right beats to make Tower Heist funny and thrilling. There are moments during the actual heist scene set during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade that cause quite a stir—a rarity in today's run-of-the-mill thrill rides.
Tower Heist is the definition of a cinematic softball avoiding risky choices and utilizing each actor to their previously known (and successful) traits without feeling lazy. As the holidays roll in and families look for something they all can enjoy Tower Heist delivers a little something for everyone. Except maybe Bernie Madoff.
Top Story: Kutcher Isn't Punk-ing Us, He Swears!
Ashton Kutcher promises he isn't pulling one of his trademark practical jokes--his MTV show Punk'd is really finished. "I've become the boy who cried wolf," he acknowledged to The Associated Press while offering some assurance that his decision to end the show after two seasons isn't just another hoax. "Let's put it this way," he said. "I'm getting ready to start shooting two movies, I'm still working on That '70s Show, I'm producing two other shows for MTV and creating a one-hour drama pilot for Fox ... I don't have the time." Fans, however, will be able to get their Punk'd fix Tuesday when the first season of the prank show comes out on DVD, AP reports.
Mystikal Jailed for Sexual Battery
Grammy-nominated rapper Mystikal, aka Michael Tyler, was sentenced to six years in prison Thursday for sexual battery, AP reports. The victim accused Tyler and two bodyguards of forcing her to perform oral sex after they accused her of stealing $80,000 worth of his checks. She denied stealing any money, AP reports. Tyler pleaded guilty to the charges.
Surf Flick Opens Sundance Film Festival
Typifying what founder Robert Redford says is the true spirit of independent filmmaking, the Sundance Film Festival opened Thursday night with the surf film Riding Giants, a documentary by filmmaker Stacy Peralta (Dogtown and Z-Boys). "This is a film about people who do what they do just for the thrill of it," Redford told a packed house at the debut, Reuters reports. "In a way, that's why we as filmmakers are all here tonight and this week. We're here because we love what we do, and it's the thrill of doing what we do that gives us such pleasure." The world-renowned indie film festival runs for 10 days, culminating with the awards ceremony Jan. 24.
PETA Ads Won't Air During Super Bowl
CBS has rejected advocacy group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals' Super Bowl advertising proposal, which, Reuters reports, features two scantily clad vegetarians snuggling up to a meat-eating pizza delivery man with the message "Meat can cause impotence." In a letter, CBS told PETA that it would not run advertisements on "controversial issues of public importance." "We just want to be able to present our jiggly women," Lisa Lange, spokeswoman for PETA, told Reuters, asking to join advertisers like beer brewers who have boosted sales with similar images of scantily clad women.
McCartney Won't Be Questioned in Alleged Assault
A spokesman for the former Beatle Paul McCartney dismissed a newspaper report claiming police wanted to interview the singer about an alleged assault, AP reports. London's Evening Standard said police planned to speak to McCartney about a dispute that occurred when one of the newspaper's photographers tried to take the singer's picture last September while he was standing near the spot where illusionist David Blaine had been suspended in a box near the Thames river. The photographer claims he was punched in the face several times by one of McCartney's friends. AP reports McCartney's spokesman Geoff Baker, who was at the scene, denied any assault took place.
In More Ex-Beatle News…
In a lawsuit filed by the family of the former Beatle George Harrison against the doctor who treated the cancer-stricken musician before his death in November 2001, Dr. Gilbert Lederman, lawyers for both sides met Thursday with a judge to try to reach a settlement, AP reports. Harrison's family is suing Lederman, accusing him of holding Harrison's hand and forcing him to sign the physician's son's guitar. Harrison died at the age of 58.
Electra Gets Net Name Back
Former Baywatch star Carmen Electra has won control of the Internet address www.carmenelectra.com in a ruling by a United Nations panel, AP reports. WIPO spokeswoman Samar Shamoon explained to AP that an arbitrator for the World Intellectual Property Organization ordered the transfer of the domain name to the 31-year-old actress, who had complained that it was being used in bad faith to divert Internet traffic to a commercial site, Celebrity1000. The ruling upheld Electra's complaint against the company that registered the name--Network Operations Center of High Prairie, Canada, AP reports. The U.N. arbitration system allows those who believe they have the right to a domain to get it back without having to fight a costly legal battle or pay large sums of money.
Role Call: Preston Returns; Reeves, Ford Have New Projects
Kelly Preston, fresh off her stint in Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat, has signed on to do the feature Return to Sender. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Preston will play a lawyer who fights to exonerate a woman on death row. As the case unfolds, she begins to question the motives of a man who has befriended her client…Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher, the producing team behind the upcoming comedy Along Came Polly, are already looking ahead, developing separate projects with Keanu Reeves and Harrison Ford, respectively. Variety reports the Reeves project is a comedy based on an idea generated by the Matrix star, in which he'll play an American who becomes a success in London and has to deal with the cultural differences. The Ford project is based on the Geeta Anand book For His Sick Kid, a medical drama about a man who finances a cure for a rare disease that is killing two of his kids--then has to fight to get them access to the drug.