Sunday, April 27, 2014

Catching Up: "How I Live Now"

 3 / 5 

Growing up in the 1980s, certain disaster seemed to loom.  We were taught how to duck under our school desks and brace our heads, were warned not to look at the light, and taught about the world-changing perils of nuclear fallout, which would lead to a "nuclear winter" that would render most of the earth uninhabitable for decades.  Grim movies like the disaster-movie-style The Day After and the melancholy, difficult Testament reminded us that the future was hardly guaranteed.

Today's young people have it so much easier.  They listen to their iPods, they fret about not having video games to play, and they have a future that is much more certain.  But that's not the way How I Live Now sees it.

It's a movie that uneasily grafts young-adult-novel angst and first-love jitters onto a story about a sudden nuclear attack, but in this movie the nuclear winter lasts as long as an afternoon, and there's only occasional mention of radioactive fallout.  More important to the film is whether an American girl named Daisy (Saorise Roanan) will be able to reunite with her dreamboat cousin Edmond (George MacKay), with whom she has found first love.  (The film doesn't go in much for the "Eww, they're cousins" bit.)

How I Live Now deposits us right into Daisy's world as she lands at Heathrow airport in some not-too-distant future where short-term parking costs £15.  (It's about £10 now, you do the calculations.)  But this isn't a normal day at London's busiest airport: the arrivals terminal is overrun by armed guards, and the drive to the British countryside is peppered with ominous signs of military helicopters and troop movements.  Something's going on.

Her absent father has sent her here, ostensibly to keep her safe while something even worse happens in New York City, and Daisy's not happy about it.  She keeps hearing voices in her head -- voices, we'll come to learn, that connote no mysticism or deeper story about mind control; she's just got the normal problems of a 15-year-old girl locked behind her glum face.  She acts out.  She tells the family they live like slobs -- which they do, since Mum is nowhere to be seen.  She is involved in some kind of governmental work.

That leaves the four kids (including Tom Holland from The Impossibles and Hayley Bird, who looks like she's come out of the tomboy role in a 1970s Disney movie.  On one beautiful summer day, they manage to persuade Daisy to join them for a swim in the local river.  It's a heavenly day, marred only by a distant detonation of a nuclear bomb.

The kids don't know what to do, and how could they?  Nothing has prepared them for this.  They make plans, they worry about the missing grown-up, and just as things look potentially dire, Daisy and Edmond have sex again -- How I Live Now uses sex much in the same way as teen slasher films did in the 1980s; as soon as the two lovebirds boff, something really bad is going to happen.

Military troops descend on the bucolic farmhouse and split up the children, separating the two young lovers from their destiny.  Daisy develops a plan to escape.  They have all promised to reunite at the farmhouse, and Daisy isn't going to let World War III get in the way of love.

The rest of the movie is an odd road-trip-by-foot as Daisy and Piper try to find the boys.  There are hints of the conflict at large, tantalizing glimpses of what might actually be happening.  But politics and war are not the subjects of How I Live Now, not when there's teen love to tackle.

How I Live Now suffers for its insistence on making these two kids into doomed lovers.  Daisy is a petulant, irritating brat, and Edmond takes his shirt off and speaks with a British accent, so of course he's spoonable.  Whether the kids actually learn about the greater conflict is never made clear, but it's obvious they have no interest in it.  Nor, apparently, does nuclear warfare result in much collateral damage in the movie.  The bombs that go off in London and Paris are just plot points.

One of the great attributes of the previously mentioned 1983 film Testament was the way it incorporated a teenage girl into its story.  In the days and weeks after the bomb, nothing much seemed different about life -- until people started dying, hair started falling out, food ran short, and life got remarkably tough.

There's little such difficulty on view in How I Live Now.  Flowers bloom, rivers flow, birds swoop and sing, and life is pretty easy -- except for the ways (never described) that Edmond has suffered through his own search.  Badly battered, unusually submissive, wounded in body and spirit by what he has done, he has a story to tell.  But How I Live Now doesn't have much interest in it.

