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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Yeah, so Glee. You're free to talk about Glee for a second right? It's either that or Michele Bachmann. Right on! I know you so well. Okay, so from an awards standpoint, Glee is a very successful show. Visit its Wikipedia page if you want to know which awards it has won because I'm too busy admiring the Puppy Bowl lineup in my other Firefox window to do it. But what separates Glee from Seinfeld (aside from the obvious GQ locker room shoots) is the way it takes the rhythms of the pop songs that we lather our bodies to in the shower and puts them into an episode's plot. I'm not here to say whether that always works out well or not. But finding songs for Lea Michele to sing is not as easy as cautiously placing a song sheet next to her Tofurkey. Before Lea gets to sing anything, Glee producers have to license the songs, which really means just pay some amount of money. So far, this task hasn't been very difficult to achieve and it has become a crucial part of the show's success (in 2009, the Glee cast had 25 singles that they didn't actually write on Billboard's Hot 100).
Most of the time this task isn't too hard (as evidenced from the wide variety of unoriginal songs we've heard on the show). But sometimes, it is hard. Like today, for instance. Today is a hard day for Ryan Murphy's little Glee. It all started when he tried to license the Kings of Leon song, "Use Somebody." He was unable to do so because the band turned down his request. This, apparently, made Murphy so incredibly livid! Like, "wow, instead of peeling this pear with this peeler right here, see, I'd rather slice off my dick" angry. On the denial, he told The Hollywood Reporter, "Fuck you, Kings of Leon. They're self-centered assholes, and they missed the big picture. They missed that a 7-year-old kid can see someone close to their age singing a Kings of Leon song, which will make them want to join a glee club or pick up an instrument. It's like, OK, hate on arts education. You can make fun of Glee all you want, but at its heart, what we really do is turn kids on to music."
Under normal circumstances, the Kings of Leon (being musicians and everything) would be too busy to issue a statement back to Murphy. Usually, that would be the case because musicians are supposed to have no time to themselves, only be able to use their computers to play Angry Birds or look up what would be the coolest way to give a shout out to Will Shortz in one of their songs. But the band has, in fact, responded to Murphy...twice, in fact! First, they released a statement to THR, saying "This whole Glee thing is a shock to us. It's gotten out of hand. At the time of the request, we hadn't even seen the show. It came at the end of that record cycle, and we were over promoting ["Use Somebody"]. This was never meant as a slap in the face to Glee or music education or to fans of the show. We're not sure where the anger is coming from." And this morning, Kings of Leon drummer Nathan Followill tweeted, "Dear Ryan Murphy, let it go. See a therapist, get a manicure, buy a new bra. Zip your lip and focus on educating 7yr olds how to say fuck."
So this is an issue now! A real, live issue! Who is right -- Defender of children's talent, Ryan Murphy or Kings of Leon and Nathan Followill? Tell me in the comments without saying anything about the Puppy Bowl lineup because you don't see THEM fighting over licensing anything!
Sources: Hollywood Reporter, Just Jared, Videogum, Wikipedia