Saturday, March 29, 2014

Noah - Review

Noah – Review

We all know the biblical story of Noah. A deeply religious and faithful man who through his uncompromising relationship with “The Creator”, is given a dream like sign that he or she is not happy with the pervasive evil that has come to plague the world and overwhelmed humanity’s souls. To correct this sinful nature inundating the world, “The Creator” tells Noah that all of humanity must be destroyed through the cleansing water of a great flood. Noah is given the task to building a massive Ark, one which will be able house all of the innocent animals and Noah’s family to survive the impending wrath of punishment, the end.

Now that I have given the story away, let me tell you that as a movie version of this story I found Director Darren Aronofsky’s interpretation of this famous biblical story simply spectacular entertainment. Why?

For one, Aronofsky does a masterful job of providing a thorough reimagining of what this period of human existence might have looked like. It has a wonderful feel of being both primitive and yet other worldly, ancient and futuristic. Specifically, he manages to stay true to the basic tenants of the religious Christian faith based story but also give it just enough of the right touches of a modern feel to it as well, in that one could also have easily imagined this story (if not already known) as a creatively artful and well hone science fiction story of an earnest alien people living on another planet in a galaxy far, far, far away..

Be sure there are special affects abound, but they seem to never get in the way of the larger human story of good verses evil. And with that right balance Aronofsky tightly moves the 2 hour 20+ minute tale with a flawless even pace through out, never straying too far from biblical backdrop of the story but still cleverly weaving in several fascinatingly new and interesting sub plots that I am certain were not part of the original story but worked nonetheless in this overall effort.

Also, Aronofsky make a great effort never to use the name “God” in his movie. Instead “The Creator and “He” are our religious references. I believe this was deliberate in that the Director wanted to make his film something receptive by all faiths. I suspect even more so, based on a specific scene near the end that was narrated by Noah’s voice over, Aronofsky wanted to make a heart felt effort to closing the gap or the argument if you will of the competing interest of those who are literalist to their biblical beliefs of life’s origin and life’s existence on earth and those people who see the world through the prism of scientific, facts and evolution. It was a heartfelt effort on the Director’s part and he does about as well as one could imagine given how delicate this arena typically is wrought with persecuting political and consequential peril.    
Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connolly, previous Oscar Winners, are equally perfectly cast in this film in that they both give strength, authentic credibility, deep warmth and genuine sincerity to their respective roles, especially Crowe who was fabulous. Crowe’s Noah, while a confident man, is also a man of tormented stress, anxiety, heart ache and moments of doubt. He is far from a looking into the headlights smiling deer that does “The Creator’s biding blindly, he is a real man with contemporary conflicts of moral pain and consternation

The cinematography as mentioned earlier had beautiful bleak apocalyptic and garden of Eden–esque atmosphere blend to it, in that it starkly reminds us that ancient life was an existence of perpetual hard work and rugged harshness and yet maintain some measure of wonder and beauty overall. The color texture and vistas of this film seem to be uniquely crafted to tell this story in parts of our real world none of us have ever seen which added greatly to the recreation of Noah’s Ark. The fact is 40 years ago another Director would have relied on this film being seen through a mild, glossy and sterile tapestry. The 2014 Noah landscape seemed real and really unforgiving.

There is a rare moment of humor when the animals show up to enter the Ark, especially when "Naameh” Noah’s wife see’s the snakes coming. I also, looked hard to see where the animal poop went as in they were out on water for 40 days and nights - I saw none. Still, without giving anything away Director Aronofsky does cleverly offer up a relative plausible explanation why there was no poop on the floor, but I digress.

In the end, Noah is a big screen effort that deserves your big screen time and money.

3 – 3/4 Stars

Thursday, March 27, 2014

What You Should Absolutely Have On Your Movie Radar for 2014

1.       "Only Lovers Left Alive" (April 11) – Director Jim Jarmusch tells the story of Adam ('Tom Hiddleston), an underground musician and vampire  who along with his lover for centuries (Tilda Swinton) are both depressed  and tired with the direction human society has taken and devolved into.  A dark drama –slight comedy.   O

2.       "Locke" (April 25) – Actor Tom Hardy (“Baine” from Batman) gets his own "Drive" from writer-director Steven Knight: "A man's life unravels  when a single phone call causes the life of a successful construction manager to unravel during a mysterious 90-minutes race against time.

3.       "Maleficent" (May 30) -  Angelina Jolie plays the evil queen in this new take on Disney's "Sleeping Beauty."

