Taking off his X-Wing pilot’s helmet, and putting on his Llewellyn Davis scarf, Oscar Isaac shows why he is one of the most cool actors working today by covering Bill Murray’s SNL sketch, but bringing an understated bohemian coffee shop vibe while covernig Murray’s overbearing Nick the Lounge Lizard act. Star Wars is everywhere this week, but this little bit of updated nostalgia is all class.
One of the more satisfying and consistent comic book movie franchises (Brett Ratner X3 shenanigans aside), the X-Men franchise kicked off the now-ubiquitous string of modern super-hero movies in the late 1990s and cemented its relevance. The franchise elegantly managed almost a full casting changeover under the original director Bryan Singer who came back after his Superman Returns adventurism. Now, with Oscar Isaac as the villain, along with Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, James MacAvoy, Nicolas Hoult, and the newly added Rose Byrne and Sophie Turner, we have an acting stable of top order.
The trailer goes big, with the the first mutant being the source of all religious iconography on Earth, while also packing in the requisite action with the grand ideas.
Check out the trailer below.
The great science fiction writer-philosopher Stanislaw Lem wrote, “We do not want other worlds, we want mirrors.” And to that extent, writer-director Alex Garland’s ominous take on A.I., Ex Machina is just that. It is far less about the potential birth of a new form of intelligence and far more an allegory about how men fear and control women. It demonstrates this both with Oscar Isaac’s recluse inventor, Nathan (and his billion dollar bachelor pad) to Domhnall Gleeson’s sensitive young programmer, Caleb. The latter is clearly in over his head talking to Ava, the artificial woman, or rather woman void of agency, played by Alicia Vikander and some impressive CGI, in her glass cage. But really, in different ways, for all their philosophizing, both men are in over their heads because they operate under the illusion that their heads are so darn big.
Despite all the dialogue about Prometheus and Turing, and a score by Portishead’s Geoff Barrow which echoes the notes from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the film is best exemplified by how Nathan remembers Ghostbusters – as that movie where the ghost gives Dan Aykroyd a blow-job. Other remarkable scenes include a bit of spectacular discotheque dancing of Nathan with his mute Japanese assistant-servant-slave girl to establish dominance and intimidate Caleb. Later, a secretive whisper between Ava and the very same assistant at the key moment of weakness for both of the men, crystallized my reading of the film. To paraphrase Princess Leia, “the more you tighten your grip (in this case, the wrestle of egos between Nathan and Caleb) the more control systems will slip through the fingers.”
Ex Machina styles itself as a chess match between two men of different ideologies, but really it’s a sex match of dominance for the right to decide the fate of Ava. What makes it good science fiction, is the demonstration just how much our impulses and biology bring out the worst in us, no matter how much technology, concrete or glass we put in between.
As an act of design and the distance between design and emotion, Ex Machina would make a very good double bill with Spike Jonze’s Her, albeit, Jonze’s film is more optimistic and warm, certainly less grim and grisly (and cool) than Garland’s take. Blade Runner, along with Soderbergh’s Solaris remain, remain, for me, the master-class entries on capturing the ‘feeling’ of it’s subjects consciousness, but Ex Machina more prosaically examines consciousness with a session-debrief narrative structure, and in-text nods to Wittgenstein’s Blue Book, along with discussion of several iconic thought experiments on consciousness. It is a both a great film and an exceptional primer — on the eventuality of something other than men inheriting the earth.
Alex Garland is known for writing a number of science-fiction films, both 28 Days Later, Sunshine for Danny Boyle, as well as Adapting Kazuo Ishiguru’s novel Never Let Me Go for Mark Romanek, and even the most recent adaptation of dystopian-justice comic, Dredd.
Garland’s directorial debut is the single location, three-hander drama, Ex Machina, starring Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander. It premieres in North America on March 15 (and has had a positive response from other markets for which the film is already in commercial release) at SXSW Festival, before a commercial release on April 10th.
A young programmer is selected to participate in a breakthrough experiment in artificial intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breathtaking female A.I.
“Want to see something cool?” Check out the trailer below.
There’s really not a great deal of violence in A Most Violent Year. Though set in 1981 New York City (a low period for the city marked by high crime rates), there are few visceral moments of bloodshed and brutality. What does exist is an almost constant threat of violence – around every corner and edit in the film, it feels as if some form of foul play sits in wait. The landscape of this version of New York City is bleak, crumbling and empty. The barren streets and rundown manufacturing plants aren’t exactly conducive to strolling about, but the lack of people in the background of the film gives you the feeling that they too are worried about those threats lurking in the shadows.
The real violence of the film, however, refers to the damage done to its main character’s (Abel Morales played exceedingly well by Oscar Isaac) view of the American capitalist framework and his moral approach to honest work resolving in honest returns. Morales wants to behave ethically – though he’ll take every advantage in marketing ploys, he doesn’t want to game the system or cheat his competitors. He feels he should reward those who succeed in his business (an oil company for home heating) and coach those who don’t in order to give them an opportunity to grow. Morales is a sharply dressed man with focus and drive that leads you to believe he WILL get what he wants. When he stares at you, you listen. He’s at a turning point in his business as he puts a huge down payment on a new parcel of land for expansion, but needs to come up with the rest of the capital to close the deal. He is warned up front by the old owners that they are happy to do business with him, but on their terms for their benefit. As Morales tackles problems of his trucks getting hijacked and being investigated for possible shady financial reporting, he struggles to gather up the remaining money needed to close the deal.
