Tag Archives: Oscar Isaac

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) Movie Review by John Walsh

THE LAST JEDI

Director: Rian Johnson
Writers: Rian Johnson, George Lucas (based on characters created by)
Stars: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson

Well it has to be said, its been two extremely quick years following the release of ‘The Force Awakens’ and now Rian Johnson’s take on the Star Wars saga is out in theatres. It would be fair to say that not everyone is a overly enamoured with his vision. There has been a very vocal minority of Star Wars fandom that have taken to aggressively bashing it; even going as far as creating bots to negatively impact the Rotten Tomatoes viewer score.

This doesn’t mean that every detractor of the film is doing this or is wrong to be airing their grievances. They aren’t. Films are a highly subjective matter at the best of times. Now, combine that with a much beloved franchise and characters that have been a part of pop culture for nigh on 40 years and you’ve got yourself a recipe for some heated disagreements.

But enough of that hysteria. What did I make of it all? Well, if you’ve been listening to our podcasts then we did actually do a review last week but laying out your thoughts mere hours after leaving the cinema can make for tricky business. Things can be missed. Hence why I’m doing a written version after another viewing in an attempt to do a more ‘in depth’ review.

First of all, I’ve been a Star Wars fan for as long as I can remember. I recall playing with a Sand People figure when I was about four or five years of age and being absolutely fascinated with that galaxy far, far away. My credentials in that department are undeniable, and as a complete nobody, I can’t be accused of being a Disney shill. I absolutely loved this film. It’s not good enough to trouble the original three but it’s a damn good film and I’m genuinely perplexed at the vitriol coming from some quarters.

It begs the question. Just what were people expecting? A three and half hour long film that answered every single theory just as they’d painstakingly thought out?

Rian Johnson has a reputation for going dark, for his excellent writing ability and for just being a great director period. He’s also been a Star Wars fan from the age of four. What better credentials could you ask for? And what he’s given us is a fabulously entertaining film, that develops the newer characters well, offers a satisfying progression for the older characters, but more importantly expands and shakes up a mythology and galaxy that quite frankly had become static and in danger of repeating itself ad infinitum.

He tied up the two major loose ends JJ left from ‘The Force Awakens’ and did it well. Was it exactly what I wanted? Nope. Did I enjoy the direction he took? Yup. Rey’s parents? Yeah, they were unimportant nobodies. She wasn’t a Skywalker but instead a naturally gifted random. Fair enough. Snoke? He wasn’t Darth Plagueis. He was just some bushy eyed, deformed looking weirdo with a frankly incredible connection to the force, that had a fetish for gold and was cut down in spectacular fashion.

Luke Skywalker is by far my favourite Star Wars character. His arc seems to be causing the biggest amount of anguish amongst the films detractors. Again, Rian Johnson did not go down the path I personally would have liked to have seen come to fruition. He didn’t cut down the Knights of Ren in an epic lightsaber battle, didn’t slap down Kylo and he didn’t even leave that bloody island. But man, did I enjoy Luke in this film. The way he takes his nephew to school at the end, playing on his clear penchant for impulsiveness was a joy to behold.

The sight of him walking out to face the might of the First Order was a standout moment. Everything about it was perfect. From ‘The Spark’ theme (Williams best in this film) to the visuals, it had my personal favourite wide shot in the film too.

Mark Hamill is utterly brilliant in ‘The Last Jedi’. It’s arguably his best performance in the character of Luke. Hell, it’s arguably one of his best live action performances period. He’s been through some shit and it’s changed his character in the thirty year gap. He’s experienced unimaginable hardship, loss and learned some incredibly cool force abilities. He’s a tad grouchy and he’s taken to drinking green milk from the udder of a hideous alien. He also lost some weight and looks fantastic for it.

Princess Leia is handled very well too. The late Carrie Fisher was much improved here, giving a very good showing, following her practically mute role in ‘The Force Awakens’. The infamous space scene wasn’t as bad as some have made out. I thought the scoring and visuals were on point during it and it finally showed us Leia using the force. What’s not to like? I was also incredibly pleased to see her have a moment with Luke. It would have been criminal for either of those two to go out without sharing a scene together. It was a genuine lump in the throat moment.

Visually, I thought the film was stunning. It’s the most stylish to date and some of the action, aided by lovely wide shots, was jaw dropping. The opening shot where the camera rushes down was exhilarating, the Canto Bight stuff popped despite being superfluous, the scene when General Holdo (Laura Dern) sends the Resistance cruiser zooming through Snoke’s Supremacy was ridiculously cool and that lightsaber battle in the throne room is up there for me. There was a plethora of visually incredible moments in this film and sadly I can’t possibly list them all which is annoying.

