NOAH (2014)

March 30, 2014

noah Greetings again from the darkness. Since I am no biblical scholar, my comments are those of a movie lover. Tackling any part of a story from the bible is a journey filled with land mines and aggressive criticism – and that’s before your movie is released! Surely director Darren Aronofsky was prepared for backlash from those who forbid any interpretation of the Good Book. The story of Noah lasts but a few pages in the bible, meaning Aronofsky had to creatively fill some space to produce a 2-plus hour film.

Russell Crowe makes a fine Noah. He is relentless in his quest to fulfill The Creator’s request … and he flashes his “Gladiator” glare on a few occasions. Rather than an uplifting childhood bedtime story, this Noah carries the burden of God, his own family and the survival of all beings … his days are filled with moral dilemmas much larger than what you and I go through.

With all the miscommunication afforded by email and text these days, imagine if God conversed with you through images in your dreams. Maybe that process creates some areas of gray? Not if you are Noah. I guess he only dreams when God wants to show him something, so his decision making and mission is pretty focused. He is to build a giant floating warehouse to save two of every creature. Yes, that means a lot of death for those not invited. See, God is using Noah and his family to help cleanse the earth of mankind … God is ready for a re-boot. He is really not happy with how mean and nasty man has become ever since that whole apple debacle and the murder of Abel by Cain.

Some of the visual effects are spectacular. I especially enjoyed the high-speed montage showing the creation of life … you know, that first week. Also, the beginning of the flood is quite a spectacle, but the ark itself is actually quite stunning … constructed per the size noted in the Bible. The animals are all digitally created and we actually see little of them, though the on-boarding process goes remarkably smooth – considering this happens before the herbal sleep concoction is disbursed.

Most of the discussion will probably be on The Watchers … the fallen angels who once tried to help mankind, and for their efforts, God turned them into giant stone creatures. I will add that The Watchers need a new nickname since they did the bulk of the manual labor in constructing the ark and then protecting it … not much watching going on for these poor guys (voiced by Nick Nolte and Frank Langella, among others).

Noah’s wife is played by Jennifer Connelly and their sons are played by Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth and Leo McHugh Carroll. They welcome Emma Watson into their family in what turns into a very odd plot twist, and the villain, Tubal-Cain is payed by Ray Winstone. Methuselah, Noah’s grandfather, is played to the hilt by Anthony Hopkins. All of these characters are pretty one dimensional, but it matters little since this is Noah’s story. The burden he carries is quite heavy and his decisions aren’t always popular.

If you are looking for the well documented story of Noah, it’s no mystery what book you should be reading. If you are after a pretty impressive visual interpretation, you could certainly do worse than Aronofsky’s take. And the best news … no Morgan Freeman voice-over!

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you want to see one of the most impressive set pieces ever built (the ark), plus some pretty cool fallen angels made of stones, a ferocious flood and a few trademark “Gladiator” glares courtesy of Russell Crowe.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: if you are extremely particular about bible movies … you know it will annoy you.

watch the trailer:

 

 


BLACK SWAN (2010)

December 4, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. Normally, I watch a movie, organize my thoughts and write my comments. Not surprisingly, this film has me all tangled up in thoughts, opinions and analysis. Though I won’t, I could easily write 10 pages on this mesmerizing work from visionary director Darren Aronofsky. It’s best if this film is allowed to work it’s (black) magic on each individual viewer.

What I can tell you is that similar to Christopher Nolan‘s Inception, there will be a definite line of demarcation between those who like and those who don’t. And just like with Nolan’s exceptional film, among those who “like” this one, there will still be much debate and discussion about themes, meanings, presentation, performances and message. In my opinion, that’s a pretty good report card for both films.

Be forewarned … this is a very dark, risky and edgy film. Know that it steps even farther out than Mr. Aronofsky’s previous work in The Wrestler, The Fountain, Requiem for a Dream and Pi. In other words, he works very hard on the presentation so that the viewer can be whisked away in many different directions emotionally.

The multi-faceted story has many angles, any of which could be construed as the lead. Natalie Portman (Nina) stars as a mid-20’s member of a struggling New York ballet company. Barbara Hershey is Nina’s smothering mother, who gives all dance mom’s a bad name with her attempts to live vicariously through her daughter, while also stifling her growth into adulthood (the pink bedroom looks as if an 8 year old girl would be in heaven). Wynona Ryder (Beth) plays the “aging” prima ballerina who is forced into retirement, and Mila Kundis (Lily) is the mysterious newcomer who may or may not have an agenda. The powerful Vincent Cassel (Thomas) is the company director and plays the role full bore.

Thomas announces that the company will be performing “Swan Lake” and, almost knowing the dancers will hiss at the re-tread, he quickly adds that it’s never been done his way … the same dancer playing both the White and Black Swan. He knows that Nina is the perfect choice as the White Swan but isn’t sure she can dig deep enough for the dark side. Lily is her polar opposite … mirror image … as the emotionally free, with a comfortable level of darkness and evil. I mention mirrors because they play a key role throughout the film.

When Nina is chosen for the role, a twisted friendship with Lily emerges. This draws Nina further inside herself exposing thoughts and actions she never before imagined. On top of this, Thomas is the predatory authoritarian who constantly challenges her, leading to even more self-doubt.

 As Nina slowly transforms from little girl into womanhood, we witness what looks like a slow slide towards madness. Has she gone too far? Will she snap out? Much of what we see is a clash between reality and her delusional mind. The viewer must decipher where the line is … often multiple times within a single scene! We are left wondering if Lily is stealing Nina’s identity or is it the other way around?

The other topic we cover is the constant battle that dancers face. The cutthroat competition, backstage battles, increasing pain and injuries, the fear of failure – both physically and emotionally, and the immense dedication and skill required for this short-lived profession. There is a drive for perfection in these dancers, just like in the best athletes, musicians, actors, etc. Of course, perfection as a goal leads to disappointment in result.

As for similar type movies, I really can’t name one.  What I can do is tell you there are bits and pieces of The Red Shoes (1948), All About Eve (1950) and some early Polanski (Repulsion, The Tenant).  I can’t rave enough about the script from Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John McLaughlin.  Camera work is ground-breaking during the actual performance.  We are weaving in and out of the stage with the dancers.  Breathtaking! The musical score combined with the familiar songs topped with amazingly subtle (and some not so subtle) effects makes this best described as an artsy horror film meshed with a crackling psychological thriller held together by nightmarish melodrama. Hopefully you are intrigued and this one is just “perfect” for you!

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you have no idea what I mean when I say “artsy horror film”, but you are intrigued by the thought.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: the mere mention of “artsy horror film” has you reaching for a Julia Roberts DVD