Noah (2014)

NoahReleased: March 28, 2014. Directed by: Darren Aronofsky. Starring: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins. Runtime: 138 min.

A film cloaked in controversy from the get go, Noah turns out to be a good, unique film. It’s controversial because it’s a largely different take on the biblical story of Noah’s Ark from the Book of Genesis. It keeps the theme of cleansing the earth of its wickedness, but visionary filmmaker Darren Aronofsky furthers the moral battle to the titular Noah, which keeps the film going well past the flood. As a faithful adaptation, it’s not great – but as Aronofsky’s unique vision, it is. It just depends on how the viewer looks at it.

I choose to focus on the more positive aspects, so I look as it more as a fascinating vision of a great director. Major innovations to the story include protectors that are practically stone giants, which might just be the strangest thing about this film. In this world, there are two vastly different communities: one large and one quite small. Noah (Russell Crowe) leads his family who are taking care of duties on the ark, since he is chosen by the world’s leader to build the ark so the world can be rebuilt to cleanse the earth of its wickedness. This group represents good. The other group is a representation of the wickedness of men, led by Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone). The story raises the idea that all persons have the will to sin and give over to temptation.

These ideas make most of the characters have inner conflicts. These can sometimes be frustrating to the viewer. It gets an emotional reaction from the viewer, hatred or not, it works to effect. Amongst the most conflicted is of course Noah. It’s a crazy amount of responsibility, the task he’s been given by the Creator. It seems that this a different world, as if it’s made that we’re to assume this is God they’re talking about – but He’s only referred to as the Creator. That might just add on to the controversy, whether or not the film’s ignoring Him, or if Aronofsky only wants to call him Creator. It never feels like the film-makers have an anti-Christianity mindset. Anyway, Noah’s inner battles with himself are fascinating; as are the contrasts made between him and Tubal-cain. Russell Crowe carries the film well, assisted by the rest of the talented cast. One can begin to understand the character, despite some crazy decisions. Ray Winstone is also good as his character. My only complaint about both of them is that they have a bad habit of whispering dialogue.

It’s cool to see the extreme lengths Aronofsky go to in order to portray the wickedness of man. There’s a repetition of imagery of a Serpent, the Adam and Eve story, and the story of Cain and Abel throughout. This is another symbol of the temptation and sin of man. I also like the way Aronofsky portrays Noah’s visions. Some of his visions make this feel like a big-budget Take Shelter at times. There’s a cool sequence where Noah’s underwater and animals swim to the surface with him two by two. The visuals are magnificent, as is the Iceland scenery. Due to the scenery and variations of animals, the time setting of the film – biblical times or a futuristic setting, in the vein of After Earth – remains open to interpretation. Some visual effects are dizzying when they aren’t dazzling. It’s mostly when the passage of time is shown. The style used is fast-forwarded imagery. The way the story transitions to where the Ark , where two birds fly over several landscapes to get to the Ark, is like a short film in itself.

The film might as well be divided into three chapters: before the flood, when it strikes and during, and after. Seeing how this world works in the first chapter is fascinating. When it strikes, the visuals are phenomenal, and things on the Ark get a bit strange, but sometimes there’s nothing wrong with that. It flows all pretty well. It’s a character and cast-driven film. Jennifer Connelly is very good as Naameh. She captures the anxiety of the situation well. Anthony Hopkins is great as Noah’s great grandfather Methuselah, who craves berries, and gives Noah guidance. Logan Lerman is good as Ham, who is one of the film’s most frustrating character. Douglas Booth as Shem does his job. The youngest child, Japheth, portrayed by newcomer Leo McHugh Carroll, is given nothing to do here. He might have five lines of dialogue. A real impressive star in this film is Emma Watson. She’s believable in almost every way, and the character’s insecurities makes her relateable to audiences. I really can’t wait to see more from her.

