Cinema Review: Noah

Russell Crowe as Noah in Darren Aranofsky's biblical epic

DIR: Darren Aronofsky • WRI: Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel • PRO: Darren Aronofsky , Scott Franklin, Arnon Milchan, Mary Parent • DOP: Matthew Libatique • ED: Andrew Weisblum • MUS: Clint Mansell • DES: Mark Friedberg • CAST: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins, Emma Watson

If ten years ago you said that the director responsible for Pi and Requiem for a Dream would be making $125 million biblical epics you would have been… remarkably prescient. So, eh, well done, I guess!

 

Yes, surely thanks to the remarkable performance of Black Swan at the global box office, Darren Aronofksy has been granted a budget and canvas rarely afforded to arthouse darlings. With those resources, he has opted to put his own unique slant on one of the most famous stories of them all – that of Noah and his apocalypse-proof ark. It could have gone either way – a triumph or a massive disaster. Actually, it’s neither, but it’s absolutely fascinating to watch.

 

Do I need to go into a synopsis? The core story – divine vision, two of every animal, apocalyptic flood – is roughly intact, so many of the key story beats are obvious. What is interesting, however, is how unusual Aronofsky’s telling of the story is. He picks and chooses elements from the various versions and interpretations, as well as adding details of his own. Structurally, it’s far removed from your typical Hollywood blockbuster – most of the spectacle is spent in the film’s first half – which is perhaps perhaps best described as a ‘fantasy epic’ – and a majority of the second is devoted to a pretty intense family melodrama.

 

Noah, it should be said, is rather ‘Old Testament’ in its storytelling. It manages to get across the horror, violence, ancient morality and – yes – moments of beauty that are contained in those early volumes. It makes a valiant attempt at both critiquing and respecting the religious aspects of the story. There’s a truly stunning ‘creation’ sequence, for example, that recounts the biblical story while also allowing an evolutionary reading – a wonderful and provocative discourse realised with Aronofsky’s visceral visual storytelling (here using rapid montage editing). ‘The Creator’ (no mention the G-word here), meanwhile, mostly remains an elusive, mysterious presence throughout, despite being integral to the story. Aronofsky brings a welcome degree of scepticism while staying generally loyal to many of the myth’s themes and ideas: likely to alienate many viewers in the process, but resulting in a richer film. There’s also a contemporary environmentalist message mixed in, although it gels into the story’s themes relatively nicely and only rarely feels preachy.

 

The production values to the film are predictably impressive throughout – iffy CGI aside, but more on that anon – although the film inevitably sings during the scenes where Aronofsky indulges his wilder stylistic urges. There are several seriously spectacular moments, including a recurring dream / vision sequence that adds some welcome aesthetic oomph to that hoary cinematic tradition. The spectacle, when it comes, is intense and epic. Clint Mansell again proves himself a valuable asset, with his bold score embracing both subtlety and bombast when required. The music is overblown at times, but no more so than the story itself. Generally, there’s a welcome eccentric unpredictability to the film – despite tackling one of the best known stories from history, it’s the rare film of this scale that is happy to embark on stylistic flights of fancy or explore the underexplored thematic resonances inherent in Noah’s plight.

 

Actually, the single-most interesting aspect of Noah is the characterisation of the man himself. Crowe, Aronofsky and co-writer Ari Handel collaborate to put him on-screen as someone driven to obsession and near-madness by the challenge handed to him. He’s far from a traditional screen hero, particularly in the film’s latter half when he becomes almost completely delusional and manages to violently alienate his family in the process. It’s certainly a bold take on the character. Other members of Noah’s family do get the screentime necessary to explore their own stories, however. Jennifer Connelly plays his initially supportive wife, Naameh, with real passion, while Anthony Hopkins’ cameo adds some welcome colour – and the film’s only thing resembling humour – as Noah’s ancient grandfather Methuselah. One of the meatiest supporting roles is reserved for Emma Watson as Ila, the ‘barren’ partner of Noah’s eldest son Shem (Douglas Booth, who has comparatively little to do). Much time is also devoted to the increasingly strained relationship between Noah and middle-son Ham (Logan Lerman), who understandably is a little depressed about the possibility of a new world without the fairer sex. Ray Winstone appears as Tubal-cain, the cruel leader determined to procure the ark for himself. Alas, his extended appearance is one of the film’s less interesting features.

