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I will always admire films that take chances or try to push the boundaries of cinema. Whether or not you enjoyed Avatar or not, it's without question that it was an exceptional achievement, visually. More recently, movies like Gravity or Life of Pi have also pushed the boundaries of the technical side of filmmaking and both accomplished wonders. Director Ang Lee, who also directed Life of Pi, is at the helm here for Gemini Man, and while it may look fantastic in terms of cinematography, this movie is a misfire. Here's why I believe Gemini Man isn't worth your time.
Following a hitman in Henry Brogan (Will Smith) as he's on the verge of retirement, this film kicks into gear when he discovers that a younger version of himself was cloned and sent to kill him. That's pretty much the premise of the movie, so if you were hoping to dive deeper than that, then you're going to be disappointed. Honestly, if you've seen the trailer for this movie, you've seen all the major story beats it hits. Gemini Man does nothing to wow or surprises its audience, which is a surprise in itself, given the director at hand.
From Brokeback Mountain to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Ang Lee has directed a few of the most celebrated movies over the last 20 years. I haven't seen the majority of his filmography, but of the films I have seen, this is easily his weakest effort yet. Not to say he wasn't trying, because the effort is clearly on display, but it just doesn't work overall. The most notable aspect of this movie is the cinematography by Dion Beebe. This man has been in the business for over 27 years and his talents have yet to waiver. From the very opening shot, my eyes were glued to the screen. Sadly, the pacing and overall story ended up taking away from this, and not very subtly either.
Now for the most distracting and frustrating portion of the movie. The premise and the way it's executed are already off-putting enough, but the big selling point about this film is the fact that Will Smith gives two separate performances, both as himself and a younger version. He actually gives a far better performance than this film deserves, but even I (who is usually fairly forgiving about things like this) have to admit that the facial work on his younger version stood out like a sore thumb. Even down to the hand-to-hand combat scenes. It was clear that the person he was fighting had CGI work done to him. This idea is neat in concept, but it really didn't work here.
In the end, Gemini Man surely started as a concept that had director Ang Lee very eager to bring to life, and although his vision and Beebe's framing truly do stand out as positives, this is a film that had too many conflicted writers working on it, and it shows big time. Smith puts his all into this performance and his back and forth with Mary Elizabeth Winstead was even nice at times, but this movie extraordinarily suffers from a bad screenplay and distracting visuals. I really wanted to like this movie and even chose to ignore the audience and critic reactions, but I'm with the majority on this one. It's quite a bad film as a final product.
Films based on comic books have been the craze over the last decade or so, to say the least. From Iron Man launching a franchise bigger than any interconnected cinematic franchise in history to The Dark Knight being known as one of the best films of all time, we're currently living in the golden age of comic book adaptations, so it should come as no surprise that a few unexpected outings would be attempted as well. Joker has now hit theatres and while I can say right off the top that it won't be for all moviegoers, this is a fantastic piece of storytelling.
Being alone his entire life and thrown to the side by society, Arthur Fleck still lives with his mother well into adulthood and has a full-time job as a street clown. Having a condition that causes him to uncontrollably laugh, this character study is engaging from start to finish. Slowly realizing the truth about his life, things begin to devolve into chaos in his mind. Joker is simply a study of the mind of someone who has nothing left to live for or be happy about. For this reason alone, this is going to be a tough watch for certain viewers. Having a homicidal maniac as your core focus is not exactly an easy sell.
Now, Joker shares quite a few similarities to other classic films, which is being criticized a lot throughout many reviews, but I didn't see that as a negative. There are so many formulas that have been emulated to create great works of fiction that calling this movie a rip-off would be an insult to the filmmakers. On top of that, this movie is held together by a performance by Joaquin Phoenix that's truly out of this world, so any minor issues I had were usually overshadowed by him.
Phoenix's portrayal of this character, like every actor who has played this character in the past, is extremely committed, whether or not you like the outcome. Thankfully, I think his portrayal is completely different from anyone who came before him, making this movie one that will be able to stand on its own for a long time. From his quirks when the film begins to where he ends up during the final act, each and every moment was riveting.
In the end, Joker does borrow a little too much from classic to really call it a masterpiece or perfect, but it's pretty close in my opinion, in terms of holding your interest for an unlikely anti-hero. It's directed very, very well by Todd Phillips and I was more than happy to see him evolve as a filmmaker here. This is something that I never thought I would see him do and, aside from the level of great comedy in a movie like The Hangover, this is probably his best work to date. I loved nearly everything about this movie, even though it will upset some viewers and make them feel very uncomfortable. In fact, for that reason alone, it has done its job very well. You're not supposed to root for him, but rather understand where his actions come from. This is a great film.
Dreamworks has been hit or miss when it comes to releasing great animated films over the years. Whether it's Shrek or Kung Fu Panda, there some truly great movies out there, but I once How to Train Your Dragon hit theatres, and each of its consecutively great sequels, I found myself wondering if the studio had peaked with that trilogy. Well, Abominable is their latest upcoming release, and after seeing it at the Toronto International Film Festival, I can confidently say that this is surprisingly one of the very best animated films that they have released, ever.
Everyone knows that the creature known as the Yeti has been known to be a myth, but in Abominable, a young girl (Yi) finds that one actually exists. Having been experimented on in laboratories until escaping and finding its way onto this girl's roof, she befriends him and makes it her mission, along with two other friends, to return him to his home on mount Everest. This particular story has been told hundreds of times, but unlike many movies that choose to copy and paste formulas, Abominable is one that truly cares about the characters and the adventure they go on, which had me falling in love with it as it progressed.
