Tag: Oscar Isaac

At Eternity’s Gate

aegThe Diving Bell and the Butterfly director Julian Schnabel’s take on Van Gogh’s life places us deep inside the disquieting mind of the Dutch genius in this film which is part biopic, part fever dream, part expressionist cinema.  It’s mesmerising, if somewhat nauseating stuff; a rich tapestry of movement and colour that feels as painterly as cinema gets.  Attempts to capture Van Gogh’s work through cinema is nothing new, most notably the recent effort, Loving Vincent, which literally painted each frame of his story. But where that film seemed gimmicky (albeit painstaking) here Schnabel’s vision feels authentic and true to Van Gogh’s pursuit to capture light on canvas. 

A word of warning, though, to those who suffer the uneasy effects of a shaky handheld camera; this film is constantly on the move, and following Vincent’s crazed exploits through the rural French town of Arles might be a bit much for some. I was both wowed and sweating with motion sickness; a strangely uncomfortable but rewarding experience.

The film traces Van Gogh’s most prolific period but tends to gloss over many of his more infamous exploits, focussing instead on his relationship to his art. Rather than ply us with a forensic understanding of the Dutch master, the film concerns itself more with the world of experience. 

Willem Dafoe’s turn as Vincent is spell-binding. His face, itself a richly creased canvas, delightfully communes with the world around him capturing Van Gogh’s’ array of anguish and wonderment with an impassioned depth. The excellent supporting cast are worth noting too with Oscar Isaac (as Paul Gauguin) and Mads Mikkelsen (as a consulting priest) bringing two memorable performances.

Ultimately though, the main star is Benoit Delhomme’s (The Theory of Everything) deeply rich cinematography. Undoubtedly, some will find his bold camera work a distracting annoyance and might consider At Eternity’s Gate to be a victim of its own style. Depending on your tolerance, At Eternity’s Gate will linger in your mind or uneasily in your tummy long after viewing.

At Eternity’s Gate opens in theatres 20th December.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.

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Annihilation

Annihilation

“It is the beginning of the end!”—nope, it’s not a quote from writer/director Alex Garland’s latest cerebral sci-fi, but me, crying in frustration as to the reasons why this sensory extravaganza wasn’t released on the big screen outside of North America and China.  Paramount, in all their “we’ve got cold feet” wisdom has handed the release over to Netflix, thus signalling the beginning of the silver-screen apocalypse and the inexorable transition of new releases to an exclusive small screen market. Garland will be screaming blue murder when he sees bus bound hoards watching his work of art on five-inch phones and a pair of junky earbuds.  Shame on you Paramount.

Ok, now I’ve got that off my chest, I can turn my attention to the film at hand, because it’s really good.  Garland’s first film, Ex Machina, was the kind of debut that made many critics sit up and pay attention.  In that film, Garland (who also wrote the original screenplay) explored the sinister side of artificial intelligence and proceeded to gouge out the male gaze with a white-hot poker of female vengeance … an oddly liberating experience. Here, in his sophomore outing, Garland continues to keep things female-centric, with a predominantly female cast.

Searching for reasons surrounding her husband’s disappearance, Lena (Natalie Portman) decides to join a team of scientists embarking on a research mission into a newly discovered anomaly called “the shimmer”—an unexplained malignant cancerous growth that is spreading throughout the coastal bayous of a sleepy American coastline, rendering all the flora and fauna within its bubble an unpredictable and potentially hostile mutation. As the team ventures deeper into the shimmer, the film reveals it’s secrets through a series of flashbacks that recount her husband, Kane’s (Oscar Isaac) fate.

It is a brooding, haunting, and at times quite scary sci-fi brain-burner about many things, not least a painful allegory of the ruthless ambivalence of cancer.  Its fractured structure also mirrors the film’s prismatic themes about identity and the brutally unsentimental march of genetic diversity.

Throughout, Garland gives a few knowing nods many other films of its ilk, in particular, Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin, and like that masterpiece, Annihilation is a beautifully rendered head-scratcher that will have you pensively juggling theories long after leaving the cinema, I mean, logging out of your Netflix account … *sigh* please, for the love of all that’s good, just don’t watch it on your phone.
  
See more of my NZME reviews here.

Jacques Rivette and my top five of 2015

I have just returned from holiday to the news that Jacques Rivette has died.  He was a unique director who kicked off the French New Wave movement.  Unique at the time because of his propensity for long takes – he would let the camera sit and observe, a technique that appears to be lost on many directors today. I studied some of his films a couple of years ago as part of my Masters, and his first film Paris Belongs to Us (1961) always stood out as my favourite.

On a completely different topic, here are my top five picks of the films that I saw in 2015.  This is a little late and redundant, I know, but a cinephile (at least this cinephile!) always needs to get this list off their chest.  So here goes:

1. Mad Max: Fury Road – a bravura action piece that had me utterly enthralled, and exhausted. Its brutal and mechanical style gives the middle finger to digital green screen (although I’m sure plenty was used) resulting in convincingly real set pieces and scenes that are unique and intoxicating. Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa rivals Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley.

 

2. Ex Machina – and at the other end of the spectrum, we have a very cerebral sci-fi. Ex Machina pulled me into a syrupy quicksand with its brooding filmic method. Oscar Isaac and Alicia Vikander are fantastic, as is the script.

 

3. Inside Out – a thoughtful and clever Pixar animated film that can be viewed on many levels. It is a wonderfully entertaining take on the inner workings of the protagonist’s mind. 

 

4. Song of the Sea  – another animated feature, but this time from Ireland.  As with Inside Out, this film explores life from a child’s perspective. Beautifully moving and had me in tears by the end.

 

5. A Most Violent Year – directed by JC Chandor, and starring Oscar Isaac (who is rapidly becoming one of my favourite actors) and Jessica Chastain (who already is), this is a solid film that does not get carried away with its subject matter.

 

Some honourable mentions: I really wanted to put Night Crawler on this list as it is a superb movie, however, I’m fairly certain it was a 2014 release, so out it goes, dammit!  Other good films worth seeing, Z for Zachariah, Slow West, Paddington, Finders Keepers, 99 Homes, Ernest and Cestestine, Umrika.  Blind spots (films I really wanted to see but have yet to) for 2015 are Anomalisa, Tangerine, The Hateful Eight, Brooklyn, Love and Mercy, The Revenant, White God, and Carol.

 

Ex Machina

First time director Alex Garland explores the sinister side of aritificial intelligence. Yes, it is a path that has been well trodden over the years, so it is good to see some fresh ideas breathed into the genre. Specifically, Garland asks why it is that we feel the need to imbue artificial intellengence with sexuality. His answer proceeds to gouge out the male gaze with a white hot poker of female vengeance … it is an oddly liberating experience. As a thriller Ex Machina stands tall as a well produced and absorbing product of entertainment. But more importantly it is a well considered feminist parable of our times.

Rating: 5 stars.