Posts Tagged ‘Oscar Isaac’

Pyramids of Destruction

X-Men: Apocalypse

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Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Rose Byrne, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Olivia Munn, Josh Helman, Ben Hardy, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Lucas Till, Evan Peters

Director Bryan Singer’s latest film forms the conclusion of a prequel trilogy. X-Men Apocalypse is a pastiche of 80’s paranoia even though the main villain Apocalypse originates from Ancient Egypt and is set upon decimating the world of man and mutants circa 1983, having risen out of a gold pyramid in modern day Egypt and decides annihilation is in order.

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Reassembling much of the cast of X-Men: First Class, X-Men Apocalypse stars Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games Trilogy) as Raven/Mystique, James McAvoy (Victor Frankenstein) as Charles Xavier, Michael Fassbender (Macbeth) as Magneto, Nicholas Hoult as Hank McCoy/Beast and Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner as a young Jean Grey and Rose Byrne returns as Moira Mactaggert who first confronts the devastating power of Apocalypse in Cairo and alerts Charles Xavier and his band of mutants to the imminent danger.

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Despite some of the mutants not wanting to be drawn into another conflict, they soon all bandy together when they realize how dangerous Apocalypse is, in his unrelenting quest to destroy human civilization circa 1983 and along with that eighties world, the parallel community of the mutants.

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X-Men: Apocalypse is more mutants versus a more formidable mutant, than man vs mutant, although like always Magneto has several changes of conscience especially after seeing his young wife and daughter accidentally killed in a Polish forest. Soon Erik Lehnsherr aka Magneto unleashes all his anger and becomes the perfect ally for Apocalypse’s annihilating antics.

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Much of the action alternates between America, Poland and Egypt and whilst X-Men: Apocalypse does not have that some groovy retro feel as the seventies set X-Men: First Class, there are some distinct 1980’s signifiers including a collage of Reagan material, nuclear armament as well as stock images pointing to the last decade of the cold war, where mistrust defined global politics.

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Bryan Singer knows how to direct such a large ensemble cast even though audiences at times might get a sense of Mutant overload, but then again this is X-Men: Apocalypse and the more superhumans the better. X-Men: Apocalypse is definitely a case of the Unusual Suspects.

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Clearly the cast of this film had great fun making it and the visual effects are truly inspiring especially the Egyptian sequence when the Mutants take on Apocalypse with his band of malevolent mutants including Psylocke played by Olivia Munn and birdman Angel played by Ben Hardy.

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Audiences should also watch out for Tye Sheridan as a young Cyclops and Kodi Smit-McPhee as the turquoise teleporter Nightcrawler, who Mystique discovers in a cage fight in East Berlin.

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X-Men: Apocalypse is recommended viewing for those that enjoyed X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past, all three films now make up the prequel trilogy. Marvel is certainly milking a lucrative franchise for all its worth and audiences are lapping up the ever expanding mutant universe.

 

Reconciling the Myth

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Lupita Nyongo’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Max von Sydow, Andy Serkis, Gwendoline Christie, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels

Thematically set 30 years after The Return of the Jedi, director J. J. Abrams reconciles the myth of the original and iconic Star Wars Trilogy when he takes over as conceptualizer of the new Star Wars trilogy, given a touch task of remaining faithful to the original trilogy while introducing millennials to the original Star Wars iconography.

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In a genius casting move, Star Wars: The Force Awakens brings all the original cast members back from the first trilogy including Harrison Ford as Han Solo, the rarely seen Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia and the illusive Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker along with all the lovable companion characters including Chewbacca, and of course the droids C3PO and R2D2, which made up the original Star Wars. Even the Millennium Falcon is revived, which is enough to satisfy the original fans. Believe me, there are a lot of fans out there!

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The new cast includes Daisy Ridley as Rey, John Boyega as Finn, a former Stormtrooper turned Rebel. The Empire so prominent in the original series has been replaced by a more sinister totalitarian regime called The First Order which includes the evil General Hux, played by Domnhall Gleeson (Brooklyn) and the conflicted Kylo Ren brilliantly played by Adam Driver. Oscar Isaac (Drive) stars as Poe Dameron an expert Rebel X-Wing fighter pilot who has hidden a hologram into his droid BB8 about the whereabouts of the mythical Luke Skywalker, the last remaining Jedi Knight.

