Three new movies open this week. I’ll see and review at least one of the follow:
Black and Blue–
The Current War: Director’s Cut–
Listen to “Comedy Tragedy Marriage” where a married couple take turns picking movies and TV shows and discuss why they loved it, liked it or hated it. It’s about love, life and movies and it’s available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to email@example.com.
Henry Brogan (Will Smith) is considered one of the best government assassins there’s ever been. He’s 51 and beginning to be worn down by his job, having nightmares, missing his targets (still killing them, but not hitting them where he wants) and can’t look himself in the mirror. After he completes his last job, he meets with a former associate that informs him his target was not a biochemical terrorist working for the Russians, but a biochemical researcher working for the US. Henry has been given bad information by his handlers to hide a program run in conjunction with the government and a private security firm called Gemini owned by Clay Varris (Clive Owen). Henry and Clay served together in Special Forces and Clay offered him a job when he started Gemini. Henry declined. Now Gemini is doing a great deal of work for the government and Clay has a side project he’s been working on for over 20 years. Clay meets a young woman working at the dock where he keeps his boat. Her name is Danny (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and he quickly figures out she is a government agent sent to surveil him. When Henry’s former associate is murdered and a kill team is sent to his house, Henry knows he is part of the cleanup operation. He gets Danny and together they run away. Henry contacts another former Special Forces member, Baron (Benedict Wong), a pilot with a knack for getting exactly what is needed. The trio fly down to Colombia to stay in one of Baron’s safe houses, but an assassin has found them. Henry leads the killer away from Danny and Baron. While he’s having a running battle with the killer, Henry gets a look at his assassin and is shocked to see an overwhelming resemblance to himself. The killer is only scared off by the local police. Danny collects a ballcap the assassin was wearing as well as samples of blood from Henry’s injuries. Calling in a favor from a friend at a genetics lab, the samples are tested, and the DNA is identical. The assassin is a clone of Henry.
Director Ang Lee has had an eclectic career. He has made everything from “Sense and Sensibility” to “Hulk” to “Brokeback Mountain” to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” to “Life of Pi” and now “Gemini Man.” While the degree of commercial success has varied widely, Lee has always turned out technically well-made movies, often pushing the boundaries genre and innovating the way films are made. There was no reason for the war drama “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” to be shot in 3D with an ultra-high frame rate of 120 frames per second, but he did it (a mixed bag and I gave it two stars out of five). Lee believes the medium needs a kick in the pants and must embrace technological advances to produce the best looking and most entertaining products for viewers. He’s gone the same high frame rate and 3D route for “Gemini Man” and has produced an interesting looking but predictable film.
The visual trick of “Gemini Man,” Will Smith fighting a 25-year younger version of himself, mostly works. When Junior, the clone, is on screen with Clive Owen or in a shot by himself, the digital artistry of scrubbing all the decades from Smith’s face and making him look like a certain Fresh Prince, works pretty well. A scene where Junior cries as he’s confronting his father has all the emotional resonance one can expect from an action movie. The pain of coming to grips with your created existence for the first time and realizing everything your father told you is a lie is etched into the de-aged face of Smith in a believable way. I was looking for anything that would give the performance away as a computer creation, but there wasn’t a clue. Had I been unaware of Smith and his age, I would have believed I was watching a talented young actor express the pain of learning his life was a fiction.
That same praise cannot be given to every scene in the film. At times, the younger Smith looks vaguely Asian. His eyes are narrower, and the outside corners appear to be angled slightly upward. There are other times when both versions of Smith are onscreen when there are some glitches in the face that couldn’t be edited out. The fight in the catacombs under a church is the longest time the pair are onscreen and battling. There are moments when the younger Smith’s face appears to be a mask that’s slipped out of place or contorts. These are momentary and so fleeting that most viewers will never notice. However, other scenes are more obvious and can’t be blamed on fast action movements.
