Darren Aronofsky’s Noah is an odd one, a film that I enjoyed for the fact that it somewhat cuts ties to the biblical tale it bases itself on and does it’s own thing. The style and tone are so out of place and out of time that one could almost imagine this being set sometime far, far in the future instead of the distant past. Aronofsky introduced a very earthy, tactile and nature based aesthetic with his film The Fountain (which is my favourite film ever made), and he explores it further here, with time-lapse photography of plants growing, barren landscapes that suggest either a very young planet earth or a very old one and simple, elemental costumes that could be of both ancient ilk or post apocalyptic fashion. The story is quite literally as old as time, and given new life by a fantastic cast of actors starting with Russell Crowe as Noah, a man jaded by humanity and conflicted by forces beyond his own understanding. Jennifer Connelly, Douglas Booth, Logan Lerman and others play his family, one of whom knocks up Emma Watson, causing quite the controversy when the almighty creator commands Noah to build that ark before the monsoons come. Anthony Hopkins is the prophet Methuselah, and Ray Winstone’s Tubal Cain a rough hewn archetype of all of our worst qualities as a race. Coolest of all might are Frank Langhella, Mark Margolis, Frank Oz and Nick Nolte as some ancient looking stone golems who are actually angels sent down by the creator to shepherd humans when needed. It’s funny because Nolte is so grizzled and rugged in his old age these days he probably could have just played the role in person instead of voiceover, but as it stands the special effects used to bring them to life are spectacular, a standard that holds throughout the film from landscapes, props, wildlife and general visual mood. Now, I can never get behind Christian films or take them seriously, so it’s a good thing that Aronofsky remains at arm’s length from the religious stuff and takes a more mythological approach to the story in the sense that this could be happening in any world or universe, and isn’t tied down to one theology. Not a perfect film, but the arresting visuals, fantastic cast and overarching message of love and reverence for life in all forms make it something special.
Harry Potter & The Prisoner Of Azkaban is my favourite film of the series for several reasons. There’s a scene early on where Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon does his best to step in for Richard Harris, who was pretty much perfection in the role) addresses the students of Hogwarts at the start of the year, imparting to them how they must beware of darkness residing in their world, but not to forget the power of light, especially that of finding it in even the darkest of places. This is an important moment because with this film and the arrival of director Alfonso Cuarón to the franchise, there’s a distinct change in many aspects of the story, mainly a much darker tone than the first two which were helmed with orchestral gloss by Chris Columbus, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing as I love those ones too. But with Cuarón there was not only a focus on the scarier, spookier aspects of the wizarding world, but an attention to detail, time spent on world building instead of breathlessly rushing from set piece to set piece, plus a deeper and more complex emotional core as Harry, Ron and Hermione become teenagers. Voldemort takes a bit of a vacation from terrorizing their world and is substituted by the shadowy, soul sucking dementors, as well as Gary Oldman’s sinister and omnipresent escaped convict Sirius Black. Oldman brings a haunted, unstable edge to Black in his initial scenes and a scrappy gravitas later when we learn the truth about his past. David Thewlis is a fantastic Professor Lupin, spiritual guide and mentor to Harry through some tough times, him and Oldman really class up the joint. There’s a playful inventiveness to this one that the first two just didn’t have, and it stems from the atypical approach often taken in adapting children’s books into films: the darkness, the unknown, the mature elements are often glossed over and the very palette of the story is somehow… simplified. That’s not to say that Philosopher’s Stone and Chamber Of Secrets weren’t dark, scary or mysterious.. they just lacked a certain maturity, genuine menace and pause to reflect on this arresting world and drink in every detail before the next action sequence. Prisoner Of Azkaban is the real deal, an entry with a standalone atmosphere that also sets the tone for some ‘dark and difficult times’ that indeed lie ahead for the rest of the story.