Which naturally leads on to the observation that the film is pretty wildly uneven. As soon as the CGI rock monsters / fallen angels appear in the opening minutes, it’s pretty obvious that certain aspects of the film ask a lot from the viewer, even if you’re willing to accept the more fantastical elements. Said ‘Watchers’ don’t become any less odd as they play a more integral part in the film’s second act. The whole thing is earnest and self-serious: rightly so at times, but to the point of parody at others. As alluded to above, plenty of it is completely overblown, especially some of the farcically melodramatic turns towards the film’s end. Surprisingly, apart from two scenes, the animals themselves are underused, although that might be down to the fact the CGI teams are clearly struggling to believably render thousands of different species at the same time. And the ending feels far too neat and tidy, as well as tonally inconsistent with what came before.

Yet, for all its imperfections – and it is, no mistake, a wildly mixed bag – there’s something ultimately admirable about its devil-may-care ambition. Aronofsky throws everything he has at the screen, and while much of it fails to stick, a lot of it does. It is a brave, auteristic blockbuster in an era when blandness and safety have become the standards. There’s something refreshing about that. It’s a reminder how rarely directors like Darren Aronofsky are gifted an opportunity to craft something on this scale, and how strange it is to see a fresh interpretation of such an iconic story. When Noah is at its visceral best, it’s something to be truly savoured, even if it can be just as maddening as endearing.

Stephen McNeice

12A (See IFCO for details)
139 mins

Noah is released on 4th April 2014

Noah – Official Website

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Cinema Review: The Bling Ring

images

 

DIR: Sofia Coppola  WRI: Sofia Coppola, Nancy Jo Sales  PRO: Roman Coppola, Sofia Coppola, Youree Henley  DOP: Christopher Blauvelt, Harris Savides  ED: Sarah Flack  DES: Anne Ross  Cast: Katie Chang, Israel Broussard, Emma Watson, Claire Julien, Taissa Farmiga, Leslie Mann

 

Sofia Coppola’s fifth film is an at times enjoyable if not in depth look at The Bling Ring story, based on the article ‘The Suspects Wore Louboutins’ by Nancy Jo Sales. The film does not tell the audience anything particularly new about the gang, nicknamed ‘The Bling Ring’ by the media. It takes an extensive look at their activities inside the homes of their victims and their enjoyment of the stolen celebrity lifestyle. What begins as an opportunistic visit to Paris Hilton’s home quickly develops into an unbridled crime spree which sees the gang stealing luxury items, cash and art from celebrities like Orlando Bloom and Lindsay Lohan. Revelling in their proximity to fame and their ownership of beautiful things the gang parties in various LA night clubs where they upload pictures of themselves posing with the stolen goods on social media sites. However, it is this carelessness and arrogance which leads to suspicion, police involvement and the eventual undoing of The Bling Ring, members of which include insecure Marc, ring leader and fashion obsessive Rebecca, party girl Chloe and best friends Nicki and Sam.

 

The acting from this cast of largely unknowns is consistent and authentic, particularly the characters of Marc and Chloe. Emma Watson is less believable as the vacant, ‘California girl’ Nicki, whose accent and gestures seem awkward and unnatural. Visually the film is glossy, exhilarating and occasionally beautiful. The scene of Rebecca and Marc running through the primarily glass home of Audrina Patridge as Hollywood lies glittering in the background is particularly note worthy and showcases the work of cinematographer Harris Savides, who sadly died during the making of the film. Coppola also cleverly utilised images from facebook, camera phones and gossip sites like TMZ. This not only highlights the recklessness and callousness of the gang but also subsequently shows how the teenagers’ lives started to mimic both the negative and positive aspects of the celebrity lifestyle they adored. Coppola is offering a critique on the culture of celebrity obsession and fast fame as she highlights how the media transformed the youths into a form of infamous star.

 

The problem is that the director appears torn between offering this tongue-in-cheek treatment of the teens who stole fame and getting caught up in the artistic visuals of the lifestyle. These lavish scenes of looting, luxury items and the gang’s social lives dilute Coppola’s point as they almost glamorize the youth’s exploits. For example in one scene we see Rebecca inside her ‘fashion idol’ Lindsay Lohan’s bedroom spraying Lohan’s perfume on while looking in the mirror. The segment attempts to demonstrate how Rebecca is essentially worshiping at the empty altar of celebrity but the way in which the scene is presented, almost like an advert, perfume glistening on the girl’s neck her hair blowing slowly past her shoulders, undermines Coppola’s critique. There are also far too many of these closet raiding scenes which can become tedious particularly as chunks of the script consist of “Wow” and “Oh my God”. Furthermore, the film lacks any real exploration or understanding of these characters’ motivations, personalities and backgrounds, expect perhaps for Marc and at times Nicki. This leaves the audience feeling disengaged with the gang and their story and occasionally a little bored.

