“Noah” doesn’t take the easy way out

"Noah" floods the screen with excitement

“Noah” floods the screen with excitement

I’ve had this long-standing debate within myself trying to determine if book (or any other medium) adaptations should at least follow and at least respect the source material. Because that’s all Hollywood can conjure up nowadays. It’s not we are in the 90’s where the next spec script could be the next big hit. No. We can’t really comprehend anything “new.” Heck, even “Pacific Rim” got flack for not being original enough.

But what about Bible adaptations?

There is a semi-rich history of Bible movies such as “The 10 Commandments,” which is heralded as a classic. And by the looks of it, we are about to have another Renaissance of Bible movies with “Son of God,” “Noah” and later this year’s “Exodus: Gods and Kings” directed by Ridley Scott and starring Christian Bale.  So, how does “Noah” stack up with the rest?

As mentioned before, adaptations can be a tricky thing; especially with the source being the Bible. But we all know the story of Noah and the Ark, right? Well, in this telling the seed of Cain has built up cities of sin and inequity that spreads throughout all the connected continents. The only righteous ones are the ones of the seed of Seth, Noah (Russell Crowe) and his father, Lamech (Marton Csokas). After Lamech is viciously murdered, it is Noah’s responsibility to carry on the seed of righteousness. Time passes and Noah, now with a family of a wife, Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), and three sons, Shem (Douglas Booth), Ham (Logan Lerman) and Japeth (Leo McHugh Carroll). They live in a pre-historic-like post-apocalyptic wasteland what is barren to live. They are vagabonds who struggle with the bare necessities. They rescue a small girl, Ila (Emma Watson), when escaping danger. Noah gets his call from The Creator through dreams filled with death-filled imagery.

And the same beats of the Noah story are hit… and then some. King of the seed of Cain, Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), catches wind of Noah’s scheme of ark building and gathers an army to overtake it, just in case it actually happens. As you can tell, this is where the Hollywoodizing comes into play. I’m not a big Bible scholar, but this isn’t entirely canonical. Yeah, I’m sure there would be some pretty pissed off people who would attempt overwhelming a lifesaving vessel as the ark. And this kind of logic doesn’t bother me. It builds tension and adds drama. There is also a plot convenience of rock creature, reminding me too much of “The Lord of the Rings” ents, who help Noah build the ark then protect it. These mystical giants are added seemingly to answer “Noah didn’t really build the ark by himself, right?” and to give the evil armies something to fight against. Whatever. I can overlook that.

Don’t go into the theater thinking you are going to enjoy yourself. My experience was that I found it exciting but not enjoyable. It leans more toward an overly serious biopic than a comedy or a superhero flick. If you enjoy those kind of serious monotone movies, ones with action and drama, this would be for you. But if you want to have a “good time,” not so much.

Russel Crowe is back in the epic seat.

Russel Crowe is back in the epic seat.

Director, Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan, The Wrestler) is, by my estimation, one of few directors who is pushing the boundaries of storytelling and film-making into new territories. None of his movies is without substance and “Noah” is no exception. There is one sequence, which seemed to be in the vein of “The Fountain,” where Noah retells the Creation story and the visuals matching up could have been taken straight from Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “Cosmos.” Suggesting that the two theories can coincide is a bold one. He knows how to pack his movies with meaning and philosophy.

The cast is intimate with everyone’s intentions being held in plain view. We understand their wants, needs and their needs to obtain them. Aronofsky does something amazing with them as well. In the second half the viewers’ allegiances change as the characters do. We are pulled in every which way as the characters clash right before our eyes.

I guess I should make a content advisory. Well, there really isn’t one, but just know that this isn’t a soft-telling of Noah, it’s rather hard and coarse. There are pretty horrifying images and ideas that come into play that you wouldn’t share in Sunday School. Just sayin’.

Noah-2022-HD-screencaps-full-hd-wallpaper-1920x1080There are some logical holes that leave me scratching my head concerning the central conflict in that second half. Nonetheless, that was my only huge gripe except the overly-serious tone.

I evaluate a movie mostly on the level of which it makes me think and feel. “Noah” got me thinking plenty about good versus evil and the nature of God and his intentions with us, and the cast made me invested in their characters. The film could have been a paint-by-numbers retelling with some easy plot filler. But it took serious chances, filled it with intention and meaning and held my interest throughout. So overall, I’d say Aronofsky is heightening his art with this Biblical tale.

Rating: Pretty Good!

