Sunday, March 30, 2014
Noah is quite a jump for Darren Aronofsky, but he makes the leap to big-budget spectacle successfully, maintaining plenty of the indie quirks and excitement that he has showcased throughout his career, namely in the haunting Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler, and Black Swan. Aronofsky is a self-described Atheist, and ultimately that helps Noah become more than just a straight adaptation of a Biblical passage. An expensive movie about Noah's Ark starring big-name actors is going to have plenty of Wow! moments with computer generated animals and rushing/roaring water that blasts out of the theater speakers better than a Roland Emmerich film. He even inserts battles that fit more into Crowe's Gladiator than a story about a man possessed with an idea. But it's the smaller moments that truly give you goosebumps: Aronofsky's quick-cut directing (reminiscent of the drug use scenes in Requiem), the scenes with Noah, his family, and his descent into madness, like an ancient Glenn Beck who thinks he's acting out the word of God.
Russell Crowe portrays Noah, and it's his best role in years, a return to form after films like Broken City, State of Play, and Body of Lies (let's be honest--he wasn't a stellar singer in 2012's Les Miserables). From the first moment we see him, when he's teaching his sons about not soiling God's creation (a thinly-veiled metaphor about environmental preservation that pops up now and then like flowers from the soil), it's easy to see that he's a good man. He loves his family: his wife, Naameh (Jennifer Connelly, arresting as always), his sons Shem, Ham, and Japheth (Douglas Booth, Logan Lerman, and Leo McHugh Carroll), and Ila (Emma Watson), an injured girl they take in.
Though Noah has incredible willpower and the brute strength of the enormous living rocks, building the Ark isn't an easy task. Planting a seed from the original Garden of Eden (given to him by his grandfather), a massive forest intersected with streams is created, providing the supplies needed to build a damn big boat. Animals begin flocking to the area, a horde of many species walking (or slithering) in line to enter the Ark. But this draws the attention of other people too: namely Tubal-Cain (an entertaining-as-always Ray Winstone), who believes that the will of Man is bigger than an empty vision by a creator. And Tubal has a nothing-to-lose army--when the rain starts falling, thousands swarm (outfitted with jagged weapons) to jump aboard, battling with Noah, his family, and the powerful boulder-creatures in an action set-piece that's slathered in blood-and-rain-soaked excitement.
And yet again, we go back to the smaller moments, the ideas that make Noah a really solid film. Crowe's growing tyranny grows to epic proportions, and it's haunting to watch a man (willing to go way too far) come unglued due to a vision that he's not positive he even interpreted correctly. Just like when reading a religious text, thoughts, visions, dreams, and ideas can turn into fundamentalist views that put mankind (and even more shocking, Noah's own family) at great risk. The climate change metaphor is there too: you can choose to bury your head in the sand (like a Fox News anchor) if you want to ignore it. But the true parable of Aronofsky's Noah, an adaptation of a Biblical story, is just how violently far people can go in the name of their unproven God. (B+)
Sunday, March 9, 2014
That's not to say that 300: Rise of an Empire is a great film or anything (not even close)--but in the doldrums of winter, you could do far worse than watching attractive and fit people creatively slaughter each other on various epic 3-D battlegrounds. And the 3-D is actually good too, worth the price of admission even, the blades and blood slicing across the screen seemingly right in front of your very eyes. It has its typical problems during the darker battle scenes, muddying the image and making it harder to decipher what exactly is going on. But the pros of its 3-D presentation outweigh the cons.
Gerard Butler made his name with the original 300, and ever since his career trajectory has basically been on a downward spiral (except for maybe last year's fun Die Hard-in-the-White-House film Olympus Has Fallen). He's not in Rise of an Empire; we get a new hero, Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton), and though he doesn't share quite the same alpha-male machismo as Butler, he does a serviceable job as a man who needs to inspire confidence in his troops when they are severely outnumbered at sea. Themistokles (told through a flashback scene), killed the father of God King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), who was in the first film, and now Xerxes needs to avenge the death of his dear old dad. He's got a secret weapon: the cunning and deadly Artemisia (Eva Green), who leads the Persian forces in the high-stakes sea battles against the Themistokles-led Greeks.
We're here to escape the real world for an hour and a half. Maybe it's because nothing of note has gotten a wide release so far this year, but while watching 300: Rise of an Empire, time flew by, blood squirted like it came out of a Super-Soaker's barrel, and limbs were hacked off to fly in every direction. I realize that may not be your cup of tea. But my cup was filled just enough to be considered worthwhile. (B-)