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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I used to have three reasons why ABC's new show, Skating with the Stars, would be awesome. The first was the ice-skating element, because even after attending 12 parties at Wollman Rink over the course of my childhood, ice-skating is still majorly difficult...which means watching celebrities who live in L.A. try to balance themselves on frozen water would be fantastic. The second thing I was looking forward to was watching how hard the real skaters would work to try and teach these "Vitamin Water is my fitness regime" celebrities a routine that would impress Americans (who, we all know, only acknowledge talent when we're stoned at the circus). The third element I was stoked for was the celebrities.
So when I found out today that no real celebrities are participating, it was crushing. I was expecting big names, like Jim Carrey! And Gene Simmons! And maybe even Monica Lewinsky! I'd even pictured Christie Brinkley, Diana Ross and maybe even Katie Couric skating around. I was expecting STARS, not the sparks that come from a fourth grade class in Pittsburg's rocketship launch! The only big names in the group are Vince Neil, Bethenny Frankel from The Real Housewives of New York City, and Sean Young from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. Also participating is Jonny Moseley, the Olympic skiier, soap opera star Rebecca Budig, and Brandon Michael Smith from the Disney Channel. To recap: WHERE IS CESAR MILAN?!
Even Dancing with the Stars manages to get people with enough distinction they get into museums for free, so why is the turnout for Skating so awful? Obviously the extreme risk of bodily harm must have been a factor that made most people decline the offer to participate, but these kind of shows are watched religiously, and I can't imagine anyone who lives on either coast would turn down the opportunity for glory, simply because it was dangerous. If that was true, there would be no Celebrity Apprentice.