“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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“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. 

“The LEGO Movie” is awesome

Could the title be anything else? Nah, I don’t think so.

Even Emett (Chris Pratt) is awesome.

Even Emett (Chris Pratt) is awesome.

My reaction when I hear there will be a LEGO movie: alright…? My reaction when I see the trailer: Looks hilarious. Ticket sold. My reaction when actually watching it: Oh myidjfksiskjs!!!!!

Yeah. To put it short, I loved it. It is definitely the Cabin in the Woods of this year. Not in the way of genre or flair, but how that it took the premise of the movie and blew it up a hundred fold. It’s more than what you see. The LEGO Movie proves that mediocrity with a silly premise is NEVER an option.

And this comes from the minds of the directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Millerwho continues to take these properties like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and 21 Jump Street and expands on the roots of the idea to make it more than the sum of its pieces. Pun (?) intended.

I’m not going to lie. I wasn’t raised on LEGOs. Whenever I went over to my cousins’ we would dump theirs out and watch them play with them in their magnificence while I tried to slap together a blocky fortress. Mine didn’t turn out too well. But I understood what LEGOs meant to their fans. It’s about imagination, fun, inventiveness, storytelling, and everything in between. You can make what the box suggests into your favorite movie car or spaceship, or you can make whatever you want. With LEGOs, the possibilities are endless. That’s where Lord and Miller begin.

Quick synopsis. In the intricate world of LEGO, Emmet (Chris Pratt), is an unspecial constructor who follows the status quo while singing the generic, happy theme “Everything is Awesome.” He stumbles upon the Piece of Resistance one day after work which has the power to stop Lord Business’ (Will Ferrell) super weapon to freeze all its victims. With the help of WyldStyle (Elizabeth Banks), a hilarious Batman (Will Arnett) and a group of other master-builders to stop Lord Business’ evil plans. Master-builders are those who have the capabilities to build whatever they want out of the world of LEGOs. Emett must find himself to become one of these in order to save the metropolis. 

Phew. It’s best to go in with only a shallow knowledge of the movie to let it unfold before you, but that’s the main gist.

LEGOThere are so many elements of  The LEGO Movie that I loved. First, the world is remarkable. Everything is made out of LEGOs, even the water. This gives the movie such unique animation aesthetic that isn’t found anywhere else. They even play jokes out of it such as Liam Neeson’s Good Cop/Bad Cop character who changes his head around for alternate personalities. And if there are items that aren’t LEGOs, they are held as weird, rare and have mystical power like the Piece of Resistance.

One of the reservations I have is the ability to speak to its audience. No doubt it will make 20-somethings laugh and enjoy through its hour and 41 minute runtime. Yet it may go over an elderly crowds’ heads. It might even be too fast and chaotic for them. And what about kids? It is a kids’ movie right? Not really. The jokes play more off of wordplay rather than strict physical comedy. I’ve heard through the grapevine that kids get bored and want to leave. So, parents, be cautious when taking your kids and be prepared.

When the media wave plummeted on our TVs and theater screens, I told myself that the humor reminds me of a smart and witty 12 year old who you would love to play LEGOs with. And that’s consistent through the movie. The writers understand what WE would be saying and doing with unlimited power and LEGOs when we were that age. And that’s where the movie finds its magic.

I love one-off movies like the aforementioned Cabin in the Woods. But if Lord and Miller have more up their sleeve that can hold a candle to this masterpiece, give it to me and give it to me now. Watch out Pixar, we have a new player in town ready to take your animated pedestal.

Rating: Extraordinary!

Next up: The Wind Rises. 

Theodore Twombly fell in love with “Her,” and so did I

her2I’ve been putting this off for way too long. I’ve seen it twice, the most of all the Best Picture nominated films. Once on opening night. I let it sink in enough until I took my second helping. Of course, the second viewing of any movie isn’t as good as the first unless we’re talking about The Sixth Sense or Memento. But I felt I had to see Her twice before truly appreciating the beauty that it has throughout it.

