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

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

Review of “Suicide Squad”

Concerned the growing population of metahumans could become a threat to national security, government official Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) suggests creating a team of supervillains called Task Force X. They would be sent out on the most dangerous assignments and, if things went bad, be disavowed by the government. Initially reluctant, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs is convinced when archeologist Dr. June Moone (Cara Delevingne) releases the ancient witch that inhabits her called Enchantress and steals top secret documents from Iran in an instant. The team is comprised of the residents of the highest security prisons because they are the worst of the worst: The assassin known as Deadshot (Will Smith), the crazy yet deadly Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), jewel thief and all around bad guy Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), pyrokinetic street gang killer El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), cannibal Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), assassin and expert at climbing anything Slipknot (Adam Beach). The person put in charge of Task Force X is Col. Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman). By his side is a Japanese assassin known as Katana (Karen Fukuhara). Wielding a sword that traps the souls of its victims, Katana will act as Flagg’s bodyguard. Also for security, each criminal member of the squad is implanted with a micro explosive in their necks. Should they turn against the team or try to escape, their head will be blown off. If dealing with all the crazies in Task Force X isn’t enough to give Flagg nightmares, Harley Quinn’s psychotic supervillain boyfriend the Joker (Jared Leto) is looking for a way to get her back by his side. When Midway City is under attack from a super powered foe, Task Force X is deployed to retrieve a powerful person from a high rise building. Will the team of bad guys be able to stick together long enough to complete their mission? Will they all be decapitated by the explosives in their necks? Will Harley Quinn ever see the pale face and green hair of her puddin’ ever again?

“Suicide Squad” has been ripped to shreds by the real critics. It has been called dull, slipshod, overblown, overstuffed and just plain bad. One reviewer even referred to DC as the Donald Trump of blockbusters. That is harsh! Here’s the thing…I apparently didn’t see the same movie as the majority of critics as I found “Suicide Squad” to be a great deal of fun with a plot that, while at times overly convoluted and under explained, moves at a pleasant pace and filled with several characters that are appealing in various ways. In short, I really liked “Suicide Squad.”

“Short” is the word for this review as I don’t want to give anything away. There are plot points that have been kept under pretty tight wraps that I don’t want to spoil for anyone that hasn’t seen the movie yet. Let me say this much: The film has some problems in the way the story is laid out. Events near the middle don’t make a great deal of sense and there are some issues of timing, as in when some orders are given and how they relate to the big bad of the story. Maybe they were trying to keep the running time down to something reasonable at just over two hours but a bit more explanation would have helped make the story more coherent.

This will be a bit of a spoiler but I also had an issue with which members of the team don’t make it to the end of the film. One of the squad became a personal favorite as the movie progressed. He starts out as a fairly well rounded character with a backstory revealed late in the film. His worth to the team is questioned and he displays what he can do, gaining the team’s admiration. He is also pivotal to the conclusion and he gets killed. Meanwhile, another member of the team is pretty much useless and his actions lead to a second member getting the explosive in his neck set off. He doesn’t do much and is largely comic relief (and precious little of that). Perhaps one of those that don’t make it was selected to provide as much emotional punch as possible while the other is just to let the audience know there are high stakes for not following the rules. Whatever the reason, I would have liked to have seen one of these two lost squad members make it to the next film, if there is one.

While the team is led by Will Smith’s Deadshot, Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn is the Queen of “Suicide Squad.” Her performance mixes the crazy, silly and dangerous in roughly equal amounts. Harley is a sexpot that will kill you for ogling her despite her dressing in short-shorts and a skin-tight t-shirt. She is as deadly with her hands as with a gun or her trusty baseball bat. Always looking for a way to reconnect with the Joker, Harley is truly the wild card of Task Force X. Robbie seems to be having far more fun in her role than anyone else. While Harley’s trademark Brooklyn accent is at best fleeting, Robbie still manages to embody the best and worst aspects of the Joker’s former psychiatrist Dr. Harleen Quinzel.

