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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On May 8, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences will begin a yearlong celebration in honor of its 75th anniversary. The festivities will kick off with a party at La Cienega Park in Beverly Hills and continue through next year, ending with the 75th annual Academy Awards on March 23, 2003, at the Kodak Theater. According to Variety, Academy President Frank Pierson said he will outline plans for the festivities during the inaugural celebration, adding that "there might be a surprise or two during the evening."
The sultry Denise Richards, who recently became engaged to Charlie Sheen, is apparently quite germ phobic. According to PageSix.com, Richards told The London Mirror: "I like everything clean. I carry around hand sanitizer and wash with it after I've shaken hands." The actress went on to say she uses an antibacterial ointment that she puts in her nose on planes. And she's going to marry whom, again?
Julia Stiles is partnering up in a new film production company, Variety reports. Stiles, who starred in the box office hit Save the Last Dance and the teen drama O, will join forces with O producer Eric Gitter and home video distributor Steve Scavelli to run the independently financed firm Smithy's Films. The company, which already has two projects in the works, will be looking for productions with budgets of about $8 million to $10 million.
In the Biz
Film critic Roger Ebert will launch the fourth annual Overlooked Film Festival in his hometown of Urbana-Champaign, Ill., on April 24. The festival will screen 14 films, starting with George C. Scott's 1970 war drama Patton. Ebert says major Hollywood studios are choosing safe pictures that aren't challenging moviegoers rather than taking chances on independent and foreign films, The Associated Press reports.
Pixar Animation and Disney revealed their upcoming slate Sunday, and it includes fish, cars and suburban superheroes. According to the AP, Pixar and Disney's next project will be an underwater adventure entitled Finding Nemo, a story about father and son fish that become separated in the Great Barrier Reef. The film will feature the voices of Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Willem Dafoe and Geoffrey Rush and is slated for release in summer 2003. Also in the works: The Incredibles in 2004 and Cars in 2005. Disney/Pixar's 2001 feature Monsters, Inc. recently crossed $500 million at box office, making it the second biggest animated film of all time behind only Disney's The Lion King
Producers Robert Michael Geisler and John Roberdeau have purchased the film rights to Sen. John McCain's best-selling memoir Faith of My Fathers and are planning a feature film. While McCain has no contractual control over the film's content, Roberdeau, who with Geisler produced the 1998 World War II drama The Thin Red Line, said he'd welcome his input.
Looks like Dylan McDermott will be keeping busy during the summer hiatus of his successful series The Practice. Variety reported Sunday that McDermott will be playing nightclub impresario Peter Gatien in Party Monster, the true story of party promoter and convicted killer Michael Alig. McDermott will join Macaulay Culkin--who will play Alig--Seth Green, Marilyn Manson, Chloe Sevigny and Natasha Lyonne. Filming is set to begin May 13 in New York.
The syndicated talk show Jenny Jones has been saved from the proverbial axing block. Although the show has spent more than 10 years on the air, the top two markets New York and Los Angeles, Fox-owned WWOR and KCOP, had decided not to renew the show, casting a shadow on the show's fate. But Jenny Jones was rescued after Tribune Broadcasting agreed to carry the show on all of its 23 stations.
American film cable network AMC is developing a reality series called Movie Trailer about towns that serve as movie locations, Variety reports. If the pilot goes to series, Mystery Science Theater 3000 veteran Mike Nelson will host the show and travel around the country by trailer, visiting almost-famous locations and asking locals to share stories about their experiences.
Sylvester Stallone will claim the title of action star of the millennium at the Video Software Dealers Assn. Convention in Las Vegas in July, Variety reports. The award coincides with the 20th anniversary of First Blood's theatrical release and comes on the heels of the release of the special-edition DVD The Rambo Trilogy by Artisan Home Entertainment on May 28.
Shaolin Soccer won seven awards at the Hong Kong Film Awards on Sunday, including best film, director, young director, actor, supporting actor, sound design and visual effects. The comedy centers around a down-and-out alum of the Shaolin school of martial arts who gets some of his old Shaolin pals--saffron robes and all--to apply their high kicks and superhuman techniques to the game of soccer. The film will be released in the United States early next year.
Emmy Award-winning playwright Reginald Rose died Friday at Norwalk Hospital in Norwalk, Conn. He was 81. Rose, who wrote and co-produced the film Twelve Angry Men and penned The Wild Geese and Whose Life Is It Anyway?, is survived by his wife and six children from two marriages.