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: Stuck in Love

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DIR/WRI: Josh Boone • PRO: Judy Cairo • DOP: Tim Orr • ED: Robb Sullivan • DES: John Sanders • Cast: Kristen Bell, Logan Lerman, Jennifer Connelly, Lily Collins

Stuck in Love spends a year with a broken family finding their voices in a changing world. As with many indie films, they all speak as though they have all the answers, but this is no simple love story. All our characters are struggling with the very idea of love.

 

We meet Bill Borgens (Greg Kinnear), a divorced father of two, struggling to match his early writing success following his divorce from Erica (Jennifer Connolly) who, after marrying a younger man apparently still can’t decide where she wants to be.

 

Bill’s children both want to follow in his writing footsteps. His daughter, Sam (Lily Collins) is a devastatingly beautiful yet cynical-in-love young woman who finds herself publishing her first novel whilst attempting to recoil from the advances of die-hard romantic Lou (Logan Lerman).

 

Meanwhile, son Rusty (Nat Wolff) exists in his sister’s shadow. He is struggling to find his voice in writing and life and falls for a girl who needs more help than he realizes. Bill and his children make up a trifecta of romantic misfits. Perhaps it is intentional given his existence in the shadow of his sister’s success, but Wolff unfortunately fades into the background here alongside Connolly.

 

Kristen Bell takes a departure from goofier characters here as Tricia, Bill’s neighbor-with benefits-who takes it upon herself to force Bill back into the dating world. Logan Lerman is a gorgeously executed character here as Lou, who far from being the usual pathetic love-interest, sets upon wooing Sam with wit and intelligence.

 

Stuck in Love is the debut offering from writer/director Josh Boone. This is nothing if not a passion project. We understand implicitly that Boone understands his characters better than most screenwriters, having given each of his actors a ‘care package’ of items (including of course, books) that his characters would love in order for them to get a better sense of the character as they exist in his mind.

 

The film somewhat lacks the intensity of a real purpose driving the story. It is character-driven rather than being driven by narrative. In general, this shouldn’t work on screen but, with Boone’s caring hand, it somehow works. We care enough about each character to want to spend time with them, whether or not they will lead us to any gritty on-screen action.

 

It becomes clear that, despite being unable to write a word of his own prose, Bill is the author of our story here. Bill exists as an observer, rather than a participant, which is ironic given his writing advice to his son:

 

‘A writer is the sum of their experiences. Go get some.’

 

Kinnear shares a beautiful chemistry with Collins who manages the same on-screen mastery.

 

This movie is a must-see for all book-lovers. We learn that that the kind of books our characters read reveals more about each character than any amount of dialogue.

 

Stuck in Love is a charming snapshot of a family in crisis, which teaches us what it means to be part of a family and the way in which people become part of a story. It begins and ends with Thanksgiving in a demonstration of the over-arching theme of the film, that endings can also be beginnings.

 

Ciara O’Brien

15A (see IFCO website for details)

96 mins
 Stuck in Love is released on 14th June 2013

Stuck in Love – Official Website

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The Dilemma

The Dilemma

DIR: Ron Howard • WRI: Allan Loeb • PRO: Brian Grazer, Vince Vaughn • DOP: Salvatore Totino • ED: Daniel P. Hanley, Mike Hill• DES: Daniel B. Clancy • CAST: Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Jennifer Connelly
Vince Vaughan looks wrecked. It’s sad watching him in The Dilemma dragging his bloated corpse-like body around, his huffing, breathless delivery killing his lines – not that they don’t deserve it. The Dilemma has caused a bit of a stir in the States over its use of the word ‘gay’ as a pejorative. True to the form of these things, the speech where the word is used is about the only decent thing in this collection of tired routines and irritating characters.

Ronny (Vaughan) and Nick (Kevin James) are best friends. They build engines together and have an important meeting with General Motors in a few days. So when Ronny sees Nick’s wife (Winona Ryder) kissing another man (Channing Tatum) he can’t decide whether to tell him or not. An episode of Fraiser could – and did – deal with the same idea funnier, more honestly and in a quarter of the running time. But this doesn’t even have enough material for a 25-minute TV episode. As plot complications and comedy characters are thrown into the mix you get a sense of the desperation of filmmakers who found that what they had (standard comedy fallbacks like the inappropriate speech to disapproving parents or slapstick while spying on cheating couple) wasn’t enough fill up the running time. But when a film is two hours long, as this is, they can’t even have that excuse for putting out dross like this.

