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X-Men: Apocalypse – Review

13 Jun

Ever since X-Men was first released back in 2000, there’s been a slew of movies added to this series to make it one of the biggest superhero franchises of all time. Some of these entries have been outstanding, like X2: X-Men United and X-Men: Days of Future Past. Others have become something of a bad joke, like X-Men 3: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. It really seems like the makers had absolutely no idea what to actually do with the material, and what we have left is a storyline filled with time travel, alternate universes, and people dying and coming back to life. It’s all very hard to keep track of. Now we have X-Men: Apocalypse, a film that tries to tie up a lot of loose ends while also introducing some of the most badass characters to the universe to date. This movie may be a bit of a mess, but it’s still a strong installment in the series.

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Thousands of years ago, En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac), also known as Apocalypse, is betrayed and buried hundreds of feet below ground. Jump to 1983 in what is now Cairo. Apocalypse finally awakens and moves to the surface to start a plan that will rid Earth of the humans who have “destroyed” the planet so that the “strong” can keep living. This presence is soon felt by Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) who is still running the ever growing school for mutants to learn how to harness their abilities. As Xavier tries to pinpoint and identify what’s cause this disturbance he’s feeling, Apocalypse begins recruiting his soldiers including Psylocke (Olivia Munn), a young Ororo Monroe/Storm (Alexandra Shipp), and a completely broken down and hopeless Erik Lensherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender). As the might of Apocalypse is being wrought all throughout the world, Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and a group of young mutants find their way to the Professor in order to stop En Sabah Nur from fulfilling his ultimate plan.

While this movie features many of the same actors we’ve seen in First Class and Days of Future Past, there are also a good amount of new faces. I’ve already said that I love James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as Xavier and Magneto, and while I don’t like what’s happening to her character, Jennifer Lawrence plays Mystique very well. I’d much rather look at some of the new faces. Sophia Turner is note perfect as a young Jean Grey, as is Tye Sheridan as a young Scott Summers/Cyclops. Alexandra Shipp is also perfectly cast as a young Storm, complete with an accent and back story. Let’s be real though. The stand out of this movie is Apocalypse, himself. Apocalypse is one of the coolest villains Marvel has ever created, and Oscar Isaac is absolutely menacing. He doesn’t even need to be speaking to be terrifying. The looks he gives his enemies is so full of powerful confidence and violence, mixed with the excellent make up that was applied. He steals the show and is one of the stand out characters, for me, in the entire franchise.

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X-Men: Apocalypse has some of the coolest moments in the entire series, which I will most certainly get to later. I also would like to point out that it also has some of the most tedious and pointless moments in the entire series. The movie starts out well enough and there’s more set up that happens than you might expect, but that’s ok. I was going with it for a while. However, there’s a part in the middle that is completely unnecessary to the plot concerning Apocalypse. Anyone who’s seen this movie knows what scene I mean, and it definitely is a cool scene, but I couldn’t help but feel like I got off at the wrong exit and had to turn back around to get back to where I wanted to be. It would’ve been fine, but once that whole section was over it was never discussed again and had no effect on the main story. Plus, I have to say that the X-Men timeline and continuity has gotten so out of control it’s best to just watch these movies and not think too hard about how they all lead into each other.

Now that we got all that garbage out of the way, I’d like to get back to all the awesome stuff. I’ve already mentioned how epic I think Apocalypse is, so let’s move on to more. Evan Peters returns as Quicksilver, and if you thought he was cool in Days of Future Past, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Not only does he get a cooler slow motion scene, but he also gets to do more with the X-Men and has a dramatic arc that brings a lot to his character. I also have to give a huge shout out to the people who worked on the sound and visual effects. Apocalypse’s awakening made the ground rumble and got me so pumped for the rest of the movie. Meanwhile the CGI in the final battle was epic. Things were flying all over the place, buildings were collapsing, and all hell was just breaking loose. This is a really well made movie and acts as further proof that Bryan Singer is the X-Men guy.

X-Men: Apocalypse isn’t the best entry in the series, but it’s also far from being the worst. In fact, it’s a perfectly competent and often times exhilarating exercise in the super hero genre. This series seems to have gone on since the beginning of time, and after seeing this one I’ve realized that I’m nowhere near ready to see these movies cease to exist. They’re just too much fun to forget about.

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Inside Llewyn Davis – Review

31 Mar

I recently reviewed the Coen Brothers’ newest film, Hail Caesar! last month, and now I’m right back at it, but this time with their 2013 film Inside Llewyn Davis. I really wanted to see this movie when it first came out, but a combination of laziness and more laziness prevented me from actually making it to the theaters. It’s been quite some time since its release, and I have just now gotten around to seeing it. Let me just say, that it was worth the wait and I feel it is one of the Coen Brothers’ best. Inside Llewyn Davis was one of the movies that really hit me, and not only made me want to evaluate the movie and its different themes and artistic stylings, but also made me want evaluate some parts of myself. That’s a sign of a great movie right there.

