Release: Friday, April 4, 2014 (limited)


I’ve never had to pee so bad in a movie in all of my natural life. . . .

Not that I would miss much if I were to step out to find the bathroom. With hindsight, I could even take my time in my quest, perhaps stopping in to say hey to some people in an adjacent theater. I could mingle with other theatergoers, or distract and annoy them just for a few minutes — just enough time to allow me to forget what I myself had come to see.

This is the kind of light fare where I could be out goofing around like this for a solid 20 minutes and then be able to get right back to my seat, refocus, and get back into it without feeling the slightest bit confused or disoriented. I don’t want to call the subject matter on display trivial; it’s certainly anything but that. However, what documentaries lack — environmental documentaries, especially — in being able to take dramatic license, they tend to make up for with a strong human element, a perspective that engages from the get-go. It usually comes packaged in the form of interviews, a spoken narrative, a focus on groups of people changing over time, or any combination of all the above.

The problem with Watermark is that it lacks this human element. It quite literally and almost exclusively features dramatized shots of water captured in its many shapes, forms and quantities, with only but a few of these moments actually involving human interaction. The set-up makes for a pretty picture, but an emotionless story. In fact, the extensive opening shot, an admittedly powerful wide shot of a massive dam release in China, is a microcosm for the emotional journey about to be undertaken. If this one scene doesn’t catch interest, it’s likely that most of what comes next won’t, either. The question is posed — “how do we shape water, and how does water shape us?” — and this film from Jennifer Baichwal attempts to set out answering this by juxtaposing shots of bodies of water with mankind’s interaction with it. Too bad man doesn’t factor in more.

We are firstly introduced to a Mexican woman living near the Colorado River Delta, a harsh crop of land so dry it literally makes one regret the choice to buy popcorn (whoever buys popcorn for documentaries ought to be slapped, anyway); cracking slabs of brown plate-like dirt bemoan the likely many, many years of water’s absence. This scene is a beautiful contrast to the film’s deafening roar of an opening. In fact, there’s not a lot to disagree with relative to the film’s construction or the way it looks. Watermark is quite competent in both of those regards. But the face time we get with conflicted individuals such as the aforementioned woman feels all too brief and fleeting.

Beyond the arid delta plains, we travel far and wide to many a foreign and exotic location where relationships between humans and water are in varying degrees strained. Highlights include the windswept, almost alien world that is the Greenland Ice Sheet, where scientists are drilling kilometers deep into the ice to extract measurements. (Ice is really, really cool, by the way. I think ice is nice.) From there we visit India, and stop in during the annual Kumbh Mela bath in the Ganges River — a mass gathering of some 30 million people during which souls are cleansed and purified in the waters; we also visit one of the most massive structures on Earth — the Xiluodu Dam, a whopping 937-foot-tall arch dam, one piece in a larger project impacting the Jinsha River.

Watermark leads us away from these tense battlegrounds — where usually man wins and water loses — by trotting us out to the isolated regions of the Canadian Rocky watershed, a beautiful crop of North America where it’s feasible to go days without crossing another human being. Here, water is sparkling and looks drinkable. If you haven’t been on the verge of wetting yourself by now, this positively drool-worthy sequence probably will take care of you. Okay, so maybe it’s a lie that there’s no drama involved here. The drama stems from whether or not you can make it through this in one sitting. Whether you can clench those knees together for well over half an hour. Whether you can hold it. . . . .hold it. . .

. . . hold it. . .

You’ll have to forgive me for hardly taking a thing seriously at this point; Watermark disappointingly amounts to little more than a Discovery Channel special, and something seemingly more appropriately filed in the scientific record than packaged as a theatrical release. I blame my lack of focus on keeping things serious here because the film likewise did not seem enthused on talking about people; it seemed more interested in letting water do all of its talking. It wanted to dismiss me, so I feel compelled to dismiss it.


2-5Recommendation: Jennifer Baichwal’s story and Edward Burtynsky’s cinematography combine to form a nature documentary that’s guilty of talking to itself and failing to leave an emotional impact. Its not intended to be a sensational movie nor is it meant to suggest that its time to panic about our lack of conservation of water just yet (though for some places it might be that time), and yet it’s difficult to believe that feeling as though you’re waking up from a nap come the end credits is the desired effect. It takes more than a lot of pretty pictures to tell a strong story.

Rated: PG

Running Time: 92 mins.

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 



Release: Friday, March 28, 2014


The hysteria surrounding this particular release begs the ultimate question: should some stories be exempt from the full-length feature film format? Are some stories movie-proof?

Like how Moses parted the Red Sea, Noah is doing something similar to global audiences, dividing them down the middle over whether this movie is representative of the story they have known as part of the Bible. There’s no denying that some of the directorial choices made in the film are repelling more than they are attracting potential viewers, and the finished product likely will remain as not the one many were envisioning.

Admitting in an interview that the Biblical subject matter was an unusual choice for him, director Darren Aronofsky (whose Requiem for a Dream safely remains as his most identifiable project) has clearly tried to find a way to fashion one extremely popular story into his own brand of entertainment; the sui generis hasn’t taken with everyone, a fact that is also clear. He is a director known for leaving disturbing and long-lasting imprints upon the viewer’s mind; a man who won’t be comfortable until he has made everyone else uncomfortable.

