At Eternity’s Gate

December 17, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Willem Dafoe, Oscar Isaac, Rupert Friend
Directed by: Julian Schnabel (“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”)
Written by: Julian Schnabel (“Before Night Falls”), Jean-Claude Carrière (“The Unbearable Lightness of Being”) and Louise Kugelberg (debut)

During a scene in the 1975 Academy Award-winning drama “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” a doctor at a mental institution tells R.P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) that after evaluating him for four weeks, he sees no evidence of mental illness. “You know, what do you want me to do?” McMurphy asks before mimicking masturbating, as if to say, “Is this what ‘crazy’ is supposed to look like?”

In “At Eternity’s Gate,” a biopic on Vincent van Gogh, Oscar-nominated director Julian Schnabel (“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”) seems to wonder the same thing as Nicholson’s character. Everyone knows van Gogh suffered from some form of psychological disorder, so why play it up like other van Gogh films of the past? Why show him writhing in front of a mirror like a madman in 1956’s “Lust for Life?” Why depict him as some fiendish loon who licks the blood off a knife after he uses it to cut off his ear like in 1990’s “Vincent & Theo?”

While both actors Kirk Douglas and Tim Roth give commendable overall performances as van Gogh in their respected films (Douglas earned an Oscar nomination for his), the idea that mental illness can be defined as one specific thing (or behavior) is an antiquated concept. It’s one of the reasons Schnabel’s film — co-written by him, his girlfriend Louise Kugelberg and French screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière (“The Unbearable Lightness of Being”) — is such an enlightening and unique experience. With “At Eternity’s Gate,” Schnabel, who is a famous painter himself, confronts van Gogh’s mental instability with inventive style and philosophical reflection. In doing so, he has given audiences one of the most creative and visually-striking cinematic compositions about an artist in recent memory.

Although almost 30 years older than van Gogh was at the time of his death, three-time Oscar nominee Willem Dafoe (“The Florida Project”) delivers a glorious portrayal as the Dutch post-impressionist painter during the final years of his life — living and painting in Arles in the south of France. During this time, we watch van Gogh connect with nature, exchange ideas with friend and artist Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac) and find the beauty in the mundane. Through handheld camerawork, distorted scenes and other stimulating experimental film elements, Schnabel designs “At Eternity’s Gate” as if it were one of van Gogh’s pieces seen through the eyes of a filmmaker like Terrence Malik (“Tree of Life”).

It’s not until the second half of the film when Schnabel really scours inside the mind of van Gogh as his mental illness starts to get the best of him — hallucinations, anxiety, depression and self-mutilation. Even then, however, Schnabel focuses more on the man, his work and his words. In “At Eternity’s Gate,” he allows viewers to see the world from van Gogh’s transcendent perspective.

Life Itself

September 24, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde, Annette Bening
Directed by: Dan Fogelman (“Danny Collins”)
Written by: Dan Fogelman (“Danny Collins”)

Dan Fogelman, creator and executive producer of the hit NBC series “This is Us,” seems to have the television drama formula worked out better than most — a little yank at the heartstrings here, a heartwarming relationship there, a dash of solid character development and throw in some nonlinear storylines. After only two seasons, viewers and critics are eating it up.

As the writer and director behind the feature film “Life Itself,” however, using a similar template is a disastrous exercise in emotional manipulation and pretentious storytelling. It’s the kind of screenplay that needed a few more rounds of workshopping. As is, it should’ve been tossed into a bin of scripts destined to never be seen again.

It’s regrettable since Fogelman, whose first foray into filmmaking was 2015’s Al Pacino vehicle “Danny Collins,” assembles a more-than-capable cast led by Oscar Isaac (“Inside Llewyn Davis”) and Olivia Wilde (“Drinking Buddies”). Broken into five muddled and overwritten chapters, the film starts with an introduction to Will (Isaac), a sad sack of a man we see during his happier times when he’s courting the love of his life, Abby (Wilde), but also during his court-mandated counseling sessions with his therapist, Dr. Morris (Annette Bening).