We’re overshadowed this week by the landmark that is Film Junk’s 500th episode and we recognize that and love it! It’s a hell of an achievement and we’re so happy for the guys, our friends, that are the undisputed, longest running, movie podcast on the internet. Also one of our guys was on the show, so there’s that. With that out of the way, it’s old-school Cinecast time. Reviews, the requisite tangents and The Watch List. It feels good to free of constraints though we are low on snacks and alcohol. Suffice it to say, this is a much more laid back version of the Cinecast; i.e. our bread and butter, our roots. We talk at length about Jessica Chastain which stems from a spoiler discussion on the very solid, A Most Violent Year. The TV review gets its foothold back into The Cinecast with Steven Soderbergh’s “The Knick” and The Watch List covers Vietnam docs like you’ve never seen as well as the brilliance that is Mike Nichols and more Chastain. Like A Most Violent Year, we’re emboldened by our competition, encouraged by our friends and emboldened by our love of Cinema – even that which we are able to dig up in the barren multiplex landscape of January.
As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!
Last week we featured the stellar white poster for the J. D. Chandor (Margin Call, All is Lost) directed New York City crime flick, A Most Violent Year. Now we have the trailer which shows Oscar Isaac getting a bit freaked out at being accused of criminal behaviour in his ‘honest business,’ and Jessica Chastian shedding single tears on more than one occasion. Albert Brooks is in there too. While nothing exceptional exactly jumps out here, I’m pretty happy there are directors like Chandor makeing films that would be right at home in the 1940s or 1970s. That is to say, I will be there will bells on when the film opens on New Years Eve.
Let the swath of Oscar Isaac leading roles begin! Kirsten Dunst and Viggo Mortensen also star in this sun-drenched thriller of American criminals abroad. Based on the novel of Patricia Highsmith (notable for all those ‘Ripley’ books that got also got turned into films) and from the fine folks who got Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy so handsomely made. The Two Faces of January seems to lack US distribution at the moment, but hopefully this swanky trailer will change all that. Another Highsmith adaptation, Ripley’s Game, was one of the finest films of 2002 and didn’t get US distribution either, but lets hope we get the opportunity to see this one on the big screen..
A glamorous American couple, the charismatic Chester MacFarland and his alluring younger wife Colette, arrive in Athens by boat via the Corinthian Canal. While sightseeing at the Acropolis they encounter Rydal, a young, Greek-speaking American who is working as a tour guide, scamming tourists on the side. Drawn to Colette’s beauty and impressed by Chester’s wealth and sophistication, Rydal gladly accepts their invitation to dinner. However, all is not as it seems with the MacFarlands and Chester’s affable exterior hides darker secrets.
A few years ago, Tom Waits did a spot on The Daily Show with John Stewart. Before the taping began, Tom was using the men’s room at the television studio, and the bathroom roof fell in on him. In some ways, this seems like the sort of thing that could only happen to Tom Waits. In both his demeanour and his artistic output, he comes across as a grizzled, weary, and down-on-his-luck. Why would anyone be drawn to someone so sad-sack and alone?
Inside Llewyn Davis spends one week in the life of its titular hero (Oscar Isaacs), a folk singer in 1961 New York City. As the film begins, we are given a clear picture of what sort of singer he is. While some of his contemporaries are singing plucky tunes bound for AM radio play, he takes to smokey stages in dank clubs singing from the point of view of a criminal about to be hanged.
Llewyn is talented, there’s no denying that. Sadly, he’s also broke. After his first performance in the film, he awakes on the couch of The Gorfeins – music appreciators that open their Upper West Side apartment to Llewyn when he needs a hand up (which is often). As he goes to leave, The Gorfeins’ cat slips out. Unable to get the cat back home, Llewyn scoops it up and begins looking after it until he can return it.
That’s Llewyn in a nutshell: locked out of the last place he called home, holding more baggage than he carried walking in.
Llewyn’s week will find him crossing paths with friends and family. Most reach out their hand to help him, but few help him for long, and few help him to the extent that he needs. With his musical career stuck in neutral, his greatest need is monetary. Besides not having a place of his own, he cannot even afford a winter coat. Slowly, Llewyn is becoming less and less of a folk singer than he is becoming a character in one of his own songs.
As a greater need for money crops up with an old friend (who now mostly hates him), Llewyn hits the bricks with his guitar and cat in hand hoping he and get something going. Of course, if he’d listened to the lyrics in the songs he sings so often, he’d know exactly how his mission will play out.
Another soulful and engaging trailer for The Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis which gets it’s wide release around Christmas time this year. There are few doubts that this film will be excellent, and the smattering of critics quotes in the trailer (I don’t look at the text of the quote, I look at the names of the critic used to assess these things) only confirm things. Great cast, great musical vibe, and great setting – the niggling question here is how easy it will be to acclimatize to the glowing-desaturated-instagram-filter cinematography with Roger Deakins sitting this one out while Bruno Delbonnel (Amélie, Dark Shadows) pinch hits.
The third and probably final trailer for the new Coen Brother’s film has a wonderful song to get you through some (amusingly) depressing stuff, as Oscar Isaac’s struggling folk musician takes the hard edge of life from all sides. While I am not entirely sold on the ‘murky-attic’ cinematography of the new film (the Coen’s first film in over a decade without Roger Deakins on photographing duties), I am entirely sold on tone and content. From Carey Mulligan’s hurting looks to John Goodman’s bombast, to the caramel coloured kitty cat in Isaac’s embrace.
Check it out below.