Tag Archives: Alicia Vikander

It’s High Time You Got to Know Oscar Isaac (aka Poe)

My introduction to Oscar Isaac was the 2006 movie “The Nativity Story.”

Isaac played a hunky, sensitive Joseph to Keisha Castle-Hughes’ underage Mary in director Catherine Hardwicke’s take on the events surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ.

I certainly noticed the actor, but there was nothing at the time to indicate what a versatile, intriguing performer he would become. Or perhaps he always was, but didn’t have the chance to show it until many years later.

Now, of course, Isaac is about to become a household name, as fighter pilot Poe in “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens.”

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In trailers and promotions, the actor hasn’t enjoyed as much play as John Boyega, aka Finn, or Daisy Ridley, who portrays Rey.

We know his character is an X-Wing pilot and a soldier in the Resistance. We’ve seen him shaking hands with Finn and being tortured by Kylo Renn. He may be master of adorable droid BB-8. But Poe remains largely shrouded in mystery.

That’s appropriate because J.J. Abrams could not have selected a more mysterious actor to portray this key figure in the new Star Wars trilogy.

Isaac didn’t really land on Hollywood’s radar until 2010 and 2011, when he played a pair of showy villains: a hot-tempered, lascivious Prince John to Russell Crowe’s Robin Hood and abusive brothel manager/asylum orderly Blue Jones in Zack Snyder’s “Sucker Punch.”

Neither movie was very good, but Isaac delivered memorably flamboyant performances in both of them. The films weren’t really an indication, however, of the cinematic nuance Isaac is capable of.

Despite appearing in many movies of note, including “Drive” and “The Bourne Legacy,” there are only three roles you need to see if you’re wondering why Abrams cast Isaac in “The Force Awakens.”

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Llewyn Davis, “Inside Llewyn Davis,” 2013

As the title character in Joel and Ethan Coen’s electrifyingly beautiful, achingly sad folk drama, Isaac leaves a lofty and lasting impression. This is one of the Coens’ love it or hate it films and it was roundly ignored by the Academy come Oscar time. I could deal with that, but not with the fact that they totally snubbed Isaac, my pick for best actor that year.

Capitalizing on his Juilliard education and experience as a guitarist and vocalist, Isaac takes a character who is basically a complete jerk and shows us his worth while delivering soulful, convincing renditions of folk songs, circa 1960s Greenwich Village.

Thanks to the actor, we may never grow to love Llewyn Davis, but we understand him — a tortured artist who cannot function in a world that has turned its back on true art.

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Abel Morales, “A Most Violent Year,” 2014

Isaac embraces his inner Al Pacino, but not in a way that feels crass or derivative in this anti-gangster film by up-and-coming director J.C. Chandor.

As an immigrant’s son, who sets out to use his considerable optimism and determination to build a business empire in 1980s New York, without falling victim to the corruption that surrounds him, the actor radiates confidence mingled with an increasing desperation.

Jessica Chastain plays his wife, the daughter of a jailed mob boss. She’s the Lady Macbeth to Isaac’s would-be empire builder. Together, they whip this drama into a frenzy of tragedy, as Abel wills himself to resist temptation, even as he is manipulated by virtually everyone he knows.

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Nathan Bateman, “Ex Machina,” 2015

The actor’s gift for evoking menace, mystery, and even a hint of comedy, is on full display in this sleek, suspenseful, breathtakingly twisty science-fiction thriller.

Isaac appears opposite “Force Awakens” co-star Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander, of “The Danish Girl,” as a sort of bizarre, tech-savvy Willy Wonka, presiding over a strange contest involving the development of an uncannily lifelike artificial intelligence.

Nathan Bateman is the genius creator of a Google-like search engine, who lures Caleb, one of his brightest programmers, not to a chocolate factory but a pristine, minimalist compound in the mountainous middle of nowhere. Part Steve Jobs, part frat boy, Nathan is, well, a total tool who drinks heavily, says “dude” a lot and displays confounding mood swings.

Isaac builds layer upon layer into what could have easily been a one-note role, injecting weird humor into his character’s darkness. And he participates in one of the funniest, most disturbing dance sequences in cinema history.

I’m pretty sure Poe’s got nothing on his moves.

Photos: http://www.latino-review.com; insidellewyndavisfilm.tumblr.com; http://www.youtube.com; http://www.cineplex.com.

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Summer of Bad-Ass Ladies: The Sequel!

Last year, around this time, we saluted the women who breathed fresh air into a moviegoing season that typically reeks of testosterone.

Many of 2014’s summer blockbusters were headlined by women, including Angelina Jolie, Emily Blunt, and Scarlett Johansson — cause for celebration. There was so much awesomeness going on that we declared it the “Summer of Bad-Ass Ladies.”

Now it appears summer 2014 wasn’t a blip on Hollywood’s radar, but the beginning of a promising trend. The films of summer 2015 were packed with substantial roles for women, who effortlessly stole scenes –and, in some cases, entire movies — from their male co-stars.

(That said, annoying female stereotypes persist. Did “Jurassic World” really need to punish Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire for loving her job too much and not being into kids?)

