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On the Rise Oscar Isaac

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On the Rise: Oscar Isaac

CBS Films

On the Rise: Oscar Isaac

You know Oscar Isaac’s face. You’ve seen him in one film or another over the last 10 years (including 2012’s high-school-reunion dramedy 10 Years). He’s the guy with the forceful presence and dark, gruffly handsome features, who always makes a memorable impact on the sidelines. Maybe he’s your favorite actor to tell your friends about. Born in Guatemala and raised in Miami, this 33-year-old Juilliard grad has an early filmography that’s fairly stereotypical, listing a single-episode arc on Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and bit parts in the Ice Cube actioner All About the Benjamins and something called Pu-239, directed by Scott Z. Burns. That Isaac had never emerged from the supporting-actor ranks before this year is what had some viewers gobsmacked at Cannes, where he knocked them flat with his title role in the Palme d’Or frontrunner Inside Llewyn Davis. Gifted the part by the film’s directors, Joel and Ethan Coen, after sending in a highly convincing audition tape, the actor is suddenly gaining the most press of his career, and if the Oscar buzz is legit, it’s not likely to stop soon. As noted in a piece in The Guardian that ran amid the festival, even journalists were stumped after the movie made its debut. “Where have you come from?” a press-conference attendee reportedly asked. But fans who’ve been watching Isaac already know the answer to that.

São Paulo International Film Festival 2011: The Death of Pinochet and Che, a New Man

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São Paulo International Film Festival 2011: <em>The Death of Pinochet</em> and <em>Che, a New Man</em>
São Paulo International Film Festival 2011: <em>The Death of Pinochet</em> and <em>Che, a New Man</em>

Like many countries, Chile has transitioned from dictatorship to democracy within the past 30 years, and as is often the case during transitional periods, not all of the population has supported the move. Although a 1988 referendum emphatically voted Augusto Pinochet out of office, he remained a nostalgic symbol for many until his death in 2006. Current Chilean President Sebastián Piñera voted against Pinochet in 1988, but publicly protested his arrest in London a decade later, saying that no one should be able to judge Chile’s former leader except Chileans themselves.

And the Chilean film The Death of Pinochet passes judgment. It’s an explicitly post-dictatorship film. This becomes clear in one of its first shots, a perfectly composed profile of a woman’s face inside a ring of varicolored flowers. Our eyes move from pink, to red, to white, to green, to purple, before shifting to the center and to her thin smile. It’s mid-December, 2006. Her world is so bright because the General has died.

New York Film Festival 2010: Carlos

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New York Film Festival 2010: <em>Carlos</em>
New York Film Festival 2010: <em>Carlos</em>

In his three-part biographical epic Carlos, Olivier Assayas seems to have approached his subject—Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, the international terrorist known throughout the 1970s and ’80s as Carlos the Jackal—in a manner similar to the way Steven Soderbergh approached another leftist-revolutionary icon, Che Guevara, in his two-part Che. Like Soderbergh, Assayas seems to have decided that the only honest way to approach his enigmatic central figure is to focus obsessively on historical verisimilitude, stand back, and allow us to draw our own conclusions.

The theory behind taking such an approach, it seems, is to avoid the kind of facile psychological oversimplifications that tends to reduce most Hollywood biopics; think, for instance, of the way Taylor Hackford’s Ray turned Ray Charles’s guilt over helplessly witnessing the drowning death of his younger brother into a letting-go-of-the-past homily that magically seems to cleanse him of all his demons at the end. It’s an admirable goal, but, at least as it plays out in Carlos (and in Che, too), it also turns out to be something of a double-edged sword. Assayas doesn’t always provide us with the safety net of a palpable directorial point of view; much of the time, we instead get the unmoored, one-thing-after-another feel of history passing us by. That’s not meant as criticism; history, of course, rarely falls into easy three-act structures. But as a result of that strategy, there are sections of the 319-minute film that naturally are more immediately compelling than others. (Its third part especially flounders, though the aimlessness seems rather appropriate considering that it details the gradual loss of notoriety and revolutionary fervor into the kind of modest, petite-bourgeois existence Carlos had so vehemently railed against during his heyday.) A more pressing question, though, is whether there are any resulting revelations to justify its wholly intellectual gaze.

