Monday, 14 April 2014


Noah, 2014
Directed by Darren Aronofsky

I'm going to start off this review and let you know, if you didn't know already, I am a Christian. I believe in God, the Bible, and all the stories in them. And I'm sure you've all heard (Christian and non-Christian alike) about all the 'controversy' and 'backlash' this film has garnered. This film had been on my radar for a few years. And while I haven't watched many Aronofsky films (the only one being Pi, which I was forced to watch in English Class and did not enjoy it), I've been aware of, more or less, how biblical/unbiblical this would be.

First, I'd like to clear up the idea that this film was made because studios love controversy, don't care about keeping it accurate and only care about making money. Aronofsky, you can readily read, has been wanting to make this film since he was a teenager. While he is a professed Athiest, he has always been fascinated by this story, and he and co-screenwriter Ari Handel had a very clear vision of this film. However, the studios disagreed with said vision. They wanted it shortened and more "safe" (aka more "biblical"). They released various cuts of the films to various religious audiences, with all kinds of mixed reviews. The studios seemed quite eager to try to please the audience and deliver the film they wanted, rather than let their director make the film he wanted. On the contrary, studios do not like this kind of controversy. However, the cut we now see in theatres is Aronofsky's original cut.

Noah is a very different blockbuster and envisioning of this story than most people, mainly the Christian community, expected. As a Christian myself, hearing how "controversial" this film was, and how divided everyone seemed to be, made me become extremely interested in seeing this film. I read review upon review, Christian and otherwise, to see what everyone was saying. And finally, 3 weeks after it's release, I watched the movie, along with my husband and 3 friends from our weekly Bible study group.

I tried to critically watch this film both through a Christian standpoint, but also in a view that separates the film from any Bible knowledge and just to watch the film as it was. This was difficult at points, but it was a truly interesting experience.

And when I came out of the movie, myself and the others I attended with, sort of all had the same feeling about it. We didn't really care for the movie one way or the other. Though one friend seemed particularly off-put by the amount of "magical glowing", but nevertheless, we all seemed a little indifferent to the film as a whole.

I have since read the passage of Noah over and over again both before and after watching the film. And the only thing I can really think of that directly contradicts the text is that all of Noah's sons boarded the ark with wives. Pretty much everything else in the passage is included in the film. Which, seriously, is not hard. However, not giving a specific voice to God/The Creator made for some narrative shifting, but overall, everything in the text is in the film. But it's just a matter of reading between the lines and Aronofsky and Handel did a lot of this. However, another point to remember, specifically for this story, Noah is not exclusive to the Bible. There have been all sorts of legends, religious stories, etc of a flood, an ark, Noah, etc, and are part of Juddaism, Islam and various other mythologies as well. This is something so many Christians seem to forget and I would like to send out as a reminder.

Personally, I more or less didn't have problems with the filling in of the blanks in this film. The scripture itself is very brief, so this was obviously necessary to some extent. While most things worked, there were a few that didn't. What didn't work particularly well was the extended use of the Watchers. Large rock creatures who are cast out of Heaven for wanting to help humans, they are introduced quite early on. While they later go on to find their place in the film (as illustrated in the next paragraph), they more often come off gimmicky and a little silly. I had very mixed emotions over the Watchers and felt their role could've been reduced. As well, the inclusion of the "evil stowaway" on the ark added pretty well nothing to the story and could've been eliminated completely. However, what I felt most mixed about is the third act, and final narrative. SPOILERS AHEAD. While I thought the idea of Noah being determined that all of human kind should die, including his family, was an interesting question to be raised, I felt the film took it a little far that it became unrealistic. Noah, threatening to kill Ila's children (if they are girls) seemed somewhat out of place, and not fitting from what we've seen of Noah thus far. Noah, while powerful, cares so incredibly much for his family, and is very loyal to the Creator. Noah never had a specific vision that his family should die out, and when Noah asked the Creator, he received no answer. While Russell Crowe played out the mania expertly, the extent the story line went to toed the line on melodramatic and felt out of place. End Spoilers. In fact, I felt several things really toed the line on melodrama. Ham's quest for a wife was understandably quite dire and he felt strongly about it. But the lengths he goes to while angry at his father is a little much. But this goes along with my dislike of the inclusion of the stowaway. While most of it stayed afloat and not overly dramatic, it often got a little close.