As we close the books on the year’s most explosive moviegoing season, it is with great delight that we dub it “Summer of Bad-Ass Ladies: The Sequel.”

Below, we revisit the baddest of these pioneering bad-asses. We hope we’ll be seeing them next summer, too.

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Charlize Theron in “Mad Max: Fury Road”: For the sake of its promotional campaign, Warner Bros. pretended that Tom Hardy’s Max is the star of “Fury Road.” But if you’ve seen the film, you know it is Theron who owns virtually every frame of this magnificently bleak and beautiful post-apocalyptic action flick. With a shaved head, oily face paint and one arm, tough-as-nails truck driver Furiosa is the heart and sinew of director George Miller’s female-centric road movie, with Hardy’s Max mostly along for the ride. When it comes to sci-fi heroines, she’s right up there with Ripley and Sarah Connor.

What’s even more impressive? There isn’t a single damsel in distress to be found in “Fury Road.” The cast’s menagerie of bizarre supporting characters includes strong, resourceful women of all ages and personalities. Why should this be such a rare thing? Hollywood execs should use Miller’s forward-thinking epic as a template for all summer blockbusters to come.

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Alicia Vikander in “Ex Machina”: There are so many wonderful, eerie and astonishing things to discover in writer-director Alex Garland’s artificial intelligence thriller. Chief among them is Swedish performer Vikander, also delightful in “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” who brings to life the strikingly beautiful, eerily lifelike humanoid at the center of the film. With her cherubic face and curvaceous CGI body, Vikander’s Ava is alluring and dismaying, uncannily perfect, and completely believable. Is Ava the perfect object of male fantasies or a master manipulator? Is she a girl waiting to be rescued or a skilled self preservationist? In a film where nothing is quite what you expect it to be, Vikander is the biggest surprise of them all.

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Rebecca Ferguson in “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation”: Last summer, Tom Cruise starred in “Edge of Tomorrow” but willingly took a back seat to the incredibly bad-ass Emily Blunt, who dominated the clever sci-fi thriller. Weird rumors about Katie Holmes aside, maybe this guy deserves some feminist cred. This summer, he did it again, basically ceding his role as headliner of “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation” to intriguing newcomer Rebecca Ferguson.

As enigmatic triple agent Ilsa Faust, Ferguson matches Cruise step for step and blow for blow in executing her own stunts and when it comes to intrigue, she’s a lot more interesting than the one-dimensionally heroic Ethan Hunt. The film’s most electrifying sequence, an attempted assassination in a Vienna opera house, is almost entirely Ferguson’s show. Coolly shimmying up the rigging in the sleekest, and most practical, of silk gowns, she’s practically auditioning to take over the franchise.

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Melissa McCarthy in “Spy”: McCarthy has always been brilliant at satirizing social convention, but she’s so likable and so good at what she does, we hardly notice the sly statements she makes. In “Spy,” she reunites with “Bridesmaids” director Paul Feig and tackles the male-dominated genre made famous by James Bond and Jason Bourne, playing a timid CIA analyst lured out from behind her desk and into the dangerous field.

McCarthy may be may be sending up the exotic, over-the-top world of Hollywood espionage, but she also has a lot of fun and gets to do everything 007 does — a moped chase in Budapest, a killer knife fight — only she’s way more hilarious.

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Elizabeth Olsen in “Avengers: Age of Ultron”: When it comes to creating memorable on-screen superheroines, Marvel has been a bit slow to evolve. Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow is a formidable force but is seriously outnumbered by her male colleagues, who don’t have to stuff themselves into a slinky, black catsuit before saving the world. So it was a welcome moment when Olsen’s otherworldly Scarlet Witch made the scene in “Age of Ultron,” wielding some very cool telekinetic abilities. You can see just see the neighborhood kids mimicking her witchy powers of mind control while playing superhero. That’s something long overdue.

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Kate Mara in “Fantastic Four”: Comic book movie reboot “Fantastic Four” took a critical and fiscal bruising when it debuted earlier this month. The film is widely considered a disaster but it contains at least one overlooked element: Mara’s thoughtful portrayal of invisible woman Sue Storm. Watching the actor at work, it’s hard to believe that only 10 years ago, Jessica Alba’s Sue was largely celebrated for the way she filled out her skintight suit. In sharp contrast, Mara’s performance emphasizes Sue’s brains over her body. She is arguably the first female superhero whose intellect is more important than her sex appeal.

Photos: http://www.techinsider.io; http://www.youtube.com; marvel.com; tribecafilm.com, http://www.zimbio.com.

Artificial Intelligence Gets a Bold, Scary, Feminist Spin in ‘Ex Machina’

Ex Machina
Four stars (out of four)
R (graphic nudity, language, sexual references, some violence)
108 minutes

From Asimov, to “Blade Runner,” to “The Terminator,” makers of science-fiction have long been obsessed with the concept of artificial intelligence and what such a technological development would portend for the human race.

Evolution? Extinction? A combination of both?

In keeping with this storied tradition, A.I. beings good and evil are front and center on the big screen this summer.