4.       "Edge of Tomorrow" (June 6)  -  Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt star in this sci-fi thriller from director Doug Liman. A soldier fighting in a war with aliens finds himself caught in a time loop of his last day in the battle, though he becomes better skilled along the way.

5.       "The Fault in Our Stars" (June 6) - Hazel and Gus are two teenagers who share an acerbic wit, a disdain for the conventional, and a love that sweeps them on a journey. Their relationship is all the more miraculous given that Hazel's other constant companion is an oxygen tank, Gus jokes about his prosthetic leg, and they met and fell in love at a cancer support group.

6.       "Jersey Boys" (June 20) - Clint Eastwood directs this adaptation of the hit Broadway musical about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. O

7.       "Jupiter Ascending" (July 18) - "Jupiter Ascending," an original sci-fi film from Andy and Lana Wachowski (Matrix Trilogy)  is just a great big mess of potential. Mila Kunis as the universe's only hope? Channing Tatum as a wolf-human hybrid? An original score cue from Michael Giacchino? This could be the year's craziest ride or a total disaster. Whichever end of the scale it winds up on, however, one thing is clear: it's a must see.

8.       "Get On Up" (Aug. 1) - Chadwick Boseman,  who played Jackie Robinson in "42," stars as James Brown in Tate Taylor's ("The Help") new film.

9.       "Lucy" (Aug. 8) - Lucy (Scarlett Johansson), a woman living in Taipei, Taiwan, works as a drug mule. The drug she inadvertently takes goes into her system, changing her into a metahuman. She can absorb knowledge instantaneously, is able to move objects with her mind and can't feel pain and other discomforts. O

10.   "Jane Got A Gun" (Aug. 29) – Natalie Portman plays a woman who asks her ex-lover for help in order to save her outlaw husband from a gang out to kill him.

11.   "This Is Where I Leave You" (Sept. 12) – The 2014's version of "August: Osage County"? Shawn Levy directs this adaptation of Jonathan Tropper's beloved novel, with Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, Adam Driver, Jane Fonda, Rose Byrne, Connie Britton, Timothy Olyphant and more in the cast.

12.   "The Equalizer" (Sept. 26) - Denzel Washington reunites with "Training Day" director Antoine Fuqua for "The Equalizer," a reboot of the popular '80s television series.

13.   "Gone Girl" (Oct. 3) - David Fincher's follow-up to "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" is another novel adaptation: "Gone Girl," Gillian Flynn's mystery thriller. Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike star, with Neil Patrick Harris and Tyler Perry in supporting roles.  O

14.   "The Judge" (Oct. 10) - Free from Iron Man for the moment, Robert Downey Jr. stars as a man who returns to his hometown for his mother's funeral and then finds out that his estranged father has been arrested for murder. Robert Duvall, Billy Bob Thornton, Melissa Leo and Leighton Meester co-star. O

15.   "Interstellar" (Nov. 7) – This will probably be the most talked about and the most highly anticipated film for 2014 - Christopher Nolan's first film since "The Dark Knight Rises" is a sci-fi epic starring Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, Anne Hathaway and many others. The trailer elicits goose bumps with the smallest of details. Imagine what the finished film might do. O

16.   "Untitled Brad Pitt WWII Movie" (Nov. 14) - Formerly titled "Fury," this film stars Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Jon Bernthal, Michael Pena and a tank on the first month into the Iraq war. O

17.   "Exodus" (Dec. 12) – The second most anticipated film for 2014,   an account of Moses' hand in leading the Israelite slaves out of Egypt. Director Ridley Scott and Actor Christian Bale. O

18.    "Annie" (Dec. 19) – A reboot with a modern urban twist on this popular musical. Starring  Quvenzhane Wallis as the title little orphan and Jamie Foxx and Cameron Diaz as, respectively, Benjamin Stacks (the new Daddy Warbucks) and Miss Hannigan.

19.   "Into The Woods" (Dec. 25) - Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt and more star in this adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's hit musical. O

20.   "Unbroken" (Dec. 25) – My pick for the best slipper film for 2014, Angelina Jolie directs this amazing true account of Olympian Louis Zamperini, who participated  in Hitler’s Germany Olympics during  and then as an officer was taken prisoner by Japanese forces during WW2.  O

21.   "Foxcatcher" (TBD) - Bennett Miller's presumed 2014 Oscar contender from Sony Pictures starring Steve Carell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo all star in the true story of Olympic Wrestling Champion Mark Schultz and how paranoid schizophrenic John duPont killed his brother, Olympic Champion Dave Schultz. O

22.   "Inherent Vice" (TBD) - Paul Thomas Anderson adapts Thomas Pynchon's 2009 novel in Los Angeles in 1970, drug-fueled detective Larry "Doc" Sportello investigates the disappearance of a former girlfriend..Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Jena Malone, Maya Rudolph and many more all star. O

The “O” means strong Oscar contender.

