The Nice Guys — Review

The Nice Guys

Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, and Angourie Rice in a scene from Shane Black’s The Nice Guys.

3Star

“More daring than standard popcorn entertainment but light enough to be seen as two hours of fun escapism.”

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Noah

Noah_

3Star

by Ken B.

Noah is an art house-esque approach to a biblical story released in three thousand theatres. The manner of the execution is not unexpected, considering the reception of the director and co-writer, Darren Aronofsky, but still much has been made about this blockbuster’s eccentric style. The numerous accusations of deliberate religious sabotage have been overblown, initiated by fundamentalists who don’t know what the phrase “creative liberty” means  – Noah remains true to its roots over the story depicted in Genesis in both a basic outline of events and message. However, it is admittedly undeniable that multiple liberties have been taken, particularly in what can only be called Ray Harryhausen-style rock monsters (more on that later).

After a couple of title cards in a cheesy font discuss the historical story of the universe, we are exposed to a brief flashback where a young Noah sees his father murdered by Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), who is, obviously, a descendent of Cain (of Cain and Abel). Years later, Noah is married to Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), and they have three sons: Shem (Douglas Booth), Ham (Logan Lerman), and Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll). Shem is married to Ila (Emma Watson), who was informally adopted when she was a girl, found injured in the wreckage of a village. An injury she suffered at that time would also reckon her infertile.

Lately, Noah has been having some surreal dreams. The world is destroyed – not by fire, but by water, he says to his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins). He’s convinced that it’s some kind of sign, and that humanity, which, under Tubal-cain, has devolved to a brutal, murdering, animalistic incoherency, will indeed be wrecked. Noah has decided to construct an ark to hold his family and the animals of the world. To help build it, he will enlist Watchers, angels fallen from the heavens, becoming encased in rock after crashing into lava. Indeed, the flood comes, and everything is flooded. Noah believes that he and his family are to be the last humans, and it must stay that way, no matter what the cost.

Regardless of what has been said about Noah in the past couple weeks, one word that hasn’t been uttered is unambitious. It doesn’t matter if you like the film or not, the grand scale of the production and its unique way of existing is obvious and striking. This is enhanced by the visual effects (both in water and animals, all of which were computer generated, brilliant looking in scenes where they fly, walk, or slither to the ark). The cinematography and editing are kinetic, and the score from regular Aronofsky contributer Clint Mansell is expectedly loud, pounding through scenes when it has to.

The acting is great all down the board – Russell Crowe is stoic, displaying a Noah that becomes increasingly acute religiously and obtuse humanely. Another major performance here comes from Emma Watson. In The Perks of Being a Wallflower (which also starred Lerman), Watson showed that she, like her other two Harry Potter costars, won’t let that franchise be a sole career definition. This transition will be sped up and helped significantly by the fact that she is a very good actress, and that is clearly shown here. In her later scenes with Crowe, facing a devastating ultimatum regarding her character’s and Shem’s future, both actors are absolutely compelling. Ray Winstone is brilliantly deranged as Tubal-cain, telling an emotionally vulnerable Ham that a man’s will is the only important factor of life. Anthony Hopkins’ Methuselah is both vital to the plot and delivers some brief and welcome humor.

This movie, however, is not without its flaws, and most can be attributed to the various technicalities of the screenplay. Noah is 138 minutes, and it didn’t have to be. Most of the content following the first act and the flood feels long. Aronofsky and Ari Handel’s script seems happy to just lay dormant for periods of time, sopping up plot points at a sometimes alarmingly slow rate. Additionally, a solid and fantastically edited sequence shown in the middle of the film, showing the creation of the universe, through evolution and to a stylized rendition of the events in the Garden of Eden would have been more effective at the start.

I recommend Noah with a caveat – if you are a biblical purist and don’t care to see Lord of the Rings-style battles with rock monsters or a Noah who is greatly ethically questionable at times, don’t bother. However, regular moviegoers and less restrictive religious audiences should be able enjoy this imperfect but fascinating rendition of a classic Bible entry.

Buy from Amazon: DVD / Blu-ray

 

Noah

Noah — Trailer Reaction

by Ken B.

