Oscar Isaac

10 Years

10 years

A high school classmate recently lamented that our ten year reunion had come and gone without celebration and that our fifteenth was probably not going to happen. Classmates wondered if anyone had the energy between work and babies to put one together, and I wondered if in the age of Facebook and other social media, people even organize high school reunions anymore. There was something dated about seeing friends get really excited about seeing friends, as if status updates, texting, and video chat didn’t exist. But maybe more to point, real life interaction is a cause for enthusiasm these days, and that is, for better or worse, a good reason to hold reunions and maybe even to make a film about one.

10 Years does everything you would expect from the genre, relying on familiar character types and situations. Jake (Channing Tatum) anchors the piece as a mortgage broker and erstwhile prom king. He wants to propose to his girlfriend (Jenna Dewan-Tatum) but has been waffling for no good reason. The unexpected appearance of his ex Mary (Rosario Dawson) is made more awkward when she arrives with her husband (Ron Livingston).

Jake also reconnects with his circle of friends, including high school sweethearts Cully (Chris Pratt) and Sam (Ari Graynor). They are married with children, but Cully still acts like one when he gets drunk. This results in obnoxious and failed attempts to apologize to former classmates for being a bully. High fliers Marty (Justin Long) and AJ (Max Minghella) don’t fare too well either. Though they are living deluxe, they don’t seem to have progressed past a college mentality and spend the night trying to show off to the hot girl Anna (Lynn Collins). When that doesn’t work, they end up pulling a prank you probably tried in grade school.

A few thankfully come off as well adjusted adults. Musician Reeves (Oscar Isaac) is the one who made it big. Despite his fame, he still has a crush on loner Elise (Kate Mara), and the two spend the evening in simmering flirtation. Meanwhile, Scott (Scott Porter) is happily settled in Japan with a positive attitude and few regrets. I can’t say this is the case for everyone, but way to take one for the expat team.

There are too many characters for any one to progress beyond a label, even ten years on. Also, the added presence of two non-white characters only serves to develop the others. Peter (Aaron Yoo) gets the brunt of Cully’s abuse while Andre (Anthony Mackie) emphasizes his white friend’s (Brian Geraghty) sliding scale of blackness. Still, a few performances stand out; Collins is in fine Juilliard form as the prom queen whose happily ever after turned out differently than she expected, and even Tatum appears judiciously restrained as the de facto central character.

The pedestrian nature of this film ends up being its saving grace. Unlike other reunion movies, 10 Years doesn’t strain itself to recreate an era or to make overwhelming assessments about its characters’ lives. It allows them to casually reveal some flaws and successes while hiding others. The best thing about it is its aching averageness, which better approximates not only a high school reunion but real life. No one is really a stunner, and in the Facebook age where people thrive on the pretense of perfection, it’s satisfying to see that most of us are just like everyone else. We still want to fit in, we are still trying to sort out our lives, and we still care about our friends. Maybe your own ten year reunion was more exciting, but for those of us who have yet to attend one, this movie is a fine substitute.

“Never Had” penned and sung by Oscar Isaac

Released: 2011
Prod: Marty Bowen, Reid Carolin, Wyck Godfrey, Channing Tatum
Dir: Jamie Linden
Writer: Jamie Linden
Cast: Channing Tatum, Rosario Dawson, Chris Pratt, Oscar Isaac, Justin Long, Max Minghella, Kate Mara, Lynn Collins, Jenna Dewan-Tatum, Ari Graynor, Scott Porter, Brian Geraghty, Anthony Mackie, Aubrey Plaza, Aaron Yoo, Nick Zano, Ron Livingston
Time: 100 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2014

W./E.

we

This is not the worst movie ever, not even Golden Raspberry worthy, despite what the internets say. To be sure, director and writer Madonna takes pains to contrive a story about two women separated by time, place, temperament, circumstance, social norms – nearly everything, and united only by name and a common dissatisfaction with marriage. She threads the life of Wally Winthrop, a modern day New York socialite, with that of Wallis Simpson, the American divorcée behind King Edward VIII’s 1936 abdication, and holds it all together with the thinnest of gossamer strands.

