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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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When it comes to the Super Bowl, you better go big or go home. That rule applies to the television shows that air episodes after the big game ends, and none of them took that adage more seriously this year than New Girl, who recruited legendary musician Prince for a guest starring role. But while some loved his television debut, and all of the funk that he brought with him, others felt that there was something missing from his small screen moment.
Of course, Prince is not the first celebrity to play himself on a sitcom, and he likely won't be the last. We've rundown the best celebrity sitcom appearances, and graded them, based on their ability to be a good sport, their place in the sitcom's universe, and most importantly, whether or not they were actually funny. So, who were the best, and who were better off sticking a sock in it?
Prince, New Girl Role in Story: After Jess and Cece almost get run over by a car, the driver invites them to a fancy party at her boss' mansion. Her boss: Prince. While there, Jess undertakes Prince's montage of spiritual training to figure out why she's so afraid to tell Nick she loves him. Does That Make Any Sense in the Show's Universe: No. It's f**king nonsense. Self-Aggrandizement of the Role: 5/5. The whole episode is everyone fawning over Prince (including Prince). They even retconned high school-era Nick as a Prince fan, which doesn't really add up to his curmudgeonly, feelings-hating ways. Self-Mockery of the Role: 3.5/5. To be fair, he did come off as quite an oddball. Celeb's Comic Ability: 3.5/5. Prince actually can handle a joke better than you'd think. Overall Grade: A purple stain on the record of the music artist and this once clever show.
Adam Sandler, Brooklyn Nine-Nine Role in Story: Sandler was a guest at an auction of Greek antiquities that Peralta and Santiago infiltrated to locate a jewel thief. They found the thief, but not before Peralta and Samberg exchanged some witty banter, and Samberg got the rest of the guests to bid on stuffing his dirty sock into Peralta's mouth. Charming. Does That Make Any Sense in the Show's Universe: Sort of. It makes sense that Peralta and Santiago would run into some powerful people at an art auction, but the fact that it was Sandler made it feel random. Self-Aggrandizement of the Role: 2/5. He was definitely shown to be cooler than Peralta and smarter than people would assume, but mostly he was there to pick on Peralta and be picked on himself. Self-Mockery of the Role: 4.5/5. One of the best jokes came when Peralta asked what role Kevin James was playing in Samberg's upcoming film about the Russian Revolution, to which Sandler replied: "Oh, ha ha. It's a serious film ... Trotsky." Celeb's Comic Ability: 4/5. He's famous for being funny, and he was, but it was all pretty one-note. Overall Grade: Better than That's My Boy, but not quite as good as Happy Gilmore.
James Franco, 30 Rock Role in Story: Franco was pretending to date Jenna Maroney in order to keep paparazzi from finding out about his true love, a body pillow named Kimiko. Later in the episode, Liz shares a wild night with James and his "lady," one that she very much regrets in the morning. Does That Make Any Sense in the Show's Universe: Perfect sense, as weird as that sounds. Self-Aggrandizement of the Role: 3/5. He wasn't fawned over, but he wasn't completely dismissed, either. Self-Mockery of the Role: 4/5. What better way to poke fun at how weird Franco is than by revealing that he's dating a body pillow? Celeb's Comic Ability: 4/5. He's best known for his comedy, whether its scripted or not. Overall Grade: Almost as funny as him releasing a new edition of As I Lay Dying with a photo of himself on the cover.
Jean Claude Van Damme, Friends Role in Story: Van Damme was starring in a film, and the gang sneaks onto the set to help Ross track down his former pet monkey, marcel. Rachel and Monica compete for the action star's attention, until he proposes they have a threesome with Drew Barrymore, at which point, they promptly dump him. Does That Make Any Sense in the Show's Universe: A little bit. Do we believe that Ross would go on a city-wide search for a monkey? Yes. Do we believe Rachel and Monica would compete over a guy? Sure. But do we believe anyone would ever let these people anywhere close to a movie star? No way. Not even Joey. Self-Aggrandizement of the Role: 4.5/5. It was a plot all about how good looking he was. Self-Mockery of the Role: 2/5. He was a little cocky, but it was mostly about how good looking he was. Celeb's Comic Ability: 2/5. Granted, he only had about two lines, but it wasn't particularly comedic. Overall Grade: Nowhere near as epic as the viral wiveo where he's doing the split.
