“I’m having trouble looking in the mirror lately,” says Henry Brogan Will Smith, one of the world’s best assassins. He’s spent a large chunk of his career bumping off bad guys for the government, but now he wants to hang up his guns and retire at the ripe old age of 51. He’s tired of killing people, and for the first time in his deadly career, he’s actually starting to grow what might be considered a conscience. But if Henry thought looking in the mirror was hard, just wait until he comes face to face with a new enemy: himself.
A younger, cloned Henry played by a digitally de-aged Smith has come calling, setting the stage for a big Will Smith vs. Will Smith action extravaganza wrapped-up in a package calledGemini Man. All the pieces are there, and those pieces rest in the able hands of director Ang Lee. So why is the end result so curiously lifeless? At some point, Lee got too caught up with the tech at work here and forgot to focus on a moving narrative. The end result is more video game than movie.
Digitally de-aging is becoming more and more prevalent. Marvel has been doing it for a few years now, perfecting things with a perfectly de-aged Samuel L. Jackson in Captain Marvel. Martin Scorsese’s upcoming The Irishman uses similar tech to de-age Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Al Pacino – with mostly successful results there are one or two scenes where the effect seems off. Gemini Man wants to take things to a whole new level, so much so that Lee has been insistent on stating that this isn’t a “digitally de-aged” Will Smith – it’s a full CGI creation. Smith may have been his own stand-in, but his younger version is de-aged in body as well as face.
Smith has been in the limelight for decades, and we know exactly what he looked like as a younger man from his Fresh Prince days. So when the young Smith – nicknamed Junior – finally pops-up about a half-hour into the movie the result is momentarily stunning. It really looks like a young Will Smith has teleported from the past into this movie.
But then Junior starts talking – and the effect is completely blown. Because while the FX wizards Lee has worked with are able to master Smith’s resting face, they never quite get the knack to show it in motion. And unfortunately, there’s a lot of motion here. Henry and Junior are constantly sparring, fighting, and bickering, which means the digital Smith has a lot of action and acting to do. But every time he moves his mouth or blinks his eyes, there’s an eerie, uncanny quality at play. He starts to look less like a living, breathing human and more like a video game character – or even the lead character in this year’s Alita: Battle Angel. Alita never looked fully real in that movie, but it worked in that context – after all, she’s a cyborg. But Smith’s Junior is supposed to be flesh and blood.
None of this is Smith’s fault. The actor does the best he can with the clunky, humorless script from David Benioff, Billy Ray, and Darren Lemke. Smith has always had charisma to burn, and Lee was wise to cast him here, because Gemini Man has to coast almost entirely on that charisma. He brings a rough weariness to Henry and a conflicted tenderness to Junior that still manages to shine through all that damn CGI.
Along his journey, Henry is aided by Danny Zakarweski Mary Elizabeth Winstead, another agent accidentally caught up in this mess. There was a time when Winstead’s character would be little more than a tag-along – a hapless, helpless female character that Smith would have to save over and over again. But Gemini Man makes the smart choice of having Winstead’s Danny be more than able to handle herself, and she gets to kick as much ass as Smith. Progress!
Henry and Danny are also helped by Henry’s old pal Baron, a woefully underwritten character saved by a lively, if underused, Benedict Wong. Baron is more plot device than character – he exists because he knows how to fly a plane, and the story requires Henry to fly all over Europe at the drop of a hat. You keep waiting for the character to have a big moment to shine – but it never comes.
All of this cloning and mayhem has been orchestrated by Clay Varris, an evil government spy played by a sleepy, bored Clive Owen. There’s a lot of talk about how twisted and cold-hearted Varris is, but Owen plays him so low-key and lifeless that he makes for an ultimately drab villain. Varris’ plan to eliminate Henry begins to take on all the trappings of a Bourne sequel, where he bickers with other government agents behind-the-scenes about who to kill next. It’s all so boring that you might want to go ahead and take a bathroom break during these scenes.
The only time Gemini Man really comes alive is during its big action scenes. Lee stages many of these in brightly lit locals, all the better to highlight the High Frame Rate he shot the film in – a technique which looks like big-screen motion smoothing, and one which filmmakers should strop trying to make happen. There are several big set pieces including a motorcycle chase where the two Smiths are literally chucking their bikes at each other. But even these action scenes fer, particularly when Lee has his characters pull off the impossible. On more than one occasion Junior’s acrobatics make him look more like a rubber doll than a human being, and one specific moment where Henry does the world’s most powerful push-up – one that literally launches his entire body off the ground as if it were a spring – is so damn silly looking that it’s surprising it made it into the final film.
