NOAH – 2014. (Review by Isaac)

noah poster

There’s been a lot of talk about this film. It has big names like Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly, it was written and directed by the talented Darren Aronofsky (who has some unique beliefs and some claim he’s an atheist), and it’s “based on a popular Bible story”. Aronofsky himself claimed that Noah is “probably the least Biblical film ever made.” The reactions have been loud, lengthy, divergent, and abundant.

At the end of the day, I keep hearing this question: “Should I see Noah?”

My answer is: “If you are in a position where the film will come up in conversation and you have an opportunity to intelligently speak about it, then yes. Absolutely.”

Before I get started, let me give you a few of my presuppositions.

1. I am not an isolationist. Cultures can have good or evil elements, but the culture itself is not evil. Like a city, or a state, culture simply exists. I think Christians should participate in our culture and be “all things to all men.”

2. I love stories because they are a powerful method of communication. Anytime we engage with a story, we should consider the worldview that the author is presenting.

3. I think Christians should redemptively engage with our culture and “make the most of every opportunity” to witness.

Whether it’s The Chronicles of Narnia or Hunger Games, Christians are part of a movie-going culture that talks about films and is willing to think about the deeper meanings behind them. You won’t see me quoting philosophy books after seeing Spider-man, but his films have led to some great conversations about the nature of responsibility, obligation, sacrifice, and choices. So in the spirit of engaging and promoting dialog, “what do we do with Darren Aronofsky’s Noah”?


noah sin

First, I want to acknowledge things I really liked about Noah:

1. Sin is a serious matter.

Writer/Director Darren Aronofsky depicts Genesis 6:11 pretty literally, “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.” The film opens with a brief, Lord of the Rings-esk explanation of the Creation and Fall. God created everything to be perfect, Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, now humanity is cursed. Aronofsky’s treatment is artistic and powerful. The descendants of Cain are violent, greedy, and disgusting. Rape and cannibalism are implied. One man steals a child to trade it for food, and we see a horde of starving people begin tearing apart a pig and eating it raw. You can understand why God decided a flood was necessary.

The film is clear that the cause of humanity’s violence and wickedness is sin. The dialog hints at total depravity: every aspect of us, even our noblest intentions, are tainted by sin. This sin destroyed society and the world, and now God is judging humanity. In the final act, Noah struggles dramatically with his own depravity and questions how a society after the flood could ever be good because it is still tainted by human sin.

noah-drowned-bodies

2. God really killed a lot of people in the flood.

“Noah’s Ark” is often told as a children’s story and we easily forget how brutal it is. Minus a handful of people, the entire population of the earth was wiped out. As the rain begins to pour down, Noah and some rock monsters (angels who God cursed to live in rock bodies) violently defend the ark and stop anyone from climbing aboard. When the flood waters rise, Noah’s family hears the screams of drowning people outside the ark, but Noah refuses to help them. “God has judged them”, he says. “The Creator” has destroyed his creation with water and is going to start over. Justice and mercy are pivotal themes throughout the film.

If the Ents saw this, they'd be pissed.

3. Noah took stewardship of the Earth seriously.

Aronofsky takes a page of out Tolkien and, like Saruman building an army worthy of Mordor, Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone) and his people devastate nature. Caring only for weapons and cities, their terrain is burned and lifeless. Filmed in Iceland, the tone is survivalist and practically post-apocalyptic as Noah and his family scavenge a barren landscape to survive. Tubal-Cain justifies this consumerism, “God told us to have dominion over the earth.” Noah’s family is vegan and views eating animals as disobeying The Creator (this is Biblical, but God also lifts this command after the flood in Genesis 9, which is not depicted in the movie.)

Aronofsky said that he wanted to explore the tension between God’s command to “care for the earth” and “have dominion over all the earth.” While some denounce Noah as environmentalist propaganda, what is wrong with saying that we need to care for nature? We may reach different conclusions, but there is nothing wrong with promoting stewardship in general.

tubal-cain

4. We are created in God’s image, and man’s greatest sin is pride in our own image.

Wanting to get the ark for himself, Tubal-Cain says he will survive the flood and “remake humanity in his image.” Like this wicked king, humanity rebels in our hearts against God and takes pride in our own image. The film has a brief, prophetic montage of the result of this sin: war and violence carrying on throughout human history.

5. The cast, visuals, and rock-monsters.

A lot of people (particularly Christians) are saying that Noah is a terrible movie across the board, and that’s unfair. Except for the third act (which I will get to later), I really enjoyed the movie. Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly and Emma Watson all gave notably good performances. The flashbacks and creation story are powerful both visually and dramatically. I was very disappointed in the idea of making “The Nephilim” from Genesis 6 into rock-monsters, but they were actually my favorite part of the film.

noah's vision

Legitimate issues I took with Noah that are worth ending my 2 year “break” from movie reviews:

1. God gives Noah a vague vision of the flood and Noah is left to interpret/misinterpret it as he pleases, which leads to Noah making some really bad decisions in the name of carrying out “God’s will.”

In the film, Noah has a vision of people drowning, animals swimming, and a giant boat. He concludes that God is going to punish the sinful and save the innocent. Noah starts out believing that God is going to save him and his family. In the third act, Noah remembers that he has sin too and concludes that his family should all die out in order to rid the earth of sin. Noah’s logic looks something like this:
1. Humanity destroyed the world and filled it with sin and violence.
2. God is going to punish sin by flooding everything and make a fresh start.
3. But wait a minute; me and my family have sin, too!
4. Therefore, God wants us to die so he can make his “fresh start” without sinful human beings.