Stan Lee, The Big Bang Theory Role in Story: Thanks to their friend Stuart, the gang gets to meet Stan Lee and have him sign their comic books - everyone except for Sheldon, who has to appear in court on a traffic summons. To make it up to them, Penny takes Sheldon to Stan's house, uninvited, and when he sarcastically invites Sheldon into his house, Sheldon enthusiastically accepts, resulting in a new restraining order that he can hang next to the ones from Leonard Nimoy and Carl Sagan. Does That Make Any Sense in the Show's Universe: Yes. Sheldon would completely overreact about missing the chance to hang out with his hero, and Stan Lee would definitley have a restraining order taken out against him. Self-Aggrandizement of the Role: 4/5. He's treated like the god he is to comic book fans. Self-Mockery of the Role: 3/5. It's mostly Sheldon who gets mocked, but having him get frustrated by the "fanboys" who won't leave him alone was a nice touch. Celeb's Comic Ability: 3.5/5. He doesn't have a lot to do, but he's good at what he does. Overall Grade: Better than a gift basket, not as awesome as an autographed napkin from Leonard Nimoy. Jon Voight, Seinfeld Role in Story: George purchases a car under the pretenses that its previous owner was none other than Jon Voight (knowing not that the real previous owner was John Voight, a dentist). Later on, Kramer accosts Voight in order to find out the truth behind the automobile's ownership, only to have his arm bitten by the angry film legend. Does That Make Any Sense in the Show's Universe: It's Seinfeld, so... sure. Self-Aggrandizement of the Role: 2/5. George was thrilled that he was in possession of Voight's car, comparing him favorably to the likes of (pfft!) Liam Neeson. But Self-Mockery of the Role: 5/5. Voight's small onscreen appearance made him out to be a lunatic. Celeb's Comic Ability: 5/5. Nobody bites Michael Richards like Joe Buck.Overall Grade: One of my personal favorite Seinfeld episodes, which is saying a lot.
Luis Guzman, Community Role in Story: Dean Pelton wants to make a new commercial to help boost enrollment at Greendale, so he recruits the school's most famous alum, Luis Guzman, to star in it. Unfortunately, by the time he shows up on campus, the commercial has gone from Apolocalypse Now to Hearts of Darkness. Does That Make Any Sense in the Show's Universe: With a show this weird, anything's possible. Self-Aggrandizement of the Role: 2/5. One the one hand, he's Greendale's most famous alumnus. On the other, he's Greendale's most famous alumnus. Self-Mockery of the Role: 5/5. Although the joke was on Dean Pelton and Greendale, Guzman's allowance of his likeness as a Greendale Community College alum is something that only someone with a great sense of humor would do (case in point: Mark Hamill said 'no' to Dan Harmon and co). Celeb's Comic Ability: 4/5. Even before he shows up onscreen, we're already laughing. Overall Grade: As awesome as a Kickpuncher marathon.
Andy Richter, Arrested Development Role in Story: Unfortunately, he can't stop running into the Bluth family wherever he goes. Eventually, he gives in, and helps Michael attempt to get the Bluth family bopic off the ground. Does That Make Any Sense in the Show's Universe: Yes, but weirdly, his four brothers are a better fit for the Bluth family's antics. Self-Aggrandizement of the Role: 1.5/5. He's famous enough to get into the Ealing Club, but not so famous that people can't tell him apart from his brothers. Self-Mockery of the Role: 5/5. One point for each Richter quintuplet. Celeb's Comic Ability: 4/5. He's Conan's sidekick, and don't you forget it. Overall Grade: Like the Bluth's chicken dance: weird, nonsensical, and delightful.
Sinbad, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia Role in Story: After Dennis checks into rehab to help the sales of his erotic memoirs, he is forced to share a room with Sinbad and Rob Thomas. And Sinbad doesn't like him. Not one bit. Of course, like most things on this show, it all turns out to be a drug-induced hallucination. Does That Make Any Sense in the Show's Universe: Without the drugs? Not really. But as a terrible hallucination? Totally. Self-Aggrandizement of the Role: 4/5. He runs that rehab center, and he will make everyone his b**ch. Self-Mockery of the Role: 4/5. Nobody was expecting Sinbad to be the foul-mouthed bad boy of the rehab center. Celeb's Comic Ability: 4/5. And if you don't think he's funny, he'll have Rob Thomas beat you with a slipper. Overall Grade: Solidly on par with the rest of the gang's get-rich-quick schemes.
