Gemini Man (2019)

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This action idea was birthed back in 1997 and now over twenty years on it’s evident why it took so long to get made and you’ll wonder why it ever did, because even with Ang Lee directing, this is something that doesn’t reach the heights of a premise which isn’t even that unique.

Henry Brogan (Will Smith) is a for-hire assassin who wishes to retire but when he receives intel that a recent kill has more secrets than expected, he has to flee his home and with the aide of agent Dani (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), they hope to find out the truth. Unluckily for Brogan, a Gemini project has sent a highly skilled killer (also Smith) after them.

Obviously when conceived back in the late 90’s, this story would have been ripe for the times and something interestingly different but now it hasn’t even got that going for it. The only reason for its existence is because the technology is available to de-age a star and have them play in the film twice. This uncanny valley thing is a model becoming more frequent within movies as utilised nicely in ‘Captain Marvel’, but when in close-up the CGI rendering of young Will Smith is smoothed to gross levels. There’s something in the way his mouth moves that looks like a 2010 video game cut-scene and is extremely off-putting.

In terms of the action itself, then you’re in for a bad trip to the cinema because there aren’t any set pieces which stand up to the test of memory. There’s a motorbike chase but Tom Cruise has zero to worry about because everything is frenetic and when Smith doesn’t die after taking an accelerated tyre to the face you know how much suspension of disbelief to contain. Later on, in the catacombs of Budapest everything becomes a scrambling mess as the two Wills tussle into skulls. All you can do is squint as Winstead is left as a light source on a choppily edited fight where you cannot make heads or tails who’s beating up who.

The movie only looks nicely framed in places because of them jetting to Budapest. It’s clearly an excuse to muster production in a stunning albeit cheap city but all the characters do there is talk. If I didn’t love the Hungarian capital so much, I’d give this film an even lower rating. There really is not anything about the story that stands out, everything is predictable and with one of the ‘Game of Thrones’ writers behind this screenplay you can understand the absence of sense or strength behind this film.

Backgrounds and foregrounds look oddly shoddy with this film, Ang Lee’s desire for the High Frame Rate makes the standard showing of the movie a glaringly distracting one. It’s as if nothing sits quite right within the world of the movie and not even some good tension in the opening of the movie or Smith’s dual performance can save the film from being a marketing tactic coasting on the fact that it has a Smith dual performance.

‘Gemini Man’ is a two-handed disappointment of being disappointing and underwhelming. There’s a general air of average quality surrounding the entire idea.

5/10

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Abominable (2019)

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A creature who has become legend and folktale is the driving heart of this; the 37th feature to come from DreamWorks Animation. The story of a yeti, who isn’t as towering in fright as he may appear, is a cute one for the family and survives a weakish narrative thanks to opulent visuals.

Yi (Chloe Bennet) is trying to rake in as much money as she can, to go on a trip across China but on the rooftop of her home she stumbles across a yeti, whom she christens Everest. Burnish Industries are out to get the beast and impress audiences the world over, be it dead or alive, so with friends Peng (Albert Tsai) and Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor), she goes on a journey to take Everest home.

After the likes of ‘Smallfoot’ and ‘Missing Link’, the world of furry snow-dwelling creatures isn’t exactly a unique market to be in but there are delicate touches of scenery and sound in this outing, to set it apart from the others. Honestly, the visuals are the saving grace of the movie, as during their quest for home there arrives a picture postcard series of awe-inspiring illustrations. The Yangtze river and the Gobi desert to some literal rolling hills; ‘Abominable’ crams in a China-hopping collection of beauty to behold.

It is also rooted under the fur of Everest that more stunning moments can be witnessed, as his magical dynamic create gorgeous natural based powers. On the other hand, this ability lessens the possibility of dramatic tension as he can just muster up some whirlwind of specialist trickery to evade trouble. Generally speaking, the film is lacking in solid momentum, it feels like a safe bet to go down the road-trip/bonding route and it’s all rather blase.

The trio of personalities, together with the big, white dopey dog-like Everest are sweet if not the most emotive of units. There are attempts at humour but most are aimed squarely at the kids with burping leading the way but at least there’s an amusing running joke with security team member Dave to tickle the funny bone. Unlike the more rounded, villainous led antics of prior features such as ‘Kung Fu Panda’ or ‘How to Train Your Dragon’, this narrative has a massively predictable turn of events and the likes of an evil Merida cannot triumph as bold enough wickedness to satisfy the senses.

