Tag Archive: Oscar Isaac


This year’s already seen the release of three major superhero films and it’s hard not to get burnt out on their familiar tricks. But the release of the year’s fourth big budget superhero movie – X-Men: Apocalypse – proves that the genre still has some life in it. The X-Men franchise has always been a step above most other comic book franchises and that’s mostly because of their choice in cast and directors. This may not be the best film in the franchise (that title still belongs to 2014’s excellent X-Men: Days of Future Past) but this is still a great film filled with awesome visuals, great characters and memorable action. It’s easily the year’s best blockbuster so far and the best superhero movie to come along since its predecessor.

Thousands of years ago, Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) rose to power as the world’s first mutant. He had the ability to transfer into different bodies whenever he wanted and this allowed him to absorb numerous powers from other mutants. But he was eventually buried at the base of a great pyramid and he stayed that way until 1983. When he once again awakens, he sets out to purge the world of any non-mutants by recruiting four followers that he imbues with great power: Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy), Psylocke (Olivia Munn) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender). As Apocalypse begins to cause mayhem and destruction around the world, it’s going to take Professor X (James McAvoy), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and a bunch of younger heroes to stop him.

It’s a fairly simple story of good versus evil and a nice change of pace from the complex themes of other entries in the franchise. A lot of the film relies on the portrayal of the villain and Apocalypse is one of the most memorable supervillains to come along in quite some time. Although he may be unrecognizable in the role, Isaac’s performance is perfectly menacing and powerful, while the design of the character is memorable and kind of frightening. The fact that they achieved this look through makeup and avoided using CGI or motion capture adds such a deal of weight to the character. He really feels like a legitimate part of the X-Men world and this focus on practical effects is what makes Apocalypse so much more intimidating than other powerful supervillains that are created using digital effects (Marvel’s Thanos comes to mind). Although his character and motivations are somewhat underdeveloped, he’s still a villain that commands the screen.

Praise then must go to director Bryan Singer, who continues to prove that his entries are easily the best in this franchise. It’s actually pretty crazy that he’s able to balance so many different characters, all of whom are given their moments to shine. The story and structure is admittedly a little all over the place, but it never feels confusing or bloated, even with a nearly two and a half hour runtime. The X-Men films simply feel more grand and cinematic than the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the majority of this is in the hands of the director. It also doesn’t hurt things that Apocalypse is a really dark film, more so than most people would be expecting. Children are killed, men get their heads lopped off by Apocalypse and, in one stunning sequence, Magneto even tears apart Auschwitz in a fit of rage. It’s safe to say that you may want to think twice before bringing your kids to this one.

Another reason why this movie might not interest children is its general lack of action. Some fanboys might be disappointed by this, but I found the focus on characters and story, rather than action and explosions, to be refreshing. But the action that is here is still very well done and much more memorable than in any other superhero film so far this year. The final extended action sequence is commendable in how all of the characters are able to work together and really feel like a team. Singer’s able to make the action easy to follow and the final thirty minutes of this film are much better than the airport fight scene in Captain America: Civil War that everyone seemed to be raving about. But the best action in the movie once again comes from Quicksilver (Evan Peters), who uses his speed to rescue an entire school from an explosion. Set to the tune of “Sweet Dream” by Eurythmics, it’s funny, visually interesting and a heck of a lot of fun. The scene may be a retread of his standout sequence in Days of Future Past, but it’s a retread that I had a blast with.

This franchise has always featured a great cast and Apocalypse is no exception. McAvoy continues to grow into the role of Professor X, delivering a performance that fits right alongside Patrick Stewart’s, while never feeling like a simple impression. Fassbender’s Magneto is put through the emotional ringer in this thing and he delivers what might be his best performance in the trilogy as a result. Lawrence once again does a fine job with the role of Mystique, but her portrayal is nowhere near as good as Rebecca Romijn’s in the original trilogy. Newcomers to the team include Sophie Turner as Jean Grey, Tye Sheridan as Cyclops and Kodi Smit-McPhee as Nightcrawler. Out of the newcomers, Smit-McPhee is probably the best, although there’s something to be said about Turner’s ability to portray such a complex character.

Whereas the Marvel Cinematic Universe makes superhero movies, the X-Men franchise features films that just happen to be about superheroes. They’re superior in almost every way including visuals, story, score, performances and direction. Singer has great control over the material and his direction is so strong that it will make you wish he could direct every superhero film from now into the foreseeable future. As a fan of superheroes, these last couple years had me losing faith that this genre could wow me again. But, luckily, X-Men: Apocalypse is the superhero movie we’ve been waiting for.

X-Men: Apocalypse receives 3.5/4

Advertisements

Has there been a more anticipated movie in my lifetime than Star Wars: The Force Awakens? Maybe Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace, but even that didn’t seem to have the same level of hype that surrounds the seventh entry in the Star Wars saga. This is the movie that’s been on everybody’s minds since it was first announced and anticipation only continued to build as the film’s release date got closer. Director J.J. Abrams seemed like the perfect choice to begin a new trilogy and the fantastic trailers that Disney released made the film seem like it was too good to be true.

