Archive for Oscar Isaac

Star Wars – The Force Awakens: A Modern Version of What Fans Have Always Loved

Posted in 8, Action, New Releases, Ratings, Reviews, Sci Fi/ Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 25, 2015 by mducoing

SWTFA-IMDBSet to break every box office record that has ever existed in Hollywood, J.J. Abrams’ contribution to the Star Wars universe appears to be a gamble that has paid off in spades. An often stunning, fun, and deeply exhilarating film, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is likely as good as it gets in Star Wars, delivering much of the power of the original in a modern, yet somehow nostalgic, incarnation.

Premise: Thirty years after the defeat of the Empire, The First Order attempts to rule the galaxy. With the help of the Resistance, only a reluctant and unexpected group of heroes can stop them. Result: The Star Wars film we have been looking for.

Harnessing the power fanboys everywhere (their hopes, their fears, their terrifyingly obsessive attention to detail), Abrams has created a Star Wars film that is as close to the original in look, feel and result as the original. It is quirky and yet sophisticated, combining action and comedy with the grandeur of a galactic storyline much as the originals did.

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Bang, Marry, Kill: J.J. Abrams

Posted in Action, Action, Bang Marry Kill, Comedy, Comedy, Sci Fi/ Fantasy, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 14, 2015 by notlaz

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“Buy your tickets for Star Wars Episode 7 yet?”

“Nah, the prequels sucked, Laz.”

“That was different, man. J.J. Abrams is directing this one, not George Lucas. It’ll be good!”

“You sure? What was his last movie?” Continue reading

Ex Machina: Beautiful, Staggering and Chilling to Watch

Posted in 9, Horror, New Releases, Ratings, Reviews, Sci Fi/ Fantasy, Thriller with tags , , , , on May 17, 2015 by mducoing

Ex Machina - IMDBWhile the concept of AI is by no means new in modern filmmaking (A.I., iRobot, Chappie, Her to name a few) writer/director (Alex Garland) has delivered a tale that has a powerful new perspective on the notion of Artificial Intelligence. Scene after scene, moment after moment is a slow-burn thrill for audiences with a very smart, hyper-cynical perspective on humanity and the things that make us the Intelligent Being we believe we are.

Premise: A young programmer has been selected to help test a breakthrough artificial intelligence artificial intelligence that is even more than he suspects. Result: An immediate classic, this film will torment its viewers and have them coming back for more.

While it is certainly an understatement to say that Ex Machina is a pleasant surprise, it may be the only thing pleasant about it. The storyline, performances and visuals are disruptive, unsettling threads in a tapestry of genuine discomforting thrill. It is survivable electrocution by film: the energy will not destroy us but will create a wave of genuine terror, disquiet and unexplained pleasure from which we cannot escape.

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Inside Llewyn Davis: A Pretty Good Film.

Posted in 7, Comedy, Drama, Ratings, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 3, 2014 by mducoing

Inside Llewyn DavisSometimes dreams do not come true. Powerhouse writer/director duo Ethan  and Joel Coen deliver an understated, but entertaining story of a man on the brink of failure.

Premise: A musician struggles to find his place in the industry after the death of his partner. Result: A strong story that only scratches the surface of what it could have been.

Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is a musician second and an a$$hole first.  This may be what makes his character so darn interesting; he is at best an antihero, yet we root for him in his doomed journey to solo stardom after the death of his longtime partner from an apparent suicide.

The specter of this tragedy hangs over Davis and the film like a polyester afghan, suffocating him and his future to agonizing degree.  Everywhere he is reminded that he is the living half of a musical duo that should have stayed duo, even as the other member chose to take his own life than continue what they had already.

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The Bourne Legacy: An Exhilarating Film That Keeps the Thrill Ride Going

Posted in 8, Action, Ratings, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , on August 21, 2012 by mducoing

While fans have expressed fears that continuing the much lauded Bourne Series, especially without Jason Bourne himself (Matt Damon) was quite the risk.  However, under the strict direction of Director Tony Gilroy (Duplicity, Michael Clayton), the gamble certainly paid off, as The Bourne Legacy is an entertaining thrill ride that certainly stand on its own within the series.

