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Posts Tagged ‘Oscar Isaac’

Natalie Portman

“ANNIHILATION” My rating: B- (Opens wide on Feb. 23)

115 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Given the runaway artistic and commercial success of his 2014 debut, “Ex Machina,” it’s hard not to see Alex Garland’s “Annihilation” as a case of sophomore slump.

“Ex Machina” was an almost flawless blend of performance, tension and social inquiry (Garland’s subject was artificial intelligence) that transcended the usual sci-fi parameters.

By comparison “Annihilation,” based on Jeff VanderMeer’s bestseller, feels less original and more conventional.

Plus, it has the built-in issue of being based on the first book of a trilogy — which no doubt is why at the end of nearly two hours the yarn seems unfinished.

And yet “Annihilation” has real strengths, including a mostly-woman cast dealing with a pressure cooker situation, a couple of fine action sequences and enough creeping tension to generate mucho spinal tingles.

Biologist  Lena (Natalie Portman) is in mourning. A year earlier her soldier husband Kane left for one of his black ops missions and hasn’t been heard from since. The authorities aren’t cooperative.

And then, miraculously, Kane appears in their home. He’s an emotional blank, with no memories of where he’s been.

Oscar Isaac

Before long the couple are snatched by commandos in black and taken to a top secret military base outside “the shimmer,” an area along the Carolina coast subject to bizarre anomalies.

As psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) explains, a few years earlier a meteor (or something) struck the area creating a “bubble” that is slowly expanding.  Numerous military teams, drones, even trained animals have been sent beyond the shimmer, but so far only Kane has returned.  And now he’s in a coma and on life support.

(How the authorities have kept the shimmer a secret for several years is one of those mysteries possible only in movieland.) (more…)

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Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill

“STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI” My rating: C

152 minutes |MPAA rating: PG-13

Over the last 40 years “Star Wars” films have thrilled and delighted (the original “A New Hope”) and occasionally pissed off and dismayed (the George Lucas-directed prequels).

But until now I’ve never been bored.

We’re talking I-don’t-know-if-I-can-keep-my-eyes-open bored.

It’s not that “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is terrible. It’s just that writer/director Rian Johnson is so handcuffed by the franchise’s mythology that there’s no hope of actually delivering anything new and unusual.

A “Star Wars” movie is now like a giant hamster wheel. We keep loping along but the scenery never changes. The same narratives, motifs and tropes play out over and over again. The filmmakers may tinker with small details, but there’s no way they can give this series the swift kick in the narrative ass it needs.

Actually, Johnson (“Loopers,” “Brick,”  “The Brothers Bloom”) delivers a flash of hope early in “Last Jedi” when the pompous General Hux (Domhnail Gleeson) delivers one of those vituperative “rebel swine” declamatory speeches, only to be phone pranked by rebel pilot Poe Dameron who cuts in on the imperial cruiser’s radio frequency.

It’s a refreshingly gonzo sequence, one that not only re-establishes Dameron as the new Han Solo but  acknowledges the cardboard villainy that has always been the hallmark of “Star Wars” baddies.

Alas, that moment passes, never to be repeated. Yeah, there are a couple of mildly amusing flashes still on tap.

“If they move, stun ’em” one of our heroes says of captives, a clear nod to “The Wild Bunch’s” “If they move, kill ’em.” And we get a throwaway glimpse of an imperial dreadnaught’s laundry room where all those fascist uniforms are being starched.

But for the most part “Last Jedi” takes itself very, very seriously. It needs a lot more finger-in-the-eye subversiveness.

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Oscar Isaacs (left)

“THE PROMISE” My rating: C+ 

134 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Sometimes the story behind a movie is more interesting than the movie itself.

So it is with “The Promise,” a pet project of the late Kirk Kerkorian (one one of the architects of modern Las Vegas and past owner of the M-G-M Studio), who devoted years and a chunk of his fortune to create a film about the Armenian genocide of 1915-’20.

Never heard of the Armenian genocide?  Join the club.  Giving ill-educated audiences a glimpse of this swept-under-the-rug apocalypse is “The Promise’s” very reason for being. (Kerkorian was the son of Armenian emigres to the U.S.)

Historians estimate that 1.5 million Armenians — members of a Christian minority within the Ottoman Empire — were systematically murdered during World War I.

To this day the Turkish government refuses to acknowledge that the slaughter — many see it as a sort of dry run for Hitler’s “final solution” — even  took place.

In fact, a well-financed disinformation campaign currently is underway to  dismiss the history presented in “The Promise.”  After several  preview screenings  earlier this year, the film’s IMDb page was flooded with more than 86,000 user reviews, with nearly two thirds of them negative. Apparently 86,000 persons showed up for a handful of preview screenings…not!

