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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Well, twerking has officially taken over America. According to Billboard, rapper Juicy J has promised a scholarship to the woman who twerks the best, and New Orleans bounce artist Big Freedia is planning to attempt to set a Guinness World Record for twerking. That's a lot of dancing butts, people.
Juicy J is offering $50,000 to a female college student between the ages of 18 and 25 who shows extraordinary talents in the areas of twerking. Applicants must upload a video to YouTube of themselves twerking to the rapper's track "Scholarship." Meanwhile, on Sept. 25 in Manhattan's Herald Square, Big Freedia is teaming up with Fuse to host "Record Breaking Booty Shaking: Break the GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS® Twerk Record with Big Freedia." The event will include over 250 dancers twerking for two minutes.
Now, twerking is nothing new. It has been a style of dancing since before Miley Cyrus was old enough to shake what her mama gave her (which, granted, isn't much), but Cyrus' MTV VMA performance brought the Southern craze to the center stage of society. However, according to Fuse, it doesn't sound like Big Freedia is quite ready to include the ex-Disney star in her twerking world record event anytime soon.
"She was going too far," said Big Freedia in an interview with Fuse. "She's trying to twerk, but don't know how to twerk. It's become offensive to a lot of people who've been twerking and shaking their asses for years, especially in the black culture ... When something get hot, everybody want to jump on the bandwagon and act like they created it. That's totally understandable but they have to give credit where credit is due."
Did you get that Miley? You might want to leave the twerking to the professionals from now on.
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It's official, Donald Trump is truly as tasteless as one of his gold-plated faux rococo monstrosities that dot Manhattan, some of which might be without power today in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The Celebrity Apprentice host took to Twitter this morning to let President Obama know that, because of the storm, The Donald was extending his deadline for the president to release his college applications and records and his passport applications and records to extricate a $5 million bounty from Trump to donate to Obama's favorite charity. Remember, this was his big "secret" that was going to "change the course of all elections ever of the universe in the most spectacularly amazing fashion that has never before been seen by humans since the dawn of democracy." Yeah, you probably have bigger, less hairy fish to fry right now. "Because of the hurricane, I am extending my 5 million dollar offer for President Obama's favorite charity until 12PM on Thursday," he posted.
OK, a dozen people in New York City have died, hundreds of people have lost their homes to fires and flooding, a big chunk of the island of Manhattan is still without power, and this is what Trump is worried about? Do you think that Obama is really sitting around the Oval Office right now breathing a sigh of relief that he has an extra day for Trump's ridiculous ransom so that he can now figure out how to manage the destruction of the Eastern Seaboard? No, he is not. And Trump reminding us about his vicious vendetta is only making him look stupider than his hair when it's caught in the wind.
The comments on Twitter were quick and vicious. Many users called for Trump to just donate the $5 million to New York hurricane relief, a gesture that seems noble and would garner him a lot more good will than anything having to do with his silly quest to prove that Obama was somehow born in Kenya (something that even die-hard "birthers" don't believe anymore). "How about you stop being a d**k, cease your disrespectful demands and donate the money to NY disaster relief," wrote @Embassy730. Other responders were just as outraged and colorful, but none as inventive as @JohnnyPalomba, "extend your millions for the cat on your head." You took the words right out of my mouth.
Follow Brian Moylan on Twitter @BrianJMoylan
[Photo Credit: Ivan Nikolov/Wenn]
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The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
Salt the propulsive new thriller from Phillip Noyce (Clear and Present Danger Patriot Games) has been dubbed “Bourne with boobs ” but that label isn’t entirely accurate. In the role of Evelyn Salt a CIA staffer hunted by her own agency after a Russian defector fingers her in a plot to murder Russia’s president Angelina Jolie keeps her two most potent weapons holstered hidden under pantsuits and trenchcoats and the various other components of a super-spy wardrobe that proudly emphasizes function over flash.
But flash is one thing Salt never lacks for. Its breathless cat-and-mouse game hits full-throttle almost from the outset when a former KGB officer named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) stumbles into a CIA interrogation room and begins spilling details of a vast conspiracy. Back in the ‘70s hardline elements of the Soviet regime launched an ambitious new front in the Cold War flooding the western world with orphans trained to infiltrate the security complexes of their adopted homelands and wait patiently — decades if necessary — for the order to initiate a series of assassinations intended to trigger a devastating nuclear clash between the superpowers from which the treacherous Reds would emerge triumphant.
The Soviet Union may have long ago collapsed (or did it? Hmmm...) but its army of brainwashed killer orphan spies remains in place and if this crazy Orlov fellow is to be believed they stand poised to reignite the Cold War. It’s a preposterous — even idiotic — scheme but no more so than any of our government’s various harebrained proposals to kill Castro back in the ‘60s. As such the CIA treats it with grave seriousness even the part that that pegs Salt who just happens to be a Russian-born orphan herself as a key player in the conspiracy.
