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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I know, that headline is trouble. You're always treading dangerous ground when you insist on defining what makes a good this or the right kind of that, as if there is no room for change or improvement when it comes to classic properties. Of course there is — Jason Segel's 2011 Muppet film approached the concept from an entirely different direction. It didn't hit all of its marks, but it prevailed overall in its conceit: make a movie not about Muppets, but about Muppet fandom. But Muppets Most Wanted, in absence of a clear mission statement and fueled largely by the monetary glimmers of the sequel game (the film's opening number admits this outright), has fewer marks readily available to hit. Landing in the ambiguity between the classic Muppet adventure formula and Segel's post-modern Henson appreciation party, Most Wanted feels like a failure on both counts. It doesn't know which kind of movie it wants to, or should, be. So it doesn't really be anything.
On the one hand, there's the half-cocked "get-the-band-back-together" through line, mimicking but not quite accomplishing the spirit of the 2011 picture. None of the Muppets are particularly likable or charming in this turn, and even fewer of them actually given anything to do. Kermit loses his s**t in the first act after a spat with Piggy and a barrage of insubordination from his troupe (provoked by the nefarious Dominic Badguy, Ricky Gervais), storms off in a huff, and gets swept up in a case of mistaken identity when his criminal doppelganger Constantine pulls the old switcheroo, landing Kermit in a Russian gulag. You'd think this would be a good opportunity for the second tier of Muppet favorites — Piggy, Fozzy, Gonzo, Scooter, Rowlf, et al — to go on a search and rescue... but save for a very brief sequence at the tail end of this achingly long film, none of the other Muppets are giving anything to do. They just hem and haw and perform the occasional "Indoor Running of the Bulls" while Dominic and Constantine scheme, rob banks, and bicker.
Meanwhile, Kermit has some fun in prison — a far more endearing plot that sees him befriending the merry convicts, organizing a penitentiary revue, and even winning the heart of the vicious warden Nadia (Tina Fey). If only we could spend more time with real Kermit and less time with fake Kermit and his second banana Gervais, an effectively boring pair.
On the other hand, though, there's the Muppet shtick that fans of The Great Muppet Caper and Muppet Treasure Island — and yes, The Muppet Show itself — will deem the movie's best material: CIA Agent Sam Eagle and Interpol Agent Jean Pierre Napoleon (Ty Burrell) hot on the trail of Constantine and Dominic. Here, we get a different type of Muppet movie entirely from what Segel and the A-plot in Most Wanted are opting: the old fashioned vaudeville act, with Sam standing as an independent entity from his googly-eyed brethren, on a goofy, musical prowl with Burrell that fuels the film with its best and most consistent chuckles. Their "Interrogation Song" number is outstanding, exemplifying the many talents of Flight of the Conchords' Bret McKenzie, who wrote all the music for this and the previous film.
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Unfortunately, Muppets Most Wanted isn't sure that it wants to be The Great Muppet Caper, beheld so stubbornly to its Segelian roots. There's a palpable compulsion to stick with this agonizingly self-aware, nostalgia-crazy, brimming-beacons-of-the-past-in-a-callous-today theme that doesn't work a fraction as well as it did in the 2011 film. Without a legitimate celebration of any of our favorite characters, how could it? With so much going on in this movie, and such a lengthy runtime at just under two hours, it's a sure sign of failure that we walk away feeling like we spent barely any time with the Muppets.
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Child stars...many of them flame out or go on reality shows, like Danny Bonaduce. The list of those who didn't make it out is long, too: Gary Coleman, Dana Plato, etc. Here are the ones from the 1980s and 1990s that survived and thrived:
1. Leonardo DiCaprio
He was capturing people's hearts on Growing Pains LONG before Titanic. DiCaprio's had a pretty good run too, being in Blood Diamond, The Departed and Inception of late. Yeah. I'd say he's doing pretty well.
2. Mila Kunis
Before she hit the '70s and Black Swan, Kunis was on shows like Seventh Heaven. She's also great at voiceover work, doing a long stint on Family Guy. Her love life has been well-chronicled too, but she seems to have kept her head on her shoulders quite well.
3. The Olsen Twins
They might not be doing as much now, but they made a mint post Full House. During a certain period in the 2000s, they were EVERYWHERE, having their own line of clothes, direct-to-DVD movies, you name it. Oh yeah, there was that whole creepy "Wait-until-they-turn-18" countdown. That was a bummer.
4. Alyssa Milano
Who's The Boss? She's the boss now on shows like Mistresses. She's also got a huge following on Twitter and she's a die-hard baseball fan. She's certainly got a Charmed life.
5. Neil Patrick Harris
Before Barney Stinson, he was legen - wait for it... - dary as Doogie Howser, MD. Of course, there were those hilarious appearances in the Harold & Kumar movies. He's also been a great role model for the LGBT crowd.