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As the continuous action moves from outer space to distant planets, the first of which Jukka resembles Tattoine, the desert planet in the original Star Wars, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is visually captivating, with a vast and imaginative array of droids, monsters, bounty hunters and sinister forces all beautifully orchestrated to give what audiences came to see: An adventure story set in a Galaxy Far Far Away to the memorable music by John Williams.

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Oscar winner Lupita Nyongo’o (12 years a Slave) plays Maz Kanata an E.T. like creature sympathetic to the Rebel cause. The chemistry between the diverse cast is amazing and adds to the magic of The Force Awakens, most notably the newcomers Daisy Ridley as a scavenger Rey, whose own propensities for becoming a Jedi open all sorts of questions and British actor John Boyega as Finn who immediately establishes a rapport with the infamous Han Solo as well as Poe Dameron whom he rescues from a gigantic looking Death Star.

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The production design and visual effects of Star Wars: The Force Awakens are spectacular and Oscar worthy. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is definitely for the fans of the original trilogy, the films directed by George Lucas which captured the imagination of a generation of boys and girls back in the late seventies and early eighties.

star_warsIf it’s any indication, I remember seeing The Empire Strikes Back while on holiday in Atlanta, Georgia in America back in 1980 when it first premiered and The Return of the Jedi in 1983 in the old Embassy cinemas in central Durban.

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Judging by the packed cinema and the international media hype surrounding Star Wars: The Force Awakens will do exceptionally well at the Box Office and this new version is recommended to fans of pure science fiction and to all those who grew up on the original series. It’s comforting to know that American director J.J. Abrams who reignited the Star Trek franchise, now in partnership with Lucas Films and parent company Disney, plans on making two more Star Wars films to complete this new re-energized trilogy and introduce Millennials to a whole new universe of Star Wars characters.

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens is highly recommended viewing, brilliantly orchestrated by reconciling and paying tribute to the original mythical trilogy while seamlessly blending in an entire new batch of characters. May the Force be with us at least until 2019.

An Honourable Man

A Most Violent Year

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Director: J. C. Chandor

Cast: Jessica Chastain, Oscar Isaac, Albert Brooks, Alessandro Nivola, Elizabeth Marvel, David Oyelowo, Christopher Abbott, Ben Rosenfeld, Elyes Gabel

Margin Call director J. C. Chandor directs Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) and Golden Globe nominee Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis) in the atmospheric thriller A Most Violent Year about the corruption and double dealings in the trucking industry circa New York City 1981.

Chastain and Isaac play a hard core 80’s couple, Abel and Anna Morales who have mysteriously made a substantial sum of money through their transport business Standard Oil which Anna’s father helped set up. Abel is trying desperately to remain an honourable man in his business dealings despite the fact that his trucks seem to be constantly being hijacked on the New York freeways. At first Abel suspects a rival trucking billionaire who has links to the Mafia, Peter Forente beautifully played with a lithe sinister style by Alessandro Nivola (Coco Avant Chanel).

The title of the film refers to the statistics that 1981 was New York’s most violent year in the city’s history, with crime, corruption, hijacking as well as shootings and murders. Despite this, the film itself is not as violent as one would assume, but director J. C. Chandor maintains the pace and at times even leaves visual signifier that the film alludes to violence as opposed to showing actual violence.

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This is especially evident in the scene when the Morales, driving on the way back from a late night dinner hit a deer and Anna, wonderfully played with a hardness by Chastain promptly gets out the car and shoots the animal dead, when her husband hesitates.

Oscar Isaac also reunites with Drive co-star Albert Brooks who plays the couples shady attorney Andrew Walsh. With a running time of 125 minutes, the second half of A Most Violent Year could have picked up the pace, the 1980’s crime thriller is held together tightly by the performances of Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain, especially the latter who is superb as the hard edged wife who continually persuades her husband to fight violence with violence. Naturally this eventually occurs when Julian, an immigrant truck driver, played by Elyes Gabel goes missing and also another truck belonging to Standard Oil is stolen.

