Tag: jennifer connelly

Noah


Noah (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★

“Noah,” directed by Darren Aronofsky, is a film with a core that should be regarded highly. That is, it takes inspiration from a source and stretches it to a point where it becomes an original vision—or at least one that is close to it. I was wary going into this film. Despite a highly respected filmmaker from behind the camera, I thought it was just going to be another one of those stories directly taken from the Bible without any bite, meat, or flavor—out of fear that a group might get offended. On the contrary, the picture has several layers of substance. Not all of them work, but those that do go beyond lessons or religion. It touches upon a more spiritual realm.

Noah (Russell Crowe) and his family are descendants of Seth, one of the sons of Adam and Eve. They live off the land while people who live in cities, Cain’s successors, nefarious and vile, spread wickedness all over the world. Noah begins to receive troublesome nightmares about drowning among countless dead people. He deems that The Creator has sent him a warning—that a great flood is coming for the cleansing of the land.

The visual effects are not the most convincing: the animals boarding the ark, plants sprouting from the ground, the inevitable flood all look rather fake—but I did not mind. Nor did I care that there are giants with boulders for bodies for half the picture. I found myself caring more about what is being attempted: a critique of Noah’s blind devotion to his creator. When the title character puts his family’s life second, anybody in their right mind, no matter what anyone’s creed, would and should question the man’s sanity.

This is why Crowe’s performance is key. The actor’s role is a challenge in that he must be loving and brutal at the same time. Being slightly off-key is not good enough. Crowe must embody a man torn by love—that of his own flesh and blood and that of his own creator. From the moment Crowe appears on screen, he is Noah: Noah the father, Noah the husband, Noah the believer, and Noah the fallen man.

A few of the supporting actors are miscast. Although Logan Lerman, who plays Ham, Noah’s middle-born son, and Emma Watson, the adoptive daughter, are able to have some moments where they do shine, their looks are too modern. I had too difficult a time believing that they are playing characters from an ancient time. In addition, Lerman’s accent comes and goes while Watson tends to overdramatize especially toward the end when it is time to wait for a sign of dry land.

In place of Lerman and Watson, I would have rather seen plain-looking but very good performers. When the weaknesses in their acting are front and center, I wondered if they were cast mainly to attract the younger audiences. Somebody needed to match Crowe’s intensity and they are not up to the job. Jennifer Connelly, playing Noah’s wife, has one wonderful scene where she has to beg. However, her character is not fully developed. Naameh should have been written to have a complex subplot, one that is comparable, if not parallel, to Noah’s consuming passion.

Written by Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel, “Noah” is difficult to swallow for many people mainly because of expectations. One group may find it too rogue from the original—and rather short—story. (I went to Sunday school.) Another group may find it not extreme enough especially given the director’s track record for focusing on characters driven by an obsession. Putting those aside and evaluating the picture as is, it is well-made and well-acted at times especially by the lead. It doesn’t quite touch the very depths of our soul but it does offer some food for thought.

Stuck in Love


Stuck in Love (2012)
★ / ★★★★

Since the divorce of Bill (Greg Kinnear) and Erica (Jennifer Connelly) two years ago, the Borgens household has become an abode for serious writers. Over Thanksgiving break, college student Sam (Lily Collins) reveals that a book she had written over the summer is getting published. Bill is extremely proud but Rusty (Nat Wolff), Sam’s only sibling, sneers across the table. He has yet to publish any of his material. His muse is right around the corner, however, when he is forced to read one of his work in class—a poem about a girl (Liana Liberato) who sits several feet away but happens to be seeing another guy.

Written and directed by Josh Boone, “Stuck in Love” is full of whiny, irritating, arrogant people with bland personalities. It takes a solid premise—a family of writers who have a certain competitiveness in their blood—and minces it into a standard three-piece love story where the outcomes are easily predicted by anyone who is half-asleep.

It makes the mistake of allowing the supporting characters to overshadow those who we are supposed to care about most. A character worthy of an entire film is Louis (Logan Lerman), Sam’s classmate and a potential love interest. Like Sam, he is a writer but one that specializes in mysteries and detective stories. Unlike Sam, his life is interesting and his personality has genuine substance. He deals with illness but he is pleasant to be around. Lerman is smart to reel in some of the awkwardness and turn some of that into charm.

