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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The trailers for Hope Springs might lead you to believe it's a romantic comedy about a couple trying to jumpstart their sexless marriage but it causes more empathetic cringing than chuckles. Audiences will be drawn to Hope Springs by its stars Meryl Streep Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell and Streep's track record of pleasing summer movies like Julie & Julia and Mamma Mia! that offer a respite from the blockbusters flooding theaters. Despite what its marketing might have you believe Hope Springs isn't a rom-com. The film is a disarming mixture of deeply intimate confessions by a married couple in the sanctuary of a therapist's office awkwardly honest attempts by that couple to physically reconnect and incredibly sappy scenes underscored by intrusive music. Boldly addressing female desire especially in older women it's hard not to give the movie extra credit for what writer Vanessa Taylor's script is trying to convey and its rarity in mainstream film. The ebb and flow of intimacy and desire in a long-term relationship is what drives Hope Springs and while there are plenty contrived moments and unresolved issues it is frankly surprising and surprisingly frank. It's a summer release from a major studio with high caliber stars aimed squarely at the generally underserved 50+ audience addressing the even more taboo topic of that audience's sex life.
Streep plays Kay a suburban wife who's deeply unsatisfied emotionally and sexually by her marriage to Arnold. Arnold who is played by Tommy Lee Jones as his craggiest sleeps in a separate bedroom now that their kids have left the nest; he's like a stone cold robot emotionally and physically and Kay tiptoes around trying to make him happy even as he ignores her every gesture. One of the most striking scenes in the movie is at the very beginning when Kay primps and fusses over her modest sleepwear in the hopes of seducing her husband. Streep makes it obvious that this isn't an easy thing for Kay; it takes all her guts to try and wordlessly suggest sex to her husband and when she's shot down it hurts to watch. This isn't a one time disconnect between their libidos; this is an ongoing problem that leaves Kay feeling insecure and undesirable.
After a foray into the self-help section of her bookstore Kay finds a therapist who holds week-long intensive couples' therapy sessions in Good Hope Springs ME and in a seemingly unprecedented moment of decisiveness she books a trip for the couple. Arnold of course is having none of it but he eventually comes along for the ride. That doesn't mean he's up for answering any of Dr. Feld's questions though. To be fair Dr. Feld (Carell) is asking the couple deeply intimate questions so if Arnold is comfortable foisting his amorous wife off with the excuse he had pork for lunch it's not so far-fetched to believe he'd be angry when Feld asks him about his fantasy life or masturbation habits.
Although Arnold gets a pass on some of his issues Kay is forthright about why and how she's dissatisfied. When Dr. Feld asks her if she masturbates she says she doesn't because it makes her too sad. Kay offers similar revelations; she's willing to bare it all to revive her marriage while Arnold thinks the fact that they're married at all means they must be happy. Carell's Dr. Feld is soothing and kind (even a bit bland) but it's always a pleasure to see him play it straight.
It's subversive for a mega-watt star to play a character that talks about how sexually unsatisfied she is and how unsexy she feels with the man she loves most in the world. The added taboo of Kay and Arnold's age adds that much more to the conversation. Kay and Arnold's attempts at intimacy are emotionally raw and hard to watch. Even when things get funny they're mostly awkward funny not ha-ha funny.
The rest of the movie is a little uneven wrapped up tightly and happily by the end. Their time spent soul-searching alone is a little cheesy especially when Kay ends up in a local bar where she gets a little dizzy on white wine while dishing about her problems to the bartender (Elisabeth Shue). Somewhere along the line what probably started out as a character study ended up as a wobbly drama that pushes some boundaries but eventually lets everyone off the emotional hook in favor of a smoothed-over happy ending. Still its disarming moments and performances almost balance it out. Although its target audience might be dismayed to find it's not as light-hearted as it would seem Hope Springs offers up the opportunity for discussion about sexuality and aging at a time when books and films like 50 Shades of Grey and Magic Mike are perking up similar conversations. In the end that's a good thing.