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The year is 1961 and the folk scene of New York is a melting pot of different ideals, lyrical storytelling, and melodies that were made to hum to. For Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), music has become something of a burden, despite his overwhelming passion to express himself through song and not be forced to sell out to some giant music industry monstrosity. As Davis navigates his way through the different basket houses and venues of New York trying to find a gig and make some sort of income, he is also confronted by demons from the past that are only making it more difficult for his life to fully come together. On a whim, Llewyn Davis decides to make the trip to Chicago to hopefully gig at one of the most important venues of the city, and also get the appreciation and income he feels he deserves. What Davis doesn’t understand, is that all of his misfortune can be followed back to his own poor life choices and decisions made out of haste.

The first thing I think anyone has to talk about after seeing Inside Llewyn Davis is the outstanding usage and performance of music. The Coen Brothers have always seemed to use music in the best ways possible to enhance their movie, and before this one the primary example would have to be O Brother, Where Art Thou?. A lot of the success of the music in both of those movies is probably due to the fact that songwriting and producing titan T. Bone Burnett was the main creative force behind the song production, composition, and performance. What makes it all even more impressive is all the music in the movie is performed live and not added in in post production. That really says a lot for the musical talent of the actors. Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, and Justin Timberlake all sound excellent in the movie.davis12e_zps7d455a27Another thing the Coen Brothers are known for are the memorable, and sometimes even iconic, characters they create. Wether it’s Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski, Barton Fink, or Marge Gunderson, the people that inhabit the strange world of these movies never fail to leave an impression. Now I can add Llewyn Davis to the list of Coen characters that really hit me hard. In fact, he might be one of the best characters they’ve ever created. Llewyn Davis is quite an unlikable guy who uses his friends, condescends to people with what he thinks is his unmatchable passion for music, and treats all the people who help in like garbage. At the same time, however, there are reasons as to why he has ended up like this, which makes him something of a tragic character and one that, despite all of his faults, can be understood. I wanted to see Llewyn Davis succeed, but I more so really wanted him to realize it was time to change. He’s such a great character, and certainly one that I won’t stop talking about for a long time.

I’ve seen some people compare Inside Llewyn Davis to the Coen Brothers’ 2009 film A Serious Man. Both movies share a similar theme of a life slowly being destroyed as if it’s part of some rotten cosmic joke. A Serious Man presents this in a darkly funny way where it’s hard not to laugh the entire way through. Inside Llewyn Davis has a lot of funny moments in it, but I can’t consider this a comedy. This movie is far from being a straight up comedy. The humor that is in this movie is the same kind of dark, absurd comedy you see in many Coen Brothers films, but all the laughs really can’t outweigh the overwhelming sadness I felt at the end. This is definitely the Coen Brothers’ saddest film, and maybe part of it is because there’s nothing too hyperbolic about any of the scenarios in the movie. John Goodman certainly has the most outlandish part, but it’s really not hard to imagine that character being a real person. Just don’t expect to feel in a joking mood once the credits begin rolling.

I don’t know how many people agree with me on this, but I believe that Inside Llewyn Davis is one of the Coen Brothers’ strongest films. Not only do they create a believable version of the New York folk scene in the 1960s, which seems to live and breath all on its own, but they also have created a tragic, yet sometimes funny tale about a deadbeat with more potential than he may realize. Everyone in this movie is great, and the music that is performed for the movie sounds amazing. It’s a certainty that you will be thinking about this movie long after it ends, and even though it left me with a rain cloud over my head, it also offers some great lessons and works as an expressive work of cinematic art.

 

Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Review

21 Dec

I remember exactly when I fell in love with movies. I was in the first grade when I was first exposed to Star Wars. I had just gotten home from school and was watching Return of the Jedi, and I distinctly remember the feeling of excitement watching the speeder bike chase that takes place on the forest moon of Endor. Now here we are in 2015 and I finally got to see a new Star Wars movie. The prequel trilogy didn’t really give me the intense experience that I wanted, so this film had a lot riding on it. With a lot of the cast members returning and J.J. Abrams in the director’s chair, I was confident that this was going to be the Star Wars film that I’ve been waiting for. I’m proud and excited to say that I was right.

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30 years after the Galactic Empire was destroyed by the Rebel Alliance, remnants of the Empire have joined together to create a powerful military strength called the First Order. At the forefront of the First Order is one of the last remaining Jedi, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who has make it his mission to track down Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) for his own nefarious purposes. On the other side of the spectrum is the Resistance, a much smaller military with the support of the Republic. The Resistance is also hot on the trail of Skywalker and will fight back against the much larger First Order to protect the galaxy and find Luke before any great damage can be done.

There’s really no other way I can lay out this story without giving anything away. The marketing for this movie was perfect because I went into the theater without knowing what the movie was about or what anyone’s motivations were. That made the experience so much more exciting than it could have been. Let me just say that I was not disappointed. Everything about the story flowed very smoothly and felt exactly like the kind of stuff you’d come to expect with a Star Wars movie. My only complaint is that sometimes it felt a little bit too much like the older movies. The Force Awakens contains plot devices and themes from all three of the original films which is really cool in some aspects, but the fact that they took so much was a little bit off putting. Luckily, that is where my problems end and my excitement begins.

