Review of “Gemini Man”

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 stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Swiss Army Man”

Hank (Paul Dano) has run away from his less than stellar life and taken a boat out to sea. He gets caught in a storm and winds up shipwrecked on a very small island without food or water. Preferring suicide to death by starvation and dehydration, Hank prepares to hang himself when he sees a man washed up on shore. Thinking this person might be able to help; Hank runs to the man but soon discovers he’s dead. The body begins releasing gas by farting and Hank notices the flatulence actually propels the body through the water. Hank uses part of the rope he planned on hanging himself with and ties it to the corpse, riding the body through the water like a jet ski. Hank falls off and wakes up on yet another beach but this time it appears he’s on the mainland. He ties the body to his back and carries it into the forest just off shore looking for help. Along the way, Hank collects some trash he finds that might prove helpful with survival. Hank and the corpse wait out a rain storm in a cave where the corpse fills with water dripping from the ceiling into his mouth. The next morning, Hank discovers the water within the body and tentatively drinks some discovering it is good. He talks to the corpse like an old friend and hears what sound like words coming from the body’s mouth when Hank presses on the chest. At one point, Hank believes he hears the word “Manny” come from the body and that’s what he names the lifesaving corpse…Manny (Daniel Radcliffe). Soon, Manny is talking in complete sentences to Hank. At first freaked out, Hank soon gets used to the idea of the talking corpse and he is soon sharing personal secrets with him. Manny doesn’t remember his former life so Hank tries to teach him the basics. Over the course of their journey, Hank discovers Manny’s arm is great at chopping wood. He finds if he puts small rocks down Manny’s throat and then squeezes his stomach the rocks will shoot out like a machine gun and kill small animals he can use for food. Manny’s flatulence can help start a campfire. He also finds that Manny’s innocence about the world shows him just how cowardly he’s been with his own life.

“Swiss Army Man” is nearly impossible to describe and not sound like a lunatic. It takes absurdism to levels most other movies wouldn’t dare approach. Writers and directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan take their silly story very seriously yet manage to fill the movie with moments of bizarre humor, uncomfortable honesty and genuine sweetness. While many may have a difficult time with a story that features a farting corpse whose erections act like a compass to guide the hero back to civilization it is very much worth the risk as “Swiss Army Man” may be the most imaginative film of the year.

Making this movie could not have been easy for Daniel Radcliffe. He spends a great deal of the film staring unblinkingly while water splashes in his face and landing face down in sand. He must have spent most of the shoot damp and dirty, caked in make up to give him a deceased look and unable to move. Despite all these hardships, Radcliffe makes a very compelling talking corpse. Radcliffe makes Manny the emotional center of the film even though the audience knows this is all likely a hallucination in Hank’s mind. Manny might represent that part of our personality that knows the bigger Truths of life and tells us in ways that are easy to understand and digest. Manny asks questions like a child. He is without guile or shame and he shows just how sad and pathetic Hank’s life is. Manny doles out the truth to Hank in bite-sized portions that slowly expose Hank’s fear and cowardice in dealing with his feelings. Despite being dead, Manny is the hero of the story.

Paul Dano has the unenviable job of playing a largely unlikable character yet he manages to turn Hank into the kind of person that is able to change and grow. Starting out crippled by his fear and shyness and scarred by the death of his mother early in life and the bullying nature of his father, Hank is the very definition of pathetic. The only person he apparently can speak with openly and honestly is a dead guy. Even then, Hank often holds back either his feelings or all of the truth about his life. A picture on the lock screen of his phone shows a woman he is attracted to and serves as the best example of how socially backward he is. I shan’t give away any more than that but the young woman, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, becomes the focus of much of the story. Dano excels at playing damaged characters. He received excellent reviews for his performances in “Little Miss Sunshine” and “There Will Be Blood” and he was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance as a young Brian Wilson in “Love & Mercy.” Dano can tap into a level of pain and sadness deep within and not disappear into the abyss within the character, finding some hope in the darkness. Hank is about as low as any character Dano has ever played and he still manages to extract some light from all the gloom. Both Dano and Radcliffe turn in amazing performances.

“Swiss Army Man” will make the audience question what is reality and fantasy within the story. Is anything we’re seeing actually happening or is it all in Hank’s head? Is he really lost at sea or is he manufacturing everything in a fantasy or hallucination? Can Manny’s farts really propel him through the water like a jet ski? Can he really be used like a water fountain, a machine gun and a rocket launcher? Is Hank some kind of stalker and the object of his affection should be afraid of him? The movie unapologetically never answers any of these questions and that’s ok. The audience is left to debate and ponder whether we’re watching the delusions of a madman or some kind of wondrously magical chemistry and physics. The movie challenges you to come to your own conclusions or just accept what’s happening and not question it any further. It works either way.

“Swiss Army Man” is rated R for language and sexual material. Manny has a reaction to images in a Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. His erection is prominent in his pants and seems to dance around. There’s nothing terribly sexy about any of it. Foul language is common throughout the film.

“Swiss Army Man” is the most bizarre movie I’ve seen that both made sense and was enjoyable. It lacks any embarrassment about how strange it is and challenges the audience to come along for the ride. It is unafraid to have one character that is emotionally stunted and more than a little pathetic and another that is dead. Many will scratch their heads and walk out thinking it is the stupidest movie ever made. I cannot argue with that assessment yet I think the film is brilliant and cannot encourage everyone too much to see it.

“Swiss Army Man” gets an enthusiastic five stars.