Premise: The next Robert Ludlum novel iteration of the Bourne Universe focuses on a new hero, Aaron Cross, who is directly impacted by the events of the previous three films. Result: A thrilling film that successfully carries the torch from the previous films.

The Bourne Legacy tracks the final moments of the preceding Bourne Supremacy film, referencing the concluding scenes but now through the lens of Retired Col. Eric Byer, USAF (Edward Norton) and his team [Dita Mandy (Donna Murphy) and Zev Vendel (Corey Stoll)] who are forced to witness the impact of those events.  Byer, a diligent and ruthless leader, eventually determines that the elimination of the program, and the destruction of all “outcome” agents, is required to prevent damage to other intelligence projects.

The events play quickly and the pacing that Gilroy delivers is thrilling, keeping audiences in a state of perpetual anxiety.  As Byer’s exacts his plan, ultimately what he deems as the necessary “cleanup” required for proper National Security, he begins assassinating the remaining outcome agents, including Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner).  While on assignment in Alaska, Cross meets Outcome #3 (Oscar Isaac) and their conversations begin to reveal some more rogue motives that seem to be on Cross’ mind.  But just as Cross is leaving the remote Cabin, the military decide to eliminate both agents.  Gilroy gives us some exciting action scenes as Cross escapes the drone attack using some clever and intriguing maneuvers, including one involving an unfriendly wolf.

But the agents are not the only intended targets of Byer’s plan: as the program requires science to inform and supply the results, the science team directly involved with the pharmacological support is also swiftly liquidated, all but Dr. Marat Shearing (Rachel Weisz), a brilliant but somewhat naïve creature that manages to escape the purge.  And just as it seems round two of the assault and cover-up will finally achieve the intended results, Cross, having returned from his journey and now focused on a new plan, manages to turn up just in time to save the day.

The film itself is a delivery mechanism for stunning action sequences and an interesting journey into the science of the human genome, the actual ability of our government to develop super-human agents to carry out covert ops. Through rapid but controlled pacing, Gilroy is able to keep the flow of the film on track and audience attention in full arrest.

There is not only a continuous evolution of an actual story worth following, the method for crafting each scene is complex but never confusing, as well as artful and thoroughly exhilarating.  And Gilroy manages to keep all action and plot complimentary, developing action scenes that actually, and essentially, develop the plot, rather than “booms” and “bangs” for their own sake.

The acting in the film also hits its intended mark effortlessly.  Renner is fantastic as the Matt Damon stand-in, proving that although this series started with Jason Bourne, Cross is no understudy.  He is completely believable as a remarkable outcome agent complete with all the skills of Bourne, yet he is also capable of emotion and intimacy that creates a powerful and convincing depth of character that truly delivers a more interesting performance.

Weisz is also powerful and convincing, delivering, yet again, a range that is uncommon among actors today. She manages to be both vulnerable and powerful, and she moves through each shade of character with aplomb.  Norton, for his part, is quite convincing as the cool, calculated director, delivering a posture of chilling efficiency in his almost cruel management style.

Naturally, the film does a few subtle flaws that detract marginally from the overall experience. While the pacing of the film was successful in keeping audience attention,  there were definite moments where the film seemed to drag and events felt endless, ultimately giving a sense that a heavier hand in editing may have been in order.  Additionally, while the resolution may have been meant to provide an opening for future development,  there was a general anti-climactic sense that rather than end with a  bang, it largely petered out into oblivion.

Nevertheless, overall, the film continues the momentum of the previous trilogy and manages to establish a new series that will likely keep viewers thrilled and intrigued.  The story is strong, well-constructed and delivered with the type of efficient intrigue and heart-pounding action that have come to be synonymous with the Bourne films.  Or as testament to the future of the franchise, should we now say, the “Legacy” films.