In this chapter, Fogelman pulls out all the stops and crams the melodrama with so many unnecessary and contrived components, one may wonder if he thought he would even get to finish the last four segments. This part of the film includes a nod to the 1946 classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” when Will goes back in time to see random moments in the past that will likely shape his future. It’s one of the many times Fogelman needlessly reminds the audience that fate will catch up to everyone eventually.

Fogelman mucks up his clichéd screenplay even more by employing the storytelling technique known as the “unreliable narrator,” a term coined by literary critic Wayne C. Booth in 1961, which argues that a narrator of a story can’t be trusted because he or she is telling it from a single perspective. Fogelman essentially suggests that the storytellers he’s chosen to recollect their own memories might be remembering incorrectly. The decision to include this narrative device is a lazy choice that allows Fogelman to offer moviegoers various interpretations or perspectives of the same scene — scenes that ultimately fall flat.

As the film stumbles into the other chapters, Fogelman abandons most of his filmmaking gimmickry to connect Will and Abby to a host of other characters — their adult daughter Dylan (Olivia Cooke) and a family living in Spain — but by then it’s fairly evident where everything will end up. Unfortunately, wallowing in a cinematic abyss of tragedy, pain and victimization is better suited for fans of the “Saw” franchise.

Ep. 111 – Annihilation, Game Night

February 28, 2018 by  
Filed under Podcast

This week on The CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod review “Annihilation” and “Game Night.” The guys are also baffled by James Gunn’s revelation that Baby Groot isn’t Groot reincarnated, but actually Groot’s son.

Click here to download the episode!

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

December 15, 2017 by  
Filed under Brian, Reviews

Starring: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher
Directed by: Rian Johnson (“Looper”)
Written by: Rian Johnson (“Looper”), George Lucas (based on characters created by)

It was 1977 the first time that cannonblast-of-a-musical-fanfare, yellow text crawl, and intrepid white runner-ship exploded across a celluloid starfield, changing movies forever. Forty years on, few phrases have the capacity to ripple the pop-cult zeitgeist like an upturned bedsheet in quite the same way as “they’re doing a new Star Wars.”

Toss it casually into your nearest social-media flea market of opinions and it’ll be met, in part, by a tide of cocksure pessimism, even anger – but know that these reactions are inflated artificially by their purveyors (even the most hardened and embittered of fanboy cynics and Han-Shot-Firsters) to castigate themselves for the inner flame of hope they dare not allow themselves to indulge.

Because that’s the power of this series: Even that wide (or at least vocal) swath of a generation that purports to feel intimately burned by the trio of p-words (sort of rhymes with “seagulls”) that “everyone hates” (disclosure: I don’t) would likely have to admit that their fear of feeling that way again is still tempered by a light side – a deep, secret longing to feel the wonder and awe they did when, as children, they watched a towheaded space-hick teenager thread the needle on a no-scope proton-torpedo shot that blew up a planetful of jackbooted, corrupt-establishment assholes. And of course it is. That fear and that hope coexist always, in all of us, swirled like chocolate-and-vanilla soft-serve, one amplifying the other. We’re afraid to wish for the feeling we grew up with, but we want desperately for someone to give it to us again, the same but different. So. Enter Rian Johnson?

Johnson’s “The Last Jedi,” Episode 8 of the Saga That Launched a Quadrillion-Million (Toy) (Space)ships, takes the baton (almost literally) from J.J. Abrams’s “The Force Awakens,” the December 2015 sequel that kickstarted a third trilogy under Lucasfilm’s new auspices at Disney. (Disney further cemented its “Star Wars” ownership this week – including new rights to the original theatrical versions of Episodes IV-VI – by purchasing 21st Century Fox). “Awakens,” despite its colossally daunting charge, acquitted itself more-than-admirably well: It delivered thrills, introduced winsome new players, and was for the most part received warmly, even enthusiastically, with perhaps its most common and agreed-upon criticism (a fair one, perhaps) being that it tried too hard and too often to call back to the original films. For my money, it was certainly a good time.

