Movie Review ~ Gemini Man


The Facts
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Synopsis: An over-the-hill hitman faces off against a younger clone of himself.

Stars: Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clive Owen, Benedict Wong, Linda Emond, Douglas Hodge

Director: Ang Lee

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 117 minutes

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review:  It isn’t uncommon for some movies to take a long time to get made.  Like, a loooong time.  Commonly referred to as development hell, a script can pass from studio to studio and be revised along the way as it is handed between directors and is attached to different stars.  Quite a few Hollywood blockbusters and even more infamous bombs have toiled along this tortured route and the stories around their creation are either the hard-won tales of success or the blueprint of abject failure.  Last year, we saw a success story with the third remake of A Star is Born which defied all odds and was a sensational retelling after gestating for nearly two decades. This year, another project that’s been in the works for twenty years is finally getting released…and strangely enough the lead (Will Smith) is the guy originally meant for A Star is Born when it was first developed.

You can do a quick Google search or look up the Wikipedia entry for Gemini Man and see all of the A-List stars and directors who have been mentioned as being involved with the film over the years.  To give you an idea of how far back we’re talking, Sean Connery was one of the box-office draws considered for the role at one time or another.  When the rights for the film were finally acquired by Tom Cruise’s production company in 2016 it was naturally assumed it would be for the white-hot actor to star in but instead he handed it over to Oscar-winning director Ang Lee (The Life of Pi), an exciting choice but a less-than-obvious one.  When Will Smith signed on, Gemini Man actually started coming together and, coupled with Lee’s glee in utilizing advanced filmmaking technology, we have a visually arresting but dramatically stilted action film.  It will definitely spike your adrenaline in the appropriate moments, just be prepared for some less than engaging dramatic shifts.

You’re advised to buckle up when the coming attractions are over because once the Paramount studios logo has faded and Gemini Man begins, there’s a lot of information thrown at you in short order.  Government assassin Henry Brogan (Will Smith, Aladdin) has decided to retire after 72 kills.  His aim isn’t quite on pointe anymore and the emotional toll is starting to wear him down.  Plus, he just wants a little R & R at his peaceful homestead nestled in Buttermilk Sound, GA. Side note: has there ever been a more enticing name of a location to want to retire to?   After meeting with an old friend with inside knowledge (Douglas Hodge, Joker), Brogan begins to suspect his last kill was a set-up and now he’s another loose end someone needs to trim. His dreams of serene sunsets as a retiree are dashed quickly as his suspicions are confirmed and he’s targeted by his former agency…and not just because they don’t want to pay extended benefits.

They’re dealing with a pro, though, and to take him down they’re going to need someone who can match him in every way.  Lucky for the agency there’s been a covert project underway for years outsourced to a black ops unit run by Clay Varis (Clive Owen, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets) operating under the codename Gemini and they’ve got a secret weapon ready for a test run.  This all leads to Brogan globe hopping with a plucky agent (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, 10 Cloverfield Lane) and an gregarious ally (Benedict Wong, Doctor Strange) while trying to remain one step ahead of an unrelenting soldier that bears a striking resemblance to Brogan and seems to be able to anticipate his next move.  What’s the secret behind the Gemini program and how far into the organization has the conspiracy infiltrated?

It’s already been revealed that the soldier pursuing Brogan is his clone and what a bummer that is to have had that spoiled in advance.  I know that’s pretty much the entire idea the movie is marketed around but still, consider how much more interesting the film would have been if the identity of this unknown force was kept hidden just a little longer.  The filmmakers sure try to pretend we all hadn’t seen the trailer a hundred times already, attempting to build up suspense for a reveal that doesn’t quite pan out like they planned.  With Smith playing both roles and being de-aged to play his younger self, it works some of the time but more often than not looks creepy.  It’s as if Smith is entirely a CGI creation and not just his face.  The lips don’t always match what his mouth is saying and during some action sequences I swear there are times when Smith’s head is in one place and his face is in another.

Speaking of action sequences, this is the real reason to catch the movie on the biggest screen possible.  Three key bonkers scenes are the total highlight of the film.  A motorcycle chase through Cartagena is a caffeinated delight, culminating in one Will Smith literally beating up another one with a motorcycle.  An impressive fight is staged throughout the catacombs of Budapest and the finale is just the right length without pummeling us with too much gunfire.  It’s too bad this wasn’t screened for critics the way Lee had intended; the film was shot digitally at an extra-high frame rate of 120 fps, modified for 3D and I could see where the impact of some of scenes would have been raised if I’d seen it projected like the director wanted.  I’m probably not going to see this again in theaters so it was the one opportunity to impress me and seeing it projected flat on a 2D display wasn’t cutting it.