What can I say that hasn’t been said already? Probably nothing. I’ll do my best though.

In a near-future Los Angeles, the hipsters have truly taken over. And I’d be okay with that if it meant that we would have pants that stayed up without the need of a belt, soft shades of bright colors lining our walls and on our clothes, and technology that kept up with our fast-paced lifestyles. We’re introduced to Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), a calm-mannered proxy writer. His voice writes sentimental love letters on behalf of a significant other. Theodore’s emotional journey begins when he downloads the latest Operating System, OS1, an artificially intelligent secretary living inside computers and cell phones. This is where we meet Samantha (Scarlett Johansson), Theodore’s OS1. She is quickly learning about the outside world which does nothing but excite her and her ambitions for life.

What comes out is the most unexpected sci-fic, romantic-comedy, drama that has probably ever graced the screen. Even though that mixture of genres is so niche, that’s what makes it so special. Who would’ve thought that this premise would actually work? Director Spike Jonze works his magic at selling every bit of his self-penned screenplay. Everything from the set decoration to the acting to the atmospheric music. All of this is carefully framed, lit and shot beautifully.

Now, it’s not a perfect movie. I have just a couple gripes such as taking one scene out to make another more meaningful. Also, one plot device doesn’t make sense: how does a computer have a sexual awakening without the aid of the proper brain chemicals where those sensations come from? Head scratching for sure. In any case, I can excuse those devices for the most part.

Although it is a story about a man and his computer, it is very much a love story. The two grow to learn and understand each other, experience jealousy and miscommunication and ultimately become different beings at the end.

And the film works on so many different levels. It can show something about our dependence and devotion on technology can never trump the personal one-on-one relationships. It can also be a weird allegory about our long-distance relationships; which I personally would never endorse. Anyone can insert themselves into this unorthodox pairing, man or woman.

Ultimately, Her isn’t a “feel good” movie. Theodore’s and Samantha’s relationships has dips and highs that make you feel the way they do. You’re with them through it all, the thick and the thin. But at the climax you’ll appreciate the ones beside you as you strive to move on from heartbreak.

Did I give justice to this movie? Absolutely not. If I had seen it before 2013 turned 2014, it would have topped my Top 10 list. The best advice I can give regarding this movie is to go see it ASAP if you haven’t already. I wish I put it out sooner but alas, it must be forgotten in this mess of early year mediocrity we are now experiencing.

Grade: Extraordinary!

What did you think of Her? Is it an instant classic as I propose it is? Or is it a flash in the pan for Jonze? Let me know.

Next up: The Lego Movie. 

Top 10 Movies of 2013

Last year was an amazing year for movies. I was in love with all the movies that made my Top 10 list so much so that I own ALL of them. Now, this year, although I’ve seen many many movies, I don’t feel the same way as last year. I feel like it was more of year of mediocrity than real imaginative storytelling. In any case, here are my Top 10 for 2013.

10. Captain Phillips Captain_Phillips_Poster

The tension kept getting tighter and tighter with each scene. Paul Greengrass brings this true story to the big screen by focusing on Tom Hank’s Phillips’ honorable leadership. The final scene of the film truly sold the trauma Phillips went through which shed not only my tears but all around me. Speculation of the actual facts be damned.

9. Blue Jasmine

Based loosely on “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “Blue Jasmine” follows a recent divorcee, Jasmine, as she attempts to recollect her life in San Francisco with her boisterous, imperfect sister. Cate Blanchett pulls off her best character work that is both heart-wrenching and  darkly hilarious. A solid supporting cast of Alec Baldwin, Louie C.K. and Sally Hawkins brings this broken fairytale down to earth. Woody Allen handles this drama with his own prowess and style that gave me a good breath of fresh air in the midst of all the blockbusters.

warm bodies8. Warm Bodies

Who knew that a “Zom-Com” can only be hilarious but have an actual message to it!? Based roughly on “Romeo and Juliet,” “Warm Bodies” perfectly captures the mind inside of the overly-done horror icon. Sure, it’s a dumb premise: girl falls in love with zombie. But it’s not that simple. “50/50” director, Jonathan Levine, takes this love story and makes it work in every way.