Rating: 8 – An expensive red wine and juicy steak

 

Drive: A Uniquely Astonishing and Disturbing Film

Posted in 9, Action, Reviews, Thriller with tags , , , , , , , on September 23, 2011 by mducoing

Director Nicolas Winding Refn (Valhala Rising) has managed to deliver one of the most unique films of this year, if not the decade.  Through the bizarre, but brilliant use of slow motion, a gritty, ethereal cinematography, and an odd, but brilliant score, he succeeds in placing audiences in a strange crossroads of worlds, making the experience from moment one impressive, seductive, and downright addictive.

Premise: A stunt driver/ criminal wheelman tries to right wrongs after a heist gone wrong. Result: A brilliant, action thriller that will leave audiences stunned by both its beauty and its brutality.

The style in which this film is shot is perhaps its most notable feature, which says much considering that most other aspects are remarkable.  Winding Refn manages to create a strange universe that will make audiences feel like they have stumbled into some coarse, shadowy version of a 1980s film, while still preserving its modern appeal.

This contradiction on screen is supported by the use of slow motion to capture the passion of certain key moments to backdrops of a supremely distinctive score that can’t help but place observers into a time warp. This strange mixture of nostalgia and modernity easily seduces audiences, making them feel as if they are in a dream somehow, that what they are watching is some new magical experience.

From moment one, this film is equal parts non-stop action thriller and extraordinary experiment in visual, sensory cinema.  We are introduced to our protagonist, the Driver in the film (Ryan Gosling) who quickly establishes his line of work: stunt driver/getaway driver extraordinaire.  He rules his car with an artist’s precision, evading his pursuers like water through a drain. He will captivate audiences by his cool, confident, controlled performance in the first scene of this film, and by then, like a perilous drop down a shadowy well, there is no turning back or preparing for what looms ahead.

We begin to learn about this man, while really knowing nothing.  He is like an odd autistic, everything rests not on what he does but doesn’t say; oddly, this manner somehow instantly connects him to everything and everyone, including his neighbor, Irene (Carey Mulligan).  There is instant chemistry and soon even this mysterious loner cannot resist.  There is beauty in the manner in which the two fall in love on screen as well the dream that seems to be blooming for him.  For a few moments, audiences may believe this is a simple love story.

Yet, while love delicately blooms between these two, we find that his employer (in various occupations it appears), Shannon (Bryan Cranston), has secured a deal with a local mob boss, Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks), for money to launch him as a race car driver. While this seems like it might only compliment this fated romance, life has other plans. Suddenly, like the final strike to some piñata of misery, tragedy comes crashing down, piece by piece.  Irene’s husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac), returns from prison, penitent, but ultimately unable to rid himself of his past. Our Driver, in an effort to protect his love and her son, agrees to help him pay off his debt, with one last job. 

The rest of the film is the tragic darkness of humanity where the first half, despite its flaws, was its light.  A complex caper unravels before audience eyes, as horror and unstoppable chaos, take hold on screen. The film becomes twisted, gruesome, in its irreverence and complete lack of respect for human life. Yet the shock and gore here somehow transcends the horror; it is not gratuitous: it is graphic but somehow reasonable as a poignant juxtaposition to the splendid, subtle calm and tranquility of the film. 

As desperation grows and anarchy prevails, our protagonist’s transformation is perhaps the most captivating development. His evolution is awe-inspiring, terrifying, and shocking in every way.   

As the film takes its final twists and turns, audiences may wonder just how much coincidence they will be expected to accept; however, the nature of the film allows for complete submission to on-screen events: observers will sit mesmerized by whatever they are given.  Fortunately, the resolution of the film is satisfying considering that by that point in the film, audiences will likely no longer be holding onto any expectations. But in its darkness, there is a sense that any other outcome would have cheapened the story.

