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 IT’S ABOUT?
Claire is an attractive CIA operative and Ray is an M16 agent who simultaneously leave their Governmental spy activities in the dust to try and profit from a battle between two rival multi-national corporations both trying to launch a new product that will transform the world and make billions. Their goal is to secure the top-secret formula and get a patent before they are outsmarted. While their respective egomaniacal CEOs engage in an unending battle of wills and one-upmanship Claire and Ray start out conning and playing one another in a clever game of industrial espionage that is even more complicated due to their own long-term romantic relationship.
WHO’S IN IT?
Reuniting Closer co-stars Julia Roberts (as Claire) and Clive Owen (as Ray) turns out to be an inspired idea. They turn out to be the perfect pair oozing movie-star charm and electricity in this elaborate con-game that might have been the kind of thing Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant might have made in the '60s (in fact they did in Charade). Roberts with that infamous hairstyle back the way we like it and Owen looking great in sunglasses prove they have what it takes to navigate us through this ultra-complex plot in which no one is sure who they can trust at any given moment. They play it all in high style and the wit just flows as the story skirts back and forth during the period of five years. The supporting cast is well-chosen with juicy roles for Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti (out of their John Adams duds) as the two CEOs going for each other’s throats. Giamatti who sometimes has a tendency to overdo it is especially slimy here and great fun to watch.
Big-star studio movies today rarely take risks and often talk down to the audience but in Duplicity writer/director Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton) has crafted a complicated con-comedy that requires complete attention at all times just to keep up with the dense plot’s twists and turns. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a New York Times crossword puzzle and Gilroy and his top-drawer production team deliver a glossy beautiful-looking film that’s easy on the eyes hitting locations from Dubai to Rome to New York City.
Like any good puzzle it sometimes can be frustrating putting it all together and Gilroy’s habit of taking us back in time and then inching forward gets a little confusing even with the on-screen chyron pointing out where we are at any given moment. Stick with it though and you will be well-rewarded.
A scene near the end where the formula must be found scanned and faxed in a matter of minutes is sweat-inducing edge-of-your-seat moviemaking and it provides the ultimate opportunity for Roberts and Owen to take the “con” to the next level. Another where Roberts uses a thong to try and trick Owen into admitting an affair he never had is also priceless and gets right to the heart of the game-playing.
GO OUT AND GET POPCORN WHEN ...
Never. Stock up during the coming attractions. If you miss a moment of this entertaining romp you might never figure it all out.
Top Story: Gandolfini Spreading Sopranos Wealth
Even though The Sopranos star James Gandolfini raked HBO over the coals earlier this year in a salary renegotiation, he is apparently a generous guy to his colleagues. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Gandolfini handed over much of his first advance from his share of Sopranos profits to his fellow castmates, including Edie Falco, Lorraine Bracco and Michael Imperioli, who are all now in production for The Sopranos' fifth season. Sources told The Reporter Gandolfini divvied up about $500,000 of his own cash as a way of recognizing that the show's success is due to the strength of its ensemble cast. "It was always part of his plan [during the renegotiations] to share some of the wealth with the other actors," a source close to Gandolfini said. "He has always called this show an ensemble, from Day 1." Meanwhile, Sopranos creator/executive producer David Chase is currently in negotiations with HBO for a possible sixth season.
Newscaster David Brinkley Dies
David Brinkley, one of news journalism's enduring legends, died Wednesday from unspecified complications after an earlier fall, Reuters reports. He was 82. Brinkley was co-anchor of NBC television's evening news program and later hosted of the Sunday current affairs program on ABC, This Week With David Brinkley,
Chicago Gets More Screen Time
Miramax Films is planning to re-release their Oscar-winning Chicago in theaters to help boost sales for the home video release. Variety reports the Chicago run, slated to start July 18, will feature a new version of the movie that includes an additional song-and-dance number cut from the original theatrical release. The DVD version, which hits retail shelves Aug. 19, also will feature the additional scene.
Director Fuqua Ordered To Settle Lawsuit
A judge Thursday ordered attorneys for Antoine Fuqua and a woman who claims she had an affair with the Training Day director to try to settle their legal dispute before it "spirals into the abyss,'' City News Service reports. Personal trainer Tanya Evans filed a malicious prosecution suit against Fuqua, who denies ever knowing Evans, in March, claiming the director and his wife, actress Lela Rochon, made false accusations of harassment that led to Evans' arrest last May.
For Love or Drink?
Rob Campos, the bachelor star of NBC's For Love or Money, has been let go from his job as an independent contractor at a Dallas law firm due to reports that he was expelled from military service in 1999 for drunkenly groping a female officer, The Associated Press reports, as well as for his behavior during the show's second episode where Campos made drunken romantic overtures to several women during an alcohol-soaked party in a hot tub. The 33-year-old Campos is the star of the romantic fantasy game, where he must choose a potential mate from among 15 women. The woman will be asked to choose between Campos and a $1 million prize. Hmmm.
Woman Sues Rosie's Defunct Show
Lucille DeBellis of Hartsdale, N.Y. has sued the producers of the now defunct The Rosie O'Donnell Show for injuring her with a hard rubber ball, AP reports. DeBellis, who was an audience member during a taping in November 2001, claims she was hit in the mouth when a show staffer flung a ball into the audience. AP reports the court papers say her physical discomfort and embarrassment about her appearance caused her to turn down holiday parties and other social events during the 2001 Christmas season as well as adversely affecting her relationship with her boyfriend.
Linkin Park Singer Bolts From Hospital
Chester Bennington, lead singer of the metal band Linkin Park, was released from a Los Angeles hospital after suffering from severe back and abdominal pains due to a virus, Billboard magazine reports. The group, which had to cancel 12 European dates, plans to reschedule the tour soon.
A Stripped Down Adam Ant
British pop singer Adam Ant, aka Stuart Goddard, was arrested Wednesday after he went "berserk" in a café near his London home and stripped off his pants, Reuters reports. This latest fracas follows an incident last summer when Goddard threatened customers at a local pub for laughing at his cowboy attire. He was freed in October after judges ruled he was suffering from temporary mental illness.
Luhrmann's La Boheme Closes Curtain
Australian director Baz Luhrmann's opulent version of the Puccini opera La Boheme, which recently lost out to Nine at the Tony Awards for best musical revival, will fold June 29 after a disappointing seven-month run and losses of about $6 million, AP reports. "We just didn't reach the suburban, traditional musical theatergoing audience," producer Jeffrey Seller told AP Wednesday. "We reached the cognoscenti, we reached the kids, we reached the Baz fans, we reached art lovers in New York City, particularly Manhattan."
Role Call: Spader Joins The Practice, Fall Guy Goes Big Screen
Secretary star James Spader is in final negotiations to join ABC's legal drama The Practice in wake of the recent exit of six cast members including Dylan McDermott and Lara Flynn Boyle. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Spader will play Alan Shore, a complicated and ethically challenged lawyer…Meanwhile, Warner Bros. is developing a feature film around the popular '80s series The Fall Guy, which starred Lee Majors as a stuntman who moonlights as a bounty hunter. Oh, why not?