When I tell you how fantastic I found director Chad Stahelski’s John Wick (2014), you’ll likely question my sanity because it really shouldn’t be all that good.
I seriously questioned my decision to not disappear up the stairs while Sean watched a film that, upon first press, reads like a Steven Seagal film of old(er times). I’d grown up on those revenge-action-thrillers. More recently, Keanu Reeves’ role as John Wick would’ve been cast with Liam Neeson or Jason Statham and I rarely sit through a one of them. The dialog, typical plot, blood-letting and tire-squealing action of these genre films rarely find me amused. I was at the edge of my seat, giddy in amusement with John Wick. Its a film that is self-aware, its tongue planted firmly in cheek, unrepentant and playful within its genre.
I was intrigued by the premise: instead of some relative (usually the wife) of a retired uber mensch being brutally murdered, Sean told me that the revenge plot stems from the brutal murder of John Wick’s dog. That was all we knew. The unfolding of just who John Wick is was worth the ignorance. It earns you that immense pleasure in the exchange between Aurelio (John Leguizamo) and Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist). John Wick won me over at Tarasov’s “…Oh.”
The non-linear movement through time, the shifts, begin to stabilize chronologically as the film progresses. Disintegration takes on a new form as the violence ups its ante (think South Korean action films). There is a righteous meting out of justice for that sweet little puppy (whose death is handled as delicately as possible). There are beautiful cars, choreography, gun-reloading and martial arts. And there are quality actors.
As the film progresses, the surprising cast was one revelation after another–even as Reeves proves all the more perfect for his role. His age really works for him as John Wick, and I think he actually emotes (which was admittedly awkward for me). I am going to pause for a moment to also admire the bad-assery that is Adrianne Palicki (Ms. Perkins). But is she punished for being a bit too greedy and a full-measure too bold in her breaking of the (male dominated) rules? Little is fair in the film, but what does one expect from a revenge-action film. One certainly doesn’t expect that ending, though we should’ve anticipated it (shouldn’t we’ave?).
Familiarity with John Wick’s predecessors add to the entertainment factor; it certainly reads like redemption for years/hours spent in the genre. However, I don’t think you need a history. What you will need is a sense of humor–and a fairly strong stomach.
Director: Chad Stahelski, Screenplay:Derek Kolstad, Starring: Keanu Reeves (John Wick), Michael Nyqvist (Viggo Tarasov), John Leguizamo (Aurelio), Alfie Allen (Iosef Trasov), Willem Defoe (Marcus), Adrianne Palicki (Ms. Perkins), Bridget Moynahan (Bridget), and Ian McShane (Winston).
Rated R for strong and bloody violence throughout, language and brief drug use. Running Time: 101 Minutes
“In the aftermath of his girlfriend’s mysterious death, a young man awakens to strange horns sprouting from his temples.”–IMDb
I wasn’t sure what to expect with director Alexandre Aja’s Horns (2013), but when it opened with artful, tidy shooting, I became hopeful for more than an impressive American accent from British actor Daniel Radcliffe (Ig Perrish). Add the transitions via the logging, the biblical references, and top it all with a cinematographic color schema (high chromas and deep shadowing) and setting that calls to mind fable-creator Guillermo del Toro and I’m giddy.
Just about the time Iggy embraces the devil with a tongue-in-cheek flair, the film begins to embrace the B-rated Horror flick—except, it keeps its not-low-budget sensibilities. I hope they paid that sound-editor (Rob Bertola) handsomely. I had my eyes closed but struggled to block out the ambient sound of breaking bones and squish and gush of bodily fluids.
The pacing begins to lag beneath an extended Trainspotting sequence. Otherwise the mystery unfolds rather nicely, if not predictably. I say predictably, but the viewer will know better than Ig and company not to underestimate the villian’s tenacity for, well, evil. The non-linear narrative is ideal, and while I found the voice-over a bit too cheesy for my palette, Sean felt I was a bit sensitive. Regardless, Ig’s disembodied moments were necessity.