“The Last Jedi,” then, benefits not only from Awakens’ strong start, but more particularly from its predecessor’s having laid down backstory and development for such characters as First-Order-Stormtrooper-turned-rebel-hero Finn (John Boyega), orphan-junk-scavenger-turned-lightsaber-wielding-icon Rey (Daisy Ridley), and – despite the actor’s own demurrals, let’s face it – inescapably Han-Solo-esque fighter pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). This legwork done, Johnson’s film is free to hit the ground running, and wisely does so, kicking things off with a rather breathtaking space-action sequence, engaging multiple concurrent storylines, and bringing faces old, new, and new-but-familiar into the galactic fold. At times, in fact, there almost seems (but doesn’t quite) to be too much going on: Clearly expository dialogue, which would otherwise chafe, is instead often welcome, as it helps explain (natch) and contextualize things that are happening quickly. Without spoiling much of anything (I promise): Rey has gone in search of Luke Skywalker (and found him, as we saw in “Awakens”), Finn decides to go in search of Rey, and Poe and Leia are alternately fleeing and facing down the First Order (General Hux [Gleeson], Kylo Ren [Driver], Supreme Leader Snoke [Serkis], et al.), who want the Rebellion quashed, because that’s what oppressive regimes like to do to rebellions. More happens, of course. But you don’t want me to tell you about that.

So. Does it work? As a film, and as a Star Wars film? In a word: Yes.

In another word: ABSO-PORG-ING-LUTELY.  Johnson is bold in his choices – and, more importantly, enacts his choices with the requisite confidence and style (and then some) to bring us along for the rollicking ride, even when we’re not immediately onboard. Further, again, so much is happening, and so much of it is so good, whatever’s questionable is easily and happily swept up by the consistent and captivating entertainment that surrounds it. One conceptually brilliant plot point/character motivation, for instance, doesn’t seem to get to breathe enough cinematically to have maximum impact, but is intrinsically such a stroke of genius that it nearly gets there on its own anyway. Johnson, who also wrote the film, uses humor early and liberally (and often notably modern-seeming humor, at that), which occasionally threatens to distract, tonally, but ultimately lands frequently enough to more-or-less justify itself. A few performances aren’t the sort in which one gets lost and forgets the effort being expended, but work well enough, for various reasons, to not break things up much. The porgs probably aren’t as cute (or omnipresent) as you think they are, but they’re still pretty freakin’ cute.

Much of everything else: Great.

Battle scenes, in space or otherwise, are gripping and spectacular. One of them contains a short action set piece that is, without exaggeration, one of the most instantly unforgettable sensory experiences I’ve ever had in a movie theater. Visually, sonically, narratively, emotionally, it’s utterly, utterly stunning. We were at a press screening, full of critics – generally a more restrained audience (no whoops at the onscreen appearance of the words “Star Wars,” say) – and here there were audible gasps, surprised laughter, cheers, … even applause, I think. Ridley, as Rey, has come fully into her own. While she was certainly scrappy and charismatic in “Awakens,” “Last Jedi’s” Rey anchors and drives the emotional and narrative core of the film. Her focus is unblinking; her power undeniable. She’s one of a number of self-possessed, memorably heroic women in the film (there are a couple in even just the first few minutes), but Ridley’s transformation, and the calm certainty and resolve with which she carries vital portions of the picture, are astounding: She’s become the legend-in-the-making “Awakens” was hinting at, and I can’t wait to see more. The same could be said of Driver’s Kylo Ren, whose arc and inner turmoil are further explored and expanded, giving us a deeper, emerging portrait of a truly fascinating character – rendered so in large part by the actor’s quietly searing, often transfixing performance. Both actors are dialed in, and Johnson crafts a sprawling, compelling narrative around their interwoven fates — one that makes me want to keep watching.