Let’s explore this on two levels:

Dramatically, this is a brilliant move.
Once the flood waters lift the Ark off the ground, there’s not a lot of excitement to be had by Noah just chilling with his family and a bunch of sleeping animals.

Darren Aronofsky wanted to highlight the “story-arc” of God’s justice and mercy, so he decided to have Noah embody the same character arc (interview here.) Noah is a man of conviction, he cannot let the human race continue. When Shem’s wife Ila (Emma Watson) gets miraculously pregnant, Noah threatens to murder the child in order to prevent humanity from continuing. Seriously, I am not making this up. In the end, Noah “disobeys” the Creator by not killing babies and learns to have mercy. (I’ll unpack this more later.)

This part of the plot is incredibly dramatic and acted out with screams and tears. If drama was the goal, then it was achieved tenfold.

Rhetorically, this is an interesting and strategic move.
Noah becomes a man whose fragile and tenuous interpretation of “the Creator’s will” leads him to make murderous choices. You want to scream at him, “it’s not God’s will for you to kill babies, you idiot! You’re misinterpreting! You’re taking your own ideas and calling it God’s will!” – and perhaps, this is exactly what Darren Aronofsky wants us to think.

I often hear the objection to Christianity made by atheists, “how do you know what God’s will is?” This is a valid question. Throughout history there are people who have done both wonderful and terrible things in the name of “God’s will.” What if we’re just deceiving ourselvse? How do we know we aren’t just a madman with a knife about to kill babies? This question is embodied in Noah, who has two bizarre visions and must interpret God’s will from that alone.

actor-russell-crow-stars-as-the-title-character-in-the-film-noah-slated-for-a-march-28-2014-release

The major problem with this idea is: God does not leave us alone and without instruction.

In Genesis, God gives Noah explicit instructions on what to do and why he is doing it.

Immediately after God tells Noah about the flood, he says “But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.” God promises to save Noah and his family from the very beginning. No question of wives, genocide, or baby killing. No crazed lunatic with a knife. Most importantly: no ambiguity. We see both God’s judgment and mercy from the beginning.

Second, God has not left Christians without instruction or direction. We have the Bible, which is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2nd Timothy 3:16-17). We also have the Holy Spirit, which convicts and guides us, leading his followers “into all truth”. Jesus says the Holy Spirit is an “Advocate who will never leave you” (John 14:16-18).

Yes, sometimes discerning God’s will is a difficult thing to do. Sometimes we feel like Noah, screaming up into the sky for answers. But God has not abandoned us, nor has he left us without guide or instruction.

Noah's Ark 2014

2. “Noah” is more Gnostic and Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) than it is Biblical.

This movie is about Noah and Creation, but not the Biblical version. When Aronofsky says “Noah is probably the least Biblical movie ever made” he’s not talking artistic changes he made, he’s saying that he used texts and traditions outside the Bible. For an excellent article on this, see this post by Dr. Brian Mattson, and his response video at the bottom.

Again, this doesn’t mean Christians shouldn’t see the movie, or shouldn’t enjoy certain aspects of it (I listed things about it that I really enjoyed.) But this knowledge should completely change our expectations and the way we view the film. It definitely means that we should stop calling it a “Bible movie.” It is not another “Hollywood adaptation of a Bible movie” that gets a few details wrong. Darren Aronofsky from the beginning set out to tell a very different story than what we read in Genesis 6-9.

Let’s examine what this film is saying about humanity and God.

Gnosticism believes that all spirit is good and all flesh is evil. We see these Gnostic ideas repeatedly in the film. Before sinning, Adam and Eve were ethereal, bodiless beings. “The Watchers” (rock monsters) were angels trapped in physical bodies, and upon sacrificing themselves they returned to their spiritual form. Noah also explains his veganism, “strength doesn’t come from eating meat, it comes from The Creator.” The snakeskin of the Serpent/Devil also shows up repeatedly and is a Gnostic symbol of wisdom. By embracing the snakeskin, Noah is embracing a “wisdom” that comes from a source other than The Creator. (If you’re not convinced and think this sounds too much like a crazy ‘conspiracy theory’, read Mattson’s article.)

noah serpent

It gets more disturbing. In the Gnostic view, “The Creator” is not all good, all knowing, or all powerful. He is imperfect and immature, and the flood is a “violent phase” in the character development of this god becoming a higher deity. This trajectory is clearly seen in Aronofsky’s film, as The Creator starts out with a very active and purposeful role in bringing judgment. But as the film continues, god becomes passive and unreachable. Both Noah and Tubal-Cain cry out to god for direction, but The Creator is silent. The Creator never intervenes in Noah’s crazed baby-killing because “the choice is up to Noah.” (‘Kill your family, don’t kill them, whatever, it’s up to you Noah.’) The rainbow that appears in the end of the film is not a sign of a new Covenant, but blesses the idea that “love conquers all” as Noah accepts his grandbabies instead of killing them.

As a Christian who assumed this was based on the Biblical story, I understood Noah’s homicidal actions as misinterpreting God’s will. To someone simply watching the movie: God is completely passive unless it’s time to kill people. Furthermore, human love teaches God something about mercy and grace.