What is fantastic is the Asian setting and the lead being Chinese with Chinese friends. This is a great positive step in the right direction for further increasing diversity and moves away from the typical doe-eyed white princesses that used to run the roost. Chloe Bennet brings charming life to Yi and gifts inflections of energy to her vocals in a neat opening which sees her dealing with an endless workload. Plus you cannot help but feel for her in the moments of violin-based reflection which when combined with the thrumming bass of Everest make for a strangely pleasing sound.

As a film to look at, ‘Abominable’ is enjoyable and the Far East is captured by animators spectacularly but just don’t expect the most original or riveting of plots.

6.5/10

 

The Aeronauts (2019)

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Tom Harper has quality TV episodes and, one of my favourites of this year ‘Wild Rose’ safely tucked under his belt but does this film based on two brave balloonists soar or crash-land?

James Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne) is a budding meteorologist who hopes to study humidity in the higher atmospheres of our planet but to do this he needs the assistance of adventurer Amelia Wren (Felicity Jones), who can put together a balloon to tackle the skies but with storms and freezing conditions, this could be a record breaking study too far.

The opening of ‘The Aeronauts’ sets up the landscape nicely by rushing through 19th century London, following a typical city scamp a la ‘Mary Poppins’ or ‘Oliver!’, eventually landing us with the majestic sight of the giant balloon, of which the pair and we will travel in. The pairing make for alright opposing thoughts, there’s never electric dialogue to lift the narrative but James with his instruments and numbers and Amelia; more equipped to deal with life-challenging outings, find a companionship which is warming enough to see us through.

Some of this loose biopic was filmed with IMAX cameras, with the intention that the scenes will appear gloriously on the biggest screen and there is no doubt that this movie, thanks to DoP George Steel contains beautiful vistas of our fair capital and later on there are gorgeous shots of what lays over our heads but all these stunning images and admittedly pretty period costumes cannot completely patch over the rips in the structure of the story.

Harper and frequent collaborator Jack Thorne have scripted interesting moments but the back and forth in time detracts from the growing tension in a similar way to that of ‘Adrift’. The obvious reasoning is to flesh out Amelia and James’ history but these scenes feel like tiresome sidesteps from the selling point of the movie. Even the moments rocketing through the clouds have potential to be fascinatingly on the edge but they always seem to come shy of the mark. What could have been a much more gripping biographical adventure just becomes something we’ve seen before, just in a hot-air balloon.

It’s a danger-fuelled outing that audiences have witnessed in the past and it feels like a airy hybrid of the aforementioned Shailene Woodley biopic and ‘Gravity’, what with tense set pieces lighting the way in their hopeful descent back to Earth, once scary heights have been reached. The comparison doesn’t stop there as composer Steven Price moves from space to sky to provide vivid wonder with his music once again.

Redmayne is as you can predict by now, he doesn’t muster anything different to the roles he usually plays but he snugly shows that James finds comfort in science whereas Jones is the towering talent. She lets us clearly see that Amelia finds her own home in the open skies, she harmonises a gutsy, showboating mischievous side with resourcefulness and piloting expertise, in a role that might omit the true figure of balloonist Henry Coxwell but with an uplifting performance and amalgamating real-life female pilots, she’s a force to be reckoned with.

‘The Aeronauts’ is a great film to look at but the story isn’t one to completely sustain interest. You’ll enjoy the spectacle and fine performances but like an unnecessary sandbag, you’ll drop it from memory before too long.

6/10

Babyteeth (2019)

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Life and love are powerful notions, and in this Australian drama the pair are intertwined with crushing and up-lifting excellence. This, a first time feature for both director and star, is an impressive debut and sparkles with confidence and care.

Milla (Eliza Scanlen) is a teenager with a life-threatening illness who is all but floating through life unawares, until a chance encounter with 23 year old drug dealer Moses (Toby Wallace). Milla’s parents might not approve at first but their wild connection gives their daughter a new lease on existence.

Shannon Murphy steps away from short films to create this debut feature and it’s one with a clear and focused voice; one that ensures the tropes of small town indie movie aren’t as cliched as can often be. The story from the playwright herself Rita Kalnejais is one that assuredly knows how to blend the styles of tickling humour with soul-wrecking emotion and as a pair of female creators they present the scary truths of mortality with a rawness and beauty.

The film is divided into mini chapters, each one signified by multi coloured inter-titles which keeps it close to the structure of the play’s roots. Every character within the bookmarked narrative harbours their own inner demons, ones that are maddening, slightly normal through the trials of life but with all this, they all know however strange Milla’s new fling might be; her eyes opening with newfound appreciation and excitement is not something they wish to prevent.