Audiences that like a sophisticated thriller with a more contextual character study will enjoy A Most Violent Year, but those expecting an action film should give it a miss.

The cast also includes David Oyelowo (The Paper Boy and Jack Reacher) as assistant DA Lawrence who is constantly threatening the Morales livelihood. A Most Violent Year is a fascinating film, layered with each textured shot  paying homage to film noir aimed at viewers that enjoy a more intricate narrative despite its nefarious title.

Scorpion and the Frog

Drive

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Nicholas Winding Refn’s noir cinematic version of the James Sallis novel Drive is an intoxicatingly brutal thrill ride, with superb stunts, minimal dialogue and hectic violence. Machismo has always been linked with knifes, guns and naturally cars symbolizing the American culture of survival, greed and the right to bear arms.

Drive is set in urban Los Angeles and follows the bizarre story of Driver played with a cool lethal charm by Ryan Gosling (The Ides of March, Blue Valentine) who befriends a next door neighbour sultry diner waitress Irina played by Carey Mulligan (An Education). Driver becomes the protector of Irina and her young son Benicio while the father is away in prison. Upon the father’s return, Standard played by Oscar Isaac (W/E) persuades Driver to help him out with one last heist of a pawn shop in the San Fernando Valley in a bid to pay off some protection money. The heist goes horribly wrong and much blood is shed and in a series of horrifically violent scenes, Driver goes to any lengths to protect the girl from the vicious mob boss Mr Rose played with an elegant urbanity by Albert Brooks.

Nicholas Winding Refn scooped the Best Director prize at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and upon a second viewing of Drive it is easy to see why. Each shot is gorgeously framed, from the car chases to the aerials shots of Los Angeles at night. As the first half of the film moves from a romance and some character building the second half of Drive is thrilling to watch with some unbelievable sequences especially the nefarious nightclub sequence whereby man’s capacity for violence is framed against beautiful shots of voluptuous strippers and Nino’s restaurant sequence whereby Driver donning the mask from his former stunt car driving days eerily takes a glimpse inside the pizzeria before preparing for the kill.

In the final sequence of the film, Driver in his blood spattered scorpion jacket, framed by a city skyline tells Mr Rose of the parable of the Scorpion and the Frog. Drive is pure 21st century film noir with just the skilful balance of violence, suspense and drama, making it one of the most engaging films about man’s obsession with cars and his primal need for violence and survival. Riveting and memorable, Drive also stars Ron Perlman, Christina Hendricks and Bryan Cranston as Driver’s boss Shannon.

Romance of the Century

W./E.

Ravishingly told!

Ravishingly told!

Madonna’s directorial debut focuses on the stylish romance and subsequent marriage of King Edward VIII to swanky American divorcee Wallis Simpson in 1936 in the period drama W/E sparking the abdication of the King in one of the most scandalous romances of the 20th century. W/E also has a concurrent narrative of a Park Avenue socialite Wally Winthrop who after leaving her job at Sotheby’s Auction House in New York falls into a loveless and cruel marriage with a heavy-drinking and bitter psychiatrist played by Richard Coyle. In both instances Wallis Simpson, played by Andrea Riseborough and the fictional character of New Yorker Wally played by Australian actress Abbie Cornish suffer abuse by their violent  first husbands, Madonna attempts to highlight more the plight of privileged woman physically abused by powerful men.

Not that W/E is just about gender violence, but more about the romance and sacrifice that both King Edward VIII, known as David, played by James D’Arcy and Wallis Simpson enjoyed and endured as their love carried them through the abdication crisis, media scrutiny and lavish exile in France. Not to mention that both Edward and Wallis, who become the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were vilified in the American and British press in the years leading up to the outbreak of World War II for apparently being Nazi sympathizers following a prolific meeting with Hitler in 1937.

