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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The genesis of Universal's 47 Ronin is almost as tragic as the actual history that the movie is culling from. As the story goes, Universal saw the sprigs of talent sprouting from fresh faced director Carl Rinsch, whose previous experience was limited to just a couple of commercials and a nifty short film. The studio decided to ease the new director into feature filmmaking by cutting him what amounts to virtually a blank check, and giving him charge over a multi-national samurai fantasy epic. Almost impossibly, the film isn't a complete disaster. It's just a minor one.
47 Ronin follows the classic story of the titular team of warriors, a group of disgraced samurai who band together to seek revenge against a merciless warlord that betrayed and killed their master. But this isn't your grandfather's version of the story. 47 Ronin is an international affair, and it's covered with a veneer of Japanese mysticism and a thick coating of Hollywood lacquer, but east meets west rather uncomfortably, and it's mostly due to Keanu Reeves. Reeves' character is clearly crowbarred into the story that has no room for him, and it's plainly obvious where the seams of the story were stretched in order to patch him into the narrative. Reeves plays Kai, a half Japanese, half English orphan who is adopted by the samurai clan. His character serves no real purpose beyond being white, slicing things until they die, and playing the male lead of the most superfluous love story of the year. Rinsch simply can't make the inclusion of the character feel organic in any way, and "Kai" ends up feeling like a calculated studio move. It's a shame that the film spends so much time on Reeves when the real star is clearly Hiroyuki Sanada, who plays off the stoic samurai most believably among the rest of the cast.
It's also shame that with all the mysticism pumped into the story, there's no magic in the actual center of the film, the ronin themselves. The only personality trait a samurai is allowed to possess seems to be unerring stoicism, and between all 47 ronin, there are probably only three distinct samurai with any discernible character traits beyond an intense need to brood, and you'll probably only remember those three by the time the credits roll, only to promptly forget about them only a few hours later. Thankfully, Rinko Kikuchi's slinky and treacherous witch adds some much needed camp and personality to the mostly forgettable human characters.
And that's the issue with 47 Ronin. It's largely forgettable. When your film takes on a historical legend like the tale of the 47 ronin, a story that has been told and told again ad nauseum over the years, you really need to justify your own version. There are reels and reels of film dedicated to this story, and 47 Ronin doesn't manage to add anything significant to the canon. It promises to weld myth and history together, but does so clumsily, and while some of the action scenes are exciting, especially a particularly inspired set piece that involves the ronin noiselessly breaking into a heavily guarded fortress, the film is a bore when it's not clanking swords together.
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47 Ronin is a film with many stories. As much as it is a tale about the revenge of four dozen masterless samurai, it's also the tale of an inexperienced filmmaker swallowed up by the enormity of blockbuster filmmaking. Most of all though, It's proof that you shouldn't cram Keanu Reeves into a movie that doesn't really need Keanu Reeves. What you're left with is a dull and bloated samurai epic that has its moments, but feels largely unnecessary.
Widening the thematic scope without sacrificing too much of the claustrophobia that made the original 1979 Alien universally spooky Prometheus takes the trophy for this summer's most adult-oriented blockbuster entertainment. The movie will leave your mouth agape for its entire runtime first with its majestic exploration of an alien planet and conjectures on the origins of the human race second with its gross-out body horror that leaves no spilled gut to the imagination. Thin characters feel more like pawns in Scott's sci-fi prequel but stunning visuals shocking turns and grand questions more than make up for the shallow ensemble. "Epic" comes in many forms. Prometheus sports all of them.
Based on their discovery of a series of cave drawings all sharing a similar painted design Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) are recruited by Weyland to head a mission to another planet one they believe holds the answers to the creation of life on Earth. Along for the journey are Vickers (Charlize Theron) the ruthless Weyland proxy Janek (Idris Elba) a blue collar captain a slew of faceless scientists and David (Michael Fassbender) HAL 9000-esque resident android who awakens the crew of spaceship Prometheus when they arrive to their destination. Immediately upon descent there's a discovery: a giant mound that's anything but natural. The crew immediately prepares to scope out the scene zipping up high-tech spacesuits jumping in futuristic humvees and heading out to the site. What they discover are the awe-inspiring creations of another race. What they bring back to the ship is what they realize may kill their own.
The first half of Prometheus could be easily mistaken for Steven Spielberg's Alien a sense of wonder glowing from every frame not too unlike Close Encounters. Scott takes full advantage of his fictional settings and imbues them with a reality that makes them even more tantalizing. He shoots the vistas of space and the alien planet like National Geographic porn and savors the interior moments on board the Prometheus full of hologram maps sleeping pods and do-it-yourself surgery modules with the same attention. Prometheus is beautiful shot in immersive 3D that never dampers Dariusz Wolski's sharp photography. Scott's direction seems less interested in the run-or-die scenario set up in the latter half of the film but the film maintains tension and mood from beginning to end. It all just gets a bit…bloodier.