Well now the film has finally arrived and I can safely say that Star Wars fans will be able to find a lot to love here. This franchise has resonated with moviegoers for generations and The Force Awakens does an excellent job at reminding us why we loved these films in the first place. The characters, locations and story all feel like classic Star Wars and it’s hard not to get swept up in the experience. But with anticipation so high, it must be said that there are still a number of flaws that prevent the film from being truly cathartic. But most of these flaws are minor and the film’s overall sense of fun and adventure makes it worth seeing.

The film begins by introducing us to Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), a fighter pilot in the Resistance army led by Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher). Thirty years have passed since the fall of the Empire and the Resistance is working to stop a new sinister force known as the First Order. Leia has ordered Dameron to visit the planet of the Jakku to search for a clue regarding the missing Luke Skywalker’s (Mark Hamill) whereabouts. Dameron receives intel from Lor San Tekka (Max von Sydow), but they are interrupted by an attack from the First Order, led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Dameron knows that this intel must be hidden, so he hides it inside a small droid known as BB-8 before he is captured by the first order.

Let me just get this out of the way right here: BB-8 is amazing. This is a franchise that has given us a slew of memorable, non-human characters and BB-8 might just be one of the best of them all. The design of the droid is great, with a memorable orange and white color scheme and a continually rotating body with a head that always manages to stay on top. I’m not entirely sure how they were able to make BB-8 work, but kudos to the prop department for turning this idea to a reality. But it’s ultimately the droid’s character that will make you fall in love with it. BB-8 is undeniably cute and its ability to speak through beeps and boops will melt the heart of even the most cynical audience member. It’s essentially the cutest pet in a universe that doesn’t actually exist and my love for BB-8 must be similar to how audiences initially reacted to R2-D2 back in 1977.

So with the highly sensitive intel intact, BB-8 rolls its way into the path of Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger who has been living on Jakku ever since her parents left her. They’re soon joined by Finn (John Boyega), a former First Order Stormtrooper who helped Dameron escape from the clutches of Kylo Ren. As the First Order descends on Jakku to retrieve the droid, Finn and Rey make a daring escape inside of a ship that they find in a junkyard. But what they don’t know is that this ship is actually the Millennium Falcon and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is looking to return to his home.

Maybe it goes without saying, but The Force Awakens is a vast improvement over the George Lucas directed Star Wars prequels. In fact, it seems like Abrams and company focused a ton of their effort on making sure that this feels nothing like those overly digital films. Aesthetically, this feels like classic Star Wars, with a focus on filming in real environments with practical effects. The production design on the film is outstanding, with so many different sets, costumes, creatures and makeup effects that you’ll have to see the film multiple times to take everything in. The decision to use CGI only when absolutely necessary was a smart one and the film greatly benefits because of it.

Another mistake from the prequels that this film manages to fix is the overuse of the lightsaber. The lightsaber is such a cool weapon, but one of the reasons that it was so cool in the original trilogy is that it was used sparingly. No doubt this had something to do with restraints in the budget and effects, but when someone pulled out a lightsaber in the original trilogy, you knew they meant business. In the prequels, lightsabers were so overused that you actually started to become numb to their effects. When a character pulls out a lightsaber every five minutes or so, some of the magic of the weapon is lost. In The Force Awakens, there’s essentially only one lightsaber battle and it happens at the very end of the movie. This means that not every action sequence is dependent on the sight of a shiny, colorful sword and the final climactic set piece feels even more exciting because of this.

But while The Force Awakens does a great job at fixing most of the mistakes from the prequels, one of the biggest problems with this film is that it’s ultimately too similar to the original Star Wars. This might sound like an odd complaint, but Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt’s script essentially repurposes the same story and structure from A New Hope. From a droid carrying important information, to a dreamer being stuck on a desert planet, to a group of X-Wing pilots targeting the one weak spot on a large battle station, you’ll consistently be reminded how similar The Force Awakens is to the original film that started this franchise in 1977. This was clearly a conscious choice (most likely to tap into some sort of nostalgia), but it probably would have been more interesting if the story had taken a unique path.

Even some of the new characters in the film feel like direct counterparts to the original characters that we fell in love with. But this isn’t really a problem because these characters all feel fully formed and every part is perfectly cast. Daisy Ridley is absolutely radiant as Rey, a young woman stuck on a desolate planet who one day hopes to see her family again. John Boyega makes Finn’s arc from a Stormtrooper in The First Order to a hero in the Resistance feel believable and he also looks great in a Stormtrooper outfit. As the film’s primary antagonist, Adam Driver creates a villain that stands out in the Star Wars franchise. He’s young, whiny and he overestimates himself, making him all the more dangerous. Finally, Oscar Isaac’s Poe might not be written with the same depth as the rest of the cast, but Isaac is great as the skilled but sarcastic fighter pilot.

