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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What are the two most dangerous places in the world? Just going by a whole bunch of independent movies those two places are undoubtedly corporate America and suburban America. Movies as wildly diverse and incompatible as Revolutionary Road American Psycho Fight Club and Office Space all tell us that the suburbs and your typical corporate workplace are soul-sucking snake pits where ambition thrives and creativity dies. Price Check director Michael Walker’s first film since the Jeff Daniels thriller Chasing Sleep twelve years ago goes where oh-so-many films have gone before it and fully embraces these twin clichés to its smug satisfaction and our boredom.
Pete (Eric Mabius) is a likable thirtysomething Everydude in suburban Long Island supporting a wife and toddler son by working a dead-end marketing job for what appears to be the Dunder-Mifflin of supermarket chains. He’d rather be working for a record label like he did right out of Dartmouth but everyone keeps telling him “the music industry is dead.” Pete’s the kind of guy who likes to roll up his sleeves to show everyone how hard he’s working while being too much of a "nice guy " as his new boss Susan (Parker Posey) tells him to climb up the corporate ladder. Even if he were to land a vice president job at the chain he’d turn it down so he could spend more time with his family. Yeah. Right. But that is what he tells himself. With him and his wife always scrounging to meet each month’s mortgage payment and fending off phone calls from creditors Pete could really use a higher-paying job.
(Un)Luckily enough for him when Susan’s brought in from Los Angeles to head up the office and turn the supermarket’s fortunes around—“Our stores look like time vaults from 1985 ” she says—she sets her sights on Pete. Susan sees potential in him she says and quickly makes him her VP…and go-to lackey to implement her ambitious new ideas into a workplace culture that’s severely complacent. Queen of the Indies Posey devours the monochromatic office-space scenery by doing all the things corporate goons who are super confident and super vulgar do: perpetually chewing gum downing Pepto Bismol as if it were scotch performing drunken karaoke obsessing over the fact that someone went to Dartmouth actually saying things like “I’m PMS-ing ” laughing at her underling’s ratty suit then buying him a $6 000 one. For the latter she could only have upped her obnoxiousness quotient if she’d pulled a Gob Bluth and said “Who do you want to look like: the guy in the $6 000 suit or the guy who doesn’t make that in two months? Come on!” In short Posey's neurotic Weimaraner owner and Kama Sutra practitioner in Best in Show is a more subtle character.
Susan takes Pete on a corporate trip to Los Angeles to give her higher-ups a status update on how the new proposals she’s implemented have enhanced productivity. It’s not spoiling anything to say based on the index of clichés already enumerated that they get quite a bit closer during the trip and Pete’s life becomes even more stressful as a result.
Like his put-upon magazine editor Daniel Meade on Ugly Betty Eric Mabius is a likable low-key actor even if his Pete seems more like a character written for Jason Bateman. He does the best with the material given him but the central dilemma facing Pete—to follow his youthful dreams to his family’s financial detriment or pursue material comfort at the cost of his self-respect—has been expressed so many times before. And so many times better. Price Check’s sole insight is that people who live on Long Island do eat exclusively at TGI Fridays. Any menu item at that wonderful restaurant is more satisfying than this film.
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
Fun Size may be the only production from kid-centric studio Nickelodeon to also feature underage drinking (complete with red solo cups) and boob groping. The murky demographic for the movie ends up hurting the well-intentioned Halloween flick — it's not quite suitable for the young ones nor is it funny or wild enough for the Gossip Girl crowd which director Josh Schwartz (creator of the show) knows well. Instead we get a floundering trick or treat adventure that reduces the colorful twisted holiday to a meandering situational comedy.
Nick TV grad Victoria Justice (Victorious) stars as Wren a high school "geek" who finds herself unable to bag the guy of her dreams (who adores her) but finds a glimmer of hope in the big cool kids' Halloween party. Ready for a night out with her best friend April (Jane Levy) Wren thinks life is finally going her way until her Mom (Chelsea Handler) sticks her with her troublemaking little brother Albert (Jackson Nicoll) for the night. If chaperoning Albert wasn't already the worst thing in the world Wren finds herself in an even bigger dilemma when her brother wanders off into his own night of mischievous debauchery.
The "one crazy night" formula fits perfectly with Halloween but Fun Size struggles to find interesting material for its eclectic ensemble. Unlike many of the young actresses who have previously collaborated with Schwartz Justice seems unable to crack his voice and comedic style. She's too hip to too aware to play someone struggling with high school. The material doesn't serve her or Levy either; off-color jokes and a bizarre sense of entitlement turn them into two people you don't want to see succeed. Luckily for the audience during their sweeping search for Albert Wren and April cross paths with two true nerd-looking boys: Roosevelt (Thomas Mann) and Peng (Osric Chau) who along with feeling like real teenagers actually land a joke or two.
Interwoven into this speedy adventure — Fun Size clocks in at a little over 75 minutes giving little time to flesh out our teenage heroes — is Albert's encounter with a convenience store clerk named Fuzzy. The adults of Fun Size see the ten-year-old Albert as a parter-in-crime rather than a lost little boy. Fuzzy recruits him for a raid on his ex-girlfriend's house; after running away he meets a lady who brings him to a nightclub. At one point a sleazebag kidnaps Albert and locks him in his bedroom. If Fun Size were madcap it may all make sense. Instead things just happen — and it's not hilarious scary or even deranged.
Nick's '90s sitcom Pete & Pete created an amazing sense of weirdness and heart in its exploits of two teenage brothers. Anyone could watch and enjoy it. Fun Size has a beautiful look (the colors of Halloween are mesmerizing) and Schwartz as always has impeccable soundtrack tastes but when it comes to telling a story that feels both relatable and wonderfully weird — what Pete & Pete did so well — the movie falls flat. It's stereotype humor (the movie packs many a fat and gay joke) doesn't cut it — when paired to Nick's best efforts the movie lives up to the title: a bite-size portion of a bigger better cinematic sweet.