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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Forget that the latest adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's sweeping romance novel comes from the man who brought us the slick-but-stuffy Pride and Prejudice and Atonement. Every frame of director Joe Wright's Anna Karenina is a wonder to behold overflowing with visual spectacle and roaring performances. Keira Knightley Jude Law Aaron Taylor-Johnson and the rest of the cast fit perfectly in the high drama epic but it's really Wright's playground. Following Hanna an artful spin on the action movie Wright returns to the period drama but injects it with dazzling daring choices. A book like Anna Karenina could once fit in reality but its larger-than-life legacy precedes it. Wright acknowledges that from frame one approaching the film like a grand ballet or opera where grand gestures broad emotions and overt theatrics are commonplace. That vision clicks transforming Anna Karenina into an exhilarating moviegoing experience.
The storyline of Anna Karenina isn't far off from a daytime soap: It's 1874 and Anna (Knightley) is floating through existence as the wife of influential government player Karenin (Law). But when her brother Oblonsky (Matthew Macfadyen) summons her to Moscow to save his marriage Anna's entire world is shaken up. She meets Vronsky (Taylor-Johnson) a cavalry hunk who finds himself smitten with the taken lady. She's in the same boat: The two strike up a flirtatious relationship that evolves into one of sexual passion. A scandalous affair would incite trouble in the preset day but in the 19th century it's the ultimate crime. Quickly Anna's life comes crumbling down.
The intertwining melodrama of Anna Karenina earned the novel its classic status but Wright uses the material as a launching pad for imagination rather than a tome to translate to screen. Many of the scenes are staged in a theater creating an instant awareness of the production. Sets shift and are reconstructed into new rooms; actors costume change in the span of single shots; action sequences like a thrilling horse race are conducted on stage with special effects you might see on Broadway. Wright works this sort of stylization in the other direction too; a character could walk an empty stage open a door and suddenly be on a snow-covered hill. Anna Karenina isn't the first film to use the effect but in Wright's hands it's exhilarating.
The movie is Wright's third collaboration with Knightley and easily their most successful. Knightley never struggles to stay on the same page as the heightened material whether she's nailing a dance sequence or breaking down in a flood of tears. Casting an ensemble around Knightley is no easy task but Taylor-Johnson gives his best work yet as the debonair love interest and Macfadyen steals the show with moments of physical comedy.
We have expectations of the texture and structure of period romances. Anna Karenina defies them. Masterpiece Theater it is not.
The actress has been hit with a slew of bad reviews for her part in an adaptation of the Moliere classic, which marked her debut on the West End stage and is currently playing at the Comedy Theatre.
But the poor reviews haven't stopped Knightley from being named in the Best Supporting Actress category by jurors of the prestigious Olivier Awards, the highest honours in British theatre.
The Pirates of the Caribbean star will compete against Hayley Atwell (A View From The Bridge), Michelle Dockery (Burnt By The Sun), Alexandra Gilbreath (Twelfth Night), Rachael Stirling (The Priory) and Ruth Wilson (A Streetcar Named Desire).
Meanwhile Hollywood actress Rachel Weisz was shortlisted for a Best Actress prize for her performance as Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, and will go up against Gillian Anderson (A Doll's House), Imelda Staunton (Entertaining Mr Sloane), Lorraine Burroughs (The Mountaintop) and Juliet Stevenson (Duet For One).
Jude Law's turn in Hamlet faces competition from James Earl Jones in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, James McAvoy for Three Days Of Rain, Mark Rylance (Jerusalem), Ken Stott (A View From The Bridge) and Samuel West (Enron).
In the musical categories, former Spice Girls star Melanie Chisholm is up for a Best Actress statue for her role in Blood Brothers, while Rowan Atkinson's stint as Fagin in Oliver! has scored him a Best Actor nod.
The winners will be named in a ceremony at London's Grosvenor House Hotel on 21 March (10).
They ride together. They die together. They conquer the box office together.
The buddy sequel Bad Boys II proved a formidable opponent for an angst-y teen girl, a ship of cursed pirates and a bumbling secret agent at the box office weekend. The shoot 'em up actioner gunned down the competition with a lawful *$46.7 million, defeating the espionage spoof Johnny English, which snuck in at fourth place with a furtive $9.3 million, and the adolescent drama How To Deal, which opened in eighth position with a meager $5.8 million.
Bad Boys II also trounced last week's box office topper, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. The swashbuckling tale, however, did not experience the typical second week drop off and continued to sail smoothly with an impressive $33.3 million--down only 29 percent from last week.
But while moviegoers demonstrated they hadn't had their fill of pirates just yet, they certainly weren't interested in learning how to deal. How To Deal failed to strike a chord with teen audiences, and it looks as though star Mandy Moore will find out what happens when the box office "gets turned upside down."
Rounding out the Top Five were the period thriller The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which came in third with $10.1 million, and the sci-fi actioner Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, which landed in fifth place with $9.1 million.
THE TOP TEN
Sony Picture's R rated buddy actioner Bad Boys II premiered at the top of the box office with an ESTIMATED take of $46.7 million at 3,186 theaters. Its $14,658 per theater average was the highest of any film playing wide this weekend.