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I had a feeling that I was going to love this movie, but I didn’t know that it was going to give me a character that I was going to fall in love with. Since I’ve seen this movie, I can’t stop thinking about Kylo Ren. He is, without a doubt, one of the most complex and interesting villains that I have seen in a long time. I was just expecting him to be the stereotypical bad guy, but what I got was a deep character that is full of mystery and conflict. Luckily all of the other characters hold up really well too. As the series’ new heroes we have Finn (John Boyega) and Rey (Daisy Ridley), who both have very exuberant personalities. At times their motivations do clash, but their chemistry still works great. Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron is another performance that stands out. He may be one of the most likable characters of this new trilogy, which means Disney better be planning on keeping him around. Finally, seeing Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, and Mark Hamill in their respective titles was great even if a few of them get pretty limited screen time.

Most importantly, though, The Force Awakens just felt like a Star Wars movie, and I really shouldn’t be worried about that. Unfortunately, in a world where the prequel trilogy exists, I sort of have to. If this movie turned out to be another Attack of the Clones, I would’ve just given up on film all together. This movie has plenty of action, adventure, and humor rolled up in J.J. Abrams signature style. Abrams has a great eye and it really shows here. This film really feels like a grand spectacle. There are huge set pieces, beautiful CGI, and there were also a lot of great practical effects and make up which I really appreciate. It’s nice to know that, along with his two Star Trek films, J.J. Abrams has the ability to handle major and beloved franchises with care.

There was a lot riding on The Force Awakens since it’s pretty much rebooting the Star Wars franchise. I’ve heard some different opinions, but for me, it was a huge success and I loved pretty much every minute of it. Sure, the fan service, references, and plot elements can be a little overwhelming and repetitive at times, but these are minor complaints. This is a really fun and action packed entry in a franchise that is both beloved on side and mocked on the other. It may not be as iconic as the original trilogy, but it sure is great.

Drive – Review

29 Aug

It’s nice to be out from under my rock and enjoying the fresh air and watching Drive. Seriously though, it seems like everyone and their mothers have seen Drive, and they all have their own differing opinions on it. Critics praised it, and audiences were torn apart like God parting the Red Sea. Some enjoy the aesthetics and plot of the film, while others condemn it as derogatory art house crap. Well yes, the film is highly artistic and stylized, but it comes nowhere close to crap.

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The Driver (Ryan Gosling) is a man of many occupations and a lot less words. By day, he is a part time stunt driver for films and also works his close friend’s Shannon’s (Bryan Cranston) garage, but by night he is a getaway driver for the criminal underworld. After helping his neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son Benicio (Kaden Leos), the trio forms a bond that seems unbreakable. Trouble soon interrupts their little paradise when Irene’s husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac) is let out of jail and the Driver helps him on a job that will pay off a debt that he owes someone during his time in prison. Of course, this job goes completely awry, which draws the attention of mobsters Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) and Nino (Ron Perlman), who will stop at nothing to silence everyone involved in the heist gone wrong.

By just reading the synopsis, I kept thinking that this is The Transporter‘s new wave younger brother. Much like Statham’s character in The Transporter movies, the Driver has a very strict set of rules that he applies to his more illegal means of income. He can also take care of himself, which provides some of the best parts of the entire movie. Unlike The Transporter and its sequels, the Driver is much more conservative with his time taking down his enemies, but he doesn’t spare on the brutality. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this movie is brutal as all hell, and it was so entertaining. As brutal and unforgiving as the violence is, the scenes are pretty few and far between. This is not an action movie after all.

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I can’t really talk about Drive without talking about the soundtrack. What kind of music would you put to a brutal art house heist film? Electronic synth-pop, of course. Cliff Martinez composed a fantastic, and at times ironic, soundtrack that lingers in your mind along with the rest of the movie. While the synth-pop is blaring at full volume, and excellent story begins panning out. It’s subtle, yet strangely overt. There’s little dialogue, but actions speak louder than words. But, apply enough pressure even to the most comfortable of situations, things are bound to burst. The second half of this film is the exact opposite of the first. The pacing is strange, but this movie is pretty strange. Not in the David Lynch type of strange, but it’s not your average, everyday heist film. I really can’t stress that enough.

There’s been a lot of jokes and complaints about Gosling’s character. He is definitely a man a very few words, but the Driver is as strong a protagonist as the most obnoxious action hero. Hell, he’s a much stronger character than the most obnoxious action hero. The chemistry between Gosling and Mulligan are great, and the relationship of their characters is pretty unique. Literally nothing can tear them apart, as the Driver completely dedicates himself to protecting them. Bryan Cranston is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to acting, and this film just goes to show how great his range is. The man of the hour, though, is Albert Brooks, who plays a menacing villain that just makes your skin crawl.

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The fact of the matter is, you may not like Drive right away, or you may be pretty unsure about it. Give it time to really sink in, and really start to think about all the characters and aesthetic choices that make Drive what it is. After all this time, I’m still not really sure what it is. It’s a film that seems to bend the rules of a genre to make a movie that is unique and a complete thrill to watch.