After 14 years at the company, Tommy Mottola announced Thursday he has stepped down from his post as Sony Music chairman and chief executive to start his own music label. Mottola, best known for discovering and signing Mariah Carey--whom he later married and divorced--had been in contract negotiations with Sony for several months. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Mottola was seeking a five-year renewal to his contract, which was due to expire next year, but when his bid was turned down he decided to leave and form his own record company. Sony is expected to be a partner in the venture and is letting Mottola out of his contract early. "I have been thinking about taking up this new challenge for about a year and really made the decision to go forward only recently," Mottola said in a statement, adding that the focus of his new venture is to create "a total entertainment company" that will cover music and branding opportunities. Before joining the company in 1987 when it was still CBS Records, Mottola managed artists such as Hall & Oates, Carly Simon and John Mellencamp. Andrew Lack, NBC president and COO, has been tapped to replace Mottola.
Friends star Courteney Cox and husband David Arquette are coming to the defense of actor Paul Reubens, who was charged in November with a misdemeanor count of possessing child pornography. According to Reuters, Cox and Arquette told the syndicated show Extra that they had seen Reubens' erotica collection and said it was harmless and kitschy. "Paul has never been interested in anything improper involving children, or sexually. He doesn't deserve this," Arquette said.
Hugh Grant is among the 1,000 new entries in the latest edition of Who's Who, Britain's bible of the rich and famous, Reuters reports. The actor lists football and singing among his hobbies and reveals two middle names--John and Mungo--in the 2003 edition to be published Friday. The book has been published annually since 1849 and lists more than 32,000 autobiographies of important folk in British society. Actress Emily Watson also made this year's edition.
Former Baywatch star Yasmine Bleeth discusses her addiction for the first time in the latest issue of Glamour magazine, People.com reports. "I'd spend hours plucking my eyebrows, putting on tanning cream, doing a facial. But mostly, I'd shop on the Internet.... Shopping was instant gratification," she writes. "Just like drugs." Bleeth made headlines over the past two years for her drug problems and pleaded guilty in Nov. 2001 to possessing less than 25 grams of cocaine and to driving while impaired.
Film composer Ron Goodwin died suddenly at his home near Reading, west of London, Wednesday night at the age of 77, The Associated Press reports. He had suffered from asthma for many years. Goodwin composed some 60 movie scores in his 50-year career, including Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy, but was best known for the themes to a string of 1960s war films, including Battle of Britain and Operation Crossbow. Since the 1970s, Goodwin toured as a conductor performing classical works and popular hits, from James Bond themes to Abba.
Brad Pitt is set to produce and possibly star in Warner Bros.' The Madman of Alcatraz, based on the true story of the psychiatrist who treated Robert Stroud, Alcatraz's notorious Birdman. According to Variety, the film would examine the relationship between the Birdman and his shrink, who nearly lost his own sanity after spending two years with him on the island. Vanity Fair scribe Ned Zeman will write the script.
Halle Berry and Penelope Cruz will team up for the horror film Gothika, Variety reports. The film revolves around a criminal psychologist (Berry) who wakes up in the institution where she works with no memory of the murder she is accused of committing. Cruz will play a fellow mental patient. The project is out to directors.
A faulty overhead light ignited a fire on the set of NBC's The West Wing Thursday, prompting the evacuation of the Warner Bros.' soundstage, the AP reports. About 100 people fled the building but no one was hurt. A studio representative said the stages involved were the White House situation room and a cafeteria setting, but was unsure which actors were present. The fire cause about $100,000 in smoke and fire damage.
The Dixie Chicks will sing the national anthem at Super Bowl XXXVII Jan. 26 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, the AP reports. "Anyone who tells you there's no pressure to sing the national anthem live to one of the biggest television audiences on the planet is not telling the truth," member Emily Robinson said. Organizers also announced that country singer Shania Twain will perform during the halftime show, with other performers to be announced later.