Naturally W/E should be seen as a lesser companion piece to the Oscar winning Tom Hooper film The King’s Speech focusing on King George VI also know as Bertie who had to cope with the abdication of his older more articulate brother Edward along with Britain’s eventual entry into World War II in September 1939. The last five years of the 1930’s was an extremely unstable period both politically and socially with many geopolitical changes  occurring rapidly with the military expansion of Nazi Germany in Europe and the impending threat of World War. During the war years the exiled Duke and Duchess of Windsor lived in the Bahamas where he was Govenor according to the fascinating life of Wallis Simpson – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wallis_Simpson

Benzedrine in the Champagne

Through historical footage, Madonna shows us not only the historical aspects of this period, but of the lavish and all together captivating love affair which occurred between Edward, the then Prince of Wales and the forthright American from Baltimore Wallis Simpson, as the couple become the darlings of the international Mediterranean party scene from Cannes to Portofino. The Prince of Wales offered gorgeous gifts of custom made Cartier crosses to his love, Wallis Simpson as they frolicked in the surf in the French Riviera. The dashing and charming Edward, who felt nothing of popping Benzedrine into guests Champagne glasses at a Belgravia midnight screening and soon got the party started  with Wallis Simpson, doing a particularly zany thirties jive with pearls flying and music blasting. In this fabulous party scene that W/E depicts Wallis and Edward as the epitome of celebrity chic, the opulent couple worshiped by the established international elite made up of wealthy Americans and Britons who made the French Riviera their fashionable playground.

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Whilst the second narrative of Wally befriending a Russian immigrant security guard Evgeni played by Oscar Isaac at the 1998 Sotheby’s  Auction of the gorgeous possessions of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor in New York that is lovingly fleshed out in the second part of W/E, it is really also just as significant since Wally eventually travels to Paris to fulfil her obsession with Wallis Simpson by requesting to read the Duchess’s private letters held by Mohamed Al Fayed at the Duke and Duchess’s former Parisian chateau near the Bois du Bologne,  father of Dodi who was killed along with Diana, the Princess of Wales in the fatal 1997 car crash in Paris a year before that makes this quest on Wally’s part both liberating and poignant.

Madonna’s real talent lies in her music but her hand as a director of such an interesting subject as the love affair between Wallis and King Edward should not be discounted as she focuses more on their lavish affair which become internationally known as the Romance of the Century.

From a feminist perspective, Madonna’s lavish film W/E is more about style than substance with engaging shots of New York and Paris, yet even the relevant character sketching scenes portray both the affluent Wally in 1998 and the stylish Wallace in 1936 as emblematic of how woman throughout the centuries no matter how gorgeously attired they are, can also become victims of physical violence and social scorn. The film is adequately assisted by a heart rendering musical score by Abel Korzeniowski and stylish costumes by Arianne Phillips and will appeal to all lovers of stylish period dramas.

*

Amid Celestial Harmony

Agora

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Alejandro Amenabar’s film Agora about the ancient woman astrologer and Neo-Platonist Philosopher is an absorbing tale of religious strife in Alexandria, Egypt in the declining decades of the Roman Empire. Caught between the rise of Christianity and the intolerance of the Christians for the Jews and vice versa, the Roman pagans especially the nobility who are still laying offerings to pagan Gods soon realize the extent to which Christianity has swept the Roman empire by the end of the 4th Century A.D.

Hypatia is more concerned about the alignment of the planets and encourages logical mathematical inquiry, philosophizing over the causes of gravity, the earth’s rotational spin and an heliocentric model of the solar system, placing the sun at the universe’s centre. Her theories on relativity, mathematics and astrology were way ahead of her time and all the knowledge of the ancient world, stored at the gorgeous library of Alexandria is soon sacked by the marauding Christians, Hypatia realizes that she is in a world, which is rapidly changing its social structure in the waning years of the Roman Empire.

Her once proud father Theon, a Roman nobleman, is played with suitable panache and misguided wisdom by Michael Lonsdale, seldom seen in many features any more. Lonsdale become famous to international audiences as the arch villain Hugo Drax in the James Bond film Moonraker. He was later seen in a cameo role as the French diplomat in The Remains of the Day.

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Academy award winner for The Constant Gardener,  Rachel Weisz embraces the complex role of Hypatia and relishes in the range of emotional depth and intellectual strength the character is given, especially in relation to her former slave, Davus a wonderful performance by Max Minghella, son of the late film director, Anthony Minghella, acclaimed for The English Patient and also to Orestes a Roman prefecture played by Oscar Isaac, who is hopelessly in love with her since the student days when Hypatia was  head teacher of philosophy before Alexandria was plagued by religious strife.

