May 7, 2014
Duking It Out For Your Movie Bucks: Noah vs. Cesar Chavez
In the best cinematic battle since King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), this week the old champion Noah goes up against newcomer Cesar Chavez. It’s a pretty even match: they both have a sulky son, some issues with the grape, and a steadfast wife whose only fault is occasionally nagging them to think about the children. Both heroes want to take on corruption, but while Cesar Chavez’s solution is to raise wages and give some dignity to the working class, Noah and his sidekick THE CREATOR have a solution to the problem that is more Khmer Rouge than Mahatma Gandhi, if ya know what I mean.
Unfortunately the two big guys are playing on separate screens, so the battle here is for your entertainment dollar, and not the fate of humanity.
If you were expecting some sort of campy 1950s biblical epic, you came to the wrong place. There is no Edward G. Robinson snickering “Nyeah, where’s yer God now, Moses?” in this one. No heaving bazooms of Anne Baxter or Hedy LaMarr, no homoerotic subtext. It’s a Darren Aronofsky joint, so it’s all mirthless post-apocalyptic wasteland stuff this go-round.
Russell Crowe as Noah is on a mission from God. He had a dream that all the wicked will be drowned, and – stop me if you’ve heard this one before – he must build an ark to save all the snakes and bunnies and such. He has to get past some Orcs, but there are helpful Rock Monsters left over from Galaxy Quest (1999) and The Hobbit (2012) to do the heavy lifting. In addition to a Bad Guy (Ray Winstone, in the sort of role Dennis Hopper used to play), Noah has some family problems to contend with. His sons selfishly want to do things like have wives and reproduce, which is apparently against THE CREATOR’s plan, or at least that’s how Noah sees it.
The movie is actually a decent post Lord of The Rings style adventure story. It doesn’t go too heavy on the God stuff, but Crowe as Noah lacks vulnerability. Jennifer Connelly as Mrs. Noah brings some life to the movie, but not enough. Everyone speaks with British accents, because apparently Old Testament time is just like ancient Rome and Nazi Germany to Hollywood.
Cesar Chavez (2014)
Journeyman TV actor Michael Peña is also on a mission from God (or Saul Alinsky?) as Cesar Chavez. He is going to bring dignity, pride, and higher wages to immigrant farmworkers in Delano, CA. His steadfast wife is played by all-growed-up America Ferrara, and there are also small sidekick roles for Rosario Dawson and Wes Bentley. The bad guy is played by John Malkovich, of course, with cameos from dead Ronald Reagan and dead Richard Nixon for added evil.
Director Diego Luna keeps the camera in tight close-up through most of the movie, and the plot is similarly close and personal – this story is more about the internal struggles of a man than a movement. That closeness is both the movie’s strength and its weakness. While it works fine as a bio-pic, it is doubtful that this movie will inspire a movement, the way 1970’s “issue” movies like The China Syndrome (1979) did. In the current political climate, releasing a pro-union, anti-Reagan movie is brilliantly counter-intuitive, but this movie is more Oscar bait than firebomb.
Actual Cesar Chavez takes on
So who wins? Noah takes on all of wicked humanity, while Cesar Chavez only takes on some greedy old white dudes. But Noah gets to tag team with THE CREATOR and Methuselah, and all Cesar gets for backup is Ugly Betty. So go see Cesar Chavez, they’re both decent flicks, but if you buy a ticket to see a movie about a union organizer, you will have the added benefit of “sticking it to the man.”