The film’s action scenes are stellar. The motorcycle chase in Colombia is something that may make the added cost of 3D worth it (I saw the 2D version). Some of it is shot POV with bullets and cars dodged by the slimmest of margins. Movie reviewer Alan Cerny posted on Twitter, “GEMINI MAN as a movie is just okay. GEMINI MAN as a 3D 120fps experience? Whoa. That motorcycle chase is next f-ing level. If this is the future of action cinema, count me in.” “Gemini Man” is a film that may need to be seen in 3D and at the highest frame rate possible to judge its quality. Director Lee has complained most cinemas are unable to properly display the movie as it was intended since they aren’t set up for 120 fps. I can understand his argument, but maybe he should make films based on the technology that’s most available. If he wants to make films that must be displayed at five times the normal frames per second, maybe he needs to invest in a projection system that can handle multiple FPS and sell it to theaters. He’d likely make more money than making movies.
“Gemini Man,” for all its filmmaking wizardry, is a standard action thriller with a core group of appealing protagonists and a slimy antagonist that oozes evil from every pore. Once the clone is introduced, he’s shown to be a sweet kid that is a slave to the programming his “father” instilled in him. The story progresses as these types of films always do, with our heroes trying to keep one step ahead of the bad guys then rallying for a (spoiler alert) victory in the end. There is a third act twist I didn’t see coming, but that’s my bad, as there’s always a surprise the evil villain keeps hidden away until the very end. It’s also easy to guess which of our heroes isn’t around when the credits roll. “Gemini Man” plays by all the rules despite being mostly about a bad guy that ignores all the rules to win. There’s nothing new to see here.
“Gemini Man” is rated PG-13 for violence and action throughout, and brief strong language. There are numerous shootings, stabbings and beatings throughout the film. Early on, we see a character has had most of their teeth beaten out of them for information (it isn’t as gory as it sounds). There is a chase that shows some unique uses of a motorcycle as a weapon. A character is shot in the chest three or four times by a shotgun while they are on fire. Foul language is scattered and there is one use of the “F-bomb.”
The end of “Gemini Man” is far too sweet and ignores all the death and destruction that precedes it. This didn’t really come as a big surprise as the film sets up a fatherly relationship between both versions of Will Smith and the script from David Benioff, Billy Ray and Darren Lemke takes no leaps into new territory or an imaginative approach to the subject. It won’t burn your eyeballs out, but “Gemini Man” is at best average.
“Gemini Man” gets three stars out of five.
This week, I’ll be reviewing “Zombieland: Double Tap” for WIMZ.com.
Also opening this week:
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil—
Listen the podcast I do with my wife, Comedy Tragedy Marriage, where we take turns each episode selecting a movie or TV show to watch, then discuss it to see why we love it, like it or hate it. Find Comedy Tragedy Marriage wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) lives a miserable life of failure and desperation. He’s a clown for hire, working out of a dingy office in Gotham City with several other men that dress up as clowns. On one of these jobs in front of a business that’s closing, Arthur’s “Going out of Business” sign is stolen by some teenagers. He chases them down an alley when they jump him and beat him up. Arthur lives in a small apartment in a rundown building with his mother Penny (Frances Conroy). Penny sends letters to her former employer, Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) of Wayne Enterprises, asking for financial help to get out of their circumstances. Arthur meets a neighbor that lives on the same floor, Sophie (Zazie Beetz), and is immediately smitten by her, even following her to work the next day. Arthur and Penny like to watch a local talk/variety show hosted by Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro). Arthur is seeing a counselor and receiving medication to help his depression and a neurological condition that causes him to laugh uncontrollably at inappropriate times. Arthur is trying to become a standup comedian and performs at a local club. Between his laughter condition and his bad material, Arthur bombs. However, the club videotaped the performance and sent it to the Murray Franklin Show where Franklin mercilessly berates Arthur on the air. Arthur is performing as a clown at a children’s hospital when the gun he’s carrying for protection falls out of his pants. He tells his boss it’s a prop gun, but he’s fired. Arthur is riding home on the train laughing uncontrollably when he’s attacked by three Wayne Enterprises employees. He shoots and kills all three men and runs away. The police come to interrogate him as witnesses saw a man in clown makeup running away from the scene, but he isn’t home. They talk to Penny, but she has a stroke and is taken to a hospital. Thomas Wayne calls the person that killed his three employees a clown, starting a backlash against the wealthy and powerful of Gotham City, with a clown mask as a symbol of rebellion. So many people called the Murray Franklin Show about Arthur’s standup, Arthur is invited to appear on the show. Arthur’s mental state is deteriorating as secrets come out and revenge is planned.