Agora is a superb historical epic detailing a little known time between the fall of the Roman Empire and those tumultuous days when religious fervour swept and changed the ancient world, eventually plunging the entire ancient and once sophisticated societies of Egypt, Greece and Italy into the Dark Ages.

The ending of Agora is symptomatic of the transitional times from crumbling Empire to a  new world order and while Hypatia stands firm in her beliefs as a philosopher and astronomer, she was sacrificed as a victim of her rapidly changing city, leaving her discoveries to be lost forever.

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Alejandro Amenebar the director of The Others and the Oscar winning The Sea Inside uses his flare to bring the texture and brutality of the 4th century Alexandria to life especially in contrast to the crumbling world of philosophical endeavour in favour of religious supremacy and intolerance. The sacking of the Library at Alexandria as scrolls burn and all the ancient world’s discoveries vanish is effective and is always a lesson against those who prefer ignorance to critical research. In the case of Hypatia her knowledge was her power and her greatest liability in a world ruled by megalomaniac men blinded by faith and not vision.

Muscular Remake of Robin Longstride….

Robin Hood

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Ridley Scott’s Epic and muscular retelling of Robin Hood is better than expected. With Scott’s usual visual panache, 12th century England gets a grand and lush veneer along with a muscular and slightly jocular Robin Hood, played by Russell Crowe who teams up with an equally feisty Lady Marion, played with all the haughtiness of a woman trapped by her grand situation by Oscar winner Cate Blanchett.

The action is swift, gritty and visually compelling without dwelling on the gore but hinting at the brutality of the times. Robin Hood, which surprisingly opened the 2010 Cannes Film Festival and is devoutly English in its version of the pending invasion by King Philip of the brittle and precarious English realm of King John in 1199.

Supported by a wonderful cast including Mark Strong as yet another evil villian in the role of the allegiance shifting Godfrey, Eileen Atkins as the delicate but influential Eleanor of Aquitaine played by Eileen Atkins and Max von Sydow as Sir Walter Loxley, Robin Hood is Ridley Scott back in the style of Gladiator with similar themes of an empire on the precipice of change, a slightly demented ruler and an anti-hero who leads the battle and starts a myth. Robin Hood also known as Robin Longstride is a brawny and hairy Russell Crowe who is forced to delve into the idealism of his youth where his father prophesied the Magna Carta and the saying Lambs become Lions….

Scott’s trademark elements of water and shadow are skilfully used to enhance a much larger and bolder canvas of a Kingdom ravaged by a ten year crusade to the Holy Land, rebellious noblemen and coffers which are far from full. The ever-menacing relationship with France is tested by the betrayals and ambitions of Godfrey and King Philip along with his niece Queen Isabella who is married to King John, younger brother to King Richard the Lionheart, a brief but great turn by Danny Huston brother of Angelica Huston.

Crowe and Blanchett make a fine team, both experienced actors with the right amount of gravity to pull off these mythic roles with depth and sensitivity without resorting to cliche. Had these roles been cast to lesser known stars the force of the film would have been lost. Robin Hood is an epic Historical tale which hints at the popular story of Robin Hood and his merry men, Friar Tuck and his beekeeping and the Sheriff of Nottingham, gorgeously underplayed by Matthew Macfadyen of Pride and Prejudice fame. William Hurt also makes an appearance as William Marshall to add weight to the already Oscar-laden cast. This film version is certainly not flimsy, but muscular, brawny, dark and partly comical without dwelling too much on the political intrigue, the costumes or the bloodletting of medieval England.

Robin Hood‘s arrow has the perfect shot and Ridley Scott’s film is superb, engaging and visually rewarding more as an historical epic than a special-effects laden blockbuster and will surely be noticed when awards season comes round next year. What would one expect from such an experienced film maker who has brought audiences such classics as Blade Runner, Thelma and Louise and the Oscar Winning Gladiator, which made Russell Crowe an international star.

With a sword he conquored Rome…

As for the French, Robin Hood did open at Festival du Cannes, so perhaps all that cross-channel animosity has slightly cooled! Watch Robin Longstride and his rise to iconic anti-hero and savior of the outcasts and the free…

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