 The things that worked best was the inclusion of Ila. Ila is a young girl whom Noah's family finds wounded near the beginning of the film, her family dead. Noah and his family take her in, and she grows up with them. Destined to be barren because of her injury, she and Noah's eldest son have fallen in love and are essentially (it is not explicit whether they are or not) married. Played thoughtfully by Emma Watson, Ila provided a very different and tender voice to the film, that, without it, might've left the film way too dark. And while I wasn't overly enthused with the Watches at all times, they found their perfect place when helping building the ark. Seeing how large this ark was, it seemed entirely plausible that Noah and his family would need some "big help". As well, many interesting questions are raised throughout the film (justice vs mercy, the will of the Creator, who is "deserving" of grace, etc), and while these are specifically tied to the scripture story of Noah, they were biblical and thought-provoking questions all the same.

However, what worked the best, was how horrific the flood became. Between Noah's visions of being underwater, surrounded by corpses, or to the shot of Noah sitting in the ark, the water rushing around him and you can hear the screams of all those outside, trying to cling to life. They story of Noah is very different, in reality, to what we learned in Sunday school. It's not a happy little ark with Fisher-Price animals in the plastic ark. It's a horror story of mass extinction and eradication of humans. And Aronofsky captured this element perfectly. And while Noah knows he did the right thing, we see Ila and Shem starting to beg their father to rescue those outside, that they have so much room. They have such compassion, but Noah knows he has followed the Creator's commands, and this is incredibly powerful. If the film did anything right, it was this, by far.

The visuals in this film were incredibly stunning, that I can say with certainty. The cinematography (mainly those stunning silhouette shots at the beginning of the film) were gorgeous. While I felt some of the visual effects were a little hit or miss, the overall effect of all the animals and the ship were stunning. As well, all the acting was fairly solid. Russell Crowe is an understated powerhouse as Noah. And Jennifer Connelly brought such power and peace to the role. And while she is white (unlike her real life counterpart would've been) I felt she was one of the best casting choices. Emma Watson has never overly impressed me with her acting (though she was so fun in the Bling Ring), I felt she did some good work here, in the end. However, some of the cast looked a little too pretty. Mainly Emma Watson and Douglas Booth as Shem were the main offenders. Emma Watson looked a little too perfect to be believable, and Douglas Booth looked like a Biblical Model. As well, some of the costumes were a little odd (specifically Noah wearing a modern looking jacket with a hood).

Overall, I understand the controversy. This was not what Christians were expecting, and it's not exactly the film the trailer was promoting (or at least the one or two trailers I watched). I felt much of the problem arose from slightly false advertising of the film, via the trailers. The trailers make this out to look more or less Biblically accurate. Again, I haven't seen all the trailers released, but the one that played in theaters felt misleading after watching the film. However, a recommendation for Christians regarding films: Do your research! This is not something I can stress enough. If there's a Biblical/Christian movie coming out, look into this film. Who is in it? Who is directing it? Just looking at the director can tell you a lot about what to expect, if they have a large enough or prominent enough filmography. The amount of the people I know who don't realize that the Son of God movie is just the Jesus section from the Bible mini-series (plus deleted scenes) astounds me. Even just read reviews! I know too many Christians who went into this blind and came out angry and disappointed. They felt they had been mislead and mocked with this unexpected story.

However, this was a film, in the end, I did not feel like I'd ever need to revisit. This is not because of some Christian blah-blah of thinking this adaptation "ruins scripture" and Aronofsky is "mocking Christians". I feel none of those emotions towards the film, and felt the film was incredibly creative and original. However, Aronofsky is a filmmaker I am realizing is just not for me. Some things worked in this movie, but the mania went a little too far, and some of this felt unrealistic for where the plot and characters had been going prior.

Would I recommend this movie? I'm not sure. I don't have really many feelings to it and I feel it was (extremely ironically) a little forgettable. It's a film that is definitely an "experience" and definitely raised some interesting questions. But was it a good movie? That, I'm not terribly certain on.


Thursday, 10 April 2014

From Here to Eternity

From Here to Eternity, 1953
Directed by Fred Zinneman
Nominated for 13 Oscars, Won 8
Wins Include: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Writing (Screenplay), Best Cinematography (Black and White), Best Sound Recording, Best Film Editing

This film is about the romantic and personal entanglements of various soldiers stationed in Hawaii. Beginning with Prewitt, who had requested to transfer, and ended up in Hawaii, but finds out Captain Holmes had heard about his great boxing skills and wants him on the company team. Prewitt had given up boxing a year ago, and is tormented by various peer soldiers and his superiors when he refused to join the team. As well, Sergeant Warden has started a romance with the captain's wife, who is in an extremely rocky marriage. Not to mention the weekends off the base where Prew finds a woman he loves, all while the attack on Pearl Harbour is looming in the very near future. 

