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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Top Story: Who's "Fun and Fearless"?
Matthew Perry and Alicia Silverstone, that's who. Cosmopolitan magazine has chosen the two as the Fun, Fearless Male and Female for 2004, The Associated Press reports. Cosmo's editor in chief, Kate White, described the star of NBC's Friends as "the epitome of a hot Cosmo male," adding he is "handsome, charming and incredibly talented. Plus, he's retained his optimism and sense of humor through difficult personal relationships." White described Silverstone, the 27-year-old star of NBC's Miss Match, as gutsy and talented, and said she lives life "with a vengeance." "I really respect how committed she is to her beliefs and how she works to improve the world around her," White said. Others on Cosmo's February list include Sofia Coppola, Ashanti, Kristin Chenoweth, Sue Wong, Lucy Liu, Holly Hunter, Parminder Nagra, Lisa Scottoline, Mischa Barton and Diane Lane.
Keaton Gets AFI Honor
Diane Keaton, nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance in Something's Gotta Give, is being honored by the American Film Institute, AP reports, receiving AFI's Star Award at the 10th Annual U.S. Comedy Arts Festival next month. Previous Star Award recipients include Steve Martin, Mike Myers, Rob Reiner and Billy Crystal.
Carnivale Gets Cinematography Nod
Carnivale, HBO's supernatural Dust Bowl-era series, leads the American Society of Cinematographer Awards with two nominations. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the recognition given to HBO's offbeat series marks the first time in the 18-year history of the ASC Awards that a woman has been nominated in any of its film or TV award categories. Tami Reiker, whose feature credits include last year's Pieces of April, was nominated for her work as director of photography on the Carnivale pilot. Other TV shows in competition include HBO's Angel in America, FX's The Pentagon Papers, Showtime's Out of Ashes and Tennessee Williams' The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone. The awards will be handed out Feb. 8 in Los Angeles.
Walker, Texas Ranger Actor Dies
Noble Willingham, a character actor for the last 30 years and best known for his role on Walker, Texas Ranger, died Saturday of natural causes in Palm Springs, Calif., AP reports. He was 72. Willingham also dabbled in politics, running on the Republican congressional ticket for eastern Texas. He lost to Democrat Max Sandlin.
Janet Jackson Releases New Album
Pop diva Janet Jackson will release her latest, yet-to-be titled album Mar. 30, Billboard reports. The new album is the follow-up to 2001's All for You, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, and has sold more than 3 million copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Jackson will also be performing at the Super Bowl XXXVIII festivities in Houston on Feb. 1, although it is unknown if she will preview material from the upcoming release. P. Diddy, Kid Rock and Nelly are also scheduled to appear.
Idol Duet Hits the Road
American Idol sweethearts Clay Aiken and Kelly Clarkson are teaming up for a concert tour to kick off Feb. 24 in Charlotte, N.C., AP reports. The Grammy-nominated Clarkson, who won the Idol title in 2002, released her debut album Thankful in May 2003 and has sold more than 1 million copies, while 2003 runner-up Aiken's Sept. debut, Measure of a Man, hit No. 1 and went double-platinum.
Role Call: Hoffman Takes on Focker
Dustin Hoffman will play Ben Stiller's father in Meet the Fockers, the sequel to the 2000 hit comedy Meet the Parents, which starred Stiller, Teri Polo, Robert De Niro and Blythe Danner. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the other actors are also reprising their roles in Focker, which revolves around Greg (Stiller) and his fiancée, Pam Byrnes (Polo), who thinks everything is hunky-dory now that Greg has won over his soon-to-be in-laws, Jack (De Niro) and Dina Byrnes (Danner)--until, that is, Pam's parents meet Greg's parents, the Fockers. The hyper-easygoing Fockers and the tightly wound Byrneses are mismatched from the start.