“Joker” is that rare comic book movie that focuses on the villain. Back when Andrew Garfield was Spider-Man, Sony had plans to make a villain-centric movie about several of Spider-Man’s enemies called “The Sinister Six.” Spider-Man would have made an appearance, likely at the end to stop whatever nefarious plan the team had, but that movie was cancelled with the lackluster box office performance of “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.” What sets “Joker” apart is the lack of a hero to fight against him. The stage is all his and the Clown Prince of Crime does not disappoint.
Joaquin Phoenix is an actor that can wrap himself fully in a character, even disappearing into himself for his faux documentary “I’m Still Here.” In “Joker,” Phoenix nearly physically disappears as he lost over 50 pounds to play the role of a man invisible to society. His maniacal laugh and usually dead eyes show us a man with a short rope that got to the end of it a long time ago. Phoenix plays Fleck, and ultimately Joker, as a man from which one doesn’t expect brutal violence. Fleck’s killing of the Wayne Enterprises workers appears to surprise even him. The first time he fires a gun, by accident in his apartment, one could easily expect from his reaction that Fleck would swear off ever touching a gun. Violence becomes easier and easier for Fleck as the movie goes on and you can see Arthur becoming more comfortable with his brutality. Violence gives him power that he’s never had, and he becomes enamored with his death dealing. Despite the bursts of violence and uncontrolled laughter, Phoenix delivers a controlled performance, teetering on the edge of camp and madness, but pulling back to keep Arthur Fleck grounded, even as he’s losing his grip on reality.
The story for “Joker” is also very different from most comic book movies in that there are no heroes, and I don’t just mean no Batman. None of the characters are heroic in any way. Arthur’s mother is an unrealistic dreamer waiting on Thomas Wayne to rescue them. Thomas Wayne is a stone-cold capitalist with very little concern for the welfare of Gotham City’s downtrodden. None of Arthur’s co-workers are really his friends, apart from a little person that manages the office. Murray Franklin is only concerned about how Arthur can be used as a foil for his insult-based comedy. Even Sophie, who is friendly towards Arthur, isn’t exactly what she seems. With no Batman swooping in to save Gotham for at least 15 years (we see a young Bruce Wayne a couple of times), Gotham is on its own with apparently no one willing to save it.
“Joker” is rated R for strong bloody violence, disturbing behavior, language and brief sexual images. Three men are shot to death with significant blood. A character is stabbed in the eye with a pair of scissors. A character is smothered to death. Another character is shot in the head and chest. A mob overwhelms and attacks to police detectives. Arthur’s fits of laughter can be very uncomfortable to watch. He visits Arkham Asylum for information and rides an elevator with a person strapped to a gurney, screaming and struggling. I don’t recall anything sexual in the film unless they are talking about when Arthur goes to Sophie’s apartment and kisses her. Foul language is scattered.
“Joker” premiered at the Venice Film Festival where it received the Golden Lion, the festival’s highest honor. There was talk of Phoenix winning a best actor Oscar for his portrayal of a man that’s sinking into madness. Then the fear of violence similar to the Aurora, Colorado shooting at a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” began to surface (Note: Joker isn’t in that movie but the mentally ill young man that killed 20 people and injured 70 more appeared to be emulating the character with his orange-dyed hair). Then there were comparisons of Arthur Fleck to incels. Then an email to Army members warned them to be careful if they went to see the film and make sure they were prepared should violence occur. Then some critics began to pan the film for what they considered its sympathetic portrayal of a killer. Then director Todd Phillips made a statement that he gave up making comedies because it was so easy to offend people and social media’s cancel culture. Things spun out of control and most of it had little to do with the movie. It’s a good movie that mixes a classic comic book character with real world issues of socioeconomic inequality and a lack of mental health care in this country. I realize in the world of getting clicks and driving traffic to an advertising-supported website, there’s a pressure to post things, write things, print things that are designed to create controversy and encourage arguments. If there was ever an example of that kind of journalism and criticism, the writing about “Joker” is it.