I'm not sure why, but I had very little patience for this film. Maybe because there's an exorbitant amount of war/army films that have won Best Picture and I've seen several recently (Patton, The English Patient, etc). Or maybe because I just could care less about everyone's "problems" in this film. 

The entanglements came off very melodramatically, and many of the characters were extremely unsympathetic to boot. Prewitt is headstrong and stubborn, as well as most people around him. Prewitt is constantly getting picked up by his superiors and fellow soldiers because he won't join their boxing team. And Prewitt takes a very "I won't give them the satisfaction" attitude towards the abuse. So when he does start to show he weary he is, I can't really feel sorry for him. Especially with how the film ended. As well, all the romantic storylines felt very contrived, and all the woman "troubled". Maybe because it's the 50's but it's tiring always having the love interests being being reluctant about getting together with the man, or blaming the man for not actually wanting to be with her, or saying "don't go do that brave thing! stay and marry me!". This is also in part the portrayal of the men, who are all so strong and stubborn but "romantic". I guess I just don't buy into this thing of the woman being "weak" and the men "strong". 

But other than my feminist views of 50's war films, the acting was alright. This had 5 of it's actors up, and 2 of them won (for Supporting Actor and Actress). Frank Sintra was indeed a standout of the film, and I don't think really anyone else compared. His story line was also probably the most interesting (maybe because it didn't revolve around getting together with a girl?). But overall, Sintra was a great choice for the role and he deservedly won for it. Burt Lancaster was also solid, but I felt Montgomery Cliff (Prewitt) was just trying way too hard (Also he looks SO much like Tom Cruise! Just me?) and it came off a little blah, to me anyway. 

I find the movie quite dull most of the way through. It moved quickly for not really having a plot, like, at all. And the attack on Pearl Harbor scenes were by far the most interesting thing about the film, and the most well done. 

Overall, I wasn't a huge fan of this. Like I mentioned, I just seemed to have very little patience for it and the characters and their circumstances. Like, seriously, Prewitt is able to leave the base one of his first weekends in Hawaii and meets Lorene (and admittedly really connects with her.. though he does also acost a man she's talking with after he left her for a moment) and when he doesn't come back until 6 weeks later, he still expects Lorene to be with him exclusively (which Lorene calls him out on but eventually does go to him). The men seem to all feel self important and all the women a bit cold but weak. I

Maybe it was just a bad day to watch this (this was my second attempt as I wasn't in the mood last week), or maybe I just really didn't like it, but this film didn't go over super well with me and is one I can't imagine I'll watch again in a while, despite some solid performances and a good battle scene. 

Acting- 8.5/10 
Directing- 8/10 
Screenplay- 6.5/10 
Visuals- 7.5/10 
Music- 7.5/10 
Emotional Connection- 4/10 
Entertainment- 5.5/10 
Rewatchability- 5.5/10 
Overall Enjoyment- 5.5/10 
Overall Package- 6/10       

Total: 64.5/100

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel, 2014
Directed by Wes Anderson

To date, I have only watched 2 Wes Anderson films. And those are his two most recent. Moonrise Kingdom, which I haven't watched probably four or five times since it was released on DVD, and The Fantastic Mr. Fox, a film I only watched a few weekends ago.

I like to think that if I made films, they would be something like a Wes Anderson film. However, I am not an aspiring filmmaker, nor am I capable or talented enough to become one. However, Wes Anderson (or what I've seen from his most recent 3 films), are what I love about movies. The style, the humor, the visuals are exactly right up my alley. I just love it all! So I was a little anxious going into the Grand Budapest Hotel, hoping I would continue to love what I'm seeing from Anderson. And while this didn't surpass my love of Moonrise Kingdom and Fantastic Mr Fox, it was still a fantastic film, highly entertaining, extremely hilarious, and fabulous.

The film starts off with an extreme meta narrative. We first see a young girl opening a book, named The Grand Budapest Hotel. Next we hear (and see) the words being read, told by an elderly writer, who is telling the story of his younger self, visiting the named hotel. He happens to be staying there at the same time as Zero Moustafa, an elderly gentleman now, and the owner. They run into each other in the public bath's and the young writer enquires to Mr Moustafa his story of how he came upon the hotel. And we enter the final layer of the story. We are now seeing young Zero's story as he first arrives at the Grand Budapest hotel several decades earlier, as a new lobby boy, and tells of murder, stolen paintings, prison break, fancy chocolates, and first love.

