Who's ready for a Bible lesson?! Ned Flanders must be happier than Isaac unbound this week in anticipation of Noah, the big budget version of the classic flood tale from the Book of Genesis. Noah is the first of two Biblical blockbusters in 2014 (Exodus arrives in December), an interesting trend. Might it be the start of a "Biblical Universe," you know, like Marvel's comic book one? Noah is Captain America, Moses is Iron Man, and Jesus is Nick Fury. Yeah maybe not. I'm going to hell.
But Noah looks pretty solid, even if it does remind you of Waterworld. More importantly, it's got a fantastic director. If there's a Darren Aronofsky film in theaters, it's the one to see. Also debuting this weekend: Arnold Schwarzenegger's latest mission of revenge; a biopic of Cesar Chavez; an age-inappropriate romance starring Felicity Jones; and a sequel that could be the best action film of the year. It's a diverse group with something for just about everyone. Read ahead to see which you should go see.
In a feature film career that started with the surreal Pi and the furiously- detailed Requiem for a Dream, Darren Aronofsky has always done things his way. He's as ambitious a filmmaker as there is today and if his 2006 film, The Fountain, didn't prove it, his newest, Noah, surely does. Why else would he adapt a Bible story, of all things? It's a strange project that seems unwinnable, but Aronofsky is worth trusting. He has a plan. In fact, he co-wrote the script, which adheres to the broad strokes of Gensis but uses the story to reveal modern themes. Plus, Russell Crowe has to be better than Steve Carell in Evan Almighty. See it.
Since David Ayer wrote The Fast and the Furious and Training Day in 2001, he's made a few middling cop/gangster films as writer/director. Ayer grew up in South Central Los Angeles and has a genuine feel for the streets, but he tends to lose himself narratively. Harsh Times and Street Kings had their moments of violent intensity, but missed overall. Things changed with 2012's End of Watch, a potboiler of a film that marked a return to Training Day form for Ayer. It also makes his latest project, Sabotage, all the more interesting. Ayer takes us, yet again, into the world of tough cops and evil drug lords to tell the story of an elite DEA task force who are a little too successful and pay the price when a bloodthirsty cartel takes aim at them. Schwarzenegger fights back and tries to find his kidnapped wife. Expect a lot of gunfire and a lot of violence. Creatively, Ayer's spinning his wheels, choosing to do what he knows instead of taking any risks. Don't see it.
End of Watch star Michael Peña plays the titular hero in Cesar Chavez, a straightforward biopic of the labor leader and civil rights activist who fought for Latino American rights throughout his life. The story deserves to be told, of course, and director Diego Luna fought hard to get it made. Luna, the Y Tu Mamá También and Milk star, is a big name behind the lens but his style is garden variety, largely handheld with sweeping emotional scenes that deify Chavez. The melodrama is thick in this one, but that tends to go with the territory when it comes to half-baked biopics. Don't see it.
Sophie (Jones), a British foreign exchange student comes to live with a tight-knit family of three in upstate New York to study music. Initially welcomed, she soon falls for her surrogate father and teacher, Keith (Pearce), which creates major DRAMA. I mean what will happen when Keith's daughter and Sophie's only friend finds out? The story is Guiding Light in the upstate suburbs, but Breathe In is worth a look. The reason is the filmmaker, Drake Doremus. He makes movies in an interesting way. He gives his actors outlines, not scripts, and forces them to improvise every scene. The result is almost voyeuristic as the camera creeps around the lovers and knows their immense secret. Jones and Pearce are quietly authentic. The film itself is like a quiet lake at dawn, a picture of stillness that could be broken any second. See it.
The Raid 2
Starring: Iko Uwais, Julie Estelle, Yayan Ruhian
The Raid: Redemption showed how beautifully fight choreography alone can carry a film. It's one in a line of furious Asian action films that began with John Woo (A Better Tomorrow) in the '80s. Asian directors brought the fire to action cinema in America by infusing scenes with dozens of cuts and angles to show the audience every drop of blood. Since then, American audiences have become savvy and are more frequently going straight to the source. That's why the anticipation for The Raid: Redemption's sequel is so high in certain circles. Simply titled The Raid 2, the sequel once again follows Rama (Uwais) as he tries to expose the corruption within his own police force. The fight scenes are explosive and almost impossible to believe. The trailer is probably the best of 2014 so far. See it.