The story of Noah’s Ark is probably one of the more cinematically inclined Bible stories – a building of a giant boat, animals of every kind, a giant flood destroying the earth – $130 million has gone into Darren Aronofsky’s production, Noah. Aronofsky worked with Paramount, a strange move for the usually independent filmmaker. Russell Crowe occupies the titular role, accompanied by a quite impressive cast. Based on the trailer released by Paramount the other day, it looks somewhat enticing. I can definitely see potential pacing problems based on the overall spine of the film as depicted in its trailer.

It doesn’t scream of anything especially good, but will do well in pleasing its audience and receiving a decent profit upon its release in March. It should be interesting to see what kind of conversation begins to develop as the date draws nearer.

Man of Steel – Review

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3Star

by Ken B.

A dark, serious mood like some recent superhero movies hangs high over Man of Steel, which is the latest reboot of the Superman movies. Produced by Christopher Nolan, who directed The Dark Knight trilogy, directed by Zack Snyder, who’s done comic book movies before, starring a talented cast, and with dazzling effects, everything combines here to create an immensely entertaining film.

This is one of those origin stories, as if there is still someone who doesn’t know about Superman. Oh well. At least it doesn’t take up too much of our time. Of course it starts on Krypton, the imminent destruction of the planet, and the blasting into space of young Kal-El/Superman, by his father Jor-El (RUSSELL CROWE), due to the havoc is being wreaked by General Zod (MICHAEL SHANNON).

Man of Steel proceeds to jump ahead three decades on Earth, where  Kal-El, now known as Clark Kent and played as an adult by Henry Cavill, is beginning to piece together his history. Finding the wreckage of a crashed spaceship encased within Arctic ice, he manages to speak with a ghost (or something) of his father. In the process, he runs into a reporter, Lois Lane (AMY ADAMS) who is covering the story of a giant spaceship in ice, however, after Clark/Superman uses superpowers to alleviate an injury that Lois receives, she begins to write about this mysterious man. However, her editor (LAURENCE FISHBURNE) at The Daily Planet refuses to publish it, so she leaks it to another source.

Suddenly, the army of General Zod invades Earth, threatening destruction if anyone who willingly knows of Clark’s true identity does not turn him over in 24 hours. This puts a few people on the spot, such as Lois and Clark’s earthly mother (DIANE LANE) (Clark’s father on Earth, Jonathan Kent (KEVIN COSTNER) died over a decade prior — 1997, to be exact).

This takes out about half of the 148 minute movie. After a brief period of transition into battle, the remainder (maybe last third, I’d guess) of the movie is devoted to a mind-numbingly loud fight between Superman and the minions of General Zod. Skyscrapers crumble to the ground, gravity is messed with, there are explosions to spare… and it’s really entertaining to watch. I use the term “mind-numbing”, but it’s not really a bad thing. While the fight does seem a little long at times, it’s still admirably executed, and I felt like I got my money’s worth when exiting the theater.

One of the major reasons Henry Cavill was probably cast is because he looks like a superhero – rugged and tall, just an overall heroic demeanor. He works in the part. Supporting roles, filled by the likes of Crowe, Adams, Fishburne, Costner, Lane, Christopher Meloni and Richard Schiff add other recognizable people to the game. There really isn’t an unsatisfactory performance to be had. Shannon’s Zod is perfectly over the top.

Visually, the third act of the movie – as I said before, composed nearly entirely of the climactic fight, is made up of a lot quick cuts, the status quo for the modern action movie. And that’s just the problem. During this event, there are times where it feels like just another action movie. Mind you, these lapses are thankfully never lengthy or terribly memorable, but it hurts the entire overview of the movie. Another problem is the way the story is told. Instead of progressing gradually through the growth of our hero on Earth, we are presented his history in a handful of flashbacks, which have the tendency to remove the viewer from the growing plot. Thinking about the creative team, as I have not seen a Snyder film before, I can’t comment on any type of consistency between works, but Nolan’s impact is clear from the start. The epic-style soundtrack is written by Hans Zimmer, a frequent collaborator of Nolan’s, and the screenplay is written by David S. Goyer, who wrote Batman Begins. (Nolan also co-wrote the story with Goyer).

