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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And then it started with a crackling sound, like someone turning a socket wrench or back pedaling a bicycle. A woman with her hand crooked into her underarm and flapping, like some sort of clockword bird that was going on the fritz. She made this sound, over and over, like a duck quacking with a lisp. It was as if her neck was going to start rising out of her body, turning her into some fleshy giraffe, like Mech-a-Neck, the coolest of all He-Man toys. But no, that did not happen. It was just a noise, it was just a gesture. It was all of Lydia Stirling McLaughlin boiled down into one goofy pose.
Yes, this is the newest cannon fodder for the Real Civil War Enactments of Bull Run Massacre State Park. This is Lydia. She comes to us by way of Heather Dubrow's friend Casey, who wants Lydia, the owner and "managing editor" of Beverly Hills Lifestyle magazine, to photograph Heather's house. Lydia lets us know, several times, that her family is very wealthy. Just how wealthy? Well, pretty loaded. She is the granddaughter of Canadian media magnate Geoff Stirling, so that's doing pretty well for herself. Well, that's doing pretty well for granddad's money. She also owns this "magazine" and a marketing firm and an art gallery. You know, rich people businesses. OH, and she has a line of luxury jewelry for dogs which is sort of like three rich people jobs combined into one. She also has a brother named Geoff Stirling Jr who was an Abercrombie model so be sure to click on that link when you're alone and in a position to unbutton your fly.
Lydia is rich and so is her husband Doug (but Googling Doug McLaughlin is sort of like trying to find a Yelp article for a restaurant called "Place," so I have no dirt on him). Lydia also must like abs because, damn, her husband is seriously hot. And he knows it! Doug is some sort of graphic designer or something, and he designs her "magazine." The first thing he does when the cameras are in their house is take off his shirt and do pull-ups in the closet door. Yes, Doug is in the closet door. Just standing there, right in the closet...door...chiseling his man body and thinking about what hair product he should use when starring on a Real Housewives franchise.
Lydia and Doug have two sons — one named Stirling, which I was going to totally pick on before I found out it was her maiden name — and one named Maverick. Oh, I am going to pick on that. I am going to pick on that so hard. You know why? I think it comes from Sarah Palin! Their son is 3, so the time frame fits. Yes, these two are all Jesus-y and they live in the OC and are rich, so they're probably Republicans and they heard Baked Alaska Crazy Pants go on and on about being a "maverick" and, at some point, she thought to herself, "Wow, that would be a really good name for my son. He will have all the wonderful qualities of Sarah Palin." Then she turned to her husband, her hand caressing her pregnant belly as she lay on the couch watching Fox News and her husband did gravity boot sit ups hanging upside-down, like Richard Gere in American Gigolo, and she proposed the idea and he said, "Sure...sssss....honey....sssss....whatever....sssss....you.....sssss....want," in between reps. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the story of how China wiped us off the face of the earth.
Lydia is also friends with Alexis Couture since they were the only young mothers in Dana Point (which is, funny enough, the name of the girl I lost my virginity to) who loved God and His Only Son Our Lord and Savior Jim Bellino, so they bonded, but they're not really friends anymore.
We're first introduced to Lydia when she comes over to Heather's house. I'm sure she's meant to be an ally for Alexis because otherwise no one would film with Alexis, but why would Lydia want to be introduced by Alexis? Because then everyone with eyes and a Christian upbringing would hate her. She goes to Heather's house to talk about being in Beverly hills Lifestyle magazine. OK, I'm sorry, Beverly Hills Lifestyle is neither headquartered in nor about Beverly Hills. It is about the spirit of being in Beverly Hills all over the world. OK, sure. Now, I guess that people outside of the five boroughs can subscribe to the New Yorker so maybe it's the same with Joyce Leslies Lifestyle? Maybe. No, I'm sorry. It's not the same. I think it's one of those free magazines that you find all dog-earned in the back of a town car you take to the airport because everyone who rides in it takes it out and goes "What the fresh hell is this stupid collection of pages?"
We've actually seen a shoot from the magazine before, when Brandi on Beverly Hills was doing that modeling shoot when Lisa picked her up on the way to Ojai. That shoot was for Beverly Clearly Literary Lifestyle magazine. Sigh, hand swat, annnnnnyyyy-way, Lydia wants Heather and Terry's giant granite quarry that they turned into a living space to be in the magazine. Heather is like, "Well, it only makes sense if I'm on the cover." Oh god. Of course Heather thinks that, and of course Terry thinks that, but really, what is the difference between being in the magazine and being on it? If you're on the cover, there is no way you can hide it. You're there, forever. You're stuck. That's sort of like saying, "I'll only be arrested if I'm on trial for murder." These are not the bargains you make.