What did you think? Did the deviations from the Bible bother you? Let me know.

Next up: Captain America: the Winter Soldier. 

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“Divergent” ups the YA novel adaptation genre

Divergent combines HP and HG into an exciting hero adventure.

Divergent combines HP and HG into an exciting hero adventure.

Almost any Young Adult novel being adapted to the screen is surefire box office gold. Beginning with the Harry Potter films moving toward the Twilight Saga and now the recent Hunger Games films. Interestingly enough, they’re being more female focused and more action heavy which interests both genders. They’re also capitalizing on a flawed utopic future which runs along the lines of the zombie/apocalyptic craze that has been sweeping pop culture around the board.

Divergent combines these elements into a true hero story that holds the interest of its audience as it guides them through a fully developed world.

In a near-future Chicago, the entire city is in crumbles. There are no cars to be seen, just a train that runs from one end of the city to the other. The population is split into one of five “factions” where each one has their own place and role in the society. At a certain age, the young adults choose their own faction to contribute to for the rest of their lives only after a test to show them where they fit in the best. Tris (Shailene Woodley) is a plain girl from the faction which values selflessness and lack of vanity. Her time has come to choose which way she is to go. She has always admired Dauntless, the faction which values courage and who acts as the society’s guards. They are the rockstars of the society, ruthless and borderline obnoxious. As Tris takes the test, the results are inconclusive… a Divergent. She doesn’t fit into one category. She is instructed hide this discovery in fear that the government on high will take her “threat.” At the “sorting,” she is placed in in Dauntless where she begins her rigorous physical training.

This is only the first act, which builds the world that we are to live in for the 2+ hour run-time. There are subplots that pop up throughout which eventually come up to fruition in the final third. But, that’s the basis of what the viewer needs to know.

The acting assemble carries the film well enough. I didn’t notice any clunky acting or too much cheesy dialogue that took me out of the movie. The writing takes itself seriously at times. But hey, if they aren’t taking the material seriously we should too. Some standouts in the cast is the aforementioned Woodley who carries the movie. We follow her in attempt to see sympathize for her situation and choices. Her character could be fleshed out more, but her progression is undoubtedly believable. Theo James plays her mentor and leader, Four. Yes… Four. Anyway, he is the “hunk” of the movie who is mostly mysterious throughout the film which only adds intrigue to his character. Kate Winslet is the intimidating leader of a revolution, Jeanine. Whenever she is on screen, the scene is elevated. She acts and sells that she is the big bad of the film.

Woodley takes the plunge as America's next heroine.

Woodley takes the plunge as America’s next heroine.

The world that was built felt authentic even if the premise and technologies were far-fetched. Just like any movie of this kind, we have to suspend our disbelief and it doesn’t even do it that much.

Director Neil Burger paints with broad strokes with touches of small ones. This is needed to guide the viewer along who has no previous knowledge of the source material. I didn’t have to ask many questions concerning the plot which can’t be said about other adaptations. Burger stays unseen behind the camera as he films and edits the action scenes; not too bouncy or chaotic. He allows the story to tell itself.

That’s not to say that there aren’t faults in the storytelling. This is one of those kinds of movies where the more you think about some plot devices, the more they don’t make too much sense. A little stretch of imagination never hurts.

Although there was a typical teenage relationship, as any Young Adult adaptation would do, it only has one (and maybe a half) scene then backs away because it has done its purpose. This, overall, I can appreciate. And yes, it does act as a metaphor that hits its point over and over again. I can excuse this though because if the film doesn’t have meaning, it doesn’t have anything.

I wasn’t anticipating this movie to satisfy my cinematic tastes, but it did. Currently, it’s sitting at 41% on RottenTomatoes while Muppets Most Wanted is at 77%. This dumbfounds me because I would flip those percentages. Divergent sets out to tell the story it wants to tell and it does it fluently and without complicated plotting.

Rating: Pretty good.

What did you think? Did this measure up with Hunger Games or just as bad as the Twilight movies?

Next up: Noah. 

“Muppets Most Wanted” is least wanted

The Muppets are back in a lackluster sequel.

The Muppets are back with all its tropes but without its humor.

2011 ushered in a new era of Muppet-ry which gave hope to old and new fans of the variety of felt-made creatures. Headed up by Jason Segal with music by Bret McKenzie, the revival promised a fresh breath of air into a franchise which lost its steam through the years with lazy iterations. Now, history won’t repeat itself will it?

Sadly, yes.