6. Jason Bateman
His life's in Arrested Development now, but he had a Silver Spoon in his mouth in the '80s. Bateman's always been someone who realizes he has an awesome job as an actor and is glad to be making a living doing that. Heck, he's even appeared on Yo Gabba Gabba.
7. Sarah Jessica Parker
Carrie Bradshaw sure was a Square Peg in the '80s. She's also married to an icon of the decade: Matthew Broderick. I wonder if he keeps giving her Ferris Bueller advice...
8. Michael J. Fox
He hasn't severed his Family Ties with NBC; he's got his own show coming up in the fall. It's a miracle that he's doing that, since he's been fighting Parkinson's for a very, very long time. I hope his good run continues.
9. Drew Barrymore
As a kid, she met with an extraterrestrial: that might explain the weird people she subsequently dated. Since then, she's become a Angel and a rom-com queen, and she's been the face of beauty commercials for a long time.
10. Justin Timberlake
This ex-Mouseketeer is doing much better than another one, his ex Britney Spears. He recently briefly re-united with his former boy band N'Sync and had one of the most anticipated album releases in 2013 with The 20/20 Experience. He's also been in some movies, and he's a staple on both Saturday Night Live and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Yeah, I think he's doing okay.
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Top Story: Osbourne Gets Caught in Cat Fight
Sharon Osbourne was allegedly involved in a minor fracas at a Los Angeles restaurant Thursday evening. The Associated Press reports that police were called in when Osbourne, who was dining with rocker husband Ozzy and son Jack, apparently had a squabble with agent Renee Tab and allegedly "started spitting on [Tab] and calling her names," Tab's attorney, Nejila Brent, told AP. Osbourne's spokeswoman, however, claims Sharon had been "viciously assaulted" and treated at a hospital for injuries, although she couldn't comment on what those injuries were, AP reports. Tab, who works for the talent agency ICM, has been at odds with MTV's The Osbournes' matriarch since January when the agent attended an Osbourne party allegedly uninvited and ultimately won a hefty door prize--a $15,000 necklace.
Penn's Car Found Minus Guns
Police told Reuters that they found Sean Penn's stolen black 1987 Buick Grand National on Friday. The two guns that were inside the car when it was taken, however, are reportedly still missing. Penn had permits for the guns.
Crowe Honeymoons Australian-Style
Russell Crowe and his new bride, Danielle Spencer, currently on a "self-drive honeymoon" around Australia, were spotted in the city of Rockhampton on Australia's east coast, Brisbane's Courier-Mail newspaper reported. After dining at local restaurant, Crowe signed some autographs. "I'm a local but if I was a movie star or a singer, Rockhampton is the last place I'd come for a honeymoon," one fan told AP.
Wannabe Rapper Murders for "Gangsta" Image
A wrongful death lawsuit filed against aspiring rapper Antron Singleton (aka "Big Lurch"), Death Row Records, Stress Free records and two employees claims Singleton murdered the plaintiff's daughter, his roommate Tynisha Ysais, and ate part of her lung as part of a Death Row Records plan to cultivate a "gangsta" image for the rapper, Reuters reports. Ysais' mother, Carolyn Stinson, claims in her suit that Death Row Records, headed by Marion "Suge" Knight, provided Singleton with drugs "to encourage [him] to act out in an extreme violent manner so as to make him more marketable as a 'Gansta Rap' artist," Reuters reports. Police found Singleton staggering naked and covered in blood in a Los Angeles street April 10, 2002. He has been charged with the murder and is awaiting trial.
British Prime Minister Goes "D'oh!"
British Prime Minister Tony Blair has decided to play himself in animated form for an upcoming episode to the hit show The Simpsons. Reuters reports Blair recorded the few lines of dialogue Friday, mostly promoting Britain's tourist industry, for a segment featuring the Simpsons on vacation in England.
Role Call, Part I: Knight Rider Hits Big Screen; Scary Movie 4 on the Way
Revolution Studios will make a feature film based on the hit '80s NBC TV show Knight Rider, which revolved around crimefighters Michael Knight (David Hasselhoff) and his talking car K.I.T.T. (Knight Industries Two Thousand), a sleek black Pontiac Trans Am. … If you're looking for more Scary fun, Dimension Films has greenlit a fourth installment of the Scary Movie franchise with a handful of the cast reprising roles, Variety reports. Scary Movie 3 is being released in October.
Role Call, Part II: McConaughey Is Parched in Sahara; Olsen Twins Go New York
Matthew McConaughey is in final negotiations to star in the feature film adaptation of Clive Cussler's 1992 novel Sahara. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the film will focus on the first installment of Cussler's best-selling Dirk Pitt series where the intrepid adventurer and explorer (McConaughey) searches the African desert for a toxin that is killing marine life (if that makes any sense) … On the lighter side, those cute Olsen twins, Mary-Kate and Ashley, will join director Dennie Gordon (What a Girl Wants) for New York Minute, an action-adventure comedy described as a cross between Charlie's Angels and After Hours. Think those two will ever go solo? Just wondering.