Salt bristles at the accusation but suspecting a set-up she opts to flee rather than face interrogation from her bosses Winter (Liev Schreiber) and Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor). A former field agent she’s been confined to a desk job since a clandestine operation in North Korea went south leaving her with a nasty shiner and a rather unremarkable German boyfriend (now her unremarkable German husband). She’s clearly kept up her training during while cubicle-bound however and in a blaze of resourceful thinking and devastating Parkour Fu she fends off a dozen or so agents of questionable competence and takes to the streets where she sets about to clear her name and unravel the Commie orphan conspiracy before the authorities can catch up with her. That is if she isn’t a part of the conspiracy.
The premise which aims to resurrect Cold War tensions and graft them onto a modern-day spy thriller is absurdly clever — and cleverly absurd. But Kurt Wimmer’s screenplay isn’t satisfied with the merely clever and absurd — it must be mind-blowing. Salt is one of those thrillers that ladles out its backstory slowly and in tiny portions every once in a while dropping a revelatory bombshell that effectively blows the lid off everything that happened beforehand. No one is who they seem and every action every gesture no matter how seemingly trivial is imbued with some kind of grand significance. The effect of piling on one insane twist after another has the effect of gradually diluting the narrative. When anything is possible nothing really matters.
But spy thrillers by definition trade in the preposterous and the principal function of the summer blockbuster is to entertain. In that regard Salt more than fulfills its charge. Noyce wisely keeps the story moving at pace that allows little time for asking uncomfortable questions or poking holes in the film’s frail plot. And he has an able partner in the infinitely versatile Jolie who having already exhibited formidable action-hero chops in Wanted and the Tomb Raider films proves remarkably adept at the spy game as well.
It’s well-known that Jolie wasn’t the first choice to star in Salt joining the project only after Tom Cruise dropped out citing the story’s growing similarities to the Mission: Impossible films. But she’s more than just a capable replacement; she’s a welcome upgrade over Cruise not least because she’s over a decade younger (and a few inches taller) than her predecessor. Should Brad Bird require a pinch-hitter for Ethan Hunt he knows where to look.
Based on the popular Emmy-winning Saturday morning cartoon show Teacher's Pet revolves around a dog Spot Helperman (voiced by Nathan Lane) who for as long as he can remember always wanted to be a human boy--so much so that he puts on pants tucks his ears underneath a beanie cap and disguises himself as Scott Leadready II a "kid" who goes to his friend's er master's fourth grade class. Spot's master Leonard (voiced by Shaun Fleming) on the other hand just wishes he had a real dog to play with to catch sticks and lick his face. Fat chance with this pooch. Desperate for any chance to be human Spot discovers there's an experimental scientist in Florida Dr. Ivan Krank (voiced by Kelsey Grammer) who although labeled a complete wacko claims he can change animals into humans. Spot sets out to find Krank and make his dreams come true hitching a ride with Leonard and his schoolteacher mother (voiced by Debra Jo Rupp) on their way to the Sunshine State for a national teacher's contest. Several tiresome musical numbers later Leonard tries unsuccessfully to convince Spot to stay a dog and they find the diabolical doctor in the Florida swamps. Zap! Spot/Scott finally gets his wish. Be careful what you wish for little doggie.
It's a good thing Teacher's Pet incorporates some veteran voiceover talents to lend at least a little credibility to the silliness. Lane as the determined canine and Grammer as the evil scientist are animation pros--Lane from his Lion King days and Grammer from his hysterical stints on The Simpsons. They do their darnedest to bring out the best in the borderline corny dialogue from Pet's husband-and-wife writing team Bill and Cheri Steinkellner with lines like Spot's query "What's with this family and singing? I'm feeling Von-Trapped." But Lane and Grammer are consummate showmen delivering the lines and handling the singing chores with aplomb especially Grammer (get this man a Broadway show pronto). Other Pet denizens include Jerry Stiller as the Helperman's perpetually annoyed parrot Pretty Boy and David Ogden Stiers as the agoraphobic but cuddly cat Mr. Jolly. And if you listen closely you'll also hear Paul Reubens (aka Pee-wee Herman) and Will & Grace's Megan Mullally voicing two of Krank's experiments--with alligators and mosquitos respectively--gone strangely awry.
Despite a weak story and uninspiring songs Teacher's Pet has a unique animated style and that's its one key selling point. Renowned illustrator Gary Baseman whose art is frequently featured in top magazines such as The New Yorker and Rolling Stone got the idea for Pet when he wondered what his dog did all day long when he wasn't there. He teamed up with the Steinkellners (TV's Cheers) and created the TV version of Teacher's Pet which debuted in 2000 and has won several awards including a Daytime Emmy for best animated TV series. In the movie version first-time director Timothy Bjorklund sticks with Baseman's eclectic and off-kilter style and churns out the artist's illustrations at a fur-flying rate. There's lots to see and several inside jokes to catch including poking fun at Disney classics such as Pinocchio (the Blue Fairy done Baseman style is hilarious) and 101 Dalmatians (ditto with the "Twilight Bark"). It's been a long time since hand-drawn art has given audiences something just as distinctive as its rival the somewhat more versatile computer-generated animation.