It's more eager to find out how a spoiled, rich American brat could become a war-orphan, poor British brat still obsessed with finding someone to call a boyfriend.  That's the character arc for Daisy, and as such, her story isn't without interest.  I never once felt How I Live Now was boring or contrived.

But I did wonder about what was happening in the larger world, and how much that conflict would take its toll on the kids.  Watching kids try to cope with the horrifying aftermath of the equally petulant behavior of world governments could have been interesting.  But today's teens, not realizing or caring that the world is still quite often on the brink, want to know what it all means to them.  They may be a little relieved, then, that How I Live Now basically says, "Don't worry, you'll still get to be self-obsessed in a post-nuclear world."  But the opportunity here to remind young audiences that their world is not one they get to shape -- it is being shaped for them, by people they don't know -- was huge, and it's mostly missed.

The movie has a haunting, genuinely captivating first half, then becomes the kind of movie the Brat Packers might have made if World War III had started during a Saturday-morning detention in a Chicago high school.  How I Live Now could have been more daring, a teen version of Children of Men, perhaps.  But for those moments of genuine surprise and fear, and the way it makes kids grow up fast, it's worth seeing.  How I Live Now is entertaining, for sure; it's just not very enlightening.

Viewed April 27, 2014


Sunday, April 20, 2014


 3.5 / 5 

The forested, shadowy world Joe takes place in exists primarily in the movies.  It's a blend of film noir emotions and independent-filmmaking sensibilities, one the moves sleepily from scene to scene, allowing violent outbursts to crack through the thick air every once in a while before dropping back into its unhurried story.

For audiences used to movies that gallop from one plot point to the next, allowing a couple of lines of carefully written dialogue to denote character, Joe will be a challenge; I had to go back and watch a few scenes again, because the movie casts the kind of languid Southern Gothic spell that might lull you to sleep if you watch it at home from the confines of your living room.  This is not necessarily a criticism.

There is a plot in Joe, but it's a slim one and you have to work to find it.  Joe is the foreman of a group of workers who (Heavy Symbolism Alert) inject poison into trees to kill them so a big conglomerate can plant trees that are more lucrative.  "These trees are no good," Joe explains to Gary, an itinerant 15-year-old who doesn't as much live with his alcoholic, abusive father (Gary Poulter, who was an alcoholic and homeless when Joe's director cast him in this role) as much as he exists from day to day, place to place.  His mother is lost in a fog of drink and, likely, drug, while his sister has been so horribly scarred by something in their shared past that she no longer talks.

Gary asks Joe for a job, which he gets.  Joe is not the kind of person a 15-year-old boy should look up to as a role model, but Gary does anyway.  Joe doesn't want the attention.  He tries to shake off Gary's adulation, but can't help but notice that Gary's stitched-together life makes his own look practically opulent.  And Joe is hardly opulent.

He's a hardened criminal, in fact.  He's served more than a little time behind bars, including a prison stint.  He's in a seemingly endless feud with another local sleaze bag.  He spends his time in a run-down whorehouse or at the local bar where, naturally, the Confederate flag is hung prominently.

Gary comes and goes.  Joe comes and goes.  Some things happen.  There's fighting, some guns fire, people get hurt.  It's hard, or maybe not even necessary, to make it all cohere into a streamlined plot, at least until the final few minutes when everything begins to come together.

"What have you done, Joe?" is one of the final lines in the movie, and it serves as a kind of anthem-in-reverse for Joe's life.  This is not a man who has lived nobly, but Gary's puppy-dog determination to find a friend in Joe suddenly pulls all the various threads together.  Joe could make a difference to someone, but judging by history, he also has a pretty good chance of screwing it all up.

Nicolas Cage is quietly fierce as Joe, jettisoning the crazed eyes and wild hair that has, of late, passed for his style of acting.  Here, he finds his center again, delivering his best and most refined performance since Leaving Las Vegas.  He's confident but wary, infinitely tired of life but intrigued by the way the kid won't leave him alone.  Joe is not a good man, but Cage finds his goodness.

