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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: Focus

Focus is a fun old-fashioned heist movie that suffers from the lack of a central plot.

In some respects, Focus plays as a con itself. While movies about con artists are inevitably built around charismatic rogues and antiheroes, the stories practically structure themselves. Cons are visually interesting and dynamic, they are fun and exciting. Watching characters trying to out-wit one another in rapidly-escalating situations creates instant dramatic tension, and it is easy to see why the genre has remained popular. The beats are familiar – the “big one”, the “revenge con”, the “try to get alive game.”

Off the clock...

Off the clock…

Focus keeps teasing the audience with possible plot hooks that might sustain a two-hour film, diverting the audience’s focus and keeping them off-balance. “So what about the big con?” Margot Robbie’s Jess teases Will Smith’s Nicky. “You mean the one where we all make so much money we all retire?” Nicky teases back, dismissively. What makes Focus so interesting – and what also arguably prevents it from working as well as it might – is that it consciously plays against these recognisable elements. There is no big con, there is no story.

This is the long con that Focus plays – and plays very well. For all that it teases the plot-driven trappings of a caper movie, Focus is a good old-fashioned star-driven drama, a movie built around Will Smith’s movie icon charisma. It is one hell of a gamble, and one that doesn’t play off as well as it might, Focus‘ unwavering commitment provides a charm and energy that carries movie through. Offering advice to Jess, Nicky insists, “You never drop the con. Never break. Die with the lie.” It seems that Focus lives by its own words.

A star vehicle...

A star vehicle…

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Watch! Spike Lee’s Oldboy Trailer!

If you haven’t watched the original Oldboy, you should really do so now. I’m not as head-over-heels in love with it as most, but it’s a stunningly powerful piece of film making, “visceral” in the strongest sense of the word. After years of trying to get the film off the ground, the American remake is incoming. I remember when there was gossip about a Steven Spielberg and Will Smith version, which it’s hard to imagine working anywhere near as effectively as the original. The team of Spike Lee and Josh Brolin, on the other hand, looks more likely to deliver something as twisted and bold as Pan Chan-wook’s original.

Anyway, the trailer’s below. So have a look and let me know what you think.

Michael Clarke Duncan, R.I.P.

It’s very strange to hear that an actor who really emerged during your life time has passed away. I was actually already an aspiring movie buff when Michael Clarke Duncan gave his breakout performance in The Green Mile. Duncan, of course, had been around for a while before that. He’d been working in the entertainment industry even before he decided to seriously pursue acting as a career – the early nineties saw the guy working as a bodyguard for Will Smith among others. He turned earnestly to acting in the mid- to late-nineties, and had a small but memorable role in Armageddon that led Bruce Willis to recommend him for The Green Mile. In many ways, I watched Duncan become a recognisable screen presence, and I was very shocked and saddened to hear of his passing.

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Non-Review Review: Men in Black 2

I have to admit, I’m not the biggest fan of any of the Men in Black films. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike, it’s just that they tend to be enjoyable and entertaining… and yet completely forgettable. Of the bunch, Men in Black II (or MIIB) is probably the most forgettable. Again, it’s not that it’s terrible – although some elements flat-out don’t work – just that there’s not really anything exceptional about it either. It’s a reasonably competent comedy adventure, even if it’s never an especially good one.

Black up there a minute…

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Non-Review Review: Men in Black 3

Men in Black 3 is a fine film. Like Men in Black and Men in Black 2, it’s a perfectly entertaining piece of popcorn entertainment if you’re willing to just go along with it. It’s not superb, it’s not exceptional, but it’s not bad either. It’s a decent movie. It manages to probably offer some better moments than the earlier two films, but these are averaged out by some painful deficiencies. You lose Tommy Lee Jones for most of the runtime, but you gain Josh Brolin. That’s a fairly reasonable trade, even if Brolin and Smith don’t share the same chemistry. You get the same wonderful production design, this time heightened by a sixties setting, but a plot that threatens to evaporate if you think about it too hard and any number of developments that are far too easy to predict. Nothing is truly fantastic, but nothing is exceptionally terrible. It just sort of is.

Putting the star in 69…

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