“Joker” gets five stars.
Three new movies this week are hoping you are in the mood for animated Halloween-adjacent fun, some clone action and smartphone operating system that runs your life even more than the one you have now. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:
The Addams Family—
Listen to Comedy Tragedy Marriage where my wife and I take turns selecting movies and TV shows for the other to watch then talking about how much we love or hate them. Get it wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to email@example.com.
Yi (voiced by Chloe Bennet) is an ambitious and talented young woman living with her mother and grandmother in a small apartment in Shanghai. Her father has recently died leaving Yi with his violin, that she plays beautifully, and feeling a bit lost. She wants to take the trip her father had planned to take them on and collected postcards of all the locations in China he wanted to visit. To do that, Yi is working various odd jobs in the neighborhood to build up her travel fund. One night while on the roof of the apartment building, where Yi has a small hideaway, she discovers a large creature hiding. There is also a helicopter from Burnish Industries flying low over the buildings, shining a spotlight looking for something. Yi discovers the creature has an injured arm. She gets bandages and treats the injury once the creature has calmed down from Yi discovering him. Once the creature sees a billboard advertising trips to Mount Everest, he makes it clear that’s where he’s from. Yi decides she will help the creature she starts calling Everest return to his home in the Himalayas. Everest has escaped from a Burnish Industries research facility where he was captured by Mr. Burnish (voiced by Eddie Izzard) and zoologist Dr. Zara (voiced by Sarah Paulson). In his younger days, Burnish was an explorer and was on Mount Everest when he saw a Yeti. He reported what he saw but wasn’t believed since he had no proof. Now an older man, he is obsessed with showing the world he was telling the truth and doesn’t care if the Yeti gets hurt in the process. Dr. Zara insists the Yeti not be harmed. Yi is on the roof feeding Everest pork dumplings made by her grandmother Nai Nai (voiced by Tsai Chin) when a Burnish Industries helicopter flies over and sees him. Everest puts Yi on his back and begins running across rooftops. Yi’s friends Peng and Jin (voiced by Albert Tsai and Tenzing Norgay Trainor) see Everest and Yi running from the helicopter, think a monster has abducted their friend and they chase after them. Yi gets Everest on a barge leaving the city. Peng and Jin get there as Yi jumps on the barge and they jump on as well. Together, the three friends and Everest take an epic journey across China, testing their friendship and learning all the wonderous things Everest can do while also trying to keep one step ahead of Burnish, Zara and their mercenaries trying to recapture the Yeti.
“Abominable” isn’t the greatest animated film. It has a simplistic and predictable storyline, ticking off all the boxes when it comes to plot and the twists that aren’t expected but are clearly coming. It likely won’t win any awards as it’s really a very average kids movie. That being said, I was deeply affected by the film.
It is a beautifully realized fantasy world where Yeti are real and it’s possible for three teens and a fantastical creature to traverse China and reach the base of Mount Everest, thanks in part to magic. It deals with loss in an honest way you don’t see very often. It also covers the alienation families can feel when there is a death and no one wants to talk about it. The film is about recovering lost connections, whether that’s with family, friends or music. Yi, Peng and Jin rediscover their friendship on the journey. Peng is a bit younger than the other two and he wants his friends to play basketball with him while they are off doing their own things. Yi is working all the time and Jin is dating numerous girls and trying to be an influencer on social media.
Music is a big part of “Abominable.” Yi’s violin playing is mournful at first but becomes energetic as their journey continues. Near the end, Yi’s playing takes on a fierceness that mirrors the action of the film. There’s an aspect of the story I don’t want to spoil for you, however it involves Yi’s playing and how Everest’s magic affects it. Everest also hums in deep bass notes that activate his magical control over nature. The combination of Everest’s humming and Yi’s playing is a highlight of the film.