The only other professional actor in Joe is Tye Sheridan, who also starred in the rather similar Mud last year.  I thought that movie took its Southern-drawl pacing to the extreme; Joe finds a balance between the heat-laden junkiness of its setting and the need to keep things moving, however slowly.  Here, Sheridan has an even better role -- it may be a terrible chance, but Joe is his last one in life, and he's going to take it.

Noteworthy, too, is the mumbling, stumbling, viciously evil G-Daawg, played by Poulter, who died not long after this movie was made -- he fell face first into shallow water and drowned.  He was homeless and unable to care for himself.  That may make the real actor seemingly not too different from his character, but in G-Daawg Poulter finds someone who has taken the survival instinct to an extreme: he takes his son's wages then punches him in the face, he's an irredeemable drunkard and, in one shocking scene, a cold-blooded murderer.

And yet, pathetically, Gary stays loyal to him, at least until he finds Joe.  That divided devotion and the conflict it brings drives Joe to its effective climax, which takes place on a bridge over a Texas river on hot, sweltering night that's filled with the sound of insects and sirens, the way nights like that always exist in the movies.

Joe revels in that squalid, sluggish feeling, and gets it exactly right.

Viewed April 20, 2014


Friday, April 18, 2014


 2 / 5 

Oculus, the story of a sinister mirror, has the makings of a decent Twilight Zone episode, but is expanded to unsustainable length and padded with unremarkable, unhelpful filler.  Although it's not as bad as the teenage boys in front of us seemed to think ("Whoever wrote that movie," said one, "is an asshole"), it never fulfills the impressive potential it shows in its first third.

The movie gets off to an intriguing start, as 21-year-old Tim is released from a mental hospital for apparently killing his father 10 years earlier.  His older sister doesn't harbor any grudges -- in fact, she doesn't blame him for the murder; to her, the real culprit is the mirror that used to hang in the father's office and now has been purchased at auction.  Conveniently, she works at the auction house, and arranges to take possession of the mirror.

Here, Oculus sets up an intriguing proposition.  The movie offers itself as less of a straightforward horror story and more of a psychological thriller.  Kaylie, played by the poised and confident Karen Gillan, has researched the history of the mirror and come to the conclusion that it's no coincidence ghoulish, ghastly things have happened to whomever owns it.

The mirror has a mind of its own, and wreaks havoc on the minds of those in its presence.  Plants and animals who come too close begin to die, and so does the reason and sanity of anyone who spends too much time near it.

For a while, Oculus ratchets up the tension and de-emphasizes the gore and "jump scare" moments that fill most horror movies.  Kaylie has put together an elaborate experiment to prove that the mirror, not her brother (and not her father), caused the crimes a decade earlier.  Yet as she and her brother watch, very weird things begin to happen.

The weird stuff is fun.  Director Mike Flanagan messes around nicely with time and perception, and Oculus looks like it might deliver as a more accessible version of, say, Cube or Pi.

Then it loses its nerve.  The kids' handsome parents (Katee Sackhoff and Rory Cochrane) move quickly into Jack Torrance territory while stringy-haired ghosts pour from the mirror, and the story loses track of where it is and what it's trying to do -- the movie becomes not about the mirror but about psycho parents attacking their kids, and they chase each other around their quiet suburban home in ways we've seen too many times before, blood dripping and eyes bulging.

At 30 minutes, the story might have sustained itself on intrigue alone; at 104 minutes, there's nowhere for it to go, and the "is-it-real-or-is-it-in-their-minds" trick starts feeling like the final, disastrous season of Lost, when the writers threw anything they could up on screen to distract from the fact that they had lost sight of the story.

The lead actors, Gillan and Brenton Thwaites, certainly try hard, and do much more than scream and hide.  They're committed, sincere performers, and their honesty is at times enough to forgive some of the bigger mistakes.  They're sufficiently freaked out by what they're seeing, or not seeing, but even Gillan can scream, "It isn't real!  It's not actually happening" so many times before it grows old.

Then there's that final 10 minutes, which recalls playwright Anton Chekov's famous axiom about the gun that needs to go off is brought vividly to life.  In this case, the gun probably shouldn't have been there in the first place -- not that it doesn't go off.  It does, all right, just exactly as you imagined it would, leading Oculus to a conclusion that is preposterously unsatisfying.