Equally lovely to see on screen is Kristen Bell who plays jogging-obsessed Tricia. She and Bill have sex from time to time and they have a common understanding that what they share is purely physical. Unlike Sam, Tricia is no love interest. I enjoyed her relationship with Bill because they seem to fit well as friends. One of the highlights of the picture involves Tricia helping Bill with his wardrobe prior to going on a date. It is unfortunate that the screenplay does not make full use of the friendship, to delve into it more, and build emotional resonance out of it. She appears and disappears for comedic effect.

Louis and Sam’s banters are tolerable and amusing at times, but I found Rusty and his class crush quite unbearable to watch. Perhaps part of the problem is that Wolff and Liberato share little to no chemistry. During the more intimate scenes, it feels like watching two inexperienced actors rehearsing. There is not enough rhythm or flirtation to make the scene magnetic. Rusty is supposed to be a hopeless romantic. It is feels off that the relationship bears little romance.

The Borgens’ problems are not at all deep despite the drama happening all around. Right about the halfway point, I caught myself wondering if I was supposed to care and whether the screenplay would even bother to throw a curveball that is designed to break the ennui. The point is, the Borgens’ problems can easily be solved if they just acted like real people for a change. Hold a family meeting. Person A does not want to see Person B? Tough luck. In reality, people are required to do things they might not particularly like or agree with.

The central problem is foreshadowed in the title. The screenplay is essentially stuck with a familiar formula, only occasionally colored by slight brushes of independent filmmaking. There is nothing wrong with attempting to appeal to a wide audience while saying something intelligent or insightful. The key is an elegant script that this film lacks.

Dark Water


Dark Water (2005)
★★★ / ★★★★

After a divorce, Dahlia (Jennifer Connelly) moved in with Ceci (Ariel Gade), her daughter, into an apartment. The two hoped to start a new life but it proved to be a challenge. Ceci began to make an imaginary friend named Natasha, the same name of a little girl who disappeared from the apartment directly above theirs. On the other hand, Dahlia not only had to deal with abandonment issues from her own mother years prior, but she also had to worry about the increasingly large leak in their bedroom ceiling. The apartment attendant (Pete Postlethwaite) and the realtor (John C. Reilly) wouldn’t take the time to genuinely help her. Over time, Dahlia became in danger of reaching an emotional and psychological breaking point. Based on a novel by Kôji Suzuki and directed by Walter Salles, “Dark Water” was at its best when it explored the bond between a mother and her only daughter. I enjoyed the first few scenes when the mother and daughter evaluated the dilapidated apartment. Ceci insisted that she thought the place was creepy and didn’t want to live there, but it was all the mother could afford. Instead of immediately going for the cheap thrills, the material focused on the family’s sad circumstance. The first sign that there was something wrong was reflected in Ceci’s sudden change of mind after she stared at the dark spot on the ceiling. The supernatural horror was effective because it challenged the mother-daughter bond, the only strand that seemed to keep Dahlia’s mentality in a stable point. What didn’t work for me were the tired dream sequences. There were simply too many of them. In addition, it was easy to determine that we were watching a dream because the scenes had a certain glow. That lack of surprise ultimately worked against the film. The dreams were just an excuse to go overboard with special and visual effects involving water leaking out of the walls. There was nothing scary about it. While water was an important component in solving the mystery that surrounded the missing family upstairs, incorporating water with creepy details, like hair coming out of the bathroom faucet, was more engaging than a dream sequence with gallons of water that threatened to drown the character. However, I admired that the picture eventually focused on the ugliness of Dahlia and Kyle’s (Dougray Scott) divorce. More importantly, I was glad that, despite the former couple’s arguments, there was enough hint that they still cared for each other. It was another layer of reality which made the horrific elements stand out. I feel the need to give credit for Connelly’s strong performance. She made me believe that every stress her character went through was a threat to her or her daughter’s physical well-being. I knew she loved her daughter but I feared the moment when she would finally lose her grip on reality. “Dark Water” was a smart and confident horror film because it stayed away from simplifying its mature template. If only others of its type would follow.