Oscar Isaac, too, is phenomenal. He’s given much more to do this time around, and knocks it all out of the park. He flies like Maverick, disobeys orders for good reasons (like Maverick), and lights up like a Christmas tree when he sees buddies Finn (Boyega is as heart-on-his-sleeve magnetic as ever) or BB-8 (whom I could watch speedroll chirpily around for hours). (Side note: You deserve someone who looks at you the way Poe Dameron looks at Finn or BB-8. We all do.)

There are surprises to be had, and remembrances to be made. Go in willing to have a good time, and it might just be inevitable. Johnson tackles a monumental task with aplomb, paying deep homage in ways that feel integrated with and advance the story while putting his own stamps on it, as well. He knows how to create truly “cool” movie moments, but also how to weave them into the narrative so that they feel organic and earned. While Abrams is back at the helm for “Episode IX,” Disney has announced that Johnson will be directing an entirely separate Star Wars trilogy – which, following Last Jedi, sounds good to me.

Ep. 107 – Star Wars: The Last Jedi (spoilers start at 17:04) and The Disaster Artist

December 14, 2017 by  
Filed under Podcast

This week on The CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod review the year’s most anticipated movie, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” BE AWARE: Spoilers run from 17:04 to 40:35!

They also review last week’s wide release “The Disaster Artist,” which is also the subject of Bonus Episode 13, so give that a listen too!

Click here to download the episode!

Ep. 91 – Doctor Strange, MondoCon/RiffTrax Live recap, and a preview of our next Cinema On Tap screening

November 7, 2016 by  
Filed under Podcast

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This week on The CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod review Doctor Strange, recap MondoCon 3 and RiffTrax Live: Carnival of Souls, and preview our next Cinema On Tap screening at Big Hops Huebner.

[00:00-35:07] Intro/MondoCon/RiffTrax Live recap

[35:07-52:54] Review: Doctor Strange

[52:54-1:03:58]Wrap up/tease

Click here to download the episode!

X-Men: Apocalypse

May 27, 2016 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Oscar Isaac
Directed by: Bryan Singer (“X-Men: Days of Future Past,” “X2”)
Written by: Simon Kinberg (“X-Men: Days of Future Past,” “Fantastic Four”)

When we last left the X-Men movie franchise proper, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine – forever the series’ MVP – had traveled back in time in “Days of Future Past” to undo some stuff that had been done in both the movie’s universe and the real world. “DoFP” brought together the differing timelines and actors, erased little-loved entries like “X-Men: The Last Stand” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” and absolutely destroyed any sense of a coherent timeline, which “Deadpool” took a jab at earlier this year. The longest-running comic book movie series was reinvigorated and, 16 years after we first met the cinematic mutants, most of them are back (played by younger actors) in “X-Men: Apocalypse.”

This time around, Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and his team of mutants, including Hank McCoy (Nicolas Hoult), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan), are pitted against the first and most powerful mutant ever, Apocalypse (Oscar Issac). After being buried under a pyramid for 5,000 years, Apocalypse is awakened in part by the bumbling of CIA agent Moira Mactaggert (Rose Byrne) that allows sunlight to activate his golden power pyramid, or something. Anyway, Apocalypse gathers his four horsemen, including Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy), Psylocke (Olivia Munn) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to rid the world of humanity and rule whoever is left. Also in the mix is Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) and her crusade to free persecuted mutants around the world, pulling Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) from the clutches of an underground fighting ring. Oh, and don’t forget returning fan-favorite Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and an extended cameo featuring a berserk, metal-clawed hero we’re all too familiar with.

