Tag Archives: Oscar Isaac

Movie review: Portman’s ‘Annihilation’ thought-provoking sci-fi thriller

VIDEO: See Tim’s review of “Annihilation” with Zachery Lashway on KARE 11.

“Annihilation” (R)

Natalie Portman makes a rare appearance outside of her largely dramatic film career with “Annihilation,” a thought-provoking sci-fi thriller that elevates the genre to the next level.

Portman plays Lena, an expert biologist who joins a secret expedition to investigate an alien phenomena call “The Shimmering,” a prism-type of barrier that surrounds a huge quarantine zone in the Florida wild. Many people have entered The Shimmering but no one has returned, apart from Portman’s husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac), who emerges in a zombie-like state and on the verge of death.

Once inside The Shimmering, Portman and her fellow expeditioners (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson among them) discover everything inside the dreamlike zone from plant to animal life mutates, leaving Lena and the team in a desperate situation to discover its mysteries since borders of the quarantine zone are rapidly expanding and consuming everything around it.

A brilliant follow-up to his stunning debut “Ex Machina” with Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson and Issac, “Annihilation” feels refreshingly original, even though it draws from many sources including “Arrival,” “Alien” and “The Thing.” It’s hauntingly atmospheric, as well as very violent and bloody at times, yet it’s definitely not a typical sci-fi film. Instead, it mirrors the greatness of “The Outer Limits” and “The Twilight Zone,” but with the benefit of a bigger budget.

Defying sci-fi film convention (in a welcome shift, the film’s protagonists are a group of five females with scientific backgrounds instead of the usual group of macho male lunkheads spewing one-liners), “Annihilation” ultimately offers a narrative much more cerebral and thought-provoking, and the conclusion leaves as many questions as there are answers — something that makes sense since it’s based on the first book in author Jeff VanderMeer’s “Southern Reach” trilogy. With any luck, “Annihilation” will do well enough at the box office so Garland can complete the thrilling tale.

Lammometer: 8 out of 10

AUDIO: Hear Tim’s review of “Annihilation” and “Ash vs. Evil Dead” Season 3 with Tom Barnard on “The KQ92 Morning Show” (segment begins 2 minutes in).

Tim Lammers reviews movies weekly for The KQ92 Morning Show,” “KARE 11 News at 11” (NBC), WCCO Radio, “The Tom Barnard Podcast” and “The BS Show” with Bob Sansevere.

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Review: Rian Johnson brings balance to The Force with ‘The Last Jedi’


AUDIO: Tim reviews “The Last Jedi” on the “KQ Morning Show” with Tom Barnard. Segment beings 7 minutes in.

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” (PG-13)

Writer-director Rian Johnson expertly creates the unexpected in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” the eighth chapter in the Skywalker family space saga conceived by George Lucas 40 years ago. Naturally, after seven “Star Wars” films (eight, if you include last year’s spinoff, “Rogue One”), the environment is going to feel familiar at the outset of “The Last Jedi,” but the minute that Rey (Daisy Ridley) completes the stirring scene that started at the conclusion of “The Force Awakens” and hands the long-exiled Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) his lightsaber, the unexpected takes hold and all bets are off.

Although virtually no time has passed between the end of “The Force Awakens” and beginning of “The Last Jedi,” the celebration of the Resistance after blowing up the First Order’s Death Star-like Starkiller Base is short-lived. The base, while massiv

e, is only one component of the First Order’s cache of weapons, and its stranglehold on the Resistance has reached a critical point.

With virtually nowhere else to turn, Rey must convince Luke to come out of hiding to help the Resistance before its too late, but Luke’s more fearful of Rey’s Jedi powers and that they may lead her down the same dark path as his former student and nephew, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) – the former Ben Solo and son of Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and General Leia (Carrie Fisher). Meanwhile, Kylo’s powers are growing as he’s continued his training under the vengeful alien Supreme Leader Snoke (motion capture by Andy Serkis), and their resolve to capture Luke is drawing closer to a reality until Rey marches forth to thwart their plans.