Requiem for a Dream


Requiem for a Dream (2000)
★★★ / ★★★★

Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn) lived by herself and she spent most of her days watching television. When a caller informed her that she had been selected to appear on television, she became obsessed with the idea of losing weight and wearing her beautiful red dress for the occasion. Her first attempt at dieting didn’t work so she saw a doctor. The so-called doctor prescribed colorful “diet pills” which, unbeknownst to Sarah, were amphetamines. Her addiction reflected that of her son’s (Jared Leto), his best friend (Marlon Wayans), and girlfriend (Jennifer Connelly). Directed by Darren Aronofsky, the film’s approach was to showcase drug addiction as a slow descent to hell. Heavy-handed with its themes, it showed its characters in utter physical and mental pain with little hope of rehabilitation and a better life. On one hand, some of the scenes were well-made. Sara’s hallucinations of the refrigerator attempting to get close to her signified Sara’s subconscious need to eat. It was terrifying, especially when the fridge would appear out of nowhere, but at the same time I found it darkly comedic. I relished the scenes between Burstyn and Leto particularly the one when the son finally found the time to visit her lonely mother. Combined with Aronofsky’s sublime direction, Burstyn’s performance was electric when she expressed to her son what being on television really meant to her. Even I can admit I was on the verge of tears because I really cared for the character she created. Lastly, there was a shot the defined Leto and Connelly’s relationship. When they were laying next to each other on the bed, presumably after sex, there was a split-screen and the camera was fixated on their respective faces. It was meaningful to me because the message I extracted from it was despite the fact that they took up the same space, were looking at each other, and the words they uttered were directed at one another, it wasn’t a meaningful relationship because there was a disconnect between them. As long as they were under the influence of drugs, there would always be that disconnect because the need for the drugs would always be more powerful than their need for each other. That one scene was probably one of the most powerful in the film even though it didn’t show any drugs, just two people talking. I wish the rest of the picture was more like that. In other words, what the film desperately needed was subtlety. Most of the time, I felt like Aronofsky was hitting me over the head with a mallet every time he wanted to get a point across. It wasn’t necessary with people, like me, who can think for themselves and are aware of the pros and cons of drugs. His technique here would most likely appeal more to high school students. Based on Hubert Selby Jr.’s novel, “Requiem for a Dream” was nonetheless a powerful head trip. It was a classic case of unhappy individuals attempting to find happiness elsewhere other than within.

Dark City


Dark City (1998)
★★★★ / ★★★★

John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) woke up in a bathtub with barely any memory of where or who he was. The phone rang and a psychiatrist named Dr. Schreber (Keifer Sutherland) told him that a group of men called The Strangers were on their way to John’s hotel room to kill him. Another group that was after John was the police led by Inspector Bumstead (William Hurt) because they believed John was a serial killer. Bumstead’s first lead was John’s wife (Jennifer Connelly). The picture’s greatest asset was its ideas that continued to challenge the audiences. The fantastic visual and special effects became secondary but they enhanced the experience of watching the city’s many mysteries unfold. We couldn’t help but question why every time it was midnight, time seemed to stop except for The Strangers and some select individuals. What were The Strangers up to? Specifically, what did they want from humans? Why were they living underground? How come we and the characters never see the light of day? I had my hypotheses because of one scene involving Dr. Schreber and a mouse attempting to find its way out of a maze. Crossing out my guesses one by one was half the fun. Like Bumstead, we were forced to pay attention to the small details and the implications in the dialogue. I loved that the film chose not to spoon-feed its viewers critical information. Its magic then comes from us as active participants. We become detectives and try to make sense of whatever was happening. “Dark City” had major negatives that I believe prevented the film from becoming a masterpiece as most people consider it to be. I had problems with the first half’s pacing. I think the picture spent too much time putting John in situations where he was confused and disoriented. I didn’t think it needed to hammer the fact that he had amnesia because the first scene did an excellent job setting up John’s psychological state. Furthermore, when the movie tried to be philosophical, it did not always work for me. For example, John told one of The Strangers that what they wanted could be found in the heart and not in the brain. Technically, everything we are and everything we can be is embedded in our brain. While the two undoubtedly need each other, the brain governs the heart. This can be observed when we tell ourselves to calm down when we’re angry and we find that our heart rates tend to decrease. In a way, when the film tried to be philosophical, I found it borderline cheesiness. Nevertheless, “Dark City,” directed by Alex Proyas, is a strong science fiction film. It was appropriately titled because it was literally dark, it had many mysteries worth exploring, and it had just about the right amount of menace to keep those with short attention spans engaged. I admired its ambition and film noir undertones.

