Saturday, March 29, 2014

Just say "Noah"

Looking back at my review, I am reminded of how mean I can be sometimes...why the half star rating? Well, it's quite simple: Aronofsky is a visionary director who's capable of a lot, anything less seems stupid and "Noah" has a lot of stupidity going on.

For those of you who haven't seen the film yes, this is a SPOILER laden warning. Here are just some of the "highlights" from the movie...read on at your own digression.

1. The content
This one is mainly for the Christians who assumed that "Noah" was going to stick to the Bible. This group, whether good or bad, rarely ventures into the theater—only when the film has been blessed by such sites as kidsinmind or pluggedinonline.
So let me say here: just stay home. Disregarding the fact that Aronofsky treats the story of "Noah" as something almost out of Greek myth, there is a lot of...um...uncomfortableness to the picture.
The incest is one thing. Technically the only girl in the movie isn't Noah's daughter, but she's raised by him and, of course, ends up falling in love with her adoptive brother, Shem. When the movie jumps in time—so when can see them all grown up—the first scene has them tonguing in the woods while Ham watches.
Lovely.
Although it is never formally addressed, sexuality is a huge part of the movie. Ila, the girl, and Shem can't have babies because she is barren; but that doesn't stop Shem from pulling her shirt up and licking the scar that made her barren...not only does this seem anti-erotic but it is also quite insensitive. Later in the movie, as humanity is about to be wiped out by the flood, Shem goes and looks for Ila who in turn has gone after Ham. Ila meets Methuselah in the woods who magically heals her womb with InstaHorny. She hears Shem calling for her and jumps him...
That's probably as graphic as the sex gets...which isn't that bad. I had previously mentioned the scene in which Noah gets drunk and strips naked...yes, that's in the Bible...it's also in the movie.
But the sex isn't the real thing that makes the content so indigestible...it's the turn from fantasy to sheer psycho-horror. Noah turns into a lunatic, a genuinely frightening creation who's hell-bent on wiping out mankind...naturally.

2. The goofiness and the severity (staring Charlton Heston)
I would have been fine with a lot of the more cutesy moments of the film—including, when asked to look after a family, one of the rock monsters/fallen angels lifting up his three or four arms and saying "they're in good hands". badump pstch—if had had been consistent. the cutesy moments are juxtaposed next to the gritty, gore shots.
The arrival of the snakes has Noahs' wife getting a little squeamish...Noah reminds her that all the Creator's creation must come on the boat, even the creepies and the crawlies....aw. So those are cute scenes, right?
The movie takes Methuselah and makes him the Yoda-like comic relief, always craving berries. Methuselah will bumble around, randomly showing up while Noah goes down to look upon "the Men". What he sees is disturbing. The men have slaughtered a whole lot of animals and are trading women for meat...flesh for flesh. It's sex trafficking for the carnivore...no wonder Noah is a vegetarian.
This scene is actually quite horrifying, with animals being pulled apart and devoured while still alive...

3. The preaching
...which brings us to another point: the message. The point of "Noah", after all of the crazy stuff goes down is simple: be nice and don't eat meat. In the prologue, it's stated that man was to take care of the earth. Well, man started exploiting the natural resources (namely, the glowing heaven-rocks—named Zahon? or something like that—that are never explained and seem to have been left over when the angels fell to Earth...heaven explosives) and now the planet is falling apart. The Men have hunted the animals and Noah hunts the Men. It's so overtly eco-oriented that Russell Crowe looks like the Green Lantern.
The sheer fact that the descendants of Cain are referred to as "the Men" is another topic altogether...alas, I'm feeling lazy.

4. The Savior complex/psycho man
Noah is Jesus...kind of. The savior mentality that Aronofsky tries to infuse into the movie turns into a hot mess. Noah is the savior of beast-kind, but he must help annihilate all of humanity. When Ila and Shem tell him that they are expecting a child, he vows that if their baby will be a girl, he will kill her so that man will be eradicated. This is where "Noah" starts to become a caged thriller. The family is stuck inside the ark with a madman...a savior. Aronofsky purposely blurs the lines between "good men" and "bad men", somehow hoping that we won't be apathetic towards Noah...it doesn't work. Noah is often seen making the crucifix with his body, arms outstretched to the heavens. He acts on faith alone and Methuselah tells the audience that it will always fall to Noah to determine the outcome of humanity...clumsy foreshadowing.