There's this, though: The mirror at the center of the story clearly works.  Why else would a smart, engaging, intriguing movie become so dull, listless and predictable?  Something sucked the life out of it.

I hope that mirror is happy now.

Viewed April 18, 2014 -- ArcLight Sherman Oaks


Monday, April 7, 2014

"Captain America: The Winter Soldier"

 3 / 5 

With Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the Marvel movies take a step into territory previously reserved for James Bond, a distrustful and downbeat world of global politics, but with the comic-book sheen that this film series has down pat.

Possibly, I simply prefer the earlier incarnation of Captain America, the only Marvel super hero presented so far on film who didn't buy or invent his way into heroics.  Joe Johnston's 2011 film Captain America: The First Avenger gave us a World War II hero who wore the colors of the American flag and spoke in such gee-whiz good-guy tones that brought a smile to your face.

That film ended the way it had to -- not because the story dictated it, but because the Marvel Film Strategy required it: Captain America had to be dragged into the 21st century so he could join the other Avengers in a bombastic mega-hit that ended, you may recall, with the gleeful destruction of New York City.  That film rubbed me the wrong way, but I was clearly in the minority.  Few others took umbrage at seeing Manhattan reduced to rubble, so it stands to reason that in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the same thing happens to Washington, D.C.

There aren't many films with as high a faceless, merciless body count as Captain America: The Winter Soldier, a film targeted at 10-year-old boys that I'd seriously think twice about letting a 10-year-old boy see.  The Marvel films straddle an increasingly uncomfortable line between reality and fiction: When Nick Fury, the head of security agency S.H.I.E.L.D. refers to "New York" in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, he's not talking about 9/11, but a few shots later as Captain America descend in a glass elevator and out the window, he's got a clear view of the Watergate complex.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier exists in our world, but does not want to acknowledge that.

It combines elements of a 1970s political thriller with a very modern, CGI-fueled blockbuster, and the result is often entertaining, often murky, and created with exactly the kind of anonymous polish that have become a signature of these films.  They are slick machines, existing to please the greatest number of people possible, rather than create a compelling style all their own.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier does try to mix things up a little bit by staging its action scenes in the chaotic handheld mode that has come to signify gritty reality.  It was not a surprise at all to learn that  the film was directed by two brothers, Anthony and Joe Russo, and I would wager one of them took on the more dialogue- and plot-focused scenes while the other concentrated on action, because the movie sometimes feels like two separate films mixed together.

The plot-driven elements are well-done and well-acted, especially by Chris Evans (it is, after all, a pretty thankless role) and Scarlett Johansson.  I was generally entertained by the movie's slick, assured gloss that's not unlike the political-paranoia thrillers of the 1970s.  There's this one small problem, though: This isn't a political thriller, it's a comic-book movie.  The intrigue and deception that should drive the movie seem too pat: There will be a betrayal, but it will turn out not to be an actual betrayal, and the person we imagine is protecting the hero will be revealed as someone who has been working against him the whole time.  Considering that the target audience for Captain America: The Winter Soldier has almost certainly never seen The Parallax View, The Manchurian Candidate or All the President's Men, perhaps it will feel new and fresh to them.

It does say quite a lot that moviegoers are willing to let a super hero movie drift into political territory (it even alludes to WikiLeaks at one point), perhaps because it's so much easier to imagine that the world's very real problems could be solved by a super hero or three.  Maybe that's why the movie is both graphically, sometimes disturbingly real (just think about how many people lose their lives during some of those chases) and also cartoonishly silly.

Toward the end of the movie, three massive warcraft drift into the sky from their secret hiding place below the Potomac River.  These multi-trillion-dollar technological doomsday machines have been created by an evil organization called HYDRA, which is bent on world domination, and even though they are hovering above the capital, people are going about their daily lives, the President walks around the White House, and apparently news doesn't travel nearly as fast as it does in the real world.