The video game comparisons come into play here, too. Not only do many of the action scenes get bogged down in digital nonsense, Lee often cuts to POV shots with the camera mounted on the barrel of whatever gun Henry happens to be holding, thus moving the camera along with the weapon. The end result looks exactly like a moment lifted from a first-person shooter game.
Lee is a daring filmmaker and deserves credit for trying new things visually with Gemini Man. But it would’ve been better off for everyone if he had stopped to think about the story as well. There’s a lot of psychological material to mine from this premise – a man literally coming face to face with himself. But Gemini Man only gives that material a cursory glance, and then it’s on to the next action scene drowning in digital drudgery. There’s nothing wrong with a middle-of-the-road action pic, but you can tell Gemini Man wants to be something much bigger, and better. It isn’t.
The actor discussed his latest role and the advice he'd ask his younger self on 'The Late Show.'
Ahead of the Gemini Man release date, Will Smith stopped by The Late Show With Stephen Colbert on Tuesday to chat with host Stephen Colbert about the challenges of starring opposite himself: he plays the role of a veteran assassin who faces off against his younger clone.
"What he did with this film is really spectacular," Smith said of director Ang Lee. "He's trying to create a new reason for people to go to movie theaters."
The actor added that his latest project should be viewed in 3D, joking "it's not your daddy's 3D."
As for fighting against his younger self in the film, Smith noted what audience goers will see is "the first-ever 100 percent digital human" adding that "it isn't de-aging. It's not me playing the character... It's a 100 percent digital character."
The fully-CG younger clone of Smith's character wasachievedby the team at Peter Jackson's Weta Digital using performance capture and the most advanced digital techniques.
Early reviews of the movie indicated a lukewarm reaction from critics. The Hollywood Reporter'sStephen Daltonarguedthat the film is a "significant leap forward for visual effects but a backward step for gripping, sophisticated thrillers."
To accurately portray a younger version of Smith, Lee looked back at the actor's youthful projects such as Six Degrees of Separation and Men In Black. However, one of Smith's most iconic roles wasn't at the top of Lee's list to utilize.
"For Fresh Prince, he's looking at my character and says, 'I don't want any of that in my movie,'" Smith joked.
When asked by the late night host if there's some advice he'd like to give to his younger self, Smith shared he'd rather turn that scenario around.
"I feel like that younger version of me, there's a certain naivety to youth that is powerful. When you don't know something, you're aggressive," Smith said. "I would ask my young self for advice... For the last two years, I've been trying to recapture that youthful fearlessness."
Such fearlessness includes the actor bungee jumping out of a helicopter to celebrate his 50th birthday, an act that Smith says "was probably the scariest thing I've done in 25 years."
The actor also discussed recently celebrating the opening of Tyler Perry's new studio in Atlanta, Georgia.
"It was really a spectacular evening," Smith said of the gala. As for learning that a sound stage was dedicated to him, he added "I was happy with mine... then I saw Oprah's."
Smith joked that the media mogul has been famous for so long that whomever is around her often ends up becoming her personal assistant. "You have to help Oprah," Smith said. "I've seen Barack get Oprah something to eat."
Gemini Man, which premiered in Los Angeles on Monday, hits theaters on Oct. 11.
Emerging actors Jake Ryan and John Tui headline Sam Kelly’s debut feature, set in the world of New Zealand street gangs.
New Zealand is, quite bafflingly, viewed as some kind of magical wonderland, covered in lush greenery and populated by happy hobbits. In reality, New Zealand is like any other developed nation, populated by rich and poor, advantaged and underprivileged, the mainstream and outcasts. Writer-director Sam Kelly pulls the cover off New Zealand's gang culture in his first feature film, Savage. One part examination of a criminal subculture and one part dissection of masculinity and how it's defined, the pic is going to draw immediate comparisons to the former FX series Sons of Anarchy — which would be inaccurate as well as entirely unfair.
Savage will also recall Lee Tamahori's Once Were Warriors for the social tapestry of a marginalized group it weaves. Shifting back and forth among three watershed moments in the protagonist's life, Kelly draws an emotional roadmap detailing one man's life and how he got from A to B. Savage is primed for a long festival run, and English-language territories should take an interest in its fresh perspective.
