This week’s home video releases are anchored by a fresh take on a classic Bible story.
3 stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and brief suggestive content
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand
At first blush, the idea of Darren Aronofsky directing a Biblical epic seems silly. The talented filmmaker – best known for “Black Swan,” “The Wrestler” and “The Fountain” – cut his teeth on independent cinema. Even his hits live outside the mainstream, so a big-budget Bible story is the last thing many film lovers would have expected. That just proves that no one should judge an artist by his back catalogue.
Aranofsky not only succeeds in presenting the story of Noah, he does so with a unique vision that leaves some viewers cheering while others cry foul. The fact that “Noah” incites such passion is a win.
Too many “Christian” films are handcuffed by small budgets, limited interest from major stars and directors who are afraid to stray from the source material. None of these things hinder Aronofsky. He behaves like the auteur he has always been, expanding on the Bible story considerably and painting Noah’s Earth as a wasteland largely decimated by the human population.
Aronofsky’s vision gets the full star treatment with Russell Crowe as Noah, Jennifer Connelly as his wife, Naameh, and Anthony Hopkins as his grandfather, Methuselah. Other key players include Ray Winstone, Emma Watson and Logan Lerman. Each of the actors does a fine job, but its Aronofsky’s vision that deserves most of the attention.
He sees Earth before the great flood as considerably different from today’s world. Most of the landscapes would be at home in a science-fiction movie, and familiar animals provide contrast to beasts the director invented. The film also devotes a great deal of screen time to a grouping of gargantuan fallen angels who were encased in stone after ignoring God’s will. These beings look like they came straight from Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” movies, and their presence is both impressive and startling.
It would be easy to write Aronofsky’s vision off as bombastic, but it’s important to remember that the Bible is filled with unfamiliar beings and happenings. Since we don’t have recorded images from the era, Aronofsky’s interpretation is as reasonable as anyone’s, and his images may appeal to younger generations that have been raised on special-effects films.
Emotionally, the movie is powerful. Aronofsky and Crowe paint Noah as a devoted servant who is willing to sacrifice everything to complete his mission. As his ark becomes a reality, he faces resistance from outsiders as well as his wife and children.
When the flood arrives, it hits hard, giving “Noah” the immensity of a summer blockbuster. At times, the special effects are overwhelming, and Aranofsky may have benefited from a tighter focus on his characters. Still, there are those who revel in spectacle, and they will be pleased.
“Noah” isn’t perfect, but the fact that Aranofsky stubbornly clung to his own interpretation is a selling point. The result is a Bible story with a bold and compelling artistic voice, and that’s what’s missing from most Christian cinema.
The DVD release has no extras, but the Blu-ray contains several making-of shorts.
The Other Woman
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, sexual references and language
20th Century Fox
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD and digital download
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. As cliché and simplistic as the sentiment is, writer Melissa Stack and director Nick Cassavetes allowed it to inspire a 109-minute movie with little to offer outside of a beautiful cast.
Cameron Diaz stars as Carly, a self-assured professional who discovers that her boyfriend, Mark (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), is married. She’s hurt but decides to dump the cheater and move on. Then, Mark’s needy wife, Kate (Leslie Mann), begs Carly to fill in some blanks, and Carly reluctantly talks. Eventually, the two form a friendship and plan revenge. This setup leads to a bunch of predictable gags (very few of which are laugh-worthy), scads of whiny female bonding and a finale that is neither satisfying nor funny.
It’s difficult to know where to lay the blame for the movie’s many failures. Cassavetes has a difficult time landing his jokes, but they aren’t very good in the first place. It would be easy to blame Stack’s screenplay, but Hollywood writers are notoriously mistreated, meaning it’s hard to say how much of the work is hers.
Diaz and Mann are likeable performers individually, but they don’t have good chemistry. Cassavetes uses Mann for broad, Lucille Ball-style physical comedy, and this doesn’t blend with the conservative approach Diaz uses with Carly. Clearly, the two actresses were meant to contrast one another, but a film needs consistency in tone, and “The Other Woman” doesn’t have it.
The movie also features a second act appearance by Kate Upton, who does little more than model swimsuits and look sexy. The few lines she has are awkward, and her character adds nothing to the frivolous story.
Blu-ray and DVD extras include a gag reel and a stills gallery.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“Cuban Fury”: Comedy starring Nick Frost as a former salsa dancer who believes he can win his boss’ heart by getting back on the floor. Rashida Jones, Chris O’Dowd and Ian McShane also star. Directed by James Griffiths.
“On My Way”: French movie starring Catherine Deneuve as a failed businesswoman who attempts to reconnect with her family by taking a road trip with her grandson (Nemo Schiffman). Co-written and directed by Emmanuelle Bercot. Presented in French with English subtitles.
“The Protector 2”: In this sequel to “The Protector,” Tony Jaa again plays the martial artist Kham. This time, he is suspected of killing an organized crime boss and must go on the run. Directed by Prachya Pinkaew. Presented in Thai with English subtitles.
“Legendary”: Adventure film about two rivals who travel to a remote region of China to hunt a dangerous mythical creature. Dolph Lundgren and Scott Adkins star. Directed by Eric Styles.
“The Big Chill”: The Criterion Collection delivers a 4K digital restoration of director Lawrence Kasdan’s 1983 classic about baby boomers who reminisce after the suicide of a close, mutual friend. The impressive cast includes Glenn Close, Tom Berenger, Jeff Goldblum, Kevin Kline, Meg Tilly, William Hurt, Mary Kay Place and JoBeth Williams.
The “Ong-Bak” Trilogy: All three movies in the “Ong-Bak” martial arts trilogy starring Tony Jaa. In “Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior” (2003), Jaa plays a religious man on a quest to recover a priceless artifact. “Ong-Bak 2: The Beginning” takes place hundreds of years before the original, and Jaa plays a young martial artist perfecting his craft. “Ong-Bak 3: The Final Battle” finishes the story introduced by its predecessor.
“The Den”: Found-footage horror film about a young woman (Melanie Papalia) who witnesses a brutal murder committed in front of a webcam. As she investigates, she discovers that she and her loved ones are in grave danger. Co-written and directed by Zachary Donohue.
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” – Cowabunga Classics: Director Jonathan Liebsman’s big-screen Ninja Turtles movie hits theaters Aug. 8, and Lionsgate is jumping on the bandwagon with a release featuring 10 favorite episodes from the animated TV series.
– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.