Joe Biden, Parks and Recreation Role in Story: Through his campaign work in Washington, Ben is able to introduce Leslie to her biggest crush: Vice President Joe Biden. For once in her life, Leslie is speechless. Does That Make Any Sense in the Show's Universe: It's a little hard to believe Ben would be connected enough to meet the VP, but there's no ay that Leslie would not have met Joe Biden eventually. Self-Aggrandizement of the Role: 4/5. There is nothing on this planet that Leslie loves more than Joe Biden. Nothing. Not even waffles. Self-Mockery of the Role: 1/5. Leslie shows him a little too much respect, if anything. Celeb's Comic Ability: 3/5. He doesn't have any funny lines, but Biden's a naturally funny guy. Just Google him. Overall Grade: Better than a waffle tower.
Stevie Wonder, The Cosby Show Role in Story: Denise and Theo get into a car accident with Stevie Wonder's chauffered limo. As an apology, he invites the Huxtables to the studio for a jam session. Does That Make Any Sense in the Show's Universe: That doesn't make sense in any universe, let alone this one. Self-Aggrandizement of the Role: 3/5. The Huxtables are understandably starstruck, but he's pretty humble and down-to-earth. Self-Mockery of the Role: 1.5/5. He cracks a few jokes, but neither he nor the show actually mock him. Celeb's Comic Ability: 2/5. Those few jokes a pretty good, but he's not there for the comedy. Overall Grade: Not nearly as iconic as Dr. Huxtable's collection of sweaters. Follow @hollywood_com
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.
Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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It seems a bit odd to take on a movie review of Courtney Solomon's Getaway, as only in the loosest terms is Getaway actually a movie. We begin without questions — other than a vague and frustrating "What the hell is going on?" — and end without answers, watching Ethan Hawke drive his car into things (and people) for the hour and a half in between. We learn very little along the way, probed to engage in the mystery of the journey. But we don't, because there's no reason to.
There's not a single reason to wonder about any of the things that happen to Hawke's former racecar driver/reformed criminal — forced to carry out a series of felonious commands by a mysterious stranger who is holding his wife hostage — because there doesn't seem to be a single ounce of thought poured into him beyond what he see. We learn, via exposition delivered by him to gun-toting computer whiz Selena Gomez, that he "did some bad things" before meeting the love of his life and deciding to put that all behind him. Then, we stop learning. We stop thinking. We start crashing into police cars and Christmas trees and power plants.
Why is Selena Gomez along for the ride? Well, the beginnings of her involvement are defensible: Hawke is carrying out his slew of vehicular crimes in a stolen car. It's her car. And she's on a rampage to get it back. But unaware of what she's getting herself into, Gomez confronts an idling Hawke with a gun, is yanked into the automobile, and forced to sit shotgun while the rest of the driver's "assignments" are carried out. But her willingness to stick by Hawke after hearing his story is ludicrous. Their immediate bickering falls closer to catty sexual tension than it does to genuine derision and fear (you know, the sort of feelings you'd have for someone who held you up or forced you into accessorizing a buffet of life-threatening crimes).
After Dark Films
The "gradual" reversal of their relationship is treated like something we should root for. But with so little meat packed into either character, the interwoven scenes of Hawke and Gomez warming up to each other and becoming a team in the quest to save the former's wife serve more than anything else as a breather from all the grotesque, impatient, deliberately unappealing scenes of city wreckage.
And as far as consolidating the mystery, the film isn't interested in that either, as evidenced by its final moments. Instead of pressing focus on the answers to whatever questions we may have, the movie's ultimate reveal is so weak, unsubstantial, and entirely disconnected to the story entirely, that it seems almost offensive to whatever semblance of a film might exist here to go out on this note. Offensive to the idea of film and story in general, as a matter of fact. But Getaway isn't concerned with these notions. Not with story, character, logic, or humanity. It just wants to show us a bunch of car crashes and explosions. So you'd think it might have at least made those look a little better.
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