In the sequel, Miami narcotics detectives Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett become part of a high-tech task force assigned to stem the flow of designer ecstasy into the city and inadvertently uncover a deadly conspiracy involving a ruthless drug lord.
Directed by Michael Bay, it stars Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Jordi Molla, Gabrielle Union and Peter Stormare.
Buena Vista Pictures' PG-13 rated fantasy actioner Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, last week's box office champ, came in second in its second week with an ESTIMATED $33.3 million (-29%) at 3,359 theaters (+90 theaters; $9,914 per theater). Its cume is $132.2 million.
Directed by Gore Verbinski and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, it stars Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley.
Twentieth Century Fox's PG-13 rated period thriller The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen fell one spot to third place in its second week with an ESTIMATED $10.1 million (-56%) at 3,002 theaters (unchanged; $3,364 per theater). Its cume is approximately $42.4 million.
Directed by Stephen Norrington, it stars Sean Connery, Naseeruddin Shah, Peta Wilson, Tony Curran, Stuart Townsend, Shane West and Jason Flemyng.
Universal Pictures' PG rated spy spoof Johnny English took fourth place with an ESTIMATED $9.3 million at 2,236 theaters with a $4,159 per theater average.
In the film, the British Secret Service calls upon bumbling secret agent Johnny English when a plan to filch the monarchy's Crown Jewels comes to their attention.
Directed by Peter Howitt, it stars Rowan Atkinson, Natalie Imbruglia, Ben Miller and John Malkovich.
Warner Bros.' R rated sci-fi actioner Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines dropped two places to No. 5 in its third week with an ESTIMATED $9.1 million (-53%) at 3,404 theaters (-100; $2,701 per theater). Its cume is approximately $127.7 million.
Directed by Jonathan Mostow, it stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Claire Danes and Kristanna Loken.
Buena Vista/Disney and Pixar Animation Studios' G rated computer-animated feature Finding Nemo fell only one spot in its eighth week to sixth place with an ESTIMATED $7.3 million (-14%) at 2,408 theaters (-163 theaters; $2,944 per theater). Its cume is approximately $303.8 million.
Directed and co-written by Pixar veteran Andrew Stanton, it features the voices of Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Alexander Gould, Willem Dafoe and Brad Garrett.
*Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.
MGM's PG-13 rated Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde fell three rungs to seventh in its third week with an ESTIMATED $6.1 million (-49%) at 3,205 theaters (-170 theaters; $1,903 per theater). Its cume is approximately $75.4 million.
Directed by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, it stars Reese Witherspoon, Sally Field, Regina King, Bob Newhart and Jennifer Coolidge.
New Line Cinema's PG-13 rated drama How To Deal debuted disappointingly in eighth place with an ESTIMATED $2.5 million at 2,319 theaters with a $2,501 per theater average.
Based on a combination of two young adult romance novels by Sarah Dessen (Someone Like You and That Summer), the film revolves around a teenage girl who doesn't believe in storybook romance--until she meets the right guy.
Directed by Clare Kilner, it stars Mandy Moore, Trent Ford, Alexandra Holden, Allison Janney and Peter Gallagher.
Sony Picture's PG-13 rated Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle dropped three places to ninth in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $3.7 million (-48%) at 2,261 theaters (-941 theaters; $1,636 per theater). Its cume is approximately $89.1 million.
Directed by McG, it stars Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu and Bernie Mac.
Fox Searchlight's R rated sci-fi thriller 28 Days Later dropped one place to round out the Top Ten in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $2.5 million (-40%) at 1,310 theaters (-86 theaters; $1,947 per theater). Its cume is approximately $33.4 million.
Directed by Danny Boyle, it stars Cillian Murphy, Naomi Harris, Brendan Gleeson and Megan Burns.
Miramax's R rated crime drama Dirty Pretty Things opened in five theaters this weekend and took in an ESTIMATED $101,000 with a strong $20,200 per theater average.
In the film, a kind-hearted Nigerian doctor who works at a seedy West London hotel finds a human heart in one of the toilets and uncovers something far more sinister than just a common crime.
Directed by Stephen Frears, it stars Chewitil Ejiofor, Sergi Lopez and AudreyTautou.
Fox Searchlight's R rated musical comedy Garage Days, meanwhile, opened in 23 theaters and took in an ESTIMATED $21,160 with a $920 per theater average.
The film is a coming-of-age comedy about a young Sydney band trying to get a foothold in the competitive world of rock n' roll.
Directed by Alex Proyas, it stars Kick Gurry, Maya Stange, Pia Miranda and Chris Sadrinna.
The Top 12 films this weekend grossed an ESTIMATED $137.6 million, up a whopping 33.63 percent from last year's take of $102.9 million. The Top 12 films were also up .58 percent from last weekend when they grossed $136.8 million.
Last year, DreamWorks' R rated drama Road to Perdition topped the box office in its second week of release with $15.4 million at 2,159 theaters (+326 theaters; $7,139 per theater average), Sony's G rated Stuart Little 2 debuted in the No. 2 position with $15.1 million at 3,225 theaters with a $4,644 per theater average and Sony's PG-13 rated Men in Black II followed in third place in its third week with $14.5 million at 3,641 theaters ((+30; $3,997 per theater).