‘Babyteeth’ is definitely a topsy romantic relationship and the age gap is a weird one to totally buy into, but thankfully the comedy and dramatics mesh nicely and by the end, with a gently lapping tide to leave you in silent thought, you cannot help but realise through misty eyes that the film did most of its job.

The film isn’t always strong, there are points when it mellows too much or just happens to stray very close to becoming the generic indie flick with coming-of-age antics. In certain scenes, it can feel that fatigue might rest over you because moments outstay their welcome but down to the marvellous cast, you do keep engaged enough with a story of two unique souls careering into one another.

Toby Wallace embodies the care-free, tattooed drifter well, he sees something in Milla and even if at first, his appearance seems selfish there’s a nice wonder he finds in her, everyone else pities her or sees her as different but because Moses is different and free-spirited they easily strike up a bond. Eliza Scanlen is a sensation and you feel that she’s been on screen for many years, perhaps her ‘Sharp Objects’ brilliance aids the notion of her sublime cinematic presence but no, she’s just so good. Scanlen is a force of nature and leads the film with expressive features and heart-felt realism.

Look to the skies and see life in a new way, ‘Babyteeth’ has flashes of comedy, a charged musicality in Milla’s first foray into nightlife and an older beau but what wrenches your heart and stays with you is the reflection on a poignant and life-affirming tale.

6.5/10

 

Joker (2019)

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DC and Warner Bros. send in the clown for this Joker origin story; one set apart from the established DCEU and one that has been a hot topic during it’s festival run where it landed the major Golden Lion trophy in Venice. This film is definitely one that’ll get people talking but is it for the right reasons?

Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is a clown with dreams of being a comedian but instead has to undertake menial jobs around Gotham City and look after his ill mother Penny (Frances Conroy). After being beaten on a metro train, Arthur rises from his depressing state and begins a new birth of violent terror that sweeps through the city and sees him become the Joker.

Moving away from comedies like ‘The Hangover’ and ‘Old School’, is Todd Phillips who clearly models this super-villain tale on the Martin Scorcese pictures of the 1970’s. The cinema of old with the gangster vibes and the civilian violence echoing ‘Taxi Driver’, mixed with our new and frankly scary environment of American mass shooters creates a bold and disturbing story.

What works insanely well about this movie is the feeling that you can’t overlap it into any other comic book film that we’ve come to grow familiar with in the last 10+ years. ‘Joker’ is a fresh angle on the genre, what with it’s early 80’s setting, the lack of any pigeonholing to tie it in with the DCEU and an out-and-out sense that this triumphs as a startling stand alone flick.

The film is extremely heavy on close ups which shoves you into the worrying world of Arthur. It’s almost as if we’re holding his hand alongside the descent into psychopathic carnage, set about by how society views people like him. The treatment of mental illness is a tricky one as it sort of gives explanation to the real-life white men who pick up a gun and kill innocents and in an alarming way this film does almost feel celebratory of a man unhinged.

Mob mentality and civil unrest take hold and before long, the New York style of Gotham City are rife with aggressive protesters. This is all thanks to an unknowing Arthur, whose fate and figure are painted out in front of him thanks to a brutal sequence of events. The film gives us sanity to the insanity as the script sympathises with why Fleck goes the way he does, which both feels unnerving and takes away from the mystery and reckless chaotic nature of the Joker doing what he does just for the sake of it.

Saying this, the man with the bleeding smile is a force of unattainable talent. Joaquin Phoenix drops the pounds and puts on a happy face to build up a seriously chilling man on the edge. Arthur Fleck takes part in a post-murder meditative routine and further on he calms down the craziness around him with dance inflections that are perfectly jarring. The incessant cackling and staring eyes, glistening with distracted disorder set within the green hair and red suit are an image you won’t forget. Phoenix makes sure his Joker is not like the others and relinquishes true uncomfortable terror.

‘Joker’ is a slow-burner of captivating unease; with a fascinating central performance, a gritty 70’s inspired atmosphere and a score which pricks up the hairs on your skin as if anything can happen around the corner when Arthur is present. It’s a film that some will adore, some will dislike but it’ll provoke all to a sensory reaction.

7.5/10

Ready or Not (2019)

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Getting hitched is a crazy big commitment but the bride in ‘Ready or Not’ is letting herself into a commitment that’s just plain crazy. This flick is a darkly humourous horror that escalates to hellishly entertaining peaks.

Grace (Samara Weaving) has married Alex (Mark O-Brien) and is now part of the lavish Le Domas estate; one founded on money-making games. After their vows, Grace is told to join her new family at midnight to choose a card and play til dawn. The unfortunate news is that her selection is hide and seek; where everyone is out to find her and sacrifice her before the sun rises.