But even the absence of basic narrative structure can be forgiven by a few things the film does well. There is a picturesque quality about the movie, aided by impressive costuming and production design immaculate to a detail. Madonna aims for something like the visual and nostalgic lushness of Wong Kar-Wai. She better approximates this with the glittery Wallis and Edward storyline, where shots linger like photographic stills. Added to that is Abel Korzeniowski’s bewitching score, which sweeps and swirls with breathless frenzy. His music bathes the picture in pool of melancholy, yearning, and regret.

All make for alluring cinema but most entrancing is Andrea Riseborough’s performance as the Duchess of Windsor. Riseborough dives into the screen, flinty, birdlike, and immediately seizes on Wallis, in much the same way she possessed her role as a young Margaret Thatcher in The Long Walk to Finchley. She has an instinct for exposing resolute characters who try tuck away their emotional fragility. Her Wallis is underlined by despair, some of it her own making, and while not quite the seductress history has made her out to be, she isn’t the most gracious personality either. The casual dismissal of her husband (David Harbour) is callous and bares her cold ambition. She pursues with the tenacity of someone who has been wronged and selfishly takes chances where social decorum might give others pause.

Starring opposite Riseborough is a regal James D’Arcy. His performance as King Edward VIII feels like something out of a forgotten film reel, handsomely preserved and radiating a freshness that comes after being shuttered away for so long. Edward glides effortlessly through his duties and his lovers before his infatuation with Wallis arrests his ennui, and he is finally grounded by something, someone, who infuses him with a passion greater than that which comes with the crown. Appropriately, in a movie that is drawn more to Wallis, there is a distance to Edward, but he is almost too obscure a character and his attraction too understated. It is a fault more with the script than with D’Arcy’s performance that Edward remains a hidden part of this tantalizing love story.

A better film would have tightened the focus on this romance, which contains enough drama for a three-part BBC series. However, Madonna, not unlike Wallis, gambled on the public’s generosity and bloats her project by adding a modern day storyline. Wally (Abbie Cornish) functions as her namesake’s counterpart but the two lives hardly converge. Though both characters feel cornered, they differ wildly in desires and predicaments. Wallis’s life is defined by bold persistence, while Wally, who suffocates under the physical and emotional abuse of her husband (Richard Coyle), spends her days drifting through Sotheby’s to view an auction of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s estate. Madonna nevertheless manufactures a relationship and forces the two together in several imagined sequences, but the stories interlock with the grace of a kid smashing non-matching puzzle pieces together.

Part of the problem is that Wally is so poorly defined. Most of her scenes are confined to the auction house where she spends hours inexplicably lingering over crystal goblets and cigarette cases. Even her friends do not understand her kinship with Wallis. Why does she cry when listening to the phonograph? What is she meditating about when she gazes into Wallis’s diamonds? Cornish is given a few moments to add nuance to her character but doesn’t seize on any of these.

She ends up being outshined by Oscar Isaac as security guard Evgeni. He enchants Wally by being everything her husband is not, and she falls easily for the slumming Russian intellectual. Isaac is a study in measured acting, spinning his role from a lusty detail into a compelling character. He crafts an entire life out a few choice lines and searing glances. If Madonna’s hankering to revisit this story, she should make a film about Evgeni. That would be hypnotizing affair.

“Evgeni’s Waltz”

“Charm/Cartier Montage”

“Masterpiece” by Madonna

Released: 2011
Prod: Madonna, Kris Thykier
Dir: Madonna
Writer: Madonna, Alek Keshishian
Cast: Abbie Cornish, Andrea Riseborough, James D’Arcy, Oscar Isaac, Richard Coyle, David Harbour, Katie McGrath, Judy Parfitt, James Fox, Laurence Fox, Natalie Dormer, Geoffrey Palmer, Haluk Bilginer, Christina Chong
Time: 119 min
Lang: English, a touch of Welsh
Country: United Kingdom
Reviewed: 2014

The Nativity Story

nativity story

There are plenty of films about Christmas but surprisingly few about the Christmas story, the birth of Jesus Christ. And while The Nativity Story is not that bright, brilliant star in the night, it does adequately fill a seasonal void and add some dimension to the familiar tale. Nevertheless, it suffers at times from the overwhelming reverence that has smothered many a Biblical film.