Monday, March 10, 2014

300: Rise of the Empire - Review

300: Rise of the Empire – Review

“300: Rise of the Empire” is the sequel to the highly successful and popular 2007 effort simply called “300” that starred Gerard Butler as the masculine and faithful Spartan King Leonidas and Lena Headey his devoted and voluptuous Queen “Gorgo”.

“300 Rise of the Empire” picks up at the very end of “300” where we find King Leonaidas dead and his army defeated from their spirited battle against the more powerful and ruthless Persian Army. But with the death of King Leonaidas we see in this saga the rise of a new hero in Greek General named Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) who is determined to preserve his country’s democracy by using any means he can to defeat the still advancing Persian Army.

But before the new battles begin General Themistokles see’s the importance of accomplishing his military goal by uniting all of Greece in a collective strategic charge in defeating the Persian force by sea. So as did King Leonidas, the Greek General must confront a formidable Persian Army led by mortal-turned-god Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and in this saga his trusted 2nd named Artemisia (Eva Green) a hyper evil and highly vengeful naval commander.

“300 Rise of the Empire” as a visual experience like its predecessor is impressive technically and visually, but with all of the visual action in tow along with buffed muscles and ripped abs, the films moves with an implausible and pilotless feel to it. Ultimately, “Rise” starts to feel midway like watching a very big screen expensive video game where you really don’t have any real connection for the well being of any of the characters. Instead we are only left with nearly 2 hours of a potpourri of carnage coming at you from every conceivable angle, every conceivable 3D point of view, with needless overly abundant slow motion scenes and excessive amounts of large cuts, gashes, stabbings, slashes and doses of flying blood across the screen for no apparent reason than to simply 3D us.

In the original film “300” it defined with much greater clarity the need for war through the emotional prisms of nobility, passion, elegance and romance. Those brave and courageous Spartans went to battle because for them war was about honor, family and the preservation of freedom for their country. These national virtues all worked together as inseparable component for Spartan life.
In “300: Rise of the Empire” this film feels more like a soulless effort managed with the heavy thumb of a movie Executive Producer who apparently believed to make a successful sequel was to simply offer up even more spectacularly brutal fighting as it’s main calling card to win the box office. So I guess from a visual entertainment standpoint he was right but nothing more.

3 - Stars

Monday, March 3, 2014

Non Stop - Review

Non Stop – Review

It is possible for a film to be riveting, entertaining and utterly preposterous? The answer is absolutely yes and it manifested itself in Liam Neeson’s recent continuous string of Jason Bourne stylized films for the soon to be filing for both social security and medicade viewing audience (which I would guess include me as well) in the film “Non Stop”.

In Neeson’s latest effort he plays a US Ari Marshall named Bill Marks. He is visually defined very early on in the film as a somewhat weary, somewhat depressed, chain smoking and alcoholic drinking on the job public servant who approaches his work almost on auto pilot, pardon the pun. He doesn’t particularly like being around people, but again in order to be air Marshall it comes along with the job.

Early on while in mid flight across the Atlantic Bill receives a text message on his supposedly secured line that someone is going to die every 20 minutes on the plane until $150 million is paid as ransom. And with precision clock work someone does die as threatened and it happens again and again and again.

Now the manner these passengers die I must admit as a subplot had an interesting twist that was a bit clever and suspenseful initially, but only for a brief period of time. “Non Stop” eventually starts to spiral downward a bit with the redundancy of this plot point and too much formulaic directing of the camera panning to literally every single passenger as to give the audience visual cues as everyone on board having a legitimate motive as the secretive culprit to this cat and mouse five mile high caper.

“Non Stop” has a few good moments, but it gets bogged down with what feels like the director’s attempt to running out the clock of the 1:47 minute running time. Seemingly trying to legitimize every conceivable who done it on the plane and in the end divulging an utterly preposterous motive for a weak and needlessly over intricate story.

In the end, what holds this by the book film together is the charismatic appeal, magnetism and strength of Neeson’s acting prowess, which he provides just enough to carry the film across the finish line, but just barely.

3 Stars