What's required here is a willing suspension of disbelief.  I was on board when one of the characters (known to comic book fans, no doubt, but here given nary a line of introduction) sprouts metal wings and begins to fly.  I was on board when Captain America and Black Widow stumble across exactly the place they're looking for at just the right time.  I was on board when the Winter Soldier reveals himself to be none other than -- well, if you don't know, you clearly haven't read anything about this film; I'm not a particularly zealous Marvel fan and even I knew that revelation long before taking my seat in the theater.

But I drew the line at the silliness that machines capable of killing millions of people were taking aim and no one noticed.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier wants to have it both ways, to be a comic-book movie set against a backdrop of real-world politics, and that's where it makes its biggest mistake, because we know no Democratic Congressional committee would ever have allowed these craft to be built, and no defense contractor ever could have gotten them finished.

Maybe next time, Captain America will dispense with fighting HYDRA and instead pay a visit to Capitol Hill.  Seeing him go up against John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi and the tea party would make a tremendously entertaining movie -- that's one I'd like to see.

Viewed April 7, 2014 -- ArcLight Sherman Oaks


Saturday, April 5, 2014

"Bad Words"

 3.5 / 5 

Popular as it was, the humor inside TV series like Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm never grabbed me.  It was sharply drawn, but also sharp-edged, and while it may have captured the angry, exasperated parts of our psyche, it never went deeper and revealed the anger and exasperation itself.

Bad Words threatens to be the cinematic equivalent of those hotbeds of hostile humor.  It's the story of Guy Trilby, a 40-year-old man who seems to have no qualms about exploiting a loophole in a national spelling bee.

The rules state that only people who have not completed eighth grade are allowed to participate.  Guy, it turns out, dropped out of school and never got his junior-high diploma.  Now, he makes his living proofreading manufacturer warranties, and he has become determined to be a contestant in the spelling bee -- and he's not going to let anyone, parent or child, stop him.

That's the set-up, and it's where one of the sardonic satires -- like Bateman's own Arrested Development -- might have stopped.  Ha-ha, here's a grown man sitting among little kids, telling them what he thinks of their linguistic achievements using words that only disappointed 40-year-old men know.

Oh, that's funny all right, especially when Guy meets one of his competitors, a loquacious 10-year-old named Chaitanya Chopra, played with wide-eyed, open-faced optimism by Rohand Chan.  Never work with dogs and children, the saying goes, but what keeps Chan from completely stealing the show is that Bateman and the script by Andrew Dodge never once treat Chan as a joke.  The joke is Guy's attitude toward the kid, but in every other way the little boy is Guy's equal.

Still, it all begs the question of why a grown-up would want to upstage a bunch of kids, and do so with such foul-mouthed, utterly inappropriate scorn.  And that's where Bad Words moves from being funny to being tremendously satisfying.

For most of its brief running time, Bad Words plays the setup like a mystery.  Rather than shying away from what could be going through Guy's head, the story pairs him with a reporter (Kathryn Hahn) who has an awkwardly sexualized crush on Guy.  When they're not having dysfunctional sex, they're sparring over Guy's tight-lipped secrecy about his ambition.

No one can figure the guy out, not the reporter, not the head of the spelling bee (a perfectly imperious Allison Janney), not the other parents, who go ballistic whenever they see Guy.  Chaitanya doesn't try to figure it out, he just sees in Guy the possibility of an age-inappropriate friendship, which is all he wants.

But no one's motivation is quite what it appears to be in Bad Words, and even as the man and the boy make a tenuous connection, there's something unnerving about it, which is exactly what the movie wants us to feel.  We don't want to see this happy little soul get crushed, and since we're not quite sure what's pushing Guy to do what he does, we're not sure anything that's happening is safe.

It is, however, funny.  Bad Words can be wildly over the top -- Guy doesn't see the kids as competition as much as obstacles standing in his path, ones that need to be picked off quickly and with as little hassle as possible.

When Bad Words finally makes its inner logic clear, director Bateman -- who also brings the film an impressive and unexpected visual style -- doesn't let it become mawkish or sentimental.  This isn't a film about finding your heart or seeking long-delayed redemption, so it keeps the laughs coming at a nice pace.  But it is a story that has some genuine drama behind it, and an actual emotional payoff.  Bad Words understands that good people can do the wrong things for the right reasons, and iffy people can do really terrible things for less-than-stellar reasons.  But there are reasons.