Sadly, there’s a lot of movie left over in between all the action and while it’s all beautifully shot by Dion Beebe (Mary Poppins Returns), it’s suffers from a too-serious dramatic performance from Smith.  Smith has long since proven he’s an actor that can headline a summer blockbuster as well as an awards contender but along the way he lost his ear for good dialogue and characters that didn’t aggravate.  He’s more easy-going here than he’s been in a long time but there’s still a desperate need to make what’s mostly a generic action flick more than what it is.  Everyone else seems to understand what level of movie they’re in but it’s like Smith thinks that with Lee directing him he has a shot at an Oscar if he emotes extra hard.  His action scenes are spectacular, his dramatic ones are tough to get through.

Twenty years is a long time for a movie to move through a production cycle and the results of Gemini Man are good but not great.  I was surely entertained for two hours and it’s nice to see Lee continue to surprise by showing there’s not a genre he can’t tackle with some measure of success.  I still wish a bit more of the twists had been held back early on but at least there was one genuine surprise that wasn’t hinted at in early previews.  If you’re going to see this in theaters, and you likely should, go see it the way the filmmaker intended and spring for the extra charge to see it in 3D HFR.  I have a feeling Lee will make it worth your while.

Movie Review ~ The Life of Pi

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A young man who survives a disaster at sea is hurtled into an epic journey of adventure and discovery. While cast away, he forms an unexpected connection with another survivor … a fearsome Bengal tiger.

Stars: Suraj Sharma, Irffan Khan, Gerard Depardieu, Adil Hussain, Rafe Spall

Director: Ang Lee

Rated: PG

Running Length: 127 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review:  When I first heard about the film I couldn’t get my head around how a movie would be fashioned around the scenario of a boy and a tiger stranded on the same lifeboat.  Could a movie that has large passages of time without dialogue and that is heavily dependent on visual effects really be a satisfying experience at the end of the day?  The answer, I was to learn, was an unqualified “yes”.

It’s been a few weeks now since I saw The Life of Pi yet it’s a film that has lingered long in my mind even after the credits ended.  What we have here is surely one of the most visually stunning films released in the last several years yet one that could have easily segued into monotony with its heavy, tricky plot devices.  Instead, director Lee has held the reins comfortably slack enough to allow the story to spring forth off the screen to create a dazzling display of technology, stirring imagery, and an overall moving experience.

In adapting the popular but divisive book by Yann Martel, Oscar-nominated screenwriter David Magee has done right by the characters Martel put to page and expounded on the impact the life-threatening situation that faces young Pi Patel as he and his family travel from India to the US.  After a frightening to watch sea disaster (think Titanic meets Flight), Pi is left to fend for himself as he battles the elements and a Bengal tiger that he shares his small lifeboat with. 

Over hundreds of days, we see an understanding develop between headstrong Pi and the tiger known as Richard Parker.  Through truly astonishing CGI work, the large cat is created from the ground up with very few shots actually containing a flesh and blood beast.  The tiger effect is outstanding and rarely gives off the vibe of computer assistance, don’t be surprised if you forget that newcomer Sharma was acting opposite thin air. 

Really a memory piece, the story is told from the perspective of the adult Pi (Khan in a deeply felt performance) as he relates his amazing adventure to a journalist (Spall from Prometheus – interesting to note that Spall took over the role from Tobey Maguire who was cast, filmed his scenes, but was replaced by Lee so to not distract from the action in the past).  This set-up gives you information on the outcome of the story so some of the suspense is lost…until the ending that could be as troublesome for viewers as it was for the readers.

Without giving any sort of spoilers away, the final ten/fifteen minutes of the film may change your opinion of the movie up until that point.  I, for one, found myself coming down off my high I had for the previous two hours and feeling a bit despondent on the direction I thought things were going.  Rest assured that the movie counters nicely and lets you make up your own mind about certain ideas and possibilities these late in the game questions raise.

If you’re one of the weary people that refuses to shell out the extra dough to see a movie in 3D, pay attention to what I’m going to say: this is the one movie you’ll be glad you paid extra for.  Like Avatar and Hugo, the 3D technology is not used to throw stuff out at the audience but to give a greater depth to the scenery, drawing you further into the story.  It’s one of the most immersive uses of 3D ever in film from the hypnotic sights of India to the gorgeous and lonely nighttime vistas Pi sees during his time at sea. 

One of the more interesting and non-genre specific directors working today, Lee has created another film that looks deep within itself to present an inner truth that speaks to all of us.  The movie is about faith – faith in a higher power, faith in one’s self, faith that destiny and survival are what you make of it.  I was greatly moved by the relationship between Pi and Richard Parker and appropriately rallied for them along the way.  Do yourself a favor and make this the next film you see in theaters, it’s not to be missed and not to be forgotten.