It will be interesting to see what Aronofsky tackles next. From what I’ve seen of his, he directs character-driven films, which is an aspect that works well for this. The dark tone and epic scale suit this, as well. Noah might not be what you expect going into the film. Expect a different sort-of cinematic experience. Since the film is so different from the original story that’s extremely tame in comparison; a fair deal of it is unpredictable. Unpredictable means surprises, and this has them in spades.

Score75/100

March 28-30 Box Office Predictions: Swear words and Sabotage of biblical proportions

box office (1)Jason Bateman’s Bad Words is one of the new releases coming out this weekend, but it’s been in limited release since the 14th of March, and has grossed $837 thousand. It premiered at TIFF back in September, and it looks pretty awesome. Since one of the taglines is “suck my dictionary,” I’m really excited. I think it looks hilarious. I don’t think this will gross a lot this weekend; but I think $6.7 million is a good enough expectation.

Noah will be the winner this weekend. I think it’s more than guaranteed it’ll gross around $30 million this weekend, and $40 million is very likely, but I think it’ll be a huge surprise hit, much like last year’s World War Z. It’s of one of the three Biblical movies this weekend; it’s the second one after Son of God, and the next one will be Exodus. This stars Russell Crowe as the titular Noah; and it also stars Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson and Logan Lerman. It’s directed by Darren Aronofsky. I’m ecstatic to see this. The story of Noah fascinates me, and I’m excited to see a new film about it, and I love Aronofsky’s style. I’ve only seen his film Black Swan, but I’m excited to see more. Similar films open to $33.49 million. My prediction for this film is $56.5 million.

Sabotage is David Ayer’s newest film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Malin Akerman and Sam Worthington. I think this film looks promising. Movies similar to this open at $13.86 million. I’m curious to see if Schwarzenegger’s star power and Ayer’s direction will allow this to gross near End of Watch‘s $13.15 million. Both of Schwarzenegger’s starring vehicles since his comeback haven’t grossed double digits in its opening weekend (excluding The Expendables 2). The Last Stand was a fun movie that made $6.3 million in its opening, and Escape Plan made $9.9 million (so close). Since Arnie obviously doesn’t have as much star power as he once did, but I’m going to say this grosses $9.5 million in its opening weekend.

Here’s how I see the Top 10:

1. Noah: $56.5 million
2. Divergent: $28 million
3. Muppets Most Wanted: $10.883 million
4. Sabotage: $9.5 million
5. The Grand Budapest Hotel: $9 million
6. Bad Words: $6.7 million
7. Mr. Peabody & Sherman: $6.3 million
8. God’s Not Dead: $6 million
9. 300: Rise of An Empire: $4.2 million
10. Need for Speed: $3.8 million

Winter’s Tale (2014) Review

Winter's TaleReleased: February 14, 2014. Directed by: Akiva Goldsman. Starring: Colin Farrell, Jessica Brown Findlay, Russell Crowe. Runtime: 118 min.

“Winter’s Tale” is a story about destiny. It also has spirit guides in the form of flying white horses. That’s the first hint that it has a larger focus on the fantasy aspect of it, and it’s almost like a fairy tale with all of its themes. There’s an idea proposed that when people die, they don’t go up to Heaven per sé but they go up into a place in the sky, where their souls become the stars that we see at night. The film also proposes the idea that everyone has one miracle within them to give to someone else. This is the story of Peter Lake’s miracle.

Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) is an ordinary thief who is running from a mob of fancily dressed folks at the beginning of the film, led by Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe). He escapes them by hopping on a flying white horse and proceeds to wander the streets until his fancy horse stops in front of a big house. He decides to go into the house with intentions to rob the house, but instead falls in love with a young dying heiress who lives there, named Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay). He loves her deeply and when he learns he has the gift of reincarnation, he sets out to save her.

The film also expresses the idea that light connects everything. The dying heiress Beverly in one scene is talking about this in what at first seems like a crazy daze, that the sicker she gets she sees that light connects everything. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, is why some might ask “What are you going on about?” The villain of the film also likes light, a master thief who really likes pebbles and fancy stones. It’s because when he puts the dish full of pebbles against the window it makes a funny holographic psychic shape… Or something like that? Anyway, some might legitimately think he’s a tall leprechaun because of his fascination with all the valuables, and since there are flying horses, it wouldn’t be far-fetched for him to ride a horse to the end of the rainbow.

