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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It's not rare for a contestant to blow American Idol judges away to the point that they proclaim the song "good enough to be on the radio." It is rare, however, that it's actually true. Thursday's Ladies' solo night on Idol was one of those times.
Angela Miller, a young singer we met in New York and who looks like a charming combination of Miley Cyrus and Allison Williams, starts off the show by ensuring that she's the most memorable person of the 47 girls performing solos. Sitting at a piano and singing "You Set Me Free," Miller leaves the entire panel speechless. To be completely honest, I failed to take a single note aside from "HOLY CRAP" because like Keith Urban, I was a little baby bird in Miss Angela's hands. She actually sounded like a professional singer. If this girl is not part of the Top 12, it will be a grave injustice.
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Candice Glover also makes herself a singer to watch, as she's done every time she's performed, singing Alicia Keys's "Girl on Fire." There's nothing surprising here, once again, Candice appears to put forth no effort for a phenomenal performance. We can't watch this girl go home prematurely again after she was cut last year. Next up is Janelle Arthur, a picture perfect little country singer. I truly want to like her, but it's hard to separate her from every adorable blonde country singer who's hit the Idol stage since Carrie Underwood hit it big.
Then comes Zoanette Johnson, the woman who continues on in this competition for reasons beyond comprehension. She takes the stage with a drum kit and performs a song she made up on stage that basically consists of her singing the judges' names at them. I have no idea why the judges react to her so positively. The woman has a voice, but she has no idea how to use it. You can give someone John Coltrane's saxophone, but that doesn't mean they can use it. Perhaps they're seeing Zoanette through some kind of filter that smooths out the horribly grating pieces of her voice and her inability to complete a song without stopping, during her solo audition. Somehow, this woman makes it into the top 20... even after Randy brought the 24 girls out and cut four of them without warning right then and there. My mind is a pretzel. I cannot comprehend this continual surprise.
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But in order to fit in the surprise ladies' cut and the leftover cut from last week's guys' solos, the night cut the performance element short, so here's what you need to know:
-Shuba Vedula dared to sing Mariah's "Miracle" in front of Mariah. But she sounds like a cruise ship impersonator of Miss Carey. Somehow, they still love her.
-Kezban performs an original "song" and says it's like "watching my child take her first steps today." That child fell down. The song was awful, no one understood it and she was sent home rather unceremoniously.
-Ashlee Feliciano, the girl whose parents have a large foster family, is ill when she hits the stage, but that doesn't explain why the first half of her performance doesn't match the second half, or why she was able to hit a beautiful falsetto note without issue. The main problem was that her performance was boring and that's what sent her home.
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-Melinda Ademi sings Jessie J. They love it. She's upbeat. She's a tad obnoxious and a bit innocuous for my tastes, but I'll keep it zipped until Vegas.
-Kree Harrison's backstory finally comes out. She lost both her parents, years apart. It's a sad story, but luckily, it's not what defines her. When she sings, she sounds like an updated Patsy Cline in a sea of Carrie Underwood and Leanne Rimes clones. She stays on.
-The judges have Adam Sander sing for his spot in the top 20 guys, but his rendition of "Taking Chances" is so godawful I'm not sure how he ever made it in the first place.
-Josh Holiday also sings for his life, but he's always been boring, like the Tuesday afternoon singer at a Casino. He goes dramatic, but it's hollow. And to top it off, the showoff splits his pants and he's not even going to stay.
-When they cut eight guys, it includes Adam Sanders, Josh Holiday, blonde kid with glasses whose name we never learned, and the adorable David Leathers Jr. (Sorry, buddy.)
-On the girls side, Stephanie Schimmel is eliminated in order to save the always-smiling Rachel Hale, though in all honesty, neither girl really has the chops to continue on.
Do you think Angela Miller could make the Top 12? Did your favorite get cut?
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[Photo Credit: Michael Becker/Fox]
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Robert Zemeckis is a blockbuster director at heart. Action has never been an issue for the man behind Back to the Future. When he puts aside the high concept adventures for emotional human stories — think Forrest Gump or Cast Away — he still goes big. His latest Flight continues the trend revolving the story of one man's fight with alcoholism around a terrifying plane crash. Zemeckis expertly crafts his roaring centerpiece and while he finds an agile performer in Denzel Washington the hour-and-a-half of Flight after the shocking moment can't sustain the power. The "big" works. The intimate drowns.
Washington stars as Whip Whitaker a reckless airline pilot who balances his days flying jumbo jets with picking up women snorting lines of cocaine and drinking himself to sleep. Although drunk for the flight that will change his life forever that's not the reason the plane goes down — in fact it may be the reason he thinks up his savvy landing solution in the first place. Writer John Gatins follows Whitaker into the aftermath madness: an investigation of what really happened during the flight Whitaker's battle to cap his addictions and budding relationships that if nurtured could save his life.
Zemeckis tops his own plane crash in Cast Away with the heart-pounding tailspin sequence (if you've ever been scared of flying before Flight will push into phobia territory). In the few scenes after the literal destruction Washington is able to convey an equal amount of power in the moments of mental destruction. Whitaker is obviously crushed by the events the bottle silently calling for him in every down moment. Flight strives for that level of introspection throughout eventually pairing Washington with equally distraught junkie Nicole (Kelly Reilly). Their relationship is barely fleshed out with the script time and time again resorting to obvious over-the-top depictions of substance abuse (a la Nic Cage's Leaving Las Vegas) and the bickering that follows. Washington's Whitaker hits is lowest point early sitting there until the climax of the film.
Sharing screentime with the intimate tale is the surprisingly comical attempt by the pilot's airline union buddy (Bruce Greenwood) and the company lawyer (Don Cheadle) to get Whitaker into shape. Prepping him for inquisitions looking into evidence from the wreckage and calling upon Whitaker's dealer Harling (John Goodman) to jump start their "hero" when the time is right the two men do everything they can to keep any blame being placed upon Whitaker by the National Transportation Safety Board investigators. The thread doesn't feel relevant to Whitaker's plight and in turn feels like unnecessary baggage that pads the runtime.
Everything in Fight shoots for the skies — and on purpose. The music is constantly swelling the photography glossy and unnatural and rarely do we breach Washington's wild exterior for a sense of what Whitaker's really grappling with. For Zemeckis Flight is still a spectacle film with Washington's ability to emote as the magical special effect. Instead of using it sparingly he once again goes big. Too big.