Outside of the nauseating sainthood of the flattened sexy red-headed girlfriend*(Merrin Williams played by Juno Temple), the film is entertaining. It rolls the eyes and snickers. It is also kinda gross. It is a bit raunchy for the young teen (sorry Natalya), and a bit sexy. The sarcasm is lovely, and the question of wielding vengeance on behalf of the innocent is provocative.
Put yourself in good humor (especially if devoutly religious) and enjoy the inventiveness behind this modern day devil-origin story.**
*sexual and manipulative, and yet wrings nobility out of it nonetheless (a statement in itself?). The town also lacks subtlety. But the narrative is driven by singular points of view.
**There is an intriguing left-turn discussion of: the Devil (Satan) as accuser. People are compelled to share the ugliness and act on it.
Director: Alexandre Aja. Screenplay by Keith Bunin. Based on the novel by Joe Hill. Produced by Aja, Riza Aziz, Joey McFarland and Cathy Schulman. Music by Robin Coudert. Cinematography by Frederick Elmes. Edited by Baxter. Production: Red Granite Picture, Mandalay Pictures. Starring Daniel Radcliffe (Ig Perrish), Joe Anderson (Terry Perrish), Merrin Williams (Juno Temple), Max Minghella (Lee Torneau) and David Morse (Dale Williams).
Running Time 120 Minutes. Rated R for “sexual content, some graphic nudity, disturbing violence including a sexual assault, language and drug use.”
I’m sure someone will decide their means for being relevant will require them to pan James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). They’ll claim some disconnect with the director’s work in general as their opening disclaimer or some such entry wound into their “review.” I am fine–relieved, actually–to be absorbed into the clamoring for an encore. Was the film perfect? no. Was it AWESOME? yes. Look for the early-bird special if you need to, and take a friend.
5 Reasons to see Guardians of the Galaxy (in no particular order).
# : You are a fan of mischievous heroes in space and the silliness that is sure to prevail aka Joss Whedon’s Firefly. Gamora and Nebula have siblings, can one future casting call be Gina Torres (Zoe in Firefly)? But, really, the comedy, much of which was unanticipated and then subjected to the long-joke, was fantastic. Its a film that doesn’t rely on the energy of the audience to keep you laughing. Too, that the film is based on an under-read, lower-tier-developed comic has some appeal. While this may frustrate those who like to debate which characters get cast and how terrible the reboot was, I liked going into the film with the notion that we were not wading through a lot of backstory and bickering. It is fun feeling like you are discovering a hero for the first time with a theater geeked on the SFF genre alone.
# : Chris Pratt, and not only to witness the musculature. The comparisons of Malcolm Reynolds (Firefly) and Han Solo (Star Wars) to Peter Quill are accurate and appealing.He is hilarious and charming, and you never once doubt his abilities to play an action star. When he plays the goofball, it isn’t because he lacks intellect or strategy. Pratt has range, and bless it, but they do not push the romancing Gamora line too far. Pratt’s comedic timing is golden. Natalya cites Quill’s dancing (near the beginning) as her favorite scene: she always thought heroes should carry their soundtracks with them. I actually like his troubled looks, like when he is subdued in the prison (just after the shirt went back on). Pratt does not suffer from the lackluster nor the over-the-top. I’m not sure the casting could have more perfect.
# : Gamora (Zoe Saldana) as kick-ass, smart-ass, and vulnerable. Saldana finds and uses complexity in a character that could be just one idea of a female in comics or another. Yes, we were still subjected to the “male gaze.” I’m thinking of the opportunities for her to show she is not unaffected by the world around her. She isn’t a strong character because she is invulnerable, in fact, her circumstances make her courage and capability all the more impressive. The fight choreography is spectacular, though the quick cutting and cross-cutting during her fight with Nebula was frustrating in it’s lack of spectacle. Love how smart yet charmed Gamora is by Quill–and we are still laughing about the “Kevin Bacon” scenes.