Pretty colours! Pretty colours!

Pretty colours! Pretty colours!

Well, he’s not a leprechaun but he’s a demonic evil boss that you certainly wouldn’t want. The higher power he works for is played by a surprise actor one wouldn’t expect in the role, but do yourselves a favor, and if you wanted to be surprised, don’t browse beyond principal cast of the film on websites. Pearly leads his large group of other fancily dressed thieves who wear suits and those black bowl hats, the ones that Charlie Chaplin would wear. He’s a god-awful villain who has been “blackening souls and crushing miracles” for as long as he remembers. Crowe is a really good actor who makes do with the laughably bad dialogue he’s given; and he deserves praise for delivering some of his lines with a straight face. But I do wonder why he didn’t question the silliness of head-butting Farrell repeatedly in the face. He’s in this sorta bounty hunting business again after his turn in “Les Miserables,” but at least he didn’t have an awful accent in that one, but we should be thankful he’s not singing his stupid lines in this one. Why these folks want to crush miracles and have such a problem with goodness happening isn’t really explained. But all we have to know is this guy is evil and he has a bone to pick with Peter Lake.

They might intend to capture our hero, but don't they look dapper?!

To capture an enemy, you must dress well.

The way it shows good vs. evil is through, at least one way that I picked up on, the different colours of horses. Peter rides a white one, Pearly has a black one. Anyway, the romance between Peter and Beverly is heartwarming; but it’s elevated to another greater level by the performances given by Farrell and Findlay. The disease Bev has is consumption; and she can never let her body heat get too high. It’s a bit of a pity that their romance is great and that the story in general can be so laughably awful. I found myself laughing in scenes that were supposed to be serious, but it’s so poorly written many can’t take it seriously at all. This is one of the most unintentionally funny films I’ve seen in the past few years; so if you want to see it for a laugh, give it a shot. There are five occasions where, even though it’s not a comedy, I was laughing my ass off – and I mean, when it’s laughably bad, it’s hilarious. There are some profoundly heart-warming scenes, but so much of this is profoundly stupid. I mean there’s some CGI effects that make people’s faces all evil-like and there’s one character who, when he’s finished talking, viciously turns off the light above his head. How silly. I think this is my early favourite for the “so bad it’s almost good” movie of 2014.

The idea that everything is connected by light is just too uninspired for me, and Pearly’s motivations to get rid of Lake are stupid and uninspired, too. There are some good aspects. I like the performances by Colin Farrell and Jessica Brown Findlay; I think their chemistry is electric. The cinematography for this part period-piece is quite great; but it seems like the authour Mark Helprin intended this to be a mythical New York, and it looks pretty ordinary to me. It seems like that is writer/director’s Akiva Goldsmith’s fault with that aspect. (I might give the book a shot, this seems like it’d be good in different hands.) The third act is heartwarming, and the film’s finest stretch.

This is where Jennifer Connelly’s character is introduced late in the film. The film starts in 1914, but Lake meets her in the year 2014 making the fantastical flick span a whole century. What Lake did for those one hundred years with no memory is what I’d like to know. Job interviewers would say: “What’s your name? Do you have any references?” He’d answer “I don’t know” to both, and never get hired. And what I’d like to know is if Lake is human or if he’s a supernatural being? And why does Lake have an Irish accent if he was raised in Brooklyn? Pearly’s accent surely couldn’t be influential if it’s so awful, right? These are things that would be simple to explain, but we never get that convenience.

Score50/100

Les Misérables (2012)

Les MiserablesLes Misérables

Release Date: December 25, 2012

Director: Tom Hooper

Stars: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway

Runtime: 157 min

Tagline: Fight. Dream. Hope. Love.

