Noah Review

noah-pstr01


If there’s one thing I love, it’s a good bit of controversy. I don’t necessarily to get involved personally, but watching the vitriol spew forth from both sides is about as sporting as I tend to get these days. And, if there’s a sure fire way to get Bible thumpers up in arms, it’s to make an adaptation of a Bible story. A lot of the controversy stems from the fact that Noah isn’t a beat-for-beat adaptation of the Genesis story. Contrary to popular belief, Noah is not based in biblical canon but is rooted much more firmly in apocryphal texts like the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Book of Enoch. So, if anyone tells you that Noah is inherently a bad film because it isn’t right-wing retread of a watered-down Sunday school story, I want you do me a favor and smack them so hard that the front of their head becomes the back of their head.

I admit that I had been looking forward to seeing Noah for a long time, and the fact that Darren Aronofsky declined to direct both The Wolverine and Robocop in favor of focusing on Noah at the very least reassured me that he was passionate about what can only be described as his pet project. Aronofsky’s signature bleakness of tone is here in abundance and the omnipresent sense of tension and dread works exceedingly well within the context of the story. The film is expertly paced as the overarching plot is smartly broken into more manageable and intimate pieces, allowing the audience to become attached to the characters- an absolute necessity for the sublimely engaging third act.

Noah stars Russell Crowe as the titular protagonist along with Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, and also features a cameo by Sir Anthony Hopkins as wise man Methuselah and Ray Winstone as the evil Tubal-cain. Crowe and Winstone in particular work beautifully against one another as the hero/nemesis dichotomy is explored to its potential, culminating in a hand to hand showdown between the two. The thing I love about the characters is that they’re both relatively reasonable (in the beginning, anyway) and Tubal-cain actually has a coherent motive rather than being cartoonishly evil for no other reason than the story necessitating the presence of a villain. Crowe’s Noah, likewise, is a complex and tragic character burdened with the survival of humanity. Noah might be Crowe’s best performance to date, in fact, and his portrayal of a man crushed by the burden and guilt and responsibility is incredibly moving, to say the least.

Noah is an action movie, but it’s the good kind of action movie where the action exists to serve the plot as opposed to the other way around. Too often we have big budget productions that are essentially fireworks displays threaded through a vaguely coherent narrative, but in Noah, there always a clear sense of purpose for the fight scenes and the audience knows exactly what the charters are trying to accomplish in each of the battle sequences. Not a single shot is wasted either. Aronofsky knows exactly when to show off his expensive set-pieces and when to show restraint, culminating in a tight and wonderfully focused story.

The plot is fairly straight forward but cleverly waits until the third act to show it’s trump card, so to speak. Once Noah’s family is on the ark and out at sea, things begin to spiral out of control quickly. We begin to wonder who the real antagonist actually is, and that feeling of powerlessness and being trapped with something that passively, malevolently hates you is a major factor in creating the dramatic atmosphere. Indeed, Aronofsky somehow manages to stretch out the tension to the breaking point during the final act, but in a way that keeps you on the edge of your seat as opposed to inducing frustration. Even during the denouement, Aronofsky still portrays Noah as a deeply troubled, tortured character, making him easily one of the most interesting and memorable protagonists this year.

I urge audiences not to dismiss Noah as some toothless Bible move like the recent Son of God, and instead take it for the intriguing sci-fi reimagining that it is. Aronofsky has proven himself, one again, to be one of Hollywood’s most visionary directors, which certainly gives me hope for the future, if nothing else. Speaking of the future, Noah has likewise given cause to look forward to other out-of-the-box Bible films, namely Exodus: Gods and Kings, directed by none other than the legendary Ridley Scott. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Rating: 4 out of 5

The Bling Ring Review

 

From People Magazine to E! News we as a culture are constantly inundated with the lives of our celebrities. It’s almost frightening to what degree we essentially worship them. We want to know the names of their babies the minute they’re born, and we lust after everything these stars and starlets have ever touched, be it cloths, cars, or beverages. They’re lives seem so perfect and glamorous with their fast cars, designer clothes, and absurdly insane parties. I suppose in a world where Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga have more twitter followers than President Obama it’s not surprising to read about a group of kids so desperate to live that lifestyle that they’d invade the houses of the very celebrities they fetishize.

The Bling Ring in many ways works as a glimpse into the minds of these celebrity obsessed youths. They’ve been raised on TMZ and Perez Hilton, and they want nothing more than to be another part of the stories they obsess over. Sophia Coppola is essentially showing us the logical extreme of this troubling fascination. Now, most times a filmmaker tries to do something like this it can seem shallow or condescending, but here it gains a real power as you realize everything in this film actually occurred. These people exist and they represent something really quite endemic in our culture.