Bad Words finds them, presents them, and then doesn't try to preach about it.  In doing so, it introduces a couple of great screen characters in Chaitanya and Guy who are original, memorable creations.  Twenty years after Seinfeld started a trend toward heartless sarcasm that continues to this day, Bad Words is a sharp reminder that mean-spirited jokes can be funny when comics perform them -- but they're even funnier when they spring from an emotional truth, even the warped and slightly illogical truth of a man determined to beat kids at their own game.

Viewed April 5, 2014 -- Laemmle NoHo


Tuesday, April 1, 2014


 2 / 5 

Putting aside for a moment the issue of the giant rock monsters (you may think I'm kidding about this, but I'm not), Darren Aronofsky's Noah is one crazy movie.

On one hand, it's a gigantic narrative mess.  I say this with sudden and overwhelming awareness that I have never written a movie, I have only watched them, and I have relatively little first-hand experience of what it takes to assemble a $125-million epic.  It has to take a lot of talent, and a lot of guts, and Aronofsky clearly has both.  But, boy, what is this Noah?

The wacky, mostly incoherent epic doesn't skip a beat getting off to a head-scratching start.  Following some more-or-less by-the-book on-screen titles that set us firmly in the time of Genesis, we learn that after God -- sorry, The Creator -- made humans, they started slaughtering each other, so down to Earth came the Watchers.  Yes, the Watchers.

Wait, aren't we going to see a movie about the guy who built the ark and put all the animals on it?

It's natural to get a little antsy at this point, which is 10 or 15 seconds into Noah.  It's like walking into a Broadway theater to see a musical and getting the Sylvester Stallone-John Travolta vehicle Satan's Alley, instead, which was full of garish, gold-plated gyrations and seemed to be a lot of things, but a musical wasn't one of them.  Sorry, I digress.  Noah leaves a lot of time for digressing.

A couple of minutes later, we're watching strange scaly dog-slash-dragon-type hybrid mammals crossing a rocky desert while marauding brigands kill Noah's father in front of his eyes, and you'll be forgiven if you think you accidentally wandered into the next Star Wars movie, filled with floridly conceived mythologies and mystical substances like the glowing rocks that are coveted by the bad guys in Noah.

About this time, whether you've studied the Bible or merely flipped through it, you may be trying to get a handle on exactly which part of Genesis mentions the fact that stars glowed mysteriously in the daylight way back then.

In other parts of Noah, we get a pretty awesome recreation of the Big Bang that gives Cosmos a run for its money (though I'm guessing Cosmos cost considerably less), and we're treated to the once-in-a-lifetime sight of Russell Crowe, Jenny from The Rocketeer, a pouting male model, an angry-but-horny teenager, and Hermione Granger standing on the deck of an unexpectedly rectangular-shaped ark, all wearing the same kind of stunned look that was a staple of Steven Spielberg films back in the 1980s.

One of the things that stun them is the way their ark has been built -- not, as the Bible indicates, by the sheer will of the old man named Noah, but by the aforementioned giant rock creatures, who are angels who got trapped in mud.  (Yup, trapped in mud.)  These are really tall, really powerful creatures and their presence makes you wonder if someone didn't get their Bible and their Tolkien mixed up in the research room while writing the script.

Later on in the movie, the evil king Tubal-Cain, who represents all the atheistic, selfish greed and violence that exists in this relatively small world, manages to stowaway on the ark, which is filled with who-knows-how-many-hundreds of elephants, horses, lions, bears, spiders, snakes, birds, raccoons, field mice, hoot owls, storks, ravens, dogs, cats, lemurs, chimpanzees, gorillas, remember, every type of creature … all of whom, conveniently enough, respond exactly the same way to a set of herbs that, when burned, put them into a nice, deep, sound sleep.  The sleep lasts exactly as long as it needs to, and that also keeps the CG budget in check, because moving creatures cost a lot more to animate than sleeping creatures.  For nine months (we know it's nine months -- please don't ask how, you'll figure that one out as soon as you see lovely Hermion-- er, Emma Watson's face) Tubal-Cain lays low, but on the last day, everything goes to pot, and near the climax of Noah, there are at least three full-on fight scenes happening in that ship.