In addition to Hamill, “The Last Jedi” features an expanded role for Fisher, who sadly passed away last year after she completed her work on the film. Because of that, Johnson stayed the course and didn’t alter Leia’s storyline, yet given the circumstances, her dialogue in “The Last Jedi” takes on a deeper meaning and is all the more poignant.

Despite that dark cloud hanging over the film, “The Last Jedi” has a wide range of emotions, from euphoria to dread, with lots of moments of levity in-between. There’s a lot of welcome humor in the film, and a lot of times it comes from the characters you wouldn’t expect. That includes from the new cuddly creatures the Porgs, the inhabitants on Luke’s remote planet in a galaxy far, far away, who are destined to become favorites of fans of all ages.  In the end, “The Last Jedi” is a perfectly blended mix of action, intrigue, humor and emotion, easily making it the best film in the series since “The Empire Strikes Back” in 1980.

It’s hard to say where the franchise will go from here with one episode in the Skywalker family saga left, but for the time being, there’s no question that Johnson has brought balance to The Force with “The Last Jedi.”

Lammometer: 9.5 (out of 10)

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Movie reviews: ‘Free Fire’ falls flat; ‘The Promise’ compels

“Free Fire” (R)

The shoot-em ‘up movie genre gets a welcome unique spin that unfortunately falls flat too soon with “Free Fire.” Set in 1978, “Free Fire” stars Oscar-winner Brie Larson and Cillian Murphy (“Batman Begins”) as part of a group of criminals who meet a gang of arms dealers in abandoned warehouse to make what should be a simple exchange of cash for a cache of high-powered weapons.

But when a fight breaks out between opposing gang members, the fisticuffs escalate into a shoot-out with bullets flying from every which way.

As a dark comedy, we discover in “Free Fire” most everybody involved is a terrible shot, resulting mostly in flesh wounds as the bumbling criminals crawl around the warehouse trying to figure out a way to exit.

It’s an amusing take on the genre at first, but the idea quickly wears thin, making the movie feel way too long, even with a 90-minute run time. Armie Hammer and Sharlto Copley (“District 9”) also star.

Lammometer 5.5 (out of 10)

Listen to Tim’s reviews of “Free FallR

21; and “The Promise” with Tom Barnard and Michele Tafoya on “The KQ Morning.”

“The Promise” (PG-13)

Oscar Isaac, Christian Bale and Charlotte Le Bon deliver stellar performances in “The Promise,” a heartbreaking historical drama that chronicles the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Turks before the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

The always-great Isaac (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”) plays a medical student in Constantinople in 1915, just before the Turks begin to round up Armenian Christians for systematic execution.

Bale is terrific as usual, this time as Associated Press journalist reporting on the horrors of the genocide to the West, while Le Bon is a French-Armenian teacher caught in a love triangle in-between them.

The film is a compelling tale that brings to light a forgotten part of history that the Turkish government still fails to recognize today.

Lammometer: 8 (out of 10)

Movie review: ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’

Photo: Disney

By Tim Lammers

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (PG-13) 4 stars (out of 4)

The Force is the strongest it’s been in 32 years with “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the long-awaited seventh episode in the monolithic space opera. Maintaining the same vital tone, effervescent spirit, sense of wonder and fearlessness to go to dark places – the same elements that made the classic “Star Wars” trilogy such a joy – “The Force Awakens” feels like a skillful combination of the best things about “A New Hope” and “The Empire Strikes Back,” all while creating a classic film chapter of its own. Expertly directed by J.J. Abrams, “The Force Awakens” – erasing the harsh memories of creator George Lucas’ CGI-laden prequel trilogy – is everything the fans could have hoped for, if not more.

Best of all, there are no annoying Jar-Jar Binks-like characters, politically-infested trade federations or Midichlorians to be found.