Savage begins in 1989 with patched-in gang member Danny Australian actor Jake Ryan, also known as “Damage,” punishing a mate for a theft. It's a brutal introduction to his brutal life, and it continues later that same evening when he reports back to the club president, Moses John Tui, Solo: A Star Wars Story. Moses is clinging to power — rival Tug the charismatic Alex Raivaru is nipping at his heels — but there's always time for some drinks and some women. It's during a clumsy encounter with a well-heeled, sexually confident woman that Danny explains that his facial tattoos, his mask, are there so that she can see who he really is. It's an ironic statement, and one that prompts Danny to recall his life to this point.
In too many circumstances, flashbacks can be clunky, intrusive asides that take viewers out of a film, but in Savage they actually have a hand in crafting a richer portrait of how a boy transforms from 9-year-old Danny, son of a devoutly Christian and abusive farmer, to juvenile convict in 1965 to Damage, sergeant in the burgeoning Savages gang in 1972.
Kelly's script was inspired by real street-gang history, and the world of Savage couldn't be farther from the trendy, postcard-ready cafe culture of Wellington where the film was shot if it tried. Kelly and director of photography James L. Brown capture the casual violence and still uneasy white-Maori coexistence with a raw, unfiltered, dark tone that lends the pic a veracity it might not enjoy with cleaner images. Not surprisingly, Danny looks most out of his element in the bright light of day.
But Kelly wisely makes Danny and Moses' friendship and their growth or not the real story, and Ryan and Tui's completely believable, naturalistic dynamic serves as the movie's emotional anchor. Savage's strongest moments involve the two just having a beer and talking about their shared pasts and possible futures, revealing a great deal more about both men than any gang fight does.
It also makes a reconnection between Danny and his brother Liam Seth Flynn all the more gutting when Danny begins to struggle with the lure of a lost family and freedom from gang life versus loyalty to his oldest friend, someone who provided a haven when he needed one. It becomes obvious that Danny's tattoos are actually just a public face for a more sensitive man who might, on the third go, make a radically different choice.
Production company: Domino Films Cast: Jake Ryan, John Tui, Chelsea Crayford, Alex Raivaru, Olly Presling, James Matama, Haanz Fa'Avae Jackson, Lotina Pome'e, Poroaki McDonald, Jack Parker, Seth Flynn, Dominic Ona-Ariki Director-screenwriter: Sam Kelly Producer: Vicky Pope Executive producers: William Watson, Billy Trotter, Brian Kelly Director of photography: James L. Brown Production designer: Chris Elliott Costume designer: Bob Buck Editor: Peter Roberts Music: Arli Liberman Casting: Yvette Reid, Miranda Rivers Venue: Busan International Film Festival World sales: Film Constellation
Actor Will McFadden directs himself in the story of a white man whose white wife gives birth to a black baby.
If discussions of race in America often hit brick walls when the points turn personal " I'm not a racist, it's all those cops/landlords/Trump voters...", fiction can sometimes find cracks in the mortar, showing how a decent, relatable character can be part of the problem. That's the case with Will McFadden's Doubting Thomas, which starts with a dicey-sounding premise — a white couple has a black child, and the wife swears it's not the result of an affair — but handles it with more grace than one expects in microbudget cinema. Imperfect but admirable for a serious approach that doesn't stumble over into off-putting earnestness, it's a debut with more on its mind than giving its writer/director a plum job as an actor as well.
McFadden plays Tom, a successful lawyer who's expecting his first child with wife Jen Sarah Butler. So serious about his responsibility that sometimes he's the one who finds himself alone at Lamaze class, he nevertheless misses his wife's delivery — he's off chasing a hoodlum who stole her purse, and dealing with the cops afterward.
So when he arrives at the hospital, where his best friend Ron Jamie Hector has given Jen a ride, Ron knows something he doesn't: Jen's baby is unmistakably an African-American. Ron is black as well, but the two men are such close friends that the obvious hypothesis isn't the first one addressed: Well before anyone suggests Jen might've slept with Ron, husband and wife have settled uneasily on the idea of some recessive gene in their DNA. Maybe somebody way back in the family tree was black, and this is nature's way of informing them.