Speaking of Canto Bight. Finn and Rose’s side plot was unnecessary, disrupted the pacing, was off in terms of tone and felt like a rather convoluted way to setup the showdown on Crait. Benicio Del Toro’s character was poor and don’t even get me started on the druggy stutter. It felt superfluous to the main plot and conjured up memories of the prequels whilst also featuring some real corny dialogue. That along with some poorly worked comedic moments and the slightly underwhelming walkers at the end was the only real let down for me.

In terms of Rey and Kylo. I actually loved the whole dynamic of their relationship in this one. The force ‘FaceTiming’ as I called it wasn’t that off putting, was explained well and again opened up new possibilities. Rey is obviously struggling to find her role in things, trying to coax Luke into training her whilst Kylo is really on the end of a prolonged bout of bullying at the hands of Snoke and equally questioning his role. Which is why I was delighted when he ended him. It was deserved and Kylo is fast becoming my favourite of the newer characters.

Adam Driver is a brilliant actor and he’s really showing up Hayden Christiansen in the how to play a conflicted character stakes. I see now why JJ hand picked him for this role. By the end, it’s pretty clear that he’s went full big bad however which is a shame because even now I want him redeemed. He’s clearly the last thread of Skywalker heritage in this saga that can realistically continue and for that reason alone I want him to survive. It’ll be very interesting to see where he goes from this.

Daisy Ridley has been criticised in some circles for her so called wooden delivery of certain lines. I must have been watching a different film though because I missed these completely. Perhaps I was too busy just enjoying the story and action instead of looking for reasons to throw the toys out the pram. She was absolutely fine for me and I felt they reigned in her ‘overpowered’ abilities, making her more vulnerable, particularly during the throne room sequences to appease the ‘Mary Sue’ brigade.

I can’t discuss this film without mentioning Poe and General Hux. Oscar Isaac is a talented actor and I’m delighted he was given a chunkier role. He learnt a valuable lesson in this and it looks like he’s taking control of the Resistance going forward. Hux was often used as comedic levity and for the most part it worked. His little smirk at Kylo upon leaving the throne room and general slyness was oddly enjoyable. Domhnall Gleeson owns the character.

Musically, John Williams returns to score this and it’s brilliance from the man as ever. There’s not many new themes in there but that’s probably because there’s not many new characters worthy of them. What he does do is reintroduce many classics to delightful effect. The Leia theme has a delicate moment in the space scene whilst Yoda’s adds an emotional edge to the return of that particular character. It just isn’t Star Wars without the great mans involvement.

Incidentally, the Yoda scene was absolutely fantastic. The puppet looked great and they nailed the mannerisms and the eccentric personality we all loved from the Original trilogy.

This is a divisive film and much of the hate appears to stem from two main issues. Firstly, predetermined fan theories not coming true, and secondly, the apparent callous way in which established mythology and characters have been dealt with. As I said earlier, I’m delighted that the mythology has been freshened up. This misconception that you must be from famous lineage to be a Jedi is just that. I think the older characters were handled competently. It’s all subjective though.

Overall. I think the positives more than outweigh the negatives in ‘The Last Jedi’. It’s not perfect by any means but it’s a brilliant addition to the Star Wars saga and opens up so many possibilities going forward. It’s added freshness to the franchise, Luke still very much has a role to play and the fate of the Resistance hangs on a knife edge. I look forward to Episode 9 now and Rian Johnson’s trilogy and I highly recommend this one to the majority of fans. Most will already have seen it mind, but if you haven’t, then what the hell are you waiting for?

Rating: 4.5/5

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The Two Faces Of January (2014) Movie Retro Review by Darrin Gauthier 

THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY

Director: Hossein Amini
Writers: Hossein Amini, Patricia Highsmith (based on the novel by)
Stars: Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, Oscar Isaac

Plot:  A thriller centered on a con artist, his wife, and a stranger who flee Athens after one of them is caught up in the death of a private detective.

Running Time: 1 hour 36 minutes

Rotten Tomatoes Score: Critics 82%    Audience 48%

Why I watched it: The cast, well Viggo really, still a big fan of his.

Thoughts: This is based on a book by Patricia Highsmith and what I didn’t know is that it’s a period piece set in 1962, I guess the book was but really the time period isn’t used that much.  I have no idea why the film is called this, it’s never mentioned, and the title means nothing to me after seeing the film, more confusing than anything else.

What I liked: The setting is lovely, Greece is beautiful and it’s film well.