I have to say, I'm not really keen on the Heather Dubrow of this season. Last year she was the wonderful, blunt, smart, reasonable one with the really cool kids and great husband who you wanted to be friends with. She was struggling between being a suburbanite and trying to resurrect her acting career. This season she seems to have given up all aspirations outside of the home, and she's the whiny henpecker with a no-good husband that she is always bickering with. I don't like this Heather. This is Faded Dreams Heather, who surrendered herself to being a mom and is bitter because of it. I don't want to be friends with her, I want to introduce her to Betty Draper so that I can line them up and play a game of William Tell. I would, hopefully, lose.
Speaking of people I would like to accidentally shoot in the face while aiming for an apple...Oh, hi Vicki! It's time to talk about you. Ugh, Vicki and Brooks. We have to have this fight again. Yes, we're still going around in the same old shame circle with Vicki who is in love with Brooks but no one likes him so she can't have him around even though she sneaks off into the bathroom to send him Snap Chats of her Brazilian wax all the time.
So Brianna hates Brooks – and with good reason, he's a total grifter. Everyone can see that but Vicki. Brianna is living with Vicki and paying rent, and says that she doesn't want Brooks or anyone that Vicki is dating around the house or around her son. OK, I love Brianna. I think she is the best thing about this show and the only real person on it. I also think that she should be a full-fledged Housemonster along with the other women and get to go on all the trips and have all the attendant benefits and pay of being a full-time staffer of Andy Cohen's Demon Camp. I think she would be one of the best Housewives and she's been on the show longer than anyone in any of the cities, so she's earned it.
That said, I don't know that she's right in her argument to Vicki. Now, if she was like "I don't want Brooks around because he is an awful scammer," then fine. I get that. We all get that. Everyone wants him to go and die of some brain-eating parasite in some little corner of the bayou somewhere and never be heard from again. But if it's anyone that Vicki is dating that she doesn't want around, that's bad. I know she's paying rent, but come on. What does she expect of her mother? Celibacy until she moves out? That's crazy. And if Brianna didn't make dating other men so hard, maybe that would help move Brooks out of the picture. I'm sure that this rule is targeted at Brooks specifically, but Brianna turns it to men in general so that she doesn't seem like she's piling the hate on this con man. But still, it seems crazy.
As for Vicki, she needs to give up on Brooks — but she seems not so much in love, just addicted. It's like he's some sort of heroin. Vicki can't be happy without it, her involvement with it is having bad effects on her relationships with her friends and family, she's sneaking around to get fixes of it because everyone knows its wrong, and she gets all horrible and moody and defensive when she hasn't gotten it in awhile. As Grace Jones says, "Love is a drug," and it's got Vicki grabbed tight by her weave. I mean, seriously, everyone hates this guy and he is ruining all her relationships. What is it going to take for her to give him up?
This argument isn't about Brooks at all though. No, this is about Vicki and her unabiding narcissism. That is the real thing she is addicted to, thinking about herself and drawing everyone into that netted black swarm that orbits around her. It all came out at the forgiveness dinner with Tamra.
What is amazing is that these two Gila monsters sit down for grilled fish ("Hold the potatoes!") and somehow Vicki ends up looking worse. She's trying to make up with this woman, but she says things that are completely awful. "I know you were hurt, but I was really hurt. Our friendship failed and it's not my fault." That is a direct quote. That is not Brian Moylan being lazy and paraphrasing from memory. I wrote those words down on a piece of paper because they needed to be witnessed. "I know you were hurt, but I was really hurt," Vicki Gunvalson said on this day, April 15, in the two thousand and thirteenth year of Our Lord Jim Bellino's Grapefruit. Yes, her hurt is always greater. Her hurt is always worse. Things do not transpire, they are done to her.
Objectively, we know this to be false. No one's hurt can be worse than another person's hurt. We all feel our hurts the same way. Everyone's hurt is the same. That was the original title of the REM song, but it didn't really fit with the melody. Also, the reason the friendship failed is because Tamra tried to tell Vicki the truth about her con man boyfriend and Vicki wouldn't listen. Yes, Tamra probably got all drunk and flew off into a rage and said awful things, but if Vicki had only listened to her friend, she wouldn't have gotten there to begin with. So, yes, it is Vicki's fault. It's all Vicki's fault but in order to keep drawing breaths she needs to think of herself as blameless.
When dinner was over, and they clinked their wine glasses to forgiveness, Vicki and Tamra finished up their salmon in the stilted comfort of small talk and gossip until it was time to go. Vicki got into her car and drove home, the whole way home winding through the darness and thinking about it all. Vicki has had so much change in her life lately. There's her cryogenically frozen relationship with Brooks, her daughter moving home with the baby, and Tamra casting spells on her and then disolving them by burning some sage and pulling the hair balls and evil talismans she planted in Vicki's house.