Jon Spaihts' and Damon Lindelof's script doesn't do the performers any favors shuffling them to and fro between the ship and the alien construction without much room for development. Reveals are shoehorned in without much setup (one involving Theron's Vickers that's shockingly mishandled) but for the most part the ensemble is ready to chomp into the script's bigger picture conceits. Rapace is a physical performer capable of pulling off a grisly scene involving an alien some sharp objects and a painful procedure (sure to be the scene of the blockbuster season. Among the rest of the crew Fassbender's David stands out as the film's revelatory performance delivering a digestible ambiguity to his mechanical man that playfully toys with expectations from his first entrance. The creature effects in Prometheus will wow you but even Fassbender's smallest gesture can send the mind spinning. The power of his smile packs more of a punch than any facehugger.
Much like Lindelof's Lost Prometheus aims to explore the idea of asking questions and seeking answers and on Scott's scale it's a tremendous unexpected ride. A few ideas introduced to spur action fall to the way side in the logic department but with a clear mission and end point Prometheus works as a sweeping sci-fi that doesn't require choppy editing or endless explosions to keep us on the edge of our seats. Prometheus isn't too far off from the Alien xenomorphs: born from existing DNA of another creature the movie breaks out as its own beast. And it's wilder than ever.
Christmas weekend was a tough one at the box office with overall revenues down 45% vs. the same weekend a year ago.
The latest installment in the successful comedy franchise that started 10 years ago, Universal’s Little Fockers is poised to bring yet another number one debut home for Ben Stiller and Robert DeNiro. Meet the Parents was the 7th highest grossing release of year 2000 earning $166.2 million in the wake of a weekend debut of $28.6 million. Its sequel, 2004’s Meet the Fockers switched to the holiday season by opening on Wednesday December 22 and earned $46.1 million in its first weekend and a whopping $70.5 million in its first five days on its way to becoming the 4th highest grossing film of that year with $279.2 million. This latest Fockers landed between the first two with $34 million for the weekend and $48.3 million in its first five days.
True Grit is a very worthy re-make of the 1969 film starring John Wayne as the crusty Rooster Cogburn, Glen Campbell as La Boeuf, Jeff Corey as Tom Chaney and Kim Darby as Mattie Ross. The Coen Brothers make a very faithful adaptation of the Charles Portis novel while paying homage to the original film and at the same time putting their signature visual stamp on the film. With Jeff Bridges as Cogburn, Matt Damon as La Boeuf and Josh Brolin as Tom Chaney and incredible newcomer Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross, True Grit is an Oscar contender for sure and has been on the top of many a moviegoer’s must-see list for months. A much bigger-than-expected debut of $25.6 million for the weekend and an impressive $36.8 million for the Wednesday through Sunday time frame make this one a true winner. Look for “True Grit” to be a long term performer at the box office well into 2011.
Last weekend’s number one film Tron: Legacy from Disney landed in the third spot with $20.1 million over the Christmas weekend and is now closing in on the $90 million mark. The action sci-fi film has done well all mid-week with impressive daily grosses is maintaining a solid audience base through the holidays. Interestingly this gave Jeff Bridges a rare opportunity to become Mr. Box Office with the number two and three films for the weekend.
Fourth and fifth place saw two PG-rated family films going at it with Fox’s The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in its third weekend earning $10.8 million and Warner Bros.’ Yogi Bear right behind it with $8.8 million. Both films gave kids and families a great option for their post and pre-Christmas shopping entertainment. Of course this bottleneck also included the second week of wide release for Paramount’s The Fighter which continues to draw accolades across the board and earned $8.5 million for the weekend and a domestic total that is closing in on the $30 million mark. Another newcomer in the mix is Twentieth Century Fox’s Friday opener Gulliver’s Travels starring Jack Black earning which opened in the seventh spot with $7.2 million.
In specialized film news, Weinstein Co.’s brilliant The King’s Speech expanded into 700 theatres nationwide on Christmas Day and cracked the top 12 earning $4.5 million as Sophia Coppola’s “Somewhere” earned over $20,000 per theatre in its 7 theatre debut.
Lionsgate’s Rabbit Hole ended XMAS day with a gross of $40,792 in 34 locations ($1,200 per theatre). A 3-Day weekend gross of $95,200 lifts the overall total for the film through Sunday to $176,000.