This week, a couple of wild men meet their match and we learn exactly what happens when we leave Fido and Fluffy home alone. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates—

The Secret Life of Pets—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

Review of “10 Cloverfield Lane”

Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is leaving her fiancé after an argument. While driving down a dark country road, Michelle has a traffic accident and wakes up sometime later in a concrete block room, hooked up to an IV and wearing a knee brace that is chained to a pipe on the wall. She soon meets Howard (John Goodman) who tells her he found her on the side of the road in her overturned car and brought her back to his home and saved her life. Howard tells Michelle they are in his underground bunker because some kind of attack has occurred and the air is toxic making it impossible for her to leave. Michelle doubts his story despite confirmation of an attack from Emmet (John Gallagher, Jr.). Howard’s assistant in building the bunker. Michelle smashes a bottle on Howard’s head, steals his keys and runs to the double steel doors to escape. As she is about to open the outer door, a neighbor woman begs to be let in. Her skin is covered in lesions and she begins smashing her head on the small window, demanding to be let in. Michelle begins to believe Howard is telling the truth and the trio settles into a routine of watching movies, working on jigsaw puzzles and listening to music on a jukebox. Soon, Howard’s controlling nature and a few clues found in his belongings lead both Michelle and Emmet to plot a dangerous escape plan.

“10 Cloverfield Lane” is not exactly a sequel to JJ Abrams 2008 monster movie “Cloverfield.” Abrams is a producer on the new movie but it was developed from a script that originally had nothing to do with that first film. Instead, “10 Cloverfield Lane” should be considered a companion piece to “Cloverfield” that doesn’t require you to have seen the original film to enjoy it and understand what’s happening. It is a showcase of both storytelling and acting with enough tension and suspense to keep your eyes glued to the screen and your hands gripping the armrests for nearly its entire running time.

The movie is shot mostly within the confines of the underground bunker, giving it a feeling of claustrophobia and ramping up the tension. While the characters can escape from one another they are never very far away from their roommates. It is the kind of setting where paranoia feeds on itself and the slightest disagreement can quickly spiral out of control. First time feature director Dan Trachtenberg displays a strong command of space and fills it with quiet moments that always feel like spring-loaded traps waiting to release their violence on the characters and the audience. Once the story moves underground there is a palpable sense of foreboding and the innate knowledge of approaching calamity. It is a film that reaches through the screen, grabs your collar and demands your attention.

John Goodman is spectacular in the demanding and complex role of Howard the benefactor/jailer of “10 Cloverfield Lane.” Howard’s bulk, as well as his possession of a gun and the keys to all the doors, presents an intimidating obstacle to freedom for Michelle and Emmet. Goodman’s Howard reminds the pair they would be dead without him and he feels they owe him gratitude and strict obedience for his hospitality. Goodman plays Howard as a man on a razor’s edge. He can switch from fatherly to threatening in a heartbeat if he senses some kind of treachery or betrayal. Goodman, best known for his sweet and funny portrayal of Dan Connor on the sitcom “Rosanne,” has shown himself to be a more than capable actor in feature films. “10 Cloverfield Lane” really lets him exercise his acting chops in a film that will likely find a wide audience.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead is the kind of strong and capable female character frequently demanded by those looking for better movie roles for women. Winstead’s Michelle is smart and capable, doesn’t need a man to save her and is more than willing to fight for herself against overwhelming odds. She questions Howard’s story of the attack and encourages him to do more than hide out underground. While Howard has more information about what’s going on than he is willing to share, Michelle pushes him to the point of his lashing out. It is his reactions and some other evidence that leads Michelle to attempt an escape. If there is a problem with her character it is her suddenly acquired ability to create something out of practically nothing. She becomes a female MacGyver as the movie goes on. While these abilities keep her alive they also stretch believability to the max. It’s a minor complaint but it did kind of stick out to me.

Rounding out the cast is John Gallagher, Jr. as Emmet. I think his character is there to keep the dynamic between Howard and Michelle from getting too creepy too quickly. Emmet is a buffer character that is simple and pure. He’s like a puppy that follows at its master’s heels and only wants to please. Emmet helped Howard build the bunker but describes getting through the door once the attack started as a fight. Despite this, Emmet is still loyal to Howard, believing everything he says. Emmet is a character that is surprisingly important to the story. If he was gone, the movie would have a completely different tone.

“10 Cloverfield Lane” is rated PG-13 for thematic material including frightening sequences of threat with some violence, and brief language. There is a car crash that is very violent. There is also a nearly constant threat of violence throughout the film. There is an image of a woman with what appear to be burns on her face. A character is shot and, while not seen, there is a spray of blood on the wall. A character is also severely burned.

There is only a passing mention of something possibly connected to “Cloverfield” but it is so minor it would be easy to miss it; however, the end of the movie does connect the two films and answers a few questions left dangling from the first film. If you haven’t seen the first film, that isn’t an impediment to enjoying this film as it stands alone and works as a psychological thriller without knowing anything about the giant monster that attacked New York. Still, there is something there for fans of the first film with the possibility of more tangentially connect stories to come. I am looking forward to more movies from this universe.

“10 Cloverfield Lane” gets five stars out of five.

The showdown between the two titans of the DC comics universe is just a week away; but this week, we get the third film adaptation from a YA book series as well as a faith-based drama. I’ll see and review at least one of these films.

The Divergent Series: Allegiant—

Miracles from Heaven—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and contact me via email stanthemovieman@comcast.net.