She was still thinking about it when she opened the door to the house, her keys jangling in the lock. She walked in and kicked something that was sitting on a drop cloth in the foyer. "Shit," she muttered more out of surprise than exaspiration. The construction. Just one more thing. The whole house was being rebuilt from the ground up and Vicki couldn't stand it anymore. She looked around the foyer and she hated the painting. It seemed all horrible and uneven to her. No one cares, she though. No one cares about her home like she does and, once again, she'd have to do everything herself.
She went into the next room and threw down her bag and keys on a couch covered in a sheet and threw her blazer on top of it. She went back into the foyer and opened a can of paint and poured it into the tray laying on the floor that she kicked when she walked in. She got the roller out and coated it in the eggshell coating and put it up on the wall, going back and forth frantically, in large W's like she learned on HGTV. This was the right way to do it. This was the way to fix things. She was going to make it all perfect, smoothing over her lines twice so that the walls would be just how she wanted them. She worked faster and faster, panting and wiping the sweat from her brow as the large swatches of shiny wet paint grew and grew.
"Mom," she suddenly heard behind her. It was Brianna in pajama pants and a tank top. She was crossing her arms and pulling a hoodie over her breasts in opposite directions. "What are you doing?"
"Hi, honey," Vicki said. "I'm just going to finish this wall. I'm so sick of being under construction. These contractors don't know what they're doing. It's like I'm the only one who has ever painted a wall. I'm just..."
"Mom, it's almost midnight," Brianna says. "Everyone is already asleep. And you really need to get some rest."
Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan
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There's an allure to imperfection. With his latest drama Lawless director John Hillcoat taps directly into the side of human nature that draws us to it. Hillcoat finds it in Prohibition history a time when the regulations of alcohol consumption were subverted by most of the population; He finds it in the rural landscapes of Virginia: dingy raw and mesmerizing. And most importantly he finds it in his main character Jack Bondurant (Shia LaBeouf) the scrappy third brother of a moonshining family who is desperate to prove his worth. Jack forcefully injects himself into the family business only to discover there's an underbelly to the underbelly. Lawless is a beautiful film that's violent as hell striking in a way only unfiltered Americana could be.
Acting as the driver for his two outlaw brothers Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard (Jason Clarke) isn't enough for Jack. He's enticed by the power of the gangster figure and entranced by what moonshine money can buy. So like any fledgling entrepreneur Jack takes matters into his own hands. Recruiting crippled family friend/distillery mastermind Cricket (Dane DeHaan) the young whippersnapper sets out to brew his own batch sell it to top dog Floyd Banner and make the family rich. The plan works — but it puts the Bondurant boys in over their heads with a new threat: the corrupt law enforcers of Chicago.
Unlike many stories of crime life Lawless isn't about escalation. The movie drifts back and forth leisurely popping in moments like the beats of a great TV episode. One second the Bondurants could be talking shop with their female shopkeep Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain). The next Forrest is beating the bloody pulp out of a cop blackmailing their operation. The plot isn't thick; Hillcoat and screenwriter Nick Cave preferring to bask in the landscapes the quiet moments the haunting terror that comes with a life on the other side of the tracks. A feature film doesn't offer enough time for Lawless to build — it recalls cinema-level TV currently playing on outlets like HBO and AMC that have truly spoiled us — but what the duo accomplish is engrossing.
Accompanying the glowing visuals and Cave's knockout workout on the music side (a toe-tapping mix of spirituals bluegrass and the writer/musician's spine-tingling violin) are muted performances from some of Hollywood's rising stars. Despite LaBeouf's off-screen antics he lights up Lawless and nails the in-deep whippersnapper. His playful relationship with a local religious girl (Mia Wasikowska) solidifies him as a leading man but like everything in the movie you want more. Tom Hardy is one of the few performers who can "uurrr" and "mmmnerm" his way through a scene and come out on top. His greatest sparring partner isn't a hulking thug but Chastain who brings out the heart of the impenetrable beast. The real gem of Lawless is Guy Pearce as the Bondurant trio's biggest threat. Shaved eyebrows pristine city clothes and a temper like a rabid wolverine Pearce's Charlie Rakes is the most frightening villain of 2012. He viciously chews up every moment he's on screen. That's even before he starts drawing blood.
Lawless is the perfect movie for the late August haze — not quite the Oscary prestige picture or the summertime shoot-'em-up. It's drama that has its moonshine and swigs it too. Just don't drink too much.