Ryan Gosling delivers a performance that finally displays his true talent as an actor.  In this film, he manages to maintain a cool confidence under an equally composed mystery.  Comparatively, Gosling has potentially fewer lines than the rest of the cast, yet it is his non-verbal cues, his glances, his control over pausing, his eyes, his stance… everything works for him in this film creating an eerie but alluring sense that his character, as invisible as he may try to be, is uniquely notable.  He harnesses the calm of the great actors like Dean, Redford, Newman while managing to unleash sudden bursts of emotion with such ferocity as to approximate of DeNiro in Taxi Driver or Bale in American Psycho.  However, whatever the comparisons might be, there is no debate that his performance is his own and memorable as it is shocking.

Carey Mulligan, on her end, plays a person we can actually relate to on a human level.  She is confused by love but confounded by the tragedies she faces as she struggles to support herself and her child.  Every man she touches seems to turn to disaster and we can feel it, through Mulligan’s nuanced performance, in every inch of her face, in every streaming tear.

Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman, as the villains, are in some ways different sides of the same coin.  Perlman plays the more goonish of the two, and does this rather masterfully, creating a man we would rather not see in a dark alley or at Church (although it might be said that this is his professional forte).  Brooks, on the other hand, is a genuine surprise.  While his signature manner still scream comedian, his performance is far from funny.  He manages to deliver a terrifyingly cruel monster, a genuine savage that manages to place the whole film into perspective: evil lives everywhere, no matter how unlikely.

Bryan Cranston and Oscar Isaac are both genuine in their roles and under other circumstances would have shown brightly.  But here, both characters are relegated to the background, playing supporting roles to the true drama on stage.  To this extreme, Christina Hendricks is non-existent, making a splash mostly for her trashy, clash-y outfit and her, um, sendoff, but hardly her talent (through no fault of her own).

Drive means many things, and hardly anything about cars.  Surely, cars are a relevant component to not only the film, but the character himself -his mastery of cars will give you goose bumps- but it is much more than that. This film is about those things unseen that drive us, that motivate us deep within to do good and evil…it is a command to move on, keep running, keep going someplace, any place to escape what you have become, what you are.  And this film captures this sentiment beautifully, managing this tranquil chaos of life through a stunning tale that more than shouldn’t, won’t be forgotten.

Rating: 9 – An expensive red wine and juicy steak that someone else is paying for and where you don’t have to put out

Sucker Punch: A Beautiful, Exhilarating, Action-Packed Film About Far More Than It Lets On!

Posted in 8, Action, Reviews, Sci Fi/ Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 28, 2011 by mducoing

Director Zack Snyder (Watchmen, 300) has once again created a visually stunning film that instantly captures the audience’s attention, keeping a firm hold throughout.  While some contemporary films of this type are really just non-subtle delivery mechanisms for pointless death and destruction, Snyder -with his masterful use of mesmerizing imagery, powerful action sequences and an interesting, emotional story- allows Sucker Punch to exceed all expectations.

Premise: To cope with the reality of being institutionalized by her abusive stepfather, a young girl mentally retreats to an alternate reality to plan her escape. Result: A thrilling and visually stunning frame story that presents a complex tragedy through the lens of empowerment.

The opening sequence of Sucker Punch introduces the audience to the tragic nature of the film: here, Baby Doll (played by Emily Browning) and her sister discover that their mother has died.  Shortly after, their stepfather realizes that the two daughters have received the full inheritance and so he murders the younger sister, frames Baby Doll and has her committed.  It is not the story itself that is captivating, but, (foreshadowing the highly innovative and experimental nature of this film) the way it is told.  Rather than simply communicating through dialogue, Snyder constructs a brilliant montage set to music that captures both the true essence of the tragedy and the complete attention and sentiment of the audience. It is a passionate display that stimulates the observer fully and provides Snyder the capital to continue his originality.

Baby Doll is then placed in the care of the Institution and its caretakers, Blue Jones (aka Mr, Pleasant) and Dr. Vera Gorski. Jones (Oscar Isaac) , the head orderly, appears to run the facility somewhat behind the scenes like a corrupt prison where he is God. We are informed that Jones has made a deal with Baby doll’s step-father, to have her lobotomized. Gorski (Carla Gugino), for her end, is the head psychiatrist who is working with the apparently all female population through a mysterious new treatment that requires them to act out their affliction as a matter of therapy in a place called “The Theater.” While she is certainly not involved in Jones’ corruption, she is tacitly complicit by non-action, a point essential to the film’s resolution.