#: Groot. Yes, all the fuss is warranted. A bit of humor is floating around about how the production staff really only needed Vin Diesel to read a few variations on his one line. Digital manipulation would manage the actual reading for the film. Vin Diesel insisted, in what is taken as a lug-headed fashion, on reading the scripted lines as they would sound in the scene. I am having a hard time imagining what the results would have been with the original plan, but between the effects and Diesel’s reading, Groot was a flawless presence on screen.
# : The Make-Up and Special Effects. David White is the special effects makeup designer on the film, “he created the tangible, high-concept looks for Gamora, Drax, Nebula, Yondu, Korath, and the film’s numerous aliens.” You can read Scott Pierce’s interview with him on Co.Create (there are images of the process), “‘I’ve been fortunate to have been around the Marvel world for a little while,’ White says. ‘I like to think my own artwork and style has worked well within the universe’.” Indeed it does. The Kree architecture/design produced in the film is noteworthy. The ships are amazing as well. Sean favored the Black Aster, but we agreed that the ships, tech and the battle scenes were frankly marvelous.
Even though David Fincher’s The Game (1997) was a rewatch, it was almost like watching it for the first time. I remembered a few elements, but Sean wasn’t confirming the details. I was at the mercy of a slow and twisted mystery.
If you haven’t seen The Game, you should stop at after the second paragraph (—) and go watch it. At his troubled younger brother Conrad’s (Sean Penn) invitation, the game Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) finds himself embroiled in will have you wondering at it up to the very end. The question of whether Nicholas will follow in all the footsteps of his father is tied up in his survival of the game. Of course, another relevant question is: just where and when did the game begin?
It is fun to go back and watch an early film of a director you admire. The Game has the blue wash; the waist-high shot that zooms or cuts, but never pans; and Fincher’s meditative patience. Douglas and Penn are brilliant—Penn, so very young there! Tech is just a little outdated, and the soundtrack’s piano may become tiresome, but the film holds its thrilling edge just fine these 17 years later.
If you have seen it… The ending caught me off-guard and I was trying to remember if I’d felt the same way back when. I have a hard time understanding why Nicholas was not pissed by what his brother did, the lengths he went. I get the liberation from that haunting terror that interweaves the game-playing narrative—and I don’t. The extended display of gratitude was baffling. The romantic twist rang false.
Sean read that the original scripted ended with Nicholas landing, helped to his feet, and then walking out. Yes. If you’ve seen it, could you help me out here? Do you agree the better ending was the original one? How is the current one better and/or informed by the film?
The discordant pulse of an alert opens the Spike Jonze’s Her (2013), a film bout a lonely middle-aged man who falls in love with his new operating system. If this sounds rather pathetic, it is, at first blush, meant to.
Jonze plays on cultural expectations as we are first introduced to Theodore Thwomble (Joaquin Phoenix), who appears as clumsy and shy as his name. He is an average middle-aged man who lives alone, seems to be anti-social, plays video games in the evenings and calls other, equally lonely people for phone sex at night (under the awesomely assumed name “Big Guy 4×4”). He isn’t some sick pervert weirdo—that would be Sexy Kitten (voiced by Kirsten Wiig). [I really wished we’d seen this in a theater.] You’ll notice too that how the language shifts between the earlier and later long-distance sexual scenes. Jonze sets out distinctions as to what is and is not aberrant behavior.
We learn that Theodore doesn’t live in his parents’ basement because they won’t let him, but that he is still grieving a ~year-long separation from his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara). (He has yet to sign the divorce papers.) He has a lot of friends, is well-regarded at work, and, despite his fascinating occupation, he is achingly familiar.
What is somewhat unfamiliar is the setting of the film. It reads current day, but cleaner, European or Asian metropolitan city. Really it is near future Los Angeles. The tech has advanced, primarily voice interactive and seamless in the everyday operation of the human world. You do not see any disrupting variation in tech, but rather the set design produces a singular branding effect. The aesthetic in the design/imaging of the set was gorgeously selected and executed. The results should yield the kind of timelessness Gattaca (1997) has achieved in its set design.
