Noah (2014)

I must confess I’ve never been much of a fan of Darren Aronofsky, though as it happens I’ve seen a good number of his feature films starting with his debut Pi (1998). If I think, then, that this latest — a biblical epic about the eponymous ark-building character — is his best work, then that probably shouldn’t be taken as a rave review, but still it has enough going for it that it might just scrape through to being a film that I can genuinely recommend at some level, rather than being a masochistic exercise in cinematic punishment (hi, Requiem for a Dream).

Of course, punishment is still a key theme at some level, since the film deals with the Biblical story of Noah, who builds an ark to protect a few deserving creatures from God’s wrath. God, incidentally, is never named in the film, but as “the Creator”, he (still a man apparently) remains present in the narrative, and wisely Aronofsky refrains from having any of those high camp ‘voice from the clouds’ type moments. Instead we get a number of stop-motion animated interludes retelling the Creation myth and setting up these characters, which reappear later on in the film and manage to somehow interweave it with evolutionary theory. Stop-motion animation also gets used for the Nephilim, who here are fallen angels trapped on Earth in solidly rock form as “the Watchers”, and again it shows some nous from Aronofsky that he’s not tried to make them ‘realistic’, for what exactly would be the point of that? They’re giant rock creatures after all, and ones which are not even too abstracted from the original tale.

I think the key here is that this isn’t an attempt to resolve the story of Noah into something akin to realism by shearing it of its supernatural elements; not much would be left of it, after all. Instead, it sensibly focuses on the moral issues, as Noah grapples not just with the Creator’s intended punishment but with his own role in that punishment. He is pushed to the edges of sanity but what he perceives are the Creator’s demands, as he interprets the flood as a way of ridding the Earth of all the errors of humanity, including him. Of course, the world’s repopulation presumably leans rather heavily on incest, but that’s a consideration that is beyond the scope of the film.

So it’s a Biblical epic and also at some level an ecological horror story, as the forces of evil, incarnated by Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone, doing his best Cockney hard man once again) wreak havoc on the world with their vicious tribal society, which we briefly glimpse as, I suppose, a pre- rather than post-apocalyptic dystopia. But however dark and barbaric Tubal-cain’s settlement may be when Noah infiltrates it, it’s his people’s insistence on hunting and eating meat that is presented most insistently as their greatest failing, making Noah something of a visionary evangelistic vegetarian epic.

Few of the actors really make much of a mark in the film next to Russell Crowe’s charismatic central performance. It feels only right that he should embody Noah in all his contradictions and vainglory, as the quest he embarks upon is the kind of single-minded folly that only the most confident of epics could countenance, and Crowe has already proved he can hold this kind of film together. Anthony Hopkins gets a few scenes as the decrepit old Methuselah, living atop a mountain and largely absent for most of the film, while the lovely Emma Watson gets written in as a love interest for Noah’s eldest son Shem (Douglas Booth, largely forgettable). Instead his middle son Ham (Logan Lerman) gets a more prominent role, but then his conflicted character, who forges an uneasy alliance with Tubal-cain, is rather more interesting.

As is no doubt clear, I can’t really comment on the religious accuracy of this retelling, but then I shouldn’t really have to. As an epic story about humanity grappling with its own fate, it more than succeeds on its own terms. Maybe the Bible is finally the kind of excessive setting that suits Darren Aronofsky’s talents.

Noah film posterCREDITS
Director Darren Aronofsky; Writers Aronofsky and Ari Handel; Cinematographer Matthew Libatique; Starring Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins; Length 138 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld Wood Green, London, Sunday 13 April 2014.

Stuck in Love. (2012)

God knows, there are probably a hundred reasons to dislike Stuck in Love. You could start, or perhaps you could end, with that full stop in the film’s title. It’s a film about writers, you see, the type of rarefied East Coast milieu you get in, say, Noah Baumbach films or in Wonder Boys (2000), also about a frustrated novelist. It focuses on a family of self-involved artistic types (Greg Kinnear is the father Bill, Nat Wolff and Lily Collins play his son Rusty and daughter Samantha), who are introduced in the first few minutes by having their opening lines written out on screen as they speak them, but each in a different typeface to indicate their generational and aspirational differences. But that full stop also indicates a sort of finality to the protagonist’s feelings that foreshadows the way the film concludes. If this kind of preciousness is already putting you off, the film may not appeal to you, but I found it sort of solipsistically charming.

The film’s opening lines are delivered by high school student Rusty, but when famous writer Bill later finds the same words in his son’s journal, he states confidently that they are words that hook in a reader and should be used to start a story; writer/director Josh Boone is clearly pleased with his script. In all honesty, I liked it too, but perhaps because it feels like a tale of romantic angst drawn from my generation. For example, the music the teenage characters all listen to and identify with is music that the same people would have been listening to in the late-90s (Elliott Smith, Bright Eyes). Boone is around my age, so this self-identification probably accounts for elements both of my enjoyment of the script and also my frustration with some of the plotting and the characters.

A lot of the character arcs are just too neat, for example. Cynical Samantha, embittered by her parents’ divorce and her mother (Jennifer Connelly) shacking up with a younger (less literate) guy, is at university, avoiding relationships and embarking on a series of one-night stands with similarly philistine jocks. She has just had her first, cynical novel published when she meets sweet-natured bassist Lou (played nicely by Logan Lerman), and has her cynicism challenged by his relationship with his dying mother, which opens up the possibility of a rapprochement with her own detested mother. Meanwhile, Rusty has been enjoined by his father to grasp life’s experiences while he can, and so hooks up with party girl Kate, a path which leads him back to the seclusion of his own fantastic imagination. Tastes in authors both high (John Cheever) and somewhat more pulpy (the son is fixated on Stephen King) converge as everyone comes to embrace the best in each other over a Thanksgiving meal. Et cetera, et cetera.

It is perhaps never quite so pat, but at times it does certainly verge on the unabashedly sentimental. However, the world weariness conveyed by Greg Kinnear (who even manages to make his stalking of his ex-wife seem sort of adorable in an infantile way), as well as the perky young actors, keep the film interesting. Best of the bunch for me are Nat Wolff as the introverted Rusty and Logan Lerman as soulful Lou, both essaying a sort of vulnerable perplexity, while Lily Collins as the sister is at least convincingly embittered.

It may not be a masterpiece, but I consistently enjoyed Stuck in Love. At its best it really has a handle on its characters and its milieu, however comfortably and at times off-puttingly self-congratulatory and middle-class it may be.


© Millennium Entertainment

NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW
Director/Writer Josh Boone | Cinematographer Tim Orr | Starring Greg Kinnear, Nat Wolff, Logan Lerman, Lily Collins, Jennifer Connelly | Length 97 minutes || Seen at Cineworld Haymarket, London, Friday 14 June 2013

My Rating 2.5 stars likeable