Darke Reviews | Noah (2014)

I was raised Roman Catholic, within the United States, so it goes without saying I am familiar with the story of Noah. Much like a friend of mine in Ennis, I am also a student of religion. While not as studious as I was once in my early years I am passingly familiar with more of the archaic texts and myths surrounding that particular religion. Even my middle name is based on one of these stories. So I went into Noah with a little more appreciation for what they *could* do with it. I suppose with that, I should not have been surprised with what they did do.

The movie was written by it’s director Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Black Swan, The Wrestler) and Ari Handel (The Fountain and producer on DA’s other films). This writer / director combo leads to what I am going to start calling “Cinematic Nolan Syndrome” or CNS in some. Sadly it manifests here. It presents itself as a plodding story full of self indulgence and a man behind the scenes jumping up and down, waving his arms. While jumping around like a hyperkinetic bonobo, the man is also yelling look at me!, I am an artiste! Am I not avant-garde? am I not edgy! I have an eye that no others do. I can do things with film no others do!

CNS seems to be present here. The script is painfully self righteous in its condemnation of industry and the nature of man. The religious overtones are quickly lost to the depredations of the writing and a need to show even on some level that faith itself is bad. The movie only cursorily gives the option of hope and mercy as if trying to make you wish for it and go “ok only because you asked we’ve added it…”. It felt actually a bit condescending when the beats finally reared their much needed head.

Yet, I don’t actually hate the film. There have been far worse this year and more to come I am sure. So what saved it?

First, lets talk technicals. As much as I mocked him earlier for his artistry, Aronofsky *is* actually talented. He does have an eye for visuals, utilizing both subtle color choices and nuanced background imagery and iconography. I found it entrancing that, within the conciet of this film, one could see heaven even in the day. The use of sharp, vibrant orange hues with raw black silhouettes, shows a director who understands that shape is an art all to itself. It relies on the actors to use their own bodies as a brush to tell you something without expression you can see. It works surprisingly well with a talented hand in this model. It even adds a bit of condemnation to other directors who feel the need to show too much, that audiences will not “get it”. Trust me, we aren’t all that dumb.

The CGI work, however, leaves a little to be desired. It is not Pompeii or Hercules horrible, but it’s pretty close. There is an entire sequence of characters that while fascinating were on some level wrong. There’s just something clearly off in the renders that keeps much of the graphics from doing what they need and they temporarily eject you from the film when they do appear.

The actors. Yet another mixed bag. The movie has an amazing cast of talent both young and old. Statesmen of acting, such as Russell Crowe, Anthony Hopkins, Ray winstone, and even Jennifer Connelly stands an equal amongst these men. The next generation shows itself in Douglas Booth, Logan Lerman, and Emma Watson. Let me start off with the simple fact Crowe is not a reason to see this film. Even Winstone and Hopkins, while present and elevating an otherwise mediocre script are spending considerable effort to do so. Crowe himself is …himself. He’s a walking train wreck of blandness even when he is trying to emote.

The real stars here are Connelly and Watson. The *only* time I gave a damn was when they were speaking. When they were acting. They delivered and consistently upstaged everyone with a passionate rawness we need more of. Their tears, when they appeared, were not cute or quaint. They were not hollywood tears. They were the tears of people. They were messy, they were all over the place and they were filled with emotion. Their faces were those of yourself, your wife, your daughter when they cried in pain, in joy and in terror. Their rage was something to behold, even as impotent as it was. Please hollywood, let these two women get more work. There is such potential here for real actors that are still capable of depth and not going through the motions

On another technical front, the movie suffers from horrific pacing issues. It feels it’s length and just when you think it should be done, it continues. Seriously guys? Do you think you are Return of the King. One movie a decade with 20 minute endings is enough.

TL;DR?

Noah is a mixed bag. It should be better. It could be better. There’s mythology used that most are unfamiliar with, but never explored. There’s acting, but so much effort is spent working with something mediocre the greats are too tired to give more. It’s graphically pretty and elegant yet clumsy and off putting.

The film is a movie at war with its own nature. It’s a beautiful dichotomy in what it is trying to tell you about human nature and it’s own execution.

Where does that finally land it?

Meh. It’s simply ok and I really cannot bring myself to say see it at all. If you must then catch it as a matinee. It’s a two and a half hour slog made only redeemable by Watson and Connelly.
Later this week , one of my most anticipated films of the year. Captain America: Winter Soldier.

Darke Reviews | Les Miserables (2012)

So, let’s talk Les Miserables.

I know my site partner┬ádidn’t like it. Not her thing, me however, cried about every third song thanks to the delivery and performances by the actors within.

Director Tom Hooper (The Kings Speech) took a lot of risks in his approach to this film. He cast mostly unknown to (hollywood) actors through the film that would have to deliver some of the most gut wrenching songs to hit broadway. He then made a very controversial decision to record the actors singing live, rather than ADR in a booth much later.

Typically when a musical is done for film, the actors will sing live as they are being filmed, then go into a booth weeks or months earlier to be recorded for the voice overlay in the movie. Not this time. What happens with this style is that you now have all the raw emotion that the actor is delivering in face and body language brought out in the voice as well.

Starting with Hugh Jackman as Jean valJean’s, no stranger to broadway, in Valjean’s Soliloquy, brought all the range of emotion from anger to remorse in a single song. It was near perfect for someone like me who had never seen Colm Wilkinson perform this live.

Anne Hathaway’s performance as Fantine. I don’t know where to begin? When Uma Thurman played her in the non musical version a few years back I was excited to see her fate. Now…I was moved to tears by the raw nerve level pain she expressed in I dreamed a dream. The trailer only conveys part of it folks. You truly feel for this woman and it’s all Hathaway.

As much as I would want to NOT talk about Sasha Baron Cohen or Helena Bonham Carter, they both turned in an above average and completely deplorable performance as the Thenardiers. They were everything that they needed to be and more. Well cast, well sung, well performed.

Samantha Barks, who also played Eponine in the West End production, nearly had me bawling with every word during On My Own, Heart Full of Love and her final song. She is possibly the most tragic character in the film next to Fantine.

The other performers such as Russel Crowe’s Javert who you actually feel sorry for by his final song, Eddie Redmayne (Marius), Aaron Tveit (Enjolras) and David Huttlestone (Gavroche), all perform as well but none of them quite drive the same level of emotion as Jackman, Hathaway and Barks.

The movie, as epic and moving as it is (half our theatre was in tears) is not without its flaws. Amanda Seyfried’s performance as Cosette didn’t move me at all, and in fact hurt a few times with her high notes. I would have preferred Emma Watson (who had also auditioned for the part). I do admit I am not a fan of the elder Cosette or her songs in the play to begin with so, your mileage may vary.

I was not as moved by Empty Chairs as I had hoped, but that may be my own expectations after the Jonas brother performance during the 25th anniversary concert. The desire to be “realistic” in the escape from the barricade was nauseating to say the least. Finally, the director and cinematographers desire to do close ups for most every solo was a bit overdone by the end of the film. I like Hugh Jackman, I didn’t need to know where every pore on his face was with 40 feet of face!

If you are a lover of the original novel, it’s musical adaptation or musicals in general, this is an absolutely must see film. You should have stopped reading this review and been in line already! If you enjoy a good tear-jerker, good drama and the story this tells go see it!

If you aren’t a fan of any of the above, steer clear. This film will likely not do it for you.