Tag Archives: Oscar Isaac

A Most Violent Year

A Most Violent Year film posterSynopsis

1981 is the year when Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) gets into the New York heating oil distribution business, but he wants to do it legitimately.  He inherited his business from his criminal father-in-law.  He makes a deposit on a waterfront deal and has 30 days to close the deal or risk losing it all.  He wants to persuade the District Attorney (David Oyelowo) of his legitimacy, and he must protect his business from violent competitors.  Jessica Chastain plays his business-shrewd wife.  Morales’ employees are afraid since they are in the firing line.  Will Morales’ business survive?


Oscar Isaac looks like Al Pacino (especially when in Scarface), so it comes as a bit of a shock to learn of Morales’ aspirations towards legitimacy, in fact he makes a big deal about it, as if he expects us to congratulate him when he says “I AM NOT A GANGSTER”.  He is goaded into chasing one of the thugs who attacked his employee, he gets rough with him but does not shoot him.  The street and waterfront scenes of New York recall the dour gritty look of the seventies like in Serpico.  The interiors are gloomy and tacky, was 1981 really this grim?   When, as a well dressed businessman, Morales gets out of his car to negotiate with the DA and the police one expects somebody to get shot but it doesn’t happen.  The feel is Sidney Lumet and Scorsese, the waterfront could be On the Waterfront from 1954.  The film is all the more fascinating precisely because it shuns the easy option of violence.  Resorting to guns can be counter productive to the usual pursuit of profit in spite of the numerous “it’s business” excuses for violence in the Godfather and other gangster films.  Morales is trying to maintain self respect as his patriarchal pride is wounded when his wife Anne offers her help in his business problems.  When the DA orders a search of the Morales house it looks like a re-tread of Eliot Ness pursuing Al Capone but Anne makes it look like the hounding of a respectable yuppy household.  The presence of a gun in the house startles because it seems out of place.  Chastain’s Anne looks like Michelle Pfeiffer in Scarface but she is too intelligent to be overawed by the threats inherent in the ropiness of business dealings.  Her father was, after all, a criminal who succeeded through violence.  When there are business meetings we think about the pomposity of Mafia procedure, especially when suspicious recriminations fly about over Morales’ rival,s but no-one comes in waving Capone’s baseball bat.  Excellent.


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Posted by on February 20, 2015 in At the cinema, Film Reviews


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Ex Machina film posterSynopsis

Alex Garland’s the scriptwriter and director.  Domhnall Gleeson plays Caleb, a code worker for a software company called Bluebook.  He wins a prize to spend a weekend with Nathan (Oscar Isaac) in the Norwegian mountains.  Caleb is required to interview an A.I. robot Ava (Alicia Vikander) and check on how artificial she is.  What happens among the three of them?


Since The Beach Garland tries to show how the deadly threat of human corruption in any contrived paradise.  I found Ex-Machina very irritating.  Garland is not a scientist so he had to have scientific advice on this and frankly it looks like any nerd’s wet dream.  More than that, it reminded me of a poor man’s version of Sleuth (Shaffer’s observation of social class between  two sparring characters), except that the sparring doesn’t really get started.  Nathan is god like smug in his multimillionaire’s fortress as he tells Caleb he will design Ava.  It’s main resemblance to Sleuth (lacking that play’s wit), is a rich man toying with his creation and employee.  Of course robot creation goes back to Frankenstein, Pygmalion, I Robot, and Bladerunner and in this latter film there is real fun to be had with the essentially non-question of artificial versus human intelligence.  Isn’t it just one of the big myths of our age?  In this and other similar movies it looks like script material for unoriginal movies.  Asimov wanted to take the debate to some pretty esoteric level, but in Garland’s it looks like a nerd’s obsession, a questionable male fantasy with its apparently compliant female robot.  Instead of dramatic dialogue we get juxtapositions of would-be insightful statements.  The film can mention Wittgenstein’s Blue Books all it likes, but it’s a pointless name drop.  Ava herself looks like a plastic battery in the witch Momby’s gallery, she’s on the look out for a good skin graft.  The other female robot is Japanese with all the animation of a zombie.  This is a fifty year old stereotype, the amoral Oriental killing machine beloved of James Bond movies.  When Nathan and the robots break into po-faced dancing, it just made me laugh.  Was this supposed to be an outbreak of spontaneity?

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Posted by on February 4, 2015 in At the cinema, Film Reviews


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Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn Davis film posterSynopsis

Starring Oscar Isaac as Llewyn Davis, a ‘folk singer’ who has a stack of unsold albums, and will not surrender his integrity to go commercial, but then he sings an absurd pop song for money.  His girlfriend is played by Carey Mulligan, she may or may not be pregnant by him, can he afford the abortion?  Davis plays in coffee bars in Greenwich and goes off to Chicago to further his artistic ambitions, travelling there with John Goodman.  He auditions for Murray Abrahams who rejects him.  Davis meets his father and thinks of joining the merchant navy.  He returns to New York and tries to make it again as he insults other acts and gets beaten up for it.


This is set in 1961 Greenwich Village when ‘folk music’ became a middle class fad for ernest young Americans and Brits.  Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger inspired the young to political protest (this film was released shortly after Seeger’s death).  The young Bob Dylan appears at the end of the film.  I remember the fuss about Dylan’s supposed betrayal of folk ideals when that culture was full of people trying to make money and achieve stardom.  Dylan tried that phase and then went electric, writing songs that were hilarious pranks played on gullible would be intellectuals, he betrayed nothing.  His crime was to be more successful than the rest.  Llewyn Davis talks about integrity, but the folk scene for him is merely a self inflicted religion of the nobility of failure and poverty.  He poses like a self pitying martyr through a New York lovingly created to remind us of the cover of Dylan’s Free Wheelin album.

The colours are quite muted as in other Coen films and there is the vastness of the American landscape.  This film shares with Nebraska and Orange County an acknowledgement of the great emptiness of the mid west and its effect on the mind.  On the journey from New York to Chicago the landscape is so bleak it’s like the barest sketch for an Edward Hopper painting.  John Goodman plays the Albert Grossman character who is contemptuously cynical of Davis’ artistic aspirations.  He passes out in the car and Llewyn leaves him there, his beatnik driver is picked up by the police.  This is the reality of the Kerouac scene, the soul destroying drabness of a wasted industrial landscape.

Davis himself is a prick, he self loathingly staggers around thinking that his brutal frankness is a fearless integrity stripping away illusion, rather than a licence to inflict needless self regarding cruelty.  Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan play a couple, their folksy wholesomeness contrasting with Davis’ cynical arrogance.  Davis’ own songs are not all that wonderful, Murray Abrahams doesn’t think of him as a commercial prospect, so it makes Dylan’s own success from such an unpromising environment all the more surprising.

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Posted by on March 6, 2014 in At the cinema, Film Reviews


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