The two main things that stuck out to me about this film were Ralph Fiennes, and Alexandre Desplat's score. Ralph Fiennes, a person of whom I've only seen in dramas (does he really do comedy?), is pitch-perfect as M. Gustave H. The quirky, flirtatious, and charming owner of the Grand Budapest. As Zero mentions, many of the guests come exclusively to see him. And as it should be, many people came to see the film solely for him as well. Fiennes is quick-witted and dead-pan (as with most Anderson characters).

I don't mean to short change the acting of any others within the film because Fiennes was so fantastic. While this film is advertised as a huge ensemble film, with many Anderson favourites, it's actually a film that had two main characters, with a small handful of meaningful support. Of course, we have Gustave and Zero. I have not read much about Tony Revolori (who plays Zero), he admittedly does not have nearly as showy a part, but is plays his part well, keeps expression to a minimal, unless needed. For supporting, our main character here is Agatha, played by Saorsie Ronan. Her part is not as showy either, but she is a fun addition to the cast and generally just gives great performances. We also have a very sinister Willem Dafoe as the assassin, Jopling, and Adrien Brody as Madame D.'s son. Both sinister, both great.

As well, the music in the film was fabulous. Desplat has long been a favourite composer of mine, and I feel some of his best work is done with Anderson. I have not seen an Anderson film that Desplat hasn't composed, but I feel that Desplat really adds something to the film, and the overall style and quirkiness. It's extremely distinctive, and it makes complete sense why Anderson keeps bringing him back on board. This, along with Ralph Fiennes, was one of my favourite parts of the film. Immersive and quirky, and completely fun.

The story itself felt a little complicated and convoluted (a problem not found in Moonrise or Mr Fox), but I typically find Anderson films need several viewings to completely appreciate, take in, and notice all the little details and quirks, and this is a film I plan to watch again as soon as I can. However, when the film wasn't convoluted, it was touching, charming, random and grand fun. Some of the best fun in the film was all the completely (on purpose, of course) implausible situations, and how everyone reacts. To the extended conversation between Gustave and Zero after they have succeeded in the prison break of Gustave, to the hilarious shoot-out in the hotel. What makes this movie so fun is it takes a story idea, which has been done many, many, many time before and makes it feel completely fresh and new. How many times have we seen films about people wrongly accused of murder and they try to track down their killer? But Anderson gives a quirky and irresistible spin on this story, making it hilarious, but still a heart-warming and, at times, touching.

As I've seen so far, we have the contrast between irresponsible adults, and responsible children. While Moonrise Kingdom had parents and grown-ups giving advice to the young lovers, they never followed it themselves, and, ironically, Sam and Suzy often handled situations better than the adults did. Mr Fox in Fantastic Mr Fox was classic irresponsible, and often dragging others into his schemes (and often the calm, responsible Kristofferson). Here, we have Gustave H, the head member of adults acting like children. We do not often see him actually doing any work, but often giving it to others. He is always off to flirt with some older woman, or just have a good time. This is not to say he shirks responsibility (he gives "sermons" during dinner, and does manage the entire hotel and is the reason it is so grand) But also remember, many guests come simply to see him.  And while there are less children around this time, Zero and his fiancee Agatha, are definitely the level heads, and are the ones with the plans, the brains and the capabilities. Zero, who is loyal and devoted, is often the common sense. Not to mention, the fact that he draws on his little mustache, him and Agatha get "engaged", and Agatha has a full-time job shows the contrast of adults being children, and children being adults.

As well the film is nostalgic for, perhaps, a time that never existed. But it's never a flawless nostalgia, but is always tainted with the things that really did taint the past. Things like war, lack of modern technology, etc. But is reminiscent of simpler times, though always a world that never quite exists.

Overall, the film of a style level is marvelous. The humor, the style, the music, the acting is all pitch-perfect. The story was a little muddled at times, but never completely collapses, or even comes close. And while I'm reserving judgment for an overall placement until I've watched this film a time or two more (and until I've watched more Anderson films), but at this point Moonrise Kingdom is still ruling, and will be tough to beat. Admittedly, Wes Anderson films are not generally for everyone. They are so quirky and different from much other filmmaking going on that it is a little jarring at times. However, I do recommend the film.

Will it garner awards attention? I really hope so. This absolutely deserves recognition in Art Direction, Costumes, Make-up/Hair-styling, and Screenplay. But most of all, I'd love to see Ralph Fiennes recognized for his work here. He is the head of the film, and is so marvelous, as I've stated before. But even if nothing comes to fruition, this film is still lovely, and definitely worth seeing.