Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:
The biblical flood is the original apocalypse story, which filmmaker Darren Aronofsky ("Black Swan," "The Wrestler," "Pi") creatively reinterprets with a timely, resonant, ecological doomsday message.
Beginning with a revisionist line from Genesis: "In the beginning, there was nothing," it positions Noah (Russell Crowe) as a righteous vegetarian, the recipient of "visions" from the Creator. After conferring with his hermit-like grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), he works with his wife, Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), and sons Shem (Douglas Booth), Ham (Logan Lerman) and Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll), along with orphaned Ila (Emma Watson), to build an ark. They're assisted by the Watchers, or Fallen Angels (voiced by Nick Nolte, Frank Langella and Mark Margolis).
Evil is personified by Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone), pagan descendant of the Bible's first fratricidal sinner, who killed Noah's father and continues to cause problems throughout the epic tale, as rains pour down for 40 days and 40 nights, drowning the rest of humanity -- while deeply conflicted Noah wrestles with inner demons in his desire to respect and obey what the Creator commands. (The word "God" is never mentioned.)
Crowe and Connelly worked together before in "A Beautiful Mind," and their emotional rapport is palpable, helping idiosyncratic writer/director Darren Aronofsky, co-scripting with Ari Handel, to boldly break away from old-fashioned, cliched perceptions from previous biblical epics and traditional religious art. Rich in characters and subplots, it is overwrought at times, as the uneven melodramatic floodwaters get choppy.
The highlight of production designer Mark Friedberg's fantastical concept is the rectangular-shaped ark, accurate down to the last cubit. This 75-foot-high, 45-foot-wide, 450-foot-long boxy barge was constructed on a 5-acre grassy field in a state park in Oyster Bay on Long Island. Amplified by time-lapse photography and montage editing, Matthew Libatique's cinematography adroitly blends live action with awesome computer-generated imagery, particularly when Earth's "innocent" birds and beasts, arrive two-by-two. But it's unfortunate that the giant CGI Watches resemble prehistoric, rock-encrusted Transformers.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Noah" sails in with an unconventional, yet totally accessible 8, an incredible spectacle.
"THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL"
Set in 1932 in an opulent Alpine spa in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka, Wes Anderson's comedic caper revolves around the eloquent, esteemed concierge, M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), and his protege, earnest lobby boy, Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori). Apparently, elderly Countess Celine Villeneuve Desgoffe und Taxis -- aka Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) -- left an invaluable treasure to M. Gustave instead of her own villainous offspring, and the tale-within-a-tale is told through flashbacks.
So it begins with a contemporary prologue as an aging author (Tom Wilkinson) recalls an evening in 1968, when he (Jude Law, as his younger self) dined with elderly Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) in the once-majestic hotel, learning how an incident 50 years earlier changed his life.
When Madame D. dies at her nearby estate, M. Gustave, a legendary lothario, acquires a priceless Renaissance painting, "Boy with Apple," becoming the prime suspect in her murder, according to Madame's devious son Dimitri (Adrien Brody), his henchman Jopling (Willem Dafoe) and policeman Henkels (Edward Norton). That launches a noir quest to discover whodunit, which intensifies when madame's executor (Jeff Goldblum) is found dead, and M. Gustave escapes from prison using tiny sledgehammers and pickaxes smuggled past the guards inside delicate frosted pastries, baked by Zero's beloved Agatha (Saoirse Ronan). That ignites an antic, Marx Brothers-like chase sequence in which M. Gustave and Zero sled downhill in pursuit of a villain on skis.
Inspired by the works of Viennese novelist/playwright Stefan Zweig and a nostalgic story conceived with Hugh Guinness, writer/director Wes Anderson ("Moonrise Kingdom," "The Royal Tennenbaums," "Rushmore") concocts a delightfully original, bittersweet, slyly campy saga of murder, theft and conspiracy.
Adam Stockhausen's production design is magnificent and cinematographer Robert Yeoman photographs each time frame is in a different aspect-radio, enhanced by Alexandre Desplat's score. Plus, there are farcical cameos from Wes Anderson's regulars: Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman and Bob Balaban.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Grand Budapest Hotel" is an imaginative, impressionistic 8. Check out this whimsical, madcap romp.
"TYLER PERRY'S THE SINGLE MOMS CLUB"
Before taking a hiatus from movie making to focus on television, prolific, Atlanta-based filmmaker Tyler Perry turns his attention to a group of single mothers who, despite their socio-economic differences, turn to one another for support, reflecting the idea that it takes a village to raise a child.
After their troubled preteens have misbehaved at an elite Atlanta prep school and are facing expulsion, the moms are summoned to a parent-principal conference where they're punished for their children's transgressions by being forced to organize a dance and fundraiser. And anyone who's ever served time in the PTA knows how tedious that can be. So the five disparate women band together to pay their penitence, forming a baby-sitting service for one another, taking turns so the other four can enjoy a night out and, perhaps, romance.
There's May (Nia Long), a struggling journalist/aspiring novelist whose husband has disappeared; Hillary (Amy Smart), a pampered, newly divorced socialite who is forced to fire her nanny; Esperanza (Zulay Henao), who is afraid she'll lose financial support from her sleazy ex-husband (Eddie Cibran) if she gets serious about her boyfriend (William Levy); Lytia (Cocoa Brown), a sassy, struggling Waffle House waitress whose two older children are in prison, while her youngest son is on scholarship at the exclusive school; and Jan (Wendi McLendon-Covey), an uptight publishing company executive who, coincidentally, recently turned down May's manuscript for being "too black."
While writer/director/producer Perry dutifully integrates their individual stories, the syrupy characters are, nevertheless, one-dimensional and cliched. As a result, the pace is inconsistent and plodding, leading to a far-too-tidy conclusion. According to Perry, his aunt served as inspiration, having raised four boys by herself and never taking welfare. "This is my homage to her and every single mother out there," Perry says.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Tyler Perry's The Single Moms Club" is a formulaic 4, a contrived, heavy-handed melodrama about camaraderie and the value of female solidarity.