There is beauty in the sadness of Yi. She aches for her father. Her only connection to him is his violin, the postcards, a photo of the two of them together and her memories. That sadness permeates the film and only builds over time. Yi is longing for a connection to pour her love and sadness into and Everest provides a vessel for it. Their journey and adventure give her a purpose she hasn’t felt since her father died. While she is only delaying her grieving by keeping busy (she says at one point she hasn’t cried yet), Yi is merely groping for something to ease her pain. As she travels to the Himalayas, she discovers something about herself that’s been in front of her all along. It’s part of that simplistic storyline I mentioned earlier, but the journey and the wonder Everest bring into her life makes this realization hit emotionally like a ton of bricks.
Visually, “Abominable” is gorgeous. The bright colors and realistic yet fanciful environments allow the audience to get caught up in both the beauty and the wonder of it all. Everest looks like a hairy ball with arms, legs, a giant mouth and beautiful blue eyes. He glows when using his magical abilities, causing plants to grow, sometimes to massive size, and modifies the landscape to get away from Burnish’s men. One use of his powers creates a blue glow in the sky like the Northern Lights. While I know it doesn’t exist, “Abominable” made be believe in magic for a moment.
“Abominable” is rated PG for some action and mild rude humor. The group is chased by Burnish’s men on foot and in various vehicles. They shoot at Everest with tranquilizer guns and threaten him with cattle prods. Everest causes blueberries to grow to enormous size and they pop off the vines and strike the characters in comical ways. Everest falls from a tall bridge and is hit by an assault vehicle. The rude humor consists of Everest burping loudly, he and Peng needing to urinate and Everest burping flower petals on Jin. There is no foul language.
The movie made me cry twice. Granted, it isn’t difficult for an animated film to make me cry. I think every Pixar movie I’ve seen has done it (damn you “Toy Story 3,” “Up,” “Inside Out,” “Moana,” “Coco,” et al.) Live action films get me too. My wife and I recently watched “Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice” and I cried. In college, I wrote a paper for a film class about “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I sat in a cubical in the main library at the University of Tennessee and watched the film on a small TV. I had seen bits and pieces of it before, but never watched it all the way through. When Harry Bailey toasts George as the richest man in town, I began bawling like a baby. I wasn’t a BMOC and this emotional display wasn’t going to improve that, but that’s just who I am. I get emotional over things that some may see as silly. “Abominable” is one of those silly things that touched me deeply. I can’t explain it, but the combination of the visuals, the characters and the story made me feel overwhelming joy and that came out as tears. Maybe most won’t be affected the way I was, but I hope you are open to the experience as the film is worth your time and money.
“Abominable” gets five stars.
Again, this week there’s only one new film in wide release and I will see and review it.
Listen to Comedy Tragedy Marriage, a podcast I do with my wife where we take turns picking something to watch then discuss how we feel about it. After you listen, go to Apple Podcasts or Google Podcasts and give us a five-star review. It’s available wherever good podcasts are given away for free. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Listen to the podcast I do with my wife, Comedy Tragedy Marriage, where we take turns selecting a movie or TV show, watching it together and talking about why we love it, like it or hate it. Comedy Tragedy Marriage is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher and most podcast apps.
Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to email@example.com.
Theodore Decker (Oakes Fegley as a 13-year-old, Ansel Elgort as an adult) has suffered numerous tragedies in his life. His father, Larry (Luke Wilson), was a drunk with dreams of being an actor and abandoned his family. His mother was killed in a terrorist bombing at a New York City museum. For a time, Theo lives with the Barbour family. Mrs. Barbour (Nicole Kidman) is a bit cold and distant at first but warms to having Theo around. The Barbour’s are considering adopting Theo when Larry shows up with his new wife Xandra (Sarah Paulson) and moves his son out to Las Vegas. There, Theo meets Boris (Finn Wolfhard), a wild young man from Ukraine that lives with his abusive father. When another tragedy befalls him, Theo runs away, returning to New York City to live with Hobie (Jeffrey Wright), a restorer of antique furniture he met after his mother’s death. Theo grows into an intelligent and charming young man, but he always has a cloud hanging over him from the chaos in the museum that isn’t just the loss of his mother.