“The Creator” we witness in Darren Aronofsky’s film isn’t an interpretation of the Christian God; it is a flawed, distant, Gnostic deity.

Does that mean there’s no redeeming factors in the film at all? Of course not. I listed a number of thinks I really liked and appreciated about the film. But we must identify what we’re watching, the worldview of the writer/director, and how it relates to our Christian worldview.

Emma-Watson-and-Douglas-Booth-in-Noah-2014-Movie-Image

3. How inconsistent the third act is with the rest of the film.

I loved the film up until Noah is convicted that humanity must die out and threatens to murder babies. Its a brilliant move for the sake of drama, but it starts feeling like a soap opera meets religious commentary. The absurdity ruined the entire film for me. There were so many ways that problem could have been resolved. Emma Watson’s character could have said “The Creator healed my womb and I conceived, therefore it must be The Creator’s will that I bear children.” Noah says “oh gee, why didn’t I think of that?” Crisis averted everyone, let’s make babies.

Conclusion and Rating:
Aesthetically, Noah boasts a talented cast and amazing visuals. Steeped in mystic lore, it plays out more like Conan the Barbarian than The Ten Commandments. But please, whatever you do, stop calling it a “Bible movie”. Many religions have their own version of the Creation and Flood stories, and aside from some parts I noted, this film has little to do with the Bible’s account. It is Gnostic and mystic, not Biblical. Even though it had powerful performances and strong visuals, the absurdity of the final act ruined the film for me.
Aesthetics = 4/5

Story and theology = 1/5

Final verdict: 2.5 out of 5 Zipped Lips.

 

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A_long_time_ago

I am a huge Star Wars fan. One of my earliest memories is of watching Luke Skywalker fight the Rancor in Return of the Jedi. I spent years collecting Star Wars ships, fighting with plastic lightsabers, and reading the “Expanded Universe” books. I remember when my friend Mike and I sewed our very own Jedi cloaks to wear to the midnight release of Revenge of the Sith. I even downloaded the Star Wars: Holiday Special and watched it with my friends. In one particularly ambitious year of middle school, my friend Brandon and I decided to make our very own stop-action Star Wars movie. (Not my proudest moment, I assure you.)

Image

When a sequel Star Wars trilogy was announced, many fans hoped J.J. Abrams would base them on the massively successful Thrawn trilogy, or my personal favorite, the Jedi Academy trilogy. (Pictured above)

star wars original cast

I saw a major problem with this from the beginning. These books take place only six years after Return of the Jedi, but the actors have aged 30 years since then. Too much time has passed for a convincing story about Han and Leia trying to raise three boisterous kids and Luke Skywalker recruiting new Jedi Knights. We needed some fresh ideas.

J.J. Abrams announced that Star Wars VII would be a completely original story, but until now he has given very few details.

jj-abrams-star-wars-episode-7

Interview copy and pasted below:

I: Tell me about the biggest challenge your team faces in making a new Star Wars trilogy.

Abrams: There’s been a lot of challenges. I think the biggest one is making Star Wars accessible and exciting for new people that’ve never seen it before. I’m really excited about Harrison, Carrie, and Mark coming back to do this again. I have a hunger for what I love about Star Wars and want to see, and I bet a lot of other people my age feel the same way. But after having talks with Disney, I’ve realized that we have to reach a whole new generation of kids that didn’t grow up with Star Wars. To them its something old and outdated that their parents watch.

I: Really? I thought kids loved Star Wars.

Abrams: Well, the prequels tried to appeal to kids and failed miserably. Just terribly. They used cheap tricks like Jar Jar Binks and went after little kids instead of grabbing teenagers. Disney has done a ton of research on this. If you want a movie to have mass appeal, go after teenagers.

I: Isn’t that kind of… gimmicky?

Abrams: Sometimes, but it doesn’t have to be. Its about building an excitement around something new that will grab young adults and give them the same thrill I had when Empire Strikes Back came out in the 80’s. Most of my work has been for television or PG-13 films, and it proves that you can reach a lot of people by keeping things appropriate for teenagers.

I: So how has targeting teenagers changed your approach?

Abrams: It means building an excitement around new questions and interests. The questions of identity and destiny as still there, of course, but there’s more drama around romance and loyalty. That’s a big change. In the original trilogy, loyalty was completely assumed. You were loyal to your family and obligated to fight in the battle of good vs. evil. It was Luke’s loyalty that eventually redeemed his father, Darth Vader. In our new culture, loyalty is something you choose to have, it isn’t given to you, so to speak… its not an obligation.

I: How will that concept of loyalty play out in Star Wars VII? Will Luke’s loyalty carry on?

Abrams: Luke definitely has a role to play, but he is passing off the torch to a new generation. Its about Luke’s kids and Chewbacca’s kids finding their identity and loyalty in the new crisis.

Its unclear as to whether or not Waroo will be a Jedi (- Isaac)

Its unclear as to whether or not Waroo will be a Jedi (- Isaac)

I: Chewbacca has kids?

Abrams: Oh yeah. (laughs) Even though we’re creating an entirely new story, we got ideas from the Expanded Universe books, and even the infamous Star Wars: Holiday Special. I liked the idea of Chewbacca having a son. Luke has a daughter, Reina Skywalker, whose this new Jedi Knight trying to prove herself. And her best friend is Waroo, who is a half-wookiee.