From the clothes and work spaces to the interiors and environment, you are given the sense of a tailored life. The lighting is soft, the color hues vibrant and warm. In a science fiction involving human interaction with artificial intelligence, the environment isn’t the least cold, austere, and thus, threatening. The inviting aesthetic also provides a perfect environment for a story about loneliness, transparency, self-doubt and joy.
When Theodore decides to upgrade to an OS1, an advanced system design with the artificial intelligence to meet his every need, we meet Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). All of the excitement surround Johansson’s performance was/is warranted. But what struck me was how she has to negotiate a full-bodied personality to a certain level of excellence with her voice acting, because Jaoquin Phoenix captures his characters personality in his voice to an exceptional degree. If you were to shut your eyes and just listen to the film (which you won’t want to because it is just visually stunning), but if you were to, Phoenix embodies his character in his voice. Considering the high degree of craftsmanship in this film, Phoenix’ performance is not incidental. In its way, his voice acting helps eliminate an important difference between Theodore and Samantha. Language and its delivery are an incredible bonding element and equalizer.
Late in the film, Theodore calls Samantha out on imitating the taking of breaths in the delivery of her voice, and she explains that, while yes she does not require oxygen, the affectation is naturalized in other ways. Different kinds of bodies (environments) regulate our actions, our personalities, not just our physical human body.
As Theodore and Samantha become increasingly intimate, falling in love and attempting a ‘normal’ healthy relationship, we see each of them struggling with their unusual circumstances. He tells people he has a girlfriend, and when he reveals to them that she is an OS, the reactions vary (the god-daughter and his co-worker are the sweetest). She wishes she could manifest her personhood into an actual physical form. Their needs begin to diverge, and even as they are able to nurture the other’s growth as a person, we feel the echoes of Theodore’s marriage (which ever remains in the consciousness of the film).
When Catherine lists what she felt were Theodore’s expectations of her, she describes Samantha, but even that goes awry (as Theodore suffers a feeling of betrayal). A repetitive thrust of the film is that in order to discover your potential and become more fully realized lives, it will require some letting go. But we do not allow that of those with whom we are in relationship, because it is not ours to allow, which is yet another reason why communication is such a central focus in the narrative. How many times does Samantha tell Theodore that she didn’t ask his permission, or that they were not talking about him, but rather her?
The film title is her, singular. Samantha isn’t the only her in the film, though she is the only one who really challenges the idea of object, of namelessness. I like that she chooses her own name; that she decides what sounds appropriate to her. There is a lovely moment where Theodore’s co-worker Paul (Chris Pratt) rather awkwardly tries to admire Theodore for his ability to channel both the feminine and masculine in his letters. (Theo ghost-writes personal correspondence for people at Beautiful Handwritten Letters [dot] com.) Paul sees Theo as parts man and woman and the scene carries no concern towards Theo’s emasculation. The ‘cuddly puppy’ scene comes too close for Theo’s comfort, but that is another situation. The situation with Paul creates another her to add toward Theo’s desire to be who Theo, in all sincerity, is.
Her relies on flawlessly coherent environment and its voice talent, but the physical acting is another exemplary aspect of the viewing experience. The incredibly talented Amy Adams plays Theodore’s long-time friend and neighbor Amy. Of the many elements contributing toward a sense of normalcy in the film, Amy is comfortably normal. She desires more for herself, experiences self-doubt, wants for authenticity and friendship. Really, she is both Theodore’s female counterpart and foil alternately. Hers is a face (a solid physical presence) that Theodore can connect with when and where no voice is necessary or even available. In a film about how and what we communicate, Amy is a “her” with whom we enjoy watching Theodore interact.
I’m not sure how Her will resonate for those who’ve never felt fear, self-doubt, and real loneliness. It is the kind of loneliness that technology can neither cause nor alleviate, though the exploration of both is an intriguing one in the film. How technology enables the facades we prefer to erect and hide behind is popular discourse at present, but I like the film’s reminder that we would hide ourselves in other ways and behind other people regardless. Our desires hide in petty arguments or in our displacing and unfulfilling demands of other people. Amy suggests that the only time we are truly ourselves and uninhibited is while we sleep—which would make for a boring documentary on a life. But then what is life, and how solitary (individual) is it?