7. Dallas Buyers Club

Mark my words. If Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto are not at least nominated for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, it will be a crime against cinema. Their performances are so real-to-life, entertaining, and intriguing that they sold the movie by themselves. A story of AIDS, social prejudices and corrupt pharmaceutical companies, “Dallas Buyers Club” is not an easy watch but an essential one for any movie buff.

6. Thor: the Dark World Thor-The-Dark-World-Poster-003

Maybe it was because my expectations were on the ground when I walked into the theater, but “Thor 2” blew me away. Sure, it had needless cheese in its over-bloated and self-important plot, but it was everything I want in a superhero flick. The mixture of the romance, action, comedy and charismatic characters created one of the most entertaining experiences I’ve had this year.

5. Fruitvale Station

Ever left the theater just emotionally exhausted? “Fruitvale Station” did that for me. Michael B. Jordan plays a struggling father who is just trying to do right for his daughter and girlfriend. Taking place on New Years Eve, Jordan’s Oscar Grant is only a snapshot into his life. We, as an audience know the impending ending which only gave every one of Jordan’s actions the emotional weight.

4. Pacific Rim

I’ve watched this movie about… four times since its theatrical release. Stylized to the core and brimming of cool, Del Toro’s epic tale of man/machine versus monster left me smiling in every scene. The plot was simple enough to follow and the tech was far-fetched, but that’s what it was. It was pure fantasy. An awesome world where I would love to revisit again and again.

The Way Way Back3. The Way Way Back

If you have been an awkward kid, you will attach yourself to this movie. A coming of age story about how teens are more adult than adults and how adults can and will be more childish than their kids. Duncan (Liam James), a teenage introvert, finds himself in the solace of a water park and mentor Owen (Sam Rockwell). Full of laughs, drama and impressionable moments, it holds its own with “The Breakfast Club” and “The Sandlot.”

2. Don Jon

Has pornography addiction ever been done in cinema? Wait. Has it ever been done as truthfully as this one? Starring and directed by the confident hand of Joseph Gordan-Levitt, “Don Jon” illustrates the difference between fantasy, whether it is romantic-comedies or pornography, and actual, real to life relationships. It’s message is so poignant that it can help anyone that is struggling and come to realization of the subject of the movie. Uncomfortable at times, but useful at the end of the day.

1. Star Trek: Into DarknessStar Trek

Okay. I’m sure I’ll get a lot of hate for this. There has been a ton of backlash about 2009’s Star Trek sequel. In my opinion, it had some of the most sophisticated storytelling, character moments and remarkable CGI that has held my top spot of my list since I have seen it. And that’s all I’m going to say because I’m sure I’ll get even more backlash than the actual movie.

Well that’s it. And here’s the other movies that I’ve seen in three separate categories.

Good, but not good enough:

The Place Beyond the Pines, American Hustle, Iron Man 3, Saving Mr. Banks, The Wolf of Wall Street, All Is Lost, Gravity, 12 Years a Slave, Elysium, Monsters University, Frozen, Carrie, Mud, Prisoners, The World’s End, Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Man of Steel, Ender’s Game, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Kick-Ass 2.

Lower tier:

Upstream Color, The Wolverine, Much Ado About Nothing, Stoker, Now You See Me, Rush, After Earth, This Is The End, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, The Great Gatsby, Oz: The Great and Powerful, World War Z

The very worst:

Only God Forgives, The Lone Ranger, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, The Bling Ring.

And that’s it. I still haven’t seen all the movies that I would want, but these are the ones that I have.

Here’s to a little better 2014!