5. The Bible
Ooh, this is the one that really sticks out like a sore InstaSleep thumb. Let's view this part as a report card for how "Noah" did. To do this, let's go ahead and not talk about the rock monsters...because, let's just not. The birthright that Noah has been passed down is a magical snake skin that is actually Satan's skin. Well, it belong to the serpent from the Garden of Eden.
God is not a present figure in "Noah", this much I called, which is why the psycho-thriller moments work. Noah sees himself as a man carrying out the will of a God who won't communicate with the,. The Men, the vegetarianism, the rock monsters, the time line...although it has the key elements of the story of Noah in the movie—there's a boat and a dude named Noah—it really is nothing like the story you have heard. One scene shows Noah telling us the creation story which involved evolution. It reaffirms the 'crazy-man-thinks-he's-heard-from-God' tangent that permeates the screen.

5. The magic
Perhaps man was more powerful after leaving the Garden. Maybe we did have magical abilities that slowly got lost over time as we got further away from God...you could look at "Noah" that way, or you could see the magic as everyone else does...as magic. The birthright/snake skin glows when it touches the line of Seth. Methuselah's powers seem larger than life and then there's the drugs.
So that they won't have to care for the animals, Noah and his family gas them with a concoction that they brew up and it puts them all to sleep...for months. This convenient little plot device allows for the animals to not be fed for the entirely of the boat trip...which takes more than nine months.


But I do think that the fatal flaw of the film is how surreal it is. It blends into a smoothie of goof...which, although probably delicious doesn't make good entertainment.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Biblical Waves of "Noah"

















There is a firestorm of controversy brewing around Darren Aronofsky's "Noah" and guess what? I called it.

I knew it, I knew it, I knew it.

Okay, I got that off my chest.

Seriously though, you take a director like Aronofsky and you ask him to make a Biblical movie? That sounds like a bad idea. For those viewers who were already eclipsed and amazed by the "Bible" miniseries film making power that brought the theaters "Son of God" it may seem like 2014 is the year of the Biblical epic. But that's not the truth. "Noah" doesn't fit into that category.
Here are the reasons that I support my statement:

1. Aronofsky's other work.
I have seen every other film by this director expect "The Fountain" which is on my to-watch list. To say that he doesn't shy away from showing everything is a gross understatement. He doesn't search out controversy as Lars von Trier does; but he does know how to a film get way beneath your skin. "The Wrestler" remains one of the few films that I couldn't finish...
In "Pi" there were drills taken to the head and brains lying in sinks. In "Requiem for a Dream" drugs raped the characters, both mentally and physicallly. With "Black Swan", Aronofsky showed up the nasty side of ballet, crafting a psychosexual drama piece that was all about the madness. He never shies away...never
With "Noah" we're told that it's hardly a Biblical representation of the man—his words—and that Aronofsky doesn't "give a f*** about " his approval ratings or how the film scored in test screenings.

2. The Bible
Even if Aronofsky did stick to the Bible, he would have plenty of ammunition to make a hard-core R-rated movie. Think about it. Just the flood itself gives us massive carnage on a scale that could put "Saving Private Ryan" to shame. Just Noah and his family survive the flood, everyone else on the planet dies...that's a lot of death.
No only that, but post-flood events aren't quite family friendly either. Genesis describes one scene in which Noah gets drunk and strips gown naked, wandering around. Two of his sons clothe him, but not before he's made a fool of himself.

3. Aronofsky on Aronofsky
Aside from being generally snide and coy about the film, Aronofsky and his actors have all admitted that this take on the story of Noah isn't by the book, pun intended. There are a lot of creative liberties being used here; but the hush-hush around the picture hasn't let us know what that is. My guess is that God won't be a preeminent figure in the film and Noah may be portrayed as a zealot acting out of faith without justification—which, to the skeptic—is exactly what happened.

