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posted: 4/3/2014 5:00 AM

Reel life: The goods and bads of 'Noah'

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'Noah' better biblical epic?

I greatly admire Darren Aronofsky's ambitious vision and epic execution of his biblical drama "Noah," but several minor stumbling blocks prevented me from embracing the movie as much as I wanted to.

First, those petrified CGI fallen angels called "The Watchers" looked a lot like a Flintstones' version of "Transformers." Instead of hot cars, they concealed themselves as giant boulders -- with high intensity lamps illuminating their eye sockets.

These Watchers would be right at home in another sequel to "The Never-Ending Story." But in a serious biblical drama? They don't rock.

Second -- and this criticism goes out to many sword-and-sandal epics -- Noah's family appears to have gotten in on a high dental plan, sporting sparkling Crest-commercial quality dentures that look good in close-ups, but not so good for realism of the time period.

Third, I wondered why Noah, played by Russell Crowe, grows into a white-haired man while his wife (Jennifer Connelly) and adolescent son (Leo McHugh Carroll) don't seem to age at all.

Granted, Noah didn't become a father until well after his 500th birthday, but why would there be such a discrepancy between the aging of a dad and his family? (Perhaps a biblical scholar might have an explanation for this.)

Fourth, what's up with the depiction of Adam and Eve as ambulatory yellow glow sticks?

Fifth, Noah was, by accounts, a farmer and winemaker (and, surprise, the world's first wino), not a warrior. Even accounting for necessary hunting skills, Crowe's Noah appears to be much more of a gladiator during ferocious fight scenes than a husbandman.

But, we must remember that "Noah" is, after all, a $125 million Hollywood epic. Some narrative embellishments are to be expected.

Film critics notebook:

• The Chicago Film Critics Association presents Otto Preminger's 1954 western "River of No Return" starring Robert Mitchum and Marilyn Monroe at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 8, at the Elk Grove Cinema, 1050 S. Arlington Heights Road, Elk Grove Village. CFCA board member Peter Sobczynski, a Cary resident, will introduce the movie and conduct a brief Q&A following the screening. $5. Go to or to

• "Actors Who Directed Themselves." That's the topic for Dann & Raymond's Movie Club, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 10, at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library, 500 N. Dunton Ave., Arlington Heights. Clips from Jackie Chan's "First Strike," Clint Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby," Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane," Jerry Lewis' "The Nutty Professor" and many more. Free admission! Go to or call (847) 985-4000.

Five Qs for 'Raid 2'

Time to play Five Questions with Welsh-born filmmaker Gareth Evans, writer/director of the best martial arts action film I've seen in years, "The Raid: Redemption" and its sequel, "The Raid 2," opening this weekend.

Q. You directed a documentary on the martial arts called "pencak silat" before your features. How did that inform the realism of your two "Raid" movies?

A. In a weird way, I used the experience making the documentary as a way to study martial arts. I got a chance to meet some of the people who would be part of the films we would make. "The Raid 2" is a combination of my two earlier movies -- the grittiness of "The Raid" with the more classically composed shots from "Merantau" (2009).

Q. You've got an unbelievable action sequence involving an assault on a taxi in "Raid 2." Where did the idea come from to create it?

A. A friend of mine works for the police force, and a friend of his was in a police car when he came to a stop light. Out of the shadows come these young guys, and they smashed his windows. When he looked up, he saw all these knives coming in through the window. He pushed the accelerator down to get away from the situation. That story terrified me. We tried to find a way to capture the real fear of being under attack.

Q. When did you discover the thrill of martial arts movies?

A. When I saw my first Bruce Lee film as a child, I think it was "Enter the Dragon," I was way too young to watch it at the time. I was never into superhero movies, you know? Even as a child, I knew they were special effects. Bruce Lee had a real physical ability ... To me, Bruce Lee was a superhero, because he could do those actual things.

Later I discovered Jackie Chan and the incredible stunts he's done. They're incredible. For me, they are the real heroes who go back to Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, who really did those stunts. It was insane! Crazy stunt work.

Q. What's the appeal of martial arts movies for you now?

A. The reason I'm obsessed with it is probably because action films transcend nationalities. It's a universal genre. Horror is also a universal genre where it's easy to communicate an experience with a certain collective head space.

Q. What's wrong with today's action movies?

A. Bruce Lee and John Woo created a special syntax for action cinema that so many people fail to grasp nowadays. So much of action movies today are close-ups, fast cutting and over-editing, shooting for coverage instead of shooting for purpose. Sort of patching together an action scene with shakey-cam close-ups.

I've admired (Sam) Peckinpah, John Woo, Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee because they never did that. They never cut in so tight that you couldn't see what's going on. Every shot was designed to accentuate the physical movements being displayed, regardless of if it was a punch, a kick or a shot with a gun.

That's why I don't think we've ever done anything new. If anything, we've taken a step back.

• Dann Gire's Reel Life column runs Fridays in Time out!

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