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New Escapist Column! “Gemini Man”, and the Battle Between Hollywood’s Past and Future…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine on Friday. This one takes a look at Gemini Man.

Ang Lee’s latest is a very strange beast, a nineties action movie throwback wrapped in modern technology. It pits nineties action movie icon (and one of the last surviving movie stars) Will Smith against a young computer-generated replacement, while allowing Ang Lee to embrace both a strange fascination with nineties era John Woo and his enthusiasm for technology literally so advanced that no cinema in the United States could show the film as intended. And this tension between old and new plays through Gemini Man in interesting ways.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

Non-Review Review: Gemini Man

Gemini Man is a weird and unashamed nineties action movie throwback, for both better and worse.

This is baked into the film. The poster capitalises on the star power that drives the film. Alluding to the clone drama that drives so much of the plot, the poster to Gemini Man credits lead actor Will Smith twice above the line. In an era where the very concept of the movie star is trapped in a seemingly terminal decline, Gemini Man literally doubles down on its star branding. More than that, there is something surreal in the choice of Will Smith as that leading man, an actor whose career is largely defined by nineties hits like Enemy of the State, Men in Black or Bad Boys and whose career has floundered in recent years.

Face to Face/Off.

Gemini Man leans into this nostalgia. The film’s central hook lies in confronting Will Smith with a younger version of himself. Will Smith plays retiring assassin Henry Brogen, who finds himself hunted by a much younger version of himself. De-aged into the uncanny valley, the younger version of Will Smith consciously evokes the actor’s golden age. The film is set in 2019, but the computer-augmented action star feels lost in time; even his hairstyle and facial hair recall the actor’s appearance in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air rather than anything that might suggest a young man growing up in the twenty-first century.

While there’s a lot to unpack in the film, there’s also something disappointingly lifeless about Gemini Man. One of the film’s big action beats take place in a creepy catacomb, in what feels like an encapsulation of the film. Gemini Man never seems truly alive, instead feeling like a facsimile of another, older style of blockbuster.

Out of scope.

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Non-Review Review: Life of Pi

Life of Pi is visually stunning. It is an amazing accomplishment. I’ll be the first to admit that I am skeptical of 3D, but in the hands of the right director – Martin Scorsese, James Cameron and, now, Ang Lee – it is a fascinating storytelling tool. The computer-generated imagery is magical, as are the compositions and scene transitions. There’s no doubt that Ang Lee is a superb craftsman. Indeed, the visual majesty of the film is enough to make you dismiss some of the lighter narrative elements, accepting some of the incongruities as expressions of “magical realism” or simply a function of allegorical storytelling. It’s not the densest, or the most insightful, story you will see, but it’s well-told.

Unfortunately, then you reach the end, and Life of Pi tries to get considerably smarter than it actually is. It pulls a clumsy narrative trick that leaves the audience feeling a bit disoriented and more than a little manipulated. Life of Pi finds itself torn between trying to be a beautiful allegorical story of survival and a deeper commentary on the stories that we tell. Forcing one undermines the other. While Life of Pi might convince you that a boy and a tiger can share a lifeboat, the two competing aspects of Life of Pi sink the story.

Not quite a glowing recommendation...

Not quite a glowing recommendation…

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Life of Pi Trailer

I’m fairly lukewarm on Ang Lee. When he’s great, he’s amazing – one of the most visually arresting directors working in the medium. However, sometimes I find some fo his work (Brokeback Mountain, The Ice Storm) to be a little self-indulgent. Still, Lee has a wonderful flexibility and a willingness to work outside his comfort zone that is hard not to admire. The trailer for Life of Pi first appeared on-line yesterday, and it looks pretty amazing from a visual standpoint. Adapted from the iconic and acclaimed novel, the film looks to have a wonderfully hypersaturated feel to it. In fact, the final shot looks like something from a classic Walt Disney film brough to life.

I’m calling it now. Unless it turns out to be completely abysmal, we have a Best Picture front-runner.

Carrying the Banner: Why Ed Norton Remains the Best Bruce Banner…

I had the pleasure of seeing The Avengers last week. It’s a solid film, and Whedon does a great job tying it all together. What Whedon does especially well is presenting us with a live-action version of the Hulk that really works. Whedon’s green goliath is treated like an actual character rather than a special effect or a plot point, and it looks absolutely incredible, appropriately enough. However, I can’t help but feel like the movie still struggles with the Bruce Banner aspect of the character, and that Mark Ruffalo isn’t a convincing replacement for Ed Norton, who was as perfect a fit for the rage-managing monster as Robert Downey Jr. was for the redeemable Tony Stark.

Distilled Banner?

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Non-Review Review: Hulk

Ang Lee directing a superhero movie? He’s certainly a strange choice to handle the first big screen adaptation of Marvel’s iconic green monster to the big screen, but arguably a smart one. Hulk is at its best when it hints at the psychological melodrama playing out behind its lead character, but suffers greatly from the fact that it is apparently really uncertain about its source material or what it wants to be. It’s weird to see a movie so wonderfully risky in one sense, but so utterly bland in others. Hulk is an experiment, but sadly isn’t consistent enough to be a successful one.

"Hulk Splash!"

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