Ang Lee’s increasing preoccupation with digital cinema effects can be traced to 2003’s Hulk, the first time one of his films featured a main character generated by a computer. In 2012 Life of Pi saw Lee wading further into digital waters, showcasing computerized sets and hyperrealistic animal characters. And in 2016 Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, filmed in a superfast 120 frames-per-second that very few theaters in the U.S. were actually equipped to project, managed to exude a digital sheen despite the apparent novelty of normal human characters doing non-superpowered things. With Gemini Man, Lee’s big-budget Will Smith actioner, the director tries a new digital toy: a screenplay generated entirely by a computer.
It certainly feels like that, anyway. The real gimmick of Gemini Man, of course, is a digitally de-aged Smith playing a younger clone of himself (Fresh Prints of Bel-Air). The Real Human Smith is Henry, the world’s best assassin, who simply wants to retire in peace. But the digitized “Junior” Smith is sent to kill the O.G. version, resulting in a globetrotting game of cat-and-mouse (or cat-and-cat). That rote setup, spun with only the slightest variation out of the thousand other movies about the world’s best assassin on the brink of retirement, could still have made for an exciting movie with a solid script.
Continue reading Gemini Man (2019)
When there’s a vampire around, odds are a werewolf isn’t far away. In the last couple decades movies concerned with the bloodsucking creatures of the night — Twilight, Van Helsing, even What We Do in the Shadows — seem inevitably concerned also with slightly hairier, howlier creatures. They’re never equally concerned with werewolves, though, casting them consistently in cameos for pure shock value, and so the conceit of the third Underworld film Rise of the Lycans is a smart one: give the werewolves their due.
The result is by no means a good movie, unless you’re somehow enraptured by the Underworld series. If you’re not, then you might refer to Rise of the Lycans as The One Without Kate Beckinsale, which is a large part of the film’s undoing in the same way the new Independence Day could essentially be subtitled The One Without Will Smith. The bitch of it all is that Michael Sheen, starring as head were-dude Lucian, is a far better actor than Beckinsale will likely ever be. He’s a Shakespearian tragedian, she’s an action hero. Underworld, of course, actually needs the latter, and sadly Michael Sheen just isn’t an action hero. His head’s too big. He’s got the biceps, sure, but everyone has the biceps these days. Have you guys seen Jonathan Lipnicki lately? Sheen is somehow more naturally proportional in his werewolf form than as a regular human. Maybe they should have CGI’d his forehead down.
Continue reading Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009)
Is Ewan McGregor just awesome, or what? He truly brings his A-game to every role, and he refuses to shy away from anything, whether it seems too “out-there” or taboo or even if it seems like a risky film that could damage his career if it fails. I love this about him; I respect this about him. In a recent interview promoting the recent latest blockbuster Focus, Will Smith spoke about his career and said that in previous years, he had been overly concerned with making sure that his movies were hugely popular and that they made a lot of money. If they weren’t, he felt like he had failed. Now, he has let go of this obsessive, limiting mindset and has decided that he is more interested in creating. The beauty of the art of acting, of exploring the human mind by diving into and becoming someone other than yourself is his newfound passion. I think it is evident that Ewan McGregor shares this passion. Examining the list of characters he has played, I believe it must be that he delves into the bodies and minds of these vastly different people because he is unsure who he is himself. I tend to really enjoy watching films with actors who I see this in; Beginners is one of them.
Beginners is really a simple film. The film takes place over three distinct time periods and flips back and forth between them, but this is not confusing, nor meant to be, and there are no grand action sequences or diabolical twists. This film is simple, it’s about people, it’s about life and everything, every emotion rather, that comes with it. We see sadness and happiness, of course. We see sympathy and confusion, we see love. We see it all. Yet, this is still a simple film. There are a hand-full of characters, mostly quite likable, and we get to watch their lives as they are for about a month. Oliver (McGregor) has been through a bit of a rough patch: he lost his mother to cancer; immediately after, his father tells him he is gay; he watches him fall in love with a younger man; and then he watches his father, too, die of cancer. Oliver does not struggle with coming to terms with the fact that his dad is gay, but with the idea that his childhood was a ruse, a lie, it occurred under false pretenses. Oliver struggles not with the fact that his dad loves a man, but that his dad loves any person other than his mom. To make matter worse, he is hurt by seeing his father loving a man his own age and feeling as though his father loves this man more than he loves him.
Continue reading Beginners (2010)
There was a time when I’d never met a movie about con artists that I didn’t like. You name it: the almighty Sting, the classic you-didn’t-even-know-this-was-a-con Usual Suspects, George C. Scott’s The Flim-Flam Man; modern takes like Matchstick Men, Catch Me If You Can, American Hustle; the super-rewatchable original Italian Job and the super-rewatchable remake Ocean’s Eleven. Some of these — like, say, The Spanish Prisoner — technically aren’t that great as far as cinema is concerned. Maybe that’s part of what’s so damn endearing about them: they’re movies, not films, which means they could conceivably appeal to just about anyone because style and fun outweigh technique and competence. I think I was just fine with that for a while, and I might still be.
But I also remember taking issue with Christopher Nolan (you: “who the hell are you to challenge Christopher Nolan?”; me: “I have as many Oscars as he does“) when he made the following comment about heist movies in an LA Times interview while filming Inception:
I originally wrote [Inception] as a heist movie, and heist movies traditionally are very deliberately superficial in emotional terms…they’re frivolous and glamorous, and there’s a sort of gloss and fun to it. I originally tried to write it that way, but when I came back to it I realized that — to me — that didn’t work for a film that relies so heavily on the idea of the interior state, the idea of dream and memory. I realized I needed to raise the emotional stakes.
Continue reading Focus (2015)
Wait a minute – Aaron Sorkin wrote Enemy of the State? Before we get too deep into false advertising here, let it be known that “rewrites” and “script edits” are terms that are extremely broad and ill-defined in most cases. Yes, Sorkin was brought on for rewrites of the Enemy of the State script by David Marconi; no, it’s not clear how much of the film is “his”, at least not in any explicit way. Sorkin presently has no credit for his work on the film, no listing on IMDb or anywhere else, although an early poster (later redacted) did feature his name right after Marconi’s:
“Written by David Marconi AND Aaron Sorkin AND Henry Bean AND Tony Gilroy” – phew. That many cooks in the kitchen usually isn’t a good sign – maybe bringing to mind Stanley Kubrick’s quote about one man writing a novel, one man writing a symphony, and one man making a film – but Sorkin’s name would eventually be struck, as would Bean’s and Gilroy’s, and Sorkin’s reputation as a controlling “sole credit” scriptwriter would presumably grow from there.
Continue reading Enemy of the State (1998)