Muppets Most Wanted (originally named The Muppets Again, which is more funny than most other jokes in the movie) begins at the end of The Muppets. Immediately, the self-referential humor begins as all the characters understand that the movie has ended, they’re back on the map and… now what? With a few pitches from the cast, a sneaky Ricky Gervais suggests a world tour. And we’re off with just that. Gervais’ Dominic Badguy, entices the overly-oblivious Muppet crew to make terrible artistic and business decisions for his sketchy plans. Teaming up with a world-class villain who is a Kermit look-a-like, Constantine, they plan on robbing London’s crown jewels as the Muppets roadshow as guise. With some trickery, Kermit is taken to a Russian prison camp with Tina Fey’s strict warden Nadya, he must escape to save the Muppets show and take Miss Piggy back from Constantine.

Phew. As you could probably tell, the plot is weighty, confusing, boring and disorienting to say the least. And that’s source of the film’s problems: the script. With the case of other children focused sequels, like Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted and The Smurfs 2, the writers need to make the film more accessible to a worldwide audience so they take the story to a global scale. That’s where the device of a world tour (which is just Europe) comes into play. It’s just a sign of lazy screenwriting and lack of creativity.

What made The Muppets so impressionable is that it was a movie about itself; it knew its setbacks and its goals. This sequel just doesn’t know what it wants to do. Sure, it has most of the Muppet tropes it’s known for such as celebrity cameos, musical numbers, and self-referential jokes. It just doesn’t do any of it well. It takes one shot of a celebrity and moves on.

the-muppets-most-wanted-kermit-and-the-muppets-600-370I won’t say that the music was “bad,” per se, just not memorable. Bret McKenzie returns to supervise the music and in writing original tracks. The introductory number, “We’re Doing a Sequel,” is admirable effort Muppet fare and lively. It’s the highlight of the whole movie, and it’s just at the beginning. All the other songs are canned and traditional Broadway style. Others are uncomfortable and just for the sake of giving a musical number to one of its stars. Such as Gervais’ duet with Constantine, “I’m Number One.” Gervais seems uncomfortable and out of his element. But, Miss Piggy’s balled “Something So Right,” which features Celine Dion, is actually touching and poignant. It’s this movie’s “Man or Muppet.”

The length is exhausting and the lackluster plot doesn’t help move the film along at all. The jokes fall on their face time after time that it becomes pretty embarrassing.

Coming from an avid Muppet fan, I wanted this movie to tickle every fancy I have for the characters and makes them them. But it is just a sad effort on all fronts.

Rating: Bad.

Are you as much of Muppet fan as me? And how did you like it, if you had seen it?

Up next: Divergent. 

“Non-Stop” or “Taken” on a Plane?

I was surprised to see this thriller of 30,000 feet get the amount of critical love that it has. Granted, it has only a 60% on RottenTomates, but hey!, that’s actually certified as “fresh!” I guess we aren’t tired of Liam Neeson action vehicles just yet.

Liam Neeson never stops.

Liam Neeson never stops.

Non-Stop opens up with Neeson staring contemplatively at an airport drinking from a whiskey bottle. Right away we get a glimpse of Neeson’s character Bill Marks: he’s a man with a heavy and hurt past and a dismal future. Marks is an air marshal charged with the task of escorting a flight from NYC to London. With only a few brief encounters, he’s on the plane sitting next to a nervous passenger, Jen Summers (Julianne Moore). Marks is a maverick in his own right, smoking and drinking in the lavatory after taping up the smoke detectors. He gets a text from an unknown number through the private plane network which says unless 150 million dollars isn’t deposited into a bank account, someone on the flight will die every 20 minutes.

What follows is a top of the line thriller. The danger is immediate and the time limit between deaths serves as dramatic tension. Yet with this 20 minute device, the story is episodic. It has stop and go tendencies which is ironic seeing that the title is Non-Stop. Despite that, every episode had me holding my breath.

I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t fooled. That’s part my fault (for actually trying to be smarter than the movie) but also the movie’s. If you’re going to give me a mystery give me the breadcrumbs to follow. This was a dire mistake in last year’s Now You See Me. Although, Non-Stop isn’t as egregious or offensive, I felt a little cheated. Oh well.

Neeson as Bill Marks, grizzled hero.

Neeson as Bill Marks, grizzled hero.

