Saturday, April 26, 2014

Noah: Ah-NO!

I am not a terribly religious person and do not know the ins and outs of doctrine.  Therefore, I will not comment too much about the "historical" accuracy of "Noah".  However, I do think if you're going to make a movie about something from history, a story many people know, there should be some attempt to accurately reflect that history.
Darren Aronofsky has taken on quite a task Directing the life of Noah, what lead him to build an arc, the inner conflict of serving God and watching the world drown, at odds with his wife and kids, and the actual construction of said arc.  He has made some very interesting movies and had fertile ground for another.  His movies tend to be character studies, focusing on the human condition.  I wasn't a huge fan of "Requiem for a Dream" but was absolutely blown away by "The Wrestler" and "Black Swan".  None of those films were what you'd call "effects" movies but did evoke strong feelings and reactions.
I had high hopes for "Noah", given the cast and Director, but was disappointed at every turn.  The look of the movie was dark and at times cluttered.  Earth had a "Mad Max" feel to it, with marauding gangs destroying whatever lay in their path.  Tubal-cain, the primary villain, looked like he'd have been more then comfortable in the Thunder Dome.  Horribly overacted and poorly written Ray Winstone plays Tubal-cain.  His primary purpose, in addition to being a general menace, is to keep reminding us that "man makes the rules and controls his own destiny".  He appears to be calling Noah a sissy for not not "manning up" enough.
I'm not sure what's going on with Russell Crowe either.  After amazing performances, early in his career, he seemed bored in this role.  What happened to the actor who brought to life "Gladiator", "A Beautiful Mind", "Cinderella Man", "L.A. Confidential", and the overlooked but most amazing performance in "The Insider"?  Now he's the worst part of "Les Miserables", and going through the motions in "Broken City" and "Man of Steel".  There was no passion in his performance, no spell binding speeches, or deeply felt monologues.  There was so much potential for strong scenes.  I mean for a man carrying out the will of God, and in conflict with his own family, you'd think he'd have something to say.  Instead, he seemed to be brooding, scowling, and moping a good bit of the time.  This probably has as much to do with the writing as with the acting.  When great actors give poor performances you have to look to the script and to the Director.
Sadly none of the other actors came to his aide.  Jennifer Connelly who is typically breathtakingly beautiful as well as talented, was suitably bleak, matching her surroundings.  Emma Watson and the other "kids" were forgettable at best.  I can't think of one scene that was memorable or believable.  Even Anthony Hopkins looked lost.
Finally, Aronofsky created "Watchers" who were light-based, angle like beings, originally tasked to protect the garden of Eden.  When the apple was eaten, having failed, they were punished with a rocky exterior, binding them to earth.  They come to Noah's aide, serving as his protector and work crew.  I have no idea who designed these creatures.  To me they looked like arthritic, gimpy, broken down rock Transformers.  They seemed to lunge and wobble awkwardly with every stride and movement.
So in a nutshell, "Noah" seems to be a fictional historical film, poorly written, thin on plot, flatly acted, dark to watch, and long.......  Enjoy.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel

I really, REALLY, wanted to like this movie.  The reviews were through the roof positive, both from critics and viewers alike.  Wes Anderson has made a few amazing movies that I loved.  In particular "The Royal Tenenbaums" and "Fantastic Mr. Fox" were lively and hilarious.  To a lesser extent I enjoyed "Rushmore" and "Bottle Rocket".     However, I absolutely hated "The Darjeeling Limited" and "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou", and I didn't much care for the more recent and widely lauded "Moonrise Kingdom".

Wes Anderson, like many Directors, has a very distinctive style.  Both the look and feel of his movies are uniquely his.  However, unlike other great Directors, I often get the "I've seen that before" feeling while watching his films.  I think my "issue" with Wes Anderson is simply that I don't get, or I don't enjoy, his sensibility or his creative vision.... no matter how much I'd like to.  Just as I don't enjoy certain types of music or other forms of art that others do find enjoyable.  I suspect that's part of the beauty of film in general.  It is an art form and every person can decide for themselves what is good and what is not.  I know, based on public reviews, that I'm in the minority with my opinion, but I simply didn't enjoy this movie.  His aesthetic is lost on me.

The film takes place in an imaginary country and in an imaginary hotel, where M. Gustave, played by Ralph Fiennes, is the concierge.  Zero, his protege and Lobby Boy, is well played by Tony Revolori.  There was good chemistry between the two.  The mentoring relationship between them was often insightful, sweet, and authentic.  I don't think I can sum up the plot adequately and I'm not sure the plot really matters.  It's just a collection of mini adventures and absurd moments told mostly in flash back.  Wes Anderson continues to command the respect of A-list actors, who seem to flock to his movies.... much in the way they do to Woody Allen films.  He has he favorite collection of actors such as Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman and Edward Norton.  This time he adds F. Murry Abraham, Harvey Keitel, Jeff Goldblum, Jude Law, Adrien Brody, Willem Defoe and others.  It was fun to see these great actors in such quirky roles, and I did find many small moments to be charming and entertaining.  There just weren't enough of those moment.

One of my issues with this film, and other Anderson movies as well, is that his style or artistic vision doesn't seem to further the story or enhance the characters.  Artsy for it's own sake feels hollow and pointless to me.  The eccentric dress, the odd physical characteristics, the combination of cartoon and live action, seem more distracting then amusing to me.  The absurdity of Zero using a pencil to draw on a thin line pencil mustache?  Do we need to see an aging Harvey Keitel shirtless?

My other main issue is that the movie just felt plain silly most of the time.  Not the kind of silly that makes you laugh, but more the silly that makes you groan, or maybe just scratch your head.  I saw this film in the theater and I don't think there was a single outburst of laughter.  I did chuckle a time or two and smiled here and there, but it was far from hilarious.  I understand that the film is shot like a cartoon mixed with live action.  I appreciated what he was trying to do, and even found some of the blending to be interesting and fun.  But in the end, there were far too many silly moments.  For example, there are convicts are in need of tools to help them tunnel out and escape.  M. Gustave has tools smuggled in.  When shown diligently, and seriously, using the tools, we see that they are tiny.  Little hammers and picks no bigger then the palm of your hand.

Based on the number of A-list actors who seem eager to work with him there has to be something to his movies that I seem to be missing.