A 45% downturn vs. Christmas weekend a year ago sets up a slow end to the box office year of 2010 as specialized films and Oscar contenders reap the benefits of a lack of enthusiasm for the mainstream blockbusters. This was an important weekend at the movies as the year draws to a close, the final wide releases enter the marketplace and Oscar contenders continue to make their mark and impress audiences.
Weekend Box Office
Top 10 Movies - For Weekend of December 24, 2010 - Estimates
Movie Weekend Total
1 Little Fockers (PG-13) $34.0 M $48.3 M
2 True Grit (PG-13) $25.6 M $36.8 M
3 Tron: Legacy (PG) $20.1 M $88.3 M
4 The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (PG) $10.8 M $63.9 M
5 Yogi Bear (PG) $8.8 M $36.8 M
6 The Fighter (R) $8.5 M $27.6 M
7 Gulliver's Travels (PG) $7.2 M $7.2 M
8 Black Swan (R) $6.6 M $29.0 M
9 Tangled (PG) $6.5 M $143.8 M
10 The Tourist (PG-13) $5.7 M $41.2 M
The final three wide releases of the year hope to bring some Christmas cheer back to the Box-Office with Little Fockers, True Grit and Gulliver’s Travels.
The latest installment in the successful comedy franchise that started 10 years ago, Universal’s “Little Fockers” is poised to bring yet another number one debut home for Ben Stiller and Robert DeNiro. Meet the Parents was the 7th highest grossing release of year 2000 earning $166.2 million in the wake of a weekend debut of $28.6 million. Its sequel, 2004’s Meet the Fockers switched to the holiday season by opening on Wednesday December 22 and earned $46.1 million in its first weekend and a whopping $70.5 million in its first five days on its way to becoming the 4th highest grossing film of that year with $279.2 million. This latest Fockers should land somewhere between the first two in the high $20 million to low $30 million range for the weekend.
Last weekend’s number one film Tron: Legacy from Disney will race into the second spot with between $20 million and $25 million over the Christmas weekend on its way to $80 million and beyond. The action sci-fi film has done well mid-week with an impressive $6 million on Monday alone and should therefore maintain a solid audience base through the holidays. Interestingly this sets up a rare opportunity for Jeff Bridges to become Mr. Box Office and have two films in in the top five.
True Grit is a very worthy re-make of the 1969 film starring John Wayne as the crusty Rooster Cogburn, Glen Campbell as La Boeuf, Jeff Corey as Tom Chaney and Kim Darby as Mattie Ross. The Coen Brothers make a very faithful adaptation of the Charles Portis novel while paying homage to the original film and at the same time putting their signature visual stamp on the film. With Jeff Bridges as Cogburn, Matt Damon as La Boeuf and Josh Brolin as Tom Chaney and incredible newcomer Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross, “True Grit” is an Oscar contender for sure and has been on the top of many a moviegoer’s must-see list for months. With its main target being older moviegoers the film will open Wednesday but hit its stride on the evening of Christmas Day when adults with renewed free time will seek out the film and help it to earn in the mid-teens for the weekend and a likely $20 million for the Wednesday through Sunday time frame. Look for this to be a long term performer at the box office well into 2011.
Fourth and fifth place will find a newcomer in the mix with Twentieth Century Fox’s Friday opener Gulliver’s Travels starring Jack Black earning in the sub $10 million range along with Warner Bros.’ Yogi Bear which will likely land in a similar range in its second weekend of release and benefit from kids and families looking for a fun holiday movie treat. Of course this bottleneck could also include the second week of wide release for Paramount’s The Fighter which continues to draw accolades across the board.
In other specialized film news, Weinstein Co.’s brilliant The King’s Speech expands into 600 theatres nationwide on Christmas Day.
An important weekend at the movies as the year draws to a close, the final wide releases enter the marketplace and Oscar contenders continue to make their mark and impress audiences.
Seven days, seven chances to attain sweet, sweet television nirvana. In this week's Best of Seven, we give you every excuse to sit on the couch and veg out while you patiently await the Friday opening of director Christopher Nolan's much-anticipated (and already critically-praised) Inception - this summer's Twilight: Eclipse for adults and other people with brains.
7PM-9PM: Tosh.0, Comedy Central. Comedian Daniel Tosh's sarcasm-laden celebration of viral videos, YouTube celebrities, and other pop-culture ephemera has become one of the highest-rated shows in its time slot, reportedly nabbing almost 2.5 million viewers last week, surpassing both Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's ratings. It's America's Funniest Home Videos for the Twitter generation, and it's not too late to jump on the bandwagon: you can catch four Tosh.0 episodes in a row Monday night, right before another 2-hour block (9PM-11PM) of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (including the hilarious two-part 'The Gang Gets Whacked' episode and 'Dennis Looks Like a Registered Sex Offender').