Based on a novel of the same name, “The Goldfinch” is a sumptuous and beautifully shot film. It is filled with loving looks at classic paintings, antique furniture, lavish New York apartments, the desolate wasteland outside Las Vegas, the aftermath of a bombing and the near-perfect structure of Ansel Elgort’s face. For all its beauty and technical mastery, “The Goldfinch” lacks any guts. It provides all the makings for both a fascinating mystery and searing character drama yet ignores all its gifts in exchange for atmosphere and style. The movie wants you to be so dazzled by the visuals, you’ll ignore its fatal flaw: There is no “there” there.
That isn’t to say the film has nothing entertaining about it. Ansel Elgort puts on a master class in creating a character that has numerous layers implied in his performance. There’s a sense of danger in the adult Theo. He is broken by the loss of his mother, his feeling of guilt, the betrayal by his father and the choice he made in the museum. Elgort’s performance is nuanced and subtle, while also being complicated. I was never sure if Theo was ever telling the truth at any time. Usually he was, however, he is shown being capable of defrauding people. Does he treat everyone this way? I was never sure.
Elgort is turning very little story into a wonderful performance. The script from Peter Straughan is long on reaction shots and short on meaningful interactions. There are numerous thoughtful stares and quiet, emotional closeups as Elgort and others in the cast are getting their hearts broken or wearing them on their sleeves. Some of these scenes are affecting, but they lack any real punch since the movie spreads all the meaningful events so thin. It drops a few tidbits here and there to suggest something interesting is around the corner. Finn Wolfhard’s Boris (played as an adult by Aneurin Barnard) coming on to the scene introduces Theo’s dangerous side with his use of drugs and alcohol at odds with his cultured and conservative demeanor. These vices increase into adulthood with Theo crushing up pills and snorting them to dull the pain of his past. All of this implies a person on the edge of self-destruction, yet we don’t feel the danger of Theo’s lifestyle as it is always shown with a veneer of perfection. The filmmakers want the beautiful people to stay beautiful at all costs.
The movie has a listed running time of two hours and 29 minutes. There is probably a very good movie buried under the mountain of long, silent stretches. It feels like at least 30 minutes could be trimmed, if not more. While the film held my interest and I wondered what would happen next, I ultimately found the ending of the movie to have been a long, beautiful and boring ride. I didn’t know what to expect, but I expected more than I got.
“The Goldfinch” is rated R for drug use and language. Theo and Boris still some pills, crush and snort them. They also trip on LSD. They are shown drinking beer and smoking when both are underage. The pill snorting continues as Theo is an adult. Foul language is scattered.
Ansel Elgort, Oakes Fegley, Finn Wolfhard and Nicole Kidman are standouts in a cast that is filled with very good actors and performances. It is a shame all their efforts are wasted on a film that takes two and a half hours to go almost nowhere. I don’t know if it’s the fault of the novel the film is based on or the interpretation of that novel to a movie script. Wherever the fault lies, “The Goldfinch” is a lost opportunity to create both a compelling mystery and a deep psychological drama. I wanted so much more as the minutes ticked by, but all I got was a very slow train passing by with the occasional boxcar having mildly interesting graffiti.
“The Goldfinch” gets two stars out of five.
My wife and I do a podcast called “Comedy Tragedy Marriage.” Each episode, one of us picks a movie, we watch it together then talk about it. It’s available on all the major podcasting platforms. Please give it a listen.
This week, I’ll be reviewing “Rambo: Last Blood” for WIMZ.com.
Also opening this week:
Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ve had the podcast itch since my co-hosts and I shut down The Fractured Frame back in April. Now, along with my wife Maude the Movie Broad, I’d like to introduce you to our new podcast: Comedy Tragedy Marriage. Each episode, we’ll take turns picking a movie or TV show available on one of the major streaming services or from our Blu-ray collection. With our very different tastes, it’s likely each of us will have very different opinions about what the other chooses. Right now, Comedy Tragedy Marriage is available on Spotify and Anchor. Soon, it will be available on other platforms and I’ll update you here and on Twitter (@moviemanstan) when it gets a wider distribution. Until then, here’s a link to listen to our first episode. Enjoy! https://anchor.fm/stan-the-movie-man9