Sunday, March 30, 2014


     Writer/ director Darren Aronofsky bring us his own personal vision of the biblical story of Noah and the ark. It is a polarizing film that will certainly stir controversy but in the end, Mr. Aronofsky is not interpreting religion but rather making art. 

       The film is all over the place. At times totally weird and ridiculous and yet, also dramatic and believable. I had a hard time getting past one of the weirder, yet vital elements of the story but I leave it to you the viewer, to decide for yourself. Mr. Aronofsky attempts to ground the story in more human than religious terms (God is referred to only as "the creator") but that one odd decision (and you will know it when you see it) makes it too hard to take seriously.

        Star Russell Crowe, as Noah, does take everything very seriously but his character goes so far over the top in his virtue and righteousness, that after rooting for him, you eventually want to throw him off the side of the ark. This is probably why he discovers wine and becomes the planet's first drunk. His wife is played by Jennifer Connelly and she has very little to do here but worry about her husband's sanity. Ray Winstone co-stars as a fictitious character representing the evils of man. Anthony Hopkins also co-stars as Yoda, err, I mean Methuselah, the oldest man on the planet and Noah's grandfather. He only has a few scenes but sets major plot points in motion with sage advice and a touch of magic.

        The cinematography and special effects are well done. All the creatures entering the ark and the flood itself are impressive but I left the film with more questions than answers. For starters, why are all the animals rendered unconscious but the humans are unaffected by Ms. Connolly's aromatic sleeping potion? And why does Mr. Aronofsky depict a sequence of evolution only to change gears and then have "the creator" create man? You can't have it both ways. The script also tells us we are all born of original sin, hence the creator's decision for a "do over" but in the end, love conquers all and the sin of incest is never an issue. After all, who's left to repopulate the earth except Noah's immediate family?

         As for better entertainment value, rent "A Beautiful Mind" for a wonderful Crowe/Connelly pairing and listen to Bill Cosby's classic bit, "Noah".

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Nymphomaniac Volume I

        The latest self indulgent therapy from writer/director Lars van trier.  It's a unique one of a kind film that can only come from the mind of Mr. van trier. Since it is Volume 1 of a two part story, it's not really fair to review it as a stand alone film. I'm sure  Mr. van trier's original vision was a single four hour film but for whatever the reason, Vol. 2 will be released in two weeks.

         What I can say it that there is plenty of sex and nudity (body doubles were used), odd moments of humor and a terrific cameo by Uma Thurman. The film stars Charlotte Gainsbourg  as "Joe" and Stellen Skarsgard as "Seligman". When Joe is found beaten and bruised in an ally by Seligman, he brings her to his apartment to recuperate after she refuses an ambulance. It is there that she begins to tell him of her life filled with one sexual encounter after another. Mr. Skarsgard takes everything quite seriously but still finds a way to project the intended (I hope) humor of the script. In Volume 1, Ms. Gainsbourg has little to do except to narrate her story.

           In flashbacks, Joe is played by Stacy Martin, a fearless young actress who is terrific in a difficult part. She loses her virginity to a terribly miscast Shia LaBeouf, who returns later in the film to only embarrass himself further with a bad accent and even worse acting. Another miscast actor is Christian Slater, who plays Joe's father. In an effort to play a serious "art" role, he literally leaves himself exposed in the worst way.

           Whatever Mr. van trier is thinking, I have to hold judgement until after seeing Volume 2 but equating sex to fly fishing in Volume 1 certainly maintains his standing as an original and visionary filmmaker. Love him or hate him, his work is always controversial but fascinating.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel

   Written and directed by Wes Anderson, this is probably his most fully realized and mainstream film. It has his usual whimsical charm , a wonderful plot, and inspired dialog.

        The majority of the film takes place in 1932 inside the grand hotel. The film stars Ralph Fiennes as M. Gustave, the manager of the hotel and he is simply wonderful. Tony Revolori is his protege, Zero the Lobby Boy. They make a lunatic pair who cannot stay out of trouble. The film is also filled with a bevy of terrific actors, most of whom have worked with Mr. Anderson in the past. Look for Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Jason Schwartzman, Harvey Keitel, Adrien Brody, Jude Law, F. Murray Abraham, Edward Norton and Tilda Swinton just to name a few. 

         Unfortunately with the exception of Mr. Fiennes, Mr. Revolori, and possibly Saoirse Ronan, every other role is little more than a cameo.This leaves little room for character development but the film moves at breakneck speed and it's such fun to see these actors pop in and out, you don't mind their short screen time.
         Besides an entertaining and very funny script, Mr. Anderson also rewards his audience with visual treats. Eye popping sets, wonderful miniatures, and colorful use of animation all blend together to tell the tale. 

        "The Grand Budapest Hotel" is grand indeed. You'll be glad you checked in.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

300: Rise of an Empire

        Billed as a sequel to "300", the film actually takes place at the same time and just after the outcome of that story. Loosely based and for the most part historically accurate, "Rise of An Empire" chronicles the "other" battle between the Persians and the Greeks during the Persian invasion. While the Spartan army of 300 tried in vain to hold off The Persian army, The Athenian general Themistocles battled the Persian navy at The Straits of Artimisium.

          General Themistocles is played by Sullivan Stapleton and while he knows his way around a sword, he lacks the charisma of Gerald Butler. His Persian rival is Eva Green, who plays Artimisia, leader of the Persian navy ( and named for the straits where the naval battle actually happened) . I doubt her character really existed but she does manage to steal the film anyway, especially during a rough sex scene with Mr. Stapleton. Returning from the first film is Lena Headey, who now leads the Spartans since the death of her husband Leonidas and Rodrigo Santoro as Zerxes, the Persian God-King.

         Filmed again in a highly stylized form, the visuals are further enhanced by 3-D and the action is pretty much continuous with buckets of blood and body parts seemingly flying off the screen into the audience. Fans of the first film will not be disappointed but if you are not interested in Greek history or intense, hyper-violent sword play, this is not the film for you.

Saturday, March 08, 2014


        Liam Neeson has become the action hero of February. Since "Taken", he has become the go to actor to save the February movie blues. At this point, it doesn't matter how ridiculous the plot or dialog, Mr. Neeson will save the day.

         "Non-Stop" is pretty ridiculous but Mr. Neeson takes the film very seriously and finds a way to rise above the poor material and sell this story of a mid-air crisis. The film is silly but it does have one thread of suspense going for it, trying to figure out who is behind the plot to kill a passenger every 20 minutes. There are plenty of suspects on the crowded airliner.

           Julianne Moore co-stars probably because she needed to make a car payment or was behind in her mortgage. She is too good an actress to waste her time in this "blink and it's gone to cable" movie. And if co-starring wasn't bad enough, her character disappears for most of the final act. Another waste of talent is the recent Academy Award winner, Lupita Nyong'o. She plays a flight attendant with almost nothing to do or say. 

            To make the most of this story, skip the film and re-watch the trailer. All the action and suspense are right there to enjoy for three minutes and it's free.