To preserve the mystery of the plot co-written by Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan (after the original script was written by Michael Arndt), I won’t spoil any major plot points of the film (I went on a social media hiatus earlier this week myself to avoid happening upon any details spilled from the Los Angeles premiere), but will only say the film examines the notion of The Force and the Jedi – particularly Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) – being myths to new generations in the universe. With Skywalker at the forefront of people’s minds, it paves the way for a plausible plot to pull the old band – Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Leia (Carrie Fisher), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), C3PO (Anthony Daniels) and R2D2 (Kenny Baker) – back together. The characters are no doubt in supporting roles, but are pivotal nonetheless to the story set 30 years after the end of “Return of the Jedi.”

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The great thing is, supporting players like Ford, Fisher and Mayhew slip comfortably back into their roles – especially Ford, who is clearly in his element as the scoundrel smuggler – yet perfectly mesh into the plot involving a new set of leads. From a scavenger, Rey (Daisy Ridley – the film’s greatest discovery, who has the look, enthusiasm and presence of a young Keira Knightley), and First Order Stormtrooper defector Finn (a charismatic John Boyega), to ace X-Wing pilot Poe Dameron (a funny and fearless Oscar Isaac) and the nefarious, red lightsaber-wielding Kylo Ren (a fearsome Adam Driver), who has pledged to finish the intergalactic domination that Darth Vader started, the casting is perfect. The key is, the new kids on the block play their characters with the same enthusiasm and passion (and in Driver’s case, menace worthy of Darth Vader) as their predecessors. On the non-human character side, the lovable droid BB-8 easily joins the ranks of the iconic C3PO and R2D2; and an wise, old alien named Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o) exudes the wisdom of Yoda.

There are several other things that make “The Force Awakens” a great film, which was shot on 35mm, no less. Out of the gate, thanks to Abrams’ brilliant decision to use practical effects over CGI as much as possible, “The Force Awakens” feels like it fits within the set of the original “Star Wars” films. From the multitude of different sets the action plays out on, the actors are clearly much more engaged than they would have been in front of a green screen, and their actions are palpable.

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Also, the story, which mirrors several plot points from the early films, is terrific because it furthers the expansive storyline of the saga instead of retreading familiar ground. Getting back into a tried and true, yet powerful, story of good vs. evil, Abrams and producer Kathleen Kennedy smartly tapped Kasdan to co-write the revised script; and anybody familiar with familiar knows he co-wrote the strongest film in the original trilogy with “The Empire Strikes Back.” Kasdan clearly has a knack for writing the classic characters, especially Han Solo, and he and Abrams wonderfully marry the classic sensibilities of the original tale with a set of fresh and exciting new characters. The younger actors introduced to the “Star Wars” universe clearly get the filmmakers’ intentions.

With so much hype going into this new “Star Wars” film, fans will inevitably be disappointed in some aspects of “The Force Awakens.” In this case, though, there’s a silver lining in this disappointment – basically for the fact that there isn’t more than what you see in the film’s brisk, 2 hour and 15 minute runtime. Yes, inevitably, with such of a large cast, some characters don’t have as much screen time as you hoped they would have, but thanks to the film’s wonderful cliffhanger, there’s a tremendous amount of promise on the road ahead. Overall, it’s hard for a film of this magnitude to meet expectations, but “The Force Awakens” does and effectively, defies the odds. Ultimately, “The Force Awakens” gives the audience everything they want and more, putting The Force back where it belongs – in the hands of the fans.

In brief …

“Sisters” (R) 1 star (out of four)

“Saturday Night Live” pals Tina Fey and Amy Poehler embarrass themselves in “Sisters,” a dreadfully unfunny comedy about a pair of immature, overgrown siblings who can’t handle their parents’ decision to sell the family home. Centered around the Fey and Pohler’s task of cleaning out their rooms so the parents (James Brolin and Dianne Wiest) can close the deal with the home’s new buyers, “Sisters” quickly devolves into a  shameless rip-off of the very funny “Step Brothers” and multitude of tired, old comedies about a house party gone horribly wrong. It’s easily one of the worst movies of the year.

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