I: Wait, a half-wookiee? I didn’t know those existed!

Abrams: Its Star Wars, anything can happen. (laughs)

I: What happens with these two?

Abrams: So Luke has established a small order of Jedi Knights, and they get into a fight with a new alien race, the Chiss. Leia and Han and Luke go to the Chiss homeworld in hopes of stopping a war, and that’s really what kicks off the new trilogy. The adults are trying to prevent another war like the one they had to fight, but their kids realize that there’s something darker going on at the Chiss homeworld.

I: What excites you about this story-line?

Abrams: I like the ambiguity behind the characters. They really struggle with their identity and loyalty. Reina is this brand new Jedi Knight trying to fill some pretty big shoes left behind by her dad, Luke Skywalker. Then she has this romance with Waroo, who is caught between being a human and a wookiee. They have so much in common, but there’s a tension there too. Especially when they get caught behind enemy lines and meet Jaylen.

I: Who is Jaylen?

Abrams: I probably shouldn’t say… Well, the first trailer will reveal it anyway. (laughs) Jaylen is a loner on the planet Chiss who turns out to be a teenage clone of Darth Maul.

Clone-Wars-Darth-Maul

I: Like from Episode I? Why did you decide to bring him back as a villain?

Abrams: Oh, he’s not really a villain. I know it sounds quirky, but he’s the perfect fit. We needed a character who brought ancient darkness to the screen and tied us back to the Sith from the previous series. When the Emperor and Darth Vader died at the end of Return of the Jedi, there were no more Sith. They were gone, and we needed a way to bring them back. We also realized that despite having millions of them, Star Wars never really dealt with a clone as a serious character. Jaylen knows he’s a clone of this incredibly dark and evil Sith Lord, but does that mean he’s destined to kill Jedi? Does he have a choice in his own fate? What if he decides to join Reina instead?

I: So is that the question of destiny you were talking about?

Abrams: That’s what this movie is about: destiny and freewill. Its about having to trust someone and give them the freedom to make their own destiny, even though there’s a chance they might try to kill you later. (laughs) Both Anakin and Luke had to deal with the question “am I destined to join the dark side?” Jaylen is a very dark and conflicted character, I think he will add a lot to the saga.

I: Do you think this take will appeal to new fans?

Abrams: Absolutely. People love tension and relationship triangles. The original series had Luke, Han, and Leia. Here we have a very strong half-wookiee who trusts his warrior instincts, a darker and edgier clone who is questioning his destiny, and a Jedi Knight who loves them both. It forces Reina to decide between Waroo and Jaylen. In a sense its a much more ambiguous and muddy choice between light and dark, she doesn’t know where it will lead.

I: Wait, are you saying this is a love triangle between Luke’s daughter, a half-wookiee, and a Sith clone?

Abrams: Its not really a love triangle. At least, not right away. The plot is racing along, and it builds to a point where Reina has to choose a side. She can either go with Waroo and the life she’s grown up with, or she can trust Jaylen’s insight into solving the conspiracy and hope he doesn’t become a Sith.

saoirse-ronan-talks-about-her-star-wars-vii-audition

I: Have you auditioned anyone?

Abrams: Oh, I’ve seen hundreds of auditions. Hundreds. (laughs) We auditioned Saoirse Ronan for Reina Skywalker and she was fantastic. I’m really excited about working with her on the project.

I: Okay, last question, what are you most excited about?

Abrams: Working with John Williams.

End interview, link to entire article here.

What do you think? Can J.J. Abrams pull this off?

 

Zack Snyder Samson interview

Zack Snyder (director of 300, Watchmen, Sucker Punch, and the upcoming Man of Steel) has begun talking about his next project. Searching for another success like the historical epic 300, he’s landed on an unusual choice: the Bible story of Samson. Zack Snyder is certainly a talented director, (see our Sucker Punch review here) but he seems to get caught up in style over substance. I know that Samson certainly has potential as a great action film, but how will Snyder handle the spiritual aspect of the story? – Zack’s not the most articulate director around but he gives us a pretty good idea of what this’ll look like. – So, fingers crossed, and hope for the best!

Interview copy and pasted below:

I: Why Samson?

Snyder: Well, I’ve been wanting to do another historical film, like I did with 300. But not something that’d been done before.

I: Not done before?

Snyder: Oh, you know, like Alexander the Great, King Arthur, gladiators… Everybody has done that stuff. With 300 and Watchmen, I was taking something familiar but had never been made into a film. So towards the end of Man of Steel, I was asking around about something that hadn’t been, well, something that was well known but at the same time hadn’t really been done before.

I: You wanted something fresh.

Snyder: Exactly. Like, 300 was a story that was powerful, historically, but wasn’t something like Robin Hood that’d been done so many times in so many sh*tty ways that there aren’t any surprises left. Not to be mean to Russell Crowe, or anything. I mean, they tried.

I: What excites you about the project?

Snyder: There was work to do on Samson, but I was struck by the story. It was surprisingly dark and dynamic. I mean, here’s a guy that little kids learn about in like, Church and stuff, right? And he’s totally not a hero! Samson’s life is all about violence, sex, betrayal… I mean, there’s a reason Disney hasn’t done it. (laughs)

I: What did you like about it?