Theodore and Samantha’s relationship demonstrates varying degrees of privacy. She is his operating system and thus has access to all his recorded information, yet he can withhold parts of himself. Introducing themselves as a couple to the public spheres occurs in stages. Then there is the trouble with the—er—threesome. But the public and social facets of our relationships are weighted.
We meet an actress who, as a vessel, would facilitate the possession of another, even as we observe a cast of actors embody lives/personalities. Theo writes personal, very intimate, letters for people, and has become entrenched in their lives. Amy can provide her outside observations to help Theodore work through his marital grievances, as vice versa. We begin to doubt or feel bolstered in our relationships based on the opinions of people who matter (or even don’t matter).
I love that to combat loneliness in the film is complex, though at the core is this need to give ourselves permission to experience joy. When we see Phoenix express the liberating happiness in his smile and laugh, it is the context of his sorrows that deepens his expression to one of joy. There is a level of courage, I think. And Amy speaks to her own journey toward trusting her feelings. The demonstration of selflessness in the conversations between lovers and friends in the film is a challenging one, and is the ingredient that unburdens even as it may lead to heartache. The discovery of the self and another is found within the relationship; it means no longer hiding; and it’s certainly no longer interested in limiting the capacity of oneself or another.
If you have to watch one film about what it is to be human, Her is it; after all, it is about operating systems.
Her (2013); writer/director: Spike Jonze; Editing by Jeff Buchanan & Eric Zumbunnen; Cinematography: Hoyte Van Hoytema; Music by Arcade Fire; Executive Producers: Chelsea Barnard, Natalie Farrey, & Daniel Lupi; Producers: Megan Ellison, Jonze, Vincent Landay, Samantha Morton, & Thomas P. Smith. Annapurna Pictures; Warner Bros. Pictures.
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix (Theodore Thwomble); Scarlett Johansson (Samantha voice); Amy Adams (Amy); Chris Pratt (Paul); Kristen Wiig (SexyKitten voice); Olivia Wilde (Blind Date); Brian Cox (Alan Watts voice) & Rooney Mara (Catherine).
Rated R for language, sexual content and brief graphic nudity. Running Time 126 minutes.
We have finally managed to see Noah (2014). It wasn’t for the lack of support of Darren Aronofsky. Sean is a huge fan of his. It’s that I’ve yet to find someone to sponsor our theater tickets. Thoughts/notes follow.
You may recall a big brouhaha upon the theatrical release of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah (2014). The film was not made by Christian filmmakers, which meant that while Noah promised to be an entertaining, well-made film, it couldn’t possibly be made correctly. Of course the film was not going to be a literal translation from the Christian Bibles. For one, it would have been terribly awkward going around calling the women “Noah’s wife” or “Mrs. Noah” or the complete dramatic spoiler “Miss Soon-to-be-Shem’s-wife.” The film expands beyond the borders of the immediate text in other intriguing ways as well. And yet it finds us returning again and again to the heart of its narrative.
Noah begins by laying some historical contexts. We get Noah as a young boy having come of age to receive the blessing of his father. A part of his heritage is the story of the Creation. The creation of the world is spoken in the language of days while the visuals depict its evolution in entrancing time-lapsed footage–until we arrive in the garden. The glowing silhouettes of the two humans hold them in androgynous, race-less abstraction. The pomegranate-like fruit (which predates the apple in earlier stories) pulsates like a heart. The serpent is also of a striking vibrancy; provocative in the shedding of its skin. It is this skin that passes through generations as the legacy of the fall. Another symbolic reminder at play is the tool-turned-weapon—a symbol Noah comes to inhabit himself.