Mortensen is good here and I like to see him act more but now he has that Lord of The Rings money he’s picky and does smaller films which is good but even here he doesn’t get to do that much.  He’s a presence and he’s trying to flesh out a guy who isn’t really that well written but he gives it his all.  I like the fact that he’s not playing him as a bad man, just flawed and he knows it.

What I didn’t like:  First off this isn’t a thriller at all in fact it’s not thrilling it’s slow and boring.  I thought it was going to be either a noir or a con movie, it’s neither.  There’s crime in it but really it’s a drama and more melodrama than drama.

Now Dunst is fine here, miscast but fine, I didn’t care for Oscar Isaac, he’s very bland here and tries to do most of his acting and his character arc with his eyes.

Half way through this movie I was wondering what is this about, the film just wondered and also for the crime part there’s white collar crime we didn’t see and two deaths that were accidents, and yes I won’t spoil who dies or who did it but I think you’re stretching it when one character accidentally kills TWO people.

They also throw in this sub plot about Isaac having daddy issues and I swear I’m not making this up, suddenly late in the third act they start treating the Mortensen character as a proxy dad or at least a father figure, look Viggo is 21 years older than Isaac so sure he could be his dad but this never came up earlier in the film.  They tried to make this a love triangle and then dropped it and that was for the best cause Dunst and Isaac had no chemistry.  No character gets fleshed out and at the end we didn’t know any of them, it didn’t even make a good character study cause we learned nothing of why they did what they did.

Final Thoughts: A boring and really pointless film, wasted a good location and a good performance from Viggo Mortensen.

Rating: 3/10

Suburbicon (2017) Movie Review by Stephen McLaughlin

SUBURBICON

Director: George Clooney
Writers: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Stars: Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Oscar Isaac

What may look like a good movie doesn’t necessary mean the movie is good. Yes, i’m plunging into the deep end on this George Clooney Directorial film written by the Coen Brothers.

Suburbicon is about a home invasion that rattles a quiet family town. The synopsis is rather simple and the opening shots of the film start of quite brightly. The sets, costumes and overall look really nails the feel of a 1950’s American suburbia. In fact, it reminded me a lot of the 1997 movie Pleasantville which is one of my favourite movies. Robert Elswit’s cinematography is beautifully handled and he leaves his mark on the movie.

Unfortunately the look isn’t going to win me over completely and this is down to an imbalance between a inexperienced Director compared to the the writing talents that gave us Raising Arizona and No Country for Old Men. I’m honestly not slating Clooney’s skills as a Director. I just think that he may have bitten off more than he can chew with this release.

The feel to the movie is rather confusing as although the lead in the movie Gardner played by the brilliant Matt Damon. The actor cannot decide if he is playing a serious role or a dark humorous role. My guess is the Coen Brothers wrote this as a dark comedy but it isn’t exactly executed that well by the Director or the Actors. Having said that I felt Julianne Moore playing both the characters of Rose and Margaret was interesting enough and Moore is probably the only reason I managed to watch this film completely.

I’m a fan of Oscar Isaac and I was disappointed that he only came into the story in the last 45 minutes of the film. His character Bud Cooper was decent and shared some great scenes with Moore that almost captured what I believe the Coen Brothers were going for and it was a little frustrating there wasn’t enough of this throughout.

Overall, when I heard of the release of Suburbicon, I was looking forward to see how this movie would fare. Unfortunelty it appeared confusing in tone and the storyline was a little dull. I’m not holding Clooney and Damon responsible for the overall mess of this film but there was a lot of mis-direction and an odd performance from Damon to make me not want to revisit this movie anytime soon. Quite disappointing.

A Most Violent Year (2014) Movie Retro Review by Stephen McLaughlin

A MOST VIOLENT YEAR

Director: J.C. Chandor
Writer: J.C. Chandor
Stars: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo

“A Most Violent Year” is set in New York City in the year 1981, were an ambitious immigrant named Abel (Isaac) fights to protect his business and family during the most dangerous year in the city’s history.

Having watched this movie I can only describe this as a captivating drama more than an action film that perhaps the title may suggest to some. I enjoyed Oscar Isaac’s performance as Abel, a family man built on principals, who is provoked into crossing the line a few times by his competitors. Don’t get me wrong the movie doesn’t focus on violence that much and when it does it is justified and not unnecessarily shoehorned into the plot for effect.

The movie’s strength lies in the excellent cast and their performances and interactions throughout the storyline. Almost every shot and scene should be appreciated as the script is intelligent, interesting and gripping to the extent that the audience will be drawn in very easily. Abel’s stance and morals frustrate his wife Anna played by Jessica Chastain who seeks protection from Abel for her and their children in the means of being in the possession of an unlicensed firearm. Chastain’s performance is as equally strong and assertive of that of Isaac and both appear to excel in their shared scenes.