Snyder: I saw a lot of tension in the character. He spends his whole life struggling with his destiny. There’s this struggle between who people expect Samson to be and what he actually does. I mean, Samson is supposed to be Israel’s hero, someone to really look up to, y’know? But Samson refuses to fight on anyone else’s terms. Then after the Philistines kill his wife, the dude just snaps and kills a bunch of people.

I: How will you handle Delilah?

Snyder: Delilah is a great character. She’s cunning and intelligent, and he keeps falling for her tricks. I mean, Delilah loves Samson, she sees him as invincible, but she’s totally taking advantage of him at the same time. The irony around them is great.

I: Do you have casting ideas?

Snyder: Y’know, casting has been tough on this one. A lot of people have come up and said “this would be perfect for Gerard Butler.” And, Gerry is a great actor, but he’s too refined for the role. I needed someone rougher, and physically massive. I mean, this guy has to kill a thousand philistines in one afternoon. (laughs)

I: Have you officially cast anyone?

Snyder: Officially, no. But we’re in final talks with Dwayne Johnson about the role.

I: You mean, “The Rock?”

dwayne johnson aka the rock

I’ve gotta admit, he would be a convincing Samson.

Snyder: (laughs) Y’know, Dwayne has done a lot of sh*tty movies in the past. But he’s really matured as an actor and I think he’s ready for more serious stuff. I needed someone who could really be believable as this conflicted, tortured antihero whose supernatural strength has made him an outcast. I mean, the guy rips a lion in half. You’ve gotta cast someone believable in that role or the audience will just die laughing. So, yeah, I think Dwayne will be great.

I: What about Delilah?

Snyder: I loved working with Abbie Cornish on Sucker Punch. She works very hard, very dedicated…  and will wear any costume you ask her to. (laughs) No, seriously, I see Delilah being this sweet and sensual character, but having a darker side to her too. I know Abbie can handle the role.

Abbie Cornish in Sucker Punch

I: So, you’re doing this big, rated-R epic of a Bible story.

Snyder: (laughs) Yeah.

I: I’m thinking… well, why Samson now? Does it have any relevance for modern audiences?

Snyder: Oh, I think its totally relevant. Everyone’s… well, Christian or not, everyone is always talking about “what God wants them to do.” Politicians are talking about it, the Middle East is talking about it, and I just keep asking myself… “how do they know?”  Y’know, seriously? How can God be telling one guy this thing, and another guy this totally different thing? And why does it usually involve killing the other person? How does anyone know what God wants them to do? And, y’know… I think that’s really similar to Samson’s story. Here’s this guy who is on a mission from God, right? To fight the bad guys, the… the Philistines. And he’s even given this super-strength to do it. But Samson doesn’t want to fight the Philistines, he wants peace. I mean, he marries a Philistine girl, right? And then its not until they trick him and kill his wife that Samson starts beating up on the Philistines. And even then, Samson’s not killing Philistines because God told him to, he is killing Philistines out of revenge. So, he’s a very interesting character.

I: So how do you see that playing out in the film?

Snyder: Well, I see a lot of conflict in Samson. He has a lot of human emotion. In the end, he’s fighting the Philistines like just God told him to, but its not… well, its not necessarily because God told him to, its because of this very real and deep need for vengeance. For revenge. That’s very human. In a sense he’s sort of obeying and defying his God at the same time. And that’s very interesting to me… That kind of conflict between a divine order and a human emotion.

I: Last question. What’re you most looking forward to?

Snyder: Ah, easy. Samson killing a thousand dudes with the jawbone of an ass.

Zack Snyder on the set of "300".

Zack Snyder on the set of “300.”

What do you think? Can Zack Snyder bring an interesting (and faithful) adaptation of Samson to the big screen? Let us know in the comments!

Are the Oscars a little too high-brow for you? Do you find yourself scratching your head when the People’s Choice Awards gives “Best Superhero of the Year” to Ryan Reynolds’ Green Lantern? And what about the bad movies? Y’know, the stomach-churningly awful films you’d really like to avoid?

We heard you calling, and we’re answering with the 2011 Shut Up and Watch The Movie Awards. (AKA: “The Zippies”.) We’ve picked the best, the worst, the delightful, the disappointing, and displayed them in all their glory for you. So please, enjoy!

Best Picture of 2011:

Winner: Super-8

J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg make an incredible team. Super 8 hits the ball out of the park in cinematography, special effects, musical score, nostalgia, and impressive performances by its young cast. If you haven’t seen Super 8 yet, definitely check it out.

Runners up for Best Picture:

Nate: The Help

Chris: Captain America

Luke: The Artist

Isaac: The Help

Worst Picture of 2011:

Winner: Bad Teacher

Nate is actually the only one who saw this, but we took his word for it.

Runners Up:

Nate: Jack & Jill, Just Go With It

Chris: Season of the Witch

Luke: Immortals

Isaac: No Strings Attached

Biggest Pleasant Surprise:

Winner: Rango

Rango’s trailer didn’t look like much, but a creative storyline and impressive cast made it something truly unique.

Runners Up:

Nate: X-Men: First Class

Chris: Unknown (2011)

Luke: The Artist

Isaac: Thor

Biggest Disappointment:

Winner: Sucker Punch

How the director of 300 could screw up this badly is mind-boggling. Almost as mind-boggling as the plot he tried to sell us with robots and miniskirts. (Review here)

Runners Up:

Nate: Paul

Chris: Green Lantern

Luke: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Isaac: Limitless

Best Movie No One Saw:

Winner: Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

This Canadian-American Horror/Comedy film takes the “college kids in the woods” genre and turns it upside down. The result is a side-splittingly funny tale about the perils of judging a book by its cover.