Toronto International Film Festival 2008: Che, Achilles and the Tortoise, & The Hurt Locker

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Toronto International Film Festival 2008: <em>Che</em>, <em>Achilles and the Tortoise</em>, & <em>The Hurt Locker</em>
Toronto International Film Festival 2008: <em>Che</em>, <em>Achilles and the Tortoise</em>, & <em>The Hurt Locker</em>

Che: If The Motorcycle Diaries shrunk the figure of Ernesto “Che” Guevara into an easily consumable plush-doll for rebellion, Steven Soderbergh’s immensely anticipated epic trains a cooler head and a sharper eye on the controversial leader. Beginning with Guevara’s decision in 1955 to join the Cuban Revolution to overthrow the Batista regime and ending with his execution in 1967 (with strategic jumps and omissions in between), the film proceeds as two mammoth analytical blocks fused into a nearly five-hour narrative. Part one alternates between the movement’s guerilla tactics in Cuba’s lush jungles and black-and-white views of Che’s early-1960s New York tour; part two traces Che’s ultimately fatal insurrective attempt in Bolivia, during which trees and skies are bled of their colors as the flame of revolution slowly dissipates. Despite the rigorous, structuralist approach Soderbergh employs to sidestep the incense-burning pitfalls of the standard Hollywood biopic, and despite many stylistic marvels and Benicio del Toro’s drugged-tiger performance, this is a work of intelligent fastidiousness rather than vivid inspiration. No other biopic would dare overlay El Comandante’s Tolstoy quotes on a brutal skirmish, but who knew such bold experimentation could be so…academic?

Cannes Film Festival 2008: Changeling, Delta, The Headless Woman, & Che

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Cannes Film Festival 2008: <em>Changeling</em>, <em>Delta</em>, <em>The Headless Woman</em>, & <em>Che</em>
Cannes Film Festival 2008: <em>Changeling</em>, <em>Delta</em>, <em>The Headless Woman</em>, & <em>Che</em>

Changeling (Clint Eastwood). Few things over the past week have been more baffling to me than when the solid but deeply flawed Changeling began racking up the most positive reviews of the fest. I’m not sure whether it’s the international press’ tendency to praise Eastwood for anything he does, or whether I was simply too exhausted to recognize that it is, in fact, a near-masterpiece, but there has yet to be another film on which my opinion and the reviews have differed so strongly.

In the first line of his Variety review, Todd McCarthy favorably compares the film to the overwrought Mystic River, which might, despite my inability to see what the hell thematic similarities the films have, help to explain my reservations. Because despite his typically graceful and lovely directorial hand, Eastwood seems, with Changeling, to have embraced his melodramatic side whole-heartedly. Some of the film is beautiful and moving. The rest tends toward the unbelievable and shrill.

Cannes Film Festival 2008: Award Predictions

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Cannes Film Festival 2008: Award Predictions
Cannes Film Festival 2008: Award Predictions

What a long, strange week it’s been. My first visit to the Cannes Film Festival was one of the greatest experiences of my life, but also one of the most surreal. For those who haven’t experienced it, it’s almost impossible to explain the sheer emotional and physical exhaustion that comes from rushing from theater to theater, from movie to movie; from attempting to engage fully with each film you see while running on four hours of sleep and at most two meals a day. The emotional extremes are tiring. You can go from the red carpet, certain in your belief that your life will never get any better, to furious three hours later because the panini stand put mustard on your sandwich when you specifically asked them not to. Any little thing can send you spiraling from joy to despair and back again. Such is the nature of Cannes; even when you hate it, you fucking love it.

Cannes Film Festival 2008: The Pre-Game Journal

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Cannes Film Festival 2008: The Pre-Game Journal
Cannes Film Festival 2008: The Pre-Game Journal

07.00: I wake up. As a college student used to starting class no earlier than eleven in the morning, this is quite hard. The only thing keeping me from going back to sleep is the knowledge that, unlike all my college friends, I’m not getting up early to go to a service-industry job, or to start an internship to prepare me for a career I’m probably going to hate. No, I’m up early because I need to get to the airport and board a flight for France. I’m going to the Cannes Film Festival. All my college friends can suck it.

According to the business cards in my wallet, I’m a marketing assistant for Luxor Films, an independent DVD production company based out of Athens, Georgia. In reality, I’m an undergraduate studying film and journalism at the University of Georgia, and I’m going to the festival as part of a study abroad program.

The business cards are to help make connections and schmooze my way into screenings without revealing that I’m not exactly an upper-class citizen in the Cannes cache system. The UGA students have all been given “Cinephile” badges for the festival, and from my understanding, the chain of power at Cannes goes something like this: Celebrities, buyers, industry personnel, Roger Ebert (absent this year, unfortunately), other critics, pigeons, and then us.