 

Ultimately, the film offers a highly stylised treatment of The Bling Ring story which will appeal to Coppola’s fans. It boasts some decent performances, beautiful scenes and a partially successful critique on celebrity culture and the ways in which the media endorses and creates fast, empty fame. However, the filmmaker’s preoccupation with endless scenes of wealth and theft and their glamorisation undermines the central critique. This, coupled with a lack of character exploration leads to a film which lacks substance and depth. As a result The Bling Ring fails to engage the viewer and instead leaves you with the impression that you have watched an exceptionally beautiful, sophisticated reality show.

Ruth Hurl

90 mins
15A (see IFCO website for details)
The Bling Ring is released on 5th July 2013

The Bling Ring – Official Website

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Cinema Review: This Is The End

this-is-the-end

 

DIR: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg • WRI: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg • DOP: Brandon Trost • ED: Zene Baker •DES: Chris L Spellman • Cast: Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, Michael Cera, Emma Watson, Rihanna

Expanded from the 2007 short film Jay and Seth vs. The Apocalypse, This Is The End is the feature film directorial debut of long-time writing and producing partners Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Having first worked together on the US version of Da Ali G Show, the childhood friends have subsequently collaborated on a total of nine films, and while Rogen has also become a major Hollywood player in front of the cameras, Goldberg has continued to be an unassuming (but pivotal) presence behind the scenes.

They have enjoyed plenty of creative control on their films to date, but This Is The End finds them being given free rein in a way that must have seemed like a pipe dream just ten years ago. Thanks to their connection with the prolific Judd Apatow, they have come into contact with a number of rising and established comedic actors, and it is therefore no surprise to see the vast majority of them make some form of appearance in this $32 million budgeted comedy romp.

The trump card of this film is that every actor in the film is actually playing themselves, or at least a version of themselves. At the centre of the piece is Canadian actor Jay Baruchel – who featured heavily in Knocked Up and Tropic Thunder but had earlier come to prominence in Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby. He arrives in Los Angeles to spend some time with Seth Rogen, his fellow compatriot and best friend.

Not being a fan of the L.A. party scene, he hopes to confine himself to Rogen’s abode, but the Funny People actor has other ideas, and they instead end up at the home of James Franco, who is hosting a housewarming party. There they are accompanied by a plethora of Apatow alumni including Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Michael Cera, as you have never seen him before.

However, what starts as a typically rambunctious Tinseltown shindig quickly descends into something completely different. Initially oblivious to what is happening in the outside world (with the exception of Rogen and Baruchel who briefly exit the party), it some becomes clear to everyone that an apocalyptic disaster is happening before their very eyes.

Numerous guests are violently dispatched as the ground begins to crumble beneath their feet, and we are left with just six survivors – Franco, Rogen, Baruchel, Hill, Robinson and Danny McBride – who barricade themselves inside the luxurious house in an appearance attempt to fend off the horrors that await them should be embark into dangerous terrain.

When you are dealing with a concept like this, it can be all too easy for the film to lose sight of what it is trying to achieve, and it certainly is true that This Is The End has moments of indulgence and is often too self-aware for its own good. As the film moves into the final half-hour, there is a lot of discussion about how they need to be to stop being so selfish and need to treat one another with good will and charity, which could be potentially off putting for some audiences.

In an overall context, though, these are only minor concerns, as given the lack of memorable comedies that have been released during 2013, the main question surrounding This Is The End is whether or not it is able to reach sufficient levels of hilarity. It is a relief therefore to say that the film does have plenty of funny moments, and is particularly at its best when the participating stars display a willingness to send themselves up.

This is especially noticeable in the case of Franco, who has really enhanced his current standing as a truly unpredictable oddball screen presence with recent roles in Oz the Great and Powerful, Spring Breakers and The Iceman. The eccentricities that have often characterised his public persona are on full display in this film, whether it be his unique art collection or peculiar choice of food and household beverages.

Credit must also go to Hill, who does a fine job of pitching his performance somewhere between suspiciously amiable and outright sarcastic. Rogen, Baruchel and Robinson all bring their customary level of comic timing to the fray, but McBride proves to be the ace in the hole as he starts off as the most troublesome and self-centred of the group and actually becomes progressively worse despite the obvious benefits of him being the polar opposite.

With improvisation high on the agenda, the stars riff off each other to telling effect, and as they try to keep themselves occupied while the world as they know it changes irreparably, they try their hand at making an amateur sequel to the popular Pineapple Express, which featured Franco, Rogen, McBride and Robinson in lead roles.