4. The controversy
This, surprisingly, is the most controversial movie of the year so far—sorry "NYMPH( )MANIAC" and Lars von Trier—with good reason. Von Trier made a film about sex and called it "NYMPH( )MANIAC" while as Aronofsky is walking on the dogma of a religious group...which one sounds more explosive to you?
"Noah" supposedly has been cut and re-cut after audiences didn't like it at trial screenings. Critics have been sworn to silence...it's just a big mess; but that's what everyone wants. It's like every other popular movie out there...a big steaming plate of controversy sells tickets.

5. Son of God
The impressive/flop nature of "Son of God" implies that "Noah" might be a success; but not the one that people expected. Because it's a story about the Bible, the Christian group who saw "Son of God" will watch it. Because it's "Aronofsky", his fans will see it. It will probably earn more popular appeal than "Son of God" did. Although love by some, it was scorned by the critics who branded it as a horrible piece of trash cinema...ouch.
To amuse you, here's Abhimanyu Das' wonderfully biting review: Son of God


Yet what does it matter?
If you think that Aronosky is going to make a literal Noah story from the Bible, think again. Besides that, haven't film makers always taken creative liberties with their subjects?
I'm going to see "Noah" because I'm very excited about it and I have no expectations.
What about you?
Share your thoughts with us.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Yes, I Cry During Movies
















If you know me at all, you know that it doesn't take much for me to turn into a blubbering fool. I can cry pretty much at any sentimental point in a movie, sometimes even if I hate the movie...it's a talent.

I can remember the first movie that made me cry: "Lilo and Stitch". Of course, this is the movie that I remember first crying to, there were probably many others before that including a made-for-TV-movie-based-on-a-book-kind-of-deal that was about a turtle named Franklin...I don't recall exactly how the story went but there was a moose involved.

With "Lilo and Stitch" however, I do remember the exact circumstance. I should mention that I had seen the movie several times before, but it wasn't until I was surrounded by friends and family that I broke down. The scene in question showed a group of girls bullying Lilo for having an ugly doll. It wasn't the bullying that bothered me, which I think would be the more potent tear-enducing-formula now; but it was how Lilo reacted. She threw her doll on the ground and stomped off, angry that her ugly doll—the one that she had made—was a source of mockery. Of course, that didn't last long and Lilo ran back to the doll, picked it up, and gave it a big hug.
Freakin' waterfalls.

That's the first movie I remember that made me cry.

But why should we want to watch movies that make us cry? Isn't the point of film escapism? Well, maybe not. Part of it, I hypothesize, is that misery loves company. If we see a person going through the same circumstances that we have, it's almost comforting, and we can cry for that. A lot of the tears come from bittersweet moments of triumph. That's what we love to see, a person who as been in the pits of despair (don't even think of escaping, the chains are far too thick) overcoming the odds and rising to the height of glory as a victor.

This is why I cry for Celie in "The Color Purple". No scene hits me so hard as the last one, when she finally gets to meet her children after the many, many years. The music swells and the tears fall...forget it, I'm a mess.

This is also why I cried, basically sobbing, my way through "The Impossible". The separation of mother, father, and children by a cataclysmic event was scary enough. Add to this the horrors that the family had to endure and the sweet, sweet sense of reunion. Forget it, I'm a mess again.

We all love the triumph. That's why we cry, because we're happy for a character to achieve such happiness. A part of us feels their pain. Our empathy is a good thing.

The triumph leads us to cry at scenes like the pen scene from "A Beautiful Mind" or the ending scene in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest".

It's even worse when there is an air on finality to it—as in searching for something your whole life and finally achieving or grasping it.

Which brings us to another reason—we weep for the despair. Things don't always have a happy ending. We love the victor, because we love the bittersweet of the triumph. But we also cry for the despair, for the loss. This is why the moments in "Schindler's List" hit most of us hard. Because we can feel the tangible loss, literally the death. Though it is in the end scene when Spielberg emerges over the top of a hill accompanied with the people who Schindler saved and they walk to the man's grave and place stones of thanks upon it when, the tissues need to start coming.

