2014's "Noah" is a strange effort by cerebral director Darren Aronofsky, who was also responsible for films like "Black Swan," "The Wrestler," "Pi," and "Requiem for a Dream." "Noah" stars Russell Crowe as the eponymous protag, a British-accented Jennifer Connelly as Noah's wife Naameh (never named in the Bible, but mentioned in a midrash, although it's unclear exactly who her father was: either Lamech or Enoch), Emily Watson as the non-canonical Ila, Ray Winstone as Tubal-cain, Douglas Booth as Noah's dutiful son Shem, Logan Lerman as Noah's son Ham, Leo McHugh Carroll as Noah's youngest son Japheth, Anthony Hopkins as Noah's grandfather Methuselah, and a slew of famous voices playing the Watchers—fallen angels cursed to walk the earth as living rocks for having helped primordial humans after their expulsion from Eden. Tubal-cain stands in for all of sinful, irredeemable humanity, and he works to seduce Ham to his cause. Noah himself comes off as a God-driven figure whose devotion to the Creator leads him to the brink of some truly inhumane acts. Unlike "Troy," which was a demythologized retelling of The Iliad, "Noah" takes a magical-realist tack, portraying any and all miracles as literally true. I found the film to be a bit of a throwback to the Cecil B. DeMille era—big spectacle, flashy effects, and world-shaking drama. I didn't find the effects nearly as powerful as some critics apparently did; the Watchers in particular reminded me too much of the lurching, clunky APUs from "The Matrix Revolutions." I suppose certain believers might have gotten a kick out of this film, but I really had to wonder what a director like Aronofsky must have seen in the biblical source material. This just didn't feel like something that should have fascinated him enough to make a movie.
"Kung Fu Panda 3"
This year's "Kung Fu Panda 3" stars Jack Black as Po the Panda, Angelina Jolie as Tigress, Jackie Chan as Monkey, Lucy Liu as Viper, Seth Rogen as Mantis, David Cross as Crane, Dustin Hoffman as Sifu, Randall Duk Kim as Oogway, JK Simmons as Kai, and Bryan Cranston as Po's biological father, Li Shan. Po reunites with his father and goes off to the secret panda village to learn what it means to be a panda. Meanwhile, the menacing ox (buffalo?) General Kai escapes the spirit world, where he had been banished by his former friend and ally Oogway, and begins absorbing the chi of every mortal kung fu master he meets. Chi is one of the film's major themes and tropes; another theme is Know Thyself, as Po is confronted, on several levels, with the question "Who am I?"—a question familiar to anyone who has studied Zen. There's less actual, physical kung fu in this film than in previous ones: the battles are more metaphysical than physical. The humor struck me as a bit thin and worn, and the movie actually dragged for long periods because it was so talky. On a philosophical level, I thought this film was fairly barren; the first movie takes the cake for containing many shorthand instances of Asian wisdom. Things didn't really gel for me until we were near the movie's end, and Po finally begins to realize just who he is. That said, I've had the feeling, ever since the second movie, that Po's mastery of the various concepts and skills mentioned in this series is largely unearned—a point that's emphasized every time Sifu grimaces when he discovers that Po has almost accidentally mastered something that Sifu had been studying for decades. Another implausibility is that Po asks Sifu, "What's chi?" near the beginning of the film. How could Po have undergone all that kung fu training and never once have heard of the concept of chi before? Highly unlikely. The issue of Po's having two fathers—the duck who adopted him and his real, biological father—isn't handled with much emotional depth, and the Furious Five are given precious little dialogue this time around. All in all, I found the visuals watchable, but I was left wanting more. Cute, but underwhelming.
Wednesday, February 10, 2016