Neither new parent is quite satisfied with that explanation predictably, Tom finds it harder to accept than Jen, but that doesn't keep them from being indignant when friends and strangers leap to natural conclusions: that, for instance, the couple adopted a child from Africa, or used a sperm donor. In a variation of that revolting ritual in which young parents assume other people's reproductive choices are their business, curious women assail Jen at a party, amplifying her unease. But soon enough, Tom has segued from obsessive web searches about genetics and childbirth stats to terms like "signs that my wife is cheating on me." And Ron, a bachelor who has always made himself at home in his married friend's house, is the prime suspect.
Rather than push hard into the narrative questions it raises, the film's midsection focuses largely on attitudes and acceptance. Does it change a white person's self-concept to give birth to a non-white child? How far back in your genealogy would you have to go for an ancestor of another race not to impact your identity? Why does it even matter?
Wisely, McFadden avoids nailing things down too tightly here, being content to show the shaky ground his characters stand on. As it unfolds, the drama's scripting is uneven, with some motivations more convincingly drawn than others and perhaps a few too many mentions of the big "Albright case" that Tom's supposed to be focused on at work. But the film is open-ended enough to acknowledge that the remedies for unacknowledged prejudice are neither easy nor clearly identified. And if one obviously well-intentioned man has this much trouble, heaven help the country that produced him.
Production company: Long Way Home Cast: Will McFadden, Sarah Butler, Jamie Hector, Melora Walters, James Morrison Director: Will McFadden Screenwriters: Will McFadden, Joseph Campbell Producers: Casey Morris, Laura Jane Salvato, Mark Sayre Director of photography: Phil Parmet Production designer: Stephanie Spiegel Costume designer: Cate Adams Editor: Mark Sayre Composer: David Majzlin Casting directors: Liz Lewis, Angela Mickey
An elderly Indian woman decides to live for herself in director Kislay’s debut feature.
Oppressive obligations and societal expectations are at the heart of debuting director Kislay's Just Like That, an indictment of the dismissiveness with which India treats elderly women after their duties as wives and mothers have been discharged.
Premiering in Busan's New Currents competition section, Just Like That has a clear-eyed, singular focus that ties its various, seemingly unrelated threads together for a larger comment on a woman's lack of agency in a society that still undervalues them. Beautifully shot and acted, with only a few novice filmmaker missteps we don't really need the family history inserts, Just Like That will slot in nicely in festival line-ups, and could garner some arthouse attention in Asia-Pacific as well as urban markets overseas.
After 52 years of marriage, the newly widowed Mrs. Sharma Mohini Sharma has decided to start living for herself and not, as is expected, act the good widow and move in with her son, Virendra Harish Khanna and his wife Sonia Sadhna Singh. She starts going out for ice cream, getting beauty treatments, learning the craft of doll-making with help from a local tailor and, most shockingly, controlling her own money: She opens her first bank account.
Despite pressure from Virendra to “shift” downstairs so that the financially strapped family can rent out the upper floor, she stubbornly resists falling in line. To make matters worse, she strikes up a friendship with a young woman who works in the salon she starts frequenting, Sugandhi Trimala Adhikari, and the Muslim man, Ali Mohammed Iqbal, who's teaching her to sew. Before long, Mrs. Sharma is the gossip of small Allahabad and she still winds up forced to sacrifice her independence.
Director Kislay has a light touch, and illustrates Mrs. Sharma's position with a clever combination of alienating images vividly and colorfully shot by Saumyananda Sahi that put her outside the crowd and a layered soundscape by Gautam Nair that insinuates the world into her new life. Crowded compositions often see Mrs. Sharma physically pushed to the edge of the frame, as if she's an insignificant afterthought, and ambient city noises become louder and clearer as she goes about her business of re-experiencing the world. It's a subtle effect — it gets duller and quieter when she's forced to give up her new life — but one that drives home Kislay's point.
Ahead of a disheartening, but not entirely pessimistic, ending, Kislay laces Just Like That with grace notes that highlight how unbending the rules can be — Mrs. Sharma's grandson Vicky Shiram Sharma starts exerting entitled male control over his sister Vinny Saumya Jhakmola when he finds out she might have a boyfriend — and how rocking the boat can have dire consequences; Ali's livelihood and life are all threatened at one point for simply befriending a curious, friendly Hindu widow.
This is an intimate film that relies on understanding how Mrs. Sharma goes from feeling utterly liberated to feeling trapped all over again. In the lead, Sharma shoulders the burden of making those feelings real with grace, nimbly jumping between satisfied curiosity and resignation.