It seems in 2014 he has accomplished this with ease, perhaps for reasons he wasn’t intending or couldn’t foresee. Much has been made of the film’s bizarre and head-trippy content and the characterization of its mysterious, enigmatic lead. One hesitates to call the titular role a protagonist given how Aronofsky has chosen to depict him, and this may well be the biggest challenge his film poses to viewers around the globe. It’s either that, or convincing everyone that his film is not based upon the Biblical story, but rather on a graphic novel he wrote himself, titled the same. With the written account assuming a very loose interpretation of the original story found in The Book of Genesis, the filmed version seemed doomed to do battle with an onslaught of naysayers.

Aronofosky’s Noah is less a story millions have grown up reading as it is a fantasy epic that happens to feature the popular character. We are introduced to him as a young boy, being sheltered by a protector who is later revealed to be his father, Lamech. He passes down to him a special snakeskin, the shell of the serpent that slithered through the green grasses of Eden, as part of a tradition upheld across generations. Noah grows to become a strong, brave father and husband, who is constantly plagued with disturbing dreams and visions of an impending global catastrophe. While leading his family across barren wastelands to find a suitable place to escape the human populations — people at this point are depicted as bloodthirsty, evil creatures with no redeemable qualities whatsoever — Noah witnesses a string of miracles that convince him he’s been chosen by God (referred to here as ‘The Creator’) to help carry out his plan for the fate of the planet.

Every so often we are startled by a vivid flashback — or what appear to be flashbacks; they’re actually snippets that progress the dreams Noah keeps having — that rips our attention away from the current situation and places and seems to disorient us temporarily. Aronofsky understands that for his version of this story to work, he needs to get the audience in the same kind of disturbed mental state as the titular character eventually shall experience. The task at hand is going to be physically and psychologically exhausting, this we realize quickly. What kinds of tolls are Noah’s actions going to have on him, his loved ones? Aronofsky’s second and third acts explain thoroughly, even if this is not what most people expect. . .maybe even want. Relative to the world that he has created, Aronofsky’s story makes perfect sense. Even though Noah’s safety has apparently been ensured as well as that of his family, including that of the young girl, Ila (Emma Watson) whom they adopted many years ago, scores and scores of other people are left to waste. This is a reality Noah can barely stand to acknowledge, and the burden only increases.

Despite the clutter and chaos surrounding it’s release, the storyline presented isn’t overly complex or pretentious in nature. The epic can easily be divvied up into its three distinct movements: the first forty minutes or so are devoted to tracking Noah’s nomadic existence before coming into an understanding of what he’s meant to do (become the world’s greatest carpenter, apparently). Act two beckons a strong wind of change once Noah realizes he’s going to be running the world’s first and possibly only floating zoo and has gigantic rock creatures (fallen angels who were denied the gates of Heaven by The Creator earlier for their disobedience) to help construct it. Then, the third and final part devolves into an episode of The Real World: Noah’s Ark — what happens when Biblical characters stop being nice and start being real? What happens when a movie filled with unusual events and deviations from the perceived truth hits a brick wall in terms of ideas? Turn melodramatic, of course. This is precisely what the final twenty or thirty minutes of this film unfortunately resort to.

Aronofsky, it seems, pulls the rug out from underneath me as well.

While there are quite a few aspects about the film that come across as bizarre, even out of place and to a degree, unnecessary, nothing about the proceedings is going to compel people to want to burn Aronofsky at the stake more than the twists and turns of this protracted third act. It’s here where liberties are perceived to be taken the most: the characterization of Noah seems to take a 180-degree turn (and if you ask any random attendee, they’ll probably say for the worse). Again, that’s based on the presumption that they have always pictured this man as kind and gentle, and when he farts it smells of bakery-fresh cinnamon rolls. Indeed, this is not how Crowe portrays him, nor is this the way the character is written. If it helps, picture this 21st Century Noah as the equivalent of Daniel Craig’s version of James Bond — grittier, tougher, more human than we have ever been led to believe before.

In fact, that’s the fist-sized pill everyone has to swallow watching what was once nothing more than a simulacrum of man’s savior actually living, breathing, struggling. Noah humanizes the man’s battle to understand what is being asked of him and what is occurring around him. Abundant are the arguments calling out the film’s environmental message, but this really is less of an aberration as it is being made out to be. Is it delivered heavy-handedly? Perhaps. The Book of Genesis wasn’t exactly willing to get to the specifics over what these days were like. Desperate would be a fitting description, I suppose. Epic, another.

And that’s just what Aronofsky’s film is. It’s also far from perfect, possessing more than its fair share of editing and pacing issues that give the first act more than an opportunity to stall once and again (and ditto that to the last thirty minutes or so). Thematically, it juggles cautionary tales on how people epically fail at taking care of their environment (we do, there’s no denying it); the importance of family and how it may be defined; the virtue of love versus the temptation to hate. There are many layers to deconstruct and pick apart, with no real definitive core to be found anywhere. Controversial directors often find themselves at the very center of the controversy itself.

Here is an entirely new piece of literature, a story all it’s own. With any luck, the man won’t be receiving death threats like he did after creating Requiem.


3-5Recommendation: Given that the events that take place in the film are many and extremely varied, the story provided isn’t going to be the one most expect. That’s not to say there is no place for a modern-day adaptation. Visionary, significant, and strangely mainstream, Noah can hardly be described as the most accessible film ever made, but perhaps its this director’s most accessible. By the seem of things, it could shape up to be his most talked-about effort yet. Beautifully open to interpretation, the abstract and fantasy elements will inevitably offend many, but for those who it does not, they will find greatness in this epic tale of survival.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 138 mins.

Quoted: “Please keep it inside, please!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com