At first it seemed like this was going to be yet another comedy with a stubbornly straight male view of relationships, but in fact no one in this film behaves like a real person. Every relationship is contrived and unconvincing, especially the cynical attempt at bromance. Jennifer Connolly plays Ronny’s girlfriend, Beth. She’s intelligent, is friends with Nick and his wife, and Ronny wants to marry her. And yet he never tells her what’s going on. We’re never told why, because the writers clearly don’t know why, except that if he did there wouldn‘t be a movie. This film is a concept without a screenplay. Instead of dialogue the script consists of speeches (mostly extended metaphors about ice-cream or American football) that clearly had the filmmakers splitting their sides, but fall flat on screen. And it follows the worst rule of comedy that states that when one person is talking no amount of interruptions can stop them so everyone else is forced to sit and listen, helplessly, like defendants at a show-trial. I felt much the same.

Geoff McEvoy

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
The Dilemma
is released on 21st January 2011

The Dilemma Official Website

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9

9

DIR: Shane Acker • WRI: Pamela Pettler • PRO: Timur Bekmambetov, Tim Burton, Dana Ginsburg, Jinko Gotoh, Jim Lemley, Marci Levine • ED: Nick Kenway • DES Robert St. Pierre, Fred Warter • CAST: Elijah Wood, Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, John C. Reilly, Crispin Glover, Jennifer Connelly, Fred Tatasciore

9 is exciting, creative and essentially brilliant. From director Shane Acker, 9 chronicles the adventures of nine mysterious ‘ragdolls’ desperately trying to outmanoeuvre murderous metallic beasties.

Sadly, over all the film is bitterly disappointing due to its principal flaw: it’s too short. Clocking in at only 79 minutes, 9 is far from standard length, and viewers will crave those missing 11 minutes of footage. Those minutes would greatly benefit the exciting narrative. This is not a crippling flaw, but unfortunately for 9, this brevity prevents it from becoming an instant classic. With another 10 minutes worth of adventure stitched in, 9 would rival even Pixar’s finest creations. As it stands, it bests most competitors, but struggles to crack the top tier.

Despite this flaw, those 79 minutes excel. The visuals are inspirational. From the horizon to the details of the character’s threading, the imagery is clear and precise and supported by graceful, fluid character animation. These impressive sights not only arrest the senses, but due to their clarity, the film’s ingenuity and wealth of ideas are consistently appreciable.

Additionally, the score matches this post-apocalyptic fantasy. Swelling to build tension and supplementing the excitement, the music subtly yet powerfully influences the mood: never subtracting from the screen, but seamlessly providing a subtle and powerful influence on the main feature.

9‘s numerically branded characters have refreshingly distinct personalities. 9 (Elijah Wood) is the most fleshed out, conversely 3 and 4 suffer from relatively minimal screen time. But for their part, each has a unique set of traits making them immediately recognisable (despite appearances) and lends an air of humanity to the dolls. Importantly, this bridges the gap between the human viewer and the pseudo robotic-hacky-sack-humanoid-doll-thingys. Especially clever was contrasting Jennifer Connolly’s soothing vocals with the actions of the aggressively heroic 7. The mere dissimilarity between voice and personality echoes the protagonists’ dissimilar appearance and the magnitude of their epic.

The narrative is a simple tale, with neat twists and a post-apocalyptic background. With the main story constantly in the foreground, sporadic flashbacks, revelations and plot-points weave their way throughout. Furthermore, by making the characters small and their gigantic surroundings familiar, 9 diminishes the leap of faith audiences makes when watching fantasy.

Undoubtedly, 9’s strongest selling point is its inventiveness: the ragdoll design, the weapons, gadgets, locations, history and green hue – 9 may be a number of things but derivative it is not. The action scenes imaginatively fuse humdrum props with cunning strategies and generate tension, fear and excitement from charmingly distorted mundane environments.

9 is a superb work. Sadly it won’t eat up much of your time, and will leave you wishing for more. Its duration will be enough to turn away many viewers. Those who stay, however, are in for quite a ride.

Jack McGlynn
(See biog here)

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
9
is released on 30 Oct 2009

9 – Official Website

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