Tag Archives: Domhnall Gleeson

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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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

A Slight Disturbance in the Force: Thoughts on the Big ‘Star Wars’ Casting News

When I first heard the news that Disney had acquired Lucasfilm for $4 billion and planned to make another “Star Wars” film, I sank into a depression for two straight days. Silly, I know, but I just couldn’t wrap my mind around yet another installment spun out of the glorious sci-fi trilogy that informed much of my late childhood and, yes, I’ll admit to it, my adult life as well. “Star Wars” is sacred and every bit of — even George Lucas approved — meddling raises anew the possibility of irreversible desecration.

I like to think that since the announcement early last year, I have moved from denial and anger to acceptance, which is why I can calmly (I hope) offer some off-the-cuff thoughts about today’s big “Star Wars: Episode VII” casting news.

As anyone who lives and breathes and has access to the Internet is no doubt aware, official website starwars.com posted a statement revealing the cast of “Episode VII,” following a year of intense fan speculation. That announcement confirms once and for all that this new installment, part one of a planned trilogy and the first of many, many “Star Wars” spin-offs planned by Disney, will indeed feature returning stars Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill.

Many fans feel reassured by the presence of the original “Star Wars” trio, who have obviously given director J.J. Abrams their blessing. The prospect of wise, old versions of Jedi upstart turned master Luke Skywalker, rogue smuggler turned hero Han Solo and tough Jedi princess Leia initiating a young, new cast into the ways of the Force has some members of the Lucas faithful salivating.

I still can’t quite get on board this idea. As someone who thrilled at age 14 to the sight of the rosy-cheeked, shaggy-haired Hamill gazing at Tatooine’s setting twin suns, Ford brandishing a blaster in those pants and that vest and Fisher, with her stubborn, tomboy pout, I have no desire to be confronted with an aging Han, Luke and Leia. Though my husband assures me that Hamill is getting himself into tip-top shape for the resumption of his role, I prefer to remember him and the others as they were … you know, when the Force was strong with these ones. And Ford’s appearance in the next “Expendables” movie, Fisher’s reputation for kooky volatility and Hamill’s vigorous but unseen second-chapter career as a voiceover actor don’t exactly increase my confidence.

The real news here, of course, consists of the new additions to the “Star Wars” universe, featuring obscure names, such as John Boyega and Daisy Ridley, mingled with only slightly more familiar monikers, including Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver and Domhnall Gleeson.

Daisy Ridley

Nobody seems to know who Ridley (pictured above) is. Vanity Fair informs us she is a young British television actress who appeared in “Casualty,” “Youngers,” “Silent Witness” and “Mr. Selfridge.” As one of the lone female members of the cast, she’ll shoulder a heavy burden. Here’s hoping she’s up to to the task.

John Boyega

Boyega (above) is certainly an intriguing choice. I saw him in 2011’s hilariously enjoyable inner-city-teens vs. aliens comedy “Attack the Block.” It’s a small, independently produced British film but he made a big impression in it, playing a South London street thug who becomes an unlikely hero after an extraterrestrial invasion.

Adam Driver Domhnall Gleeson

Although Driver (above left) is probably the most recognizable name among the “Episode VII” cast, I’m perplexed by his presence here. I know his participation has long been rumored and this guy is a big deal in Hollywood right now, thanks to his breakout role on HBO’s “Girls.” I just can’t envision how he might fit into the world of “Star Wars.” He seems a little too contemporary and pip-squeaky to me. I hear rumors he might play a baddie, which could make sense, given how easily he evokes smugness. For now, though, I just don’t see it.

Gleeson (above right) has some major nerd cred already, having appeared in the Harry Potter movies as Bill Weasley, one of Ron’s many brothers. Last year, in the Richard Curtis dramedy “About Time,” he revealed a geeky sort of underdog charm, which might suit him to a Luke Skywalker-ish role. We’ll have to wait and see.

Oscar Isaac

I start to feel a lot better when I consider the presence of Isaac (above) on this list. The Juilliard educated actor made an inauspicious debut in 2006’s “Nativity Story” but has proved to be a major talent in such films as “Che,” “Robin Hood” and “The Bourne Legacy.” Last year, he was snubbed by the Academy for his riveting performance as a brilliant but tortured folk singer in the Coen Brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis.” Had he been nominated, he would have most definitely been my choice for best actor of 2013. He has a gift for delicately but fiercely conveying inner turmoil.

Von Sydow Gollum

Rounding out the more familiar names in the “Episode VII” cast are Max von Sydow and Andy Serkis.

Von Sydow is, of course, a veteran actor, Oscar-nominated star of such films as “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” and “Shutter Island.” He has a rich, smoky voice and the ability to portray sage warmth or profound menace. He could play a wizened, old Jedi or a sour Sith Lord with equal gusto.

Serkis is famous for portraying Gollum, the most convincing computer-generated motion capture creature ever to grace the screen, in the “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” trilogies. His presence suggests we are going to be treated to yet another stunning piece of motion capture performance art and that a CG critter of awesome magnitude is about to be born — hopefully more Yoda than Jar Jar Binks.

 When I start to get nervous about all this, I remind myself that Abrams did an excellent job recasting “Star Trek” when he successfully rebooted his first famous sci-fi series. One must also remember that when Lucas debuted his original trilogy, no one knew who Ford, Hamill and Fisher were either and look how that turned out.

On the other hand, there is the lingering specter of a certain trilogy of prequels that shall not be named. Fans can argue all they like that it wasn’t really THAT bad, but let’s not kid ourselves. That cold, soulless, CGI-saturated, mitichlorian-ravaged slice of stinky cheese was a crushing disappointment and it scars me to this day.

It cannot happen again, J.J. My lightsaber-wielding heart can’t take it.

Do you hear me?