Runners Up:

Nate: Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

Chris: Trigun Badlands Rumble

Luke: The Beaver

Isaac: The Beaver

Most Overrated:

Winner: Limitless

Its ironic that a film about a mind-boosting drug has one of the dumbest endings I’ve ever seen.

Runners Up:

Nate: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Twilight: Breaking Dawn

Chris: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2.

Luke: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Isaac: Transformers3

Most Underrated:

Winner: Super 8

For boasting superior directing, cinematography, special effects, and acting (especially with a child-dominated cast!) Super 8 didn’t get much media attention, nor did it stand out in the Box-Office. We’re kinda confused about that.

Runners Up:

Nate: Cowboys & Aliens

Chris: Thor

Luke: The Adventures of Tintin

Isaac: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Best Family Film:

Winner: Courageous

Courageous really was a splendid film and deserves a place here. Its incredibly enjoyable, funny, and emotionally resonant. (I know we’re pulling a “Jesus-Juke” here, get over it.) 

Runners Up:

Nate: Rango

Chris: Kung Fu Panda 2

Luke: The Muppets

Isaac: We Bought a Zoo

Best Original Score:

Winner: X-Men: First Class

Fun, gripping, and dynamic, the new X-Men theme doesn’t just support the film, it hops in the drivers seat and hits the gas. (Listen here.)

Runners Up:

Nate: Super 8

Chris: Thor

Luke: Sherlock Holmes2

Isaac: Sherlock Holmes2

“Our Favorite”

Looking for straight up enjoyability? – We’ve each picked our favorite movies of the year:

Our picks:

Nate: Super 8

Luke: Super 8

Chris: Captain America

Isaac: Captain America

There you have it folks! What do you think? Was there something we missed? – Let us know in the comments!
Don’t forget to check out last year’s SUAWTM Awards, the 2010 Zippies.
And as always, please, Shut up and Enjoy the Movie!

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

“You’re making me angry… You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

Synopsis: Bruce Banner is one of the most brilliant scientific minds on the planet, but after an overdose of Gamma Radiation turned him into the Hulk he’s been a fugitive pursued by the US Government. This sequel/reboot follows Bruce Banner as he struggles to control his transformations, dodges the military’s attempts at capture, and seeks a cure for the Hulk. Meanwhile, General Ross deploys untested super-soldier Emil Blonsky in an attempt to capture Hulk, and inadvertently creates a monster.

The Incredible Hulk was Marvel Studios’ second foray into major-motion-pictures and a successful sequel/reboot to the notoriously awful 2003 Hulk (starring Eric Bana and Jennifer Connely). Incredible Hulk returns the series to the heart of the Banner/Hulk character: Bruce Banner as a fugitive. Banner is constantly on the road; always searching for a cure, always avoiding capture, and always fighting his inner demons.

Edward Norton is perfect as Dr. Bruce Banner, a brilliant and honorable scientist who is desperately trying to protect the world from the monster inside of him. The tendency is to play Banner as pathetic and whiny (‘why does this always happen to me?’) but Edward Norton carries the role with genuine emotion. Liv Tyler steps in beautifully as Betty Ross, breaking our heart for the romance that can never be. Tim Blake Nelson makes a surprising appearance as Samuel Sterns (Mr. Blue) and opens the door for a (possible) villainous return.
Most of the film features the conflict between General Ross (William Hurt) and fugitive Bruce Banner. Ross is trying to capture and weaponize Hulk and Bruce Banner resists, insisting that the Hulk cannot be controlled. In an attempt to finally catch Banner, Ross injects mercenary Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) with an untested super-soldier serum (foreshadowing Captain America!) and ends up creating the monster Abomination. This hunter-prey, action-packed drama sets the perfect pacing and tone for a Hulk film.

Themes: Self-Control, Respect for Power, Sacrifice

Hulk has always been a metaphorical character, representing the continual struggle to control the darker and destructive things inside of us. I believe that all of us can identify with Banner’s struggle to protect others from the monster within. – Unfortunately, this “I can’t control the monster” idea has been ripped off and poorly executed so many times (*cough cough* Twilight) that it feels well-trodden.

Responsibility often includes sacrifice. In order to protect the world from the uncontrollable Hulk, Banner has sacrificed everything: his life, career, freedom, and even his romance with Betty. Seeing Bruce encounter his old life, especially reuniting with Betty, is a painful reminder of everything he has left behind. As audience members, we yearn for justice. We want so badly for Bruce to be exhonorated and start a life with Betty. Most superheroes make sacrifices for a short period of time (or until the villain of that particular storyline is dead) but Bruce is destined to return to the road as a fugitive. Sometimes acting with integrity and responsibility means long-term, unending sacrifice.