But here again, is this truly a loss? Schindler actually triumphed over the Nazis and that's what makes the film so powerful.

True loss, true despair is even more powerful. I can think of no better example of this than "The Thin Red Line". The loss of life is staggering, the emotion that this brings is stifling. This is me weeping at my finest.

Another movie, thought it's hard to consider it when you weigh the hipster disdain towards the piece, is "Titanic". That deals with loss, lots of loss. There is no real triumph here unless you consider the precious moments of love a triumph...which I don't. For some reason, James Cameron is an easy target for people to hate...why?

Anyways, yes,  the tears come for "Titanic" because of genuine loss.

We cry for that intangible moment of emotion that accompanies certain events, unfamiliar to us except through a screen. That's what makes film great.

So essentially this article has been pointless because the fact is that movies make us cry and we keep going  to see them.
That's okay.

Here are the more potent moments for me in no particular order:

Dealing with loss in "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close"


Family coming together again from "The Impossible"

Confusion, giving in, and resilience—the final moments in "The Thin Red Line"

The body issues in "Little Miss Sunshine"
The Passion from "The Passion of the Christ"


Celie finally meeting her children in "The Color Purple"



Schindler wanting to sell his ring in "Schindler's List"



Patsey getting whipped in "12 Years a Slave"
Finally getting to walk on top of the clouds in "Man on Wire"



Dealing with grief in "Ordinary People"


The couple embracing in "Slumdog Millionaire"


The culmination of insanity in "Requiem for a Dream"

Saying good-bye and starting to celebrate in "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
Marriage from "Up"


What are your tear-jerker moments? Let us know.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

And the Oscar goes to...
