8PM: Ratatouille, Disney Channel. If gross-out humor (Tosh.0 and It's Always Sunny) isn't your thing, enjoy Disney/Pixar's charming 2007 computer-animated story of a rat who dreams of cooking in a Parisian restaurant. Won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
8:30PM: R. Kelly's Trapped in the Closet, IFC. Did you know that singer-songwriter R. Kelly wrote a heartbreaking, 22-part rock-opera in 2005 and 2007, about the perils of one-night stands and the difficulties of keeping it real? Well, he did, and it's sort of kind of brilliant in it's own bizarre way. Start watching this and I guarantee you'll find yourself weirdly mesmerized by R. Kelly's operatic tale, much of which takes place in a closet, natch.
10PM: Curb Your Enthusiasm, TV Guide Channel. In 'The Shrimp Incident,' Larry David (Seinfeld creator Larry David) suspects that HBO executive Allan Wasserman has stolen some shrimp out of his Chinese food.
6PM - Midnight: This is not an endorsement, but if you're interested, apparently the Discovery Health channel has all baby-related programming for a whole six-hour block. Seriously. Hour after hour of Big Babies, and I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant, and so on. A bit of research revealed that this is not, in fact, a singular phenomenon, but a relatively frequent occurrence on Discovery Health and TLC (this Wednesday). Who on Earth is watching this much baby-based programming? Possibly the same people who are watching Say Yes to the Dress in four hour blocks.
8PM: Chappelle's Show, Comedy Central. 2 episodes chock-full of Dave Chappelle's signature combination of wit, gross-out humor, and biting social commentary back-to-back.
8PM: The Departed, FX. Director Martin Scorsese directs the hell out of this South-Boston set tale of one cop's questionable loyalties (Matt Damon) and another's blurring identity (Leonardo DiCaprio), centered around an organized crime gang led by Jack Nicholson. Inspired by the popular 2002 Hong Kong crime film Infernal Affairs. Won four Academy Awards, including Best Director and Best Picture.
6:25: Annie Hall, IFC. By far one of Woody Allen's best films, this 1977 comedy-drama stars the writer-director and Diane Keaton. The Best Picture winner follows the ups and downs of a long-term relationship between two mismatched New York neurotics.
9PM: Futurama, Comedy Central. A 3-hour Futurama comedy block!
11PM: Weird Science, VH1. The former music - now 80s nostalgia channel is airing the thoroughly odd (seriously, watch this movie while actually thinking about what is going on - notice the subtle racism and perverse sexual themes) 1985 John Hughes flick. Two high-school nerds computer-generate a hot babe to teach them how to meet girls, as well as have uncomfortable three-person showers. With Anthony Michael Hall.
6PM: Law and Order, TNT. Law and Order may be over, but it will be in syndication forever. Remember the halcyon days with a classic episode from 2004. In 'Fixed,' Fontana and Green reluctantly investigate after a motorist strikes a child-murderer and leaves him for dead, and the evidence they uncover leads McCoy to a startling discovery.
11PM: The Glades, A&E. The pilot episode of A&E's new Florida-based crime drama The Glades re-airs at 11, if you missed the original premiere. The LA Times calls it "an accomplished if occasionally vexing affair," so take that as you will.
Other: Inception comes out tonight!
6PM: Avoid watching the HBO special 'Inception: HBO First Look.' Don't watch it! You won't want any spoilers when you enjoy Inception yourself, for the first or second time, on Saturday night. There is nothing else on TV tonight. Don't even look. Just go watch this movie.
Sunday nights are the reason to buy HBO, plain and simple.
9PM: True Blood, HBO. Alcide and Sookie (Anna Paquin) turn to a packmaster for advice on wow to deal with Russell's minions; Tara considers a proposal from Ranklin; Joe Lee breaks his promise to Sam and Tommy; Jason meets a mysterious girl; an heirloom reminds Eric of his past.
10PM: Hung, HBO. Ray tries to prove to Darby and Damon that he is not an insensitive ex-jock; Tanya turns to Charlie for advice; Jessica feels the pinch of the economic downturn.
10:30PM: Entourage, HBO. Eric and Phil try to convince Drama that he has talent on the sitcom front; Ari (Jeremy Piven) resists Barbara's urgings to have Lizzie promoted; Turtle is intrigued by a business proposal from Alex; Scott Lavin continues to ingratiate himself with Vince.