The movie, bathed in washed out browns and olives, is dusty and dirty. The filmmakers are eager to emphasize that their Nazareth and Bethlehem are not those of brightly hued Renaissance paintings or gold embossed Christmas cards. Rather, the humble origins of the Messiah are to be found amongst the workers in the fields; this Jesus is one whose people lived in sparse, humble huts and who walked alongside beasts of burden. The earthy tones only go so far to make the story more “real” though. Even as King Herod (Ciarán Hinds) surveys the templeworks in a cloud of dust, the audience feels like it is watching a movie while wearing sunglasses.

The visual drabness of the picture is unfortunately mirrored in Keisha Castle-Hughes’s portrayal of Mary. Although her teenaged Mary laughs with friends, hustles off to sell some cheese, and is kind of peeved that her parents are marrying her off to to a vague acquaintance she has no feelings for, these moments are fleeting. More often she is ordinary to the point of dullness, passively reacting to situations rather than acting on her own. Castle-Hughes seems unsure of how to balance Mary’s youth and innocence with the popular and perhaps expected hagiographic image of her. Mary is bewildered by her miraculous pregnancy but does not convey deep concern – not for her parents, her husband, her impending motherhood, nor her own safety. She defers steadfastly to her faith in God, which is how the faithful might imagine her but which also diminishes everyone’s understanding of the mother of God (or Jesus, to avoid theological arguments).

Conversely, those around her find themselves stepping into the foreground of the nativity story. Shohreh Aghdashloo radiates maternal joy as Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, whom she visits after she discovers she is pregnant. Elizabeth is overwhelmed that she has conceived in her old age but she also shares her happiness with her young cousin, choosing trust in God over condemnation. Hiam Abbass and Shaun Toub also ground the story as Mary’s firm but loving parents, Anne and Joachim, who find their faith tested by their daughter’s news.

The emotional heart of this Christmas story, however, rests on Joseph and Oscar Isaac’s affecting portrayal of Mary’s oft ignored husband. (For what it’s worth, Joseph is my favorite saint and Oscar Isaac is one of my favorite actors. No bias.) Isaac rescues his character from the popular image of a graying, sleepy man clutching a shepherd’s staff and breathes life into the man who raised Jesus. The Bible says that Joseph was righteous, which is shown when he decides not to condemn Mary and saves her from being stoned. But Isaac reveals much about Joseph that is not written – the initial anger and confusion at his wife’s pregnancy, the subsequent excitement with which he greets his new responsibility, the tenderness with which he treats Mary when they journey to Bethlehem. One of his most moving scenes is when a heavily pregnant Mary says, over the protestations of her mother, that she will join her husband on the 100+ mile trek. Joseph tries to suppress a smile, heartened that his wife has finally warmed to him.

A few more familiar characters round out the nativity story. Ciarán Hinds dons eyeliner and permed facial hair to play the paranoid, power hungry King Herod. His murder of the innocents is the film’s starting point. Additionally, the three wise men appear not only to put the Christ child’s birth in context but also to provide the movie’s few moments of humor. Overall, the film is not a great change of pace; it hews closely to the infancy narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke while adding a few imaginative flourishes. You won’t be wrong to enjoy it during Christmastime.

Released: 2006
Prod: Toby Emmerich, Catherine Hardwicke
Dir: Catherine Hardwicke
Writer: Mike Rich
Cast: Keisha Castle-Hughes, Oscar Isaac, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Stanley Townsend, Ciarán Hinds, Shaun Toub, Hiam Abbass, Alessandro Giuggioli, Alexander Siddig
Time: 101 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2014