Waking the Dead


Waking the Dead (2000)
★★★ / ★★★★

In 1972, Fielding (Billy Crudup), an ambitious aspiring politician from a working class background, met Sarah (Jennifer Connelly), a girl who loved to spend her time working for the church and helping others in need. But in 1974, Sarah died in a car bombing while helping some Chilean activists enter the United States. Fast forward ten years when Fielding was running for office, Fielding became plagued with visions of Sarah. He began to question his sanity because he thought he saw her walking in the streets and even calling his house phone. I was torn whether or not to recommend this film. There was no doubt that I highly enjoyed it because the chemistry between Crudup and Connelly was one of the strongest I’ve experienced in a long time. When they had conversations, even though they didn’t always agree with each other’s approach to politics (politician versus activist, mainstream versus counterculture), it was apparent that they loved each other because they exuded a certain warmth and sometimes fiery passion in their eyes. When they made love, it was sexy and when they were away from one another, I looked forward to seeing them eventually taking up the same space. They were both smart, caring, had something to prove and I found bits of myself in both of them. Unfortunately, I had a problem with the way the story was put together. It wasn’t told in a linear order so it was up to us to put together the pieces, which I found to be a positive quality because it managed to challenged me. One of my favorite aspects of the picture was its uncertainty whether Sarah was alive all along or whether she was really dead and Fielding was experiencing some sort of guilt. In the end, there was no clear answer. Personally, I thought it was the latter because it was more grounded in reality but at the same time there’s enough mysticism to it to provide another dimension to the material. However, if it was the latter, I didn’t understand why Fielding felt so much guilt involving the death of his lover. Was it because he moved onto another girl (who he didn’t even love but it was more for a political strategy) years after Sarah’s death? If so, I didn’t think he should have felt guilty at all because everyone deserves to move on from a painful period of his or her life. I think the film could have done a better job showing and explaining to us why Fielding was so guilt-ridden. Since that crucial part was missing, it was very problematic because it was what drove the scenes in the 1980s forward. Based on a novel by Scott Spencer, “Waking the Dead,” directed by Keith Gordon, benefited from the strong and believable acting between the two leads. If it had clearer connection between past and present, I think it would have been unstoppable.

9


9 (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

Clocking in under 80 minutes, “9” tells the story of ragdoll-like creatures in a postapocalyptic world who struggle to survive against the machines. When one of the creatures named 9 (voiced by Elijah Wood) woke up, he started to ask questions like what had happened in the world, why they had to live in fear, and what they could do so that they would have a better existence. 1 (Christopher Plummer), the leader of the creatures, did not like 9’s questions and they often clashed on how to approach various situations. Other voices included Martin Landau, John C. Reilly, Crispin Glover, Jennifer Connelly and Fred Tatasciore. Written and directed by Shane Acker, I did like the imagination and the high level of animation in “9” but I felt like the story could have used a lot of work. Only toward the end did it somewhat come together which was not a good thing because I was confused for more than half the picture. It brought up more questions than answers. For instance, it tried to tackle the war between humans and machines, the concept of having a soul, and immortality. Such complex and controversial subjects were merely glossed over when it should really have been discussed and explored. For a movie that was only 80 minutes long, that certainly did not help when it came to having more depth in the story. I admired the action sequences. They were undeniably exciting because I did care for the creatures. Even though they did not look remotely human, I quickly cared about them due to their ability to think like we do and feel like we do, especially 9 because he was capable of moral evaluation. With that said, I don’t think this film was made for children because it was violent, dark and sometimes the characters met a brutal death. I hate to say this because I know this film took a lot of effort to make but I believe that if the filmmakers spent more time adding scenes that could enhance the issues it tried to deal with, “9” would have been a superior animated feature. I do give it credit, however, for not trying to be another cute Pixar movie designed for children. I could easily tell that it was trying to be something more but unfortunately the missing pieces were just too jarring for me to ignore.