Based on the original stage production of the same name, this tells the story of a slave prisoner who skips on his parole, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman). Throughout his life, a police inspector, Javert (Russell Crowe), is close on his tail. After Valjean vows to a factory worker by the name of Fantine (Anne Hathaway) to take care of her daughter, Cosette, his life is changed forever.

I have not seen the original play, and I hadn’t even heard of the play before seeing this feature. Does that mean I live under a rock? Not really, but if I did, it would be a really fancy rock. Anyway, all the knowledge I had of this film going in was the slim plot synopsis on IMDb, and I saw a few of the trailers.

Expectations: exceeded. This is a fine feature that has superb direction, great costumes, a beautiful yet heartbreaking story, and one heck of an ensemble cast. The cinematography is fine (there’s a scene that’s hard on the eyes), and with the actor’s legitimate singing voices complementing the film and its phenomenal imagery, it might as well feel like the real on-stage production.

The only thing that makes it not feel like the actual on-stage production is all the information that comes at you. With a stage production, there would be short breaks to change sets and let the audience absorb what just happened; but this goes from set to set, and time period to new time period. This poor transition of scenes makes it feel like there’s a lot more to absorb. In a way, this is much like ‘Lincoln’ earlier this year, that film just shot information at you (even though this isn’t as bad).

One more thing that feels off about the film: the make-up. The costume design is stellar, but some characters are neglected regarding make-up because they don’t look like they age a day. They make Jackman look a little more older and exhausted as it goes along, and he looks like his hair has grayed; but Crowe doesn’t look as if he’s getting any older, over a span of seventeen years (or however many it is). He looks exactly the same. The same with the “comic relief” innkeepers (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter), they really don’t age.

The story is all about never giving up and searching for freedom wherever it may present itself. It’s also a great analysis of the survival of the human spirit, and the things it trudges along through. Though, the message gets slightly preachy. It feels more preachy than it is because they’re singing it to you! They sing to you all about revolutions because of poverty and searching for that said freedom, finding love, and it’s also a story about self-sacrifice and redemption. However, I was willing to accept it for what it is.

Valjean is a man really about always starting over and making it a clean slate for himself. I mean, he gets enslaved for nineteen years because he stole a loaf of bread. He soon highly becomes consumed with just protecting Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), the young girl who has become a daughter to him. All the other characters are pretty great, especially the villain you love to hate – Javert. He’s a good singer too, as is everyone else involved in this project. He is a man who lives by the law, despite all the times Valjean (who Javert usually refers to as Prisoner 24601, a number you won’t soon forget) tries to convince him to have a heart and let him go.

The only irritating character is a young boy named Gavroche, a petite thing part of the young people revolution. I understand that, at his core, the face of innocence – he’s just really, really, stupid.

Fantine is a character that really helps him [Valjean] change even further. She and he didn’t realize, that at the time, her asking him to take care of Cosette would be a life-changing experience for him. Fantine is a desperate woman trying to care for her daughter in a time of poverty, and her story is truly heartbreaking. She steals the scenes she is in with an Oscar-worthy performance (Jackman is also worthy of an Oscar), but the other performers are great, and they each capture the emotions they are supposed to, and they each sing with great heart. The ensemble make it that much more enjoyable. The young Eddie Redmayne shows some strong potential for more leading man roles, as he is one heck of a singer and a great actor. He also proves other people besides fat ladies can have a solid operatic voice.

While the story is slightly preachy, it undeniably has a very emotional core, making this one of the most emotionally vast films of 2012. The story is truly great, but it is definitely not the feel-good flick of the year. Each of the primary characters don’t want to be held back any longer, and live a better life than what they know. If the actors weren’t singing the vast majority of their dialogue, the film wouldn’t be quite as exciting. I am a sucker for period pieces, and now, I’m a sucker for this sort of profound musical.

In a nutshell: Les Misérables has a slightly preachy story, but it has a fine emotional core and a great set of characters and great actors that sweep you up into the sad story even more. You might as well be watching the on-stage production itself.

85/100