A few questions might race through your mind during the hectic opening moments of Abe Forsythe's “Little Monsters,” in which an Australian couple shouts their way through an extended public breakup while bubbly piano music plinks by in the background. Questions like: “is that a Hemsworth?,” “can a zombie comedy perfectly split the difference between Edgar Wright and Taika Waititi?,” and “how are Lupita Nyong'o, Josh Gad, and an invasion of the walking dead going to factor into this?”
Like everything else in this funny, spirited, and frequently clever 93-minute romp, the answers come fast and furious “no,” “almost,” and “with the reckless abandon of a movie that doesn't have any time for nonsense like 'reasons' and 'logic' because it's too busy with a Neil Diamond singalong”. Alexander England — who honestly might still be a Hemsworth, despite what the internet and his birth certificate might tell you — stars as David, a scruffy blond musician with a bad case of stunted manhood. Forsythe's script doesn't get into specifics until the third act, but it's clear from the start that David might be a bit too invested in his “stadium rock/death metal” band God's Sledgehammer to really invest in a human relationship, or make room for the kids that sometimes come as a result.
Perhaps that explains why things don't work out with David's ex, and why he doesn't have the first clue how to deal with his ultra-adorable five-year-old nephew Felix a note-perfect Diesel La Torraca. Like seemingly every other director from his corner of the globe, Forsythe knows how to help a child actor thread the needle between cute and cloying; from the way Felix treats his pet tractor yes to his deep kinship with Darth Vader, La Torraca's performance is bright-eyed and open to the wonder of our world in a way that's sweet, hilarious, and ineffably real. England meanwhile becomes a most endearing foil, as he informs his character with such genuine indifference towards the guileless little boy that the scenes between them never feel like old schtick.
Forced to take Felix to school one day, David spends the whole time hitting on his nephew's teacher, Miss Caroline Nyong'o, who all the kids love and listen to without reservation. And when chaperones are needed for a field trip to a petting zoo called Pleasant Valley Farm, David only volunteers because he has hopes of touching something else along the way. He is, needless to say, not particularly well-equipped to handle the students nor their eminently capable substitute mom. The only person who might be more dangerous to have around those people might be beloved kids TV star Teddy McGiggle Gad, a noxious wannabe Mr. Rogers who's actually a sex addict who hates children. It doesn't really matter how he finds himself in a small wooden hut with David, Miss Caroline, Felix, and 20 other little tykes when a horde of zombies breaks out of a nearby military base, but he does.
Forsythe's sense of humor may be less referential and his filmmaking less refined than Edgar Wright's, but “Little Monsters” and “Shaun of the Dead” provoke a similar giddiness from trying to negotiate human relationships in decidedly inhuman times. The action that clutters the last hour of this movie is never compelling enough to feel like anything more than a bloody distraction, but the characters vibe together so well on their own terms that the walking dead only need to provide an existential threat.
For a ramshackle movie that can sometimes feel rushed and tossed off, Forsythe does an excellent job of balancing the various energies of his cast. Gad is most potent in small doses, even if there are only so many times he can drop nuclear-grade F-bombs on a room full of small children before it gets old. Nyong'o initially seems like she'll be stuck playing the proverbial straight man, but this brilliant actress is smart not to bait the laughs; there's something ambiently hilarious and movingly fragile about how dedicated she is towards keeping the students calm, even if that means leading them on a conga line through a field of zombies. By the time she's covered in blood and busting out a ukulele to serenade the kids with Taylor Swift covers, it's impossible not to be impressed with her range and not for the first time this year.
But the nucleus of “Little Monsters” exists in the space between David and Felix, and the movie is at its best when it hones in on the idea that having children — or at least having children around — can be a source of incredible strength. They don't judge adults with the same mercilessness that adults judge themselves, and it can be a total blast however sloppy to watch Felix innocently reveal the root cause of his uncle's fear. With a bit more craft and visual imagination, “Little Monsters” could have been something much bigger, but it has a very good time getting its point across. As one character puts it during a respite from defending themselves against hundreds of flesh-eating zombies: “There are plenty of things to be scared of in this world, but having kids isn't one of them.”
“Little Monsters” will play in theaters on Tuesday, October 8. It will be available to stream on Hulu starting Friday, October 11.