The rest of the cast isn’t given much of an opportunity to shine the way Robbie is. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s Killer Croc gets a few good lines and a chance to be heroic while Will Smith plays more of a father-figure to both the team and the young daughter he hopes to see once again. Cara Delevingne plays her dual role as Dr. June Moone/Enchantress in two modes: Frightened and horror movie kitsch. Neither is terribly entertaining. The rest of the cast is fine. Jared Leto’s Joker is teased in the trailers as a major character but in fact is more of a bit part. His actions are pivotal to some parts of the plot but otherwise he’s just a flashy cameo.

A few words about the Joker: After Heath Ledger’s performance as the clown prince of crime in “The Dark Knight,” taking on the role of Joker for the next actor was going to be a thankless job that could only be compared unfavorably to what came before. While Leto certainly puts his own spin on the villain it can only pale in comparison to Ledger’s masterful, grounded yet clearly damaged Joker. Perhaps if he is the main villain in Ben Affleck’s solo Batman movie we’ll get a better chance to judge is green-haired lunatic. As it stands right now, the jury is still out as to whether Leto is a worthy successor.

“Suicide Squad” is rated PG-13 for disturbing behavior, action throughout, language, sequences of violence and suggestive content. All of the suggestive content involves Harley and that is all pretty mild. There are various acts of violence committed against humans and non-humans. We see one member of the squad get his head blown off by the explosive implanted in the neck. It isn’t terribly graphic but you know what happens. A couple of helicopters and fighter jets get taken down by various means. Foul language is fairly common but is no worse than the word s**t.

Perhaps I’m judging “Suicide Squad” against the last entry into the DCEU, “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” I found that film to be plodding, dull and devoid of joy. By comparison, “Suicide Squad” is like a springtime meadow full of brightly colored flowers and playful puppies. It moves at a brisk pace and is a great deal of fun. It even has a couple of good guy cameos just to let us know the two films are connected. Maybe I’m just not smart enough to find the flaws as devastating as the real critics. See it yourself and make up your own mind but, despite the problems, I liked it.

“Suicide Squad” gets four stars out of five.

Three new movies open this week. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Florence Foster Jenkins—

Pete’s Dragon—

Sausage Party—

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Review of “Focus”

I have always been told and believed taking a short cut was no way to be successful. It was drummed into my head I should be honest, hardworking and dedicated. Those who tried to avoid hard work were just cheating themselves and those around them. Their successes would be meaningless and fleeting. Apparently I was in the minority of people who listened to that speech as athletes, coaches, stock brokers, lawyers, Fortune 500 CEO’s and more show up on TV being accused and convicted of taking shortcuts to achieve success and wealth. One must assume that for every person caught cheating or skimming or lying or stealing there are likely many more that get away with no repercussions. It’s almost enough to drive a law-abiding person into a life of crime…almost. At heart I’m a coward and far too disorganized to ever come up with a good plan and put it in place without catastrophe. Also, I’m far too pretty to go to prison. The subjects of this week’s film “Focus” have no such qualms about breaking the rules and possibly facing punishment and they are all far prettier than me.

While eating dinner at a high end hotel restaurant, Nicky (Will Smith) notices a beautiful young woman at the bar fending off the advances of a drunken businessman. He doesn’t pay it much mind until she comes to his table and asks him to pretend to be her date. She introduces herself as Jess (Margot Robbie) and the two share a pleasant evening which ends in Jess’s room at the hotel. As they are kissing on the bed, a man breaks in who Jess identifies as her husband. He has a gun and is threatening to kill Nicky. Nicky is calm as he has seen through the shakedown attempt. He critiques their style and soon leaves the room unharmed and with all his money. Later, Jess tracks Nicky down and asks him to teach her all about the con game. Nicky is from a long line of con men and is something of a legend himself. At first reluctant, Nicky gives in after she follows him to his next job in New Orleans. After running a few pickpocket and other cons in New Orleans, Nicky decides to make Jess part of the crew. They also become lovers. Nicky leads a gang of thieves, swindlers and con artists around the country to major sporting events like the championship football games going on in New Orleans. Their work pays off big time with over one-million dollars in profits that will be divided up amongst the gang. Nicky has all the money in a bag and takes it and Jess to the Superdome to watch the game. Nicky and Jess play a little game putting small wagers on the outcome of the next play or things going on in the crowd. A Chinese businessman named Liyuan Tse (B.D. Wong) overhears their bets and asks to become involved. Nicky loses all the gang’s money but makes one more bet double or nothing…and wins. Afterwards, Jess learns Liyuan was a mark and everything that happened was planned. Leaving the game, Nicky tells Jess she’s out and gives her $80,000 and tells the driver to take her to the airport. Three years later in Buenos Aires, Nicky is working for Garriga (Rodrigo Santoro), a formula one race team owner, who wants to sabotage the only other team that might beat him with some phony software they think is helping their fuel mileage. At a party to celebrate the start of the race season, and where the groundwork for the con will be laid, Nicky sees Jess across the ballroom at Garriga’s side. Later, Jess slips away and meets with Nicky on a balcony. She explains she’s out of the con game and is currently with Garriga. She asks Nicky to keep her past and her relationship with him a secret. As the con plays out, Nicky is losing focus because of his feelings for Jess. In his business, that can be deadly.