With so many new (well, new-ish) characters to introduce alongside the old ones, director Bryan Singer often leaves the narrative momentum of “X-Men: Apocalypse” standing around and waiting while different cast members are dropped in on. Fassbender’s time as a Magneto/Erik gone straight with a wife and young daughter is the most compelling plot line in the movie, but Singer and screenwriter Kinberg keep yanking us away to check in on boring stuff like Xavier and McCoy visiting Mactaggert at the CIA to remind us of a long-forgotten plotline that had Charles erase Moira’s memory at the end of “X-Men: First Class.” In another bright spot, Evan Peter’s Quicksilver gets a stand-out slow-motion sequence in the movie, this time set to the Eurythmic’s “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” along with some more screen time. But Lawrence’s plot line feels tacked on and unnecessary, the result of the producers trying to come up with something interesting for the megastar who they signed to a contract before her fame went supernova.

And for a being with god-like power, Isaac’s Apocalypse sure does a lot of pointless dicking around in his quest to take over the world, perched atop a pyramid for what seems like 20 minutes making a new helmet for Magneto out of sand while the plot spins around to everyone else in the cast. Even what should have been a quick cameo by the so-called Weapon X drags on minutes too long, and, like the rest of the movie, ends up feeling like nothing more than table-setting for whatever is next. Fox had righted the X-franchise ship, so let’s hope this crummy mutation doesn’t affect the series again.

Ex Machina

April 24, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander
Directed by: Alex Garland (debut)
Written by: Alex Garland (“28 Days Later”)

After the SXSW premiere of “Ex Machina,” director Alex Garland was asked a directorial question, with this film being his debut after years of solely screenwriting. In a fantastically articulated answer, Garland explained that people tend to deify directors; a sentiment that he called “bullshit.” He contended that he is a writer first, and that every part of the crew from the director down was a “filmmaker.” Writer, director, filmmaker; the semantics, job titles and roles don’t matter. As long as Garland is putting his ideas to screen, like the fascinating ones he has with “Ex Machina,” the film industry is a better place.

After winning a company-wide contest, programmer Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) is invited to spend a week with his reclusive boss and tech CEO Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac). Previously unsure of what the week would entail, Caleb soon finds out that Nathan has built artificial intelligence, and that he is there to perform a test on its intelligent human behavior. However, as Caleb gets to know the A.I., Ava (Alicia Vikander), he sees that things may not be what they seem.

Another word about “Ex Machina” cannot be written without first acknowledging the staggeringly great performance from Isaac. Equal parts charismatic, humorous, dark and enigmatic, Isaac shows expert level character building and chops. It’s a down-to-earth performance that gives what could easily be an off-putting, egotistical, super-genius character into an affable, fun-loving guy. He’s also responsible for a completely unexpected and equally hilarious dance sequence that will easily go down as one of the best moments in any film this year.

Garland’s smart and ambitious screenplay keeps an air of mystery that allows every moment to unfold without knowing is what to come. After a great set up to pique interest, Garland throws a wrinkle into the film that keeps audiences on their toes. Without getting into too many plot details, motives begin to come into question and the complexity of the story and relationships kick into high gear, allowing audiences to flex their mental muscles to stay engaged.

As “Ex Machina” comes to its dramatic conclusion, there are moments where the storytelling becomes a little too dense and thematically crowded. As a result, the different themes at play get a little muddy and it takes a little unpacking to find the prevailing ones. Even with an overstuffed ending, “Ex Machina” is jam packed with moments of brilliance and bursting with originality. It’s atmospheric, intimate and joins Mike Cahill’s “Another Earth” and Duncan Jones’ “Moon” as one of the best original sci-fi films of the past several years. Also, that Oscar Isaac dance scene.

Oscar Isaac – Ex Machina

March 16, 2015 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

Screenwriter Alex Garland (“28 Days Later,” “Sunshine”) makes his directorial debut with the sci-fi film “Ex Machina,” the story of a young programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) who is chosen by a reclusive CEO (Oscar Isaac) to participate in a series of experiments where he must interact with an artificial intelligent robot built to look like an attractive young woman. During an interview with Isaac at the South by Southwest Film Festival, I talked to him about his popular dance sequence in the film and discuss what a “bro billionaire” actually is.