Neeson plays his same grizzled lawman with determination. Which is what we are now expecting every time we see him in a new release, right? I didn’t notice any other performance as being misplaced or confusing. Much of the cast were unknowns except for the newly Oscar award winning actress Lupita Nyong’0 who only plays the smallest of roles. This is a strength of the film, having so many unknowns doesn’t make draw any of our eyes any which way. Anyone could be the hijacker.

Jaume Collet-Serra take the director’s chair in this only having directed Leeson’s past feature Unknown and a couple little horror features like Orphan and House of Wax. I’m not going to say he did a “bad job.” But much of what he did didn’t let me focus on the action on the screen. In some sequences, he was movement-happy with the camera. Text messages in the form of super-imposed images floated across the screen. This wasn’t a bad thing to do; it helped heighten the tension, but I feel like it could have been used in a less jarring way.

All around, Non-Stop was a highly-effective thriller which kept me on the edge of my seat. Well-paced, the acting delivered and the script didn’t have much fat on it to be trimmed. But, it won’t change the way you see cinema or move you in a life-changing way. Which is okay.

Rating: Good.

Did you get to see it? Was it more than “Taken on a Plane?” Let me know!

Next up: Need for Speed or Veronica Mars or The Grand Budapest Hotel. 

“The Wind Rises,” Miyazaki’s Final Opus Soars

"The Wind Rises" your spirits.

“The Wind Rises” your spirits.

Hayao Miyazaki has made a name for himself with his masterful and imaginative animated movies beginning with 1986’s Castle in the Sky, even up to winning Best Animated Feature in 2002 with Spirited Away. Although I’ve only seen those mentioned (I plan to see most if not all) I know what makes a Miyazaki film: grace, gorgeous animation, remarkable storytelling and endearing characters.

Miyazaki’s possible final film is no exception.

The Wind Rises is about dreams. We are introduced to a “Japanese boy” named Jiro (Joseph Gord0n-Levitt) whose literal and figurative dream is to design the most gorgeous and best functional airplanes anyone has ever seen. He’s visited by an eccentric Italian mentor, Caproni (Stanley Tucci), periodically in his dreams to drive Jiro’s ambitions and give him inspiration to continue. While traveling back to school an earthquake hits which allows teenage Jiro and a small child, Nahoko (Emily Blunt), to connect through Jiro’s kindness for her guardian. That outgoing gesture paves the way for their relationship down the road.

The plot bounces back and forth with Jiro’s pursuits of inspiration, ingenuity and work with his boss Kurokawa (Martin Short) to his relationships with his friend and peer, Honjo (John Kraskinski). This formula works well with the movie as to not full mix up the focus of each scene, even though characters may become intertwined every once and awhile.

Not only is the story basic enough to follow, it’s also relate-able on all fronts. It speaks to a generation of dreamers with passions of changing the status-quo, raising the bar of excellence and to pursue the inner passion despite the failures that come before you. It also speaks of true love. Not the flittering feelings that comes from a puppy-dog. But a love of support. You’ll feel connected to these characters. Invested in them.

Jiro is a champion of passion.

Jiro is a champion of passion.

Yet it’s not just the incredible storytelling that The Wind Rises has going for it. Its beautiful animation draws you into the scene. Honestly, there was no bad shot in the entire movie. Each one is carefully framed and expertly colored.

To complement the scenery, the sound design was unorthodox as it was a character of its own. Some sounds felt like they were coming from a folly artist’s mouth, which I have no doubt they did. But the background noises and the subjective noises were perfect in that it envelops your senses.  Along with the sound, the score was magical in its own right. There were several styles which changed in different scenarios. When Jiro was in Tokyo, there was a relaxing blend of Japanese and Italian inspired background scores. And when an airplane lifted off, a classic symphony accompanied to help give flight that wonder back to us.

Thank you,Mr.  Miyazaki.

Thank you,Mr. Miyazaki.

Miyazaki has had an amazing career. One that is comparable to Walt Disney. He has created these livable worlds and populated them with kinetic energy and character who we can’t help but love. I plan on watching all of Studio Ghibli’s films with anticipation. Thank you Miyazaki and enjoy your much earned retirement.

Rating: Extraordinary! 

Seriously, if you have the chance, please experience this movie in theaters. If I had seen it before my Top 10 of 2013 List, it definitely would have made it. Life.

What are your favorite Miyazaki pictures? I’m planning on seeing My Neighbor Totoro and Howl’s Moving Castle next. What others should I see?

Thanks for reading.

Next up: (Possibly) The Grand Budapest Hotel.