Typical of the Prometheus and Frankenstein mythos, Incredible Hulk teaches us something about respect for power beyond our control or understanding. General Ross sees the Hulk as a weapon to be tamed, but Banner knows it is pure, uncontrollable rage. It is this careless misuse of power by Ross and the lust for power by Blonsky that creates the real monster, the bloodthirsty Abomination. At the end of the film, Hulk defeats Abomination and tosses the creature at the feet of General Ross. In this brilliant and silent moment, Hulk glares at Ross as if to say ‘you wanted a weapon, here he is. This is the legacy you have tried to build, and this is exactly what I have been protecting you from.’ It is human nature to lust for power greater than we can control, and Incredible Hulk warns us of the danger in yielding to those desires.

Conclusion:

Action packed and boasting a solid cast, The Incredible Hulk was a pretty impressive film… in 2008. It didn’t stand the test of time nearly as well as I had hoped. The cgi rendering of Hulk and Abomination look a little cheesy compared to recent developments like Michael Bay’s Transformers3. Couple this with the resurgence of werewolves, and this film’s “beast within” bit doesn’t stand out like it used to.

If you get the chance, watch the 2003 Hulk by Ang Lee before watching The Incredible Hulk. While the sequel reiterates everything you need to know, its makes you appreciate just how difficult it is to make a good movie about a giant green monster whose catchphrase is “Hulk Smash!”

Rating: 4/5 Zipped Lips

Sadly, The Incredible Hulk doesn’t stand the test of time as well as Iron Man, but its still an exciting and emotional ride with an action-packed climax.

Iron Man 2 (2010) – New Review

“If you could make God bleed, people would cease to believe in him… All I have to do is sit back and watch as the world consumes you.”

Synopsis: Tony Stark has been busy. In the past six months, he has used his unique Iron Man technology to maintain an unprecedented level of world peace. After discovering that the miniature Arc-reactor in his chest is fatally poisoning his blood, Stark grapples with his mortality and legacy.

Its no secret that we at Shut Up & Watch The Movie were not fans of Iron Man 2. It seemed like everything that made the original so loveable got lost in the shuffle of multiple villains and Stark’s alcoholism. (See my original, albeit perplexed, take on it here.) This busy sequel meanders somewhat through the middle, gets bogged down with Tony’s self-destructive spiral, and doesn’t recover until the final act. But despite its issues, a second look at both Iron Man films revealed a strong undercurrent that I hadn’t noticed before: legacy.

Why Iron Man 2 felt flat:

On the surface, Iron Man 2 spends a lot of time on the Iron Man technology and whether or not Tony Stark’s invention is the new face of modern warfare. Stark insists it is not, the government insists that it is, and then one day Ivan Vanko opens pandora’s box by tearing up a racetrack with an arc-powered suit of his own. This attack throws Stark into a self-destructive spiral, leading to a wild party, and an Iron Man vs. War Machine slug-fest in Tony’s living room.

While this sounds like a good story line, its not particularly gripping because as audience members we know that there’s only one Iron Man hero. Sure, Stark’s buddy Rhodey gets a suit (and becomes the psuedo-sidekick War Machine) and there are a handful of armored villains, but the hero always wins, right? Tony Stark won’t let some ruffian Russian robots start World War III. With this knowledge rattling around in our self-conscious, Tony’s alcoholism and Iron Man “drunken bar-fight” with his best friend Rhodey feels unnecessarily tedious and juvenile.

Why Iron Man 2 deserves a second look

This isn’t a story about Tony Stark struggling with vanity and alcoholism, its a mortal man’s struggle with his own purpose and legacy. When you understand legacy as the central thrust of the Iron Man saga, all of these odd-shaped puzzle pieces begin to fit into place.

The first film highlights the heritage of Stark Industries. Tony tells us that his father’s legacy was weapons developed to win WWII, “that’s how Dad did it, that’s how America does it, and it’s worked out pretty well for me so far.” – The twist comes when Tony realizes the true legacy of Stark Industries: mass murder at the hands of terrorists. “Those are YOUR weapons in the hands of those murderers! Is this what you want? Is this what you wish the legacy of the great Tony Stark to be?”
Determined to alter his legacy, Stark uses Arc-Reactor technology to power the Iron Man suit and right the wrongs of his company. Tony redeems his family legacy. …Or so he thinks.

Enter Iron Man 2.

The Arc-Reactor that keeps Tony alive is poisoning his blood and he doesn’t have much time left. He reopens the Stark Expo, announcing: “It’s not about me. It’s not about you, either. It’s about legacy, the legacy left behind for future generations. It’s not about us!” Determined to leave a great legacy before he dies, Stark names his assistant Pepper Potts as CEO of Stark Ind., and he reprograms the War Machine suit so that Rhodey can use it. (In case you didn’t catch that, Tony wanted Rhodey to steal the suit.) Ivan Vanko’s appearance doesn’t reignite Tony’s narcissism and alcoholism, it causes Tony to doubt his own change of heart, his redemption, and the integrity of the Stark legacy. Tony, directionless and dying, simply throws himself one final going-away party (the only way he knows how.)

Finally, Tony sees a video of his father, Howard Stark, speaking of the Stark legacy. Howard admits that he wanted to contribute more to the world than weapons but he was limited by the technology of his time. In a very touching scene, he asks Tony to fulfill the Stark legacy, “I’m limited by the technology of my time, but one day you’ll figure this out. And when you do, you will change the world. What is, and always will be my greatest creation… is *you*.”

Cue the single manly tear.

This statement spurs Tony on to create a new element for his suit (blood poison free this time), and defeat Ivan Vanko. Alive and not dying, Stark sets everything back to rights.