Before we start talking about the deeper themes of “Ex Machina,” I have to ask you about my favorite scene of the film — the dance sequence. How did you make it look so…cool?

Single-handedly I made dancing look cool again! Yeah, it was in the script and it says we disco dance. It was a lot of fun. We had a great choreographer. We rehearsed quite a few times. Alex would come in and watch it. He would even join in once in a while.

You said the dancing was in the script, but what about the humor you bring to your character? How much of that was already there for you to work with and how much of it was ad-libbed?

All of it was in the script — the language, the wit, the condescension, the sardonic and biting humor — that was all in there. It was a whole “bro billionaire” kind of thing. There wasn’t a lot of mining to try to find the humor in the character because it was already built in. And sure enough being the hammy actor that I am, I would look to see where I could add more to it in little moments here and there.

Since you brought up the idea of “bro billionaires,” did you look at any of the young tech billionaires of today for any inspiration on the character or someone who might have that “God complex” that your character seems to be suffering from?

Usually I’ll go and do that sort of left-of-field thing when I’m building a character as opposed to getting locked into this one-for-one, literal thing. When I was playing King John in “Robin Hood,” I thought of someone like a mix between Robert Plant and Richard Nixon or something that would get your imagination going. With this one, I kind of landed on [reclusive chess champion] Bobby Fischer as someone who had a brilliant mind, but also had an incredibly dark thing going on. He presented certain aspects of himself and hid other ones. [Film director Stanley] Kubrick was another one. I listened to how he spoke. He was so intelligent, but had this sort of roughness because he was from the Bronx. He had this self-taught kind of thing because I imagined he was really bad at school. He was quite brilliant at chess, as well. So, those are the two I really pulled from.

When it comes to technology, there are some pretty futuristic things happening in this film. In your lifetime, what do you think will be the craziest thing you’ll see come to fruition? Or maybe something you hope to see?

Oh, it would be interesting to have a breakthrough in terms of longevity – something that allows someone’s life span to get longer. There’s a futurist named Ray Kurzweil who is an incredible optimist when it comes to robots and technology and artificial intelligence. He believes in robots that can live inside us and help us live longer. I’d be interested in that kind of advancement.

So, would you personally like to live to be 150 years old?

Yeah, I think battling death, one’s own mortality,  is something that’s in my mind. The inevitability of that is something that humans have grappled with since the beginning of time.

Some people would argue that just because science allows somebody to do something or create something doesn’t necessarily mean we should. Do you agree with that or do you feel most things in science are up for grabs?

I feel two ways about it: One, I feel like it’s completely up for grabs. At the same time, you have to recognize that [humans] are damaged. There are elements in us that are not great. So far, the things we have created have pretty much gone out of our control, whether it’s an industry or socioeconomic systems or technology. We create these things and quickly give our power over to them for the sake of convenience or comfort. To think that it wouldn’t happen with artificial intelligence is a little bit naive.

Can you imagine a film industry in 50 years where actors have become obsolete? Will we get to a point where a studio that wants you to star in their film will just have to upload you into a program and create a performance?

I don’t think so, but I see the film industry already becoming very robotic where everything is a machine. But I think there is something about human expression, the actual organism of a human expressing it’s existence. That’s always going to be interesting for us. I’d like to think that humans can give something unique to a performance.

You’ve been in some tech-heavy movies in your career and will be in a huge one later this year. Would you say you enjoy those elements as much as you do in, say, “Inside Llewyn Davis,” where your performance is front and center without all the other extra stuff going on?

Yeah, I still had a huge camera right in my face when I played Llewyn Davis. You’re dealing with elements all the time on a set. There’s lights, there’s camera, there’s a cat. The nature of it can be slightly different, but it’s all about creating space for your unconscious mind to work regardless of what’s around you.