I’ll admit I wasn’t the biggest fan of Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman, but it must be said that it is very important in the molding of the modern superhero movie (and I don’t believe anyone will beat Christopher Reeve at being Superman). I had a more immediately enjoyable time watching Man of Steel, but its significance will most likely be much less effective. However, this movie is well made and exciting. I have no problems recommending Man of Steel to anyone who’s a fan of contemporary (21st century) superhero movies. I saw this in 2D, as usual, and I ask you do the same. Rarely anything can be improved with tinted glasses over a bright action movie.

Buy from Amazon: DVD / Blu-ray / Blu-ray 3D

Les Miserables – Review

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25Star

by Ken B.

Les Misérables may well be the longest 2½ hour film I have seen. Seriously – this thing goes on and on… but that’s not my point right now. Is it one of the best movies I’ve seen this year? No. Is it one of the worst movies I’ve seen this year? No. Is its interest level to audiences gobsmackingly subjective? Yes, of course. No one’s going to see a movie called Les Misérables unless they’re familiar with the musical, or even the 1862 Victor Hugo novel.

Apparently extremely loyal to its source, the plot follows Jean Valjean (HUGH JACKMAN, who does an excellent job), a convict in the midst of the French Revolution, serving time for stealing a loaf of bread to support his sister and her children. After being granted parole by Javert (RUSSELL CROWE, who does a very good job acting wise but a merely passable job singing-wise), Valjean becomes a factory owner. Several years later, we are introduced to Fantine (ANNE HATHAWAY, who delivers an especially good performance), a factory worker who sells hair, teeth, and body to support her young daughter, Cosette (ISABELLE ALLEN in earlier scenes, AMANDA SEYFRIED in later scenes). She is very ill – Valjean sees her one night and takes her to a hospital before she dies.

Then, another several years later, Cosette, now much older and adopted by Valjean, falls in love with a rebel, Marius (EDDIE REDMAYNE, who delivers a very good performance), but any type of optimistic ending is hopelessly stuck through the revolution, which affects all.

Highly publicized through this film’s ad campaign was the feat that all singing was done live on set, as opposed to the typical route of earlier recording a song and lip-synching it while filming. While being toted around as “the first” to have done it, research revealed this has been done three times before in musicals, with At Long Last Love (Bogdanovich, 1975), The Fantasticks (Ritchie, 1995), and Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Mitchell, 2001). Still, Les Misérables is the first musical to have live singing done on this grand scale of production.

Speaking of music, the movie, as you’ll know if you’re familiar with the musical, is nearly entirely sung through, which justifies the above method. The camera, whenever there is a song, will have the relentless ability to perform an extreme close-up on the actor singing at the moment – but this tactic only really worked twice (Hathaway’s spellbinding rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream”), and to a lesser extent, Redmayne’s “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”). Regardless of its effect, thankfully no especially ugly people had to sing in this movie.

And speaking of the cinematography, let’s talk about it. Resorting to either the above mentioned ECU, long crane shots (usually signaling a change in set year), and indirect shots through translucent curtains, nets, or prison-like bars, which give an onlooker type of angle, which is retired after the first third of the production. Also? Shaky handheld camera which is often turned into said close-up, or a Dutch angle. The camera work here is extraordinarily schizophrenic.

A massive positive is the fantastic set and costume design which is quite apparent. Setting the mood well, detail is brilliant. The acting is covered in the plot, in a direct way. These are prime performances with actors to express great emotion and sorrow through their impressive singing.

The musical, which has been running worldwide for over a quarter century, was composed first by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boubil, translated into English by Herbert Kretzmer. They returned to the film production to compose one new song – just one, for the movie. However, one can’t help feeling it was just so it was eligible for an Oscar for Best Original Song, another nomination in the swarms this one will probably receive come January 10.

I’m going to end with a marginal recommendation for Tom Hooper’s latest production (Hooper also directed 2010’s Oscar-winning The King’s Speech). Actually, two separate recommendations. For fans of the musical, of which I probably made clear I am not familiar with, by all means, go out and see this. You’ll probably like it. For people who have no clue who any of the characters mentioned in the plot above, and are hopelessly confused by this review… well, I think Lincoln’s still playing.

Buy from Amazon: DVD / Blu-ray / Soundtrack

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