I didn’t know what to expect when I entered the theatre to watch “Focus.” I knew it looked pretty and had lots of attractive people attached; but I also noticed its middling reviews. I was about as blank a slate as any movie could want when the lights went down. When the room brightened again, I was impressed with a pretty standard caper movie that managed to keep me guessing all the way.

While there are some moments that stretch credulity to the limit (like Jess and Nicky both being in Buenos Aires at the same time), overall the storytelling is pretty tight and manages to keep things interesting. The colorful locations and attractive people help keep the eye entertained while the machinations of Nicky and his con crew are constantly teasing the mind with now-you-see-it tricks. A couple of times, the audience is completely in the dark as to the game being played until everything has come to fruition. It’s a twisty story that will have some in the audience confused if they don’t pay attention. I was riveted to the screen and there were times I wasn’t sure what was happening but in a good way as the movie doesn’t show all its cards until the right time. The writers had to walk a fine line between believable deceptions and impossible scams. To do that, they brought in a con artist consultant to create some original ruses for the film. Most of that shows up in the pickpocket cons which appear to be works of art using timing, distraction and misdirection to work their magic. The larger cons are based on human nature and knowing how to manipulate people into giving you what you want. Greed is the prime motivation for both the con man and the target as huge sums of money are involved.

The cast is stellar with Margot Robbie outshining Will Smith. Robbie, who was so impressive in “Wolf of Wall Street,” is given another role in which her beauty is used as part of her character. While it seems sexist to make her looks so much a part of her character, Robbie is so good you quickly accept her character for her skills and ambition. Robbie is able to play both the innocent victim and conniving femme fatale with equal believability. Jess is sexy and average, brash and demure, guilty and innocent. It makes for a fascinating character to watch as she becomes more a part of Nicky’s world.

Will Smith turns in a fine performance as the cold and calculating Nicky. He takes a complicated character and makes us understand his conflict in dealing with his feelings for Jess even without saying anything. While his façade of cool breaks down somewhat in the second half of the film, Smith still gives a performance that is multidimensional and shows us a character that is learning and changing despite his desire not to. Smith has had a run of bad luck and bad movies over the last several years. Some of his films have divided audiences while others have been expensive flops. Smith used to be guaranteed box office success but some of that shine has worn off. While “Focus” won’t set any box office records, it should give Smith some boost that his acting talent hasn’t diminished.

“Focus” is rated R for language, some sexual content and brief violence. The sexual content is brief but very intimate. We get a very brief view of a topless Margot Robbie. A few punches are thrown, we see an intentional car wreck from inside one of the vehicles and one character is shot in the chest. Foul language is common but not overwhelming.

“Focus” is not only a theme of the movie but a command for the audience. If you aren’t willing to invest some of your grey matter in the following of this story, stay home. While there is some beautiful scenery and attractive people, the real strength of the film is the stories of deception and deceit. Some of these require some effort on the part of the audience. If you make that effort, you’ll find a rewarding movie going experience.

“Focus” gets four stars out of five.

Just two new films open this week. I’ll see at least one of them and report back what I think.


Unfinished Business—

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