A Most Violent Year

January 30, 2015 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo
Directed by: J.C. Chandor (“All is Lost”)
Written by: J.C. Chandor (“Margin Call”)

“I spent my whole life trying not to become a gangster,” businessman Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) says in “A Most Violent Year” when he feels he is losing a grip on everything he’s worked for his entire career. It’s the perfect line of dialogue and an obvious parallel to Ray Liotta’s iconic one-liner in 1990’s “Goodfellas”: “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.” Although both men are relatively coming from the same New York City era, Abel , a Latino immigrant and owner of a heating oil business, isn’t cut from the same cloth. He isn’t too interested in putting a hit on the competition or laundering money through back alley deals. He wants to succeed, but only if he can do it the right way and through hard work. He demands legitimacy.

Obtaining the American Dream for him and his family, however, isn’t just a matter of staying on the straight and narrow. When a series of attacks on his company’s drivers becomes a detriment to his livelihood, Abel wants nothing more than to find out who is hurting his business and put a stop to it. With the city’s District Attorney (David Oyelowo) watching his every move, Abel and his mob-tied wife (Jessica Chastain) must decide how hard they will push back to ensure their ambitions are still in reach.

Atmospheric, intense, and minimal in its delivery, “A Most Violent Year” might be the anti-“Goodfellas,” but it’s a gripping achievement Martin Scorsese would value wholeheartedly. Director/writer J.C. Chandor, who was nominated for an Oscar for his 2011 dramatic thriller “Margin Call” about the U.S. financial crisis of 2007, tops himself here with a throwback film that feels just as authentic as anything directors Sidney Lumet or Scorsese put out 30 years ago. The narrative packs a substantial punch, especially with the powerful albeit understated performances by Isaac and Chastain, the latter of whom was snubbed of an Oscar nomination in favor of a merely adequate Meryl Streep in “Into the Woods.”

While the title of the film may confuse the average moviegoer (since there’s not much “violence” to be spoken of), the risk of it happening at any given moment is what is most palpable. Watching Abel to see if he will inevitably crack under pressure is a fascinating look into a fully fleshed out character walking a fine line between doing what is respectable and what is easy. There is a reason the word “moral” is in Abel’s last name. Whether he lives up to it or not is part of the intrigue.

Oscar Isaac – Inside Llewyn Davis

December 20, 2013 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

Seventeenth century English poet John Donne might never have written his poem “No Man is an Island” (“Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main”) if he met Llewyn Davis. The withdrawn fictional title character, loosely based on 1960s American folk singer Dave Van Ronk, is at the center of Academy Award-winning filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen’s new drama-comedy “Inside Llewyn Davis.” The film follows Llewyn, a talented but struggling folk singer in Greenwich Village, as he tries to make a name for himself as a solo musician. Tapped to portray Llewyn is Guatemalan/Cuban actor Oscar Isaac, 33, whose past credits include Ridley Scott’s “Robin Hood,” Madonna’s “W.E.” and Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive.” During an interview with me, Isaac, who graduated from the Julliard School in 2005, talked about Llewyn’s reclusive personality and shared a story about a chance encounter he had with a movie extra that ultimately helped him land the role.

Describe what it’s like getting the call letting you know you’ve just been cast in the lead role of a Coen brother’s film.

It was opening night of a play I was doing, and Joel called me himself, and we talked for a while. Then he told me I was going to be in the movie. It was incredibly surreal.

The Coens said in an interview they initially wanted to cast a singer who could act before they changed their minds and started looking for an actor who could sing. Did you ever think you were at a disadvantage because you were an actor first, or were you confident you could carry a tune long enough to get some attention?

I was confident I could carry a tune. I just didn’t know exactly what they were going to want. I had been playing music for 20 years, but I was still nervous. I had heard [the Coens] were auditioning people that had dedicated their whole life to music. They auditioned some really great musicians, so that was definitely a factor. At the same time, I knew they needed someone who could carry a whole film and really create a character as well.