In “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” Tony Stark spawns the ultimate peacekeeping program, only to see his creation go haywire and try to wipe out the planet via makeshift meteor.

In July, “Terminator Genisys” reboots the now classic James Cameron thriller about an apocalypse sparked by machines bent on either killing or protecting humans.

Neither of these films, however, serve up a vision of artificial intelligence as chilling, clever or convincing as “Ex Machina,” the impressive debut film of writer-director Alex Garland.

Garland’s A.I. isn’t the typical stuff of Hollywood sci-fi, masterminding mass destruction by robot army, monologuing and generally blowing stuff up.

No, the artificial brain at the controls of “Ex Machina” is more insidious, wielding its mastery of the human mind as a weapon. It is skilled in the power of manipulation and that’s all the power it needs.

Garland is no slouch when it comes to sci-fi. Best known for authoring the novel “The Beach,” he penned Danny Boyle’s “Sunshine” and “28 Days Later,” wrote the “Dredd” remake and adapted Kazuo Ishiguro’s “Never Let Me Go” for the screen.

“Ex Machina” wears the suffocating shroud of hushed dread that adorns his previous work, but it elevates the filmmaker’s already strong pedigree to another level. It is the sharpest, most original effort of his career so far.

Garland’s direction is refreshingly lean and sleek, wasting no time in establishing an intriguing premise and a setting that drips with atmosphere.

Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a programmer for a Google-like search engine, learns he’s been selected as the winner of a mysterious contest. His prize is a week at the remote home of his wealthy employer, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac).

As he delightedly arrives by helicopter to Nathan’s vast, stunning mountain estate, the audience shares his awkward position of ignorance and apprehension. What kind of man lives here, amidst the surreal majesty of glaciers, waterfalls and pines, in a compound of the pristine, minimalist architecture you only ever see in movies, a cold, glorious monument of glass, stone and long, dimly-lit corridors?

We’re soon introduced to Caleb’s host, who manages to make his guest — and us — feel simultaneously welcome and deeply uncomfortable as he ushers the young programmer around the eerily unpopulated outpost that will serve as his home for the next seven days.

Nathan isn’t what Caleb or we expected. Part Steve Jobs, part frat boy, he’s actually, if you’ll pardon the expression, kind of a tool. He drinks heavily, says “dude” a lot and displays confounding mood swings. He invites his guest to be a part of his latest research project, but only after signing a daunting nondisclosure agreement.

When Caleb balks at this arrangement, Nathan reveals he’s made an unprecedented breakthrough in the field of artificial intelligence. He’d like his eager, young employee to participate in the Turing test, designed to determine whether an A.I. creation exhibits behavior indistinguishable from human intelligence.

So begin Caleb’s “sessions” with Ava (Alicia Vikander), a strikingly beautiful, uncannily lifelike humanoid who has never ventured beyond the confines of her glass-walled room.

Caleb is immediately astounded by her abilities, but when it comes to discussing the science behind this man-made woman, Nathan proves strangely evasive. He’d rather talk about how Caleb “feels” about Ava, but defining the answer to that question proves frustratingly slippery.

Soon other questions arise, like what’s up with the frequent power outages that strike Nathan’s seemingly impregnable mountain stronghold? Why aren’t there any lab technicians or staff in residence? What’s with the key cards that at once grant and restrict Caleb’s access to the facility?

What does Ava think of Caleb? Who’s really being tested here? And who is Nathan’s oddly compliant, sushi-making sexpot of a personal assistant, really?

From the beginning, “Ex Machina” ravels and unravels its mysteries with the unsettling, unbearable tension of a finely crafted horror movie. Garland is skilled at keeping the viewer in a constant state of uneasiness, using every resource at his disposal.

This includes the film’s marvelous production design, which blends the organic and the artificial in ways that echo the film’s theme of humanity vs. technology — the Juvet Landscape Hotel in Norway provides the jaw-dropping backdrop for Nathan’s mad scientific endeavors — as well as the visual effects and sound design.

With her cherubic face, curvaceous mesh body and vaguely eerie whirrings, Ava is at once alluring and dismaying, and completely believable as the revolutionary discovery Caleb proclaims her to be. Much of the credit for this belongs to Vikander, who captures Ava’s precise, graceful movements and formal, soothing speech patterns while masking her intentions.

Gleeson and Isaac — who will appear together again later this year in “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens” — engage in an entertaining, ever shifting game of one-upmanship with all the intensity and intimacy of a stage play.

Gleeson’s unassuming likability goes a long way toward disarming the moviegoer, while Isaac injects a bit of weird humor into his character’s darkness.

What I was most surprised by and love the most about “Ex Machina” is its refreshing, incredibly shrewd feminist spin. This is a film that has unexpected and profound things to say about the female mind and body and the way some men see them.

The unpredictable, profoundly satisfying finale turns cliche Hollywood romantic tropes on their head and makes a bold statement about the objectification of women.

And it’s the first time in a long time that the possibility of artificial intelligence actually scared me.

If you dare, go to ava-sessions.com, where you can interact with Ava. She’ll even draw your portrait. 

Photo: http://www.hdwallpapers.in