Though much of the action remains confined to the inner sanctum of Franco’s home, the biblical implications of the film dictate that they must eventually be taken out of their comfort zone, and thanks to their reasonably sized budget, they have enough to clout to develop some eye-popping special effects, and although it intends to satirise the current trend for apoca-blockbusters, it does its level best to match them in terms of scale. Whether or not this film will go down as the cult classic that Rogen and Goldberg are clearly hoping for remains to be seen, but come the end of 2013, it will certainly register in the memory banks of cinema-goers to a much larger degree than all the comedy films that have preceded it this year.

Daire Walsh

106 mins
16 (see IFCO website for details)
This Is The End is released on 28th June 2013

This Is The End – Official Website

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Cinema Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

DIR/WRI: Stephen Chbosky • PRO: Lianne Halfon, John Malkovich • DOP: Andrew Dunn • ED: Mary Jo Markey • DES: Inbal Weinberg • Cast: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the highly anticipated coming-of-age drama based on the novel of the same name by Stephen Chbosky. The novel has gained almost cult status since its release in 1999. This film adaptation offers us a refreshing new vision as the novel’s author himself takes to the director’s seat. Fans of the hauntingly comedic novel will not be disappointed by Chbosky’s insight with memorable scenes from the book at times outshining their written counterparts.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower follows Charlie, an introverted teen about to make the transition to high school student whilst combatting personal issues. As a fan of Chbosky’s novel, I was somewhat wary of the film, as it was difficult to believe that anyone could perfectly embody the complex personality of Charlie. Thankfully, within the first half hour, it becomes impossible not to fall in love with Logan Lerman. Gangly, awkward and shy but also somehow entirely magnetic, Lerman is a revelation here. So believable is his portrayal that it will doubtlessly be his face that springs to mind the next time I pick up the novel.

Charlie tells his story in a series of letters. As he takes his first tentative steps into high school, he is taken under the wing of two seniors, Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller). From the moment they rescue Charlie by inviting him to sit with them for lunch, we witness the growth of one of the most heart-warming friendships to grace our screens.

Watson officially takes a definitive step away from Harry Potter here as the enthusiastic and effortlessly cool Sam. As we witness Charlie’s growing infatuation, we warm to her. We are even willing to overlook the patchiness of her accent in places. Watson and Lerman certainly steal the show for me, whilst Ezra Miller perfectly embodies the geek-chic ideology that fans have come to love. Here is a high school thriving on outsiders, and Miller is the ultimate outsider as Patrick.

Other stand-out cast members include Paul Rudd as Mr. Anderson, who somehow manages to make the archetype of the inspirational English teacher seem cool, and Nina Dobrev who stars as Charlie’s older sister Candace. In a departure from being chased by mythical television creatures, Dobrev battles her own demons here whilst silently aiding her brother, as their relationship grows stronger.

What sets this apart from other coming-of-age dramas is that it never descends into the total slapstick chaos we have come to associate with the theme.

The Perks of Being A Wallflower is a rarity in that it is a teen-centric drama that respects the intelligence of its audience. In the same vein as Sixteen Candles, it portrays a new vision of the teen condition. As our protagonist battles with issues like suicide, mental illness and abuse, there is a certain endearing depth here, which takes this story from teen drama to human drama.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a heartfelt love letter to an important snapshot in our lives, and is guaranteed to tug on the heartstrings of even the harshest audience. This is an absolute must-see for anyone who has ever felt the isolation of being a teenage outsider. Anyone who has ever wanted to feel ‘infinite’.

 

Ciara O’Brien

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
102mins

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is released on 5th October 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower  –  Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aog8680PVmU

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

Daniel Radcliffe in Deathly Hallows part 2

 

DIR: David Yates • WRI: Steve Kloves • PRO: David Barron, David Heyman , J.K. Rowling • DOP: Eduardo Serra • ED: Mark Day • DES: Stuart Craig • CAST: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is the final instalment in the Harry Potter series. Part 1, released in November 2010, saw the ever valiant Harry, accompanied by the loveable and loyal Ron and Hermione race against the odds and time to locate the mythical Deathly Hallows.

Part 2 picks up exactly where Part 1 left off, with an eery looking Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort bent vehemently over Dumbledore’s tomb. With Voldemort being in possession of the most powerful wand known to the wizard community, it seems all odds are stacked against our unlikely hero. Yet, the story continues with Harry, Ron and Hermione consistently beating the odds and good triumphing over evil.

It was clear from the onset the first part was merely the necessary prequel to the real excitement. Where Part 1 was slow paced and unexciting, part 2 makes no allowances for the uninformed viewer, choosing rather to dive straight into action.