Having written the story for Monster's Inc., worked in the animation department at Pixar on Toy Story and Toy Story 2, eventually directing her first animated feature in Open Season, and now officially writing and directing Abominable, completely bringing her full vision to life, Jill Culton is one with a storied career, albeit not massive. After her outing here, I must admit that I will be following her work for years to come because I believe her vision and how it was showcased, was honestly fantastic. On top of that, Dreamworks has been on a roll with incredible animation, and this movie is nothing shy of fitting that description.
It should go without saying nowadays that most films released by large studios will probably hire the best of the best to create the most beautiful animation, but I just have to commend them here as well. The smooth motions of characters and the detail put into the wide landscape shots are all superb, and these elements are only elevated by a very enjoyable cast of characters, on an adventure that eventually had me in tears. If for nothing else, you'll probably enjoy looking at this movie, but it has much more than that to offer.
In the end, Abominable does suffer from feeling familiar at first glance, but this movie embraces that and creates a journey that feels fresh. The themes throughout this film are meant for all ages, which is why I believe this movie will be a hit with families across the world when it hits theatres. I wasn't exactly jumping out of my seat with excitement when the trailers for this movie first began to circulate, but after experiencing it for myself, I must say that Abominable definitely surprised me in ways that I wasn't expecting. This is a great animated film and it deserves attention when it hits theatres.
The Sci-fi genre has always fascinated me the most in terms of cinematic experiences. Whether you're talking about though-provoking movies like Blade Runner or something as extravagant as Star Wars, there is a wide range of stories to explore. Ad Astra marks the most recent major studio Sci-fi release and it's absolutely a winner in my books. There's so much to admire here. I went into this film with slightly high expectations, simply due to the talent involved, and I was not disappointed. Here's why I believe Ad Astra is worth a trip to the movies if you're not feeling tired.
Ad Astra follows Roy McBride, an astronaut in the near future, as he ventures through space in hopes to find his father, who has been missing for years. Along the way, more secrets are uncovered and even deep emotional stakes are explored. Now, this premise seems like your average rescue mission, but it's definitely not that in the slightest. Yes, the movie takes you on this journey, but it really asks you to sit back, enjoy some breathtaking visuals, great sound design, a wonderfully immersive score, and a central character in Roy, who Brad Pitt commits very strongly to.
All of these elements are fantastic and I never found myself bored, but the pacing of this movie is intentionally very, very slow, which I fear will turn off some viewers. At two hours, this movie isn't very long, but it can feel it at times. Other than that, I think what this movie sets out to accomplish is done to near perfection. I was completely immersed in this world and the slow pace almost had me in a trance. I would highly recommend seeing this movie when you're wide awake, because the great score, complemented by a slow pace, will probably make some viewers doze off.
As aforementioned, Brad Pitt leads this film and demands your attention. Everyone knows that he's one of the best out there today, but it's always nice to see when a great actor goes the extra mile in terms of committing to a character. Through his performance alone, I truly cared about the final act of this movie and where certain events ended up. The way he exerts himself and becomes Roy for these couple hours was brilliant.
In the end, I seem to be boasting about this film endlessly in my mind, but I simply can't state it enough. For such a simple premise, the visual effects, score, emotional impact, and overall study of this broken character, I loved every minute of Ad Astra. It's a very relaxing viewing experience, so be wary of getting tired during this movie, but I found that to actually be a positive here somehow. Ad Astra is one of the best movies I've seen this year so far.
Back in 2017, the majority of audiences praised the fact that such a great Stephen King adaptation had been made in It. The television mini-series from 1990 was a very corny version of the story and it went without saying that it deserved a better treatment. Now, the second instalment of that great first film has hit theatres, and like the mini-series, the second portion of the story just isn't as interesting as the first. It: Chapter 2 does warrant a viewing though, especially if you liked the first movie because although it's not exactly great like its predecessor, there's a lot to like here.
Picking up 27 years after the events of the first movie, Pennywise (the clown) has returned to terrorize the town of Derry once again. Reuniting as they promised each other they would, this cast of characters come together to face him one last time. Through various side plots that each character find themselves on, this film may feel slightly long for some viewers at a beefy 169 minutes, but I found that the events unfolding and the performances surrounding them was enough to keep me interested.
Even if you find this film boring at times, it goes without saying that this is once again a stellar cast. Just as they brilliantly cast the kids in the first film, everyone here is on the top of their game. From Bill Hader stealing the show on multiple occasions to the star power of Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy leaping off the screen, there is an endless slew of great character moments. Where this film slightly fell apart for me was in the fact that this movie relies heavily on the past.
Almost seeming to be afraid of letting the past go, this movie flashes back and forth from past and present, showing moments from their childhoods that coincides with current situations. It worked simply due to the fact that the cast of both films is great, but it really did feel like it unnecessarily made the movie longer than it needed to be. With that said, I feel that will be the complaint for most people, but I actually didn't feel the length of this movie. That might have been because I was just in the mood to watch it, but I digress.
In the end, It: Chapter 2 has a great dramatic backbone to it and these performers are giving their all, but the sense of terror and tension is lost a little here in favour of the former. Still, I'm a sucker for a good drama and this film definitely delivers that tenfold. Both of these films feel like they have a sense of finality at the end of them, which is why they both work on their own. The fact that this movie constantly switches between past and present actually makes it easier to watch for those who missed the first movie, which is something I always love. While it's not going to be remembered as a great film on its own, I believe these two movies will work as a great double feature. It's absolutely worth seeing.