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Gemini Man

gemini man

 

Markus Rating: 3 out 5 Stars

Synopsis: A hitman, Henry Brogan (Will Smith) on the verge of retirement, finds out something he shouldn’t (classified materials). And so someone in upper management (Clive Owen) sends a younger hitman to kill Henry. The thing is, this younger hitman looks just like Henry, but younger.

The synopsis I want to believe to be true: A man (Clive Owen) is Will Smith’s number one fan. After hearing of Smith’s retirement, he devises a plan to create an army of Will Smith’s that will make movies until the end of time.

In the actual movie, after the two Smith’s meet and some very well filmed fight choreography ensues, the story really takes a nosedive.

The actual problem with “Gemini Man” stems from the handling of this quite stiff story. Even with the promise of two Smith’s, the foundation here is a basic action/sci-fi thriller. And there was so much wasted potential. Yes, there is an automation vs. non-automation argument, as well as some spiritual themes inserted throughout the back-half though conversation, but these conversations seemed tacked on. The story continuously lies there like a dead fish and the “tacked on” elements act as a stick attempting to poke the story back to life.

It just seems as though either director Ang Lee (Life of Pi, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) never read the script or cared to know anything about it past the synopsis. The allure to direct something like this was probably similar to the allure I had to watch it, i.e. the stunts and technology (the high frame rate). And to Lee’s credit, the high frame rate didn’t bother me like it did when I saw “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”. In fact, for the most part, the visuals looked crisp while maintaining their cinematic integrity. For example, there was an underwater sequence that looked more water than water. This may sound silly, but this was the most amazing looking water I’d ever seen. These are the sequences which garnered the majority of the stars in this review. Also, the 3D in this film works extremely well; a fact I hate admitting. Unfortunately if you don’t purchase the twenty dollar ticket, you won’t get the full weight of these effects. On the other hand, Smith is such a strong actor, one could potentially still enjoy watching him do anything for nearly two hours. BUT…

Let’s talk about young Will’s face. It’s pretty painful. Which is to say, the “deaging” CGI of the young Smith face looks off, surrounded by the beautiful HFR on-location cinematography. Not to mention that it seems like it was difficult to get his face to change expression or maintain the same age from scene to scene. The younger Smith CGI really only worked when it was an action sequence or during night scenes. Other than that, young Will’s face was really cringy. This includes a five minute sequence filmed in the daylight, which momentarily made this whole experiment seem regrettable.

Final Thought: “Gemini Man” is a movie with many (many) flaws. But then again, I had a ton of fun with it. And did I mention the water?

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Joker

joker

Markus Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

So…Batman’s dad is Donald Trump. It’s not a spoiler if you really think about it.

If what you’re looking for is an action packed superhero movie, then “Joker” may have you walking out of the theater saying, “That’s not what I expected”.

“Joker” is an R-Rated stand-alone prequel of sorts about the man who would become the titular Batman villain. This version of the Joker story was not one that I was familiar with and thus I was happy with sitting through two hours plus of this mentally unstable character, as he watches the world burn. Even though plot-wise there isn’t really much more to it than that, there’s a lot here to appreciate.

Side Note: I get the “Taxi Driver” Travis Bickle,“The King of Comedy” Rubert Pupkin comparisons, but I’m going to throw something different at you. Remember how “Rocky” was a story about a boxer that nobody cared about, who just wanted to go the distance? “Joker” is like that, but instead of a boxer it’s about a fledgling comedian/clown-for-hire, who just wants to be noticed…it even has a stairs sequence.

I think we all knew Joaquin Phoenix (The Master, You Were Never Really Here) was going to be an excellent Joker. I mean, the man is an eccentric character in street clothes. And he is spectacular in this. Not any better or worse than Heath Ledger’s 2008 performance as the Joker. Phoenix’s Joker is a whole other beast. From his dance inspired erratic contortions, to his body transformation, to that laugh, with this performance Phoenix reinvents the character so much so, that audiences will actually find themselves rooting for the Joker; unironically.

I also want to quickly highlight director Todd Phillips, the director of the horrid “The Hangover” trilogy, who has probably made the best movie he’ll ever make by nailing this fan fiction “Taxi Driver” homage. His love for Martin Scorsese is obvious here, as Phillips’ pacing, tone and visuals focus on the protagonist rather than a more conventional plot-driven narrative. He also presents a Gotham that is so alive and toothy, that when the Joker’s snap comes, it all seems right on cue, like a well orchestrated song.