"It's been raining, we're fine. Thanks for your prayers."
First of all, I wasn't one of the Seth MacFarlane haters. You hire an offense comic and when he's offensive, you're surprised. Why?
But we don't need another "We Saw Your Boobs" song, so Ellen is here to save the day. Her opening monologue was perfection, just go Youtube it, you know you want to. The highlights of her speech involved Jennifer Lawrence and June Squibb.
The first award went to Jared Leto for "Dallas Buyers Club"...wow, no one was surprised. His speech rambled and went from his mother and brother to AIDS to the Ukraine and Venezuela—I was surprised that he wasn't played off the stage.
The theme of the show was "Heroes"—random. The hero clips started out with an ode to animation.
Then Pharrell Williams reminded us that he is so darn cool, plus we got to see Meryl Streep shimmy. He got the audience on their feet and did a very respectable job.
"The Great Gatsby" won costume design, and Catherine Martin gave a great speech, then "Dallas Buyers Club" beat out "Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa" with their makeup win...bummer.
Presenting the first three films was Harrison Ford, who looked like he would have rather been anywhere else...but what was with that wall of roses? Are we doing an "American Beauty" thing? That has nothing to do with heroes...I don't get it.
Kim Novak and the McConaissance were really awkward. Kim looked totally high. Yes, we're sorry about "Vertigo"; but please get off the stage.
Best Animated Short went to "Mr. Hublot"...who knew? "Get a Horse" wasn't helped by the "Frozen" star power...then the "Frozen" star power won itself an Oscar...no one was surprised.
Sally Field wasn't quite as awkward as Harrison Ford; but she stumbled through the next hero segment...which made equally as much no sense as the first segment.
Wow! "Gravity" won visual effects...duh! But what we didn't surprise was a great speech, short and sweet.
Karen O's performance brought the awards show to a dead halt, in a good way. Her haunting performance shut everyone up, you could have heard a pin drop—quite good.
"Helium's" win for short film proved that you don't have to have a familiar face to win an Oscar, sorry Martin Freeman. Then "The Lady in Number 6: Music Save My Life" won Best Documentary, Short Subject.
"20 Feet From Stardom" nabbed the Best Documentary in lieu of "The Act of Killing"...wow, I wasn't expecting that; but that's what we like about the Oscars. Then one of the singers from the documentary belted out an acceptance speech which was really awkward but it got her a standing ovation.
But then...Kevin Spacey came out and introduced the Governors Awards as Frank Underwood and I almost died. The honorary Oscars went to Steve Martin, Angela Landsbury, and Piero Tosi—Angelina Jolie got the humanitarian award...we all love her.
Ewan McGregor and Viola Davis made us all hate that we weren't at the Oscars, they presented the Best Foreign Language Film which went to "The Great Beauty". Fellini was honored in Paolo Sorrentino's speech as was Scorsese himself. Tyler Perry then shows up, not as Madea—darnit!—and introduces more Best Picture titles.
Brad Pitt, weird haircut and all, introduced U2 singing "Ordinary Love". Naturally, they sounded fantastic live and then everyone stood up faster than all the Democrats at Obama's State of the Union Address.
Then, the world's best photo ever!
Charlize Theron bumbled through an introduction, reminding us that everyone had problems with the teleprompter because I doubt any of the people present could read. The technical awards started and the "Gravity" onslaught began...we all knew it was coming.
Christoph Waltz introduced the Best Supporting Actress which was...Lupita Nyong'o!!!! So incredibly happy! She gave a wonderful speech, teary and heartfelt and a little nervous—so charming.
Ellen then served everyone pizza and made Harvey Weinstein pay for it, what a boss! I liked MacFarlane but Ellen was so freakin' amazing.
Amy Adams and Bill Murray introduced Best Cinematography which—duh!—went to Emmanuel Lubezki.
Editing Oscar went to "Gravity"...we all knew it, again. Alfonso Cuarón picked up his first award for editing—good job!
Whoopi Goldberg came on stage and introduced another incoherent hero related "Wizard of Oz" reference thingy....but hey, P!nk was there and she killed it, so what do we care? Looking flawless, she got a standing ovation, which is nice; but we still don't know what the heck she was doing there.
Catherine Martin got up again for her fourth Oscar for production design for "The Great Gatsby", she gave another great speech.
Then the Academy introduced Chris Evans as "talented"...really? Anyway, if we missed any lead male hero montages, don't worry, they appeared here next; but we saw only five women, so it was all okay...I guess?
No, people, woman can't be heroes...because they're women.
Thanks, Academy for reminding us of that wonderful fact.
Glenn Close, looking regal, introduced the in memoriam section which was followed up by one of the more awkward moments of the night when Bette Midler made us all laugh instead of cry. We went from thinking about how many talented people died to "Ew, this is awkward!"
Goldie Hawn, looking slightly smashed, introduced the last three Best Picture nominees. She didn't have any problem with the teleprompter...go Goldie!
Cue John Travolta and the "Pulp Fiction" music introducing "Let it Go" singer Idina Menzel whose face looked like it was going to rip in half while singing.
Jamie Fox has way too much fun at these things, he got his Vangelis on while introducing the nominees for Best Original Score which Stephen Price won for "Gravity".
Then the "Let it Go" Oscar gave us the best acceptance speech of the night courtesy of the Lopez music making juggernaut which completed their EGOT. I didn't think they should have won, but good job anyways, but give Pharrell Williams his Oscar. Pouty face.
John Ridley's win was emotional and eloquent. He got a standing ovation which is incredibly rare for a screenwriter. Spike Jonze got an Oscar for original screenplay and he got a standing ovation too! Go Spike!
Angelina Jolie came out with Sidney Poitier and gave the Best Director Oscar to Alfonso Cuarón...duh again and again. Duh ten-fold.
No standing ovation for Alfonso...bummer.
Sidetrack for a moment: Sandra Bullock looks flawless.
Cate Blanchett won for Best Actress and we got another snark-filled acceptance speech. She's just so amazing!
The McConaissance is complete! He wins—even though he shouldn't, but whatever. His speech was 50 shades of awkward. Just shut up! And we learn that Matt is his own hero...what? Just shut up!
Will Smith presented the award for Best Picture, which doesn't make sense because we all remember "After Earth"...Will should be in Oscar timeout—no shows for another three years.
Steve McQueen practically tackled the presenter when "12 Years a Slave" won Best Picture. This is perplexing because the film only won three awards, but I think that this movie will go down in history. One can only hope.
Ellen closed us out and then it was all over.
Sad face.