In all honestly the greatest achievement here is the deft way in which Coppola handles her characters. She was able to both satirize them and their really quite frightening disregard of common moral guidelines and delve deeply into her subjects. Bling Ring laughs at these people but never thinks of them as jokes. There’s a real effort made here to make them more than just caricatures of gossip obsessed teens. A good point of comparison would be Harmony Korin’s film from earlier this year, Spring Breakers. While that film aimed for a very cold and disaffected atmosphere with its quite two dimensional characters, The Bling Ring went for something quite different and actually flesh out it’s characters.

It seems a bit redundant at this point to talk about how freaking gorgeous a Sophia Coppola film is, but here I am doing it anyways. I mean, it’s really sublime. The work the cinematographer, Harris Savides, and Coppola put into this film really shows. Through their brilliant direction they were able to capture the shallow horror of the celebrity obsessed lifestyle these characters live in, and create something quite amazing to behold.

In many ways these elements all meld into something of a horror story. It shows the terror of celebrity’s magnetizing allure. The stars that we see on the silver screen or hear in our headphones are the beautiful and rich people through which we compare ourselves. They seem so perfect, having so much fun without a care in the world. Why aren’t we like that? We’re stuck here in our normal lives while they’re living life at it’s most glamorous: the designer clothes, the parties in Vegas, and the famous friends. This dream can act as something like a siren’s call on us, whispering in our ear and driving us to do some really quite stupid and immoral things. It’s a fascinating thing to behold and luckily Coppola was there to show it to us in all it’s train wreak like glory.

Rating: 4 out of 5

The Perks of Being a Wallflower Review

It took me a long time to work up the courage to see this film, not because of the content, but because I was terrified that it was going to unabashedly destroy my perception of the book. Call me Obama and let me be clear- The Perks of Being a Wallflower may soon join the ranks of great american novels along with The Catcher In the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird. The book portrays 21st century society through the eyes of a child in a manner both honest and hauntingly resonant. Everyone can relate to it and everyone will be touched in at least some small way. Please, please do yourself a favor and read the book. You will not regret it.

Fine. But what of the film?

Directed by the original author, Steven Chbosky and staring Percy Jackson, Hermione Granger, and a young Keanu Reeves, the film captures the struggles of a standoffish teenager as he deals with sex, drugs, prejudice, love, relationships, and the Rocky Horror Picture Show. I am glad to say that my reluctance was for naught as Chbosky’s adaptation brilliantly recaptures the spirit of the original and brings this touching story to a new audience. I cannot recall the last time I felt such profound, genuine emotion from a movie, and for that reason Perks is high in the running for my favorite film of the year.

Chbosky’s cinematography is competent yet unremarkable, which perhaps allows for a tighter focus on the story and characters. I did find it interesting, however, that the film’s universe seemed to be an idealized, perhaps even romanticized, depiction of small town America. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the bright colors and clean, crisp use of line and space suggest a cartoonish element, but the apparent lightness of atmosphere contrasts nicely with the sometimes morbid subject matter and keeps the tone from becoming too grim.

Logan Lerman as Charlie and Ezra Miller as Partick both deliver outstanding performances. These young men have bright futures in the industry judging by their ability to infect the audience with authentic emotions which I haven’t seen in film for a long time. Strangely, the supposed heavyweight, Emma Watson, delivers a somewhat stilled performance and seems to be holding something back, perhaps for fear of letting slip her British accent which keen ears might pick up on at certain parts in the film. It’s not as though her performance was bad by any means, but when compared to the knockout performances of Lerman and Miller, she’s a Hershey kiss to their fondue fountain.

Concerning the story, the film is similar to the novel, intricately incorporating multiple story lines as seen from Charlie’s perspective. However, I did want to see a more in-depth view of the Charlie’s family dynamics and the consequences of certain events. For instance, the novel portrays Charlie’s father as a much more emotional and fragile man than how he appears in the film. As such, Charlie’s relationship with his parents is almost completely omitted. Likewise, the interactions between Charlie’s immediate family and his extended family could have been further explored and would have provided more context into Charlie’s shyness.

The only real qualm I have about the film is that it’s charm and meaning may not bridge the generational gap between us millennials and our parents, for the simple reason that they may not have the same perception of high school and of American society as we do. Then again, it’s not really for them; it’s for us. The novel, and naturally the film, was intended to capture a specific place in time where unique struggles and conflicts occur which resonate specifically with our generation.

I you’re like me and are worried that the film will ruin your perception of the novel *cough* Vampire Hunter *cough* rest assured that it will not. If you’re emotional be prepared to cry and if you’re cerebral be prepared to think. You might just find that there’s a little piece of Charlie in you, and when you find it, The Perks of Being a Wallflower will remind you that you’re not alone.

Rating: 4 out of 5