Games within the horror genre are a tried, tested and mostly failed thematic, lest we forget the atrocity of ‘Truth or Dare’, but this movie flips the trope upside down and inside out, and any dusty expectations are blown clean away. Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy have paired up to forge a furiously fun script bristling with spikes of murderous terror.

Gathering together a group of wealthy a-holes makes the more grounded personality of Grace that much more likable and also has you laughing at the exploits and grisly exits of rich wrong-uns. It’s true to say this movie is never out and out scary and doesn’t stump for the jump-scare tactic but this only helps to enforce what a brilliantly effective creation it is. The crimson soaked tension is exercised masterfully with bursts of humour and attacks of flinch-worthy gore.

Going along, the film seems to take sick pleasure in giving Grace a new lease of life only for her dreams and wedding dress to grow more soiled and ruined. The constant push and pull of her almost escaping, then being cornered into possible doom is always engaging and hypes the plot with a fresh, crisp punch of giddy gruesomeness.

Goodness gracious, Samara Weaving is a stunning force of delight through the entirety of ‘Ready or Not’. She possesses this unquestionable magnetic presence, as if her ever-shifting facial expressions and retorts to her crazy night hypnotise you into the film. Weaving heroically ploughs through the bloody onslaught of her in-laws demented tradition, like Bruce Campbell in ‘The Evil Dead’ or Alison Lohman in ‘Drag Me to Hell’. Obviously these are both Sam Raimi productions and this 2019 movie does feel like the latter tinged with ‘You’re Next’ and ‘Game Night’ and your sister when she’s hell bent on destroying you at Monopoly.

Giving just a bit more explanation to the concept behind the Le Domas gaming madness and to why Alex even has her stay, when he knows what could be on the cards feels like it could have helped round out the conviction of the story. The finale might also be a moment too outlandish for some but I found it to be a joyful explosion of revenge revelry.

Grace is a hoot, magnificently portrayed by a star who, shall no doubt keep on shining. The purity of marriage and stuffy families are swiftly knocked on their head to have audiences gleefully led down the aisle of foul-mouthed, bloody delirium.

7.5/10

Ad Astra (2019)

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The infinite reaches of our universe have never been so grounded in this storytelling of a parent and child; a narrative which launches light-years away from our marbled home but never loses sight on the emotional journey.

Accomplished astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) is sent on a mission to try and halt a series of solar flares seriously impacting life on Earth. McBride comes to realise he’s being utilised, because command think his father Clifford (Tommy Lee Jones) might still be alive in the expanse of space and their obvious connection could help save humanity.

‘Ad Astra’ is not a film to rush in and discuss with fervour, it’s such a mellow and meticulous feature needing time spent upon digestion and reflection of what it’s about. The human bond of father and son is the glue holding this spaceship together, the heart of the piece is in witnessing the untangling emotional state of Roy, who starts like a stubbly android, devoid of major inflection in speech or personality but as he travels closer to a long-absent dad, the complex nature of this affection leaks out.

Layered spectacularly over the heart of the plot are gorgeous visuals, which do an unreal job of immersing you into the inky magic of our solar system. James Gray has exceptional control on constructing a beautifully eerie orchestra of sights, to depict the endless possibilities and dangers of space.

This science-fiction spectacle is no doubt going to draw comparisons to past space-set movies, but unlike the fantastical fanfare of Sandra Bullock’s tricky trip to solid ground in ‘Gravity’, this film goes above and beyond in terms of space-travel but the missions that McBride takes don’t seem an imaginative leap too far, there’s something incredibly moving and also satisfying about his rise from our planet, to the moon and further.

Max Richter’s score with additional help from Lorne Balfe, is both entrancing and somehow cold, like attaching a suited cord to you to embroil your attention but also keeping you distant enough, as if floating from a safe point to appreciate the wonder of the galaxy and the journey of son to father.

It is very easy to comment that Brad Pitt’s performance is monotone and nothing, but in fact the actor delivers such an impressively understated role which works in demonstrating the controlled efficiency of his astronaut training and is one of his best cinematic turns. The narration over the top adds to his growing changes and as he moves nearer to a possible reunion with Clifford, the strain and emotional well-being of his psyche flicker with tragedy.

‘Ad Astra’‘s assignment does have a couple of flaws, namely a beastly attack on-board a Norwegian craft but aside from distractingly silly moment this film is stunningly made. The melancholy, family drama, humanity tainting more than our own planet, and a haunting, twinkling exploration of space makes for a depressing but wondrous sci-fi which looks majestic on the big screen.

8/10