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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Previously, on The X Factor: L.A. Reid got out of his chair. A mentally unstable Britney Spears fanatic had his life ruined on national television. Simon Cowell ogled someone's butt. Talent was discovered, maybe.
This week, we kicked off in Kansas City, Missouri. Simon had the day off, because he contracted chlamydia from last week's failed contestant Alexa Berman, or maybe he just had a cold. Either way, he was replaced with a generic Irish man named Louis Walsh. Google tells me that the very same Louis Walsh discovered Westlife and Boyzone, so color me impressed. It was also L.A.'s birthday, and Demi Lovato was very fake excited about it. She ordered him a cake, and Britney sang the happy birthday song. "Oh, that's such a great idea!" Demi exclaimed. I know. Totes original.
First up this week was Rizzloe Jones, an 18-year-old ADD case who referred to himself in the third person and made Blake Shelton look edgy. He was really nerdy and practically albino, so when he told L.A. that he was going to freestyle rap, the famed founder of Justin Bieber was understandably skeptical:
But L.A. gave him a chance, asking him to freestyle about X Factor, and somehow it went over well. Like, there's absolutely no way that he made this thing up on the spot, but Demi was still really excited when he incorporated both her name and marshmallows into his beats:
"It was really good," L.A. said. "Rizzloe Jones — remember that name," Louis added. We probably won't after next week. Britney compared him to Vanilla Ice, which I think she meant as a compliment. So, he's through. This is a $5 million talent competition.
Next: Cece Frey and the ballad of Deangelo Wallace
Next up was 20-year-old mail clerk Cece Frey, who tried her best to pull evil Jedi mind tricks on her competition. Her methods were questionable: She asked a boy-girl platonic singing duo if they liked each other, like, more than friends, and fake-flirted with Rizzloe. She thought she was Shakespeare's Iago, but ended up being more like Leroux's Christine — because despite the terrible fake face tattoo, she was actually very talented. Cece started out with "Unchained Melody" and it was all wrong, but luckily she kept a copy of "Ain't No Other Man" by XTina in her back pocket. Her version was sexy and vocally stunning, and Demi instantly developed a totally reciprocated girl crush. This was all well and good, but what most excited me about Cece was that she was the first contender to utter reality TV's most historically ubiquitous phrase: "I'm not in this thing to make friends." You guys, I hope that Cece goes really far in this competition. We didn't get a bitch last season, and it just wasn't fair.
Then we met this season's Josh Krajcik, a 39-year-old named Vino Allen. I was immediately drawn to him, because his name means "wine" in both Spanish and Italian, which is something I drink a lot of to get through early audition episodes of The X Factor. He sang "Trouble" by Ray LaMontagne, and it was beautiful, soulful, and thoroughly enjoyable. The judges were pleased, and he was through. So, if you like the maths, that was three yesses in a row — meaning that someone had to f*** up, and soon.
That someone ended up being 19-year-old Deangelo Wallace, who purposefully acted horrible in order to get on TV. Congratulations, you did it. He also spoke in the third person, and started off by saying he was better than Britney and the rest of the judges. If you're interested in my general feelings about Deangelo, please see below:
Ugh. I'll keep going. He "sang" something by beloved international humanitarian/feminist Chris Brown, and the judges dramatically left the arena to protest his general awfulness. "I think they worship the devil, all of them," he said as he marched offstage. Then he stole a body-mic that was apparently worth $3,000, and was arrested for a misdemeanor. Moving on.
Soon we met 37-year-old road worker Tate Stevens. Tate wore a cowboy hat, so we knew right away that he was going to sing a country song. The judges asked Tate what he would do with $5 million (make a record), and Tate said that he would have "a big-ass party" — and all of us would be invited. From the looks of things, L.A. was really excited at the prospect of being invited to Tate's party.
Tate sang "Anything Goes" by Randy Houser. It was good, but is anyone who watches this show actually going to vote for this kind of music? I know X Factor prides itself on its diverse kaleidoscope of talent, but Tate seems too niche for this kind of competition. Anyway. "You're my favorite so far," Britney gushed. "Holy cow, yes!" Tate, have fun learning how to dance at bootcamp.
Then we were back in San Francisco, again. "Is Simon still sick?" Demi wondered. Her concern/this timeline would have been believable if everyone wasn't wearing the same outfit and hairstyle from both San Francisco episodes last week. Anywho, back in San Fran we met a group called Citizen, aged 21-25. One or all of them was probably named Justin. "The music lives within all of us," claimed Justin # 2. The boys sang "Don't Let Go" by En Vogue, and Simon really loved it:
"I didn't get it," Simon said. "It was ten years outdated. It's like you're in a time machine." A valid critique, but this is coming from the guy who prides himself on the creation of One Direction. Regardless, Citizen was through.
13-year-old Diamond White had a baby voice and a stripper name, but she was also really poor and we heard her sob story, so I knew she'd do okay. Call it the Rachel Crow defense. "My dad doesn't really, like, associate himself with me," she said. "So yeah, I don't really have a dad." She sang "It's a Man's World," and it was pretty good. Not the best we've seen, but good enough for boot camp.
Then we journeyed back to Austin, Texas, where we were treated to a montage of actually talented singers. First was 19-year-old Ally Brooke, who claimed to have big dreams — Ally wanted to sing, act, have her own clothing line, create a perfume, own a TARDIS, solve the Goldbach conjecture, sit on the Iron Throne, and figure out the meaning of Tree of Life. She sang "On My Knees" by Jaci Velasquez, and was through.
Also through were 16-year-old Brandon Hassan, 15-year-old Normani Hamilton, teen to 20-something girl group Sister C ("We are all sisters, and our names start with a C") and cute-boy duo Jeremiah and Josh. Britney really enjoyed the inoffensively handsome J&J performance:
"I wish you could wake me up in the morning," she said. Simon was offended by Britney's vocal infidelity: "Finacee in the house!" he said, as the camera flashed to an indifferent Sam Trammell Jason Trawick. She meant like an alarm clock, bee-tee-dubs.
Finally, we met the highlight of the night: 42-year-old morbidly obese contestant Panda Ross. Panda was wearing a gold necklace that said "single," just for Simon. I needs to get me one of those. For Simon. Panda had also just been released from the local hospital — where she suffered from a case of "the pneumonia" — yesterday, and she busted herself out of there just to make it to the audition.
"It's Panda, like the bear," she told the judges when she marched onstage. Panda then explained that her mother was in jail when she had her, and that said mother's cell-mate was a white lady. Therefore, the name Panda totally made sense. She was sweet, silly, and enthusiastic, and her rendition of Sam Cooke’s "Bring It On Home" was a soulful highlight of the evening. The judges gleefully took in her performance:
... Then let her through. Unfortunately for Panda, that's when the true drama began. She left the stage in a state of post-performance ecstasy, but it was short-lived: Her pneumonia cough made its sneaky, triumphant return. "Don't let Simon see this," she wailed, as the ambulance carried her off in a stretcher. Too late, Panda. We're still rooting for you.
Capping off the night was 22-year-old Jessica Espinoza, from the south side of San Antonio. She sang Pink's "Nobody Knows," and the judges loved it. "I honestly don't even know where to start, because you have, like, a sparkle in your eye that you only see in people that have the X factor," Demi said. Yes, but was she through? "Um, duh."
So, there you have it: Hours four and five out of nine in this X Factor live audition madness. Bear with us, here.
Follow Shaunna on Twitter @HWShaunna
[PHOTO CREDIT: Fox]
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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.
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.