What were the conversations like with Joel and Ethan about the makeup of Llewyn? I mean, he’s the protagonist of the film, so was it important for the audience to like him? Did you find that challenging because there is also this sarcastic side to him?

We never really talked about making [Llewyn] a likable character. I don’t really think they cared about it that much. I don’t think they think about it in those terms. I think they were just trying to make a story that was interesting. We just talked about Llewyn in terms of what is happening in his life and the fact that he is an island. He’s shut off from people and is not connecting. The only way he connects is when he plays his music.

You get to perform with some well-known names in the music industry for this film —including T-Bone Burnett, Marcus Mumford and Justin Timberlake. Can you give me an example of a time on set when you might’ve felt a little intimidated?

I never really felt intimidated. I thought I really understood the music. T-Bone was there helping me the entire time. When it came time for me to play with Justin and Marcus, they were both so kind and helpful and excited to be there. We all felt like peers.

Your character is loosely based on 1960s folk musician Dave Van Ronk. How much of his music and the information on this man did you search out to understand who he was?

You know, before I auditioned I was doing this small film in Long Island and in between takes I saw this guy, Erik Frandsen, who was playing an extra at the bar, and he picked up this guitar that was lying around and started playing. He started playing the exact style of music I was trying to learn [for the Inside Llewyn Davis audition]. I went over to him and said, “Oh my gosh, man, you’re amazing! I’m auditioning for this movie that’s loosely based on Dave Van Ronk. Have you ever heard of him?” He tells me, “Yes, I’ve played with Dave.” To my surprise, the next thing he asked was, “Do you want some guitar lessons?” So, I started going over to his place, and he taught me how to play in the style and played me all these old records. He was still playing in cafés all over Greenwich Village, so I would go and open for him in all these little coffee shops. We talked a lot. He’s one of these guys, like Llewyn, who put in the time and has been a musician his whole life, but major, commercial success has eluded him.

Is that what happened to you early in your career as a musician? Did you just find yourself always on the outside looking in?

Yeah, I was in a lot of different bands, but I was doing it for fun. I never thought about it like it was “do or die” or that I was doing it to survive. It was very different from Llewyn’s story. After high school, I had a punk/ska band, and we were doing very well, but it wasn’t as exciting as acting was at the time. Then I got accepted into Julliard, so I left the band behind and started to pursue acting.

Do you think a film like this can generate interest in the folk music scene of the 60s? Is that something you’d like to see happen?

Definitely. I think this music points us back to America’s roots. It’s meaningful and beautiful music. I hope people who like the music and are curious about it will go out and find more of it.

There are some really funny moments in the film, but I thought it was more heartbreaking than anything. I mean, Llewyn is very talented, but it’s almost like his timing to do something with that talent is just a little off.

Yeah, Llewyn’s story is about chance and how luck plays such an important role in what happens in peoples’ lives. People can put a lot of hard work and have a lot of talent, but a lot of things have to go your way to be successful without having to compromise. I actually think that’s what’s most interesting about the movie.

Sucker Punch

March 27, 2011 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone
Directed by: Zack Snyder (“300”)
Written by: Zack Snyder (“300”) and Steve Shibuya (debut)
 
From putting a stimulating spin on an American horror classic in 2004’s “Dawn of the Dead” to slightly entertaining us with his next two highly-stylized films “300” and “Watchmen,” there’s no denying that director Zack Snyder can at least deliver some attention-grabbing imagery. But what he’s upchucked for “Sucker Punch,” an exceedingly erratic softcore male fantasy for gamers, is beyond inexcusable. Girls in an insane asylum imagining they’re in a whorehouse imagining they’re on a mission of girl-empowerment against German zombie soldiers, dragons, and samurai robots? Seriously, what the hell is going on here? Whatever it is, it’s not suspenseful or inventive and besides probably giving 13-year-old boys boners, it’s not very sexy either. This is the type of movie that will hang over Snyder’s head like “Showgirls” does for Paul Verhoeven. Now fanboys can officially fear for the “Superman” reboot.

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