Friday, 11 October 2019
Not many films end up spending 20 years in development hell. But that is precisely what had happened with Gemini Man, a technothriller that was originally conceptualized way back in 1997. The main reason for this delay was the fact that it has taken that long for the technology required to bring the story to life to come into its own. I am of course referring to the film's main elevator pitch of an actor being pitted against a younger version of himself, a feat only made possible through recent advancements in CGI rendering. So how does the finished product stack up you ask? Well, not so good, but definitely not as bad as I had feared.
Directed by Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), the film stars Will Smith as an aging assassin called Henry Brogan. After barely managing to kill his latest mark without incurring some collateral damage, Henry decides to retire from life as a marksman for a government agency. His decision is met with some aversion from his superiors though, which prompts them to send one of their agents, Danny (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), undercover in order to keep an eye on him. But after Henry learns that his last target had been an innocent man, they decide to take more drastic measures to contain the situation.
This culminates in the villanious Clayton Varis (Clive Owen), director of the eponymous GEMINI, sending in his ultimate weapon, a cloned version of Henry dubbed Junior (also played by Will Smith). Having raised and trained Junior as his adopted son, Clayton tasks him with killing Henry. But when both assassins butt heads, it quickly becomes apparent that they were equally matched. And after Henry learns the true nature of his latest foe, he takes it upon himself to set things right as he tries to save his younger self from following in his footsteps.
Much of the hype surrounding the release of Gemini Man is about its use of 3D and a high-frame rate, neither of which I was able to experience as I'd seen the film on a regular 2D screen. But even in that standard format, it was still possible to tell just how ambitious Ang Lee's vision was. The action scenes were impeccably shot and choreographed, giving it a lifelike quality that was nothing short of captivating. It is just a shame that those setpieces felt like they deserved to be in a better movie, one with a less generic plot and a villain that wasn't so laughably bad.
The CGI used to create the character of Junior also needs to be commended, even though it did start to create an uncanny valley effect by the end of the movie, especially in those scenes where both characters were shown side-by-side under direct sunlight. Movies like Rogue One have already shown us what is possible with fully CGI characters, but Gemini Man somehow manages to move the needle even closer towards photorealism, thanks to some great performance capture from Will Smith in conjunction with the magic of the visual effects team.
Overall, the movie is not the unwatchable mess I'd feared it would be when I'd first caught wind of its impending release, even though its story does fall short of the high standards of its director's previous efforts.
Thursday, 3 October 2019
I can still remember my initial skepticism when I'd learnt that Joaquin Phoenix would be playing the title role in a standalone Joker movie. And I guess you could say that this was understandable; after all, the late Heath Ledger had already given us a nigh-on-perfect performance as the Clown Prince of Crime in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight. But in retrospect, I was mainly concerned that the movie would be nothing more than a villain-centric cash grab in the same vein as last year's Venom. Well, it turns out I was wrong, and I couldn't be happier as a result.
What sets Joker apart then? Is it the film's mature take on a character whose origin is often glossed over or left to mystery in other film adaptations? Or Joaquin Phoenix's nuanced portrayal of that character in what is sure to get him a Best Actor nod at next year's Academy Awards at the very least? Or perhaps it is the fact that director Todd Phillips attempts to take comic book adaptations into previously unexplored territory and succeeds? I think it is a mix of all three factors, and much more.
Set in 1981, the film depicts a version of Gotham City on the verge of collapse. The people are increasingly unhappy with an ineffective government. An ongoing worker's union strikes means that the city streets are practically overflowing with garbage. And in the midst of all that filth and unrest lives Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), an aspiring stand-up comedian who just can't seem to catch a break. He is routinely bullied and made fun of for a medical condition that sends him into uncontrollable bouts of laughter.
He is forced to work as a clown-for-hire just to make barely enough money to continue caring for his ailing mother (Frances Conroy). But in spite of all that, he still dreams of one day appearing on a late night talk show hosted by Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro), an aging comedian he views as a father figure and the pinnacle of his aspirations. But when Arthur is attacked by a group of drunk businessmen one night after losing his job, he finally reaches breaking point and decides to fight back, an action that sets in motion a chain of events that would shake the entire city to its very core.
There is quite a lot to unpack in Joker, from its cautionary tale of how society is oftentimes responsible for giving birth to our most fearsome villains, to the way it manages to make the viewer feel actual empathy towards such people. I won't even attempt to get into such discussions here though. I would instead just state how utterly mind blowing the experience of seeing the events of this movie play out was.
Joker is another shining example of what can be done with comic book material when placed in capable hands. It is a character study that is not only thought-provoking, but also beautiful to look at. Every single scene is meticulously shot and scored to mirror the emotional rollercoaster its title character is on. And what a wild ride it was as well. Unburdened from all the overarching world-building that the typical connected universe movie has to do, Todd Phillips has crafted an origin story that would go down in history as one of the very best in filmmaking.