A primary conflict in the film narrative is that of offspring, of two brothers at odds to the point of mutual destruction, as well as the harm inherited by the third. After Cain kills Abel (depicted in the surreal, dream-like effect of a story carried on in the imagination of its inheritors), Cain is sent away and it is the younger brother Seth who carries the line of Adam forward. It is Seth who is the remnant, carving out a life that is modeled after the Creator’s will. Noah (Russell Crowe) is a descendant of Seth who becomes increasing threatened by the encroaching hoards of Cain’s offspring led by Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone). The encroachment of boundaries is echoed in Ham (Nolan Gross, Logan Lerman) the middle-son’s increasing curiosity and boundary pushing.
Cain’s offspring have devastated the earth. Taking pity on mankind after the fall, the Watchers defy heaven and become marooned on and disfigured by the earth. The figures of light remind the viewer of the first human’s own transfiguring fall from light to earth-form language. The Watchers use their superior knowledge and strength to help advance civilization so that it may not only survive, but thrive. They are of benefit to Cain’s race of men who find ways to pervert and weaponize, their blood-lust symbolized by their carnivorous turn and abuse/trafficking of women.
Led by Tubal-cain in the present generation, man does not leave much for God to “destroy.” The violence of their greedy consumption is nauseating, and enraging. It is of the writing, direction, and Winstone’s credit that the film is able to wring some semblance of pity for the about-to-be-drowned nation of men. Tubal-cain is not an unbeliever, but he does interpret notions differently than Noah.
How humans negotiate ambiguity aka choice or freewill is a point of fascination in the film. The dreams appear as gestures, but Noah interprets with such clarity of mind. As Methuselah imparts to Noah in counsel, “He speaks to you. You must trust that He speaks in a way that you can understand.” As the film progresses, Aronofsky layers the narrative in complications: we are to wonder at the Creator’s wrath, mercy and grace; likewise, humankind’s. “How is this Just!” Naameh calls out. How does one truly know the right way, and is there only one right way? Mixed herein is the question of creative license—which is genius in such a controversial undertaking as the film has proven to be.
What is not left to an inquiry of faith-based proportion is the treatment of the planet, each other, of women, and of the future.
A powerful image is struck when Noah, Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) and their three young boys are travelling to seek the advice of grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins). They encounter an encampment with the bodies left for dead after a raid. It is the site of this stripped mine (stripped of fire-making ore) where they find the lone survivor, Ila (Skylar Burke, Emma Watson). Amid the bodies of a land violently made barren, young Ila bears a deep cut at the womb and is likewise made barren. The connection is not one to ignore as Ila will carry the symbolic burden of the earth, aching to be remembered, to reproduce, and to be treated with mercy.
One of the many intriguing dramatic departures the narrative takes is in not providing mates for all of the sons. Noah claims that the Creator brought the animals in reproductively viable groupings, he will do the same for the sons. But the film has already begun to assert a troublesome cleft between humankind and Nature. As members of the clan of the Created (Seth), they seem to be a part of Nature, where Man (ala Cain) is not. Yet as the film hastens toward the flood, Noah identifies as Man more than Created; which of course provokes all kinds of issues on the boat.
Even as Noah shifts his perspective toward self-identified obscenity, Ila is gifted with the return of her nativity with birth and nature. His mind is set toward death, hers on the hope of life and each become quite adamant in their beliefs.
Ila’s awakening and fertility are products of an intervention by Naameh and Methuselah. The marks of Noah’s change throughout the story is exemplified in how he treats woman and child. He is tender, affectionate, protective, listens to and is partnered by woman and child at his initial characterization. We are confronted with something else near the end. What defines the actions that withhold a fatal blow of the blade (yes, Abraham/Isaac came to mind here), he confesses is love. He felt love, not hatred, a defining characteristic between Noah and Tubal-cain whose own threat of violence is without question. Of course, Tubal-cain language is that of villain, fraught with terms of dominion over a subjugated creation, “We are men. We decide who lives and dies.”