There are a lot of spectacular action scenes in Noah, make no doubt.  If you came to Noah to see how the three-chapter story in the Bible might have made it to the screen, you've come to the wrong place, because this is far, far from a literal adaptation of that short story.  The Bible doesn't give much to go on in its several hundred scant words about Noah and his ark.

I have absolutely no doubt that Aronofsky and his co-writer Ari Handel studied the Bible with enormous intensity.  They understand variations and interpretations of the Bible most of us don't even know exists.  Noah must have been an exhaustively researched film, and I believe Aronofsky made it because he wants to say something.

I'm just not clear on what that something is.  There is one stirring and visually clever moment where Noah talks about man's proclivity to murder man, and we see shadow images not just of Old Testament deaths, but flash cuts that show us soldiers dressed in Civil War uniforms, in World War I attire, in World War II and Korea garb.  It lasts about three seconds, and it's the only time Aronofsky attempts to relate his film to larger world issues.  It's a good moment, but lost in a sea (no pun) of half-formed ideas.

There are no characters in the traditional sense, no concept of what motivates or moves these people.  There's little dialogue worth remembering or quoting, there are few (some, but few) dramatic scenarios that prove memorable in any way.  The humans, pretty as they all are, become overwhelmed by the sheer CG spectacle of the thing.

But, really, digital effects could have been used to create an even more visually exciting presentation about Noah's Ark for your local science center.  Maybe Crowe could have narrated.  It would have been a visually impressive 20-minute IMAX spectacle, and it wouldn't have contained the uncomfortable mom-sister-son-father sex triangles you can't help stop thinking about.  Noah's made it clear that there are going to be just five people left on the face of the earth.  Everyone else is dead.  The Creator wanted it that way.  So, if humans are to multiply, it's all gotta start … where, exactly?  Noah knows many people will think that way, so it just avoids the issue altogether.

Crowe is decent as Noah, though he doesn't get much to do except spout the orders that apparently have come from an (unspeaking) Creator and insist that his family follow his orders.  Curiously, the film does find a few seconds to get him to sing.  And this is probably the only time you'll ever see Noah both sing and threaten newborn children with murder(you've gotta see the film if you want to know more), and one big problem Noah has is that it never, ever manages to make the singing, Creator-hearing, obsessive-compulsive, possible child-murderer version of Noah into a sympathetic figure.  You wish someone would shove him off the boat and then get on with the whole wake-the-animals-and-repopulate business, and Noah really never gives one good reason why they don't.

Noah is a giggle-inducing, head-slapping mess that nonetheless does often look beautiful and majestic.  And it's never, ever boring. I'll give it that.  It may be convoluted, bizarre and frequently non-sensical, but it's not boring.

As Bible study, Noah likely fails on every possible level.  (Noah wants to begin again on the new land, free from violence, but within the first five minutes of landing there are no fewer than four attempted murders.  Not a great start, I gotta tell ya, Mr. Noah.)  It is beyond credibility that anyone could be inspired by this movie to be a more faithful Christian or be a better person according to the Bible's entreaties.  It's just a big-budget action epic.

As movies go, it fails -- but does so so spectacularly it's really worth seeing.  You'll learn more about armored dogs, rock monsters, glowing rocks and the proper use of certain herbs to induce sleep in elephants than you ever imagined might be possible.

So, let's be fair, on some levels, Noah is a massive success: It is the most gloriously crazy, wacky, bizarre big-studio spectacle you are likely to see for a very long time.  Appreciate it while you can.  Especially the talking, glowing rock monsters.  I think I liked those more than I care to admit.

(P.S. I saw this in a Dolby Atmos theater.  Dolby Atmos certainly made it … loud.)

Viewed April 1, 2014 -- ArcLight Sherman Oaks