Not everything works though. Two aspects in particular seem forced and tend to weigh things down a bit. Like a dog wearing a sweater; I mean, it’s not hurting the dog, but the dog would probably be better without it. OK, so first is a love story arch which seems forced, but not unfounded; I did see the point of it. The larger issue here was the same issue I had with “Black Panther”. “Joker” only really stumbles when Phillips has to reel the story back into the DC universe. If this would’ve simply been a story about the rise of Arthur Fleck, a poor, depressed and disillusioned man, living in a violent rat infested city, slowly slipping into madness, this could’ve moved from an award worthy to an award winning “Taxi Driver” homage.

Final Thought: Neither violent video games or violent movies cause people to shoot one another.

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Haunt

haunt

 

Markus Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

“Haunt” (available on VOD) is a new horror flick I would’ve missed if it weren’t for a few “it’s actually pretty fun” reviews I read. But in my defense, the only thing I’d heard prior was that it was produced by Eli Roth. So please forgive me for not being more eager to press play.

Advertised as a movie written and directed by the writers of “A Quiet Place”, Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, “Haunt” follows a group of expendable college kids who decide to enter a random extreme haunted house, that one of them saw on a flier earlier that evening; oh, and it’s Halloween night. When they arrive the place looks like an abandoned garage and is riddled with scary clowns. But of course they eagerly enter, split up and terror ensues.

Halfway through this review it sounds like I hated it, but in fact it’s quite the opposite. “Haunt” is fun in the way I remember “Final Destination” being fun. A simple premise with absolutely no expository anything and a really dumb cast of characters, putting themselves into bad situations, which lead to death. The fun is in watching each of these young people meet their fates and try and guess which person (if anybody) survives the night. Also, on a personal note, while this is an R-Rated slasher, it never gets to the point of torture-porn (for which I was grateful) despite Roth’s involvement.

What really differentiates this film from some of the other throw-away horrors you might find online, is what Beck and Woods do visually. They do an excellent job of keeping the tension at an extremely high level by delivering on the fun house scenario scares fairly relentlessly. These two have an excellent grasp of space, visually forcing audiences to get right in there with the characters, trapped in this rusty tetanus filled house of horrors. And it’s this gritty, claustrophobic feeling similarly found in something like 2009’s “The Collector”, which keeps “Haunt” from becoming an over processed low-budget “Escape Room” rip-off.

Final Thought: Yeah, the acting is “meh” and the extended ending seems like an unfortunate afterthought, but this is a movie all about getting from point A to point B in the scariest/most entertaining way possible. And “Haunt” does this well enough to serve as something worth a horror fan’s time and money. Also, as an added bonus the “bad guys” here are actually memorable enough to propel a sequel. Although I have a strange feeling that when people think of Juggalos, the clowns in this movie are what comes to mind.

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Ad Astra

ad astra

Markus Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

This is a meditative space journey that you will either love or think is “kinda boring”. More than a little reminiscent of “Apocalypse Now”, with a splash of “Contact” and dash of “2001: A Space Odyssey”, “Ad Astra” is a long, slow and near perfect movie. Visually, this thing is flawless and Brad Pitt’s performance is nomination worthy. Look at you, “Ad Astra”. Giving me Andrei Tarkovsky realness.

Synopsis: Set in a near future where humans have colonized the moon and Mars (but not quite to The Jetsons era) we follow an astronaut named Roy McBride (Pitt), who is a blank canvas of a man. Plagued by endless evaluations, he shows no emotions. In the face of fear and stress, his heart rate never rises above 80 BPM. Also, he is a legacy. His father (Tommy Lee Jones) was known as the greatest astronaut to ever live, traveling further into space than anyone to date, before becoming lost in space years ago. Now earth is bombarded with electrical storms from space, coined “The Surge”. Roy is contacted when it is thought that his father, whom he believed to be long dead, may still be alive somewhere in deep space and may also be the one causing said space phenomenon. Roy is instructed to find his father and return him to Earth.

As soon as it fully becomes “Apocalypse Now” in space, “Ad Astra” does struggle a bit to keep up with greatness (mostly due to a few unavoidable moments of sappiness). But what writer/director James Gray (The Lost City of Z, We Own the Night) brings to the table that is unique is some interesting visual sequences including: showing audiences what the future may look like when space travel is more like traveling on a plane, what driving a car in space might look like and most importantly what the beginnings of government space colonization would actually resemble. And for those who’ve already seen this movie and say it was boring, I don’t know what else they could’ve asked for? This movie literally has everything: A father/son element, inner journey stuff, a cool car chase sequence on the surface of the moon that would make Vin Diesel jealous, and even (SPOILER ALERT) space baboons! What other movie can say that?

There’s been this lie perpetuated among  some film-lovers out there questioning if Brad Pitt is truly one of the great actors of his generation. If anything “Ad Astra” reaffirms Pitt as not only a movie star, but also a rangy actor, who adds more to this movie than Martin Sheen did to “Apocalypse Now”.

Final Thought: “Ad Astra” is what “Interstellar” wants to be when it grows up. Fight me.

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