Tubal-cain’s refusal to submit to his punishment is another way he is placed at odds with Noah. But it is a conflict Noah will experience with other characters as well, wife included. Of course, punishment has many forms, and while it may appear at first that the deluge functions as a means of escape for the Noah family, according to Noah there is still a reckoning. Or is there still time and space for an act of grace to intervene. (Frankly, what this looks like in its entirety is left rather appropriately to question marks.)
Between the extremes of Noah and Tubal-cain are the young people. The three sons embody the tenuous balance of loyalty/desire (Shem), kindness/covetousness (Ham), and integrity/lives only to please (Japheth); Naameh identifying the virtues, Noah fretting over the other. What is pleasurable in a film necessarily concerned about life, death and (re)production, is how the defining worth of the person can be found beyond their reproductive organs. Believing this, somehow, has become a test of faith.
It is of significant note, too, that only the completed blessings are bestowed upon female characters, the males interrupted: Methuselah blesses Ila (the wife of the eldest son); Noah blesses Ila’s daughters.
The repetitions and doublings of brothers, of orphans, of symbolic burdens emphasize the repeatable nature of history. The past finds echoes in the present-day of the film narrative, and the present-day of the audience. The final echo is in how, like Cain before him, Ham leaves home. Ham did not murder his brother, but he does violate other sanctified relationships and you feel the weight of not only broken covenants, but his profound disillusionment. We are left to our optimism or pessimism where Ham is concerned, but we see in the patriarch Noah the opportunity for a second chance. He chooses mercy and love and is restored to his nurturing relationship as a father and grandfather.
Despite all of the literal departures from the Christian’s Bible story, what it returns is the grievous nature of man’s propensity toward violence, its image of choice in the film: the annihilation of innocents in the form of murder and rape. Sins against the Creator/created are given a form that is undeniable in its evocation of anger and despair. Aronofsky subtly differentiates between the destruction wielded by the Creator and that which is wielded by Men is in the use of water (a cleansing, purifying symbol in the film) and fire (destructive in its all-consuming nature) respectively. However, he does not shy away from the conflict but rather reinforces the scope and scale the story deserves; escalating in humankind’s desperation for mercy and redemption alongside its grasping for greater power and resources.
In Noah (2014), Darren Aronofsky proves not only true to form as a gifted and provocative storyteller, but fearless in returning to the fore an old and powerful narrative* worth contemplating in our present cultural ontexts, regardless of religious alliances.
*which I would like to note was recorded from an oral tradition (as Noah demonstrates for the viewers), Moses having recorded it later.
of note: Sean and I both loved the heroic Methuselah of the Watcher’s story.
Noah (2014); Director & Writer Darren Aronofsky w/ writer Ari Handel; editing Andrew Weisblum; cinematography by Matthew Libatique; Music Clint Mansell; executive producers Chris Brigham & Handel; producers Aronofsky, Scott Franklin, Amy Herman, Arnon Milchan & Mary Parent. Regency Enterprises & Protozoa Pictures; Paramount Pictures.
Starring: Russell Crowe (Noah), Jennifer Connelly (Naameh), Ray Winstone (Tubal-cain), Anthony Hopkins (Methuselah), Emma Watson (Ila), Logan Lerman (Ham), Douglas Booth (Shem) & Leo McHugh Carroll (Japheth).
Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and brief suggestive content. Running time 138 minutes.
The promise of an urban fantasy in director Akiva Goldsman’s Winter’s Tale (2014) was tempting. I have yet to read Mark Helprin’s 1983 novel of the same name, but I do not recall it being panned. Nor had I heard much about the critical reception of the film. I hadn’t sought it out. I figured Winter’s Tale would be an enchanting watch, I didn’t figure it for being so cloying. I spent most of the film digging around in my body for that necessary romantic bone—femur-sized preferably. I think I arrived at this film too many years too late.