Clearly, “The Promise” is punching buttons.  But how is it as a movie?

Just  O.K.  This David Lean-ish effort (penned by Robin Swicord, an Oscar nominee for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”) offers a three-way romance set against the sweep of churning world events (see “Dr. Zhivago”). It’s been directed by Terry George, who a few years back gave us the equally earnest “Hotel Rwanda” about tribal genocide in Africa. Production values are generally good, and in some instances outstanding.

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Garret Hedlund, Oscar Isaac

Garrett Hedlund, Oscar Isaac

“MOJAVE” My rating: C

93 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Oscar Isaac is a pretty great actor, but not even he can find a way to make sense of “Mojave,” a mashup of behind-the-scenes Hollywood existentialism and stalker thriller.

The film was written and directed by William Monahan, who won an Oscar for his screenplay for Scorsese’s “The Departed.” Alas, “Mojave” has more in common with the Monahan-penned “The Gambler” from 2014.

There’s hardly a moment here that rings true…but then maybe that’s all part of Monahan’s view of the emptiness of life in Tinseltown’s fast lane. Or maybe not. It’s hard to care, really.

Garrett Hedlund is Thomas, a filmmaker of some renown. His success has bought him a spread in the Hollywood hills (which he is allowing to go to seed) and access to women and drugs. Has this made him happy?

Hah!

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Jessica Chastain, Oscar Issacs...courting the money

Jessica Chastain, Oscar Issacs…courting the money

“A MOST VIOLENT YEAR: My rating: B-

125 minutes | MPAA rating: R

As he demonstrated in his breakout debut film, 2011’s “Margin Call” (about the meltdown of a big Wall Street firm under the weight of billions in useless mortgages), writer/director J.C. Chandor is obsessed with capitalism — especially with the odds against being both a successful capitalist and an honest human being.

In “A Most Violent Year” he’s at it again, giving us the story of a business owner struggling to maintain his integrity in a business that seems to have little use for it.

The setting is New York City in 1981, a year that apparently was remarkable for the Big Apple’s high body county. Curiously, the film isn’t all that violent — at least not physically.

Oscar Isaac (who made such a strong first impression in the Coen’s “Inside Llewyn Davis”) plays Abel Morales, the immigrant operator of a heating oil distributorship.

As the film begins, Abel is going all in on a major purchase. He’s snapping up a riverside oil storage facility, and to do it he has to put up everything he owns and promise to deliver another huge payment in 30 days. If he can’t raise the cash, he loses everything.

That’s just one of  Abel’s headaches. His trucks are being regularly hijacked, his drivers roughed up and the fuel oil resold to his competitors.  The union boss wants him to start arming his crews.

On the home front, he and his young family have just moved into a sprawling, uber-modern home out on Long Island. Not only are the payments killer, but shorty after taking up residence Abel chases away a prowler and finds a loaded pistol abandoned in the bushes outside the front door.

Even more threatening, a government prosecutor (David Oyelowo, currently seen as Martin Luther King Jr. in “Selma”) has set his sights on Abel, hoping to make an example of him for the legal fudging that is part and parcel of the heating oil business. Abel is particularly incensed because he scrupulously follows “standard industry practices”…which is to say he cheats, but not nearly as much as his competition.

“I’ve spent my whole life trying not to be a gangster,” he protests.

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Viggo Mortensen, Oscar Isaac, Kristen Dunst

Viggo Mortensen, Oscar Isaac, Kristen Dunst

“THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY”  My rating: B- (Opens Oct. 31 at the Tivoli)

96 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

In a cinema world filled with Bourne-ish violence and spectacular chases, there’s something quietly satisfying to be found in the work of Patricia Highsmith.  Her novels — especially those centering on the vaguely sinister Tom Ripley — were about character and motivation, not overt violence.

“The Two Faces of January” — the directing debut of acclaimed screenwriter Hossein Amini (“The Wings of the Dove,” “Drive,” “47 Ronin”) — is a minor work but a solid one, a tale of corruption and escape set against the spectacular Greek countryside.

It’s 1962 and the American couple, Chester and Collette (Viggo Mortensen, Kristen Dunst) are enjoying the pleasures of Athens.  He’s a money manager, the much younger Collette is rather obviously a trophy wife.

They hook up with another American, the young Rydal (Oscar Isaac, late of the Coen’s “Inside Llewyn Davis”), an American “poet” who sells his services as a tour guide. And because he speaks fluent Greek and can conspire with local merchants and vendors, Rydal is usually able to double-charge his clients for a bit of extra profit.

 

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