Themes: Legacy, Partnership, Responsibility with Technology

I’ve proven how central ‘legacy’ is to the Iron Man films, and Iron Man 2 specifically emphasizes passing on something of value to the next generation. Responsibility is a sub-theme, stressing the importance of using technology with integrity. There’s some discussion about whether or not handing over your technology to the government is the best way to keep everyone safe (the film answers that with a resounding “no”.)

Partnership takes a surprising spotlight spotlight here, revealing once again that villains can never get along. – Seriously, what is it with those guys? Its like they signed a contract “will betray each other in the 3rd Act.” As for the heroes, Tony Stark thinks he has to carry the weight of being Iron Man alone. His partnership with Petter and Rhodey may be tenuous, but pays off. In the end, the hero is stronger with allies than he is alone.

Conclusion:

Now that we’ve got that messy “what is this movie about” business out of the way, Iron Man 2 is a fantastic movie. The characters, the cast, the directing, everything is great. Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) and Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) are great antagonists, mixing humor with sheer brutality. Each villain has their own spin on the “legacy” concept (rivalry and revenge) but both unite in their desire to dethrone Stark Industries. SHIELD agents Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Natasha/Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson) are a tad underwhelming, but they’re really just making cameo appearances until The Avengers film anyway.

Here’s looking forward to The Avengers and Iron Man 3!

Rating: 4/5 Zipped Lips.

I’m glad that I gave Iron Man 2 a second chance. What seemed to be a frazzled grouping of storylines proved to be one cohesive story that began way back in the opening lines of the original Iron Man film.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) – Review reposted.

“Why did I choose someone weak? Because a weak man knows the value of strength.”

Synopsis: After being deemed unfit for military service, Steve Rogers volunteers for a top secret research project that turns him into Captain America, a superhero dedicated to defending America’s ideals.

Marvel Studios has spent the last three years bringing superheroes to the silver screen with unparalleled charm, wit, and integrity. Packed with a star studded cast, plenty of action, and a dash of comic book camp, Captain America is no exception. Director Joe Johnston expertly balances the feel of 1940’s America (as he did in his 1991 classic, The Rocketeer) with the campy science fiction of a comic book. The period sets have a nostalgic charm and the characters are larger than life in their heroics. Cap’s wit is simple, straightforward, and thoroughly American. And when it comes to big budget action movies, there’s no better villains than the Nazis.
(I hate those guys.)

Chris Evans shines as Steve Rogers, whose initial wimpy appearance is a startling achievement in special effects. He looks nothing like a soldier, let alone the iconic Captain AmericaBut, as the story reveals, its Rogers integrity that sets him apart from the rest. Despite his small size, Rogers is desperate to help defend his country. He admits “I don’t want to kill anyone. I just don’t like bullies.” Its this courage that causes Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) to choose Steve Rogers for the Super Soldier Serum, a chemical mixture which gives an ordinary man superhuman strength.

Themes: Integrity, Responsibility, Heroism

Steve Rogers is chosen because he is an underdog with integrity. Dr. Erskine tells Steve “why did I choose someone weak? Because a weak man knows the value of strength, the value of power. And he also knows compassion.” Erskine also explains that the Super Soldier Serum enhances everything that is within a man. Because of his integrity and heroism, Steve Rogers becomes the iconic Captain America. But this same serum also transformed power-hungry Nazi Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) into the villainous Red Skull. It is this reason that Dr. Erskine makes Steve promise that no matter what, “you will stay who you are. Not a perfect soldier, but a good man.”

Marvel characters often learn that it takes more than superpowers to make a superhero. This has been a consistent theme for Peter Parker, Tony Stark, the X-Men, and even Thor. But no character seems to embody honesty, courage, and heroism like the iconic Captain America. When he dons his stars and stripes shield, you know what he stands for.

Conclusion: My favorite of the Marvel movies

Your enjoyment of Captain America will greatly depend on your expectations and your willing suspension of disbelief (for more on this and Superhero movies, check out my review of Thor.) If you go in expecting the best movie of the summer, you’ll be disappointed. But if you enter with an open mind and try what Marvel’s cooked up, you’ll have a blast. Some aspects of the film (like the Cosmic Cube and Red Skull) are hard to swallow if you’re assuming a typical WWII film. Captain America goes far beyond the fantasy adventure in movies like Indiana Jones (there’s a line about “Hitler digging around in the desert”) and several plot choices may have newbies saying “… what?” But in the end, the Cap succeeds because America loves our underdogs. Especially ones who punch Nazis in the face. With a shield. A stars and stripes shield.

A word on The Avengers:

Ever since Marvel Studios began with Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk in 2008, we’ve been building up to The Avengers film which is finally glimpsed at after the credits of Captain America. I’ve been very impressed at how well each film has built off its predecessors; integrating S.H.I.E.L.D., giving cameos to Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), introducing the Cosmic Cubeand finally bringing Captain America into the mix. While Cap can’t fly like Iron Man or wield the power of Thor, he’s the natural choice to lead the team. I’m very excited to see what Marvel Studios and director Joss Whedon whip up for The Avengers (2012).

Rating:

4.5 out of 5 Zipped Lips

Captain America is a throwback to a simpler time when the good guys were good and the bad guys were bad. There’s something here for everyone: wit, charm, explosions, romance… but what lingers is a heroic little guy whose virtue made all the difference.

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