It’s a fan’s movie. Perfect for all those who have read the books and have an intense interest in the stories. For those who don’t quite follow the story it’s still a visual masterpiece. The intricate details of the demonising dementors and every crevice of Hogwarts castle are infinitely more impressive in 3D. Fight scenes are magical and enchanting. With the enticing visual effects it’s an enjoyable film for all to watch, despite its arbitrary good vs. evil plot.

Radcliffe is predictable and uninspiring. Despite it being his eighth Potter film in, few attempts have been made on Radcliffe’s part to showcase Harry as anything more than a sultry misunderstood teen. Grint and Watson carry the film with their obvious chemistry overshadowing all else. In the midst of the sometimes repetitive magical saga, Rons and Hermione’s emerging romance is charming.

Irish actress Evanna Lynch’s unwavering dedication to her quirky character Luna is evident throughout. With her offbeat humour and peculiar insights, Lynch is a breath of fresh air on-screen.

The plot is predictable, as are the cast. Still, the visual effects alone make this film worth seeing. It’s a good movie, a fairy-tale ending and a very much over-due goodbye to Harry Potter.

 

Cassie Delaney

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is released on 15th July 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 – Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XT0JbNyARv4&feature=related

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

DIR: David Yates • WRI: Steve Kloves • PRO: David Barron, David Heyman • DOP: Eduardo Serra • ED: Mark Day • DES: Stuart Craig • CAST: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is the newest and seventh instalment in the movie interpretation of J.K Rowling’s iconic Harry Potter series. Lord Voldemort’s power is growing stronger, and he now has his gnarled little grey fingers in plenty of magical pies, including Hogwarts. Harry and his sidekicks Ron and Hermione, still reeling from the death of their beloved Dumbledore, must meticulously adhere to Dumbledore’s plan to defeat Voldemort, or risk losing everything they hold dear and, if Voldemort has anything to do with it, their lives.

Harry Potter has always existed as good wholesome family fun before the Fat Wizard in red makes his way down our chimneys. The success of the franchise has led to a stepping-up of the gears with each film. Here we have an enormous budget put to great use as the special effects used are seamless and fine-tuned to perfection. Nothing is out of place and each scene shows the budget to have been put to good use.

The one thing which the Harry Potter franchise has got going for it that many similar franchises lack is heart. Our unlikely heroes, as actors, have grown up with the series and as an audience we have watched them mature. There is something charming about each of our main characters, which draws us deeper into the narrative. Ralph Fiennes, as always, steals screen magnificence as the incorrigible Lord Voldemort, effortlessly evil, and yet played so perfectly that it is difficult to imagine a Harry Potter instalment without his brilliance. Whilst Harry Potter seemed somewhat irritating in his first outing, Daniel Radcliffe now so perfectly embodies the beloved character that the name cannot be uttered without mentally conjuring up his face faster than you can say ‘Avada Kadavr’.

The thing which sets this instalment apart is that there is no necessity for further character development. By this point (instalment seven) the audience already knows all they need to know about their characters, and we know how each of them react under pressure. For a lesser franchise a lack of development would be detrimental, but here, it works. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One, a perfect balance is struck between revelation, and exploration of lesser known characters to allow action to take the place of developing our trio.

Whilst the film’s creators do have quite a lot of content to include to do justice to the last book in the series, or risk the wrath of fans with wands and brooms, it remains slightly beyond me why they feel the need to make the movie in two parts. The filmmakers have always been masterful at breezing over important plot-points, and revealing their full import later on, but here they seek to reveal everything. Much of the content could have been visually insinuated as opposed to being dwelled on, and the storyline that exists here would moved much faster if the parts were merged into one. As enjoyable as Harry Potter movies always are, this feels over-long and slightly drawn-out in places, which doesn’t bode well for Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows: Part 2. After all, Peter Jackson saw no need to split The Lord of The Rings into smaller, bite-size portions than what Tolkien intended. The novel is an entity in its own right, but it exists as one narrative independent of the rest, and should really have been treated as such.

The franchise has one of the most loyal and dedicated fan-bases in movie history, and so we know that both movies are destined to do excellently, but I fear that in splitting the novel into two movies, its creators have dollar signs in their eyes, as opposed to a vision of how Rowling’s vision can be best brought to life. So Stephanie Meyer take note, splitting one novel into two movies may not be the best choice for a cohesive storyline.

This instalment is, however, a wonderful example of how a film can grow with its audience as it touches upon some major issues, and is infinitely more adult in content than its predecessors. Our trio have grown up, and their friendship has matured into something that is actually rather beautiful to witness on screen. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is a contradiction in terms. Dark, but incredibly enjoyable to watch.

Ciara O’Brien

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is released on 19th November 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 Official Website

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