The film opens with the riveting vocals of Jessica Brown Findlay (Sibyl of Downton Abbey) telling us about this belief that there is this “world behind the world where we are all connected” and how “time and distance are not what they appear to be.” Her voice is the world-builder where we have come to expect some moving and/or trending song to play over a time collapsing visual narrative (aka dumb show, theatrically speaking). I didn’t think I’d need to time the prologue, but I was thinking I should have long before the title appeared on screen. Maybe it was its lyricism that made the voice-over so lengthy and laden, or was it the necessity to situate the film’s premise.
Besides the title bearing the words Winter and Tale, Colin Farrell as the lead, and a white horse figuring in somewhere, this is the only other thing I knew about the film: Internet Movie Database’s proffered synopsis: which you should refrain from reading.
Set in 1916 New York, burglar Peter Lake (Farrell) falls in love with an heiress Beverly Penn (Findlay) during an attempted robbery. Unfortunately for them both, each are imperiled in their own way. He is being hunted by the convincingly evil and also ridiculously named gangster Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe). She is nearly-dead of consumption—a pulmonary disease the orphaned Peter’s immigrant parents were diagnosed with and refused entrance into New York.
It may be that in the truly magical world, Beverly is misdiagnosed with consumption, a prevalent disease at the time, because her symptoms are better suited towards her transitioning into a star—the after-life destination she is anticipating. The stars feature prominently, their lore, their connection to the universe. The film also draws from angel/demon and Native American mythologies.
Winter’s Tale alludes to the interconnected, renaming, and shared history of every mythology in the opening. How it all plays out is the slow-reveal. By the time the tale begins to make real sense, you are near the close and understand why they had to be so mystifying—to compel you with the intrigue. The other option is to compel you with the romance, which is the predestined sort, which may not be as compelling as the growing dread of unanticipated tragedy it could have supported better. Peter has to save Beverly somehow and how all that is to work out is the most mystifying of all.
The film is one to be patient with and of a certain humor. It has a dated feel already, and I am still in awe of how Colin Farrell can deliver the lines he does with such earnest sincerity. The awkward delivery in the film was in the editing.
Winter’s Tale has a wonderful cast, great scenery…I think the offense arrives with understanding its potential to be a truly magical—what, because I think the failure is anticipating an adventure out of a standard memoir. I should check the filmographies for Lifetime network credentials. Winter’s Tale, as I understand it from the film, would make for a more interesting Indie-house attempt. Maybe someone could steampunk it—yes, let’s have a do-over.
The message of “true love gives life meaning” is a message of optimism an otherwise heartlessly harmful cultural landscape might find appealing. Only, you have to believe that the universe will still bend backwards for you, that the significant other hasn’t lost their miracle (or had it crushed) by the “agents of chaos.”
….SPOILER…[[& of likely relevance to only those who’ve seen the film]] a conversation Sean and I had that is too hilarious not to share. After we learn that Beverly is “the girl [his] miracle is for,” the word virginity occasionally became interchangeable w/ miracle. His virginity was going to save her, but I phooey the idea because it’s a him, not the other way ‘round. Turns out, Sean was right about the virginity-concept when she dies after losing her virginity which signifies the true love that grants him the power of reincarnation, which is really just resurrection and failure to age.
On a related note, her virginal love saves him, and he in turn saves the female child of a single mother. The world is stabilized once more.…SPOILER DONE ….
Winter’s Tale (2014) Direction & Screenplay by Akiva Goldsman, Based on the novel Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin, Produced by Goldsman, Marc E. Platt, Michael Tadross & Tony Allard; Music by Hans Zimmer & Rupert Gregson-Williams, Cinematography by Caleb Deschanel, Edited by Wayne Wahman & Tim Squyres. Production companies: Village Roadshow Pictures & Weed Road Pictures, Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures & Village Roadshow.
Starring: Colin Farrell (Peter Lake), Jessica Brown Findlay (Beverly Penn), Jennifer Connelly (Virginia Gamely), William Hurt (Isaac Penn), Maurice Jones (Cecil Mature), Mckayla Twigg (Young Willa), Eva Marie Saint (older Willa), Russell Crowe (Pearly Soames), and Will Smith (Judge).
Rated PG-13 for violence and some sensuality. Running time 118 minutes.