It’s these four characters that are the focus of the film’s entire first act and it’s no surprise that this easily the best part of the movie. For one thing, it’s such a joy to be back in the Star Wars universe, especially when Abrams’ style and visuals seem to fit perfectly with the aesthetic of the originals. The filmmakers do a great job at introducing Rey and Finn to the audience and how their characters ultimately intersect is pretty well conceived. The first act concludes with an exciting escape from the planet of Jakku aboard the Millennium Falcon. It’s absolutely brilliant how they reintroduce this iconic ship into the franchise and its appearance is one of the greatest moments in the film. The reappearance of Han Solo and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) is another cause for celebration. After this point, the film tapers off a bit, but even if it’s unable to match the heights set by its first 45 minutes, it’s still a lot of fun from beginning to end.

For most Star Wars fans, these are more than just movies. These are the films that we grew up with and they’ve gone on to define who we are as individuals and as a moviegoing audience as a whole. Sitting down to watch the seventh entry in the nearly 40 year saga, it’s hard not to get emotional when the Star Wars logo blasts onto the screen. As a huge fan of the franchise, I can definitely say that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is an extremely satisfying chapter in the saga. It’s great to once again spend time with the characters that we’ve fallen in love with and the new cast of characters is hugely enjoyable as well. Even if the film hits some familiar beats along the way, the overall experience is so satisfying that you’ll walk out of the theater feeling like a kid again. The Force is still strong with this franchise.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens receives 3.5/4

The idea of artificial intelligence has been a mainstay in science-fiction for decades, but modern technologies have actually made this concept a distinct possibility. We talk to programmed personalities on our phones and those personalities are often smart enough to respond back to us. The idea of pure artificial intelligence does not seem that far off and it’s expertly explored in the realistic sci-fi thriller, Ex Machina. In his directorial debut, writer/director Alex Garland has crafted a believable fable and filled it with three ultra-interesting main characters. It’s a film that favors ideas and conversations over action and spectacle. The ideas and themes that it ultimately manages to unsurface aren’t particularly revealing, but they are undeniably interesting. Don’t let this unique thriller pass you by.

Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is a young computer programmer, working for a Google-esque company named BlueBook. After winning a companywide lottery, Caleb is chosen to visit the company’s founder, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac), at his secluded home/research facility. Upon his arrival, Caleb is informed that Nathan has been working on creating a form of artificial intelligence and he wants Caleb to test its effectiveness. Caleb is then introduced to Ava (Alicia Vikander) a human looking android with advanced speech and thinking capabilities. Caleb enjoys his time with Ava and the two begin to form a bond together, which Nathan observes from a distance. But Ava secretly informs Caleb that Nathan cannot be trusted and Caleb is forced to decide where his allegiance lies.

What’s most striking about Ex Machina is how everything feels like it could legitimately be happening at this moment. We’ve always looked at artificial intelligence as something in our future, but we’re getting closer and closer to making it a part of our present. Garland knows this and he makes sure that the film stays grounded, both in its scenarios and its characters. Ava feels like she genuinely could exist. Her face is ultrarealistic, but the way that she moves and talks shows that she’s not quite human. But that doesn’t mean that she’s not convincing. Vikander is great as Ava, somehow making a robot seem genuinely real and very alluring. The film is broken up into several different sessions that Caleb spends with Ava and each session is more interesting than the last. It’s great to watch these two characters try to figure the other one out and it’s easy to understand why Caleb would fall in love with her.

But perhaps the most interesting conversations occur between Caleb and Nathan. When we’re first introduced to Nathan, it’s surprising how laid back he is. He drinks too much, doesn’t like speaking in scientific jargon and usually prefers to have a good time instead of further formulating his ideas. This is supposed to be the genius billionaire that created artificial intelligence? But as Caleb and Nathan spend more time getting to know one another, Nathan’s situation and personality begins to make more sense. He practically lives alone with more money than anyone could ever spend, but with no one to enjoy it with. We also get to see some brief moments of his genius slip through his playboy persona. When Caleb asks Nathan why he chose to give Ava a sex, Nathan responds that sex is a vital part of life and removing that from an android would ruin its chance at reaching true intelligence. It’s moments like these where we can understand how a goofball like Nathan could create something so monumental. And Isaac is absolutely fantastic in the role, crafting his character with idiosyncrasies and a laid-back personality that very few actors could pull off so effortlessly.

Garland and cinematographer Rob Hardy give the film a sleek, modern look that fits nicely into the realistic sci-fi setting. Production design is topnotch, with every room in Nathan’s home feeling unique and interesting. Outside of Nathan’s home, the Norwegian countryside is put on display and it’s a truly beautiful sight to behold. Although the third act features some predictable reveals and a few too many twists and turns, Ex Machina  is an engrossing sci-fi thriller from start to finish.  It will be interesting to see if the future ends up elevating some these science-fiction ideas into science-fact. But until artificial intelligence becomes a reality, I’ll settle for the sexy and intriguing Ava.

Ex Machina receives 3.5/4