Snyder brilliantly crafts the detail of the mental facility as a place of evil, rank and filthy, deteriorating before our very eyes.  To heighten Baby Doll’s plight, the procedure will be performed in five days, when the doctor who can perform it will return.  The injustice is palpable and frustration drips from the screen setting off a blaze of outrage in an audience witnessing an extreme horror.

Here begins the second frame in this story (a frame story is a story within a story) where as part of some apparent coping mechanism, Baby Doll’s nauseating world within the asylum is exchanged for a more upscale, but equally oppressive environment.  This secondary world is no doubt the result of the therapy she undergoes with Dr. Gorski as she performs in the theater (although it is never said.)  Instead, we find Baby Doll in a new world, that of some Burlesque brothel where beautiful young girls are forced to dance (at least!) for rich and powerful clients and kept at the mercy of the abusive “Blue,” who has now transformed into a Boardwalk King Pin, completely with eye-shadow and bad moustache. 

It is in this world where Baby Doll makes two important discoveries: she meets The Wise Man (Scott Glenn) who guides her to her escape informing her that to flee, she must have five objects: a map, a lighter, a knife, a key and the fifth mystery object that will be revealed to her when she needs it.  This is also our third frame, where Baby Doll’s world now takes on a new setting, that of an Ancient Asian fortress where she must rise up and destroy three frightening Samurai machines.  Executed fantastically and with remarkable visual mastery he first employed in 300, Snyder is able to demonstrate mental anguish and recovery as forms of physical violence played out in stunning scenes; each vanquished foe is a physical manifestation of Baby Doll’s internal struggle to rise from her torment.

She also meets her team of accomplices: Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), and Amber (Jamie Chung) all of whom deliver spot-on performances as both fearless diva warriors and frightened, vulnerable young girls.  We are also introduced to an additional storyline, that of Sweet Pea and Rocket, sisters, who wish to return home to their parents and make amends for time lost. Additionally, in this second frame, Baby Doll realizes that she possess an uncanny ability to dance that so mesmerizes her audience with raw power that her team can steal the objects from their owners as the men remain frozen in siren song. 

Each mission, however, introduces the third frame, which evolves each time to reveal an impossible mission before them: the destruction of a base filled with reanimated Nazi Zombies to retrieve the map; the stormed Castle of a monstrous Dragon guarded by merciless Orcs to retrieve fire (the lighter), and the destruction of a robot-army guarded bomb as it reaches a city.  In each case the vanquished are non-human, allowing the destruction of so many to symbolize the ultimate “non-violence” of their mission.  All this is set to the backdrop of the ominous “High Roller” (Jon Hamm) who is coming for Baby Doll, maintaining the sense of life-threatening urgency.

A misstep brings chaos on the girls and the wrath of Blue.  Just as all seems lost, Baby Doll is confronted by her greatest challenge, and the true nature of the tragedy unfolds.  The end of this film is presented with emotional sophistication; a twist allows us to witness the intended purpose of the story, a notion far beyond our initial inclinations.  We find that the concept of perfect Justice, that sought out by Baby Doll at the behest of the Wise Man, is not always what we believe it to be, but when it is finally revealed, it is more powerful than we could have imagined.   Not everyone will be satisfied with the final moments and a certain faith, suspension of disbelief, is required on an emotional level.  Nevertheless, the film is about telling a story that once accepted, once its true premise understood, makes perfect sense.

While there are some clear rough edges in this film, Sucker Punch will no doubt set a clear standard for how films can tell a simple story, one about tragedy and emotion, and deliver it in visually stunning metaphors that make the experience entirely new and intrinsically magnificent.  This film transcends most categorization as it asks the audience to empathize with a storyline that otherwise would be completely external – while we are not all the victims of specific terror Baby Doll faces, we all have demons that only we have the courage to face and the power to overcome. 

Rating: 8 – An expensive red wine and juicy steak

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