The pacing of “A Most Violent Year” is consistent and the plot is tight. At no point does the story appear choppy or misguided thanks to the films editing by Ron Patane. Director J.C. Chandor did a great job capturing a somber and dramatic tone throughout the movie and creating some tense scenes in there that are memorable also. His writing is also well done and you can sense that he has invested time and care into his characters that are fleshed out and you can relate to.

The cinematography by Bradford Young and Robert Levi (who created the documentary segments) managed to recreate a New York City in 1981 with impressive and convincing results. Added to this a very subdued soundtrack that adds atmosphere to these visuals and the audience is taken back 30 odd years thanks to the music of Alex Ebert.

“A Most Violent Year” perhaps wasn’t going to target a mainstream audience it is fair to say that Chandor has made possibly one of the best dramas of 2014 and should not be overlooked if you enjoy these type of films and cast. Oscar Isaac again has proven there is more to him than Poe Dameron in the new Star Wars Trilogy and flexes his acting abilities once more in the gripping and intriguing movie. “A Most Violent Year” came as a surprise to me and I’m glad I managed to get round to this movie. Highly recommend.

Ex Machina (2014) Movie Review by Stephen McLaughlin

EX MACHINA

Director: Alex Garland
Writer: Alex Garland
Stars: Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac

Caleb is a programmer who works for Bluebook an internet search engine company and is selected through the guise of “winning” a prize to his bosses retreat or so he is lead to believe and ends up participating in a ground-breaking experiment in synthetic intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a humanoid A.I. named Ava.

Oscar Isaac plays Nathan, the head and creator of The Bluebook Corporation who specially selects Caleb to test out his latest creation. Caleb’s role is to determine whether Ava, a female robot played by Alicia Vikander, is the first truly artificially intelligent lifeform.

Ex Machina has only three main characters throughout the movie and the retreat buried inside and on the side of a mountain gives the sets a claustrophobic feel as most of the activities are set inside the building with no windows. The sets are also very clinical in presentation and adding the lighting from very bright lit rooms to sudden darkness in the next shot. If anything all these ingredients appear to be deliberate by director Alex Garland who not only directs the character of Caleb to have an uncomfortable week away from his life but also the audience member.

Very early on in the movie you can sense there may be issues in the relationship with Nathan and Ava (hence why Caleb is called for) in fact thinking about it I’m not sure I can recall all three characters interacting together on screen once and perhaps this is why the feel to the film in slightly unnerving as there is no relationship development between all three but as paired off from Nathan and Ava’s clear uncomfortable tension to Nathan and Caleb relationship where it appears at the beginning Nathan specifically handpicked Caleb as the best programmer and looks like he just wants to share his creation with someone he likes and wants to befriend.  But the most interesting relationship is the one between Caleb and Ava for me.

I like the way Caleb wasn’t portrayed as someone too much in awe of this creation which suggests pretty much right away that the character has an understanding, an open mind and an interest in Ava. There are numerous twists and turns along the way as the story unfolds but early on we are given the impression that Caleb is not in full possession of the facts and reasons behind his visit to Nathan’s headquarters.

Ex Machina is a great movie that intrigues and pulls you into a beautifully written script and will intoxicate you scene by scene as the story unfolds. Isacc and Gleeson’s characters although aren’t exactly developed fully still interest and perhaps works in the story of two strangers, working, understanding and appear to have a mutual respect for each other’s work.

Alicia Vikander for me stole the show as Ava and portrays a realistic A.I. Humanoid who strangely you relate to and sympathise with instantly. The story itself relies up to a point the early exposition and it is not until there is a power failure within the compound that Ava can say to Caleb under no closed circuit surveillance and Nathan’s watchful eye that Caleb shouldn’t trust Nathan as he isn’t what he appears.

This point in the movie is bang on the money as it just came at the right time and made the storyline in my book more complex and really made me think, who do I trust here? Is Ava’s intelligence so far advanced that she is either developing concern? Or more worryingly is she that developed that she has her own agenda?

Watching this really does make you think how far can a machines Programme develop and where would it stop. Also concerns with Nathan’s character all but confirmed that he also has his own agenda and it was only now I was sensing Caleb appears to be the pawn in this game as his feelings for Ava are growing stronger.

Visually Ex Machina is clever. I wouldn’t say stunning as in the sets but the CG for Ava was outstanding and you almost forget that it’s an actual living breathing actor under this illusion. The movie is also fast-paced, subtle and a complex take on this genre. The last 15-20 minutes are probably the best executed scenes I’ve watched in a while and will leave you stunned at its twist and will also leaving you feeling and thinking……what next? Highly recommended.