Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Flood's Coming! Grab Two of Everything!

Please welcome guest writer Mike Molinaro to Movie MoJoe!  Mike is a big fan of the parable of Noah, so I asked him to come aboard (har har) and write up his reaction to Darren Aronofsky's latest film.  Since I am a heathen and didn't grow up with any religious background, Mike has a better handle on the story.  My own review will appear when I get a chance to see it, so the contrasting reviews should be interesting.

If you walk into Noah expecting a faithful adaptation of the beloved children’s Bible story, you’re going to leave disappointed. But who really wants that? If you walk into Noah looking for a thought-provoking interpretation, able to leave your colorful kid’s book at the door for a few hours, director Darren Aronofsky made sure you’re in for a treat. Noah is far from a perfect movie, with a few laughable moments and some cringe-worthy dialogue, but is still a cool blend of classic Bible story and fantasy film, filled with powerful performances and really nice special effects.

I’m sure a lot of people (my grandma) are going to be upset at changes made by Aronofsky and his team to the biblical Noah story, but what many don’t know is that Noah isn’t really based from that version, but rather a graphic novel released a few years ago by Aronofsky, his collaborator Ari Handel and Canadian artist Niko Henrichon titled Noé: Pour la cruauté des hommes (Noah: For the Cruelty of Men). Growing up, Noah’s arc was my favorite bible story, (I liked the animals). I even had a puzzle, with pairs of little giraffes and pink elephants (your guess is as good as mine on that one) lining up two-by-two to greet a smiling Noah standing at the open doors of his cute little boat. Needless to say, I was wearing a big pair of nostalgia-goggles to the theater today. I admittedly have not read the graphic novel, so you can imagine my shock when large boulder monsters (fallen angels called The Watchers) and glowing rocks were introduced in the film, but they were less of a turn-off and more “Hmm, that’s kind of cool”. I enjoy the retelling of Bible stories with different interpretations, especially since the Bible itself is often void of great detail when it comes to specific stories such as Daniel and the lion’s den, David and Goliath or Jonah and the whale. To make a two-hour film with only what’s written is impossible. These stories may be just that, stories. But their importance to our culture is definitely great, and frankly, they’re really cool, so why not tell them in different media and from different viewpoints? This movie reminded me of a book I once read called The Garden, by Elsie V Aidinoff, where the story of Adam and Eve is told through Eve’s POV. Awesome, right? Some may disagree, and this is probably Noah’s biggest hurdle to overcome, and I’m not sure if it will be able to. People are going see it with the original Bible story in mind, and leave the theater confused and angry and huffy-puffy. But if you’ve read the graphic novel on which the movie is based, or you’re like me, willing to receive a “loosely based upon” telling of the story, this can be a great movie-going experience for you.

The rest of this review contains spoilers. The performances in Noah are strong, but that’s to be expected. Playing the title character, we have Russell Crowe, and Noah’s wife Naahem is played by Jennifer Connelly, who gives the best and only real award-worthy performance in the film. (Crowe and Connelly have played husband and wife before, in A Beautiful Mind. Reunion!). Playing Noah’s grandfather Methusela is Anthony Hopkins. “Let’s plug all the holes in the arc with our Oscars!” said some kid in the audience (me). Hopkins gives some welcome comic relief to the film, with a running joke that ends just before he meets his Deep Impact-esque fate (Tea Leoni would be so proud). Douglas Booth plays Noah’s oldest son Shem, and gives the weakest performance of the cast. His barren wife (that sounds rude) Ila is played by Emma Watson, who seemed to struggle a bit with her character, but Ila had the widest spectrum of problems with which to deal in the film, even more than Noah, so I commend Watson on her effort. Another Perks of Being a Wallflower alum (Yes! More reunions!), Logan Lerman, plays Noah’s middle son Ham, and boy does Ham really Jan Brady it up in this one. Middle child syndrome hasn’t been explored with such moodiness since the redhead from Fiddler on the Roof. “Get outta here, red-headed girl from Fiddler AKA Logan Lerman! Go find a nice Jewish boy AKA just get on the damn arc!” yelled another kid in the audience (still me). And Ray Winston plays our villain, Tubalcain, brilliantly. Fun fact! The role of Tubalcain was offered to Liam Neeson, but ultimately didn’t provide enough gunplay or opportunity for whispering lines about special set of skills, so he turned it down (the latter half of this sentence is indeed not a fact, he turned it down due to scheduling conflicts, but who really knows).

Let’s talk love and hate! I love Naahem! This strong mother is constantly worried for her family’s future, especially the fact that her sons don’t have wives to make babies and repopulate the world, which is kind of a big deal (Methusela ultimately fixes this, mending Ila’s cobweb-filled womb just before she boards the arc). I hate Noah through a lot of the movie. It’s rare to see a movie where you don’t always root for the main character, but that can be refreshing, I suppose. Many of the choices Noah made in believing he was following the word of God were infuriating. If you’re familiar with the Bible version of Noah, though, you know he really was kind of a jerk. I love the special effects, especially the animals, all of which were created as slightly altered versions of their modern-day selves. I hate that we barely got to see them! We got the cool birds-eye view of the herd approaching the arc that we see in the trailer, then that was it! I also hated that Ila’s newborn daughters she has while on the arc were CGI. My nephew was born in January, use him! These babies were the only fault in an otherwise perfect special effect job. I love when Noah tells his family the story of creation, where we watch the creation of the universe, Earth, and the critters crawling from the sea and onto land. I hate the strange insert shot at the end of what looked like old National Geographic footage of mommy animals playing with their baby animals. Is it 3am and am I channel surfing only to stumble upon a Planet Earth rerun? No. It’s not.

Noah is a solid effort from a brilliant filmmaker, and I truly hope it gets credit where it’s due. Walking away from the movie, the three things running through my mind were: 1) I really love Jennifer Connelly. 2) Let’s go watch Perks again. And 3) hey, at least Russell Crowe didn’t sing through this one.

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